Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Your General Attitude of Hopeless Negativism

Today we passed a resolution on Regenerate Church Membership. The very topic is one that elicits a variety of opinions about whether there is a problem, what is the nature of the problem if it exists, and what is the solution to the problem if we comprehend its nature. Coming to a consensus statement on this topic required genuine dialogue and negotiation (a.k.a. politics), including concerted efforts at the very end of the process. I am thankful for our Committee on Resolutions, even though I was not in agreement with the "genetically modified" resolution on RCM that came out of the committee. Theirs is a tough job, and I have not the slightest inclination to snipe at them for their work. Theirs was one of the voices that entered into the dialogue, and the result was a good resolution on Regenerate Church Membership that ought to please everyone involved.

Except, perusing some of the blogs this afternoon, I find that it does not. Tom, Malcolm, and I are, as far as I can tell, happy with the outcome. But various online opinions have suggested either that the wording of the resolution was insufficient or that any resolution, even one with good wording, is an exercise in vanity.

To quote Ulysses Everett McGill, "The personal rancor reflected in that remark, I don't intend to dignify with comment, but I would like to address your general attitude of hopeless negativism." Really, forgive me for saying so, but sometimes it seems that some folks just delight in the clothing of themselves in sanctimonious condemnation of the Southern Baptist Convention. I'm not in favor of denial—we have a problem with Regenerate Church Membership and continuing to address it is an urgent matter for our churches—but I know for certain that the solution to our problems does not lie in dissing steps in the right direction. Have we all been baptized in the Spirit or cured in vinegar?

Yes, we're less effective at reaching the lost than we have been in the past. But we have elected a president who wants to call us to greater fervency for presenting the gospel. The latter is not an iron-clad panacea to the former (s.v. "Bobby Welch"), but it surely is not a part of the problem. Local churches are going to have to solve this problem, but the SBC can provide encouragement for those local churches, and Hunt's agenda is likely to contribute positively in that direction.

Yes, the Southern Baptist commitment to bedrock Baptist distinctives is at something of a nadir, but the SBC just held discussion about regenerate church membership, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and regenerate church membership, voting in affirmation of those concepts. Voting for those concepts at convention is not the same thing as strengthening them at home in the church, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Those who would make nothing of the passage of such a resolution sure were willing to make a lot of the FAILURE to pass previous similar resolutions. If not adopting a resolution is very meaningful, then adopting the same resolution must be very meaningful.

We've elected two wonderful Vice Presidents to serve our convention.

We've so far had a very pacific convention meeting.

With regard to the major problems that we face, if anyone has a "general attitude of hopeless negativism" he will be excellent at showing us where we need to repent but impotent at inspiring any sort of helpful change. If any Pollyanna in the convention has a blindness toward the challenges before us, he will be like a first-rate cheerleader for the Washington Generals (look it up). What is needed is neither denial nor sourness, but an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. That is our greatest dependency both during our annual meetings and throughout the months in between.

Or, look at me for your paradigm of hope. :-)


jakeporter said...

I agree. This was a great step for our convention, the first of many - I hope.

Wayne Smith said...


Praise God for allowing this resolution to pass and thanks for all your Labor of Love in this Resolution. Praise God for the Brotherhood of Dr. Tom Ascol and Dr. Malcolm Yarnell working with you in the Ammendments to be added to the Resolution. Praise God for Humbled Wimps to be used for His Glory. Pride Goes before the Fall. Praise God from Whom All Blessing Flow.
I also Praise God for the election of Dr Johnny Hunt. I never knew that He had a Misistry for Restoring Wounded Pastors after being Broken or Burned out by Ignorant Deacons and Laypeople. This would not happen if the People were in the word as all Regenterate members should be. I believe in small groups and Accountable with each other for God’s Glory. I admit I’ am a sinner and need to be held Accountable.

Wayne Smith

Chris Bonts said...

Well said Bart.

Thank you for your cooperative work with Drs. Ascol and Yarnell to advance such a worthy resolution. We must now begin to pray for the pastors and churches who decide to take this resolution to heart. As they begin to take steps to practice redemptive church discipline and pursue the wayward members of their fellowships, they will encounter frustration, hardship, and spiritual attack. The enemy does not want us to recover regenerate church membership, because such a recovery would be a threat to his kingdom. While I believe the best days of our convention are ahead of us, we will not see those days until we have walked faithfully along an arduous road. Prayer, encouragement, and accountability with fellow pastors must now become regular aspects of our relationships with each other.

