Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,
Does the Regulative Principle of Worship support or nullify local church membership? Because there is no express command for church membership, some argue that it is extra-Biblical, but that is a misunderstanding of the actual doctrine. Simply stated, the Regulative Principle of Worship says that everything we do in the corporate worship of God must be clearly warranted by Scripture, either in the form of an explicit command, or by a good and necessary inference. Church membership is actually a necessary inference of many things which are well established in Scripture.
In my last post, I made the case that local church life is serious, and that the nature and seriousness of these Scriptural obligations require order. This is not a pragmatic argument based on efficiency, perceived benefits, or any other “because it works” reasoning. It is an acknowledgment that we have been given clear commands where obedience requires an underlying mechanism.
Consider church discipline, which is in short supply today, but is nonetheless a vital New Testament teaching. Matthew 18:15-17 outlines the process, where at the appropriate step the offense is told to “the church”, a distinct, defined entity, a body with boundaries. Then, unless there is repentance, there is formal exclusion from the church, something which is made more explicit in the specific case of church discipline recorded in 1 Corinthians 5:1-7. In that passage, the language of formal exclusion is inescapable – “taken away from among you” in verse 2, “deliver such a one to Satan” in verse 5, “purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump” in verse 7. Have you ever thought of the absurdity of formal exclusion without formal inclusion? There can be no excommunication without some form of communication, which is exactly where the phrase “communicant membership” comes from. Only those who have been brought in can be put out.
This becomes even more obvious when we examine the happy ending, where Paul exhorts the Corinthians to welcome the excommunicated man back into the church. In describing the excommunication, Paul says, “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man…” (2 Corinthians 2:6). Did you catch that? The majority. That is a word which only has meaning with a known, definite number, and it gives us helpful insight into how church discipline should be carried out. So while there are legitimate debates to be had about who should be in vs. out and how that should happen, there is no getting around this being a process that requires knowing who is in the church and who isn’t. You can’t be excluded without having been included, and only a majority of the included can exclude. Make sense?
Church discipline isn’t the only instance of a command that presupposes some form of formal ordering for local churches, but it paints a picture with bright contrasts, so it serves as a useful example of why church membership is a “good and necessary inference” from Scripture.
May our local churches be ordered in such a way that we can honor God through obedience to His commandments for church life.
As a final installment in this series, in a few days I will discuss Argument 5: Blessing Awaits Those Who Cross Two Lines.