On Baptism and Children

baptism1A recurring question that all pastors will face is this: Pastor, will you baptize my child? With the (all-too-common, but misguided) pressure to please parents and their young child, it is vital for pastors and churches to know what they believe about baptism and children. For parents too, when little Johnny shows interest in baptism, what should you do?

These are vital questions and ones that have received no little attention among Christians committed to believer’s baptism. To find good answers, we don’t need to recreate the wheel. We simply need to know where to turn. Therefore, in what follows, I have listed a number of helpful articles to help you and I think through this important issue.

A Biblical, Pastoral, Denominational, and Parental Perspective by Jason Allen

In a recent blog, Jason Allen (President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) urges pastors and parents (and the SBC, as well) to “joyfully and wholeheartedly press the accelerator on the gospel while tapping the brakes on the baptistery.” He rightly affirms the fact that it is wise and pastorally-sensitive to affirm children in their desires to follow Christ but to be slow in moving them towards baptism. Since “we must remember it requires more than agreeing to facts about Jesus to be saved,” it is unwise to baptize a young child, simply because they might be able to affirm the plan of salvation. Let me encourage you to read the whole thing.

“Reforming Baptism and Church Membership” by John Hammett (in Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches)

In his excellent book on Baptist ecclesiology, John Hammett, professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary gives sage counsel on baptism as it relates to children. He writes,

Caution is especially appropriate in the case of very young children. Anyone who works with children knows that five-year-olds will readily ask Jesus into their hearts, but until very recently Baptist would never have considered baptizing them. Believers baptism was seen as virtually synonymous with adult baptism. To request baptism was regarded as a decision requiring a fair degree of maturity. For a church to grant it was to welcome the person into the responsibilities of church membership, which would include participation in the governance of the church, which seems inappropriate in the case of preschoolers. Overseas most Baptists delay baptism until the teenage years, but it is difficult to avoid arbitrariness in setting any specific minimum age for baptism. (Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 122)

While it is true that delaying baptism does add a measure of subjectivity, if not arbitrariness, he lists at least four reasons for delaying.

Continue reading

The 2014 Southern Baptist Convention

sbc14logoartFor two days in Baltimore this past week (June 10–11), 5,294 Southern Baptists (plus guests and children) met to spur one another on in the Lord and discuss business pertaining to the Southern Baptist Convention. (See this earlier post for more information on the SBC).

Representing our church, Wendy and I had the joy of hearing what God is doing all over the world among Southern Baptists. Let me share a few of these things with you.

The Resolutions

In total, messengers adopted nine resolutions ranging from payday lending to church revitalization to the celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Resolutions are statements adopted by the convention that speak with biblical conviction about beliefs that Southern Baptists share in common.

The most important resolution, and the one you are likely to hear misrepresented in the media concerns transgender identity. Denny Burk, along with Andrew Walker, made a proposal that Southern Baptists should treat with compassion those who adopted transgender identity, but that in no way should we permit or condone such behavior. Since transgender acceptance has reached a tipping point in our culture, according to Time magazine’s recent cover story, it is worth your time to read the resolution. Although, this resolution has received secular condemnation, it is a vital statement about the gospel and God’s good design for humanity as male and female.  Continue reading

The SBC: Part Business Meeting, Part Revival, Part Circus

sbcA week from today Southern Baptists from all over the world will convene in Baltimore, Maryland to stir one another up to love and good deeds, discuss business, and eat lots of food—probably seafood, this year. My family I will be some of them—unless an earlier-than-expected delivery arrives.

On Sunday, I shared, through our church newsletter, what the Southern Baptist is and why they should try to go to it at some point in the future. I share the same brief history with you and why (if you are a Southern Baptist) you should go to the SBC.

What is the Southern Baptist Convention?

