Two-Tiered Membership

Wilson has responded to my post. I don’t feel the need for an extended discussion at this point. I only wish to point out a few things. Firstly, with regard to the two-tiered membership and its approximation to the visible/invisible church distinction. Even if we cannot make these two correspond in reality, it is still the ideal for which we should strive. Just because our sanctification, for instance, does not correspond in life to what it should look like does not mean that we should stop trying in God’s strength to become more holy. Similarly, the better church discipline is handled by a church, the closer will be the correspondence between the communicant membership and the invisible church. The two “problems” with the system are problems that true church discipline aims either to minimize or eliminate. The church should constantly seek to disciple its members. In that process, hypocrites will be discovered eventually. Similarly, the elect and the regenerate among the non-communicants are brought to the place in discipleship where they can make profession and become communicant. This is what church discipline is all about.

Wilson asks why we should require a profession of faith in infants for (communicant, I assume he means) church membership, when we don’t require it for salvation. Church membership is a bit like citizenship in the US. We are born citizens. We don’t ever become more of a citizen than we already are by birth. However, that doesn’t mean that an infant can drive a car, vote, or drink. One grows into these privileges. Of course, the analogy breaks down in that some “citizens” of the church are traitors to the church. But then, there are traitors in our country as well, even if our country doesn’t always recognize the fact. I agree with David Gadbois’s argument about the notitia element of faith. The faith exercised in the case of baptism is the faith of the parents. This answers the first comment on Wilson’s post. The faith exercised by someone in the Lord’s Supper is that person. The church must have some way to judge whether in fact a person at the Supper is exercising faith, including notitia. So, it is not a matter of whether the child has faith, for all sides agree that infants can have at least the seed of faith from the womb. The question, as Ursinus put it so helpfully (and I notice that Wilson did not interact with the historical material), is how the church can make a judgment about said faith. It is the responsibility of the church not only to discipline those by bouncing hypocrites, as Wilson would put it. The church also has the responsibility to examine each person who would come to the table (though this examination need not be every time).

By the way, I have to thank Wilson at this point. This particular interaction has considerably sharpened my own thinking on this point.