INDIANAPOLIS–For the first time in recent history, Southern Baptist Convention messengers adopted a resolution calling churches to adhere to biblical standards for church membership after adding language about believer’s baptism by immersion, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline.
In the weeks before the convention, the SBC Resolutions Committee received four resolutions dealing with the issue of a regenerate–or born-again–church membership.
In recent years, resolutions were offered calling churches to purge their rolls of members no longer attending church, to accurately report membership numbers, and to practice church discipline.
This was the first year in recent memory that such a resolution was reported by the committee, which said it had formulated a resolution from multiple DNA strands into one “baby.”
Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville who was the author of one of the submitted resolutions, told the TEXAN: “I thought it was important that some of the core theological and ecclesiastical concepts related to regenerate church membership–the Lord’s Supper, church discipline, baptism–needed to be in there for it to be the most effective.”
Barber said he was confident Southern Baptists were supportive of believer’s baptism, but he didn’t know if they were willing to amend the committee’s report.
“I was surprised that both amendments passed. It is always an uphill climb to modify a report from the Resolutions Committee. The odds of success are difficult and against you. But I had a little bit more confidence than in the average situation because we weren’t trying to undo any of the committee’s wording,” Barber said.
Malcolm Yarnell, associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Seminary who helped Barber draft the resolution he submitted, offered from the floor an amendment adding language on “believer’s baptism-only by immersion,” the Lord’s Supper and church discipline.
As first presented by the 10-member committee, the statement titled “On Regenerate Church Membership and Church Member Restoration” urged Southern Baptist churches to “maintain a regenerate membership by acknowledging the necessity of spiritual regeneration and Christ’s lordship for all members, … maintain accurate membership rolls for the purpose of fostering ministry and accountability among all members of the congregation and … implement a plan to minister to, counsel, and restore wayward church members based upon the commands and principles given in Scripture.”
The amended version that passed included that wording plus Yarnell’s amendment and that of Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla.
Ascol’s amendment asked Southern Baptists to repent of failing to maintain regenerate churches and asked denominational servants to encourage churches that practice church discipline.
“Overall, I am encouraged and gratified by what the Lord has done,” Ascol told the TEXAN. “I am thankful to Bart and Malcolm for their work on this and shared desire to see the convention adopt a resolution that could be helpful to our Southern Baptist churches. My prayer now is that pastors and churches will humbly, patiently and boldly begin to study these issues and follow Christ in taking practical steps to promote spiritual health in our congregations.”
Ascol said he, Yarnell and Barber conferred prior to the committee report and planned to offer their amendments after seeing what the proposed resolution omitted.
Committee chairman Darrell Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla., alluding to Solomon’s wisdom is dealing with two women who each claimed a baby belonged to them by offering to cut him in half, told messengers in defending the committee’s version of the resolution: “We took the DNA of those four resolutions and we made one child. We want to present that to you and those who presented those resolutions we’d like to encourage, ‘Would the real mother let the resolution live?'”
After hearing Yarnell’s proposed amendment that placed church discipline in the same sentence with baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Orman said such language might be understood as placing church discipline on the same level as the ordinances, though Orman said the committee regarded the suggestion as a friendly amendment. President Frank Page suggested an alternative way to insert the wording into the resolution and the amendment was adopted on a show of ballots.
Ascol then proposed his amendment that would add “whereas” language noting only 6.1 million of the reported 16.2 million Southern Baptist church members attend the primary worship service of their church in a typical week.
Ascol also suggested adding two “resolved” sections. One called for churches “to repent of any 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.”
The other encouraged “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.”
Orman responded that the committee felt it was not proper to ask all the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent when many have made conscientious efforts to restore inactive members or remove them from church membership rolls.
Orman noted the committee had deliberated for many hours and prayed over the issue, carefully selecting language from four resolutions to address the matter adequately in one resolution.
“In light of that, we would not like to rewrite the entire resolution on the convention floor,” Orman said.
Another messenger, Bill Ascol, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Owasso, Okla., countered, “Several years ago in this convention, we called for corporate repentance for past racial tension. Not all were guilty of that, but as a convention we recognized that … we have, by and large, failed to practice integrity on the issue of church membership.”
Tom Ascol’s amendments were then adopted by messengers on a show of ballots and then messengers adopted the entire resolution as amended.
Inflating membership numbers raises integrity issues, Yarnell said after the vote.
“We have to restore the integrity of Baptist churches. We have to obey our Lord,” he said. “There’s no options here with regard to believers-only baptism by immersion, with regard to the Lord’s Supper as a place of communion in Christ and with regard to redemptive church discipline. … These are commands of Jesus Christ. If we really believe Jesus is Lord, we have to follow not only personally in our own personal lives but also corporately in our churches’ lives.”