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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline" (Jeremy M. Kimble)

TITLE: 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline (40 Questions & Answers Series)
AUTHOR: Jeremy M. Kimble
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2017, (272 pages).

What is the purpose of Church membership? Is it enough to just attend Church? Why should anyone bother about some official papers just to be a member? Biblically, we are already members of the Church of God, so why even mention Church membership? What about Church discipline? This book covers these topics in a Q&A manner, giving a broad range of perspectives and implications. It is divided into three categories of questions: Theological; Ministry; and Practical. The author's conviction of Church membership is this: Church membership and discipline is critical to the life of a Christian. Membership is about community and responsibility. Discipline is about authority and accountability. Kimble provides three basic reasons for Church membership:
  1. The Perseverance of the Saints is about community development
  2. The Church is the invisible spiritual community made visible
  3. The Church is a people in covenant with God to one another.
He also gives three reasons for Church Discipline:
  1. It's instructed by Scripture
  2. It is biblical love
  3. It facilitates the perseverance of the saints.

Church membership is only for believers. Kimble asserts that this is the biblical basis for "regenerate Church membership." False teachers can enter the Church as "believers" which is why the matter of discipline is to lumped together with membership matters. Church discipline is defined as "divine authority delegated to the church by Jesus Christ to maintain order through the correction of persistently sinning church members for the good of those caught in sin, the purity of the church, and the glory of God." He shows us the different types of discipline (formative and corrective) and gives us reasons for both. All in all, spiritual discipline must reflect the heart of God.

Both matters follow the same format of questioning. On Church Membership, theologically, there are questions relating to New Covenant; Biblical grounding; Matthew 16; Historical development; the Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Ministry wise, there are answers to queries pertaining to discipleship; leadership; process; and cultural contexts. The practical component is probably more interesting for laypersons with questions like:

  • Why do some churches not believe in Church membership?
  • When should someone be removed from membership?
  • What are the benefits of being a Church member?
  • What are the responsibilities of being a Church member?
On Church Discipline, we deal with theological questions about what the OT and NT says about it; and how the Church historically had practiced it. The Ministry aspect has a lot to do with leadership, restoration, forgiveness, administering discipline, etc. In the same way, the practical section deals with the goals of discipline; why some churches don't do it; what sins demand discipline, and cultural contexts. Some interesting questions include:

  • Why do some churches not practice Church discipline?
  • What is the benefit for the person under discipline?
  • What is the benefit of discipline for the Church as a whole?
  • Should a believer associate with someone under Church discipline?
  • What should be done when someone under discipline repents?
  • ...

Church membership and discipline have become taken for granted in many churches in the Western hemisphere today. This has partly to do with historical mistakes in the past and the rising disdain in cultural circles for institutions in which the Church is a part of. With the news media often flashing embarrassing scandals affecting some churches, people tend to extrapolate that into a negative sentiment for Churches. This will in turn put the Church in the bad light even for believers. This decline in credibility is one reason why many younger believers no longer find it attractive to sign up as a member of any Church, or to support discipline matters in a world that promotes greater privacy rights. Kimble gives us a powerful resource to address that. It is one thing to be cynical about the modern Church. It is yet another to take an honest look about what the Bible actually says about the two matters. We cannot simply abandon the Church on the basis of historical missteps. Perhaps, the very problems in the past could also be a result of a lack of discipline or a mistaken understanding of what membership is about. For the Church to survive or even exist, we need structure. We need a dependable framework of belief in order to practice our faith. We need consistency in implementation of rules and regulations so that we do not sway too easily to the opinions of individuals of parties within any Church dispute. We need to learn to get along with the help of agreed systems and processes of reconciliation and repentance in place.

These 40 questions are just a snippet of the many issues and questions regarding membership or discipline. I am sure the author could have added other questions if space permits. I could think of other questions such as:

  • How do different denominations practice Church membership?
  • What are some core subjects in any curriculum of membership classes?
  • What is the relationship between Church membership and spiritual membership?
  • How can the Church discipline someone who refuses to be an official member of the Church?
  • What are the limits of excommunication?
  • How do we reconcile conflicting understanding of membership and discipline within the Church?

This book gives much food for thought to two very important subjects. I would even say that Church membership is not something taken seriously nowadays. The default mode is to just go to Church, tithe when one feels like it, and leaves when one feels led to. This individualistic culture will do damage to the efforts of trying to build communities. Of course, there is always the importance of ensuring that Church membership and discipline matters do not become too clunky or rigid to the point of frustrating genuine desires to build and support the Church. For instance, we can be so caught up with the letter of the law that we can forget the spirit of the law. Likewise, advocates could hang on too tightly to the matters of membership and discipline that deters people from getting more involved with all things Church. Hopefully, this book can educate us into appreciating the Church more, and the essence of observing rules for the sake of community health.

Jeremy Kimble is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Cedarville University. His research interests include ecclesiology, soteriology, Christian worldview, and biblical ethics.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Academic without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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