Month: December 2006

Absence of corrective discipline glaring omission in churches, professor writes

“One of the most glaring omissions in modern Baptist church life is the absence of the regular practice of biblical church discipline,” wrote New Orleans Seminary professor Stan Norman in a paper presented at the second conference in Southwestern Seminary’s Baptist Distinctives Series, held this fall. Titled “The Reestablishment of Proper Church Discipline,” Norman wrote that the concept of a spiritual accountability to God and one another is absent.

Early Baptist congregations would gather to heal breaches of fellowship, admonish wayward members, rebuke the obstinate, and if required, remove the unrepentant. By engaging in these activities, Baptists believe they were following the biblical pattern established by Christ and the apostles for the health and effectiveness of the church, Norman wrote.

“Contemporary Baptists seem instead to understand themselves as autonomous individuals casually associated together in loose-knit groupings called churches,” he said. “The concept of a spiritual accountability to God and to one another is tragically lacking or ignored.”

There are several biblical reasons for church discipline. Church discipline is directly commanded by Jesus, who gave his disciples the procedure for discipline in Matthew 18:15-20 and has given the church the necessary authority to correct a sinful person under a disciplinary process.

Throughout the Bible, the people of God are characterized by his holiness. The New Testament describes the church as the people of God who are to be known to the world by their purity of life and integrity of message, Norman wrote. God requires that his church reflect his holy character (1 Peter 1:16).

“The church exercises discipline with the authority of heaven, for the Lord is with them, providing assurance and guidance in the process,” Norman asserted.

Failure to discipline indicates unwillingness on the part of the church to ensure that God’s character is rightly and clearly reflected. Church discipline is one means church holiness is preserved, he said.

Historically, Norman said, Baptists and their forebears stressed church discipline. Its implications for church membership were prominent emphases in the early writings and practices of the Anabaptists, for example.

Church discipline was also prominently emphasized in the writings and practices of the early Baptists. The First London Confession of the Particular Baptists (1644) states that every member is subject to congregational discipline and that “the Church ought with great care and tenderness, with due advice to proceed against her members.”

One of the convictions of the Baptist forebears was their pledge to separate themselves from the world and to submit themselves to Christ and to each other. Church discipline was considered one means of achieving this distinction, Norman stated.

The occasion of church discipline can be understood as those sins that have a harmful, public effect upon the congregation in some way. The public nature and knowledge of the sins brought reproach upon the church, impugned the integrity of its message and mission, and dishonored the cause of Christ. Sins worthy of church discipline fall into three categories: fidelity to orthodox doctrine, purity and holiness of life, and unity of the fellowship, Norman wrote.

Norman noted that the Corinthian church, in failing to deal with the man who was living with his father’s wife in 1 Corinthians 5:1, was rebuked for its tolerance of the man’s known sin.

“He instructs the Corinthian believers to ‘turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,’ a call for the church to excommunicate the man. This process appears to have had the desired effect; 2 Corinthians 2:4-8 indicates that the apostle had to remind the congregation to forgive and comfort the repentant man and to restore him back into the fellowship.”

Two Texas churches tackle membership gap at front end

With Sunday morning attendance at an all-time low in Southern Baptist churches, two Texas pastors are responding to the dilemma of unregenerate members on the front end of church membership. Lyn Holly of Boyd Baptist Church in Bonham and Jeremy Green of Second Baptist Church in Waco are cleaning up their church rosters by reclaiming inactive members and creating new ministries to assimilate new members in the life of their churches.

Boyd Baptist Church in Bonham is considered a healthy, evangelistic church, averaging more than 300 in Sunday morning attendance; yet, the church lists 1,100 members on its roll. Lending credence to the pastoral joke “the FBI couldn’t find some of our members,” Pastor Lyn Holly said he has noticed an increasing trend of new church members falling through the cracks.

“If [new members] don’t form a relationship with five or six people in the first six months of joining, then you’ll probably lose them to the backdoor,” he said, citing a statistic from evangelist Ronnie Hill. “We’ve talked about how we’ve seen people come in and get involved for a while and then filter out. And in recent days we’ve been talking about closing that back door.”

To involve a higher number of new members into the life of the church, Holly said Boyd Baptist plans to debut an assimilation ministry in 2007. The ministry will shepherd new members into Sunday School classes, small groups, or other areas of ministry and “close the backdoor for the future.”

“The goal is to create effective disciples. And as they come in, if they get plugged in and get in some healthy relationships and get into ministry, it will help us mature,” he said.

Upon joining the church, new members will receive a listing of all ministry areas. With the motto “Every Member a Minister, Every Member a Missionary,” the assimilation ministry will connect new members to key areas of service in the life of the church.

To reclaim existing members who have stopped attending church, Boyd Baptist offers a fellowship program called Koinonia. Operating as a Fifth Sunday activity, members are divided into fellowship circles of three families each.

“They meet together over the next quarter until the next Fifth Sunday fellowship to deepen their relationships as members,” he said.

Noting that the church has not been “intentional” in the past about seeking out unregenerate church members, Holly hopes the new assimilation ministry planned for next year and the Koinonia program will bring more believers into the body of Christ as well as mature Boyd Baptist Church.

While serving at a church in Kentucky, Jeremy Green also noticed an alarming dip in worship service attendance. “The church roll there was over 400, but we had less than 100 in attendance,” he said.
Currently the pastor of Second Baptist Church, a new church start in Waco, Green decided to tackle the issue of the missing members from the congregation’s inception. To “get off on a good start,” Green led Second Baptist to address membership responsibilities and rights in its constitution and bylaws. Members are designated into three categories: resident, non-resident, and inactive. If a member has been inactive for more than three months, he or she is transferred to an inactive roll by the membership committee which meets three or four times a year.

