Wednesday, June 13, 2007

SBC-SA #5 - Resolution Committee Refused to Recommend Integrity in Church Membership

Every number has a story. That has been a recurring theme of the Southern Baptist Convention this year in San Antonio. We have heard speaker after speaker as well as numerous video presentations make this point. Some of them have been very moving stories of individuals and people groups who have either recently been reached by the Gospel or stand in need of being reached.

This morning, the Resolution Committee and messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention took actions that confirmed that theme--every number has a story. Sadly, the numbers involved tell a sad, sad story.

The Resolutions Committee refused to submit my resolution on integrity in church membership to the convention for vote. As promised, I brought a motion to overrule that decision. It takes a 2/3 majority to overrule that committee. President Page gave me an opportunity to read my resolution on the floor of convention. The debate was for the most part healthy and appropriately spirited. It was very respectful.

My appeal for allowing the convention to consider this resolution was that we had just passed a resolution calling for corporate repentance and "every number has a story." I read the statistics again from our Annual Church Profiles. I emphasized the fact even in the most generous analysis only 37% of our members even care enough to attend a worship gathering once a week. I have addressed the shame of this statistic repeatedly and will not belabor the point again here.

The chairman of the Resolutions Committee, Gerald Harris, responded to my appeal by saying that the committee thought it inappropriate to bring my resolution before the body because they feared it would infringe on the auntomy of local churches. We should not try to tell churches what to do, he said. Well, anyone who read my resolution and the resolutions that were passed this year and other years will recognize that this argument holds no water. However, it is a tremendous advance over last year's response from the chairman that, if churches took my resolution seriously we would lose our most promising prospects for evangelism!

The convention failed to overturn the committee and therefore my resolution never formally came before them for a vote. Several people--of various theological persuasions--came up to me afterwards to express appreciation for the attempt and dismay over the failure of the committee and convention to allow the resolution to be considered. While I am disappointed by these events and, quite honestly, surprised, I am in no way despondent! Think about it, for two years in a row a resolution calling for integrity in church membership has been read on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention. We have discussed these matters. What the discussion has exposed is just how spiritually sick we are. While I don't like the fact that we are spiritually ill, I rejoice that this is being made increasingly apparent. Until we admit we have a problem, we will never seek to address it. In other words, until we see our sin, we will never repent of our sin.

I am encouraged because this conversation will continue for another year and, as promised, I will, by God's grace, be in Indianapolis next year to submit the same resolution. The passing of my resolution is not the goal. The goal is the recovery of the Gospel and reformation of local churches. If the events surrounding the efforts to get this resolution before the SBC can contribute to that by shining the light on how desperately sick we are, then praise God!

31 comments:

Pastor Brad said...

Tom,
It is a much needed resolution and I appreciate your dedication to continually offer it. Momentum is building behind it. I cannot believe they would not bring it to the floor. May the outcry be so loud that it cannot be ignored next year.
I think there is much pride involved and fear that we could no longer claim to be the largest protestant denomination in the US.

DoGLover said...

Tom, you presented the resolution and the reasons for it well. Thank you for standing faithfully on the wall. It was curious that the committee objected over a question of balance. As you said, at least they weren't confusing members with prospects.

Has anyone on the committee told you what they think would make the resolution "balanced"? That is, acceptable to the committee?

Martin Graham said...

Press on, brother! If this is any encouragement to you, my church is a 2 year old church plant and we require interviews with the elders before church membership can be granted. This has been a tremendous encouragement to our church. So, even though the SBC may not see the need for it, some individual churches do.

I'm thankful to God that we are talking about these issues, and I'm thankful that the Lord has appointed you to continually bring these matters before our convention. Blessings to you.

kingofbleh said...

Thank you, brother, for your steadfast committment to honesty and clarity in reporting our membership numbers, and for your passion for reinfusing the gospel into the meaning of church membership.

Keep up the fight. A sick patient cannot begin to heal until they acknowledge they are sick. It would have been truly ironic for the convention to approve your resolution when we are still throwing around the 16 mill number in our entity videos and marketing materials.

Rev. said...

The SBC messengers unanimously passed a resolution that “urge[s] Southern Baptists to embrace a spirit of repentance, pursue face-to-face reconciliation where necessary, and enter into a time of fasting and prayer for the lost,” in which it is declared that, “we humble ourselves in individual and corporate repentance so that we may seek the face of the Lord, that He would become preeminent in our lives, and that the world would see a clear demonstration of His presence in our lives, churches, and denomination.”

First, it is ironic that this resolution is seen in no way to interfere with church autonomy.

Second, how is this resolution really that much different from the membership integrity resolution? Doesn't it demonstrated that the Lord Jesus Christ has "become preeminent in our lives," and that we are concerned "that the world would see a clear demonstration of His presence in our lives, churches, and denomination”?

Third, could it be that this resolution was passed easily because our convention talks about prayer, etc., but as a whole doesn't really pray? Doesn't real prayer involve "putting feet" to what you speak about with God?

Fourth, the SBC will never "win the world" if it isn't first willing to "count the cost."

That Jeremy Guy said...

Tom,

As a young man who will be attending Southern Seminary in the Fall, and also following the Convention proceedings through the live webcast, I want to express my deep respect and appreciation for this God honoring resolution that you have presented.

I support your efforts to bring the SBC into account over the faulty statistics we present. In my personal opinion, I believe we as a body are too proud of the following statement, to let your resolution pass:

"The SBC is the largest Baptist group in the world and the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, claiming more than 16.3 million members. It is the second largest grouping of Christians in the United States, the Roman Catholic Church being the largest."
--From Wikipedia

Tony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony said...

I really believe that until the SBC becomes less enamored with numbers and more concerned with true conversions resolutions such as yours will be avoided. I constantly hear about baptism and decisions but rarely about discipleship and life change. I realize that once you focus on the discipleship, what we are actually called to do, numbers may go down but I believe true conversions will go up. So instead of having churches with many goats on the roster we can have ones with sheep in the pews, chairs, or whatever you use.

Thanks Tom for your diligence in this matter as I am not sure I have the patience you posses because I would be way too inclined to give up and move on or away and let the SBC wallow in their own self denial.

Brian Hamrick said...

Has anyone figured out what Dr. Yarnell was trying to infer by his comments on believer's baptism in regards to this resolution? Why was he talking about the front door when Tom was talking about the back door?

It seemed off-topic to me.

wayner said...

Dr. Ascol,

Thanks for being resolute in trying to get this resolution passed. Just a thought...if for some reason you could not make it to Indy in 08, do you have someone in mind that could bring it to the floor if it did not make it out of committee?

Wayne

Kern R. said...

Tom, it took Wilbur Wilburforce 20 years of defeat before his resolution to abolish slavery passed. Keep pressing on and do not get discouraged or give up. God bless

Aaron L. Turner said...

Brother:

It is progress from last year. Know that there are many of us behind you in this. We will continue to pray for God to produce the kind of hearts, that will indeed embrace this kind of resolution.

It is indeed a heart issue. Thank God He is still in the business of changing hearts!

David Wilson said...

Thanks Tom, and stay the course

wgmoore55 said...

Only when the SBC gets serious about the ramifications of church membership can it be taken seriously about much else. It's one thing to pass a general statement concerning repentance. It's like asking for agreement that we love our mothers.

Confronting local church members who rarely, if ever, attend corporate worship, however, is an entirely different matter. After almost 30 years in vocational ministry, I know of little more difficult. I also know that doing so ennobles the idea of church membership in the minds and lives of believers in the local church.

Tom, thank you for your gracious persistence. May the Lord grant true repentance in our SBC, not merely a resolution.

Bill

Bill Formella said...

Be encouraged Tom. I believe this movement will continue to grow. I believe most rank & file Southern Baptist in the pew would understand this to be a good thing. We must continue to try to find ways to get these ideas before their eyes so they start asking questions.

Sadly, it's leadership that will fight this all the way. Too many do not want to have to change their resumes. Imagine how difficult it would be to make that jump to a bigger church, build that new building or get that dream convention job if your membership drops by 50% in a year.

Tripp said...

Tom said, "What the discussion has exposed is just how spiritually sick we are. While I don't like the fact that we are spiritually ill, I rejoice that this is being made increasingly apparent. Until we admit we have a problem, we will never seek to address it. In other words, until we see our sin, we will never repent of our sin."

All I can say is AMEN Tom, AMEN!

Thank you for presenting this resolution and your continued commitment to this issue. It still amazes me the resolutions that our Convention will vote on while ignoring those resolutions that are really needed.

I pray that you will submit this resolution next year. May God bless your efforts brother!

wgmoore55 said...

While more Southern Baptists are getting concerned about membership, I am unconvinced that most of the "rank and file" are concerned. Indeed, that's part of the problem. Many pastors would like to address it in their churches, but they don't dare touch it because it will be met with a storm of opposition. They basically leave it alone, telling themselves they have bigger fish to fry.

Pastors have to take much time, use discernment, and have a great deal of patience as they address the issue in their congregations. Congregations need to be taught principles of membership which have been long forgotten. Even with time, discernment, and patience, there will still be opposition, decrying any move which seeks accountable church membership as unloving and uncaring.

Nevertheless, it must be addressed, and a growing number of pastors are doing just that. And that is encouraging.

Bill

Ivan said...

Thank you for your noble efforts, Tom. Don't give up the fight!

Tom said...

Thanks for all the encouraging comments. All who are concerned about the issues addressed in my resolution have reason to be encouraged. This conversation will continue on, Lord willing, for another year. I plan to keep presenting the resolution until it is let out of committee for consideration by the whole convention.

I have not learned from any members of the Resolutions Committee anything regarding why they judged the resolution unworthy for consideration. What we have is only the chairman's comments.

Malcolm Yarnell's comments were, in my judgment, completely irrelevent. He and I had lengthy exchanges about this weeks before the convention. He believes that it should affirm believers' baptism in addition to all else it addresses. I certainly am not opposed to believers' baptism but have to wonder why failure to address any and everything that we could possibly affirm renders what is affirmed useless.

Thanks, again, for the encouraging remarks. May the Lord grant us grace to pursue His revealed will in our churches.

-tom

Jim Collier said...

Tom-

I greatly appreciate your persistence in this, and encourage you to continue next year. I pastor a "traditional" church who reports numbers it does not have. I will now return to my congregation and during my report on the SBC, based on your resolution, begin a conversation that will allow us to move toward a healthy reporting. Thanks.

Jim

Ben said...

Tom,

Be encouraged, brother. A resolution is simply that--a resolution. Were the resolution to pass before the better part of the messengers and churches really grasped its significance, I fear that less might be accomplished than will be as a result of your persistence through defeat.

The ongoing discussion and repeated opportunities to present the resolution provide a pedagogical instrument for the entire Convention--and even for churches of other associations that are not part of the Convention.

Sooner or later, the ranks of clear-thinking current pastors and today's seminary students (who are in my experience being well-instructed in biblical church discipline) will swell, and the prospects for meaningful progress will brighten.

Bill Formella said...

Bill M let me clarify something about what I said concerning the attitudes of the "rank and file". I agree that most are not currently addressing this issue because it's really never been explained to them in a meaningful way. I've been a part of 3 different SBC mega churches in our area with attendance ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 (of course our membership numbers were much higher). I can tell you that the most faithful of servants were baffled at the number of "no show" Christians on our rolls and wondered what to do about it.

During my time in these churches I sensed a real frustration among many in Sunday School leadership as well as those who would volunteer for other service opportunities, who were very frustrated with the politics, agendas and attitutes of those they reported to. What I saw were people who were settling for a Christian experience that was non transforming simply because they were convinced we lived in a fallen world and it just didn't get any better this side of heaven. In essence they are settling for lots of activity as a replacement for being a part of a true transforming covenant community. But I can also sense a hunger and longing for something much deeper.

My wife was one of these people. When I moved to lead our family out of our last mega church into the biblical church we are a part of now, I had nothing but resistance from my entire family. Today she thanks me for leading them out of that experience while saying to me, "I just never knew anything like this even existed."

I'm convinced there are many more laymen in these big churches that are frustrated by the same empty experience I had for many years and I have a passion to reach them. This resolution is one way to help them understand what's missing and why they feel such angst about "church life". With churches that are largely unregenerate with so many floating in out as they please, it's no wonder why the church seems so powerless to so many.

GeneMBridges said...

1. Might I suggest that this topic be the central point of a presentation and/or workshop @ Ridgecrest. I believe the articles on this subject from this blog and elsewhere (for I surely thought that this topic had more momentum from elsewhere to bolster it), should be collated and distributed to every person who attends the Ridgecrest Conference. Since I live in NC and am only 2 hrs away, assuming that there is no providential hindrance in my life (unlike right now, I'm facing a hip replacement soon), I will volunteer to man a booth or table and hawk them to every passer by, including the staff at Ridgecrest if I must! Might I suggest that, if that option is used, they also be distributed to the appropriate agencies in the state conventions with a plea to review the material with the association DOM's. This, it seems, is going to take some ongoing grass roots work, and it should be cooperative, not a Founders to the SBC initiative, but Founders and all other parties to the SBC.

2. Dr. Yarnell's words seem irrelevant, given that it does not appear "believers baptism" is doing it for our churches. Did not Johnny Hunt mention the baptism of 1 to 5 year olds? What, pray tell, is the recidivism rate of our young people? How is affirming believer's baptism relevant, unless his point is that we aren't screening the candidates properly?

3. What it seems it will take is- and I am sad to say this, because it will come off as aggressive, but I think it needs to be said-published research drawing on the ACP's of some of our flagship churches with the names of the churches attached to them for the world to see. Let us see what their ACP's are telling us. These churches are often the ones that are brought forth as examples, well, let's see the examples. In the past, we've been reticent to do that, well, I submit now may be the time. I've asked this beforehand, which is doing better: the 6000 member church with 3000 in Sunday School enrollment and 3200 in worship, or the church with 300 members, 350 enrolled in S.S. and 320 in worship? The answer should be obvious.

4. So now the excuse is that it would affect the autonomy of the local church? But how is that infringement if the resolution is, by definition, not binding? What we have here is a classic case of changing the excuse from the last one, coming back with caveats not in the original, because the original failed.

Matthew L. Holt said...

I say that of course it is a pride issue.The committee saw heard the facts presented most eloquently by Tom. They realize that if these resolutions are put into practice there denomination will cease to be the largest in the nation.
And they replied that it would 'infringe on the autonomy of local churches'. Bah. What Gerald Harris really said is that church autonomy 'trumps' Scripture. That is why out heart should break. Let us dilligent in our prayers that God would prepare the SBC for these resolutions. I know that God will give you the grace to preservere, Tom!

lordodamanor said...

Tom,

Could you explain what you mean by this:

"The chairman of the Resolutions Committee, Gerald Harris, responded to my appeal by saying that the committee thought it inappropriate to bring my resolution before the body because they feared it would infringe on the auntomy of local churches. We should not try to tell churches what to do, he said. Well, anyone who read my resolution and the resolutions that were passed this year and other years will recognize that this argument holds no water. However, it is a tremendous advance over last year's response from the chairman that, if churches took my resolution seriously we would lose our most promising prospects for evangelism!"

Does it have to do with the fact that those in leadership in the SBC recognize that any statement coming out of the SBC, be it the BFM, or resolutions, or programmed efforts from the president, or nearly any teaching or publication it endorses, takes on the form of "authoritative exposition?"

It is a flimsy excuse as Gene says:

"So now the excuse is that it would affect the autonomy of the local church? But how is that infringement if the resolution is, by definition, not binding? What we have here is a classic case of changing the excuse from the last one, coming back with caveats not in the original, because the original failed."

It seems though that they realize the far reaching effects of any statements that the Convention might adopt because the SBC is seen not just as a cooperative body, but an authoritarian structure that when it makes "unbinding resolutions," they know that those who reside under the umbrella of cooperation do not view them as such. They become guiding principles that carry the weight of the authority of men of erudite, and holy wisdom.

It is a numbers game for some, indeed, and that is the point. A resolution of this kind, they understand to carry the weight of a magisterium, a binding resolution even if it by definition is not. If it was to be passed it would invade their autonomy at some point through some avenue of introduction, a intrusion which they would then have to reckon with. A risk they, are not willing to take.

Thankyou for your efforts, all around, not only on this but other challenges to the SBC. In the end I do hope that there is a way to make bridges, but I do not think it possible given the evidence that there are two diametrically opposed camps that are being exposed.

Isn't it curious that those who would and should oppose infant baptism, do not blink at baptising five year olds?

Tom Buck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Buck said...

