Study in Reinstatement of Membership

     Study  Church  Manual,  chapter  7   -   r e i n s t a t e m e n t   of    m e m b e r s h i p                          

 

The Director of Archives and Statistics reported in Oct. 2017 that since 1965, 39.25% of the members (or about 13.95 million members) have left the church. He broke this down to 7.2 million left on their own or are missing and 6.7 million were disfellowshipped. Many church leaders are concerned that the number of lost members gets bigger every year and they can't stop or even slow it down. The Nurture and Retention Committee has made recommendations but the divisions are not all accepting them. This article will study the church manual and church policy that affects the 6.7 million members who were disfellowshipped.

Below is the two Church Manual sections dealing with the process for reinstating these lost members found on page 67 and 68.

  -  Reinstating  those  previously  removed  from  membership - 

   When persons have been removed, the church should, where possible, maintain contact and manifest the spirit of friendship and love, endeavoring to bring them back to the Lord.

  Those previously removed may be received again into membership when the period assigned by the church in a business meeting is concluded, when confession of wrongs committed is made, evidence is given of real repentance and change of life, and the life is consistent with Church standards and it is clear that the member will fully submit to Church order and discipline. Such reinstatement should preferable be in the church from which the member was dismissed. However, when this is not possible, the church where the person is requesting reinstatement must seek information from the former church about the reasons for which the person was removed from membership.

​  When dealing with perpetrators of sexual abuse, it should be remembered that restoration does not remove all consequenses of such serious violation. While attendance at church activities may be permissible with properly established guidelines, a person convicted or disciplined for sexual abuse should not be placed in a role which could put them in contact with children, youth and other vulnerable individuals. Neither shall they be given any position which would encourage vulnerable individuals to trust them implicitly.


  Because removal from membership is the most serious form of discipline, the period of time, determined by the church business meeting, before members may be reinstated should be sufficient to demonstrate that the issues which led to removal from membership have been resolved beyond reasonable doubt. It is expected that readmission to membership will be done in connection with rebaptism.

 

   -  Right  to  Appeal  for  Reinstatement -

 While it is the right of the church to administer discipline, this does not set aside the rights of members to seek fairness. If members believe that they have been treated unfairly by the local church, or not had the right to be heard fairly, and the church is unwilling to reconsider the case or if the officers refuse to consider their applications for reinstatement, the former members have a right to appeal in writing to the church for a hearing. The church should not neglect or refuse to grant such hearings. If it does, or if the former members still feel unfairly treated by the church after the appeal, they have the right to a final appeal for a hearing to the Executive Committee of the conference.

   If, after a full and impartial hearing, the conference committee is satisfied that an injustice has been inflicted by the church, the committee may recommend reinstatement to membership. But if membership is still refused by the church, then the conference committee may recommend membership in some other church. On the other hand, if it finds good grounds for sustaining the church in refusing to reinstate the former members, it will so record its decision.

 

You can see from this that there are three ways to become reinstated into membership, rebaptism,   profession of faith  and  reinstatement.  We will look closer at each way.

In the section for 'Profession of Faith' page 51 we find, "When an individual whose membership has been removed seeks readmission to church membership, readmission is normally preceded by rebaptism (see page 67 and 68)."   We do find the word rebaptism on page 67 but not on page 68, I believe referring the reader to page 67 is helpful, but referring them to page 68 is confusing. A secondary goal of this article is to show that the process described on page 68 is about Reinstatement and not Rebaptism. To say that readmission is normally preceded by rebaptism is misleading because it does not account for the different ways a member can be removed from the church books.

On Page 50 of the Church Manual it says, ". . . rebaptism should occur only in special circimstances and should be relatively rare." Quite different than "normally preceded by rebaptism." It goes on to warn that "to administer baptism repeatedly or on an emotional basis lessens its meaning and represents a misunderstanding of the gravity and significance that Scripture assigns to it. A member whose spiritual experience has become cold needs a spirit of repentance which leads to revival and reformation." It goes on to say, "This experience will be followed by participation in the communion service to signify renewed cleansing and fellowship in the body of Christ, making rebaptism unnecessary." This progress in spiritual experience is found in the following Spirit of Prophecy quotation . . .

