[The following article, used by permission, was a publication of İBaptist Publishing House, P. O. Box 7270, Texarkana, TX 75505-7270]
A. The dignity and honor of church membership
B. Obligations entailed by church membership
C. The Church Covenant
1. Origin of the Covenant
2. Text of the Covenant
3. Analysis of the Covenant
II. Qualifications for Membership
A. Salvation of the soul
B. A profession of faith
C. Baptism by divine authority
D. Christian deportment
III. Modes of Admission
IV. Modes of Dismission
A. By letter
B. By exclusion
C. By death
To be a member of a Baptist church is a matter of primary importance. It carries the significance of honor, entails grave responsibilities, and brings the member face to face with new challenges in his Christian life. It is a way of cross-bearing for Christ, a flag-bearing in the Christian race, a sword-bearing in battles against the forces of unrighteousness, and a relationship that signals joy and unfurling of the banner of victory. Consider some things that touch upon church membership.
That is affirmed of the person who meets the qualifications for membership for the following reasons:
1. The church is the greatest Institution known to man. To be a member of her means that one occupies a position in the highest and noblest institution upon earth. That is borne out by the testimony of Jesus Himself: "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater then he," Matthew 11:11. As a prophet and as a man of God none excelled John the Baptist, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is positionally greater than John, for he was never a member of the church which is the earthly phase of the kingdom. A member of the Lord's church occupies a position far greater than that of the best of men outside the church.
2. The church is the only institution which has been dedicated with the blood of Christ. The dedication of the temple by Solomon with the blood of animal sacrifice was a type of the dedication of the church with the blood of Christ. He shed His blood after the church had been established. The institutions of men in the world are at best dedicated by human beings apart from the blood of Christ. Denominations, founded by men, cannot claim that honor. Civil governments, although essential and mighty, are void of it. The claim of popes and vicars to possess power to give rank and dignity to the church is nothing better than "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."
3. The church is the only institution which is divinely authorized to carry out the Great Commission. Individuals outside the church membership may testify to the love, mercy, and saving grace of God through Christ by which sinners may be saved, but they fail of the full authority comprehended in the Lord's commission to His church. Members of the church founded by Christ, therefore, possess authority unknown to all outside of the church.
B. The opportunity of church membership
The Jerusalem church set an example for churches in all ages."And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers," Acts 2:42.
1. The church was stedfast or firm, in his practices, not being turned aside by the opposition of the critics.
2. The members enjoyed sweet fellowship with no thought of one rising above the other in authority. The term, "fellowship," signifies equality of partners, or comrades in a common cause. When applied to the members of a church, it denotes a relation based upon a common status.
3. Being in fellowship, in doctrine and personal relationship, the members were eligible for the observance of the Lord's Supper. The Jerusalem church was faithful "in breaking of bread." No one outside a New Testament church has that opportunity. The Lord's Supper Is a church ordinance.
4. There was a prayer life in the church fellowship. The Jerusalem church continued "in prayers." Prayer is a personal privilege and is granted to the children of God everywhere and under all circumstances; nevertheless, it is an essential part of a church worship service. Three outstanding features of a worship service are praying, singing, and preaching.
5. The unique fellowship enjoyed only in church relations is conducive to the highest Christian growth in grace. It makes possible a necessary training in all departments of church work. It makes effectual the ministry of the Word of God at home and in foreign lands. The Apostle Paul recognized that when he requested prayers of the Ephesian church that "utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:19).
C. Obligations entailed by church membership
Although church fellowship is highly desired and essential, being basic and primary, it must not be stressed as if it were the summation of Christian responsibility. The obligations of a church member are numerous.
1. Church devotions should be put ahead of all worldly affairs and personal concerns. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you," Matthew 6: 33. When we reverse that order, we not only question the veracity of our Lord's Word, but we also show our primary attachment to the material things of life and a distrust in the divine benevolence to fulfill the promise. When we do so, we act as if we are more capable than God in managing our business.
