REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE TO STUDY CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
A Study of the Meaning of Church Membership
“And I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). This is the promise of Jesus Christ. That church is built of “living stones” (I pet. 2:5); people who have been redeemed from sin are, by the same Lord who bought them, brought together into a new society, the church of Jesus Christ, which is called His body.
In the broadest sense, the term ”body of Christ” applies to the totality of all believers of all times and places who have been saved through the death of Christ. (cf Eph. 4). The same phrase may be used to describe a particular group of believers, at a given time and place (cf. I Cor. 12). In the larger sense we speak of the universal, invisible church. In the second sense, we speak of the local, visible church.
“The word ecclesia (“church,” of more accurately, “assembly”) is used in the New Testament one hundred and fifteen times. Of these instances, one hundred and ten (relate) to the Christian church. Its ordinary use in the New Testament is to designate a specific, local assembly of Christians. The word occurs in this local sense in ninety-two instances”) H. Harvey: The Church: Its Polity and Ordinances, p. 27).
Only born-again persons are or will be members of the universal, invisible church (Eph. 5:25-27). The local, visible church should be a miniature of the invisible church, an accurate microcosm of the universal. It must, therefore, as far as possible, admit only regenerate persons to its membership.
In our day the doctrine of the universal church is frequently represented in an unbalanced way, so as to depreciate or negate the local church, or to rationalize one’s non-membership in a particular church. The use of parts of Scripture to nullify other parts is heresy. Shall we disavow the local church, that the universal church may abound? God forbid!
The need for this study, and consequently, the designation of this committee, arose when the Annual Conference met an impasse in the matter of adopting an application and questionnaire for prospective members to fill out prior to their being received into church membership.
The discussion that accompanied consideration of the proposed membership questionnaire revealed some deep and basic differences of viewpoint with respect to the meaning of church membership. Some of the questions which were raised or implied at that time include:
(1) What are the biblical standards for reception into church membership?
(2) What degree of spiritual growth or maturity can or should be expected of new church members?
(3) Is membership in a church the right of all believers, or must it be earned?
(4) Is discipline best administered before or after a person is received into a church?
(5) How can we establish whether an applicant for church membership is truly regenerate?
(6) How do practices regarding reception and discipline of members affect church growth?
(7) How much time lapse should there be between profession of Christ and reception into church membership?
(8) What are the implications of our fellowship in a denomination for the practices of receiving and transferring members?
I. Scriptural Evidences for Church Organization and Membership
In His Great Commission, Jesus directed His disciples (and the rest of His church), to make disciples, whom they were then to baptize and to teach (Matt. 28:19, 20). The Scriptural record indicates that there was a naturalness and eagerness in Spirit-born disciples to be baptized and to learn. There was a willing submission to baptism and to teaching that implies and includes the acceptance of a formal relationship — church membership. For example, Acts 2:4 1, 42 states, “They then that received (Peter’s) word (I. e. became disciples) were baptized,” and goes on to tell how they, about three thousand of them, were added to the Jerusalem church and became faithful in the elements pf the life of the church — teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper and the stated prayer times.
On the strength of the Lord’s Commission the apostles commanded disciples to be baptized (Acts 2:38; 10:48) and to learn their teaching (II Thess. 3:4; I Tim. 4:11; Titus 3:14; Phil. 4:9). This indicates assertion of authority by the apostles and subjection by those whom they commanded, implying a formal membership-like relationship.
The word “members” comes from the body analogy (cf. Rom. 12:4,5; I Cor. 12:12-27 ; Eph. 4:25;5: 30). It speaks of subjection to the Head, and of mutual co-operation, edification and effectiveness.
In the narrative of the Acts, reference is frequently made to the numbers of believers in the Jerusalem church (e.g. Acts 1:15;2:41, 47;4:4; 5:14;6:1, 2, 5, 7). The great number involved as well as the mechanics of feeding and providing for the people, imply that records and lists were kept.
