Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Resolution of support for the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force

Tonight, at the annual meeting of the Royal Palm Baptist Association in southwest Florida I submitted the following resolution. It was unanimously approved and the moderator asked that it be sent to all the churches in the association. If you want more information on the work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, check out this website.

Resolution of support for the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force
Presented October 20, 2009

Whereas many Southern Baptist leaders have called for a Great Commission Resurgence within the convention, and

Whereas last June Dr. Johnny Hunt, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, appointed a task force to study how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission, and

Whereas that Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has asked Southern Baptists to pray for their work, and

Whereas the task force is to give a full report with recommendations at the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention scheduled to meet in Orlando, Florida,

Be it therefore resolved that the messengers of the Royal Palm Baptist Association, meeting in its 51st annual meeting in Ft. Myers, Florida, call on all the churches of the association to pray for the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and its work;

Be it further resolved that the churches of our association be encouraged to pray for an outpouring of the Spirit of God in reviving the churches across the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond for the sake of the extension of Christ's kingdom;

Be in finally resolved that the pastors and churches of the Royal Palm Association be encouraged to recommit themselves to the comprehensive work of making disciples according to Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

SBC-Indianapolis #4 - The Resolution passes

The Resolution Committee brought before the convention a Resolution (No. 6) "On Regenerate Church Membership and Church Member Restoration." While I appreciate the committee's work on bringing something before the convention, I was disappointed that significant language was excluded from their report. Bart Barber and Malcolm Yarnell shared my disappointment. There were no clear statements baptism, Lord's Supper, discipline or repentance. In addition, there was no clear indication as to why such a resolution was necessary and nothing about denominational servants encouraging churches who try to implement changes in practicing regenerate church membership and church discipline.

I expected some of these deficiencies, but found the overall proposed resolution weaker than I had anticipated. Bart, Malcolm and I discussed what we should do. I had prepared a proposal to amend several weeks ago. We decided to use this proposal, with the addition of a statement on baptism either from the original Barber-Yarnell resolution or a separate, simpler statement written by Malcolm.

We also agreed to stand at microphone #11 together to make the proposed amendment. Somehow, Dr. Yarnell got separated from Bart and me and wound up at microphone #5. Bart and I realized as the presentation of the committee was about to begin that he would not be joining us at mic #11. The two of us were standing together as I was preparing to state our proposed amendments (transcribed in part in legible fashion by my lovely wife, Donna ;-) ). As I was trying to get recognized by the chair, Dr. Yarnell was recognized by Dr. Page to speak to the resolution. Malcolm proposed his amendment on adding the language of baptism, Lord's Supper and discipline in the "Whereas" section.

That actually concerned Dr. Barber and I, because we had hoped to have all of the proposed amendments offered at once. After some discussion, Dr. Yarnell's proposed amendment passed. Dr. Barber then decided to go stand at another microphone in hopes of speaking for my proposed amendment. When I was finally recognized by Dr. Page, I read my proposed amendments. The substance of them follows:
Whereas the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,266,920 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,148,868 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week;
and
RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the any failure among us to live up to our professed commitment to regenerate church membership and any failure to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further

RESOLVED that we humbly encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior's teachings on church discipline, even if such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches,
After giving my written and typed notes to Dr. John Sullivan to take back to the platform, I was allowed to speak to the amendment. Following is the subtance of what I said:

Brothers and sisters, last year the convention passed a resolution affirming the legitimacy of corporate repentance. Surely, if we need to repent over anything in the SBC it is true that we need to repent over how we have failed in maintaining biblical standards in the membership of our churches.

Dr. David Dockery, President of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, a Southern Baptist Statesman who is second to none, and author of the highly acclaimed Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal--a book endorsed by Danny Akin, Thom Rainer, Timothy George, John Sullivan, Morris Chapman, Frank Page and Jimmy Draper, was interviewed last week about the very subject of this resolution.

I want to read the brief excerpt from his insightful comments. The article said,

[Dr.] Dockery affirms the call for repentance expressed by one of the resolutions proposed for the annual meeting.

"We need to repent of our lack of concern for biblical faithfulness in our concern and care for church members," he said. "We need to repent of the way the way we often allow people to join local churches without stressing the covenantal aspect of membership. We need to repent of the fact that we have largely neglected any aspect of church discipline that would have helped us begin to address some of these matters."

