What the Bible Has To Say About The Transfer Of Our Church Membership

Common belief today: “We have the right to transfer our membership whenever we want, for whatever reason we want, as long as we believe the other church to be biblical.”

Those who believe such things indicate they are not only completely ignorant – or rebellious to, what the Bible actually teaches on this subject, but also the church’s divine authority in such matters[1].

1. We cannot transfer to another church without our current church’s allowance or approval.

Why? Because our membership is attached to our baptism and our baptism is the property of the church currently possessing it -not us.

1.1. God only recognizes us as a member of a specific church when that church performs/possesses our baptism (Act 2:41 “added” [to the church as members] at the point of baptism). IOW: Membership = Baptism.

1.2. To transfer our membership to another church therefore requires the transfer of our baptism to that church.

1.3. Given that baptism is also the way we receive initial forgiveness or the washing away of our sins, it constitutes one of the keys of salvation given to the Christ’s churches – not the individual (Act 2:38, 22:16 w/Joh 20:21-23 w/Mat 16:18-19: Keys unlock gates – in this case, the gates to the kingdom of heaven [in contrast to v18 “gates of Hades”]. The key of baptism gives us access to the blessings of the Spirit and forgiveness [the blood of Christ]).[2]

1.4. Transferring to another church would therefore also require allowance/approval of the church (possessing your baptism) since: 1) they (not you) are the owners of that heavenly access key (baptism) (again, the keys are the property of the church not the individual) (Gen 28:11-18: Notice the gate to heaven is in God’s house, the pillar of truth; the NT church is that place today – 1Ti 3:15 “household of God…pillar…of the truth”), 2) it is impossible to have access granted by another church since only one legitimate baptism is allowed (Heb 6:1-6 “washings” which makes us “partakers of the Holy Spirit.” = Baptism; “impossible to renew them again to repentance since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God” = No second forgiveness or cleansing from sin – i.e., No second baptism; Hence, Eph 4:5)[3].

1.5. As additional support that our baptism is the property of the church and not us, consider also the church’s authority to permanently bind or remove forgiveness (i.e., declare apostasy) – which therefore means the rescinding of that person’s baptism (Mat 16:19 and Joh 20:21-23 w/Mat 18:17-20). Hardly could the church do that if baptism was the property of the individual (at least not without their consent)!


2. The church where our baptism resides, must be very careful when it comes to transferring a person’s baptism/membership to another church.

Why? Because the church where our baptism currently resides – most specifically its shepherds (elders/pastors), have been assigned as our primary overseers for protection and the promotion of obedience to Christ’s commands (Mat 28:19 w/20; Act 20:28).

2.1. Allowing members of the church to leave without absolute confidence in the new church and its pastors, would therefore constitute a failure in these shepherds’ duty of care for which they will be severely judged (Act 20:26-27 w/Eze 33:7-9; Jam 3:1).

2.2. This will be especially true if the church where their membership is transferred possesses: 1) a false gospel (allowance to or approval of a church with a false gospel is the same as approving a false gospel which in turn brings judgment on their former church – or at least its pastor; Gal 1:6-9 w/2Jo 1:9-11) or 2) no relationship w/their current church by which to confirm the legitimacy of their gospel (that they are a true church) and competency of their shepherds (that they are a safe church) (Act 20:28-31 = Guard the flock from wolves. Would anyone consider someone to be a good shepherd guarding their flock from wolves if they allowed them to be cared for by strangers or someone they knew to be incompetent? This is akin to those Jesus refers to as “hired hands” or false shepherds – Joh 10:12-13; Consider this same question from the perspective of a parent)


3. Clear evidence it is not God’s will that the church allow or approve of the transfer of someone to another church:

3.1. They have outstanding discipline or grievances with their existing church (Mat 5:23-26).

3.2. The church they wish to be transferred to is false or not safe (point #2; Consider Paul’s perspective in regard to those pastors he knew to be false though they claimed to be comrades and had received the support of the people – 2Co 11:6 w/10-15 = Paul fought against giving approval or equal footing to flaky or false shepherds – regardless of what other people thought. Notice also, Paul has no problem using strong language in his assessment of such men).


3.3. Their current church does not know or have a relationship w/the transfer church so as to confirm them as true and safe (again, point #2). The idea that the church can trust the individual to make that decision is like saying we trust our children to make the big decisions in the home or the patient to determine the diagnosis or prescription for the doctors [who will still be responsible for the consequences of those decisions]).

