Forty-seven years ago this same warning and urging was heard from Dr. Leo Garrett. A recent post by Timmy Brister summarizes an article by Dr. Garrett in which he lists five challenges churches face in recovering and moving forward in a renewed committment to regenerate church membership. Below I have listed two of those five with some commentary by R. Stanton Norma, who cites excerpts from this article in his book, The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church. Be sure to read the rest here.
1. "Southern Baptist life is immersed in a culture that measures ministerial and ecclesiastical success numerically."
R. Stanton Norman comments in his book:
Pastors and other church leaders are overwhelmed with the pressure to produce results. Statistical growth has replaced biblical fidelity as the standard for ministerial excellence. This climate encourages churches to lower their membership quirements. The emphasis on regenerate church membership may diminish in order to “grow the church” or to “have a big church.” Church growth is typically defined in terms of multiplication to the exclusion of maturation.
2. "The widespread method of voting on new applicants practiced in many Baptist churches."
What is in view here is a failure on behalf of the congregation and especially pastors to properly interview and examine those seeking membership as to whether or not they are truly new creatures in Jesus Christ. Instead, potential candidates just come forward and the congregation votes without little to any information about the spiritual state of this potential member.
Stanton wraps it up with these comments:
Failure to heed these warnings will result in irreparable harm to our churches. The loss of the conviction of a regenerate church membership would be the abandonment of one of our crucial theological distinctives. We would in essence forsake one of our core tenets that has classically and theologically defined us as Baptists in the free church tradition. We would erase the line of demarcation between the church and the world.
Our churches would become more worldly and carnal and less holy and Christlike. We would witness and increase in the number of inactive, indifferent, uncommitted, and undedicated members in our churches. In our effort to have larger churches with greater numbers of members, we would contribute to the demise of effective evangelism and witness a decrease in the number of new converts. We would also lose our prophetic voice to speak with biblical convictions on the great moral and social issues of our day.
Oh, how some things never change, but Oh how they must change! Local churches must be comprised of men and women who are truly members of the Bride of Christ, the Church.