Decades ago, Evangelist Fred Brown said that he feared that a high percentage of members of Independent Baptist churches were not born again. And Lee Roberson, pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church, said that he thought that not even 50% were saved.
There are many different types of mixed multitude churches, some much stronger than others. The percentage of the members who are true disciples of Christ as defined by Christ Himself (John 8:31; 10:27), might be 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, even 60%. But no mixed multitude church requires that a person give evidence of being a true disciple of Christ before baptism and membership.
The mixed multitude philosophy is like fishing with a net. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind” (Mt. 13:47). As net fishing is non-discriminatory, dragging in everything that is caught, so the mixed multitude church accepts pretty much anyone who professes Christ and expresses interest in membership.
The discipling church is like fishing with a single rod under strict regulations. Each catch is examined for species, sex, size, weight, and quality. Again, we’re not talking about some kind of sinless perfection or 100% lordship or any such thing. We are simply talking about new life in Christ that results in New Testament discipleship. We’re talking about those who hear Christ’s voice and follow Him (Joh. 10:27).
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., observed: “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, much less to each other. ... Consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and congregational engineering, most churches leave moral matters to the domain of the individual conscience” (“Church Discipline: The Missing Mark,” chapter 8 of The Compromised Church, edited by John H. Armstrong, 1998).
I don’t remember hearing the word “disciple” growing up as a Southern Baptist, and I have rarely heard it as an Independent Baptist, except in the context of a “discipleship” course.
The mixed multitude philosophy has been modeled by the vast majority of Independent Baptist churches since at least the late 1960s.
The mixed multitude philosophy was summarized to me by a pastor with 40 years of church planting experience. He said, “A church’s membership is typically composed of 10% who are with the pastor and the church’s program, 10% who are opposed, and 80% who could go either way.”
Even if you change the numbers to something like 40% for, 10% opposed, and 50% in the middle, this is still not a New Testament church.
Anything less than a vast majority of real disciples of Christ in a church membership is a mixed multitude.
Marks of a Mixed Multitude
Following are some of the evidences and characteristics of a mixed multitude church. The bottom line is that in a mixed multitude church, true disciples of Christ are only a small percentage of the membership.
A mixed multitude is evident in church attendance.
This has long been the situation in Southern Baptist churches. According to a 1997 study by Southern Baptist Sunday School Board, only 32.8% of the 16 million SBC church members even bother to show up on a given Sunday morning and only 12.3% participate in any further aspect of church life. “These figures suggest that nearly 90% of Southern Baptist church members appear to be little different from the ‘cultural Christians’ who populate mainline denominations” (Founder’s Journal, Feb. 7, 1999).
“Let me illustrate in rounded figures by looking at some of the churches where I have preached as a guest speaker. Each could be any Baptist church in any city. ... [One] church had 2,100 on the roll, with 725 coming on Sunday morning. Remove guests and non-member children and the figure drops to 600 or less. Only about a third of that number came out on Sunday evening, representing less than 10% of the membership. Yet another church had 310 on the roll with only 100 who attended on Sunday morning. Only 30-35, or approximately 10%, came to the evening worship service” (Jim Elliff, president of Christian Communicators Worldwide, in an article entitled “Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination,” www.ccwonline.org/sbc.html).
This has also been true in most large Independent Baptist churches. For example, in the 1970s and 1980s, Highland Park had a membership of more than 50,000, but it had about 4,000 in the Sunday morning services. The same was true of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.
In contrast, Baptist churches in the early 19th century typically had far more in attendance than in the membership.
“The children of members were present but rarely were seen as fit subjects for baptism and church membership prior to their teenage years. Moreover, many adults would regularly attend but not seek church membership because the standards associated with membership and a regenerate life were daunting to them. A church with 100 members might well have 200 to 300 attendees” (Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, Kindle loc. 209).
We must hasten to add that church membership itself is not an evidence that a person is a disciple of Christ. Multitudes of people are faithful to church services who do not give evidence of being a disciple of Christ in their daily lives. I personally know and have met hundreds of such people.
Some people enjoy church services almost as a form of entertainment, particularly when the church has an excellent music program and good preaching, which is still true of a good number of churches.
A mixed multitude is evident in the church members’ relationship with the Bible.
