At-large

They (whoever “they” are) say that we should “think globally and act locally.”  May not be a bad idea!

Sometimes I think all Christians should consider themselves primarily Christians-at-large. I don’t mean to imply that we should be like elected officials who supposedly represent the entire populus; rather, consider that Christians might be, in the first analysis, not bound by a limited geography.  Needless officialness creates a situation in which too many chiefs forget their relationship to the rest of the Indians, and the very notion of church membership may present similarly isolationist issues for some.

Considering the “church universal” is very significant on a conceptual level, and at-large “membership” is a reality, albeit a frequently ignored one.

While this concept of broad-based “membership” flies in the face of important aspects of my upbringing–the restorative mindset, the independent congregation setup, and the attendance imperative come quickly to mind–I’m finding it almost a necessity for my family, in our current life-scenario.  In addition, given the enormity of our world and the mobility most of us enjoy, traveling around and being with various congregations of believers can provide some noteworthy benefits.  Each new opportunity in a Christian gathering can bring enriching insights and new life.

The mention of mobility begs another question:  what if we had no wheels, no petroleum fuels[1]?  Would local churches be stronger or weaker?  If we were all forced to make the choice a) to belong to a church closer to home or b) to “forsake the assembling” (Heb. 10:25) altogether, what would the result be?

As with other important questions, we should consult the scriptures.  What do we learn from apostolic writings about local church functions, operation, membership, etc.?  Well, quite frankly, I find no mention of anything that resembles our concept of “church membership” anywhere, yet the topics of church polity and the workings of local groups are not entirely absent:

  • THE LETTERS.  Paul wrote to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon in the local-church milieu.  Corinthian letters–even the one we don’t have–address similarly unique, local matters.  Galatians is written to a group of regional churches and appears somewhat more broad, and yet specifically targeted.  Ephesians and Romans–written to churches in specific cities, but dealing with general, broad-scale matters.  Essentially, a mix of the local and the universal.
  • THE GOSPELS. I can call to mind no teachings of Jesus that deal with so-called church membership.  While some might find Matthew 16:18-19 pertinent, I think that deals most directly with the early days (i.e., the Acts 1-5 days), and paints with a broad brush, as opposed to a penciled set of instructions for “how to join a local church.”
  • ISOLATED EXAMPLES of polity–people-based entities and how things worked out organizationally–come to mind:  (Acts 13, the setting apart of Barnabas and Saul; Corinthian “church discipline” in chapter 5; the Acts 15 “Jerusalem conference,” to name three).  The noteworthy descriptions of “church” in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:31-33 deal with commonality and spiritual substance, not with something so pedestrian as “membership.”
  • THE OLD COVENANT WRITINGS. The common wisdom is that conventions of synagogue membership would have played into the thinking of, if not the divine plan for, early churches.  While these conventions would emanate more from oral tradition and Mishnah writings than from Torah or the rest of the canonical OC writings, they can certainly be instructive, since the first NC churches were birthed in a Jewish milieu and would naturally have taken on synagogic characteristics, to some extent and where no spiritual conflict was found.

I’m sure there’s more to say here on scriptural principle and precedent.  Please say it!

Tomorrow, I’ll follow up on the localness (and universality) of church


[1] Don’t get me started on those ridiculous electric cars that are not nearly ready for general-public use yet.  They’re priced for the rich, many of whom don’t care about saving fuel, anyway, and in my limited experience, driving a fleet hybrid vehicle a couple of times, they are hazardous to drive in city traffic because of lack of power, and useless on long commutes because of their limited range.  Imagine trying to market a car that has a 100-mile range.  Lots of people drive more than 100 miles a day to work.  Are parking garages going to provide plugs to charge cars now?

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