Can one be a member of more than one local church? (by Stephen Young)

by Guest Blogger on March 12, 2012 · 91 comments

(Stephen M Young is a missionary living in Brazil.  He blogs at “Beyond Outreach” and has a personal blog as well.  I appreciate him sharing this post with us.)
I am interested in the opinions here on SBC Voices. Can someone be a member of two local churches simultaneously? (Let’s keep the hypothetical to SBC churches.) I am putting the question out as a general question, but have added some examples to think it through.
Case 1:
A missionary who, being sent as a member of his home church, joins with a local church in the country in which he is working.
Can he be a member of USA Baptist and Overseas Baptist at the same time?
Case 2:
A college student goes to a city about 5 hours away. He comes home every other weekend. He wants to join the church near his university, and also stay a member at his home church.
Can he be a member of University Baptist and Hometown Baptist at the same time?
Case 3:
Bob and Mary were each members of their own respective churches before getting married. Bob, a member of Central Baptist, and Mary a member of First Baptist. They struggle to choose which church to join.
Can they simply join both churches?
Case 4:
John is a member of FBC. He is commissioned by the church to help start a daughter church. The church becomes strong and can now function autonomously. John loves his brothers and sisters at both churches.
Can he be a member of both his home church and the church he helped plant?
Why or why not?
1 Dave Miller March 12, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Since we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, I’ve got no problem. That should stir some folks up!

The only time our church allows people to be members of two churches at the same time (except when we don’t know about it for whatever reasons) is when our people are gone every winter for several months. We have quite a few “snowbirds” who fly south and are part of a church in Texas or Arizona while they are there.

But if you are a resident here, we pretty much expect people to focus on one church.

2 Doug Hibbard March 12, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Didn’t we once upon a time have a membership category called “Watchcare” that covered some of these scenarios?

Where a person maintained their “home church” official membership, but committed themselves and received the commitment of a local body where they were for the time being? I remember that in college towns and military towns. The only thing you couldn’t fully do was vote in the church you were a “watchcare” member of, but you had all other rights/privileges/responsibilities of a member. I remember some folks joining under that category in one church, and remember seeing a few people reclassed as “watchcare” when they joined the military. They were stationed elsewhere for a year, joined the church there, but the “home church” did not just send their letter since they were coming back.

Anyway, that’s my memory. Some of you eyewitnesses to those greater days may have a clearer picture :-)

3 Frank L. March 12, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I guess since membership roles are man-made, then rules governing them can be made by men, also.

The danger is to make too much of church membership . . . or, too little. Ultimately, as Dave points out, there is only one Church with multiple gatherings.

However, if someone uses dual membership as an excuse to fully commit to a single group of believers for the purpose of mutual growth, support, and action, then I think that makes too little of church membership.

I’ve dealt with “snowbirds” having pastored for 8 years in Arizona. We accepted them as participating members and they fully committed to our church while the were with us, and to their summer home when with them.

The key is: commitment, not residency in my opinion.

4 William W. Birch March 12, 2012 at 7:21 pm

I am a member of a SBC church back home in Virginia. While away at college, and now Southeastern Seminary, I have yet to become a member of any SBC church in Raleigh, NC, because of this very issue: can a believer be a member of two local churches?

Some churches allow for duel membership while others do not, which makes the issue a practically difficult one, to be sure. As a result, I have never stayed in one local SBC church for more than a year while away at college and seminary, thinking, “Well, my home church is in Virginia, so I won’t get too attached to any church while away from home.”

The peculiar aspect of my conclusion, however, is that once I graduate seminary I have no plans on returning home. I will go elsewhere to minister. So I will have to join another church somewhere some day anyway.

5 cb scott March 12, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Dave,

All during the time I have known you, I have always realized your one big flaw, weakness, mentally malnourished, dwarfed, tainted by DTS understanding of theology was in the area of ecclesiology.

of course, other than this one despicable failure, you are generally strong in the understanding of the doctrines of the faith.

Therefore, I will answer this question for you and I don’t want you to ever bring such a feeble question up again in a public forum.

1). No.

2). No.

3). No

4). No.

And finally, No!

6 Dave Miller March 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm

A lot of churches near schools have some sort of “watchcare” membership program.

There are really two issues. What is. What should be.

7 cb scott March 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm

I served three churches near colleges and universities and a seminary. We always brought students into a watchcare relationship. They had several privileges and the main thing they really wanted and needed: Free Meals. :-)

8 Lydia March 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm

My whole childhood we were members of two churches. The home church and the one my mom was music ministering in at the time. If this is a mortal sin, we are in big trouble! But we were always at “homecoming”!

Ya’ll think anybody ever attended two different house churches in Corinth? Rome?

9 cb scott March 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Lydia,

This is way beyond a “mortal sin.” We are talking about Calvin and Servetus seriousness here. I am gathering up wood even as I post this comment.

10 Lydia March 12, 2012 at 8:14 pm

“This is way beyond a “mortal sin.” We are talking about Calvin and Servetus seriousness here. I am gathering up wood even as I post this comment”

You gotta find me first. I will be hiding in a cave with the other Ana-churchists.

:o)

11 cb scott March 12, 2012 at 8:20 pm

That’s a rough way to live. Just ask Ole Menno. :-)

12 Bruce H. March 12, 2012 at 7:58 pm

As I understand church membership, it is for accountability and responsibility. With that:

Case 1. Yes. Staying in contact with the church who is familiar with the missionary would help assist if there was a need to understand from a cultural and personal standpoint. I would think that ministry in another location would have an instance arise that his anchor church could help address. Being a member at the location the missionary was ministering would be necessary for local accountability.

Case 2. Yes. The student must maintain his ministering spiritual gift . Each location would support him, offer responsibilities and he would be accountable under the leadership of each church.

Case 3. No. Mary should join and attend her husbands church unless he chose to join Mary’s church. This type of dual membership has no significance. They would serve and minister better without dual allegiance.

Case 4. Yes. But on a temporary basis. Just having friends or loved one’s at another church would not constitute duel membership. It is about ministry.

The church has structure. That structure is suppose to protect everyone within the membership of the church. Discipline, sharing, helping, ministering with spiritual gifts, family and many other responsibilities make up the church. Some can and should consider dual memberships, especially if both churches agree.

13 cb scott March 12, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Bruce H.,

1). Wrong.

2). Wrong.

3). Right. Lucky guess, so wrong ’cause guessing is not good enough to be right in the area of ecclesiology.

4). Wrong.

14 Tommy March 12, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Don’t you think, more than likely, that believers in the NT were sometimes moving about, from house to house, and so would probably be considered today as being a “member” of more than one local body?

I cannot imagine that this would have been a big issue back then, as they all knew each other; they were connected and committed.

