Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Charles Spurgeon began pastoring the Metropolitan Tabernacle of London, England, in 1853 at age 19, and was the senior pastor until his death in 1892. His superlative preaching drew massive crowds, and the church grew from two to three hundred to a membership of over 5,300.
Spurgeon believed in a regenerate church membership and was very careful in this regard.
He didn’t give invitations to come forward after his sermons. Instead, he invited seekers to meet with him at his office on Monday morning. He wanted to deal with seekers carefully and properly.
Prospective candidates for baptism and membership went through a multi-step process.
1. The enquirer met with one of the elders or deacons to share his or her testimony.
Following is an account of this from Wonders of Grace: Original testimonies of converts during Spurgeon’s early years (compiled by Hannah Wyncoll, copyright 2016 by Wakeman Trust).
“On a weeknight evening each week church elders would see enquirers at the Tabernacle. For each one they would write an account of their spiritual journey. Often the discernment they exercised can be seen in the advice given, and in further visits over weeks or months until they were sure that the enquirer was truly saved. The core of the testimony would need to show that the person was relying only on the blood of Christ for salvation. They would also be asked if they understood the need for the imputed righteousness of Christ. They would talk about the doctrines of grace and whether they would-be member was looking only to Christ rather than their own merit. If the applicant was not quite clear on some things, the elders might give further questions to be answered, Bible passages to be read and prayed over, or as one elder put it, he ‘prescribed her some pills of precious promise with a little draught of sympathetic experience to wash them down.’ They might be given the Baptist Confession of Faith to study, or be directed to attend one of the Bible classes to help them further. ... The Sword and the Trowel of 1865 says that elders look for four things: Tenderness of conscience, attachment to the means of grace, desire to come out of the world, and deep interest in the unconverted.”
2. If the elder or deacon was satisfied with the testimony, the enquirer was recommended to meet with Spurgeon.
“If satisfied, an interviewing elder would give a card, with the number matching the report, for the enquirer to see C.H. Spurgeon” (Wonders of Grace).
3. If Spurgeon was satisfied, he nominated someone to visit the candidate “to enquire as to the moral character and repute.”
“Spurgeon would spend several hours every Tuesday afternoon seeing many such people, taking a brief interval to compare notes with his elders. He would then appoint an elder or deacon to visit to ensure the applicant was living a consistent, godly life at home. Attendance at as many meetings as possible on Sundays and during the week was seen as a sign of true Christian life. Many were in service and had very little free time away from their work, but their new Christian instinct should be seen--to assembly together whenever possible. ... [A] theme which shines out distinctly in the vast majority of records is the forsaking of worldliness at conversion. All is changed for the convert. Worldly pleasures are given up and the life devoted to Christ and his people from that time on. Pursuits such as the penny theater, public houses, music parties, the use of popular songs, and gambling are spoken of repeatedly as holing no pleasure for the new believer. The markedly different life of believers is often mentioned as instrumental in bringing others to enquire into Christian things. The change was not limited to church attendance, but extended to all areas of life” (Wonders of Grace).
4. If the home visitor was satisfied, he invited the candidate to attend a special congregation meeting to appear before the church family. There the candidates would again give their testimonies and answer any questions from church members. These meetings were not rushed and could last several hours, beginning at 2pm and sometimes “lasting till a late hour at night.”
5. The church then voted whether to receive the candidate as a member.
6. If approved by the vote of the church, the candidate was baptized and received into membership and participated in the next communion service.
This process began during the earliest days of Spurgeon’s pastorate at Metropolitan. During the first six and a half years, there were 1,442 new members, most by baptism. “That’s 1,442 membership interviews by a deacon, 1,442 meetings with Spurgeon, 1,442 membership visitations, 1,442 testimonies before the congregation, and 1,442 approvals by the congregation (not to mention over a thousand baptisms, as most of these were new converts)” (“Meaningful Membership at Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle,” The Spurgeon Center, Feb. 8, 2018).
To maintain church membership required faithfulness to the Lord’s Supper. “Upon joining the church, members were given a communion card, divided by perforation into twelve numbered parts, one of which was to be delivered every month at the communion. These tickets would checked by the elders and if any member was “absent more than three months. This enabled the church to work towards meaningful membership by providing better care and discipleship, or by removing those members from the membership” (“Meaningful Membership at Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle”).
Spurgeon preached against the practice of puffing up the church’s membership roles with people who are not present and active. “Let us not keep names on our books when they are only names. Certain of the good old people like to keep them there, and cannot bear to have them removed; but when you do not know where individuals are, nor what they are, how can you count them? They are gone to America, or Australia, or to heaven, but as far as your roll is concerned they are with you still. Is this a right thing? It may not be possible to be absolutely accurate, but let us aim at it… Keep your church real and effective, or make no report. A merely nominal church is a lie. Let it be what it professes to be” (Spurgeon’s final message to the Pastors’ College, cited from “Meaningful Membership at Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle”).
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