Thursday, May 10, 2007

2007 Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

As promised, I have submitted my resolution on integrity in church membership to the Resolutions Committee for the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention. From what I understand, others may well submit similar resolutions this year.

Before sending my resolution in, I consulted with a few respected leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. I sent each a copy of what I intended to propose. All were very favorable about the concerns addressed and offered advice. One encouraged me to wait a year or two before submitting the resolution in hopes that the convention might be better prepared for such a dialogue at that time. I understand and respect his reasoning, but decided to go ahead with my original plan.

I am very gratified to see more and more people giving serious attention to the issue of ecclesiology in general and Baptist polity in particular. In case you missed you, you really must read the Baptist Press story on John Hammett's recent faculty lecture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a professor of theology at the school and spoke on the need to recover our commitment to a regenerate church membership. Here is a summary statement from the article:
Hammett said the most pressing problem facing the Southern Baptist Convention today is not the decadent, post-modern culture, but the Southern Baptist culture, which has lost sight of the Baptist mark of the church -- regenerate church membership -- and allows anyone to join the church and maintain their membership without any interview process or accountability.
Read the whole story here. Who knows if the SBC will adopt my resolution or not? In one sense, it really doesn't matter. As I have explained to various reporters and interested observers of things SBC a resolution carries no binding authority on any person or institution within the convention. But it is an expression of what messengers think on a given subject at a particular time. More importantly, a resolution can be a way of raising an issue to the level of conversation within the SBC. If that happens again this year, then I will be most grateful.

Here is the text of what I submitted. Pray that our Lord will use it to provoke greater concern for biblical integrity in the way that we seek to live in our churches.

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership
Submitted by Thomas Ascol
May 1, 2007
  • Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and
  • Whereas life in a local church should be characterized by loving discipline as the Bible teaches in passages like Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5 and Titus 3:10-11; and
  • Whereas the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,306,246 members in Southern Baptist churches; and
  • Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,138,776 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and
  • Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle as described in Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message; now, therefore, be it
  • RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord's teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally
  • RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

24 comments:

David B. Hewitt said...

Brother Tom,

Excellent, as it was last year. I hope to be watching (though over the net) when it is addressed from the floor. I do indeed hope to see it passed, for the honor of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

SDG,
dbh

Arthur Sido said...

To echo David, that is indeed excellent. I pray the discussion leads to genuine repentance as a denomination, and refocuses us on making disciples, not hitting artificial numerical goals.

Brian Hamrick said...

Awareness of this issue has risen tenfold in the last year. Win or lose, keep beating the drum, Tom. God is being glorified. Sorry my vote won't be there this year, but my prayers will be.

Jeff Wright said...

Tom,

Well done. I, like you, hope that this resolution passes but if it does not that it will at least spur meaningful conversation on this issue.

I was going to post that I would be ready to speak in favor of the resolution as soon as it was presented but then I realized that will most likely hurt its likelihood of adoption. :D

I'm with you on this one brother.

The Hiker said...

In reading your resolution, I can't help but to think about a book that I recently read - Walking Together. In discussing church membership and accountability, the author, Wyman Richardson, states:"But when it comes right down to it, we are scared. The 'church growth movement' and our cultural fixation with 'largeness' have duped us into thinking that the really important thing with churches is keeping the numbers up. That just happens to be a really bad idea. The really important thing with churches is this: obey our Lord and the New Testament vision for the church." Well said.

Wes Kenney said...

Tom,

As I told you in Jackson, I'm in full agreement with your goal here. I think this incarnation of the resolution is certainly more positive in tone, and I pray that the committee will recommend it.

To that end, I will submit a similar resolution, and use my blog to encourage others who are like-minded to do the same.

The more people are seen by the committee to be concerned enough about this issue to go to the trouble of submitting a resolution, the more likely they are to recommend some version of it to the convention.

Tom Bryant said...

Tom,
Thanks for keeping this in the forefront.

Have you or anyone else done this for the florida baptist convention?

Ginnie said...

Tom,

Echoing everyone else. . . I'm with you! I pray as this resolution is addressed at the Convention eyes, ears and hearts will be opened.

It's sad that we have moved to focusing on numbers and not focusing on discipling. As one who files the Annual Church Profile for our church I see this first hand. For the last few years I don't report those in our membership that are not active. For many reasons, but the main one being that it is not true. Yes, they are on a membership list however they are not true biblical members. I praise God for our Pastor who is addressing this issue by teaching our congregation about church membership and church discipline.

I pray that God will use this resolution to bring about a God glorifying change within our churches.

Tom said...

David, Arthur, Brian, Wes,

Thanks for the encouragement. Most of the private feedback I have received has been positve, as well.

Tom,
I was *almost* prepared to submit a version of this resolution to the Florida Convention last year. Unfortunately, I had to make some corrections to it and it had to be presented on typed copy. I desperately tried to find a printer that was compatible with my computer, and even emailed it to some very helpful folks from the state convention for them to print, but nothing worked before the deadline for submission passed. I hope to do better next year.

Jeff:
Speak up, man! I will stand side-by-side with you!

Ginnie:

What a blessing to have a pastor who is addressing these things in your church! May his number increase!

The Hiker:
That is a very helpful book (and it has 2 workbooks with it, also). I hope to blog about it in the future.

