The character of a building depends very much on the materials of which it is constructed. Christian disciples “are builded together for a habitation of God, through the Spirit.” Any society or association is largely what its constructive elements are. Combination and intercourse may, to a certain extent, modify individual peculiarities, but the corporate character will be the result of the various personalities which compose the body. The estimation in which will be held its internal life and order, the efficiency with which it will work toward its purposed end, will all be determined by the character of its individual elements.
It is sometimes said that a Church is a voluntary society. This is true in a sense, and only with an explanation. It is true in that no external force or authority can compel the relation of membership to be formed, or dissolved. The Church can compel no one to unite with it, nor can the individual oblige the body to receive him. But it is not true that it is a matter merely optional and indifferent whether or not a believer identifies himself with the Household of Faith. He is under moral obligation to do that. It is for his own spiritual good to do it; it is one of the appointed means of grace; the Church needs his presence and influence, and the cause of Truth is furthered by a combination of Christian influence and effort. All are under law to Christ, and are bound by sacred obligations to obey and please Him. He has ordained that His followers should associate themselves together in these brotherhoods of faith and affection. A Church, therefore, is more than a voluntary society: it is a society under law to Christ.
Church membership, therefore, becomes a question of grave moment, and should be carefully studied and well understood.
Let it be observed:
Note 1.—The character of the persons who are to constitute the churches and hold membership therein, is fixed and prescribed by Christ Himself, and is to remain permanent and unchanged.
Note 2.—Consequently, the Church, by whose act persons are to be formally admitted to membership, has no right or authority to alter the terms or conditions of membership, but must conform strictly to those prescribed by the Lawgiver; much less can the wish or the will of the pastor be allowed to change these conditions, since he has no authority in the case; still less can the desire or judgment of the candidate himself modify the divinely prescribed conditions.
Note 3.—The benefits to be derived by Church association and fellowship, whether to the individual or to the body, can be certainly anticipated only by exact conformity to the prescribed qualifications of admission, and subsequent conformity to the principles of the Church’s internal Polity.
Note 4.—Decline, perversion and decay of spiritual life and evangelical doctrine, are more likely to result from the admission of unsanctified and unsuitable materials into its membership than from almost any other deviation from the divinely constituted order of building the spiritual temple.
Note 5.—The moral purity and spiritual vitality of the membership is the best conservation and the surest guaranty of the doctrinal soundness and spiritual vitality of the ministry itself. Where vital godliness rules in the body, the same will be demanded and supported in a teacher and leader, and there an unevangelical ministry will not long be tolerated. But a carnal membership will endure, and even demand a carnal ministry. “Like people, like priest.”
I. Conditions of Membership.
The very great importance of the subject hereby becomes apparent, and the question of who may and who may not be admitted to membership is one of primary moment. What are the scriptural qualifications for citizenship in this spiritual kingdom, for brotherhood in the family of the faithful, for membership in the society of Jesus? What are the conditions on which this privilege depends .”
These conditions are four: 1. A regenerate heart. 2. A confession of faith. 3. The reception of baptism. 4. A Christian life.
1. A regenerate heart.
None but converted and godly persons have a right in the Church of Christ as members. To admit the ungodly and the profane to the fellowship of the holy, to share the privileges of the faithful, and partake of the sacred Communion of the Body and the Blood of Christ, would be a scandal and a shame, not to be perpetrated or endured by those who profess to be His disciples. Nor is it enough that one’s moral character be without reproach, and his life orderly. He must give good evidence that he is “a new creature in Christ Jesus,” that he “has passed from death unto life,” and that “Christ is formed in him,” or he has no place in His body, which is the Church. If our churches are to fulfill their mission, remain true to their traditions, and honor their apostolical pretensions, they must insist, with unabated vigor, on a regenerated membership. Nor must they insist on it in theory only, but take every precaution to maintain it in practice.
This position, however, is one with which many Christians, deemed evangelical, not a few Christian teachers, and some entire denominations do not agree; such persons claiming that nothing more than good moral character and a serious disposition to attend to religious instruction should be demanded in candidates for Church membership. Their theory is, that within the Church regeneration and salvation are to be found, rather than before entering it. By this practice the holy and the profane are brought into unseemly fellowship in the body of Christ, the broad distinction between the Church and the world is diminished or obliterated, the salt loses its savor, and the city set on a hill to that extent is hid, and ceases to be a monument of grace to men. This becomes more emphatically true, since churches which hold this theory hold also to infant baptism and Church membership without pretension of saving faith or spiritual birth. Such associations lose the foremost characteristic of Christian churches, and become religious societies, where carnal and spiritual mingle in inharmonious fellowship, only a part of which can pretend to be members of the body of Christ.