The organization of the church in the New Testament also implies definite membership rolls for the churches. The officers were apostles, elders and deacons. When the office of deacon was originated (Acts 6), “the multitude of the disciples” were instructed by the twelve, “Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report,” etc. (vs. 3). The record goes on to say that “the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose the seven men” (v. 5). It was the practice of New Testament church planters to designate elders in each church, from among the members. This was apparently always done after a time lapse, for solidification of the membership roll and maturation of the potential elders (Acts. 14:23; Titus 1:5; I Pet. 5:1). The numerous commands for believers to obey, submit and be subject to their God-given leaders surely indicate a meaningful, formal membership commitment (cf. Heb. l3:7,17; I Cor. 16:16; I Pet. 5:5; Eph. 5:21). Furthermore, those leaders are instructed to rule or govern the churches ( I Tim.3:5;5:17; Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17,1 Pet. 5:1-4).
Local church membership is also implicit in the commands and practice regarding discipline and excommunication (Matt. 18:15-17; I Cor. 5: etc. ). If men could be put out of a church, they must also have been received into that body. The practice of letters of commendation ( I Cor. 16:3; II Cor.3:1) also tends to indicate formal membership rolls.
II. The Meaning and Purpose of Church Membership
The purpose of church membership is the glory of God by the establishment of His authority in the individual believer and in the world. If our corporate responsibilities are to be fulfilled in the modern historical context this will demand formal church membership.
Identification of believers by baptism and the Lord’s Supper has been weakened because of the fact that peoples and churches with contradictory views on crucial doctrinal issues observe the same outward ordinances. Further, the plurality of churches in any given area make it necessary for the sincere Christian to choose the particular church which comes closest to reflecting the faith and practice of the Scriptures.
When a person establishes a formal bond with a particular church it means that:
(1) The member is confessing substantial agreement with the doctrinal beliefs and practical application of those beliefs which the particular church proclaims and displays.
(2) The individual is submitting to the spiritual discipline of the particular church.
(3) The member becomes partaker of the benefits of corporate guidance and blessing. This includes worship, mutual exhortation, the guidance of the Spirit through elders, the ministry of healing and comfort, establishment of a corporate testimony, participation in witness and service which goes beyond personal capacity for fulfillment, and the expression of the love of Christ within a local community of believers.
(4) The local body of believers is bearing witness to the fact that the individual member claims to be a part of the body of Christ, and that there is nothing in the life or attitude of the person to disprove this assertion.
III. Reception of Persons to Church Membership
“It is not good that the man should be alone, ” was the declaration of God concerning man in his pre-fallen innocence (Gen. 2:18). The need, desire and blessing of fellowship is part of man’s humanness. Man is, by design of his Creator, a social being. Although all people who are Christians become so individually, by the new birth, it is not God’s will that they remain alone. The solitary Christian is an anomaly. The whole weight of Scripture indicates that it is normal, necessary and obligatory for Christians to be gathered together into churches.
This is particularly brought out in the writings and practice of the Apostle Paul. For him, “The unity of all believers in the church of the living God was a necessary implication of the gospel itself” (Reginald E. O. White: Apostle Extraordinary, p. 61). Thus Paul endeavored repeatedly, and pressed his application, to become part of the church in Jerusalem (implied in Acts 9:26). “He refused to remain in impoverished isolation from all Christ’s other ‘members’. So, he endeavored to join the disciples at Jerusalem: it is a valid reason still for uniting formally and loyally with the existing Church of Christ. . .The Christian who pretends he does not need his brethren is nursing the foolish pride that goes before a serious fall. .. The individualist Christians, therefore, sitting lightly to all Church loyalties, and tempted sometimes to depreciate organized Christianity’ must expect no sympathy from Paul” (Ibid, pp. 57,61,62).
When a man has been born again by the grace of God he should be received into a church. The church is obligated to receive the new Christian. It is his right as well as his responsibility to become a member of a local church. The Lord has added him to the church when He saved him (Acts 2:47); if a church refuses him they reject the work and word of God. Membership in a church is not a gift, bestowed by the local church, nor a reward that is earned by the believer, but a right that is bestowed by God.
Churches frequently create conditions or pre-requisites for membership that are sufficiently stringent to exclude some, or even many new believers in Christ. It appears that this has sometimes happened with Bible Fellowship Churches. There are a number of reasons why this happens:
1. Standards are set high or requirements are made narrow in order to exclude unbelievers. A church is right in its desire that it not receive unregenerate persons into its membership. Jude 4 describes “certain men” who “crept in privily – ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Acts 8:9-24 describes how an unbelieving man, Simon, was received into the church at Samaria, with serious consequences.
