Common-Law Members, Part 3

Posted by Matt Postiff February 2, 2012 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Church 

Our local church membership process is quite simple. We essentially ask the candidate to publicly answer four questions: Are you saved? Have you been baptized by immersion since you believed? Do you agree to subscribe to the doctrine and constitution of the church? And are you conducting yourself generally as a Christian? If a credible "yes" is given to all four questions, the church votes to receive the person into membership. Actually, our membership class explains all of this in great detail in four sessions, followed by a time of sharing testimonies with the church board.

To those common-law members who may object to this simple process of membership, here are some thoughts: Isn't checking up on a person's salvation testimony a wise thing to do? Shouldn't we safeguard the gospel and the local church by asking a few select questions? Church discipline is a safeguard for the church after a member has entered; the membership questions form a safeguard for the church on the incoming side. Both are fallible processes, but shouldn't we make some attempt through a formal process? If the church membership is asked to vote in order to add a member, shouldn't they be assured that the person applying for membership is in agreement with them on the basics? Such agreement would have to be publicly testified for the church to accept it.

So, what should we do about those who are not willing to publicly give a positive response to these four questions? Some people languish in that state so long that a third category like a common-law member seems practical, even if not ideal. Christians are not supposed to somehow float along with no connection to a church family. The fact is that these people share in many things of the church--worshiping, hearing the preaching of the Word, giving, sharing meals, doing mundane tasks around the church, their names are in the church directory, etc. Some things they cannot do, of course. The kicker for me is that as a pastor I feel some responsibility toward them, and I actually exercise shepherd oversight and care for them as much as possible. So, they are kind-of-members but not full members. Maybe they are being silly, or even sinful, in their refusal to commit to membership, but then again there are a lot of other ways our official members can be silly or sinful and the pastor still shepherds them.

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