T.

15 cb scott March 12, 2012 at 8:36 pm

This fire is going to take more wood than I thought.

16 Scott Gordon March 13, 2012 at 9:33 am

CB,

Reserve wood is on the way!

And the answers are NO, indeed. One needs to make a commitment to a local church. That commitment is expressed by overt intentionality. The missionary should unite with a local church in his area; OR, remain connected ‘back home’ until a church is established in his field. The student under ‘watchcare’ is acceptable and is not ‘dual membership.’ The latter two are no-not-never situations.

Some of these remind me of the couple from my last church who were charter members of a church in another state and thus chose not to join ours. Church membership is a responsibility and not a right or status marker. It is a function of living in biblical community and not a badge of mere familial affinity.

17 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Excellent comment Scott.

I started to name you in a comment below, but did not because I do not want to get you in trouble in Oklahoma. :-)

18 Scott Gordon March 13, 2012 at 6:45 pm

cb,

No problem. I do appreciate lying under the radar. :-)

19 Scott Gordon March 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Great! The unfortunate typo had to be ‘lying’ instead of typing ‘flying’….UGH!!!!!

20 John March 12, 2012 at 8:57 pm

At least those in the above scenarios think enough of church membership that they ask the question. We have so many on the rolls of our church that I have never seen and would be hard to locate if we ever did try. The only way to get off the rolls is to have a new church request a letter, have the member specifically asked to be removed, or of they die (assuming we even hear about it).

Rules on church membership are generally man made, so I’m sure everyone has their own opinion, but I feel your membership belongs with the congregation in the community where you reside and have chosen to minister ad share your life. In the case of snowbirds, I would choose my permanent residence.

21 Bruce H. March 12, 2012 at 9:14 pm

That is a great point. Churches will never drop someone from the roll and usually don’t attempt to find them, but not in every case. It would be great if the church would begin to look for people who have not attended for a predetermined amount of weeks, maybe 4 weeks. Then, we would have more accurate records if we could make the tough decisions. It would also be nice if we moved from the paper forms to computers in our class rooms.

Some get mad and leave, some sin and leave or some just leave and join another church by statement. If membership is something that is important to the SBC/GCB we should have a database that held every member’s name. If they did relocate by statement and never moved their letter we would know about it. Something to consider.

22 Frank L. March 12, 2012 at 9:33 pm

“””and would be hard to locate if we ever did try.”””

John, I don’t want to stretch your words into something unrecognizable to you. You were talking in one context, but the words struck me a little differently.

So, how did these “missing members” go missing? Would they have been so hard to locate if we had not waited so long to check? And, as you imply, “we aren’t even trying.”

Maybe membership means so little to people because members mean so little to each other. It is a sobering thought. We can talk about the rules for membership so academically, but we should always keep in mind we are talking about human beings, not just numbers.

Again, I’m not casting any stones at you. Your wording just triggered something in my head. Then again, it might just be a migraine.

23 John March 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Frank, you exactly right. We usually don’t try because no one usually even knows them. And it is very sad. When someone joins, a deacon is assigned to them for about a year to ‘get them plugged in’. Some join after attend a fellowship class for awhile, so they already know some folks. Some just attend worship and don’t get plugged in anywhere. So when they go missing, it’s usually because no one has even noticed, and the next thing you know it’s been years.

While I think it’s every members’ responsibility to look out for each other, it is hard to ‘make’ someone want to get involved. And if they never form relationships, then no one knows that they’ve quit attending.

24 Mike Leake March 13, 2012 at 10:33 am

“Maybe membership means so little to people because members mean so little to each other.”

I both love and hate that statement. I hate it because it is true. I love it because it shines a spotlight on perhaps the biggest issue with “missing members”. Great comment!

25 David Rogers March 12, 2012 at 9:19 pm

CB,

I think this is a good case in point that may help to identify some of the root issues in our different approaches to ecclesiology.

It would be helpful for me (and probably several others) if you could walk me through the scriptural basis for your answers to Stephen’s questions.

26 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 7:16 am

David Rogers,

I think it would be helpful if you would post the dialogue we had about ecclesiology a couple of years ago. It was a good dialogue. We were both serious and we were both hospitable to each other. Frankly, it was the best dialogue I have ever had on a blog thread.

It was in that specific dialogue that I came to really appreciate you in many ways. It was also in that dialogue that you introduced me to a search for understanding of the City Church Paradigm. I have always appreciated that and I still pursue understanding.

Now as to ecclesiology: David, it is my opinion that this has become one of the weakest areas of understanding of theology in Baptist life. It is my opinion that our seminaries have utterly failed in teaching a biblical ecclesiology to seminarians in the last two decades. One reason for this is because many of the faculty in our seminaries who teach in the disciplines of theology, Christian education, pastoral ministries, and church administration have no real concept of biblical ecclesiology. Many of them are without pastoral experience and that is a sad thing. I know one particular church administration professor who had never served as a pastor prior to becoming a church administration professor. It was sad indeed to listen to him flounder day after day about something he knew little to nothing about, knowing that the only reason he was in that position in the first place was due to political payback to his relatives.

In addition, in a fear of being labeled as a Landmarker many hesitate to approach the subject of biblical ecclesiology. It reminds one of the fear Baptists had several years ago to speak and teach related to the Holy Spirit because of a fear of being labeled as a Charismatic.

Another thing I see is that there is a great leaning away from embracing the concept that Baptist theology is closer to a true biblical theology than any other system of theological thought in use today. I believe that Baptist ecclesiology is biblical ecclesiology. If I did not believe that, I would not be a Baptist. I would be something else.

David Rogers, I do wish you would find that dialogue and get Dave Miller to post it as a post with an open comment thread. It would be interesting to see the results, especially as I read some of the theologically dwarfed comments I read here and elsewhere related to biblical ecclesiology.

27 Christiane March 13, 2012 at 7:47 am

C.B.
is the dialogue you are referring to located here, among the 67 responses to Podcast 3 ?

http://sbctoday.com/2009/08/12/podcast-episode-3/

28 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm

L’s,

I think that is the one. Actually, that one may be part two of a couple. But I think the one you referenced is the one I had in mind.

L’s thank you for taking the time to find it. Maybe some of these folks will read it and give their reflections here.

In addition L’s, there is a kindness and consideration of people within you that I envy. Yet, you remain a mystery to me in the fact that you will not embrace the biblical gospel. I want you to know that hardly a day passes that I do not pray for your salvation. I intend to pray thusly until I die or you get saved.

29 David Rogers March 13, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Indeed, it looks like that is the one!

Thanks, Christiane, for taking the time to hunt this up.

30 Bruce H. March 13, 2012 at 9:45 am

Mr. Scott,

I was really hoping to see the scripture David requested. Since you have come across as an authority on this subject toward me and others here it would be beneficial to all.

