Arbitrary Tests of Fellowship

Sadly, it is common for churches to make some unbiblical teaching a test of fellowship. You have to adhere to some manual with extra-biblical (and sometimes non-biblical) teachings in it in order to be a member of such and such church.

This whole journey of trying to find a church has led me to be much more non-denominational than I was in the beginning. It seems like every church has some teaching or practice that is contrary to Scripture that must be believed or adhered to in order to become a member.

But even non-denominational churches sometimes are just as guilty as denominations when it comes to making some arbitrary test of fellowship a requirement for membership. They sometimes become an institution unto themselves.

If it isn't a teaching or practice defined in Scripture, then it isn't something that people should have to state they believe in or adhere to if they want to be a member of the church. The key word in that sentence is "church". If you just want to be a parachurch orgainization, go right ahead; however, once you label yourself "church" then the expectations on you are much greater than the expecation on a parachurch ministry. You are stating you are the bride of Christ and should act like His bride. And as such, you shouldn't place requirements on fellowship that aren't in Scripture. Because if the local "church" isn't going to be the "Church", then what group of believers will?

But then I struggle with saying "sola scriptura". I would like to think that we would all be able to use common sense and open up any translation of the Scriptures and come up with the same conclusions on what are the essentials of the Christian faith and what a life of complete discipleship looks like. This has been true for me in the past, but it has only been true with people that are taught to interpret the Scriptures the same as I was. When I cross into areas of different methods of interpreting Scripture, I conclusion struggle to be the same. Our church history (or lack thereof) is what teaches us to interpret the Scriptures the way we do. It is almost like the most unifying doctrine of the church is an unwritten doctrine of how to interpret Scripture. It is a doctrine that Scripture itself does not teach.

But I'm confused. It's either we entrust the church, which is the body of believers, to discerning what is proper doctrine or we believe in the individualization of the faith and come up with our own personal doctrines based upon our own readings of Scripture. Is there a middle ground? If so, how do we decide what doctrines reside in that middle ground?

The Church has been entrusted since the time of Christ of transferring Jesus' teachings to our time. And we, as the Church of this time, are entrusted to be a bridge to the people around us and the future generations that will follow us. But what message do we send if we can't even agree on what that message is? And how do we come up with a unity of teaching even in a small group as big as a local church?

How can we be a church that is focused on making no arbitrary tests of fellowship but still have the truth and live the life of Christ in this world without individualizing the whole church experience and making it devoid of community?

Watch out for the potholes.