Southern Baptists: An Unfinished Denomination

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

A Display of Glory: The Wizard of Westwood, The Wisdom of God, and The Witness of Your Church

On June 4 of this year, coaching legend John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood died at the age of 99. He holds the unique place in college basketball history as the only coach to win 10 National Titles–including 7 in a row– and 4 undefeated seasons. At one point, his UCLA Bruins won 88 games straight.  He is hailed as college basketball’s greatest coach. No one has accomplished on the hardwood what John Wooden did.

But here is what is interesting: All of his exploits were accomplished by other people. As a coach, he never once, stepped on the floor, picked up the ball, or checked into the game. As a coach, he never had a triple-double, made a game-winning shot, or came through with a clutch free throw (though he could have: in his playing days, he once made 134 in a row). As a coach, he called the plays and led his team, but his authority was from the sidelines. So, his achievements, indeed his glory, was accomplished by and through others.

So it is in the church. God’s glory is not seen directly. We do not come to church to see God descend in a cloud or pillar of fire. We do not look for a mystical vision to experience God, nor do we anticipate a voice from heaven splitting the sky. That is not how God reveals himself in our age. Rather, when we speak of seeing God’s glory, Scripture calls us to see it in the life and ministry of the church.

This was Paul’s point in Ephesians 3:8-10. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives us some amazing insight into God’s intention for the church. And the first thing he says about the church is that it exists to display the grace and the wisdom of God.

In Ephesians 3:8, Paul says that grace was given to him as an apostle, so that he would preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. In this singular statement, you can see three keys elements of biblical theology–grace, the gospel, and glory.  Grace to proclaim God’s message, the message of the gospel, the gospel of God’s glorious riches in Christ. Paul continues and says that the reason why he was to preach the gospel of Christ was “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.”

Here Paul uses a term that he uses only in a couple places. The term is “Mystery” and it means something that was once hidden but now is revealed. It is not something mysterious or unknowable. The word should not be associated with a Whodunit novel or the “mystery meat” at your school cafeteria. Rather, it has to do with God’s plan of redemption which has finally been revealed in Christ and the church.

Ephesians 3:10 says, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places.” In other words, God’s purpose for the church is to broadcast his grace, wisdom, and power into the world. And not only to the world but to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. In other words, angels subscribe to TBN, or at least the church channel. As 1 Peter 1:12 tells us, “angels long to look into these things.” They are watching what Christ is doing in his Church, and they are learning about God’s glory.  Because remember: Angels cover their faces in the presence of God (cf Isaiah 6:1-8). In their sinless perfection, they cannot stand to behold his glory; it is too great. And for the those fallen angels, their appreciation is even less acute.  So “rulers and authorities” watch in amazement the church, some in awe, others in honor, but all watch to see the unfolding mystery of God’s wisdom in the church, a wisdom that reflects the glory and grace of God.

Therefore, as Christ’s church, we are called to live life as though we are in the display window of Christ’s department store. How we live will determine whether or not the world and our children want anything to do with Christ or not. This is no small matter!  How we constitute, assemble, and participate in our churches is not a peripheral item on God’s agenda.

God intends for us to display his glory and wisdom in our local assemblies, so we ought to do all we can, in the power of the Spirit, to be High-Definition, 3-D Wide Screens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and not a Black & White TV’s, with Rabbit Ears, and bad reception. Because the problem is not in the message of the gospel (cf Rom 1:16), but it may be how we receive it and display it on a weekly basis.

Here is the bottom line, if we are going to reach the lost, it means living more radical lives for Christ. And radical doesn’t mean bigger, cooler, and more events, programs, or activities. It doesn’t mean changing formats or improving advertising. It means picking up our cross daily and following after Christ– loving one another, doing life together, and carrying the message of the salvation to everyone we meet, losing our lives so that others might gain life in Christ.

If we do that, we will display the wisdom of God as all of our daily activities testify to the gospel of Christ and give off the pleasing aroma of his grace.

May God be pleased to purify his bride in our generation, as we seek to display his grace and wisdom to a watching world!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Genuine Convert: The Fourth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

When I was in high school, my family moved into a new home, and lets just say, “It was a fixer-upper.”  I’ll never forget waking up the first morning in that ranch-style house and laying for what seemed like hours, hiding under the blankets as flies landed on my head.  Gross!  The floors were torn up with nails jutting out and the kitchen walls were covered with years of baked on grease, tobacco smoke, and other browning agents.  While my parents owned the home and the property had been transferred to them, it was evident that they had only just begun in their cleanup process.

