A.A. Hodge on Church Membership

Discussion in 'Daily Devotional Forum' started by Clark-Tillian, Oct 5, 2015.

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  1. Clark-Tillian

    Clark-Tillian Puritan Board Freshman

    AA Hodge: A church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation.
  2. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    I was just reminded of this idea in the Great Commission, where Christ first commands to baptize and then to teach. However, I am curious. I know that generally the Dutch Reformed require a more extensive affirmation of faith (some sort of confessional subscription), whereas Presbyterians generally would agree with Hodge. Has this always been the case, particularly with regard to Presbyterianism?

    Sent from my ASUS Transformer Pad TF300T using Tapatalk
  3. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Historically speaking, Presbyterianism did not maintain "explicit" particular church membership. This was the invention of Independency and has only arisen in Presbyterian circles because of denominationalism. The Presbyterians of the 17th century argued that the sacraments were signs of church membership, and therefore admission to the sacraments was an "implicit" form of membership.
  4. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    It seems that I read somewhere that the Genevan Christians under Calvin were required to sign off on some sort of confession. Is this true?
  5. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    Were the requirements for receiving baptism different from the requirements for coming to the Lord's Table?
  6. BGF

    BGF Puritan Board Sophomore

    For some reason this piqued my interest. What sources can you point me to for further study?
  7. Clark-Tillian

    Clark-Tillian Puritan Board Freshman

    The beauty of Old Princeton at work; I wasn't expecting such vigorous discussion from a Daily Devotional Forum thread. Bravo, men!
    Matthew, I am also interested in any historical sources you might provide.

    The quote, but more so the thread responses, has me re-thinking my own, and the Middlesex Session's practice. The Session trusts me to handle the New Member's Class and that I will "vet" those interested. However, I do the Covenant Children's Communicant Class in an entirely different manner, and it's significantly more stringent. The adults go over basic material with me (6-8 sessions) and then are interviewed by the Session and asked the BCO vow/questions. The children (never younger than 10-11) must memorize certain portions of the WSC, as well as some biblical catechetical material I've created--such as the historical significance of the Passover in relation to The Supper. I wonder if I'm wrong on this issue.
  8. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    In Scottish Presbyterianism there were higher requirements for an adult coming to the Session to become a communicant member, than if he/she was coming for baptism for himself or his child.

    In the case of baptism it was an uncontradicted profession of faith. In the case of the Lord's Supper, individuals were to be admitted on an accredited profession of faith.

    See e.g. "The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire" by John Kennedy

    Baptistic-thinking or a lack of understanding has changed this approach in some conservative Presbyterian ministries/congregations in Scotland.
  9. Shawn Mathis

    Shawn Mathis Puritan Board Sophomore

    Yes. But I do not recall the details beyond vowing to send their children to the local schools.
  10. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    Can Lutherans and Zwinglians be saved? Yes. Should they, given their defective view of communion, be admitted to the Lord's Supper in a confessional Presbyterian church? Answering this question will help us to discern whether or not the A. A. Hodge quote is a soundbite or a sound argument.
  11. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Those born within the visible church were baptised (though there seems to have been a difference of opinion on whether there needed to be a believing parent). Those who made a credible profession of faith were received as communicant members.
  12. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Perhaps the best place to start is Samuel Rutherford's Due Right of Presbyteries, available online here: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A57969.0001.001?view=toc

    From pp. 84ff., he discusses the Independent practice of church covenants: "Whether or not all are to be In-churched or entered Members of a visible Church by an explicit, and vocal or professed Covenant?"

    One of the distinctions for which Rutherford contends is as follows: "There is a covenant of baptism, made by all, and a covenant virtual and implicit renewed, when we are to receive the Lord's Supper, but an explicit positive professed Church covenant, by oath in-churching a person, or a society, to a State-church is now questioned."

    His conclusion is: "we hold that such a Church-covenant is a conceit destitute of all authority of God's Word, Old or New Testament, and therefore to be rejected as a way of men's devising."

