The Dancing Puritan

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Front Door of the Church

Local churches often face trouble. This is not a surprise, for the Scripture declares the certainty of church division (I Corinthians 11:17-22). However, it is incumbent upon church leaders to act in wisdom when receiving new people into membership. Diligence concerning the reception of church members can go a long way to help church-member-candidates avoid presumption regarding salvation, carelessness in choosing a church, and such diligence cultivates the greater potential for happiness in church relationships.

Recently I had the privilege of viewing a couple of the "Inquirers'" books, from the days of Charles Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle (MT). The books are numbered and contain testimonies concerning those who applied for church membership at the MT. The accounts provide a snapshot into the love and care that the people of the MT received by the elders of the church. Consider the following account from The Sword and the Trowel.

Candidates for church-membership have an interview with one of the Elders, some of whom attend the Tabernacle for that purpose every Wednesday evening. A record is made by the Elder of the result of that interview in what is called the Inquirers' Book. If satisfied with the candidate, he gives a card, which qualifies for direct intercourse with Mr. Spurgeon, who devotes a fixed portion of his time to that office. If Mr. Spurgeon thinks favorable of the individual, the name is announced at a Church meeting, and visitors are appointed to make the most careful inquiries into the whole circumstances connected with the application. If this investigation is satisfactory, the candidate appears at a Church meeting where he is examined by the Pastor, after which he retires, and the visitor gives his report upon the case. It is then proposed to the Church for its adoption, and if approved, the Pastor gives the right hand of fellowship. As soon after this as convenient, the candidate is baptized, and on the next first Sabbath in the month ensuing, unites in the Communion Service, having first been recognized before the whole Church by again receiving from the Pastor the right hand of fellowship. The Sword and Trowel, vol. 1, 1865, 19.
Church membership is only for those who indicate by their testimony and their changed life that they are truly children of God by grace, through faith in Christ. Though pastors do not have the ability to see into the depths of one's heart and to always make a correct analysis of a person's spiritual condition, they do have the responsibility to watch over the church carefully. In part this means that they must be diligent in the reception of people into local church membership. The objective is not to be hardheaded with people, but to love Christ and his people enough to help member candidates through the front door of the church.