Friday, June 22, 2007

"Working Together Toward Integrity in Membership"
...needed, a regenerate church on the rolls

This is an important issue within the body of Christ today. My dear friend, Tom Ascol of the Founders Ministries, has been leading the charge on this for sometime within the SBC. And now fellow blogger, Gene Bridges of Triablogue, has taken up the challenge and written a tremendous article encouraging us in the blogosphere to step up this year and join "this conversation" about a regenerate church membership that yields integrity.

As a Reformed Baptist by conviction and confession, I wholeheartedly support this conversation and campaign. Though an entirely "pure membership" this side of heaven will never be achieved, there are certainly things that must be addressed and confronted that under God's providence and leading can make an impact for the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. I agree with my brother when he says, "This is not a Calvinist issue. This is not an Arminian issue. This is not a "fundamentalist v. moderate" issue. This is not a "Burleson/Cole 'coalition v. Barberite 'coalition'" issue. This is a gospel issue."


In conjunction with this, I would also highly commend to you a powerful article by my friend Jim Elliff on this subject called "Southern Baptists - An Unregenerate Denomination."

Please read the following article carefully and thoughtfully--it will stir your hearts greatly in service to the Lord and His people. Thank you Gene and Tom for your leadership in this important area regarding our faith.

And remember, before gathering with the Lord's people on the Lord's day in the Lord's house this week, be a worship-centered Coram Deo believer 24/7 Monday through Saturday first. Otherwise, church on Sunday will be just another meeting or club we all attend.

Let goods and kindred go...
Steve Camp
Eph. 4:11-16

by Gene M. Bridges
As you all know, Tom Ascol's resolution on integrity in church membership failed to pass the SBC for the second year in a a row. My posts on this are archived, and you can find them if you wish to read them.

Here, I'd like to, hopefully, start a conversation about this issue to bring together some of the various bloggers in the SBC who otherwise disagree on other items. This issue has gained momentum in the past year from various persons and groups in the Convention, persons of different theological and political convictions, who realize that there is a serious problem in the SBC.

I would point out that, in terms of ecclesiology, believer's baptism is predicated on the concept of a regenerate church membership. Religious liberty, that is, the view that the first table of the Law cannot and should not be legislated (viz. a state church), for Baptists, is predicated on the concept of a regenerate church membership, for there can be no state church if the church is to be composed of only regenerate souls who are their voluntarily. The priesthood of (the) believer(s), whichever term you prefer, is meaningless without "the believer" part! Since it puts us in community as "a nation/kingdom of priests" it too depends on the concept of a regenerate church membership. Ironically "local church autonomy" is also meaningless without this, for a church can be "autonomous" and be apostate, one can be true to "tradition" without tradition being true! One could go on about "historic Baptist distinctives," so I will quickly summarize by stating that it should be obvious that *above all others* a regenerate church membership stands as *the* key Baptist distinctive. In other words, none of our other distinctives have any real substance without this one. What is the use of an autonomous local church if the members are apostate? What is the use of "religious liberty" if they people don't believe in the first table of the Law sitting in the pew? Why talk about a priesthood, when there are no priests!?

This is not a Calvinist issue. This is not an Arminian issue. This is not a "fundamentalist v. moderate" issue. This is not a "Burleson/Cole 'coalition v. Barberite 'coalition'" issue. This is a gospel issue. This is an honesty issue too. Tom Ascol is right on this. We all know it, and the goal should not be "let's talk about it to pass a resolution," since resolutions are not binding. The goal should be to bring about some real change in the churches so a resolution does not even need to be passed. Heavens! Before joining the church of which I am now a member, I was in a church with 900 members, 600 enrolled in Sunday School, and 300 in church every Sunday faithfully. Without this, we are doomed as a denomination, Calvinist and nonCalvinist, moderate and conservative, fundamentalist and evangelical, cessationist and continuationist, Southern Baptist and Independent alike.

Ergo, I am personally going to commit to spend a goodly amount of time to post on this issue in the upcoming year. I will probably start with some classic works, probably from John L. Dagg. I'd like to call on bloggers like Frank Turk and Steve Camp. I like to call on Dr. Bart Barber. I like to call on Les Puryear. Let's see Brother Wade take time off from SBC politics every so often and talk about this.

