Some thoughts on local Church membership - reexamining the blueprint.
The importance of
establishing and maintaining a regenerate church membership has been
fully and helpfully examined from the scripture proof texts in Peter
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.
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
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'?
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
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
May the Lord sanctify and refine His Name in us in and by our fellowship with one another, to
His eternal pleasure and glory.