On this latest Dividing Line broadcast, I brought a third teaching in a series on the Church, dealing with the often neglected subject of discipline. A Church failing to exercise discipline among its members is an unloving Church, walking in disobedience to Christ.
In 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?
Hour 1: Returning to guest host on this Dividing Line broadcast I was able to walk through numerous New Testament texts which only make sense in the light of formal Church membership.
Hour 2: Having previously established that formal Church Membership is a biblical mandate and requirement, I then discussed what it entails as God’s intended blessing for disciples of Christ.
Hour 3: The Guardrail of the Creeds: While never rising to the same authority as sacred Scripture (which alone is the word of God), the ancient creeds and confessions of the Church have served the people of God through the ages as concise and precise summaries of what the Bible teaches on very vital matters. These include, amongst others, the doctrine of God, the person and work of Christ, how a man is justified in God’s sight as well as the doctrine of last things (eschatology). On this Dividing Line, I taught on the practical value of the ancient Creeds and Confessions of the Church.
This morning, I had the privilege, of guest hosting Dr. James White’s Dividing Line broadcast and taught for an hour on “A Biblical Case for Church Membership” walking through numerous New Testament texts which only make sense in the light of formal Church membership.
Dr. John MacArthur
How to Recognize a Real Church – Part 1
How to Recognize a Real Church – Part 2
Why You Should Join a Church:
Mark Dever gives a very helpful and informative lecture on the subject of the Church (ecclesiology), followed by a question and answer time:
Mark Dever, Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, concludes the 6th annual Contemporary Issues Lecture Series with a message titled “Membership” (November 11, 2009).
Dr. John MacArthur Bible-believing church. Christians are commanded to respect, honor, and obey those whom God has placed in positions of leadership in the church (Heb. 13:7, 17). However, there are times when it becomes necessary to leave a church for the sake of one’s own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men. Such circumstances would include:
If heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Gal. 1:7-9).
If the leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship (Rom. 16:17).
If the church is characterized by a wanton disregard for Scripture, such as a refusal to discipline members who are sinning blatantly (1 Cor. 5:1-7).
If unholy living is tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:9-11).
If the church is seriously out of step with the biblical pattern for the church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14).
If the church is marked by gross hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to acknowledge its true power (2 Tim. 3:5).
This is not to suggest that these are the only circumstances under which people are permitted to leave a church. There is certainly nothing wrong with moving one’s membership just because another church offers better teaching or more opportunities for growth and service. But those who transfer their membership for such reasons ought to take extreme care not to sow discord or division in the church they are leaving. And such moves ought to be made sparingly. Membership in a church is a commitment that ought to be taken seriously. Continue reading
Jeff Robinson is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and a contributing writer for the online church history journal, Credo. He serves as senior fellow for the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist History and Tradition and is an adjunct professor of church history at SBTS. He we need to meet with you and discuss our future at the church. We have been praying about transferring our membership to another church.” Naturally, you ask the inevitable question, “Why?” The answers are as varied as the variety found in wayfaring members, ranging from “The church up the street has more to offer my youth/children” to “We just don’t find things exciting here anymore,” or most troubling, “We love you and your preaching, pastor, we we don’t really like this church.”
There are certainly legitimate reasons to leave a church and sadly, it sometimes become necessary or even a duty to find a more biblically faithful body. Sometimes churches become theologically or morally bankrupt, leaving a sound believer no choice. But it seems in our self-intoxicated, consumer-driven evangelical culture, what is often referred to as “church hopping” seems to have reached a virtual epidemic. There are a number of reasons for this reality with biblical illiteracy, a loss of a robust ecclesiology, a distaste for authority, the disappearance of church discipline and the decay of meaningful church membership ranking high among them.
When should you leave a church? I think it is helpful to first think through a number of reasons why not to leave a church. Here are a few illegitimate reasons for leaving a church, reasons I have heard over the years:
Because our children want to go to another church. The most spiritually immature (presumably) members of the family should not single-handedly make the most important decision facing a family. This is perhaps the most common reason I have heard for people leaving a church and I find it deeply troubling.
Because there aren’t many people here my age. The body of Christ is supposed to reflect the culture which is made up of a diversity of ages and backgrounds. The church is not a social club, but the gathering of sinners saved by grace. The world should be at odds to explain the church. It should wonder, “What is it that brings together such a diverse collection of people in such a tight bond of love?” Continue reading
by “Why do I have to be a member of a church?” Over the course of the years the character of that question has increasingly shifted from honest inquiry to incredulous accusation. In fact I am no longer surprised when believers get angry at me for insisting that sincere discipleship requires church membership. Low and erroneous views of the church are so rampant even among conservative, Bible believing Christians that any congregation that does not exercise extreme care in receiving members is sure to find itself a large percentage of mere “paper members” whose names appear on the roll but whose bodies are largely absent from most gatherings and fellowship and ministry initiatives.
Baptists in former days saw the issue quite differently. Membership mattered to the early Baptist churches in England and America in the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, it would have been inconceivable for those early Baptists to regard membership in a local congregation as optional or incidental.
Imagine if the following convictions about the church were commonplace today among professing Christians: Continue reading