A few years ago, when still in seminary, and before I’d been to a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I asked a friend, whose father was at one time a seminary president: What is the Southern Baptist Convention like? Here’s what he said, “It is part business meeting, part revival, part circus.” Hmmm. Really? Continue reading

Hyper-Calvinism is Not Calvinism

Hyper-Calvinism is not the same as an excited Calvinist. Too often these two things are confused and it takes a bit of time to explain the difference.

On that note, Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church (Cape Coral, FL) , has written a helpful piece on the difference between soteriological Calvinism (i.e., Calvinism as it relates to the doctrine of salvation) and hyper-Calvinism. He makes the clarification based on the recent and lamentable confusion by President of Louisiana College, Joe Aguillard, at the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston (see the video here).

Ascol makes the interesting and important point that hyper-Calvinists and Arminians are closer in theology than they might perceive themselves to be. He describes how Arminians and hyper-Calvinists both demand that man’s responsibility is coextensive with his ability.  In other words, if a man can’t than he doesn’t have to.  To this error in judgment, Ascol observes, Continue reading

Encouraged by the Convention’s Consensus: Highlights from the SBC

For two days earlier this week (June 11-12), 5,100 Southern Baptist messengers filled the halls of the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.  For those two days, plus the preceding days of the Pastor’s Conference, pastors, convention leaders, and other missions-minded Baptists heard reports and discussed numerous issues ranging from the Boy Scouts, to church planting, to finding ways to work together to reach the lost with the message of the gospel.

As Dave Miller, Second Vice President of this year’s SBC, has observed there was a sweet, unified Spirit.  Few were the public disagreements; plenty were the calls for prayer, Great Commission advancement, strategic use of finances, and the willingness to work together for the sake of the lost.

As always, it was a joy to visit with old friends and to meet new ones.  Still the thing that was most outstanding during these days was the unified spirit expressed by Calvinism Advisory Committee. Leading up to the convention much speculation was offered concerning what this nineteen-person committee  would report to the SBC. It is with great joy to see the consensus statement,  Truth, Trust, Testimony in a Time of Tension, issued a few weeks ago. At the convention, this optimism was furthered by watching the way that these “alpha males” (Frank Page’s words, not mine) and one lady worked together with charity and passion for the gospel.

Therefore, as I lay out some of the highlights from the convention, please excuse the focus on this report and its effects. It was to me, and others I spoke with, a great source of encouragement. To see Eric Hankins and Paige Patterson working with Mark Dever and Albert Mohler is a model for the rest of us. I pray that the effect of their statement and Houston’s convention may bear lasting fruit for the sake of the gospel.  Accordingly, we list their Q & A first and follow with the other highlights.

