Spurgeon On Church Membership

Have you ever met a fellow Christian that showed an indefatigable zeal in their pursuit of church membership? I didn’t think so. However, if you had lived near a teenage boy named C.H. Spurgeon in the 19th century, you may have answered that question differently. Because, if you had run across this young boy named Spurgeon, you would have witnessed a freshly converted Christian that was tireless in his pursuit of membership within a local church.

After Spurgeon was born again, he desired to become a member of a local church. When he reached out to the minister, though, he never received a reply. Spurgeon sought to contact the lackadaisical minister three to four more times, still to no avail. So, Spurgeon reached out again. This time he informed the minister that, as a follower of Christ, he had done his Christian duty. If the minister continued to ignore him, Spurgeon vouched to call a church meeting himself where he would notify the church that he had believed in Christ and then ask if they would receive him as a member. As you can see, Spurgeon, even at a young age, saw it as his Christian duty and privilege to be a healthy member of a local church.[1]

In the same sermon that Spurgeon recounted this somewhat humorous story—I don’t know if Spurgeon intended for it to be humorous, but I couldn’t help but laugh as I read the account—he addressed certain excuses that kept many Christians from pursuing membership within a local church. And though this sermon was preached in the 1800s, we hear the same excuses today. With that said, in the remainder of this blog, you’ll discover how Spurgeon addressed these apparently timeless excuses with wisdom and boldness.

Excuse #1: I do not need to join a church “because I can be a Christian without it.”

Now, are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? Well, suppose everybody else did the same, suppose all Christians in the world said, “I shall not join the Church.” Why there would be no visible Church, there would be no ordinances. That would be a very bad thing, and yet, one doing it—what is right for one is right for all—why should not all of us do it? Then you believe that if you were to do an act which has a tendency to destroy the visible Church of God, you would be as good a Christian as if you did your best to build up that Church? I do not believe it, sir! nor do you either. You have not any such a belief; it is only a trumpery excuse for something else. There is a brick—a very good one. What is the brick made for? To help to build a house with. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick; until it is built into the wall, it is no good. So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose; you are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do.

Excuse #2: “If I were to join the Church, I should feel it such a bond [i.e., heavy commitment] upon me.”

Just what you ought to feel. Ought you not to feel that you are bound to holiness now, and bound to Christ now? Oh! those blessed bonds! If there is anything that could make me feel more bound to holiness than I am, I should like to feel that fetter, for it is only liberty to feel bound to godliness, and uprightness, and carefulness of living.

Excuse #3: “If I were to join the Church, I am afraid that I should not be able to hold on.” 

You expect to hold on, I suppose, out of the Church—that is to say, you feel safer in disobeying Christ than in obeying him! Strange feeling that! Oh! you had better come and say, “My Master, I know thy saints ought to be united together in church-fellowship, for churches were instituted by thine apostles: and I trust I have grace to carry out the obligation: I have no strength of my own, my Master, but my strength lies in resting upon thee: I will follow where thou leadest, and leave the rest to thee.”

Excuse #4: “I cannot join the Church; it is so imperfect.” 

You, then, are perfect, of course! If so, I advise you to go to heaven, and join the Church there, for certainly you are not fit to join it on earth, and would be quite out of place.

Excuse #5: I do not want to join the Church because “I see so much that is wrong about Christians.”

There is nothing wrong in yourself, I suppose! I can only say, my brethren, that if the Church of God is not better than I am, I am sorry for it. I felt, when I joined the Church, that I should be getting a deal more good than I should be likely to bring into it, and with all the faults I have seen in living these twenty years or more in the Christian Church, I can say, as an honest man, that the members of the Church are the excellent of the earth, in whom is all my delight, though they are not perfect, but a long way from it. If, out of heaven, there are to be found any who really live near to God, it is the members of the Church of Christ.

Excuse #6: I do not want to join the Church because “there are a rare lot of hypocrites.” 

You are very sound and sincere yourself, I suppose? I trust you are so, but then you ought to come and join the Church, to add to its soundness by your own. I am sure, my dear friends, none of you will shut up your shops to-morrow morning, or refuse to take a sovereign when a customer comes in, because there happen to be some smashers about who are dealing with bad’ coins. No, not you, and you do not believe the theory of some, that because some professing Christians are hypocrites, therefore all are, for that would be as though you should say that, because some sovereigns are bad, therefore all are bad, which would be clearly wrong, for if all sovereigns were counterfeits, it would never pay for the counterfeiter to try to pass his counterfeits; it is just the quantity of good metal that passes off the bad. There is a fine good quantity of respectable golden Christians still in the world and still in the Church, rest assured of that.

Excuse #7: I do not want to join the Church because “it is so looked down upon.”

Oh! what a blessed look-down that is! I do think, brethren, there is no honour in the world equal to that of being looked down upon by that which is called “Society” in this country. The most of people are slaves to what they call “respectability.” Respectability! When a man puts on a coat on Sunday that he has paid for, when he worships God by night or by day, whether men see him or not: when he is an honest, straightforward man—I do not care how small his earnings are, he is a respectable man, and he need never bend his neck to the idea of Society or its artificial respectability.[2]

Conclusion

As you can see, from the time Spurgeon tirelessly pursued membership within that local church to the time he preached this sermon, he regarded church membership as both the duty and privilege of every Christian. Since the visible church, the church on earth, is not optional, church membership is not optional. Until the return of Christ, church membership makes the distinction—a legitimate but imperfect distinction—between the church and the world visible.[3] Therefore, every Christian should visibly make themselves distinct from the world by becoming a healthy member of a healthy local church.


[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “Joining the Church,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 60 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1914), 294-295.

[2] Ibid., 296-297.

[3] Geoffery Chang, Spurgeon the Pastor: Recovering a Biblical & Theological Vision for Ministry (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2022), 110.

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