Shall We Purge the Church Membership?

A pastor called me recently. “I have a fellow in my church who wants to exclude every member who belongs to such-and-such a lodge. What do you think?”

I don’t think much of the idea, I told him.

I know someone else who wants to kick out of the church everyone who takes the occasional beer or glass of wine. Another feels that way toward those who attend movies or dance or smoke. If you’ve had an abortion, heaven help you, you’re out. In fact, if you have committed a sin–the bad kinds, of course, which are on some Pharisees’ list of no-nos–you will not be allowed to remain in their church.

If you start kicking people out of your church because of sins and failures in their lives, I have a few questions:

–where do you start?

–where do you end?

–who’s going to decide?

–how are you going to do it?

–and maybe most of all, how are you going to get anything else done in the Kingdom for spending all your time protecting the purity of your church membership rolls?

“If the Lord should count iniquities, who would stand?” (Psalm 130:3)

Nothing speaks to me on this subject stronger than the second parable of Matthew 13, the one we call “The Parable of the Tares.”

Briefly, when the farm hands saw that the enemy had sown bad seed in the field they had freshly seeded for a good crop, they asked the owner for permission to invade the field with their hoes and rakes to uproot the tares. The owner was horrified. “You might also uproot the wheat with them,” he said. His counsel was to leave them alone and let both continue to live. At harvest time, they would be separated.

This story answers a question that has dogged and hounded (love those canine verbs!) the church from the very beginning: “What about the hypocrites in the church?”

The enemy put them there, Jesus said. No, you are not to try to uproot them. In doing so, you will injure many who are faithful. Leave them alone. I’ll handle them in due course.

That’s so hard for us. We want to take matters into our own hands.

When a new pastor arrived at a church of another denomination in the town where I was serving, the congregation had high hopes. However, on arriving, one of the first things he did was to announce plans to “purge the membership rolls.” The way to do that, he said, was to remove those members no longer living there, those members now attending other churches, and those members not living for the Lord.

A member of my congregation came to me in tears. Her father had received a letter from that pastor informing him he was no longer a member of the church due to his alcohol problems. She said, “Dad does have a drinking problem, and it worries us to death. But this is not the solution, for the church to kick him out.”

Just as the Lord said in the parable, faithful believers were being injured by the pastor’s zeal to do the Lord’s work for him.

We’re all interested in doing the Lord’s work. No question there.

But we are not to do His work for Him. Some tasks are His and His alone. Vengeance, for instance, is in such a category. “Revenge is mine, I will repay.” (Romans 12:19)Calling disciples and workers is another (Matthew 9:38).

And so is church discipline, the business of purging the membership rolls.

My little article here will not end the debate, of that I’m confident. In fact, it will appear to some I’m giving up on the church keeping itself pure as the Bride of Christ. That is not the case.

I would love, however, for some pastor or church leader who has been thinking of conducting such a membership-cleansing to read this and reconsider.

You and I have enough work to do in obeying the tasks Christ gave us without taking on work reserved only for Him.

21 thoughts on “Shall We Purge the Church Membership?

  1. The last time I checked I found that the church was full of sinners. I don’t think it is the place of the Pastor of others memebers to decide which sinners don’t belong there. That would be the old sin of “judging others” which would just add to the sin load there in the first place. If we were not sinners then Jesus would not have come here to save us. Sounds like a few Pastors need a refresher course or two.

  2. Lodge membership? I schedule meetings for the same date and time as lodge meetings. That makes folks choose.

    Then participation will dictate whether they are “in” or not. Folks who participate regularly and often are, well, members. Folks who don’t are not.

    (Of course assuming the necessary prerequisite of regeneration, etc.)

  3. This is in response to the post just ahead of mine where the poster puposefully schedules church meetings on lodge nights. As a lodge member I am troubled a pastor would be willing to make a man ‘prove’ his Christianity by giving up his lodge to go to church meetings. Men in my lodge are expected to conduct themselves well above reproach in their homes and communities. To help another brother up and if within our reach help, aid and assist a fellow brother his widow or orphan when required. Very Christian activities I believe. But to say a man is only considered a worthy Christian if he shuns the lodge that vigorously embraces these tenants in favor of the church meeting is, to me, an unfair test. Let God test us as a silversmith or goldsmith. He will show us to be pure better than any petty tests we put ourselves up against.

  4. There’s a widespread misunderstanding of the church as made up of pure people. On the contrary, the church is a hospital for sick souls. I frequently had folks on my case as a camp director (at least 30 times) because I didn’t send more kids home. My feeling was they most needed the camp. If everyone was meek and mild, they didn’t need it. If anything, the church is more for those they want to cast out. Reminds me of the criticism Jesus got from associating with sinners.

