Posted tagged ‘Regenerate Church Membership’

Nathan Finn on Baptizing Children and Church Membership

August 27, 2008

One of the important points to address in recovering a regenerate church membership is the issue of baptizing young children.  Nathan Finn was recently interviewed by Michael Spencer (iMonk) on the important issue of church membership, and I have provided a portion of Nathan’s answer to the question of baptizing children.  Reconnecting the ordinance of baptism with church membership will play a key role in strengthening the integrity of church membership.  Here’s the excerpt from Nathan’s answer (emphasis mine):

Baptizing small children is an innovation in American Baptist life. I think that this is a clear area where we have been influenced by some of the fundamentalists, though it worked in tandem with our home-grown programmatic emphasis on enlistment. The average age of baptism increasingly declined during the 20th century. In 1995, the old Home Mission Board published a study that showed the only age group where baptisms were increasing was the “under 5” category. I have a hard time seeing how this makes us very different than pedobaptists. A perusal of church records and associational minutes will show that our American Baptist forefathers did not regularly baptize pre-teens, though there were occasional exceptions when a child gave extraordinary evidence of both genuine conversion and an understanding of the cost of discipleship as entailed through meaningful church membership.

The practice of baptizing pre-teens has affected church membership in a number of ways. First, it has contributed to the growth of our membership roles—the majority of our baptisms are of elementary aged children and preschoolers. Second, it has contributed to the phenomena of multiple “baptisms” and rededications as teenagers and adults have to assess the validity of childhood spiritual decisions that they can sometimes hardly remember. Third, when coupled with an inadequate view of eternal security, it has led to millions of inactive members who are convinced they are Christians because they walked the aisle as a kindergartener during Vacation Bible School forty years ago. Finally, it has greatly contributed to the decline in redemptive church discipline: what church wants to discipline an eleven year old for having premarital sex, vocal racism, or habitually getting into fistfights with his classmates?

I do want to offer one clarification before moving on. I think it is very possible for small children to be regenerated. There are many people I know who can clearly remember being converted at a relatively young age. But being able to understand the basics of sin, judgment, redemption, and faith and being able to maturely covenant in membership with a local church are two different things, in my opinion. Some will argue that virtually all of the New Testament baptisms happen almost immediately after conversion. This is true. I would respond that almost all New Testament examples are clearly adults who are older than even teenagers. Furthermore, we have absolutely zero examples in the New Testament of when to baptize children who are raised in Christian families. Our pedobaptist friends address this situation by baptizing infants. Most Southern Baptists and Independent Baptists address this by baptizing anyone who can articulate a prayer for salvation. I am an old-fashioned Baptist who believes we should withhold baptism until a child is old enough to publicly identify with a local church through covenant, meaningful membership, though I would be reluctant to arbitrarily set a particular age requirement for baptism.

Read the whole interview.

Disciplined Church Discipline, and the Dance That Is to Come

June 19, 2008

Dr. Ken Keathley, blogging at Between the Times, has written a helpful post reflecting on a case of undisciplined church discipline. In his article, Keathley addresses that, while it is appropriate in cases of obstinence and indifference, disciplining the weak Christian is not in order. He writes,

There is a world of difference between the one who is “stiff necked” and rebellious and the one who is overtaken in a fault (Gal. 6:1-3). . . . Spiritual struggles and stutter-steps are not signs that one is unsaved. Just the opposite; it is one of the surest signs of spiritual vitality. Ask anyone who ministers to those who have been saved from a variety of addictive behaviors. They will tell you the old cliché, “Only live fish struggle to swim upstream; dead fish float with the current.” Spiritual battles indicate spiritual life. I’m not as concerned about the eternal destiny of those beleaguered with temptation as I am with the member who doesn’t give a rip.

Keathley’s distinction is an important one. I am reminded that newborn Christians are to yearn for the “pure milk of the Word” (1 Pet. 2:1-2), who are also encouraged to mature to the point where they can eat solid food (meat). Newborn Christians will do what newborns do–stumble, fall, and get back up again, and what they need is not to be corrected for stumbling but encouraged to persevere in learning how to walk. The problem Paul had with the Corinthians church is that they were living like babies when they should have grown up already, as evidenced by the jealousy and strife among them (1 Cor. 3:1-4; cf. Heb. 5:11-14).

