of Church Discipline
OF ADMISSION OF MEMBERS
1. We have already observed, p. 142. that every particular church has full power and authority, to transact all its own affairs, for its well being, independent of any other church, or combination of churches.
2. The chief part of church power, exercised under Christ, and according to the rules of the gospel, is versant about four things; the choice of their own officers, the admission of members, governing of them, and finally their exclusion, when they prove unworthy of a place in the house of God. Rom. xiv. 1. Acts ii. 41. I Cor. v. 13.
3. Admission is either out of the world, or from other churches.
4. When persons are wrought upon and turned to the Lord, under a real work of conviction and conversion, it will be their duty to offer themselves for baptism, and give themselves members of some gospel church, that may be near them, with whom they may walk in fellowship, and enjoy the privileges of the house of God, appointed for their nourishment and growth in grace. Acts ii. 38. Isaiah xliv. 5. lvi. 6. 2 Cor, viii. 5.
5. To this end, it will be proper for the candidate to acquaint the minister or pastor beforehand of his design, which is commonly done, that the minister, after conversing freely with him, may either encourage or discourage.
6. There is no doubt, but that every gospel minister has a right, in virtue of the commission, to baptize all such meet subjects, as apply to him for baptism, and afterward the church may receive them on the testimony of said minister, or on their giving in their religious experience.
7. But, since the church has a right to obtain full knowledge of the experience, religious principles, and moral conduct of those, that offer themselves for membership; and forasmuch as it is edifying, and tends to excite and increase christian fellowship, to hear persons declare what the Lord has done for them, Psalm lxvi. 16. and also, as it may be of use to administer the holy ordinance of baptism in a more open and public way; it will be better for persons to be examined in the first instance before the church, either on the day of preparation before communion, or at any other time, and then baptised.
8. The prerequisites for baptism and admission into the church are, godly experience, soundness in the faith, and a regular life.
9. Knowledge of the first will be best obtained, by letting persons declare, in their own way, the gracious dealings of the Lord with them, such questions being put occasionally as will assist and lead them on. I Peter iii. 15. The second should be confined to the essentials of religion. Rom. xiv. 1. xv. 7. And we attend to the last, as the necessary fruit, without which, their pretension to religion must be vain. Titus ii. 12, 14. iii. 8.
10. In admitting persons to baptism and then into the church, all precaution should be attended to, and carefulness used, that we open not the doors too wide on the one hand, nor on the other keep them too close. Zech. iv. 10. Matt. xii. 20. Isaiah xxvi. 1-6. Particularly, when they give in their religious experience, seek to discover, whether they have been convinced of righteousness, as well as of sin; whether they have only felt the power of the law, or have also discovered the glory of the gospel. John xvi. 8.
11. When the church is pretty generally satisfied with the parties? confession and conversation, they are, after being baptized, to be received into the church as members.
12. In doing this, the Minister, after a brief introduction, enquires whether they will watch and be watched over, give and receive admonition and reproof as occasion may require, keep their places in the church, contribute according to their abilities towards all necessary uses, and in all things walk in a professed and willing subjection to the commands and institutions of Christ in the gospel: which having promised he gives them the right hand of fellowship, bids them a welcome among the disciples, prays, and gives out a suitable Hymn. 2 Cor. viii. 5. Acts. ii. 41. 2 Cor. vi. 14. Those who practice laying on of hands will know when to introduce it.
13. If the case of the applicant be pretty doubtful, his baptism, and consequently admission, had better be deferred: but this should be done with much tenderness and suitable encouragement, when there are some hopeful appearances.
14. Persons are sometimes admitted from other churches to transient and occasional communion, without transfering their membership, and this may be done without letters of recommendation, when they are known, but not otherwise. Acts. xviii. 27. Rom. xvi. 1, 2. Col. iv. 10.
15. When any member?s residence is in providence removed to a distance from the church whereof he is a member, and more convenient to attend with another church of the same faith, he ought to apply to the church of which he is a member, for a letter recommendatory and dismissive to the church more contiguous to him, and the church whereof he is a member ought to give him such a letter, if he is in good standing among them, directed to the church to which he is dismissed, and said church ought to receive him, unless they should have good reason to refuse. Rom. xvi. 1. Acts ix. 26, 27. xviii. 27.
16. It is a good general rule, that persons ought to be members of such churches as are nearest to them; for they cannot otherwise so well enjoy the benefit of membership, nor perform the duties, that arise out of church relation.
17. There may be however cases, that will make against this rule, particularly when persons plead greater benefit to themselves, in a church more remote; and they ought to be attended to, provided the other church be not too remote; for edification is the first object of church relation, and their entering into the relation at first was a voluntary act; nor should a church be made a prison of, wherein to confine people against their will.
18. It is certain there can be no dismission to the world; and it is doubted, whether it would be regular for a church to dismiss to another church, with which it can hold no communion: but in this case, it may give a few lines signifying the person?s character and standing with them.
19. When a person offers, who is a member of a church differing in faith and order, then, satisfaction is to be required touching the points in difference.
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