Why We Should Clean-up Our Membership Rolls
Recently we gathered for our annual business meeting and received many great testimonies of God’s faithfulness throughout the year while looking forward with great hope and anticipation of the upcoming new year. During the pastor’s annual update, we announced that we would be “cleaning up” our church rolls and focusing on those who are not functionally participating in our local body. The pastors’ plan is to bring a list to the congregation to vote on removing current members who fit this description. The Bible does not explicitly set down laws that detail how we should go about cleaning up the rolls for circumstances that do not require church discipline, but there is enough biblical and historical evidence to guide us. Allow us to suggest three helpful points as to why we are cleaning our rolls:
- It’s Biblically Reasonable. The Bible places a heavy emphasis on the importance of membership for both front end membership vetting (Matt. 16:19) and back-end membership protection (1 Cor. 5:1-5) which we call membership entry and church discipline respectively. However, there is an overwhelming biblical emphasis on loving one another in the context of the local church every day. In fact, there is an entire letter (1 John) written about how we go about the business of loving one another.
The Bible issues multiple encouragements and commands that require love in close proximity. We are commanded to walk in the light with our fellow believers (1 Jn. 2:7-11), sacrificially give according to the specific needs of our fellow believers (1 Jn. 3:16-18), and to evidence gospel motivated love with those fellow believers that we can see (1 Jn. 4:20-21). All of these ordinarily require believers to be in regular physical contact.
Therefore, it is biblically reasonable that if there are those who are not providentially hindered (homebound, military, season work, etc.) from enjoying the regular fellowship of the saints, then it is incumbent on both the leadership and the congregation to ensure that the membership rolls of the church reflect the actual membership activity of the church if we are to be as biblically faithful as we can.
- It’s Historically Responsible. Historically, Baptists have sought to have their membership (regenerate church membership) reflect the kingdom of heaven. In fact, amongst the reformed, Baptist have the greatest biblical claim to having a membership that reflects heavenly membership with our emphasis on “credible professions of faith” and credobaptism. By no means did the Baptist make a claim to a perfect church on this side of eternity (2LBCF, Ch. 26: para. 3), but they did believe that the NT places the responsibility on the local church to as much as it depends upon them to guard the membership of the church through proper vetting and accountability. If we cannot keep a professing believer accountable, then history suggests that we should remove them from the rolls to aid in upholding proper biblical accountability. By removing some from the rolls, we are not saying that they have or don’t have a credible profession of faith. We are saying that we cannot properly judge their profession of faith.
- It’s Practically Loving. As mentioned in the first point, the Bible places an emphasis on both front end and back-end membership. The goal of this is of course to glorify God in love (1 Tim. 1:5). The responsibility to guard the sanctity of the church falls both on the leadership and the congregation. Pastors are told that they have to give an account to God for how they shepherd the flock (Heb. 13:17). That’s a sobering thought and a very real warning. It’s practically loving for the pastors to know who they are responsible to shepherd. Accurate membership rolls are one way that we can practically love our pastors.
Jesus also says clearly that the congregation is responsible for expelling members who have lost their credible procession of faith through discipline (Matt. 18:15-17). This implies that the members of the church are accountable to the local church. It is impossible to keep someone accountable who is not part of the regular fellowship of the church. It’s practically loving to the congregation to have their rolls reflect the participating membership.
Again, there is no law regarding exactly when and how to purge membership rolls, but there is a lot of guidance in both the scriptures and throughout church history that encourages us that we should keep accurate church rolls. May Christ comfort you as you contemplate your vote.
In His Service,
Brian Fourroux, Chairman of Elders