Should Christians Be Members of Human Organizations?
a person obeys the gospel, he or she makes a commitment to follow Christ above
everything else. Jesus taught: “He who loves father or mother more than Me
is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not
worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37, NKJV). This is a serious commitment. It
teaches us that we must never allow our job, our interests, our hobbies, our
citizenship, or even our families to ever become more important to us than our
commitment to the Lord. Would this principle suggest that it is wrong for
Christians to join or be members of any type of organization?
Christians are by
definition, members of a divine organization. The church is an organization
that was established by God. It has leadership (Christ is the head: Ephesians
5:23; elders and deacons lead local congregations: 1 Timothy 3:1-13). It has
membership (Christ adds those obedient to the gospel to the church:Acts 2:47).
As a result, it is not only appropriate for a Christian to be a member of the
church but it is part of the very definition of being a Christian to be a part
of the Lord’s church universally (Hebrews 12:22-23). If a Christian seeks to
be faithful to the Lord he or she will also identify with a sound local
congregation of the Lord’s church (Acts 11:25-26).
By birth, all human
beings are placed in another organization: the home. In this organization
there is also leadership (husbands are the head of the wife: Ephesians 5:23;
the wife is to manage the house: 1 Timothy 5:14); children are to obey their
parents: Ephesians 6:1). When Jesus teaches not to love family “more than”
Him, He does not call upon Christians to abandon their responsibilities within
the family. To the contrary, putting Jesus first in our life demands that we
carry out our commitment to our families as Christians should. The husband
must lead (1 Peter 3:7; Ephesians 6:4), the wife must submit (1 Peter 3:1),
parents must teach (Deuteronomy 4:9), and children must honor their parents
Both of these
organizations are established, constituted, and governed by God. What about
other types of organizations? In the epistle to the Romans, Paul taught, “Let
every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority
except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans
13:1). God does not dictate the particular type of government that rules a
nation (i.e. democracy, republic, monarchy, dictatorship, etc.). God does not
regulate the structure and functioning of a particular government (i.e.
parliament, bicameral legislature, ruling council, etc.). Yet, Paul teaches
Christians to submit to the organization of the governing authority of their
given nation. Christians are to submit to the leaders themselves as well as
the laws they pass (1 Peter 2:13). Only in the instance when the governing
authority demands that a Christian disobey God, is a Christian authorized to
violate such laws (Acts 5:29). This does not suggest that when government is
corrupt, or engaged in wickedness a Christian can defy government by refusing
to pay taxes. Jesus taught, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,
and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
Christians in the New Testament
were not only in submission to their government but they were also members of
the governmental organization of their nation. Erastus was “the treasurer
of the city” (Romans 16:23). In the Philippian letter, Paul extends
greetings from saints within “Caesar’s household,” a reference probably
to servants rather than family members (Philippians 4:22). Cornelius was a
centurion, in charge of 100 Romans soldiers (Acts 10:1-48). Paul himself,
acknowledged his Roman citizenship (Acts 22:28) and utilized its benefits (Acts
25:11). This shows us that membership in a governmental organization is not a
violation of our commitment to love Christ “more than” all other
things. If Christians are faithful, they honor their heavenly citizenship over
any earthly citizenship (Philippians 3:20).
There are many other
types of organizations founded wholly by human beings which Christians may be
asked to join. These might include business partnerships, trade organizations,
neighborhood assoc-iations, clubs, guilds, troops, packs, etc. Biblical
parallels to these types of organizations might include the business
partnerships which existed between the two families of James & John and
Peter & Andrew—they were “partners” in the fishing business (Luke
5:10). Paul may have shared a limited partnership with Aquilla and
Priscilla—co-workers in the tentmaking trade (Acts 18:2-3). The Bible does not
outline terms for such partnerships. How were the duties divided? How were
the funds shared? What regulated their activities? All of these questions
were determined by the human beings involved in the organizations. It seems
clear that the issue was not whether a Christian could be a part of such an
organization but how a Christian behaved in interaction with others. Notice a
few principles that would apply:
• Treat others as you would yourself (Matthew 7:12).
• Look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).
• Speak the truth to others (Zechariah 8:16).
• Don’t set a stumbling-block before others (Romans 14:13).
• Don’t be presumptuous about the future (James 4:13-15).
• Let your “yes” or “no” be binding (Matthew 5:37).
All of these principles of
living in Christ must regulate our behavior in any relationship we have with
others in this life.
We have seen that
Christians are a part of the divine organization of the Lord’s church. We have
also seen that Christians maintain responsibilities within the family
organization as well as the organization of civil authority. Finally, we have
also seen that while Christians may be a part of man-made organizations, their
behavior must be regulated by behavior and character that is befitting to a
Christian. This might lead someone to ask, “Does that mean I can join any
organization I want?”
We have seen that in
civil authority a Christian must disobey laws that require them to violate
God’s law. There are some organizations that exist to do wrong! The Law of
Moses taught, “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil” (Exodus 23:2a).
Such organizations would include criminal gangs, but also those kinds of
organizations that seek to promote what is sinful. A political group that
advocates abortion as a matter of “choice,” or pornography and homo-sexuality
as “freedom of expression,” is not a proper type of organization for a
Christian to join. Isaiah rebuked those who “call evil good, and good
evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Social clubs that advocate drinking, coarse
jesting, or dancing would be equally inappropriate. Paul taught that the
Christian should– “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,
but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
There might be
organizations that are wholesome of themselves but make demands upon a
Christian’s time commitments that would prohibit being associated with them. Do
I have to miss services because of my membership? Will my time and
influence over my family be jeopardized? Will membership keep me from my
duties to serve the Lord? All of these questions need to be asked. If the
answer to any of these is “yes,” even though I might have the right to
join such a group, the compromise of values it would demand means that it would
be wrong for me to do so. The Holy Spirit warns us, through the pen of
Paul– “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what
fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light
with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a
believer with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).