For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2: 2
Whether ancient or modern, Christians claim that we all need to come to Jesus. Furthermore, while church membership does not save you, most bodies expect that you will affiliate with a group of believers once you have made a profession of faith. This has been the case since the time of the Apostles. It was the practice in the early church that converts would go through a period of two to three years of discipleship and learning before formally joining the church via baptism; often as part of the Easter worship celebration. Catechisms date to the first century; the oldest being the Didache (also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles).
In most Christian groups, baptism is the normative method of adding a person to church membership. Membership for people coming to the church from outside also involves some instruction or agreement with a statement of principles. Children raised in the church may follow a different path than outsiders to achieve full membership and privileges in their particular denomination. Following baptism, Christians can access Holy Communion or Eucharist which involves partaking in the symbolic body and blood of Christ.
Thus far, I think I have avoided stepping on anyone’s theological toes but clearly I’m about to stomp on somebody’s.
Membership Has Is Privileges
Church membership is a means of guarding access to Communion but what if it’s a barrier to people joining your church due to extra biblical requirements.
We sing songs like “Just as I Am” But do we really mean it?
Is your church a hospital for sinners or an exclusive club that only allows “the right kind of people” to join?
Frankly, I’ve been struggling with this very question for many months and I don’t like the conclusion that I’ve reached. Let me set this issue up for you and see if you agree.
First, there are two different ways to define or describe your beliefs. You can use negative statements or positive ones.
“I don’t drink and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls that do.”
“I believe in healthy life choices and avoid the common vices of the ignorant. My ideal life partner will embrace similar views to mine.”
As the old song says, “Emphasize the positive.”
Sometimes by stating the positive answer, you are leaving unstated that the opposite condition is bad.
Have you ever heard someone say something like this? “I believe that faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation and I look forward to spending eternity with Him.”
This is a very positive statement and a true one. However, what is left unstated? The negative corollary can be condensed to this, “If you reject Jesus then you will spend eternity in Hell.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith—when dealing with things like the Ten Commandments—states both what is forbidden and what is commanded by God’s Law.
In the church that I attend, the Preface of the denomination’s Constitution concludes with this remarkable sentence:
Accordingly, we profess that the principles set out in this Constitution are binding on us in the same way as are the historic confessions of faith, catechisms, and creeds of the church listed below.
The church’s constitution is just as binding as the Historic Creeds! Let that sink in for a moment before you continue reading my post.
In light of both the above; namely, people stating their viewpoint in the most positive way and the Constitution of the church being equal to the Historic Creeds, please read the following carefully.
Accordingly, we reject the subordination of the family and church to the State in matters of faith and religious practice. As an extension,
(i) We believe in promoting and supporting the training of our children in Christian educational institutions, especially in the home schooling method.
What is left unstated? What is the negative of these statements?
Positive—what is commanded
“We reject the subordination of the family … to the State…we believe in … training our children in Christian educational institutions…”
Negative—what is forbidden
“We accept the subordination of the family … to the State…we believe in … training our children in State educational institutions…”
Translation: Good Christian parents don’t send their children to public schools.
Here is a portion of Deuteronomy 6 which will be discussed below:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
(Variations of the word “command” appear 14 times in this chapter.)
We promote and support the Christian educational training of children
The Bible gives parents the clear direction in Deuteronomy 6 that they are to train their children in the statutes of the Lord throughout the day. This mandate is compromised when children are sent to public institutions of learning where they are indoctrinated in the principles of secular humanism and influenced by worldly peers and teachers. The result of such secular instruction is a weakened church and divided families. We promote, instead, those educational alternatives which are guided by and serve Biblical principles and purposes. These include Christian homeschooling and biblically regulated covenant schools.
Please note that the “clear direction in Deuteronomy 6 ” is described as a “mandate ” in the next sentence. If a mandate is found in Scripture then I think it can fairly be described as a Command of God.
Using word substitution the second sentence reads as follows:
“This Command of God is compromised when children are sent to public institutions of learning where they are indoctrinated in the principles of secular humanism and influenced by worldly peers and teachers.”
Granted that it’s been a few years since I was in a Sunday school room, but don’t we tell children that sin is the result of breaking God’s Law, His Commandments?
Here is the logic:
1 God commands us to educate children “in the statutes of the Lord throughout the day.” This is God’s Will, His Command, His Instruction.
