Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Matter of Grave Necessity

As is all too common in evangelical churches today, our church has a bloated membership roll. We have people on the membership roll who never attend, and some who are virtually unknown by any of the members. This is unacceptable by any Biblical standard for several reasons:

1. If one has no interest in the local church, then one's profession of faith is highly suspect. It is doubtful that such a person is regenerate.

2. It is a breech of covenant and a discouragement to the community of believers.

3. It is a failure to shepherd our members, and to guard the rest from wolves.

4. It lessens the high commitment Jesus calls for in Christian life and service, and it makes a sham of the Lord's Supper table.

With this in mind, and with a heavy heart, I have written this letter to those we cannot yet find or contact. I have had this approved by the deacons, now we are combing the roll to see who needs a visit, and who we don't even know how to contact other than a letter to the last known address. Let the reader judge and inform:

Dear ________,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We hope that this letter finds you doing well, and that you are remaining fiathful to the profession of faith in being a disciple of Jesus Christ that you made before us here at First Baptist Church Plaquemine. We are concerned for you and for your well-being, and it is this concern that has prompted this letter from us.

The reason that you have this letter in your hand is because we have you on our roll as a member of the Church. This is a very serious thing for us and for you. The Bible teaches us that God’s glory is made evident to the angels, mankind, and even the demons through the Church that was purchased from sin by Jesus Christ through His death on the cross (cf. Ephesians 3). Because you have at one time been an active member of this Church, you are a reflection of who we are as a Church; you are an example of God’s graciousness.

When you joined this fellowship, you promised to be faithful to Jesus Christ and to the Church that He loves. Our church functions like a body, some are the hands, some are the feet, and some act as eyes. Each part is needed for the body to function properly (1 Corinthians 12). Furthermore, we are commanded by our Savior to meet together for encouragement, counsel, worship, and learning the Scriptures (Hebrews 10:24-25). The reason that you are receiving this letter is because you have been absent, and we desire to have you back into fellowship.

If you have joined another church family, we would like to know this so that we may update our records. If you are somehow prevented from attending due to illness or circumstance, we would like to know this so that we may know how to better serve you. If you simply are ignoring the desire of our Lord for all professed believers to gather together, then our desire is that you repent from this and join us.

We realize that these are strong words, but this is serious business. If you are not attending a church, you need to find one to which you can commit. If you do not love the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and the brothers and sisters He has purchased, then you have no cause to believe that you have ever known Him. The Bible teaches, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments,” and “we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 2:3; 3:14).

Perhaps other things have distracted you from your duty (and joy!) in attending church. Please allow those things to distract you no longer. For the sake of your family and for your own soul, make the church a priority. If for some reason you cannot attend here at First Baptist Church Plaquemine, we would like to know why. We will pray for God to send you somewhere else to serve. We are an imperfect family, and we have our faults. We are open to critique.

Please know that if we have not heard from you within the next few weeks, we will be subtracting your name from the membership. This is not what we want, but we feel it is right for the health of the church. The pastor’s office is open, and so is his home. The deacons and members are also available. The appropriate numbers are enclosed with this letter. Please use them if you feel that you must talk to someone about the contents of this letter.

God bless you, and we hope to hear from you soon.

Your Pastor and Deacons,


What do you think, dear readers? How can we do better?

11 comments:

Carla said...

I think... if more absent church members got a letter like this one, it might be a great benefit, in many ways.

I like this letter. Encouraging, yet firm and truthful.

SDG,
Carla

Even So... said...

Grace and peace to you.

I pray that this will have the intended effect, or that God will graciously reveal any other thing that needs to be learned from this endeavor. I think it is well written and right thinking on the matter.

Please, Brad, I am very interested in how this "goes". Keep us informed, okay?

Even So...

Daniel said...

"Furthermore, we are commanded by our Savior to meet together for encouragement, counsel, worship, and learning the Scriptures"

We are certainly exhorted and encouraged to meet together for the benefit of the others, but the encouragement comes our way via a subjunctive mood, as opposed to an imperative. The author of Hebrews' opinion is that gathering together is entirely appropriate behavior, but he hasn't presented it as a "command"

I wouldn't want to say more than scripture does here - though a part of me feels that trumping it up like this might be more effective - yet I would rather set my own wisdom aside on that - and trust that the Lord's word is sufficient without my putting a spin on it that isn't there in the original language (unless I am missing something grammatically - I am not an expert after all...)

Furthermore, while we know the Spirit of Christ did inspire all of scripture, and in that sense, our Savior certainly did say these things - yet I would present it in a way that was more consistent with the text itself anticipating the confusion in those people who expect to see red lettering whenever a person says "Our Savior said..."

