Order of Contents
The Nature of
Establishing of Particular Churches
On Ethical Obligations of Members
Lay-Persons may Preach Privately
May One Ocassionally Attend other Churches on the Lord’s Day? Yes
Is One Absolutely Obliged to Attend Mid-Week Services? No
Is Habitual Non-Attendance Sinful? Yes
May One Absent Themselves or Leave a Local Church due to the
. Necessities of Providence? Yes
May One Attend a Different Church than One’s Family if One’s Soul is being
. Famished? Yes
Must Infants & Young Children Attend the Service Every Single Week,
. Absolutely? No
Rutherford, Samuel – A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline… (London, 1658), bk. 1
Flavel, John – ‘A Double Scheme, or Table of the Sins & Duties Attaching to Church Membership’ in Works (London: Baynes, 1820), vol. 6, pp. 586-89
Brown of Haddington, John – Letters on the Constitution, Government & Discipline of the Christian Church 2nd ed. (d. 1787; Edinburgh: 1799)
Letter 18, ‘Of Scandals & Discipline’
Letter 19, ‘Of Church-Fellowship & Separation’
Skinner was the pastor of Fifth Presbyteiran Church in Philadelphia.
Smyth, Thomas – ’12 Rules for Promoting Harmony Among Church Members’ ed. Andrew Myers from Smyth, Works, vol. 5, Manual
Smyth was a southern presbyterian pastor in Charleston, SC.
Cunningham, William – ‘The Place of Church Members in Acts 15’ 5 pp. from his Historical Theology, (1863), vol. 1, p. 54 ff.
Cunningham was a professor of the Free Church of Scotland.
Dale, Ralph W. – The Duties of Church Members. Address... Ref (1891)
Dale was an English congregationalist.
Burns, Simeon – ‘Duties & Privileges of Church Members’ unkown date, 2013 Banner of Truth website, also published in the Gospel Standard, 2012
Burns was an English Particular baptist pastor “many years ago”.
Kayser demonstrates the Biblical obligation of church membership.
Kayser shows that faithful attendance at public worship is a Biblical obligation.
Burns, Jabez – Hints to Church Members on the Duties & Responsibilities of Christian Fellowship New ed. (London: Houlston & Wright, 1860) 36 pp.
This in general is good and has an emphasis on personal religion.
McGraw, Ryan & Ryan Speck – Is Church Membership Biblical? (Cultivating Biblical Godliness) Buy (RHB, 2015) 32 pp.
Eshcol: a Cluster of the Fruit of Canaan brought to the Borders, for the Encouragement of the Saints Travelling Thither-ward, with their Faces Towards Syon. Or, Rules of Direction for the Walking of the Saints in Fellowship, according to the Order of the Gospel. Collected & Explained for the Use of the Church at Coggeshall (London, 1648) 130 pp. This is also in Owen’s Works, vol. 13.
This work may be read in the following modern abridgments:
Duties of Christian Fellowship: A Manual for Church Members in the Puritan Paperback Series Buy (Banner of Truth, 2017) 96 pp.
Rules for Walking in Fellowship Buy (RHB, 2014) 128 pp.
Plumer, William – Manual for the Members of the Presbyterian Church of Petersburg, Virginia… (Petersburg, VA: 1833) 50 pp.
These letters on practical and Church themes are excellent.
Smyth, Thomas – Manual for the Use of the Members of the Second Presbyterian Church, Charelston ToC in Complete Works of Rev. Thomas Smyth ed. J. Flinn (Columbia, SC: 1908), vol. 5, pp. 11-158
James, John Angell – Christian Fellowship, or the Church Member’s Guide ed. J.O. Choules (Boston: 1830) ToC
James was a British congregationalist pastor.
Mack, Wayne & Dave Swavely – Life in the Father’s House: a Member’s Guide to the Local Church Buy (P&R, 2006) 277 pp.
The Nature of & Qualifications to Church Membership
Rutherford’s Distinctions & Conclusions
The Due Right of Presbyteries... (London, 1644), pt. 1
Whether all, and every true believer must join himself to a particular visible congrega∣tion, which has independently power of the keys within itself, God offering opportunity, if he would be saved?
1. There is a necessity of joining ourselves to a visible Church, but it is not necessitas medii, but necessitas praecepti, it is not such a necessity as all are damned who are not within some visible Church, for Augustine is approved in this, there be many wolves within the Church, and many sheep without; but if God offer opportunity, all are obliged by God his commandment of confessing Christ before men, to join themselves to the true visible Church.
2. There is a fellowship with the visible Church internal, of hidden believers; in the Romish Babel this is sufficient for sa∣vation, necessitate medii, but though they want opportunity to join themselves to the Reformed visible Churches, yet do they sin in the want of a profession of the truth and in not witnessing against the Antichrist, which is answerable to an adjoining of themselves to a visible Church; And so those who do not profess the Faith of the true visible Church, God offering opportunity, deny Christ before men, and this external fellowship is necessary to all, necessitate praecepti, though our Lord graciously pardon this as an infirmity in his own, who for fear of cruel persecution, often dare [not to?] confess Christ.
3. The question is not whether all ought to join themselves to a visible Church, God offering occasion, but, if all ought by Christ’s command, to join themselves to the churches independent of their visible congregations, if they would be saved? our [congregationalist] Brethren affirm it, we deny it.
1. An adjoining to a visible Church either formally to be a member thereof, or materially, confessing the Faith of the true visible Church, God offering occasion, is necessary to all.
2. When God offers opportunity, all are obliged to join themselves to a true visible Church:
1. Because God has promised his presence to the Churches as his Son walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks, Rev. 2:2.