31 David Rogers March 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm

CB,

It would likely take me quite a bit of time, which I don’t have a lot of right now, to hunt down that comment stream. But I will try to keep it in mind for when I do have a little more time.

In any case, though, I don’t think we ever talked about this specific issue of dual local church membership. I think it is an interesting question, and might help to clear up some of the underlying assumptions behind other points we have discussed.

Mike Bergman does a fair job of giving scriptural arguments against dual membership in a comment below this one, but I am not totally convinced yet. As I see it, I am in agreement that there are lots of good, pragmatic reasons against dual membership in normal circumstances. But at the same time I find no hard and fast biblical rule or principle against it. And there may well be situations (such as those proposed by Stephen in his original post) in which it is the best solution.

I agree that, ideally, a believer should be an active member of a local church in the place they are residing at the time. But that does not necessarily mean renouncing the relationship they had with another group of believers in another place previously. I believe church is primarily about relationships with flesh and blood individuals, not impersonal structures, and distance and time does not (or should not) annul these relationships.

32 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm

David Rogers,

I understand your issues of time. You are correct that we did not discuss or “duel” about dual membership. :-) Yet, I think you might agree that a full discussion of dual membership would eventually have to come to the door of discussing ecclesiology.

Also, I agree that Mike Bergman made a good argument for the case of being a member of one local church at a time.

Lastly, I will pitch my tent with you in your last paragraph in the comment above to which I presently address.

Will we discuss ecclesiology again? Maybe someday. And remember, I thank God for your Papa and I have grown to thank Him equally for you. You are an honest and honorable man.

33 Leigh March 12, 2012 at 9:23 pm

I thnk the core question is what we mean by membership. Do we mean “keeping my name on the church roll so I get the newsletter and keep in contact because I have a emotional connection here” or do we mean “fully functioning and committed member of the local church in the community where I live” ?

Obviously there can be value in maintaing relationship with ones home church, especially for missionaries or church planters. And churches benefit from keeping relationship with those they have sent out. But I would think that in the end the sent-out one needs to be a “member” of the local congregation where he or she is serving on a daily basis. I usually advise college students the same thing. I know a lot of churches keep a “watchcare” status for students who want to join but don’t want to break ties with their home church, but if they are going to be at school nine months out of the year I personally think it’s better for them to fully commit to a local church where they are attending school. Sure, attend the home church in the summer, but the relationship with that home church is not going to be the same if you’re only home a few weeks out of the year. Same deal for snowbirds–find a local church in your vacation home, but keep your membership where you actually live. And in the hypothetical case of the married couple, they need to choose. You simply can’t be a fully invested member of two congregations.

34 Rick March 12, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Every man should have two names, two jobs, two houses, two churches, two denominational names and two wives.

It’s called redundancy–a backup plan. This way, if something doesn’t work out or you get in trouble, you can fall back on Plan B, thus reducing things like obligation and commitment singleness of focus, time, money and energy.

For those who do embrace TWO, I’d love to hear their reasoning for not allowing THREE.

35 Frank L. March 12, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Rick, I mentioned this above: if the purpose for “two” is to assist a person who is genuinely committed to the Kingdom but has a unique living arrangement, that is one thing.

To accomodate someone who simply wants an “official status,” is another thing.

Therefore, for the same reasons I could justify three or even four. However, I’m wondering what kind of situation would justify three or more. I cannot think of one.

For the record, I’m not big on “names on a roll.” Some of the
most faithful tithers (I am told) in our church presently are not members officially for reasons I am not quite sure about.

For me, membership is a matter of relationships, not rolls, or commitment, not an official status.

36 Bruce H. March 12, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Rick,

A box has more than one side. In fact, a box has at least 6 sides. When one thinks outside the box he might have 6 options to consider. Redundancy or a backup plan could be one of the options to consider even though an extra wife would be a bit more to chew on than we want to consider here.

It would basically depend on the way the SBC has set up Church Membership and why. But since all churches in the SBC are autonomous we should be able to set it up the best way that glorifies God. I think we are safe within scripture to do that. When the apostles needed more time in the word they simply created table servers. If there ever was a need for multiple memberships we should be able to amend whatever needs to be amended and approve it by the local body. If no one wanted or needed to do that they would have the option not to. :-)

37 Rick March 12, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Well, if a guy really thinks outside the box and joins six churches, I want mine to be the one where he tithes.

38 Bruce H. March 12, 2012 at 10:38 pm

That’s okay, however, he would probably be a very successful soul winner and bring in and disciple 10 tithers to church #5.

39 Jake Barker March 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm

I like the way the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) does it. If you are there on a regular and participating basis then you are a member, if you are not there, then you are not a member anymore. No records to keep up nor clean up, no congregational fights of whether to remove ol CB because he is a cantakarous ol coot and also deacon Billy Joe Jim Bob’s uncle…..neat, clean and efficient.

40 David Rogers March 12, 2012 at 10:35 pm

It seems to me that each believer should have a committed relationship with at least one regularly meeting group of Christians. They should not be able to disappear and no one realize they are gone, or no one feel personally responsible for searching after them, if they are a “lost sheep.”

In the spirit of Robert Frost’s line, “Good fences make good neighbors,” membership rolls, when they work as they are supposed to, are a positive, practical way for helping to ensure this dynamic is carried out effectively.

As I see it, though, none of this precludes believers having committed relationships with more than one group, as long as this does not get in the way of, or muddy the waters, regarding church discipline. Ideally, local congregations should be able to work together, and to mutually respect decisions made with regard to church discipline.

Rick (facetiously) said, “Every man should have two names, two jobs, two houses, two churches, two denominational names and two wives.”

I think it is more correct to think of having one church: the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (i.e. the Universal Church). Local congregations are expressions of the One True Church.

The problem is when people let “belonging” to different groups become a smokescreen for not really being accountable, or committed, to anyone.

41 Josh Collins March 12, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Where is watchcare in the Bible? For those who wouldn’t allow any kind of dual membership because it’s not in Scripture, seems odd to invent your own category.

42 Bruce H. March 12, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Josh,

Our church has “Yokefellows” who assist qualified deacons. Many churches today that have large memberships happen to have trouble with qualified men for that position. Some simply redefine the qualifications and that does not make sense. Those of us who are disqualified for one reason or another assist deacons with calls, service, hospital visits and so on. The apostles needed waiters so they could spend time in the word. Was that an invented category? I think it was. Are invented categories made by apostles only? It doesn’t say.

43 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 7:33 am

” Was that an invented category? I think it was.”

