Why we don’t excommuncate non-members– part 2

We do not withhold the Lord’s Supper from covenant children. Our only requirement is that the child know the difference between the “meal” and a snack. We think they need to know that they are involved in part of a larger thing. Father’s are encouraged to be consistently teaching their covenant children about what is going in in all aspects of the worship service and particularly the Lord’s Supper.

We do not make membership in our church a factor in participating in the Lord’s Supper. Our only criteria is that the person be baptized and not under any church discipline from any other churches.

Our church observes household membership, not individual membership (unless the person is single, but then we still call it household membership). I think this is in order to recognized that God has given different governments: civil, familial, and ecclesiastical. We are trying to keep the governments responsible for their spheres and not to encroach in one another’s spheres.

We do not assume a child should be baptized because he is a Christian. He is a Christian because he is baptized. And therefore should not be held from the table.

With regard to excommunicating a Christian who is not a member of our church, we have been talking about doing that, if the person is not a member of any church. But we haven’t gotten to the point where we can figure out how to enforce the decree. There is a sense in which a non-participating Christian has already excommunicated himself by not fellowshipping with the saints. Right now we would put that kind of Christian in the camp we put all Christians who are not living up to their baptisms–We would say that they are Christians, but not living faithfully to their calling in Christ. We would also add that they are in serious danger of damnation.

On the other hand we are also very aware that in our culture immaturity is a player in all this. A Christian who thinks they don’t need to join a church because the Bible doesn’t specifically spell it out that way, is in danger, but might be immature and not rebelious. We are happy to let a Christian grow up. So, we might have folks who visit regularly but who refuse to join. We don’t do very much different with them than we would do with an actual member–but we would not excommunicate them from the Church of Christ, if they went off the deep end. We don’t spank the neighbor’s kids, but we do help the neighbor raise them in other ways.

We do temporarily withhold the Lord’s Supper from saints who are in sin. We use it as a kind of shot across the bow to warn the brother that his behavior is very serious and that he needs to think about where his actions are taking him. One of the passages we use to justify this is 2 Thess. 3:6 were we are commanded to withdraw ourselves from a brother who is not walking with God.

This is a temporary event, not permanent like excommunication would be.

If you attended our church we would not consider you a member unless you took our membership vows. Essentially they are that you acknowledge that you know that you need salvation because of your sin, that you trust in Christ for your salvation and that you will work to pursue the peace and purity of the church. Our church subscribes to a book of constitutions (historic and protestant creeds and confessions), we have a baptismal agreement (paedo and credo), we are Postmillennial, Presbyterian, Evangelical and Reformed. But you do not have to hold to these to be a member. You simply have to take the vow. The church also vows to help you stand with Christ (which includes excommunication if it came to that). Vowing to uphold the peace and purity of the church means that a member who did not agree with some form of our polity, would disagree quietly or in the proper forum, but wouldn’t work to split the church or cause any other undue ruckus.

We would not bar you from the table. We would however bar you from voting in church elections (we vote for elders). From what you say, we would assume you were immature, not in rebellious sin. You would receive the same benefits we would give any other non-member. There would be a limit to how we could help you financially, but we would not let you starve either, unless you refused to work. We might ask you to leave, if you went postal on us and began causing a disturbance in the church, but we would not excommunicate you.

Again, we have been talking about going further with people who regularly attend our church, but as yet nothing has been decided.

The Bible says that the church leaders have to give an account of those who have been given to them (Heb. 13:17). It also tells the leaders to shepherd the flock of God that is among you (1 Pet. 5:2). We believe that we have a responsibility to certain sheep in our field, not to every sheep in the field. We do not believe that God holds us responsible for those sheep that do not belong to our particular part of the flock. Church membership is our version of a way to tell who our sheep are. Sheep that refuse to be part of our flock are on their own. We will help them in passing, but are not responsible for them in the same way we are for our particular sheep.

The RC church way oversteps their bounds when they think all the sheep belong to them. If this were the case, they would be in serious trouble when the stand before the throne of God and try to given an accounting of how they did with their charge. We are not trying to avoid difficulties by requiring church membership, we are simply trying to know who our sheep are so that we can minister to them effectively and helpfully.

I hope this helps a little more.

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