  • Just before lunch on Monday, twelve of the nineteen members of the Calvinism Advisory Team met for a Q & A. During this time, the audience was invited to ask questions, and over the course of an hour, it was evident that the very diverse group had a genuine care for each other and desire to see soteriological Calvinists and Traditionalists (non-Calvinists) work together for the advancement of the gospel. To date there is not an audio of that event, but there is a Baptist Press article that nicely summarizes a number of the key responses.
  • Contrast this diversified but unified group with the Baptist Twenty-One interview conducted with President of Louisana College (LC), Joe Aguillard. At the request of this embroiled President, John Akin spent close to an hour asking some hard-hitting questions about the hiring practices and firing decisions at LC. He discussed the sufficiency of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, who has the right to determine its interpretation, and the nature of hyper-Calvinism. If you are looking for clear answers to each question, you will be disappointed. However, if you are looking to find out why the school is experiencing such trouble with Calvinism,  the interview will make it plain. Fortunately, the negative and often unintelligible sentiments expressed by President Aguillard were drowned out by the clearer and more charitable sentiments of men like Eric Hankins and Albert Mohler.
  • Another point of great cooperation and consensus was found in the Baptist 21 luncheon. In this panel discussion between R. Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Danny Akin, David Platt, and Matt Carter, my friend Jedidiah Coppenger asked questions ranging from the challenges of ‘gay marriage’ and the recent decision of the Boy Scouts to disciple-making in the local church. He also handled the subject of Calvinism in the SBC, where Dr. Mohler gave an impassioned articulation that hyper-Calvinism has no place in the SBC. He clarified that hyper-Calvinism is not the same an over-zealous brand of Calvinism (‘hyper’ Calvinism). Rather, hyper-Calvinism, historical defined, is a person who refuses to make a universal offer of the gospel. As Danny Akin would later say in his SBC sermon, unwillingness to share the gospel is the result of aberrant theology—regardless if it is Calvinistic or Traditionalist. Therefore, in this panel discussion there was real engagement with some challenges facing Baptists, and a unanimous commitment to sharing the gospel. (Baptist 21 hopes to have the video of this luncheon up next week; stay tuned here).
  • This spirit of cooperation was evidenced in the convention, but it was also evidenced by individuals who signed the statement. For instance, Tom Ascol gives four reasons why he is encouraged by the statement. Likewise, Albert Mohler penned this reflections and hope for this statement.  In the convention itself, President Fred Luter was extremely gracious (just remember how he handled an impassioned mega-church pastor from Arkansas), and Frank Page’s posture towards the Calvinism discussion was exemplary.  Truth be told, I am so encouraged by the way that he has led this group. His desire for a unity and cooperation was evident in the discussion on Monday and on the platform when he announced the results of the Advisory Committee (to see that presentation go the SBC Convention page, select Tuesday Afternoon, look for Frank Page’s session, scroll to 13:13-21:00). Southern Baptists have great reason to give thanks for our “Chief Encouragement Officer.”
  • Still, the top report—in my opinion—was that of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee (ERLC). The report came in two parts. First, retiring ERLC president, Richard Land, reflected on his years of service. This was followed by a video montage that wonderfully captured the effect of this man’s twenty-five year service. This was only exceeded by Russell Moore’s opening report as the newly-appointed president of the ERLC. This message, coupled with his Q & A on Tuesday night, gives me great hope for the cultural engagement that Southern Baptists will embark upon in the next twenty-five years.  As an aside, you can witness Moore’s even-handed approach to religious liberty and the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in his article, “Why Calvinists and Arminians (and those in between) Can Unite for Religious Liberty.”
  • Finally, Danny Akin’s message, “Six Marks of a Great Commission People,” reinforced the week’s theme: We must be unified in our passion for the gospel and the communication of this gospel to all people—especially those with no access to the gospel. This message closed the convention, and fittingly it gave all the messengers a clear call to go and make disciples of all nations. As always, this is why Southern Baptists unite. We are a Great Commission people, and I pray that the meetings, messages, and appointments that filled this week will serve to advance the gospel in the next 365 days.

All in all, the week was filled with highlights. I am sure I left some out. Next year’s convention is in Baltimore, and it is already on my calendar. I hope you will check out some of these highlights listed above and plan to join us next June.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

For Your Edification (6.7.2012): The Southern Baptist Convention Edition

This edition of FYE is dedicated to the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention.

Getting Ready for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, Eric Hankins and about 350 other distinguished signatories released the ““A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”  In ten points, it articulates affirmations and denials about a number of important topics concerning the doctrine of salvation.  This statement is important on a number of fronts.

For Southern Baptists, it is important because of what it means for our convention; for non-Southern Baptists, it is important because it tells the watching world what the largest Protestant denomination America is contending with at this moment in time–and the issue is the differing views of salvation as defended by Calvinist and Non-Calvinist alike.

Because this topic is so important, this week’s FYE is devoted to rounding up some of the most helpful statements around the web.  But first, let me state my discouragement and my optimism that comes from these recent discussions.

