Thursday, October 15, 2009

Of Baptisms and Discipleship .... or ... At Least One Editor "Gets It" ... Again

In last week's Alabama Baptist, Dr. Bob Terry posted an excellent editorial. You might want to read it here. His point (or one of them): maybe we're hot to trot for Baptisms, but not so hot about the command, in the Great Commission, which follows immediately: the teaching.

Check the average SBC church attendance; then check Sunday School attendance, subtracting the number of little children too young to be included as members. Then compare again to total membership.

That is how many folks you're actually teaching. Well, if you don't count the fact that a church's laxity in requiring, expecting, or mandating church attendance and involvement, of our members, does in fact teach the non-attenders a lot about the church. I don't think that sort of teaching is what Jesus had in mind when He spoke the first part of the Great Commission, the part about making disciples.

It's also good to remember that every one of that "total membership" number walked down our aisles, presented themselves for membership on our terms, and then placed themselves under the oversight of our churches' leadership.

Someone said our church has about 2,800 members now, and attendance of just under 1,000. At that, the attendance figure includes something on the order of 250 preschoolers, and I'm pretty sure that very, very few of them are included on the membership roll.

Do the math. Then consider what church silence (and inaction), over non-attendance, teaches the non-attenders.

What's that? Non-resident membership? I wonder who said it was OK to join a church, move away, and then just leave your membership at "Back Home Baptist Church". We seldom speak highly about folks who have their "membership" there, but our own church has (apparently) hundreds of members for whom FBC Pelham is "Back Home Baptist".

I'm not throwing rocks at FBC Pelham, by the way. We have a real heart to do all the right stuff, but I think examining the numbers reveals just how easy it is to slip into the pattern that seems to beset the SBC as a whole.

As to the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, I have a question. Isn't making disciples the primary instruction of the GC, and isn't that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the local body?

I guess if you look at the whole thing, you might conclude that, if the local churches .. collectively .. don't carry it out, then God is going to move someone else into the gap, and get the job done. Maybe the GCRTF is just that .. a reflection of God's opinion of the current condition of the local SBC churches.

And, of course, I am aware that all generalizations are false, including this one, so any one church may be getting it right. But look at the SBC numbers, and it'll be plain that more people .. souls .. seem to have fallen through the cracks, than have stuck with it and have become disciples. And it might only be our collective pride that keeps us from admitting that.


At 3:59 PM, October 15, 2009, Blogger Strong Tower said...

What's that? Non-resident membership? I wonder who said it was OK to join a church, move away, and then just leave your membership at "Back Home Baptist Church". We seldom speak highly about folks who have their "membership" there, but our own church has (apparently) hundreds of members for whom FBC Pelham is "Back Home Baptist". Most standard by-laws have such a clause that recognizes absent membership, though most legitmately for good cause.

I think this is a hold-over from closed communion, when it was thought necessary to check certificates before allowing people to the table. The typical is that a person not in good standing communion with a church, even today, by affirmation, is not to take communion. It is a sad state of affairs that the misunderstanding of the Supper has lead to such divisions in the body of Christ, for one born again has already partaken of the body and blood so how can they be denied? But I digress.

The issue still resides in the local communion in matters of discipline. See, discipleship is discipline. But the concept of discipleship has long left the church. The failure of consistent attendance and attendance at the table used to be matters of punitive discipline.

You could go to your archives and look to see when the last case of punitive discipline was carried out for slackers. My guess is never, unless your church is a century old or so.

See, we have lost the part of the GC that says go and make disciples because we have settled for only a small part of it, namely ceremonial baptism. As I have said often, the major part, baptizing into the teaching, is far more important than baptizing into water. Baptizing into the teaching is what is meant by discipleship, or in other words, what it means to make disciples. Water baptism is merely a part of the greater. It is not the end of it. It is the door to it. Disciples attend, non-disciples go out because they never were part of the body. But, the accountability is left to the eldership. If you don't have one, get one, the bishoprick, that is those who have been place over who having sheep wandering are charged to go and retrieve them. It is the fault of the leadership that the sheep gate is left open. It is their job to make sure they hold their charges accountable.

For right now, if you want to stir up the dregs at the bottom of the cup, send out notices of discipline to the non-attenders in the form of a drop letter. For those who are occassional warn them, but after the first and second admonition, Scripture says discipline them by sending them on their way, (i.e. have nothing to do with them for they cause division). Let them see Ananias fall down dead so that all fear, for fear of the Lord is the beginning of discipleship.

At 6:39 PM, October 15, 2009, Blogger Paul Burleson said...


The Church Mary and I were members of for ten years, until three years ago when we got a new assignment from the Lord, solved some of this kind of problem by instituting an annual membership that went from March to March. Each March was Church Covenant month when every family/person had to recommit through covenant signing [not the old fashion kind but a specific relationship kind] for the next year.

Membership with people locally there took on a whole new meaning and responsibility. No such thing as non-members at Grace Fellowship in Norman Oklahoma.

I've never seen anything any better IMHO.

At 7:19 PM, October 15, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


I think you got the point.

Also: " ... unless your church is a century old or so." In fact, it is.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Paul, as always, a pleasure. I like the idea of annual membership. Makes the church almost as careful about its membership as the Rotary Club (grin).


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