Should Every Christian Join a Church?

Article by Dr. Mark Dever (an excerpt from What is a Healthy Church? – original source here) Pastor Dever (Ph.D. Cambridge) serves as the Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and is the author of several books including Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel.

Sometimes college campus ministries will ask me to speak to their students. I’ve been known, on several occasions, to begin my remarks this way: “If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell.”

You could say that it gets their attention.

Now, am I just going for shock value? I don’t think so. Am I trying to scare them into church membership? Not really. Am I saying that joining a church makes someone a Christian? Certainly not! Throw any book (or speaker) out the window that says as much.

So why would I begin with this kind of warning? It’s because I want them to see something of the urgency of the need for a healthy local church in the Christian’s life and to begin sharing the passion for the church that characterizes both Christ and his followers.

Many Christians in the West today (and elsewhere?) tend to view their Christianity as a personal relationship with God and not much else. They generally know that this “personal relationship” has some implications for how they should live. But I’m concerned that many Christians don’t realize how this most important relationship with God necessitates a number of secondary personal relationships—the relationships that Christ establishes between us and his body, the Church. God doesn’t mean for these to be relationships that we pick and choose at our whim among the many Christians “out there.” He means to establish us in relationship with an actual flesh-and-blood, step-on-your-toes body of people.
Why do I worry that if you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member in good standing of the local church you attend, you might be going to hell? Think with me for a moment about what a Christian is.

What a Christian Is

A Christian is someone who, first and foremost, has been forgiven of his sin and been reconciled to God the Father through Jesus Christ. This happens when a person repents of his sins and puts his faith in the perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In other words, a Christian is someone who has reached the end of himself and his own moral resources. He has recognized that he, in defiance of God’s plainly revealed law, has given his life over to worshiping and loving things other than God—things like career, family, the stuff money can buy, the opinions of other people, the honor of his family and community, the favor of the so-called gods of other religions, the spirits of this world, or even the good things a person can do. He has also recognized that these “idols” are doubly damning masters. Their appetites are never satisfied in this life. And they provoke God’s just wrath over the next life, a death and a judgment the Christian has already tasted a bit of (mercifully) in this world’s miseries. Continue reading

How to Pray for Your Pastor

Article by Melton Duncan, a ruling elder at Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C. (original source here)

When Roman legions invaded Caledonia (modern-day Scotland) in the late first century AD, it was said by the historian Tacitus that the powerful Celtic chieftain Calgacus emerged and rallied his tribes against the might of Rome, famously declaring, “They make a desert, and they call it peace.”

Today’s Christian pastor is likewise making similar stands for biblical Christianity in the midst of a secular desert created by an anti-Christian culture. The Bible describes a faithful pastor as an elder who oversees the flock and the household of God. According to Paul, pastor/elders rule the church (Titus 1:5) and guard the treasures of Christ (v. 9). Additionally, they minister to the people by teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).

If ever there was an era in Christian history that believers should be committed to praying for their pastors, it is now. James rebukes our prayerlessness when he says, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). And what prayers are we offering up to God on behalf of our pastors? Let me suggest several.

THAT HE WOULD DELIGHT IN PREACHING

If your minister is not being blessed and instructed by the Word, it is highly unlikely that you will be. Your spiritual well-being is directly linked to your pastor’s seeking the Lord in his preparation for the sacred desk. If he is not diligently seeking the Lord, you won’t find Him in his preaching either.

A godly pastor is a joyful, dutiful herald of the most high King. His enthusiasm for proclaiming God’s Word will be infectious and unstoppable, and it will be readily apparent to all who hear him that this is a man who knows his God. Second Timothy 4:1–2 reads:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

THAT HE WOULD ENJOY THE LORD’S WAY

I suspect that many people who sit week after week in the pews of their particular church have no idea how difficult a Sunday is for a minister and his family. Pray for your pastor’s Sundays. Robert Murray M’Cheyne says: “A well-spent sabbath we feel to be a day of heaven upon earth. … We love to rise early on that morning, and to sit up late, that we may have a long day with God.”

THAT HE WOULD LEAD HIS FAMILY WELL

Pray that God would help your pastor in the midst of busyness to taste and see that the Lord is good. Pray that his children would grow up loved and cherished in the household of faith. Joel Beeke says: “Family worship is the foundation of child rearing. As family worship goes, so will go the family. The Puritans thought family worship was the whole backbone of society.” We read in Deuteronomy 6:4–7:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

THAT HE WOULD HAVE A HEART FOR THE LOST

May your pastor have a Christlike love for the lost and a joy in telling others about the Shepherd-King. If a man loves the Lord, he will love telling others the old story of the gospel. He also will teach and model for others a renewed sense of evangelism and mission. He is worthy to receive the glory and honor due Him (Rev. 4:11). Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, is worthy to receive the reward. We need our pastors to have a zeal for the lost.

