Testimony of Reformation
(Member of First Baptist Church Muscle Shoals, AL)
I came to First Baptist Church Muscle Shoals, with my wife and two young children, in December of 1989 at the age of 34 in search of something different. I had been brought up in small Baptist churches all my life. I don’t believe I ever remember being in a church that preached verse by verse through the Scriptures. For the first time in my life, God’s Word began to have an impact.
Earlier in my life, at age 13, I had become concerned about all my friend’s making professions of faith and felt pressured into making a decision to become a Christian, and unfortunately that is all it was at that time—a mental decision. However, 21 years later, in just five short months at First Baptist, God, through the person of the Holy Spirit, began to break my heart over my sin and I came to understand that I was lost and that Christ was calling me to Himself. On May 16, 1990, I surrendered my life to Him. After 34 years, the conflict was finally over.
Shortly after that, Brother Jeff began to teach our body about the biblical teaching of a plurality of elders. This was new to me, given my background in small churches, which were, for the most part, ruled by deacons. I applauded his desire for accountability. See this desire in our pastor, plus the clear teaching of Scripture, made it an easier decision for our people to follow.
As I look back over the years, this is one thing that God has used to give our church the much-needed stability to remain effective in times of trouble and uncertainty. Our congregation grew steadily over the coming years to become the largest church in our area, but the growth was not all good.
Our elders became convicted that even though our church was growing, we also had within the body some members who were living in open sin and were not willing to be reconciled. Brother Jeff began the long process of teaching our church about biblical discipline from Matthew 18:15–20, among other texts. Our people began to realize the importance of church membership and we saw many come to repentance through obedience to His Word.
After much study of the Scriptures and reading book after book of church history written by some of our great fathers of the faith, our elders came to realize that much of the problem with sin and shallow worship in the church began when we swung open our doors to anyone who would simply walk an aisle to request membership or pray a prayer. I began to see, though it was a struggle at first that this was not true evangelism and we were filling the church with the unregenerate.
Our elders began to establish a much more cautious system of church membership. No longer were they forcing people, who had no true understanding of the gospel, to respond to a three to five minute invitation at the end of the service. Now they began encouraging them to come for counseling with a pastor or elder. They also instituted a membership class that all perspective members must attend, and required each person to sign a church covenant with a pastor or elder. I saw these changes as a fulfillment of 2 Corinthians 13:5 which says: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” So much of what our leadership has led us to do over the years, even though thoroughly biblical, is very much outside the norm for most Southern Baptist Churches and will be very difficult for a pastor to establish without much prayer and guidance.
But I must say as a member and as a Christian, I thank God for our having been led to understand what it means to be more biblical in our structure of leadership and have membership in our church that really means something.
It takes a gracious God to be so patient with us as we grow towards Him both corporately and personally. None of us are perfect but we are all being conformed to the image of His Son, and always reforming.