Church Membership (A Response to Mark Driscoll)

Pews

The Church

Mark Driscoll has been posting recently about the church. About a week ago, he posted an article called “8 Biblical Marks of a True Church.” I’ll be writing later about what exactly defines “church,” but for now, suffice it to say that I agree with one of Driscoll’s eight marks. While the other marks he proposed may be desirable, the lack thereof does not disqualify a body of believers from being a true church. Scot McKnight (no relation to me) posted about Driscoll’s proposal, and Neil Cole commented with an excellent rebuttal to the eight marks. I’ll leave it at that for the moment.

What’s the Deal?

Right now, I want to focus on Driscoll’s more recent article, “What’s the Deal with Church Membership?” In it, he posits that church membership is biblically evident and that anyone who disagrees must “have an agenda to disprove otherwise.”

In one sense, I do agree about the agenda. We all have an agenda to prove, including Driscoll. Why would we write about anything at all if we didn’t have an agenda? My agenda is a desire to see Scripture interpreted and applied correctly. You can claim another agenda for me if you like, but understand that I am not the leader of any church body, and I personally stand nothing to gain or lose from this discussion. Mark Driscoll, on the other hand, is a pastor of a megachurch with thousands of members.

Driscoll listed “seven evidences that the early church had a notion of membership,” which are quoted as follows:

  1. They kept numerical records (Acts 2:37–47).
  2. They kept records of widows (1 Tim. 5:3–16).
  3. They held elections to appoint deacons (Acts 6:1–6).
  4. They exercised church discipline (Matt. 18:15–20; 1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1).
  5. Their leaders were responsible for giving an account of their leadership and the church was asked to submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:17).
  6. They had an awareness of who was a church member (Rom. 16:1–16).
  7. Most of the epistles were written “to the church” in given places (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 2:1; Gal. 1:2; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1 2 Thess. 1:1; Rev. 1:4).

He then stated, “To be capable of fulfilling any of these functions, the church had to be organized with some sort of membership.” Let’s go through his points one by one.

Rebuttal

1. In the passage Driscoll referenced, we find one number. “That day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41, NASB). Remember the context here. This was the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit had just given the followers of Jesus the ability to speak in languages they did not know. A tremendous number of men and women from a score of nationalities were coming to know their Savior. And so it was recorded that “about” 3,000 were saved.

This does not mean they were keeping numerical records. It’s an approximate number, showing how greatly God was working. Had they kept exact records, it would have been recorded that there were added 3,216 souls.

2. Yes, there was a record kept of those who were true widows (1 Timothy 5:3–16). Why? First, the church was actually providing for widows back then. Today, we have, for the most part, left it up to the widows to take care of themselves out of life insurance and their retirement funds. And when they can’t do it themselves, we let the government take care of them. [Edit: I may not have been as clear as I intended here. The church should still be providing for widows. The fact that we have stopped is wrong. Nonetheless, this is the state of being for most of the American church today.]

Second, there was abuse of the system. People were trying to claim support from the church when they didn’t really need it. Thus certain requirements were established to ascertain whether the widows were “widows indeed” (1 Timothy 5:3, NASB).

3. Remind me to write more about deacons later. For now, let’s establish the fact that Acts 6:1–6 was not the appointing of any such position as “deacon.” Read the passage and you’ll find a surprising lack of the term deacon anywhere therein.

We do, however, see the phrases, “serving of food” (Acts 6:1) and “to serve tables” (Acts 6:2). In the Greek, the same root as the word deacon is used. But then the same word is also used for the phrase, “the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). So were the deacons those serving food? Or were the deacons those ministering the word? The simple answer is that they were all deacons. Deacon is a transliteration of a word which translated means “servant.” In this sense, all believers ought to be deacons, as we are all to serve one another.

4. I’ll not deny the mandate of church discipline. I would strongly deny the idea that membership is required for discipline. Notice that Jesus, in Matthew 18:17, said nothing about removing their membership, nor was anything of the sort mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 or Galatians 6:1, as Driscoll purports.

5. I also agree that we need godly leaders and that we ought to submit to them (Hebrews 13:17). Again, membership is in no way required for this.

6. Romans 16:1–16 is a list of people Paul wanted to greet from the church at Rome. There is again no mention of any membership here.

7. Once more, I agree with the fact that the epistles were written to certain churches, but I again reject the notion that this implies membership.

What Is Church Membership?

Mark Driscoll quoted the following verses at the beginning of his article:

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:18–19, ESV)

Notice how Paul defined membership right there? If you are in Christ you are a member of the church. Driscoll wants to force a difference between membership in the invisible church and membership in a local church, but the Scriptures make no such distinction.