Monday, June 18, 2007

Working Together Toward Integrity in Membership

As you all know, Tom Ascol's resolution on integrity in church membership failed to pass the SBC for the second year in a a row. My posts on this are archived, and you can find them if you wish to read them.

Here, I'd like to, hopefully, start a conversation about this issue to bring together some of the various bloggers in the SBC who otherwise disagree on other items. This issue has gained momentum in the past year from various persons and groups in the Convention, persons of different theological and political convictions, who realize that there is a serious problem in the SBC.

I would point out that, in terms of ecclesiology, believer's baptism is predicated on the concept of a regenerate church membership. Religious liberty, that is, the view that the first table of the Law cannot and should not be legislated (viz. a state church), for Baptists, is predicated on the concept of a regenerate church membership, for there can be no state church if the church is to be composed of only regenerate souls who are their voluntarily. The priesthood of (the) believer(s), whichever term you prefer, is meaningless without "the believer" part! Since it puts us in community as "a nation/kingdom of priests" it too depends on the concept of a regenerate church membership. Ironically "local church autonomy" is also meaningless without this, for a church can be "autonomous" and be apostate, one can be true to "tradition" without tradition being true! One could go on about "historic Baptist distinctives," so I will quickly summarize by stating that it should be obvious that *above all others* a regenerate church membership stands as *the* key Baptist distinctive. In other words, none of our other distinctives have any real substance without this one. What is the use of an autonomous local church if the members are apostate? What is the use of "religious liberty" if they people don't believe in the first table of the Law sitting in the pew? Why talk about a priesthood, when there are no priests!?

This is not a Calvinist issue. This is not an Arminian issue. This is not a "fundamentalist v. moderate" issue. This is not a "Burleson/Cole 'coalition v. Barberite 'coalition'" issue. This is a gospel issue. This is an honesty issue too. Tom Ascol is right on this. We all know it, and the goal should not be "let's talk about it to pass a resolution," since resolutions are not binding. The goal should be to bring about some real change in the churches so a resolution does not even need to be passed. Heavens! Before joining the church of which I am now a member, I was in a church with 900 members, 600 enrolled in Sunday School, and 300 in church every Sunday faithfully. Without this, we are doomed as a denomination, Calvinist and nonCalvinist, moderate and conservative, fundamentalist and evangelical, cessationist and continuationist, Southern Baptist and Independent alike.

Ergo, I am personally going to commit to spend a goodly amount of time to post on this issue in the upcoming year. I will probably start with some classic works, probably from John L. Dagg. I'd like to call on bloggers like Frank Turk and Steve Camp. I like to call on Dr. Bart Barber. I like to call on Les Puryear. Let's see Brother Wade take time off from SBC politics every so often and talk about this.

I wonder what Brother David, "Volfan07" has to say about this? I'd like to hear Ben Cole's thoughts on this too. Let's hear from Dorcas Hawker and Debbie Kaufman too. Let's hear from Art Rogers and even Marty Duren, from Chadwick Ivester, Dwight McKissic, and Micah Fries, David Hewitt and David Rogers. The blogging seminary students have lots to say, I'm sure. One could list more.

Let's hear from the Calvinists and the non-Calvinists. Let's hear from continuationists and cessationists, from "Burlesonites" and "Barbarites," young and old, male and female.

Let the articles be from the heart and the mind. Let them be expositional of Scripture. Let them survey Baptist history and tradition. Let us talk about what our churches have done or can do. There is quite a range in the way you can approach the topic. One does not have to write a sermon or a theological tome to participate in this discussion. Just post your thoughts, and where you argue from Scripture, just be sure you're on target and don't abuse the text.

Let us not forget Baptists who aren't in the SBC too, for the independent churches surely have this same problem, so let's hear from Dustin Segers and Sterling VanDerwerker. Let's hear from Phil Johnson too. I'd like to hear the young folks too, so let's call Evan May out of hiding. Let us argue among ourselves on other issues, but let us draw together on this one. Surely, we can make a difference, and maybe we can learn to get along. Call it an exercise in visible unity. Want to join in? Then please, leave a note below in the combox.

I'm not asking you to devote all of your time to it. I'm asking you to commit to address this topic periodically at your discretion, and if you repeat what has already been said, "so what!" Repetition is good for the soul. Just make a note on your calendar. Call it an appointment.

To start the conversation, I'd like to make some suggestions for the next year. Feel free to add your own.

I suggest the following:

a. All Baptist bloggers supporting this measure should spend the next year discussing this subject on the blogs periodically. Again, this is not a Calvinist-Arminian issue, and there is widespread agreement between us regarding this. We have been adversaries in some ways, but we have a real opportunity here to unite over this. We should take advantage of it. This will effectively keep it in the public eye too, and it will demonstrate unity around a common goal, which is something greatly needed.

b. We should write our state papers lamenting the failure of this resolution for a second year in a row.

c. We should petition Dr. Ascol and Dr. Akin to include a speaker/workshop on regenerate church membership / integrity in membership at Ridgecrest if at all possible. This originated in the Calvinist camp (yours truly is the one who actually first suggested the resolution and Tom ran with it) so it is logical to begin doing this at Ridgecrest. The goal here is to start a grass roots campaign.

d. Apropos c, we should also collate as much written information, blog articles, seminar notes, presentations, online articles, etc. and make an info packet for distribution @ Ridgecrest. I have already volunteered to man the table or booth to hawk the material there. It would help if a non-Calvinist would help in that regard, again, showing unity at the conference. I would gladly form a posse to go room to room to sit and talk with each person about this material if necessary. If somebody would fly me to Glorietta and put me up for another conference, I’d do it there too! I feel that strongly about this.

e. That same material should be put into .pdf format and posted on the internet for anybody to download and read and distribute. Packets should also be sent to the appropriate state agencies if possible with a letter urging them to get with the DOM’s on this to get it to the churches to educate their people, esp. next year’s messengers. They could have a speaker like Brother Voddie do the state evangelism/pastor conference circuit, including the SBC conference in Indiana itself, and preach on this too. If he came to NC in Feb., where this is usually held at my home church in Winston-Salem or a sister chruch in Charlotte, I would distribute material there too!