Practical application of this resolution must also become a primary topic of conversation amongst bloggers. As a pastor that has dealt with this issue in both a traditional church setting and a church plant, I will be glad to help. Feel free to call on me if needed.

Chris Bonts
Pastor, CrossRoad Church said...

Nice job on the "working out" of the resolution and Amen to this post!

Alan Cross said...

I too am fairly encouraged by the Convention this year. Thanks for your work on the resolution. I am very happy for how it turned out. We made some positive steps this year. Except for overturning the IMB policies, almost everything that the "reformers" were pushing for in 2006 is beginning to happen, i.e., an awareness of the problems that beset us and the move toward a missional focus.

Yes, a lot has changed since Greensboro. Now, if we could just get those atrocious policies overturned . . .


James Heffington Jr said...

I wonder if our convention and its leadership have any idea the challenges it faces right now. We are facing a post-modern, post-Christian culture which finds us more and more irrelevant. While we fight over whether to sing hymns or choruses, how we count members and whether or not to allow women to teach Christian history in our seminaries the world around us scratches its head and races towards hell.

Is it just me or does it seem most of the men in our convention over the age of 50 want all of us to travel back in time to the 1950's? And where is the leadership in this convention under age 40? I think most of them are at home...most won't attend these meetings because they, like the world around us, find them irrelevant.

I appreciate the theological significance of the motion on regenerate membership. I love to be encouraged by the preaching at these events. However, I am left feeling we are all aboard a sinking ship while the captain and crew deny the existence of the water swirling around our feet. We need more from our leaders...more from our meetings.

If our churches will not choose faith and radically change their methods to reach a rapidly changing world God will find a people with the faith neccessary for the challenge ahead. The need today is for a people of faith who are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is late and perhaps I babble but I hope my point is somewhat clear. When will we wrestle with our real issues? When will we discuss how we are to engage this culture? When will we discuss the wars going on in our churches over method? When will we address the number of churches meeting in dilipidated buildings which have no money to do anything about them?When will we admit and talk about the attacks Satan is using so effectively against us?

What we discussed in Indiana is important but what we did not discuss may be our undoing. What you do is sometimes overshadowed by that which you have left undone.
I fear this is one such time...

Dave Miller said...

What Alan said...

Alan Cross said...


I see your point and I have said all of the same things at one point or another. The good thing about this Convention is that for the first time in a long time, we have publicly acknowledged that we have a problem and that Southern Baptists do not have it all figured out. What you said need to be addressed, but we first have to come to a realization that what we have been doing is not working. It seems that that realization has come. Now, the way forward is a whole different matter entirely and might require different leadership to take us there. But, I am encouraged that people are recognizing that we are in a stage of difficulty and that we must come together to engage in, as Drs. Akin and Dockery said, a Great Commission Resurgence. Hopefully, the door will begin to open for many of the conversations that you are wanting.

James Heffington said...


I sincerely hope so. I suppose the thing that frustrated me a little is the response I see from some who simply believe if we try to do what we have been doing more dilligently we will get different results. I just don't believe that to be the case at all.

I agree with you that this convention was a good one. I hope we can see the opportunities which lie ahead and embrace them as we did the conservative resurgence.

Dave Samples said...


It was a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for coming up and introducing yourself. I am extremely pleased with the convention. I believe that Johnny Hunt will be a positive president who has the ability to unify many of our subgroups. The regenerate church membership resolution is a good one with the amendments. Thanks for you work on this. My church has more attenders than members but we also see the need to tighten expectations of members. Bless you, my brother.

Dave Samples

Anonymous said...

I was very pleased with the spirit of cooperation that I saw displayed on the discussion about the resolution of regenerate church membership.

However, I was not in favor of the changes that were made on the floor, even though I like and deeply respect both of the men who moved for the changes.