   It is when the vital principles of the kingdom of God are lost sight of, that ceremonies become multitudinous and extravagant. It is when the character building is neglected, when the adornment of the soul is lacking, when the simplicity of godliness is despised, that pride and love of display demand magnificent church edifices, splendid adornings, and imposing ceremonials. But in all this God is not honored. He values His church, not for its external advantages, but for the sincere piety which distinguishes it from the world. He estimates it according to the growth of its members in the knowledge of Christ, according to their progress in spiritual experience. He looks for the principles of love and goodness. Not all the beauty of art can bear comparison with the beauty of temper and character to be revealed in those who are Christ’s representatives.  Prophets and Kings, page 565.3   Read entire chapter 45

 

Page 50 of the Church Manual gives a list of four situations where profession of faith is practiced to accept a person into church membership. The situation that relates to reinstatement of membership says, "An individual who has been a member, but whose membership has been misplaced or has been withdrawn because he/she was a missing member, yet who had remained faithful to his/her Christian commitment."  If this former member has fallen away from the church or soiled their character, then rebaptism is the preferred method for reinstatement but a missing or misplaced membership can come back using the process for 'profession of faith.'  The other three situations on the list are related to transfer of membership from another SDA church or from another denomination where baptism was by immersion. 

The church manual makes an important statement about membership on page 54

     ".   .  .  Membership  is  the  personal  relationship  of  an  individual  to  the  body  of  Christ,  and  a  church  should  recognize  this  relationship  and  avoid  any  action  that  might  be  construed  as  ARBITRARY."      Church Manual, page 54

 

This recognition is considered an obligation on the church because the next paragraph says, "On the otherhand, a member is under obligation to recognize the welfare of the church and to make every effort to relieve the church of problems incident to absentee members." 

It is not clearly stated how a church can recognize this relationship, but a restriction is given specifically to avoid an entire class of actions that might be construed as arbitrary. This is because arbitrary is an attribute of Satan. 

It may seem strange to bury this important restriction about established members of the church in a section titled, 'No letter without member's approval' and since it is placed in the context of a new member of a congregation, it might be placed here to warn the church not to make any decision about a membership request that can be viewed as arbitrary.  One such arbitrary decision would be for a church board to reject a request from a former member for reinstatement without talking to the person making the request or to NOT give them a reason for rejecting their request. 

The manual continues, "When a member moves, he/she should promptly request a letter of transfer." As wise as the paragraph has been up to this point, this part may not be practical if the member moves to an area that has several churches. Members should be allowed time to visit each of them and to decide which one they want to join. There are six Adventist churches within one mile of my home and it would take six weeks just to visit each one once.

So far we have seen that rebaptism is when sin caused separation from the church through the disciplinary process described in Chapter 7 pages 62 through 66. Also that 'profession of faith' is for when a member had been missing, misplaced or membership withdrawn. The Church Manual has an entire section for reinstatement of membership. Here it is again.

   -  Right  to  Appeal  for  Reinstatement -

 While it is the right of the church to administer discipline, this does not set aside the rights of members to seek fairness. If members believe that they have been treated unfairly by the local church, or not had the right to be heard fairly, and the church is unwilling to reconsider the case or if the officers refuse to consider their applications for reinstatement, the former members have a right to appeal in writing to the church for a hearing. The church should not neglect or refuse to grant such hearings. If it does, or if the former members still feel unfairly treated by the church after the appeal, they have the right to a final appeal for a hearing to the Executive Committee of the conference.

   If, after a full and impartial hearing, the conference committee is satisfied that an injustice has been inflicted by the church, the committee may recommend reinstatement to membership. But if membership is still refused by the church, then the conference committee may recommend membership in some other church. On the other hand, if it finds good grounds for sustaining the church in refusing to reinstate the former members, it will so record its decision.

