Most likely, messengers to this summer’s Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis will vote on a resolution calling for SBC churches to take church membership more seriously.
In what is perhaps unprecedented, at least three resolutions dealing with the biblical requirements of local church membership are available for public vetting in the weeks leading up to the June 10-11 meeting.
Pastors from Texas and Florida are offering separate resolutions calling churches to return to the historic Baptist principle of a regenerate, or born-again, church membership.
A Baptist pastor from North Carolina is offering a third resolution, similar to the others, focusing on the restorative aspect of church discipline–something all three resolutions advocate.
Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, and Thomas Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., confirmed April 29 their intentions to submit their resolutions to the SBC’s Resolutions Committee for consideration by messengers during the convention’s annual meeting.
Barber, Ascol and Chris Hilliard, pastor of Newell Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., have posted their respective resolutions online.
Each year the SBC Resolutions Committee reports for messengers’ consideration only a few of the resolutions they receive.
During the convention proceedings, messengers may seek to amend the committee’s report to include resolutions not reported out, or amend the resolutions up for consideration.
In phone interviews with the Southern Baptist TEXAN, Barber and Ascol said they attempted to merge their two resolutions into one document but could not agree on revisions.
Hilliard, on his Internet blog, wrote that his resolution is “in no way competing” with Ascol’s resolution, which he said he supported last year and would support again if it comes to the floor.
At the 2007 annual meeting in San Antonio, Ascol’s resolution, titled “On Integrity in Church Membership,” was refused by the SBC Resolutions Committee and later by convention messengers after Ascol offered it from the floor.
Ascol argued that it is dishonorable to claim 16 million Southern Baptists when only about 6 million Southern Baptists attend church regularly, he said.
Barber’s resolution is taken from one drafted by Malcolm Yarnell, a theology professor at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, which messengers to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention passed last November. Yarnell spoke against Ascol’s resolution at last year’s annual meeting, arguing that the resolution said nothing about believer’s baptism by immersion as foundational to a regenerate church.
Ascol added language about baptism this year, but the two camps could not resolve other details in the resolutions.
Barber told the TEXAN: “We are both passionate about trying to accomplish the same thing…I know already of several individuals who will put their names in support of both of these resolutions, who see them as complementary. This is not an armwrestling match between Tom Ascol and me. This is two brothers both trying to do the same thing in a slightly different way.”
Ascol said he affirms all of Barber’s resolution, “but beyond that, I want to call attention to our Annual Church Profile statistics. He’s not convinced they’re relevant. I think they are indicative of the reason why we need such a resolution. To put them in the context of this resolution gives the rationale for it.”
“And then beyond that, I want to call for repentance for neglect of this Baptist principle,” Ascol said. “Some people think that is unkind. But last year we passed a whole resolution on repentance… It’s directed to churches, and I include myself in that. Our church has by God’s grace worked through these things. I’m not standing up and saying ‘you guys need to repent.’ We need to repent. This is a family issue. I don’t get the hesitancy.”
Barber responded: “I think it’s important to recognize that most Southern Baptists have not willfully rejected regenerate church membership. For many, it’s never been emphasized or taught to them. So I think there’s a good biblical precedent for gently instructing someone in an area where they need to grow and giving them an opportunity to respond to that before responding more sternly.”
Regenerate church membership refers to the principle historically advocated by Baptists of a covenant church community comprised only of regenerate, or born-again, members who have been immersed through water baptism to mark their identity with Christ.
Both resolutions appeal to article one of the Baptist Faith & Message confession, which states that the Scripture is “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.”
The differences include Ascol’s call for churches to “repent” of irresponsible church membership practices where Barber’s resolution “humbly asks” churches to “renew” responsible membership practices.
Another difference is Ascol’s call for “denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches.” Ascol also calls for a commitment to “pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.”
Ascol’s added clause on believer’s baptism states: “WHEREAS the significance of believers’ baptism tends to be lost when churches that practice it fail to exercise loving care for all their members …”
The Barber resolution mentioned baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the “resolved” portion of the resolution.
It calls on churches to “renew their commitment to the congregation as a convenantal assembly entered only by immersion of those who evidence a credible profession of faith in Christ …” and “we humbly urge our churches to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a meaningful memorial celebration according to the New Testament …”
Both resolutions call for churches to embrace redemptive church discipline as a biblical mandate, citing verses such as Matthew 18:13-18, 1 Corinthians 5 and Titus 3:10-11.
“I appreciate and respect that Tom Ascol has brought this issue to the forefront,” Barber said. “He was the first one to bring this up. Even though there are differences, I’m appreciative for his efforts in this regard.”
Ascol, director of Founders Ministries, a group dedicated to the renewal of the Calvinist doctrine of some early Southern Baptists, noted that his resolution should not be viewed as a Calvinist statement.
“This has nothing to do with how we understand the workings of God in salvation,” Ascol said. “It has everything to do with the doctrine of the church.”
Ascol posted his resolution April 29 on the director’s blog linked at founders.org. Barber posted his resolution on April 30. It is linked from his blog at praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com. Both men have sought endorsements for their resolutions leading up to the SBC.
Hilliard said of his “Resolution on Church Member Restoration,” “I felt the issue needed to be focused more on the positive aspect of ‘church discipline’ rather than what many feel to be the ‘negative’ or harsh aspect of it.”
Hillard said if more than one resolution is submitted, “there was a better chance that some type of resolution on the subject would make it to the floor.”
His resolution calls on churches to “repent of our failure to pursue and rescue wayward church members.” I urges churches and pastors to implement plans to do this and SBC entities to “provide support, counsel, encouragement and resources” toward that end.
SBC resolutions are consensus statements that are non-binding on the convention’s churches and entities.