Southern Baptist Mistake

Mark DeverPastor Mark Dever writes that Southern Baptists made a huge mistake at their convention in Greensboro, South Carolina when they refused to consider a resolution calling for intergrity in church membership. He writes:

When a question was raised about the propriety of allowing those who are able to attend church, but who never do to remain members of our churches, the answer was given that this was in order to keep the names as “prospects”. Presumably, the intention is that our prior contact with them gives us an excuse for contacting them personally. . .

For me to allow my local congregation to continue on, with people in membership regularly forsaking assembling together is to be in sin, to lead my congregation into sin, confuse what it means to be a member, and confuse what it means to be a Christian (“Southern Baptist Mistake”).

Dever is referring to a resolution that was proposed by Tom Ascol at the most recent meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Among other things, Ascol’s resolution called for Southern Baptists to repent of inflated membership roles by making discipleship a condition for membership and by recovering the practice of church discipline. Ascol’s resolution was motivated in part by a desire to get Southern Baptists to see that “the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle” (source).

Tom Ascol has written about what became of his resolution and how it came to naught before the convention. I encourage you to read about it here. But Dever’s recent post is written mainly in response to the rationale that was given for rejecting Ascol’s resolution. At the Convention, resolutions committee member Tommy French gave the following explanation:

We certainly do not want to throw away from our membership rolls the names of the non-attenders because we would be throwing away a very valuable prospect list for reclamation in evangelism. Now in Sunday School we don’t cull the rolls as long as those people live in our area so that we can continue to pray for them and visit them and secure them in Bible study (source).

What are we to make of all this? Some people will be tempted simply to dismiss Ascol and Dever as cantankerous Calvinists and to give no real consideration to concerns that are connected to Calvinism. But that would be a huge mistake. When Dever and Ascol bring the issue of “integrity in church membership” to the fore, they are not talking about an essentially Calvinist concern, but an essentially Baptist concern.

One cannot be faithful to the scripture (much less a faithful Baptist) without holding to an ideal of integrity in church membership. Baptists have always held that a New Testament church is an autonomous body of baptized believers that orders its life under the Lordship of Christ. In other words, Baptists believe that the Bible commands us to strive for the ideal of a regenerate church membership.

I for one am in agreement with this failed resolution. I am a Baptist. I am a Southern Baptist. And I believe that the spiritual decline that we see in so many of our churches is due to our failure to be faithful to what the Scriptures clearly teach. Here is one area in which I pray the Lord would grant repentance and reform to His people.

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