Friday, October 31, 2008

SBC VP Bill Henard on active church membership

Bill Henard is the pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, KY. He was elected First Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention in June of this year. Recently he preached a message entitled, "Getting our Faith and Church to Connect: Expectation," based on Acts 2:41-47.

Pastor Henard addresses the problem of inactive members in this message. He proposes contacting the 2500 inactive members of Porter Memorial and addresses the problem of having only 1000 of its 5000 members showing up on Sunday. He starts getting specific in his application around the 23:15 mark.

While much more biblical insight could be shed on this subject than is possible in one sermon, and the problem is much more serious than perhaps was suggested, I am very grateful that Pastor Henard addressed this issue in a straightforward manner. He "wants membership to mean something." Amen. He has given the church something important to consider and think about by admitting the reality behind the statistics and calling for some practical, corrective steps (such as requiring a new members class for membership).

This is the kind of honesty and integrity that needs to become widespread throughout the SBC. Until honestly admits what is true of its membership, it will not be in any position to start addressing any problems that exist in the way that membership is regarded. He rightly points out that our refusal to address the "inactive" membership problem suggests that we really don't care about people.

Pray for Pastor Henard and Porter Memorial Baptist Church. May the Lord continue to lead them forward in reclaiming meaningful membership, and may their example inspire courage and conviction in other pastors and churches to do the same.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Founders Ministries Podcast

Founders has begun to podcast. Our goal is to average one Founders Podcast per week addressing topics related to recovering the Gospel and reforming local churches. The podcasts will feature interviews, lectures, sermons and discussions with pastors and church leaders who are praying and working toward this end to God’s glory.

In the first podcast Tim Brister interviews me on topics that include the 2008 National Founders Conference (held June 24 - 27 in Owasso, OK), church planting, church renewal, and Resolution #6 on Recovering Regenerate Church Membership and Church Discipline, that was passed this past June at the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis.

You can access it at (click on "Go to Podcasts" on the Welcome page)

The Founders Ministries Podcast is also available on iTunes.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Survey of Comments on Resolution #6

There have been many comments on Resolution #6 that was passed at the Southern Baptist Convention last week. Daily newspapers as well as religious news outlets have run stories about it. Several Baptist state papers have published the Baptist Press release about it and some have offered further commentary. Of course, many blogs have also commented on it.

Denny Burk told how the resolution was immediately useful in his ministry at First Baptist Church, Dallas:
"I am very grateful that the messengers voted in favor of this resolution. In the weeks leading up to the convention, I had been preaching through 1 Corinthians at the Wednesday evening worship service of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. On June 4, we made it to 1 Corinthians 5 and the topic of church discipline. I exhorted the members about the clear command that God gives to congregations to practice discipline.
By God’s wise providence exactly one week later, the convention passed resolution 6. That very night I was able to read the resolution in toto to the folks at First Dallas. I feel confident that the messengers to the SBC really served our church with the passage of this resolution."
Beyond these, I have received many phone calls and emails from pastors and concerned church members who are grateful to have the resolution as a tool to help teach their congregations about regenerate church membership and discipline.

While some think that the passing of the resolution is meaningless and a few (I have only heard about two) think that it is a bad thing, most of the responses that I have read or heard have been overwhelmingly positive.

For your convenience, below is a compilation of the sources that have been pointed out to me that have commented on the resolution (please feel free to add any others not mentioned here). Some of them discuss it at length, others touch on it briefly. What the 50 links below indicate is that the issues of integrity in church membership, regenerate church membership and church discipline are being widely discussed. The resolution is helping to get the conversations going in places where it might not otherwise ever be started. That is hopeful. And it is an encouragement to pray that the Lord will cause Baptists everywhere to reread their Bibles as they ask a simple question, "What does God call a local church to be?"

