Church Membership: A Treatise (1)

Issue:

A group, which appears to be heavily influenced by a man named Bojidar Marinov, has effectively denied the Reformed doctrine of local church membership. This proceeding set of articles is in response to Marinov’s writings (which were in response to Jeff Durbin, pastor of Apologia Church in Phoenix, AZ), and general discussion on the topic. This series of articles will seek to: First, examine Marinov’s position. Second, to provide a biblical case for local church membership over against Marinov’s views. Third, examine certain voices of the Reformation over against Marinov’s views. Fourth, analyze Marinov’s interpretation of the Westminster Confession of Faith in order to determine its validity.


What Has Been Denied?

The Reformed doctrine of church membership has been denied by the parties in question. By Reformed doctrine, I do not mean to say that any and all versions or aspects of church membership have been denied, but that the Reformed doctrine of church membership has been made incomplete by the offenders—by them denying local church membership as an obligation from Scripture.

The Reformed position on church membership that I will be presenting throughout this treatise is to be seen in light of three spheres of source material. First, Scripture is to be primally considered. Second, the writings of various Reformation authors will be considered. Third, the Westminster Confession of Faith will be analyzed in front the background of Scripture and  contextual Reformation discourse, both of which formed the bed upon which the Confessions currently lay. For now, however, Bojidar Marinov’s position needs to be set forth properly.

Thus, when asking what, exactly, has been denied, it is to be affirmed that Marinov has denied: (1) obligational accountability to local church elders and congregational members; (2) the God-ordained right held by the elders, pastors, or bishops, to discipline wayward members of their local congregations, in obedience to Christ’s words; and (3) a biblically prescribed system of accountability germane to a local, rather than a universal, congregation.

The thrust of the denial lies in the contention that Scripture does not teach local church covenants. Marinov writes:

Nowhere else in the Bible is there anything to suggest any form of special covenantal commitment to a local body that is different, separate from, or superadded to the Covenant of Grace made with the universal church in general, in baptism.

Marinov apparently identifies church covenants with local church membership. He writes, just prior to the above quote:

Contrary to what many assume, Presbyterianism allows for much more liberty when it comes to ecclesiastical forms—and we will see later that modern Presbyterian denominations differ substantially in their view of church government and membership. As to Baptists, they are confessionally bound to a very specific view of church membership, by their own Confession.

Marinov’s View of 1689 Ecclesiology

In light of the above, it is quite apparent that Marinov believes the 2nd London Confession to be out of step with the Scriptures. In fact, he says, “The [1689] Confession doesn’t offer a single Biblical verse which plainly teaches such ‘command.’ Later Baptist theologians admit that there is no such Biblical verse.” Marinov, therefore, believes the 1689 is wont for a biblical proof of its proposed church polity.

Marinov explicitly says that the 2nd London Confession deviated from Scripture and placed a “burden” on Baptist Christians. He writes:

That is why, when it comes to chapter 26, all “confessional” Baptist ministers become half-confessional: confessional only when they need to impose the burden of “membership” on their members, but silent when they must prove their authority is legitimate. In the final account, it is one’s media presence and influence that only “legitimizes” a minister—and this is where the origin of the modern celebrity worship is.

Local church membership is seen to be a vehicle for ungodly Christian celebritism and an unbiblical burden which has been wrongly laid upon the shoulders of Baptist Christians. To be clear, Marinov thinks that the 2nd London Confession has established an illogical dogma, called local church membership. He believes this is illogical, and therefore a-theological, for two reasons. First, he thinks that 26.8 of the Confession teaches that elders, pastors, or bishops are what makes a church a church. After quoting the said article, he says:

The existence of elders in the church makes it legitimate. But how are they chosen? How do we know that certain particular elders are legitimate, and therefore their particular church is legitimate? How do we know that Jeff Durbin is a legitimate elder whose ministry makes the church legitimate?

Because of his interpretation of the Confession, he is left asking the above questions, and if his interpretation is correct, then those questions are rightly asked. He says. “Here’s the argument [from the LBCF]: You must join a local church. You will know it is a local church if it has elders. If it doesn’t have elders, it can appoint to itself elders, and thus will be a local church.”

If the elders are supremely what makes a church, who validates those elders? If we say, “Christ!” we fall into a micro-version of Romanism where the pastor essentially has infallible knowledge of his place as leader. This seems unbiblical to the core. Second, Marinov thinks that local church membership is foreign to both biblical and historical theology. As quoted above, Marinov does not believe there to be one place in Scripture where local church membership may be deduced. Moreover, he denies that the Reformed position, largely based on his interpretation of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), ever held to such a view of local church membership. While it may be within the individual Christian’s liberty to seek membership at a local church, it’s not a binding commandment per Scripture. His problem with what he believes to be 1689 ecclesiology is best summed up in his own words:

Problem: Before it has elders, is it a church? If it is, why does the Confession say otherwise? If it is not—because it doesn’t have elders—what are you joining, and why?

Conclusion

In the next article, I will examine a biblical case for 1689 church polity, considering what the entirety of the Confession says about the church in light of God’s holy Word. Next, I will bring to bear Reformational thought on church government. Lastly, I will look at the Westminster Confession of Faith in order to examine whether or not that confession sanctions Marinov’s view, or whether it merely omits significant ecclesiological data.

Go to part (2).

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