In the final chapter of “Church Membership”, Leeman discusses how locale and context affects church membership. In light of all that is going on in Afghanistan of late, but also the experience of churches in China and some parts of Africa, and increasingly here, this chapter reflecting on what membership looks like under different societal and political forces is helpful. It bears out the flexibility and wisdom Leeman brings, rather than a rigid set of rules.
And as discussions of viruses and vaccines continue to dominate our lives, this section hits home:
Now, Satan uses different devices in different locations to undermine Christ’s kingdom. A favorite device in the West is cultural Christianity. The American brand of cultural Christianity results from well-intending adults handing out the candy of cheap grace to five-year olds and twenty-five year olds alike. You ask them if they want to be with mommy and daddy in heaven or pressure them into walking an aisle. The point is, you play on their fears, emotions, or appetites in order to get quick, unconsidered professions of faith. Then you immediately affirm those professions. The European state-church brand, on the other hand, is much more civilized. Cheap grace comes with a birth certificate.
The genius of this device in both locations is that it allows Satan to inoculate their hosts against real Christianity. It’s nearly impossible to share the gospel with a cultural Christian because he already gives lip service to it. “Yes, I believe that.” But there’s no repentance. He merely baptizes a slightly sanitized version of his old self into Christianity.Church Membership, pp. 122-23
Before getting into what membership looks like in those locales experiencing more pervasive and physical persecution, he makes the point that “cultural Christianity…fools churches into thinking that they don’t live in enemy territory.” (p.123) It should be enough to remind us of James 4:4: You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
The local church exists to show off God’s glory and mercy. Leeman is on solid ground when he remarks that, “the local church protects the gospel from all kinds of attack by taking great care in who it receives as a member. Every church must ask the basic questions: Who do you say that Jesus is? Are you sure you’re really ready to take up your cross and give yourself to identifying with him and his body?” (p.124)
A persecuted church may not have a physical membership role, and may not even vote on incoming members, but you can trust every member knows who is “with them”, who is a part of the body, who is set apart as a disciple and who is not. In a world of easy membership with no responsibility, and little to no accountability, I think churches are wise to put extra effort on the front end, to ensure that the resulting body is actually Christ’s body. Not a perfect or sinless one, but one that lives and proclaims the gospel by being set apart for God’s work.