While seeking to pursue congregational responsibility and integrity in church membership, we must never cease to be gracious people. The happy people are the merciful people, and the promise is they too will receive mercy (which we all need!) (Matt. 5:7). Interestingly enough, prior to those words by Jesus, he tells us that happy also are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6). Yet, could it be that there is a tendency for those who have a greater appetite to be more judgmental and possess an air of spiritual superiority than those who may have less of an appetite–you know, kind of like the mature father looking to his newborn son with disappointment, saying, “Why can’t you eat steak like me?”

We need accountability and a nurturing environment that reminds us that we are all in a pursuit of holiness, but we are not perfect. We are all under construction, and we are here only by God’s unmerited kindness towards us. A posture of humility and self-examination would do much to correct an undisciplined tendency to practice discipline to those who need a helping hand (i.e., those who are stumbling). Lest we forget, it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4), and while it is never a license to sin (Rom. 6:1-2), the grace of God should always be on our lips and exhibited in our lives.

A community of faith that is regularly trusting and repenting, that is, applying the gospel to their lives, will be mindful to not wield the law in an unlawful manner. That is why a recovery of church discipline without the recovery of the gospel is so dangerous. Church discipline in the hands of those who have not be staggered by grace, administered by those without a limp, will think that standing tall equals good standing. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us that it is the one who could not lift up his face but beat his breast is the one he accepts in his arms (Luke 18:9-14). Good standing in the courts of heaven should be the grounds of good standing in the eyes of men. Disciplining spiritual performances among those just learning the song and dance is the very thing that Jesus condemned.

So if when we stumble and fall, let us sing the song of mercy and remind one another of the dance that is to come.

More Than Endorsements and Hat Tips

June 18, 2008

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!”


Tried and Deemed Credible: Mere Words Alone Do Not Suffice

June 17, 2008

On the heels of my previous post where Dagg argues that, while churches are not infallible in their judgment, they should consider the profession of faith and evidence of regeneration when assessing candidates for church membership, I want to present an argument in support of Dagg, providing excerpts and a brief commentary on this important subject matter.

First, Dagg’s quote, as referenced last week:

“The churches are not infallible judges, being unable to search the heart; but they owe it to the cause of Christ, and to the candidate himself, to exercise the best judgment of which they are capable. To receive any one on a mere profession of words, without any effort to ascertain whether he understands and feels what he professes, is unfaithfulness to his interest, and the interests of religion.”

John L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990), 269, emphasis mine.

John Hammett writes in his recent book on Baptist ecclesiology that “regenerate church membership began to disappear when Baptist churches in North America began to baptize and bring to members who gave no visible evidence of regeneration.”[1] If this is true, then Hammett (and others as will see) states that there is a direct relationship between the church’s responsibility to discern “visible evidence of regeneration” and a denomination today (SBC) where 2/3 of her members give no evidence of having been born again. This is far from the biblical model, as Mark Dever explains, “According to the New Testament, the church is primarily a body of people who profess and give evidence that they have been saved by God’s grace alone, for His glory alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”[2] What Hammett and Dever are defending here is a practice that has long been upheld by Baptists but disappeared in middle to late 20th century. Consider the words of J.M. Pendleton in the popular Baptist Church Manual:

“In accordance with the first way (by experience and baptism), persons wishing to unite with a church give an account of the dealings of God with their souls, and state the ‘reason of the hope that is in them’; whereupon, if, in the judgment of the church they ‘have passed from death unto life,’ they are by vote of the church recognized as candidates for baptism, with the understanding that when baptized they will be entitled to all the rights and privileges of membership.”[3]

And again from Pendleton:

“Great care should be exercised in receiving members. Many churches err at this point. They do not observe the requisite caution; for they receive persons who give, to say the least, very imperfect evidence of piety. There is much danger in this, especially in times of religious excitement. Pastors should positively assure themselves that those who are received for baptism have felt themselves to be guilty, ruined, helpless sinners, justly condemned by God’s holy law; and under a sense of their lost condition have trusted in Christ for salvation.”[4]

The Baptist record of accepting members by way of profession and evidence of regeneration goes all the way back to 1656 as seen in the Somerset Baptist Confession which states:

“According to article XXV of the Somerset (southwest England) Baptist Confession of 1656, a host of Scriptures encouraged these framers to exhort their readers in ‘in admitting members into the church of Christ, it is the duty of the church, and ministers whom it concerns, in faithfulness to God, that they be careful they receive none but such as do make forth evidence demonstration of the new birth, and the work of faith with power.”[5]

So then, it makes sense that Dagg would add that “to be visible saints, a holy life must be superadded to a profession of the true religion; and they who do not exhibit the light of a holy life, whatever their profession may be, have no scriptural claim to be considered members of Christ’s church.”[6] This is a bold statement indeed, but a right statement nonetheless. If Southern Baptists for the past century held fast to the truth that we simply have no scriptural claim to consider members who do not exhibit “true religion” in their souls, then we would not have over 10 million souls of whom we cannot give an account even in the most fundamental measures of Sunday morning worship attendance.