So Bruce H.,

Are you saying that Acts 6 records something the Apostles “invented” all on their own? Does Acts 6 stand independent of the rest of inspired Scripture? Are you saying that the Holy Spirit was not intentional in the selection of those who ministered in Acts 6. Did the whole idea just kinda sneak up on God? Did God say, “OK boys, that is a good idea, let’s go with it.”?? Is that what you are thinking here?

44 Bruce H. March 13, 2012 at 8:15 am

Mr. Scott,

Your impaired view of my comment has taken your questioning into a completely different direction as if to dissuade others here to think I may have meant something else when using the word “invented”. First, the position of waiting tables by spiritually qualified men certainly wasn’t there before. Everyone was waiting tables. Second, in order for the Apostles to dedicate their time to the most important thing they decided to choose men of high spiritual integrity and filled with the Holy Spirit to do the work while they focused on prayer and the word exclusively. That is a simple decision of men filled with the Spirit. With that, they invented a position with qualifications that allowed them to do what the Holy Spirit burdened their heart with.

Your question: Does Acts 6 stand independent of the rest of inspired Scripture? Answer: No. But it shouldn’t be excluded either as your questions seems to imply.
Your question: Are you saying that the Holy Spirit was not intentional in the selection of those who ministered in Acts 6? Answer: No. Men filled with the Holy Spirit are moved by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we pray and fast for direction and move on it and sometimes the urgency of the matter has the answer in it already; the importance of the word and prayer and the necessity of time to spend in it. If you are Spirit Filled you would know or assume that.

Your question: Did the whole idea just kinda sneak up on God? Did God say, “OK boys, that is a good idea, let’s go with it.”?? Is that what you are thinking here? Answer: No. If you have read any of my comments in the past and considered me an equal brother in Christ you would know my heart and thoughts on God’s sovereignty. Really, all a person would need to ask if they didn’t know me was to explain more of what I meant by the word “invent”.

I believe that church leadership has the liberty to explore the most efficient ways and means to accomplish God’s work and ministry for His church. If they are presently filled with the Holy Spirit and are capable of proving His will, the decisions to “invent” new compatible means of doing His will for the glorification of Jesus Christ is acceptable. That liberty goes both ways, too. Should they choose to remain within the structure that exists it would be fine.

45 Stephen M Young II March 13, 2012 at 8:11 am

I am just stepping into the discussion this morning. Thank you to all who have participated. The Internet is intermittent here.

I posted this question, mostly, to get a good “why or why not.” The closest I got to a “why not” was CB Scott’s answer that ministers don’t know ecclesiology because seminary professors haven’t worked enough in churches, and that there is an archived discussion on the bottom of a blog somewhere that holds a possible answer. :)

Like Robert, I don’t see how anything precludes Christians having full commitment to more than one local church body. The general assumption most people would have, though, is that one can not join two churches simultaneously. The burden to prove his case is on for the “Yes” argument, and convincingly so.

Either way, I haven’t seen a strong case laid out for either side.

46 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Stephen M. Young II,

Please notice in my comment that I did make a blanket statement about seminary faculty. Your response is as if I did. I was actually being specific without naming names. And what I said is true.

This is kinda humorous. I recently had a rather long dialogue with a seminary professor, and he agrees with what I stated about this particular issue in our seminaries.

Now as to your post; Your question is not a bad question. Your question is not one that should not be engaged. It should be engaged. Frankly, it has been engaged at length early in the history of Baptist blogs. But a problem arose. The problem is, it is a question about ecclesiology.

I will address the problem, but I am sure exposing the problem will be offensive to some. I don’t actually think it will be to you, but to some who frequent this blog and others, it will be.

Early on as Baptist blogs grew in popularity, an ongoing problem was also growing at the IMB. Various people addressed that problem. In some ways the problem arose due to questions of ecclesiastical authority in local churches.

From that debate grew many discussions about the doctrine of ecclesiology. Here is where the problem arose. There were people who were capable of discussing the issue in a balanced manner. I will name a few you may know. There was David Rogers, Dave Miller, Tim Guthrie, David R. Brumbelow, David Worley, cb, Travis Hilton, Thomas White, Marty Duren, Art Rogers, Robin Foster and several, if not many, more.

Those guys and several others could have a dialogue in a comment thread about a theological issue as complicated as ecclesiology and still be civil.

Then there were others. There were those who I will not name out of respect for Dave Miller, who made it evident they had not studied enough theology that if it was liquid, would fill a thimble.

Some of them were rather popular bloggers. Yet, they had no true understanding of theology whatsoever and even to this day if you read their posts, that becomes more and more evident.

Therefore, during the debates about ecclesiology, many of us were accused of being Landmarkers. That was so stupid. Landmark theology came along long after Baptist theology, but the ill-informed did not care. Also, the phrase “Baptist Identity” rose and gained a very negative definition.

There is a rich heritage for a Baptist Identity, but it became blood poison on Baptist blogs, due basically to theological ignorance. To claim a Baptist Identity on a comment thread became synonymous with claiming you like to eat the kind of pie that was served to the southern, bigoted lady in the movie entitled :”The Help.”

Therefore, many of us who did seek to discuss and debate the concept of a biblical theology from a very baptistic view got rather tired of being called Landmarkers and being considered as demonic if we claimed a Baptist Identity position related to ecclesiology.

Frankly, Stephen M. Young II, there are just too many people who would not know biblical theology (especially ecclesiology) from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich who make comments on Baptist blogs to make answering your question in a meaningful way worth the effort.

Take for instance Bruce H. and his comments. There would be no way to have a dialogue of any substance about ecclesiology with him. That would be impossible unless you bound and gaged him. (BTW Bruce H., Yes, I am an authority on ecclesiology. And because I am, I know you know nothing about it. I can tell that from your comments.)

So Stephen M. Young II, your question is a good question, but seemingly, an impossible question to discuss in a Baptist blog thread.

Anybody can make a comment on a blog thread, but it is not just anybody who can discuss ecclesiology on a Baptist blog thread. So many of the brothers who can have come to a decision not to do so. It is just not worth the hassle from the Wild Geese who flock to comment about that of which they know nothing.

47 Stephen M Young II March 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm

I appreciate your long response CB Scott. Most every question asked on here has been asked somewhere else not long ago. I think we do need to keep asking and answering these questions so as to build one another up and avoid relying on presumptions.

Some people are going to post uninformed opinions and some people are going to be flat wrong. Some will be right, but not be able to explain why. I suspect that some will make sound arguments for both sides. My hope is to take from those and think the issue through.

To be honest, I sent this post somewhat green, and had forgotten about it. It could have been better than just a few hypotheticals. CB, I see that your response that one can not be a member of two local churches simultaneously. If you’ve got the time and the will. I’d appreciate it if you would write a brief ecclesiological argument for the position.