Brothers and sisters, surely we can all say, "Amen!" to Dr. Dockery’s call for repentance by affirming the amendment to this resolution.
After the chairman of the Resolution Committee, Darrell Orman, spoke very kindly against my proposed amendment, asking the "mothers" of the various resolutions related to this issue to "let the baby live," and citing how all 5 pastors on the committee had exercised appropriate oversight in their churches in maintaining responsible church membership, my brother, Bill Ascol, was recognized by the chair to speak for the motion. He cited John Dagg ("when discipline leaves the church, Christ goes with it") and previous resolutions where the SBC had expressed repentance over issues related to slavery. Then he said that we should indeed let the baby live, but we should make sure that it looked like a "Southern Baptist baby."

The amendment passed by about 2/3 of the vote (according to Dr. Yarnell) and the amended resolution then passed overwhelmingly. It was encouraging to see.

Many, many people have expressed their appreciation for having this resolution on the record. At least a dozen pastors have already told me that they intend to read it to their churches in an effort to shepherd their congregations into healthier streams of responsible church membership. Some of these have had tears in their eyes as we spoke.

A resolution has no binding authority on a local church. But perhaps the Lord will use this to promote the ongoing work of biblical renewal in many churches across the SBC. Pray that this will be the case.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

SBC-Indianapolis, #1

The Pastors' Conference is over but not without some noteworthy comments coming from the various messages. Though I didn't hear it myself, I heard on good authority that Charles Lowrey actually said in his message that God told him to get "baptized again" as an encouragement for others to get baptized who might be hesitant...and he was advocating this for the pastors to whom he was preaching!

I also have reason to believe that Wednesday morning the Resolutions Committee will bring out a resolution dealing with church membership issues, but that what they bring out probably will not have a statement calling for repentance. If that is so, then I will, as I have indicated previously, try to amend the resolution appropriately to include a simply call for repentance. I have also been given an assurance by the author of another of the resolutions submitted on this subject that he will, if he can get to a microphone, speak in support of such an amendment.

Stay tuned. I will try to give updates as I am able.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Iron Sharpens Iron radio interview from Indy

Monday, June 9, 2008 I will be interviewed by Chris Arnzen on his radio show, "Iron Sharpens Iron" at 3PM Eastern time. The show can be heard in New York & Connecticut on WNYG-1440AM Radio. It is also can be heard on the web via Chris's blog or at the station's website. We will be discussing the reformed roots of the SBC as well as the resolution on integrity in church membership that I hope will make it out in some form at the Southern Baptist Convention this week.

I met my wife in Indianapolis tonight after preaching at Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky this morning. That is a wonderful church and I was greatly encouraged by the privilege of worshiping with them. Pastor Ted Christman is an old and dear friend. He and his fellow pastors have done a great job shepherding God's people there. I hate to be away from my home church on Sunday but the wonderful time of worship with the family at Heritage made it easier to bear today.

Indianapolis is hot and humid. I am grateful that we are not being affected by all of the flooding that has taken place elsewhere in the state. The SBC Pastors Conference continues tomorrow followed by the annual SBC meeting Tuesday and Wednesday. The Founders Breakfast will take place before the first session Tuesday morning. Eric Redmond will be preaching and we are sold out but trying to arrange to squeeze in a few more who want to come.

Already I have bumped into a few friends and acquaintances. Several have asked if I know when the Resolution Committee will bring out their report. I don't, but I suspect it will be Wednesday morning.

If I have time, I will post any thoughts or reflections I have on the proceedings of the next few days. The presidential election and Resolutions Committee's report are the two main business items on my radar.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Dockery on integrity in church membershp

Dr. David Dockery, President of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, was interviewed for a Baptist Press article regarding the topic of inflated membership rolls in Southern Baptist churches. He offers some helpful insights, such as this:
"We need to highlight the foundational matters of church membership," Dockery added. "We need a fresh understanding of the Gospel; the relationship of saving faith to sanctification, maturation and spiritual faithfulness must be recaptured. Beyond this, we also must recover the New Testament's teaching on church discipline."
The article also made references to the resolutions before the Resolutions Committee for next week's annual convention.
Dockery affirms the call for repentance expressed by one of the resolutions proposed for the annual meeting.

