02 Dec The Fellowship of New Hearts
THE CHURCH’S PURSUIT OF HEALTH: PART 4
By Matt Minto
Regenerate church membership is a mark of a healthy church. What is it and why is it important for the health of the local church and its members?
Nathan Rose said, “regeneration is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit upon a spiritually dead person resurrecting them to spiritual life, making them a new creation in Christ, and enabling them to walk in obedience to God.” (1)
As Rose points out, evangelicals understand this as “being born again” or the “new birth.”
In John 3:3-8, we see one of the most explicit expressions of this idea in Jesus’ interaction with a Pharisee named Nicodemus.
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (ESV)
What bearing, then, does the new birth have on church membership?
Jonathan Leeman defines regenerated church membership as “the idea that the members of your church should all be regenerate (born again, baptized, professing Christians).”
We see this throughout the New Testament. By way of example, in 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul refers to the church with the phrase, “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Likewise, in Ephesians 1:1, the Apostle uses the phrase “to the saints” to address the church.
In each of the New Testament letters and the recorded practices in the book of Acts, we see no examples of non-Christians knowingly joining churches or being baptized into the church. We only see believers.
If a local church desires to be healthy, then Regenerate Church Membership is a doctrine worth being guarded by all church members.
Why is Regenerate Church Membership Important?
First, regenerate church membership protects against nominal Christianity within the congregation.
Consider this: An individual has some spiritual experience or makes a profession of faith at a young age; they are baptized; they become “enrolled” as a church member but grow up living a life contrary to the Word of God. They are Christian in name only. Yet, because they have been counted as one of the saints, their association with the church speaks on their behalf, contrary to their life pattern.
Not only does this confuse the church’s reputation in the community, but it also allows the person in question to operate with false hope concerning their eternal standing before God.
Second, regenerate church membership protects the purity and holiness of the local church and its members.
Unregenerated persons are simply not able to pursue the things of the Lord. Furthermore, anyone who Christ has not yet regenerated will live a life contrary to his gospel.
Line 3 of the Crosspoint Church Covenant reads, “We will frequently encourage, exhort, and admonish one another to hold to our confession of Christ, remembering that as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us now a special obligation to lead a new and holy life.” Membership allows us to guard one another against stumbling and to promote helpful reminders of our gospel calling. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
If Christians are intended to be distinguished as those who follow Jesus, then churches can only hope to display the Savior well by ensuring a born-again congregation.
Third, regenerate church membership ensures healthy church governance.
Churches that follow the congregational model (similar to how we think of representative democracy) must rely on the sound judgment of their congregants. For these churches, the collective body makes the big decisions.
For matters of the constitution, selection of pastors and deacons, or the stewardship of a church’s dollar, it is most logical that these decisions will be made by those who have been spiritually transformed. In other words, a regenerated voting member will more than likely vote according to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. An unregenerate person can only bring human wisdom and discernment to the table.
Furthermore, if a church has no standing as to whether a member must be a Christian, then there is no reason that the church would not become “ruled” by non-Christians. In this example, the church will have become nothing more than a religious club.
How Should We Maintain Regenerate Church Membership?
- Stay Sharp.
Every church, and therefore every church member, is responsible for staying theologically clear on these first-tier matters of importance. Are you holding to a biblical understanding of conversation, regeneration, and baptism?
- Pursue Life Together
With avenues like small groups or opportunities to serve alongside one another, we are not without ways to grow and encourage each other in the faith. Are you invested in a regular setting where other Christians know you and are invited to speak into your life?
- Address Unrepentant Sin
What do we do when a church member’s life no longer gives evidence of regeneration through repeated sin and unrepentance? Jesus equips us with instructions for church discipline to glorify God, maintain the church’s purity, and restore the sinner caught in a spiral. In Matthew 18:15-20 the call is clear.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
The church is called to lovingly confront the one slipping away, repeatedly calling them to repentance.
Ultimately, if the person does not turn from their sin, the church must assume they have not yet been born again, and the church will then focus on evangelizing that person. Either way, reconciliation through Christ is the goal.
Member, by God’s Grace.
My experience with the local church has not always been positive.
Growing up, I experienced many different local church settings, some of these were positive, but most were unhealthy. Due to this, it set the course for me to have an unhealthy view of church membership. While I was a regular attender at a local church, I didn’t see a reason to become a member and be accountable to a local church body.
After coming to Crosspoint, attending Discovering Crosspoint and doing life with church members in a small group, I began, through God’s grace, to see the value and need of church membership.
I pray that your love for the local church continues to grow and we at Crosspoint Church continue to remain faithful to God’s word as we wait for the return of our King.
Matt Minto serves as Crosspoint’s Deacon for Ordinances. He is married to Amber, and they have two children, Lennox (5) and Lucca (2).