Acts 15 - Becoming a Member

We had an interesting study class yesterday led by a [somewhat liberal] deacon about how Peter and Paul resolved the circumcision question at the Council at Jerusalem. After discussions about the first seven councils and the various heresies they addressed we talked about how members become part of the church, particularly adults. Our deacon compared circumcision to a “stumbling block” of lengthy classes for new members that are discouraging to new folks. He is of the opinion that you welcome them in, then teach them.

I disagreed and pointed out the practices of both the Catholic church and the EO, and also how we USED to be (and I understand some still are). I think conflating circumcision and catechesis is a far reach.

But I’m curious - what process does your church use to initiate new members? and how long does it take?

Thanks,

Jan

Well, it seems to me that in Scripture we see baptism taking place in culmination with the preaching of the gospel, so that one hears the gospel, is cut to the heart, asks the apostles “what shall we do,” and being told “repent and be baptized,” and they are immediately baptized upon repentance so that, in Acts 2:41 we read, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

Note also the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Notice that Philip didn’t stay to teach the eunuch everything about everything. He gave him the gospel and then allowed him to respond to it moving on when that was done.

So, it appears to me that the biblical pattern is that the gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit moves, and people respond in repentance and, as soon as possible, water baptism.

I’m not against membership classes or catechesis. In fact, in this age of biblical illiteracy we need more of that than ever. However, I think it’s more in agreement with the biblical pattern to not make converts wait until they’ve learned all the basics before accepting them fully as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now, that doesn’t mean we make someone whose only been a Christian for one week the teacher of the Sunday school class. It simply means we recognized that they have repented of their sins and confessed Christ, and we have no right to create probationary Christians. In the Scriptures, we see an urgency when the gospel is preached. To become a Christian is not presented as the result of becoming fully informed and making a logical, thought out decision to convert. There is an immediacy to it, an urgency, that I think far too many churches have lost.

At my church, when one repents of sin and confesses Christ, they are already a member of the Church. We don’t even have “membership” in the sense that your name is placed on a roll. We offer baptism once a year. We offer new membership classes. Full participation in the life of the church is not predicated on either, but those who confess to having been born again are expected to be baptized as soon as possible.

Neither do we have anything like confirmation for older children and adults who’ve already been baptized.

Good question. I could be wrong, but the amount of time before one is Baptized can be determined by the discretion of pastor and his director of RCIA.

I say this because when I met with the director at my parish, and spoke with him about my desire and belief in the Gospel of Jesus, he did give me the option of receiving Baptism before the standard 1 yr RCIA course. I said I would continue through the end of the current class and through the next full yr!

I am of the belief that the urgency of Baptism and Confirmation (which for adults is at the same time) should not be guided by anxiety to receive out of fear for dying without completion. The process of learning the fundamentals of the faith should go hand in hand with the Sacraments of initiation. So for me, I took the class as the reverse side of the coin of knowing and receiving the Sacrament of Baptism.

This may seem to contradict infant Baptism, but that would need a separate thread to discuss.

What is important to me, is that the initiation of a new Christian is not made welcom at the end of the process, but from the beginning and throughout. This way, someone going through RCIA can enjoy the ministry in a holy and receptive way without feeling left out or unworthy.

The normal time for receiving Baptism as an adult is at the Easter Vigil service. Maybe this is designated as the norm because it is probably the most important Mass in the liturgical yr. It also signifies being buried with Christ in Baptism and looking forward to the Resurrection of Jesus in us.

Paz
Michael

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