2008 Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

Well, it’s that time of year again…the flowers are blooming, school is ending and I am submitting my annual resolution on church membership to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Resolutions Committee.

The first year I submitted it (2006), the Committee refused to bring it before the Convention in Greensboro because, as the chairman said, if we remove all those members of our churches who don’t attend, we will lose some of our best evangelistic prospects. I was allowed to read my resolution on the floor of the convention, however, and request a vote to override the committee. The vote failed to get the required supermajority though some estimated 40-50% of the messengers voted for it.

Last year, it was same song, second verse. The rationale this time was that the committee did not want to violate the autonomy of the local churches by bringing the resolution to the convention. The vote to override the committee was stronger, but still not enough to bring it out for the whole convention to consider it.

Since then Malcolm Yarnell has crafted a resolution for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention that was passed in their annual meeting last fall. Yesterday, I was informed that this resolution will be presented to the Resolutions Committee for consideration in Indianapolis. Bart Barber is coordinating efforts on this and will make an announcement about it soon.

I affirm everything in the Yarnell-Barber resolution. It is well-crafted and expresses Baptist commitments very clearly. My only reservations about it are that it does not state the rationale for the need of such a resolution (as indicated by our ACP statistics), it does not call for repentance (despite the fact that past resolutions have repeatedly called on Southern Baptists to repent for other sins and one last year even focused completely on repentance) and it does not call on denominational servants to be supportive of churches that take practical steps to recover the principle of regenerate church membership.

At the encouragement of friends, I offered a few suggestions to address these issues in ways that I thought would strengthen the Yarnell-Barber resolution and make it unnecessary for me to submit my resolution again. For various reasons, my suggestions were not taken and so I am compelled to proceed with my plans to offer the resolution below. My decision to do so should not be taken as criticism of the Yarnell-Barber resolution. We agree on much and share many of the same concerns about these issues.

What this means is that there will be (at least) two resolutions that address membership in our churches that will be offered to the Resolutions Committee this year. One of them spells out an affirmation not only of regenerate church membership but also of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but does not call for repentance. The other focuses more narrowly on the need for our churches to repent of our neglect of actually pursuing the principle of regenerate church membership and church discipline which calling on pastors and denominational servants to be supportive of the recovery of these church practices.

I am glad that Southern Baptists are being encouraged to have this conversation. I hope that this summer in Indianapolis that we will have the humility to admit our widespread failure in these areas over the last generation and will express our desire to return to that which we say we believe.

Several pastors, theologians and church leaders have indicated that they intend to support the following resolution and have given me permission to list their names publicly. Among them are, Eric Redmond (2nd VP of the SBC) Phil Newton, Southwoods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN, Darrin Patrick, The Journey, St. Louis, Tom Bryant, FBC Osprey, FL, Tom Nettles, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Joe Thorn, Redeemer Fellowship, St. Charles, IL, Roy Hargrave, Riverbend Church, Ormond Beach, FL, Voddie Baucham, Grace Family Baptist Church, Spring, Texas, Nathan Finn, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Greg Welty, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Bill Ascol, Bethel Baptist Church, Owasso, OK, Jeff Noblit, FBC Muscle Shoals, AL, Paul Dean, Providence Baptist Church Greer, SC, Fred Malone, FBC Clintion, LA, Wyman Richardson, FBC Dawson, GA and Tim Brister, Grace Baptist Church Cape Coral, FL

Others are encouraged to sign on, if you agree with it. Just add your name in the comments.

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

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 2007 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,266,920 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,148,868 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; and

Whereas the significance of believers’ baptism tends to be lost when churches that practice it fail to exercise loving care for all their members; therefore, be it

RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, 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.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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