What issues should elders discuss with those asking for assembly fellowship?
Discernment is required in interviewing. Those who have been involved in this responsibility realize that, no matter how thoroughly questions are asked and answers given, issues may still arise after reception. Nevertheless, it is both necessary and beneficial to meet with applicants, as this gives opportunity to clarify any matters of uncertainty, both in the minds of the applicants and of the brethren responsible to interview them on behalf of the assembly.
It is reasonable to expect that the applicants have been regularly attending meetings of the assembly and observing the breaking of bread before asking to be received. Otherwise, do they really know what they are asking to become part of, or will they be able, after reception, to rearrange their lives to be steadfast in fellowship?
Reception is obviously an individual matter. While a couple or an entire family might be received into the fellowship of the assembly, it must be on a person-by-person basis. Before proceeding to questions regarding reception, the interviewers first need to inquire as to the salvation of the individual. Discernment is required in assessing a person’s story of conversion, giving consideration to the background of the applicant. If the interviewers are not confident as to the salvation of the individual, the question of fellowship needs to be postponed. Second, have they been baptized, and are they clear as to the significance of baptism? If not baptized, are they willing to be baptized before being received?
“Fellowship” means joint participation, communion, and sharing. The purpose of the interview is to try to ascertain that the individual is in agreement with the doctrines and practices of the Word of God as carried out in the local assembly. If not, fellowship is impossible, and reception would be meaningless. This does not mean that the applicant must have a mature understanding of all these things, but there needs to be a willingness to receive instruction and a desire to obey the Lord. Acts 2:41-42, 1 Corinthians 14:37, and 1 John 1:3, along with other Scriptures, teach us that fellowship among believers must be based on submission to the teaching of the New Testament. Therefore, the interviewers need to give clear scriptural answers to all questions and concerns raised.
Opportunity should be given for questions, and at any point, when there seems to be uncertainty, time should be taken to clarify what is not clear. A question that sometimes helps open an interview is: “Why do you want to become part of the assembly?” This can help to discern if the individual understands the distinctiveness of a scriptural assembly in contrast to a denominational “church.” The answer to this can logically lead into a discussion of assembly practices regarding the priesthood of believers, the guidance of the Spirit of God in the gatherings of the assembly, the covered heads of the sisters, the necessity of assembly discipline, and other features of a company of believers seeking to carry out the New Testament pattern.
While naturally difficult, it may be necessary to discuss issues regarding the applicant’s past and present lifestyle. Are there legal issues which may come up later? Are there commitments that will hinder steadfast attendance at meetings? Are there associations with organizations or individuals that will cause divided loyalties to the assembly? The need for such questions will depend on the background of the individual and how long the interviewers have known the applicant. With this in mind, it seems prudent to let the entire assembly know, for at least a short period of time before reception takes place, that an individual has expressed interest in being in fellowship. This gives opportunity for any questions or concerns to be voiced. It is the assembly that will be receiving the applicant, not just the interviewing brethren.
Throughout the entire interview process, the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ needs to be made the central object. If the heart of the applicant is drawn by love and devotion to Christ, many of the issues that cause individuals to leave assemblies would be avoided. It should be emphasized that believers are being gathered together by the Holy Spirit to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and not just to a body of doctrine or a set of practices.