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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Church Members Are Not Prospects: A Faithful Word from Mark Dever

As you may already know, one of the greatest disappointments of Greensboro was the rejection of Tom Ascol’s resolution on integrity in church membership. After having read the resolution on the floor of the convention, Tommy French, chairman of the resolutions committee, gave this response:

Brother Tom, we understand and we are concerned about these things. However, we are also concerned about the accuracy of the claims because what we receive through the statistics are just those things that are reported by the local churches. And so we would have to challenge what they send us. And we certainly do not want to throw away from our membership rolls the names of the non-attenders because we would be throwing away a very valuable prospect list for reclamation in evangelism. Now in Sunday School we don’t cull the rolls as long as those people live in our area so that we can continue to pray for them and visit them and secure them in Bible study. (emphasis mine)

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and founder of IX Marks, recently responded to French’s statements on the Together for the Gospel blog. Dever believes that the SBC made a serious mistake in Greensboro, namely the dismissal of the resolution of integrity in church membership and strikingly unbiblical rationalization of Tommy French. Dever shares,

“For me to allow my local congregation to continue on, with people in membership regularly forsaking assembling together is to be in sin, to lead my congregation into sin, confuse what it means to be a member, and confuse what it means to be a Christian.”

As Southern Baptists, one of the premiere distinctives is the belief in regenerate church membership and a commitment to church discipline, both of which are rarely upheld in SBC churches today. To err on these two crucial aspects of ecclesiology is to have a flawed understanding of what it means to be Baptist. However, by popular opinion and an undercurrent of evangelical pragmatism, such a proposal did not carry as much weight in our fundamentalist repertoire as other resolutions like that of the consumption of alcohol. While there appeared to be a unified stance against Ascol’s resolution, there are other witnesses who would testify against those refusing to even bring the resolution to the floor. Dever explains:

“Do you know who opposes this practice of Southern Baptist Churches? God in Hebrews 10. Our Southern Baptist forbears who knew what it meant to be a Christian, and a church member, and who suffered for it. No messenger to a Southern Baptist Convention a century or so ago could have conceived of such an action (or inaction).”

It goes without saying that when you are being requested to give an answer on the spot for the rationale behind the refusal to pass a resolution that is patently biblical and faithful to the historical convictions of Southern Baptist ecclesiology, any answer would be difficult to muster up. Therefore, I express sympathy to Mr. French in having to give an answer on behalf of the Committee on Nominations. But we still have to carefully consider what he said and why. Dever asks,

“So how could such an answer be given? . . . How could it have been soberly accepted by thousands of messengers?”

Here is Dever’s response:

“I can only conclude that it must have been due in part to our cheapened understanding of conversion, debased practices of evangelism, worldly attitudes about being ‘judgmental’ and an addiction--a drunkeness [sic], if you will--to numbers. I don't think it came about by careful reflection on the Bible's teaching on what it means to be born again, to be made a new creation, to consider the fruit of the Spirit in contrast to the works of the flesh. We were not thinking of II Peter 1. We [are] not calling people to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith, as Paul urged the Corinthians. We have not with a sober love called them ‘sinners’ in need of repentance; we have called them ‘members’ and assured them that they are saved. Or we've called them ‘prospects.’”

When I read this from Mark Dever, my respect for him rises, because here is a man who is more concerned about being a pastor and speaking the truth than being lock and step with the bureaucratic politics with taint many SBC leaders today. Also, what is worse than Tommy French’s statements is the silent treatment from other SBC leaders who will not address this issue for reasons other than having a conscience constrained by Scripture. I must say, however, I have been greatly encouraged over the past few days as I have heard clear and sound words from some profs at school about the unfortunate results from Greensboro. SBC bloggers aren’t the only one with an ‘uneasy conscience,’ and for that I am grateful.

Indeed, there is a growing disparity among Southern Baptists today, and I will give greater attention to this in the days to come. In the meantime, let us consider the wise words of Dever and sober up to the reality that God and the rest of the evangelical world is watching and seeing where our priorities lie. If, according to Dever, our church members are “exhibit A” of what it means to be a Christian and “walking advertisements” of the gospel, then I believe he is right that we are playing a high stakes game with the souls of men. Where we find ourselves is a denomination halfly reformed that is not in danger of losing “prospects” but the very gospel of Jesus Christ, and the purity and visibility of the Church He purchased with His own blood.

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