 

We need to understand that the member is given 'fundamental rights' to prevent them from being removed from membership unfairly. These rights are found on page 65. Members facing discipline have the right to be heard in their own defense at the church business meeting where the congregation is asked to decide on discipline. They have the right to introduce evidence and to produce witnesses. Written notice must be given at least two weeks before the meeting and include the reasons for the disciplinary hearing so that the member can prepare a defense. Although it is not a right, the option of censure should not be taken off the table, and thus the congregation would only allowed the options of removal or acquittal. 

Page 62 gives a list of reasons whereby a member is subject to discipline. ​Having a difference of opinion with the pastor or the church board is not a valid reason to disfellowship a member. Irreconcilable differences may be a valid reason in divorce court but not in God's church where the 'wheat and tares' are allowed to grow together. ( See Matthew 13 ).

The Church Manual and the Spirit of Prophecy make it clear that the process described in Matthew 18 must be followed. "No church officer should advise, no committee should recommend, nor should any church vote, that the name of a wrongdoer shall be removed from the church books, until the instruction given by Christ has been faithfully followed, When this instruction has been followed, the church had cleared herself before God." Counsels to the Church, page 257 paragraph 5  also found in the Church Manual, page 57 but the manual cuts off the quotation before the end and does not finish the thougtht that goes on to page 258.2.  Failure to follow the instruction of Christ will cancel what is written in Matthew 18:18 and will cause the decision NOT to be ratified in heaven and the person removed from the church books can remain in the Book of Life.  ( see also Heaven will ratify )  

  Jesus adds to the lesson these words: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." [Matt. 18:18] This assurance, that after the rules of Christ have been followed to the letter, the decisions of the church will be ratified in heaven, gives a solemn significance to the action of the church. No hasty steps should be taken to cut off names from the church books, or to place a member under censure until the case has been investigated, and the Bible rule fully obeyed. The word of Christ shows how necessary it is for church officers to be free from prejudice and selfish motives. Human minds and hearts, unless wholly sanctified, purified, and refined from partiality and prejudice, are liable to commit grave errors, to misjudge and deal unkindly and unjustly with souls that are the purchase of the blood of Christ. But the decision of an unjust judge will be of no account in the court of heaven. It will not make an innocent man guilty, nor change his character in the least before God. As surely as men in responsible positions become lifted up in their own esteem, and act as though they were to lord it over their brethren, they will render many decisions which heaven cannot ratify.  {HM, February 1, 1892 par. 13} also {RH, April 16, 1895 par. 10}

 

The Roman Catholic Church held millions in the bondage of fear, by threatening verse 18, but the inspired writings clarify that God is fair and there are conditions to get a decision of the church ratified by God. God will not allow sin to enter heaven because verse 18 says heaven must ratify an injustice made by the church here on earth. 

Violation of the rights given to a member to provide an impartial and fair process can result in unfair removal, and since God is fair, this violates the principles of God's government and grieves Christ, as if it was done to Christ himself.   

When a member is removed from membership, he or she is given additional rights and even the right to appeal. The way this is written on page 67 is, "While it is the right of the church to administer discipline, this does not set aside the rights of members to seek fairness."  Fairness is the basis of appeal.

The General Conference Executive Committee approved a policy which is called "Unity in Mission" (Click here to read the document approved on Oct. 11, 2016),  it says, ". . . Policy has well-defined procedures to follow and when an individual or entity feels the need of an exemption to a policy or other voted action of the church. When any one entity decides to "go it alone" the whole church suffers and is diminished. If not addressed, these actions can lead to charges of unfairness and can undermine the Church's united mission."  This is why they call it Unity in Mission and they created a committee called the Unity in Mission Oversight Committee to administer this policy and the process described in it.

