In the month of November we spent a few weeks on several different texts dealing with church polity. I spent a Sunday on church membership from 1 Corinthians 12 and a Sunday on church discipline from 1 Corinthians 5. The two go hand in hand. We spent some time seeing the pastoral heart and theology of the Apostle Paul for the church at Corinth. As we worked our way through the example and need for church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5 we could find no immediate application for corrective church discipline in our midst. However as I began to think about the text and how it applied to us I began to think about our membership roll and the membership rolls of many SBC churches. The number of people on our roll far outnumbers the people present on any given Lord’s Day gathering. The number of Southern Baptist church members on our rolls far outnumbers those present on any given Lord’s Day corporate gathering. As I pondered this I thought of the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians:
And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. – 1 Corinthians 5:2 ESV
The church at Corinth was boasting in their tolerance of a man in deep sexual immorality. As a Southern Baptist I can be really quick to point the finger at a whole slough of mainline denominations (even Baptist ones) that are boasting in their tolerance of sexual immorality in the church. Identifying those sins have their place, and rightfully so, but we’d be wise to examine ourselves. Southern Baptist may not boast in homosexual clergy, but we do boast in a sin closely tied to corrective church discipline.
We boast in our numbers and inflated rolls. We have spent so much time beseeching the masses to join our ranks that many of us have lost one of the distinctives that make us Baptist, we’ve lost regenerate church membership. The Lord Jesus died for His church. He takes the church seriously. We however have belittled what it means to be a member of the local church. We’ve allowed anyone who darkens our doors to walk our isles and join our congregations without ever considering that one must first be a member of the church universal before one can be a member of the church local. I fear we have long enjoyed the praise of the annual reports of our conventions and associations far more than glorifying our Father through faithfulness. We praise pastors at our conferences who have churches of 10,000 members and 6,000 in attendance. We’ve lost the sense of privilege, joy, and service that comes with being a member of the local church. We’ve reduced that for which Christ has died to a number on a sheet and we ought to mourn. We ought to mourn that we have strayed far from formative discipline and belittled membership that gives us such a wonderful glimpse of what communion with God and His people looks like throughout eternity. We should repent of our pride and inflated numbers. We should ask for grace to be the churches Christ has called us to be. We ought to rejoice in the work of the cross that has bought the church and glory in the Father’s giving to us the church (1 Corinthians 12:18). Let us mourn. Let us repent. Let us glory in grace.