THAT THE LORD WOULD PROTECT HIM

A growing personal relationship with Christ will supply the motivation and zeal needed for a pastor’s duty to God. It will be tiring. It will require an all-in, total commitment. Pray that God would provide every physical and emotional need for the call to serve. Pastors are often subject spiritual temptation, so pray for God to protect these men from the evil one. Pray that they would guard themselves and be granted personal holiness. Pray that they would apply the means of grace to their own hearts, by God’s help.

THAT HE WOULD PREACH THE GOSPEL

Thomas Smyth of the antebellum historic Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston, S.C., once charged a young pastor by saying:

Preaching is your pre-eminent employment, so the Gospel is the sum and substance of your preaching—the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation.

Necessity is laid upon you, yea, woe is unto you if you preach not the Gospel. … Preach Christ as set forth in the Gospel—the sum and substance of God’s testimony, and the author of eternal salvation to all who believe upon him.

Preach—this glorious Gospel of good news—first and last, every way, and everywhere, in public and in private; in the pulpit and by the press; to the living and to the dying; to the lost and the saved.

Pray for your pastor, pray as if your very life and those you love depended upon it.

Why You Will Join the Wrong Church

Article: Why You Will Join the Wrong Church by Sam Emadi (original source here)

Samuel Emadi is a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and a PhD candidate in biblical studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as the director of theological research for the president of the Southern Seminary.

The most read New York Times article from 2016 had nothing to do with politics, culture wars, or comic book movies. Instead, the most-read article of 2016 was all about commitment.

The piece, titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” was written by Alain de Botton. In it, de Botton takes shots at our culture’s idea that the ultimate foundation for commitment in marriage is romantic affection, that feeling of compatibility that means the other person will finally fulfill my needs and make me truly happy.

We all know this is misguided, so much so that de Botton predicts every married person will eventually find inadequacies so severe in their spouse that it will prompt them to ask, “Did I marry the wrong person?” He humorously notes, the relational arc of a marriage leans away from idealistic romantic sizzle as “maddening children . . . kill the passion from which they emerged.”

CHURCH AND OUR CULTURE

As I read de Botton’s article, I couldn’t help but see how much of our culture’s view of love and commitment mirrors how many Christians view church membership. Many Christians’ broken relationships with their churches resemble patterns of the divorce culture and its attendant assumptions about authority, love, and compatibility.

Almost every Christian knows what it’s like to question whether they joined the “right church.” After an initial “honeymoon stage,” we begin to see our church’s problems with greater clarity than we see its strengths. The sermons start to seem too intellectual, or not intellectual enough. The church begins budgeting for ministries that don’t seem deserving of the dollar figure on the spreadsheet. The small groups don’t meet our needs in the ways we’d hoped.

More personally, the needs of other church members begin to encroach increasingly on our own personal freedoms. Some members sin against us—even without knowing just how deeply we’ve been wounded. Without even realizing it’s happening, we begin to wonder whether our local assembly is the “right” place for us. Of course, we remind ourselves that there’s no such thing as a perfect church—something we’ve even told our fellow church members. And yet, we can’t help but grapple with the nagging question: “Did I join the wrong church?”

“DID I JOIN THE WRONG CHURCH?”

The problem with this question is that it assumes church life shouldn’t be hard. It assumes the “honeymoon stage” should continue in perpetuity or that something has gone awry if we experience significant disappointment or hurt from our relationships with other members or the church’s leadership.

But these assumptions reveal a deep and unthinking commitment to consumerism: only if the perks of membership outweigh its inconveniences will we think it’s worth it to stick it out. Regrettably, many Christians seem trapped in a perpetual cycle of this type of cost-benefit analysis.

I’ve found that Christians most often push eject on their membership not because they’re upset at the church’s budget or because they disagree on matters of polity. Instead, Christians leave their churches for the same reason people leave their marriages: a lack of relational depth and affection. In other words, many Christians leave their churches because they just don’t seem compatible with the church or because the relationships leave them feeling a little dry.

