On Church Membership and Baptism

October 10, 2007

It was my privilege to serve as chairman of the resolutions committee of the Frisco Baptist Association (FBA) this year. We had our 114th annual meeting last night, and our committee presented five resolutions, all of which passed without opposition.

Below is the text of the longest of the five, a resolution intended to begin conversations in our churches about the disparity between our membership and our attendance. While the inspiration comes from Tom Ascol‘s two failed attempts to have the Southern Baptist Convention address this issue through resolutions, much of the text of the resolution comes from a similar resolution passed by the Missouri Baptist Convention at their annual meeting in 2006.

Some of the language is carried over from a resolution passed last year by the FBA concerning the requirement that baptism precede membership in a local church. That resolution came out of the debate surrounding Henderson Hills Baptist Church‘s consideration of dropping that requirement.

It is my hope that we will see similar resolutions adopted by associations and state conventions throughout the SBC, and that this groundswell will result in the entire convention addressing the issue, and ultimately, working toward a recovery of authentic, regenerate church membership. The resolution:

On Church Membership and Baptism

Whereas, our 2006 Annual Church Profile reveals that though we had a total of 9,698 resident members, we ran an average of only 3,034 people in Sunday School attendance, which includes non-members such as children, guests, and visitors; and

Whereas, the continual reporting of inflated membership numbers creates a distorted picture of ministry, can breed integrity problems, and perpetuates a misunderstanding of the nature and significance of membership in the local church; and

Whereas, Membership in the local church is a covenant relationship of mutual accountability and submission, both to one another and to the Lordship of Christ; and

Whereas, the church is described as a family, a flock, a body, and a temple, all of which point to the importance of mutual love, support, accountability, and interdependency among the saints (1 John 3:14; Hebrews 10:24-25; Eph. 2:19-22); and

Whereas, Baptism is chief among the doctrinal distinctives that we as Southern Baptists hold dear; and

Whereas, Baptism is a requirement, not for salvation, but for obedience to the example and to the explicit instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ; and

Whereas, The Baptist Faith and Message adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 14, 2000 clearly states that baptism, as one of the two ordinances of the church, is a prerequisite to the privileges of church membership (Article VII); now therefore be it

Resolved, that the messengers of the Frisco Baptist Association, in annual session October 9, 2007 affirm our belief in and commitment to the principle of a regenerate and scripturally baptized church membership, and be it further

Resolved, that we encourage our pastors to facilitate open dialogue within the churches to arrive at a greater understanding of the cause, resolution, and future prevention of inflated membership rolls. (Acts 20:28)

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Bob Cleveland

There do I sign?

Bob Cleveland

Dadgum old fingers! Make that WHERE……

Tim Rogers

Brother Bob,

How do you get your index finger mixed up with your ring finger? The next thing one will see from you is that you are wearing your wedding band on your ring finger. :>)

Seriously, this is a great resolution. Don’t you think?

Blessings,
Tim

Scott Gordon

Excellent resolution. I wonder why some have problems with the covenant commitment aspect. We are reviewing, redoing , and renewing our church’s covenant, and I’ve heard stirrings of ‘that will cause some people to leave the church’. I’m so tired of complacent, let-me-do-what-I-want-to-and-don’t-tell-me-I-have-to-be -committed-to-anything Christianity.

Sorry…this resolution is a good, no great, step toward calling our churches into mutual commitment and accountability over an issue which should get our attention and over which no one should have a disagreement.

Sola Gratia!

Chris Johnson

“Whereas, Baptism is chief among the doctrinal distinctives that we as Southern Baptists hold dear; and…”

Wes,

What are the other doctrinal distinctives that are not chief?

Thanks,
Chris

Wes Kenney

Chris,

That was holdover language from last year, when our DOM wanted to make a strong statement against what Henderson Hills was considering. I guess that since we are known by the name “Baptist,” baptism could be characterized as our “chief” distinctive. Clearly, it is not the only thing that makes us Baptist.

cb scott

Wes,

This is good.