The teachings of the New Testament are clear and emphatic on this point. Both Jesus and His Apostles made it manifest that His kingdom was not of this world, and those who constituted it were such as are born of the Spirit. In the constitution of the first churches, both Jewish and Gentile, the persons who composed them were not indiscriminately gathered, but those called out from the masses of the people on a confession of faith in Christ, and a change which betokened a regenerate nature. This was the case at the Pentecost, and subsequently it was “the saved” who were added to the churches. So was it at Samaria, at Antioch, at Ephesus, at Corinth, at Philippi—everywhere.
The Church at Rome was addressed as “Beloved of God, called to be saints.”—Rom. 1:7. And these same disciples Paul reminds of their former condition, “When ye were servants of sin,” and contrasts it with their present condition: “But now, being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”—Rom. 6:20,22. The salutation to the Corinthians is, “Unto the Church of God, which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.”—1 Cor. 1:3. His second epistle he inscribes: “Unto the Church of God, which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in Achaia.”—2 Cor. 1:1. The Ephesians he addresses as: “The saints which are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus.” He says they “were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Also, they “were dead in trespasses and sins,” but God had “quickened them together with Christ.”—Eph. 1:1; 2:1,6. The broad distinction between what they once were and what they had become, indicative of the great change, is carried through all the epistles. To the Philippians, it is, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus, which are at Philippi.”—Phil. 1:1. Elsewhere it is the same : “To the saints and faithful brethren which are at Colosse.”—Col. 1:2; 3:3. He says: “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Peter, addressing the saints, says: “Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ.” And further, he declares: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.”—I Peter 2:5,9. The unvarying tone of New Testament utterance is the same. Those gathered in fraternal fellowship to constitute the churches of our Lord, are such as have been called out of darkness into light, and from the power of Satan unto God. Once were they darkness, now are they light in the Lord.
Were it not for a too ready disposition in many quarters to admit to the churches almost any one who might desire to enter, or could be induced to come—Not only gold, silver and precious stones, but wood, hay and stubble as well—it would appear puerile to insist on a spiritual nature, a regenerate heart, as the first requisite for membership in the Church of Christ.
2. A professed faith.
Before the Church can consistently welcome one to its fellowship, the members must obtain the evidence that he, too, is of like precious faith with themselves; that he has also passed from death unto life, and become a new creature in Christ. The bond of fellowship among the saints is the love of Christ shed abroad in all hearts alike, binding all in a common experience, a common hope and a common sympathy to the Cross, the one common centre of their new life. In order to make this fellowship real and personal to each, the new comer who seeks admission to their company must give them the evidence that he, too, has been born of the Spirit, and become an heir of God. How is he to give and they to obtain this evidence? By a confession to that effect, and by such change in character and conduct on his part as he is able to show. Without this, no evidence of fitness for membership with the disciples becomes apparent, and no fraternal fellowship is begotten.
This confession of faith is made verbally, by a declaration of the great change which has transpired. He who remains silent, and can bear no testimony to the loving kindness of the Lord, gives small reason to believe that he is a child of God. The declaration of those who experience this spiritual transformation in all ages, climes and conditions, is substantially the same: “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He Hath done for my soul.”—Ps. 66:16. And thus is realized the declaration: “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”—Rom. 10:10. Without a confession of saving faith in Christ, and a profession of pardon and peace through the blood of the Covenant, there can be no spiritual fellowship, and membership in the Church would be little more than a pretense. Those who accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour are expected to declare their new obligation. By this confession largely the Church gains the evidence that they have passed from death unto life. The old Baptist way, from times immemorial, is, to have persons wishing to unite with the Church, to come personally before it and “relate their experience,” tell what the Lord had done for them and in them. However much such matters may be referred to pastor or deacons or committees, as preliminary, candidates must come personally before the Church and speak for themselves. And this custom should be heroically maintained. They need not plead timidity, and say they cannot speak in the presence of others. They deceive themselves. If they have experienced anything, they can say something about it. If their hearts have been changed, they can speak of it. If they know the love of God, they can say so.