2. Church attendance should be regular and in the right spirit (Hebrews 10:25; Psalm 122:1).
3. Financial support of the church is essential. Our giving should be systematic (I Corinthians 16:1, 2), cheerful (II Corinthians 9:7), willing (II Corinthians 8:12), generous (II Corinthians 9:6), sacrificial (II Corinthians 8:2, 9; Hebrews 13:16), for the right purpose (II Corinthians 9:7), and upon the basis of equality (II Corinthians 8:14; Hebrews 7:8). Equality in giving is not measured by an equal amount by each member, but proportionately according to what each possesses (II Corinthians 8:12). Before any gift is acceptable to God, the giver must first give himself to the Lord (II Corinthians 8:5; I Corinthians 13:1-3). All phases of the church and associated work should be supported.
4. Ministering to the needs of others is paramount. One of the greatest privileges a Christian has is to minister to the material needs of others. The Lord accepts such a service as done to Him, especially when we help others in need, for blessings are certain to return to us (I Kings 17:13-16).
5. Winning others to Christ is necessary to the life of the church. Every church member should not only be saved but he should also be a soulwinner, not leaving that greatest of all privileges to ministers. To all the saved Jesus spoke as He did to Peter and Andrew: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Soulwinning was declared by Solomon to be an act of wisdom (Proverbs 11:30). The soulwinner is assured a great reward (Psalm 126:5, 6; Daniel 12:3).
The method used by Philip, the evangelist, in winning the Ethiopian officer to Christ is exemplary (Acts 8:26-40). Philip was led of the Lord (verse 29). He took interest in the call. "Philip ran thither to him," verse 30. He put himself on the level with the officer, speaking along his channel of thought (verse 31). He was lovingly persistent (verse 29). He was told to "join thyself to this chariot." He glued (the word rendered "joined" means "glued") himself to the chariot and stayed on the job. Philip preached Jeans (verse 35). He showed that salvation is in Christ when a person believes in Him (verse 37). He instructed the officer concerning his obligation for baptism after salvation (verses 38, 39).
6. Enlisting the unenlisted members is urgent. About sixty percent of the members of the average church are unenlisted. The burden of responsibility is borne by the minority. How to correct that fault is a difficult problem. Its solution is not the pastor's problem alone. All members are held responsible by the Lord. Some churches find success in an organized visitation program, whereas others pursue haphazard methods. Any method used, if it is to claim that blessing of the Lord, must be in keeping with the demands and potentials of the church. One way to enlist members in the activities of the church is to keep before them the declaration of the Church Covenant.
The history of the Church Covenant, familiar to many because of its appearance in various formats, is interwoven with that of the "Declaration of Faith." Both are found in Pendleton's Church Manual whose first printing was in 1867. A footnote in the manual says "This Declaration of Faith was framed many years ago by J. Newton Brown, D.D."
Concerning Dr. .Brown, Dr. William Cathcart wrote: "He was the author of the little creed so commonly adopted in newly organized Baptist churches, and known as 'The New Hampshire Confession'" (Baptist Encyclopedia, Volume 1, page 146).
The first effort toward the preparation of what became known as the "New Hampshire Confession of Faith and a Covenant" was begun on June 24, 1830, by a committee of three, authorized by the New Hampshire State Baptist Convention. The committee, consisting of N. W. Williams, William Taylor and I. Person (also spelled Pearson), was discharged the following year, and Pearson was authorized to complete the work. At the annual state meeting In 1832, Pearson made his report, which was approved. It was then referred to a select committee of four, including Dr. Brown. That committee reported favorably upon the Pearson articles, with some alterations. The matter was then referred to two members of the select committee, Brethren B. Stow and Brown, to be revised. The revision was completed in October, 1832, when Dr. Brown became the leading character in preparing the final form of the Declaration and Covenant. It was recommended to the churches of the state convention by its endorsers. B. Stow and J. Newton Brown thus were joint authors of the document, although Dr. Brown, because of his leading role In the work, was given credit for its authorship
In 1853 Dr. Brown republished the Declaration and Covenant "under the title of The Baptist Church Manual, 'with such revision as on mature reflection he deems called for after the lapse of twenty years,' and also 'supplying two new articles, one on Repentance and Faith, and the other on Sanctification.' In the advertisement to this pamphlet Mr. Brown claims the authorship of the original publication, and this would seem to settle the question, which is otherwise obscure" (The New Directory for Baptist Churches, pages 541, 542).
