Jonathan Edwards and Regenerate Church Membership

 

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Being a part of a church is a responsibility that all Christians must recognize. Church membership is not a thing of the past, a cold and rigid practice, nor an option for the Christian. Church membership is held high in Scripture and deemed as an essential part of the Christian life. American Christianity has minimized the necessity of regenerate church membership to the point of which church rolls are inflated, attendance is at an all time low, and people think they are right with God because they occupy a position on a church roster. However, Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Corinthians 12, and many other passages indicate an individual to be in sin if they are a Christian and neglecting a local body of believers. When I say neglecting, I am not talking about the American Church’s idea of functioning membership, attending 1-2 Sundays per month. I am talking about faithfully attending the church, giving to the church, serving the church, and being a working part of what God is doing with the local body. You cannot, and will not, convince me from Scripture that God does not call all Christians who are able to function in this capacity within His church, unless providentially hindered.

While these things are true, these things are not popular. Many times Pastors and church leaders are ostracized for their desire to see the church restored to a biblically functioning membership and all of the practices found within. This is not something new. Jonathan Edwards, the Great 18th Century theologian and Pastor, was met with much of the same animosity when he sought to restore his grandfathers church to a regenerate membership.

Edwards joined his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, a the Associate Pastor his church in Northampton. Three years after assuming the Associate position, Edwards grandfather died, leaving him to take the reigns as their Pastor. Stoddard was a bid dog preacher around this area, often referred to as the “Pope of the Connecticut River Valley.” Thus, his opinion held great significance among his congregation and the surrounding area. This was also the case regarding his idea of church membership. Stoddard allowed church membership and other Christian rites (outside of the Lord’s Supper) to all people, regardless of whether or not they profess Christ. Among the Puritans, this became known as the Half-way covenant.

As one can imagine, this became a pretty popular thing. One does not have to profess Christ in order to be a member of the church, so the church grew by leaps and bounds, climbing somewhere around 600 in membership. Church growth strategists at our State Conventions would have a hayday with this and the next thing you know, Stoddard would have a book deal, a much more popular blog than this one, and a podcast on how to grow a church in 90 days…. (of course, said with sarcasm). While this sounds great, it does come with its fair share of problems. To begin, it is not biblical. In order to be a member of a biblical church, you must be a born-again believer both in word and in practice. Second, the unbelievers began to outnumber the believers within this church. With this being the case, once more Stoddard would conform to culture and let everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, partake of the Lord’s Supper as long as they were not as public with their sin.

Nonetheless, when Edwards took the reigns, he began to expose the issue. First, one cannot be a church member and not be a Christian. This is antithetical to Scripture, which is why we have numerous passages citing people who had been converted and then added to the church. Furthermore, we have numerous passages citing church discipline in order to prevent sin from running rampant within the church, as well as maintain the purity of the church that Christ has established here on earth. Edwards stood against this, standing firm upon the sufficiency of Scripture regarding passages on salvation, the Lord’s Supper, membership and discipline. Edwards commitment to Scripture and the purity of Christ’s church led him to being removed from his position as Pastor after 22 years of service to the church.

The point is simple. The church had been infiltrated by culture and relativism. The idea of someone telling another person what they can and cannot do within the walls of the church was preposterous to the majority of this congregation. Additionally, the idea of church discipline was a foreign concept, one of which was not welcome despite the biblical mandate to practice discipline upon unrepentant church members. The purity of the church had been sacrificed on the alter of all-inclusive feel goodism, one of which the Bible does not advocate. The story of Jonathan Edwards is nothing short of the story of the modern day American church. The church has been infiltrated by the cultural mandate to toss the pursuit of holiness out the window and allow any and all people access to its membership, regardless of whether or not they follow Christ. With this being the case, the church is filled with unregenerate church members that think they are born again because no one will open Scripture and tell them otherwise.

Christian leaders all across America keep screaming at the top of their lungs “Revival! Revival! We need revival in this country!” While this is true, they are focusing their energy in the wrong places. Instead of looking to politics, to news media, to the highways and the byways, the place in which we need to look in order to seek revival is on our church rolls. Do you want to see revival break out in the American church? Actually stand on what Scripture says and hold God’s people to God’s Word and commission the church to practice what the Bible conveys regarding biblical church membership and discipline. Do this and see if God does not do a work among His people when they commit themselves to following His Word, even when it hurts.

Biblical church membership, and the requirements God places upon the Christian, are not meant to hold the Christian down or place them under a yoke of slavery. Biblical church membership is for the joy of the Christian and the furtherance of God’s Church. God has given everyone a gift. 1 Corinthians 12 is very clear about this. All of our gifts are not to be used for our own glory or the furtherance of our own name, but for the furtherance of the name of God in His Church. We have been given gifts to be utilized within the church and as they are, we will find great joy and satisfaction in using the abilities God has given us for the furtherance of His name and His kingdom. True joy and satisfaction comes when we give the Lord through the local church what He has so graciously blessed and given to us. Be a functioning member of a local congregation, not out of duty or obligation, but out of joy and a passion for the Word of God.