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Saved, Regenerate Church Membership



This article is part of our current article and Text-Driven Podcast series, "Distinctly Baptist."


We have now reached the second-to-last letter in our Baptist acronym, which is helping us understand God’s design for the church. Before we look at the letter “s” in “Baptist,” I think it is important for us to remind ourselves of a significant verse in the New Testament. Several times throughout this series we have looked at Matthew 16 and the discourse that Jesus has with His disciples concerning the doctrine of the church. In Matthew 16, Jesus said, “Upon this rock, I will build my church” (16:18). In many respects, the phrase, “I will build my church.” has been foundational for each letter in our Baptist acronym. The reason is that being a Baptist does not have anything to do with what man thinks. Being Baptist is tied directly to Scripture. Therefore, being Baptist is concerned with God’s design for the church. 


Because God is the chief architect of the church, He is responsible for answering the following questions: 1) What is the church? 2) Who is the church? 3) Where is the church? 4) Why do we have the church? 5) How does the church function? Each of these questions are answered in Scripture by God, and we have spoken about many of them through this series on being distinctly Baptist.

Our attention turns to a very specific topic. In this article, we are going to look at the “s” in our Baptist acronym. The letter “s” stands for “Saved, Regenerate Church Membership.” In this article, we will answer three questions: 1) Who is the church? 2) Why does regenerate church membership matter today? 3) How do you practice regenerate church membership?


Who is the church?

The first question that we need to consider is the definition question–who is the church? At first glance, this question would seem to be a simple question to answer. Many of us would recognize the church as being those individuals that comprise the membership role at a given church. Others might simply answer the question “Who is the church?” by saying, “Christians.” In some way, both of those proposed answers can be misconstrued. Let’s first deal with the person who answers “Christian.” 


Technically, the doctrine of regenerate church membership is to say that only Christians are part of the church. However, normally the simplistic answer that Christians are the “who” of the church needs further clarification. I have found that a person who answers “Christian” is speaking in a very generic sense. I mean that a person who says, “Christian” does not refer to a particular local gathering of Christians, but rather a nondefined group of people. 


Now, it is true that all Christians are the “who” of the church. However, our visibility as a church is not readily seen until our glorified state. It is not until the Second Coming of Christ that Christians can collectively refer to themselves as the church. The reason why we have to wait until Glory is because only God knows who is on the eternal membership roll of the church.


Astonishingly there is an anti-institutional mindset in our American culture that spurns at the concept of a visible local church. To be honest, those advocating for a more universal and non-visible expression of the church are doing so out of reaction. I know that I have come across in my own church people who are hesitant to commit to a local body of believers because of the hurt and pain that they have experienced at other places. The predominant excuse I get for people not wanting to “join” a church is because the church is full of hypocrites. To which I respond, “And so is Costco, your Country Club, and Walmart, but you still belong to those organizations.”


You see, the visible local church is God's design for His people to find community. When there are instances of pain and hurt that come from belonging to a local church, you can respond appropriately through prayer. Do not run from God’s design, but rather embrace that God is at work. 


Circumstances and feelings have most assuredly contributed to the anti-local church movement in Christianity. But that is not the only contribution impacting one’s understanding of church membership. The other is a biblical argument. Some people do not see in Scripture a biblical precedent for church membership. 


Scripture is very clear concerning local church membership. Scripture is also very clear that church membership must only be given to those who have professed faith in Christ as evidenced by the outward sign of baptism. Let’s first deal with the language argument and then move to the logical argument. 


The language of Scripture speaks of joining a church membership. In Acts 2, those saved were “added” to their number. Later in the chapter, Luke explains that the Lord “added” to their number. These instances at Pentecost demonstrate a sort of membership accountability. The language shows that new believers are “added” to “their” number. This indicates that record keeping of believers was already being established and that people could be added to that record if they met the criteria. 


The logic of Scripture speaks of a need for church membership. One responsibility of a local church is to exercise discipline upon those within their membership who have habitually walked away from Christ through unrepentance. Matthew 18 outlines the criteria and steps for discipline and 1 Corinthians 5 gives an example of discipline. The only logical way that a congregation can effectively perform disciplinary procedures is if the membership is known. It would be illogical for a group of believers to exercise discipline upon a person of whom they have no knowledge of. 

