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[Since this is a fairly extensive topic, questions will be limited to the issue at hand. You may add any verses which might be of help. Never forget that the Word of God (all of it - and nothing more) is the final authority.]
Write down the ways the word "church" (or "churches") is normally used today. Compare/contrast each usage of the word with the way(s) it is used in the Bible. (Include the features and characteristics of today's "church," contrasted to the New Testament's concept of "church.") How has the meaning of the word become distorted? What does the Bible say about this?
What is meant by the word "equivocation"? Is equivocating the word "church" a legitimate practice, when we are developing our theological perspectives and applying them to the way we live and interact with other people?
What does the Bible say about "church membership"? Compare this to what is meant when people use the word today. Is there a difference? Why? If there is a difference, does God give anyone authority to ignore (or downplay) what he says about it, and to teach a different viewpoint to people? Do they have a right to force people to accept such a viewpoint before they are willing to consider them "members"?
If you think that people do have a right to push a view of "membership" on people, even thought it is not God's definition of "membership," then how is doing this different from "adding to or subtracting from" the Word of God, which is so strongly prohibited by Scriptures? (Or is it the same?) Deuteronomy 4:2; 5:32; 12:32; 17:20; 28:14; Joshua 1:7; 23:6; 2 Kings 22:2; 2 Chronicles 34:2; Proverbs 4:27; 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19. How is this different from "lording over" those people you are pushing your views upon? (Or is it the same?) Matthew 20:25, Mark 10:42, Luke 22:25, 2 Corinthians 1:24, 1 Peter 5:3
How does the issue of "authority" fit into the issue of what we believe regarding "church" and "church membership"? When there are conflicting definitions, who or what is our final authority for determining what we will or will not accept and practice? Do we have a right to be arbitrary and pick the view we want - even though it isn't in the Bible - just because others are also doing so?
When false views about something are superimposed upon Scripture, what implications are there regarding one's view regarding "the sufficiency of Scripture"? Is the Bible sufficient really for "all matters of faith and practice," if you have to ignore what it ways, in favor of a view that it does not teach?
[Many leaders - if you can get them to respond to the issue - will admit what the Bible does say; it's just that they aren't willing to practice it. They may claim that what the Bible says is a "theological truth," but will refuse to let that "theological truth" influence the way they live and interact with other followers of Jesus. Nor will they let it influence who they consider "members" of the "church." According to the Bible's definition, to not be a member of the church means you aren't a Christian. Or, if the word is being used in reference to a geographical location, it means you don't live anywhere nearby.]
How does a change in meaning/definition of the word "church" result in a change on one's views? What are the ramifications of such a changed perspective? Does this open us up to the same dangers that Israel had in the Old Testament? (For example, many people in the Old Testament thought they were "God's people" simply because they participated in certain rituals, or they had a name on a list that said they were members of Israel. Does the modern concept of "church" and "membership lists" do a similar thing - allow people to believe they are Christians, because they have their name on a membership list of some "church"?)
Contrast the use of the word "church" (in the sense of "local church") as it is used today, with the way it was used in the New Testament Does the New Testament speak of multiple "churches" within the same locality? The following verses refer to "divisions": Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:24-25, Luke 11:17, Luke 12:51, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 1:10,13; 1 Corinthians 11:18, 1 Corinthians 12:25. (Many other verses exist which do not use the specific word "division." You may include any of them you may find, for answering this question.) Compare what these verses say, with the modern definition of "local church"? What about the verses which talk about "unity"? (There are many such verses.) Do we have the right to claim loyalty to one "division" and not to all? Explain.
Does the modern concept of "church membership" cause us to treat one Christian as different from another? Does it have any implications regarding our use of "gifts" (or the restraint of our use)? Does the Bible allow this?
Many people today use the word "para-church" to describe ministries which are "outside" or "alongside" the church (using their "modern" definition of "church"), which are formed by Christians who have united for the purpose of accomplishing some type of ministry. If we would use the New Testament definition of the word "church," what would the idea of "para-church" convey? Compare\contrast this with the way they use the word today.
Dennis Hinks © 1992