Proximity and Sprawl: redux

In his book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, Jonathan Leeman describes eight ways Christians ought to submit to their local churches. The second of those is completely in line with the articles I discussed in my post on proximity, sprawl, and the importance of living close to your community. Leeman says,

If you can, ‘consider others better than yourselves’ and ‘look to the interests of others’ by living geographically close to the church. When a person lives within walking distance of a church or clumps of members, it’s easier to invite people to one’s house for dinner, to watch one another’s children while running errands, to pick up bread or milk at the store for one another. In other words, it’s just plain easier to integrate daily life when there is relative—even walkable—geographic proximity.

When considering what home to buy or apartment to rent, Christians do well to ask some of the same questions that non-Christians ask (How much does it cost? Are there good schools nearby?). But Christians also do well to ask additional questions like these:

  • Will the mortgage or rent payment allow for generosity to others?
  • Will it give other church members quick access to me for discipleship and hospitality?

Must a Christian move close to other members of his or her church? No, the Bible doesn’t command this. But it’s one concrete way to love your church.

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 9 part 4 — on Disputes and Accountability]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Disputes and Accountability Between Members: We believe that the church possesses all the resources necessary to resolve personal disputes between members, and that members are prohibited from bringing civil lawsuits against the church or other members of our assembly to resolve personal disputes [1]. Disputes among members are to be dealt with personally and privately, or brought before the Council of Elders [2].

We believe that by seeking membership at this local church, the believer submits himself to the leadership and authority of the church [3], and commits [4] to pursue Christlikeness in thought, word, and conduct, seeking to faithfully love God and love others [5], to make and to be fully committed and competent disciples of Christ, joyfully and humbly seeking accountability with and for fellow members of the assembly, recognizing the potential for loving, corrective discipline in cases of unrepentant sin, as prescribed in Scripture, that the member may be restored to fellowship with both Christ and His church.

(Matthew 18:15–20; 22:37–39; 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 6:1–8; 2 Corinthians 2:5–11; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:31–32; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 3:9–11)


Notes:

1] It may feel strange to include this in a doctrinal statement. But not only does it provide ample legal protection for your church (if a member seeks a lawsuit, all you have to do is point the judge to the member’s signature by which he agreed to this doctrinal statement, thus binding him to not pursue a lawsuit — this has happened and it does work), it is also a biblical standard (1 Cor 6:1-8) that, if understood and followed, fosters a greater depth of community.

2] We should always try to resolve disputes privately, including only the parties involved at first, and then bringing in another mature believer or two when necessary. Disputes should always be dealt with at the lowest level possible (Matthew 18:15–20).

3] Many will react to the language of submitting to the local church and it’s leadership, but in actuality, that language is more biblical than the language of voluntarily joining a church.

4] This commitment to pursue Christlikeness is not unique to those Christian’s who decide to join a church — it is the calling of every believer. The difference is simply that in the context of the local church the believer gains the resources, encouragment, training, and accountability to faithfully pursue this life of discipleship.

5] The two greatest commandments (Matt 22:37–39)

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 7 — on the Church]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Section 7 — The Church

We believe that God’s plan for this dispensation is that the people of God regularly assemble and associate themselves in local communities by establishing churches under the authority of God’s Word and for the purpose of edifying and equipping disciples of Christ to better know Him, love Him, live in obedience to Him, and disciple others toward a deeper relationship with Him.

A church is a local congregation of Christians who, by mutual commitment, regularly assemble together in Christ’s name to declare, uphold, and proclaim the Word and worth of God, and to officially affirm, equip, and oversee one another’s faith in Christ through discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances. [1]

The church is governed by the teachings of God’s Word through delegated leadership, and is to obey Christ’s commission to make disciples [2] by evangelizing the lost, and training, equipping, and developing believers to better know Christ, become more like Him, live in obedience to Him, and be used by Him for His glory.

Membership: We believe that every believer should formally identify with the believing community by becoming a member of a local church [3]. Church membership is a formal relationship between a local church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship, and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship under the authority and in the care of that church [4].

Leadership: We believe that the one, supreme authority for the church is Christ, and that church leadership, order, discipline, and worship are all appointed through His sovereignty as found in the Scriptures. We believe that Jesus authorized the local assembly to exercise the authority of the keys of the kingdom [5]. The church is to exercise this authority under the oversight and leadership of biblically qualified elders (also called pastors and overseers). The congregation is to be led by elders and served by deacons, whose qualifications and duties are defined in the New Testament. Though the church utilizes these two offices, all believers have equal access to God and are gifted and called to serve Him as ministers. We believe that the elders lead as servants of Christ and are commissioned by Him to bear the responsibility of teaching, leading, protecting, and caring for the local church. The church’s leaders are to model the servant-leadership of Jesus Christ. The congregation is to recognize, support, and submit to their leadership within scriptural guidelines.

Universal Church: The family of God as it exists in this dispensation, the worldwide New Covenant community, is often collectively called the Church [6] — made up of all who have been redeemed by God since the cross of Christ, both Jew and Gentile. [7]

(Matthew 16:15–19; 18:15–20; 28:19–20; Acts 2:37–47; 14:23, 27; 15:13–21; 20:17–28; 1 Corinthians 5:9–13; 11:17–34; 12:12–27; 14:12, 26; 2 Corinthians 2:6; 5:14–21; Galatians 1:6–9; Ephesians 1:22–23; 3:1–6, 21; 4:11–16; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:13, 18; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 2:12; 3:1–15; 5:3–9, 17–22; 2 Timothy 2:2, 15; 3:16–17; 4:3; Titus 1:5–9; Hebrews 10:22–25; 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1–5; 1 John 1:3)


Notes

1) For an explanation and discussion of my definition of the local church, go to this post.

2) For a study in biblical discipleship, see: Defining Discipleship; Knowing vs. Loving Christ; The Requirement of a Disciple; The Commission and Means of Disciple-Making; and The Resemblance and Mark of a Disciple

3) Jonathan Leeman is probably the go-to resource on church membership. I suggest this, this, and this. Also, Grace to You has some helpful posts here, here, here, here, and here.

4) What is Church Membership? (Leeman); The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline (Leeman)

5) Understanding the Congregation’s Authority (Leeman); Don’t Fire Your Church Members (Leeman)

6) For a study of the ekklesia (church; assembly) in the New Testament, see here.

7) Every doctrinal statement I have ever seen places the universal church first, and the local church second. Doctrinal statements usually launch into an in-depth discussion of the concept of the universal church (which, frankly, is not an overly helpful or productive concept exegetically or hermeneutically), and then have a brief statement tagged on the end about how “the local/physical expression of this universal body is in the establishment of local churches.” These doctrinal statements reflect the common attitude of evangelicalism today, which unabashedly places priority on the universal church, while devaluing the local church to nigh nonexistence. I do not believe this is the biblical viewpoint. Scripture has so much more to say about the local church than it does about the universal church. (And, functionally, the local church is the only assembly that actually regularly assembles). In fact, I would say that, ontologically, the local church actually has precedence and primacy, and the universal church exists only as a derivative category that conceptually engulfs all believers around the world and throughout time. I suppose I need to write a paper on this sometime — I know this is an uncommon and unpopular viewpoint — but regardless, that is why I place the local church first here.