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    Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    From the pen of Mark Dever
    (actually this is from the Together for the Gospel Blog)

    We think our brother nails it! We must not let this happen in San Antonio. The slogan for likeminded brothers and sisters next year needs to be "Remember the Alamo!"

    Southern Baptist Mistake
    by mdever
    After 2 months reflection by many pastors, it is increasingly clear that the Southern Baptist Convention has made a serious mistake at its convention in Greensboro.
    This has nothing to do with elections of officers, mission board controversy or alcohol. This has to do with what it means to be a church, what it means to be a Christian and the accountability that pastors will give to God.
    When a question was raised about the propriety of allowing those who are able to attend church, but who never do to remain members of our churches, the answer was given that this was in order to keep the names as "prospects". Presumably, the intention is that our prior contact with them gives us an excuse for contacting them personally.
    Meanwhile, mortality continues on, and pastors have certainly died since the convention, and will continue to, as we are all eventually called home. And when we do, according to Hebrews 13, we pastors will give an account to God for the souls in our care. Who are they? They are the members of our churches. At this point, I'm to give account currently for 536.
    For me to allow my local congregation to continue on, with people in membership regularly forsaking assembling together is to be in sin, to lead my congregation into sin, confuse what it means to be a member, and confuse what it means to be a Christian. Any one of these topics could be treated at length. I simply want to reflect for a moment on how we're serving these "prospects", non-attending members.
    All of them will die, many of them without returning to church. Some of those will be our brothers and sisters in Christ who were in sin. I fear that many of them will not have been our brothers and sisters in Christ, and so they will slip into a Christ-less eternity, face a good and just God while they are still pleading their own merits for salvation, and fall under God's deserved penalty forever. We could have helped them, like the man in I Cor. 5 who was caught in sin (and may have repented II Cor. 2?), or like the man in Gal. 6:1. But we didn't.
    Instead, we met their actions of disobedience with continued formal approval. They remained members. We continued to teach them that church membership was their own private business, not the business of the congregation. We continued to meet their absence with our silence.
    Do you know who opposes this practice of Southern Baptist Churches? God in Hebrews 10. Our Southern Baptist forbears who knew what it meant to be a Christian, and a church member, and who suffered for it. No messenger to a Southern Baptist Convention a century or so ago could have conceived of such an action (or inaction). Current Southern Baptist church planters oppose us in this. As Ed Stetzer and David Putnam have recently written, “Any church with a membership twice its attendance is not and cannot be living up to its responsibilities to care for, nurture, watch over, and disciple its church members.” [Ed Stetzer and David Putnam, Breaking the Missional Code (2006), p. 150].
    Of course there are hypocrites in the church, but they shouldn't be there with our approval. We should ourselves be constant repenters and trusters in Christ. We should not aid unrepenting sinners in their own delusions of being saved.
    How could such an answer have been given? I'm sure in well meaning sincerity. But how could it have been soberly accepted by thousands of messengers? I can only conclude that it must have been due in part to our cheapened understanding of conversion, debased practices of evangelism, worldly attitudes about being "judgmental" and an addiction--a drunkeness, if you will--to numbers. I don't think it came about by careful reflection on the Bible's teaching on what it means to be born again, to be made a new creation, to consider the fruit of the Spirit in contrast to the works of the flesh. We were not thinking of II Peter 1. We not calling people to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith, as Paul urged the Corinthians. We have not with a sober love called them "sinners" in need of repentance; we have called them "members" and assured them that they are saved. Or we've called them "prospects."
    Friends, "prospects" are in the phone book, in our family, in our neighborhood, at work. Church members are not "prospects". Church members are supposed to be our brothers and sisters in Christ. Church members are our exhibit A of what it means to be a Christian. They are the walking advertisements for the gospel our congregation preaches. Church members are supposed to be saved from God's wrath against them. If they give no evidence of it, we're playing a high stakes game here with the souls of those we claim to love.
    Church members are not prospects. Church members are not prospects.

    posted by Arkansas Razorbaptist at 8/16/2006 08:24:00 AM

    14 Comments:

    Blogger Paul said...

    Well, at least somebody with a national forum said it. It's rather sad that none of our "leaders" had the leadership to say it. They seem to be more concerned about the handful who voted against the alcohol resolution.

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006 9:26:00 AM  
    Anonymous Alan Cross said...

    Thank you. That is refreshing. Honestly, those of us in the blogosphere who write about these things should repent as well. We got snowed with the reaction to the opposition to the alcohol resolution and responded to that. We missed the biggest issue of all:

    OUR CHURCHES ARE FILLED WITH UNREGENERATE "MEMBERS." And, we don't care!!! We'd rather say, 16 MILLION than be honest with people and warn them that they may be headed to hell. Our "once saved, always saved" doctrine has been reduced to an aisle walk and a dunk when someone was a child and there is little to no work of the Spirit. How can someone be saved apart from the work of the Spirit? It's impossible! How many of our baptisms are people who recognize that their initial "getting wet" was no baptism at all because they weren't really born again? Alot.

    Dever is right. THAT was the issue out of Greensboro and is a major source of EVERY problem we have as a denomination. God forgive me that I didn't pay more attention to it and allowed myself to be distracted. It won't happen again.

    Yes, San Antonio.

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006 12:19:00 PM  
    Blogger Bart Barber said...

    I couldn't agree more.

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006 12:53:00 PM  
    Blogger Batgirl said...