2 Because faith comes by hearing a sent preacher, Rom. 10:4.
3. Separation from the true visible Church is condemned, Heb. 10:24; Jude 19; 1 Jn. 2:19.
4. Good men esteem it a rich favor of God to lay hold on the skirt of a Jew, Zech. 8:23, and to have any communion, even as a door keeper in God’s House, and have desired it exceedingly and complained of the want thereof, Ps. 84:10, vv. 1-2; Ps. 27:4; 42:1-4; Ps. 63:1-2.
3. Our [congregationalist] brethren… err, who hold all to be obliged, as they would be saved, to join to such a visible congregation of independent jurisdiction, as they conceive to be the only true Church visible instituted by Christ.
Local Church Membership is Not Necessary to being Part of the Visible Church
Ch. 25, section 2
“The visible church, which is also catholick or universal under the gospel, (not confined to one nation, as before under the law,) consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion,[b] together with their children;[c] and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ,[d] the house and family of God,[e]…
Rutherford, Samuel – A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline… (London, 1658), bk. 1
ch. 22, ‘Whether profession makes a member of the Church visible. So Mr. Hooker’, pp. 122-28
The Due Right of Presbyteries… (London, 1644), pt. 2, ch. 4, section 5
“We hold all who profess faith in Christ to be members of the visible Church, though they be not members of a visible congregation, and that the seals of the Covenant [of Grace] should not be denied to them.”
“Now not to be in membership of such a particular congregation is not a sin, nor a just ground of Paul’s estrangement of his ministerial power from them [as the congregationalists would have it], it may be caused by persecution when the flock are scattered by wolves.”
“As for schismatics who only for schism are out of the Church, and do hold no erroneous point of doctrine, and are not yet convinced [convicted by a church court], they are yet members of the visible Church, as Morton says from Gerson (Morton, Apologia de no•is R•cl., ch. 2, •at. 1, p. 7), as also Glorianus (lib. de schismat., p. 181); but he who is casten out as a schismatic, is in the same case with an excommunicate[d] person.”
Sundry London Ministers
The Divine Right of Church Government… (1645; 1654; 1844), pt. 2, ch. 10, section II
“Then finally, it is possible to be a believer and yet in no visible church (for Independents hold there is no church but a particular congregation, which is their only church); but a man is no sooner a true believer, but he is a member of the invisible Church: he is no sooner a professed believer, but he is a member of the general visible Church, though he be joined to no particular congregation.”
in Question 2, ‘Concerning Private Members’, pp. 257-8 of A Vindication of the Essence & Unity of the Church catholic, Visible, & the Priority Thereof in Regard of Particular Churches, in Answer to the Objections made Against it… (London, 1650)
“1. Particular converts are first converted into the Church-catholic entitive, and secondarily conjoined into particular consociations, for the more opportune enjoyment of ordinances actually and constantly.
2. Every member of a particular congregation is a member of the Church-catholic entitive, and that relation does primarily belong unto him.
3. External profession of the true faith and subjection to God’s ordinances is enough to make a man capable of being a member of the Church-catholic visible, and so also of a particular congregation, quoad externam formam [as far as the external form].
4. By baptism members are visibly and ministerially admitted into the Church-catholic visible.
5. By excommunication rightly administered, an offender is cast out of the Church-catholic visible, as much as out of a particular congregation.
6. Federal holiness belongs to none primarily because [they are] born of members of a particular congregation, but [rather as they are] of the Church-catholic.
7. They that are only in the Church-catholic visible are not ‘without’ in the apostle’s sense [1 Cor. 5:12].
8. Children of believing parents have right to baptism, though their parents were not members of any particular congregation, and [they] are debarred from their due if [they are] denied it.
9. Every visible believer is or ought to be a member of the particular Church wherein and among whom he dwells. [This ought to be qualified by regular circumstances conducing to edification.]
10. The being in the general Covenant [of Grace] gives right to the ordinances, and not any particular covenant; neither do we find any mention in Scripture of any particular covenant either urged or used at admission of members into a particular congregation, or at the constitution thereof.
11. The invisible members of the Church which have internal communion with Christ are also visible members and have external communion in external ordinances.
12. The departure of a member from a particular congregation and removal to another for convenience or by necessity is no sin; but departing from the Church-catholic, and ceasing to be a member thereof, is a sin.”
The Want of Church-Government… (London, 1650), p. 28 Jeanes was an English presbyterian.
“We distinguish of admission: It is either negative or positive; negative, is nothing else but a non-hinderance; and though there be no eldership, the minister may not hinder those whom he has no power, I mean no lawful authority to hinder. Now the minister singly by himself has no authority to hinder, keep back, or cast out scandalous persons: for so the power of jurisdiction would be seated in him alone.
But now secondly, there is an admission that is positive, judicial, and implies a previous forensical examination by the eldership, as of the parties admitted, so sometimes of witnesses, and authoritative declaration of fitness: And this is to be only in collegio presbyteriali, in the college of presbyters, and properly as they are in court, but not seperatim [separated], and out of court.
Now I conceive that this juridical and authoritative admission is not of absolute necessity unto administration of the Lord’s Supper. By baptism the baptized are admitted or entered into the Church-visible, 1 Cor. 12:13, ‘By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.’ See Rutherford in his Due Right of Presbyteries, [pt. 1, ch. 9, section 9, point 7] p. 254[-55]. Now in some cases the Lord’s Supper may be administered unto those of years that are baptized without any new authoritative judicial admission of the eldership.
First, this may be gathered from Acts 2:41-42. Those three thousand souls whose baptism is mentioned, verse 41, have their receiving of the Lord’s Supper recorded, verse 42, and there is not a word of any juridical admission of them by the eldership coming between their baptism and their receiving of the Lord’s Supper.”