The church must seek to discern whether a real work of regeneration has occurred in the heart of a prospective member. This should be on the basis of biblical evidences of new birth. We are mistaken if we believe it right or effective to use extra-biblical standards of cultural and sociological separation as criteria for membership or evidence of regeneration. In an article in the January 31, 1969 issue of Christianity Today, “Let’s Drop Rules for Church Membership,” Norman L. Ghastlier says, “Although a local church should desire to have a membership that includes no non-Christians, something is wrong when this desire is carried out at the cost of excluding Christians who sincerely seek membership” (p. 17).
The church that sets up external, cultural, extra-biblical standards for membership may well find that it is accepting the hypocritical and rejecting the honest.
If the one extreme of too low standards and too broad acceptance is to be avoided, then the other extreme of too stringent requirements, or superficial, legalistic barriers, is also to be shunned. “Paper” or arbitrary standards that are not biblical cannot guarantee or even promote real spirituality (Mark 7:7,8; Rom. 14:1; Acts 15; Col. 2:16-23).
2. Standards for receiving new members may inadvertently be based on an abnormal situation rather than the normal. A church should be continually winning people to Christ. The normal should be that these babes in Christ are being received into membership. Often, however, few, if any, are being born into the family of God through our churches. Thus, most of the members received are people who come by geographical or ecclesiastical transfer and have been believers for some time, and who could, consequently, be expected to meet higher or narrower standards. Hence the standards are determined on the basis of the more frequent reception of older believers than the less frequent (but more normal) reception of brand new Christians.
When a believer is young in his Christian life, we may expect some immaturity and inconsistency. It is our responsibility to seek to promote growth to maturity. The church is a nursery to receive the new-born baby and to feed, protect, love and train him; the church is a hospital, to heal the spiritually sick; the church is a school, to instruct and train the spiritual child.
3. The church may, however, conceive of its role and responsibility as to purify and edify the new believer before accepting him into fellowship. This was implied in the report of the Committee on Church Forms, in explaining its proposed membership application and questionnaire. “The Committee is of the conviction that it is far better to delay membership because it can be advantageous to work with individuals concerning their problems before membership is granted than to have to remove them at a later” (Page 2, Report).
While a reasonable case can be made for a time-lapse between profession of faith and reception into membership, and granting that it is logical that the church would teach, nurture and train the new believer during that period, it is not right that, once the customary time has lapsed and the applicant has been acknowledged to be a true believer, his membership should be delayed.
In the process of natural growth, would anyone dare to assert or think that a person would be better prepared for adult participation in family life by being raised as an orphan rather than as a full sharer in the loving life of a wholesome and happy family?
Part of the help the church can give the young believer with his problems comes from the acceptance, love and trust that accompany the commitment of church membership. The dynamics and discipline of a vital church fellowship should mean a great deal toward his spiritual victory. Discipline, here, is used in the full sense of instruction and training in addition to the punitive, negative sense. “What is often forgotten is that Christian morality is an ideal to be attained as the result of edifying ministry of the church and not a condition to be realized before one enters the church” (Ghastlier, ibid).
4. The church may desire that its membership be an “elite corps” in the army of the Lord. It may seek by stringent and high standards of membership to weed out all sluggards and have only valiant, disciplined soldiers in its ranks. This is a good aim. The objection is that this is not a biblical standard. To be sure, all believers should aspire to this. And, certainly, each church should seek to bring its people up to a high standard. But an army takes green recruits and trains them. It does not require that they be qualified to be generals before they can get in.
It might further be pointed out that if this is the reason for the standards of some of our churches, it is a failure, because few of our churches are really growing (one would assume that elite spiritual warriors would be exceptional soul winners) and few are producing an abundance of outstanding spiritual leaders.
May it not be that admission standards that are narrower than God makes them are driving real believers from our churches, and, thus, hindering the growth of the Bible Fellowship Church?
