Report of the Committee to Study Local Church Membership Requirements [1987]

[1987 Yearbook, page 129]

On Wednesday, October 15, 1986, the 103rd Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Church passed the following resolution at first reading:

RESOLVED, that the principle of the autonomy of the local church be extended to include the use of Article X of the Standards of Life and Worship for determining requirements for membership and be it further,

RESOLVED, that Article X-A of the Standards of Life and Worship be amended according to the proposal on page 202 of the 1985 Yearbook, as amended by the action of the 1986 Annual Conference.

A. Alcoholic Drinks – the use of alcoholic beverages is one of the most serious social problems in the United States. Its abuse has led to personal and family suffering, serious physical and mental health problems, and increased rates of accidental and criminal injury and death. The financial cost of such beverages and their consequences is a tremendous and unnecessary burden on all of society.

The Scriptures teach that drunkenness is sinful. (1) Due to the addictive quality of alcohol, even the moderate use of such beverages may lead to serious consequences. (2) This especially is true because the alcoholic content of such beverages has been tremendously increased since Bible times. Furthermore, moderate use may be a stumbling-block for believer and unbeliever alike. (3)

Therefore, we strongly and persistently warn our people of the dangers of alcoholic beverages and urge all members of the Bible Fellowship Church to abstain totally from the use, manufacture and distribution of them.

1. Romans 13:13; I Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:18-21

2. Proverbs 20:1, 23:31-35

3. Matthew 18:6-7; Romans 14:20-21; I Corinthians 8:9-11,13

(FIRST READING) (Yes-76; No-38)

Whereas, the Committee to Study Requirements for Local Church Membership has done extensive study which has produced changes in Standards of Worship and Life, Article X, and

Whereas, the efforts of this committee have brought them to a preliminary consideration of implementation of these resolutions, therefore let it be

RESOLVED, that the Committee to Study Local Church Membership study the implementation of these resolutions. (1986 Yearbook, pages 30-31).


The committee met to take up the task assigned to it. Deliberations revealed that it was necessary to be sure that the action of Annual Conference was properly understood and interpreted.

We on the committee believe that Annual Conference intends to extend the principle of the autonomy of the local church to include whether or not the local church will use the standards of Article X as requirements for membership. Article X of the Standards of Worship and Life contains warnings against the use of the harmful indulgences, alcohol, tobacco, narcotics and dangerous drugs. The strong statement adopted by Annual Conference about the use of alcohol is an evidence of continue opposition to the use of alcohol as a beverage. While Annual Conference has chosen at first reading to allow individual churches to make their own decision, it is not saying that it is now good or acceptable to use alcohol, tobacco or narcotics.

Since the decision of Annual Conference was to allow the local church to decide this issue of membership for itself, the committee sees its task to be that of providing some direction for making this decision at the local level. The committee also views its work as that of applying our stance against the use of harmful indulgences to current practice.


We believe that a church can make a decision about using Article X for membership requirements in one of several ways.

1. ELDERS MAKE DECISION. In keeping with our understanding of rule by elder, the committee believes the Board of Elders of the particular church would normally decide the course of action for the congregation. The Faith and Order states:

Amendments to the Principle of Order may be proposed to the churches by a two-thirds majority of those voting at Annual Conference. After the approval of a first reading of the proposed change, the pastor and delegate of each particular church shall be responsible to inform their Board of Elders of the proposed change. (F&O, page 182, 1986 edition).

Since in the case of a proposal to change a principle of order, no further action is required than that listed above, the Board of Elders may make the decision.

2. ELDERS MAKE RECOMMENDATION WITH CONGREGATIONAL ACCEPTANCE. If the Board of Elders believes it best to go to the congregation with this decision, the Faith and Order defines the approach the Board is to take:

When they (the Elders) deem it advisable, they shall present recommendations to the congregation. The congregation shall have the right to agree with, to suggest changes in, or to disagree with such recommendations. Agreement indicates that the congregation is ready to follow the leadership of the Board of Elders. Suggesting changes indicates that the congregation believes that the Board of Elders has overlooked some factors and should revise its recommendations. Disagreement indicates that the congregation is not ready to follow the leadership of the elders (F&O, pages 79-80, 1986 edition).