What is a Profession of Faith Sufficient for Church Membership?
Rutherford, Samuel – 3rd Conclusion, pp. 251-255 of Ch. 9, Section 9, ‘Of the Addition of Members to the Church’ in The Due Right of Presbyteries... (1644), pt. 1
“3rd Conclusion. A visible profession of the truth and doctrine of godliness is that which essentially constitutes a visible church, and every member of the visible church;
Only our [Independent] Brethren and we differ much about the nature of this profession which is required in members added to the Church. Our Brethren will have none members of the visible Church, but such as are satisfactory to the consciences of all the visible church, and give evidences so clear, as the judgement of discerning men can attain unto, that they are truly regenerated.
We again do teach that the scandalously wicked are to be cast out of the Church by excommunication, and these of approved piety are undoubtedly members of the visible Church, so these of the middle sort are to be acknowledged members of the Church, though the Church have not a positive certainty of the judgement of charity that they are regenerated, so they be known: 1. to be baptized, 2. that they be free of gross scandals, 3. and profess that they be willing hearers of the doctrine of the Gospel.
Such a profession as gives evidences to the positive certainty of the judgment of charity, of sound conversion, is not required to make and constitute a true, visible-Church.”
The Due Right of Presbyteries… (1644), pt. 2, pp. 231-32
“‘But’ (says he [John Robinson, a Separatist]) ‘the bare profession of fundamentals makes not a Church; they must be a company of faithful people, and if they must not be truly faithful, then they must be falsely faithful; for God requires true and ready obedience in his word, according to which we must define Churches, and not according to casual things.’
[Rutherford’s] Answer: This is a special ground that deceives the Separatists, their ignorance (I mean) of the visible Church, for the visible Church consists essentially neither of such as be truly faithful, nor of such as must be falsely faithful; for the ignorant man sees not that the visible Church includes neither faith, nor unbelief in its essence or definition.
It is true, to the end that professors may be members of the invisible Church, they must be believers, and must believe, except they would be condemned eternally; but to make them members of the visible Church, neither believing nor unbelieving is essential, but only a profession ecclesiastically intear[?], that is not scandalous & visibly & apparently lewd and flagitious, such as was the profession of Simon Magus when he was baptized with the rest of the visible Church, Acts 8.
And God indeed requires of us true worship and ready obedience, as he says, but not that a visible Church should be defined by true and sincere obedience: for essentials only are taken in a definition, and casual corruptions are only accidental to Churches and fall out through men’s faults, and therefore should not be in the definition either of a visible or an invisible Church; nor should ready and sincere obedience which is a thing invisible to men’s eyes be put in the definition of a visible Church, for it is accidental to a visible Church, and nothing invisible can be essential to that which essentially is visible; the visible Church is essentially visible.”
A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker… wherein the way of the churches of N. England is now re-examined (London, 1658), Book 1, ch. 14,
Ch. 15, pp. 67-8
“Mr. [Thomas] Hooker: ‘…But these three [qualifications are] assigned by Mr. Rutherford [in order to be accepted as a member of the Church]: 1. To profess the Faith; 2. Eagerly to desire the Seals; 3. To desire Church-fellowship, counting it a disparagement not to be born again, if not admitted to the Sacraments, [yet all this] may agree to a drunkard [according to Hooker].’
Answer: …if the [drunkard] man be a born heathen, and shall come to get these three requisites, and profess as Magus did, he is to be received a member: but if he hath not these three requisites, for he lives in sorcery, as Magus and Elymas, and opposeth the Gospel, the openly lying profession is scandalous; such a profession Mr. Rutherford saith is not his requisites:
If he be a pagan, and continue in habitual drunkenness, he may be holden out while he gives evidences to others of amendment, and then he may be admitted to the outer court, as a hearer; though a profession of faith, if not belied with worshipping of false gods, can hardly consist with paganism [and hence he is part of the visible Church in some way and should therefore be a member of a church].”
“…yea I teach that the profession of Demas, Magus, doth not notify that they are true believers: And though visible profession should notify true faith, it is not necessary that it must offer to judicious charity such overweighing evidences as the Church cannot lawfully admit Magus a member, but they must first positively judge him a real convert; and the like John must judge of all Jewry whom he baptized.”
“First Argument [of Rutherford]: In the first receiving of members by the apostles, there was but a professed willingness to receive the Gospel, howbeit some received it not from the heart.
Mr. Hooker answereth: ‘There was not only a professed willingness, but a practical reformation, that in the judgement of charity giveth grounds of hope that there is something real, before the contrary appear; Therefore, Peter who received Magus upon his approbation of the truth and outward conformity thereunto in the course of his life, rejected him as one in the gall of bitterness, who had no share in Christ, and therefore certainly would not suffer him in the privileges of communion, so persisting without repentance.’
[Rutherford’s] Answer 1: [Hooker says:] ‘Not professed willingness, but also practical reformation is required.’ But is not professed willingness in murderers of Christ, who said, ‘What shall we doe to be saved?’ some practical reformation? There is nothing but conjectures that the apostles did not admit all and every one of the three thousand until they had experience of their state of grace and judicially determined so of them all.
([Margin note:] Mr. Hooker neither proves, nor can prove that the apostles had habitual experience in so few hours, all and every one of the 3,000 (Acts 2) gave evidence of real conversion to the apostles.)
(2). This practical reformation was not an experience of their practice of savory walking, required by Mr. Hooker (p. 1. ch. 2, pp. 14-15) in visible saints before admission, except some four or five hours time may create an habitual experience, for the same very day they were baptized (Acts 2:41).
