Scripture compels church leaders to clean rolls

Scripture compels church leaders to clean rolls

By Allen Palmeri
Associate Editor

JEFFERSON CITY—Messengers to the 2006 annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention held at Cape Girardeau spoke clearly about the need for recovering a biblical maintenance of church membership in the form of a resolution that passed unanimously.

At the heart of the resolution are two key concepts. First, the church is described as a family, a flock, a body, and a temple, all of which point to the importance of mutual love, support, accountability, and interdependency among the saints. The second key concept is that Scripture marks out a process for recovery that we are obligated to follow in the removal of those who prove to be false professors or unrepentant in their disobedience.

“Leaders must get into the homes of all our erring church members, seeking either to bring them to Christ or to reluctantly release them to the world which they love more than Christ,” said Jim Elliff, pastor of Christ Fellowship, North Kansas City, and president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. “Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to keep non-believers on the rolls.”

There has been much talk about a desperate need for revival and spiritual awakening in Missouri Baptist life. For a time there was even an office created in the Baptist Building to try to bring about these changes, and the theme of the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention was “Lord, Send Your Holy Spirit,” referring to “the keen awareness of the futility of relying on humanistic strength.” The 2006 MBC resolution on church membership addresses all of this by giving congregations some tools to pick up and use.

For example, the resolution’s statement that “the children of God live under God’s clear command to remain faithful participants in corporate worship and ministry” is supported by Bible verses found in 1 Cor. 12:25-27, Ephesians 4:7-16, and Hebrews 10:24-25.

The resolution in systematic fashion puts forth the idea that the standard in Missouri Baptist life ought not to be that our churches have twice as many members as those who actually attend Sunday morning worship. The standard ought to be that a healthy body would have members who are filled with spiritual life. Jokes about the “CEO” members in our congregations—“Christmas and Easter Only”—ought to be filtered through sober minds as we begin to ponder the biblical basis of the true church.

The sobering truth about “Christians” who choose not to regularly attend church is that they lack obedience in the area of corporate worship and ministry, according to the resolution. They also dishonor the name of Jesus Christ and his church. This breeds a life of sin in other areas.

One of the primary tools in recovering sheep that stray is love. Jesus taught this in Matthew 18:12-14, identifying a love that leads to rejoicing when the sheep is found. Maintaining a more biblical church membership will require much love, according to the resolution. This is essential.

The details of how our love is meant to be poured out in this area are found in several verses: Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5, Gal. 6:1-5, 2 Thess. 3:14-15,
1 Tim. 5:19-22, and James 5:19-20.

Initiating and implementing a program of membership recovery is not easy, according to pastors interviewed by The Pathway who have successfully completed the task. Hundreds of souls are at stake, and beginning the series of meetings that would perhaps result in them altering their church membership status can be time-consuming, emotional and problematic. But these same pastors agree that the Bible (and the MBC resolution) is clear, and that the resolution’s goal of “open dialogue to arrive at a greater understanding of the cause, resolution, and future prevention of inflated membership rolls” is noble.

The resolution calls upon pastors to be like Ezra, who was courageous and acted (Ezra 10) so that Israel would repent and experience God’s blessing. Though this is not a formula or a program to be applied, there is a sense in Scripture that obedience to the tenets of this resolution could very well bring about the desired result in our churches—revival and spiritual awakening.

“Which army would you rather have?” Elliff said. “Gideon’s first army or his last?

“No church, and no denomination, should call itself healthy unless more people attend than are on the roll. This is a standard kept by most of the world, and was kept by our great-grandparents in Baptist churches as well. We would be closer to the revival we desire if we would admit our failure, humbly hang our heads, and seek to rectify this awful hindrance to God’s blessing.”

The resolution ends with a plea that we “call upon God for His grace and mercy in light of our failure as well as His strength and wisdom as we embark upon this corrective journey.”