Personal relationships, however, were never meant to serve as the foundation for our sense of church commitment. If we pursue relationships as the foundation of our belonging, we’re more likely to be inescapably trapped in the consumerism and “met-needs” mentality at the heart of our divorce culture. However, instead of valuing consumerism, the Bible roots our membership in the idea of a covenant, which offers an infinitely superior alternative.

COVENANT PRECEDES COMMUNITY

Tim Keller notes in his book on marriage that a covenant “creates a particular kind of bond . . . a relationship far more intimate and personal than a merely legal, business relationship. Yet at the same time, it is far more durable, binding, and unconditional than one based on mere feeling and affection. A covenant relationship is a stunning blend of law and love.”

When the Bible speaks about the church, it refers to it as a covenant community. Church members aren’t just part of a shared interest group. They’re covenanted to one another by a sacred promise to oversee one another’s membership in the kingdom and faithfulness to King Jesus (Matt. 18:15–20). The New Testament unfolds the details of that sacred promise: We regularly gather together (Heb. 10:24–25), bear one another’s burdens and sorrows (Gal. 6:2), encourage one another (Heb. 3:12–14), pray for one another (Jas. 5:16), and forgive one another (Col. 3:13). Many churches helpfully formalize these biblical instructions into a church covenant, a set of promises members make to one another when they enter into membership.

These covenant obligations are the foundations of our church commitment and should function as the backbone to church life. Covenant precedes community. We might even say covenant creates community. The covenant promises members make to one another blossom into the life-giving relationships our hearts crave.

Rooting commitment in our covenant promises doesn’t mean that church relationships are nothing but soulless duty. Instead, covenant commitments are the food that nourishes our relationships with other members. The more we hold ourselves to our covenant promises, the more our relationships blossom and endure through seasons of difficulty. Again, as de Botton perceptively notes in his article, “Compatibility is an achievement of love, it must not be its precondition.” The world argues that affection is pre-requisite to commitment. But the biblical picture is actually quite the opposite: commitment and service create affection.

I’m amazed at how this principle works out even in my own life. A few years ago, after a couple in our church had a baby, my wife and I signed up through the church’s member care ministry to bring them a meal. Our act of service, however, wasn’t rooted in a pre-existing relationship with this couple. In fact, we barely knew them. We simply wanted to be faithful to our covenant promises to “bear one another’s burdens.” Yet that service, rooted in our covenant commitment, ultimately blossomed into a sweet friendship between our two families. We weren’t expecting a relationship to bloom, but that’s what happens when you hold yourself to covenant promises, even with people you barely know.

COVENANTS CARRY YOU THROUGH SUFFERING

The reason God roots the most important relationships in the world—like marriage and church membership—in covenants is to ensure they endure through fire. Have you ever noticed how traditional marriage vows were designed to ensure couples prepare to love one another well in the midst of suffering? Couples pledge themselves to one another even in “poverty” and “sickness” until parted by death.

This same expectation of future trials also marks the promises church members make to one another. We pledge to “bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2) and patiently bear with and forgive the sins of our brothers and sisters who wrong us (Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:32). If we make our covenant commitments the ground of our life and relationships in the church, we come to expect the rough patches and prepare to face them with godliness.

While our affections for our church and its members can be fickle, easily dissipating as soon as circumstances shift unfavorably, our covenant commitments never fade. As Keller notes, covenants are by their very nature oriented toward the future. They “are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.” In some sense, the whole point of a covenant is to pledge our love and fidelity for the rough times ahead. Thus, covenants carry us through suffering. Once more, de Botton incisively notes, “Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”

FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, STICK WITH THE “WRONG” CHURCH

Joining a church, like seeking a spouse, is daunting. Loving others makes us vulnerable and committing ourselves to a church immerses us in the needs of other sinners. Eventually, every congregation will find a way to get under our skin, frustrate us, or even wound us—and we will do the same to them.

Our relationships will ebb and flow, as will our affection for the church. But the solution is not always looking for a better fit. Instead, we renew our passion and reignite our sense of belonging by holding ourselves to our membership covenant—sacred promises that bind even the “wrong” people together.

Meaningful membership

dever1-1024x682How can I lead my church toward meaningful membership?

(This material has been adapted from Mark Dever’s chapter “Regaining Meaningful Church Membership” in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, ed. Thomas White, and Malcomb B. Yarnell, III, pages 57-60)

Answer
Proclaim the gospel. Preach about God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, Christ’s substitutionary atonement and resurrection, and our need to repent of our sins and trust in him. And make it clear that those who are not committed to one another in love have no reason to think that they have committed to God in love (1 John 4:20-21).
Use a statement of faith and church covenant. Require members to affirm a statement of faith (what a church believes) and a church covenant (how members will live together).

