Membership is a hotly debated topic in the Christian realm these days.
From the dwindling numbers being posted by all denominations to the lack of apparent commitment being demonstrated by “church members” to their local congregations, it seems everyone is seeking a remedy to the central question of “How do we fix it?”
While these are certainly issues worth exploring, I would like us to step back and examine what it really means to be a member of something. Whether it be our family, the church, or a state/nation, we can’t escape the reality that we live and function as members of entities that are larger than ourselves with others we often don’t see eye-to-eye with which inevitably produces friction, hurt feelings, and strife.
Having strong opinions and a penchant for debating and arguing1 and because of that I am often presented with passages such as Titus 3:9-11 and 1 Peter 3:8 by those who want to make the case that I am being divisive and harming the unity of the body of Christ. However I don’t think that these differences in points of view that naturally arise since we are each finite, mortal, broken creatures is the real heart of the problem.
While it is a common stance to view argument and debate, indeed anything that upsets the applecart of an organization such as a local institutional church, I think the greater problem lies not with the division that may be caused by arguments and debate but by our attitudes and assumptions about what it really means to be a member of the body of Christ.
First our assumptions
When we think of “church membership” what immediately comes to mind? For most, what immediate comes to mind is the vague and often ill-defined “membership” they hold in a local organization that often contains “Church” somewhere in it’s name. Unfortunately, this often leads to an us to the erroneous conclusion that the preservation of the organization/institution is the highest good and that, by extension, unity ought to be preserved at all costs.
I’ve heard many pastors preach on unity and how the lack of unity is an indication of a lack of love and/or the presence of God in a congregation. Demonizing anyone who disagrees with anything the leadership decides.
Sadly, there are many congregations (both secular and Christian) that are wholly unified and loving but who lack one fundamental characteristic: Truth.
Truth is worth fighting for
If we stop and ask ourselves which is more desirable, truth without unity or unity without truth, most of us would come to the obvious conclusion that unity devoid of truth is not real unity but rather a sham. It is this reason that moral relativism is not very attractive once the covers are pulled off. It is also why many congregations are unified, but doomed to perpetual infancy in their faith.
Proverbs 18:24 tells us that there is a friend who is closer than a brother. If brothers fight, then I imagine the friend who is closer is willing to fight even harder to make sure we don’t stray from the truth. Remember, it’s the man who has many companions (who don’t value the truth enough to confront their friend) who goes to ruin.
The truth is worth fighting for because it is the only means to a unity that’s worth anything.
Love is messy
If a body is to survive, let alone grow and thrive, it has to account for the differences between it’s members without sacrificing a fundamental commitment to truth. This is far more easily said than done. The reality is that there will be fights, disagreements, and hard feelings.
We are foolish if we think we can avoid such pitfalls of intimacy. However without such risks we have no hope of surviving, much less growing. Our love each other is shown in how we put up with each other, how much we forgive and move on. We judge a biological family to be dysfunctional if it’s members can’t resolve their issues and manage to love each other, at times, in spite of one another. Why would we apply different metrics to any other body?
Love requires truth and truth requires communication. Some times, this communication involves arguments, debates, etc. Instead of fearing them, a healthy body embraces them and manages to work through them.
Healthy bodies don’t run from conflict, they embrace it.
Healthy bodies are stronger for it too.
- While I realize that this word often has negative connotations, I don’t believe that the mere act of arguing is inherently wrong but rather the manner in which one goes about arguing and what information (or lack thereof) one uses when arguing. The fact is, arguments are really the only way ideas are communicated. However if this word still disturbs you, I invite you to mentally substitute ‘persuade’ wherever you see argue. [↩]