Article -Signs that your church has become a club


  May 30, 2016  

      What  are  the  signs  that  your  local  SDA  church  has  turned  into  a  Club       

   The line of distinction between professed Christians and the ungodly is now hardly distinguishable. Church-members love what the world loves, and are ready to join with them; and Satan determines to unite them in one body and thus strengthen his cause. Local churches are adopting changes in worship, music, leadership structure all in an attempt to conform to what they perceive is what the community wants rather than stand firm on the ways that God wants His church to represent Him.

   Efforts to draw members together in bonds of fellowship can hurt the cause of God and the message given to His remnant church. We need to be careful that encouraging a fellowship based on a family model turns out to be just another form of club.

  The importance of the great commission on Matthew 28: 19, 20 should remind church leaders that the focus is on reaching out to others outside the church as well as strengthening bonds of fellowship within the church.

  We should become aware of the signs that will tell if a local church is changing into or has already become a club. Here are some of the signs I have noticed based on my personal experience with several Adventist congregations. I hope that this article will stimulate feedback and comments so that other signs can be identified.

  One easy sign is revealed in the communion service. Those serving the emblems of the body and blood of Christ should not judge who is worthy to receive these emblems because they did not participate in foot washing or some other reason. They should not pass by anyone (except children) with the thinking that the Lord's Supper is only for Adventists.  This practice violates the church manual, page 122 in the 18th edition. For those with the new Church Manual, it is on page 126. Open Communion is clearly part of  Fundamental Belief # 16  found on page 161 ( or page 167 in the new 19th edition). 

  Also the church should not require the ordinance of foot washing in order to be served the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. As important as foot-washing is, it is still voluntary, because Open Communion means it is available to those that want it and any participation that is forced detracts from it being Open communion.   ( see Administration of the sacraments )

   I feel that the most common sign that the church has become a club is in the resolution of personal grievances; especially when a non-member is grieved by a member.  Pastors and Church leaders who believe that the grievance resolution process described in Matthew 18 is for members only, are actually protecting members from church discipline and encouraging them to abuse and offend non-member because they are not held accountable if they offend someone outside the church family. A club makes a distinction between members and non members when it comes to discipline, but God has one process (Matthew 18) for everyone, there is no Scripture to describe how non-members can resolve grievances.

    Ellen White points us to Scriptures that explain the process for resolution of grievances.

   If one of these little ones shall be overcome, and commit a wrong against you, then it is your work to seek his restoration. Do not wait for him to make the first effort for reconciliation. "How think ye?" said Jesus; "if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."  {DA 440.2}

  In the spirit of meekness, "considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted," Galatians 6:1, go to the erring one, and "tell him his fault between thee and him alone." Do not put him to shame by exposing his fault to others, nor bring dishonor upon Christ by making public the sin or error of one who bears His name. Often the truth must be plainly spoken to the erring; he must be led to see his error, that he may reform. But you are not to judge or to condemn. Make no attempt at self-justification. Let all your effort be for his recovery. In treating the wounds of the soul, there is need of the most delicate touch, the finest sensibility. Only the love that flows from the Suffering One of Calvary can avail here. With pitying tenderness, let brother deal with brother, knowing that if you succeed, you will "save a soul from death," and "hide a multitude of sins." James 5: 20.  {DA 440.3}       Desire of Ages,  page 440, par. 2,3   


   If this is not happening at your church, then a work of reform is needed. God requires it to be like this.  The Church Manual talks about the need to resolve grievances by the church in Chapter 7

  • “While there are in the modern world, occasions for seeking decrees of civil courts, Christians should prefer settlement within the authority of the Church and should limit the seeking of such decrees to cases that are clearly within the jurisdiction of the civil courts and not within the authority of the Church or for which the church agrees it has no adequate process for orderly settlement.”  Church Manual, page 60 

   Those that think Matthew 18 is only for Adventists, think that the word “Christians” really means “members” or “Adventists” – some think “should prefer settlement” is not strong enough to constrain them, I remind these people that members can be disciplined for taking matters into their own hands.

  • “Members who demonstrate impatience and selfishness by their unwillingness to wait for and accept recommendations of the Church in the settlement of grievance against other church members may properly be subject to the discipline of the church because of the disruptive effect on the Church and their refusal to recognize properly constituted Church authority.”  Church Manual, page 61

   Members who have sinned and reject efforts to restore them according to Matthew 18: 15 and 16 can then be brought before the congregation. God will not allow sin to enter heaven, we must deal with it here on earth, and those that understand the process, realize how strictly He wants us to follow His instructions.

  If he will not hear them, then, and not till then, the matter is to be brought before the whole body of believers. Let the members of the church, as the representatives of Christ, unite in prayer and loving entreaty that the offender may be restored. The Holy Spirit will speak through His servants, pleading with the wanderer to return to God. Paul the apostle, speaking by inspiration, says, "As though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." 2 Cor. 5:20. He who rejects this united overture has broken the tie that binds him to Christ, and thus has severed himself from the fellowship of the church.  Henceforth, said Jesus, "let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." But he is not to be regarded as cut off from the mercy of God. Let him not be despised or neglected by his former brethren, but be treated with tenderness and compassion, as one of the lost sheep that Christ is still seeking to bring to His fold.  {DA 441.2}    Desire of Ages,  page 441, par. 2 


   Our churches are not following the instructions that Christ has given to them regarding church discipline and when a church becomes a club, they no longer have the Holy Spirit to guide them, and another spirit takes over and the practice of discipline is perverted.