I wonder what Brother David, "Volfan07" has to say about this? I'd like to hear Ben Cole's thoughts on this too. Let's hear from Dorcas Hawker and Debbie Kaufman too. Let's hear from Art Rogers and even Marty Duren, from Chadwick Ivester, Dwight McKissic, and Micah Fries, David Hewitt and David Rogers. The blogging seminary students have lots to say, I'm sure. One could list more.

Let's hear from the Calvinists and the non-Calvinists. Let's hear from continuationists and cessationists, from "Burlesonites" and "Barbarites," young and old, male and female.

Let the articles be from the heart and the mind. Let them be expositional of Scripture. Let them survey Baptist history and tradition. Let us talk about what our churches have done or can do. There is quite a range in the way you can approach the topic. One does not have to write a sermon or a theological tome to participate in this discussion. Just post your thoughts, and where you argue from Scripture, just be sure you're on target and don't abuse the text.

Let us not forget Baptists who aren't in the SBC too, for the independent churches surely have this same problem, so let's hear from Dustin Segers and Sterling VanDerwerker. Let's hear from Phil Johnson too. I'd like to hear the young folks too, so let's call Evan May out of hiding. Let us argue among ourselves on other issues, but let us draw together on this one. Surely, we can make a difference, and maybe we can learn to get along. Call it an exercise in visible unity. Want to join in? Then please, leave a note below in the combox.

I'm not asking you to devote all of your time to it. I'm asking you to commit to address this topic periodically at your discretion, and if you repeat what has already been said, "so what!" Repetition is good for the soul. Just make a note on your calendar. Call it an appointment.

To start the conversation, I'd like to make some suggestions for the next year. Feel free to add your own.

I suggest the following:

a. All Baptist bloggers supporting this measure should spend the next year discussing this subject on the blogs periodically. Again, this is not a Calvinist-Arminian issue, and there is widespread agreement between us regarding this. We have been adversaries in some ways, but we have a real opportunity here to unite over this. We should take advantage of it. This will effectively keep it in the public eye too, and it will demonstrate unity around a common goal, which is something greatly needed.

b. We should write our state papers lamenting the failure of this resolution for a second year in a row.

c. We should petition Dr. Ascol and Dr. Akin to include a speaker/workshop on regenerate church membership / integrity in membership at Ridgecrest if at all possible. This originated in the Calvinist camp (yours truly is the one who actually first suggested the resolution and Tom ran with it) so it is logical to begin doing this at Ridgecrest. The goal here is to start a grass roots campaign.

d. Apropos c, we should also collate as much written information, blog articles, seminar notes, presentations, online articles, etc. and make an info packet for distribution @ Ridgecrest. I have already volunteered to man the table or booth to hawk the material there. It would help if a non-Calvinist would help in that regard, again, showing unity at the conference. I would gladly form a posse to go room to room to sit and talk with each person about this material if necessary. If somebody would fly me to Glorietta and put me up for another conference, I’d do it there too! I feel that strongly about this.

e. That same material should be put into .pdf format and posted on the internet for anybody to download and read and distribute. Packets should also be sent to the appropriate state agencies if possible with a letter urging them to get with the DOM’s on this to get it to the churches to educate their people, esp. next year’s messengers. They could have a speaker like Brother Voddie do the state evangelism/pastor conference circuit, including the SBC conference in Indiana itself, and preach on this too. If he came to NC in Feb., where this is usually held at my home church in Winston-Salem or a sister chruch in Charlotte, I would distribute material there too!

The ultimate goal is NOT to just pass the resolution in Indianapolis. The goal is to get the churches to act on it! The letter should be signed by many persons from many parties, including, but not limited to: Dr. Ascol, Dr. Akin, Dr. Yarnell, and whomever else of note from as many of the diverse “parties” as possible.

f. Dr. Yarnell wants it to address believer's baptism. Perhaps between now and Indianapolis that could be explained with more clarity and incorporated.

g. Somebody should also do the legwork and get ACP stats from “flagship” churches from each state. We’re told these are our examples to follow, and often the Pastor’s Conferences/Bailey Smith Conferences/State Evangelism Conferences crowd pat each other on the backs for jobs well done that aren’t well done. I think we need to name the churches and show their ACP stats. Dare I say, the disparities will be shameful, but if that’s what it takes to jolt people to attention sobeit. This isn’t to attack those churches, rather it’s to point out that this is not an imaginary problem, and it is systemic.

h. Let us also see the ACP statistics from those churches that are doing well in this. Let's give credit where credit is due, and, for those that recently implemented a program to address this issue, let's find out all the "how's, why's, when's, how-long's," etc's from them. Folks know there's a problem, but do they have a clue what to do in order to address it? Some of us, like Art Rogers have done this. He can help. Our church is a new work, and we have deliberately kept up with this. I'm sure Brother Dustin and Brother Sterling would be willing to talk to us about it.