Baptist Press
Wyman Richardson
Strange Baptist Fire
Justin Childers
Thabiti Anyabwile
Denny Burk
Ted Olsen (Christianity Today)
Kelly Randolph
Ken Keathley
Nathan Finn (again)
Mike Corley
Tim Brister (again)
Associated Baptist Press
Kevin Rhyne
Norman Jameson
Micah Fries
The Charlotte Observer
Chadwick Ivester
The Tennessean
D.J. Williams
Kevin Schaub
Drew Dixon
John Killian
Danny Akin
R. Philip Blinson
Mark Kelly
Tim Rogers
Scott Gordon
Mike Lumpkin
Michael DeBusk
Terry Delaney (again)
Steve Weaver
Jerry Pearce (Southern Baptist Texan)
Anglicans United
Church Executive Magazine
Louisville Courier-Journal
Patrick McGill
Sweet Tea and Theology
Ben Wright
Tennessee Baptist and Reflector
Jim West
Seth Polk
Justin Nale
Don Brown
Wes Kenney
Ed Franklin
The Lakeland Ledger
Terry Leap
Arthur Sido
Ed Stetzer

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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;
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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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, October 31, 2007

Restoring health to an unhealthy church

The rationale behind the resolution on integrity in church membership is that too many of our churches are spiritually sick and ready to die. Indeed some of them may already be dead but simply haven't bothered with having a proper funeral, yet.

Over the next two weeks or so I intend to offer some thoughts on principles of restoring health to an unhealthy church. Several people have asked me to address this topic here as questions have arisen about the serious problems that plague many of our modern evangelical churches. I have been somewhat reluctant to make such an attempt for several reasons.

First, every church situation has its own unique challenges and opportunities. This means that there is no "one-size-fits-all program" that can be recommended to pastors and church leaders. In fact, there simply is no program for church renewal. Those who suggest otherwise betray how detached they actually are from local church leadership.

Second, good people disagree on approaches to this subject and I have no desire to cast aspersion on what some are teaching on matters related to church reformation.

Third, the pursuit of ecclesiological health is never-ending. Any effort to talk about this subject in a definitive way tends to cloud that reality. Though I do think we can speak in general terms of healthy vs. unhealthy churches, it is more precise to speak of more healthy vs. less healthy ones.

With those caveats delineated, here are six questions on church reformation and renewal that I plan to address over the next two weeks.
  1. Why attempt it?
  2. What is the goal?
  3. What principles should guide you?
  4. Where do you start?
  5. What should you expect?
  6. How do you persevere?
I am in my 22nd year of pastoring Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. Though we have much, much further to go in our efforts to follow Christ and grow in His grace, the Lord has lovingly taken us down a long road and through some rough patches in our pursuit of spiritual health. He has also taught us some very valuable lessons along the way. Some of those lessons might be of use to fellow pastors and church leaders.

Many others have travelled this same path in other local churches and I hope that their insights will be offered in the comments of these posts. A growing number of younger pastors and students are committed to pursuing this kind of ministry and I hope that some of them will offer their reflections and questions as we dialogue about this vitally important issue.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Chapman's call to prayer and the elephant in the corner

Dr. Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, called on Southern Baptists to pray during his report to the excom earlier this week. Specifically, he said that we need to be praying for God to bless us with "His wisdom, His glory, His holiness and His witness of Jesus Christ."


Those 4 concerns are vitally important and should be focal points of our praying. But sometimes, I wonder if prayer is tantamount to hypocrisy, or at least a cover for our clear disobedience to God's revealed will.

When the Israelites, still basking in the displays of God's power in their victory over Jericho, were humiliated in their efforts to conquer Ai, Joshua and elders of Israel fell on their faces for hours and cried out to God in heart-felt prayer (Joshua 7:6-9).

God's response is very instructive as well as timely for Southern Baptists. He said, "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned ...." (7:10-11a). There was sin in the camp due to Achan's violation of God's clearly revealed will. Because of this, it wasn't time to pray. It was time to act. The sin must be addressed before it would even be appropriate for Joshua to pray for God's blessing.

God had clearly spoken, making known His will that the Israelites were not to take any of the "accursed things" from Jericho and that all of the silver, gold, bronze and iron was to be placed in the treasury of the Lord (6:18-19). Achan did not do this, but stole some of the forbidden things (7:1).