(3) Mr. Hooker should prove that the apostles found this practical reformation in all, Ananias, Saphira, and the whole 3000; and that the apostles tried and smelled the savouriness of saving grace in all; in Saphira; the text giveth not the least jot of this, we must take it upon the naked assertion of Mr. Hooker
(4) That this practical reformation gave to the apostles’ judgement of charity ground of hope that there was something real, that is, the whole number, about three thousand (none excepted, for all were made Church-saints visible) gave grounds of hope that they were all really (otherwise their speaking and hearing the word was real, that is, not imaginary) internally and effectually called, and born over again of the spirit, and so chosen to life eternal from eternity, before the apostles durst, without the offending of God, admit them to Church-fellowship and visible communion; those [things] (I say) must be proven. If I durst [dare], I am not far from judging the godly and judicious in cold-blood, free of heat of dispute, dare not so judge of the text, Acts 2 or Acts 8.
(5) There is no shadow, Acts 8, that Peter (Mr. Hooker should say Philip) admitted not Magus while he saw such grounds of the sorcerer’s real conversion and real predestination to glory.
(6) Peter said that Magus had no share in Christ. True, but said he that he was an unbaptized man who had no share in the visible Church? No.
(7) But he would not suffer Magus to share in the privileges of communion, he persisting without repentance.
True, but it is no answer to the argument from the manner of receiving in, this is something to the casting out, (8) that Peter reproveth him in the gall of bitterness [and] 2. Exhorts him to repent, to pray for pardon, [these last two things] were great privileges of Church-communion bestowed upon Magus.”
“Only we observe that the Independents here go farther from the Reformed Churches, both in the strictness, and in the loosness of their satisfactions. The Brownists [separatists] are satisfied with the signs of personal grace, but the Independents require more: they proceed to a trial by a long conversation of the sociable and complying disposition of the person to be admitted with the spirits of the whole Church whereof he is to be a member; without this suitableness of spirit they will reject them whom otherwise they find to be saints.
But their chief excess here is in looseness. The Brownists will not dispense with known errors and sins in the members; they will not admit of Anabaptists, of proud, luxurious, contentious people. If they find any such to have crept in among them, they profess their judgement is for their casting out by censures.
But the Independents will here be more wise for the increase of their party: and however they will have nothing to do with presbyterians, nor with such people who can live in their confused congregations, yet they make it their rule to hold out none for any error that is not fundamental, nor for any sin that is not continued in against conscience; walking according to this rule they swallow down without trouble the small gnats of Anabaptism and all other sects, who err not fundamentally and obstinately, and against conscience: How many sectaries are thus far guilty, who can determine? The little spot of luxury in apparel, in diet, and many fleshly delights, of strife, of disdainful railing, and such other faults (as are too common in their members) are of easy disgestion.”
That Recognizing a Credible Profession of Faith does not Entail Presuming Regeneration, & does a Credible Profession give a Proper Right to Church Membership & the Sacraments?
Rutherford, Samuel – Book 1, ch. 22, ‘Whether profession makes a member of the Church visible?’ in A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline Penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker (1658)
Rutherford is arguing against the New England divine, Thomas Hooker, a congregationalist, who held that the judging of a credible profession of faith entails accounting the person to be a regenerate Christian.
“…when the Gospel is come to a people, if the question be, what gives to this man, not to this man true real right to membership, and ordinances, and seals, so as he may claim them before God and not sin: the meritorious right is Christ’s death, the condition upon his part is faith; hence visible profession as such cannot give right…
Profession is in order to the rulers and members of the Church, which have hand according to their place, either formal or tacit consent, to receive in members… the question is, what profession is required in such as the rulers may without sin admit to membership and ordinances; we say a profession morally true, not real conversion judged to be real by men.
Now this confession or profession doth not make a Church-member, but declare a Church-member, and it only declares him to the conscience of the rulers, that they sin not in admitting such: but declares him neither to have right before God nor to his own conscience. Yea, for all this profession [Simon] Magus sinned in being baptized, Magus usurped, and hath no true and real right, no not ecclesiastic, except in a most unproper sense; [yet] the Church hath right and command to receive him to member membership and seals…” – p. 123
On the Establishing of Particular Churches
How may Local Churches be Established?
A Dissuasive from the Errors of the Time, wherein the Tenets of the Principal Sects, Especially of the Independents, are Drawn Together in One Map (1645), ch. 6, p. 107 Baillie objects to the below.
“In New England at the erection of a new [congregationalist] Church, they are content with the presence both of the magistrate and ministers of the neighbor churches, but they declare that neither is necessary, and that the presence of either gives no authority to the action, and the absence of both detracts no authority from it. That the whole power to gather a congregation and to erect a church is alone in the covenanting persons.”
A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker… wherein the way of the churches of N. England is now re-examined (London, 1658), p. 190
“Its a wide mistake that a presbyterian Church has its formal essence from a voluntary, actual combination in such bounds, or such a circuit more or less. That is not a pillar of presbyterian Churches.
For their near association, by dwelling where they may edify or scandalize one another, gives them right to be an associated Church; not simply habitation, but the habitation of such and such professors in covenant with God, baptized and giving themselves up in profession to Christ as disciples, before there be a formal consent, they are obliged to associate: yea, nor does that voluntary combination make a presbyterial Church.”