3.4. They don’t want their current pastor over them and/or believe him to be unrighteous/unfit/using his office for evil/a false teacher – though they do not have the biblically required evidence to prove it (1Ti 5:19; Deu 17:12-13; Num 16:1-3 w/Num 15:30-31 w/Mat 12:32; Consider also 2Co 13:1-2).

3.5. They want to live somewhere too far from the existing church w/o confirmation of a church in that area (Jam 4:13-17).

3.6. There is nothing to be gained by them or the other church (this is the pattern est’d in the NT: those sent out will profit those other churches [e.g., Phoebe, Rom 16:1-2; Apollos, 1Co 16:12 w/Act 18:24; Timothy, 1Ti 1:3; Paul and Barnabas, Act 13:1-4]).


CLOSING CONTEMPLATION: What should the church follow, the will of God or the will of people (those wanting to transfer)?


[1] Both now and going forward, what is to be assumed is that the church we are attempting to transfer from is a biblical church as well as the church where we were baptized or is currently possessing our baptism based on the allowance or approval of our baptizing church.

[2] Hence the reason churches have always viewed the sacrament of baptism as the prerequisite to the other key of the kingdom, the LT (the sacrament where we receive continued cleansing by Christ’s blood – Joh 13:1-10), because baptism is the only way to gain access to this atoning reservoir (the blood of Christ resides in His church – Act 20:28; In this light Consider again Joh 13:10 = IOW: the original bath or washing of baptism by Jesus is what grants us access to the additional – and necessary washing provided thru the “supper” [v4]).

[3] “The sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered unto any person,” – WCF, (ch.27)

Canon – Function

Canon (definition): Those books containing God’s spoken words (the Old and New Testaments otherwise known as Scripture, God’s Word or the Bible) preserved for the purpose of saving (physically, spiritually) His people (the covenant community).

A major deterrent to canonical confidence[1], is not only a poor understanding of the canon’s formation, but the intended function of God’s spoken words as communicated in the canon itself. This study (or part one) will address the latter, part two, the former. With that in mind, there are several important truths that must be understood with respect to God’s spoken words:


1. The exclusive instrument God has chosen to lead and have relationship w/His people (i.e., to save them) has been His spoken words (not feelings or Jesus’ face in pancakes or naan – or the more recent and local example, glitter bombs [Church of the Front Range]) (Exo 34:27 “in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” = God’s words were the means to covenant relationship w/OC Israel; Deu 31:8-9 = God’s words were the means to leading OC Israel; Isa 8:19-20 = Those led by anything other than God’s spoken words are counterfeits; Heb 1:1-2; 2Ti 3:16 “inspired” [Grk., “God-breathed” = Spoken by God] = What has been written down as Scripture is what was spoken [to the human authors] by God; 2Pe 1:19-21 = Gaining and maintaining a saving relationship w/God [“until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” = Until you get to heaven/the day of your eternal salvation is realized] requires that you give yourself to His “spoke[n]” words [“Scripture”] as the exclusive means to leading and living your life [versus to false teachers who lead thru feelings, their experiences or promises of false freedom [2:1-19]; What about Gideon’s fleece? See Jug 6:36 w/37-40).

2. Since the purpose of God’s spoken words is the salvation (physically and spiritually) of His people, we should: 1) always view His spoken words with this as their intention (i.e., whatever He has said is relevant/important to the subject of salvation – 2Ti 3:15), 2) never view His spoken words as an attempt at referring to or explaining all things (e.g., the Bible has very little to say about dinosaurs; the Bible spends very little time on the subject of Creation).

3. Never – including the present, have God’s people ever possessed all God’s spoken words yet they have always had what they needed to be faithful (Deu 29:29; 2Pe 1:3; e.g., 1Sa 10:10-11; Joh 20:30; Col 4:16; Rev 10:4).

4. God at times, has deliberately hidden His spoken words – or their understanding, until His people were ready to receive it and take the next necessary step in their journey of obedience (Neh 8:13-18 [Lev 23:34; Deu 16:16]; Eph 3:1-6 = OT saints not given full understanding as to the prophecies regarding the coming Messiah. Hence Mat 13:34-35 and Luk 24:27, 45-46//Luk 9:45, 18:31-34; Joh 12:16, 13:7, 20:9; *the importance of this truth to our church: do not become unsettled by the fact that as we mature, God corrects our poor understanding of His spoken words from the past – e.g., Calvinism, baptism, Insurrection or the unforgiveable sin, what other things qualify as a capital crime, etc. ** what has never changed: our view that what a person needs to do to be saved is more than simply put faith in Christ, they must also be faithfully obedient to His laws).

