If you have read Kevin’s post from yesterday, then you know that the Southern Baptist Convention passed a proposal calling churches to repent from their failure to faithfully practice regenerate church membership (i.e. the members of a local church ought to be believers–those who have been regenerated or born again of the Holy Spirit). I was greatly encouraged that this proposal passed and am excited about the fact that many SBC churches are being challenged to take church membership seriously.
This emphasis on regenerate church membership was not the prevailing focus of the convention, nor should it be; the theme of the SBC this year was “fulfilling the mission” and many people spoke of the need for something of a “Great Commission Resurgence.” Let me go on record and say that I wholeheartedly support this theme and agree that the SBC needs a Great Commission Resurgence! However, I want to make the point that if we really are to be “Great Commission” churches, we must take seriously the Bible’s clear teaching on regenerate church membership. For the sake of simplicity, let me give you three reasons why regenerate church membership encourages and enables churches to fulfill the Great Commission:
Regenerate Church Membership . . .
1. encourages the restoration of strayed members and the evangelization of former members now deemed to be lost. As Kevin mentioned in his previous post, practicing RCM separates the wheat from the tares. The first step in reaching out to absentee members is inviting them back into the fold. Once you realize that a certain number of your members are absent from the body for less-than-biblical reasons and are not members of another local church, then you may identify such members as tares (i.e. exercise Church discipline) and begin to reach out to these people with the gospel. If we allow those who are absent from the body continue to call themselves members of the church, we do a great spiritual disservice to the absentee member and to the church as a whole. It is a disservice to the absentee member because we are allowing him/her a false assurance of conversion–which according to their actions we ought not give them (Matt. 18:15-17). It is a disservice to the church because if we continue to let those who “are not of us” to think they are of us (1 John 2:19) then we will not reach out with the gospel to such members who are living unregenerate lifestyles.
2. encourages church members to recognize their responsibility to each other and to maintain a consistent witness. In other words RCM allows pastors to focus on training and equipping members to fulfill the Great Commission rather than waiting for a pastor to fulfill it! When we set the bar on what it means to be a member of our churches a little higher than checking a box on the “tear-out” in the bulletin, we encourage every member to realize that their witness, service, ministry, and fellowship in the body matter and have an impact on the lost world around them. If there are members missing from the rolls, it is a problem for the church–because every member has a responsibility to every other member of the church (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-25). Practicing RCM encourages church members to see themselves as a vital part of the body of Christ and gives them responsibility to care for one another and responsibility to join in fulfilling the church’s mission of making disciples of all nations.
3. encourages churches to maintain a consistent witness to the world. Jesus taught his disciples (Matt. 5:1) in the Sermon on the Mount, saying “You are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16). Furthermore, Paul commanded believers in 2 Cor. 6:14, “do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” This verse has been most often applied to marriage (and it should be applied to marriage) but I think it could accurately be applied to the church. The church is by its most common New Testament definition, an assembly of believers. Thus when the church yokes itself to unbelievers, its members will fail to truly live as the lights of the world. The witness of the church is marred when its members fail to live as they ought–this is multiplied greatly when churches fail to care for such members with loving, restorative church discipline. SBC churches ought to be embarrassed of the corporate witness we have given when some 10 million of our “members” are absent each week from our primary worship services. If we continue to fail to practice RCM, we will continue to communicate to the world that we do not care for our absentee members and that members of our churches are really not any different from unbelievers.
I have heard it said that we cannot judge who the tares are in our midst–only God can. While that is true on some level (no church will ever be able to practice RCM perfectly in this life), we must be faithful with what the Lord has given us. Also, it should be said that the “field” in the parable of the wheat and the tares is the world and not the church (Matt. 13:38), thus we ought not be content simply to have tares on our church roles.
If we hope to truly begin a Great Commission Resurgence (as Danny Akin called for), then we must expect those who are to fulfill the Great Commission (i.e. church members/believers) to live less like the world and more like Christ. Further, for such a resurgence to take place, we must place the responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission not only on pastors but on the church as a whole and every member who comprises it! Every member is commanded to make disciples of all nations! If we hope to have any success in beginning a Great Commission Resurgence, we must repent from our failure to practice RCM. If we truly hope to make disciples of all nations, we must also teach them everything that Jesus commanded us (Matt. 28:20) which includes the concept of the church being the light of the world and one body (Eph. 4:4-6) in which its members are commanded to care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25).
If we are to truly fulfill the Great Commission, we must be faithful to serve, care for, and shepherd those the Lord has placed under our care as churches. What good is it for us to add more members to our roles if we exercise the same neglect of such members and allow another 10 million members to go missing on Sunday morning? The church is called to fulfill the Great Commission and it will fail to do so, if it continues to neglect those in its midst.
I think there are many ways in which regenerate church membership encourages/enhances our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. I have certainly left some of those ways out of this post, so what do you think? How does the faithful practice of RCM affect/enhance our fulfilling of the Great Commission?