The doors of the church are open wide. But, is this a good thing? I want to share a few paragraphs from“Church History in Plain Language” by Bruce L. Shelley regarding when and how the church began to allow non-repentive souls to become a part of the church. This will surprise you, but it started in the 1600’s.
“The Puritan “holy experiment” – blending belief in a church of the truly converted with the idea of a Christian state – seemed destined to fail almost from the start. There are problems in operating any church on earth when only God knows who the real members are. Not everyone in Massachusetts or Connecticut could boldly testify of experienced grace. As the zeal of the New England founders cooled, fewer men and women could bear public witness to grace in their souls. To keep membership from shrinking drastically, many churches in 1662 had to settle for the Half-Way Covenant . Under this policy the “unawakened” could enjoy a kind of partial membership, baptizing their children and joining in congregational activities, but not taking full Communion. This was enough church affiliation for most political and social purposes, so that gradually the “saints” sank to a tiny minority. ” (pg. 344)
“The Puritan view of the church rested upon their understanding of the covenant of grace. Early New Englanders realized that the visible church could never be an exact copy of the truly elect but God willed the church so far as possible to be a church of visible saints. That is why the first generation insisted that conversion precede church membership, a practice reaffirmed in 1648 with the adoption of the “Cambridge Platform”.
“The doors of the churches of Christ upon the earth,” they said, “do not by God’s appointment stand so wide open, that all sorts of people good or bad, may freely enter therein at their pleasure.” Those seeking admission, they declared, must be “examined and tried first” to see that they possess, above all else, “repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ.” This usually meant that potential members made “a personal and public confession,” detailing “God’s manner of working upon the soul.” (pg. 343)
The biggest problem with the church today is that it is often a building comprised of people who have not repented to God and are therefore not saved. One cannot be saved without repenting to God first. It does not matter what kind of sins a person has committed if he repents to God He will hear him and save him – if he chooses to turn about from his sins and grow in Christ.
The true church today is comprised of many who do not go to church. They do not seek membership within a building or a denomination, but are a part of the living body of Christ. Many of us are “scattered sheep” without a shepherd upon this earth, lights out in the darkness, but we have a Shepherd and He still leads us.
“Ekkleesia in the New Testament never means the building or house of assembly, because church buildings were built long AFTER the apostolic age. It means an organized body, whose unity does not depend on its being met together in one place; not an assemblage of atoms, but members in their several places united to the One Head, Christ, and forming one organic living whole (1 Cor 12). Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, Electronic Database Copyright © 1998, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc.
Though the church does not depend on assembly in a building, oftentimes God would lead the body of believers to one another and they would “assemble” to worship the Lord and have fellowship and intermingle with one another in marrying and such (the visible church). Because these believers were united in Christ, they could not “worship” with one who was not a believer, they could only share about what Christ had done in their lives in hopes of the person converting.
One last quote from Bruce Shelley’s book that I have to share:
“The revivalists pointed out that their fathers had left the Church of England to come to America precisely because they believed it was contrary to the Word of God to permit the unconverted to enter the church.” (pg 347)
Next, the revivalists organized their own congregations using these beliefs as a foundation of the church. Isaac Backus joined the revivalists and he ended up forming the First Baptist Church of Middleborough, Massachusetts. The first Baptist church in America was founded on the belief of it being comprised of “visible saints”, not the unconverted or unrepentive souls.
What are your thoughts?