Church Membership

by Robert Brow    (

(Posted on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association list, Sept. 2, 96)

I am irked by mainline denominations bewailing their declining membership. I am equally irked by denominations who claim their membership is increasing.

In the New Testament the only kind of membership is members of the Body of Christ (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Cor. 12:4-12). That informs us that being a member is nothing to do with having your name on a list. Church members are people who exercise a gift in the Body of Christ in that place.

In the NT there is only one church in each city (Antioch, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus, Colossae, Rome. According to Galatians 1:2 that epistle was addressed to several city or town churches in Galatia, and Titus 3:5 requires elders in each town or city of Crete).

If we use that model in our city of Kingston and its surrounding country there is only one church in this place. But our royal priesthood gathers for worship and training and encouragement in many different locations. They are called by such strange names as St. James Anglican, First Baptist, Union Street Gospel Hall, Westside Fellowship (Christian Reformed), Kingston Gospel Temple (Pentecostal), Chalmers United, Kingston Citadel (Salvation Army), Christ the King, Canadian Army Base Chapel, Chinese Evangelical, Redeemer, Good Shepherd, and St. John's (an Anglican parish with two locations in the city and another 14 miles away), Good Thief (a Roman Catholic Church near the Kingston Pen), and Christians in the Kingston Pen itself and several other such institutions. I haven't mentioned dozens of others, but already the variety is pretty impressive for a city of 120,000 people."

Now if we combine the NT teaching about membership with the NT teaching about only one church in each city, then it follows that the Church members in Kingston are all who exercise a gift of the Spirit in this place. And church membership across Canada is the sum total of all who exercise gifts of the Spirit in any way quite regardless of what strange name they want to call themselves. That means that the mainline denominations are crying uselessly, and denominations who think they are growing may be barking up a very stupid tree. That is why I am irked.

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