Integrity in Church Membership–the conversation continues

Since the San Antonio convention I have heard from dozens of people who are frustrated, dismayed, puzzled or in some other way disappointed that my resolution on integrity in church membership did not make it out of committee for the second year in a row. My basic attitude and response is that the Lord is firmly in control of this process and will use it to bring about much good for His people.

I have absolutely no doubts about that (based on Romans 8:28) and would believe it even if I saw no evidence to suggest it. However, the Lord is already demonstrating some of the good things that are happening. One denominational servant has told me that, while he genuinely wanted to see the resolution pass so that he could use it as a talking point in encouraging his own church to study this issue, he nevertheless has been convicted by the Lord to move forward in gently trying to persuade the church leaders to evaluate their membership practices in the light of the teaching of God’s Word on which our long-standing Baptist polity has been built. Several other pastors and serious church members have expressed the exact same conviction.

Over the next several months many churches will be encouraged to begin addressing the way they accept and care for members. We should pray that the Lord will use these efforts to humble and restore health to each church that walks down this path. It is likely that the road will not be easy for some of the leaders who seek to guide their flocks back to the spiritually life giving streams of church discipline as taught by our Savior in Matthew 18:15-18. Pray that the Lord will give grace, wisdom, humility and tenacity to His servants who are bent on honoring His Word in this way.

Regenerate church membership and church discipline are becoming a greater part of the ongoing conversation about the needs and future of the SBC. Several blogs accurately reported action taken by the convention in San Antonio and some even posted video the extended debate that accompanied my attempt to have the messengers consider the resolution despite the committee’s unwillingness to bring it to the floor. The SBTC Texan ran an article highlighting the failure of the resolution to make it out of committee, and included some excellent quotes from supporters of it. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Dr. Danny Akin expressed dissapointment that the resolution did not pass and promised to continue speaking out on the issues it addresses.

One of the most encouraging reports comes out of Missouri, where the Pathway reports that Interim Executive Director David Tolliver has announced that he will start using a smaller figure to report total membership of Missouri Baptist Churches. This is a step in the right direction, and the statements attributed to Mr. Tolliver are very encouraging. Maybe his boldness will inspire other state Executive Directors to join ranks in becoming so practically concerned about integrity in reporting our numbers.

What should you do if you are burdened about your church’s inflated membership numbers and loss of biblical discipline? Here are two things that I recommend that you do immediately. First, listen to Voddie Baucham’s excellent message from the Founders Breakfast at the SBC in San Antonio. He spoke on “Southern Baptists at Sardis” and hit a homerun. Second, purchase Wyman Richardson’s Walking Together: A Congregational Reflection on Biblical Church Discipline and the related Leader’s Guide and Student Workbook. These are very useful, practical helps to encourage churches to recover our Lord’s teaching on healthy church life. I highly recommend them. You can get more information from Wyman’s website. [EDIT: Wyman Richardson recommends getting his books from the publisher directly at reduced cost.]

It is great that these issues are being discussed. Let’s work to keep the conversation going. It is time for Baptists to deal with the issues related to our inflated numbers and undisciplined churches.

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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