This policy statement is in harmony with what the Church Manual says on page 67 about 'the rights of members to seek fairness.' Please notice it adds a new level of policy to protect against improper procedure in the disciplinary process,  "charges of unfairness" can now be made by a former member who has the right to seek fairness. The Lord is working in these last days concerning the 6.7 million disfellowshipped members and especially those who were removed unfairly. More is needed to allow these former members to come back to God's church just in time to give final message of warning to the world and the Loud Cry.

A brief review of how a person becomes a member of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Baptism is found on pages 43 to 48, Rebaptism is found on page 49 and 50. Transfer is found on page 51 to 54 and profession of faith is found on page 50 and 51. The church manual describes four situations were 'Profession of faith' is proper method of entry into the church (see page 50). Another way to enter church membership is by Reinstatement, which is only found on page 67, it means the persons name is put back on the church books as a member. Not only does it represent the fairness of God, but it represents the forgiveness of God in that the former members who were treated unfairly forgives those who did it to them.

When a person feels they were removed from membership unfairly, they have the right to appeal in writing for another hearing (page 67) "The church should not neglect or refuse to grant such hearings. If it does . . . they have the right to a final appeal for a hearing to the executive committee of the conference." If they find that the church inflicted an injustice it can recommend reinstatement of membership. Notice it does not recommend rebaptism, or profession of faith, it recommends the church puts the member's name back on the church books. If the local church refuses, the conference committee recommends membership in some other church. Notice it does not recommend rebaptism or transfer or profession of faith, the process of reinstatement means putting the name on the membership list.

  The writings of Ellen White does not address 'uprooting a wheat' or discipline of a member who is innocent, she concentrates more on procedure. We are told that God is always in control, he may allow things to happen that are unfair, but he is always in control. Therefore, heaven will not ratify removal of membership, if this is actually an injustice done to a child of God, because that would allow sin to enter heaven. So the power of God does not allow the church to follow proper procedure to convict an innocent member and Matthew 18:18 there is conditional. God will not allow such an injustice to be ratified by heaven. The quote from {RH, April 16, 1895 par. 10} shown above touches on this. This means any time members are removed by an unfair process, it is possible the charge brought against them is not true.

             Further Study:  Discipline of the Innocent - can not happen using proper procedure

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Here is a quote from RH, Jan. 16, 1900 that can be applied to removing a member without a valid cause. Note that in order for removal of membership to be considered "injured without cause" the person would have to be innocent of the charge.  Remember Christ was hated without cause.

   To those who have been injured without cause these words of Scripture apply, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” [Romans 12:18] Their failure to live at peace with all men is not due to the course they themselves have pursued, but to the envy, jealousy, and evil surmising of those who have been in the wrong. A division is caused. How shall it be healed? Shall the man that has been sinned against, misjudged, and maligned, be called to give an account? Shall he seek for something in his past course by which he can humiliate himself? Shall he acknowledge himself in the wrong for the sake of making peace? — No. If he has tried to do his duty, and has been patient under abuse, he is not to humble himself to acknowledge that he is guilty. He does the offenders great wrong thus to take the guilt upon his soul, admitting that he has given them occasion for their course of action. This is very pleasing to those who have done the work of the enemy; but heaven’s books record the facts just as they are. Concessions that are not true from the one who has been wrongfully treated gratify the feelings of the carnal heart. The wrongdoers interpret their position as zeal for God, when in truth it is zeal to do the work of the adversary of souls. They do not dig out of their hearts the root of bitterness, but leave the fibers to spring up when Satan shall stir them again to active growth. { RH January 16, 1900, par. 8 }  

 

Reinstatement means the person's name is put back on the church books as a member. By following this process a church displays the fairness of God and the former member displays the forgiveness of God.

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This article written July 17, 2018
Last updated on  August 10, 2018

Related Information

Church Manual Chapter 1 - 18th Edition with changes shown Church Manual Changes Study of Church Governance and Unity - Sept. 2016 Working Policy L-60 section 15 Writings of EGW in the Church Manual Discipline of the Innocent