    His arguments are then given to support his conclusion, and they demonstrate the spiritual wisdom and pastoral tenderness which brought him to his position.
  13. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    How does that work with non-communicant members who move or are moved to a different area? Communicant members would need to be received to the table at the new church, but non-communicant members cannot be rebaptized. How is it established that the officers of the new church have care over the non-communicant member, and the member duties to the officers of that church?

    Also, if ecclesiastical vows are not Scripturally warranted for members, how are they warranted for officers?
  14. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Are we talking about a baptised non-communicant member? His valid Trinitarian baptism formally brought him into the catholic church visible, and as every particular church is a member of the catholic church visible, so every member of the catholic visible church should be received as such. That is, the baptised member of one church would be a baptised member in any church. The only way it could be otherwise would be if a particular church broke off from the catholic church by requiring something additional for membership.

    The gracious and glorious Head of the church has so constituted it.

    Not all members are office-bearers, so office-bearers are understood to be a distinct order, and as a distinct order may enter into voluntary obligations by means of public vows.
  15. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    I need to be more specific. My question has to do with practical acknowledgement of who is under whose oversight rather than acknowledgement of the principles involved. Without any administration of membership (at least keeping a record) for non-communicant members, how is it practically determined whether church A or church B has oversight over them?

    Then again, you mentioned earlier that the change in practice among Presbyterians arose partly due to denominationalism, which may be sufficient to answer my question. Under a nationally established church, the nearest church would obviously have jurisdiction of non-communicant members in its own area.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2015
  16. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes, there would be some sort of a parish system in place. Without a national church everyone is left to their own choice; and so the office-bearers are bound to recognise personal choice as affecting parish limits, and not simply geography. But even in the national church system there was evidence of people preferring one congregation over another and going outside their own parish. This sparked a debate at one stage which gave rise to a division over the validity of fellowship meetings.
  17. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    That makes sense. Thank you. Now I am wondering whether the Independents appealed to passages such as Joshua 21, the covenants under Hezekiah and Josiah, etc. to establish membership vows, and if so, whether Rutherford addressed those arguments? How would you briefly answer a use of those sort of passages to build a case for membership vows?

    I have Due Right of Presbyteries somewhere down the way on my ever-growing reading list, but I may need to bump it up in priority.
  18. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    This is treated in "Due Right," p. 110: "Also the fallen Church of the Jews was restored to a Church-state (say they) by renewing a covenant with the Lord in the days of Asa & Hezekiah." Rutherford's reply: "Israel before this Oath, was circumcised, and had eaten the Passover, and so was a visible Church before..." If it was a church before it covenanted, it is obvious that covenanting cannot be essential to constitute a church.
  19. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    That is well said. I think the argument would be that membership vows are lawful and prudent, not essential, however, just as the historical covenants referenced were not essential to church constitution but nevertheless were lawful and prudent. Are they not simply a prudential way, especially in our day of buffet Christianity, of indicating and facilitating thorough understanding of the duties of church members to their officers, to one another, etc.?
  20. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The Lord's supper is an ordinance instituted by Christ. Presumably the purpose of church membership is to admit to the Lord's supper. Any additional requirements for membership would thus become additional requirements for participation in the Lord's supper. In that case Rutherford's first argument becomes pertinent: "to tie the oath of God to one particular duty rather than another, so as you cannot, without such an oath, enter into such a state, nor have title and right to the seals of grace and God's Ordinances, is will-worship, and that by virtue of a divine Law, and is a binding of the Conscience where God hath not bound it."
  21. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    That is helpful and brings the original topic back into closer focus. Would the objection still obtain if the vows only entail vowing to the same things which would have been conditions of admittance to the table whether vows were taken or not? Every Presbyterian church admits to the table on certain criteria. Typical membership vows in Presbyterian churches today tend to be considerably more basic than 17th century criteria for admitting to the table were, with or without vows. They tend to include things like submitting to the government and discipline of the church in the Lord, believing in the Scriptures as the Word of God, etc.
  22. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    You modified your post while I was responding, but I cannot complain because I did that earlier. Looking at it again, I think this quotation from Rutherford helps clear up my latest round of questions. I had not considered the potential difficulty with "[tying] the oath of God to one particular duty rather than another." I will have to think about that, and of course read Due Right. Thank you, as always, for your patience with my questions.
  23. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Rutherford says, "to swear subjection to such a Ministry and visible Church, is lawful; but to tie by an Apostolic Law and practice the oath of God so to such duties, as to make this Church-oath the essential form of such membership, so as you cannot enter into Church-state, nor have right to the Seals of the Covenant without such an oath, is to bind where God hath not bound; for there is no Law of God, putting upon any Church-oath such a state, as that it is the essential form of Church-membership, without the which a man is no Church-member, and the Church visible, not swearing this oath is no Church."
  24. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    When I saw you responded I edited it back to the original. Sorry for the confusion. I am too slow for the technology.
  25. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Now I am remembering having read somewhere recently that the Scottish church around the time of the Westminster Assembly had a practice of baptismal vows that somehow involved the Apostles' Creed. There was some debate over whether to abandon the use of the creed, but I do not recall reading anything about jettisoning the baptismal vow. Were vows considered lawful for baptism but not the Lord's Supper, or was opposition to vows for admittance to sealing ordinances a somewhat later development, albeit obviously still in Rutherford's lifetime?
  26. Clark-Tillian