As to discouragement, it is sad that the unifying work of the Great Commission Resurgence has met the resistance of this document.  As Albert Mohler has rightly and most helpfully pointed out, these men have every right to express their beliefs, to make them public, and to engage in dialogue about doctrine.  Praise God, the discussion is about the nature of salvation, and not the inspiration of the Bible or the permission for clergy to marry homosexuals.  Nevertheless, the statement does belie a party spirit that goes against the good work that has been going on in the SBC since the infamous dialogue on election in 2006.

Now more hopefully.  I am optimistic that this document with clear points of affirmation and denial will bring light.  I pray it will bring to light what Scripture teaches on the subject of salvation and that both sides might see where they are weak.  But even if such light is not shed on the Scripture–which I am praying will take place–light will be shed on the true condition of our convention, and hopefully this itself will cause us to seek the face of God more earnestly, more jointly, and more continually.

Discouraged and yet not despairing.  That is the Christian way, right?  Paul thought so.  His words are appropriate in these days.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

May that be our prayer: As jars of clay, may we not follow others clay pots; may we instead rest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is worth being crushed for his sake, so that other future generations might know him.

Surely, in New Orleans, there will be much heat, but may we pray for light.  While it would be relaxing to enjoy a placid convention in the ‘Big Easy’; may God be pleased to give us grace to do the hard work or self-sacrificing cross-bearing, attentive listening, and golden-ruled cooperation.  Doctrines that tell of God’s glorious gospel are worth suffering to understand, to articulate, and to proclaim.  They are worthy of serious reflection, but even as we labor to nail down the doctrinal positions we affirm, may we not forget the cooperative unity that is already stated in the Baptist Faith & Message and more importantly, may we not forget the Son of God who was nailed down for us.  May we follow in his lead, boldly speaking truth but always in a manner that is pleasing to the Father.

In preparation, here are a few things to read to be prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention.

The current document that governs all SBC entities and which unites the Southern Baptist Convention: The Baptist Faith and Message 2000

The document released at SBC Today on May 30, 2012: A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

Here is an explanatory piece with lots of sound bytes from Baptist Press: “Statement on Calvinism draws approval, criticism

Joe Carter, at The Gospel Coalition, highlights a number of other articles and reasons why this discussion is so important for the larger evangelical community: “FAQ’s : Southern Baptists, Calvinism, and God’s Plan of Salvation

Baylor History Professor, Thomas Kidd gives a concise history of Baptists and the divergent traditions that have always marked our conventions: “Traditional” Baptists and Calvinism

Pastor Jonathan Akin’s response: A Response to “Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

President Albert Mohler’s response: “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk

Former Pastor and SBC President, Jerry Vines, responds to Dr. Mohler: “It’s Time to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

LifeWay’s Trevin Wax reminds us the difference fifty years makes: “Southern Baptists, We’re Not in Zion Anymore

Professor Malcolm Yarnell’s call for prayer: “The grace of unity: a prayer for the Southern Baptist Convention

My response to Malcolm Yarnell: “Unity in the SBC

Pastor Tom Ascol is in the middle of a series of responses to the Traditionalist statement.  In his replies, he gives biblical reasons for concern with the statement.  However, he also points out that W. A. Criswell, a Southern Baptist statesman admired by Traditionalists and Calvinists, would not have been able to sign the document because of his doctrinal affirmation of Calvinism: Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?

All told, there is much to discuss.  The elephant in the room has the spot light shining on it, and Southern Baptists of all persuasions need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  We do need to pray together and to return to Scirpture to understand one another and to work together for the preaching of Christ and him crucified to peoples who have yet to even hear the name of Christ.

Going to New Orleans in just a few days, that is my hope and prayer, that God will be glorified by Southern Baptists working towards reaching a consensus accord such that Traditional and Calvinistic Baptists might be able to move forward together proclaiming Christ to our neighbors and the nations.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Reflections on the SBC

[This is the report that I shared with our church upon my return from the Southern Baptist Convention].