The practice of accepting prospective members on the basis of profession of faith and credible (or visible) evidence that they are trusting in Christ goes beyond the superficial statistics of membership vs. church attendance disparity to affecting the testimony of Christ in a world where the church is to be a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. If we are such lights that are not to be hid under a basket, then it makes sense that the light of true conversion should not be hidden either. Indeed, how can a local church be a city on a hill that cannot be hidden when a majority of her members are hidden or at best unrecognizable in the most rudimentary steps of a follower of Christ?

Perhaps the implications of not accepting members on the basis of their profession and evidence of regenerate could not be better stated than what Mark Dever wrote the following:

“The idea that membership in a local church should only require a profession of faith in Christ is an idea that is both common and destructive to the life and witness of the church. Historically, Baptists have realized that any profession of faith should be tried and deemed credible. After all, a saving profession of faith includes repentance. A Christian life will be revealed not only by participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper but also by regular attendance at the congregation’s gatherings, and a submission to the discipline of the congregation. This includes regular praying for the congregation and tithing. When congregations do not give attention to lifestyles of repentance, nominal Christianity quickly comes to characterize the church to the world, hurt its witness, and lie about the character of God.”[7]

May God grant us the grace of repentance and humility of mind to revive our witness and return to faithfulness in displaying the character of our gloriously holy God.


[1]John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 113.

[2]Mark E. Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 149.

[3]J. M. Pendleton, Baptist Church Manual (Nashville, Broadman Press, 1966), 17-18.

[4]Ibid., 18.

[5]Mark E. Dever, “Regaining Meaningful Church Membership” in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, edited by Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcolm B. Yarnell III (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 51.

[6]John L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990), 123.

[7]Mark E. Dever, “The Church” in A Theology for the Church, edited by Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007). 848.

Sam Rainer on Regenerate Church Membership

June 16, 2008

A couple of months ago, Sam Rainer shared the story of how his church is pursuing integrity in church membership.  While referring to the massive disparity between membership statistics and church attendance in the SBC at large, Rainer shared the following:

Our church is no different. In fact, we are one of the worst offenders. Our membership was inflated by a factor of 6 when compared with average attendance. We had 11 (yes, that’s eleven) categories of members, including the following: inactive possible, inactive likely, inactive unlikely, non-resident unknown, non-resident known. . . . While God has provided growth to our church and the membership gap has closed some, the spread between “member” and “active churchgoer” remains large. Needless to say, we decided to do a little spring cleaning this year. We’re still working through the process, but I’ll share some tips that worked in my church in restoring integrity to membership.

In his article, he provides eight tips they have developed in the process of starting their “spring cleaning”.  They are:

1. Love the people.
2. Start a new members’ class.
3. Follow-up is critical.
4. Clean the rolls in stages.
5. Enlist key members in the church.
6. Challenge Sunday School/small groups/connect groups to help in the process.
7. Take it slow: Without sounding redundant – TAKE IT SLOW!
8. Parallel an outwardly-focused missions strategy with the process of cleaning the rolls.

You can read the entire article by going here.

I Quote – You Decide

June 12, 2008

Two quotes, no commentary, for your consideration:

Quote 1:

“We have to be very careful. If you try to take this (regenerate church membership) to the lowest common denominator, before too long, you’ll find the pastors and the church leadership to try to separate the sheep from the goats (an allusion to a parable about the separation of the heaven- and hell-bound), and only Jesus and the angels he assigned can do that.”

– Johnny Hunt, interviewed by The Tennessean, June 11, 2008

Quote 2:

“The churches are not infallible judges, being unable to search the heart; but they owe it to the cause of Christ, and to the candidate himself, to exercise the best judgment of which they are capable. To receive any one on a mere profession of words, without any effort to ascertain whether he understands and feels what he professes, is unfaithfulness to his interest, and the interests of religion.”

John L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990), 269.

Who is right? You decide.

Norman Jameson At It Again

June 12, 2008

At the conclusion of the Building Bridges Conference, many Southern Baptists were encouraged by what took place.