5. God has also deliberately foregone giving the exact application for some of His spoken words to accommodate the changing moral climates experienced by His people throughout the world and redemptive history (e.g., Deu 25:1-3; 1Co 5:1-5 w/2Co 2:6-8; see also 2Co 8:21; *important not to miss: though the church is given freedom as to the application of these laws, that does not make our decisions arbitrary or without God’s authority and backing[2]; Mat 18:18-20).

6. Under Jesus’ new covenant kingdom, God has deliberately changed the way we are to understand and apply some of His previously spoken (or preserved) words (e.g., Rom 10:20-21 w/Isa 65:1-2; 1Co 5:1-5; Col 2:11-12; Act 15:17 w/Amo 9:12 [LXX versus MT[3]]).

7. In addition, God has deliberately made some of His spoken words hard to understand (e.g., 2Pe 3:16) so that those who truly love Him will truly understand it and those who don’t, won’t[4] (Jer 29:13 “with all of your heart” = Hard work motivated by love is the condition to finding God; Isa 6:10 w/1:1-15 and 5:24 = Dull and dim are God’s curse on those who refuse to love Him by listening to His laws [to love is to listen]; Mat 13:13-15; Joh 8:42-43; Act 28:27; 2Co 12:7-10 [the theory of desirable difficulty] = We are better at understanding things [we are “stronger”] when those things are presented in a difficult way[5]).

8. Though not always apparent on the surface, there are no contradictions or inconsistencies between the principles established by God’s spoken words in the Old Testament and those established in the New Testament (Hence the reason: 1) Jesus and the NT’s speakers always appeal to the OT in support of their position or teaching – e.g., Act 24:14 [roughly, one out of every three verses in the NT is a direct or indirect reference to the OT], 2) Paul supports the OT as a source for becoming “wise” about NT salvation or training in righteousness [2Ti 3:15-16], 3) the Scriptures used at the start of the 1st century church to discern truth from error was the OT [the NT didn’t exist] – e.g., Act 17:10-11//e.g., Act 15:17 w/Amo 9:12 = No contradiction in the way James applies Amos since the intended goal of the prophet’s words agree with James’s interpretation [i.e., the Gentiles will be able to seek God’s salvation w/o becoming Jews [“all the nations who are called by My name”. Hence Paul’s struggle w/the Jews – Gal 6:13-15 w/3:28).

9. The two worst things therefore a person can be, are: 1) lazy in working hard to understand God’s spoken words (2Pe 3:16 = The reason they are “untaught and unstable” is due to their unwillingness to put forth the effort or work to “grow” in their understanding of God’s new covenant plan [the “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” They are “unprincipled men” [lazy – literally, w/o a law governing their behavior- most esp. God’s law – e.g., 2Pe 2:7], vv17-18; why so bad: v16b, “to their own destruction”) and 2) under the impression that no changes or corrections will be made to their understanding of God’s spoken words as a consequence of their growth in understanding (and therefore refuse to change – or call into question what is being taught) (this too is implied in 2Pe 3:16-18 = People refusing to grow are people refusing to change; e.g., Act 6:8-7:53 [51]; Gal 4:1-10 [8-10]; why so bad: Heb 6:1-8).

10. The end of first-century supernatural offices, brought an end to any additional spoken words from God in human history (1Co 13:8-10).


[1] By canonical confidence I mean, confidence that what we possess as God’s spoken words is enough to save us.

[2] Arbitrary (def.) based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.

[3] Based on the evidence from other extant Jewish sources (e.g., Dead Sea Scrolls), some scholars believe the LXX rendering to be the more accurate/correct rendering.

[4] To say that something is hard to understand does not mean the same thing as beyond human understanding. If this were true, then hardly could Peter (for example) make an appeal to Paul’s wisdom – or encourage other Christians to read his letters since their message would be indiscernible (2Pe 3:14-15). It should also be noted that acknowledging the difficulties of Scripture (i.e., their interpretation) does no violence to the doctrine of Perspicuity or clarity of Scripture. Clarity is not the same as simplicity. In the words of Mark D. Thompson, “The clarity of Scripture [does] not mean, and [has] never meant, that there are no difficulties in Scripture.” (A Clear And Present Word, p.153).

[5] For a popular culture treatment of this subject see Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath (Part 2: The Theory of Desirable Difficulty).