WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–“Christ is honored when church membership means something.”
John Hammett, professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, exhorted students to take seriously the need for an emphasis on regenerate church membership in a faculty lecture in chapel. Held once a semester, the special service allows a faculty member to share a topic of particular interest with students at the Wake Forest, N.C., campus.
Hammett said the most pressing problem facing the Southern Baptist Convention today is not the decadent, post-modern culture, but the Southern Baptist culture, which has lost sight of the Baptist mark of the church — regenerate church membership — and allows anyone to join the church and maintain their membership without any interview process or accountability.
“How can you be God’s people if you don’t belong to Him? How can you be Christ’s body if you’re not connected to Him? How can you be the temple of the Spirit if the Spirit doesn’t dwell in you?” Hammett asked.
Hammett, a scholar and expert on Baptist ecclesiology, is the author of “Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A contemporary Ecclesiology.” His chapel lecture was drawn from another book he is working for release this fall.
Hammett emphasized the necessity of a regenerate church body for participation in believer’s baptism, the Lord’s Supper, congregational government and church discipline.
“I don’t think you can fully experience communion with a body of believers if you don’t in fact agree with them, if you don’t in fact relate to them,” Hammett said of closed communion. “I think the fullest degree of communion can only be experienced by members of a local body because they do, in fact, walk together.”
To return churches to regenerate membership, Hammett said pastors must be committed to staying with a congregation long enough to earn their trust and institute or reintroduce the need for believers only to participate in the privileges and responsibilities of membership in a Baptist church.
This is a “battle worth fighting,” he said, citing four reasons: It maintains a corporate witness; it insures a corporate health; it produces a love for unregenerate church members; and it honors and glorifies Christ.
Hammett proposed that churches return to composing and signing church covenants, to reforming their requirements for baptism and church membership and to restoring redemptive church discipline.
He exhorted pastors to move carefully and slowly through the entire membership restoration process, especially church discipline, which he said likely will be the hardest to institute.
“The goal [of church discipline] is not punishment, but restoration. It’s not for a weak person who falls and repents, but for a strong one who sins defiantly,” Hammett said.