Then, when Israel marched on Ai, expecting God to go with their army as He had at Jericho, the Lord let them flounder in defeat. In the wake of that humilation, Joshua and the elders pray. And the Lord, in effect, tells them to stop praying and to get up and correct the sin that is in the camp.

I have often wondered what that scene must have looked like from heaven's perspective? His people are praying for His blessing while violating His revealed will. It must have appeared to be highly presumptuous in the sight of God.

Granted, Joshua did not yet know about Achan's sin. When it was made known to him, he did not pretend like it was no big deal, or ignore it, or justify it or make excuses about why it couldn't be addressed. We don't read about him saying, "But Lord, we don't want to violate the autonomy of the local clan."

Which brings me to the elephant in the corner of our SBC zion. I am grateful for Dr. Chapman's call to prayer. We desperately need what only God can provide. But isn't it time for our leaders to do something about the elephant that is stinking up the room? Of course, I am talking about the horrible, God-dishonoring fact that most of our SBC church members give no signs of spiritual life. If you can assume that merely showing up at church is a minimum indicator of spiritual life then it is not too much to conclude that over half of our denomination's 16.3 million members are spiritually dead.

We are Baptists. We say and have repeatedly confessed in our writings that we believe we understand the Bible to teach God's clearly revealed will that a local church should be comprised only of regenerate members. We have, historically, been champions of our Lord's teachings on church discipline. We believe that by doing so we are merely submitting to the revealed will of our Master. Or at least, we used to believe and do those things.

What must it look like to heaven when we pray for the Lord's guidance and blessings as we intentionally ignore and refuse to do what He has called us to do? I think it must look like presumption and hypocrisy.

The issue of our inflated statistics and regenerate church membership has gained increasing attention over the last 2 years. Even some leaders are now admitting that we have a problem (see here and here) . But admitting to a problem and calling for action on it are two different things. It is time for Southern Baptist pastors, churches and denominational leaders to stand up and say unequivocally,
"We have sinned. Our churches are filled with unconverted members. Our evangelism has too often encouraged this very malady, and we must repent!"
We must have reformation in our church life. It will not be easy. It will not be painless. But it is absolutely necessary if we are serious about desiring God's blessing."

Do we want His wisdom? It is displayed in the church that is ordered according to His Word (Ephesians 3:10).

Do we want His glory? It is displayed to those who humbly seek Him in obedience to His revealed will (Exodus 33:18-34:7).

Do we want His holiness? Then we must obey His will, delight in what He delights in and do what He commands (1 Peter 1:14-16)/

Do we want His witness to shine through us? It will, when we live differently from the world and bear His image in lives of obedience and good works (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:9-12).

These are all things for which we must pray. But let our prayers be without presumption. We must be willing to deal honestly and humbly with our sin--particularly with the sin of churches filled with unregenerate members.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More on integrity in church membership

Check out Gene's insights at Triablogue. Curiouser and curiouser.

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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 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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Thursday, June 14, 2007

SBC-SA Wrap up: the good, the bad, and the confusing

The Southern Baptist Convention has much within it to commend, much to lament and somethings that are just plain confusing. The recent meeting in San Antonio confirmed this assessment in various ways.

The Good
The spirit at the convention was less rancorous than some expected and was helpfully free from much of the bravado that has marked recent years. This is due, in large part, to the spirit exhibited by the President. I was very grateful for that.

Who cannot rejoice at the work of faithful gospel laborers around the world? Those who spoke from the platform as well as those with whom I spoke privately left me very encouraged that many within the family of Southern Baptists are vitally concerned about getting the Gospel to every people group in the world. The International Mission Board has its problems--many of which have been aired openly over the last 18 months--but it is still a tremendously useful agent in helping local churches send missionaries around the world.

Southern Baptists have some of the greatest seminaries in the world within our ranks. When I compare what and how and by whom today's students are being taught in seminaries like Southern and Southeastern I am filled with thanksgiving for the upgrade in theological education that we have witnessed since I attended seminary. Some of the books that I had to read on my own time and to the chagrin of some of my professors are required reading for modern students. In addition, the cost of seminary training in our SBC institutions is amazingly low when compared to other schools. We should rejoice over that.

