Charles Spurgeon was known as the prince of preachers. But truly more than all that, Spurgeon was a “pastor” We see this as we examine Spurgeon’s Ecclesiology as we pursue a better understanding of what biblical church membership is.
Charles Spurgeon was the pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle. He first preached to the congregation (then housed in New Park Street Chapel) in 1853. His arrival soon led to such crowds thronging the chapel that services had to be moved to a vast hired hall in the Strand, and then to the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall, where up to 10,000 people assembled and ultimately pastored the church for 38 years. More and more people moved into London, and they were, “unchurched”
There were a lot of nominal Christians at this time and were watering down what it meant to be a church. Spurgeon thought, “This isn’t right” as he fought theological liberalism as the church began to believe what the world believed. The members began to doubt whether the Bible was with many errors and to the point of questioning the virgin birth itself. The innocence of church membership (which leads to a philosophy of ministry) had affected the core of convictional doctrinal belief and the sound gospel itself.
Spurgeon fought against liberal theology starting from within. He revisited the historic Christian doctrinal triage through “regenerate church membership” where the people assembled through the preaching of God’s Word and observation of the ordinances: (Baptism and Lord’s supper).
This is where regenerate church membership was resurfaced, which is the radical baptistic contribution to Christianity.
What the church always should be made up of are only those who believed in Christ and who are born-again believers. The church shouldn’t be made up because they are children of other believers.
Who is genuinely born again? That is what church membership is all about. It is the battle of the Church vs. the World.
Spurgeon’s Six-Step Process for Church Membership
1. Meeting interview with an elder
Hear their testimony (This is worth listening to).
2. Follow-up meeting with Charles Spurgeon.
He will think over and come in, he will ask more questions. Probe more about what is going on in the story that seems strange.
3. Call back for an official congregational meeting.
The elder will present the person’s testimony and the story. Then the congregation will vote and send a messenger (elder) or a member who knows that person.
4. The messenger (deacon) goes to the candidates’ workplace and their homes.
Meet with the relatives and hear this person’s testimony. An investigation will happen at this point. What that did, it made church membership a much public thing. “You’re joining the metropolitan tabernacle?” People had accountability there.
5. After passing a final invitation to another congregational meeting.
“This is what we have found out. Everything looks good” The church on behalf of the interview the candidates at this point as a body.
6. Finally, the congregation will vote before the church.
He will be baptized if they have not yet. The true and final step for membership candidates to become a member is they are allowed to participate and take the Lord’s supper (sacrament).
Based on Spurgeon’s practice of biblical church membership, we see the heart where he wanted to make it intentional and meaningful. Not membership that is like Sam’s Club membership!
By implementing this process, not only was it able to detect snakes among the flock but kept away from having any that were unregenerate as people joined by conviction on Scripture alone.
How did Spurgeon maintain an accurate number for church membership? As the olden days will say, “Fencing the table” was through the institution of, “The Lord’s supper” Pastors will then cite 1 Corinthians 11 as they partake by welcoming the saints by saying, “This meal is for Christians. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and baptized upon your profession of faith, partake as you are welcome”
Spurgeon and the elders at the Metropolitan Tabernacle maintained and managed the church family as they continue to proclaim the gospel and help facilitate baptism.
The Biblical, Beneficial and Baptistic Practice of Church Discipline
Living life together in fellowship goes against natural fleshly desires (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 10:16; 1 John 1:3).
Paul speaks and unfolds the beauty and benefits of the local church in Ephesians 4.
How to bring unity and maturity? Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers. There are two pairs of offices in view here: (1) apostles and prophets, and (2) evangelists and pastor-teachers.
John Calvin, the reformer puts it well, “Christ appoints pastors for His church.” The Greek passive verb “was given,” is shown here to distribute His victory amongst His people. These gifted men are given the Church “for the perfecting of the saints.”
Verse 12 says, “equip the saints” (v. 12) This is a medical term like in setting a dislocated joint.
Like in the context to mend or repair nets, making fit, to become qualified for your task. If what is “joined and knit together by every ligament” (Eph 4:16) is “out of joint,” or stiff with arthritic stubbornness, or swollen with hubris, the body does not function as intended.”
To what cause? For building up the body of Christ. The following verse 13 says, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,”
Four areas are expected to show as results in all the following verses.
(1) Spiritual maturity (v. 14).
(2) Growth in Christlikeness (v. 15).
(3) Bodily growth (v. 16).
(4) Growth in love. “So that it builds itself up in love.”
When discipline leaves the church, Christ leaves with it.
This growth of the body has Christ as its goal: he is the one into whom believers are to grow. The previous verse in Ephesians 4:15 stresses the readers’ progress and maturity toward Christ as the goal. Together, believers become more and more like their Lord, so they are fully and completely incorporated into him.
Why We Need a Resurgence of Doctrine of the Church
Unfortunately, too many believers join a church so casually as if it is like a pair of shirts. Only get involved “enough” at arm’s length and give excuses not to get involved enough with a halfhearted commitment to the bride. Only show up to church when it is “comfortable” only give when it is “convenient” like one will treat with their local Walmart store.
Many people love the idea of “community” only until when life gets difficult and infringes on their own personal rights rather than King Jesus’ agenda. Would we still join the church when our lives are infringed, and our rights are gone? Would we still go even if the cool lights and nice music are gone? Would we still go even if we don’t get anything out? Or would we join because Christ has called us to belong together as the day is numbered in His hands?
We wonder why the church has drifted so far compared to even 200 years ago with Spurgeon’s time. We wonder where the power of God lies when we ourselves do not treat God’s church with the utmost respect in hope of the gospel being advanced. Church today has become somewhat of a socially awkward topic, least say, a taboo topic to be weirded around.
Our generation’s core problem is the central weakness of ecclesiology, an undervaluing of the local church.
Being part of a church is messy. For we are messy people. Yet, Christ came for them and got into the mess with us. That is whom he died, and we are called to love and be part of.