(I really don’t care about exceptions to rules, so I am not worried about going down that road. I don’t really want to play a game of gotcha… which is why my original post is somewhat weak.)

48 Bruce H. March 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm

CB SCOTT said – “Take for instance Bruce H. and his comments. There would be no way to have a dialogue of any substance about ecclesiology with him. That would be impossible unless you bound and gaged him. (BTW Bruce H., Yes, I am an authority on ecclesiology. And because I am, I know you know nothing about it. I can tell that from your comments.)”

That’s me, layman deluxe! I am what I humbly consider one of the 10% of biblically knowledgeable Christian laymen in our SBC church of 700 attendees each Sunday. I think CB has identified the problem. Our leadership has failed to disciple the congregation on important ecclesiology matters and our Educational Directors have dropped the ball on a DVD series. CB is the self appointed guru to point them out publicly and condemn some of us by name.

I don’t miss any teaching that goes on in the church. I do go to seminars and bible studies. I even come here to learn. :-( Maybe for now it is to learn humility through tribulation. I guess I will turn to my favorite pastor/teacher, who will remain nameless so there are no further put downs, to get a better idea of ecclesiology along with a few support scriptures that has been requested.

Stephen – Your words are kind and maybe I fit the uninformed opinions or the flat wrong crowd, I don’t know. I just enjoyed the post and thought it was thought provoking for me. Now I will dig into the topic to see what is best. I still cannot find exactly where we wouldn’t have the freedom through spirit filled leadership to take a case by case approach. Hope you are doing well in Brazil.

49 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm

LOL

“That’s me, layman deluxe! I am what I humbly consider one of the 10% of biblically knowledgeable Christian laymen in our SBC church of 700 attendees each Sunday.”

I just have a knack at bringing out your arrogant vanity and true personality don’t I, Bruce H.? :-)

BTW, you do not have to “shout” my name. You can say it softly. I still hear rather well. So cb will suffice.

Bruce H., if you would like to read some informational dialogue on ecclesiology, you can go to the post L’s found. It may be way over your head, but you may feel free to ask questions pertaining to the post. I am sure someone will be willing to help you understand.

50 Bruce H. March 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I did say “humbly”. I don’t know how else to say it. I tried to state it like you do. I guess it takes one to know one.

51 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm

No, Bruce H., it really does not “take one to know one.” That is grammar school philosophy. It just takes someone who knows what to look for.

Now, how about telling me how you became so “humble” and have remained so for such a long time?

Do those folks in your church fellowship call you Mr. Humble?

If I came there and asked for the most humble guy in the fellowship, would all of them point to you?

I have no real experience myself, but I bet it is really humbling to be the most humble guy in church? ;-)

52 Bruce H. March 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm

CB,

Maybe you don’t realize that the phrase, “it takes one to know one” has similarities of Romans 2:1 “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”

Frankly, your double-mindedness in how you put down some of us you have judged and slobber all over those you can’t provide verses to support your random thoughts for makes me nauseated. You are a bully and have an elitism like Obama.

53 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm

So Bruce H.,

Do I take it that you are not going to reveal to me how you became so humble?

OK. I was really hoping you would tell me.

Oh yeah, I don’t really think I have been “double-minded” with you. I feel that I have been pretty straight forward and single-minded in dealing with you thus far. But if you do not understand what I think, tell me and I will try to make it clear. I would not want you to continue thinking me double-minded and unable to maintain an opinion.

54 Bruce H. March 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm

CB,

It behooves me for someone to claim they are so spiritually superior to another and yet cannot comprehend what “double-minded” is. (Go find it yourself) Why do you like to muddy up someone’s post by fighting with people you happen to find threatening to your self-assigned, self-absorbed, Obama-influenced superior way of thinking. Just be courteous and stay on topic and don’t condemn others so the theme of the subject can be properly exhausted. I understand how senility works but you can get over it by using post-it notes to remind you.

I plan on responding as harshly as I possibly can to your future bullying, or do you call it “Christian bullying”, until someone gets tired enough to call us down. You keep sticking your mouth in my comments and putting me down and you cannot do that any longer. I can handle myself.

55 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Bruce H.,

I think the post-it note thing might just work for me. Thanks. I’ll give it a try.

56 Tom C. March 13, 2012 at 8:25 am

My church actually dealt with this last year when a member tried to maintain membership in our church and join another church and directly stated that he wished to vote in both churches. He disagreed with “the direction” our church was going and wanted to also influence another very small local church that was literally a “backup” in case he did not like the outcome at our church. He was told by our staff and deacons to choose .

The primary motivation in forcing him to make a choice was the issue of his motives around trying to influence 2 churches while not truly committing his heart to either. The kicker was that this idea of dual membership was suggested and even defended by a staff member of our local association!

57 Mike Bergman March 13, 2012 at 9:26 am

I’d say “no”…

A couple of reasons:

1) Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5–the layouts of dealing with sin in context of church. If a person belongs to two local church bodies, unless they are operating in quite the tandem agreement, it would be hard to follow “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Church discipline, as we call it, when it reaches that final point has the purpose to “purge the evil person from among you” in the hopes that “his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” We put someone out of fellowship and tell them “we do not recognize you as belonging” either to confirm their unbelief in their life of sin or to stir the conscious to true repentance. If they belong to two churches, one puts them out and the other does not, then discipline becomes meaningless.

2) Use of spiritual gifts–1 Corinthians 12. Yes, in one sense we all belong to one great big body of Christ, but we also should belong to local bodies that image the universal body. Even though the universal body is one, I cannot truly use my gifts to serve the Christian who lived 1000 years ago, or will live 1000 years from now; nor can I realistically actively and personally serve one who lives in another state let alone another part of the world. The idea of the “common good” in terms of Spiritual gifts is, by necessity, locally focused upon the particular body I belong to at a certain place and in a certain time. Unless we’re talking conjoined twins (which are a rare anomaly and not a norm), one hand does not belong to two bodies. The main focus of my gifting and use is to be upon a singular body, not multiple bodies.

3) Pastoral leadership. Hebrews 13:17 tells the believers to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” 1 Peter 5:2 tells elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” As a pastor/elder, if there is a person who belongs to the church where I exercise oversight and they belong to another church as well–only if they regularly attend my church can I truly keep watch and shepherd them.

4) The example of Revelation. One letter with seven mini-letters written to seven uniquely identified churches. Each church was praised and/or reprimanded individually. Could one truly belong to the church at Smyrna and likewise belong to the church at Laodicea and fit what the Lord said to each individual church? That would be a hard sell. It seems that while Jesus sees us universally as his people, he also sees each church as an individual unit and each person in that individual church as belonging solely to that body.

