Church Membership 2: Regenerate Church Membership
What are the most important distinctives that make a Baptist Church a Baptist Church? You might think that believer’s baptism would be the first thing offered. This is not true! Baptists believe in the direct unmediated Lordship of Jesus Christ through His word in the local church. We do not need Popes or Presbyteries to know His will for our church. Baptists believe in the priesthood of all believers recognising that the Spirit has gifted every Christian for service in the church, and an ability to know God’s will through the word and Spirit and be responsible for big and important decisions such as church discipline. Baptists believe in the separation of Church and state; that God has appointed each realm of authority and one does not have jurisdiction over the other. These are some distinctives along with believer’s baptism that mark a Baptist Church. But another very important Baptist distinctive is Regenerate Church Membership. We believe that the bible teaches not only that every Christian should be committed to a local church, for the only Christian life described in the Bible is one intertwined with the Church. We also believe that the Bible teaches that only those who have been born again by grace through faith in Christ are the legitimate candidates for membership.
The church today has come under vicious attack, the most repeated criticism of the church is that it is full of hypocrites. I will readily admit that this is true, though I would want to make a distinction. There are those in the Bride of Christ who are born again and on the path of holiness, who are not perfect this side of eternity but are striving towards it. These are true believers who admit their imperfection but who are honest about their sin and confess it depending upon God in prayer to continue to help them. A hypocrite is not someone who readily admits they are not perfect and doesn’t pretend to be, but emphasises their need for ongoing grace. I do believe however that our churches are full of those who have made false professions, those who call themselves Christians and are not, and these has been compounded by the fact that the church has failed to be faithful in church discipline and displaying God’s true opinion on their behaviour. The teaching of Regenerate Church membership is the teaching that upholds the true identity of the church and faithful application of it would go a long to ensuring that at least on a local church level the purity, unity, witness, mission, and doctrinal integrity would be largely intact.
Christians have not helped themselves to be the church God has called us to be. False notions of the church have been very influential in church history. One example is Augustine’s interpretation of the parable of wheat and the tares. The field has been interpreted by many down through the ages as the church, and the wheat and the tares are to dwell together in the church until judgement day. Even in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Presbyterian Reformed Confession you see in the chapter on the church in the paragraph that speaks about their continuing to be imperfect churches this side of eternity, Matt. 13:24-30 is the prooftext used. The 1689 baptist confession which teaches the same thing uses a different text. The Christian church has a long history of unregenerate members through the practice of state churches and infant baptism. Baptist churches are not free from having unsaved people on their membership roles but at least we do not have doctrinal commitments and practices that open the door.
Lets proceed then looking at what the bible says about regenerative church membership.