"We need to repent of our lack of concern for biblical faithfulness in our concern and care for church members," he said. "We need to repent of the way the way we often allow people to join local churches without stressing the covenantal aspect of membership. We need to repent of the fact that we have largely neglected any aspect of church discipline that would have helped us begin to address some of these matters."
Amen. This is why I will gladly support any resolution the committee brings out on this subject as long as it includes a clear call for repentance. If a proposed resolution does not include such a call, then, as I have previously indicated, I will do my best to get to a microphone and offer an amendment to include such a call.

Isn't it refreshing to hear denominational statesmen like Dockery speaking so plainly and lovingly about these kinds of vitally important issues? We need more leaders like this. And we need to pray for and encourage the few that are currently blazing the trail.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Resolved: Southern Baptists need to get serious about ecclesiology

As we move closer to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting it might be helpful to consider once again the rationale behind my resolution on integrity in church membership. This is the third consecutive year that I have submitted it. As noted in a previous post, another resolution (written by Malcolm Yarnell) that addresses some of the same things is being submitted this year by Bart Barber. I have also heard that other related resolutions may be submitted as well.

As I have repeatedly stated, I agree with everything that the Yarnell/Barber resolution says. It is much broader than mine and takes a different approach to what we all agree are important issues. It has garnered lots of support which indicates that a growing number of Southern Baptists are recognizing the need to get serious about our commitment to regenerate church membership. That is a hopeful sign.

I have been asked what I think will happen at the Indianapolis convention next month regarding these resolutions. Well, I am no prophet, but I fully expect that some kind of resolution will make it out of committee this year. After the less-than-stellar reasons given the last two years for not allowing the convention even to vote on it, I believe that this year's committee will want to avoid being put in the position of having to explain why they refused to allow a vote on an issue that is obviously of great concern to many Southern Baptists.

My hope is that a healthy combination of the two resolutions will emerge from the committee. For me, that would include, along with the basic affirmations of regenerate church membership and church discipline, three things: 1) a clear statement on the rationale, 2) a clear call for repentance for our past failures in this area and 3) a clear encouragement to denominational servants to be supportive of churches that seek to recover meaningful membership.

The rationale is important because if we do not acknowledge our problem, then the force of the resolved statements is diminished. The problem in the SBC is not that we have failed to affirm our commitment to regenerate church membership. We are on record in the Baptist Faith and Message that we do affirm it. Our problem is that we are not practicing what we profess and confess. By and large, our churches have drastically failed to maintain much of a practical commitment to our belief that the church is to be comprised of born again believers...only.

If a church only has 75% of its covenanted members actively participating then Baptists should regard that as a problem. But when only 35-40% of the members even regularly attend corporate worship once a week, its not just a problem, it is an ecclesiological catastrophe. It does not matter how many times we reaffirm our commitment to regenerate church membership as long as this tragic situation is not openly, plainly acknowledged to be a direct failure to honor God's Word in its teachings on what a church is and how it is to operate.

When our failure is acknowledged, then the only proper response for Christians is to repent. And if this is so, then why should we not say it and plainly call for it? Our Lord did not hesitate lovingly to call churches to repentance (read Revelation 2-3). Why should His followers be hesitant to do so?

Of all the complaints that I have heard about my motion the one that I find the most remarkable has to do with this--that it specifically, unashamedly calls for repentance. I don't understand the hesitancy, nor do I get why any Christian would be offended by such a call. The Gospel of Jesus Christ sets us free to repent. Christ died for our sins. He endured God's wrath for our ecclesiological failures as well as for our other sins. The Christian life is all about repentance and faith. We repent and believe every day. I don't have to pretend that I am better than I am--indeed, to do so is to cut myself off from the very grace that I need--because my standing with God is not based on my performance but on Christ's.

If we need to repent--and any failure to keep God's Word requires nothing less--then why should we not plainly admit that? I hope that the resolutions committee will see this the same way and will include plain language calling for repentance on any resolution that comes to the convention.

The need to encourage denominational leaders to "support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior's teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches" (as my resolution states) is important because too often the exact opposite has happened. When a church begins to take membership seriously once again and the statistics drop (when the membership roll goes from 900 to 200), some denominational employees might be tempted to speak and act in ways that disparage that church and its pastor rather than offering the encouragement and support that they need.

If these matters are included in a resolution that gets recommended to the convention, I will happily vote for it. If the resolution that comes before the convention does not have these emphases in it, then I will attempt respectfully to offer appropriate amendments from the floor.