Require a membership class. Help prospective members know what will be expected of them, and what they can expect from the church. Use this opportunity to teach through the statement of faith and the church covenant, the importance of membership, and the practical nuts and bolts of how your church works.

Require an interview with an elder or pastor. In the interview ask the individual to share the gospel and provide an account of their conversion and their discipleship since then. This also provides an opportunity to get to know new people and ask questions in a comfortable environment.

Stop baptizing children. A young child can certainly become a Christian. But a church can’t necessarily discern whether or not a child has become a Christian. Children should be given the opportunity to mature and have occasion to resist the pull of the world. So don’t create confusion by baptizing those whose professions of faith the church cannot reliably assess.

Require congregational approval of new members. Admission into and exclusion from church membership is an act of the congregation (this is an implication of 2 Cor. 2:6). So lead your church to explicitly affirm every member the church receives in and sees off.
Regularly publish an accurate membership directory. Encourage the members to use this as a prayer list.

Give pastoral oversight to members. Try to make sure that every member is in regular conversation with an elder or a mature Christian in the congregation. Take initiative in getting to know what’s going on in the members’ lives.

Cultivate a culture of discipleship. Encourage younger Christians to become disciples of older, more mature Christians. Encourage more mature Christians to take less mature Christians under their wing. Encourage every member of the church to be in multiple spiritually beneficial relationships.

Limit certain activities and areas of service to members. Churches should consider the possibility of restricting its business meetings, public service, and small groups (except for evangelistic ones) to members only.

Revive the practice of corrective discipline. Once you have established a culture of meaningful membership, begin to lead your congregation to excommunicate those who persist in serious unrepentant sin.

The Importance of an Inquirer’s Class

inquirersArticle by Nick Batzig – original source I started one within the first six months. On average we have had two Inquirer classes a year (here is the audio of several installations–in no distinct order–of one such class). Our elders have determined that attending this class is a prerequisite for membership in our local church. I have taught approximately 10 inquirer’s classes over the years. We have vacillated as to the duration of the class. Depending on the current schedule and needs in our church, we either have a 12 week, 10 week or 8 week class. Additionally, we have held the class on either Sunday mornings or on Wednesday nights. One year, due to scheduling, we held the class on several Saturdays. I have progressively realized the importance of such a class. While there has been some changed regarding course material to accommodate our current situation, the content has largely stayed the same. What has happened over the years is that I have become more and more convinced of the benefits of having an Inquirer/New Member class. Consider the following rationale for such a class:

1. It serves the congregation. While it may not seem like the goal of an Inquirer/New Member Class, making it a prerequisite for local church membership can help protect the church from division by discouraging those who might be discontent or cause schismatic harm to the local church. One of the membership vows that men and women take in PCA churches is that they promise to “study the peace and purity of the church;” another has to do with their willingness to “submit to the government and discipline of the church.” When we work through our doctrinal positions in an Inquirer’s class, we hit on such things as “expectations of church members,” “the doctrines of grace” (i.e. Calvinism) and the basic “tenets of Presbyterianism.” I have typically found that those who are strongly opposed to any or all of these teachings (or who are simply divisively argumentative) often will not finish the Inquirer’s class once they hear them taught. This is sometimes a blessing in disguise to the church–as it may protect the congregation from divisive individuals and forseen schisms.

2. It serves those coming for membership. An Inquirer’s class can also serves as a protection for those who might not be a good fit for a particular local church in its current state. For instance, not everyone is cut out for membership in a church plant. I learned that the hard way in the early years of planting. While we must certainly discourage church hopping–and the idea that there is a perfect church situation–we must recognize that sometimes one local church might be better suited to the needs of an individual or family than another. An Inquirer’s class can help this process along in such a way as to benefit those who may–for any number of legitimate reasons–make the final decision not to go forward in joining a particular local church.

On the other hand, an Inquirer’s class can be an enormous benefit to those coming for membership. It can help them learn the various aspects of biblical and local church membership. When expectations of local church members are clearly articulated, those who might not have thought about the biblical requirements for regular Lord’s Day worship, giving and service may begin to do so for the first time in the life. Furthermore, it can serve as a rich time of instruction in the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrines of grace, the doctrine of the sacraments, the doctrine of church discipline, etc. An Inquirer’s class can be a great discipleship tool. How many have become convinced of the doctrines of grace by sitting through a careful consideration of them in an Inquirer’s class! We often forget that many who are coming for membership have never been taught these foundational truths.

