William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)

Article 26 – Lapsed Membership

Articles Of The Faith And Order Of A Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptist Church Of The Lord Jesus Christ, Based On The Declaration Of Faith And Practice Of John Gill, D. D., 1720

XXVI. Lapsed Membership.

We believe that Christians who have suffered their Church membership to lapse, and that such as have been withdrawn from, (whether for non-attendance, immorality, or holding unscriptural doctrines,) have no Church standing; but, if they so desire, must be received by an oral and public confession of faith and experience, in the same way as when they first connected themselves with the Lord’s people,—their Baptism, (as in Article xxiii) being recognised as valid.

Js 5:19,20—From this we learn that a reputed Christian who has “erred from (the profession and practice of) the truth,” must be regarded as a “sinner”: and it is a sound inference that, if he be graciously restored, he should be required to “confess his faults” (verse 16) and avouch his adherence to the faith of the gospel, before his readmission to the Church.); 1 Cor 5, compared with 2 Cor 2:6-8


Note 1. Membership with a Gospel Church can be terminated in one only of three ways—by Dismission, by Exclusion, or by Death.

Following the precedent of all other important Societies, our Churches act on the principle that the Individual cannot withdraw from the Body, but the Body must, if needful, withdraw from the Individual. Office may be resigned; Membership cannot. The dignity of a Church demands this.

Withdrawal for Absence.

(1) Members who by local removal pass wholly out of cognisance, and cannot be traced, are to be removed from the Roll of the Church automatically, as a matter of business only, with­ out discussion or comment. John Hazelton humorously called this “weeding the garden.”

(2) Others keep aloof from God’s people for reasons so trivial as to claim no notice but condemnation for the sinful folly they thus manifest. Personal pique, fancied slights, imagined references to themselves in sermons and prayers, are made the occasion of continuous and cruel insults to their fellow-Members. Such cases are hard to deal with, but prompt withdrawal—after due remonstrance—is a Church’s best course. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23.) Conduct so unlovely cannot be of faith. It is therefore sin; and as such must be visited by exclusion from Fellowship.


(3) Others absent themselves from the means of grace for far sadder reasons, to which Holy Writ makes solemn reference. Some repudiate their religious associates because the world has again drawn them into the vortex of its influence, and what pleasure they had in the solemnities of Zion, has ceased. “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world,” (2 Tim. 4:10.) “Many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him” (John 6:66.) “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” (1 Jno. 2:15.) “All that are in Asia be turned away from me,” (2 Tim. 1:15.) “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom of some is.” (Heb. 10:25.) Matt. 13:4-7, and 19-22, should also be studied. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might he made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19.) “They were not all of us,” a parallel expression to Horace’s “Non omnis moriar,”[1] I shall not all die—the “all” in each instance representing character and capacity in their entirety. These never were in full and cordial fellowship with Christ and His Church. A manifold part of them was always in touch with the world. The law of attraction depends on affinity. Like draws like; and if the same power which brought a man into the Church does not continue to hold him, he will gravitate back to where he was at first. If persons cannot first give their own selves—their persons, powers and possessions—to the Lord, and then to His people by His will, they had better let the Church alone. (2 Cor. 8:5.) Half-hearted profession ends in certain collapse; and “if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him,” earth the Lord. (Heb. 10:38.) “These are they that separate themselves,” etc., (Jude 19). “They separate themselves from the Church, having no real sympathy with the spirit of the Gospel,”—Alford.

Unscriptural Doctrines

(4) Some have to be withdrawn from for holding unscriptural doctrines. This fruitful cause of religious aberration is also mentioned in God’s word. “Having condemnation because they have rejected their first Faith”—repudiating the Creed in accordance with which they once professed to be saved, (1 Tim. 5:12.) “Holding [the doctrine of] Faith and a pure conscience, which some, having thrust from them, made shipwreck concerning the Faith (1 Tim. 1:19.) Giving up what in their hearts they knew to be the truth, they stultified their consciences, and went wholly wrong. “Alexander, the Coppersmith,” is an example who appears as a zealous professor (Acts 19:33); a renegade from the Faith (1 Tim. 1:20); and then as Paul’s unscrupulous and bitter enemy, for he “did me much evil” (2 Tim. 4:14.) Persons holding heretical opinions should, after admonition, be unhesitatingly withdrawn from and avoided, (Titus 3:10,11.) In dealing with cases of Heresy, no discussion as to the scripturalness or otherwise of the disputed views should be permitted. When persons have “rejected their first faith,” (1 Tim. 5:12,) the question is not whether Plymouth Brethrenism, or Christadelphianism, or Conditional Immortality, or Keswickism, or Perfectionism, are taught in the Bible; but whether these are in accord with the accepted “Articles of Faith” of this particular Church. If not, the question is settled. The person is no longer what he once professed to be, and the Body must repudiate him. He was received on the ground of his declared belief in the scripturalness of the Church’s Faith and Order: he must be withdrawn from on the sole ground of his departure therefrom.