My problem with Malcolm's changes were that identifying specific ordinances and practices that we believe should be practiced by churches did not really relate directly to the issue of regenerate membership. We could have added lots of other practices (prayer, sharing one's faith, preaching etc.) that churches do, but the thrust of the motion is that for someone to be a member, they should be regenerate.

Also, the reading of the motion with Malcolm's changes makes it sound as if the many churches througout history and those that exist today that do not observe the ordinances as we do are not churches at all. I cannot bring myself to say (and I do not believe that good theology requires me to say) that, for example, All Souls Church in London (John Stott's church) is not a church.

If we had left that out, the resolution would have been better.

Also, while I agree with Tom's thoughts, I am not for beating ourselves up the way this was stated. I think that the emphasis in regenerate membership has been kicking around for 20 or 30 years (based on my affilitations). It's just that we are bumping up against a competing value that was emphasized too strongly - once you get a name, enroll them, and NEVER get rid of that name.

If we wanted to pass a motion about the sin of inflating membership statistics for pride sake, fine. But to me, that's a separate motion. Putting it in this motion took some of the zip away from the great theological contribution that Baptists have made - the church is comprised of confessional believers.

A statement about the theology behind regenerate church membership would have been a strong statement that would have challenged lots of people.

Now, the papers are carrying the resolution as a "Baptists are on the decline and have been lying about their decline for years" type of story. The theological point has been totatlly lost.

On the bright side, at least we are starting to discuss theology.


Anonymous said...


Your second to last paragraph is exactly the the reason that I disagreed with tom's language. Many bloggers who have supported his language have outright accused churches of lying about membership numbers for pride's sake. Whether I can find them or not, the folks on my role did in fact join our church and by rule of bylaw will not be removed until they die, are kicked out or join another church. I don't know of any churches that do not remove dead folks or who make up names to add to their rolls and I resent folks implying that such is happening to any significant extent. If the media does in fact pick up on that language and suggest that we have been deceitfully inflating our numbers then those who passed the motion have done great needless harm to our convention and ought to apologize to the churches whose reputations they have harmed.

Tim B

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, I just logged in two posts on Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, so I'm glad to hear this coming right at the same time. Congratulations.

I realize your post is generally on the "general attitude of hopeless negativism," but could you direct us to the words of the passed resolution, if they are available online anywhere? Thanks.

Kevin Rhyne said...

Here is the full text of the resolution.

I'm glad the resolution was passed. I'm especially glad that it passed overwhelmingly. However, what steps do you, or others, recommend to deal with this issue on the front end rather than the back end?

Alvin Reid said...

I was not at the convention but am so happy for the example your (lower case) trinity worked together for the good of many. It does remind me that, present differences granted, we have much, much in common. As my president Danny Akin said, "We may not agree on everything, but we agree on more than enough to work together for our Lord Jesus in fulfilling the Great Commission." We can still continue to debate and disagree without rancor.

Stephen Newell said...

Heh heh heh Bart said "dis."

Brings back memories. This dates you, man! ;-)

Colin McGahey said...

You said, “we have publicly acknowledged that we have a problem,” and, “Except for overturning the IMB policies, almost everything that the "reformers" were pushing for in 2006 is beginning to happen.”

I am not trying to single you out, but I would like to address the direction of your comments. First, there may have been a lack of public recognition (as in SBC Convention) of the problems in membership and general direction of popular church methods. However, since 2004, I have heard the same thing we heard from Dr. Dockery and Dr. Akin from Dr. Patterson from the chapel and classrooms at SWBTS. The charged (and fantastic) speeches of Akin, Dockery, Mohler and Patterson are, to me, a reiteration of what I have heard from the podium of the classroom beginning in 2004. Moreover, I have personally and corporately heard Dr. Patterson lament the negatives and extol the positives of what we heard this week, despite the continual allegations that he has refused to recognize the downward trends. After watching this week, I will attest that he and the rest of the faculties of our seminaries I have heard opine on the SBC have indeed been prophetic, not simply pessimistic as the blog world, in their prognostications on the direction of the SBC.