John Coffey, Politics, Religion & the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford, p. 204. HT: Andrew Myers
“It should not surprise us, therefore, that in the [Westminster] Assembly debates, Rutherford and Gillespie sided with the English Independents on several points where they disagreed with the English Presbyterians. As liturgical practice was concerned, the Scottish radicals agreed with the Independents on the value of extemporary prayer, and the dangers of a fixed liturgy.70 Rutherford also opposed those who favoured a system of rigidly fixed congregations, with no freedom to seek fellowship outside the parish. He argued that being in the vicinity of a church was not an adequate basis for determining church membership, but that the consent of the people was also necessary. Although he thought that a church covenant was not needed at a local level, he did favor a ‘voluntary agreement’ on the part of the church members in order to form a congregation. [Wayne] Spear suggests that Rutherford’s views may have had something to do with the mildness with which the Assembly treated the gathering of churches.71
70. See above. See also [Robert S.] Paul, Assembly of the Lord, p. 445.
71. Spear, Covenanted Uniformity, pp. 214-17. Paul argues that the Scots ecclesiology ‘in some ways was closer to the Independents’ than to that of the English Presbyterians, who pressed for a simplified form of the traditional English parish. Assembly of the Lord, p. 345. See also p. 209.”
Covenanted Uniformity in Religion: The Influence of the Scottish Commissioners Upon the Ecclesiology of the Westminster Assembly, p. 217. HT: Andrew Myers
“Among the Scottish Commissioners at the Westminster Assembly, Samuel Rutherford was the foremost representative of this type of piety, and in the Assembly debate on fixed congregations, he supported the Independents to some degree. He said that being in the vicinity was not an adequate basis for determining church membership, but that the consent of the people was also necessary. While he rejected the necessity of a church covenant on the local level, he did advocate a “voluntary agreement” on the part of church members in order to form a congregation.1 It may be that his views had something to do with the mildness with which the Assembly treated the gathering of churches.
1. MS, II, fol. 30.”
On a Local Church Covenant: Whether it be Necessary for Membership? No
Rutherford’s Distinctions & a Conclusion
The Due Right of Presbyteries… (London, 1644), pt. 1, ch. 5, Section 5, Proposition 3, Question 6, pp. 84-88
1. There is a Covenant of free grace, betwixt God and sinners, founded upon the surety Christ Jesus, laid hold on by us when we believe in Christ; but a church covenant differenced from this is in question, and sub judice lis est.
2. 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 [state of being in the church] is now questioned.
3. An explicit vocal covenant whereby we bind ourselves to the first three articles [of Congregationalists above in the section] in a tacit way, by entering in a new relation to such a pastor, and to such a flock, we deny not, as if the thing were unlawful, for we may swear to perform God’s commandments, observing all things requisite in a lawful oath. 2. But that such a covenant is required by divine institution, as the essential form of a church and church-membership, as though without this none were entered members of the visible Churches of the apostles, nor can now be entered in Church-state, nor can have right unto the seals of the covenant, we utterly deny.
4. We grant a covenant in baptism which is the seal of our entry unto the visible Church. 2. That it is requisite that such heretics, papists, infidels, as be received as members of our visible Church (from which Papists have fallen, having received baptism from us) do openly profess subjection to God, and his Church, in all the ordinances of God. And that infidels give a confession of their faith before they be baptized. 3. Nor deny we that at the election of a pastor, the pastor and people tie themselves, by reciprocation of oaths, to each other, the one to fulfill faithfully the ministry that he has received of the Lord; the other to submit to his ministry in the Lord; but these reciprocal oaths make neither of them members of a visible Church, for they were that before these oaths were taken.
5. Any professor removing from one congregation to another, and so coming under a new relation to such a church, or such a ministry, is in a tacit and virtual covenant to discharge himself in all the duties of a member of that congregation, but this is nothing for a church-covenant; for when six are converted in the congregation whereof I am a member, or an excommunicated person heartily and unfeignedly repents, there arises a new relation betwixt those converts and the Church of God; and a tie and obligation of duties to those persons greater than was before, as being now members of one mystical and invisible body. Yet our [congregationalist] Brethren cannot say, there is requisite that the church renew their church-covenant towards such…
So when one enters into Covenant with God, and by faith lays hold on the Covenant, there results from that act of taking the Lord to be his God, a covenant-obligation to do duty to all men, as the covenant of God does oblige him… and he is obliged to a duty by that covenant with God to his children, which are not yet born… now it is true a virtual and tacit covenant results toward all these, even toward the beast, the children not yet borne, etc. when the person first by faith enters in Covenant with God; but none master of common sense and judgement will say there is required a vocal and explicit, and professed covenant…
6. I understand not how our brethren do keep Christian and religious communion with many professors of approved piety, and that in private conference, praying together, and publicly praising together, and yet deny to have any church-communion with such approved professors, in partaking with them the seals of the covenant, and censures of the Church. I doubt how they can comfort the feeble minded, and not also warn and rebuke them, which are called acts of Church-censure.
Then the question is not if there be a tacit and virtual covenant when persons become members of such a visible congregation. 2. Nor do we question whether such a church-covenant may be lawfully sworn. We think it may, though to swear the last article [of theirs] not to remove from such a congregation without their consent, I think not lawful, nor is my habitation in such a place a matter of Church-discipline. 3. But the question is if such a church-covenant, by divine or apostolic warrant, not only be lawful, but the necessary and apostolic mean, yea and the essential form of a visible Church; so as without it persons are not members of one visible Church, and want all right and title to a Church-membership, to the seals of grace, and censures of the Church. Our brethren affirm, we deny.
The former considerations being clear, 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.
The Right of Congregational Assent to the Installation of Officers in Ordinary Circumstances
See also our webpage, Patronage.
Patronage was the erroneous historical practice of civil patron’s over-riding the congregational election of officers.
Binnie, William – The Concurrence of Popular Election & Official Ordination, p. 132 ff. 16 pp.
Historical Theology (1863)
vol. 1, ‘Right of the Christian People to Elect Officers in the Early Church’, p. 189 ff. 8 pp.
vol. 2, ‘Popular Election of Office Bearers’, p. 534 ff. 10 pp.
