Free-floating and Self-defining


Jonathan Leeman’s  writes about Evangelicalism, Christian Identity and Church Membership:

Post-1950s evangelicalism has trained us to divide our Christian identity and discipleship from our church membership.  Walk over to your bookshelf and pull off books by three of your favorite Christian writers—old or young. If the person is a pastor, the author’s biography will mention his church’s name. Of course. But if he or she isn’t, there is a 99 percent chance it won’t. It’s just him. Or her. They are a free-floating, self-defining Christian.
…..We identify ourselves as “evangelical” before we do “member of Cheverly Baptist Church” or “Covenant Presbyterian.” That church may have shared the gospel with us, nurtured us into the faith, publicly affirmed our profession of faith, fed and strengthened us into maturity, and corrected us when we veered off course, but we still view ourselves independently from it, like the child who goes to college and forgets all about his or her family.
He points out some problems associated with this attitude:
There are at least six problems with dividing discipleship and membership, identity and a local church.
  • First, the division deprives us of pastoral care and instruction. When I don’t spend time with “dad,” I’m less likely to become like him (see Heb. 13:7; 1 Peter 5:1-3).
  • Second, it deprives us of other parts of the body. Every part needs every other part—the foot needs the hand, the eye needs the elbow, and so forth. Without them, I’m thinner, weaker, anemic, more prone to disobedience and false teaching (see 1 Cor. 12).
  • That means, third, the divide leaves the gospel itself more exposed to error. Outside of the body, we’re all more susceptible to false teaching and living (see 1 Tim. 1:6; 1 John 2:19).
  • Fourth, the division harms the witness of the gospel. Our evangelistic witness is very much tied to our life and love together (see John 13:34-35).
  • Fifth, it subtly undermines our obedience to Scripture’s “one another” commands (see Heb. 10:24-25). We might say, “I don’t need a local church to love other Christians.” But that makes us like the dad who uses the excuse of “quality over quantity time” with his kids first to deceive himself and then to cover over his neglect.
  • Sixth, the division deprives us of the assurance of faith we need, especially those of us who are prone to doubt (see 1 Cor. 14:31; 1 Thes. 4:18; 5:11,14). Churches are local assurance-of-salvation co-ops, Mark Dever often says.

He concludes:

For these reasons, I as a biblically convinced baptistic congregationalist can feel greater affinity with the presbyterian pastor who takes his polity seriously than the non-denominational leader who thinks membership is a waste of time. I assume that, three times out of four, sound doctrine and right living will remain safer for longer in his church than in the do-it-yourself, the-pastor-decides-everything congregation.

Years ago I tried living my Christianity apart from a church community.  Far removed from my church and any others in the Seventh Day Baptist denomination, I thought I could just worship and carry on my faith alone.  Happily, that did not last for long.  Since then, over a series of moves, I chose and regularly attended a church in my current community… Methodist, Baptist, Independent, Lutheran, and Presbyterian.  Even more recently I became convinced that it was important to join a church because I realized that there was a subtle but real distance I maintained by not committing to membership.  I know, firsthand,  it is easier to be a “free-floating and self-defining Christian” but it is not good, not right, and not safe.




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