5. Some professed believers are not accepted to membership in churches because they refuse to meet biblical standards for admittance. For example, some wish to become members of the Bible Fellowship Church but refuse to be baptized by immersion, though we understand believers’ baptism by immersion to be a biblical pre-requisite of church membership (see Articles of Faith). Some come, young as they are in the faith, and assert that our Articles of Faith are not acceptable to them. Such persons must be rejected as members, because they are refusing to be subject to the church at the outset. In so doing, they are disobeying Christ and His Word and are thus not fit candidates for membership.
Acts 2:38-42 gives the pre-requisites to reception into church membership. They are:
(1) Repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ.
The church faces the problem of how to ascertain whether, indeed, the applicant has repented and believed in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Theologians agree that the applicant should present “credible” evidence of saving faith. The theologians differ as to what “credible evidence” means or what degree of credibility is required (cf. Charles Hodge: Systematic Theology, Vol. Ill, p. 544).
We do well to accept biblical criteria for credible profession of faith. Conformity to customs or morals that are more cultural than biblical should not be regarded as acceptable criteria. The First Letter of John deals with the question of evidences of regeneration (I John 5:13). While some of the basis of assurance presented in the book are internal, “of the heart” and therefore of personal application only, there are three that may be tested by others:
(1) Confession of Christ, I John 2:22,23.
(2) Righteousness of life, I John 3:10.
(3) Love of one’s Christian brethren, I John 3:10.
These then constitute credible evidence of a regenerate life.
As a church we recognize a double standard within the church in requirements for office bearers and requirements for members (see report of Committee to Study the Problem of Divorce, 1965 Yearbook, pp. 58, 59). On the basis of Acts 2:41,42 it would be reasonable for the church to hold a dual standard for admittance of persons who have been believers for years as opposed to new believers. Acts 2:42 indicates that in the Jerusalem church, new members were brought into steadfast continuance in being taught the Word, in fellowship, in the Lord’s Supper (“the breaking of bread”) and the prayers (stated prayer times of the church). A church should be prepared to take the babe in Christ into membership and then lead him on into faithfulness in all parts of the church life. But when a Christian of some year’s standing presents himself for membership, a church has a right to expect that his life already demonstrates these normal elements of glad obedience.
Some churches have a sort of reverse dual standard for reception of members. That is, they expect and require more stringent standards for reception of new members than the standards of people who are already members. These churches will tolerate in the lives of existing members that for which they will refuse admittance of new members. If the standards for retention of membership be different from the standards for entrance, the standards for continuing ought to be higher, not vice-versa.
While the early chapters of the Acts seem to indicate that new believers were immediately baptized and brought into full membership in the church, the whole of the New Testament evidence is not conclusive as to whether or not the apostolic church provided for a time lapse between profession of faith and baptism (which was probably the initiatory rite into the church) and/or reception into full fellowship. That period of time may be useful, both as a time for basic teaching and an opportunity for the new believer to demonstrate the reality of the work of God’s grace in his life.
Immediacy of full reception of converts on or soon after Pentecost in Jerusalem may not necessarily be normative for practice today. It would be presumed that those Jewish converts were well schooled in the Old Testament, the only Scriptures that the church possessed at that time. Furthermore, the relationship of the newly emerging church to Judaism was unclear and changing.
Hodge discusses the practice of the early church regarding catechumens, which involved a time lapse between profession and baptism. “If baptism involved a profession of faith, it must involve a profession of faith in certain doctrines; and those doctrines must be known in order to be professed. In the early church, therefore, there was a class of catechumens or candidates for baptism who were under a regular course of instruction. This course continued, according to circumstances, from a few months, to three years” (Ibid.,Vol. III, pp. 541, 542). While a delay may be proper and useful, the church should not use or extend this delay so as to force unreasonable and frustrating demands on the babe in Christ for a maturity that is beyond his capacity.
Reception of a believer into membership in a church involves a mutual commitment to a permanent relationship (cf. I Cor. 12:12-27). Present day practices of many Christians and churches, which permit people to move casually from one church in a community to another, do violence to this truth. The Bible never sanctions severance of church ties because of interpersonal problems, which are always to be dealt with and resolved (Matt. 5:2 1 -26; 18:15-20; I Cor. 6:1-8), or for other lesser reasons. Contemporary practice in our culture violates the permanence of the relationship, undercuts the integrity and discipline of sister churches, promotes spiritual and moral laxity among professed Christians and makes the faith look foolish to outsiders.
