29 November, 2022

The Search for Authentic Church Membership

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by | 1 March, 2022 | 1 comment

By Jim Nieman

“Church membership” was frequently discussed in the pages of Christian Standard during its first 50 or 60 years. And when the topic came up, so usually was the subject of baptism. The discourse then, typically, would delve into the form of baptism (as in infant baptism and sprinkling), and whether the unimmersed should be accepted as members of churches of the Restoration Movement—a topic commonly referred to as “open membership.”

Here are some excerpts from a dozen articles and editorials:

February 10, 1872, an editorial — “The church is not a human invention, but a divine institution, and the very highest conception that God has furnished us of spiritual society on earth. It was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that they who gladly received the Word and were baptized, were added to the original disciples, and continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, and breaking of bread and prayers.”

October 4, 1890, an editorial — “If the church has the right to demand of the candidate faith in Jesus as the Son of God, it has also the right to demand whatever else was clearly demanded of persons by the apostles of Jesus Christ—as repentance, baptism and a life of obedience.”

November 9, 1895, an editorial — “The primitive church knew nothing of bodies of men loving God and Christ, doing good in the name of our common Lord, showing the fruits of the Spirit in their lives, and yet wearing human names and failing to obey Christ in his ordinance of baptism.”

November 16, 1895, by W. O. Moore — “We do not propose to limit the grace of the Almighty. The question is, To what has the Almighty limited us? We are not saying that the Lord can not, or will not, save the pious unimmersed. What the Lord may do, and what he has authorized us to preach, are separate and distinct propositions. He has not authorized us to say that baptism is needless and that people can be saved without it as well as with it.”

January 25, 1896, by E. L. Frazier — “The apostles, . . . wherever they went, preaching and starting churches, acted upon the understanding that this birth was necessary to church membership, and that it consisted of two parts—that to believe was to be born of the Spirit, and to be baptized was to be born of water—and with them to be baptized was to be immersed, and from this rule they never deviated. . . . They were loyal to Jesus while they lived. It was left to an apostate church some centuries later to presumptuously claim to have authority to make changes in these matters. . . .”

January 14, 1905, an editorial — “To get into [the church], men and women are required, as they were required in the beginning, to do only what Christ provided should be done and what his apostles, under his instructions, commended; i.e., to believe in Christ with all their heart, repent of their sins, make a public confession of Christ, and by his authority be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The terms of salvation and terms of church membership are identical in gospel teaching. The way into Christ is the way into his church.”

April 15, 1905, an editorial — “We are not baptized and then join the church, but we come into Christ and the church at the same time in our baptism.”

September 16, 1911, an editorial (responding to a question) — “We regard the members of denominational bodies as Christians, but, many of them, as imperfect Christians, by reason of an imperfect compliance with the commands of Christ.”

January 19, 1907, an editorial — “Every denomination claims the right to change the constitution or order of the church in some particular—in terms of membership, in theology, in creed, or in name. The churches of Christ in the Restoration movement neither assume such right for themselves nor concede it to any one else.”

October 26, 1912, by Isaac Errett (from an address delivered in the 1880s) — “Our duty . . . is to preach the truth—the simple truth—the whole truth of the gospel, and commit it to God to watch over its working. Let us yield everything that is our own, but hold on to everything that is God’s without inventions or experiments of our own to bring about that which God alone is able to accomplish.”

July 19, 1919, by F. D. Kershner — “If we accept the denominational theory of union we must undoubtedly be willing to accept open membership and a host of other things. When we do this, however, we give up the whole substance of the Restoration ideal of unity, and acknowledge that the plea which has furnished our only excuse for existence for over a century [i.e., ‘throwing all of the old organizations overboard, and going back to the original norm of the church as it was in the beginning’] is, and always has been, a mere will-o’-the-wisp.”

June 4, 1932, an editorial — “A remarkable thing about what Jesus did, indeed, is this very power to draw together those of different outlooks and conflicting characteristics, and make them one. . . . Every true Christian becomes conscious of the obligation to ‘love those he can not like.’ Indeed, unless his spirit goes that far, it is scarcely bearing witness with the Holy Spirit.”

Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.

1 Comment

  1. Cheryl A. Moen

    In a day and age when our churches have become “homogenized”, it’s clear that people are not hearing from our pulpits what “being added to the church” really means. Actual invitations are sadly missing and, in many cases, people sitting in the pews wouldn’t even understand what they are being “invited” to do should they actually hear one. We’ve become afraid to verbalize the biblical plan of salvation. And as a result, people are not accepting Christ in Christian baptism–and, thus, they are not, according to Scripture, a member of the Lord’s church. Our churches need a true “revival” and we need to plainly preach what God’s Word says about becoming a Christian.

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