The work of preparing "The New Hampshire Declaration of Faith and Church Covenant" was instigated by a State Baptist organization and finished by Dr. J. Newton Brown. Being only recommended to the churches, it was never intended to be an iron-clad creed and covenant to be binding upon any church. Baptists believe and teach the Bible alone to be their authoritative standard of faith and practice.
B. Text of the Church Covenant
As appearing in Pendleton's Manual, the Covenant is as follows:
Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith having been baptized In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we do now in the presence of God, angels and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.
We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church in knowledge, holiness and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, to the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations.
We also engage to maintain family and secret devotions; to religiously educate our children; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment; to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Saviour.
We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of or Saviour to secure it without delay.
We moreover engage that when we remove from this place we will, as soon as possible, unite with some other church, where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's Word.
C. Analysis of the Covenant
An analysis reflects that the obligations of the Covenant are taught by the Scriptures.
1. The Spirit's Work in Salvation
"Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the LORD Jesus . . . " (Ephesians 2:1; John 6:63; 16:8-11; Acts 16:14. The Spirit leads a sinner to Christ in the sense of moving him through conviction of his sins in connection with the Word of God).
2. Salvation in Christ Jesus
". . . To receive the LORD Jesus as our Saviour" (John 1:11, 12; Romans 2:4; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:8-10. A sinner, through the Spirit's convicting power, is moved toward Christ, not any system of good works or self-righteousness, in order to be saved).
3. Profession Before Baptism
". . . On the profession of our faith" (Acts 8:37; I John 4:15; I Corinthians 12:3; Acts 2:41; 10:46-48. A profession, in some manner, is made before baptism; and, being Spirit-led, it signifies the professor is saved before baptism).
4. Baptism Divinely Authorized
". . . Having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 16:30-33; 19:1-5. Baptism is a divine command to a child of God, not the sinner. Anywhere the Scriptures speak of baptism being administered by the authority of Christ, the authority of the triune Godhead is implied, as the office work of the Persons of the Trinity is essentially related yet distinct. See John 5:30; Ephesians 2:18-20).
5. United by Covenant as One Body
"We do now in the presence of God, angels and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another, as one body in Christ" (Amos 3:3; Matthew 18:19, 20; I Corinthians 12:27. A covenant is a mutual agreement between two or more persons).
6. Spirit Leadership of God's Children
"We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit . . . " (Romans 8:14; I Corinthians 2:13-14; John 14:16; Acts 13:2. The Spirit, never leading contrary to the Word of God, personally aids the believer in his work and worship).
7. Obligations to the Church
a. Brotherly walk -- "To walk together in Christian love" (Acts 2:1, 46; John 18:34-35)
b. Mutual advancement -- "To strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness and comfort" (II Timothy 2:15; II Peter 3:11; II Corinthians 1:4)
c. Growth of church -- "To promote its prosperity and spirituality" (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; I Corinthians 15:58; Philippians 1:27)
d. Loyalty to the church and her doctrines -- "To sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines" (Hebrews 10:25; John 4:23; Matthew 28:19, 20; Romans 6:4; II Thessalonians 3:6; Acts 2:42; Jude 3)
e. Regular and systematic financial support of the church's work -- "To contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations" (II Corinthians 9:7; I Corinthians 9:14; 16:1-2; II Corinthians 8:1-14; 9:6, 12; Galatians 2:10; Hebrews 7:8; Romans 10:15)
8. Obligations in Personal Conduct
a. A prayer life -- "We also engage to maintain family and secret devotion" (II Timothy 1:5; Matthew 6:6; I Timothy 2:1-2; Acts 17:11; I Thessalonians 5: 17)
b. Religious education -- "To religiously educate our children" (Ephesians 6:4; II Timothy 1:5; Deuteronomy 6:4-8)
c. Soulwinning -- "To seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances" (Mark 5:19; John 4:28-29, 46-53; Proverbs 11:30)
d. A worthy walk -- "To walk circumspectly in the world" (Ephesians 4:1; 5:1, 15)
e. Honesty -- "To be just in our dealings" (Romans 12:17; Philippians 4:8)
Reliability -- "Faithful in our engagements" (Romans 12:11; Luke 9:62)
g. Godly example -- "Exemplary in our deportment" (II Thessalonians 3:9; Philippians 2:14-15; I Peter 2:12)
h. Brotherly attitude toward one another -- "To avoid all tattling, backbiting, and excessive anger" (II Corinthians 12:20; I Timothy 5:13; Ephesians 4:31)
i. Abstinence -- "To abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage" (Proverbs 20:1; Habakkuk 2:15; Ephesians 5:18)
j. Godly zeal -- "To be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Saviour" (Colossians 4:12-13; James 5:16; Jude 3; Revelation 3:15)
9. Obligations to Fellow Members
a. Brotherly care -- "We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love" (I Thessalonians 3:12; Romans 12:10; Galatians 6:2; I Peter 1:22).