Because reception to church membership involves mutual commitment to a permanent relationship it should be public. The mutual covenant and acceptance should be clearly stated.
It is the opinion of the committee that it is unadvisable and tends to be destructive of the integrity of church membership to receive children as members.
The Bible Fellowship Church, having its historic roots in Mennonitism, partakes of the Anabaptist heritage. We gladly and reaffirm our belief in the basic Anabaptist convictions, for which many of our spiritual forebears suffered and died; believers’ baptism, a regenerate church membership and separation of the church from the state.
In his introduction to Gideon G. Yoder’s book, The Nurture and Evangelism of Children, President Paul Mininger of Goshen College wrote that the “vision of our (Anabaptist) forefathers centered primarily around two foci: the Christian life as a personal relationship to the living Christ which can best be described as discipleship and the church as the community of voluntarily committed disciples in whom Christ dwells and through whom He is carrying forward His purpose in history” (p.ix).
Within the Mennonite Church, President Mininger goes on, there “has been the growing conviction that the baptism of small children is incompatible with this high view of the Christian life and the church. ” There has, he goes on, “been the gradual realization by church leaders that many of our congregations have become, in reality, ethnic and cultural groups, rather than living churches bound together by their common commitment to Christ. This is the result of losing ‘The Anabaptist Vision’, the admittance into the church of those who were not fully committed disciples and the breakdown of discipline within the brotherhood” (Yoder, ix,x). We in the Bible Fellowship Church might do well to ask ourselves questions along these lines.
Biblical statements on the subject of child evangelism and reception into church fellowship are scant at best. It may reasonably be argued that the virtual silence of the New Testament regarding the conversion, baptism and active life in the church of children should caution us to wait till the individual has “put away childish things” before we presume on the basis of his profession that a genuine regenerative conversion has taken place and admit him to baptism and church membership.
Perhaps the most important statement in Scripture on this subject is in Luke 2:42, which mentions a particular age at which Jesus, the sinless Child, assumed His place, personally, in the life of the Jewish church. “And when he was twelve years old, they went up (to Jerusalem) after the custom of the feast. ” According to the Law every male of Israel was to appear before the Lord at Passover (Exodus 23:14-17; 34:23; Deut. 16: 16). This was to be “in the place which (the Lord) shall choose” (Deut. 16:16), which place was Jerusalem, the site of the Temple.
At the age of twelve a young Jew became ‘a son of the Law’, and began to keep its enactments respecting feasts, fasts and the like. The mention of age implies that since the Presentation (when He was forty days old; Luke 2:22-24; Lev. 12:2-6) Jesus had not been up to Jerusalem” (Alfred Plummer: The Gospel According to Saint Luke, p. 75). Dare we disregard the fact that Jesus, who always obeyed and fulfilled the Law, assumed His adult responsibility under that Law for the first time at the age of twelve? “This age appears to have been regarded by the Jews as a kind of turning point out of the state of childhood” (J. C. Ryle: Expository Thoughts on the Gospels , Vol. II, p. 82). “It was at the age of twelve that the young Jew began to be responsible for legal observances, and to receive religious instructions; he became a son of the law” (F. L. Godet: Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Vol. I, p. 146).
John Lightfoot and John Gill, both extensive and careful student’s of Jewish lore, cite support for the view that the Jews regarded puberty as the time of accountability and assumption of adult responsibility. Lightfoot (cf. Ryle. op. cit. , p. 82) cited Rabbinical writers, “Let a man deal gently with his son, till he comes to be twelve years old; but from that time let him descend with him into his way of living — that is, let him diligently keep him close to that way, rule and act, by which he may get his living.” Gill asserts that “according to the maxims of the Jews, persons were not obligated to the duties of the law, or subject to the penalties of it incase of non-performance, until they were, a female, at the age of twelve years, and one day and a male, at the age of thirteen years, and one day” (John Gill: An Exposition of the New Testament, Vol. I. p. 432. Gill quotes several Rabbis to support his statement. )
We should, then, respect puberty as the point beyond which an adult-type commitment to a church, with the depth and permanence implied in that commitment, can and should be made.
