Brought to you by the TWW Institute for Advanced Spiritual Abuse Studies
We are wrapping up our teaching on Spiritual Abuse and Recovery, and we hope you have been paying attention!
Earlier this week we received a call on TWW’s Hotline from a gentleman who just became aware of our website by searching the words “spiritual abuse”. Dee spoke with him at length and found out that he has been a committed member of his church for around 13 years and that the elders recently rewrote the Membership Covenant and expected everyone to sign it, regardless of how long they have been members of the church. After reviewing the covenant, he declined the opportunity to sign it and left the church. He wanted to know whether we saw any problems with this newly adopted Membership Covenant, so he e-mailed it to us. It is important to point out that we do not know this gentleman, that he lives far, far away from us in the USA, and that his phone call was unsolicited.
Based on our knowledge of hyper-authoritarian pastors and churches, we have spotted a number of RED FLAGS in this Membership Covenant. Are you ready to take our spiritual abuse exam? Just how well have you understood what we have been sharing on spiritual abuse within the church?
Below you will find the actual Membership Covenant word for word, except that the church’s name has been changed. We have substituted it with “SOS Church” and will reveal what the acronym stands for tomorrow. Have fun guessing until then…
Here’s your spiritual abuse exam question.
How many RED FLAGS can you spot in this Membership Covenant?
We believe there are at least five. Please list them and explain why they are “problematic” (one of Dee’s favorite words!)
If you are able to identify FIVE or more correctly, we will confer upon you an HONORARY DOCTORATE degree from the TWW Unaccredited Institute for Advanced Spiritual Abuse Studies, admitting you to all the rights and privileges which throughout the world pertain to this degree.
Tomorrow we will be posting the Red Flags we have discovered in the Membership Covenant, along with an explanation of why they are “problematic”. You will be grading your own exam, so no cheating! To determine your score, you will be utilizing the international standard rating system, as first introduced by the Cracker Barrel peg game. Here is the scale:
Find 5 or more – You’re a Genius!
Find 4 – You’re purty smart
Find 2 – 3 – You’re just plain dumb
Find 0 – 1 – You’re an ignoramus!
And if you discover Red Flags we haven’t identified, please let us know and you will be appointed “President” of the TWW Unaccredited Institute for Advanced Spiritual Abuse Studies.
All kidding aside, we are attempting to utilize humor in this exercise because otherwise what is happening across the country in so many hyper-authoritarian churches will make you want to cry.
Here is the SOS Church Membership Covenant. How many Red Flags can you identify? If you wish, click on the you tube video which will play 10 minutes of the Jeopardy theme to calm your frazzled nerves as you take the test!
Membership is the difference between a couple living together and marrying – both experience the rewards, only one includes commitment. Membership asks the congregation to pledge themselves to mutual devotion rather than merely enjoying the benefits while remaining free to leave when one is no longer happy with the relationship. Membership is a call for Christians to live in a community of committed love and devotion.
In a day of radical individualism and consumerism, membership calls Christians to admit their dependence upon others and their responsibility to help others. It also discourages people from merely attending one church until another is found more appealing.
Finally, every Christian is expected to be under elder authority. By committing to membership, believers publicly declare their consent to the elders, and elders gain a firmer grasp on those for whom they are responsible.
Put simply, a member is “an individual belonging to a specific group.” Therefore, a church member is a person who belongs to a specific church. The key term in this definition is “belongs to.” My wife belongs to me and I to her; we made commitments to one another on our wedding day. My children belong to me and my wife until they are of the appropriate legal age to belong to themselves.
Family members belong to each other, through struggles and triumphs, for the sake of each other. Church members belong to one another. They commit to one another to live according to the New Testament principles of togetherness—bearing burdens, weeping, rejoicing, edifying, encouraging, etc., together. They agree to love each other and be loved by each other. They submit themselves to their Christ-ordained “parental” authority—the elders—and bind themselves to their “brothers and sisters,” through struggles and triumphs, for the sake of each other.
The Scripture calls for this kind of mutual commitment and there are many ways in which a defined membership helps us serve Christ faithfully.
1. Elders are going to give an account for their flock (Heb. 13:17) and, therefore, need to know for whom they are responsible. Membership helps determine who makes up their flock.