In a mixed multitude church, the average member does not have a passionate relationship with God’s Word. He doesn’t continue in the Word (Joh. 8:31). He doesn’t hear Christ’s voice (Joh. 10:27).
A large percentage of the members don’t even have a daily Bible study habit.
If they do read the Bible, it is more like a rote ritual, something to get out of the way as quickly as possible so they can check that box. They don’t have a real passion to learn it. They aren’t interested in obtaining and using study tools. They don’t make the effort to learn how to interpret the Bible. I think of a church member I talked to recently who told me that his daily Bible study consisted of reading a couple of verses.
In my experience, the biblical ignorance of the average church member is shocking. We put together the “Bible Knowledge Test” as a tool that pastors can use to know the condition of their flocks. This is not a test of advanced knowledge. It is a test of basic knowledge, but in my experience, the average member of the average Independent Baptist church would fail it miserably.
See “Bible Knowledge Test”
A mixed multitude is evident in the attitude of church members during the teaching and preaching.
In a mixed multitude church, a large percentage of the members show no sign of wanting to capture a message from God for their lives. They never write down anything. They treat the messages more like a ritual to be endured or an entertainment to be enjoyed. Many don’t even look at their Bibles.
In contrast, consider the following testimony from a true disciple:
“When I got saved at age 24, I realized that there was a lot missing from my childhood, since I grew up in a weak church. When I found a good church, the strong preaching was like honey to me. Being in a church that preached the truth was just like the Bible says; it was like honey. I just ate it up and tried to apply it.”
If a church has only a few people like this, it is a mixed multitude church rather than a church of disciples.
A mixed multitude is evident in the youth.
In a mixed multitude church, only a small percentage of the youth are disciples of Christ. They don’t hear Christ’s voice and follow Him as Christ’s true sheep (John 10:27). They make a profession of Jesus as Saviour, but they aren’t earnestly seeking God’s’ perfect will, don’t walk in sweet fellowship with Him, aren’t serious Bible students, aren’t making their decisions based on God’s Word, and aren’t diligently separating from the evil things of the world from the heart.
A mixed multitude is evident in the prayer meetings.
In a mixed multitude church, only a small percentage of the members show up for prayer meetings. I have seen this in the vast majority of churches I have preached in.
Prayer is the heart of a church, and it shows the heart of a church. Real disciples of Christ continue in prayer (Acts 2:42), and I don’t believe that a real disciple would dream of skipping prayer meetings.
A mixed multitude is evident in the church members’ passions.
In the mixed multitude church, a large percentage of the members love the things of the world as passionately as unbelievers do (e.g., music, music videos, movies, professional sports, video games, worldly literature, sensual social media, the world’s clothing fashions).
What people are passionate about is witnessed by the content of and use of their cell phones.
It is witnessed by the content of their social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter).
It is witnessed by what they spend their money on, and what they do with their free time, and what they do when they are alone.
A mixed multitude is evident in the church members’ conversations.
“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Mt. 12:34).
“The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness” (Pr. 15:14).
In a mixed multitude church, a large number of the members don’t naturally talk about Christ and the things of God. They talk about foolish things (not wise) and vain things (no eternal value) and out-and-out worldly things.
One man described his church as follows: “Most of the men stand around and talk about sports, going on cruise ships, going to Disney, etc. and when I walk up and want to talk about things of the Lord Jesus Christ, they stand there and have no idea what I’m talking about and normally walk off. I can only think of two men who will talk to me about things of the Lord.”
In contrast, disciples of Christ are described by Malachi:
“Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name” (Mal. 3:16).
A mixed multitude has become the status quo. A great many pastors are content with it. Few seem to be concerned enough to re-evaluate tradition to see why the typical church is so weak and whether there is a better, more scriptural path.
But this is exactly what we must do. The flood tide of compromise and worldliness and apostasy is sweeping down upon us from every direction, enhanced by end-time technology, a sensual global pop culture, and social media, and only a thorough-going New Testament church will stand.
A New Testament Church Is a Church of Disciples
Everywhere in the New Testament we see a church membership composed of disciples. We see the true Christian described as a born again disciple. We see an emphasis on evidence of salvation. We see warnings about Christians who do not show clear evidence of salvation. We see the church as a discipling institution.
