The Motion Carries

On Sunday, September 19, the members of Richmond’s First Baptist Church voted to change their membership policy to allow committed Christians from other denominations to become full members of the church without having to be re-baptized.  The meeting took place during the Sunday school hour.  One amendment (requiring believer’s baptism but not immersion) was considered but not approved.  691 people voted on the main motion by secret ballot.  464 of those (67.15%) were in favor of the change,  221 (31.98%) were opposed, and 6 ballots could not be determined either way.

Senior Pastor Jim Somerville commented:

For Baptists, membership is a matter of local church autonomy.  No pope, or bishop, or even the pastor gets to decide who can be a member of a local Baptist church.  And although the deacons can make a recommendation, in the end it is the congregation that gets to decide.

Today the congregation of Richmond’s First Baptist Church did just that.  The answer to the question of whether committed Christians from other denominations could become full members without having to be re-baptized was yes.

At the beginning of this process I expressed my hope that, no matter what the outcome, we would spend some time thinking deeply about what it means to be baptized and what it means to be a member.  We have certainly done that.  Now it is my hope that we will be the kind of members who can accept the outcome of this vote and go forward together.  While a two-thirds majority is decisive, it is not a landslide.  We were closer to the same mind on this matter than we knew.  Now it is my hope that we can share the same heart, and get on with the crucial work of putting God’s love into action. 

I am grateful for the spirit in which this decision was made, and for the remarkable body of believers that is Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  I learned today that there are Baptists in the world who can disagree without being disagreeable—who can speak their mind, vote their conscience, and move on to more important things.

God bless them, every one.

—September 19, 2010

5 thoughts on “The Motion Carries

  1. Well, at this point. my only question would be: having been baptized twice and confirmed once, does this make me “Holier than thou?” ;> ‘Scuse me, couldn’t resist!

  2. Now that it’s settled for the time being, (at least!) we can get on with God’s work of bringing heaven to Richmond, and wherever else we have the energy and resources to take it! I said at our “talk back” session that without a personal clue as to what the vote would be, I believed that Whatever the decision was, it would be made through God’s leadership, and that I do believe we can live in love, and get on with the work of His kingdom. I am very grateful to our entire ministerial staff for the grace with which this discussion has occurred, and to those folks who can hold different perspectives, but still love each other and our Lord and get on in our personal paths of service.

  3. Thanks Betty Ann, my sentiments exactly. It is my hope that we will all become so busy working in ministries for which we have passion and heart that our differences will seem insignificant. So, let’s rollup our sleeves and get busy with God’s work in the world. There is much to do!

  4. Thank you, Jim, for leading us and teaching us and guiding us through this process.

    I think I agree with you, that baptism is a symbol; it’s not what makes us Baptists, or Christians. Sprinkling or dunking under water does not make us a member of a church. Membership is extremely important, because the privileges of membership are vital in making a Christian effective and involved. I think this is even more true for families with children. As a parent, I would want to be able to have a say in how my kids were taught.

    My husband is Jewish, and we’re raising our kids in the Jewish faith. Does the synagogue exclude me from being a member because I’m Christian? No, they don’t! I am grateful to be a member of Or Ami, because I feel like my voice is heard, and I have some say in the teaching of my children, and I can share in their development and growth.

    Membership is academic. It is administrative. It is not theology. However, it is important. To exclude is not Christian (and not Jewish either!). A church is not a club, or a fraternity. It is a family, and family loves unconditionally.

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