Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Spurgeon's Standards for Conversion and Membership

by Jeremy Walker

Spurgeon was adamant that the door to the church be well-guarded, and had a carefully-developed system whereby converts applying for membership were graciously but robustly assessed by elders, himself, and the whole congregation. He did not rush people into professions of faith, baptism and church membership (indeed, he had some distaste for the inquiry room as potentially exerting a pressure beyond that of the Holy Spirit's work on the heart of a sinner).

At two separate points in the book, Nettles shows how - at times of particular evangelistic endeavour, as well as during the more regular procedures of church life - the saints were encouraged to make a thoughtful and scriptural assessment of a man's standing with God and prospective relationship with the local church.

With regard to conversion, counselors of inquirers looked for three pivotal evidences of true conversion. One focused on the nature of the individual's perception of his sin and dependence on the work of Christ. Did the inquirer seem to have a clear and distinct and abiding sense of the seriousness of his offense toward God, a healthy remorse for that sin, a desire to turn from it and cease such offensive behavior toward God; did he also recognize that God was willing to receive him through the atonement made by Christ and through that alone? Second, did the present determination of the person's soul indicate a clear intention to live for Christ and overcome the opposing forces of the world; did he feel the urgency of seeing others escape from the wrath to come? Three, with a full knowledge of his own unworthiness and his full dependence on God, did the person have some knowledge of the doctrines of grace and that mercy was the fountain from which his salvation flowed? 

Then, with a great deal of common ground, here is the expectation for church membership:

Arnold Dallimore's examination of this book [called the Inquirers {sic} Books, in which interviewing elders recorded their comments] showed that the entire interview process centered on the determination of three things. One, is there clear evidence of dependence on Christ for salvation? This involved a clear and felt knowledge of sin and a deep sense of the necessity of the cross. Two, does the candidate exhibit a noticeable change of character including a desire for pleasing God and a desire for others to believe the gospel? Three, is there some understanding of, with a submission to, the doctrines of grace? The only effective antithesis to merit salvation, in Spurgeon's view, was a knowledge of utter dependence on divine mercy. 

Perhaps, in our day, we are not always sure what we should be looking for in the heart and life of men and women who profess faith in the Lord Jesus. Far too many churches, perhaps feeling the pressure of numbers or some other force, are inclined to drop their standards or blur their distinctions, if they have them in the first place. In the face of that, these standards seem to me to be thoroughly biblical, genuinely gracious, and appropriately robust. They combine doctrinal understanding, experimental religion, and principled obedience - a religion of head, heart and hand, if you will. If more congregations embraced a righteous assessment of this sort with regard to professing converts and applicants for membership, I am persuaded that they would be spiritually healthier places than they too often are.

1 comment:

Patrick McIntyre said...

Hello Mr. Nichols-
I have for the last 4 months been a member of a seeker-friendly Southern Baptist church. It has been a great eye opener. Every time in a group bible study I point out that fruitless regenerated Christians are not in the New Testament, the members say things like "sounds like works salvation to me". I have learned that when I say "faith", they think "intellectual state of mind". Their definition of "saving faith" is an abstract acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ and nothing else as the cause of salvation without the need of fiduciary trust in the actual Person of Christ. This makes "faith" in a doctrine the de facto cause of regeneration. They actual believe if someone sincerely repeats a salvation prayer, they have implicit faith - something Luther and other Reformers repudiated as not saving. Unfortunately, most evangelical ministers lead people in a salvation prayer and say, "if you sincerely meant that prayer, I tell you by the authority of the Word of God that you are saved". "Salvation by grace alone through faith alone, but not faith that is alone" has been replaced with believing a doctrine causes God to save. I am working on a Youtube video "How to Debunk Decisional Regeneration in Your Church" You keep up the good work! Patrick McIntyre