Only the Lord knows what will happen. As I have said for the last two years, the passing of a resolution is not my goal. My desire is to see this issue highlighted in such ways that it can no longer be ignored so that pastors and churches will humbly return to the biblical practices that we say that we believe as Baptists. In many respects, that is already happening, for which I am very grateful to the Lord. If the passing of a resolution this year can further that cause, then I pray the Lord will bring it to pass.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Interview on the resolution

Paul Dean and Kevin Boling, hosts of the daily talk radio show, Calling for Truth, have asked me to join them Monday, May 19, 2008 1 PM Eastern time for their program. We are scheduled to talk about the resolution on integrity in church membership that I have submitted to the Resolutions Committee of Southern Baptist Convention.

You can listen to the program live or find an archived version of it after today at the Calling for Truth website. Click on the "Listen Online" button on the top right. Or, if you are in the Greensville, SC area, you may listen at Christiantalk 660. The phone number to use in order to participate in the conversation is 1-888-660-WLFJ(9535).

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

2008 Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

Well, it's that time of year again...the flowers are blooming, school is ending and I am submitting my annual resolution on church membership to the Southern Baptist Convention's Resolutions Committee.

The first year I submitted it (2006), the Committee refused to bring it before the Convention in Greensboro because, as the chairman said, if we remove all those members of our churches who don't attend, we will lose some of our best evangelistic prospects. I was allowed to read my resolution on the floor of the convention, however, and request a vote to override the committee. The vote failed to get the required supermajority though some estimated 40-50% of the messengers voted for it.

Last year, it was same song, second verse. The rationale this time was that the committee did not want to violate the autonomy of the local churches by bringing the resolution to the convention. The vote to override the committee was stronger, but still not enough to bring it out for the whole convention to consider it.

Since then Malcolm Yarnell has crafted a resolution for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention that was passed in their annual meeting last fall. Yesterday, I was informed that this resolution will be presented to the Resolutions Committee for consideration in Indianapolis. Bart Barber is coordinating efforts on this and will make an announcement about it soon.

I affirm everything in the Yarnell-Barber resolution. It is well-crafted and expresses Baptist commitments very clearly. My only reservations about it are that it does not state the rationale for the need of such a resolution (as indicated by our ACP statistics), it does not call for repentance (despite the fact that past resolutions have repeatedly called on Southern Baptists to repent for other sins and one last year even focused completely on repentance) and it does not call on denominational servants to be supportive of churches that take practical steps to recover the principle of regenerate church membership.

At the encouragement of friends, I offered a few suggestions to address these issues in ways that I thought would strengthen the Yarnell-Barber resolution and make it unnecessary for me to submit my resolution again. For various reasons, my suggestions were not taken and so I am compelled to proceed with my plans to offer the resolution below. My decision to do so should not be taken as criticism of the Yarnell-Barber resolution. We agree on much and share many of the same concerns about these issues.

What this means is that there will be (at least) two resolutions that address membership in our churches that will be offered to the Resolutions Committee this year. One of them spells out an affirmation not only of regenerate church membership but also of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, but does not call for repentance. The other focuses more narrowly on the need for our churches to repent of our neglect of actually pursuing the principle of regenerate church membership and church discipline which calling on pastors and denominational servants to be supportive of the recovery of these church practices.

I am glad that Southern Baptists are being encouraged to have this conversation. I hope that this summer in Indianapolis that we will have the humility to admit our widespread failure in these areas over the last generation and will express our desire to return to that which we say we believe.

Several pastors, theologians and church leaders have indicated that they intend to support the following resolution and have given me permission to list their names publicly. Among them are, Eric Redmond (2nd VP of the SBC) Phil Newton, Southwoods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN, Darrin Patrick, The Journey, St. Louis, Tom Bryant, FBC Osprey, FL, Tom Nettles, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Joe Thorn, Redeemer Fellowship, St. Charles, IL, Roy Hargrave, Riverbend Church, Ormond Beach, FL, Voddie Baucham, Grace Family Baptist Church, Spring, Texas, Nathan Finn, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Greg Welty, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Bill Ascol, Bethel Baptist Church, Owasso, OK, Jeff Noblit, FBC Muscle Shoals, AL, Paul Dean, Providence Baptist Church Greer, SC, Fred Malone, FBC Clintion, LA, Wyman Richardson, FBC Dawson, GA and Tim Brister, Grace Baptist Church Cape Coral, FL

Others are encouraged to sign on, if you agree with it. Just add your name in the comments.

