Accepting Candidates for Membership

This past Sunday I preached on 1 John 4:1-6. The big idea was that the church is to discern which spirits are from God and which are from the world. Many scholars agree that John was dealing with a heresy that was in its early stages and would eventually grow to be gnosticism. Basically, gnosticism saw all things in this world (i.e. flesh) as evil and those things in the spiritual world as pure and perfect. Therefore for those who maintained this kind of dualism, Jesus could not have came in flesh since flesh was of this world and therefore evil. It also meant that one could live anyway they chose since it only affected the flesh, which was already impure, and not the spirit. In John’s letter there are several Christological and moral affirmations that gave assurance of a redeemed life. Essentially he was writing to correct a false understanding of Jesus and how He is to be lived out in the Christian life. Those who confessed a true doctrine of Jesus and lived according to His commandments could be assured of an already abiding presence of Christ in their lives, as opposed to the false teachers and prophets not abiding in Christ who maligned Him and His commandments.

John wanted the church to realize its responsibility to keep herself pure from false prophets, false teachers, and false living. That is why he began this portion of the letter (4:1-6) with the two commands: not to believe every spirit and to test the spirits. In unpacking all of this, I finally came to the application that dropped some jaws. The way we accept members into our church is unbiblical. I always assumed it was proper to accept someone who walked forward during the invitation and answered correctly that they accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior and was properly baptized. A thirty second interview later and voila, new members! Yet, as I study and read more scripture, I am realizing that each generation has the responsibility to be guardians of truth, morals, and church membership.

I read that early Baptists would require any candidate for membership to give their testimony to the church, answer theological questions, and finally come under a time of watch care to see if the person exhibited fruits of a redeemed life. Obviously our forefathers took the commands of not believing and testing seriously. Fast forward to today, what does a biblical method of accepting transfer members look like in the 21st century? While I don’t claim a perfect model and it is definitely a work in progress, here are some ideas with which I have been toying:

1. Stop voting on membership at the moment when someone presents themselves. Move it to a business meeting. After all, don’t we vote to transfer members out of our fellowship at that time?

2. Require an orientation class for membership. This class would be an opportunity to present the candidates our basic philosophy on who we are and how we live out the command to make disciples. During this class we would present our church covenant, basic statement of beliefs, and our mission and vision statements. Ultimately, it would be a vehicle by which we could get people plugged into the mission of the church.

3. Take one on one time to talk with the candidates about their salvation. If they realize they are not saved, encourage them and lead them to come to the Lord. If saved help them construct a written testimony of their salvation to present the church. Also help them clear up any unfinished business (baptism, repenting from a particular sin) if necessary.

4. Have them somehow demonstrate their agreement with our church covenant/statement of beliefs. Also have them commit to using their time, talents, and tithes in helping our church achieve her mission and vision.

While I don’t expect Immanuel B. C. to make an 180 degree turn immediately, I am in the process of praying and proclaiming in an effort to allow the Holy Spirit to move in His people. May Jesus be glorified as Lord of His church!

On a side note, it will be some time before I am able to blog again. I have several responsibilities weighing upon my time during the months of June and July. While I may be able to sneak one in here or there, I will for the most part be absent. I look forward to seeing many of you in Louisville.