I think if we are talking about a college student or a person in the military or something like that, one church can offer a sort of “watchcare” guidance over the member of another church for a limited time. But biblically we cannot and practically we should not belong in the membership of multiple churches at a single time.

58 Lydia March 13, 2012 at 9:39 am

“Could one truly belong to the church at Smyrna and likewise belong to the church at Laodicea and fit what the Lord said to each individual church? ”

Mike, Are you suggesting there was one body that met in each of these cities and not several? For example you rightly use the Corinthian church as an example of discipline but are we to ascertain there was only one Body of Christ that met in that city always together? In other words, were there really one big “individual church” in each city?

59 Mike Bergman March 13, 2012 at 9:57 am

Lydia–when you search throughout the Bible for the idea of “church” there are a few times it is used generically for the universal church, three times (I think) we find a mention of a church in someone’s house… but then the vast majority of times it talks about “the church in/at [insert name of a city].”

The Biblical writers at the time they wrote the scriptures saw the norm of “church” as one-church-one-city.

(for example: Acts 11:22, 13:1, Romans 16:1, 1 Corinthians 1:2, Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, Revelation 1:11, etc.)

60 Robert Vaughn March 14, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Mike, there are 4 clear and direct “church in the house” references (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Phm 1:2). There are others references that could be taken as such, a few with fair certainty and some that are questionable, such as Acts 8:3; 12:12; 16:40; 17:5-7; 18:7; 20:6-12, 20:20; 28:16, 23, 29-31; Romans 16:10-11; 16:15; 16;22-23; 1 Cor 11:22; Titus 1:10-11; James 2:2-3.

One church-one city is an idea popularized by Watchman Nee and Witness Lee — at least that’s where I first read it. Now I see a lot of Baptists mentioning it, though I don’t know of any who actually practice it.

Hint: that might be a good topic for someone to take up in a future post.

61 Josh Collins March 13, 2012 at 9:40 am

Watchcare is multiple membership though. We just invented a fancy word for it.

62 Mike Bergman March 13, 2012 at 10:01 am

Josh, I agree we just invented a fancy word for it, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be viewed in the lense of multiple membership. If a person is a way from the church of their membership for a limited, specific, set of time, and they plan on returning, they can be viewed under the temporary care of that second church without having to belong as a member (w/ the rights to say in the selection of pastors and deacons, or to express a voice in the removal-step of the discipline of others, etc.).

63 Josh Collins March 13, 2012 at 10:48 am

I think if we did an extensive study of the passages in the NT that talk about “watchcare” (not the word itself but the idea), we’d find most of them talking about what we call church membership. The only difference seems to be in voting, but I can’t imagine the good congregationalists around here liking the idea of submitting to a church’s pastors for care of our souls without having the right as a member to speak into that.

I also think we should have a baseline view of being covenanted to one specific, local body of believers (scriptural); while noting that there are legitimate exceptions, even within the New Testament. What church was Paul a member of? Antioch where he was commissioned? Corinth where he voted in discipline matters (1 Cor. 5)? One of the churches he received an offering from like Philippi? Yes, he was an apostle, but what do we suppose about Titus or Timothy his traveling partners who were in similar situations?

64 Lydia March 13, 2012 at 11:09 am

Or people like Billy Graham?

65 Robert Vaughn March 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Mike, I agree. I started to post on this topic yesterday, but you made most of the points I was going to make. I would add to your list simple Bible references to Christians as “in” and “of” particular congregations. Phebe was a servant of the church of Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1). Certain prophets and teachers were in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1). Saul/Paul attempted to join the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 9:32). The elders at Ephesus were identified by the church where they had oversight (Acts 20). The saints in Philippi were a church with bishops and deacons, an identifiable people who communicated with Paul “concerning giving and receiving” (Cf. Phil. 1:1; 4:15), and so forth.

66 David R. Brumbelow March 13, 2012 at 10:45 am

The Bible doesn’t speak directly to every issue. As far as I know, it doesn’t directly speak to being a member of two or more churches at the same time. But it does speak of congregational rule, congregational authority, the members of a local church taking care of the business of the church. It would seem that dual church membership is not stated or assumed in Scripture.

If memory is correct, Southern Baptists have stated dual or honorary membership does not meet the criteria in being a qualified messenger to the annual SBC.

In some situations it could be argued it would give a person an unfair advantage.

If dual or multiple membership is allowed, is it really a local, indigenous church?

The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 states,
“Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons.”

The Church Covenant, used by many Baptist churches since the 1850s, says:
“We moreover engage that when we remove from this place we will as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.”

As far as student church membership, I always joined a local church as soon as possible where I was attending school. While at school, a student should faithfully attend their local church, get involved, and be accountable. When a student moves back home, they can then move their membership back to their home church.
David R. Brumbelow

67 Josh Collins March 13, 2012 at 10:52 am

Dave,
I agree with you (and the BFM) as a general principle here that it is best to move one’s membership to where they live and be “all in” so to speak at that place. What about those snowbirds who regularly spend half a year in another city? Or missionaries like the OP was asking about?

68 David R. Brumbelow March 13, 2012 at 11:14 am

Of course snowbirds and missionaries are somewhat atypical situations.

I do know of an old time Baptist evangelist who carried his church letter with him and moved his membership to each church where he was preaching a revival. He reasoned, how could he exhort people to join a church where he was not a member? Of course this is also out of the ordinary.

For a three month snowbird, I would personally say it’s a toss-up. I could see a good argument both ways; whether to join a local church for the winter or leave their membership in their home church. Either way, they should obviously get involved in a local church while they are there.

For a missionary I can also see legitimate reasons for keeping his membership in his American home church, or moving his membership to his local church in the other country. Either, I think, would be preferable to dual membership. If he is going to be pastor of a church, I think he should have his membership there (as opposed to interim pastor).

It would be interesting to see if the IMB has a policy on this.

Some see a real problem with moving church membership and want to keep it in the same place. I would say move it as often as necessary. Of course, if you are living in the same place and are moving your membership every year or two, that is another issue for another post.
David R. Brumbelow

69 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm

“Of course, if you are living in the same place and are moving your membership every year or two, that is another issue for another post.”

Only a veteran pastor could make that statement. :-)

Hat’s off to you, David R. Brumbelow.

70 David R. Brumbelow March 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm

C.B.,
Yes, I’ve seen a few. I’m sure you have as well.
David R. Brumbelow

71 Stuart March 13, 2012 at 11:05 am

My initial reaction is, “no”, a person can’t be a member of two different churches. “Membership” (in quotes because the word itself isn’t in the Bible even if the concept is) implies a certain amount of participation and accountability.

But then it occurs to me that any of the four HYPOTHETICAL people mentioned in the scenarios above would probably be more involved and more accountable to their multiple churches than many many REAL people participate in and are accountable to their one church.

