The basis of belonging to the membership of this traditional Baptist church plant is a saving faith in Jesus Christ and a shared vision for the distinctives of what the church should be.
The purpose of membership is to:
- provide that greater heavenly membership an opportunity for earthly expression
- secure committed spiritual and practical support of the ministry
- promote genuine friendships in a context of mutual ministry, encouragement, and exhortation, among the members
- create a participation in Jesus’ kingdom on the earth, in a way that is beyond what we can do on our own
Membership in a Christian church is a public declaration of affiliation with a body believers in Christ Jesus. It is entered into freely and may be ended freely, with a due consideration of the church’s stated process of membership.
The Process of Becoming a Member: Meeting with the elders, Public Testimony, Enrolled in the Membership
Understanding that a saving faith in Christ and a shared vision for the distinctives of this church plant as essential to membership, any person wishing to become a member of this Traditional Baptist Church is invited to meet with the elders. The purpose of meeting with the elders (or church planter if there are no elders at present) is to assess, as much as is possible, the validity of a person’s profession of faith and his or her agreement with the doctrinal position of the church. As there is no need to rush these matters there is the mutual benefit for the elders and the person in question to have time to pray and to reflect over things, while one or more meetings may occur regarding the subject of membership. What is important during this period is a mutual sense of blessing and confirmation, as best as can be discerned, upon the prospect of membership.
The prospective member is then asked to give his or her personal testimony in the public assembly and to state publicly that they are in agreement with the distinctives and doctrinal position of the church.
Upon the same occasion of the personal testimony and doctrinal affirmation, the elders affirm the person’s membership with the church and prayer is made for the mutual benefit and blessing of the new member and the congregation, for so long as Christ would have it to last in that particular local assembly.
The Symbolic Nature of Membership
Here we must keep in mind that the local and visible church is only an imperfect reflection of that universal and invisible church of the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Word of God says that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church [Matt. 16:18] it is referring to the universal and invisible body of believers, not of the local and visible expression. For there have been many local congregations that have disappeared or have been taken over by false doctrine. [Paragraph Used Elsewhere]
Furthermore, it is imperative that a right perspective be maintained in what membership is dominant. Some well-meaning Christians have so over-emphasised the importance of the local church that one cannot have any sound biblical reason for ceasing a membership at a local church. At the outset it needs to be understood that the local church membership reflects that higher and more important membership in heaven. Consequently, while the importance of local membership is deeply appreciated and valued, there is an even more deeply felt appreciation for that membership in which our names are recorded in heaven.
The implications of this are truly liberating and helpful to a Christian’s spiritual well-being. In light of Christ’s Kingdom being larger than any local assembly it is important to understand that every member’s membership with a local church must be set at liberty within Christ’s universal and invisible church. In other words, if a member believes that Christ would have him or her to cease the expression of their larger membership at this particular local expression, then in obedience to Christ he or she should do so. Ministers must utterly reject feelings of personal betrayal and disappointment and must rather cultivate within the assembly an understanding that promotes an awareness Christ’s greater interests.
If a member believes that they should change the place of their local membership, the assembly and leadership, though saddened to see friends depart, are to understand that their’s was the privilege for that season. Christ may lay it upon some member of the church that he is to go and do such and such and though he may be inclined to stay, he is nevertheless helped by the congregation and the elders to be obedient to Christ. Individuals and groups may be called upon by the Lord to participate in some other part of Christ’s Kingdom and there may be difficulty in leaving an already comfortable situation for a less than encouraging alternative. Only an enlightened leadership and a supportive congregation can help such Christians face the difficulties that Christ might set before them, when they would much rather remain where they are.
The imperative issue is the individual freedom of the believer to be where the Lord would have them to be, just as any minister would reserve the right to individually know, first and foremost, between himself and the Lord, where God would have him to be within Christ’s Kingdom.
The Process of Ceasing a Membership: Meeting with the elders, Public Testimony, Removed from the Membership
The same process must of necessity occur when one does believe that membership is to cease with the local fellowship that they are a member of. This is helpful to ensure that it is ended with the blessing of Christ. It need not take as long, but is not to be rushed when there is a perceived problem by the eldership between various members or with the departing member. In regard to wrongful reasons, the process will help guard against those caught up in sins that are inconsistent with salvation, such as hidden sexual infidelity. One cannot just drop their publicly acknowledged membership without an organisation’s due acknowledgment of it, upon a like public declaration of intent. This process with help to expose reasons that really need more addressing, rather than merely fulfilling some perceived need to escape tension or restraint.
The eldership does not possess any power to retain the membership of any person with a local church, as any person can just get up and leave. What the eldership can do is to seek to the best of their ability to mediate any negative relationships and to genuinely seek for the good of any who are seeking to depart. In the event of a sudden departure, without any consideration of the church’s process, the elders have at their discretion the option to cease the membership without any said blessing of Christ upon the departure. The elders also have the discretion to do the same for those who depart under the guise of sins that are inconsistent with salvation.
In regard to any departure under the blessing of Christ, such as a desire to seek out another place of service or teaching ministry, this process will demonstrate a wholesome and loving relationship between those whose mutual and ultimate membership is in heaven.