    Btw, I stopped all such discussion when it came up with one question, “Can we kick out the gossips too?”

  5. Joe: Very good writing. However you stole my thunder when you used the parable of the tares. When I started reading I was loading my gun and then you pontificated on my passage that I would have used. My ballon burst!

    If church discipline is ever practiced like some are advocating I could not be a member. I do have my own failings and the Lord knows me. “For I acknowledge my transgressions:and my sin is ever before me” Psalms 51:3(KJV).

    Does scheduling meetings to interfere with other meetings bring HONOR to Christ?

  6. Hi,

    I understand your concerns about purging the church of sinners, and I agree with your conclusions.

    But what about people who are still on the rolls but no longer come to church, or who have indeed started to attend another church, or who have moved away?

    Here in Austria, for example, this has legal implications also — we are must be able to demonstrate that all members have received notification of the annual meeting, and certain actions can only be voted on by a quorum of two thirds of the membership. So unless the rolls are regularly purged of such inactive members the church becomes legally paralyzed — not a good thing, surely?

  7. “I will save her that hesitateth” Zeph. 3 : 19

    And now we want to kick these lame souls out of the churh? Surely these “pure” instigators should hang a concrete block around their necks and go for a swim in the ocean. Glass house residents should realise that although we all love Christ, we are not Christ and it is not for us to judge. “He that has no sin, let him be the first to cast the stone” Stephen Smith

  8. Joe: Before people say too much about the “lodge” meetings and how they disagree with them need to be aware of the following.

    I will forever be grateful for a branch of the the group called the “Shriner’s”. They have given millions and millions of dollars and now we have hospitals all across the country dedicated to the care of children with devastating diseases. My oldest Grandson came down with a very difficult kidney disease. My daughter, his mother, had no health insurance other than medicaid through the state for the children as she was recently divorced. When we took our grandson to the hospital he was admitted and received excellent care. My daughter never received a bill of any kind from the hospital. They have conducted follow up tests and still no charge. So when the “Shriners” conduct their fund raising efforts I contribute because I have seen first hand some of the work they accomplish.

  9. You wrote:”…remove those members no longer living there, those members now attending other churches, and those members not living for the Lord.”

    I agree with the first two items that they should be removed or placed on the inactive membership. If inactive members are left on the active membership roles they can be recruited by a minority to remove the pastor who they have never heard. It happened to a good friend of mine in southern Illinois. But the third one is what you dwelled on and I agree as long as they are not in a leadership position in the church. I Corinthians 5 is an example.

    Also, church discipline is the ultimate act of love. The purpose is not to remove the individual from membership but restore that person back into the fellowship as they did in I Corinthians 5. When he was restored later the Corinthian church rejoiced. Discipline also should be processed Biblically (Matthew 18 beginning at verse 15) with lots of prayer preceding, during, and after. If leadership positions are occupied by people in public sin, the Church’s witness is diminished.

    Love people enough to come alongside as a fellow sinner saved by grace to become accountable to each other in Christ.

    Way to go, Dr Joe! Get the brain going early in the AM!

    Dr J

  10. Joe

    You can tell from the number of responses this is indeed a real issue for churches. I agree that we have to exercise great care in purging the roles. Indeed, God is the One who can look into the heart and know who is truly His. Furthermore, great damage has been done by over zealous church discipline throughout history. I believe one approach in dealing with the problem would be to exercise greater care when we accept someone into church membership. I will admit that the church I pastor is probably too quick in accepting persons for membership. Second, we need to balance the Parable of the Tares with Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians. If the actions of a member is obviously destroying the reputation and witness of the church, then discipline is needed.

    As far a judging others is concerned, Jesus talks about judging in regards to conflict management in (Matthew 18:17). Also, Paul instructs the Corinthians to be careful about judging “outsiders.” Instead we “judge” or practice discipline with those “inside” the church (1 Cor. 5:12). The safeguard is that the church is making the judgment, not just an individual who may be very upset and not thinking clearly. I admit, that I am sometimes prone to unclear thinking.

    A quick question about the Parable of the Tares: Is the field where both the wheat and the tares are growing the church or the world (Mathew 7:38)? I suppose that since the church is in the world until the Lord returns we can expect unbelievers to be in the membership of churches in spite of our best efforts to maintain a regenerate local church membership. We also know that Satan loves to plant his helpers in the membership of churches.

    Sorry for the long response. Joe, as always, I enjoy tremendously your blogs and regularly recommend to our church members that they consider reading your comments. Keep writing!