Chris,

One that is not chief is the prohibition against the ‘backker spittin’ contest the last night of the associational meeting out behind the church where the meetin’ is held. That thing is killin’ attendance. It needs to start back. Ole Wes won it in ’04.

cb

Chris Johnson

Thanks Wes,…. seemed a bit out of place in the mix.

cb,

I knew we were going to have to address that sooner or later… backker spitten – no good, that’s a 15 yarder.

volfan007

wes,

good resolution. now, how to apply it? and, how many of your churches will actually carry that resolution out?

i told my deacons that we ought to send out a letter to every member informing them that until we’re incorporated, that each one would be named in any lawsuits that come against our church. and, we just wanted them to all be aware of that. i said that i’d love to send that letter out and see how many called to have thier names taken off of our roll! they laughed about it. thought that was funny. but, really, i wonder how many calls we’d get the next week when those absentee members realized thier liability?

also, cb, i used to have a deacon that would sit in the choir and dip backker and spit in a cup the whole time i was preaching. i think that i may have caused him to swallow it a few times. lol.

david

david

Chris Johnson

OK Wes, lets take this for a spin…..start fillin’ up the baptismal. I can almost sense Tim wanting me to ring in on this one. This is kinda..lengthy,… sorry.

Before you start putting on your combat gear and safety helmets, and hear me wrongly, let me be very clearly that I believe that baptism is a most wonderful act of worship, that baptism is by immersion, it is a great blessing and command of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to all that believe …..and infant baptism is no baptism at all.

There are several facts to consider as we take a look at baptism and the experience of being members one of another. First of all, the context of baptism is only and always within the “ekklesia”. It, that being wet baptism, does not and has never caused the “ekklesia” to exist, nor does it form exclusive groups, nor does it provide privileges. We do not gain “brownie points” from God for being “wet baptized”. If someone thinks they do…they misunderstand the power of Christ’s righteousness as imputed to them in salvation. We do not follow the example of Christ in baptism, we follow his command to be baptized. Christ fulfilled and obeyed the law for us….he was not being baptized for himself or as an example, but on our behalf to fulfill all righteousness (active obedience done perfectly by Christ alone). Therefore, the “ekklesia”, called out ones, are complete in Him.

Since the “ekklesia” is established by Christ alone, wet baptism is something that the “ekklesia” is doing… and it, that being wet baptism, is not part of salvific doctrine (i.e. the Gospel of God) or what the bible would maintain as chief doctrine that is essential for salvation. One small example is excerpted from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church….

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
(1Corinthians 15:1-5)

What are the chief doctrines of first importance that complete the “ekklesia” initiating them into fellowship with the saints? It is trusting and believing through faith that,

There is only one God
Jesus Christ is God Incarnate
Salvation is by Grace alone.
Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead for (his/her) justification.
The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

What are doctrines, not of first importance, not dealing with our Justification by Grace, through Faith,… yet are not to be diminished? They are too numerous to list in this short space, but as I have heard it said, none should be seen as lesser than others… of which I agree. One that is prominent in the group is baptism.

Do following any of these (not of first importance) doctrines make anyone of the “ekklesia” of lesser importance or cause them to be incomplete? No! Are we blessed as we follow the commands and ordinances of our Lord? Yes! …. The bible does not record where the “ekklesia” follow the commands for bounty, reward or inclusion,…but only out of a newly changed heart of gratitude and understanding. (hence believer’s baptism) If we follow commands for bounty, reward, or inclusion, we cheapen the very command we follow….then it is selfish and is excluded from worship. We are to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Philip and the Eunuch teach us these great principles of worship and baptism. The Eunuch was in town to worship,….and “boy” did he worship,….in spirit and in truth….. revealed to him in the great truth of Christ as the lamb of God….and worship was seen clearly in his baptism before he made his way back to Ethiopia. That is as good as it gets….

