To strive to maintain a regenerate membership is the most essential thing that churches must do to be stronger. In fact, if a church doesn’t strive for a regenerate church membership, it can’t rightly call itself a biblical church. If the members are not born again, they can’t possibly grow spiritually, can’t possibly live a separated pilgrim lifestyle, can’t possibly do God’s will, can’t possibly build godly homes that raise a godly seed (Mal. 2:15). If all of its members aren’t born again, a church can’t possibly follow the practice Paul gave in Colossians 1:28, “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”
The practice of Quick Prayerism and the frenzy for numbers, among other things, have destroyed this fundamental principle in a great many Baptist churches since the 20th century.
A regenerate church membership is an ancient Baptist principle based on clear biblical teaching, and it was practiced by most Baptist churches in America until the turn of the 20th century.
The Somerset Confession of 1656 stated,
“In admitting of members into the church of Christ, it is the duty of the church, and ministers whom it concerns, in faithfulness to God, that they be careful they receive none but such as do make forth evident demonstration of the new birth, and the work of faith with power.”
The Charleston Summary of Church Discipline of 1774 said,
“The temple of the Lord is not to be built with dead but living materials, 1 Pe. 2:5. None have a right to church membership but such as Christ will own as his sincere followers at the last decisive day, whatever pretensions they may make to an interest in his favor, Mt. 7:22, 23. ... None are fit materials of a gospel church, without having first experienced an entire change of nature, Mt. 18:3. ... By nature we are dead in trespasses and sins, and Christ does not place such dead materials in his spiritual building. It is certain the Ephesian church was not composed of such materials, Eph. 2:1. ... The members of the church at Colosse are denominated not only saints, but faithful brethren in Christ, Col. 1:2, or true believers in him. None but such have a right to ordinances, Acts 8:37. Without faith none discern the Lord’s body in the Supper, and consequently must eat and drink unworthily, 1 Co. 11:29. ... Their lives and conversations ought to be such as becometh the gospel of Christ, Php. 1:27; that is holy, just, and upright, Psalm 15:1, 2; if their practice contradicts their profession they are not to be admitted to church membership. ... Persons making application are to be admitted into the communion of a church by the common suffrage of its members; being first satisfied that they have the qualifications laid down in the preceding section; for which purpose candidates must come under examination before the church; and if it should happen that they do not give satisfaction, they should be set aside until a more satisfactory profession is made 1 Ti. 6:12.”
In 1859, Edward Hiscox wrote,
“Church members are supposed to be regenerate persons bearing the image and cherishing the spirit of Christ, in whom the peace of God rules, and who walk and work in the unity of the Spirit, and the bond of peace’” (The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches).
In 1867, J.M. Pendleton’s influential Church Manual Designed for the Use of Baptist Churches emphasized a regenerate church membership:
“Let it never be forgotten that the only suitable materials of which to construct a church of Christ, so far as spiritual qualifications are concerned, are regenerate, penitent, believing persons. To make use of other materials is to subvert the fundamental principles of church organization. It is to destroy the kingdom of Christ; for how can there be a kingdom without such subjects as the King requires? ... Great care should be exercised in receiving members. ... There is much danger of this, especially in times of religious excitement. Pastors should positively assure themselves that those who are received for baptism have felt themselves to be guilty, ruined, helpless sinners, justly condemned by God’s holy law; and under a sense of their lost condition have trusted in Christ for salvation” (Pendleton, Church Manual, 1867).
In 1874, William Williams wrote,
“The members of the apostolic churches were all converted persons, or supposed to be converted. In the various epistles they are addressed as ‘saints,’ ‘faithful brethren,’ ‘the sons of God,’ sanctified in Christ Jesus. The many exhortations to a godly life and a holy conversation presume that they are ‘new creatures in Christ Jesus’ ... This--a converted church membership, a membership composed only of persons who are believed to have exercised personal repentance and faith--is, of all others, the most important peculiarity that characterized the apostolic organization of the church” (Williams, Apostolic Church Polity, 1874).
The churches established by American Baptist missionaries in the 19th century, beginning with Adoniram Judson’s ministry in Burma in 1813, were careful about receiving members. Following is a description of how the Karens were prepared for baptism in about 1831 by missionary William Boardman:
“Three days were devoted to the examination of the candidates who presented themselves for baptism. Eighteen of them were accepted. ... Aided by Mr. Mason and the native Christians who were present, he examined them in the history of their Christian experience, and in the doctrines of the gospel” (William Gammell, A History of American Baptist Missions, pp. 101, 102).