Second, I would wholly disagree that the “reform bloggers” of 2006 have had any significant influence on the SBC, except that there was a barrage of leaders this convention outspoken against most of what they (or you, if you consider yourself one) have stood for. Moreover, the “baby” of regenerate church membership (I am assuming given the timeline) was conceived and put forth by Tom Ascol without any influence or input from the “reform bloggers” of 2006. What I heard from Akin, Dockery and the rest was a clear denouncement of the rancorous blogging and comments from (mainly) the reformer side, a clear call to cease and desist the absurd back and forth between soteriological Calvinists and soteriological non-Calvinists, and a clear, loud denouncement of the broad scale rejection of a large degree of confessionalism, again mainly by the reformer bloggers (and other non-bloggers sympathetic to their cause for various reasons).

In other words, the influence the reform bloggers had, and I am willing to give due credit, is causing the leaders to come out against most of what they have stood for directly or indirectly. There was not only a clear call for a Great Commission resurgence, but a clear call to confessional Baptist identity, a clear call to cooperation without ejecting this confessional identity, and a clear call against the vitriol that brought forth the leaders to reject the wayward doctrinal direction the reformer movement was heading towards. The confessional stand is the same doctrinal stand I have seen men such as Bart Barber and Malcolm Yarnell take, as well as many others, though it has sometimes been seen as pretentious, or whatever similar word Dr. Dockery used. But the same allegations were leveled at Particular Baptists who fought the rationalism that engulfed the non-confessional General Baptists in 18th century England.
Third, I would not dismiss the natural, sociological trend to change that occurs in a leadership void that must be filled. This occurred, and continues to occur, as the leaders of the CR era go to be with the Lord. Dr. Akin alluded to this idea in one of his articles recently. This natural occurrence brings forth change, and I would not attribute success unduly to reform bloggers in the realm of convention elections when, I believe, it would have happened anyway.


R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks, Kevin, for the link to the full text of the resolution.

Anonymous said...


You make some really good points. I attempted an analysis of the legacy, to date, of the bloggers on SBCOutposts. They played a role in electing Dr. Page, and in initiating a discussion about the IMB policies, and they lobbied for wider net in finding appointments to committees, boards etc.

Much of their agenda went unfufilled. To me, the results are meager.

There is nothing really wrong with that per se. The only problem comes with puffing one's accomplishments, which is really contrary to their ethos, at least when considering how they treat others who inflate their accomplishments.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if one of the great contributions that bloggers have made is bringing the conversations that used to occur only in the hallways of the convention for 3 or 4 days out into the public year-round. - Adam Harwood

Bart Barber said...

Thanks to all of you who have left encouraging words.

Bart Barber said...

James Heffington,

The arbiter of our relevance or lack thereof is God as revealed in the Bible, and not the culture of any stripe. Do you regard Jeremiah as a success or as a failure in ministry? A great many in his culture regarded him as irrelevant. As it turned out, the problem was with the culture, and not with Jeremiah.

Bart Barber said...


You said: "My problem with Malcolm's changes were that identifying specific ordinances and practices that we believe should be practiced by churches did not really relate directly to the issue of regenerate membership. We could have added lots of other practices (prayer, sharing one's faith, preaching etc.) that churches do, but the thrust of the motion is that for someone to be a member, they should be regenerate."

Believer's baptism is directly related to regenerate church membership. Any other type of baptism deliberately makes members of the church of those who are not regenerate.

The Lord's Supper is directly related to regenerate church membership. The Bible points to the celebration of this ordinance as a time at which members examine themselves carefully and at which the congregation examines itself for the "leaven" of unregenerate or profligate members.

Church discipline is directly related to regenerate church membership. It is through the process of church discipline that the church not only corrects wayward regenerate members but also discovers and purges from its ranks those who have professed regeneration to obtain membership but who are not actually regenerate.

None of these points of biblical ecclesiology guarantee perfect regenerate church membership, but if any of these practices is lost, regenerate church membership is lost with it.

Bart Barber said...

To all,

Anything R. L. Vaughn writes is worth your time to read it.

Bart Barber said...

Stephen Newell,

Affinity for the true classics does not date one. :-)

James Heffington Jr said...

Hey Bart,

We need to catch up one of these days and get some coffee. Been way too long!

