Unregenerate Church Members

One of our Elders sent me an article by Jim Elliff about the Southern Baptist Convention. What he describes as a problem in the SBC (Southern Baptists: An Unregenerate Denomination) is likely common in most churches to one extent or another.

Our western evangelical culture relies heavily on a revivalist style that called people to outward profession of faith, and frankly, there can be problems with that. It should go without saying that it is entirely possible for people to pray a prayer, make a decision, go forward, etc. without having genuinely repented and been converted. Yet how many times haven't you heard someone base their assurance of salvation on an experience of profession?

A lot of this comes as the result of alleged childhood conversions. Can kids be saved? Sure. IF THEY CAN UNDERSTAND THE GOSPEL. But so often kids have been led through an experience of sorts. In fact, it is almost funny. Someone will say, "I accepted Christ when I was 5 but . . ." and I want to jump in and say, "let me finish - you didn't have any real change/you weren't sure/you couldn't remember what you did so you rededicated your life to Christ when you were a teenager and it was then that you started to follow Him." And that's the testimony of those who are probably genuine believers.

But what about those who are not? My wife was talking to a co-worker the other day about a young man who made a profession of faith years ago but shows no fruit. When she said something about his not being a believer, her co-worker was quite surprised. "Didn't he make a decision years ago?" Which means that the "decision" somehow got him "in." Let's face the fact that many - too many - people think this way. Kids grow up, leave the church, live like pagans, but Mom and Dad say, "Well, he made a decision when he was 10."

While addressing far more than childhood conversion issues, Elliff says that wrong thinking about conversion is rampant in the SBC. It's rampant in any church. So what do we do? Going through Romans 1-5 the past few months has given me an opportunity to address this from a number of angles on numerous occasions. I may have sounded like a broken record at times (or for you younger people, a scratched CD), but I don't care. There is something fundamentally wrong with us - especially those of us in the pulpit - if we don't understand the biblical Gospel and instead substitute an experience of some kind for genuine conversion.

Elliff says that there are five things that we have to begin to do:

1. We must preach and teach on the subject of the unregenerate church member.
2. We must address the issue of persistent sin among our members.
3. We should be more careful on the front end of church membership.
4. We must stop giving immedate verbal assurance to people who have made professions of faith or who respond to our invitations.
5. We must restore sound doctrine.

Each of these points is worth pondering.

I mentioned a resource the other week that we have used this summer. RC Sproul has a newer series of videos on Assurance of Salvation. It is excellent. I would recommend that you check it out. In fact, you can download the mp3's for $2 each (there are 6 of them) and preview his comments. The resource is described here.


frostykaiser said...

All five points are worth consideration, but one truly struck me:

4. We must stop giving immediate verbal assurance to people who have made professions of faith or who respond to our invitations.

A profession of faith is a beautiful thing, and should be encouraged. We must, however, be careful with our intentions as we may inadvertently substitute the effect for the cause. The sprit moves and we respond, not the reverse.

Peter Bogert said...

Right. And if someone says that they are unsure, the last thing we should do is point them to "don't you remember when you prayed a prayer when you were 10?"

Scott Cheatham said...

Right on Peter...I may differ with some since I come from an Arminian angle but I think real conversion is something we're afraid to confront because we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or tinker with their belief that they were saved at ten over "that prayer" you mention.

It's the same reason I have yet to baptize my daughter. While she understands some things, the entirety of the gospel and how one is saved has to be understood before the baptism; at least that's what I believe.

Good stuff on the blog...I'm gonna take you with me to our denomination's convention in Kentucky this coming week. I'm downloading a few of your messages for listening.

Peter Bogert said...

Thanks, Scott. I'd enjoy a trip to Kentucky!! (smile)

Scott Cheatham said...

You're packed and ready to go!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Peter, I agree with the comments by Jim E. It's very much like a restatement of what you have said on numerous occasions.