‘The Rights of the Christian People’, pp. 290-470 being ch. 11 of his Discussions on Church Principles (1863)
On the Size of Local Churches
Baillie, in Dissuasive
The Due Right of Presbyteries… (London, 1644), pt. 1, ch. 9, section 9, p. 242
“…and a numerous congregation, we dislike with you [John Cotton, a congregationalist].”
On the Ethical Obligations of Church Members
Lay-Persons may, and ought to, Preach Privately
Institutes (P&R), vol. 3, 18th Topic, Question 23, p. 215
“…the private preaching of the gospel, by which individual believers are bound by the common law of love to teach, to admonish and to lead their brethren and neighbors to faith and salvation; but concerning public preaching with authority, the necessity of which is laid upon those who by a special call are consecrated to the public work of the ministry.”
May One Ocassionally Attend other Churches on the Lord’s Day? Yes
The Presbyterian, Provincial Assembly of London
Jus divinum ministerii evangelici. Or the Divine Right of the Gospel-Ministry… (London, 1654), pt. 2, ch. 1, pp. 11-12
“But would you then have every man bound to keep constantly to the minister under whom he lives?
We are not so rigid as to tie people from hearing other ministers occasionlly, even upon the Lord’s Day. But yet we believe that it is most agreeable to Gospel order upon the grounds forementioned that he that fixes his habitation where there is a godly, able, orthodox minister, should ordinarily wait upon his ministry, and join to that congregation where he dwells rather than to another.”
Is One Absolutely Obliged to Attend Mid-Week Services? No
Section 7, p. 24 of pt. 1, ch. 7 of English Popish Ceremonies (1637)
“Cessation from labor for prayers or preaching on those appointed days of the week [by the Church], at some occasions, may be omitted…
3. …to leave work to come to the ordinary weekly meetings, they are only exhorted… for in one place where his [the bishop’s] antagonist maintains truly that the craftsman cannot be lawfully commanded nor compelled to leave his work and to go to public divine service, except on the day that the Lord has sanctified…
…the 9th Head of the [Scottish] First Book of Discipline, which says: ‘In great towns, we think expedient that every day there be either sermon or common prayers, etc.’ where there is nothing of compulsion or a forcing command; only there is an exhortation.”
Is Habitual Non-Attendance at Public Worship, when within a Person’s Means, Sinful? Yes
A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker… wherein the way of the churches of N. England is now re-examined (London, 1658), Book 3, ch. 1, p. 282-3
“Mr. Hooker [a congregationalist]: ‘It’s a staple rule, no man by nature has an ecclesiastical power over another by constraint; one comes a Christian convert from China, to a country or city where many churches are, none of them can, by the rule of the Gospel, compel him to join with one more than another. He may freely choose what is most suitable to his heart, and may be most to promote his spiritual edification.’
[Rutherford’s] Answer: …The man comes from China acknowledging God in all his ways, as Abraham left his country (Gen. 12); if he be an idolater, they should not lodge him (2 Jn. 10); he comes not as indifferent to be married [the analogy used by congregationalists for joining] to this or this church, or to none at all; as a man sins not if he marry none at all (1 Cor. 7).
But if he be a professor that joins to no Church, he lives scandalously; therefore the adequate cause of membership, or to this membership, is not mutual consent, as in marriage, but both parties are under a command to confess Christ before men; and its a selfish thing to make a man’s own heart the judge and determiner of his membership, and not the churches led by the rule of the Word: and so the Church is obliged to receive him, and he is obliged to join a member, according to Cant. 1:7-8; Mt. 10:32.”
May One Absent Themselves or Leave a Local Church, without Permission from the Church, Due to the Necessities of Providence? Yes
Ashe, Simeon, William Rathband, John Ball et al. – ‘Reply’, pp. 78-82 (irregular numbering) to VI. Position, ‘That None are to be Admitted as Members but they must Promise Not to Depart or Remove Unless the Congregation will give Leave’ of ‘The Reply made unto the Said Answer [of the New England Congregationalist Puritans], & Sent Over unto Them, Anno 1640’ in A Letter of Many Ministers in Old England, Requesting the Judgement of their Brethren in New England Concerning Nine Positions… Together with… (London, 1643)
The VI. Position was that of the novel congregationalist Church-government of the New England puritans. Here the English, conforming, Anglican puritans respond to their arguments. Highly recommended.
The Due Right of Presbyteries… (1644), pt. 2, ch. 4, section 5, pp. 198-99
“God has appointed no lawful calling, such as trafficking by seas and frequent travelling ordinary to transient members of the visible Church, to be inconsistent with the lawful partaking of the ordinances of grace and seals of the Covenant; for only those who do not try and examine themselves, and are prophanely scandalous are excluded, as swine, from the holy things of God and from the Lord’s Supper, not men, because they are necessarily busied in a lawful calling and must ordinarily travel to far countries, and so cannot be members of a single parish:
1. This is a physical impediment and not a sin, nor a moral impediment, excluding any from the seals of grace, yea and [such a prohibition is] an unwritten tradition.
2. I speak against that difference which the author makes, betwixt the seals of grace in the Old Testament and the seals of grace in the New Testament, for there were physical and civil defects in the Old Testament, which by a divine law made some incapable of the Passover, as if any were lepers, bastards, born Moabites and Ammonites, or typically unclean, or had touched the dead, they could not eat the Passover, though otherwise they did believe in Christ to come and were morally clean, but by the contrary under the New Testament, there be no physical or ceremonial defects, no callings, no civil relations, but only moral defects and sinful scandals which do exclude men from the seals of grace, except you bring in ceremonies in the New Testament of your own devising, for all nations, so they believe in Christ, Jew, or Gentile, Barbarian, or Scythian, bond or free, male or female, are to be baptized, Mt. 28:19; ‘God is no accepter of persons,’ or nations, or callings, Acts 10:34-35; compare this with verses 46-47 and Gal. 3:27, ‘For as many of you as have been baptized unto Christ, have put on Christ,’ v. 28, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus;’ so Gal. 6:15, ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.”
