III. How to Become a Member?
Perhaps a better way to rephrase this question is: who is qualified to be a member of a local church? I wish I can say in order to be a member at Sovereign GraceBibleChurch, you need to take the pastor out to a sushi restaurant. I can only say that if I start a church of Jim Kang. But thankfully, this is a church of Jesus Christ, not Jim Kang! All kidding aside, to be qualified as a “member” of a local church, one must be born-again. This not only is biblical and theological, but it is also one of the key historical distinctions as Baptists. Historically, Baptist churches only allowed regenerate or converted Christians into the covenant membership. In that sense, it is exclusive. Why? Let me give you three reasons why.
First of all, it is because what a church is. As you heard last Sunday, church is, by its very definition, the gathered people or community of God’s redeemed. Those who are not a part of God’s redeemed or saved are welcome as visitors, but membership in a local church only belongs to those who already made their commitments to God by faith in His Son Jesus Christ. We believe that unregenerate members do not share the same spiritual DNA as Christians. Thus joining, mixing or infusing the church with unregenerate or the spiritually dead will only lead to complication, infection, and potentially fatal.
The second reason why the regenerate membership is a must is because of how the church operates. Since Jesus Christ is the head of the church and the church is his body, the growth of such body can only happen as each part of the body functions according to the spiritual gifts that God has given to every believer. Please keep in mind that spiritual gifts are only given to Christians and the sole purpose of spiritual gifts is for the edification or building up the body. Thus, the spiritually dead or the unregenerate individuals do not have the spiritual gifts that can contribute to the genuine growth of the body (cf. Eph. 4:11-16). Two things can be said here: 1) what holds the church together and functional is the participation of every member in the body. Just like our own physical body, what happens if certain cell groups in our body decided not to work? It can become dead, infected or become cancerous. Just like we need every cell to function properly for us to remain physically healthy, spiritually we also need every member in the body to function properly so that we can have a healthy spiritual body. 2) According to Paul what also causes the growth of the body for the building up is once again the proper working of each individual member. One of the signs of a healthy church is when every member contributes to the function of a local church.
The third reason why the regenerate membership is a must is because of what membership covenant signifies. By limiting church membership to only Christians, we are protecting the rest of the church from the wolves in sheep’s clothing. And when we allow the unregenerate individuals into our membership, we are allowing them intimate access to the lives and struggles of other members. One of the ways churches do this is allowing the unconverted members to teach or oversee ministries, which is devastating to the life of the church. There is nothing more devastating to a church than having unqualified people in the position of leadership or influence. Show me a church that doesn’t take God’s truth and sin seriously, I’ll guarantee you that there are unqualified individuals in leadership position. And generally churches like this are filled with members who think they are saved when in fact they don’t have the proper truths of the gospel. All that is to say, spiritual regeneration is must to become a member of a local church, including here at Sovereign Grace. A. W. Tozer said, “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.” Hence the first step toward church membership is your spiritual regeneration. You must be born-again. Spiritual rebirth is needed to be in the spiritual family.
Let me now add another step toward church membership that many churches tend to neglect or ignore. Since you have heard loud and clear that church membership is only granted to those who have been born-again, the question is, how does a church know whether one is a genuine believer? The second step toward church membership is the observable fruit or the evidence of saving grace.
To discern who is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, the most visible and reliable criteria for which we can look for is the fruit of godly character and actions. And let me give you why the church must demand such fruit: it is because Jesus says so (cf. Matt. 7:15-20; John 15:1-11). Not only Jesus commanded us to examine the fruit, but also by the apostles (cf. Gal. 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:4-11). Increasing conformity to godly character is a way to discern whether such profession to Christ is genuine. All this is to say, observing one’s profession of faith and one’s character takes time. That is why I’m in the opinion with many pastors that there is no reason to rush someone into a church membership haphazardly without giving some time to check them out. Hence for us at Sovereign Grace we require every prospect to take the FOF (Fundamentals of Faith) Class, which generally runs up to 16 weeks or so prior to meeting with the leadership. It’s my understanding that the Puritans took about a year or so for the prospects to become members in their churches.
Perhaps the most visible and basic criteria to church membership is the believer’s baptism. As a matter of fact, the last paragraph in our church’s bylaws Article 5, Section 1 states:
Church membership in Sovereign GraceBibleChurch shall be open to all persons who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and who have been baptized by immersion. These persons, who have applied for church membership and have been duly accepted, shall constitute a body, united for purposes set forth in Article II of this Constitution (see Acts 2:36-41).
Thus if you are interested in becoming a member at Sovereign Grace, but not yet been baptized, get baptized first. That’s a first visible act of obedience to Christ.
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