The language and logic argument of Scripture for church membership leads to our discussion of criteria. If people are “added” and those “added” can be excluded, then it becomes important for a person to know “why” they are being added and to “what” they are being held responsible. The only manner of membership that can consistently answer the “why” and “what” of local church membership is the Baptist position of regenerate church membership. 


If we go back to our Acts 2 passage from earlier, we will see that the criteria for being “added” to membership was faith alone in Christ alone as evidenced by the outward sign of baptism. Only those who believed were baptized, and only those who were baptized were added to their number. Additionally, the fact that discipline is an action that the congregation can do presupposes that the members have a mutual understanding of what is and is not expected of them. Furthermore, it stands to reason that you can only hold Christians accountable to a biblical expectation. Non-believers cannot be held accountable to biblical expectations because their hearts are unregenerate.


Why does regenerate church membership matter today?

If there is a doctrine needed today that has risen to the level of importance of biblical authority, it would be regenerate church membership. Three sadistic enemies have infiltrated the church and caused a decrease in regenerate church membership. These three enemies are individualism, pragmatism, and consumerism. Let me explain how these enemies have caused the need for a resurgence of regenerate church membership. 


First, individualism has created such a selfish perspective in the church. Instead of the church being a community of Christians serving in God’s Kingdom or a family of believers led by their Heavenly Father, the church has become a gathering of selfish individuals looking to have their individual desires tickled and scratched (2 Timothy 4). This heightened individualism is not what God intended for His church. At the heart of individualism is pride. At the heart of the church should be humility. A church infected with individualism is a church in need of practicing regenerate church membership.


Second, pragmatism is another enemy of the church. In pragmatism, a church leader is driven by whatever works instead of what Scripture says. The end goal of a pragmatic church is more people and more programs. The means by which to accomplish that goal is whatever is necessary. Therefore, membership requirements are relaxed so that there is not any accountability. For accountability is seen as a deterrent to accomplishing the goals of the church. In extreme pragmatic churches, salvation nor baptism are requirements for membership. 


Third, consumerism is the final enemy of the church and threatens the biblical practice of regenerate church membership. When a church adopts consumeristic thinking, they are not allowing Scripture to drive them. Consumeristic churches are not text-driven; instead, consumeristic churches are consumer-driven. The needs of the people trump the authority of Scripture. When consumerism is adopted regenerate church membership cannot be practiced. A church practicing regenerate church membership is not concerned with what their wants and their glory; instead, a church committed to regenerate church membership is concerned with the gospel and the glory of God being on full display.


How do you practice regenerate church membership?

God’s Word is fully sufficient to provide the instruction that we need to adequately practice regenerate church membership. First, if you are going to practice regenerate church membership, then you have to have a clear understanding of regeneration. Regenerate church membership cannot be practiced without a biblical understanding of the gospel. The gospel is God’s good news for how unrighteous sinners are declared righteous by virtue of the completed work of Jesus on the cross. When a person believes in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone for their salvation, then they become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5). 


After a church begins to preach and teach a biblical gospel, they need to practice a biblical understanding of baptism. We will discuss baptism more completely in the next article on the two ordinances of the church. For this discussion, we need to recognize the timeline of baptism as it relates to church membership. As indicated earlier in this article, Acts 2 explains that conversion and baptism were the necessary prerequisites for a person to be counted as a church member. 

The third action that will help you practice regenerate church membership in your church is the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. The Supper is an ordinance for the church to practice together. Only those who are professing Christians are admitted to the Lord’s Table. As part of the Lord’s Supper, believers proclaim the gospel to one another for the purpose of sanctification. 


A final action that will your local church practice regenerate church membership is a regular reminder of the covenant expectations for each member. If you are a pastor or teacher, let me encourage you to speak more in terms of “we” instead of “you.” By addressing the congregation or your Bible Study class with the term “we” you are showing how the church is comprised of believers in fellowship together. 


Conclusion

Regenerate church membership is a critical component of being a biblical church. No congregation can be recognized as text-driven that does not practice regenerate church membership. As Christians, we ought to expect that our congregations are comprised of Christians. For our Fellowship is not with darkness but rather with light. Let’s work to make sure that our visible local churches are as close as possible to reflecting God’s membership role in Glory.





The "Distinctly Baptist" series will also be on the Text-Driven Podcast. You can listen to the Text-Driven Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at www.textdriven.org/podcasts.



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