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Profs: Biblical church practice includes use of church discipline

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Baptists must have a biblical view of church discipline if they are to have a biblical understanding of church membership, two Southern Baptist professors said during an April 6-7 conference at Union University.

“I hear people say to me, ‘Half the people in my church aren’t Christians.’ That may be true, but if it is, we have failed,” said L. Russ Bush, dean of the faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “We’re not supposed to have any church members who aren’t Christians. That’s why we don’t baptize infants. We wait until they make a profession of faith [before baptizing] them.

“Every member of our church should be a Christian…. We should not have a mixed multitude in our congregation.”

Bush was one of more than 10 Southern Baptist leaders and professors to speak at the conference, titled, “Baptist Identity: Is there a Future?” Lecturers considered what it means to be a Baptist and whether modern-day Baptists have strayed away from their historical roots.

“I believe that on judgment day we will bear some [responsibility for] those persons who are on our roll and yet do not believe,” said Greg Wills, church history professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “Let’s go out and find them. Let’s go out and warn them that if they are trusting in their membership in our church, they are placing their trust in a false hope.”

Church discipline, Wills said, is both biblical and rooted in Baptist history. He pointed to passages in Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2.

Churches, Wills asserted, have been improperly influenced by an unbiblical emphasis on individualism.

“Moderates, in our individualistic culture, have taught us that [church discipline] … cannot be done, but Baptists once thought otherwise,” Wills said. “Baptist associations in generations past expelled member churches that departed from the beliefs and practices that that association of churches had adopted as the foundation of their fellowship.

Many churches, Wills said, don’t practice “what Christ requires of us.” Church discipline, Wills added, “is an area where most conservative pastors are aware of our disobedience as churches.”

“We little know how to recognize credible signs of saving faith,” he said. “Indeed, we think it uncharitable to look for the signs, to even have the temerity to question whether [the person] might actually be saved, whether their profession might be a real authentic version…. The result is that in our churches there has been an overproduction of professed Christians.”

Because of the number of unbelievers on church rolls, Bush said, some pastors are afraid to practice congregational church polity in fear that unbelievers will “lead us off in the wrong direction.”

When Christians practice congregational polity, Bush said, the Holy Spirit “work[s] in the minds of those people, and you should be able to reach a consensus about the direction the church should go.”
Lectures from the Baptist Identity conference can be heard online at:
Tapes and CDs from the conference can be purchased at: http://www.uu.edu/events/baptistidentity/CDTapeOrderForm.pdf.

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  • Michael Foust