For the 2nd time the messengers to the SBC voted down a resolution concerning integrity in church membership (see: http://www.founders.org/blog/2007/05/2007-resolution-on-integrity-in-church.html). One is hard-pressed to imagine why any church oriented person would be opposed to this idea. The most often stated opposition to the idea in the floor debate was that the resolution would be interfering with the autonomy of the local church. Sadly, this response was a subterfuge, at best innocently done, to avoid dealing with this most embarrassing of realities.
The resolution in no way "interferes" with the autonomy of the local church for the simple reasons that: a. it is only an encouragement to local churches, and b. resolutions of the SBC are not binding on local churches.
I am not alone, I am sure, in the belief that the real reasons for opposition to this resolution have much more to do with our pride of statistics and fear of discipline. We do love our numbers. To be able to say that we have over 16,000,000 members on our rolls makes us feel awfully successful and necessary in the Kingdom. To be faced with the real prospect that we don't know where half of those members actually are is not a happy thought.
In addition, as the resolution itself addresses, we are beset by an unwillingness to carry out what is often referred to as "church discipline" but should, more biblically, be referred to as attempting biblical restoration of an erring brother/sister. All loving discipline is intended to bring forth the "peaceful fruit of righteousness." If the erring one refuses the extended and increasing levels of appeal to repent, the Scripture deems that one as not truly being regenerate. And since we do believe so strongly in regenerate church membership we, therefore, remove the unrepentant, unregenerate one from the church.
I fear the overwhelming majority of pastors fear what would happen if they sought to exercise that kind of discipline in their churches. I fear that most pew-packing SBC'ers would howl with "judge not that you be not judged." Whatever happened to "if you love Me, you will keep My commandments?"
I do not write this lightly. As one who pastors a church that does practice discipline I know how immeasurably draining it is to those involved. I also know how far we possibly/probably fall short from always "getting it right." However, we take each case on an individual basis and do not consider any one case a precedent for any others.
When we have been faced with the necessity of removing one from our fellowship it has been a time of deep sorrow for us.
But some of our times of greatest rejoicing have been when one who was removed through this process returns broken and repentant before the Lord and seeks true restoration. That is party time for us!
God forgive us in our individual churches because we fall short in integrity on the issue of numbers. God help us become churches that truly glorify God in all our ways. God help us as a convention of cooperating churches to encourage one another to be true to the biblical way of doing church.