  11. I don’t agree. The parable of the Wheat and Tares does not apply to the church. In fact, in Matt 13:38 Jesus proclaims that the field is the world and not the church. Matt 18:15-18 talks of church discipline, which is clearly to be carried out by the body. This is not to say you clear the rolls by a letter. The procedure in Matt 13 must be carried out. Many times this will result in a true conversion of the sinner.

  12. You can not compare a repenant woman how had an abortion as an unbeliever, with a man who is currently active in a cultic lodge such as the Masons and calls himself a christian. The first is repenant the latter not. What ever happened to being holy as the Lord your God is holy. What ever happened to purging the leaven out, for a little leaven, leavens the whole lump. I suppose Paul words carry no wieght with you. Perhaps you should stick to cartoons.


  13. There is something to be said for a reasonably accurate church roll, surely?

    I am wondering if I ever actually told my Chicago church I was moving away and I should come off their books. I think not. I hope they aren’t still sending offering envelopes to my Chicago address as I left town in 2002! (They probably aren’t.)

    Removal from membership as a matter of church discipline is another matter and may be sometimes appropriate but I’ll stand up right now and say a mass mailing just cannot be the right approach to such things! “Church discipline” and “mail merge” should not appear in the same sentence.

  14. Also, there are lodges and there are lodges and I would not put the Masons (which clearly had anti-Christian origins) anywhere close to the same category as simply fraternal organizations such as the Elks or charitable organizations such as the Shriners.

    I must admit I find the Shriners’ hats odd, but with all the good the Shriners do, they can wear whatever hats they like.

  15. Just for the record you must be a mason before being a shriner. I believe a Shriner is a 24 degree Mason. and at every new level of advancement as a mason an additional vain, bloody godless oath must be taken. The if a man will not examine himself and judge himself he will be judged. When men in the Church do not call each other to account then the Lord will, just read Rev 2 & 3.

  16. It’s the sick who needs the Doctor… Can a public hospital choose to keep some & throw out some of its patients? The cartoon at the below link shows us what God’s church is about:

    It’s the crooks, cheats & those of secret agenda the church needs to be wary of.

    In Parable of the Tares, ‘the field they had freshly seeded for a good crop’ can’t be refering to any place, organisation, spot, etc, in this fallen world except the sanctified church, i suppose…

  17. In my previous posting I was in error, shriners are 33deg masons. And to make matters worst they also take an oath to Allah, the false god of Islam in becoming a shriner. Haven’t you ever been curious about the sword and crest on the hat. Read the book of Ezekiel, as he is given a vision of the wickedness of the priests in the temple bowing to the false gods and the sun. Read on as the shekinah glory departs the temple. Can it be any different in the Church will the Lord of glory dwell amongst his people when such open sin is condoned nay institutionized by pastors, elders, deacons, etc…

    Lord help us.

  18. Perry, I loved your quote, “the church is a hospital for sick souls” that is so true of all of us, even church leaders.

    To Mark, about the Shriners taking an oath to Allah, never heard of that, can you provide proof of that statement?

    Bro. Joe, you do so much more than just draw cartoons, please keep up the good work God has asked you to do, don’t quit.

    From one sick soul to the rest of you sick souls, remember to show love to everyone.

  19. You know the internet is a great place to discover what ever it is you want to find (good and evil), Google, Bing etc… a few key words and you have opinion, and or facts. Source documents are the best their own words used against them, personal testimonies, are valuble. some of my sources have been from the Southern Baptitst convention SBC there home mission board group looked into Masons, though they lacked the courage to do anything other than publish and opinion, to infected with masons in the hierachy. Also the Luthern Church Missouri Sinod has info on cults including the lodges. Another in has a lot of original mason matterial from various lodges.

    Google shriners oaths you will find:-

    Candidates for induction into the Shriners are greeted by a High Priest, who says:

  20. Interesting how my opening line about “a lodge” has caused Mark to write his doctoral dissertation on these pages regarding his views on masonry. I told him, “I did not name the lodge for good reason.” I also pointed out that my father was an active mason and no one will ever convince me he subscribed to such foolishness as Mark quotes in his above comment.

    A friend laughingly said to me today, “Interesting to see the progression of comments on your blog. At first, readers comment on the points you made in the article. Then, they comment on the comments. Finally, they suggest you ought to stick to cartooning!”

    I told him that’s the fun of blogging. Sometimes it’s fun just to stick my opinion/conviction out there and see what happens. It’s not unlike the tomfoolery of farmboys who have been known to toss a few firecrackers into the hen house late at night just to hear the ruckus!

    Thanks for sharing! But I think we’re done on this, Marty (so please close the door here!).

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