I don’t think this should call for change to the language of resolution, since you do say specifically “Whereas, Baptism is chief among the doctrinal distinctives that we as Southern Baptists hold dear; and”,….I’m just not sure that all Baptist Churches would agree that it is chief.

OK…be gentle.
Blessings,
Chris

Tim Rogers

Brother Chris,

I have not had a chance to read in depth your comment, but I did catch something in the glance that I want to ask you about.

Did the Eunuch worship while he was in Jerusalem or was it by the Gaza strip?

Blessings,
Tim

Chris Johnson

Brother Tim,

That is a good observation. It appears to be both and rejoicing as a response to the worship in the later.

-Chris

Tim Rogers

Brother Chris,

I think I would slightly disagree with you on “both”. This Eunuch was a unbeliever. Is an unbeliever able to “worship in spirit and truth”?

Blessings,
Tim

Tim Rogers

Brother Chris,

I am sorry, I hit the enter button too quickly and did not finish what I wanted to say.

I submit that as an unbeliever this Eunuch was not able to worship while in Jerusalem. He may have gone through the ritual of worship, but he was not in true worship of the One True God. I submit that it was his lack of experiencing true Worship that drove him to the Scripture and he was reading it on the way home. I submit that after Philip used the Word of God to express to him, his need for a Savior, that he entered into a state of being able to worship. I further submit that once Jesus came into his life, his first act of worship was in that body of water they were beside. Thus, he did not worship in Jerusalem, but there in the Gaza Strip.

Allow me to sum up my thoughts on this one event. I believe that God presented to this Eunuch at the outset of his salvation a picture of the church. Entrance–Through Salvation
Obedience–Baptism–“Here’s Water what hinders me to be baptized?”
Discipleship–through digging in God’s Word–“How can I understand unless someone instruct me?”
Eschatology–Philip was raptured away.

Just my country boy logic. I would not advocate we build a theological system on these verses and my assessment. But I can see this structure.

Blessings,
Tim

Chris Johnson

Brother Tim,

If I hear what you are saying,… then no one has ever worshipped except after the historical resurrection?

I believe the scripture is clear that the Eunuch was being obedient when he came to Jerusalem. The Spirit of God was leading him then and as he made his way back to Ethiopia. He simply was given understanding and was rejoicing because of that understanding of Christ. When was he “saved”?, a lot of people will try to be that judge and jury. Yet, as a result of being “called out”, he liked the idea of being baptized. Boy, don’t you like those kind of folks! And he was baptized immediately. Now that is something that I like…. we should try to find water as soon as possible…. not wait for the family, photographers, or make sure they have been through baptism class, the right week or quarter for baptizing, etc. Baptism seems to loose its original intent when we clutter it with our American (although well meaning) accoutrements.

I don’t see this as the ultimate alter call, since alter calls didn’t show up until much later.

I’ll have to think on the worship idea you have advanced a little longer…

Blessings,
Chris

Chris Johnson

Tim,

a follow-on,…. I think I hear what you are trying to say… this new dispensation (got to be careful with that word as well) was upon us….He, our Lord, both invites and demands a spiritual worship, more in harmony with the true nature of acceptable service than the ceremonial worship by consecrated persons, place, and times, which God for a time has seen proper to supply until the fullness of the time should come.

All the more reason to be baptized and rejoice in the justifier through faith.

-Chris

Casey

Volfan, individual members cannot be sued for actions of a church. Surely, you’re church is set up as a nonprofit?

Chris Johnson

Tim and Wes,

a few more comments,….

I believe that the concept of membership and the lack of faithfulness, as seen in the statistics presented in the Resolution above, are primarily indicative of a lack of understanding of the chief doctrines…..those being, as Paul would say…those of first importance, those that belong to the understanding of Christ’s atonement for sin, His death and His resurrection.

