Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Unity Series: The Body, Question & Answer #2

Recently, I received this question and would like to include my response as part of the series on Unity.

“We’ve enjoyed your Unity lessons. Thank you. Jim, why is there such emphasis on being a member of a church corporation? There appears to be a lot of weight placed on being a “member” of a local church corporation than on being a member of Christ and obeying his commands. I understand being subject to your leaders but I’m having problems with signing on to a corporation with a constitution and by-laws. I’m not at peace with the whole concept. Could you give some insight for me?”

It is difficult to answer and make the answer sound positive for all the reasons that churches and people have.

First, I will give what I think the Bible teaches.

1.If we are born again, we are members of the body of Christ. It is impossible to be members of the body of Christ without being members of the local body. If we are immoral and unrepentant, we can be disfellowshipped (1 Corinthians 5), but we start out in fellowship at our new birth.

2.To have requirements to be a member of a local church over and above regeneration does not have a biblical basis.

The following are reasons given for “incorporation”:

1.In order to have the Internal Revenue Service recognized the church as a legitimate 501 ( C ) 3 corporation so that tax deductible receipts can be given. This is not a requirement. Any church can give IRS recognized receipts, incorporated or not.

2.In order to own property. Most states have laws that recognize who owns the property, private ownership, partnership, corporation, non-profit corporation. A church is an assembly of Christians. They can meet in private homes, rented buildings, etc. The states have laws because many people in many churches have cheated and stolen. The state wants to protect its citizens even if the church will not protect them. However, we should not look to the state for government in the body. “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers! The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers” (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).

The following are reasons given for “non-incorporation”:

1.There are many churches which are not incorporated which still have distinct membership requirements. The awful part of this is the proponents think this is a good thing.

2.They want their members to believe in “sanctification”, or the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, or “eternal security”, or “believers baptism”, or “infant baptism” or “predestination” or “pre-tribulation rapture” or “free will”, etc. The new Christian does not know anything about any of these things. He is enrolled in new members’ class where he is taught what is right. He has no basis to disagree with what he is taught so he agrees. He is now qualified to be a member. In the same new members’ class there is an unsaved man. He also agrees and is now made a “member” based on his agreement with these teachings.

3.They want their members to believe in the same church government. They also have to be taught.

4.They want their members to have the same view of the ordinances or sacraments. They must be taught.

5.They want their members to have the same view of liturgy or church music. Now they have to be taught and trained.

6.They want their members to be of the same ethnicity or race or culture or wealth.

7.They want members in order to get them to tithe to their church.

8.They think they have to have members in order to exercise church discipline.

Do I have strong views about all of the above? Yes, very strong views, but I recognize what is of first importance.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 (NIV)

The church I am pastoring has unbelievers and believers attending. All of the believers are members just by being believers. We have no written membership. We take no offering. Our ethnicity, at present, includes Chinese, Nepalese, Korean and Americans. Our age span include babies, pre-school, elementary school, high school, college, graduate school, middle age, old age, more than one in their seventies and more than one in their eighties.

Our doctrinal span includes believers who hold the position of infant baptism and believers who hold the position of believers’ baptism, as well as believers in sprinkling and in immersion. We partly support missionaries in Malaysia, China and Jordan. We have the uneducated and PhD’s in attendance. With all of this diversity, we have a maximum attendance of 50. Because we have no two birds of the same feather, that may be one of the reasons we have a maximum of 50. People like to be with people who are just like they are. Being in Christ should be the common feather.

How do I handle the membership views of other churches? I do not debate or argue with, or even bring up the subject. If it is a church made up of Christians, I just assume I am also a member because I am part of the body, even if the church does not think so. This paragraph is an exception to my policy of not talking about it.

(Taken from Day & Night: Unity Series, 2003)

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