Recently, we at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship (CCF) added a number of families to our church membership and enjoyed formally receiving them into the congregation. Membership is a topic that is rarely addressed sufficiently in the churches today; its even seen as unnecessary in some congregations. But we believe the Bible teaches us that church membership is not only something we should take more seriously, but is extremely important in the life of the Christian.
However, we have also seen church membership abused. Men have and do use the good and Godly principles in scripture to manipulate and to control people. The error in responding to such abuse is not to throw out church membership, but to address the root sin. The issue causing so many Christians to pull away from church membership is not membership itself, but pride, manipulation, selfishness and similar sins among leaders who abuse what is good. We must not throw out God’s Word because certain men use it unrighteously. There are many sheep in God’s flock who bear the scars of wolves in sheep’s garments, and it is understandable that these wounded brethren have reservations about belonging to a local flock again.
We believe the Bible gives us principles and guidelines for our good, membership included. We have intentionally sought a simple and Biblical membership process based upon mutual agreement and the bonds of love. We have sought to preserve the inherent checks and balances that the Christ gives the local church (multiple elders of equal authority, church discipline, accountability to the Berean congregation, etc.) We believe these checks and balances help protect God’s sheep against abuse of authority.
Regarding the Christian, we believe the Bible’s clear instruction is for all believers to belong to a local assembly for their equipping and for the mutual benefit of one another. Section 26, paragraph 6 of the London Baptist Confession summarizes our view:
The members of these churches are saints by calling, visibly manifesting and evidencing (in and by their profession and walking) their obedience unto that call of Christ (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2); and do willingly consent to walk together, according to the appointment of Christ; giving up themselves to the Lord, and one to another, by the will of God, in professed subjection to the ordinances of the Gospel. (Acts 2:41,42, 5:13,14; 2 Cor. 9:13)
How do we implement this at CCF?
Our intention is to open the door of local church membership as wide as the door to the Kingdom, insofar as we can in good conscience. Because we hold to particular supporting doctrines and practices that make us distinct from other local bodies (see note below), we encourage agreement with those doctrines and practices for the sake of unity and order. But, affirming that the brethren are diverse in doctrinal background and men are fallible in their understanding, we do not presume to make our supporting doctrines and practices tests of membership. Such a membership, with diversity implied, calls for an extra measure of love and humility. We believe this also captures the spirit of the early church, who, by nature of their blending many Greek provincial backgrounds and many Jewish traditions, most clearly followed Christ by their exercise of genuine love. (Acts 2:42-47; Romans 14)
With that in mind, our membership guidelines affirm that the local body is, at heart, a regenerate body of true believers. We ask four broad criteria for membership.
First, all members must professes faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior, Lord, and supreme Treasure of their lives. To claim membership belongs to those who reject Christ is to make meaningless the concept of the spiritually distinct people of Christ. (1 Peter 2:9)
Second, we ask members to affirm the historic Nicene Creed as a basic confession of faith. The Nicene Creed has been one of the most widely accepted and consistently used statements of the Christian Faith. It is considered to be the most basic statement of trinitarian orthodoxy and describes those essential beliefs shared by the universal body of Christ.
Third, members of CCF should be willing to receive instruction from the Scriptures by the elders of the church in accord with the London Baptist Confession of 1689. This document governs our teaching and communicates a summary of what we believe the Bible teaches (See our article, “Why a Confession”). Members do not have to agree fully, though we encourage like-mindedness and substantive agreement with the Confession of Faith. This criterion simply states that the teaching from our pulpit will be in accordance with the doctrines summarized in the Confession of Faith
And fourth, we ask that members have been baptized, or are willing to be baptized by immersion if never baptized. We believe that baptism is the outward ordinance of obedience that signifies the inward faith of the Christian, and was given to the body as a testimony and encouragement. All believers who enter the visible “society of Christ” (the local church) do so by the visible sign of Christ.
We believe these four criteria honor the Word of God in their simplicity. Prospective members who desire to join this body need only speak to an elder to make their desire known. Families and individuals will be given an opportunity to share their testimony, ask questions, and to familiarize themselves with the distinctives of CCF. When mutual agreement is achieved, new members are publicly received before the congregation and presented with a token gift, a copy of the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and its accompanying Baptist Catechism.
Note about “Supporting Doctrine – A “supporting doctrine” is one that has also been termed a “non-essential” or “non-salvific” doctrine by some theologians. These doctrines are those which are debated among orthodox Christians. While we believe that they are very important, we do not believe that different interpretations of supporting doctrines necessarily cause one to be unorthodox, or their salvation to be in doubt. Supporting doctrines are what cause orthodox Christian churches to denominate themselves by different names and associations. Christians can debate supporting doctrine, hold to differing convictions, yet love one another as brethren and work alongside one another despite these difference. This is not the same as denying essential or salvific doctrine, which we believe is accurately confessed by the Nicene Creed.