ELDERS DECIDE TO TAKE NO ACTION. A decision about using Article X for membership will be controversial in some churches. Some churches will not be prepared at this time to deal with this issue. The Board of Elders may, after examining the situation in the local church, decide not to raise this issue. Such a decision is in reality a decision to maintain the membership requirements which are presently in effect in that local church.

There are legitimate reasons why no action may be preferable for a local church. One reason is that the use of harmful indulgences for membership requirements is not an issue of controversy for a local church. In deciding to take no action, a Board of Elders is electing not to purposely introduce controversy. Another reason for taking no action is the spiritual climate of the church. The Board of Elders may determine that the church is not ready to deal with such a controversial issue at that time. If a church has just endured a trying time, it may not be ready to cope with an issue that could be divisive.

The fact that a Board of Elders may choose to take no action at this time does not preclude a decision at a later time. The circumstances in a local church change. While it may not be advantageous to undertake such a major decision now, it may be at a later time.

4. ELDERS ALLOW THE CONGREGATION TO DECIDE. The committee believes that this approach is not generally in keeping with the principle of rule by elder and could create a divisive situation in a local congregation. The issue of the relations between church membership and the non-use of harmful indulgences is highly charged and has the potential for creating deep division. If a Board of Elders defers to the congregation, there is a great likelihood of division. The committee believes that individual Boards of Elders should take the responsibility of leadership and make a decision rather than passing it on to the congregation.


Because the Bible Fellowship Church opposes the use of harmful indulgences, it is necessary to consider how a change in our current statement about the non-use of alcohol will affect our practice.

1. PREACHING, WARNING AND COUNSELING AGAINST THE USE OF ALCOHOL. Since we as a church have openly stated our opposition to the use of alcohol, we believe that pastors ought to preach, warn and counsel against the use of alcohol as a beverage. We remind pastors and elders of the need to confront the use of alcohol and labor to discourage the use of it in any form. Pastors ought to speak to this issue publicly from their pulpit and privately in their counseling.

2. THE SELECTION OF ELDERS AND DEACONS. The question will arise concerning whether or not elders and deacons shall be required to abstain totally from the use of harmful indulgences.

It is the recommendation of this committee that elders and deacons shall be required to totally abstain from the use of harmful indulgences. The portion of Article X which is not being amended reads, “No person using tobacco shall hold office or serve in a teaching capacity in any part of the church program”. The committee believes that its recommendation is consistent with the principle of this requirement.

3. POLICY CONCERNING THE USE OF CHURCH PROPERTY. A question might be raised about the use of alcoholic beverages on church property. While there is not statement in the Faith and Order concerning the use of alcohol on church property, individual churches should be clear about the policy regarding their church. If we are to stand in opposition to the use of alcohol as a beverage, then we must be consistent in what we will permit on our properties. It would be inconsistent to say that we are opposed to the use of alcohol while allowing its use in our facilities. We encourage local churches who have no policy to formulate one for themselves.

4. TRANSFER OF MEMBERSHIP. A question will arise concerning the transfer of membership from church to another if those churches have difference membership requirements. What is to happen if a person who is a member of a Bible Fellowship church which does not require abstinence rom harmful indulgences transfers to a Bible Fellowship church which does require abstinence for membership? The committee believes that a member is to submit to that local body of believers where he is attending. We believe that the transferring member must submit to the membership requirements of that church to which he transfers.

Committee: Keith E. Plows, Robert W. Smock, William R. Singletary, James R. Batchler, Jr., John C. Vandegriff, L. James Roberts, and Richard E. Taylor

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