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)