My point has more to do with engaging a culture that has moved far beyond the Christian culture we knew in this country for almost 200 years. I believe our effectiveness is measured by our faithfulness to share the message. However how we share that message is very important. Those with the faith to change their methods in order to engage a changing culture would neccessarily be the most faithful/effective would they not?

We can change method without changing our message. I am looking to those in leadership of the SBC to have the boldness and faith not just to say such but to help move us to do just that.

We have focused our discussion on theology the past 29 years but have failed to discuss how to reach the world with the truth we believe. Can we use the same evangelistic methods our fathers and grandfathers used in their lives to reach this generation for Christ? Seems to me that is the most pressing discussion quickly moving upon us.

About a year ago I went to a conference lead by Reggie McNeal, the author of This Present Future. McNeal is a pretty sharp guy and challenged all of us to look to upcoming generations with a new perspective. Has our perspective changed? Do we look at kids growing up with instant access to the Library of Congress over a latte any differently than we do those who grew up with 8 trac tapes and pong? Will the same methods be equally effective at reaching both? McNeal went so far as to suggest the future may hold age graded worship and age integrated Bible Study/small group discipleship. Who would have thought that 5 years ago! I might add that I hope it does not come to that...I enjoy integrated worship!

I am supportive of any discussion we might have about theology. However, it is high time we discuss how this generation can be reached for Christ. I so wish contemporary methods of doing church and evangelism would take center stage of our convention before it is too late.

James Heffington

Bart Barber said...


I'm all for a get-together. We need to do that.

I am not opposed to entertaining discussion about good strategy and good methodology. I am merely opposed to the assumption that a good methodology will always be successful—that a lack of numeric success is necessarily an indicator of a bad methodology. Thus the question about Jeremiah. Doesn't that example have ANY validity for Christians today?

And then there are Jesus' words about camels, needles, and rich people. We live in the wealthiest nation in the world. Might it be that the right message and the right method are, by Christ's own teaching, likely to see seasons of relative ineffectiveness?

And then there are Jesus' words about the "few" who will find the rather constrictive "way" and "gate" that land one in Heaven.

Mind you, I do not make Jeremiah or these statements by Jesus the foundation or lynchpin of the message that I proclaim or the methodology that I pursue. But I do try to remember that those materials are a part of the Bible. I believe that they help us to avoid a sort of demographically-induced hysteria that, in the long run, will endanger both message and methodology if indulged.

James Heffington said...


I think we are likely in agreement on this point. Methodology is not a cure for spirtual lethargy nor a way of piercing a reprobate mind.

I suppose my concern for the convention comes from a heart disturbed by the lack of consideration given to method. Seems we are very concerned to believe the right things, and rightfully so, but unconcerned about whether our beliefs are communicated in a language our culture can hear. More and more it is as though we are speaking German to those who only hear English.

Method is no substitute for the Spirit. However, I believe we can choose to be in cooperation with or a hindrance to the Spirit by our method. I wonder if in recent years we have most often been the latter.

I fear if statistics are true and half of our churches close in the next 25 years it will have less to do with the cold heart of our nation and more to do with the lack of faith of Southern Baptists. I suspect other groups of Bible believing Christians will experience great growth during those same years. We must have faith to stand on what we believe. We must have faith to change.

That said, I would love to see the gifted folks among us placed on committee to study the Emergent Church, worship styles, our building crisis, the various styles of preaching as well as the way different generations learn differently. I would love for such a committee to look at those churches which are effectively reaching the busters and millenials. The fact is very few are reaching the Millenials at all.

I suspect many times our lack of evangelistic success has less to do with our hearers and more to do with us.


selahV said...

Bart, you get better and betterer each time I read you. And you make me want to get better and betterer. :) selahV

selahV said...

Colin, I've said it before and I'll say it again. You are one of the leaders to watch in our convention.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks, Bart. I'll have the check in the mail mean, thanks so much for your unsolicited endorsement.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your response. I see the spirit of what is being said - that church membership is comprised of confessional believers and the ordinances do not convey that. The emphasis then is on the word "composed."

My concern was that the resolution could be read to say that congregations who do not practice the ordinances as we do (even though we believe our position, and it is, in my opinion, the correct position) are not churches. The emphasis being on what is a "New Testament Church."

Your explanation will help me if this comes up in discussions with others.