As I have said before, we are eager to raise the status of wet baptism as the “new” chief doctrine, and begin to easily overlook the real chief doctrine as outlined by Paul in Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, and throughout the NT, and the OT as well far that matter. It appears that we are so raring to go to get someone, baptized and so-called “qualified to be in” the church, we fail to teach the chief doctrines with clarity, and quickly loose sight of the fact that it is Christ doing all the work.

The reason the roster/role of many churches versus participation is so lop sided and unrealistic is that it is so very trouble-free to categorize people through baptism as members and then neglect the teaching of sound doctrine, which quickly results in a group of people that may have no “connection” to Christ whatsoever. Is it any wonder that baptized people… that don’t know Christ …will not have the desire to come and fellowship with the “ones that have been called out?”

The remedy is to preach the gospel, preach the things of first importance, go to the “professors” that are still on the roles and simply ask them who they desire to follow. Then you will be able to make some sense of the “ekklesia”.

Blessings,
Chris

volfan007

casey,

i’ve heard that if a church is sued which is not incorporated then each and every member can be included in the lawsuit. that’s my understanding.

david

cb scott

Vol,

You are right. Every member is accountable if the church is not incorporated.

cb

Casey

Volfan and CB, not according to the lawyers at the law firm I know, but what do lawyers know?

Tim Rogers

Brother’s Casey, CB, and Volfan,

Let me call this stream back to the original context of church membership and baptism. Your discussion has not gotten far off course but a course correction is needed.

Brother Casey,

If you will check with the law firm you know, see if they will tell you that if a church is not incorporated they have exposed themselves to each individual member being listed if a lawsuit is taken against the church. If the church in incorporated, then the corporation is the only thing that can be sued. I believe that is what Brother’s Volfan and CB are referencing.

What are your other thoughts on the resolution?

Blessings,
Tim

Bennett Willis

The LifeWay book that we use in Bible study used the scripture from Matthew talking about separating wheat from the weeds (KJV–tares). The decision was to wait until judgment because it might damage the good crop. I thought of the “Baptist count” when I read this. It did seem relevant to me.

Bennett Willis

Chris Johnson

Bennett,

I think I agree with you….. Wheat and tares will always exist as the “ekklesia” meets to worship and be nourished by the Word of God. It is interesting that there is no biblical evidence to counting heads, but there is biblical evidence to the fact that pastors and teachers should be about the business of teaching sound biblical doctrine when the “ekklesia” come together.

I believe that God’s Word makes it clear… that when the Gospel is preached and included in every message, the “ekklesia” are nourished and the tares are repelled. The problem is, if you are about the business of counting heads, many times both groups respond and look the same. The solution is not to try and identify, but to continue feeding … i.e. “feed my sheep”. That principle is sometimes the hardest for Pastors to believe, because we want the sheep to follow and follow the “right way”. I believe Jesus said that it was His responsibility to draw and make alive….and even sanctify. “My sheep know my voice”…Good advice by our Lord.

-Chris

tom ascol

Wes:

Congrats on getting this resolution considered and adopted by your association. May many more follow your lead.

Bennett and Chris:

In the parable of Matthew 13, Jesus is not talking about the ekklesia, but, as He plainly states, the “kosmos.” Read verse 38. Jesus is not teaching against church discipline, which He specifically commands in chapter 18. He is teaching religous freedom.

Chris Johnson

Thanks Tom, for the clarification. The field is the world.

Do you think the “ekklesia” is distinct from the “children of the kingdom”?

Tim Rogers

Brother Tom,

Welcome to SBC Today. I think this is the first time you have commented. Looking forward to seeing you in November.

Blessings,
Tim

Chris Johnson

Tim,

With respect to the worship of the Eunuch,….

It seems to me that it would be difficult to ascertain if the Eunuch actually worshipped or not in either instance, because only God can and does judge the heart. So, I believe I was in error to equate “rejoicing” with anything pertaining to worship. (Joel Olsteen probably would disagree).

