For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Does Church Membership Mean Anything Anymore?

Does church membership mean anything anymore? Good question. This past summer, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a Resolution on Regenerate Church Membership which suggests that our church actually focus on our members truly being saved (imagine that!). Sad that a denominational resolution is needed to encourage that, but such is the state of affairs in the 21st Century church.

Part of that resolution also focuses on the need to practice church discipline. One of the “Whereas” and three of the “Resolved” statements touch on the idea:

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);

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).

However, we find ourselves in the situation where we have neglected these concepts for so long that those who do try to live faithful to them find themselves in a tough spot.

Most recently, there is the story of a woman in Jacksonville, FL who is upset that her church, Grace Community, would dare to confront her over regularly engaging in sexual relations with her boyfriend. (Check out this excellent post from Dan Phillips of the Pyromaniacs). She says she’s worried that the public dealing with her sin will have a negative effect on her 18-20 year old daughters. Apparently she isn’t worried about how her unrepentant sin will affect them, only the church’s dealing with it.

Several years ago there was the story of a Dallas church being sued for addressing a situation of adultery within its ranks. The lawsuit stated the church was “invading the privacy” of those involved. I guess they could argue the same thing regarding the issue of “regenerate membership.” After all, it’s nobody’s business if I’m truly saved, right?

Before I arrived at our present church, the former pastor tried to work with a family considering a divorce, and it wasn’t well received. In fact, when I came, one of the first comments from an “outsider” about our church was, “Oh, you’re the church that hates divorced people.” How outrageous.

Oh, how far we’ve come. The great Reformers of days gone by once focused on three "marks by which the true church is known": the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline to correct faults. At one time, the church knew that membership meant something. We were voluntarily submitting ourselves to one another in love. Because of that love, we held one another accountable regarding salvation as well as lives of holiness, etc. (Exactly as Scripture admonishes us to, I might add).

There are some encouraging signs. Mark Dever and the folks at 9Marks Ministries have done a good job of reminding us that discipline in the church is one of the essential ingredients for church health. And the SBC resolution is certainly a step in the right direction. But we have along way to go.

Here’s hoping and praying that the church will one day hold up membership to be something of value; that we will strive to maintain a truly regenerate membership; and that discipline will once again be seen as the loving way to reclaim a brother and not merely the “invasion of privacy.”

BTW: For a couple more good articles on the subject of discipline, read here and here.


CD-Host said...

I run a blog dedicated to discipline. I cover the Hancock case (the recent woman) Hancock and I did a follow up. on where the church was incorrect, in how they handled an out of process erasure. As for the Dallas reference the Watchmark case is notable because in this case a church attempted to apply discipline to someone who had never been a member of that church.

For church discipline to work churches need to follow due process. They can't allow the situation to become murky where there is misconduct on the part of the church. As a society, in our civil courts we generally allow criminals to walk if there has been misconduct on the part of the prosecutor or judge. So yes churches are going to come in for criticism when they violate due process. They are going to come in for criticism when they break the law. There is no pro fornication lobby but there lots of people who believe that religion should be consensual. Civil society has created clear, easy to understand guidelines for discipline in these cases it is not some evidence of a profoundly sick society that churches are expected to follow the law.

God is quite clear in the bible how strongly he values proper the act of judging cases, that is due process.

Scott said...

Thanks for you comments. I apologize if the examples were less than ideal. I agree that proper procedure should be followed. The point of this is still the same, however. Scripture is also quite clear that God expects the church to discipline its members, which is made difficult by the rampant unregenerate membership we currently have. The current litigation society in which we live has led everyone to look for legal loopholes instead of willfully submitting to the demands of holiness before God. Truly regenerate people will not do that, but will respond to the church's loving discipline with repentance.
Thanks again for your comments.

CD-Host said...

Scott --

Glad we so far! Churches shouldn't have a rampant unregenerate membership. The first step is correcting that problem. As for willfully submitting I agree. In my defense post

One of the things I am to do with my blog is expose why people don't submit.

Applied Christianity said...

Scott, I think that discipline is lacking in part because true community is lacking. Probably half of my church could get booted and simply shurg and move on to the next church down the road. Also, since there is little community people don't really know if their church "friends" are regenerate or not. Anyway, good post.