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Call yourself a Christian?

Mark Dever in What is a healthy church:

Sometimes college campus ministries will ask me to speak to their students. I’ve been known, on several occasions, to begin my remarks this way: “If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell.”

You could say that it gets their attention. Now, am I just going for shock value? I don’t think so. Am I trying to scare them into church membership? Not really. Am I saying that joining a church makes someone a Christian? Certainly not! Throw any book (or speaker) out the window that says as much.

So why would I begin with this kind of warning? It’s because I want them to see something of the urgency of the need for a healthy local church in the Christian’s life and to begin sharing the passion for the church that characterizes both Christ and his followers.... More here
Jonathan Edwards would of course note that being a church member is no proof of being a Christian... that takes genuine religious affections. But, nonetheless Dever is right - I can't have confidence when I say I'm a Christian if I've no love for the local church.


  1. I must confess I have a bit of a problem with that. At the church where I became a Christian at university, I was discouraged from applying for membership because I was a student, even though the church was my "home church". Other students were similarly discouraged from applying for membership, despite a massive commitment to the church, and told that they wouldn't become members if they applied.

    It really does sadden me that I'm not a member of that church. Now doing Relay in Leicester, it's not possible for me to become a member here either, as I am only at the church for 10 months.

    So to come out with that statement is just a bit offensive to me!

  2. ...not to mention that Anglican churches, for example, don't do memebership.

    I guess Dever's point is that commitment to a local church is vital and not optional. Whatever being committed looks like in each context.

    Each church will have its reasons and what to do with students who spend 20 weeks at one church and 30 at another is an interesting question.

  3. Gareth, one of the ways we get round this is having student link membership. This simply means that you join our church for the period that you are studying. It takes seriously the need to formally associate yourself with a church where you can serve, be supported and participate in an accountability relationship. It also means that you can remain affiliated with your 'back home' church. We've had students taking up this opportunity for as little as a year and many who decide to become full members when they realise they'll stay in the area.

    I do think that the post is more targeted to the MANY, unlike yourself, who do not care to commit to a local church, not seeing the need, or importance of doing so. I was like this when I was a student, floating from church to chuas they met my own wants and needs. Sadly, I regret that now.

    It's a real pity that the church you attended while a student did not have a high enough view of membership to let you join. This is a post that they need to read and take seriously.

  4. Cool.. I get to be the bad guy again!

    Just because someone says that they are not doing something, doens'nt mean that they are not doing it. It is blatantly a shock value statement, albeit a worthy one, designed to get people to think seriously about local church commitment. Good idea. But are any means good means?

    Consider the following scenario, you invite a coursemate who finds CU scary and has had some bad experiences of people who only preach one half of the gospel (the people who start with the fall rather than creation, and end at the death of Jesus rather than the resurrection), that scared her off last time. Well you have talked her back around, she's giving CU another go. So then the speaker says something like this,“If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell.” How is she going to react to that? Is she ever going to come back again?

    To be honest, its a very silly thing to say, I don't care how big and clever the person who said it is. Paul uses threats like this in only a few circumstances in the NT. When the gospel is being corrupted (Gal 1) and when people are being deliberately willfully immoral and leading others astray. There isn't a precedent in the NT to communicate in this kind of way without good reason, so it isn't even a biblical approach. It's unwise, naive and unbiblical. Come on Dever, you can do better than this rhetoric.

    1. “If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell.”

      I agree with Tom: "Come on Dever, you can do better than this rhetoric."

      I agree with Tom: "Come on Dever, you can do better than this rhetoric".

      Everyone should be able to do better than that rubbish. It's totally brutish and offensive to a regenerated soul. It is the foolish judgment of a mind ignorant of the facts about today's denominations. Sadly, many of them are guilty of only pushing what the pastor learned in some seminary. Often, the focus is on building bigger attendance or buildings to attend, while the surface emotional appeal is to get people "committed to the local church". But what IS "the church", to begin with? Don't you know that you are the temple of God? Millions seem unaware that men have defiled the temple of God by speaking perverse things to draw disciples away unto themselves; to build great names and kingdoms for themselves like Nebuchadnezzar did. What if a Christian is sold out for God's word so thoroughly that he will not be swayed by the doctrines or evil practices of his local denomination, but feels led to go there regularly, not to partake of evil with them, or sit still while the pastor lies, but to find opportunities to minister correction and rescue a few from lies and corruption? This can be done in a bible study setting, not in what is called a "church service".

  5. Face it Tom you love being the bad guy...

    We should note that
    1. this is a quote from a much longer chapter in a much longer book about the value of church.
    2. When he says it in a talk it's one line in a talk that probably has 3000+ words of explanation and reasoning around it.

    And the source is cited in my post... I could put someone off by saying Jesus is Lord, but I'd usually explain it extensively.

  6. Heyho Tom, do you ever comment non bad guy comments?! :)

    Serieusement though, we do worry about whether someone's going to hell who without valid reason (like being in hospital say) doesn't gather with others of the body of Christ under the authority of God's word ministering to each other by the Spirit... and the best expression of that seems to me to be church membership - but Dever's rhetoric makes that the only and necessary expression. To insist on it thus is to elevate church governance to primary position: like you noted, Bish, Anglicans don't have membership (though maybe Dever wonders if the entire Anglican communion is going to hell: that's another matter), and as Gareth noted, some churches don't cater for associate/student membership (not great in my book) and as I'll note, most indep. or baptistic churches refuse membership to believing children / teens until they've proved themselves, which I think is a Very Strange ecclesiology on any count. Ahem. Point being, we all know Dever's a committed congregationalist nonpaedobaptist, but if he's addressing a campus ministry, he's wrong to judge everyone's commitment to church by these criteria, and he should know that. There are better ways to encourage the truth behind the badge of membership. He can take issue with the students' church leaders for their church polity at another time & place.

  7. The commment probably does need some nuancing. The rest of the book is an excellent portrayal of what matters in church, the latest evolution of Dever's 9 Marks material. Stop Dating the Church may be marginally better, but they're both helpful. An the opening parable of Mr Nose and Mr Hand is great (though Dever confesses he didn't write it!)

    Purchased, Miss Grier, in a Christian Bookshop! More remarkably, they also had Signs of the Spirit in stock!

    The latter is of course much more helpful in assessing the reality of faith. Edwards I suspect would say, being a church member proves absolutely nothing about whether someone is or isn't going to hell. But, you'd expect a real Christian to be committed to the local church. And I think probably that's what Dever is really trying to get at.

    It is slightly shock-jock preaching and he ought to admit it, but the rest of his book is more careful and places very helpful emphasis on how churches should keep the Bible central. Some times arresting language is helpful (one recalls Richard's God doesn't forgive...)

    I'll start reviewing Signs of the Spirit on the blog in the next week or so.


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