The Bad
Bureaucracy still rules the day too often and in too many places in SBC life. Timothy George's prophetic warning more than 2 decades ago is being proven before our eyes: "The exchange of one set of bureaucrats for another does not a reformation make." The mentality that we should all just go along in order to get along will not pass muster any longer. Nor will current leaders be effective simply by saying to Southern Baptists, "Trust us. Just trust us." Those interested enough in the SBC to attend the annual meetings do trust the leadership, but they also expect accountability and humility from our leaders. Defensiveness, intimidation, demagoguery, paternalism and condescending attitudes do not play as well today as they did a generation ago (and they didn't play all that well even then).

It is evident both by the schedule and by some of those who spoke from the platform that there really is not a genuine desire for substantive debate and dialogue even on important issues that come before the convention. President Frank Page did a great job moderating the meeting. His spirit was contagiously sweet and more than once he went the extra mile to assure that messengers were treated with respect. But there simply is not enough time allocated for messengers to debate the issues that are brought before the convention. More than once the committee on the order of business recommended that we move the schedule forward because we did not need the full time that had been allotted for certain reports. However, debate was also cut short on more than one occasion when the issues before us warranted more time.

Southern Baptists need the kind of leadership that will take a hard look at what we are doing and how we are doing it, and be willing to make some radical proposals to counteract the bureaucratic mindset that too often sets in when organizations grow large. I know that we experienced some reorganization in 1995 but we are past due for fresh look at our denominational structure, agencies and institutions.

The Confusing
I don't know how to answer those who ask me why the convention passed a resolution on global warming while refusing to consider on on integrity in church membership. Some of the suggestions offered by readers of this blog in a previous post have real merit. But, I do not have a definitive answer. (Tony Kummer has extracted the video recording of the effort to get my resolution to the floor of the convention.)

Here is the way that I see it and how I have tried to explain my perspective on this matter to several people and in a variety of forums. If it is accurate to say that the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists give little or no indication of ever having been born of God's Spirit then we are in real trouble. Serious trouble. Life-threatening trouble. If well over half of those we welcome into our churches through evangelism and other means are unconverted then we are obviously not doing church in accordance with the New Testament. If the majority of our members are unconverted, then there is no other problem that we face that is more important than addressing this situation. There is no other item on our agenda that deserves more attention and concern than this. If we fail to address this, it does not matter what else we may attempt, we are allowing a cancer to grow that will destroy local churches. In fact, it has already done so, and is continuing its deadly rampage as you read this. I regularly talk to pastors and members who bear the brunt of such spiritual devastation. They have watched their churches repeatedly deny Christ in attitude and action all-the-while being regarded as good churches by SBC standards.

I have spoken with more than a few SBC leaders and pastors who have admitted to me privately that my assessment of this situation is accurate. They have agreed that we have no issue larger than this confronting us at this time. Some disagree with my approach to addressing the problem straight on and calling attention to it as I have tried to do by way of introducting a resolution to the convention. I have no problem with that kind of thinking. What does bewilder me, however, is how someone can agree with that assessment and be willing to do nothing or to promote other agendas in ways that suggest that those items are of extreme--even grave--importance.

I fear that if we do not win the battle for our churches becoming healthy then every gain we experienced in the battle for the Bible will be lost in a generation. What kind of churches spawned and allowed liberalism to take root in our agencies and institutions? Poorly ordered ones whose memberships were largely (by all indications) unconverted. What kind of churches predominate the landscape of the SBC today? Poorly ordered ones whose memberships remain largely unconverted.

The great 19th century Southern Baptist Theologian, John Dagg, made this observation in his Manual of Church Order: when disciplines leaves a church, Christ goes with it. If that is true, what does it say about the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptist Churches? Even many so-called "flagship churches?"

While we have much for which to be thankful in the corner of Zion known as the SBC, we have much to lament and fear. And we have many reasons to feel desperate--desperate for reformation and revival. May our Lord be pleased to grant it to us.

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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 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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