Membership resolution redux

This is really curious. Last summer in Greensboro, after my failed attempt to have the Southern Baptist Convention consider my resolution on integrity in church membership, I was kindly admonished by a representative of an denominational executive. He said something like this, “When you spoke against the resolution #5 just before you argued your point about the membership resolution, you made a disastrous political mistake, all but guaranteeing the failure of your motion.”

He is partially right. I have never been very good at political calculus and I knew that my speaking against resolution #5 would be interpreted by some as advocating the consumption of beverage alcohol (and, boy, did I ever underestimate just how many would do that!). However, a political mistake implies a political agenda, and I have none. I spoke out on that resolution because I was convinced that the sufficiency of God’s Holy Word was being undermined. Good men, including some for whom I have the utmost respect, disagree. But I did what I do out of conviction–not about booze, but about God’s Word. No doubt the alcohol issue confused the membership issue for some and maybe even many messengers. Nevertheless, consequences belong to God.

In a strange twist of providence, something similar is happening again. I had planned to post on the “state of the resolution” this week. I have had lots of conversations about this recently and planned to post on the issue Wednesday. But then Dr. Sullivan’s article came out (see my previous blog post) and I was compelled to address it.

Last year at the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention that met in Greensboro, NC I had hoped to have a resolution on integrity in church membership set before the messengers for a vote. That did not happen due to the Resolutions Committee’s decision not to bring my resolution out of their committee. I was able to appeal to the moderator from the floor to have the messengers vote on the resolution’s decision. Dr. Welch, the President and presiding officer of that convention, graciously allowed me to read the resolution from the floor. The committee, of course, spoke from the platform against overturning their decision and the vote failed. I have written about this here, here, here, here and here.

I recently was interviewed by American Family Radio about the membership resolution and my intention to resubmit it this year. You can read part of what I said in this Agape Press article. You can hear part of it here (don’t be fooled, however, the church I serve is in Cape Coral, not Coral Gables; that’s a common confusion 🙂 ). On Wednesday, January 17, 2007, I am scheduled to be on Mike Corley’s show on WQBC radio out of Vicksburg, MS to discuss this issue.

Many people have asked me if I plan to resubmit the resolution at this year’s convention in San Antonio. The answer is yes. And, if it does not pass, I plan to submit it again in 2008. If that does not pass, I plan to do so again in 2009. You get the picture. In other words, I have taken a page out our esteemed Southern Baptist Convention Second Vice President’s playbook. If this resolution doesn’t get approved soon, people may well start calling me “Wiley.” 🙂

Do I think that this resolution will be passed by the convention? That’s a good question. I do think that the SBC will approve some kind of resolution on membership, maybe this year. My fear is this: I am concerned that all of the embarrassment over this issue will cause the powers that be to come up with a watered-down version of the resolution that will be brought out of the resolutions committee to the convention floor–something like, “we ought to do better.” If that happens, I will be prepared to offer an amendment to strengthen it.

This issue is important. I have not talked to one person who thinks that it is a good idea to have 8 million or more inactive members on our church rolls. I know that Tommy French indicated from the platform in Greensboro that it was a good thing to keep them on the role because they are good evangelism prospects, but I don’t think he really believes that. All of the Southern Baptists to whom I have talked know that this is not a good statistic. What I don’t think most see is just how serious this situation is. It is spiritually deadly. It is blasphemous. It shows a fear of man that far exceeds any fear of God. It betrays a fundamental unbelief of the Bible–exposing loud proclamations about inerrancy and infallibility as meaningless. It exposes a lack of love for Jesus Christ, who said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” It is a hindrance to spiritual vitality and even spiritual life in our churches. It sends people to hell with a decision card in their pockets and their names on a church roll. Therefore, this situation–millions of unregenerate church members–is a barrier to any revival or reformation that we desperately need and for which we have been called to pray.

Will a resolution affect any change? No, not in itself. Despite what some denominational executives might suggest, resolutions are not binding. But they can raise important issues and provide reference points for denominational dialogue. When they call attention to long-neglected biblical commands and principles, they might even be used of God to encourage humility and repentance. Pray that this would be the case.

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 Convention, Traditional 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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