“I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” Woody Allen as Alvy Singer in Annie Hall

In the early 90s, Elizabeth and I went on a missions trip to the Philippines along with a number of other college/university ministry people from around New York State. At that point, we had been living in Albany, NY for a couple years, and were leading a campus ministry at the University at Albany. I had received my “License to Preach” from the denomination I was a part of at that point about 2 years prior and had decided to wait a couple more before pursuing Ordination.

[Side note: I received my license to preach in 1989, the same year James Bond movie License to Kill came out. So while I was excited about my license, I had to recognize the licensee James Bond had seemed much cooler.]

Anyways…while we were in the Philippines, one of the campus pastors we spoke to said that the way it works there was that if you wanted to be ordained, another ordained pastor needed to sponsor you. My initial thought was, “if I lived here I would never get ordained.” In the US all i needed to do was take some classes…take an Ordination exam (got a 99%:-) and then go through an interview with 12 or 13 men in black suits firing questions at you. That was way back in 1994.

I was thinking of that recently because I’ve been reading a book one of the pastors over in Ireland suggested, Missionary Methods, by Roland Allen. It’s an old book but it has some great thought on how missions (and churches in general) are done now, compared to the missionary methods of the Apostle Paul.

At one point, Allen is talking about deciding who should be admitted to the church. He points out (on page 131) that one of the key elements to Paul’s success was that he let the church decide who should be admitted to membership. Since the church was a brotherhood, it and all who were part of it suffered if an improper person was admitted. But since the current members of the church knew the person most intimately, they were the best to judge. And while mistakes would be made, they were mistakes that the church made at their own peril, and needed to deal with eventually.

He goes on to lament that in his day (& ours) this responsibility has been placed with the missionary (or church leaders). And then says this:

“Many a man (woman) has been baptized who would not have been admitted if the whole body of the church had realized that the responsibility for his admission rested with them, and had had the opportunity to express their opinion in their own way.

And he concludes the thought by adding:

“I should like to see it accepted as a general principle that converts should be presented by members of the Church to the Church, and accepted by the Church and baptized on the authority of the whole Church acting as the Church.”

That has had me thinking a lot the past week or so. Would membership be more or less appealing to people? Would it be something we’d take more seriously or less?

As part of the Church, what are your thoughts on that?

{by the way, the ithaca vineyard’s next membership class is being held on March 4, 2012…sign up on Sunday @ the Vineyard}