I’m reading R. Kent Hughes’ book, Disciplines of a Godly Man. In his chapter on the church, he describes the rampant aversion to meaningful church membership. He calls the phenomenon “ecclesiastical hitchhikers.” He writes:
Church attendance is infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas — and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.” So it is with the credo of so many of today’s church at tenders: “You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills —and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out — my thumb is always out for a better ride.”
This putative loyalty is fueled by a consumer ethos — a “McChristian” mentality — which picks and chooses here and there to fill one’s ecclesiastical shopping list. There are hitchhikers who attend one church for the preaching, send their children to a second church for its dynamic youth program, and go to a third church’s small group. Church hitchhikers have a telling vocabulary: “I go to” or “I attend,” but never “I belong to” or “I am a member.”
So today, at the end of the twentieth century, we have a phenomenon unthinkable in any other century: churchless Christians. There is a vast herd of professed Christians who exist as nomadic hitchhikers without accountability, without discipline, without discipleship, living apart from the regular benefits of the ordinances…
…membership in an invisible Church without participation in its local expression is never contemplated in the New Testament.
So we conclude that church hitchhikers, ecclesiastical wanderers, spiritual Lone Rangers, Christians who disdain membership, are aberrations in the history of the Christian Church and are in grievous error.
from Disciplines of a Godly Man pp 169-170
Tom Ascol plans to present the Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership again at this years Southern Baptist Convention. Although I do not plan to attend the SBC, we at Lakeshore Baptist Church, do strive to implement this resolution in our local church. We still have a ways to go
Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried” (Article 1); and
Whereas life in a local church should be characterized by loving discipline as the Bible teaches in passages like Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5 and Titus 3:10-11; and
Whereas the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,266,920 members in Southern Baptist churches; and
Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,148,868 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and
Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle as described in Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message; and
Whereas the significance of believers’ baptism tends to be lost when churches that practice it fail to exercise loving care for all their members; therefore, be it
RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further
RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further
RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord’s teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further
RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally
RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.
This week I enjoyed reading Collin Hansen’s book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalists’ Journey with the New Calvinists.” As one of the editors at Christianity Today, Hanson chronicles the new movement among young evangelicals who recoil from the superficiality of the postmodern church and run to the depth of authentic theological grounding they find in the God-rich soil of reformation thought.
Hanson’s seven chapters cover the Passion Conference, John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, Southern Seminary and the SBC Founders, Sovereign Grace, the New Attitude Conference, and Mark Driscoll. He peppers in conversations with every-day guys influenced by the resurgence. He closes the work with:
For nearly two years, I traveled across the country and talked with the leading pastors and theologians of the growing Reformed movement. I sat’ in John Piper’s den, Al Mohler’s office, C. J. Mahaney’s church, and Jonathan Edwards’s college. But the backbone of the Reformed resurgence comprises ordinary churches like those I saw in South Dakota — churches used by God to do extraordinary things. Armed with God’s Word and transformed by the Holy Spirit, these churches’ leaders faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ week after week, through tragedy and triumph. Culture has conspired to give their message a wider audience. Desire for transcendence and tradition among young evangelicals has contributed to a Reformed resurgence.
Contrary to the rumors, I’m not quite as young as the focus group of the book, so I’ve never attended a Passion or New Attitude conference, but I resonate with the revival of the doctrines of grace in my own life. I read hints of my own autobiography in the book, but I’ll save my story for another day. If you are young, restless, or reformed, and particularly if you are all three, you will probably enjoy this book.
btw, Mike Corley interviewed Collin Hansen last week. Great show.
A few weeks ago, I preached in Louisville KY and Stacy Morgan preached in my place at Lakeshore Baptist Church. He preached 1 Timothy 1:12-17. I wanted to share the sermon here.