Additionally, there is a very real sense in which the members of the church are being instructed to hold the leadership accountable to sound teaching. If an elder decides to teach something that is out of accord with Scripture or our doctrinal standards, members (together with elders) become part of the checks and balances appointed by God. The members of the local church are responsible to test what the minsters teach in the church against the doctrinal standards that they learn about in the Inquirer’s class.

3. It serves the leadership. One of the benefits of an Inquirer’s class is that it gives the leadership the opportunity to better get to know the ecclesiastical backgrounds of the men and women coming for membership. Even if I have had individuals or families into my home, when they come for an Inquirer’s class, they almost always share things that they have been taught by other ministers in other churches. Pastors can better assess where people are spiritually by what they share in an Inquirer’s class. The same is true with regard to the gifts of those coming for membership. I have on many occassions been informed by one of the people in the Inquirer’s class about their own gifts in music, service, etc.–as well as of the gifts of their spouses and children. For some reason, people are more apt to share that sort of information in that setting.

The other way in which an Inquirer’s class can benefit the leadership of the church is that the pastors/elders get the chance to clearly communicate expectations regarding worship attendance, giving, service and submission to discipline. This becomes exceedingly useful when an individual or family in the church begins to become delinquent in any of those areas. I have, on quite a number of occassions, had to remind those we sought to shepherd about what they were taught in these classes and about the vows that they willingly took after the class was through.

Unbaptized Children And New-Covenant Promises?

Topic: Baptism & Church Membership: How Do My Unbaptized Children Relate to the New-Covenant Promises?

Interview by John Piper

Audio Transcript

Ian in Greensboro, as I have explored Reformed theology over the past couple of years, I have learned quite a bit more about the practices of infant baptism and believer’s baptism and why genuine Christians differ theologically. While I am an advocate of believer’s baptism, one accusation I have found troubling is that because we Baptists don’t consider our unconverted children as official participants in the new covenant, we are therefore treating them like pagan children, excluded from the covenant community. As a Baptist, how do you respond to this charge? And further, how should (yet) unsaved children of believers be viewed by the church?”

Piper11Before I say something positive about the way we should view our children — “we” meaning we Baptists — let’s make sure that we realize that both Baptists and Reformed paedobaptists — and I am not talking here about those who believe in baptismal regeneration, but just those who are Reformed paedobaptists or others who don’t believe in baptismal new birth — we all have the same basic problem in how to think about our children. And the difference lies in terminology.

They may not like it when I say this, but I’ll say it anyway. In order for Reformed paedobaptists — those who baptize babies — to say that children are members of the covenant community, they must define covenant community so as not to necessarily mean only the elect, called, regenerate, heaven-bound saints. They have to define covenant community so as to allow for the possibility in that covenant community members who are not elect, not born again.

Now, it is just as impossible, therefore, for a paedobaptist parent to be sure that his child is elect as it is for a Baptist parent. Paedobaptists may feel better about themselves by labeling the child a covenant member, but those children have no better standing before God than the children of Baptists, which brings me now to say something positive about what really does make a difference, not labels, but does make a difference in how children stand before God in both groups.

I can imagine a paedobaptist parent feeling good that his child is a member of the covenant with God, but at the same time neglecting to pray for the child, neglecting to feed the child morning, noon, and night on the Word of God, neglecting to model before the child the joy of the Lord. In other words, there is no necessary correlation between calling a child a covenant member and giving a child what the child needs to become a covenant member, a true covenant member, to be born again. And I can imagine a Baptist parent who does not see his child as a covenant member, but pours out his heart to God every day for his child, pours into the child — morning, noon, and night — the Word of God, exults with joy in the Lord before the child and, thus, the Baptist provides gloriously for what the child really needs in order to become a true covenant member.

So, how do we Baptists really think about our children? That is the basic question. Let me make two negative statements that we use about our children and then five positive ones of which we need feel no shame. First, the negative ones:

1) We do not assume that our children are born again until they make a credible profession of faith. We base that on 1 Peter 1:23, that the new birth is through the Word of God.

2) We do not formalize their union with Christ and his people by membership in the church until that credible profession of faith is publicly signified by baptism.

So those are the two “We do not’s,” the negatives.

Here are the five positive statements.

1) We view them as gifts of God, blessings of God, to be loved and served (Psalm 127:3).