The ultimate goal is NOT to just pass the resolution in Indianapolis. The goal is to get the churches to act on it! The letter should be signed by many persons from many parties, including, but not limited to: Dr. Ascol, Dr. Akin, Dr. Yarnell, and whomever else of note from as many of the diverse “parties” as possible.

f. Dr. Yarnell wants it to address believer's baptism. Perhaps between now and Indianapolis that could be explained with more clarity and incorporated.

g. Somebody should also do the legwork and get ACP stats from “flagship” churches from each state. We’re told these are our examples to follow, and often the Pastor’s Conferences/Bailey Smith Conferences/State Evangelism Conferences crowd pat each other on the backs for jobs well done that aren’t well done. I think we need to name the churches and show their ACP stats. Dare I say, the disparities will be shameful, but if that’s what it takes to jolt people to attention sobeit. This isn’t to attack those churches, rather it’s to point out that this is not an imaginary problem, and it is systemic.

h. Let us also see the ACP statistics from those churches that are doing well in this. Let's give credit where credit is due, and, for those that recently implemented a program to address this issue, let's find out all the "how's, why's, when's, how-long's," etc's from them. Folks know there's a problem, but do they have a clue what to do in order to address it? Some of us, like Art Rogers have done this. He can help. Our church is a new work, and we have deliberately kept up with this. I'm sure Brother Dustin and Brother Sterling would be willing to talk to us about it.


  1. I shall make a prophesy.

    Tom Ascol shall present his resolution again in Indianapolis.

    The Resolutions Committee will this time present it to the convention with the approval of the Executive Committee's President, Dr. Morris Chapman.

    The convention will approve it by an overwhelming majority.

    Then those on the losing side of the vote will spend months after the convention blogging about how people were confused. Others will say the resolution does not mean what it actually says. A few denominational leaders will use their time at the convention to speak against the resolution just passed, railing against the wisdom of messengers for effectively cutting SBC numbers in half, while at the same time saying they will ignore such ridiculous actions and continue fudging numbers. In the end, all will continue status quo.


    Sorry, I was in a humorous mood.

  2. Gene -

    I'll think about what I can do. Actually my "deal" for the year was going to be to try to light a fire under someone in leadership to get to regional convention sites instead of only one location for the annual meeting, and incorporate technology somehow to boost the messenger totals at the annual meeting each year. If we get this integrity in membership issue dealt with, maybe you could help me get the one about regional convention sites in the information pipeline next.

    At any rate, thanks for the challenge for the coming year.

  3. Wade,

    "We are not amused." (Queen Victoria)


    I take it you will hop aboard the peace train...? Please, pretty please.


    "One hand washes another."

    Actually, we have a year, and I'm not asking for a y'all to commit to this issue and nothing else. Let's just keep this active and in the minds of our brothers and sisters.

  4. Gene:

    I had a brief chat with a pastor who thanked me for what I said about this motion, from the floor. I told him that passing such a motion would at least give a pastor who desired integrity in his membership numbers, some ammunition to introduce the concept into his church. I later received a blog comment from him, stating he was going to discuss it with his church when he made his convention report.

    It's got to start with the pastors. It would be nice if the efforts to get honest were led by the SBC at large. But, alas, it's not the case. Maybe some pastors will get the message anyway.

    Hope so.

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  7. Sorry, just figured a better way to say it. :)

    I am always willing to discuss but would rather listen for awhile if you don't mind and then possibly jump in. I don't know what I could add right now that I haven't already said. I have linked you onto my blog.

  8. BTW: I am the one against this resolution, not Wade. I think dialog on this is good and am glad you began this blog. I just hope things can remain civil and peaceful.

  9. Debbie,

    Thank you.

    Please feel free to link and to post your thoughts on this issue to keep the topic of integrity in membership alive this year. The goal shouldn't be to pass a resolution anyway. It should be to get the people to make changes on their own so we don't find ourselves talking about it. Our Baptist forefathers would be "spinning in their graves" to know we're actually talking about regenerate church membership because of this situation.

    I'm not opposed to your opposition. I'm opposed to your rationale. I find it hard to believe that the resolution would "infringe on local church autonomy" when all resolutions are not binding. On that basis, we shouldn't pass any resolutions about prayer and repentance or any such things. If you would at some point develop those thoughts I'd like to hear them, because I just can't see the logic in that.

    Thanks for joining in the conversation!


  10. I know Gene. You don't understand my reasoning and I don't know how to be any more clear. :) I'm always willing to listen however and you do make some very good points but I believe I do as well.

  11. As for resolutions not being binding, that is true technically, but they are binding peer pressure wise, when one doesn't participate one gets pummeled by those who don't understand why one doesn't participate and act as if it's the unpardonable sin. The Disney Boycott is an example of that.

  12. Gene: I will write a post and link to you and thank you for inviting me into the conversation of which I will be happy to participate.

  13. Gene,

    I am in favor of not only a resolution on this topic, but more. I would love to converse with you about it sometime. Try me sometime at my email address. Let me mystify it for spambots but give it to you in a way you will doubtless figure out quickly:

    [my given name, the one that was the object of unfortunate rhymes in elementary school]

  14. I can tell you one thing, the Baptist churches in the sandhills region of NC are in awful condition! Now, there are some Baptist churches with good numbers, but sermons are like grandfathers stories and church discipline is unheard of.