Thursday, June 12, 2008

On Corporate Repentance

Questions have arisen about the propriety of corporate repentance in light of resolution #6 on regenerate church membership passed this week by the Southern Baptist Convention. Is repentance only individual? Is it ever right for those who are not personally guilty of particular sins to feel compelled to enter into corporate repentance with other believers for those sins?

Daniel 9 gives us an answer to these questions. Nowhere does the Scripture record any of his sins. Of course, that doesn't mean that he did not commit any, but it is significant in light of the prayer he prayed in Daniel 9. Daniel is in Babylon as a result of God's judgment on Judah. Through his study of the Prophet Jeremiah's words, he became aware of what was happening to them as well as God's promise of restoration (9:1-2). It was because of the conviction that came to him from the Word of God that he "turned [his] face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes" (3).

Read Daniel's prayer. He makes "confession" and says "we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, ..." (4-6a). This kind of language is repeated throughout his prayer.

Daniel saw himself in solidarity with his people. As such, he prays in a first person perspective. "We" have sinned. This is appropriate for God's people whenever we are seeking Him for corporate needs--whether for our family, city, nation, church or convention of churches.

That is why the call for repentance in Resolution #6 is appropriate. I have never intended that it be a resolution geared only toward certain churches. It is written in the first person, not second or third. By God's grace, our church has practically addressed these issues in years past and seeks to practice responsible church membership. Nevertheless, as Southern Baptists we see ourselves as a part of a convention that needs to repent for the way that we have neglected church discipline and failed to live up to the ideal of a regenerate church membership. I gladly accept the call to repentance. We certainly have not done everything perfectly ourselves and we are not afraid to acknowledge the legitimacy corporately repenting. In fact, we express corporate repentance every Lord's Day in our worship times.

The Gospel sets us free to deal honestly with sin and to repent. Christ died for our sins and forgiveness is promised to all who confess sin (1 John 1:9). Christians have no reason fear repentance. In fact, being a Christian means living in repentance and faith daily.

Churches ought to be encouraged to repent of our sins of not loving and caring for our members as we should. What might happen if churches all across the SBC began to examine these issues and humbled themselves corporately before the Lord? Perhaps we might see the stirrings of genuine revival.

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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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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

SBC-Indianapolis #3

In what must have shocked many observers Johnny Hunt won the presidential election on the first ballot with nearly 53% of the votes cast. Frank Cox received only 22% and the other candidates considerably less.

This presents an interesting study in influence and prognostication in the SBC. Several bloggers came out with strong endorsements for Cox, one going so far as to announce him as "the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention." It's a good thing for this blogger that we are not living in Old Testament days! ;-)

To my knowledge, only one blogger endorsed Johnny Hunt. Nathan Finn wrote a thoughtful post on why he believed Hunt would make a good president of the SBC.

I am not sure what all of this means, although a couple of observations come immediately to mind. Whereas bloggers were credited with helping elect Frank Page two years ago, this year, they don't seem to have had much, if any influence (with the possible exception of Nathan Finn). Or maybe the influence of the blogs was simply felt in other ways...perhaps by what was not blogged over the last couple of months. Who knows?

Dr. Page's President's address was very good--definitely worth hearing. He spoke on John 4 and stated that repentance is what God requires when we come to see ourselves as we really are.

Dr. David Dockery spoke this afternoon from 3 John and did a wonderful job arguing that, for the sake of truth, we must work to be both cooperative and confessional. This is another message worth hearing.

Tomorrow, I plan to offer an amendment (if necessary) on the resolution related to membership that may come to the floor of the convention. The Resolutions Committee's first report is scheduled for 9:05 AM (Eastern time) tomorrow. You can catch the live stream here.

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SBC-Indianapolis #2, Founders Breakfast

Eric Redmond hit a homerun in his message this morning at the Founders Breakfast. He preached out of 2 Chronicles 34 on "The Reformation that Must Come." It was bold, courageous, insightful and prophetic. An audio of the message will be made available as soon as possible, hopefully, by the end of the week at the latest.

You will definitely want to listen to this one.

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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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