Tom Bryant said...

Tom,
I hope you will. I am thinking about presenting it to our local ass'n. Maybe build a ground swell. You'll at least have a friend on the order of business committee. :)

Tom said...

Tom:

Great idea about the local association. If enough associations adopted something like this then there would be great momentum at the state convention. At the 2008 convention this fall in Florida, we should get someone to present it who is not as technologically challenged as I am!

DoGLover said...

Tom,

Given the resolution committee's rejection of the motion last year on the basis of a reluctance to abandon "prospects," it would seem prudent to include some statement to encourage churches to distinguish between prospects and members.

I do like the idea of getting the resolution passed in local associations.

volfan007 said...

tom,

i can agree with your resolution 100% this year. if given the chance, i will vote for it.

now, how do we implement this in our churches...especially small town churches in the south where everyone is related, or have grown up together?

david....volfan007

Belief Matters said...

I am starting a "program" :) called "Because They Matter," which will seek to reach out to our "inactive" church members. It's a very small step, but its a step in the right direction.

Steve said...

Belief Matters,

Why not lovingly Shepherd the flock that you have been given oversight (Acts 20:28) and after all the appropriate measures have been taken, then exercise church discipline according to Matthew 18:15-20? Of course all of the above is to be done with the goal of restoration in mind (Gal. 6:1).

Why start another program??????

This sounds like you are coming up with a church program in an attempt to make what biblically needs to be done more palatable to the membership. Do you really think the average SBC church needs ANOTHER program?

Grace to you,
Steve

Chris said...

Tom,

I thank God for your ministry. The SBC desperately needs to be reformed (I mean both the Convention and the Churches). There is hope!

Belief Matters said...

Steve, if you noticed I put program in quotation marks. I don't see what I am doing as another program but simply doing what we should do as a church. I'm sorry if I confused the issue.

Jeff

Brian said...

How could someone vote against this proposal with a clean conscience?!

Keith said...

Tom:
The resolution you've written is VERY encouraging.

In a recent Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma) article one writer commented re: SBC rolls: "...with more than 16 million members, only 50 percent are considered to be 'active members.' An active member is a member who contributes financially to the church sometime throughout the year, and attends at least once during the year."

This definition of "active member" sounds pretty lax to me. Anyone else?

Nauvoo Pastor said...

Brother Tom,

Amen!! This very topic has been at the forefront of my ministry since becoming pastor at Nauvoo Baptist Church. One of the first things that I put into place was that each church member had to agree to the church covenant and had to verbalize their understanding of it to me personally. The second thing put into place, was with regards to those who regularly attend the church but are not members. After someone has come to the church three times within a two month period, I make a visit to the home with the church covenant in hand. We go over it and the people involved have to agree to it. Why? Well, we live in an area dominated by Mormons and the town is small. Everyone knows where you are on Sunday and if these individuals want to attend the church on a regular basis then they still have to abide by the covenant so as to reflect the church they attend. If they disagree they are asked not to return. Its that simple. Harsh? Maybe. But the Mormons have been sending people into this congregation for years to cause disruption and to spy out what is going on. So my word is cautious. There has to be some accountability somewhere. Even for regular attenders.

It is unfortunate that I will not be able to be at the Convention this year. I would so love to support you from the floor, but God has us very busy. We are praying for you and your stand for truth.

Yours in Christ

Justice said...

Tom,

I appreciate your attention to this important matter. It has allowed me to bring it to discussion at a church I was pastoring - only to be shot down by the deacons. I hope this goes through for the integrity of our convention.

After reading your post on this yesterday, I was thinking about it this mornign during my quiet time. And those thoughts led me to ask myself a lot of hard questions about the SBC churches I have been at in the Mid-West. I wrote a post about it listing out those questions that I am sure a lot of other pastors are dealing with. It seems it would be better nowadays to leave theses established steeped in tradition churches and plant new ones and start fresh.I am acutally doing that in a month, I will be joining a church plant focused on reaching the urban areas of our community. I am excited to be able to set this church up biblically and fresh.

Never stop contending!

Justice

Bob Cleveland said...

Tom:

I cannot, by any stretch of my imagination, think that God is pleased with the gross misrepresentation of referring to our membership as 16 million. Let's call that what it is. Misleading. Misrepresentation. Deceit. And that, while allegedly about the King's business.

The SBC desperately needs to lose the holier-than-all-those-others attitude that causes us to cling to inflated numbers.

We have 7 or 8 million members. What we have 16 million of is names. Nothing more.

Kudos for not giving up on this. I didn't speak to this last year, but I'll certainly do so this year.

matthewstevens said...

Dr. Ascol, I have been impacted in a massive way by your ministry, Every chuch I've been in has a great need for commitment to pure membership and discipline, the lack thereof has cost dearly. because of the impact you and others have had on me I have devoted my MA Research Article to Church Discipline in Baptist Churches. Please read it on my blog and let me know your thoughts. Matthew Stevens matthewstevens.wordpress.com

Bob Cleveland said...

On further reflection, I'm not sure what Nebuchadnezzar's motivation was when he commented on the infrastructure he'd built. But I got a pretty good idea what God thought of it.

I get the same stirrings every time I hear the 16 million number. I have to wonder if the current turmoil isn't tantamount to crawling around eating grass.