I must then say, it is boldness in men to say that there is a lawful calling in the New Testament which our Brethren are pleased to call ‘the strong hand of God’, which makes persons who are new creatures and baptized unto Christ, uncapable of the seales of grace. Dear [congregationalist] Brethren, yield to the clear and evident truth of God.”
A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker... (1658)
“[Rutherford’s] Answer: …no godly visible professors can tie themselves by [a] covenant or oath to exercise the common Christian acts of a church-member only to such a [local-church] society, but in an occasional and providential way: for it is as unlawful to tie Church-worship to one society or place under the New Testament, as it was to tie it of old to Bethel and Gilgal, Hos. 4:15 & 9:14 & 12:11; Amos 4:4, which is a demonstration that a godly professor carries about a soul with him, stands in need of Church-feeding by the Lords Supper and other Church Ordinances in all the Christian world, and that he is to warn, admonish, comfort all Church-members, and to labor to gain a trespassing brother, not of the single congregation only whereof he is a member, Mt. 18, and neither Scriptures, nor sound divinity, nor the Law of Nature (which is not destroyed by the Gospel) will warrant to limit the word, ‘brother’, as Mr. Hooker does, and his Brethren, Mt. 18:15, ‘If thy brother trespass, if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother;’ to a brother only of the congregation of which the offended brother is a member…”
“4. If Providence necessitate him, as he is chased by persecution to one city, and is banished out of that, that he must fly to another, and from that to another, and from that to a third, and is providentially necessitated to have no certain dwelling, as was Abraham and the saints’ case, Heb. 11:37-38; 1 Cor. 4:11, so was Christ’s case, Mt. 8:20…”
A Christian Directory: a Sum of Practical Theology and Cases of Conscience (1673), pt. 3, Christian Ecclesiastics, Question 104, ‘Is a pastor obliged to his flock for life? Or is it lawful so to oblige himself? And may he remove without their consent? And so also of a church-member, the same questions are put.’
“IV. As to the people’s case, it needs no other answer:
1. No member may remove without cause:
2. Nor abruptly and uncharitably to the church’s dissatisfaction, when he may avoid it.
But 3. He may remove upon many just causes (private or public) whether the church and pastors consent or not, so the manner be as becomes a Christian.”
Jackson, John – How Shall Those Merchants Keep up the Life of Religion, who, while at Home, Enjoyed All Gospel-Ordinances, and when Abroad, are not only Destitute of Them, but Exposed to Persecution? Psalm 120:5 being sermon 26 in volume 1 of Puritan Sermons. This Jackson was not the Westminster divine.
May One Attend a Different Church than One’s Family if One’s Soul is being Famished?
The Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), pt. 1, p. 71
“1. I see not how all these arguments [of Thomas Hooker] taken from moral commandments, do not oblige son as well as father, servant as master, all are Christ’s freemen, son or servant, so as they are to obey what ever Christ commands, Mt. 18:10, and with the Spouse to seek Christ in the fullest measure and in all his ordinan∣ces; and son and servant are to know their own heart, so as they have need of all Christ’s ordinances, and are no more to remain in a congregation where their souls are famished because fathers and masters neglect to remove to other congregations where their souls may be fed in the fullest measure; [If the sinful exercise of an authority over us releases us from God’s commandment] then the apostles Acts 4:29 & 5:29 were to preach no more in the name of Jesus, because the rulers commanded them to preach no more in his name.”
Must Infants & Young Children Attend the Service Every Single Week, Absolutely? No
A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline… (London, 1658), bk. 3, ch. 6, p. 343
“9. That this instituted Church is to meet together all of them, even the whole Church for the administration of the holy ordinances of God, to public edification, 1 Cor. 14:27 [as the Independents would have it], is a manifest debarring of infants born within the visible Church from being members of that Church which Christ in his Gospel has instituted, etc., for they are neither capable of convening in one place every Lord’s Day, nor of public edification by prophesying, as is meant, 1 Cor. 14:23…”
When did Public Professions of Faith before the Congregation (as opposed to simply before the Session) & Membership Vows come into the Reformed Churches?
In the Post-Reformation
“Concerning the matter of the Church, the Independents have learned all their unjust scrupulosity from the other; as the Brownists [separatists] require every church member to be a saint, really regenerate and justified, who at their admission have publicly satisfied the whole congregation by convincing signs of their true holiness: the other requires the same.
Whatever indulgence here the Independents profess to give, either to weak ones in whom they find the least of Christ, or to women whom they remit from the congregation to speak more privately in the eldership (yet this is no other than the present practice of the Brownists at Amsterdam.”
Intro to American Presbyterianism
According to the sources below, there were precedents to membership vows (such as public professions of faith before the congregation) in American presbyterianism as early as 1865 and before, due to congregational influence. Such practices were first tolerated, then allowed and then officially held as optional. Finally membership vows were prescribed by church law as a standard practice in the national American presbyterian Church in 1894. This final enactment has been said by Dr. Barry Waugh to be largely due to the competing counter-influence of para-church organizations.
