Kenneth Starr is now a Baptist. Well, at least a member of a Baptist church. He’s now a member of Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco, which is fulfilling a promise to join a Baptist congregation once assuming the presidency of Baylor University.

This shouldn’t be all that noteworthy, from the standpoint that people join Baptist churches each Sunday all across the country. Each church has its own membership requirements or expectations and presents prospective members to the church for approval. Very rarely will a request for membership be denied. So, this in and of itself shouldn’t be all that unusual.

What is unusual is that this church approved Starr for membership without his being in attendence. I guess this is being approved for membership “in absentia.” I wasn’t certain from the article that he had attended the church a time or two before asking to be part of the fellowship. I can only assume that is the case, and since this is a local church issue don’t have a particular interest in this development.

Except to say that I wonder how this might influence other persons to join Baptist churches. After all, Starr is the president of the largest Baptist institution in the world, and one might think that he would be aware of the example is he setting for fellow faculty, students, and interested Baptist observers like myself. Plus the fact he is becoming a fellow Baptist and from that standpoint I think more should have been expected.

There is nothing in Scripture that mandates “walking the aisle” to join a church of any kind, but this practice has been in place among Baptist churches for a very long time. The invitation to follow Christ is a public one, and closely akin to that is membership with a local body of believers who should be able to see whom they are approving for membership.

I don’t understand why the president of Baylor University could not have waited to be present on a Sunday morning (or another meeting time) in order to present himself for membership. This would have been a powerful statement about the value of membership and that even the president of a Baptist school thinks it is important enough to stand before the local church and request membership for himself. This is not a case of being physically unable to be present due to illness or being “homebound” which is another discussion altogether.

Perhaps this will usher in a new wave of joining Baptist church by “text” or “tweet” or email.

This is one area of Baptist life where I believe a personal appearance is important. There are enough “members” of our Baptist churches who don’t attend at all, so I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that there are now those who are wanting membership in the church who don’t even attend in the first place for a membership request. This isn’t your average church goer we’re talking about, but the leader of Baylor University.

If there is a teachable moment related to Starr’s denominational name change, it would be that there are thousands of so called church members of Baptist churches who joined at one point in their lives but now don’t darken the doors of the building. Perhaps there is an opportunity to promote a higher standard and expectation for God’s people who consider themselves members of a Baptist congregation. Membership ought to mean something, not just something to say we “belong” to a church to satisfy a job prerequisite or make business contacts in the community. There is a sense of security among some people to say they belong to a church even though they don’t even attend. Billy Graham held his membership at FBC Dallas for years, even though he hardly attended. If we all had his excuse, however, the world would be a much better place. 

The weightier matter might be, not only for Starr, but for other persons joining Baptist churches as well, that it is just as important to be present after your membership approval as it is for your membership approval.