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Some thoughts on local Church membership - reexamining the blueprint.


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The importance of establishing and maintaining a regenerate church membership has been fully and helpfully examined from the scripture proof texts in Peter Master's booklet.

The key argument in the booklet for a distinction between all worshippers or all attenders some of whom are not members and members is based on the need for discipline.

(1 Cor.5.9-13) 'I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.'

Having received discipline I can personally testify to the great pain and difficulty it causes, not only the party concerned, but also others in the church. It is of course commonly a cause of serious church splits, so must be handled wisely, patiently and carefully, with a single eye to the glory of God and the holiness of the fellowship.

However in practice the situation in some large churches with regenerate church memberships is anomalous. There are many 'non-members' who are as active and vigorous, if not more, than the members themselves, and all would acknowledge such brethren are truly saved, but  for one reason or another (perhaps membership elsewhere or reservations about some of the doctrines or policy of the church, hold back). We are a small fellowship, but is this not also beginning to be apparent with us? They are as much an leg or hand or eye in the body as us, yet the name does not appear in the member's register. Is this really scriptural?

The other anomaly is that the most severe form of discipline is withdrawal of the privilege of participating at the Lord's Table. This is with good reason, 'with such an one no not to eat', and if it applies to ordinary meals, how much more to a sacred remembrance. However this same blessing is extended to almost all believing worshippers who attend the church, so necessarily does the duty of applying the sanction of withdrawing it.

With good reason, some brethren argue that those who have applied for and been accepted as fit candidates for baptism should be admitted to the church upon their profession. Might it not as easily be argued that those who partake of the Table with us, and visibly express the communion of Christ, though many 'are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread'?

Does not the command to 'purge out therefore the old leaven' apply just as strictly to non members who partake of the Table, as it does to members, for 'a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump'? Do we then 'keep the feast not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth' for members only or for all the adherents who partake? Is it not the latter?

Practically it strikes me, we should be as careful about admitting visitors to the Table as we are to the membership, and as free at admitting members to the church as we are in admitting enquirers to the Table, even once. I suggest this would be both more strict with respect to the Table, and probably less strict with respect to the membership than we are now, provided the pulpit remains crystal clear about error, and guards against leaven, and the church vigilant to guard against any bitter root within.

Does this mean admitting members of other churches to our members' meetings? If they are worshipping and serving with us regularly - why not? Did not Paul and Barnabas actively participate in the Council at Jerusalem? Apollos' influence on Corinth seems to have been so profound, some unwisely called themselves his followers, though Apollos later diffidently avoided them, despite Paul's urging, no doubt from fear of inflaming carnal affection and admiration (1 Cor.16.2). Was Apollos who came from Ephesus, not admitted to the 'business meetings' at Corinth? It seems unlikely. Phebe seems to have been given carte blanche by Paul in Rome (Rom. 16.1), despite usually serving the church in Cenchrea. Did this not extend to being party to detailed business discussion? Again, it seems unlikely

May the Lord sanctify and refine His Name in us in and by our fellowship with one another, to His eternal pleasure and glory.

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