Several things are occupying my mind this morning but I will only get to one of those things. It is all of the talk about the need for a "regenerate membership". No one, certainly not this writer, questions that the membership of a local body is to be regenerate. There are a number of problems associated with that desire however and I want to explore some of them.
It might be wise to remember that historically, Baptists have paid a real price for holding to a regenerate membership. Thank God for that price they were willing to pay. But it is true, as I read the record of that struggle, that it was more in the context of state supported religion, infant baptism, and baptismal regeneration controversies than simply desiring to know whether our church members are genuinely saved or not. But in my reading of a lot of blogs lately, it seems to me , many are thinking along the lines of making church membership hard so we will be able to find out whether the folks are really converted or not. It's this latter concept I'm addressing today.
Since the Holy Spirit is the only one who can bring about regeneration, whether you believe it is the cause of faith or the effect of faith is moot to the point I'm making, and, since it is an internal work of that same Spirit within the heart of a person, who of us has sufficient ability to know for certain that regeneration has taken place? The answer is no one can. So we face a major problem from the get go.
It is also true that we can and are to examine the professor of faith as to their fruit. But even here we face a problem. I've always felt that actions are not as good a barometer as is character. So if a church leader never misses services, always tithes, attends visitation programs, and even comes to Wenesday night fellowship suppers, most Baptist churches would want to ordain such an one to the full time ministry. But when it is also true that the same person always desires their way in a debate/discussion of an issue to the point of anger, belittles their family members in public [so you wonder how bad it is in private], undermines the leadership with negative statements,and never seems bothered in the least by any of those things, my assessement might be to wonder if they've ever been Graced at all.
Then I reread the story of Lot and see afresh how, as a rightous man, [ll Peter 2] he was guilty of drunkeness, incest, and lack of family leadership and I begin to think that maybe it not only takes the Holy Spirit to regenerate a person but only He can know if a person has actually been regenerated.
So what are we to do? I have a few suggestions that by no means are exhaustive or even significant in the full scheme of things except they are my opinions.
#1- Joseph Nordenburg said in the Review and Expositor of 1963, that, "as long as the success of a minister is graded by the number of additions and the size of the budget we cannot expect that the statistical increase will represent only regenerate members." I don't know Dr. Nordenurg and I don't know what you think of him, but that statement rings true to me. So maybe a different measure of successful pastoring is needed by our Convention as a whole. Maybe an award for the church in the Association with the fewest divorces at the end of the year or the greatest number of families assisted in finding lodging or a job or the church with the most people seeking counseling for addictions or abusive behavior might be better than how many baptisms [additions] we had.
#2-It might be wise to sharpen our skills of teaching/preaching the Word of God to go a little deeper with people so that, when professions of faith are made, they will have a deeper understanding of what really happened to them and who they really belong to, and then continue to teach them, by every means possible, who God is and what He's accomplished on our behalf, because I've found that true faith grows in proportion to our understanding of it's object.
#3-Trust the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do. So we take a person where they say they are [repentence and faith] and teach them to observe baptism, the Lord's supper, virtue, doctrine, ethics, and love them the whole way.
#4-Then, when they fail, and we all will, be there to encourage, confront in love, support, all for the purpose of recovery and restoration in the journey, being careful of our own attitude and life, in order to gain a brother. If repentence is refused, love on them as folks who need the Grace of God. [I'm assuming that's how we treat infidels.]
Several things may happen out of all this I think.
SOME-will grow and grow and mature before your very eyes. It will thrill you and you will marvel at the Grace of God on display.
SOME-will seem really good and along the way fail and fall and not respond to loving confrontation or encouragement and be lost to the local fellowship.
SOME-will seem fine at first, but along the way, will realize they've never truly been Graced and come to Christ as did our son who made a profession of faith and was baptized at an early age but at eighteen met the Holy Spirit in a work of true regeneration.
FINALLY-some will grow, it seems, but never really have what I would think of as a real commitment but will be there, serve, give, relate, but I will spend the rest of my life wondering.
Someone I read recently said, "One day the Lamb's book of Life will be the only membership roll and the reading of that roll will be dreadful and awesome. Until that day churches, by keeping lists, show love for those on the inside and those on the outside [1Corth 5:12-13]. However imperfect these earthly lists are they prepare everyone for the final reading of the list that contains no mistakes." [Mike McKinley]
I guess. But my emphasis would be on remembering our lists will always be imperfect AND remembering His list is not imperfect. So I guess we will ultimate have to trust His showing of the real one. And our only consolation in all the hard work is hearing Him say, "Well Done".
Maybe that's sufficient.