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Friday, December 06, 2013

The Missing Mark

I have been doing some reading this week in respect to church authority.  I have intentions of doing some serious writing in this area.  In my research I came across a  little book/pamphlet by James Garrett entitled Baptist Church Discipline.  It was included in a Baptist history collection on CD I purchases a few years back when I was teaching on Baptist history in our church.  The author did his work in 1962 but it is largely composed of an earlier work published in 1773 by the Baptist Associations in Charleston, South Carolina.

The opening paragraphs of Garrett's work caught my attention.  As you will see he was writing from a Southern Baptist perspective:

"Baptists in the United States, and Southern Baptists in particular, are giving meager evidence of having today an ordered, disciplined churchmanship. This appears to be true whether one considers ethics, theology, or church order.  Moral failures, which often are crimes as well as sins, increasingly occur among church members — Baptists and otherwise — and are reported in the public press. Even ordained ministers and other church leaders may experience such failures and no action by the congregation or by denominational bodies be taken. Many church members seem quite insensitive to the religious and moral dimensions of contemporary social issues such as race relations, church and state, war and peace. 
Despite some indications of a renewed theological concern there is among Baptists widespread indifference toward the great Christian affirmations. While claiming to revere the Bible and to adhere to the New Testament as the basis of religious authority, Southern Baptists have been too little involved in the renewal of biblical theology. 
The inroad of secularism and materialism into Baptist lives and Baptist churches is more real than acknowledged. Inactive and non-participating church members and the problem of nonresident membership have become major Southern Baptist difficulties.  The increasing number of Baptist church members seeking “rebaptism” on the basis of having been converted to Christ after initial “baptism” in Baptist churches is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon.  Friction between pastor and deacons, pastor and congregation, pastor and church staff, and deacons and congregation abounds and sometimes erupts into major congregational schisms. 
Southern Baptists are affording some leadership and example in the fields of evangelism, religious education, church administration, religious radio and television, and pastoral care. Yet, in the practice of an ordered, disciplined congregational life — that which Littell calls the central concern of the “free church” tradition in its beginnings — Southern Baptists are providing neither leadership nor example."

While I did not necessarily agree with all the author wrote (surprise, surprise) I did find it thought provoking and addressing an issue that New Testament Baptist churches need to revisit.

I also found this particular passage interesting in light of what seems to be the increasing practice of allowing people to simply walk away from their covenant responsibilities.

"The act of excommunication may not be performed by a member on himself; such a one, says Dr. Gill, is a felo de se; he is, in effect, a self-murderer. As consent is necessary to a person’s coming into the church, so none can go out of it without its consent. To attempt it is to break the covenant with the church, and, as much as in a man lies, to break up the church. By the same rule that one member may thus leave the church, another may, the pastor may, all may. The tendency of this conduct, as all may see, is confusion and destruction. Those therefore who are guilty of it ought to be looked upon as trucebreakers — proud, arrogant, dangerous persons — and to be dealt with as such. They should be avoided by all other churches."

I am thinking the lack of church discipline may have something to do with the overall decay of morality in society at large.
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