Communion and the Covenant Community

June 26, 2011

By Wes Kenney, Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Valliant, OK

At its annual meeting in Indianapolis in 2008, the Southern Baptist Convention spoke clearly on the issue of regenerate church membership. This is an area in which many SBC churches (my own included) have struggled greatly. At an earlier time in our convention’s history, it was not at all uncommon for a church with 100 members to average 200 or more in weekly attendance. We have turned that right around in the last century or so, and that’s not a good thing. We’ve taken membership and discipline far less seriously than we ought, and our witness as churches has suffered for it. It is indeed sad that a person who may have walked an aisle, repeated a prayer, and been immersed in a tank of water when they were seven years old can, at the age of 50, say with a straight face that they are a member of the church where these events took place when they have not attended a service for three decades or more. What is even sadder is that the church might be more concerned with offending someone than they are with the spiritual condition of their erstwhile “member.” Yet this situation, in some variation or other, is played out countless times in churches throughout our convention.

Several years ago, a blogger named Brad Williams published a post in which he shared a letter his church had sent to “members” that nobody knew how else to contact. In the post, he shares the text of the letter, along with the rationale behind it, listing four reasons why the church’s bloated membership roll was biblically unacceptable. While I agree with all of his reasons, I’d like to highlight his fourth reason in particular:

“4. It lessens the high commitment Jesus calls for in Christian life and service, and it makes a sham of the Lord’s Supper table.”

We need more pastors who will take the doctrinal stand that Williams did. However, it fascinates me to see that there are those within our convention, perhaps even some who teach in our seminaries, who seem to be advocating an abandonment of any connection between the Lord’s Table and the covenant community of believers. This is especially interesting to me in light of our convention’s clear statement on the importance of regenerate church membership. Our confession of faith unambiguously recognizes that biblical baptism is prerequisite to participation in the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, in an environment in which Southern Baptists seem to be recognizing the need to take church membership more seriously, I believe we should take the Lord’s Supper more seriously.

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Jeff T

Wes, How are you using the pronoun “we?” You can’t speak for my church, and its unfair to say that’s what all SBC Churches are like.

    Wes Kenney

    Jeff,

    Thanks for your comment. If you are arguing that your church has reached the place of absolute, unimprovable fidelity to scripture when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, then you’re obviously not included in my we, but rather are an example to the rest of us. I was thinking of the churches in my experience, including my own, which have room to improve when it comes to the importance of this ordinance within the local church.

      Jeff Thomas

      Sorta like Dr. Mohler used “we.” Interesting isn’t it.

Jerry Grace

Wes,
I’ve belonged to nine Southern Baptist churches in my life, the result of moving around. In all of them but one, the situation you describe is unquestionably true. The difference in that one church is membership still carries the meaning of “belonging”; in the others the term for the same concept is “attending”. There are miles of difference between what those two words mean, maybe the distance between heaven and hell. The Lord’s Table calls for intimacy, the kind “belongers” have and “attenders” can only watch.

Bryan

Perhaps a part of the reason is that over the last few decades the church, in general, has focused on an overly individualist view of Christian discipleship. If what I receive in public worship is nothing different that what I receive through personal bible study, except for the addition of the pastor’s educated insights, then why attend? I fully understand that someone giving this answer probably is not actually studying at home, but that is often the answer given to where have you been? Maybe what is needed is the understanding that the communion at the Lord’s Table goes beyond “where 2 or 3 are gathered.” There should be a desire to commune and an accompanying involvement in the life of the church (body of believers communed with) which follows.

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