The following is from a report from China in 1877:
“One hundred and nine men and sixty women have renounced idolatry, have given evidence of faith in Christ, and have been baptized into his name. None of all these have thus far given us reason to regret that we admitted them into the church. Fifteen of the number sere seventy years old and upwards, the oldest being eighty-four years of age. ... Besides those received, a large number have been examined, who have been advised to wait until they should obtain more definite knowledge of the truth, or until there was more satisfactory proof of a change of heart” (Missionary Sketches: A Concise History of the Work of the American Baptist Missionary Union, 6th edition, 1879).
Following is a description of an examination of a candidate for baptism in Germany in about 1878:
“After the public worship a church meeting was held, at which, after other business, a young woman, a fair-haired Saxon, was examined as a candidate for baptism. A chair was placed for her on the platform near the pastor; and in a clear, distinct voice, and in a manner perfectly self-possessed, she gave the reasons for the hope that was in her. I discovered from her relation that she found her pathway to Christ not without difficulties, having met with opposition in her family; but she found peace in believing. Her experience had the true ring of the gospel” (Ibid., p. 374).
Of the Baptists in Germany, it was said in the 1870s, “We do not know that there is a single member who is not doing something to help forward the cause of Christ” (Ibid., p. 370).
At the Baptist World Conference in 1905, J.D. Freeman said,
“The principle of regenerate Church membership more than anything else, marks our distinctiveness in the world today. ... both logic and experience teach its importance as a safeguard to the Church from intrusion of unregenerate life” (“Baptists and a Regenerate Church Membership,” Review and Expositor, Spring 1963).
THE BIBLE WARNS ABOUT FALSE PROFESSIONS
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mt. 7:21-23).
“They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Tit. 1:16).
“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 Jo. 2:4).
Biblical evidence of salvation is not
- church attendance (millions of unsaved people attend church services: Catholic, Orthodox, Charismatics, Cults)
- Bible reading (some read Bible out of curiosity; as intellectual exercise, as religious duty, for blessing and good luck)
- Christian service (Matthew 7:21-23)
BIBLICAL EVIDENCES OF SALVATION
We must look for the evidence that is described in Scripture, not more and not less.
All of the evidences are interconnected; salvation is a supernatural conversion that changes the whole life.
Salvation is not passing a written test; it is not merely answering questions rightly. It is a new spiritual life.
We must have spiritual wisdom to discern spiritual life. Not everyone has very good discernment in this matter. In discerning salvation, we believe there is safety in numbers and in unanimity and a mixture of men and women doing the examination. “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellers there is safety” (Pr. 24:6).
Believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour with the whole heart
- “ Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (Joh. 6:66-69).
- “And 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” (Ac. 8:37).
Understanding and believing the Gospel
- “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time” (1 Co. 15:3-8).
- Christ is the Son of God, eternal, Creator, virgin born, sinless
- Christ died according to the Scriptures (foretold in Bible prophecy)
- Christ died for our sins (this means that I know that am the sinner God says I am, Ro. 3:10-23; righteousness filthy rags Isa. 64:6; this means that I believe that Christ paid the full punishment for my sins)
- Christ rose from the dead and is alive (eyewitness evidence)
- If someone is saved, he will continue in the true gospel (1 Co. 15:1-2).
A converted life; a change in life and thinking
- “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Joh. 3:3).
- “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3).
- “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Co. 5:17).
- “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Ti. 2:19).
- “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 Jo. 2:3-4).
- Biblical salvation is a conversion experience that changes the life. It is life from the dead; it is the blind seeing and the deaf hearing. Every salvation recorded in the New Testament involves a life-changing conversion experience (e.g., the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, the Jews on day of Pentecost, the Ethiopian eunuch, Lydia, the Philippian jailer).