3. A Reception of Baptism.
Especially is a confession of faith to be made in baptism. A regenerate heart constitutes the spiritual qualification for Church membership. A professed faith and a consistent Christian life constitute the moral qualifications. And baptism constitutes the ritual or ceremonial qualification for that sacred fellowship. Except by baptism no person can be received as a member of the Church, without violating the prescribed conditions, and vitiating the divine method. One may become a member of “the kingdom of heaven” by being “born from above,” but he cannot become a member of the visible Church except he confess that spiritual change in the waters of baptism. In that symbolic act he declares himself dead to the world and sin, buried, and raised up to newness of life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The spiritual change of the new birth begets Christian fellowship; but to secure Church fellowship, that change must be confessed in baptism. This is the New Testament order. At the first it was so; they repented, they believed, they were baptized, then added to the Church. Without confession in baptism there could be no Christian churches.
4. A Christian deportment.
This condition must appear manifest. The first act of Christian obedience after conversion, is, naturally, baptism. In most cases, in primitive times, it followed immediately after an exercise of saving faith. “They believed and were baptized.” There was, consequently, little or no opportunity to test the sincerity of their profession, or prove the genuineness of their conversion by a well ordered life and godly conversation. With us it is usually somewhat different; for while no specified time is required for probation, or proof of sincerity, some time usually does, and prudently should, elapse after a profession of faith, before Church membership is consummated. Union with the Church usually follows baptism immediately, but baptism does not usually follow conversion immediately, as it might lawfully do.
But whatever time and opportunity there may be for observing the spirit and conduct of professed converts, that spirit and conduct should be found in harmony with the professed change of heart. If they still choose their old companions, find pleasure in their old pursuits of worldliness, are captivated with the vanities and frivolities of life, to say no more, who could believe that any vital and radical change by grace had passed upon the soul, ‘’If the old things have not passed away, and all things become new” how can a Christian character be detected in them? And if that be not apparent, how can they be fit members for the Church of God?
An external Christian life must corroborate the profession of an internal Christian faith. This apostolic injunction must, to a good degree, be made manifest to all in every professed disciple. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God; set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”—Col. 3:1,2. No amount of attestation can make the world believe that he is a Christian whose conduct does not correspond to his profession. And if there cannot be a good degree of conformity between the professed and the practical, persons had better remain out of the Church than to enter it. Positively so, if there be a manifest disparity and contradiction between the two.
Note 1.—Not every person can give an equally satisfactory relation of Christian experience before the Church, nor are those always the most certainly regenerate who can tell the most remarkable experience. But no person can consistently be admitted to its fellowship unless the Church in some way obtains satisfactory evidence of his conversion, and hears him personally declare his faith.
Note 2.—Persons on entering a Church may be ignorant of many things in Christian doctrine, and must be ignorant of many things in practical Christian life, which they will afterward learn. Nor should they be rejected simply on that account. Indeed, they enter the Church as a school of sacred learning, to be instructed. But no one should be admitted who holds and maintains matters, either of faith or morals, contrary to the Scriptures, as understood by the Church. Especially so, if such differences are likely to be proclaimed and advocated. For, even admitting that the candidate may be right and the Church wrong in the matters wherein they differ, such oppositions would produce discords and dissensions, interrupting the harmony of the body, and thus becoming obstructive, both to its peace and to its usefulness.
Note 3.—In all matters fundamental, both as to faith and practice, members of the same Church should hold and act alike, since harmony in the body is of the greatest importance. But it would be unreasonable to demand or expect that considerable numbers of persons, differing in education habits of thought, constitution of mind and independent opinions, could attain perfect uniformity of belief in all matters of Christian truth. This would be impracticable, and in minor matters large Christian liberty should be allowed.
Note 4.—The relation of Christian experience before the Church, while the practice should be maintained, cannot usually give full and satisfactory evidence of conversion. The excitement of the occasion and the timidity of the candidate may do injustice to the most devout and pious persons. The pastor, deacons and others should, by personal intercourse and private conversation, obtain the facts in the case, and lay them before the body as evidence.
Note 5.—In the relation of experience it is not so much the words spoken as the manner by which, and the spirit in which, they are spoken, that convince and satisfy those who hear. And it is more difficult to judge, and requires more caution in the case of strangers, with whose history, manner of life and habits of thought they are unfamiliar, than of those well known.
