Letters of Commendation

by Terry Wane Benton

The question is not about coming to Christ and being added to His one universal body. The Lord adds to that church (Acts 2:47). But, the Lord does not add us to a particular local congregation. We have to "join" those local disciples (Acts 9:26). There must be intent and desire expressed and there must be acceptance into the number. The brethren rightly were cautious not to accept Paul because he had only been known as a persecutor. Barnabas had to step in and vouch for Paul. Barnabas recommended Paul and told the local brethren at Jerusalem that it was OK to accept Him because he had indeed been added to the church (universal). The local church has a responsibility to know who they are accepting.

Some "need" letters of commendation (II Corinthians 3:1). Some are known already by reputation and don't need a letter of recommendation. Pheobe got a letter of recommendation from Paul to the church in Rome. She moved there from Cenchrea (Romans 16:1-2). She was always in the one body of Christ, but she wanted to join the brethren in Rome. She needed a letter of recommendation. Paul did not "need" a letter of recommendation to the brethren at Corinth (II Corinthians 3:1) because they knew him and he helped start that local church. So, some unknown brethren need letters or words (by phone, email, snail-mail, etc.) of recommendation to assure the brethren in that local that they are not getting a troubler or unfaithful person. The local church is to also see that brethren that misbehave either leave or straighten up (I Corinthians 5). Don't confuse the one universal church with the responsibility of local church membership, fellowship, and duty.

All visitors are welcome to come and learn, but being considered a member of the local church takes more than just showing up. In Acts 9:26, Barnabas had to vouch for Paul who had a reputation for hurting churches. Without Barnabas' recommendation, it was right for the brethren to be cautious of this man. A troubler in one church may be a troubler coming into the church he seeks to come into. It is right to check out a person you don't know, and it is right to provide verification (commendation) that you have a good reputation from where you were a member before.

Paul sent a letter of recommendation for Pheobe (Romans 16:1-2) so the brethren of Rome would receive her, welcome her, and assist her. Otherwise, they would not have known her to be a faithful disciple they could trust immediately. Because local churches need to be careful of wolves in sheep's clothing, it has always been lawful and expedient to bring verification of faithfulness with you so that the new group knows you are not running away from troubles you caused before.

A letter is not the only way to verify, especially in a multi-communication-form world (phones, emails, letters, etc.). Being asked why you chose that congregation was certainly their business to ask, if you were baptized, etc., was checking for verification as to whether you could be brought into the membership. No church stands at the door preventing mere "attendance." But the issue is about whether every "attender" can be considered a member of that local church. When I go somewhere for membership, I want them to know that I have been faithful to the Lord, have nothing to hide or be ashamed of, and want them to feel as comfortable as possible in using me in their assemblies and classes. Attending is not the same as being a member of that fold. A shepherd needs to know which people are sheep that he is responsible to look after spiritually, and which are just visitors, attendees who have not committed to the fold. It is scriptural to send letters of recommendation (Romans 16:1-2) and to request such where the reputation is not known (II Corinthians 3:1).

I need to clarify one other item, someone who starts "attending" the assembly is always welcome. The issue changes when the visitor seeks to be a member. A visitor is not a member of that church just by attending. They have to reveal desire and intent, and the flock has to believe it is safe to consider them a member to whom they are mutually responsible. Elders need to know the difference between a visitor to the assembly and a member of their flock that they are responsible to oversee. Visitors may fluctuate, but elders should know the exact number in their local flock. To whom are they responsible, and who is responsible to know them as their shepherds? Attending is always welcome to visitors, but being a member requires communicating intent and agreement between both sides.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email