I believe that regenerate church membership used to be a primary distinctive of Baptist churches and is a quintessential element of a healthy church. Regenerate church membership links together three crucial elements of the church—baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline. Baptism serves as the initiatory ordinance of Christian life. In the book of Acts, baptism was the public profession of faith and the first step of obedience. Baptists hold to believer’s baptism by immersion and that proper baptism is mandatory for church membership. This guards regenerate church membership on the front side, if we do our best to make sure it is believer’s baptism. Our churches do a decent job of this except with toddler baptisms. This is where we often baptism 3, 4, or 5 year olds who do not understand salvation or a personal profession. While I do not wish to place an age on proper baptism, we should insure that the person makes a personal profession of faith.
Church discipline guards regenerate church membership on the back side. If a person fails to live according to the profession he has made, then church discipline restores or removes the person from membership. By removing rebellious members, the church maintains its integrity and regenerate church membership. This step has been lost by many of our churches.
The lack of church discipline leads to a lack of regenerate church membership which jeopardizes the proper practice of the Lord’s Supper. Concerning rebellious people, the Bible tells us not to even eat with such a one as this. While I believe that passage refers to the Lord’s Table, even those who disagree must admit that if I cannot share a meal at Burger King, then I cannot share the Lord’s Table with such a person. Without regenerate church membership, I do not believe the Lord’s Supper can be practiced with integrity.
One sign revealing the loss of regenerate church membership in our Baptist churches is the inflated church roll. Due to pressure for numerical growth as the standard for success, we allow the membership to inflate. We no longer discipline or remove members for absenteeism and end up with churches whose membership far exceeds those attending on Sunday morning. It has not always been this way. At times in Baptist history the attendance of Baptist churches exceeded the membership of those churches. We need to clean our membership and return to regenerate church membership.
A return to regenerate church membership will accomplish at least three things. First, it will result in meaningful membership. You may consult 9 marks ministries for more information on this. Second, it will accurately reflect where each church is and in turn allow the Southern Baptist Convention to accurately reflect its membership. The 16 million member Southern Baptist Convention cannot fix its inflated number from the top down. We all know there are not this many true Southern Baptists, but this number comes from the reports of the churches and until the churches fix the problem it will remain at the national level. Third, regenerate church membership will demonstrate the proper difference between the world and the church. You cannot live like the world and be part of the church. Our testimony will be strengthened because our church membership will reflect accurately who we are. This will also prevent the days of calling “members” who have not been to church in years to vote out the pastor.
Lastly and as a prelude to my next number, regenerate church membership lays the foundation for congregational church government. Many have moved away from the biblical model of congregational polity because they fail to maintain regenerate church membership. These reasons are why I believe in a regenerate church membership.