There’s nothing wrong with being involved in two Christian fellowships. We’re all one in Christ Jesus and enjoy a deeper fellowship with Christians we’ve never meet than we do with our own family (if they’re not Christian). But in light of everything we’ve looked at so far, I think Christians need to be wary of 1. How to keep one Christian fellowship primary, and 2. How to keep from becoming consumerist.
1. Since Jesus has designed you to, as a member of his eternal church, to be a member of a local church. Christians are wise to be intentional about doing that well. That is, BE a member of your church! Invest in the fellowship of believers with your time, money, heart, effort, skills, etc. Make it precious to you like it is precious to Jesus.
If you’re part of two fellowships/churches that’s not wrong, but be intentional about which one is your church and which one is your “church on the side”.
2. If Christians aren’t intentional about BEING a member of one church and they start being involved in two or three churches, I think they will tend towards a consumerist view of church.
They will invest in the things they want to invest it, they will give to the things they want to give to, they will submit to whichever of commands of their leaders they want to.
In the end, even though they intended to serve and invest out of love, they end up doing whatever they want… they become their own leader, and really don’t sit under any leadership. They tend towards a consumerist view of church.
Because Jesus gives leaders to his people, he expects his people to submit to his leaders. And that just makes the whole dual church membership really hard to work out in practice.
How do you truly follow two groups of leaders? How are you really submitting to one church leadership group, if you’re going there on Sunday, but going to a different church small group during the week? Do the small group leaders have authority over you? If they do, doesn’t that mean their leaders will be held responsible for you too? But if you don’t go to that church… do those leaders even know you?
In the end, you can’t submit to two leaders equally. It’s like God and money, you’ll end up getting annoyed at one of them. You have to have a primary and a secondary.
So Jesus appoints leaders (undershepherds) to his local fellowships of believers. The Holy Spirit is involved in all these points.
The Holy Spirit is given by Jesus to his people
The Holy Spirit binds Jesus people to him in union
The Holy Spirit binds the people of the fellowship to one another
The Holy Spirit connects members of the fellowship to their leaders
That last one is what seems to be said in Acts 20 when Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders.
Acts 20:28 “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”
Who are the elders responsible for? The Holy Spirit knows who. The Holy Spirit determined who the elders would answer for.
What does this have to do with dual church membership?
It means that the Holy Spirit has given you have one set of pastors/elders. Think about that. Someone will answer for you. Someone will face more stricter judgement (Jam 3:1) on your behalf.
If you go to two churches, what are you doing to your leaders? Are you making two groups of elders responsible for you at the same time? Are you causing one group of elders to feel the weight of responsibility and prayer for you – when they really don’t need to?
Churches have various groups within them, and you could call each of these groups a little church. But that’s not what we’re talking about. That’s not dual church membership.
If you are part of a Growth Group, that Growth Group and especially its leaders are part of a congregation/campus, and those congregations are part of the church which the Holy Spirit makes certain men/elders responsible for. The group of 10-15 you meet with are not an independent group. The leaders have been “appointed” by the church eldership. When you submit to your group leaders, its an expression of submission to the elders who appointed them.
And refusing to submit to your group leaders is an expression of refusing to submit to your elders/pastors.
So if you’re in one churches’ small group, but you go to another church on Sunday… which elders are you submitting to? Both? or Neither?
So even though there’s no examples of explicit dual church membership in the NT, there are some points where multiple fellowships interact that could be helpful in thinking through dual-church membership.
Paul’s partnership with the Philippians
In Phil 4 Paul says the Philippian church is in partnership with him as he does mission. They are part of their own fellowship, but they also express partnership with other churches.
We also see this this happen as the Gentile churches send financial support to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11).
Paul’s fatherhood of the Corinthians
1Cor 4 Paul seems to say they the Corinthians Christians belong to him as well as their own leaders. “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.”.
This seem to suggest that Paul is more their leader than their existing leadership team (if there is any valid ones there at all). So it’s not that the Corinthians have two groups of leaders (they’re rebuked for that in ch1-3). Rather, Paul is claiming to have authority over them, above their leaders.
Against false teachers
Many times in the NT Christians are told to not belong to certain groups (Gal 2, Phil 3, 1John 2, etc.). So there’s an opportunity to belong to two groups, the church-group and the false-teaching group. But Christians are told to only belong to one. But this is on the basis of theological truth.
Next… Can leaders be held responsible for people who go to other churches? Should they?
So why isn’t there anything in the bible about dual church membership?
Well most of the churches were made up of the ONLY Christians in that area. There was THE church in Ephesus, THE church in Corinth, etc. They didn’t have multiple churches in these cities, they had one group of people, one group of elders… even if they did meet in separate homes… they had one group of common leaders.
Why is this important?
This is important because it defines the normal. It’s the normal Christian way to be part of a local church; to have leaders that you sit under their teaching; to have a fellowship you love and serve. That’s how Jesus has designed his people to live together.
If you have Jesus as your lord, you’re designed to be part of a fellowship.
So, can you be part of two of those fellowships? Does that even happen in the New Testament?
So I’m going to share some thoughts on the topic of dual church membership; the idea of trying to be part of two local expressions of Jesus’ family at the same time. I’ll do it over a few posts tagged #dual-church-membership.
First, lets just be frank and say the bible doesn’t address it directly. And that means we have to make sure we know what type of discussion we’re having…
1. We’re having a pragmatic discussion. Whether or not to be part of two local churches is by in large going to come down to asking what is wise? What serves the most people? What allows me to honour Jesus most?
2. We’re not just having a pragmatic discussion. God’s word is all we need to be thoroughly equipped for every good work in life. There will be important themes and theological trajectories that need to be seriously taken into account.
But it’s worth asking, why isn’t there anything in the bible about it?