Ecclesiastical Hitchhikers

I’m reading R. Kent Hughes’ book, Disciplines of a Godly Man. In his chapter on the church, he describes the rampant aversion to meaningful church membership. He calls the phenomenon “ecclesiastical hitchhikers.” He writes:

Church attendance is infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas — and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.” So it is with the credo of so many of today’s church at tenders: “You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills —and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out — my thumb is always out for a better ride.”

This putative loyalty is fueled by a consumer ethos — a “McChristian” mentality — which picks and chooses here and there to fill one’s ecclesiastical shopping list. There are hitchhikers who attend one church for the preaching, send their children to a second church for its dynamic youth program, and go to a third church’s small group. Church hitchhikers have a telling vocabulary: “I go to” or “I attend,” but never “I belong to” or “I am a member.”

So today, at the end of the twentieth century, we have a phenomenon unthinkable in any other century: churchless Christians. There is a vast herd of professed Christians who exist as nomadic hitchhikers without accountability, without discipline, without discipleship, living apart from the regular benefits of the ordinances…

…membership in an invisible Church without participation in its local expression is never contemplated in the New Testament.

So we conclude that church hitchhikers, ecclesiastical wanderers, spiritual Lone Rangers, Christians who disdain membership, are aberrations in the history of the Christian Church and are in grievous error.

from Disciplines of a Godly Man pp 169-170

1 Comment

Good post Don. This is a big issue that needs attention. I’m glad that, after 3 years of stonewalling, the SBC will probably pass an integrity of membership resolution. I was talking to a leader in the SBC Reformed movement the other day and he, like I, fear that it will be a watered-down resolution with no repentance called for and no admission of wrong.