- It is—at the very least—a courtesy to your new church to request a letter of transfer from your old church.
- It lets the new church body know that you are in good standing with your previous church. You’re not running away from church discipline or keeping the new church in the dark. It better primes the new community for recognizing the credibility of the profession of your faith.
- It lets the previous church body know that they can gladly release your membership. Your love has not grown cold, you have not left the faith, and you have not detached from the body of Christ.
- It honors the pastor-elders that previously were responsible for shepherding you. It encourages you to involve them in evaluating the new church you are you considering.
- It reinforces the duty that the elders of a previous church have to encourage outgoing members to find a new healthy church wherever they go.
- It invites the elders between both churches to have an open line of communication during the hand-off. They may have something pastorally relevant and helpful to say for the sake of shepherding.
- It celebrates the season of fellowship you had with your previous church.
- It honors the “communion of saints” — the broad fellowship that Christians enjoy across many local churches.
To those thinking, “I would never do that”:
This requires a high level of trust in the elders of the church you attend. If you don’t have this kind of trust, consider changing your mind about it, or finding a church where you can trust the shepherding leadership to that extent.
It also requires a kind of transparency that is fitting to the community life of a healthy church.
If this seems foreign to you — please keep an open mind. It’s possible to have that kind of relationship with a local church!
- Pastors don’t have the freedom to bind a person’s conscience from moving to a different faithful church. Christians don’t technically need their “permission” to move.
- Nor can pastors overstep their bounds to infringe upon the conscience, the family, or the state. They can only act in accordance with the Bible according to their “jurisdiction” as church shepherds.
- And even then, there are important decisions pastors are only supposed to make in unity and consent with the congregation (such as excommunication, or the adding of a new elder). “Christ has likewise given power to his whole Church to receive in and cast out, by way of Excommunication, any member; and this power is given to every particular Congregation, and not one particular person, either member or Officer, but the whole.” (London Confession of 1644)
- There is a brotherly and healthy protocol (when between faithful churches) in letting one’s prior shepherds know that they are no longer under their spiritual care or congregational governance, and letting the new church know that one isn’t running away from something (kept secret). So it’s not about seeking de facto permission, but about unity, open communication, and voluntary accountability.
- Churches are free to apply the “light of nature” and apply wisdom as they seek to obey the Bible. How churches fulfill the conceptual equivalent of “membership” (the recognition of a belonging that comes with special responsibilities) may look different in the details and terms and formalities.