Restoring the Integrity of Church Letters
By Elder Timothy Binion
Insinuating that a letter of recommendation is a letter of transfer is radically wrong. The Church of Jesus Christ is not made up of church letters, but baptized believers. The answer to the rhetorical question asked by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:1, “Do I need a letter of recommendation?” Is NO! Actually, membership lettering is not a New Testament practice. A letter of recommendation, like the one Apollos carried in Acts 18:27, can serve to help one relocating to a new area. However, this letter, the only letter of recommendation known of in the Bible, was not a letter of recommendation for membership. Yes, I know, Paul recommended people to the church at Rome and perhaps this apostolic recommendation was just as good as a church recommendation. In view of Biblical evidence, does this justify the confusion of our day?
Letters of recommendation should help ensure soundness and prevent predators from infiltrating our Churches. Yet, churches frequently grant letters of recommendation for people of unworthy character, something no New Testament church or Apostle would do. Granting a letter to a member who does not attend church or even try to serve the Lord and recommending them as a member of good standing causes a big problem. If the integrity of church letters are ever restored, church discipline (a subject completely foreign to most churches today) must be practiced. The neglect of church discipline makes a letter of recommendation unworthy of the paper it’s written on. I’m not saying that all letters of “full fellowship and good standing” are lies, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to trust them. To our shame, churches that don’t exercise any form of church discipline create a membership full of sinful worldlings. Some churches today highly recommend a person to another church when that person could not pass a background check to hold a janitorial position at a public school.
Even worse, churches refuse to grant letters to God-fearing, Spirit-filled individuals who have served the Lord for many years. God is not the author of this kind of confusion. This new philosophy of letting anything in and not letting anything out plagues some communities. If everyone is in good standing, no matter how they live, the system has failed. The integrity of church letters depends on the sender being honest about the member’s commitment. If we deliberately falsify a member’s status, we nullify the use of church letters altogether. Do not give an endorsement of “full fellowship and good standing” to people who do not attend church or have unchristian habits (unless everyone behaves that way). If one attends church, tries to live a blameless life, and the Spirit of the Lord has led them to a sound church, grant the letter. Any letter of recommendation should always tell the truth about the person. Every sister church has the right to decide if they want this kind of member. A church letter is nothing more than an affidavit of what a person is known to be by his or her home church. The letter advises a sister church to receive or not to receive the person. Our forefathers had integrity when a breach of fellowship between churches existed. They would grant a letter of character for members. Churches should have integrity and be honest with a sister church. Sadly, some churches are so glad to get rid of deadbeat members that they give a lying recommendation. It would be better for the receiving church to be warned of the worthless member. Some members should be excluded for their negligence. Good standing or irregular standing should be stated in the letter. If the person has not been in attendance except sporadically, has not supported the church with their presence, finances, and talents; and the person is “unknown by face unto the church,” then the person is certainly not entitled to a letter stating that they are in regular standing. The most that can be honestly said about such a member is that they are still on the membership roll, but in irregular standing. According to the Baptist Church Covenant, this kind of person is in standing violation of what the church stands for.
One clerk complained about writing letters for unfit members. So, the church changed the wording from a boldface lie to simply bearing false witness. Your church may have received one of these letters of non-recommendation and not even realized it. The non-recommending letters have gone unnoticed because we are paying no attention to what they say as long as we receive one. We use them as letters of transfer rather than their intended purpose. It’s time we regain the integrity of Church letters. How do we do this? By restoring the integrity of the sender.