Still, I don’t think it’s wise to solve one problem by instituting a practice that could create multiple new problems down the road.

Concerning #2, I would imagine that most churches in college towns have some sort of mechanism for handling this situation. Concerning #3, no, and #4, no, with a “wait…what?” for good measure.

I’m curious about #1 though. Seems to make sense that an m would want to retain ties to his/her “sending” church. Also seems to make sense to unite with some church wherever they are. However, in many cases, the “local church” they attend in their field of service may not even be a constituted church with “bylaws” or formalized membership roles or policies. Further, even if the m did find a “traditional” western-style church to attend, it’s highly unlikely that the church would write back to the States for the m’s “letter”. I’d be curious to know if the IMB has an official or unofficial policy related to home and field church membership.

72 Bruce H. March 13, 2012 at 11:13 am

When we speak of true dual membership we are speaking of percentages that may not show up on the radar. This should be addressed on a case by case basis and a stated policy may not even be necessary. I just happen to believe there is a purpose for everything and it should be decided by those qualified and Spirit filled in each church.

73 Jeff Meyer March 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I’d like some clarification on case #2 – to those who would say “no” in any circumstance.

Can someone (let’s name him John) who goes to school for 1/2 of the year out of state be a member of any church? Should John just pick one and say “I’m going to fully commit to you, but I’ll be attending this other church 6 months out of the year.” Should he not go to school? Should he not seek membership in either church? Should he seek some kind of partnering arrangement between the two churches?

I guess a summary question would be “Can John ever receive all the benefits of membership at any church as long as his student status is true? What are those benefits of membership that should be denied to John?”

For now, I’d like to stay away from the “but there are people on the membership roles who never come” issue. That’s a valid point, but I’m also sure nobody here thinks it’s a good idea to treat membership that way.

I’m not SBC, so I really want to hear your thoughts on “benefits of membership” and why John should be denied them.

Thanks!
Jeff.

74 Robert Vaughn March 14, 2012 at 5:36 pm

To me it seems to me that if we’re not careful we have the “cart pulling the horse” — in the sense of what we feel driving what we practice rather than what the Bible says. I definitely feel sympathy for decision of a college student who is going home every other weekend, juggling college, church and family. But ultimately that is a choice one makes, as is what church one places one’s commitment. Also, perhaps it would be good to clarify what benefits of membership the college student would miss out on in the one church he or she is not a member of.

75 dr. james willingham March 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm

There is a practice of taking a member of another church under the watchcare of a local church, when they are located in place where they cannot reach their home church. I have never made use of such practice, but I have just moved my membership. Sometimes it was for as short a period as 5-6 weeks (this was in Fla. in the Summer of ’59). I had gone to stay with a friend, while we looked for revivals. We joined a country church which talked about having us to preach a revival. The pastor did let us supply the pulpit a few times, but we were never invited to preach the revival. The Sunday before I left, the pastor baptized 6 young people that my friend and I had won to Christ. Other churches I joined were for as short a period of 4 mos or 9 mos.: William Jewell College in the Fall of ’50 for 4 mos. at the South Liberty Manor Baptist Church and the East End Baptist Church of Marshall, Texas while attending East Texas Baptist College for 9 mos. At that period I was a Landmarker in ecclesiology. It would take 8 years to work my way through that distortion of the NT..along with 6 years of intensive research in Baptist Church History, and there was some value in Landmarkism, namely, J.R. Graves’ exposition of Acts 19, establishing the difference between the Ekklesia and the Ocklos, the former being the lawful assembly, the latter being the crowd/mob of Ephesians who were excited over the perceived threat of the Christian ministers.

76 Jim Pemberton March 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm

This is one of those “let’s make a rule for everyone to follow so we know who is right and who is wrong” situation. Rather, I think all of the commenters I’ve skimmed seem to have the right idea. Namely, that we need to be committed to a single local congregation for accountability.

The issue complicated by the fact that some people have seasonal location changes (distance students, snow-birds, some ministers) or church plant stability issues. What good is an exclusive membership rule if people are seasonally absent and have no compulsion to submit to a church that is in the area where they reside for that season they are away from their home church? We have such people at my church. I don’t know that they formally join a church where they go, but I know that they are the kind of people who would at least stick to one church so they have that necessary local interaction there. Do we suggest that they change their church membership twice a year?

No. It’s better that we teach that we need to be accountable and committed to one church where we are whether that results in permanent membership or seasonal attendance.

77 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm

“Do we suggest that they change their church membership twice a year?”

It does become complicated, don’t it? :-)

In the past I served as pastor to a church in VA. it was an extremely wealthy church. Several families (many in reality) owned homes in Orlando. During the coldest of the VA winter months, they would all go and stay in Orlando. They would go the FBC Orlando. This was during the time Jim Henry served as pastor there.

One benefit was that when they came back home in the spring, they all gave their “stored up” tithe checks generally on the first Sunday when they got back from FL. That was one big offering day in our church!

Usually, I went on vacation to Orlando the following two weeks after they all got back. I usually stayed in one of their FL homes during vacation. So, I must admit, this snowbird thing does have benefits. :-)

78 Jim Pemberton March 14, 2012 at 10:31 pm

My grandparents migrated from Ohio to Florida for most of their retirement years and they always talked about their church in Florida as a church away from home. In the Marines, I just went to one of the base chapels. These days, when I take the family to the beach, we attend the same church there whatever weekend we happen to be out that way. No additional point to all these. I just think we agree that there is a benefit for finding a local church to be with regularly without leaving the one you are a member of back home.

79 dr. james willingham March 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I can see how CB would have suffered had all of his members moved their membership to FBC Orlando during the winter and not brought their tithes on that one big day. Tough that would be. No two weeks vacation in Fla. Watch care is the answer CB, and you other fellows be merciful. You all would be thinking of all kinds of reasons for not moving the membership. Ha!

80 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm

James,

Right!

:-)

81 dr. james willingham March 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm

CB: You are being very hard on Bruce. Not at all like your proud and arrogant personality to be that humble. Tsk! Tsk! And to think you know Baptist History and have not come to Sovereign Grace yet..or have you?

82 dr. james willingham March 13, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Or are you coming to it?

83 cb scott March 13, 2012 at 11:52 pm

James,

I am trying so hard to be humble like Bruce H. That’s why I wanted to know his secret to success. :-)

84 Jim Shaver March 14, 2012 at 9:30 am

Which NT Church was Paul a member of?

Or was he as an Apostle an automatic member of any and all congregations at the same time?

The following is statement of incorporation of the church I now pastor in August of 1826.