“That was something I wanted to make sure that we incorporated in our constitution and bylaws,” Green said. “During the first few months of our meetings we formed a constitution committee, and this was something we hashed out and discussed and built up support for. [After] about six services we went through our constitution and bylaws and discussed it as a church and explained the reasoning and helped them understand.”

Green said the church’s desire to clean up its attendance rolls has paid off.

“It helps us to ensure we aren’t letting someone fall by the wayside,” he explained. “We are a new church start, but we pretty much know if people aren’t here. We are on the ball and I, or a Sunday School teacher, will give them a call and see if they are sick.”

Beginning by meeting in homes, Second Baptist soon moved to a hotel conference room for Sunday morning services. Currently, the church is leasing space from a Christian school.

“Right now our membership is at 50, and our attendance is right at 50 on Sunday mornings. Even when there is a family or two absent for whatever reason, our attendance still averages 50 because we have visitors,” Green said, adding that most members attend faithfully. “We’ve only met 11 months now, but even when a few families are absent our rolls are very clean. We don’t have a large inactive roll.”

But as the plant begins to grow, Green said he realizes some members will stop attending. If follow-up is impossible, the membership committee will respond according to the provisions of the constitution and move non-attending members to the inactive list.

“We will continue to help them, contact them and encourage them,” Green said. “This is a provision?a security net to ensure that no one falls by the wayside at our church.”

But Green said keeping members involved in the life of the church begins the moment they join the congregation.

“We want to teach everyone as individuals who are incorporated in our church body that every member is a minister. Everyone should be faithful to serve the Lord through the local church whether it’s through attendance, whether it’s through giving, whether it’s through teaching in Sunday School, or participating in outreach,” he said. “When you become a member of a local church, it means something. Membership is not just a card?it’s actually a call to serve Christ through a local body of believers as we try to emphasize.”

In highlighting the individual’s role as a minister and servant, Second Baptist requires all new members to complete an orientation class. The class offers fellowship, provides education for member responsibilities, and shares ministry opportunities.

But closing the back door on low attendance records will not occur without the guidance of the pastor, Green contended.

“I think it begins with the pastor and that is simply teaching and preaching God’s Word and how that relates to a corporate body of believers,” he said. “We have a responsibility as well as a privilege to serve Christ through the local church, and in the local church we have accountability. That accountability is not only in regards to attendance and giving but in service and living our lives for Christ as well. As you teach and preach these things, then other believers will catch the vision and see the reason behind this type of accountability.”

The full constitution and bylaws of Second Baptist Church may be accessed at www.sbcwaco.org.

Baptist writer: Unregenerate church members might spell R.I.P. for SBC




Despite the doctrinal victories of the conservative resurgence, the Southern Baptist Convention is dying, contends Jim Elliff, founder and president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. With congregations of many unregenerate members and long rosters of inactive members, Elliff urged Southern Baptists to combat the rising trend of unregenerate membership before it is too late.

“The Southern Baptist Convention has a name that indicates that it is alive, but is in fact, mostly dead. Regardless of the wonderful advances in our commitment to the Bible, the recovery of our seminaries, a closer look reveals a denomination that is more like a corpse than a fit athlete,” Elliff wrote in an article published on his website, www.ccwonline.org, titled “Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination.”

With Southern Baptists claiming 16,287,494 members nationwide, only 6 million people or 37 percent attend services at their church, according to statistics from LifeWay’s Strategic Information and Planning Department.

“In other words, if you have 200 in attendance on Sunday morning, you likely have 500-600 or even more on your roll,” Elliff said, adding that the numbers of attending members is even lower in evening services. “These figures suggest that nearly 90 percent of Southern Baptist church members appear to be little different from the ‘cultural Christians’ who populate other mainline denominations.”

Even if the small percentage of members who attend services are considered true believers, Elliff said Southern Baptist congregations are still more dead than alive. “If we are honest, we might have to ask ourselves, ‘Do Southern Baptists believe in a regenerate membership?'”

Having served on church staffs in Florida, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma and speaking to groups and congregations across the United States and overseas, Elliff shared some practical examples of unregenerate congregations obtained through his travels.

“In one church, with 7,000 on the active roll, there were only 2,000 in attendance on Sunday morning,” he said, excluding an additional 500 for guests and non-member children. “You have about 1,500 actual members coming in the morning and 500 or so in the evening. Where are the 5,500 members who are missing on Sunday mornings? Where are the 6,500 who are missing in the evening?”

Another church in which Elliff spoke reported 2,100 on the attendance roster with 725 showing up for Sunday morning service. “Remove guests and non-member children and the figure drops to 600 or less. Only about a third of that number came out on Sunday evening, representing less than 10 percent of the membership.”

If love of the brethren serves as evidence for love of the Father, Elliff believes that many of the “missing Christians” are probably not Christians at all.

“Attendance alone does not guarantee that anyone is an authentic believer, but ‘forsaking the assembling,’ is a serious sign of the unregenerate heart,” he said, referring to 1 John 3:14-19. “But their apathy towards regular and faithful church attendance betrays their true affections.”

Despite evangelistic crusades that yield large numbers of converts, only a small percentage of new believers remain in the church to continue spiritual growth, Elliff said, adding that poor follow-up is not to blame.

“In many churches there is every intention and effort given to follow-up, yet still the poor numbers persist,” he said, citing an example of a church that followed discipleship methods “by the book” after the crusade of an internationally-known evangelist. Yet the pastor reported that very few of the new believers wanted to “talk about how to grow as a Christian.”

Elliff said authentic believers will not reject opportunities for spiritual growth, having been given love for the body of Christ and the Word of God. “But you cannot follow-up on a spiritually dead person. Being dead, he has no interest in growth.”