- The Great Awakenings in America focused on salvation with evidence. “[T]he most important practical idea which then received increased prominence and power ... was the idea of the ‘new birth’ ... [This is] the doctrine, that in order to be saved, a man must undergo a change in his principles of moral action, which will be either accompanied or succeeded by exercises of which he is conscious, and can give an account; so that those who have been thus changed, may ordinarily be distinguished from those who have not; from which it follows that all who exhibit no evidence of such a change, ought to be considered and treated as unregenerate, and on the road to perdition, and therefore not admitted to the communion of the churches. ... The history of the ‘Great Awakening’ is the history of this idea, making its way through some communities where it had fallen into comparative neglect, and through others where it was nearly or quite unknown; overturning theories and habits and forms of organization inconsistent with it, where it could prevail, and repelled by them, where it could not...” (Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening).
A personal relationship with Christ
- “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3)
- Salvation is not a reformation, turning over a new leaf, a new religion. It is not doing something; it is to know the Lord personally, to walk and talk with Him as Lord and Saviour, Father and Friend.
- God gives the witness of the Spirit to His children (Ro. 8:14-16; Gal. 4:6)
- The apostle Paul said, “I know whom I have believed ...” (1 Tim. 1:12).
Rejection of false religion
- “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Th. 1:9-10).
- There will be a clear renunciation of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, New Age, Atheism, Roman Catholicism, idolatry, witchcraft, every works religion, every demonic religion.
Rejection of self-righteousness
- There will be unequivocal acknowledgement of one’s unrighteous, lost condition.
- We see this in the example of the publican in Luke 18:13, “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”
- C.H. Spurgeon gave the example of Jack the Huckster, a wicked man who got saved and thereafter had the testimony, “I’m a poor sinner and nothing at all, but Jesus Christ is my all in all.”
- Evangelist D.L. Moody came to understand the necessity of being very careful in dealing with those who profess faith in Christ and to look for evidence of salvation. “For the last few years I have been a good deal more anxious for a deep and true work in professing converts than I have for great numbers. If a man professes to be converted without realizing the heinousness of his sins, he is likely to be one of those stony ground hearers who don’t amount to anything. ... I believe we are making a woeful mistake in taking so many people into the Church who have never been truly convicted of sin. William Dawson once told this story to illustrate how humble the soul must be before it can find peace. He said that at a revival meeting, a little lad who was used to Methodist ways, went home to his mother and said, ‘Mother, John So-and-so is under conviction and seeking for peace, but he will not find it tonight, mother.’ ‘Why, William?’ she said. ‘Because he is only down on one knee, mother, and he will never get peace until he is down on both knees.’ Until conviction of sin brings us down on both knees, until we are completely humbled, until we have no hope in ourselves left, we cannot find the Savior” (D.L. Moody, Results of True Repentance).
The witness of the Spirit
- “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Ro. 8:14-17).
- Those who believe in Christ savingly are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:12-14) and He bears witness to the redeemed soul of spiritual adoption.
Love for God’s Word (John 8:47; 14:23-24)
- “He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (Joh. 8:47).
- “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Joh. 10:27).
- “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me” (Joh. 14:23-24).
- A person’s attitude toward the Bible is one of the clearest evidences of his spiritual condition. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. His voice is found in the Scripture.
Public confession of Christ
- “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Ro. 10:8-10).
- There is no example of a secret believer in the New Testament. Christ warned, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mr. 8:38).
Renunciation of the world
- “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).
- “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jo. 2:15).
- Biblical salvation brings a change in attitude toward the world. It is looked upon as an enemy instead of friend.
- The Sword and the Trowel of 1865 said the elders of Metropolitan Tabernacle looked for “a desire to come out of the world.” “[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 holding 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: Original Testimonies of Converts During Spurgeon’s Early Years, 2016).
Interest in souls
- A saved person will want to tell others about Christ. Andrew immediately told his brother Peter about Jesus (Joh. 1:40-42), and Philip told Nathanael (Joh. 1:45).
- The Metropolitan Tabernacle in Spurgeon’s day looked for “a deep interest in the unconverted.”
Divine chastisement (Heb. 8:10; 12:6-8)
- “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Heb. 8:10).
- “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb. 12:6-8).
- The saved person has a new sensitivity to sin and conviction about sin because the law of God has been written upon his heart and the Spirit of God dwells in him and the Father chastens him.
- A child of God can sin (“ If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” 1 Jo. 1:8). We don’t look for sinless perfection, but there is an indwelling Disciplinarian who chastens the saved person and does not allow him to “get by” with sinning.
For more on this subject see THE DISCIPLING CHURCH: THE CHURCH THAT WILL STAND UNTIL CHRIST COMES, www.wayoflife.org.
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