    Clark-Tillian Puritan Board Freshman

    If I'm reading Rutherford correctly, and reading things online isn't always helpful to me, he's discussing vows only. That is, what propositions must a potential member assent to in order for the Session to allow them a seat at The Lord's Supper. Have I got the basic argument?

    Now, what about Communicant Classes for covenant children? In many churches, the one I serve included, instruction and evidence of a level of knowledge is required, before the Session will even allow them to take the vow(s). Rutherford is not discussing this issue, is he?
  27. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Catechesis would be regarded as a means of "teaching," in accord with the commission to disciple all nations, and therefore an important way of helping the disciple to make those necessary preparations which he will need to examine himself before partaking of the Lord's supper.
  28. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I will have to double check the sources to make sure I have the details exactly correct, but quickly looking at Alexander Henderson's "Government and Order," we can conclude that baptism was considered initiatory, and therefore it was necessary to make a profession of "the faith" on the part of the parent or vice-parent. There was also a commitment to teach and nurture the child in the faith, and promises were made to this effect.

    Henderson's Government and Order, as well as Rutherford's Peaceable and Temperate Plea, were written prior to the Westminster Assembly, and give a good indication of the kind of reforms which had already taken place since 1638.
  29. bobtheman

    bobtheman Puritan Board Freshman

    With baptism being an outward expression of an inward change, I dont see why any church would require baptism for membership.

    I do see a clear distinction in scripture between those who are members of the body of Christ, and those who are not (including with reference to local congregations). This distinction between members and non members is important. What flock are we shepherding?

    Membership at a church (who subscribe to specific beliefs and interpretations of the word) is different than being saved and of the body of Christ.

    Salvation != (does not equal) local church membership.
    Local church membership != salvation

    local church membership = local church membership
  30. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Gentlemen, here in the Americas it seems that some kind of membership was in practice in the days of the New England Puritans. That was at the core of the question regarding who should/should not receive the sign of Baptism and who should/shouldn't be admitted to the Lord's table and led to the difficulties involving Solomon Stoddard and Jonathan Edwards. While the churches I have in mind were congregational, it would seem that their form of church government would be likely to create looser ties rather than something "denominational" in nature as is being argued in this thread.

    Also, the Philadelphia WCF makes the distinction in Chapter XXV between the universal (or catholic), visible, and particular churches.

    The vows seem to be the primary dispute here? The OPC membership vows require a basic profession of faith, as was reflecting in the OP. The last provision
    seems a matter of careful shepherding -- making sure someone is not joining himself to a congregation without recognizing that he is placing himself under the care of the under shepherds. I'm not aware of any form of the confession that questions the chapter of Lawful Oaths and Vows and it's wording:
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