This should not be construed to indicate that the young child has no religious capability or response. But we must be willing to distinguish between early religious response in the child and genuine conversion, based on repentance for sin and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
Gideon Yoder recognizes the difficulty which early spiritual response poses for the church which is committed to believers’ baptism. “Because the child who is being nurtured in the Christian community will make some religious response early, usually around the dawn of self-consciousness (ages three to five), it is difficult in actual practice to maintain the position of believers’ baptism.
“While the first response usually results from religious impressions received and while religious experience is largely social throughout the entire period of childhood, yet the child will begin early to assume some moral responsibility within himself. This is the beginning of the development of conscience and does not indicate that the child is ready for conversion unless one thinks of conversion as a long gradual process beginning with first religious impressions and emotional response and ending with confirmation or baptism. And yet this yearly beginning of the development of conscience and of the acceptance of some moral responsibility is one of the reasons that believers’ baptism is a difficult position” (Yoder: op. cit. , p. 2).
We hold to believers’ baptism because that is what we believe the Scriptures teach. But we may, by our practice, undercut the meaning of that baptism. “In education we have made it easy for the child to respond prematurely. Furthermore, most commitments have been interpreted to mean conversion and readiness for baptism. This has brought to the surface a very significant but embarrassing problem. It has been raised by some educators and theologians in churches which practice infant baptism. The question is, ‘How can churches that claim to practice believers’ baptism exclusively baptize children younger than they can be confirmed in churches which practice infant baptism ? ‘A second question, which sharpens the first, is frequently raised, ‘Don’t you want as much to happen in believers’ baptism as we want to happen in infant baptism and confirmation ?’ These are fair questions and they cannot be evaded. The believers’ baptism churches owe the infant baptism churches an honest answer to these questions “(Ibid., p.6).
We should regard believers’ baptism and admittance to church membership as at least as meaningful and demanding as the act of confirmation in the churches that practice infant baptism. This is why we should refuse to dilute or confuse its significance by baptizing and receiving into full membership those who cannot understand what these really mean and may not have actually experienced their essential pre-requisites.
“Because of the child’s spiritual status there can be no hurry about baptism. Baptism cannot be used as a technique to hold youth. Baptism is meaningful, but it is never more than a symbol. It, of course, symbolizes the new birth. In believers’ baptism the youth must be mature enough to make a free and independent decision. This decision can only be made in the light of other alternatives. Social pressure is not used as a technique in securing commitments. To use social pressure is to endanger the first principle of believers’ baptism — that of freedom. Perhaps the youth cannot be free enough to make an independent decision much ahead of mental maturity” (Ibid., p. 163).
Many of our churches have had sad and difficult experiences with unbelieving or unfaithful adults on the church roll, who were received when they were very young. No one ought to prevent a child from coming to Jesus (Mark 10: 14), but no one ought to read credible evidence of regeneration into a childish profession, which may have no real repentance and no true transformation of life.
IV. Responsibilities of the Church Toward Members
A church has the following responsibilities toward its members:
(1) To promote the development of Christian character and conduct (Rom.6:1-23; 12:9-21; 14:1; 15:7; Gal. 5:16-26; Eph. 4: 22-5:21).
This is discipline in the full sense of the word — teaching and training in an atmosphere of love, with application of sanctions and punishment when necessary. Discipline always aims at the believer’s good and growth.
(2) To maintain purity of life and doctrine among them (I Cor. 5:1-13; I Tim. 1:3-11; Titus 2:1-15; 3:1-11; Heb. 13:9; II John 10, 11; Jude 3,4; Rev. 2:2, 14, 15,20.).
Here again discipline is involved.
(3) To instruct and train them for Christian service and to give opportunity to serve (Rom. 12: 1 -8; I Cor. 12:l-31; Eph.4:8-16).,
(4) To help them in other relationships:
(a) The family (Eph. 5:22-6:4; I Pet. 3:1-7).
(b) The community and state (Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 2:13-17).
©) Their employment (Eph.6:5-9; I Pet. 3:18-21).
(5) To promote hospitality (Heb. 13:2, 16; III John 5-8).
(6) To bring comfort (II Cor. 1:3-7).
(7) To promote harmony and unity (I Cor. 1:10-13; Eph.4:3).