    We all need to unify around integrity in membership -- this could be a positive change that could come out of San Antonio. It needs to happen.

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006 3:06:00 PM  
    Blogger Tim Sweatman said...

    It is no coincidence that many of the same people who opposed the alcohol resolution were strongly in favor of the resolution on integrity in church membership. Both issues revolve around the matter of biblical sufficiency. The membership issue is another one in which Baptist tradition finds itself opposite of what the Bible actually says. Of these two issues, the membership issue is a greater problem because of the multitude of Southern Baptists who have a false assurance of salvation just because they are a church member.

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006 8:10:00 PM  
    Blogger Arkansas Razorbaptist said...

    Sweaty,

    You are so right! In fact, you are so right, that I am deeply troubled by the reality we face. I fear, as Dever points out, some of our leaders are troubled that by the fact that our numbers would drop if we had embraced Ascol's truth in reporting resolution.

    We need to have SBC churches made up of regenerate members. I can't help but think the Body of Christ would be more effective with a bunch of saved Southern Baptists doing Kingdom work. I am begging someone to come on here and tell us why we are wrong about this. Please!

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006 10:08:00 PM  
    Blogger Wes Kenney said...

    I've emailed Dever's article to the members of a committee I've just appointed that will spend the next year reviewing and rewriting our church's constitution, covenant, and bylaws. A good starting point...

    Thursday, August 17, 2006 12:30:00 PM  
    Blogger Arkansas Razorbaptist said...

    Wes,

    Your leadership at the congregational level is the type we need in all of our churches. If we were to go church by church and have pastors do what you have done, there might not be a need for such a resolution. I hope other pastors will follow your lead. BTW -- We fixed the link to your blog.

    Who else is doing this at their churches?????

    Thursday, August 17, 2006 12:36:00 PM  
    Blogger Bart Barber said...

    We're doing it at FBC Farmersville.

    But we're also non-drinkers here--I have to disagree (agreeably, I hope) with Bro. Sweatman's linkage of the two.

    Thursday, August 17, 2006 3:44:00 PM  
    Blogger Bart Barber said...

    Allow me to shameless peddle here the excellent works of Stan Norman and John Hammett. Norman's The Baptist Way and Hammett's Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches will prove to be excellent resources for those of you who are considering a return to a regenerate church.

    Thursday, August 17, 2006 3:45:00 PM  
    Blogger Bart Barber said...

    Paul,

    I think you'll find that our seminaries HAVE been saying this. Norman and Hammett (see my comment above) are seminary professors. Dr. Malcolm Yarnell has called for a return to regenerate church membership. Dr. Paige Patterson has written that Baptists need to get serious about another sola, regenerate church members alone (I can't remember the Latin for "regenerate" to match up with sola).

    It just isn't accurate to portray the entire block of Southern Baptist leadership as silent on this issue. Those who study theology and history (and especially historical theology) in our convention are overwhelmingly in support of a return to regenerate church membership.

    As a related aside, those of us who aren't on a board or committee, aren't going to be nominated for an SBC office, and aren't a part of any of the inner circles (please note the plural) of Southern Baptist life are strongly tempted to think of the "convention establishment" in a monolithic way. Because the direction of the annual meeting went one way, that must be the wishes of the "powers that be." It is a fallacy. I think that I perceive several cleavages in the various influential groups within the SBC. This topic is one of them. The "conservative resurgence" coalition is divided on this issue at every strata, I think.

    Thursday, August 17, 2006 3:58:00 PM  
    Anonymous Alan Cross said...

    Bart,

    If they're divided over this, then they're not very conservative, are they? This is NOT a debatable issue. This is NOT a non-essential. This is core to what it means to be the church. If anyone in SBC life is advocating or promoting unregenerate church membership, then they are teaching heresy and should be confronted.

    I suspect that most do not look at it that way, and are purely affected by a cultural bias. I will give the benefit of the doubt and believe that most opponents of the resolution on church membership did not, de facto, mean to promote unregenerate church membership. But, if we have leadership that is divided over whether or not all church members should be born again, we have bigger problems than we thought.

    Friday, August 18, 2006 7:00:00 AM  
    Blogger Tom Bryant said...

    I was and still am amazed that there is an argument/debate about this.

    For long established churches - ours is 98 yo - this demands some maneuvering. We came with 50 in attendance and 450 in membership.

    Our first step was to attempt contact. When we couldn't even locate 100, they were dropped immediately. The next step for us was to send out letters to ALL members who were living more than 50 miles away and ask them did they know that they were members at our church. Most did not and we eliminated another 50.

    We are still trying to knock that down more by using the inactive membership idea with the provision that anyone inactive for more than a year - who was physically able to attend - would be dropped from membership.

    We had to change our constitution and a mindset. There were people that we elimated from membership who were descendents of the founders.

    It has taken the whole time, but in the next 6 months, we will have transferred non-attending members to the real prospect list.

    On another track, we had to make certain that those who were in the church were really saved. There are many unsaved people who have just transferred their unregenerate membership from one church to another. It's not just the SBC as a denom that has to purge some rolls. Churches have to change their mindset.

    Friday, August 18, 2006 10:02:00 AM  
    Blogger Bart Barber said...

    By the way, there is a great article in the Fall 2004 edition of the Southwestern Journal of Theology entitled "The Rule of Christ and Congregational Polity" written by Wyman Lewis Richardson. I think everyone here would find it very encouraging if you are able to get your hands on a copy.

    Sunday, August 20, 2006 11:52:00 AM  

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