Why must I be “Saved” to Join Your Church? or ...Saved (Regenerated) Church Membership!
Are local Baptist churches committed to snobbery?
Is it reasonable to ask a perspective member to give a believable, personal, testimony of their conversion? The biblical distinctive of Saved Church Membership is another concept that separates biblical Baptists churches from other denominational groups. The fact is that historically this doctrine is more important to Baptists than baptism by immersion. Let me explain…
There are two senses of “church” in the NT, the invisible/universal church, and the visible/local church.
The Invisible or Universal Church
Theologians have found the concept of the invisible or universal church (i.e. all those who have trusted in Christ from the day of Pentecost to the rapture or catching away). It is deemed the invisible church because one can not look at another and know if that he/she is saved. It is the universal church in the sense that it encompasses all true believers regardless of their time in history, the location, and the name which their group calls its self.
The Visible or Local Church
Theologians have also found the concept of the visible or local church. It is visible because one can see others who meet together and profess to be saved. It is called local because it meets in a locality. It is the Tenth Presbyterian, Church of the Cross Methodist, West Broadway Baptist Church, Shadow Mountain Community Church, or some such name.
Some churches such as the congregation I grew up in, Fairgreen Presbyterian Church teach that the wheat and the tares (saved who can’t be sure they are saved, and the unsaved who can’t be sure they are saved) grow up together in the covenant community and that God would straighten it all out in the end. The proof text for this idea is… Matthew 13:24-30 ESV usually from the RSV:
Another parable he put before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, `Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?' He said to them, `An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, `No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
It is suggested that the “church” is inclusive. That is, it includes anyone who wishes to join, or anyone who has grown up therein (eg. me, my parents, my grandparents, my great grand parents, my great, great grandparents etc.) Anyone? Yes anyone! However this is misleading, it serves as an example of the saying, “a text out of context is a pretext.”
A Fuller Explanation
Later in that same chapter, Jesus clearly explains the parable to His disciples (incidently, we also have the explanation Matthew 13:37-43 ESV). The field is not the kingdom, not the covenant community, not the church. Jesus said, "The field is the world..." (v.38) Christians are not to go about the world claiming dominion, or pestering and persecuting till others believe, but by prayer and persuasion explaining the good news so that others become responsible to believe! Once one becomes a child of God by being born again into God’s family (BTW the Bible never speaks of the grandchildren of God, or great grandchildren etc.) they are a part of the church (invisible/universal). The next step for a child of God is to become a member of a church (visible/local). One is not a member of the church preceding salvation. A local church should not receive unbelievers into their fellowship! One my say, “That’s a dogmatic statement, how can you say such a thing?” I can say such a thing for three simple reasons: the original language indicates this, the NT dictates this, and reason predicates this.
The Original Language Indicates This
The Greek word ecclesia, which is a means a “called out group” in the classical sense, characterizes citizens that were called out of their homes into a public place. In the biblical sense it refers to those called out of the world unto God. God’s church is made up of those called out of the masses to God and for God. The body of Christ (the invisible church) is composed of believers and I hope you will agree that the local church should reflect this model.
The NT Dictates This
Fifty days after Christ’s resurrection was the day of Pentecost. On that day Peter the apostle (NOT the Pope) preached a powerful message of good news! Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (Acts 2:14-36). On that day God began the church, the body of Christ: all who believed from that day till the end of the age. The church of Jerusalem (NOT Rome) was founded that day. If we break it down further, we can see that Acts 2:41 describes the events on the “Day of Pentecost” while vv. 42-47 describe events of the weeks and months that followed. In v.47 we read that God added to the church such as should be saved. Those who were saved were baptized and added to the church. There is no example in Scriptures of a believer refusing to be baptized and join a local church.
Reason Predicates This
I asked my ABF why it is important that we admit only those who give a credible testimony of personal salvation. One quoted, Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Another quoted from 2Cor.6:14 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” Another said, “Unless we are on the same page, we would not be working as a team.” This prompted another who asserted “An unbeliever may have different agendas than believers do…” The discussion continued to snowball, “Unbelievers might want to use and influence others to fulfill a social program instead of the great commission… we could lose our focus and forget our mission.” Good answers! There were other answers given too. We had a good discussion time that day. The answers were all reasonable. Saved church membership is reasonable because it unifies the members, it gives us a sense of family and brings us into full responsibility to one another (see my wife’s post here. This was also part of our discussion at that time too).
This is a very practical, biblical, Baptist distinctive. What are some commitments or obligations of members in your church toward the Pastor/s and other members? How may this be applied to business meetings? In what ways do you value this concept? Perhaps you do not like it … tell me why. Use Scripture whenever applicable. :-)
In His fellowship,