NativeVermonter said...

I for one would not want to be a pastor/elder who has to stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ and tell our Lord why I didn't take church membership seriously. If we make the front door of the local fellowship a little more discerning than maybe we won't see the masses exiting the back. This indeed is a paramount issue and the SBC needs to address this post haste. As the beginning of the Mike Corley says..."Wake the Neighbors."

John in STL

rambling rosemarie said...

I am astounded that there is a debate over a matter of basic honesty and integrity. As a single woman who relies on the mercies of God and the shepherding of her pastor, I want to know that should I become weak enough to miss church, no matter the reason, my pastor is going to miss me. I want to know if I stray from the truth, he is going to bring me back with the practical application of the Word. I have seen first hand the damage done to lives when church discipline is avoided. What possible justification can there be for a pastor keeping phantom members on the books? Doesn't having them there draw attention to his lack of ability to shepherd his flock in a manner that glorifies God and upholds the gospel?


RonaldJ said...

Thanks for the post, Steve. After reading the Elliff article, I am amazed at how much of a shift has occurred over the years. I especially think that the call to intentionally teach/preach about the unregenerate church needs to be answered.

My local congregation has more attendees than members & requires more than a "walk down the aisle" for membership. Yet, there's so much to ponder when it comes to making sure we're not falling into the traps of deception & complacency. I pray that we can find that balance of becoming a regenerate church while avoiding the trap of becoming pharisees!

Soli Deo Gloria,

Papias said...

This is an interesting discussion - thanks. This issue may become as important in our time as the "Halfway Covenant" in Jonathan Edwards time. Should there be such an emphasis on "membership" in churches that do not check the fruit of members?

As someone who has attended a "large" (1000+) SBC for a year now, I have asked the same question: why should I become a member of this church?

We served in another church in town for more than 4 years, before getting burned by the leadership, so joining another group is not high on our list of "to-dos".

Terry Rayburn said...

There are surely several reasons why there are so many unregenerate members in the SBC churches (and other churches for that matter).

But the *main* reason is preaching a gospel of works.

Not so much a message of "earn your way to heaven", but things like:

1. Go forward up the aisle.

Sidenote: I have heard *many* sermons over the years that scarcely mentioned Jesus Christ, and certainly not the Gospel, but at the end of the sermon the question is asked, "Every head bowed, every eye closed. Who would like to receive Jesus this morning? You come forward while we sing Hymn 23."

I often wanted to ask sardonically, "Jesus? Who is He? You never even mentioned Him in your sermon on 'How To Be A Good Citizen', and now you want people to come forward to receive...whom?"

One of the most profound (yet simple) sermons I have heard preached, was at a regional Founders Conference in Clearwater, Florida a couple of years ago. Tom Ascol preached on 'What Is A Christian Sermon?', or something like that. The simple answer is, 'One that contains Jesus Christ. And if it doesn't contain Jesus Christ, it may be Biblical, it may be accurate, it may be true, it may be inspiring, but it isn't Christian.'

2. Be baptized.
3. Come to church every time the doors are open.
4. Tithe.

The strong implication is that if you've done those things, you are a "good" Christian, and then a religion of "do this" and "don't do that" is preached ad nauseum. A Performance-based legalistic religion, instead of the "All of Grace" Baptist truth that Spurgeon, for example, preached.

The Catch-22 is that if one of those churches with a large percentage of unregenerate members gets a new Pastor who begins preaching Christ and Him crucified, salvation by Grace, the New Birth, etc., the unregenerate membership often run him out, tarred and feathered.

You can preach to convict people of their sin all you want, but if you don't offer the Grace of the Crucified One to fill the swept out hearts, the multiplied doctrines of demons of legalism will re-fill the swept out hearts, making the state of the person worse than before.