The foundation for a New Testament church is a regenerate membership. Anything less is to build a house on sand.
This is the most important one thing that can be done to strengthen a church. A biblical church is a spiritual house made of living stones (1 Peter 2:5). A living stone is supernatural. It is a metaphor of the new birth. When we are born the first time, we are natural stones, dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). There is nothing that man can do to turn a natural stone into a living stone. Religion can’t do it; philosophy can’t do it; sacraments can’t do it; science can’t do it; art can’t do it; lapidary can’t do it. For a natural stone to become a living stone is a divine miracle. And when a dead stone becomes a living stone, it is certain that there will be clear evidence!
Without a regenerate church membership, we can’t make disciples, can’t have love for God’s Word, can’t have spiritual ministries, can’t have biblical separation, can’t have godly homes, can’t keep sacred music, can’t have a spiritual vision for reaching the world with the gospel.
Two things are necessary to have a regenerate church membership: caution and wisdom about receiving candidates for baptism, and maintaining biblical standards for membership.
1. A regenerate church membership requires being extremely careful and wise about salvation and baptism.
The course Sowing and Reaping and the book The Discipling Church deal with this in more detail. Both are available from www.wayoflife.org.
Here we would mention the following things that will cut way down on empty professions.
Take time to deal with people carefully and wisely. Be patient. Get to know people. If an individual isn’t interested enough to spend timing learning the gospel, as the Ethiopian Eunuch did, he isn’t interested enough to be saved. It is necessary to become “wise unto salvation” through the knowledge of the Scriptures (2 Ti. 3:15). It is necessary “to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Ti. 2:4). It is necessary to believe “that form of doctrine delivered you” (Ro. 6:17). Even on the day of Pentecost, Peter used “many other words” (Ac. 2:40) to deal with the people, and these were people who had a strong knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures and the law of God, not benighted pagans who know nothing about God, creation, the fall, sin, holiness, judgment, and redemption.
Patiently and carefully teach the gospel. It is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Ro. 1:16). It is summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. Every point of the gospel must be understood and believed. The evangelistic course Seeker’s Bible Study (www.wayoflife.org) deals with every element of the gospel: who is Christ? What is Scripture? What is sin? What does it mean that Christ died for our sin? What does it mean that Christ died for our sin “according to the Scripture”? What does it mean that Christ rose from the dead?
Teach repentance and faith. Paul summarized the way of salvation as “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac. 20:21). Most soul winner programs don’t even mention repentance, let alone explain it, and don’t carefully explain saving faith, either. Seeker’s Bible Study rectifies this error.
Look for evidence (Joh. 10:27; 2 Co. 5:17; Tit. 1:16; 1 Jo. 2:3-4). We deal with this in “Looking for Evidence of Salvation,” www.wayoflife.org.
Be especially careful in dealing with children. They can be saved (Mt. 19:14), but they are children. Every child growing up in a Bible-believing church “believes in Jesus,” but so do the devils (Jas. 2:19). Salvation is not a mere belief in Jesus; it is understanding the gospel and exercising repentance and saving faith that produces a born again experience that sets an individual on an entirely different course in life. We give the following suggestions in dealing with children: (1) Be very patient and don’t put any pressure on them. (2) Continually teach them the gospel; explain every word. (3) Let them initiate salvation and even then be very careful and patient in dealing with them. (4) Look for evidence (especially a change in attitude toward authority, a change in relationship with the Bible, the knowledge of God as Abba Father, a change in attitude toward the world). (5) Don’t be in a hurry to pronounce them saved and baptize them. It can’t hurt to be patient and make sure, but it can hurt to be impatient. This can result in false hopes, doubts, and confusion. (6) Let God give them assurance (Ro. 8:15-16). Don’t give them a “spiritual birth certificate.” That is God’s job, not man’s, because only God knows the secrets of the heart. (7) Have a junior church membership program whereby the children have a check point at age 18. In our church, we receive children under 18 who show clear evidence of salvation, and they are junior church members. They can take the Lord’s Supper and participate in some ministries at an age appropriate level but they can’t take part in church business. At age 18 the junior church membership expires, and they must of their own will seek full membership. It is a check point to re-evaluate their salvation at a time in their lives when they are entering adulthood. If they have doubts, they can express that and settle it before becoming a full church member. This program is intended to help young people not continue to live on a false decision and to protect the church from being populated with unsaved members. (See “Careful Child Evangelism,” www.wayoflife.org.)
2. A regenerate church membership requires being extremely careful and wise about church membership.
What we require in a nutshell is what we see in Acts 2:41-42 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. What we see here is spiritual regeneration with clear evidence. In Acts 2:41-42, those received into the membership of the first church were saved and baptized and “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” This is serious evidence. This is true New Testament Christianity. Those in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven...” Here we see clear repentance and evidentiary salvation. Again, this is simply true New Testament Christianity.
For membership we require the following major things: (1) Clear evidence of salvation. (2) Spiritual growth. (2) 100% agreement with our doctrine and practice (1 Co. 1:10). Each prospective member must read the church covenant and answer the review questions and agree 100%. In the case of someone who has been involved with teaching that is contrary to our doctrine, we require more than a statement of agreement with our covenant and doctrinal statement. We require a clear renunciation of the former doctrine, such as ecumenism, New Evangelicalism, Mid-tribulation or Post-tribulation Rapture, Calvinism, charismaticism, contemporary music, or the heresy of losing one’s salvation. (3) Faithfulness to every service and required function (such as our Bible conferences), unless providentially hindered such as by poor health. Not only do we see faithfulness as a major characteristic of membership in the first church, but in a practical sense it is impossible to have the type of church we see in Scripture without faithfulness on the part of the members. For example, the leaders are commanded to feed the flock and to warn and teach every man (Ac. 20:28; Col. 1:28), but this is impossible if the sheep are not faithful to the preaching meetings. The best meal is of no dietary benefit if the family members are not present at the dining table. Further, each member has an essential role in the building up of the body (Eph. 4:16) and this is plainly given in Scripture as one of the reasons the members are not to forsake the assemblies (Heb. 10:25).
Establish an inactive membership program. See “Inactive Church Membership,” www.wayoflife.org. This is discussed in The Discipling Church in the chapter “A Discipling Church Has a Disciplined Environment.”
All of this is our effort to maintain a spiritual house made of living stones, as we are taught in Scripture (1 Pe. 2:5).
We are convinced that such a membership is obedience to God and therefore has God’s best blessings. We have no desire to keep the membership small. We seek growth. We are zealous to sow the seed of the gospel and earnest for fruit. But we are convinced that a membership of 20 regenerate, growing, serving saints has far more potential for true growth in God’s will than a membership of 100 or 200 or 1,000 that is a mixed multitude of saved and lost, true disciples and lukewarm.
We are not required to receive whosoever desires to be a member. We receive only those who are qualified by the Bible’s standards. Those who aren’t members are welcome to attend services and functions and to benefit from our ministry, so long as they don’t cause trouble, but everyone knows who is “in” and who is “out.” This protects our church body from being weakened by those whose testimony of salvation is questionable or those who have a spirit of rebellion toward authority or those who are not 100% in agreement with us in doctrine and practice.
Today our members take it for granted that church members are perfectly faithful and we have no problem from them about this fundamental matter, but it wasn’t like this 10 years ago.
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Publisher of Bible Study Materials