2) We view them as responsibilities that we have been given by God to bring up in the teaching and discipline of the Lord. That is, we are to lavish them with the Word of God and with love and with wisdom morning, noon, and night.

3) We view them as objects of daily mercies in prayer in the hope that God would exercise his saving sovereign grace in their lives.

4) We view them as little ones before whom God has charged us to rejoice so that they can see what it is like to taste that the Lord is good.

5) Finally, we view them as little pilgrims in hope on the way to faith, woven into the fabric of relationships in the family and the church. And we have nothing to be ashamed of in this relationship with our children. It is every bit as hopeful for a good outcome of eternal covenant membership as any other way of viewing children.

A Credible Profession of Faith

church-membershipIn an article entitled “Helpful Questions for Discerning a Credible Profession of Faith” Jeffery Smith writes:

Ebenezer Morris was a powerful preacher in Wales, little known about today. He lived and preached during times of great revivals there and went home to be with the Lord at the age of 56 on Monday, August 15th, 1825. There’s a whole chapter devoted to his life in Volume Two of The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, (reprint 1897, trans. John Aaron 2008 [Carlise, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2008]).

A couple of days before his death two young preachers came to him seeking his advice. What he told them included a very important caution. Before I quote it let me explain that the term “seiat” was the Welsh term for a Welsh Calvinist society meeting. These were organized societies of converts gathered for prayer, teaching and mutual exhortation. They were really, in essence, local churches, operating outside of the established Anglican church of the time. Morris told these two young preachers:

“If you two are allowed to live long then no doubt you will see a period for religion when hardly any new convert joins the seiat. At that time, do not drag unexercised men into the church but wait for God, and seek him, who in his own good time will succeed the work. God gave a promise to Abraham of a son, but Sarai felt the time was long and despaired that she would ever have the privilege of becoming a mother, and so she gave Hagar to Abraham, and Ishmael was born. He was not the son of the promise and this brought much sorrow to Sarai afterwards. So also, you must wait for God’s promise, and not go after the flesh, unto the children of the promise are found for the Church.”

This is very wise counsel, counsel much needed by many of us who are pastors. It speaks to the necessity of requiring a credible profession of faith before receiving a person into the membership of the church. In our church we have what we call a membership interview with any one asking to become member, as do many of you. Below I give a sample list of suggested questions that can be helpful in charitably discerning the credibility of a person’s profession insofar as we are able and required to do so as men who cannot see the heart. In fact, we have actually sometimes given these questions to younger converts and asked them to take them home and write out brief answers to bring back to us in a subsequent meeting. I’m not suggesting that all of these questions should be asked in a membership interview or that all, or any, of them should be handed out to take home to write out answers. I just mention these to give some ideas of the kinds of questions that might be asked. Good, carefully thought out, questions can go a long way in helping us discern where a person is and in guarding the church from the danger Ebenezer Morris spoke of in the quote above. Perhaps, pastors reading this blog might find these helpful. Some of these have been picked up from the suggestions of others. In cases where we actually hand out a document with these questions for a person to take home, at the top is the following introductory paragraph:

Please take the time to think carefully over these questions and answer them in your own words. These are not trick questions so don’t be nervous or worried. We simply desire to know about your understanding of the gospel and what God has done and is doing in your life and to encourage you to think about these things. This will also help facilitate profitable interaction in our membership interview.

Here are the questions that follow:

Are you a sinner? What makes a person a sinner?

Have you ever felt that you deserve God’s wrath and punishment because of your sins? If so why do you think that?

Besides outward sins what are some sins in your heart that you’ve been guilty of that God has shown you?

When Jesus died on the cross what was he doing that has to do with the salvation of sinners?

Can God just forgive sinners or was it necessary for Christ to die on the cross for God to do that? If so why was it necessary?

Are there any good works that you have done that you believe make it right for God to receive you as his child and take you to heaven? If not what are you trusting in for acceptance with God?

What are some verses of scripture that give you hope and comfort when you think about your sins and your relationship to God?

Do you ever pray and read your bible? If so how often?

What are some ways God has changed, or is changing, your attitudes and behavior?

What are some things God has been teaching you lately?

Do you desire, with God’s help, to follow and obey Christ in everything with no exceptions?

When God convicts you that you have sinned in some way what do you do?

Are there any problems you have in your relationship to any of the members of the church?

Do you ever get anything out of the sermons? If so could you give an example of a sermon, or of something in a sermon, lately that has helped you? If so how did it help you?