Before this modern practice, presbyterian churches simply had persons desiring membership in a local church privately meet with the session in order to be examined as to their profession of faith. This being accepted by the session as sufficient for membership in the local church, the session may then announce their reception into the church in an appropriate circumstance (outside of worship). The only ‘ritual’ connected with coming into communicant church membership, for American presbyterianism, was for the individual then to proceed to take the Lord’s Supper at that assembly for the first time (which may not happen for a few months, as the Lord’s Supper was often held quarterly).
In the Second Reformation of Scotland, and in that era generally, as Rutherford argues, professing Christians who were not members under the authority of a local session were yet allowed, and should, partake of the Lord’s Supper (as it is a Biblical right), whereas the opposite view and practice (held to by modern presbyterianism) was a distinctive and novel practice of congregationalism during the puritan era.
Peter Wallace, “The Bond of Union”: The Old School Presbyterian Church and the American Nation, 1837-1861 (Notre Dame, 2004), ch. 9
B. The Creation of a New Ritual: Public Profession
But as Presbyterians gradually adopted the New England practice of requiring a personal profession of conversion, they also began adopting the Congregationalist ritual of public profession as well. The Presbyterian Form of Government stated that the session had the power to receive members. Traditionally this had been done by examination. The only public ritual that accompanied the admission of a person to the Lord’s Table was the Lord’s Supper itself. Gradually, however, Presbyterians began to imitate the rite of public profession found in the New England Congregational churches. Predictably, the New School took the lead, but even they were cautious. In 1865, the New School General Assembly declared that new members were received by the vote of the session, and except in the case of new converts who needed to be baptized, no further rite was required. Nonetheless, they permitted sessions to “prescribe a public profession of faith before the whole church as a convenient usage, and for this purpose may employ a church confession and covenant.” But they insisted that these public professions were entirely optional and must never be presented as though this were the real entrance into church membership. The reunited General Assembly of 1872 added that if a session chose to have a public profession for covenant youth it must show a clear distinction from that used for public professions associated with adult baptisms. The Presbyterian church, though influenced by congregational forms, was still intent on keeping the sacrament of baptism distinct from its new rites of public profession.
Moore, Digest 129
Moore, Digest 671-678
But these official developments simply reflected the growing practice of the church. Numerous churches were creating a new ritual in Presbyterian worship–the public profession of faith. But these changes did not come without objections. In 1847 Samuel Miller declared that the practice of receiving members by public profession was “not a child of Presbyterianism, but wholly inconsistent with it, and the real offspring of Congregationalism. . . . The church with us is regulated by the Session, made up of representatives of the church members.” Miller went on to insist that “Our fathers of the Church of Scotland know nothing of the public parade in the middle aisle now so common.”
“Dr. Samuel Miller to the Rev. Smith Sturges,” June 21, 1847, quoted in Samuel Miller, Jr., The Life of Samuel Miller, D.D., LL.D. (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen and Haffelfinger, 1869) II, 485.
Several presbyteries also weighed in on the issue. In 1855 the Presbytery of Elizabethtown in New Jersey wrote a letter to all sessions throughout the Old School, urging them to return to the Presbyterian practice of receiving communicants directly by the session, “without receiving publicly on consenting to a confession read to them.” In 1856 the Presbytery of Cincinnati received a complaint regarding the practice of the Seventh Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati which had permitted the public profession of baptized persons at the same time as the baptism of new converts. One observer commented, “in coming to the ordinance of the Lord’s supper for the first time nothing is required of them in the constitution of the church, but simply, ‘that they shall be examined as to their knowledge and piety.’ That is all.” Indeed, he suggested that anything more communicates the wrong message. He feared that this would “necessarily lead to error in doctrine as well as disorder in practice.” New rituals invariably led to new theology. By introducing the innovation of public profession, Old School Presbyterians were functionally creating a new sacrament.
St Louis Presbyterian 11.45 (May 10, 1855).
Observer, “Unconstitutional Practice in the Church,” PW 16.1 (September 25, 1856).
In 1862 “A True Presbyterian” objected that many Kentucky churches had begun to “ask the member or members received, to stand up in the aisle or pew, and give their assent to certain articles, and make pledges in regard to their future conduct, and avow their sense of the fearful responsibility connected with a public profession of religion.” He argued that this approach placed the focus on the new communicant himself rather than Christ. The session should call him to fix his eyes on Christ as the source of his hope, and not point him to his own profession. Further, it “conveys the impression that the person thus assenting is then and thus introduced into the Church. Whereas, according to the theory of the Presbyterian Church, such an one was ‘engrafted into Christ,’ and partook of the benefits, (to some extent) of the New Covenant, and became members of the visible Church, when baptized.” In addition, he said that such public professions created a new catechism for the church, ignoring the church’s catechisms. The editor, Stuart Robinson, concurred that the practice was foreign to Presbyterian doctrine. He pointed out that the Synod of Kentucky had “formally censured the use of the abbreviated creeds framed by pastors for such purpose” many years before.
A True Presbyterian, “Mode of Admitting Baptized Persons to the Lord’s Supper,” True Presbyterian (June 12, 1862).
Editorial, “Mode of Admitting Baptized Persons to the Lord’s Supper,” True Presbyterian (June 12, 1862).
“In conclusion, the five membership vows used by the PCA were added to the Directory for Worship of the Book of Church Order by the PCUS in response to the growth of parachurch-interdenominational ministries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This has been shown in particular with the addition of vow four that requires a member to support the church. The case was not developed in this brief article, but it is believed that the four vows adopted in 1894 were intended to distinguish church membership in the PCUS as a shepherded, historic, confessional, and evangelistic church from the parachurch, revivalism, and interdenominational churches.”
‘Overture Regarding Voluntary Societies, 1889’ 13 paragraphs
A pastor to an appreciative congregation:
“I know you love me, but I did not die for you.”
John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan