Thursday, August 16, 2007

Integrity in Church Membership Gaining Momemtum

Christianity Today refers to my failed resolution calling for integrity in church membership in its August issue. So does the Missouri Baptist Pathway in its current issue. The CT editorial is appropriately entitled, "Statistical Shell Game" and contains very insightful observations, including this one:
The failed resolution's statement on statistical accuracy, at least, ought to attract widespread support. Since World War II, leading evangelicals have regarded statistics as a matter of gospel integrity. That's because revivalists in the early 20th century often exaggerated the size of their flocks. The statistical shell game may work in the short term, but eventually someone uncovers the truth.
And this sober, prophetic warning:
A fate worse than insignificance awaits us if we fail to be honest. The numbers trap tempts evangelicals to implement programs that will boost the bottom line, regardless of their biblical warrant. "What works?" begins to replace, "What does God's Word teach us?" Such programs may appear to succeed for a time. But Jesus told a parable about what happens when we do not build on the foundation of his Word. The rains will come, the floodwaters will rise, and the winds will blow against that house. Sooner or later, the house will fall. And great will be that fall, Jesus warned (Matt. 7:24-27).

One day, the elements will test what we have built in our churches, crusades, and mercy ministries. The greater the exaggeration, the greater the fall.
Amen. The Pathway annonces that the 2008 Pastors' Conference will address the issue of regenerate church membership by having Mark Dever and two staff members from Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC speak on the theme, "Building Gospel Centered Churches" in each of the 6 sessions. This is the brainchild of Pastor Joe Braden, who serves as the President of the MO Pastors' Conference this year.

The Pathway gives some background to the upcoming conference:
A resolution on integrity in church membership was brought to the floor after having been rejected by the Resolutions Committee. It ultimately failed on a floor vote that required a 2/3 majority to bring it to life. Some observers felt it may have pulled as much as 51 percent in the losing effort.

Shortly after the June 12-13 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Interim Executive Director David Tolliver communicated that he took seriously “the reminder … concerning more accurate and honest reporting of numbers.” Both Tolliver and MBC President Mike Green agreed that rather than continuing to refer to the MBC as being comprised of about 600,000 total members, the more accurate number would be about 400,000.
I predict that the Missouri Pastors' Conference will be a smashing success, much like the national pastors' conference before the SBC in 2006. Pray that more Associational and State Convention leaders will have the wisdom and boldness of Tolliver and Braden in addressing this issue forthrightly. If they do, we will have reason to praise God for the spread of reformation and to pray that it will not be deterred in the face of any opposition that might arise.

11 comments:

J.D. Rector said...

Tom:
This is indeed good news to hear of the MO state convention offering this seminar! I will join you in praying that this increases across our associations and conventions of the SBC.

See, your discipline and determination is not in vain. Press on brother!

J.D. Rector

GeneMBridges said...

Speaking of World Wars, here's a little tidbit from the SBC during the First World War:

1916 — Resolution on Church Membership

RESOLVED, That the Southern Baptist Convention most urgently request all the pastors or clerks of Baptist churches within the bounds of this Convention to promptly notify the pastors or clerks of sister churches in any city, town, village or country place where such sister churches may be located of the removal of any of their members to said location, that these members may be reached at once and their activities held for the denomination.


Apparently, what was resolved upon then is now in conflict with local church autonomy. Who'da thought!?

Were I the one submitting the resolution for next year's Convention, Brother Tom, I might find a way to include a reference to the 1916 Resolution in it...Just a thought.

Doug said...

Relevant to this discussion is the book "Polity" edited by Dever and published by 9Marks. If you have not read it, I urge you to get it. I wish that Southeastern was using it as a textbook when I was there some years ago rather than the church growth books that were pushed upon us- it could of saved me numerous headaches in the 2 church plants I have worked on- thank God I have it now as I begin number 3! The treatment of church discipline alone is worth the price of the book.

Mike Hall said...

Tom,

I am thrilled that your resolution is getting some face time in the Christian media. I can't understand for the life of me how the executive committee can sleep at night having killed this resolution. I know that by God's sovereign grace integrity will prevail over personalities and politics. Keep up the good work!

Tom said...

Gene:

Not a bad idea! Thanks for the history lesson.

JD and Mike:

God seems to be stirring up more and more people to address this issue, for which we should rejoice! Mike, technically, it wasn't the exec comm that killed the resolution, but the committee on resolutions.

Doug:

The polity book is available at the Founders website at this address:
http://founders.org/library/polity/

Eric M Schumacher said...

For readers in the MidWest who can't make the MO Pastor's Conference, 9Marks will be leading a "Building Healthy Churches" conference in Cedar Rapids, October 8-9. Come join us: http://northbrookconference.info

lordodamanor said...

Tom,

Am I right in seeing that there are at least three separate but initmately connected issues:

1. Accuracy in census

2. Regenerate membership

3. Church Discipline

These three are connected along these lines:

1. Accountablility in records keeping and responsibility in stewardship

2. Accountability to preach and teach the Gospel with accuracy in both the historical and biblical record, and catechetical review

3. Accountability in discipleship; keeping of the covenant agreements between the members and the overseerers of the ministries of the local church

It does no good to have accurate numbers if the numbered are those of whom no one knows. The only way to know them is through the caretaking (koinonia) that should be the mark of the church. "They will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another." You know, that foot washing part that is oft times neglected for the more "important" things, like church growth.

Tom said...

lordodamanor:

Exactly!

ta

Bob Cleveland said...

Tom: My only question in this is what the effect of the SBC merely seeing integrity in church membership as a "better way" to handle the honesty matter, and never ever face the fact that we lied and deceived and misled folks for all those years. And I wonder how God would view that.

Might not that be analogous to someone deciding on Christianity as his religion of choice, and joining the church, as opposed to repenting and being forgiven?

Tom said...

Bob:

I share your concern, which is why I included a call to repentance in the first two resolves of my resolution (something that I was counseled to exclude in order to make the resolution more palatable):

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 ....

Thanks,
tom

Bob Cleveland said...

I wonder if the folks who counseled you, recommend doing that to God's word, to make it more "palatable".

That's not a question, so doesn't require an answer.