(The following essay is part of a paper I wrote in 2001 as pastor of my first church. I am republishing it here because the issue and importance of church membership and the Lord’s Supper is as important today if not more so than it was then.)
In the PCA, membership vows require a person to not only make a simple profession of faith in Jesus Christ, but to promise to follow Him in a couple of specific ways: serving the Lord in the local church to the best of his ability (time, talents, and treasure), and submitting to the government and discipline of the church, as that is expressed by humble, godly elders of the local congregation.
This oversight responsibility (otherwise known as accountability) is seen in a special way at the Lord’s Table. Scripture, presents elders with the responsibility of excluding those from the Table who are unworthy partakers (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 5), a process called suspension from the Lord’s Supper, or Excommunication.
Yet, if you are a church which does not have or practice membership, in such a case, what is a person excluded from? You would find yourself in the midst of a logical impossibility.
By taking the position that it takes, our denomination is not saying that “church membership” is a requirement for salvation (as if we had to “do” anything besides believe), but only this: church membership is the normal, regular way that a Christian expresses his faith in Christ in a visible way. Like baptism, giving to the poor, and other expected responses to those who have been saved by Grace through Faith alone, joining a church is a central part of what it means to be a thankful and faithful disciple of Christ.
Calvin, quoting Augustine and others, said this: If you will not take the Church as your Mother, you may not take God as your Father. (For more on church eldership and church discipline, read T David Gordon’s article at the PCA website here.)
What Are the Sacraments?
This raises a good question: what are the sacraments, and what do they have to do with a simple profession of faith? Continue reading