Church membership – that formal, public means of expressing your commitment to a congregation and of that congregation's commitment to you – is an important, in fact a vital, non-negotiable, part of being a Christian. As James Bannerman commented, the New Testament knows nothing of isolated Christians, only Christians who belong to a church. And as a pastor with a need to prioritize my time, I consciously devote more to those who have actually committed to membership at Cornerstone than to those who may attend week by week but for whatever reason will not commit.
Communicant membership should not be undertaken lightly nor in ignorance, and thus many Presbyterian churches hold membership classes. We do ours in a day. One church in Philadelphia runs its membership class over ten weeks. Pruitt takes a little longer, going up to eleven weeks. Why he simply doesn’t make the tenth week louder, I have no idea, but there you go -- must be a hold-over from his Southern Baptist days.
Good materials for membership classes need to do several things. They need to cover the basics of gospel. They need to cover the fundamentals of the Reformed faith. They need to familiarize people with the confessions and catechisms that express the church’s beliefs. And they need to explain the privileges and obligations of church membership, and the basics of church polity. In addition, they also need to give some denominational and congregational history. Yes, the church is universal but she exists in specific local forms; and while the particulars of such may not be of the essence of the faith, they can help the potential member to understand local distinctives and perhaps even eccentricities. Not that the OPC has any such eccentricities. No, never. Well, hardly ever....
Given all this, it is a real pleasure as a pastor to recommend Ken Golden’s new book from Christian Focus, Presbytopia: What it means to be Presbyterian. In this short volume, Ken provides the reader with the basics of the membership classes at his own church, an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation in Iowa. In three basic sections – Christian Essentials, Reformed Distinctives, and Means of Grace – Ken covers all the basics. Then, in two appendices -- a glossary and a sample liturgy -- he offers help for the neophyte in becoming accustomed to the lingo and the services forms of a Reformed church. From a pastor's perspective, this is a most welcome volume. As I noted above, all congregations need to give some particularized history which no general text can cover. But otherwise, this is all one needs.
The book is a superb, inexpensive, easy-to-read resource and one which I imagine we will be using at Cornerstone to help prospective members understand what we are about and why we look and sound the way we do. Highly recommended.