The membership requirements for a church to remain in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention are so weak that we run the risk of watering down our doctrinal standards in the areas of baptism and congregational polity. Additionally, one wonders if lax membership requirements, combined with generous church planting support systems and theological education tuition subsidies, might be attracting to our fold those who do not truly embrace our Southern Baptist principles and convictions. Can we honestly say that we are making more Southern Baptists when many of these so-called converts are actually BINO’s—or Baptists In Name Only?
The Process for Removing Non-Baptist Churches
How does one go about removing a church from the Southern Baptist Convention? To be seated as a messenger at the annual meeting, one’s church must have “a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted Statement of Faith” and must have donated at least something to one or more convention causes in the previous fiscal year. But this restriction merely applies to the seating of messengers, and the vast majority of our churches do not send even one messenger to the annual meeting.
Perhaps the best way to identify a church as residing outside the Southern Baptist umbrella is for the local association to disfellowship them. Still, some of our churches no longer belong to an association, and rarely participate at the state convention level. How are we supposed to remove churches from the convention when they are not meaningfully involved in any way in the first place?
Whatever the method for doing so, it stands to reason that if a church is not adhering, at least generally, to our most deeply cherished beliefs, then we should not continue to consider them to be a Southern Baptist Church. In this matter, we are not being harsh or punitive. We have stated what we believe in black and white. If they depart from it, they are the ones who are actually defining themselves outside Southern Baptist parameters. Two specific examples are worth mentioning.
1. Churches Totally Rejecting Congregational Polity
This issue has been summarized by Robert Hutchinson in his excellent article published in February of this year. (Testing Our Commitment to Congregational Polity.) Hutchinson cites Harvest Bible Chapel in Elgin, Illinois, whose bylaws state: “Members of the church do not participate in governance by voting.” This policy clashes with the Baptist Faith and Message description of our Baptist congregational polity as operating through “democratic processes.”
Another example cited is the Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Kentucky, whose membership packet clearly states that “…we are not congregational…”
It cannot be emphasized enough that the issue here is not simply the existence of churches who have elders and practice a form of elder led congregationalism, in which the churches do vote on occasion. We are talking here about churches that have absolutely repudiated any semblance of congregationalism at all, relinquishing all democratic processes by never voting.
Here are two other ways of asking the question: “Can a church be a Southern Baptist Church while affirming and practicing a form of church government and an organizational structure that is expressly disaffirmed by Southern Baptists?” “Can a church that functions like a Presbyterian Church (or a Catholic, Methodist or Episopal Church) remain in good standing in the Southern Baptist Convention?” I believe the answers should be “no.”
2. Churches Accepting a Non-Immersed Membership
No Southern Baptist Church of which I am aware is actually practicing the sprinkling mode of baptism after someone makes a profession of faith at their church. Thus, we all at least agree with The Baptist Faith and Message when it states: “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (emphasis mine)
However, a problem arises when someone who has been born again in a church of another denomination seeks membership in a Southern Baptist Church. If the denomination practices sprinkling (like Methodists and Presbyterians, for example) most Southern Baptist Churches will only admit these members if they are willing to be scripturally baptized by immersion.
In other words, most Southern Baptist churches require Baptists to be baptized. However, this time honored principle in Southern Baptist life is changing. A number of churches today, especially Calvinistic ones who are adding a fair number of former Presbyterians to their rolls, are accepting into the membership of Southern Baptist churches candidates who have merely been sprinkled after their profession of faith. (See The Sprinkled Baptist Convention.)
The Village Church, with several campuses in the Dallas area, clarifies their view on page ten of a publication on baptism: While we practice a baptism by immersion at The Village, we do not require the mode of immersion for membership.
Do we not lose something very precious when we set the doctrinal standard for membership so low that a person does not even need to be scripturally baptized to become a member of a Southern Baptist church? Our very name, Baptist, comes from a word that means “to immerse.” If we refuse to insist that all those who wear the name Southern Baptist are immersed, we betray the very core conviction that identifies us.
Simply put, the term “non-immersed Baptist” is an oxymoron. If you’ve never been baptized, then you’re not truly a Baptist. And if you’re not truly a Baptist, then how can we possibly consider you to be a Southern Baptist?
By whatever method necessary, we must preserve the doctrinal integrity of the Southern Baptist Convention. A church does not have to be a Southern Baptist Church, but if they are going to be one, then it is an absolute necessity that they both affirm and practice our congregational form of polity and our membership standards related to the only biblical mode of baptism.
Transparency Agenda Survey Results
In a recent poll of SBC Today readers, we asked Southern Baptists to indicate if they “approved” or “disapproved” of the idea that we “Remove Non-Baptist Churches from the Southern Baptist Convention.” With 213 respondents, 69.01% approved of such an action, while 30.99% disapproved.
This article addresses Item Five of the Ten Item Transparency Agenda. You may READ the Transparency Agenda or COMPLETE the survey yourself. To read the articles reporting results from the other survey items, see the links below: