One of the root problems with the lack of spiritual power and zeal in Baptist churches today is the neglect of discipline. This affects the nation as a whole. When President Bill Clinton committed adultery and lied to the country about it and tried to pervert the judicial system to cover himself, there was a call for his home church to exercise discipline. Bill Clinton is a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. At that time, an Associated Press article quoted Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University (Southern Baptist) as follows: “Church discipline was common among Baptists until early this century, when it faded as people abused the system to carry out vendettas” (AP, Sept. 12, 1998). Dean Register, president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, confirmed this, saying: “It’s very unusual for Southern Baptist churches to take disciplinary action against an individual” (The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, Sept. 13, 1998).
This is a very sad testimony, but there can be no doubt that it is accurate. Across the length and breadth of the land there are unrepentant moral reprobates and heretics on the rolls of Southern Baptist churches. Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and many other radical ecumenists who are promoting unity with Roman Catholicism, are members of Southern Baptist congregations. Many politicians, such as Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who support the murder of unborn children, are members in good standing in SB congregations. More than a million Freemasons, who are yoked together with idolatrous organizations in disobedience to 2 Corinthians 6, are members of SB congregations. Many modernists who deny the infallible inspiration of the Holy Scripture are members of SB congregations. An example is Mercer University President R. Kirby Godsey in Georgia. In his 1979 book, When We Talk about God, he said, “the notion that God is the all powerful, the high and mighty principal of heaven and earth should be laid aside.” Wicked heresy such as this is held by thousands of men and women who are members in good standing in SB churches. [For more about compromise within the Southern Baptist Convention see my 97-page book HAS THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION BEEN RESCUED FROM LIBERALISM, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org.]
IT IS NOT ONLY SOUTHERN BAPTISTS
Neglect of discipline is not a problem that is isolated to the Southern Baptist churches. It is far more widespread across the entire realm of “evangelicalism.” In “Church Discipline: The Missing Mark,” R. Albert Mohler, Jr., recently observed: “The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, must less to each other. . . . The present generation of both ministers and church members is virtually without experience of biblical discipline. . . . By the 1960s, only a minority of churches even pretended to practice regulative church discipline. . . . Consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and congregational engineering, most churches leave moral matters to the domain of the individual conscience” (from chapter 8 of The Compromised Church, edited by John H. Armstrong, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998).
EVEN FUNDAMENTAL BAPTISTS
Even among staunch fundamental Baptist churches, the ones that are so frequently labeled legalistic and mean-spirited, there is a rapid decline in the practice of church discipline. Most of the big ones simply don’t practice discipline, and have not done so for decades. Even many of the smaller ones are too busy trying to build impressive numbers that they avoid anything that would interfere with the potential growth pattern. That includes not only discipline of the members but also a plain warning ministry. Recently history has demonstrated all too evidently that fundamental Baptist pastors at large can commit immorality and other gross sins that should bring serious discipline and discrediting of their pastoral qualifications, but instead they simply move to another church across the country and continue as if nothing had happened. If someone protests such an action and calls for the permanent resignation of the sinning pastor, he is treated with a withering blast of mocking reproach by those who think pastors are above correction.
It is doubtless true that church discipline has been abused at times, but this is no excuse to neglect it. Churches are commanded by God to exercise discipline toward erring members (Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; 1 Timothy 5:19-20; Titus 3:9-11). Discipline has the two-fold purpose of bringing the sinning church member to repentance and keeping the church body pure so it can be salt and light in this world. Proper church discipline is a matter of love—love for God and for holiness, love for the truth, love for Christ’s testimony in the church, and love for the brethren. A good study is New Testament Church Discipline by James Crumpton. It is available at the Way of Life Literature web site under the church section of the End Times Apostasy Database -- http://www.wayoflife.org. There is also a study on church discipline in the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible and Christianity, available from Way of Life Literature.
Pastors who refuse to lead their churches in the exercise of discipline are in open rebellion against God and are helping to create the immoral climate that exists in Western civilization today and are fulfilling 2 Timothy 4:3-4.