With our relationship with God, we find something similar.  When the Triune God ransoms a sinner from the throws of hell and saves him or her from a life enslaved to sin, the condition of that sinner’s “house” is in a word: Wretched!!  Much worse than my high school abode.  Nevertheless, the transfer of property is certani, and the conversion process is permanent.  Powerful changes will be forthcoming.

Over time, just as my family cleared out and cleaned up that dirty house, so the Holy Spirit comes into the life of a believer and gives us him or her a new priority for God’s word, a new appetite for holiness, a new love for others, and a new power to walk with God–just to name a few of the changes.  All in all, the life-changing effects of conversion are visibly evident, and as the Bible teaches this is part of God’s design.  The one-time purchase is necessarily followed by a life-time of Christian growth and sanctification.  The moment of conversion results in a myriad of Spirit-filled changes.

In this weeks chapter, Pastor Thabiti touches on this important but often neglected truth — Genuine Conversion.  As the fourth mark of a healthy church member, he sets a course to consider the reality of our conversion and to challenge us to know for sure that God has in fact moved in.  From his helpful admonitions, let me give you five ways to meditate on genuine conversion and ways you can encourage others who are clinging to Christ by faith.

1. Read 1 John and consider your own conversion experience.  On page 55, Thabiti provides a helpful set of diagnostic questions.  Take time to read the Scriptures and consider them.

  1. Do you walk in the light or in the darkness (1 John 1:6-7)?
  2. Do you love God the Father or do we appear to love the world (1 John 2:15)?
  3. Do you love other Christians (1 John 3:14-15; 18-19; 5:1)?
  4. Do you have the testimony of the Holy Spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:24b)?
  5. Are you persevering in the faith (1 John 5:4-5)?

2. Invite another mature member to point out blindspots in our Christian walk.   God’s word instructs us that fellow Christians should spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24), likewise that we should speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15).  Yet, we should not only do this, we should also invite a trusted friend and church member to do this, by asking them to point out areas of weakness and growth.  Of course, this requires humility and a willing spirit, but the fruits of this discipline are invaluable.  

3. Make a habit of recognizing the grace of God in others.  From a great distance, I have been challenged to do this by C.J. Mahaney.  C.J.’s radical commitment to humble himself by laboring to build up others is a model for us all– see his Humility: True Greatness.  His “others-first” mentality is only sustained by the Holy Spirit, and results in a genuine humility and gratefulness that reflects the Son of God himself.  This however, is not an exceptional kind of Christian behavior evidenced in rare Christians, it rather available to anyone who is indwelt and empowered by the Spirit.

4. With another member, set a goal to read a book about genuine conversion.  There are so many good books on conversion, salvation, and how to know the spiritual condition of one’s relationships with God.  Let me commend three:  John Piper’s Finally Alive is a basic and powerful look at conversion and the doctrine of the new birth; Stephen Smallman’s What is True Conversion? is recommended by Pastor Thabiti and looks to be a helpful, 32-page introduction to the realities of conversion; and Donald Whitney’s Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health is another reliable tool to discern the condition of your heart. 

5. With humility, patience, and love, pray for and pursue a member of your church who is walking away from Christ.   James 5:19-20 reads, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”  There is nothing more loving you could do than to pray for and gently pursue a fellow church member who is drifting from the Lord.  Perhaps they have been offended and need encouragement or exhortation to make amends and be reconciled; perhaps they have been deceived and ensnared by Satan and need a word of truth to free them; perhaps they have simply grown tired and discouraged and need the loving reminder that God loves carried to them by a compassionate friend.  Whatever it is, we will not know until we go.  And Scripture is clear: We are to be our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper.  We are not to be like Cain who shed his brother’s blood, but rather like our Master Jesus Christ, we are to shed our blood for the sake of others (cf. Col. 1:24ff).

This weeks action points are the most challenging thus far– not because of their intellectual difficulty, they are pretty simple to understand– but because they demand so much from us!  In truth, it is only the genuinely converted person who would even want to attempt these things, and who in fact has the humility and power to do them.  Yet, if these action points confront you as hard, do not be discouraged.  Simply turn to the Lord who has sufficient power to make his calling and election sure in your life and to add good deeds to your faith (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11).  

Soli Deo Gloria, dss