b. Praying for one another -- "To remember each other in prayer" (Ephesians 6:18; James 5:16)
c. Help given in time of need -- "To aid each other in sickness and distress" (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 6:10; Matthew 25:40)
d. Christian courtesy -- "To cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech" (Hebrews 13:2; I Peter 3:8)
e. Patience under pressure - "To be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Saviour to secure it without delay" (James 1:19; Ephesians 4:26, 32)
10. Obligation to Active Membership and Service
"We moreover engage that when we remove from this place, we will as soon as possible unite with some other church, where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's word" (Acts 9:26-28; 11:19-21; 18:24-28; 28:30-31). Upon moving to a new location, a person should not delay moving his membership to a Scriptural church, if one is near. If he does not find such, he should seek assistance of a missionary or some minister in the organization of a church in which he can find fellowship.
A church is supposed to be a home of saved people, a congregation with a regenerate membership. The unsaved, therefore, are out of place as members. The following reasons are given to sustain that position:
1. Salvation is in Christ, not in the church. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven whereby we must be saved," Acts 4:12. The Scriptures nowhere even intimate that salvation is obtained by church membership. The church is not the Saviour.
2. On the day of Pentecost the saved were added to the church. "Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved," Acts 2:47 (Revised Version). When the church, numbering a hundred twenty, received the saved into her membership on that occasion, the Lord added them for the reason He sanctioned in heaven what the church did (Matthew 18:18).
3. Jesus declared that one's light should be put "on a candlestick" (Matthew 5:15). Christ in the believer is his light (II Corinthians 4:6). The candlestick is a church (Revelation 1:20). Instead of entering a church to find the light, one possesses it before entering as a member.
4. The cleansing by the blood of Christ must precede the washing by water. The latter is an initiatory act for church membership. The cleansing by the blood is inward (I John 1:7). The washing by the water of baptism, being applied to the body, is outward. It is a symbol of the inward cleansing. Blood precedes water. That truth was taught in the national deliverance of the children of Israel the night when the blood of the paschal lamb was applied to the doors of the houses where they dwelt. The application took place before their baptism at the Red Sea (Exodus 12:11-14; I Corinthians 10:1-2).
B. A profession of faith
Upon seeking membership in a church upon condition of baptism, one is required to make public a profession of his faith in Christ as Saviour. That was exacted of the Ethiopian officer by Philip. ". . . Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," Acts 8:37. A profession of faith precedes baptism, and baptism precedes church membership; therefore, a profession comes before church membership. In all the New Testament instances the act of baptism was preceded by a profession of repentance and faith.
C. Baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
Baptism is one way of making a confession of faith in Christ. Scriptural baptism is performed by the authority of the triune God (Matthew 28:19-20). No one without baptism is qualified for membership in a church, but baptism does not wholly qualify him. It is the ceremonial qualification he is required to meet. It is the first act of Christian obedience after one's profession, although one may have the opportunity to witness for Christ as Saviour before he is baptized.
D. Christian deportment
After meeting the qualifications to become a member of a church, one may by unchristian deportment disqualify himself to retain membership (II Thessalonians 3:6. False brethren may obtain membership in a church, but sooner or later they will be discovered. They should then be expelled, Galatians 2:4-5).
