Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Borrowed Note On Regenerate Church Membership

This post can be found in its original form and location at Walking Together by Wyman Richardson.

B.H. Carroll was and is a giant among Baptists. He founded my alma mater, The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and was a phenomenal preacher, teacher, interpreter, educator, and denominational servant. His portrait hangs in the rotunda of Southwestern Seminary, and though the portraits of the other Presidents surrounding his are of equal size, there is no doubt who is the Baptist giant in that room.

Last night I read Carroll's testimony, "My Infidelity and What Became of It," and was struck by an anecdotal reflection he gave that proves the need for regenerate church membership. At thirteen years of age, Carroll joined the church though he knew that he did not really believe the gospel. It was "a protracted meeting" and, as he explains it, "many had joined [and] the hour was late," so young Carroll joined the church as well.

Later, when Carroll went to the church and asked for his name to be removed from membership because he was not a believer, the church refused because "the brethren thought I mistook temporary mental depression for lack of conversion." Amazingly, then, Carroll was brought into the church, though he was not saved, and he was refused an exit from the church as well.
Reflecting later on this fact, he explains that the whole misunderstanding could have been avoided by a little diligence on the church's part (and, of course, on his own). Here is what he said:

"The whole thing would have been exposed if, when I presented myself for membership, I had been asked to tell my own story without prompting or leading questions. I did not have any to tell and would have told none. But many had joined, the hour was late, and a few direct questions elicited the same historical, stereotyped answers. Thus, the die was cast."

This is the very heart of regenerate church membership. Any member of a local church should be able to "tell their own story." They don't have to be able to tell it with the wisdom of Augustine or the eloquence of Chrysostom, but they should at least have a story.
How often have we repeated the tragedy of the young Carroll in our own churches, simply for want of asking a few questions?

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