Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More on Baptists Promoting UNregenerate Church Membership

Mark Dever has now weighed in on statements made at June's SBC annual meeting that opposed removing non-attending church members from church rolls because they are a "prospect list" for evangelism.

If you want the short version, here it is: He thinks this would be a bad thing. But he asks an interesting question:
How could such an answer have been given? I'm sure in well meaning sincerity. But how could it have been soberly accepted by thousands of messengers? 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, if you will--to numbers.
Perhaps even more significant is the point Dever makes about pastors' responsibility to their flocks:
All of them will die, many of them without returning to church. Some of those will be our brothers and sisters in Christ who were in sin. I fear that many of them will not have been our brothers and sisters in Christ, and so they will slip into a Christ-less eternity, face a good and just God while they are still pleading their own merits for salvation, and fall under God's deserved penalty forever. We could have helped them, like the man in I Cor. 5 who was caught in sin (and may have repented II Cor. 2?), or like the man in Gal. 6:1. But we didn't.

Instead, we met their actions of disobedience with continued formal approval. They remained members. We continued to teach them that church membership was their own private business, not the business of the congregation. We continued to meet their absence with our silence.
For background info and links, see my previous post.

This is one of those matters that is easy to view as "someone else's problem." After all, we would never have said something so blatantly contradictory to historic Baptist distinctives. But here's a question: How many non-attending members does your church have?


Don said...

Hi Ben, interesting. Did I already post on this on an earlier thread? In any case, we have no non-attending members (other than college students who are away). Those who do not attend are moved to the inactive roll after three months absence and off the roll after six months absence. And in the meantime, we try to do what we can to recover them.


Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...

Maybe so, Don. I may have asked the same question before. Don't feel any obligation to go into detail if you'd prefer not to, but what do you do to recover them? Is there an organized process? Formalized church discipline?

Chris Anderson said...

Great article.

Wondering: why does Dever--of all people--put up with the SBC? Even this post indicates that the problem is far, far deeper than that particular vote. It's the deep-rooted principles behind the vote: "our cheapened understanding of conversion, debased practices of evangelism, worldly attitudes about being 'judgmental' and an addiction--a drunkeness, if you will--to numbers."

I know, I know: "It's the Cooperative Program, Stupid."

Go figure.

Ben said...


I think that's a great question, which is why I asked it of an elder (not Dever) at the Weekender I attended. Have I mentioned you should go to one?

Rather than answer this question in my own words, here is Dever's answer on the T4G blog. For more depth, check out the session from CHBC's new members course, "Why Southern Baptist?", available here. This document contains lots of helpful background on the nature of the SBC, as well. I thought this statement was helpful in explaining Dever's some more details of interest in the SBC:

"Cooperation allows us, through our giving, through our Trustees, through our relationships, to exercise positive spiritual influence within the largest protestant body in America, and through them, the rest of the world."

In other words, they like the Cooperative Program (most of it) but their interests in the SBC also seem to grow out of a burden to influence other churches towards a more healthy and effective fulfillment of their missions. I think that is not unlike the approach of early fundamentalists who remained in denominations as long as they believed there was hope of recovery.

Chris Anderson said...

I'll look at the statement you pointed out, Ben. Thanks. I did read the T4G blog post. More directly, I spoke with Dever when he was speaking in Columbus & asked him why he stayed in the SBC. His answer was very similar to the one he gave on the blog, but with this twist: his church has a number of people heading toward the mission field--more than they can support, in fact. The CP gives them a financial resource to get their people on the mission field.

I appreciate Dever a lot. A LOT. But that's just pragmatism. Now, if there's a "stay in and win the fight" desire as well, I respect that reasoning more. I don't agree with it, but I at least respect it.

The more I've thought about his description of the SBC, though, the more I've been convinced that for a man who is leading the fight to defend the Gospel (via T4G) to simultaneously be aligned and financially supportive of a denomination that is peddling a false gospel is self-defeating. It's so inconsistent as to be ridiculous. And, of course, it's "the rub" between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

I've thought about posting a series of articles on that. I see the same inconsistency with a number of guys whose theology I respect. I believe their alliances are undermining their words in many cases. So what's new, eh?

I think the best thing Dever could do for the conservative ranks of the SBC--and for the cause of Christ--would be to pull out. Pull out of what? A denomination which by his own description is cheapening the very Gospel which the CP is supposed to be so effectively spreading. Show that doctrine matters more than alliances. Lead by example, not just word.

Just how much difference does the Gospel make?

Of course, he hasn't exactly sought my opinion.

Ben said...

I don't think anything you've said is wrong. Of course, and you'd agree, much of it is opinion.

For example, I think if you're going to disagree with Dever, you're also going to have to disagree with your fundamentalist heritage, which likewise wanted to stay in and win. And if you think the SBC is peddling a false gospel, how much worse were the denominations fundamentalists were fighting for? And isn't there also a directional difference? You know, the old "Which way are your toes pointed?" argument? Reformers are growing in strength and numbers in the SBC. Should they cut and run while they're gaining ground?

