How to Join Our Church
Written By Timothy Fish
Most people who are frequent visitors to our church will at some point decide that it is time to become a member of the church. For people who have spent time in Baptist churches the means by which we accept members is not unusual, but for others it may be confusing. An outside observer may wonder about phrases that are often used when a person comes for membership, such as “accept on the promise of a letter” or “accept as a candidate for baptism.” The goal of this page is to take the mystery out of joining a Baptist church and to prepare the reader for joining our church. As a reference for developing this page the third edition of “Baptist Church Manual” by J. E. Cobb, published by the Baptist Publishing House, was used.
What Do I Need to Do to Join the Church?
It may be that you don’t want to know the details behind what happens when a person joins a Baptist church. Instead you just want to know what steps you must take to become a member.
Generally a person who wants to join the church will walk down to the front of the auditorium during the invitation and tell the pastor that he or she wishes to join the church. The person will be given a card that requests information about the person’s name, current church membership and other things. The pastor may ask the person additional questions and tell the church that the person is requesting membership and is coming to our church from a church that believes like ours or is coming as a candidate for baptism. A member of the church will make a motion that the church receive the person, it will be seconded and the church votes in the affirmative. It should be noted that the church reserves the right to change this original motion at a business meeting, since it is often hard to determine the details of how a person should be received during the short time allocated for the invitation.
The person who has joined the church will be asked to stand near the entrance of the auditorium, so that people can welcome them as they leave. For people who are coming for baptism there is still more to be done. A date will be set for the baptism to take place. Many people like to invite family and friends of such an occasion. When the baptism is to take place the person will first go to a changing room beside the baptistery where they will put on their own clothes to be baptized in. When everyone is ready, the minister performing the baptism will step down into the water, the music will come to a stop, the auditorium lights will dim and the minister will motion for the candidate to join him in the water. Then some words will be said, the candidate will be baptized and then the candidate will walk back up the steps and change clothes.
The Details of Church Membership
If you are interested in knowing more about joining a church, such as why baptism is required for some and not for others, or why the baptism of some churches are accepted and that of other is rejected then you should continue reading.
Prerequisites of Church Membership
According to J. E. Cobb there are two types of prerequisites for church membership. These two types are Spiritual Prerequisites and Ritualistic Prerequisites. The spiritual prerequisite that is required is that a person be a born again Christian. Many people claim to be a “born again Christian” who have no understanding of what it means to be one, so let us be a little more specific about the spiritual prerequisite. A person must first repent. The person must also have faith.
Repentance –Before a person can have fellowship with God he must first recognize that he is sinful and has a need for God. True repentance is when a person turns from his sin and seeks God. A person who knows that he does wrong and continues to want to live that way has not repented.
Faith – Essential for salvation. There is only one way to heaven and we must trust Jesus rather than relying on our own means of getting there.
There are also Ritualistic Prerequisites of church membership. These are Recognition of Fellowship and Baptism. Recognition of Fellowship is demonstrated when a church votes a person into the church. Some have debated whether voting a person in is scriptural, but the Bible recognizes the church’s right to judge the qualification of her members. Whether a church votes her members in (or out) or uses some other method it is essential that a church be selective concerning her membership. Any person who will cause the church to stray from the truth should never be allowed to join the church.
Baptism is the second ritualistic prerequisite to church membership. Baptism was specifically commanded in the Great Commission. Baptism is performed by a person under the authority of a church of Jesus Christ. Baptism may be done in any pool of water large enough to cover a person completely. Because baptism represents the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ it is essential that full emersion take place. Baptism does not wash away sins as some claim, because only the blood of Jesus is capable of covering our sins.
The Reception of Members
When a motion is made to accept a person as a member of a Baptist church two wordings are commonly used. These are “I make a motion that he be accepted as a candidate for baptism,” and “I make a motion that he be accepted on the promise of a letter.” There is no requirement that these motions be worded this way, but year of use have ingrained it in tradition. These motions refer to two of four ways that a Baptist church receives members. These four ways are by baptism, by letter, by statement and by restoration.
By Baptism – This means the church will accept the person and baptize them before they are a member of the church. A church will receive a person by baptism when the person has not received what the church considers to be scriptural baptism. A person will be received this way if he has recently accepted Christ as his Savior and has not followed the Lord in baptism. Another reason a person might be accepted this way is if he has been saved but joined another church that the church he is joining does not recognize as a scriptural church. For example, a person might have been saved and joined a Methodist church. This person would need to be baptized by our rather than one of the other the ways.
By Letter – This means that the church will accept the person as a member contingent on the recommendation of the church of which the person is currently a member. The person must have been baptized in a scriptural church and the church of which he is currently a member must be a scriptural church. If the other church recommends that the person not be accepted as a member then the normal course of action is to ask the person to resolve the problem with the other church prior to joining the church. This means of accepting members is used to promote harmony between individuals and churches. This method helps to keep trouble makers from church to church.
By Statement – This means that the church will accept the person on his own statement of baptism and good standing with a previous church. This method may be used if a church fails to send a recommendation either for or against church membership. It may also be used if the church in question no longer exists.
By Restoration – This means that the church is accepting a person that has been removed from the church roles. There are several reasons why this may occur. A person living outside the will of God that fails to follow the churches pleas to obey the will of God may be removed from the membership. A person that joins an unscriptural church will be dropped from the role. In either of these cases the church would accept the person by restoration if he was to return to fellowship with the church.
The Responsibility of Church Membership
It is unwise to consider church membership without considering the responsibility of church membership. Being a member of a church involves more than just attending on Sunday morning. The Great Commission makes it very clear that it is the responsibility of churches to spread the Gospel throughout the world and to teach those that we reach. For this to happen it is necessary for every church member to take part. This is not to say that everyone must become a foreign missionary. Every person has a unique set of skills that God can use. Some people are skilled teachers while others find it more enjoyable to care for the sick, while still others really enjoy cleaning the church building. It is the responsibility of every church member to find a place of service. If you are unsure what you can do, let one of the church leaders know and he can help you find your place of service.