Not Norman Jameson, editor of North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder, who took opportunity to misrepresent “creeping” Calvinists. As an alarmist, Jameson shared his “befuddlement” and overall disdain over what the Building Bridges conference represented. That was December of last year.

Today (June 12), Norman Jameson came out again, spinning the result of the resolution on regenerate church membership title with the alarmist title, “SBC Resolution Could Shrink Membership Rolls.” While his article addresses all the resolutions passed by the messengers at Indy, he focuses particularly on resolution #6, that is, on regenerate church membership.

Aside from his title, consider also how he refers to individuals in his article. Referring to Malcolm Yarnell, Jameson writes,

The first, offered by Malcolm Yarnell, a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, added to the definition of New Testament church.

Now consider how he identifies Tom Ascol:

Messengers adopted an amendment by Tom Ascol, prominent in the Calvinist Founder’s Movement in the Southern Baptist Convention . . .

So why could Jameson not identify him as, “Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL” as any other news outlet does? That would be, of course, because Jameson is a spin-meister, ever hoping to alert unsuspecting Southern Baptists to the “agendas” of folks he finds problematic.

So now it is the Calvinists causing the reduction in membership rolls in SBC churches, according to Norman Jameson. It is not the fact that we have abandoned the historic practice of regenerate church membership with all Southern Baptists–Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike–have uniformly upheld. Jameson advertises this resolution as though the goal is to “shrink membership rolls” of Southern Baptist churches. The spinning of this resolution, then, is to say that this will take the SBC in further decline, causing churches to shrink as a result of its passing.

The fact is, a commitment to regenerate church membership is the very thing we need in order to revive our churches. In his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever affirms,

“I’m convinced that getting this concept of church membership right is a key step in revitalizing our churches, evangelizing our nation, furthering the cause of Christ around the world, and so bringing glory to God (148)”.

Charles Deweese agrees, stating,

“A direct relationship exists between a regenerate church membership and five other areas of Baptist life–church covenants, the ordinances, church discipline, evangelism, and small groups” (Charles W. Deweese, A Community of Believers: Making Church Membership More Meaningful (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1978), 13.

The purpose of passing a resolution on regenerate church membership is that our churches would reflect what God has commanded in Scripture. There is no other agenda than to honor Christ by seeking to have a church composed of “Christ’s baptized disciples, united in the belief of what he has said, and covenanting to do what he has commanded” (J. M. Pendleton, Baptist Church Manual (Nashville, Broadman Press, 1966), 7. It is really disappointing to find state editors seeking to use such a historic moment in the life of the SBC to misrepresent the nature and goal of such a resolution. But the struggle to revive the issue of regenerate church membership will continue in spite of its detractors. May those who have the health and integrity of the local church on their radar continue to forge a convention-wide consensus on this cardinal belief of Baptists so that our churches can thrive for generations to come.

The Duty of Every Southern Baptist Church

June 12, 2008

On the heels of the convention consensus regarding the necessity of a regenerate church membership and our corporate repentance thereof, I thought it would be pertinent to provide this quote by John L. Dagg, who has arguably written the best book on Baptist polity among Southern Baptists.

Exactly 150 years ago, Dagg wrote the following,

“Some have thought that because no church on earth is perfectly free from false professors, it is folly to aim at a perfect church. But we may, with equal propriety, charge any individual man with folly who is striving after personal perfection. The duty of every individual church is, to press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus; and the duty of every church, and of every church member, is, to strive in every lawful way for church perfection. Though full perfection may not be attained, yet approach to it sufficiently rewards our continual effort; and, apart from all respect to reward, we are obliged to this course, by the command of Christ.”

– John L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990), 98.

Considering Dagg’s biblical logic, to say that we should not strive for pure churches is tantamount to saying that Christians should not strive for holiness. No one would endorse the latter, but we have heard the former ringing in our ears.

May there be a new song sung from the bride of Christ, adorning herself in holiness and faithfulness to her Husband.

For more articles on church membership, go here.

On Regenerate Church Membership

June 9, 2008

Though I plan on posting more on this issue, given that this is the week of the SBC Annual Meeting, I though it would be profitable to compile the previous posts on church membership here for anyone interested in checking them out.

