Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Recovering the Treasure of Regenerate Church Membership

(Part of a series this week)
Recovering the Lost Treasure – So how may we recover the doctrine of regenerate church membership?

Recover the Church’s Calling: First, we must remind the congregation of the church’s calling to purity. We must teach the Biblical necessity and importance of regenerate church membership. Since the day of Augustine (4thC AD), the ideal of a pure church had been abandoned in favor of a corpus permixtum, a church with both believers and nonbelievers mixed in. The Biblical justification was the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), with the field being the church. The problem with that justification is that Jesus said, “The field is the world” (Matt. 13:38). Later the Calvinist doctrine of God’s secret work of predestination in the heart of the elect became another support. Since no one can distinguish with full accuracy those genuinely saved and those who are not, the best solution is to make all the inhabitants of an area (a parish) members of the church. Thus we saw the rise of the state church. Everyone came together and heard the Word of God, and genuine faith would be born in the hearts of those God wanted to save.

Unfortunately, this teaching is not Biblical. The New Testament clearly pictures the church as a body of redeemed believers, God’s people, Christ’s pure Bride, living stones bound together by the Holy Spirit. Despite whatever difficulty we find in distinguishing who is genuinely saved and who is not, this is the ideal we should reach.

Recover the Church’s Competence: Second, we must recover the sense of the competence of the church. While E.Y. Mullins and later more moderate/liberal Southern Baptists of the late 20th Century highlighted the concept of soul competence, earlier Baptists emphasized church competence. The Second London Confession (1689) stated, “To each of these churches thus gathered according to His mind declared in His word, he (Christ) hath given all that power and authority which is in anyway needful, for their carrying on that order in worship and discipline, which he hath instituted for them to observe, with commands and rules for the due and right exerting and executing of that power.”

Church competence is the basis for local church autonomy. Congregations choose their own pastors, accepting and disciplining their own members, and governing themselves in all matters. Unfortunately we have retreated from this high view of church competence, especially in the area of church membership. Who are we, we say, to question the sincerity or genuineness of someone requesting baptism or church membership? Who are we to judge others as needing church discipline? We must begin again to answer, “We are the church of Jesus Christ, given competence and responsibility by Him to act in such matters, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, manifested in the consensus of a congregation of regenerate believers.”

Then there are several practical steps we as a church may take.They will be explored in the tomorrow's post.
I am indebted to John Hammett at Southeastern Seminary for the large portion of this material.