Providence Baptist Church Covenant

We whose names are under written being desirous to be constituted a Church of Jesus Christ at this place, and having all due knowledge of one another in point of a work of Grace on our hearts, Religious principles and moral character, and being desirous of enjoying the privileges that appertain to the people of God in a Church relation, Do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ voluntarily and freely give ourselves up to the Lord and to one another according to his word, to be one body under one head, jointly to exist and act by the bands and rules of the Gospel, and do promise and engage to do all things by Divine assistance in our different capacity and relations that the Lord has commanded us particularly to deny our selves – take up our cross – follow Christ – Keep the faith – assemble our selves together – love the brethren – submit one to another in the Lord – care for one another – bear one another’s burdens – endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. And now upon the above articles and covenant the undersigned was constituted and pronounced a Gospel Church of Christ by elders Nineon Ridgeway, Thomas Stephens and Toliver Craig at our meeting at brother Lewis Turners on Middle River Auxvasse in the county of Callaway, Mo the 5th day of August 1826.

James C. McCutchen
William Martin
Winifred Martin
Nathan Duly
Bazzle Rose
Elizabeth Rose
Martin Langley
Asa Williams
Elizabeth Williams
Isaac Stites
Mary Mc Cutchen
Lewis Turner
Sarah Turner
Malinda Thompson
Mary Williams
Susanna Stites Sr.
Susanna Stites Jr.
Samuel
Jane Stites
Nancy Heart

The Church now being constituted in gospel order proceeded to the order of business in a church capacity. Transcribed from the Old Book by order of the Church at her regular meeting in December, 1887.

J.T. Kemper – Church Clerk

Notice that none of the constituting elders were members of the church. In fact they were circuit riding preachers who pastored many churches in the area at the same time.

My question is – Did these Pastors consider themselves members of one church or ex-officio members of all churches where they preached? Remember, most of these churches on the frontier only had church services when the Preachers were riding through which might have been once or month, or more or less depending on weather and seasons.

Also consider the first four Articles of Decorum from our church.

Rules of Decorum of Providence Baptist Church

Article 1st – The Church Shall hold a meeting for business once in each month which shall be opened and closed by public worship and the members present shall form a quorum to transact any business that shall come before them.

Article 2nd – The Pastor or Elder of the Church shall act as Moderator until the Church shall direct otherwise. It shall be his duty to keep good order.

Article 3rd – The Moderator shall invite all Baptists of Sister Churches which are in good standing to seat with us and act in council with us.

Article 4th – The Church shall then open a door for the reception of members.

Article 3 is very interesting. It seems as though all Baptists were considered to be more closely connected in the early 1800′s than we are today. Article 3 could have also been the provision by which the circuit riding preachers were included in the business meetings.

Perhaps Bro James Willingham could tell us more about the polity of our early Baptist Churches.

85 Robert Vaughn March 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Jim, good to see your post. Have missed your presence in the blog world, or at least on your blog. With Baptist practice in history you can “never say never”. Sure as you do, you’ll find someone practicing what you said never happened! Within my own experience in researching Baptist church minutes, I have never seen pastors who were considered members or ex-officio members of the churches where they pastored. It is quite common to see churches in this era organized by a presbytery of ministers who have no intention of becoming members of the new church plant. Interestingly, the non-member pastor was one source of division in the Landmark churches in Arkansas (ABA) in the 1940s. Churches would elect non-member pastors as messengers to the association. Many of them were seminary students and members of Antioch in Little Rock, and opponents decided Antioch was getting too much associational representation (voting power) this way.

Re article 3, this is a common part of rules of decorum on that era. (At the link you can find some of the minutes of Mt. Carmel Church, Texas.) Churches usually held conference (business meetings) monthly, and other churches of their association would send “correspondents” to “sit in conference” with them. They would have the right to speak, giving counsel and advice, but did not have the right to vote. Non-member pastors when present acted as moderator, and if they were not present it was fairly common to select one of these “correspondents” to serve as moderator.

86 Jim Shaver March 14, 2012 at 9:35 am

I have also found evidence where Baptists held joint communion services at Associational Meetings. It also happened at the Organizational Meeting of the SBC in Augusta, GA in 1845. Apparently they did it under the authority of the local church that was hosting the meeting.

Baptist Ecclesiology is an adventure into places most modern Baptists have never traveled.

87 David Rogers March 14, 2012 at 9:51 am

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing that information.

88 Robert Vaughn March 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Communion at associations was once a common Baptist practice. Even J. R. Graves, later champion of “local church only” communion, mentions presiding over the communion service at the Concord Association (TN) in 1848. One of the important matters of associations and associations corresponding with one another was “to preserve inviolable a chain of communion among the churches.” I know some non-cooperative churches in north Georgia and north Alabama still practice associational communion, and (if memory serves) the Old Regular Baptists in Appalachia do so.

89 dr. james willingham March 14, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Bro. Shaver: I think I preached in Providence Baptist Church in Callaway County, Mo. in the fall of ’64, while attending the Unvi. of Mo. for a semester. Yes, the history and especially the founding documents along with the early writings really provide us with quite a variety of practices. For example, there is a reference in John Gano’s Memoirs of his going to communion with Ev. George Whitefield!!!! And then according to another source, he is said to have baptized Genl. George Washington. A moderate professor wrote a pamphlet on the matter at SEBTS, and he said he believe it to be true as there were some 60 witnesses to the event. Somehow, I am not surprised at J.R. Graves conducting a communion at an associational meeting. Landmarkers can do and have done strange things. While I appreciate Graves for his contribution to ecclesiology, especially meaning his clarifying the matter of the nature of the local church in his work on Intercommunion in which he expounded Acts 19 and the differences between the Ochlos (crowd) and the ekklesia (the legal assembly of Ephesus. In fact, I do think K. Schmidt’s article on ekklesia in Kittel’s is lacking in a true grasp of the doctrine and the NT, simply because he did not have access to Graves article. Brother Shaver I live in Apex, NC area. I would like to make contact with you.

90 Jim Shaver March 15, 2012 at 12:08 am

Bro Willingham,

It is indeed a small world.

Website for our Church is http://www.providencehill.org – use the email contact you find on that site and I’ll get it.

I have a sister who lives real close to you in NC.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

91 Thomas H. April 12, 2012 at 10:21 am

I don’t know if anyone is still following this thread, but here is another scenario that I am involved in personally…..

I am a member at an SBC church. We have partnered with a local church that was about to close its doors, and several members serve in this sister church doing music every Sunday at both churches. Also, our pastor preaches a sermon at both churches every Sunday. The sister church has essentially become a second campus for the home church, but is still legally a separate entity.

One of the members who helps with the music every Sunday has also been voted at the sister church to be a trustee, since there are very few actual members there, but is only a member of the home church. Now, that member is coming under fire at the home church, being accused of having a dual membership and holding positions of leadership at both churches.

Thoughts?

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