To date, beginning with most recent:

1. Repent of Unregenerate Church Membership? Dockery Says “Yes” [June 6, 2008]
2. SBC Bloggers, Ascol in USA Today [June 4, 2008]
3. Why Pursue Regenerate Church Membership? [May 30, 2008]
4. Tolerated Nonattendance Raises Questions [May 29, 2008]
5. Criminal Negligence Notwithstanding [May 29, 2008]
6. Calling for Truth, Tom Ascol, and Regenerate Church Membership [May 28, 2008]
7. The Challenges to Regenerate Church Membership [May 26, 2008]
8. Dangerous Is the State of Unregenerate Church Membership [May 22, 2008]
9. Rick Warren Signs on to Ascol’s Resolution [May 16, 2008]
10. Toward a Covenantal Church Membership [May 13, 2008]
11. Book Alert: What Is a Healthy Church Member? [May 8, 2008]
12. Meaningful Church Membership for the Members [May 8, 2008]
13. Addendum: Three Case Studies [May 7, 2008]
14. Why I Cannot Support the Barber/Yarnell Resolution on Regenerate Church Membership – and Neither Should You [May 1, 2008]
15. “Ministerially Speaking” [March 18, 2008]
16. Resources on Church Discipline and Regenerate Church Membership [February 20, 2008]

SBC Bloggers, Ascol in USA Today

June 4, 2008

In a recent article in USA Today, Cathy Lynn Grossman writes about SBC bloggers:

The six candidates range from conservatives backed by the leaders of the denomination’s sharp turn toward doctrinal strictness in the 1970s to younger pastors who take a less hard-line stance and are promoted by bloggers.

The winner will succeed Frank Page, who won in 2006 with the help of bloggers.

Then, on regenerate church membership and a quote from Tom Ascol:

Also on the agenda: proposals to more accurately count membership, which may, or may not, be 16 million.

“We need accountability. You can’t find half the SBC on our rolls. Everybody knows it,” says Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla.

“It’s a spiritual point,” says Ascol, author of one of the proposals. People who don’t “follow the faith sincerely” should not be counted just to pump up the numbers. “That consumerist mentality is devastating the church.”

Why Pursue Regenerate Church Membership?

May 30, 2008

John Hammett has written one of the best books on Baptist ecclesiology in recent years, entitled Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology. In it, Hammett devotes nearly 70 pages to the issue of regenerate church membership.  In this brief excerpt, I want to provide the four reasons Hammett gives for why we should recover/pursue regenerate church membership.  They are:

1.  The recovery of meaningful church membership should be the highest priority of Baptist churches today because of the effect it will have on our corporate witness.

“Could the recovery of meaningful membership allow the light of the gospel to shine through us with greater clarity and beauty?””

2.  Our corporate health will be strengthened.

“How can the church live the life is commanded to live–loving one another, praying for one another, encouraging one another–if many of its members are unregenerate?”

3.  The potential for awakening literally millions of lost church members.

“Many chronically absent church members whose lives give no evidence of regeneration may be trusting in their church membership to get them to heaven.  A recovery of meaningful church membership would involve a challenge to such members.”

4.  Recovering meaningful church membership will honor Christ.

“Christ is honored when his bride is holy, but he cannot be so honored as long as many of the members making up that bride live like lost people.  The Charleson Summary of Church Discipline says that when churches allow unconverted people to crowd into them, they ‘make the church of Christ a harlot.'”

– John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 114-16.

More excerpts and articles on church membership can be found by clicking here.

Tolerated Nonattendance Raises Questions

May 29, 2008

Mark Dever has questions–good questions–that I believe warrant our consideration and merit an honest, biblical response.  Regarding the unregenerate state of church membership today, he writes:

A member’s regular, tolerated nonattendance begins to raise further questions.  What kind of leadership must a church have to allow such a misrepresentation to arise and flourish?  What expectations are being communicated to those who are joining?  What discipline is practiced, if any?  In fact, tolerated noninvolvement among members may even call into question the kind of evangelism being done and the church’s understanding of conversion, even of the gospel itself.  Allowing such nonattending members to retain their membership would seem to be such blatant disobedience to Scripture, and such a brazen disregard of the scriptural health of those concerned, that it would even call into question the teaching that brought about such an unhealthy tolerance in the body.

– Mark Dever, “Regaining Meaningful Church Membership” in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, edited by Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcolm B. Yarnell III (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 46.