Note 6.—Those pastors make a grave mistake, and are grievously in fault, who hurry persons into the Church without giving the body a fair and full opportunity of gaining evidence of their regenerate state. They may ask a few leading questions themselves, which anyone, saint or sinner, could answer, and virtually debar others the privilege of asking others, call a vote on their reception, to which a few will respond and many remain silent. No fellowship is accorded by the body, since no evidence is obtained. The Church may seem to be prosperous, because baptisms frequently occur; but the moral strength of the body is weakened, rather, and disorder introduced where order should prevail.
Note 7.—Neither age, sex, race, past character, nor condition in life should serve to keep one out of the Church, if the evidence be abundant and satisfactory that such an one be a subject of renewing and saving grace; and that the character and conduct since professed conversion be in accordance with the gospel of Christ.
II. Modes of Admission.
It is not proposed to admit persons to membership by an imposing ceremonial, the better to impress on them and others the importance of the act, as is done in some societies, and even in some churches. For, though the act be an important one, the simplicity of Christ does not call for parade to make it seem impressive. The form is simple, though the act be serious. While no gorgeous pageant marks initiation to the fellowship of the Christian mysteries, it may well be questioned if we do not hold too lightly and make too little of admission to membership in this sacred brotherhood.
There are three ways in common use, by either of which persons may be admitted to the Church, according to their religious standing and their relation to a profession of faith. But the difference in either case has reference to the form or mode, the substantial act in all these cases being the same, viz.: a vote of the body to receive the candidate. Each new member must be admitted by the free and voluntary consent and approval of those already members, which consent is usually expressed by a formal vote. By this method alone, and not by the personal action of the minister, nor yet by the decision of a board of official members, nor yet by some executive committee specially appointed for this purpose, are new members to be received, if the sympathy and confidence of the body are to be secured to each one added. An examination before the pastor and deacons, or before some official consistory or committee, might be preferred by many candidates, and even to others might seem more desirable, because more private. All this may be had, but if had, it is preliminary and precautionary. The final and efficient act is the vote of the Church in its corporate capacity, after having listened to the candidate’s personal statement, and being satisfied as to his fitness.
The following are the three modes of admission:
1. By Baptism.
A person may be admitted to the Church, on a profession of faith in Christ, by baptism. This is the more common method. Such an one makes known his Christian hope and desire for baptism and union with the Church, to the pastor or brethren. If they, after proper investigation of the case, become satisfied of his fitness for that step, he is encouraged to come before the Church at such time as they are accustomed to receive candidates, relate his Christian experience and his desire to be received to their fellowship. After he has made this relation and retired, the Church considers the question of his reception, hears the testimony of those who have become familiar with the case, and then, if satisfied, it is moved and voted that he be received as a member, on being baptized.
2. By letter.
In the changes of social and domestic life, which are constantly transpiring, members often remove from the vicinity of the Church with which they have united. Then it becomes their duty, and should be their desire, to connect themselves with a Church of the same faith near their new home, where they can conveniently work and worship. By the comity of Christian fellowship, and by that courtesy which each Church owes to each other, the one of which he is a member gives him a letter of commendation and dismission, by which his membership may be transferred to the other. This letter certifies to his good Christian character and regular standing, and commends him to the confidence of, and membership in, the other Church. If satisfied, he is received by a vote of the Church, as in the former case—the letter serving as a certificate of character and standing, with permission to unite. Though not considered essential, yet it is desirable that the person should be present when his letter is read and, verbally express his desire to be received.
3. By Experience.
It sometimes happens that persons who have been baptized, but by some means have lost their membership, desire to unite with a Church. They bring no letters, nor are they rebaptized; but give an account of their conversion and Christian life, which, being satisfactory, they are received by vote on their confession— or, as it is usually stated, “on experience.”
Note 1.—In some churches the names of all candidates are announced at a meeting previous to that on which action is to be taken, in order that all may be acquainted with the fact, and make objection, if they know of any good reason for objection.
Note 2.—In some churches, also, there is a standing committee, before which all applicants for membership must first go, and if that committee regard the application unfavorably, it is not presented to the Church at all. Such action may at first appear somewhat arbitrary, perhaps, but in cities and other crowded communities great care is needed to guard against imposition by designing and unworthy persons, who may be influenced by sinister motives in such a step. Of course, a final appeal is to the Church, and not to a committee.
