And yet, Spurgeon refused to compromise his ecclesiological convictions for pragmatic conveniences. Rather, throughout his ministry, he pursued meaningful, regenerate church membership. In doing so, his church became an engine for gospel-ministry all around the world. In the February edition of The Sword and the Trowel , Spurgeon provides this six-step description of their membership process:. With so many applying for membership, Spurgeon refined and made this process more efficient over the years, but never in a way that compromised the thorough and careful consideration of every person coming into membership.
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In bringing these people into membership, Spurgeon was concerned not simply to have people on the church rolls, but making sure that these people were continuing in their profession of faith. Let us not keep names on our books when they are only names. Certain of the good old people like to keep them there, and cannot bear to have them removed; but when you do not know where individuals are, nor what they are, how can you count them?
They are gone to America, or Australia, or to heaven, but as far as your roll is concerned they are with you still.
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Is this a right thing? It may not be possible to be absolutely accurate, but let us aim at it… Keep your church real and effective, or make no report. A merely nominal church is a lie. Let it be what it professes to be. Upon joining the church, members were given a communion card, divided by perforation into twelve numbered parts, one of which was to be delivered every month at the communion.
In each of these cases, this enabled the church to work towards meaningful membership either by providing better care and discipleship, or by removing those members from the membership. Because each candidate needed to appear before the congregation and be approved by the congregation, congregational meetings became an essential part of the life of the church. With the exception of the annual meeting in January, congregational meetings at the Tabernacle were almost entirely devoted to membership matters.
And these meetings could last a long time. In the church minute books, on May 18, , there is recorded a congregational meeting in which 42 candidates appeared before the church, each giving testimony to their conversion. Of course, these long meetings could not be sustained in the long-term and so the congregation began to fit in shorter meetings whenever they had the opportunity, sometimes before and after a Bible study or prayer meeting of the church. On one occasion, between the March and April communion services of , the church held twelve congregational meetings and welcomed 93 members at the following communion.
No, these meetings were meant to be edifying. They were an important part of the discipleship of the church, complementing the Word ministry of the church. In those meetings, the congregation gained a vision for the power of God to save and of their role in bringing the gospel to the lost.
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When Spurgeon first began at the New Park Street Chapel, the church only recognized the offices of pastor and deacons. However, as the church grew, the work of caring for the spiritual and temporal needs of the congregation became too much for the deacons to handle alone. And so, in at a January congregational meeting, Spurgeon made a biblical case for the office of elder, dedicated to the spiritual care of the church, and so the following motion was passed:. Whereupon it was resolved that the Church having heard the statement made by its pastor respecting the office of the eldership desires to elect a certain number to serve the church in the office for one year.
It being understood that these brethren are to attend to the spiritual affairs of the Church and not to the temporal matters which appertain to the deacons only. From that time on, each year the congregation would appoint elders to labor alongside Spurgeon in the spiritual care of the congregation.
The seeing of enquirers, the visiting of candidates for church membership, the seeking out of absentees, the caring for the sick and troubled, the conducting of prayer-meetings, catechumen and Bible-classes for the young men — these and other needed offices our brethren the Elders discharge for the church. One Elder is maintained by the church for the especial purpose of visiting our sick poor, and looking after the church-roll, that this may be done regularly and efficiently.
Spurgeon lamented that most of the Baptist churches of his day did not have the office of elder and encouraged them to follow the NT pattern in this way. An accurate membership roll was not a goal in and of itself. Rather, Spurgeon understood that a congregation full of people who genuinely loved Jesus and believed the gospel was an army that could shake the world. What odd notions people have of joining the church.
Many a young man joins a rifle corps. When he joins the church, where is he? We have the distinguished honour of having the names of many young gentlemen on our books. But where are they?
What are they doing? There is not a nettle in the corner of the churchyard without its virtues; there is not a spider in the world but has its web to spin; and there is no man in the world but has something to do for the cause of Christ, which nobody else can do but himself.
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Complete Works of Charles Haddon Spurgeon Series
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