This year’s Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona was the smallest gathering of Southern Baptists since World War II (1944).  However, its diminutive size (approx. 4,800 messengers) should not discount the importance of the two-day convention (June 14-15).  As Bryant Wright, this year’s president, put it, “I do believe it could prove to be the most spiritually significant convention over the last 50 years.”

Why?  Why would an off-year convention invite such a statement?

In one sentence, it is because the spirit of the convention was filled with unity to complete the task of the Great Commission here and abroad.  Whereas the 2005 convention in Greensboro, NC began with a two-hour debate between on the merits and demerits of  Calvinism.  This year’s convention was marked by unity around the gospel and reaching the 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups. Again Wright puts it succinctly, “This was the most unified convention around the Great Commission that I have experienced.  People came here with anticipation of that unity.”

Some of those people were three new presidents of Southern Baptist entities.  Each of these men are newly appointed presidents of the NAMB, IMB, and the Executive Committee, and each man energized discussion with striking calls for church planting, missions, and unity.

The Executive Committee

First, Frank Page addressed the convention with more than 20 entity leaders on the platform.  He introduced a resolution affirming unity and cooperation among Southern Baptists.  The last decade has seen a great deal of misunderstanding and name calling at the convention and on blogs, so Page and others have called Southern Baptists to greater unity.  In his address, he said,

“Our convention is fracturing into various groups, some theological, most methodological…Sometimes there is an honest difference of opinion, but often there is self-centeredness that frequently mirrors our own culture… Christ-like selflessness is our only hope.”

With those sentiments he introduced five pledges for Southern Baptists to embrace.

  1. We pledge to maintain a relationship of mutual trust …
  2. We pledge to attribute the highest motives to those engaged in local church ministries and those engaged in denominational service in any level of Convention life …
  3. We pledge to affirm the value of cooperative ministry as the most effective and efficient means of reaching a lost world …
  4. We pledge to embrace our brothers and sisters of every ethnicity, race, and language as equal partners in our collective ministries to engage all people groups with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  5. We pledge to continue to honor and affirm proportional giving through the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach as Southern Baptists ….”

I believe these pledges, if kept, will go along way to including all kinds of gospel-minded Southern Baptists, while challenging each Southern Baptist to love, learn, and listen to others who may approach ministry from a different point of view.  My prayer is that this commitment does not reduce biblical precision and doctrinal distinctives, but that maturing Southern Baptists will uphold a spirit of gospel peace even when they disagree on doctrines not spelled out in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

The North American Mission Board

Second, Kevin Ezell called Southern Baptists to be honest about numbers.  Boldly, he declared that Southern Baptists like numbers.  We like big numbers.  However, this has led to unqualified and inflated numbers for the convention. This has been a statistical concern for the millions of missing Southern Baptists each Sunday, but Ezell pointed out that it is not just individuals but churches that are missing.  In the words of Jesus, he reported…

”You have heard it said” that NAMB plants close to 1500 church plants a year, “but I say unto you” that NAMB planted 769 churches last year.

You have heard it said that NAMB has over 5100 missionaries, “but I say unto you” that 3480 of those are jointly funded with state conventions, 1839 are missionary spouses, some of whom have ministry assignments and some of whom do not.  He also pointed out that that 1616 are Mission Service Corps volunteers who receive no NAMB funding at all.  Thus the numbers are not as high as we might first think.

Likewise, on the topic of numbers.  Ezell pointed out that through retirement incentives and other compensations, he has reduced the total number of employees at the NAMB head quarters in Alpharetta.  He stressed a desire to do more with less people.  And while this at first sounds cold-hearted or anti-missional.  Here is the payoff.  By reducing the overhead 38%, NAMB will be able to put $8 million dollars into church planting.  Moreover, he pointed out that less than 4% of SBC churches are directly involved in church planting.  Ezell’s challenge: “We must do better.  We are going to do better.”

This leads to the final point.  In addition to improving reporting and oversight of Southern Baptist church plants, he also intends to lead in an initiative to plant more successful church plants.  Thus, he introduced a new initiative to “SEND” church planters into 25 urban centers around the country.