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and

Whereas life in a local church should be characterized by loving discipline as the Bible teaches in passages like Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5 and Titus 3:10-11; and

Whereas the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,266,920 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,148,868 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and

Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle as described in Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message; and

Whereas the significance of believers' baptism tends to be lost when churches that practice it fail to exercise loving care for all their members; therefore, be it

RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further

RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further

RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord's teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior's teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Churches inflate their statistics? Who would've thought...

World Magazine reveals that the number of participants that many churches report don't add up in an article entitled, "Numbers Racket" in the December 1, 2007 issue. You can read part of the story here, but you must be a subscriber to read all of it. If you don't already subscribe to this excellent magazine, this is an excellent opportunity to do so.

Here is an interesting quote from the article:
Dan Gilgoff covers the evangelical movement for U.S. News & World Report and is the author of The Jesus Machine. He told WORLD that in his experience, megachurch pastors "notoriously inflate membership" numbers. The reasons? "Media attention, political influence, and money," Gilgoff said (emphasis added).
Somebody should address this situation, maybe by submitting a resolution or something to call attention to inflated church rolls and calling for integrity in the way the numbers are reported. ;-)

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

More momentum for the membership resolution

American Family Radio interviewed me earlier this week about my resolution on integrity in church membership. You can read a report and listen to a snippet of the interview here.

Since the interview I have heard from a fellow pastor that another association, the Olney Baptist Association in Illinois, has adopted a resolution addressing these issues. Maybe if enough Southern Baptist groups do this then the 2008 SBC Resolutions Committee will not be able to kill the resolution when it is offered to them next year.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Integrity in Church Membership Gaining Momemtum

Christianity Today refers to my failed resolution calling for integrity in church membership in its August issue. So does the Missouri Baptist Pathway in its current issue. The CT editorial is appropriately entitled, "Statistical Shell Game" and contains very insightful observations, including this one:
The failed resolution's statement on statistical accuracy, at least, ought to attract widespread support. Since World War II, leading evangelicals have regarded statistics as a matter of gospel integrity. That's because revivalists in the early 20th century often exaggerated the size of their flocks. The statistical shell game may work in the short term, but eventually someone uncovers the truth.
And this sober, prophetic warning:
A fate worse than insignificance awaits us if we fail to be honest. The numbers trap tempts evangelicals to implement programs that will boost the bottom line, regardless of their biblical warrant. "What works?" begins to replace, "What does God's Word teach us?" Such programs may appear to succeed for a time. But Jesus told a parable about what happens when we do not build on the foundation of his Word. The rains will come, the floodwaters will rise, and the winds will blow against that house. Sooner or later, the house will fall. And great will be that fall, Jesus warned (Matt. 7:24-27).

One day, the elements will test what we have built in our churches, crusades, and mercy ministries. The greater the exaggeration, the greater the fall.
Amen. The Pathway annonces that the 2008 Pastors' Conference will address the issue of regenerate church membership by having Mark Dever and two staff members from Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC speak on the theme, "Building Gospel Centered Churches" in each of the 6 sessions. This is the brainchild of Pastor Joe Braden, who serves as the President of the MO Pastors' Conference this year.

The Pathway gives some background to the upcoming conference:
A resolution on integrity in church membership was brought to the floor after having been rejected by the Resolutions Committee. It ultimately failed on a floor vote that required a 2/3 majority to bring it to life. Some observers felt it may have pulled as much as 51 percent in the losing effort.

Shortly after the June 12-13 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Interim Executive Director David Tolliver communicated that he took seriously “the reminder … concerning more accurate and honest reporting of numbers.” Both Tolliver and MBC President Mike Green agreed that rather than continuing to refer to the MBC as being comprised of about 600,000 total members, the more accurate number would be about 400,000.
I predict that the Missouri Pastors' Conference will be a smashing success, much like the national pastors' conference before the SBC in 2006. Pray that more Associational and State Convention leaders will have the wisdom and boldness of Tolliver and Braden in addressing this issue forthrightly. If they do, we will have reason to praise God for the spread of reformation and to pray that it will not be deterred in the face of any opposition that might arise.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Southern Fried Baptists

This may explain why this didn't make it to the floor of the convention in San Antonio but died in Resolution Committee deliberations.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

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.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

SBC-SA #5 - Resolution Committee Refused to Recommend Integrity in Church Membership

Every number has a story. That has been a recurring theme of the Southern Baptist Convention this year in San Antonio. We have heard speaker after speaker as well as numerous video presentations make this point. Some of them have been very moving stories of individuals and people groups who have either recently been reached by the Gospel or stand in need of being reached.

