Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fellowship vs. Membership

I think we place too much emphasis on membership to the unfortunate exclusion of simple fellowship. Too many of us seem to think that only those who are members or "progressing investigators" should be with us as we worship. In my view, although we could create dozens of more narrow categories, we have four general options for attendance in our meetings:

1) "Fully committed members" - holding temple recommends and striving to live every aspect of the Gospel to the best of their ability.

2) "Partially committed members" - sporadic or regular attendees (often not holding temple recommends) struggling or unable to live some basic standards expected of fully committed members

3) "Progressing investigators" - people who are serious about their efforts to decide on future membership and exhibit that commitment by attending church regularly and meeting basic expectations of membership

4) "Committed non-members" - those who want to worship with us but have no intention of becoming "members in good standing and future temple recommend holders".

I see this final category as the ultimate test of our acceptance of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. I wish we were willing to love and worship with anyone who is willing to be with us and let them work out their own issues as we strive to work out ours. In a nutshell, I wish we could separate fellowship from membership - and fellowship everyone.

How willing are we to accept a habitual drunk as our pew mate? How willing are we to embrace a homosexual couple in our meetings - understanding that they will hear the Law of Chastity preached in our meetings and might never be baptized and join our membership ranks? How willing are we to tolerate the smell of tobacco from the pew in front of us? How willing are we to have a Baptist or a Methodist or a Catholic or a Jew or a Muslim worship at our side if they are open about their unwillingness to be baptized? How willing are we, sinners in our own way, to worship alongside sinners in a different way - understanding that they might never enter category #1, but willing to love and serve them even as they remain in category #4?


adamf said...

Thanks for these thoughts Ray. You are always progressive in the righteous sense. I wish there were a more welcoming place for #2 & 4--my oldest sister is still a believer but is gay and has had to go to other churches & religions in order to find some tolerance.

Christy said...

We have a #4 in our ward, and the members are very welcoming, especially me because I'm married to him!

Anonymous said...

Although I would think I have generally erred towards the tolerant,I think I may have always spiritually judged those who do not worship with the same 'commitment' as myself.I think I may be beginning to learn that the celestal kingdom is not for everyone-in the sense that not everyone has to want that for God to love them.'It takes every kind of people...'I think I am happier for that concept,I think I judged because I felt I ought to not because that was what I truly felt.I'm more comfortable sitting with the allsorts,though some may say that's because I can't breathe the air too much higher.

Papa D said...

Adam, I agree that it is as hard for many to accept a #2 as it is to accept a #4 - and perhaps harder, since it's easy to expect more of a baptized member.

christy, I am so happy for you - that your ward accepts your husband as he currently is.

anonymous, "some may say that's because I can't breathe the air too much higher."

I love that! I think many modern members, unfortunately, would be surprised to realize that Jesus spent very little of His ministry "breath(ing) the air too much higher". I think that's worth considering.

chelle said...

That is one thing that REALLY irritates me. People judging others when they walk imperfectly. I am not the best at making conversation or introducing myself, but anyone is welcome in my row any day! As long as they don't mind my often times irreverent children :D
And just because I may not have the courage to say hi,I am glad they are there.
Thanks for sharing Ray. I haven't read your blog in along time...and I dunno why. Hmmm I always love your insights.

Joe said...

I know a year ago I fit in the 4) catagory, and then moved on to the 3), and now I'm trying to be in the 1) catagory. I was very grateful of people who accepted me the minute I walked in the door. Good stuff, Ray.

Papa D said...

chelle, thanks for coming back. Apostates are always welcome to return. *huge grin*

Joe, anyone who won't accept you is heart-dead. Love you, man!

Jami said...

When I first came to church, I smelled strongly of smoke. My parents smoked. People were so welcoming that it never even crossed my mind that they were doing anything special. Having been in many, many wards since then I have learned that they were, in fact, exceptional for ignoring the smoke and loving stinky me.

Papa D said...

Oh, and Jami, my SP talked specifically in our last leadership meeting this past Sunday about the overall issue of accepting those who differ from us. I hope you don't mind, but I am going to share your comment with him. I plan on referencing it when I discuss this topic with others, as well. (just as something a friend of mine said, not with any attribution that would lead them to your comment)

If you don't want me to do that, let me know.

Tony said...

This is a wonderful and thoughtout post. Really put things in perspective for me. Thank you!

Jami said...

No problem, Ray.