We’ve covered what membership is and what is required but I also want to briefly mention the privileges of membership, of being counted, “in the number.”
The first is the affirmation that, as far as the elders can discern, you really do belong the Lord and He to you. It’s easy to underestimate the encouragement of this.
The second is related to it, that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is something in which you should participate. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 11 that the Lord’s Supper is only for those who participate in union and communion with Christ by faith, and who are in union and communion with the body of Christ which is his church. We don’t bar people from other denominations from taking the Lord’s Supper but we do ‘fence the table' with words like this, “this is for you if you’re a member in a Bible-believing gospel-proclaiming church.” Because the Lord’s Supper is only for professing believers and the validity of such a profession is tied to a group of elders affirming that you are, in fact, a believer, and because Paul connects union and communion with Christ to union and communion with his church, therefore we tie the Lord’s Supper to membership. So, taking the Lord’s Supper is another privilege of membership.
Another privilege connected to membership is baptism. We don’t believe that baptism saves. We don’t believe baptism cleanses anyone of sin. Only Jesus saves. Only his blood cleanses. That is exactly the promise that is signified and pictured in baptism as one is visibly marked out as belonging to the Lord. It doesn’t give faith but calls for faith, and we baptize because the Jesus who saves commanded us to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For adults who profess faith in Christ for the first time and haven’t yet been baptized, we would baptize them when they become publicly received members of the church. For believers who have children, or for one believing parent of children, we would encourage but not require them to at some point have their children baptized.
We do this because God has always related to believers and their children in a special way. In the Old Testament, when, in Paul’s words, the gospel was proclaimed and good news promised to Abraham, the sign he was given and commanded to give to his children was the sign of circumcision. This visibly marked them out as belonging to the Lord and pointed to the promise of grace, by faith, in the Lord. This did not give the adults or their children saving faith. The Old Testament is filled with circumcised men who rejected God. Rather, circumcision called for saving faith in the Lord who claimed them all as His own.
In the New Testament, when the gospel was proclaimed to all nations at the day of Pentecost, Peter uses the same language of gospel promise to Abraham and connects it to a new sign of that promise, saying, “Acts 2:38-39 Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."
Put yourself in 1st century Jewish shoes for a moment. You were circumcised as a child, and as you grew up you placed your faith in God’s coming Messiah. Now you are a parent of circumcised children. The promise was for them, and they received the sign of that promise. You’ve never trusted in their circumcision to save them but have reminded them of their need to believe God’s promise of grace and cleansing held out in circumcision. Now Messiah has come, and because his blood has been shed, the new sign is a bloodless sign, and the promise of grace is still, in Peter’s words “for you and for your children,”…now, unless you hear otherwise, I would argue that the only conclusion you can come to is that God is going to continue to mark out believers and their children with baptism just like he used to with circumcision.
The New Testament supports this line of reasoning. For example, nowhere in the New Testament do you see instruction or commands barring children of believers from receiving the new sign just like they did the old sign. Rather, you see among all the adult baptisms, “household” baptisms in the book of Acts that would easily fit this pattern. You also see Paul refer to children of believers as “holy” in 1 Corinthians 7 - not “holy” as in “saved,” by “holy” as in "marked out as belonging to the Lord" because of even just one parent’s saving faith in Christ.
There’s also something that is striking as you read the New Testament and it is this – baptism is not at all a 'big deal' when pretty much every other difference between Jew and Gentile was. If my Baptist friends are right, here’s what I would expect - lots of confusion and discussion, maybe even anger, over a significant change in the way God relates to children of believers. If all your life you’ve regarded your children as part of the visible people of God, marked out as His by a sign of His promise, and then one day Peter preaches a sermon and now you are to regard your children as no longer part of the people of God, not belonging to His visible people, not a recipient of the promise and not a recipient of the sign of that promise, I, for one, would expect such a change to be a topic of discussion everywhere in the New Testament, but baptism of believers and their children is simply a non-issue. Silence doesn’t resolve the argument for infant baptism, but I do think it is a powerful support to the overall argument that there’s continuity in how God relates to and marks out his visible Old Testament and his New Testament church which consists of believers and their children.
So, the privileges of membership include affirmation, participation in the sacraments and also a voice and a vote. Being Presbyterian, many of the decisions made as to the worship and work of the church are simply made by the elders elected to make them. Other decisions are brought before the congregation for information, for feedback, and for vote.
In terms of information, every once in a while as a member you’ll be asked to stay after a worship service for an announcement. In general, this will be an announcement related to a church discipline process the session feels the members should know about. In terms of feedback, our members are asked to attend our annual congregational meeting to review a proposed budget, ask questions and give input. In terms of voting, members nominate and vote for men for the offices of elder and deacon, and that includes the calling of senior and associate pastoral staff.