More Than Endorsements and Hat Tips

In a recent blogpost, Denny Burk shares his thoughts on the passing of Resolution #6 (on regenerate church membership). After expressing his appreciation and encouragement about its passing, Burk writes,

For those who think that resolution 6 was mainly about membership numbers, I think that idea really misses the point. The inflated membership numbers aren’t really the heart of the problem being addressed by the resolution. The numbers are merely a symptom of the real issue. Southern Baptists don’t practice what they preach when it comes to a regenerate church membership, and that’s the pastoral/ecclesiastical failure that’s the heart of the problem.

That is precisely why the language of repentance is needed, and Lord willing, will be heeded in our churches today. Southern Baptists don’t need to go on record with where we stand on regenerate church membership. John Hammett writes,

History records that though regenerate church membership was at the heart of the origin of Baptists and was for most of Baptist history central to Baptist ecclesiology, it dramatically declined in Baptist life in the twentieth century and is in desperate need of recovery today.”

The need of the hour is for encouragement in what we already know, not new information. We need courage to stand on our convictions that have long been held as the “central to Baptist ecclesiology.” Mere endorsements are not enough, for as Burk notes, we are not practicing what we preach. Consider again the words of Hammett:

“Today, a denomination like the Southern Baptist Convention maintains the theology of regenerate church membership in its official statements, but in reality, its churches show little evidence of regeneration in the behavior of their members. It is widely known that divorce and moral problems are as common among church members as nonchurch members. Even the very modest index of attendance at Sunday morning worship shows close to two-thirds of Southern Baptist church members missing on any given Sunday morning. Regenerate church membership cannot be seriously maintained as characterizing most Baptist churches in North America today.”

– John S. Hammett, “Regenerate Church Membership” in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, edited by Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcolm B. Yarnell III (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 23-27.

I share the hopes and encouragement which Nathan Finn recently wrote . . .

“I am thankful for the hundreds of Southern Baptist churches that are taking steps to make their practice more consistent with their convictions.  By God’s grace, may their tribe increase tenfold!”


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5 Comments on “More Than Endorsements and Hat Tips”

  1. Bill Nettles Says:

    I’m sorry you weren’t at the convention. It was my first, and about what I expected. Eric Redmond, David Dockery, Al Gilbert were the top three speakers and the Gettys, while only getting 2 songs (as opposed to the Gaither group getting somewhere between Jesus and John Wayne) were the best music.

    I hope that the pastors that have been looking for some convention-wide backing to do something don’t get waylaid by the lay leaders in their churches who have bought into the easy-believism theology that has led to the bloating. I can just hear them now: “I was there when they prayed to ask Jesus into their heart. I know they’re saved. We can’t kick ’em out! If they’re saved, they are part of our church.” So now a pastor is stuck with people who don’t want to implement discipline. Some pastors probably even have staff members who are going to be opposing this. I think for some it will be a long road.

  2. Timothy Says:


    I read your blog several times weekly and have a question regarding ” regenerate church membership”. Where is ” regenerate church membership” found in the Bible? I tried Googling the phrase and can’t find any articles discussing the scriptural support for the doctrine. I’m not a Baptist but live in SBC country.

    God bless…


  3. Bill Nettles Says:

    Timmy, please fill in my gaps or correct my errors.

    Timothy, that’s a good question.
    Our word “church” is a translation of a Greek word ecclessia which in different contexts carries the meaning of “called-out ones” or “assembly”. While it can refer to all Christian believers, Paul uses it frequently to refer to a local group of believers meeting for fellowship, studying Scripture, encouraging one another in their following of Christ. We draw from the context of Paul’s usage that the business, if any, of such groups is to be managed by believers. In the West, particularly the democratized West, debate, discussion, and voting at typical ways of handling the polity of churches, so a system of membership has been established so that church matters are not subject to the whims of the public.

    More importantly, those associating with a local church are covenanting with others that they share the same allegiance to the same Lord and Savior, and that they place themselves in submission to each other. This is another of Paul’s themes, especially in Ephesians. It is this covenant relationship which is at the heart of “regenerate church membership.” We, as Baptists, believe that without first being in covenant with Christ you cannot truly covenant with other believers.

  4. Timothy,

    Bill is right. Ecclesia, while sometimes used to refer to the universal church, is most often used to describe a local assembly of baptized believers who have committed themselves first to Christ and second to one another. Regenerate church membership is simply the belief that what should comprise the church (membership) is believers alone. This distinctive, for instance, is different from the RCC and even Presbyterians who hold to what theologians call corpus permixtum (a mixed body comprised of believers and unbelievers), going back to St. Augustine in his interpretation of the parable of the wheat and tares.