2. Christians are under elder authority. Membership helps clarify which Christians are under which elders.
3. Christians are commanded to love one another. Membership helps Christians to be devoted to one another in love (Rom. 12:10). By becoming members, congregants affirm to the world and each other that we are not merely living together, we are married.
4. The right to vote on major decisions for the entire congregation should only be granted to those willing to make a commitment to its people. Membership helps ensure voting rights are given only to those who pledge loyalty to the group.
5. We live in an age of radical individualism and consumerism, character deficiencies which have infiltrated Christianity. Membership helps Christians avoid the sinful temptation to love themselves more than they love their fellow Christians.
6. Christians need other Christians in order to persevere in faith. Membership helps ensure that we will surround ourselves with others who can encourage us toward love and good deeds (Heb. 10:23–25).
Member Expectations and Privileges. Those who commit to the SOS Church will enjoy the following benefits: regular shepherding care, protection, and discipline from SOS elders, mutual love and devotion from other church members, opportunities and encouragement to use teaching and leadership gifts, voting rights, and the joy of committing themselves to the edification of others.
The following will be expected of members:
- Regular worship service participation. (However, we will not take a weekly roll call.)
- Generous giving. (However, this will remain between you and the Lord.)
- Use of Spiritual gifts for the benefit of the SOS Church body.
- Small group participation. (Although exceptions will occur, our constant encouragement will befor all members to join small groups.)
- Submission to, and respect for, the elders of the SOS Church.
Requirements for Membership. Becoming a member requires the following:
- Belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Baptism as a believer.
- Affirmation of the SOS Church’s statement of faith, philosophy of ministry, and position papers. (Exceptions may be made by elder approval.)
- Completion of the SOS Church’s Foundations class.
- Recommendation by an elder and board reception into membership.
- Be at least 16 years old (see Youth Membership below).
For those who desire to participate at the SOS Church but who do not want to commit to us in formal membership, we desire to express a few things.
First, you are welcome and will not be treated as “second-class citizens.” However, we do want you to wrestle with why you are reluctant to commit. Also, you need to know that we will continue to encourage (but not hound) you toward membership.
Second, there are practical consequences to withholding your commitment. You will not be allowed to vote on SOS Church decisions (although you are welcome and encouraged to come to congregational meetings), nor will you be eligible for leadership positions (such as elder or deacon).
Third, we will not allow you to continue in known sin without corrective measures. Regular SOS Church attenders will be required to sign a document acknowledging their submission to elder authority and discipline.
Fourth, you will not be permitted to serve in teaching positions without first pledging to submit to the elders and agreeing to teach only that which agrees with SOS Church’s doctrinal, philosophical, and practical positions. You will be asked to sign a covenant affirming your willingness to do so.
Fifth, you will be allowed and encouraged to participate in small groups.
Sixth, the Lord does not want us to treat church like a spectator sport. He wants us to be involved in ministry and the lives of others. Therefore, we will regularly exhort you to participate in SOS Church services, give generously, and serve the body (with the noted exceptions).
Disenrollment & Leaving the SOS Church.
We ask that any member who desires to leave the SOS Church discuss the reasons thoroughly with his/her elder(s) before doing so. While there are legitimate grounds for leaving, some people abandon their church for selfish purposes and leave behind damaged, unreconciled relationships. The shepherds of the SOS Church care for the spiritual well-being of our flock. On the other hand, if the reason is legitimate we will send you off with our blessing and the assurance that we have worked to please Christ in the decision-making.
Youth Membership. As our younger generations progress toward adulthood, we desire to see them take ownership of their faith and live it out passionately. We urge them to partner with our church as individuals as well as with their families. To that end, we welcome and encourage the pursuit of membership by anyone 16 years and older. The SOS Church constitution restricts voting on legal issues to those 18 years old and above.
Dual Membership. In those rare but important situations where a person is a member of an out of town church and needs to maintain that membership for missionary support (or other similar circumstances), we will consider granting dual membership. In such cases, the individual or family will be regarded as a member of the church while being allowed to retain their names on the roll of another church.
Conclusion. We affirm that all who believe the gospel are members of the body of Christ, but also that defined membership is a helpful tool in our desire to be conformed to His image.
Don't forget to tune in tomorrow for further discussion.
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 26:52-28:15 Luke 3:1-22Psalm 61:1-8 Proverbs 11:16-17