Thus I would have said:


"Furthermore, our Savior exhorts us (through scripture) to meet together for encouragement, counsel, worship, and learning the Scriptures"

Okay, I also changed it from a passive voice into an active voice (having the subject verb the object, as opposed to having the object being verbed by the subject) - but yeah, If I have a suggestion, that would be it - reword that part.

I won't weep if you don't, well not out loud at least, but quietly, as I pray for you.. ;-P

MColvin said...

My only concern would be that the members are not "subtracted" from the list but put onto another list as inactive and not forgotten. I discussed this very situation with a friend and he knew of an example where a member who was not attending was actually saved many years down the road when a church member happened to see their name on the church role and contacted them after a death in the family. Had their name not been recognized on the role, no contact would have been made. Instead of casting them aside, I feel they need to be placed on a list that is set aside for a high priority of prayer.

Matt

Sojourner said...

Daniel,

Hmmm...I have given your comments a good deal of thought. I disagree with you in this for a couple of reasons. Mainly theologically and philosophically, and partially linguistically.

First, the very idea of the body of Christ meeting together is everywhere assumed in the New Testament. Why else would Paul be writing letters to Churches and not only to people? And why would Paul command Timothy to be dilligent to read Scripture to the assembly if he did not assume that they would meet together? This is not, in my opinion, a simple encouragment, but an essential part of Christianity.

On linguistic grounds, you said:

the encouragement comes our way via a subjunctive mood

I believe that you are speaking of the Hebrews 10:25 passage. Unless I am parsing my Greek participles incorrectly with my now outdated BibleWorks 6.0, the first command is "not neglecting to meet together" (ESV). The verb here is a participle, and it is present active indicative nominative. So also is the command to exhort one another. I do not see a subjunctive in this verse. Yes, it is an encouragment, but it is also not optional. Just as eating is necessary for the life of the body, so is being active in the body of Christ necessary for spiritual life. To call gathering together "entirely appropriate behavior" is like calling breathing appropriate behavior.

Finally, how would one even hope to hear the message of Hebrews if they did not gather together? Think of it like this: The only reason these people are receiving a letter at all is because at one time they did not forsake this command.

I wonder, and I am honestly asking this, if it is simply the word "command" that you have trouble with. Do you see activity in the local body to be optional? Is it not sin to disregard meeting together? If it is, then how can we violate that principle if there is no undergirding command?

And finally, why do you and I always wind up back at the law?:)

Sojourner said...

Matt,

You raise a point that should be addressed. You say that you hope that those disfellowshipped from the roll would be put on an "inactive" list. The main reason is because a guy at some point saw someone on the church list and paid him a visit and he got saved. Think about that.

As baptists, we believe in a regenerate church membership. That means that this person should never, and in reality was never, a church member in the first place. His habitual absence should have provoked a visit long before the faithful visit finally came. In cleaning up our rolls, we are attempting to visit just as this man visited him. If they then refuse to attend to Christian duty, then we must begin to treat them as the rest of the unbelieving world. They might actually be regenerate, I do not know, but anyone who refuses to gather in corporate worship with the body of Christ should have no confidence that they are.

MColvin said...

Brad,

I don't want you to think that I disagree with what you are doing. In fact, I like the idea and I think it's Biblically based. My only concern is that people aren't just thrown away. The persistent neighbor oftentimes gets his message across. You are right, though, about inactives and how they should have long ago been addressed. Although, this is not always the case. I am very interested in how this turns out, please keep us updated.

Matt

Daniel said...

Matt, I was speaking of "katanowmen" (v.24) (present, active, subjunctive, first person, plural) as opposed to "mh egkataleipontes" (Present, active, participle nominative, plural masucline) in verse 25.

The instruction itself is to consider/understand one another (not a command, but an encouragement) and I agree that the thing we are supposed to encourage one another about is that we -not- abandon assembling.

My problem is with the English word "command" - I don't think the text is an imperative, and because it isn't, I don't think the English ought to be. I come to Hebrews 12:25 by way of 12:24 - and seeing the statement of 12:25 couched in the subjunctive in 12:24, thus the whole thing becomes an encouragement, the meat of which cannot be removed to make it into an imperative? Am I way off here? I don't see an imperative in the passage, so grammatically speaking, it seems that you may be reading the command back into the Greek because the English translation resembles a command. Correct me here if I am way - way - out to lunch. I am no Greek scholar, but I am clever and can understand context in a rudimentary way, I am assuming myself the student here, and yourself the instructor - I want to be sure that in seeing an imperative here, you're not actually sidestepping the Greek Grammar itself and reading into it a command because that is how it reads in the English. Forgive me if I am clumsy in this - I am (I hope) teachable.

