What We Believe- Article VI and Regenerate Church Membership

One interesting note as it pertains to what the Baptist Faith & Message has to say about the church is on who it is in particular that qualifies to be a member of the local church. This seems obvious, right? Not quite. Let’s review what can possible be garnered from the text of the BF&M alone:

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

So, it looks like we get that the members must be “baptized believers” and that they are responsible to Christ as Lord.  Sounds good, right?  Well, what about where the New Testament talks about people obeying the teachings of the Apostles and the consequences for not doing so (2 Thessalonians 3.14-15)?  What about the admonitions to break fellowship with “baptized believers” who are sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, a drunk, or a partier (1 Corinthians 5.9-13)?  What about the call to not neglect meeting together for edification and encouragement (Hebrews 10.24-25)?  All these things, loosely what may be said to be the believers responsibility to the church, are simply left out of the article altogether.

As it stands, one could reasonably argue that the BF&M allows for people to be members in good standing of a church with no more than a quick dousing in the baptismal and a tacit acceptance that they really are trying to serve Christ as Lord, but the Bible itself seems to ask more.  Therefore, this past year a resolution on church membership, Regenerate Church Membership (RCM) to be exact, was offered and passed at the annual SBC meeting. The full text can be found here, but this is the gist of it: because of tradition and the clear call of the Scriptures, the SBC “urge[s] churches to maintain a regenerate membership by acknowledging the necessity of spiritual regeneration and Christ’s lordship for all members.”

The road to get this passed was long and well fought, and thankfully in the end this measure went through.  Unfortunately, given the nature of the SBC, as resolution like this does not have any real teeth as far as implementation, but the fact that the SBC is now on record as doctrinally calling for a regenerate body in the local church, it is just another nail against the easy believism, Free Grace theology which has prevailed among many congregations over the last quarter to half a century.  Thankfully the SBC, though late in addressing it, finally got around to calling for more responsibility in the church among the leadership for keeping tabs on who genuinely is among us that is among us.

As I said to my Men’s Bible study this morning, I fully believe that Scripture teaches it to be easier to be in good standing in heaven than it is to be in good standing in the local church.  This is the way it should be, since God can truly see the heart, but the only evidences men have is by seeing the fruit.  Some will argue that this is all the more reason for Free Grace and avoiding judgment, but I see no way in which that position can be made biblically tenable.

On paper this was a good step and to be applauded.  Now it is necessary to make sure it is put into practice widely enough to make a difference.

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