Dr. Mark Dever, Pastor Capitol Hill Baptist Church
(Excerpted from an interview):
Yeah, it made a good teaching tool with the congregation, so I could begin, say, taking members on the basis of whether or not they would assent to the statement of faith, and they would pledge themselves to live as this church covenant said. So we began with those kinds of changes, and then we also tried to begin encouraging people to come along to the services, to understand the differences between the services. We made some changes in the Sunday night and the Wednesday night services. We revised the church covenant, because there were one or two things in it that were required, but which were not required by the Bible. And so if we were actually going to use the covenant as an active document it had to be biblical. We had to be able to defend it from Scripture. So, after we revised that covenant, then we were in the position to begin asking people to either sign it, well, forget the either, just to sign it in order to be a member of the church. And so, in the Spring of 96, we went through a several month process of weeding through our church membership and getting our membership from about 500 down to about 250. When we dismissed at one members meeting, back in May of 96, I cant remember, about 256 members, I think. I think that was a crucial point for the church. I think the church began to understand that someone isnt saved by having their name on the members list. Someone is saved by having a relationship with Christ, and if theyre not evidently living that out in front of us, its not appropriate for them to be a member. It doesnt mean we dont think theyre not a Christian, it just means were not in a position as a church to know. So, if youre interested, you can certainly contact the Center for Church Reform to find out more about how we specifically did that.
I know other churches have done this as well. We didnt just drop a lot of people, though. We tried to contact them as part of exercising careful pastoral duties. We tried to take the commitment they had made, sometimes 30, 40, 50 years earlier to join the church, we tried to take that seriously in the way we dealt with them. Even by doing that, to try to teach the church membership something about what it meant to be a member of the church, something about the seriousness of it, at that members meeting, I wanted to read every single name, separately, and we read the first couple, and one member of the church raised her hand, and said, But Dr. Dever, we know where those boys are! Those boys, by the way, being in their mid-40s. And the chairman of the deacons at the time leaned forward and responded with great wit, in a way that I think helped us do the rest of the list, Yes, maam, but the problem doesnt seem to be that we dont know where they are but that they dont know where we are. And everyone laughed and they could immediately see the problem, and so we went ahead and we did that. And since that time, we have revised our church constitution and just continuing on with changes and reforming direction. When I say changes and reforming direction, I mean theres nothing were doing that hasnt been done in Baptist churches 100, 150 years ago. Were not doing anything thats in that sense, particularly unusual.