2 This Commandment (mandate) is violated by sending our children to a State run government school.
3. Disobeying God’s Commands is sin.
Therefore, sending your child to a public school is a sin.
Even if you want to stop short of describing sending children to public school as a violation of God’s Commandment (or you’re just squirmy about it), per the above you are still sinning because James 4: 17 states:
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Privileged Have Their Membership
This is the set of rules that governs the church that I have been attending for the last few years. Over time, this distinctive has really grown to bother me. In my previous blog, I spoke of the suspicion of strangers and the simultaneous lament that the church is not growing. Now throw a prohibition against public schooling in the mix. I look at the totality of the beliefs and practices that I have mentioned and marvel at how we have twisted the Gospel of Christ.
So what happens if Bobby Baptist were to experience the Light of the Reformation and as he begins to embrace the likes of John Calvin, he comes to our church? Or Peter Pagan manages to run the gauntlet and get a chair during our service and then comes to a saving faith as he hears the Gospel from the pulpit?
What are we to do?
In a state like California, a married couple with children is likely to be struggling with two college loans, two car payments, a mortgage, and a host of other bills. Both he and the wife work and their children are in public school.
Believing the Gospel is not enough in our congregation. At what point do we have to deny people access to the Lord’s Table because they are openly sinning against God’s Commandment by sending their children to public school?
It is common practice in the church that people in open rebellion and sin are not only prohibited from Communion but will be subject to the discipline of the church including trial and excommunication if they don’t change their ways.
My family is the only non-home school family that is a member of the congregation. We often joke that we were the most conservative members at our previous church and now we are the most liberal. But all kidding aside, this is a serious issue.
We have added a socio-economic barrier to church membership that discriminates not on the basis of the Historic Creeds and Christian Faith but an additional demand of income; so if God doesn’t bless you materially as much as somebody else then we don’t want you. If you were a young man that made poor financial decisions—as defined by Dave Ramsey—then you can’t be in our little club?
What happened to James 1: 27?
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Remember that applying Deuteronomy 6 to the issue of public schools is a serious doctrinal position. The Commands in this passage are clearly not optional.
Consequences of Exclusivity
The culture of distrust of strangers which I discussed in a previous blog and condemnation of those not home schooling their children colors the actions of our congregation. The things that I have described about the church not only keep people from getting in but keep us from reaching out.
We are unwilling to go to the highways and byways and compel them to come in. We systematically refuse to get involved in our community. I can’t help but wonder if this is because we only want to minister to people that already are predisposed to agree with us. However, people that home school for religious reasons are typically already involved in a church somewhere and not usually looking to jump to another congregation.
If we really want to grow our church we need to reach out to the unchurched or those underserved by their current house of worship. We purposely offer no programs for youth or children because we are “family integrated” which means that children sit with their parents during church. We don’t own our own building so there are no mid-week services or events. The net result is that we can’t out do the programs offered by the local mega-church, so we refuse to offer anything. Thus, our only real opportunities for growth lie in converting the heathen or reaching people that left the church earlier in their youth.
Try this scenario. Our friend, Peter Pagan and his wife have experienced a conversion by attending our church. They believe in all the tenants of the Historic Creeds and ask the pastor to join the church. At what point do you ask about having his wife quit her job and moving the children out of the public school?
If the church really believes what it claims, would it be unreasonable to comp the family so they can attend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and help them develop a plan to be able to live off of one income? What about childcare and medical benefits for the family? Can we help the father develop his skills and get a better job to make all this achievable? Sadly none of these things has ever been discussed, let alone implemented.
Christian education—especially home schooling—is not just a preference of the denomination it is a “mandate”. How does Peter Pagan get from where he is to where the denomination says he should be? Sadly, he is left to his own devices.
Now I’ve shared my dilemma with you. Coming “just as I am” is just not good enough. I clearly can’t change the rules of the denomination or the culture of the congregation. But where else would I go? I agree that in theory a Christian Education—however that is defined—is better than the government option in many instances but…
To circle back to the beginning of my discussion, is my church a hospital for sinners or an exclusive club that only allows “the right kind of people” to join?
Meanwhile, if you have paid off your student loans, cars, mortgage, and credit cards; your wife can stay home all day to cook, clean, and teach the children; and you can throw ten percent of your income into the collection basket each month then look us up; we’ll be happy to have you. Oh, and don’t forget about the potluck after the service.