Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Actus Formalis Defectionis Ab Ecclesia Baptista

Continuing our series on integrity in church membership in Baptist churches...

I found this post quite interesting. Why? I'm glad you asked! Because the first few paragraphs could easily be reworded to read:

According to the 2007 Southern Baptist statistics, there are 16. 4 million Southern Baptists in the United States.

... however, this is likely an inflated number due to the way that Nashville determines membership statistics. The numbers do not adequately account for members who are double-counted, die or just drift off into who-knows-what. If you were baptized Southern Baptist, then you are most likely still on the list; and I've met many ex-Southern Baptists in the evangelical world.

I'm one of that number that has likely been considered merely lapsed or inactive. But it has irked me for years that I didn't have a means to formally separate myself from Nashville. As it turns out, as of last year there is now a procedure in place for removing oneself from membership in the Southern Baptist Convention. While this procedure essentially results in the defector being regarded as "apostate" rather than an "ex-Southern Baptist," it is the most forceful way to formally declare one's voluntary separation from Nashville.

- Just one more way the SBC these days resembles Rome at times. I'd add that this isn't an SBC problem. The independent Baptists can be just as bad - and don't get me started on the way the Hylesite churches count numbers. Baptists talk a lot about Baptist tradition these days. May we correct this problem and leave a big honkin' HUGE post-it note on the frig for our children and children's children that this is something they should not repeat themselves.

HT: James White


  1. Gene,

    It's ironic that you've made this post because after I read the original link about leaving Rome I thought about making a similar post to yours. One equating Rome's membership roles with the SBC's.

    Good post!
    Mark :)

  2. I'm wondering how one can possibly be a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. Care to clarify?

  3. Of course, this was a satire. What part of that was unclear. However, it was satire with truth, for I can name at least one SBC church that still counts me as a member, though I am not a member, and they know I've moved on. And that gets reported to the SBC, and Nashville still includes me in their report.

    Strictly speaking, churches are members of the SBC - until the SBC itself gathers, at which point the messengers are the SBC.

    And, no, they do not represent their churches. Their votes are their own, not those of their churches'. So, yes, they, as individuals, are the SBC. They are seated by church, then vote as individuals.

    I regard "individuals aren't members, churches are," as an artificial distinction, for, when the SBC says that there are 16.4 million Southern Baptists, they aren't reporting the number of churches, rather, they are reporting the number of Southern Baptists, and when people are double counted and what have you, the whole "they are members of churches" argument goes out the window, especially when some are Presbyterian, and, yes, I can name some who fit that category.

    To say, "individuals aren't members, churches are," is to commit the regressive fallacy, it only moves the question back one step.

  4. Orthodox,

    Do be a good boy and heed the warning already issued.

  5. You’re giving "Nashville" more credit than it deserves. The Convention has NO power over the local church and how the keep their rolls. I have been in SB churches that will drop you completely from the roll in six months if you fail to attend. I have been in others that may never drop you.
    And messengers DO represent their churches...ergo the title "Messenger." Only the church can decide what two people from its congregation will represent them at the Convention. I'm a Southern Baptist Pastor, I know.

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  7. You’re giving "Nashville" more credit than it deserves. The Convention has NO power over the local church and how the keep their rolls.

    Au contrare, I'm not giving Nashville any credit whatsoever. I'm actually giving credit where credit is due - to the SBC, but not in a good way. Nashville is just a euphemism for the SBC, which has failed in this.

    By the way Nashville does have the option to ask the churches nicely about how many of their people are active or inactive and to do something about it if they aren't.
    The Convention is just a big association, and Associations have historically held more power among Baptists than you give them credit.

    And if you don't believe me, read over the Convention minutes from the World War I era. Apparently what the Convention thought last year infringed on local church autonomy was not a problem in that era.

    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.

    Be sure to read the last line well.

    The Convention has twice stated publicly what they think about "integrity in church membership," so I'm giving them the credit due them for their refusal to take a stand.

    I have been in SB churches that will drop you completely from the roll in six months if you fail to attend.

    Good for them.

    I have been in others that may never drop you.

    And clearly this is the majority, since less than half of the SBC's "members" show up to church any given Sunday.

    BTW let's take quick look at one of our "flagship" churches:

    3506 members
    203 baptisms
    253 other additions
    2200 primary worship attendance

    3812 members
    296 baptisms
    190 other additions
    2100 primary worship

    4011 members
    209 baptisms
    137 other additions
    2031 primary worship attendance

    4163 members
    237 baptisms
    204 other additions
    1874 primary worship

    And this is quite common. It is not at all atypical.

    And messengers DO represent their churches...ergo the title "Messenger."

    Like I said, this is an artificial distinction, for when gathered, the messengers themselves, not the churches, are the Convention.

    I'd add that there are many churches in the SBC that will send only ministers as messengers. I know, my home church is one of them. That, of course, is de facto Presbyterianism, where only the elders go to the Assembly.

    And there are others on the other end in which all anybody has to do is sign up saying they want to go. I know, my last church was one of them. In fact, in my experience, this is the majority of churches.

    And to truly represent the churches, those messengers would have to vote the desires of the church expressed to them. Do you exercise that kind of control freakery over your messengers, or do they get to vote their individual consciences? If the former, welcome to Presbyerianism. If the latter then they don't represent their churches at all, they represent themselves.

  8. Gene,

    I think Al Gore invented the internet just for you! I don't know where you find the time, but I appreciate your efforts.

    In order to be a true messenger, I vote my conscience and then return to my church and report back on my voting record. Which - by the way - gave me an opportunity to discuss the Resolution on Integrity in Reporting at great length. (My church is one of those with 2000 on roll and 400 in attendance.) Working on it!