Saturday, June 14, 2008

Regenerate Church Membership

Since the beginnings of the Baptist denomination in the early 1700s, the idea of regenerate church membership has been a foundational Baptist principle. This was the concept that church membership should consist of the consciously converted rather than those baptized as infants. It was radical for its day because believer's baptism was radical in that time of paedo-baptism domination. This foundational Baptist principle has now spread throughout the free church movement and can no longer be considered exclusively Baptist. That is the good news.

The bad news is the decline of regenerate church membership among Baptists. The combination of shallow evangelism, a lack of church discipline, and general inattention has swelled the rolls of most Baptist churches to where the total membership figure is meaningless. It is not at all uncommon to find that active church members constitute only one-half or one-third of the total membership.

Over the past few years, a group of Southern Baptists have tried to introduce a resolution on regenerate church membership at the Southern Baptist Convention, calling for repentance for our past inattention and a renewal of the biblical practice of church discipline. Each time, the resolution failed to make it out of committee to be voted on by the convention at large.

This year was different. The recognition had grown across the Southern Baptist Convention that we had a problem that needed to be addressed. There were three competing resolutions on regenerate church membership. Predictably, the committee brought the weakest of the three to the floor for a vote. In the discussion prior to the vote, groups wanting a stronger resolution managed to add two amendments to the proffered resolution.

The first amendment called for the resolution to mention baptism by immersion. The second called for churches "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."

The second part of that amendment stated: "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."

Both amendments were accepted and the amended resolution easily passed. I applaud the messengers to the the convention for passing this needed resolution. I doubly applaud those who were not willing to accept the watered-down resolution and offered amendment that the convention accepted. This was a good day for Southern Baptists. Now, we must be diligent in following up on this action.

The full resolution can be read here.

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