(5) Immorality. Considering the condition of Society, it is remarkable that we read so little respecting professors of religion falling into sin in the early days of the Church. Warnings against it are abundant, but no case of dishonesty, drunkenness or unchastity are named, save that of the influential man in 1 Cor. 5 (Pages 201—202.)

Note 3. A Church is bound as we have seen (page 201) to withdraw from members for either of these three causes, and such have then “no Church standing,” nor has the Church any further jurisdiction over them. Whether such will continue to “shrink back unto perdition,” (Heb. 10:39,) till death seals their doom, or repent, and return is awfully uncertain and must be left to God.

Religious Derelicts.

Note 4. Derelicts or abandoned ships, abound in the Atlantic Ocean, and derelict Christians—once useful Members of our Churches, but now denominationally lost—are numerous in Society, miseries to themselves, and the source of mischief to others.

Note 5. The restoration of such is, however, to be desired and attempted in faith and hope. “In meekness instructing (or correcting) those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the Truth; and (that) they may recover[3] themselves out of the snare of the Devil, who were taken captive by him at his will,” (2 Tim. 2:25.)

Note 6. Such efforts cannot, however, be made by Churches as such. These persons are now outside their pale and province. “Do not ye judge them that are within (the Church)? Whereas them that are without, God judgeth,” (1 Cor. 5:12,13.) These efforts are therefore to be acts of personal ministry. “If a man be overtaken in any trespass,” spiritual men are meekly to seek his restoration “considering thyself (where note the individuality of the ministry), lest thou also be tempted,” (Gal. 6:1.) “If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know,” etc. (James 5:19.) Prayer is also to be made for him, 1 John 5:16—but it is to be the petition of one person on behalf of another.” “He shall ask, and God will give him life for,” etc.

Note 7. Our Article states what should be our attitude and action towards those who have erred and strayed, yet by God’s mercy have been restored. They are not to be permitted to slink back into Fellowship; but must, as honest men, avow their sorrow for their conduct, relate their experience, and the means of their recovery, and confess their belief in the truths and practices of the Church they wish to join, “as when they first connected themselves with the Lord’s people.” They went back into the world, and must now be received as from the world. If, however, we are assured, in spite of their subsequent aberrations, that they were immersed as true believers, their Baptism—for the reasons given in the Notes to Article XXV. —is to be recognised as valid. Otherwise, their immersion was not Baptism, and they should now be baptised before joining the Church.


[1] Odes iii. 30. Horace is anticipating the deathless fame of his writings. His body would be consigned to the grave; but bis thoughts “a manifold part of” him, would escape the oblivion which ordinarily follows one’s obsequies. “Non omnis moriar: multaque para mei vitabit Libitinam,” (the goddess of funerals.) “Not all that constitutes myself will die; When years in long succession shall have passed, A great, a nobler part of me will last, And Libitina and her rites defy.”—W. J. S.

[2] Literally, “showed many evil things against me.” This was a recognised phrase in Roman law, and meant bringing charges against a person before a judge. It might, therefore, be rendered, “preferred or advanced many evil things or accusations against me.”—Critical and Experimental Commentary, Rev. A. R. Fausset, A.M., in loco.

[3] Recover—the word is ana-nepho—“to recover soberness” (S. G. Green, D.D.,) or “to awake sober” (Alford), perhaps implying that error and sin produce moral and spiritual intoxication.





William Styles (1842-1914) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He is the author of several works, including “A Guide To Church Fellowship As Maintained By Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptists” and “A Manual Of Faith And Practice”.

William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)
William Styles, A Memoir of John Hazelton (Complete)