Note 3.—In some churches, particularly in large communities where individuals may not be so well known, the pastor requests some careful and competent member to act as committee to ascertain the facts in the case of each one applying for membership. Or there may be a standing committee, to which all such cases are referred. Or if there be a prudential committee, through which all applications must come, they act in the matter. In either case a report is made to the church, when action is taken. But, in addition, a careful pastor will personally investigate every case.
Note 4.—Persons cannot be received to membership on the credit of letters from other denominations. Such letters are accepted as testimonials of previous Church standing and Christian character; but the applicants are to be received by baptism—if not already baptized—or otherwise on their Christian experience, related in person before the Church.
Note 5.—It is a rule generally acted on, that no person shall be taken into the Church to the grief of any one already a member. Hence, members should be received not simply by a majority, but by a unanimous vote. If objection be made, the case should be postponed, to ascertain the facts. If the objections be found to be factious and unreasonable, they should not be further regarded; and if persisted in, would subject the objectors to reproof and censure.
Note 6.—At times it may be found expedient to postpone the reception of a candidate for a better acquaintance, and for greater harmony in action respecting him. Moreover, it is always better to use great deliberation than to proceed with great haste in such a matter. But the Scriptures certainly do not authorize any system of probation by which all candidates are required to wait a specified time before being admitted to the full fellowship of the body.
Note 7.—To baptize persons who do not unite with any Church, is considered bad policy, as subversive of good order and destructive of Church organization. They should be approved and received by the body for full fellowship when baptized. Yet there are possible exceptions to this rule where no Church exists, or where they are baptized to constitute one, and in some other unusual circumstances.
Note 8.—Nor is it expedient, or promotive of good order, for ministers to baptize persons who wish to unite with churches of other denominations. Such persons should receive the ordinance from the pastors of the churches with which they are to unite. Nor is it consistent Christian walking for such persons to unite with churches which uphold and practice a form of so called baptism which they themselves reject and condemn.
Note 9.—Persons who fulfill all the Scriptural conditions and possess all the requisite qualifications for membership, have a right to be admitted to baptism and the privileges of the Church, if they request it; though no extraneous force or authority can compel their admission.
Note 10.—Uniting with a Church must be a free and voluntary act on the part of the individual; there is neither civil nor ecclesiastical authority among us to compel or require it. But there is a moral obligation resting on every professed lover of the Saviour to identify himself in fraternal union with the company of His disciples.
Note 11.—No civil or religious disability can, with us, be inflicted on those who are not communicants, as is the case in countries where there is a state Church, and where religion is supported as a civil establishment. The gospel idea of religious faith and service is, that all should be voluntary and free, and that civil authority has no right of control over, or interference with, matters of religion.
Note 12.—It is customary, when members are admitted to the Church, whether by baptism, letter or experience, for the pastor to give them the right hand of fellowship. This is usually done at the communion service immediately before the elements are distributed. The candidate rises, while the hand is extended with a few words of kindly welcome. ‘The act is fraternal, but not essential; is designed simply as an expression of the Church’s welcome. It does not make them members, and adds nothing to their standing, but recognizes them in the presence of the body as fellow disciples. In some churches—particularly at the South—in addition to the pastor’s hand of fellowship, the various members pass by in order, each extending the hand of welcome; a practice which, though somewhat less conventional, is more expressive.
Note 13.—The reception of persons by restoration is not essentially different from that by experience. Members who have been excluded from fellowship may be received back, when the causes which led to the withdrawal of fellowship are rcmoved, and the individual requests restoration—the Church, being satisfied with his fitness, votes his reception. The “hand of fellowship” properly follows in this case, as in the others. Such cases are reported as additions by “restoration.”
Note 14.—Persons received to membership have equal rights and immunities with any and all other members, without distinction of sex, age or condition, unless for cause under discipline and censure. Persons not members enjoy the privilege of worship with the Church, but can claim no corporate rights, including the ordinances.
III. Modes of Dismission.
Church membership is held to be of perpetual obligation. What has been elsewhere said as to its voluntary character will apply to the dissolving as well as to the forming of this relation. No human authority can hold one in the Church, who resolves to go out of it. The Church is more than a mere confederation of men and women; it is “the body of Christ,” where each one, “is a member in particular.” Each one who unites with it does so, presumably, not as a mere matter of convenience, or personal caprice, but from a sense of religious obligation. Voluntarily and of choice indeed, yet still doing it, “as unto the Lord.” When he becomes a member therefore, it is for life, unless some providential interposition should break the bonds. Baptists hold that Christians should not live outside the fold of the Good Shepherd, but within the shelter of its fellowship; unless, indeed, they become unworthy the position, and have to be “put away.” Provision is, however, made for a transference of membership from one Church to another.