God has prescribed the proper way of worship; he has furnished a “divine pattern” ¬ a “due order” for worship. Since mankind has an inherent tendency to corrupt worship, we need divine instructions if our worship is to be acceptable unto God. Therefore, proper worship is restricted exclusively to the means ordained by God. That being the case, God ordains and prescribes and judges the worship of men on either side of the cross.

I will maintain that the Eunuch did have reason to rejoice as he gained understanding of the Lamb of God as revealed by the preaching of the God’s Word and no doubt understood on some new level his being “called-out” by God as he responded in baptism. He certainly was not the same!

Blessings,
Chris

Bennett Willis

Now that it has been proposed that the rolls of the churches be purged of members who don’t meet some qualification–what should that qualification be? What would your church’s policy say on how this is to be done?

I’ve asked this before (on another blog) and personally settled on sending to each member a letter with a stamped card addressed back to the church saying that the individual wanted to remain on the roll–or wanted to be taken off the roll. If no answer was received in two years of asking, the person would be transferred to an inactive roll and cease to be counted. Names would be posted before the member was moved to the inactive and uncounted list in case someone wanted to contact the person to ask them to contact the church about their membership.

Bennett Willis

Bennett Willis

Wes,
How about a report in 6 months and again in a year as to what has been done with the resolution. It would be interesting to know.

Bennett Willis

Wes Kenney

Bennett,

One suggestion I’ve found that I really like came from John Hammett’s Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches.

Our church covenant is the same one that many churches use, and some have on their walls. The suggestion was that the church (it’s active membership, anyway) works together to write a new covenant. Once complete, you notify all members by mail of the completion of the new covenant, and announce a date for a “signing ceremony” wherein everyone will sign their agreement to be bound by this new covenant. Inherent in this process would be the understanding that the membership will consist of those who have signed their agreement to be bound by the contents of the new covenant.

Sure, there are pitfalls in that approach, but it gives the opportunity to approach the process positively. The letter would talk about how the church would very much like to have everyone involved, and all would have opportunity to have input as to what the covenant says and doesn’t say. It’s all very congregational.

As to reports on the resolution, I’ll certainly be blogging about any of our churches that determine to move in this direction.

Bennett Willis

Bart Barber tried a “Wiki” approach to a church covenant. He started with a time tested one and really got very few suggested updates (at least by the time I stopped checking). He seemed disappointed with the response, but I thought it was about what would be expected. The addition of drugs to alcohol as things to be avoided was the major item as I recall. http://wikicovenant.wiki-site.com/index.php/Main_Page is the link for that work.

You don’t seem very positive about churches taking action on a motion that passed unanimously. :)

Thanks for the suggestion. At least it does involve some sense of commitment. Do you have any information (preferably links) about some who have tried it?

Bennett Willis

Bennett Willis

One more question, while the covenant sounds like a good place to start, how are you going to keep the problem from coming up again in 10 or 20 years? How do you do maintenance?

Bennett

Chris Johnson

Bennett,

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
(2Timothy 4:1-4)

Sometimes we as pastors like to think or hope that the sheep really respect the word, and the work of the pastor, and what we have to say, etc., ….but that is really not the mission of the pastor. The sheep need to “hear something”, but we are tempted to spend time trying to pragmatically discover who the real church is…. and make sure they comply or at least contribute.

The answer to a regenerate church membership is to “preach the word.” I think I hear what you are saying….. if people would just get involved and dig in, be disciplined, then they would see the benefits and blessings…… the church would be healthy. It always come full circle….the only healthy church is the one where the preaching is focused on the Gospel and doctrine is taught day by day.

Sometimes we tend to replace biblical doctrine with policy and compliance documents.

Blessings,
Chris

Bennett Willis

“we encourage our pastors to facilitate open dialogue within the churches to arrive at a greater understanding of the cause, resolution, and future prevention of inflated membership rolls.”

Chris,
I’m on the policy committee of my church (and have been off and on for years)–and I am looking at this “legalistically.” If you are going to require the church rolls to be accurate (and I am not completely sure what that is) then you have to have a clearly stated way to do that–otherwise you won’t know what to do.

