Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Qualification for church membership –The Scripture and some practiced models

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Recently, one of the churches in Niger Delta area of Nigeria is having crisis because their pastor is insisting that everybody must pay some token for membership in order to be recognized as a member and qualify for the privileges accruable to members.

Some people have kicked against the move emphasizing that it is ungodly and unbiblical no matter the amount of money involved whether big or small, and that they will never pay money to belong to their church. Others have insisted that the pastor is right as it is the church doctrine and tradition; in fact someone even said that those who refused to pay the money for membership should leave the church. This rule has been applied during the election of the Leadership of the Men’s Fellowship and many were declared ineligible either to vote or to be voted for. Many men in the church are grumbling. The pastor has also promised to apply the same rule during the Council elections coming up later in the month of February.

Now because the church in question is an Anglican Church, we have made efforts to research into both the church’s history to see whether this is an apparent deviation or what the church really teaches. Hence, we will have two-pronged approach to this discuss: the first approach is from biblical point of view, are you supposed to pay some money before you are made a member of a church? What are the requirements? Secondly, from the Anglican Church practice and history, must you pay some money before you can be a church member?

Biblical qualification for church membership
First of all, it is important to say that it is a difficult task trying to separate belonging to the universal church of all nations to which every believer belongs irrespective of his denomination and belonging to a local church. This is because, inasmuch as it is repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that makes you a member of the body of Christ, there are very clear commands in the Bible that the saved person is not supposed to operate alone in isolation. It is a group of those saved people that gather together to form a local church.  John Piper gives five New Testament evidence for church membership here. The idea is that the picture painted for us in the Bible is such that for you to function properly, you must belong to a body of believers. It is God’s plan. Dr. Piper summarizes the five reasons as follows:
  1. We should take responsibility to discipline those of the body who do not repent from public sin that brings reproach on the name of Christ.
  2. We should declare ourselves part of the body so that if we are wayward, we ourselves would be liable to such exclusion.
  3.  We should take our position under the leadership and authority of a particular group of elders. 
  4.  We should declare ourselves part of a group who expect to be watched over and cared for by a particular group of elders.
  5. And we should find our place in the organic whole as a body part—a member—of a local body of Christ.
 Each local church is a living organism with different members joined to each other to fulfill different functions, all working together for the purpose of expressing the universal body of Christ. Exclusion from the body, either by the leadership or by personal decision, is a very serious matter.

The membership of the body of Christ is a covenant membership brought about by a spiritual birth. Also, membership of the local church is a resultant effect of a spiritual birth. When one believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is in the church that he is taught and nourished in order for him to have a healthy growth. Every local church is a body. It is within the context of this body that the new believer joins with other believers in fellowship for mutual edification. The different gifts distributed to each believer in Christ are for this mutual benefit. (1 Cor.12:7).

Water Baptism
Now you cannot discuss biblical church membership without discussing the meaning and implications of water baptism. The instruction to go and preach goes together with the instruction to conduct water baptism.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matt.28:19-20 NIV.

We can see three commands in this Scriptural passage:
  1. Go and make disciples 
  2. Baptize the disciples you make
  3. Teach them to observe the commands of the Lord Christ
Water baptism is not optional for New Covenant believers. It is how Jesus taught that we should express our faith in Him. It is connected above as the first experience a disciple should have as he is taught the commandments of Jesus. In fact, it is part of your faith expressions as you enter into Christ. (Col.2:11-12; Gal.3:26-27). It is the initiation that makes you identify with the death and resurrection of the One who died for you and was raised from the dead. That initiation into the body of Christ also makes you a member of the body of believers that helped you come to Christ. They are all interwoven together. It is in the context of this local church that all these commands are obeyed and the activities carried out.

Qualification for membership of an Anglican Church
From the foregoing discussion, it is clear that belonging to a local church is not and should not be thought like belonging to a select club or social groups driven by privileges. The only qualification we see in Scriptures that makes a person eligible to become a member of a body of believers is the faith he has in the Lord Jesus Christ, his willingness to submit himself to water baptism and the commands of Jesus.  

Now what does the Anglican Church teach about church membership? Look at the Article XXVII: Of Baptism
"Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but is also a sign of Regeneration or new Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ".

The Anglican believes that baptism is what grafts you into the body of Christ. From the Electoral Roll of the Church of England,
(2) A lay person shall be entitled to have his name entered on the roll of a parish if he is baptised, of sixteen years or upwards, has signed an application form for enrolment set out in Appendix I of these rules and declares himself either -
(a) to be a member of the Church of England or of a Church in communion therewith resident in the parish; or
(b) to be such a member and, not being resident in the parish, to have habitually attended public worship in the parish during a period of six months prior to enrolment; or
(c) to be a member in good standing of a Church which subscribes to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (not being a Church in communion with the Church of England) and also prepared to declare himself to be a member of the Church of England having habitually attended public worship in the parish during a period of six months prior to enrollment.

The model above stipulates that what makes you a member is your baptism and signing of an application form. What qualifies you is never because you subscribed with money; instead emphasis is laid on subscribing to the doctrines and teachings of the church. This makes sense within the context since those who occupy positions of leadership in the church must understand the basic Christian doctrine. All the conditions for vestry meetings, constitutions and canons for almost all the Episcopal and Anglican congregations assessed during the period of this writing agree with the model above.

Conclusion
Having gone through this discuss one may now ask, where did the pastor get his model from? Obviously not from the Bible. Are there some laws in his Diocese from where he is drawing his authority? If there is, obviously that law must be an aberration from what the Church of England practice and what the Bible teaches. It is not Anglican tradition. If some people ever practiced it, it is certainly out of ignorance and misinformation. Errors are not supposed to be copied and practiced but discarded.

The purpose of this paper is to bring biblical and historical perspectives into the discussion that is currently going on in the particular church, and to strengthen truth. It will also stir up those who may want to research further into the topic. The focus is for the Church of Jesus Christ to be what He wants it to be. You can comment on the website or write me at: evergreenword@gmail.com. You can download the document here.
 
May God bless His church as we continue to live in obedience to His Word. Amen.

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