There are three ways, by either of which the relation of members to the body may be dissolved:
1. By Letter.
A member may, on application, receive a letter of commendation and dismission from his Church, with which to unite with another of the same faith, and thus, not pass out of Church relations, but be transferred from one fellowship to another.
2. By Exclusion.
When the Church, in the exercise of its lawful authority and discipline, withdraws fellowship from one proven to be an unworthy member, his connection with the body is dissolved and thenceforth ceases.
3. By Death.
The death of members of course dissolves the relation, and transfers them from the Church on earth, to that above.
No other modes of dismission, or disconnection are recognized among our churches.
Note 1.—It is customary for the validity of letters to be usually six months— expiration of which time they are worthless; but may be renewed, if satisfactory reason be given the Church for their limited to some specified time—after the non-use.
Note 2.—The one receiving a letter is still a member and subject to the authority and discipline of the Church granting it, until he has used it by actually connecting himself with another Church.
Note 3.—Letters thus given can be revoked, for cause, by the Church at its discretion, any time previous to their being used.
Note 4.—Any member in good standing has the right at any time to ask for, and receive from the Church a certificate of his membership and standing; but subjects himself to discipline if he use it for any improper purpose.
Note 5.—Letters cannot properly be given to be used in uniting with a Church of another denomination. It would be manifestly inconsistent for a Church to commend and dismiss its members to unite with those with whom it did not hold Church fellowship.
Note 6.—When a member unites with a Church of another denomination, the hand of fellowship is withdrawn from him, though otherwise of good Christian character, and though he may have acted conscientiously in what he had done. This act implies no censure; but since his Church is not in fellowship with that to which he has gone, they cannot consistently continue fellowship with him in that Church.
Note 7.—No member can withdraw from the Church. He must be regularly dismissed by the action of the body. Nor can one have his name dropped, or be excluded at his own request. Such action, if taken at all, must be taken by due process of discipline on the part of the Church.
Note 8.—Nor can the Church compel a member to take a letter and withdraw, without his consent. This would be a virtual exclusion from its fellowship, in order to which, due course of discipline must be pursued, on charges made, and for sufficient reasons.
Note 9.—When members remove their residence so far as to render worship with their Church impracticable, they should take letters, and unite where they go. Their churches should require this of them, if at all practicable. The too common practice of holding membership in one Church, and worshiping in another deserves severe reproof.
Note 10.—In voting on the reception, dismissal, discipline or exclusion of members, several cases should not be included in the same vote, but each one be acted on separately, and decided on its own merits.
Note 11.—The dropping of members is merely placing on a separate list the names of those of whom the Church has lost all knowledge. They are neither dismissed, nor reported as members; and whenever found, their names are restored to the record. No one can be dropped as an act of discipline, nor when his residence is known, nor simply to get rid of a disturbing element.
Note 12.—Persons excluded from one Church should not be received to the fellowship of another, except after careful investigation, and when most manifest injustice has been done such members; and also when the excluding Church refuses to correct the wrong done. Yet cases may, and do occur, where it is the duty of one Church to bear this testimony against the wrong done by another, and receive the unjustly excluded member to its fellowship.
Note 13.—Sometimes a letter of simple commendation, or occasional communion, is given to a member who is to be temporarily absent from home, for the purpose of affording him Christian introduction where he may visit, or worship during his absence. This may be given by the pastor, or clerk, or by the action of the Church, and should be limited to the time of his probable absence.
Note 14.—The conception of a perfect Christian brotherhood is not to be realized on earth. Many defects and faults may be expected, both in the individual, and in the body. The member may think the Church little better than the world; and the Church may regard the member as a burden rather than a blessing, and wish to be rid of him. But those who are truly Christ’s, “have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts,” and must “bear one another’s burdens,” and take no unlawful or unkindly means to break the bonds of their fellowship, and sever their connection.
Edward Hiscox (1814-1901) was an American Baptist pastor and theologian. He was converted to Christ in 1834 and began to preach the gospel four years later. He served as the pastor for several congregations, including the Stanton Street Baptist Church, New York (1852). He is best known for authoring the “Standard Manual for Baptist Churches” (1890) and the “New Directory for Baptist Churches” (1894).