Tom,

Thanks for your continued faithfulness in this matter. One thing that confuses me is where were the people who told you they would speak out for this resolution? Did they stand up and speak for it? More importantly, I have a couple thoughts I was wondering if you might comment on. First, this is a matter of church discipline. If we are unwilling, in our churches, to deal with gross sin we are probably unlikely to deal with the need to have evidence of regenerate membership. Or maybe it is better said that the ignoring of the smaller is what leads to turning a blind eye to the greater. Isn’t that the root of the issue, to some degree? Our Baptist history shows that they believed “the first sign of sinning was to stop attending.” Therefore, our own Baptist forefathers used to discipline people over this very issue you are presenting. Don’t you think one of the problems is that we lack the intestinal fortitude to deal with sin in the church in general?

Second, I think we might be dealing with a political mindset here as well. The SBC is a big “lobbyist” (I don’t use that to word be demeaning) for many social issues that are destroying our society. Because of our sheer numbers, we are an impact within the walls of Capitol Hill. Touted as the “largest Protestant denomination in the United States, claiming more than 16.3 million members,” that makes us a very powerful voice. Don’t you think to some they might see that could be lost if we were to tell the “real story” about our numbers? If the statistics are true, just to use the 37% you used, it would drop our “real numbers” to around 5.5 million. All of a sudden, some of our political clout would be gone. And I am not saying that this is an issue of pride on their part, merely wanting to be considered the largest. My concern is that some might see it to be the lesser of two evils. In other words, it would be more evil to lose our power of influence that can help shape this world than to push the envelope on this issue. Which, again, would lead to another deeper problem that we have in the SBC. How do we better influence our world? Do we do it through political efforts or by using ALL our resources to spread the Gospel?

I think what we really need is open discussion on these types of issues. They are just as crucial, if not more, than debating the Doctrines of Grace. Have you considered a website that would allow Baptists to have ongoing dialogue about important issues like this? Just wondering what your thoughts might be on these two things. Once again, thanks for your continued faithfulness and keep moving forward for God’s Kingdom.

In His Grace,

Tom Buck

DoGLover said...

Tom, I have begun to address the problem of absentee members in our church. The plan is simple: 1) Contact them face to face. 2) Find out what issues have kept them out of fellowship. 3) Determine if we can restore them to fellowship. 4) Release them from fellowship if we cannot restore them.

Of course, this applies to those who absent themselves willingly as opposed to those whose health, for example, hinders them.

The discipline/accountability issue is two-sided. The church has a responsibility to minister to its members. Too often, churches will woo prospects with visitation teams, meals, parties, gifts, etc. until they join. Then, the new members are abandoned once they're "in the fellowship." We have to be intentional about discipling them as well as disciplining them.

I am with you on the wall.

Bill Formella said...

doglover said,

"The church has a responsibility to minister to its members. Too often, churches will woo prospects with visitation teams, meals, parties, gifts, etc. until they join. Then, the new members are abandoned once they're "in the fellowship." We have to be intentional about discipling them as well as disciplining them."

You've hit the nail on the head with that one. I have experienced that myself on more than one occasion. In fact, in some cases, before I even made a move to join the church it was obvious that I was seen as merely a resource; a raw material to be used in keeping the big church growth factory in operation.

There is little concern over discipling a person once they make a "decision" for Christ. The emphasis of both "worship" and Sunday School is bringing in more numbers. In fact, my wife and I were in shock when we heard one mega church pastor say that "the most important person in your life next to your relationship with God is the visitor seated next to you." He then went on to say that "the whole purpose for the church existing is for those who aren't here (in church) yet." So much for doing good to all men ESPECIALLY those of the household of faith.

I guess many pastors haven't yet figured out that it is our love and unity with "one another" that will convince the lost world that the Father has indeed sent the Son. In these churches true, intimate, transforming fellowship is almost non existant. We were all so busy running back and forth keeping the programs going so that our children and the visitors would stay "interested" in church that there was precious little time for true fellowship. Even the official monthly Sunday School "fellowship" gathering was a poor excuse for real fellowship. I am so thankful that God has given the grace to escape that scene and I look for opportunities to help others do the same.

Tony Kummer said...

Dr. Ascol,
I just posted the video from the convention at
http://sbcvoices.blogspot.com/

CHRIS HILLIARD said...

Tom,
I'm glad you are not giving up on this. I was in line to speak on this when time ran out. I too plan on working on a similar resolution to present next year. If they receive more than one maybe they'll listen.

I'm thrilled we are praying for revival but it simply won't happen as long as their is "sin in the camp".