I certainly agree with you - everything about this text (and the various other texts that speak to this matter) suggests that the early church assembled regularly - which is exactly what we would expect given that the brethren are known by the love that they show for one another. Who really can abandon those whom they truly love? We should expect therefore to see healthy believers congregating together as often as love and circumstance permit. Surely, they did meet on Sundays - I don't think anyone would (soberly) argue against that.

Furthermore, I would seriously pause over anyone who wears the name of Christ and doesn't desire to assemble regularly - are they backslidden? carnal? a false convert? Clearly, something is wrong - and in love our duty is to bear their burden where appropriate, to come alongside and encourage and where appropriate even admonish or rebuke - not that they are failing to assemble - that is just the symptom, but to get to the root problem - which is either going to be sin of some sort, immaturity, or insincerity.

Finally, how would one even hope to hear the message of Hebrews if they did not gather together?

You are preaching to the choir here. :-) I don't pretend that the early church didn't meet, or that the church shouldn't meet. I am concerned only that you seem to making a rule where there is only an encouragement. There is a world of difference between, "We love you, and miss you, and we want to see you restored into the body so that we all can benefit from the ministry God has given to you for this body" - and "If you don't come you are disobeying a command, and we will discipline you."

Discipline is not encouragement or exhortation - nor is it to be handled poorly - I am sure you would agree. We want to save discipline for those times when people are really apostate, and not just weak and immature.

Do you see activity in the local body to be optional?

I see activity in the local body as being either produced in one of two ways - one correct and healthy, and the other an utter failure. The former is activity that flows from genuine spiritual maturity, the latter, this same activity is mandated according to a set of rules - and whatever activity this obligation allows is forced, hypocritical, carnal, and merely an approximation of genuine Christianity.

Rather than build one another up so that we are not only able to, but willing to bear burdens - we want others to pull their weight - and are willing to bind burdens on those who are too weak or immature to rightly bear them. The pragmatic approach to church growth.

Is it not sin to disregard meeting together? If it is, then how can we violate that principle if there is no undergirding command?

As I mentioned above - not wanting to meet together only happens because there is sin elsewhere in the life of the believer - which itself points to a less mature walk with the Lord. Not wanting to meet therefore is diagnostic - it points out that there is a problem - sin; that problem may be there because of immaturity or even backsliding; but the failure to meet itself is not the sin - at least not according to my understanding of the scriptures.

And finally, why do you and I always wind up back at the law?:)

Pffft. ;-) Because we love the Lord and want to see Him glorified according to the light He has given us. We can't all be hands - there has to be a gall bladder - and that is probably me. ;-)

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Not too shabby

Sojourner said...

Daniel,

You wrote that you were replying to Matt, I think, but I believe the stuff that you were addressing is a result of my questions. This comment should come with a disclaimer *Warning! Greek Discussion to Ensue. Please Buckle Your Brain Belts Before the Ride Begins*

I am not a Greek expert. I have had the equivalent of two years of formal Greek, some independant study, and likely enough fallacies to fill the average sanctuary. So, I will defer to the experts here on the Subjunctive verb. It is, by the way, a tricky mood.

This is from Daniel Wallace's Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics:

Moods can be seen against the poles of actuvality vs. potentiality and cognition vs. volition. The indicative is primarily used for actuality, while the oblique moods usually remain in the realm of potentiality. Further, the imperative is the primary volitional mood. However, the subjunctive is also used for volitional notions quite freqently, in particular as a hortatory subjunctive and prohibitive subjunctive...In sum, the subjunctive is use to grammaticalize potentiality. It normally does so in the realm of cognitive probability, but may also be used for cognitive possibility (overlapping with the optative) or volitional intentionality (overlapping with the imperative. (Italics are in the original. Quote is found on page 463 of the 1996 edition.)

My point here is that the subjunctive does not necessarily rule out the fact that the verb in question in Hebrews 10:24 is indeed functioning as an imperative. It may be an exhortational imperative, but it is an imperative nonetheless.

Having said this, my reasoning for leaving such language in this letter, should I finally decide to, is because this letter is functioning primarily as a corrective document. I believe that exegetically and theologically the language of command is both justified and appropriate. In the end, however, the word "encouraged" is not bad, and might even be preferable if it weren't for my over-weening pride in the document and general disgruntlement at lax attendance..:-)

Daniel said...

Brad - Thanks for your understanding of the Greek. I have responded to it in email. The trouble, as you rightly identify - is that Greek syntax conversations make for poor meta filler.

Grace!