Yesterday, I posted an article on the SBC : “Southern Baptists: An Unregenerate Denomination.” If left to that singular reflection, it might be assumed that by my assessment, the Southern Baptist Convention is in great peril or that I am a cantankerous critic. However, I think there is great reason for hope in our convention. And in spite of the millions of missing Southern Baptists, I think God has mercifully provided for the SBC and revealed once again that he loves those who do not deserve it.
Let me mention just a few of the encouraging things that I see (from my myopically-small point of view) which should be indicators of encouragement, or as C.J. Mahaney likes to call them, “evidences of grace.”
First, before taking my post as pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour, IN, I had the wonderful privilege of helping coordinate the graduation ceremonies at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. It was like I got to plan a party for a thousand people three times a year. Fun! However, the real joy was in seeing more than 500 graduates sent out into the convention and to the nations each year. The graduation of these God-called and trained ministers means that God is replenishing his churches. As these graduates have had the privilege of sitting under some of the best Christian scholars in the world, they are now going out ready to minister, by God’s grace, to a lost and dying world. And Southern is only one of six Southern Baptist Seminaries that are graduating faithful and equipped men and women. While this does not assure success, because not every graduate is uniformly committed to God’s call; it is an encouraging as we look to the near future.
May God be pleased to use such institutions now, as he has in the past (for an excellent testimony of how God uses solidly-evangelical seminaries, read the first two chapters of The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray).
Second, the ministry of Mark Dever (IX Marks) among Southern Baptist churches and ministers has been a salubrious antidote to the bloated results of too many church growth strategies. It is not by accident that Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC is now bursting at the seems with young Christians and has trained and sent out dozens of young men who are committed to the centrality and the purity of the church. In time and by God’s grace, these pastors-to-be will have a powerful effect on revitalizing “dead” churches. 9 Marks books, conferences, weekenders, and online resources have influenced thousands of pastors to take seriously the role of the church.
Calling attention to 9 biblical, but oft neglected, marks of a healthy church– expositional preaching, biblical theology, biblical conversion, biblical evangelism, biblical leadership, biblical discipleship, church discipline, rightly defining and proclaiming the gospel, and church membership–will surely meet opposition in Sardis-like churches (Rev 3:1), but they are key ingredients to seeing God’s glory in the local church again (Eph 3:8-10). Joining his ranks are the ministries of Tom Ascol, Johnny Hunt, and countless unnamed church leaders who have invested in training pastors to cherish disciple-making more than numbers inflation.
Third, this years Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Florida was filled with hope-giving activity. For starters, the Great Commission Resurgence was received and passed with overwhelming support (75-80%). While all the details of this will be worked out in the following years, it means that Southern Baptists are wanting to put their money where their mouth is–namely the Great Commission. The strong support of this motion indicates self-sacrifice and a willingness to reevaluate the ways we are doing ministry today.
Additionally, at the SBC, the list of resolutions that were passed by the convention were very encouraging. The first resolution was “On the Centrality of the Gospel,” the second emphasized the need for greater “Family Worship,” and the third addressed the “Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce.” Each of the reflect the heart of SBC pastors to lead their churches towards greater gospel-centrality, greater family discipleship, and greater accountability to Scripture. May God be pleased to bring these resolutions to reality.
Fourth, and finally, I am encouraged by the leading spokesmen of our convention, those who possess great conviction and commitment to the gospel. Younger pastors like David Platt and Matt Chandler are pressing Baptists young and old to suffer joyfully for the sake of the gospel; while seasoned pastors and theologians like Johnny Hunt, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, and Danny Akin, are leading our denomination towards greater gospel precision and more fervent great commission vision. I pray that new SBC President Bryant Wright will have the same vision and commitment to the gospel.
For all these reasons and more, I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention is an UNFINISHED DENOMINATION. It is not perfect, but it is petitioning God to work in us, and there are evidences that Christ is answering prayer. This is why I am glad to be called a Southern Baptist.
Going forward, I hope and pray and believe that the Conservative Resurgence of the last three decades has great potential to cause a Great Commission Resurgence and Gospel Advance in the years ahead. Still, it won’t just be the leaders in denominational offices that will bring change in local churches; it will be the bi-vocational pastors in small churches faithfully preaching the word of God and the lay leaders who sacrifice their time to invest in the lives of others. It will be the result of the Spirit of God to grip our hearts to do what Paul said so long ago, “to entrust [the gospel] to faithful men [and women] who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). It will take a grass-roots movement of gospel-breathing people, living for the sake of Christ’s name, at the expense of their own. May God be pleased to do that in our generation!
May we who preach the word do so with boldness and consistency, and may we all hear the word with openness and anticipation of what God can do in a people radically surrendered to him. May we not simply point fingers at others, may we examine our hearts (2 Cor 13:5) and show ourselves to be approved before God.
Lord Christ, galvanize your churches in the Southern Baptist Convention and throughout the world. Unify us as a cooperative army of gospel-centered churches, wherein the grace of God is proclaimed and the glory of God is displayed.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss