Church letters (letters of transfer, discipline, etc)

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by Pergamum, Nov 3, 2009.

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  1. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    — II Corinthians 3:1.

    I am trying to get a fuller understanding on church letter writing. There seemed to be a practice of letters of commendation from one body of believers to another in the NT.

    Above, we have what appears to be sarcasm from Paul about these letters. I am seeking fuller understanding of the cultural background of this and why Paul appears sarcastic.

    Also, I know that many baptist churches desire letters of transfer when a member goes from one local church to another.

    Also, I have received one or two emails in the past about cases of discipline within the church. I am not sure it was my business. Too, I have heard of one church sending news out to surrounding churches that one of their members was under discipline. Another church sent out a letter that said that a person in their church had left their church and to beware of that person.

    What are normal practices that occur in reference to this practice of letter writing? What are common problems, and situations which arise?
  2. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    Huge questions.

    I think as general principle, one Bible believing church should respect the discipline of another.

    As Presbyterians, we have very specific process in regards to this, but am not sure how it might be worked out in other communions.

    The types of discipline ordinarily are:

    1) informal admonishment
    2) formal admonishment
    3) suspension from Lord's Supper
    4) deposition (from office)
    5) excommunication

    In practice, I wouldn't see #1,2 or 3 ever unilaterally communicated by the home church to another church outside the denomination. Normally, these are all done privately and confidentially within the church, not announced to the church as a whole, not even the home church. Steps #4 would likely be communicated within the denomination and step#5 might be more publically communicated.

    However, #3, #4, #5 might be communicated if another church inquired or sought to receive that person for membership, though. These might be akin to a Christian "living a disorderly life" or not being a member in good standing. Someone in that category ought not take the Lord's Supper anywhere unless and until they repent.
  3. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    2 Corinthians 8:23, 24, "Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ. Wherefore shew ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf."

    Philippians 2:29, "Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation."

    Colossians 4:10, "Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him)."
  4. NRB

    NRB Puritan Board Freshman

    From my personal experience:

    I, meaning my wife and I, recently joined a PCA church.
    Before that I was a member in good standing of an SBC church.

    I talked with my SBC Pastor and told him of my honest intent to leave the church and join the PCA church. He knew I was totally leaning towards reformed theology. He told me flat out...let me know and I'll sign the letter of transfer.

    When I joined the PCA church, my wife and I went before the session and "Reaffirmed our faith", and then we became members.
    I asked one of the associate pastors if he would like a letter of transfer from my former SBC church and he stated that "baptist churches don't usually do that with Presbyterian churches, so you reaffirmation of Faith is good enough."...I told him...well this one will. :)

    It seems like a process that is controlled by that pastorate of a particular church in my personal experience. I thought it wonderful that my SBC pastor(who is still a friend of mine) was willing to do that.
    Is this typical? I assume not.
    Also, when we were introduced to the PCA congregation as new was a big deal. We happened to join soon after the new pastor was installed, so we(my wife and I) and his wife and himself were new to the church at the same time. Our pastor of our new PCA church decided to try something different...he introduced us during sunday service(at the end) to the entire attending church membership!
    I thought it was awesome(and did it before as it's standard baptist practice and those baptists reading this know what I am talking about. ;)).

    Well the point is that during his prayer for us as new members during that service he prayed for the church that I was leaving!
    I thought that classy and honest and very cool.

    Come to find out, our letter of transfer from an SBC church to our new home in the PCA is on file. :)
    That to me is AWESOME, and I hear very rare.
    God is so good, and I say that not of myself and my wife, but of the 2 churches from very different denominations involved in this entire situation.

    Anyway I'm rambling now.

    Last edited: Nov 12, 2009
  5. captivewill

    captivewill Puritan Board Freshman

    Church Letters

    In the USA it was always frustrating to pursue accountability with other local churches. If a church is apostate then of course we should be actively confronting and opposing and seeking to reform them. But under the unity of the gospel we should respect and communicate fraternally.
    In other lands you find out quickly that a person who will stand for Christ under threat of persecution and death is generally a true believer and other silly notions of basis for respect and fellowship are quickly irrelevant.
  6. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior

    The practice of using letters of commendation and or transfer when members went from one church fellowship to another "of like faith and order" was much more effective among 19th century Baptists. They generally took church discipline seriously and could be sure that if someone applied for membership to a Baptist church with a letter of commendation from their previous church, that it was because this person was of sound faith and piety. This was a great help to the receiving church who's desire would have been to discern the applicants soundness of faith and holiness of life.

    Today however, many churches have lost any idea about what church discipline is. With that, the sending and receiving of letters of commendation have also lost their meaning and worth. Many churches will send a letter on behalf of someone who hasn't attended in years or even left on bad terms!

    Some churches are faithful in this regard. However, if you're pastoring a church that uses this practice, it is best to double check rather than assume that its coming from a sound church.


    Most Baptist churches historically (and some today) would not have given you a letter of transfer to join a Presbyterian church. Historically, Baptists would not view Presbyterians as being of like faith and order - and specifically order. Generally the phrase "of like faith and order" was limited to churches that a church had fellowship or association with. In other words, other Baptist churches in their association or convention.
  7. CIT

    CIT Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    I would say it is rare indeed to have a SBC church write a letter of transfer. When I moved from SBC to EPC, the SBC church basically said, "we do not recognize the EPC, therefore we will only remove you from our roles but not write a letter of transfer."
  8. NRB

    NRB Puritan Board Freshman

    It seems that I got very lucky. It didn't really mean anything overall because the PCA has my wife and I listed as joining under our Reaffirmation of Faith. Our office sent that SBC church a letter informing them of my transfer per my request, and the SBC church sent a letter of Transfer back in return. :)
  9. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Senior

    Thinking back to churches we've joined there was always a line or two on the form asking about previous church membership and why we left, and if we had been in any discipline or conflict resolution process with former elders. I am thinking now that this is a something good to look for when you join a new church. At the very least, even if you are right to switch, it alerts them to the fact that you may be carrying some wounds and emotional baggage from a bad experience.
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