The rite of rater baptism, as a mode, is a condition of membership. It Is a primary condition, as membership cannot be Scripturally obtained without it. It is a condition and not the door into a church. The "door" is the voice of the church by which members may be received and by which they may be dismissed. Any act that is made the door of admission must of necessity be made the door of dismission. Baptism, therefore, cannot meet that requirement, as it would be impossible to "unbaptize" a person! In New Testament cases baptism always preceded one's initial church membership (Acts 2:41; 10:47). Baptism is a primary condition of church membership only as it presupposes the subject's regeneration and profession of faith in Christ.
That method is used when a member transfers from one church to another of the same faith and order. The letter is not his membership. It is only a recommendation that he leaves his church in fellowship and a certificate of his Christian deportment to the church with which he seeks to identify himself. The custom of writing letters of recommendation has Scriptural precedent (Acts 15:23). Although that incident did not relate particularly to church membership, it served a kindred purpose. It justifies the custom. When the converted Saul of Tarsus first appeared to the disciples at Jerusalem and attempted to join the church there, he was repulsed as a false disciple. It took the recommendation of Barnabas for him to be accepted (Acts 9:26-28). That was an oral recommendation. Baptists use the letter method, as it is not feasible for an oral recommendation to be given at all times when a person transfers membership.
A member is received by "statement" or by Christian experience when for any acceptable reason he has lost membership in a church. Membership is lost when a church disbands without granting letters of dismission to her members. Churches sometimes change from their original doctrinal position or affiliation, so that one seeking membership elsewhere does not desire a letter of dismission, neither would the church receiving him desire a letter. No one who does not furnish proof of having been Scripturally baptized should ever be received on statement.
A. By Letter
With the intention of becoming a member of another church of like faith and order, a member may be granted a letter of dismission upon his request, provided he is in fellowship with the church of whom he makes the request. In the event he is not in fellowship, the church, by her Scriptural right of discipline, should demand reconciliation before granting the letter. In that way it may be determined who is at fault and the guilty person led to make amends. The same Scriptural right by which a church receives a member by letter, as previously shown, gives a church the right to dismiss one by letter. The church may protect herself from an abuse of the letter by stating in it that the member is dismissed "when joined to another church of like faith and order." In the event the letter holder abuses the letter by overstepping his rights, the church may proceed to withdraw fellowship from him.
B. By exclusion
A church may exercise her Scriptural prerogative of expelling a member. Such an act is commonly referred to as "withdrawing fellowship" from the member. That may be done after all efforts toward reconciliation have failed (Matthew 18:15-17). When a member has broken fellowship with his church, charges may be laid against him by a majority vote of the body in regular order. If the charges are sustained, the vote is then taken for exclusion. If they are not sustained, the person charged should be forgiven by the church.
New Testament churches exercised the right of discipline when a member was found guilty of fornication (I Corinthians 5:1, 13), of disorderly walk and heresy (II Thessalonians 3:6), or of unchristian conduct in general (I Corinthians 5:11).
A member may be dismissed by letter or exclusion upon a majority vote of the church; the reception of a member must be done by a unanimous vote, or the fellowship of the church will be broken.
C. By death
A person's church membership is automatically terminated by death. No conference action of the church is necessary for her clerk to have authority to make a note in the records of the member's decease.
The practice of dropping a name from the church register has no Scriptural warrant. Such a practice has come about ordinarily because of a member's extended absence from any activities of the church. In such event proper investigation should be instigated to determine the cause of the absence. If found justifiable, no act of discipline against said member should be taken. If found otherwise, however, steps should be taken to correct the situation.
2. What are the opportunities of church membership?
3. What are the obligations entailed by church membership?
4. Explain the origin of the Church Covenant.
5. Read the Covenant
6. Explain the Covenant.
7. What are the qualifications for church membership?
8. What are modes of admission to church membership?
9. What are modes of dismission from church membership?
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|Lesson II||Lesson III|
|Lesson IV||Lesson V|
1. Lesson II is contained on pages 21-38 of the "hard copy" edition. The current electronic version of the book follows the formatting of the original document as much as possible, especially in the method of documentation and use of bold characters. The original use of indentions at the beginning of paragraphs and in certain other places is not followed. The current document was scanned. Hence, typographical errors associated with such a process are no doubt present. The editor, Philip Bryan, will certainly appreciate readers who notify him about such errors and he asks that they do so.
Since the book was published in 1974 some of the information is not current, and the reader is asked to be cognizant of that fact.