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My friend recently became a member of the local Baptist church. When she and her mother wanted to join, they went to the preacher and he told them there would be a vote among the congregation members to determine whether they would be accepted into the church. She and her mother had to stand before all the members, and with a show of hands, the congregation agreed to their joining the church.

It struck me as odd because it never occurred to me that there was an acceptance process for the Baptist church. Is this true of all Baptist churches? And what is the scriptural basis for this process?

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    There's a removal process too, usually based in Matthew 18. – 3961 Feb 18 '17 at 17:26
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  • What the baptists are doing is very close to how the early church screened their catachumens. – KorvinStarmast Feb 26 '17 at 21:04
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I'll start out with the last part of your question. There is no explicit Biblical basis for this. Voting on membership into the Church is an outcome of several Baptist distinctives, the primary being the autonomy of the local congregation.

From the Baptist Distinctives site's article on Church Governance

Polity is how an organization, such as a church, functions—the policies that guide matters such as governance, decision making, structure and leadership. Baptists differ from most Christian denominations in matters of polity. The difference especially is evident in how congregations of Christians are governed.

One major difference between Baptists and many other denominations is that no person or group outside of a Baptist congregation is to have any authority over the church in regard to beliefs and religious practices. Furthermore, all of the members within the church fellowship are to have equal voice in the governance of the church.

Baptist church governance often is termed “democratic.” In a sense it is. In a democracy, all of the people have equal voices in decision making. No individual or group of persons is in control. Such is to be the case in a Baptist church. One way that democratic governance is practiced is that each member of the church has the right to vote on matters at church business meetings.

To many non-Baptists, and even to some Baptists, this seems to be a strange way for a church to function. Putting the governance of a church in the hands of persons who have no special training, education or calling appears to be foolish. Why would Baptists dare to function in this fashion?

The article goes on to list several reasons for governing a Church this way.

To clarify, when the Church is voting on membership, they are not voting on whether a person is saved, or even whether they believe a person is saved. We're merely voting on whether to allow the person in question to become a voting member of the Church.

From the article on Regenerate Church membership

What Are Other Factors Related to Membership in a Baptist Church? Churches differ on whether persons should be baptized and admitted into membership immediately upon their profession of faith or whether there should be a delay. Some baptize persons very soon after they have made a profession of faith. Others require persons, especially children, to go through a process of counseling before being baptized.

Some churches require all persons seeking membership to be counseled concerning their experience of salvation and commitment to church membership. Some also expect persons to attend a class for new members. Many do neither.

Baptist congregations vote on a person’s request for membership. The congregation is not voting on whether the person is saved or not. That is a matter between the individual and God. Rather, the church members are participating in Baptist congregational governance under the lordship of Christ.

Other relevant disctinctives that bear on voting on membership include Jesus as the only Lord (not a Pope or any governing authority), the Priesthood of all believers, the belief that all Church members should be regenerate (born again) Christians.

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This practice is done in Baptist churches mostly as a practical matter, rather than a spiritual one. I'm speaking mostly from an Independent Fundamental Baptist perspective, but I believe that the same holds true for most Baptist denominations.

IFB, as the "Independent" part suggests, have a particular emphasis on individual church polity and the rejection of any mortal man or group of men to have any specific authority in the church, which Christ being the only head, and with pastors simply being under-shepherds. Ultimately, Christ runs the universal church, and each individual church, and they each follow as well as they can by His leading. The Bible basis for that would be verses such as:

1 Corinthians 3:11 - For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Colossians 1:18 - And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

The leadership attempts to seek God directly for all matters, and tempers themselves with the counsel of those elders in the church who have walked with the Lord for a long time.

Unfortunately, there are some practical considerations. At least in the United States, to be able to be considered an official organization, and to hold property and other necessary considerations, a group has to have a certain number of members and bylaws. Those laws are crafted with an eye toward legal concerns. Rather than allowing a single person or group of people within the church to claim the whole legally recognized body, most choose to follow a democratic system. Most that I know of follow something like Robert’s Rules of Order. This allows them to make decisions that at least meet the basic legal requirements and seem fair without leaving power to one man.

When it comes to joining the church, the same method is applied. As far as we are concerned, what makes a person saved is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in a person's life which makes them a new creature. It's a work done by God, and not one that is controlled by man. For a person to be a part of the actual church, this must have occurred. But we don't have any rational, objective method, at least not which would hold up in court, to demonstrate that this has occurred. Therefore, we settle the matter by vote.

We talk with the prospective members about their salvation. If they have not been saved by God, we encourage them to be so, and advise them that we can't knowingly allow somebody to join the secular organization when they are not part of the spiritual one.

Assuming they have been saved, there are typically three methods to accept that profession. One way is that they can be baptized in the church to make that public profession that they are a new creature and that they should begin to walk as such. A second method is that they can join "by letter", meaning that if they had already been baptized by a church of like faith, then that congregation can vouch for their consistency in walking in the faith and that they know God is working in their lives. Finally, a person may join by a "statement of faith" where they simply state that they have done these things, but without a letter. This is often done if the old congregation can't be contacted, or if there were some error there.

Once the pastor has done all that he can to confirm that the new members are in fact already part of God's church, then they present that fact to the congregation to make it an official membership and accepted by secular authorities. This would also provide an opportunity for anybody who had knowledge that a prospective member was not saved to be able to bring it up, but I've never known that to happen. In practice, it's just a formality. It gets the member on the books so that when the church applies for their status as an organization, they meet the membership requirement. These people also become voting members, and then have the ability to vote on other business matters, such as how the money is spent, what missionaries to support, and also on other members upon their joining and leaving.

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