To put it concisely, the rub you speak of between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals is really a rub between 21st century fundamentalists and early 20th century fundamentalists.

I'm not saying they're right and you're wrong. I am saying that guys like Dever and Ascol seem to be standing for their convictions. Chris Anderson also stands by his convictions. Those two stands look quite different. Could it be that the Church is helped by both?

One point that might seem minor, but which I think has broad implications, is that Dever is talking mostly about SBC churches, not about the SBC. Of course, the horrific statement that was made did come from a convention committee chair, so part of the problem is certainly what happens when all the churches come together.

Next time you bump into Dever, you should ask him if he's glad there are people making the arguments you've made here.

One more thing. Consider for a moment what a public rebuke Dever's article is to the SBC. It's not just what he said. It's where and how he said it. Right there for all the world to see. I don't think that should be forgotten or underestimated. Can you think of anything comparable within fundamentalism, in addition to Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism? Even that book would have to be considered more irenic and conciliatory, I think.

Chris Anderson said...

I hear you. I'll sort through the comparison to early fundamentalists & see if it is apples to apples. I'm not sure.

I do appreciate what Dever said and the public(!) venue in which he said it. Your last paragraph makes a good point. He, an "up-and-comer" in the SBC, took them to the woodshed in public. Rightly so. I disagree with his staying in, but I don't mean to always answer a bold statement such as this with a "Yeah, but you should have..."

Call me a fundamentalist.

I do appreciate what he did here.

G-Knee said...

Once it is realized that a member is not attending they are contacted by a deacon or pastor. As in Matthew 18. If they don't respond two or more will go to visit them. If they still don't respond their name is brought before the church so that everyone can pray for them and contact them. They are on the church disciple list and if they do not respond their membership will be removed in 2 months. If they do decide to return, I believe they need to come before the church and repent for their stubborn heart for non-attendance. It's the first church I've been in that actively keeps track of members. I think it's due to the organized process of the deacons and their care-groups - I appreciate it, because even if I don't see my deacon all the time - he will call me once every 4 months to see how I am doing spiritually, etc.

Irenaeus II said...

Chris, I think you make some very good points.

First, a pragmatic mentality toward the gospel is a cancer found only in the SBC. Thankfully, there are not any fundamentalist churches that have fallen prey to it.

Second, in regards to staying in the SBC, you said, "I don't agree with it, but I at least respect it." This is a good point also. The original fundamentalists were also wrong to stay and fight. As soon as they sniffed a liberal, they should have gone all Murtha and ran.

Ben said...

Yeah, G-Knee. I know about YOUR church. You guys are legendary. Even when people move away. Do your care groups ever meet? Why do you think they're organized around deacons rather than pastors, who are biblically responsible for shepherding?


Although your points are valid, I think they're sort of lost in the venom. Not that I have any moral authority to point that out.

Chris Anderson said...

For the record, I never said that the SBC has a monopoly on pragmatism, nor did I defend fundamental churches. I said that to stay in an association with which one disagrees on basic issues (such as the gospel) for economic reasons is pragmatism. If you can refute that, James, do so. But saying "others are pragmatic, too" is no refutation.

Second, your comparison to the early fundamentalists assumes that the SBC's problems are (a) new, and (b) not particularly widespread. The history of the SBC and this scathing assessment by one of its most recognizable members indicate otherwise.

Irenaeus II said...

Chris, as a secondary separationist (SS), this isn't a course you want to take. Let us start with the gospel. Are you a five point calvinist? Are others in your associations or groups. If you are not in step, then you also are in disagreement with the gospel.

This is what Dever said as you pointed out:

our cheapened understanding of conversion, debased practices of evangelism, worldly attitudes about being 'judgmental' and an addiction--a drunkeness, if you will--to numbers

You used that as a reason for him to do his best Murtha imitation. Yet, the very same things have been prevalent within 'fundamentalism' for decades.

The best thing for you to do then Chris is be consistent and rebuke every single person who disagrees on any point of the gospel. Then you need to cut and run. Please stop with the meaningless calls for people to lead by example by quitting the fight.

Part of the problems within the SBC are political. After having fought liberalism for so long, the struggle for identity is now over which issues are primary. They settled the Bible issue. So many good ole boys want to have some years of peace now. Do I agree? No. While the sword is drawn, continue the fight.

My comparison to the early fundamentalists has to do with you and your types Chris. The early fundies fought and lost. The kind of separation you (and your types) today is not the same as the original fundies. It is more in line with the new fundamentalism of the '50s.

You would have Dever (and others) quit the fight simply because there are pragmatic people. You betray your own roots yet still want to keep the name. How much has John Murtha influenced you anyway?