   “Discipline by Cop” happens much too often. Those who are not familiar with this phrase will recognize it when the police are called to remove someone from the church who is not a threat to life or property. There is no emergency, but it is easy for church leadership to resolve a grievance with a member or visitor by just removing them from the building and treating them as trespassers.

    The pen of inspiration unmasks the deceiver . . .

  • “All the compelling power is found only under Satan's government. The Lord's principles are not of this order. He would not work on this line. He would not give the slightest encouragement for any human being to set himself up as God over another human being, feeling at liberty to cause him physical or mental suffering. This principle is wholly of Satan's creation."   RH, September 7, 1897   par. 7  
“. . ..The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God's government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened. To know God is to love Him; His character must be manifested in contrast to the character of Satan. This work only one Being in all the universe could do. Only He who knew the height and depth of the love of God could make it known. Upon the world's dark night the Sun of Righteousness must rise, "with healing in His wings." Mal. 4:2.   Desire of Ages, page 22.1


   A church operating with a club mentality will ignore these principles and be likely to threaten or actually call the police when there is no emergency requiring their presence.  For those not convinced, I offer one more quotation .  .  .

   The spirit that instigates accusation and condemnation in the church which results in uprooting those that are looked upon as evil-doers, has manifested itself in seeking to correct  wrongs  through the civil power. This is Satan’s own method for bringing the world under his dominion; but the Lord Jesus Christ has given us no such example for thus dealing with the erring.  God has been misrepresented through the church by this very way of dealing with heretics;  he has been represented as the one who empowered the church to do these wicked things.  {RH, January 10, 1893 par. 8}


   Another sign that a church has become a club is seen in social events and activities that include card playing or dancing; and fund raising events like charging a ‘donation’ to see a movie.  Spirit of Prophecy is clear about amusements that are harmless and those that endanger the soul.  Ellen White is silent on Bingo because it was not invented until after she died in 1915, but Bingo has become popular in several other denominations. I have not seen Bingo yet in SDA churches but it would merit a separate article should Bingo pop up anywhere.

The standards for membership is very important to the Adventist Church and the Church Manual makes a very strong statement about it on page 16 and 17 ( 19th edition)

  • The standards and practices of the Church are based upon the principles of the Holy Scriptures. These principles, underscored by the Spirit of Prophecy, are set forth in this Church Manual. They are to be followed in all matters pertaining to the administration and operation of local churches. The Church Manual also defines the relationship that exists between the local congregation and the conference and other entities of Seventh-day Adventist denominational organization. No attempt should be made to set up standards of membership or to make, or attempt to enforce, rules or regulations for local church operations that are contrary to these decisions adopted by the General Conference in Session and that are set forth in this church manual.   Church  Manual, page 16, 17

  A church that has turned into a club will set up different standards of membership and add ‘tests of fellowship’ that are not in the Church Manual.

  • “No minister, congregation, or conference has authority to establish tests of fellowship. This authority rests with the General Conference Session. Anyone seeking to apply tests other than those herein set forth does not, therefore, properly represent the Church (see 1T 207)."  Church Manual, page 64

   Any church that sets up their own standards of membership or applies ‘tests of fellowship’ to become a member, that are not in the Church Manual have crossed the line and have become a club.

   Another sign that a church has become a club is seen in the healing service (aka anointing service).  The basis for this is found in the book of James.

   “Is there any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  James  5: 13

  A church that interprets the phrase “any sick among you” as members only, will restrict the anointing services to members and those in the ‘family’ circle. 

   The mid week prayer meeting is an important service of the church, but not all SDA church make an effort to have a mid week meeting or make an effort to plan for in interesting meeting.  The Lord has waited till the last days to speak about the importance of midweek prayer meetings through His messenger to His remnant church.

A prayer meeting will always tell the true interest of the church members in spiritual and eternal things. The prayer meeting is as the pulse to the body; it denotes the true spiritual condition of the church. A lifeless, backslidden church has no relish for the prayer meetings. --  Selections from Testimonies to the Managers and Workers in our Institutions  (Ph 149, p 32).  Pastoral Ministry, page 183.2   

 There are only a dozen paragraphs in Chapter 32 in the book Pastoral Ministry for more about the importance of Prayer meeting   A church without any mid week prayer meeting may be physically alive but they are actually spiritually dead.  A lifeless and backslidden church has no relish for prayer meetings and an SDA club will replace prayer meeting with some other activity like an exercise class.


   Another sign that the church has become a club is hard to see until you have been attending the church for a while or have actually become a member. Every club has a President and in a church that has become a club the Pastor will be accepted as their king and he will lord it over the flock.  Ellen White gives strong warnings about this using several ways to describe it. I will only present a compilation on the phrase “lord it over God’s heritage” which appears 41 times in her published works.  Here are some of them

Those interested in further study can see several hundred SoP quotations about leaders and leadership of the church 

Feel free to suggest other signs that an SDA church has turned into a club. Or you can comment on this article on any of several LINKEDin groups for Adventists and other on-line forums. 

Disclaimer:  This article is the expressed opinion of the author and management of has decided to approve this content for publication. Although no churches are named, anyone wishing to rebut any information above will be given opportunity to do so on this site.

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