If need be, I had far rather have a membership composed of ten disciples than 500 lukewarm. Ten disciples is a powerful start to a strong church, whereas 500 lukewarm are nothing.
Again, we’re not talking about any kind of perfect Christian discipleship or any kind of “100% lordship.”
And we are not forgetting the issue of spiritual growth. A new Christian is a babe in Christ and must grow (1 Pe. 2:1-2), and growing is a process that continues throughout the entire life (2 Pe. 3:18).
But even a babe in Christ is a new creature who has been spiritually raised from the dead, brought out of darkness into light, and has new life in Christ, and this is a powerful transformation that can be seen.
The bottom line is what kind of church do we see in the Word of God?
The Church at Jerusalem
A church of disciples is described in Acts 2:41-47:
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
This is the first church, and it is the pattern for all churches throughout the age.
Some of the characteristics of that church, such as apostolic signs and having property in common (verses 43-33), were temporary.
The permanent characteristics are found in verses 41-42 and 47.
The members were saved (Ac. 2:41). There was a clear new birth conversion experience. The before and after of their conversion was dramatic. Before Pentecost, they rejected Jesus as Christ and were fearful to confess His name, but now they gladly and publicly received Him as Lord and Saviour, and they were willing to bear before the Hebrew nation the reproach of being a follower of “Jesus of Nazareth.” This is what we look for in our church work. We don’t look for anything more or less than life-changing salvation.
The members were committed and faithful (Ac. 2:42). They “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” This was serious Christianity. These were real disciples from day one of their Christian lives. They were faithful, zealous, persistent.
The church’s membership continued to grow through regeneration (Ac. 2:47). The members are described as “saved.”
This is what happened to me in the summer of 1973. I had a dramatic conversion experience. My life was turned around and my feet were set on a different course.
In contrast, many churches today are mixed multitudes of saved and unsaved, hot, cold, and lukewarm, faithful and unfaithful. Pastor Bob Kirkland says,
“Two thousand years ago when someone was baptized, publicly professing their faith in Christ, they were willing to die for the Lord. We don’t have that situation today [in North America]; however, no one should be considered a member of the Lord’s local church today who is not willing to live for Him. At our church we require all members to be faithful to the services. Potential members are taught that they have the same responsibility to the church that the pastor has. If the pastor misses a service to watch some sports activity on television or to visit family, the people should find a new pastor. If a church member skips church for something like that, the church member should be instructed to get in line or find a church that allows a cheap membership. If the church that Christ ‘purchased with his own blood’ is no more than an add-on in life, it is an insult to the Lord.”
The above is excerpted from THE DISCIPLING CHURCH: THE CHURCH THAT WILL STAND UNTIL CHRIST COMES. ISBN 978-1-58318-227-7. New for March 2017. This church manual aims to establish churches on a solid biblical foundation of a regenerate church membership, one mind in doctrine and practice, serious discipleship, thorough-going discipline, and a large vision for world evangelism. We examine the New Testament pattern of a discipling church, and we trace the history of Baptist churches over the past 200 years to document the apostasy away from the biblical pattern to a mixed multitude philosophy. We also document the history of “sinner’s prayer” evangelism which has affected the reality of a regenerate church membership. The book deals with biblical salvation with evidence, care in receiving church members, the church’s essential first love for Christ, the right kind of church leaders, the right kind of preaching, training church members to be Bible students, the many facets of church discipline, building strong families, youth ministry, training preachers, charity, reproof, educating the church for spiritual protection, maintaining standards for workers, the church’s prayer life, the church’s separation, spiritual revival, the church’s music, and many other things. The last chapter documents some of the cultural factors that have weakened churches over the past 100 years, including the theological liberalism, public school system, materialism and working mothers, the rock & roll pop culture, pop psychology, the feminist movement, New Evangelicalism, television, and the Internet. There is also a list of recommended materials for a discipling church. Dr. Don Jasmin, editor of The Fundamentalist Digest, says, “The book The Discipling Church is well named. It is loaded with Scriptural exposition, Scriptural explanation, and Scriptural edification. This spiritually rich volume covers almost every phase of a genuine Biblically discipling church. Every pastor should procure this spiritually enriching treasury, one which a preacher will readily consult for valuable assistance and counsel in seeking to maintain a Scripturally balanced N. T. ministry.” Available from www.wayoflife.org
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