Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why Pursue Regenerate Church Membership (Part 1: For a Better Corporate Life)

Last Friday (June 16th) we ended the week with a challenge to reflect on the failed SBC proposal "Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership." At the heart of the proposal was a call for churches to reestablish the practice of church discipline. In large part, the aim of better membership reporting and of practicing church discipline is to make sure, to the best of human ability, that the membership of a local church is comprised of regenerate or "born again" individuals.

But in this world of pragmatism with its emphasis on visible "success," the question might be asked: why should local churches pursue a regenerate church membership? Doesn't an attempt at accurate church rolls (read smaller numbers) and church discipline inevitably mean a less successful (read smaller) church?

In this series of postings, I want to offer a number of reasons why local churches should work to have their membership be comprised of regenerate, active Christians. Today's reasons focus on benefits to the local church, to the corporate life of Christians.

1. A regenerate church membership promotes unity in the church. When a significant proportion of a church's membership is made up of carnal or unregenerate persons, factions, cliques, disputes and strife are bound to result (1 Cor. 3:1-4). Moreover, a threat to church unity grounded in gospel truth is nothing less than a threat to the integrity of the gospel message itself (John 17:17, 19-21). Preventing unregenerate members from entering the number will strengthen the unity of the church and strengthen the church's evangelism.

2. A regenerate church membership protects the reputation of the local church. The members of a local church should desire a testimony of "simplicity and godly sincerity" (2 Cor. 1:12). Our conduct should put to shame those opponents with evil intent toward the church (Tit. 2:7,8). However, the conduct of non-regenerate persons puts the testimony of the local church in jeopardy with the unbelieving, unchurched world.

3. A regenerate church membership advances the work of the local church. When the people of God are pure from vessels of "wood and clay" made for dishonor, then the remaining vessels are "for honor, sancitified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work" (2 Tim. 2:21). "Those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works" (Titus :8). The people of God are saved for good works (Eph. 2:10) and the local church is to equip them for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12). But the unregenerate will either be hindrances to the work of the church, poor imitators of that work, or workers who do good things but obscure the truth and power of the gospel with non-gospel-centered motives. How many of us have had first-hand experience of this at some carnal, conflict-filled member's meeting?

4. A regenerate membership spreads love in the congregation. The love with which the Father loved the Son is to be in the followers of Jesus (John 17:26). This love is the new commandment and a sign of genuine discipleship (John 13:34, 35). Members of the church are to love one another as Christ has loved us, laying down our lives for each other (John 15:12, 13; Eph. 5:2). This love is supernatural. If we would have churches that are not just friendly after services but truly marked by a God-like love, then we must have churches with members born from above, regenerated by God's Spirit.

5. A regenerate membership causes the church to grow in the proper way. The main purpose of the public church gathering is the edification of the church (1 Cor. 14:26). The main purpose of spiritual gifting is the edification of the church (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:12). The church is to be built up into spiritual maturity and strength. Edifying the body is made more difficult when a church takes into membership persons who may not be regenerate. Significant amounts of time will be given over to problems and concerns stemming from that portion of the membership whose self-interest trumps the collective interest of a mature and growing church.

6. A regenerate membership submits to the word of God. The life of the local church is immeasurably improved when its members submit themselves to word of God. Such submission provides the basis for unity, mission, conduct, and doctrine. The spiritually-minded are to acknowledge and receive the Scriptures as commandments from the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Thes. 2:13). But discerning spiritual things in this way is not possible for the "natural" or unregenerate person (1 Cor. 2:14). And those who do not obey the Scriptures are to be marked and avoided (2 Thes. 3:14). When we prayerfully identify and avoid those who rebel against the word of God--those who are likely not to be regenerate--the local church is aided in her submission to her Head, Christ Jesus the Lord.

These are just some of the benefits of prayerfully, patiently, lovingly, and discerningly working for a local church membership comprised of people professinig and evidencing regeneration through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In future posts we'll consider benefits to pastors, individual members, and persons excluded from membership. Until then, let's pray that the Lord would be giving His under-shepherds wisdom as they tend to the flock of God among them.


Jeremy said...

Outstand articulation of the importance and necessity of true church membership in the church. This is very helpful for me and I greatly appreciate it! Lord Bless You!

pdug said...

When you cite 1 Cor 3:103 as showing that unregenerate church members lead to factionalism, do you really mean to say that those who are immature ("babes in Christ") are actually unregenerate? How can anyone 'in Christ' (even 'babes') be unregenerate.

Surely they need to mature. Surely they need to 'be who they aleady are'. but I don't see that they need to be 'born again'.

FellowElder said...

Thank you for joining the dialogue. When I included 1 Cor. 3, I had in mind the popular but wrong teaching regarding "carnal Christians." That's a contradiction in terms. So much of what we identify as "carnality" might be better understood as an evident lack of visible fruit/grace. (Ernie Reisinger's "What Should We Think About the Carnal Christian" is helpful here). We should first treat such persons as though they were Christians, expecting them to conform to their professions and bring forth fruit worthy of repentance and salvation. But in doing so, we should also anticipate that holding out Christian expectations in God's time may reveal some chaff where we thought there was wheat.

Having said that, I'm in agreement with your basic point. Great care should be taken to be sure we don't treat weakness like wickedness. The new Christian, the immature or weak Christian, should be loved and cared for accordingly. I would certainly agree with you about that, and I would encourage pastors to be patient, prayerful, and active in people's lives so that he is able to discern the difference between weakness and wickedness. After all, in pursuing a regenerate membership we continue to desire that many more would come into the fold as blood-bought, adopted members of God's family. We're pursuing a "pure" church for the sake of God's glory and the elect, not for the purpose of punishing "babes in Christ" or non-Christians.