Book Notice: “Those Who Must Give an Account” edited by John Hammett & Ben Merkle

You’ve been waiting, but the wait is over. B&H has released its collaborative work on church membership and church discipline. Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline (B&H, 2012), edited by SEBTS’ own John Hammett and Ben Merkle, is hot off the presses.

As John Hammett notes, “church membership and church discipline have fallen on hard times in the past hundred years, especially in the North American context.” (p. 7) In light of this fact, the editors offer this book in the hopes of renewing and restoring healthy church membership and discipline in contemporary Baptist churches, offering guidance on how they should receive and minister to those for whom they will give an account (Heb. 13:7). The book consistently treats membership and discipline from three angles: biblical, historical, and practical.

Here is the book’s outline, complete with authors:

Introduction: Church Identity

1. “Church Membership, Church Discipline, and the Nature of the Church” (John S. Hammett)

Part 1: Church Membership-The Church as God’s Gathered People

2. The Biblical Basis for Church Membership (Benjamin L. Merkle)

3. A Historical Analysis of Church Membership (Nathan A. Finn)

4. The Practical Issues of Church Membership (Mark E. Dever)

Part 2: Church Discipline-The Church as God’s Holy People

5. The Biblical Basis for Church Discipline (Thomas R. Schreiner)

6. A Historical Analysis of Church Discipline (Gregory A. Wills)

7. The Practical Issues of Church Discipline (Andrew M. Davis)

Conclusion: Church Witness

8. The Missional Implications of Church Membership and Church Discipline (Bruce Riley Ashford and Danny Akin)

9. Those Who Must Give an Account: A Pastoral Reflection (Andrew M. Davis)

The book is well conceived (indicative of good editors) and well-executed. It grounds the practices of church membership and church discipline in the nature of the church, and shows how weak ecclesiology and weak ministry go hand-in-hand. As Hammett argues, “both are inherent in the nature of the church” so they must be understood in this light (p. 28). This book is an excellent one-stop introduction to membership and discipline, and should prove useful for students and pastors.

On the Dangers of Seminary (Pt. 3): The Danger of Allowing Seminary to Replace Church

Hebrews 10: 24-25: “And let us…not [forsake] the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another….

Ephesians 4:1-3: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

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My years in college were four of the best years of my life. Those were years that God taught me foundational truths about himself, and allowed me to experience the power of his gospel. I served as a youth pastor at Salemburg Baptist church, a co-captain of the FCA on campus, and together with my friend, J. D. Greear, led a Monday night Bible study where we were able in the power of God’s gospel to speak into the lives of college students from every imaginable background.

By the time I entered seminary, I had resigned my job as a youth pastor and was a full-time “youth evangelist.” I traveled and preached to youth and college students, calling them to faith in Christ. Those were great days. I have great memories of preaching at Camp Caswell, Crossroads Camps, South Mountain Baptist Camp, Go Tell Camps, Camp Willow Run, and who knows how many churches.

And boy, do I have stories to tell. One of my favorites occurred when I preached at a Four Square church in South Carolina. J. D. Greear went along with me. While we were on the ride, J. D. informed me that although he had never taken piano lessons, recently he had learned how to play two songs-the hymn Alleluia and the song Faithfully by Journey-so that he could impress a certain girl at college. [Hmmm.] Before too long, we arrived at the church. It so happened that the church pianist was sick that Sunday and there was no replacement for her (at a church of about 50 people). So, after the sermon, I informed the congregation that I had brought a pianist with me and he would play the invitation hymn-Alleluia. I promptly called on J. D., and I’ve got to give it to him: He “cowboyed up” and walked straight to the piano, unfurling his two meat cleavers, and banging out the most jarring rendition of Alleluia that I have ever heard, or could ever have imagined. Finally, the invitation was over and the noise from the piano had ceased. After shaking hands and talking with some of the flock, J. D. and I found ourselves in a conversation with the two pastors (husband and wife) who were trying to anoint us with oil from a test tube of some sort. All of the sudden, Mrs. Pastor told J. D. and I that she had a word from the Lord. I could tell that she was very excited about the prophecy to which she was about to give birth. With baited breath we waited. And then she told us: The Lord had told her I would be a “world-wide” evangelist and J. D. would be my “devoted music man.” Finally, she and her husband prayed over us that God would give us the faith of Kathryn Kuhlman (faith healer, mentor to Benny Hinn). I kid you not.

Now this is only one of the many stories I could tell of those years. There are funny ones, such as the one above, and serious ones, about the victories of the gospel. But there is one type of story I cannot tell: the story of deep relationships formed in the church of which I was a covenanted member. It is not that I didn’t have any relationships, or that I didn’t want to be a part of my church. Instead, it was the fact that I scheduled myself to be gone preaching so much that I was not in any meaningful sense a member of my church.

The church, however, is where God disciples his children. It is where we “all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:13-15a). If we want to come to unity in the faith, know Christ, mature spiritually, learn sound doctrine, and speak the truth in love, God’s intention is that we do so within the covenanted community. It is true that there are cases where God calls a man out and sends him where there is no church. This type of calling allows him to be a missionary or even a traveling preacher. However, as a young man I would have been wise to devote significantly more time to my church, being discipled by men older than I, learning to practice my gifts in relationship with the body, and growing up “in all things into Him, who is the head, Christ” (Eph 4:15-16).

Of course I am not saying that it is wrong to travel and preach. But I am saying that a young man should be deeply involved with his covenant community, discipling and being discipled. During my seminary years, I missed out on these things unwittingly. I missed out on teaching, fellowship, worship, and service. In fact, I visited Capitol Hill Baptist Church during this time, and spent a week there with some friends. I will never forget meeting Mark Dever, informing him of my ministry, and then realizing that not only was he not impressed, but he seemed to feel sorry for me. When he asked me in which ways I was involved in ministering to my own church, I had no answer. That was the first time I remember being forced to recognize the deep and abiding value of belonging to a covenanted body of believers.

For various reasons, seminary students are be tempted not to take seriously their call to membership in Christ’s church. Some students might take their preaching schedule more seriously than their calling to church membership. Others might look down upon their pastor because his sermons are not always the “masterpiece” they expect. Still others might consistently neglect church involvement because they find their studies more important. But to neglect the body of Christ is not God’s plan and is never to one’s benefit. I testify to this from personal experience, and offer some advice to students: If you neglect your calling to God’s church, you will hurt yourself, your church, and the future ministry to which Christ is calling you.

Kenneth Starr, Church Membership, and the Baylor Presidency

As many readers know, it was announced this week that Kenneth Starr has been selected as the next president of Baylor University. Not surprisingly, the announcement generated quite a bit of buzz in the blogosphere, Twitterverse, and on message boards. Baylor has of course been embroiled in significant controversy during the past decade over leadership, vision, and academic matters, which followed on the heels of two decades of controversy over governance, theology, and denominational matters. No doubt the selection of Starr will elicit further controversy among at least some members of the Baylor family.

One interesting talking point related to Starr’s selection is his church membership. Like Baylor’s immediate past president, John Lilley, Baylor’s new president is not currently a Baptist. As near as I can ascertain, he was raised in the home of a Church of Christ minister, spent most of his adult life at the evangelical and dispensational McLean Bible Church in Northern Virginia, and briefly returned to a Church of Christ congregation while at Pepperdine. Yet because Baylor is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Starr is expected to become a Baptist, which he has indicated he has every intention of doing.

Some observers have raised concerns about a Baptist university hiring a non-Baptist president. Others have argued that the requirement that Baylor’s president be a Baptist is perhaps unnecessary. Still others have expressed concern that Starr may be becoming a Baptist just so he can get the job. It is an interesting conversation, to be sure.

Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what it’s worth. I am no fan of the Church of Christ tradition. It is a hyper-sectarian movement with a spurious view of such matters as baptism, conversion, and apostasy. Furthermore, the Church of Christ movement has always had an awkward relationship with Baptists, in part because the Churches of Christ represent a perversion of Baptist identity and have regularly siphoned off members from Baptist churches. It is entirely understandable for people to be concerned about a Baptist school hiring a president who is committed to the Churches of Christ.

That said, the situation with Starr is not so cut-and-dry. Though he was raised Church of Christ, and though he has recently been attending a church in that tradition (while teaching at a university affiliated with that tradition), Starr has indicated his real spiritual home is McLean Bible Church, a congregation whose doctrine, at least as near as I can tell, is very similar to that of conservative Baptists, with the possible exception that MBC seems to reject (or at least downplay) congregationalism. I would suspect that many Southern Baptists would feel mostly at home at McLean Bible Church, though the church doesn’t raise money for Lottie Moon or use LifeWay Sunday School material.

Over the last ten years, I’ve seen many people from evangelical, baptistic backgrounds become members of Southern Baptist churches. Some became staff members of local churches, some became professors at Baptist schools, and some became missionaries with one of our mission boards. Many of these folks never considered being Southern Baptist prior to a particular job offer. It wasn’t that they were anti-SBC or anti-Baptist before-quite the contrary. Their theological convictions were already compatible with at least the vast majority of mainstream Southern Baptist doctrine. In most cases, they were swimming in a different pond than the SBC, but both ponds were fresh water, had similar plant life, and were stocked with the same types of fish and other critters.

Simply put, I want to give someone the benefit of the doubt when he takes a new job and becomes a Baptist because of that job. Is it possible that some folks really aren’t convinced of Baptist doctrine and join a Baptist church anyway for purely pragmatic reasons? Of course it is. In fact, it happens all the time with “normal” church members who don’t work in denominational posts. But I also know there are many people who are convictionally baptistic but who’ve never been Southern Baptist. Yes, they may not understand much about our unique traditions, tendencies, priorities, and neuroses. But I suspect most are smart enough to learn about them. And let’s face it: a growing number of lifelong Southern Baptists don’t understand all that stuff either!

I’m glad Ken Starr is becoming a Baptist. I hope it’s entirely compatible with his present theological convictions, and insofar as it’s not, I hope his future church membership refines his convictions. I’ve seen it happen many times before. I wish him the best as he leads Baylor and hope that the university’s brightest days are ahead.wordstat google