Criminal Negligence Notwithstanding

May 29, 2008

John L. Dagg, in his excellent book Manual of Church Order, writes the following:

In our definition of a church, we have called it an assembly of believers in Christ.  This definition tells what a church is according to the revealed will of God, and not what it becomes by the criminal negligence of its ministers and members, or the wicked craft of hypocritical men who gain admittance into it.  When we study the Word of God to ascertain what a church is, we must receive the perfect pattern as presented in the uncorrupted precepts of that word, and not as marred by human error and crime.

Later, Dagg adds:

Churches are often criminally careless, both in the reception of members, and in the discipline of them when received.  If the piety of churches were very fervent, men of cold hearts could not remain happy among them, and could not continue to have their true character concealed.

– John L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990), 80, 99.

If indeed we have been “criminally negligent” in our churches, should not the solemn words of our elder brother be calling us to repentance?

Calling for Truth, Tom Ascol, and Regenerate Church Membership

May 28, 2008

A little more than a week ago, Dr. Paul Dean who hosts the Calling for Truth radio program, interviewed Tom Ascol regarding the resolution on regenerate church membership.  You can access this interview by listening online or by downloading it (MP3) to your computer.

As the conversation continues, I hope to provide more excerpts on this subject matter.  For related articles, go here.

The Challenges to Regenerate Church Membership

May 26, 2008

R. Stanton Norman, in his book, The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church, shares an excerpt from an article written by Dr. James Leo Garrett in 1961 entitled “Seeking a Regenerate Church Membership” (published by Southwestern Journal of Theology vol. 3/2) in which he gives five challenges churches face in the recovery or implementation of the practice of regenerate church membership. Although Garrett’s article was written 47 years ago, we are facing the same challenges today (if not to a greater degree).

Garrett’s five points, summarized by Norman, are as follows:

1. New converts seeking membership in our Baptist churches are not longer required to give public confessions of their own faith or to provide public testimony of their conversion.

By this, Garrett and Norman are referring to the “superficial processes” such as simply saying “Yes” or other questions where the answers are self-evident. These inadequate processes of discerning the state of the baptismal candidate have truncated the public profession of faith or other credible evidences of regeneration.

2. Some Southern Baptist churches lack any serious doctrinal or ethical standards for membership.

While Norman does not give specific commentary on this point, one may assume he is referring to the need for a covenantal understanding of church membership so that members commit themselves to sound doctrine (doctrinal), godly living (ethical), and faithfulness to their local church (fellowship).

3. Southern Baptist life is immersed in a culture that measures ministerial and ecclesiastical success numerically.

Norman goes on to explain:

Pastors and other church leaders are overwhelmed with the pressure to produce results. Statistical growth has replaced biblical fidelity as the standard for ministerial excellence. This climate encourages churches to lower their membership requirements. The emphasis on regenerate church membership may diminish in order to “grow the church” or to “have a big church.” Church growth is typically defined in terms of multiplication to the exclusion of maturation.

4. Leading questions or semi-coercive methods may account for spurious professions of faith.

Again, Norman writes pointedly:

Manipulative tactics often target children, which accounts for the ever-decreasing age of conversion in many Southern Baptist churches.

5. The widespread method of voting on new applicants practiced in many Baptist churches.

For clarification, what Garrett and Norman are referring to is the voting of new applicants without having interviewed or examined the candidates prior to the congregational vote; ergo, the vote in favor of accepting new applicants are proceeded in ignorance or at best superficial knowledge.

Norman concludes with these solemn words:

Failure to heed these warnings will result in irreparable harm to our churches. The loss of the conviction of a regenerate church membership would be the abandonment of one of our crucial theological distinctives. We would in essence forsake one of our core tenets that has classically and theologically defined us as Baptists in the free church tradition. We would erase the line of demarcation between the church and the world.

Our churches would become more worldly and carnal and less holy and Christlike. We would witness and increase in the number of inactive, indifferent, uncommitted, and undedicated members in our churches. In our effort to have larger churches with greater numbers of members, we would contribute to the demise of effective evangelism and witness a decrease in the number of new converts. We would also lose our prophetic voice to speak with biblical convictions on the great moral and social issues of our day.

– R. Stanton Norman, The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 59-62.

Given our current circumstances, should we not be asking the question, “Have we not already succumbed to the forsaking the core theological conviction of regenerate church membership? Is this not evidenced in the high number of ‘inactive, indifferent, uncommitted, and undedicated’ church members? Have we not begun to see decreasing numbers in conversions and baptisms, reflecting a demise in effective evangelism and witness? Have we not lost our prophetic voice when there is an equal or greater percentage of members experiencing divorce, abuse, and immorality?