I want to take a look at a resolution from this year’s Southern Baptist Convention. It is listed below.
6. On Regenerate Church Membership And Church Member Restoration
WHEREAS, The ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle, with Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message describing the church as a “local congregation of baptized believers”; and
WHEREAS, A New Testament church is composed only of those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word, becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, the local church’s only Lord, by grace through faith (John 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9), which church practices believers’ only baptism by immersion (Matthew 28:16-20), and the Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:26-30); and
WHEREAS, Local associations, state conventions, and the Southern Baptist Convention compile statistics reported by the churches to make decisions for the future; 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 Scriptures admonish us to exercise church discipline as we seek to restore any professed brother or sister in Christ who has strayed from the truth and is in sin (Matthew 18:15-35; Galatians 6:1); and now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, urge churches to maintain a regenerate membership by acknowledging the necessity of spiritual regeneration and Christ’s lordship for all members; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we humbly urge our churches to maintain accurate membership rolls for the purpose of fostering ministry and accountability among all members of the congregation; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the 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, and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we humbly urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and their pastors to implement a plan to minister to, counsel, and restore wayward church members based upon the commands and principles given in Scripture (Matthew 18:15-35; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20).
Many churches have become so numbers driven that they no longer follow this type of church membership. As a result we have church members who do not hold to the beliefs of the church or are not even Christians. There must be expectations given and known that go along with church membership. The lack of these expectations leads to no source of accountability. It is hard to use the Bible for accountability and discipline, when it was not used in reference to membership. What results is chaos and division. Top this off with many churches lack of understanding of biblical church leadership ( correct roles of elders, deacons and congregation) and you have a really bad situation.
Church membership should be dependent on 4 things. Belief in Jesus Christ, which is observable by the fruit of their lives and their testimony. Baptism which is our outward expression of our affiliation with Christ. The final two are the approval and signing of the church’s Statement of Faith and Covenant. The last two are important because they lay out the biblical beliefs and the way a member is expected to live. Now if a person begins to live in a way contrary to the Bible, we have a means for church discipline. Upon church membership they entered into a covenant with the church to live according to that standard.
Next the church needs to keep it’s membership records updated. If a member has not been at church in a very long time, they need to be contacted. If they are attending somewhere else, their membership needs to be transferred or removed. If they are not attending anywhere, the church first needs to lovingly attempt to draw them back. If that does not work, church discipline needs to be initiated because they are not in accordance with what the bible commands. If they are unrepentant, discipline should continue to escalate up to and including the removal of church membership. This same method should be used for anyone who continues to live in unrepentant sin.
Our ultimate goal should be the bringing back of wayward members to fellowship. If that is not possible, we must severe ties to uphold the unity and purity of the church. There can be not unity in the body until we learn to follow the biblical example for church leadership and discipline. The church has fallen away from this, and needs to return. We need to begin looking at what the Bible says on the roles of elders and deacons. And we need to begin searching what Scripture says about proper church discipline. We need to humbly follow what we find there. It may not be want we think or want, but it is what we need.