What I find when I ask the question is that we are all for “preventing inflated church rolls” but we have few clear and implementable ideas on how this should be accomplished.

There was a suggestion above that a new church covenant could be put together and then only the old members who signed the new covenant would be counted in the new official membership list. This would cull out any who just believe that Baptists don’t sign things–which might be desirable in some minds. It would cull out those who just are not willing to come up to church for anything–desirable in almost all minds.

I really don’t see that proper preaching (always a good idea) would help a whole lot with the active membership problem. After all, those who are the problem are not hearing the preaching.

Bennett Willis

Chris Johnson

Got it….

Bennett,…thanks for the response,….

Here is an example of what our church family does. We, the pastors and teachers, go to the families and teach them the covenant, or for us “Statement of Faith”. We do not require a signature, because it is incumbent upon the pastors to know if the information is getting across. The “going to them” is the key to understanding what church roll you really have. And then, once you find them, ….feed them. That was my point in the subsequent email.

If they refuse to be taught, then I believe it is appropriate to gently teach them the consequences of not obeying. (This may take some time). And also stressing to them that you are not putting them on a guilt trip…but simply bringing to their attention that God has rescued them from His wrath to come and as servants to the King we should and are commanded to love one another.

The main problem that I have experienced in the past is that there were a lot of leaders or teachers in the church that did not understand or could not explain the “doctrines”…..so trying to teach someone without prepared leaders, became an impossible task. Most leaders, pastors, deacons, etc. would rather send out letters, instead of meeting face to face. The face to face meeting, when done in love, is the greatest of all roll-calls, whether they come back to the church or not.

Writing a solid church covenant or “Statement of Faith” is a great place to start….

Just some thoughts,

Blessings,
Chris

Bennett Willis

Several years ago, two of our deacons agreed together to visit the resident (but inactive) members of our church–all of them. They thought that these people should be better “prospects” than “cold calls.” By mid year they had determined that people who were on the rolls but were not attending knew exactly why they were not attending–and why they were not going to attend in the future. As I recall, they completed their task but with no obvious results.

What do you do in cases like this? What do you expect the “inactive” (since that is easier to identify clearly than “unregenerate) to do after you have gone over the Statement of Faith with them. You indicated that this could take some time–hours or weeks?

I really like details if I am going to try to decide what course of action to take. And I’m persistent.

Bennett

Chris Johnson

Bennett,

Your right…..you think the ones that have made an attempt to come in the first place would listen more readily. But, we must always remember, that sin so easily besets all of us and we tend to run from God instead of to Him. That is why it is ultimately most effective to keep the Gospel on the tip of the tongue.

If the pastors are truly preaching the Word (there are times when pastors do not do this and expect people to attend their churches anyway), then the best the faithful leadership can do for those that are not willing to fellowship or obey the ones that look out for their souls,…. is to remove them, ….since they have proved not to be part of your body.

Certainly there are implications, ….the ones that have been removed have some decisions to make. Either they will get mad and tell everyone in the world how horrible you are, or they will repent and return to the fellowship where they can edify the body of Christ. The nice thing about this situation is there is no mystery to the results and the leadership is being faithful to the body of Christ, especially if the leadership is prepared to be patient and continue to share the Gospel.

additionally,….if you do get a lot of grief from the individual, this is a perfect opportunity to pray for them and share the Gospel with them and watch God work. As Paul puts it….in season and out of season…it really doesn’t matter.

Finally, as the Pastors and Leadership consistently care for the flock and the flock learns the gentleness and patience demonstrated in the power of the Gospel,… the entire body is edified. Another thing that I try to keep in front of me….is that my goal is not to get them back into the quote “church”, but to love them and see that their relationship with their heavenly Father is well nourished…my objective is to edify them.

Pretty simple stuff, but effective.
Blessings,
Chris

Bob Simpson

Thank you for this edifying discussion.

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