The International Missions Board

Third, Tom Elliff called for Southern Baptists to be more involved in reaching the unreached.   Following the powerful missions message of David Platt, Elliff said,

“This convention has been one long sermon…. There is not one thing I could say” that messengers have not already heard. A lost world, Elliff said, needs churches who consider it unacceptable that there are people groups “who do not have somebody deliberately” trying to engage them with the Gospel.

This call for greater outreach to the unreached was championed by David Platt, whose message from gospel of Matthew reminded Southern Baptists that Jesus will not come until all the nations have heard (Matt 24:14).  And since Jesus has not come, there are still peoples awaiting the Good News.  In fact, current statistics say that 3,800 peoples are awaiting the Good News.

As Platt put it, “”This is not a problem for the International Mission Board to address. This is a problem for every pastor and every local church to address.”

Indeed, it is something that I hope our church will address very shortly.  At the convention, more than 1,000 messengers responded to the call to reach the unengaged, unreached people groups.  I pray that we will too.

The church that shines the farthest shines brightest at home. 

I was tremendously encouraged by the unity of the messengers around the centrality of the gospel.  The divergence of speakers at the pastors’ conference was a good reminder that God is at work among many people, and that even when there are disagreements on things like the order of regeneration and faith, and what the doctrine of election fully means, there can be unity in reaching the lost for Christ.  This was also evident in the conversation between Mark Dever and Paige Patterson.  Again, I am encouraged by the evangelistic unity developing among Southern Baptists who in the past have argued over God’s sovereignty in salvation.

I hope that our church will follow suit.  Satan would love for us to wrangle over lesser points of doctrine, and to miss out on the fact that a lost and dying world is still lost and dying.  It is my hope and prayer and mission to lead our church to be more missions-minded and missional in our own community, even as we continue to grow into a greater understanding of God’s word and a love for one another.  Satan would love for us to question the motives and intents of others, but Christ is raising up an army of gospel-witnessing warriors, and I pray Calvary will be a bastion for such life-saving truth.

I want to thank you for letting me go to the convention this year.  I was motivated and encouraged by the things I saw and heard.  And I pray that all that was planned and promised will come to fruition as the Lord supplies the growth to the seeds that were sown and the plants that were watered.

Other SBC Reviews Consulted For This Report

SBC Annual Convention Videos

Baptist Press

SBC Voices

Trevin Wax

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

Southern Baptists: An Unregenerate Denomination?

In Major League Baseball, 38% is outstanding.  If you can hit .380, you will be an All-Star and if you can do it year-after-year, you’ll be a Hall-of-Famer.  Sadly, the same may be true in the church. If your church brings in 38% out of its members every week, as the average SBC church does–according to the “SBC 2008 Annual Church Profile Summary”–it may be regarded as a thriving mega-church and the pastor a successful soul-winner.  Yet beneath the active veneer (or trendy website), something more pernicious may be at work.

Revelation 3:1 warns, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead,” and in his article, “Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination,” Jim Elliff explains why this warning to Sardis applies to the churches of the SBC.

Elliff writes honestly about the condition of our Southern Baptist Churches, and calls for churches to stop playing number games and to find the millions that are missing.  Appealing to the New Testament church, not the neo-evangelical church, he shows from Scripture how every author of the New Testament warns of false conversion and spiritual deception.  He makes the case that if a church is healthy and regenerate, attendance should outnumber membership.  And he points to our baptists forefathers as prime examples.  Citing the work of Greg Wills, he writes:

In the Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, our first association, our initial American statistical record shows that five times as many people attended the association’s churches as were on their rolls. Greg Wills in Democratic Religion in the South (Oxford University Press, 1997, p.14) reports that three times the number on the rolls attended Baptist churches, then located mostly along the eastern seaboard when surveyed in 1791 by John Ashlund. In 1835, the Christian Index of Georgia recorded that “not less than twice the number” of members were in attendance.