This morning, the Resolution Committee and messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention took actions that confirmed that theme--every number has a story. Sadly, the numbers involved tell a sad, sad story.

The Resolutions Committee refused to submit my resolution on integrity in church membership to the convention for vote. As promised, I brought a motion to overrule that decision. It takes a 2/3 majority to overrule that committee. President Page gave me an opportunity to read my resolution on the floor of convention. The debate was for the most part healthy and appropriately spirited. It was very respectful.

My appeal for allowing the convention to consider this resolution was that we had just passed a resolution calling for corporate repentance and "every number has a story." I read the statistics again from our Annual Church Profiles. I emphasized the fact even in the most generous analysis only 37% of our members even care enough to attend a worship gathering once a week. I have addressed the shame of this statistic repeatedly and will not belabor the point again here.

The chairman of the Resolutions Committee, Gerald Harris, responded to my appeal by saying that the committee thought it inappropriate to bring my resolution before the body because they feared it would infringe on the auntomy of local churches. We should not try to tell churches what to do, he said. Well, anyone who read my resolution and the resolutions that were passed this year and other years will recognize that this argument holds no water. However, it is a tremendous advance over last year's response from the chairman that, if churches took my resolution seriously we would lose our most promising prospects for evangelism!

The convention failed to overturn the committee and therefore my resolution never formally came before them for a vote. Several people--of various theological persuasions--came up to me afterwards to express appreciation for the attempt and dismay over the failure of the committee and convention to allow the resolution to be considered. While I am disappointed by these events and, quite honestly, surprised, I am in no way despondent! Think about it, for two years in a row a resolution calling for integrity in church membership has been read on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention. We have discussed these matters. What the discussion has exposed is just how spiritually sick we are. While I don't like the fact that we are spiritually ill, I rejoice that this is being made increasingly apparent. Until we admit we have a problem, we will never seek to address it. In other words, until we see our sin, we will never repent of our sin.

I am encouraged because this conversation will continue for another year and, as promised, I will, by God's grace, be in Indianapolis next year to submit the same resolution. The passing of my resolution is not the goal. The goal is the recovery of the Gospel and reformation of local churches. If the events surrounding the efforts to get this resolution before the SBC can contribute to that by shining the light on how desperately sick we are, then praise God!

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Radio Interview with Dr. Denny Burk

Dr. Denny Burk, Assistant Professor of New Testament at the Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, will interview me about integrity in church membership and the resolution that I have submitted to the Southern Baptist Convention's resolution committee for the annual meeting in San Antonio next month. The radio station is KCBI out of Dallas. Denny is guest-hosting for Dr. Jerry Johnson on the Jerry Johnson Live talk show. It can be accessed online via livestream at station's website. The program begins at 5 PM Central Time today. That is 6 PM for those of us on the right coast.

There is also a podcast for the show: Jerry Johnson Live Podcast which should be available for download tomorrow.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

State Senate Resolution to Pray for Florida

Florida Senate Resolution
On May 3, 2007 the Florida Senate passed a resolution calling on the residents of our state to pray "that God would have mercy on our state" as we approach another hurricane season. Not only Florida but nearly the whole Gulf Coast region and much of the Atlantic Coast has been chastened by hurricanes the last few years. Other parts of our nation have experienced natural disasters from tornadoes, fires and floods. All of these are reminders of our smallness and dependence on power far greater than ours for protection. We may be able to name the storms, but we cannot change their direction or impact.

This is an appropriate resolution for our state legislators to pass. The text is found below. May the Lord who commands winds and waves (Job 38:11) indeed show mercy to us in the months ahead. More importantly, may He turn many hearts to Himself and remind us of our need of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • WHEREAS, throughout our history, our Nation has turned to prayer for strength and guidance in times of challenge and uncertainty, and
  • WHEREAS, past presidents, including Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and others, have called for a day of prayer at times of crisis and disaster, and
  • WHEREAS, our first President wrote in 1790, "May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths..." as we face the challenges of our times, God's purpose continues to guide us, and we continue to trust in the goodness of His plans, and
  • WHEREAS, we have been warned by leading hurricane forecasters of the likelihood of a very active hurricane season, and
  • WHEREAS, our preparations can protect against hurricanes but cannot influence the strength or frequency with which they occur, and
  • WHEREAS, in addition to these preparations, the residents of this state are in need of protection,
  • NOW, THEREFORE, Be It Resolved by the Senate of the State of Florida: That in recognition of the first day of Hurricane Season, June 1, 2007, the Senate calls upon the residents of this state to pray that God would have mercy on our state and protect us from harm.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