    Not only do you find biblical warrant from the nature of the church for regenerate church membership, but you also find this in the imagery the Bible gives for the church, including bride of Christ, God’s building, body of Christ, temple of God, family of God, etc. All these images depict an exclusive community defined by reception to the gospel and responsible living under the Lordship of Christ.

    I don’t know how far you want me to go in answering your question, but I suppose this would suffice for now (at least for starters).

    BTW, I noticed a statement on your blog that I would be interested in hearing your rationale. You stated:

    “So, the presence of heresies within Calvinism makes Calvinism a heresy and a popular modern heresy at that. That is what lies at the heart of the current conflict between Calvinists and non-Calvinists within the many Baptist associations.”

    Calvinism a heresy? Is that the opinion of Roman Catholics?

  5. Timothy Says:

    Greetings again! Thanks Bill and Timmy for taking time to answer. I was looking more for the actual scriptural support. I got two answers that didn’t cite where in the Bible I would find the requirement for ” regenerate church membership”. Usually when I ask a Baptist where something is taught, I get an clear, unambiguous citation like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 for sola scriptura.

    >Bill: ” We, as Baptists, believe that without first being in covenant with Christ you cannot truly covenant with other believers.”

    While I agree that Baptists believe this and it is a well established Baptist tradition, where in scripture does it say that you cannot truly covenant with other believers without first being in covenant with Christ? The ancient Churches agree that baptism, as the sign of the New Covenant, puts us in covenant with Christ and fellow Christians. As the ancient Churches hold that baptism removes sins and regenerates the soul, I can see where a congregation of newly baptised members and older baptised members who have refrained from sin could compose a regenerate church membership. I just don’t find any examples in the Bible or in any of the early Christian writings that regenerate church membership was ever a requirement. From my perspective outside the Baptist faith, Baptists seem to have raised the membership bar without clear scrpitural support.

    Interestingly, Calvin taught that even if a church member was unworthy to receive communion, the member was still required to attend his local church to hear the Word. Calvin never seems to make the case for regenerate church membership in his works. (Of course, the Institutes are fairly long and I may have overlooked something in my reading.)

    Timmy: “Calvinism a heresy? Is that the opinion of Roman Catholics?”

    Yep, I’ll stick with Calvinism a heresy. Again, Calvin and his followers have many things right, but its those things that Calvin got wrong that is the problem.

    I don’t know if all or most Roman Catholics hold that opinion. I’d wager that most never give Calvinism a thought and know very little about John Calvin or his movement. The Church at Rome doesn’t seem to have made any special edict or order of excommunication for Calvin. The Church at the time seemed to feel that Calvin’s various heresies had already been sufficiently identified and condemned. For example, Calvin’s denial of the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist (The Heresy of Berengarius) had already been identified and responded to about 1000 A.D., centuries before Calvin.

    Calvin’s adoption and teaching of The Heresy of Berengarius is considered heretical not only by Roman Catholics, but also by Eastern Catholics (Melkites, Chaldeans, Malabars, etc.) and also by the Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Coptic, etc.) I don’t know if any of the Eastern Orthodox Churches have made any formal declaration, but The Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Boston has stated:

    Some have left the Church and formed a sect.” The “sect” becomes a historical entity which propagates itself, standing as a rival to the Church. The Church takes names— “catholic,” “orthodox,” “true,” “apostolic,” etc.—in order to distinguish Herself from them. She generally gives those “sects” the name of their leader or first principle (e.g., the Arians after Arius, the Nestorians after Nestorius, the Iconoclasts after Iconoclasm, Papists after the followers of the Pope, Calvinism after John Calvin, Lutheranism after Martin Luther, etc.) “Protestantism” is the collective name of those “sects” which emerged from Papism in the 16th century.

    [Interesting that HOMB cites Papists as sect]

    Again, I thank you for your time and not blowing me off. Most of my co-workers are SBC and I may pose my questions to them and hear what they have to say.

    [BTW, just last week I discovered that my grandfather was kicked out of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas for arguing the Bible with his teachers. Seems grandfather took the Bible at its word and believed the earth was flat due to the Bible stating “four corners of the earth”. Round objects don’t have corners as grandfather pointed out. The OBU professor was apparently not a “flat earther”. Thought you might enjoy the anecdote.]

    God bless…


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