Today, in rough numbers, it takes 300 people on our rolls to have 100 attenders. In the 1790s, it took only 33. Or, to put it in larger figures, it now takes nearly 3000 people, supposedly won to Christ and baptized, to result in a church attendance of 1000. Then, it took only 333. Our potency has diminished to such an extent that we must “win” and “baptize” over 2,000 more people to get to the same 1000 to attend.

Churches today, who possess the same Holy Spirit, should expect nothing less.  And in truth, we should long to follow in the wake of these Great Awakening churches.

While his article points out a number of depressing features about the health of churches in the SBC, he also points out the possibility for great recovery if we will be honest about the problem and return to preaching the Word of God and applying its principles of church discipline and evaluating sinners according to biblical standards, not decision cards.

Consider, for instance, Elliff’s comments about preaching on regeneration:

It was the preaching of regeneration, with an explanation of its discernible marks, that was the heart of the Great Awakening. J. C. Ryle, in writing of the eighteenth century revival preachers, said that they never for a moment believed that there was any true conversion if it was not accompanied by increasing personal holiness. Such content was the staple of the greatest of awakening preaching throughout the history of revival. Only such a powerful cannon blast of truth could rock the bed of those asleep in Zion.

Love for the brethren, longing for the Word, and desire to serve others are necessary marks of the genuinely converted.  Failure to assemble is a mark of God’s judgment (cf. Heb 10:25-39).  Thus 38% attendance bespeaks of our great need for humility to be honest about our numbers and the condition of our churches.  Only once we properly assess the problem, can we petition God for the solution — a fresh outpouring of his Spirit and a harvest of lasting fruit.

Though it is a bitter pill to swallow, Jim Elliff’s argument points us in the right direction, as he points us to the mirror of God’s word.  The glory of Christ’s church is at stake, as well as the souls of millions of missing “believers.”  May we labor with contrition and confidence for the sake of Christ’s church.

To read the whole thing, see his CCW article “Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination.” For more on the nature of a healthy church see Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and Thabiti Anyabwile’s What is a Healthy Church Member?

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Biblical Theology for the Real World

In The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Krister Stendahl defines Biblical Theology as what the Bible ‘meant,’ while Systematic Theology was defined as what the Bible ‘means.’  However, as it is shown in by James Hoffmeier in his recent book The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible and Eric Schumacher in a recent associational sermon, Biblical Theology has everything to do with life today and for making biblical decisions in the church (Schumacher) and outside of it (Hoffmeier). 

With Goldsworthy-esque style, Pastor Schumacher defines a Biblical Theology of Cooperation in the church like this:  Biblical Cooperation happens when God’s people, under God’s rule, trust God’s promises and obey God’s commission in the pursuit of God’s glory.  His sermon follows 7 points that trace cooperation from Creation to the New Creation with application for today’s church.

Likewise Hoffemeier writes in the introduction to his book how we must move from the biblical text to the contemporary application following the pattern of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation if we are to rightly discern the biblical teaching on immigration.   Appealing to the example of C.J.H. Wright, Hoffemeier uses a “comprehensive approach” that moves from biblical theology to objective/subjective principles to practical ethical applications.  Mere analogy and principalization that fail to recognize historical differences, cultural settings, and situational incongruities are unhelpful, but a well-ordered biblical theology that recognizes these complicating factors lays the groundwork for ethical conundrums and modern-day decision-making.  (While I haven’t read his book, his proposed methodology is sound.  You can read the whole first chapter online to see where Hoffmeier is going.)

These are just two more examples of how reading the Bible with an eye to the storyline of Scripture helps us make sense of the world around us.  Really, we do not have a better option?  God has given us a book that makes us wise unto salvation and that helps us proceed in an ever-complicating world!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: Jim Hamilton; Justin Taylor)