RNS article on Integrity in Church Membership

Amy Green, who writes for the Religious News Service, gets it mostly right in her article on integrity in church membership. It is available online at the Dallas Morning News blog, the Washington Post and EthicsDaily.com. The only complaint I have is the paragraph that states,
Ascol, the Southern Baptist, takes issue with some churches that enroll people after they answer an altar call and commit themselves to following Jesus. He says it's a superficial means of joining the church and requires no real commitment. Even after those members disappear, the denomination counts them, he said.
Actually, my concern is not that churches use an altar call--though I am no fan of that modern invention and think it has been complicit in fostering many spiritual problems in churches. Neither do I object to people being "enrolled" into a church's membership after committing themselves to following Jesus. Indeed, I wish that only such people were accepted into the membership of Baptist churches.

What I obviously did not communicate clearly to Ms. Green is my objection to the way post-sermonic altar calls are typically employed in adding people to Baptist membership rolls. It often works something like this: At the end of the sermon the pastor will say something like this, "If you want to trust Jesus as your Savior, or redicate your life to Him, or join this church, then while the music is playing just step out and come down front and let your desire be made known." Anyone who comes down front and expresses a desire to join the church, through statement of faith, promise of a letter (of recommendation from a sister church) on profession of faith is usually voted on at that moment by the church to be accepted as a member.

Too often those who are not really known, or whose testimony is unknown, are immediately accorded full membership. I think it undermines a church's Baptist identity to accept members this way. How can the congregation exercise any discernment at all in receiving new members when they know nothing about them and when those prospective members have not been adequately interviewed to hear their Christian testimonies? Obviously, the whole church cannot interview every applicant, but they can assign that responsibility to their leaders.

However it is done, every church owes it to the candidate for membership as well as to the congregation to look for a credible profession of faith before accepting new members into the fellowship. The process for doing this need not be complicated or too extensive, but it should be thoughtful and intentional.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

2007 Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

As promised, I have submitted my resolution on integrity in church membership to the Resolutions Committee for the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention. From what I understand, others may well submit similar resolutions this year.

Before sending my resolution in, I consulted with a few respected leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. I sent each a copy of what I intended to propose. All were very favorable about the concerns addressed and offered advice. One encouraged me to wait a year or two before submitting the resolution in hopes that the convention might be better prepared for such a dialogue at that time. I understand and respect his reasoning, but decided to go ahead with my original plan.

I am very gratified to see more and more people giving serious attention to the issue of ecclesiology in general and Baptist polity in particular. In case you missed you, you really must read the Baptist Press story on John Hammett's recent faculty lecture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a professor of theology at the school and spoke on the need to recover our commitment to a regenerate church membership. Here is a summary statement from the article:
Hammett said the most pressing problem facing the Southern Baptist Convention today is not the decadent, post-modern culture, but the Southern Baptist culture, which has lost sight of the Baptist mark of the church -- regenerate church membership -- and allows anyone to join the church and maintain their membership without any interview process or accountability.
Read the whole story here. Who knows if the SBC will adopt my resolution or not? In one sense, it really doesn't matter. As I have explained to various reporters and interested observers of things SBC a resolution carries no binding authority on any person or institution within the convention. But it is an expression of what messengers think on a given subject at a particular time. More importantly, a resolution can be a way of raising an issue to the level of conversation within the SBC. If that happens again this year, then I will be most grateful.

Here is the text of what I submitted. Pray that our Lord will use it to provoke greater concern for biblical integrity in the way that we seek to live in our churches.

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership
Submitted by Thomas Ascol
May 1, 2007
  • Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and
  • Whereas life in a local church should be characterized by loving discipline as the Bible teaches in passages like Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5 and Titus 3:10-11; and
  • Whereas the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,306,246 members in Southern Baptist churches; and
  • Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,138,776 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and
  • Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle as described in Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message; now, therefore, be it
  • RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord's teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally
  • RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

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