(8) To care for its needy (Acts 6:1-8; I Tim. 5:3-16).
(9) To settle disagreements (Matt. 18:15-20; I Cor. 6:1 -8).
V. Responsibilities of Members Toward the Church
A person who becomes a member of a church has the following responsibilities toward his church:
(1) To live in keeping with the doctrines and standards of the church (John 17:15-17; I Cor.5:6-11; 6:14-18; Eph.5:26,27; Titus 3:10; II John 9,10; James 1:26,27).
(2) To exercise willingly his spiritual gifts within the body (Eph. 4:11-16; I Cor. 12:4:31; Rom. 12:3-8).
(3) To minister under the direction of the church (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:7; I Pet. 5:2, 3; I Tim. 3:1; 4:5; 5:17).
(4) To bear the message of the church to the world outside (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8; Matt. 5:13-16).
(5) To pray for the ministries of the church (Rom. 10:l; Matt. 9: 38; Acts 4:29; Eph. 6:18, 19; Acts 13:2-4).
(6) To support the program of the church financially (Malachi 3:10; I Cor. 9:13, 14; 16:1,2; II Cor. 8:7-9; 9:6,7).
(7) To submit to those whom God has ordained as rulers in the church (Heb. 13:17,24; cf. also references under #3 above).
(8) To attend faithfully the stated meeting of the church (Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:25).
(9) To demonstrate mutual care and concern for the other members of the church (John 13:34; 15:12, 17; Gal. 6:1,2, 10; James 5:9,16).
VI. Denominational Implications and Considerations
Bible Fellowship Churches exist in a relationship of interdependence, which includes mutual co-operation, subordination and respect. This relationship, which may be called by the modern word “denomination”, has some implications for church membership practices.
Since we are known as a denomination and since there is a flow of members among the churches it is desirable to have a substantial agreement among the churches on the meaning of membership and the general criteria for receiving members. The committee hopes that there might be such general agreement with the conclusions of this study.
Since we are dealing with a number of particular churches, we recognize that there is, and must be, room for some differences in practices and peripheral matters. Just as individual believers are unique so local churches differ and each has its peculiar characteristics. The church and her gospel must engage with and speak to the culture and community in which she lives. Since churches differ and since communities differ, we might expect that practices and standards would differ somewhat from church to church. This is indeed the case, and is partly responsible for this study. In these peripheral matters, which are not of the essence of The Faith, we must allow latitude. Some of the statements of Romans 14, which apply to individual believers, might easily apply to churches too. “But thou, why dost thou judge thy (sister church)? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. . .So then each one of us shall give account of (herself) to God. Let us not therefore judge one another anymore. . . So let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another” (vv. 10, 12, 13, 18).
What we speak for, as desirable, then, is uniformity regarding principles but freedom and diversity regarding application of the principles and peripheral matters. Let us agree to disagree on the latter and have done with bickering. Let us recognize that there is real spiritual value in the local church’s working out the application of the principles in her particular situation.
Now, with regard to transfer of members, mutual respect within the denominational relationship demands that every Bible Fellowship Church should be obligated to receive into its membership without question an applicant who is a member in good standing of another Bible Fellowship Church and comes with a letter of dismission from that church, indicating that he is being commended to his new church without reservation. To refuse so to accept the applicant would be to impugn the integrity, judgment and veracity of the sister church.
This committee recommends that we not have a uniform membership application form to be used by all Bible Fellowship Churches. It is virtually certain that no one could devise a form that could be used with enthusiasm by all of our churches. Furthermore, it may be a good experience for a church to write its questionnaire and, periodically, to review and revise that form, if indeed it finds a form desirable.
The committee suggests that membership committees of local churches study and work with this report and then seek to apply its principles to the local needs.
The committee feels that, whether or not a questionnaire is used, it might be very beneficial to request the applicant for membership to write out a statement, giving inconsiderable detail a testimony of faith, both experience and belief, including a candid description of his trials and problems in the Christian life. This statement could then be considered and discussed with the applicant at his interview before the Membership Committee.
(Frank L. Herb, Jr., Chairman; Daniel G. Ziegler, Secretary; James G. Koch, Keith E. Plows, David J. Watkins, Committee).