Friday, July 29, 2005

President Bobby Welch, Dr. Steve Lemke, Southern Baptists and Calvinism, Pt. 3

More on Dr. Lemke's article:

Wise voices such as Adrian Rogers, Danny Akin, and Paige Patterson have warned about the dangers of unchecked hyper-Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Granted, the three men mentioned are indeed wise and Southern Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to each of them. Their courage, boldness, commitment to the Word of God and labors to see such commitment restored and spread throughout the SBC are worthy of honor and emulation. The same cannot be said, however, about many of their comments about Calvinism. Once again, Dr. Lemke's imprecise and even careless use of "hyper-Calvinism" is disturbing. Just where does he see "unchecked hyper-Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention"? Is he talking about Founders Ministries? Based on previous comments in his article, one can only assume that he is.

I do not want to belabor the point but it is crucial, especially in any kind of meaningful dialog on this subject, to be careful in our use of terms--especially pejorative terms. I am reminded of a comment that Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones made when reflecting on this very problem. He said, "The ignorant Arminian does not understand the difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism." No honest theologian would want to be liable to this critique.

If hyper-Calvinism exists in the SBC, then all who love Jesus Christ and the souls of men and women should ruthlessly root it out. For a theologian to wonder dispassionately about how far hyper-Calvinism will spread in the SBC is like a Police Chief wondering aloud about how far known gangsters will spread in his city as he merely tracks their spread. It is dereliction of duty.

If what Dr. Lemke sees in Founders Ministries is hyper-Calvinism, then attack it with all your power. If it is not, then quit falsely claiming that it is.

Dr. Lemke next seeks to pit Dr. Timothy George's restatement of the 5 points of Calvinism against the more familiar TULIP presentation of them.

What is the difference between hyper-Calvinism and the more typical baptistic Calvinism? Timothy George, President of Beeson Seminary who is himself a Calvinist, has provided a helpful clue in contrasting the "TULIP" acronym of Synod of Dort hyper-Calvinism (although this popular acronym does not fully communicate the affirmation of that Synod) with a "ROSES" acronym of a softer version of Calvinism that is closer to what most Baptists believe.

Again, to charge the Synod of Dort with "hyper-Calvinism" is theologically irresponsible, historically inaccurate and biblically sinful (it violates the 9th Commandment--something that too many scholars fail to take seriously enough in their writing and teaching). Dr. George does not reject Dort's pronouncements in his restatement of the 5 points. In fact, Dort did not invent the so-called "5 points of Calvinism" in the first place.

It is evident that Dr. Lemke is either unfamiliar with or does not understand the published Canons of Dort. Again, that is not a crime and may even be expected of most sincere followers of Jesus in our day. But the provost of a theological seminary, particularly one who publicly levels the charge of hyper-Calvinism against Dort, should know better.

I will not take the time to go point by point to show the deficiency of Dr. Lemke's attempt to pit Dr. George's restatement against the traditional 5 points, though it is readily evident to anyone who reads the Canons of Dort, or even a book on Calvinism (like the excellent and recently expanded and republished Five Points of Calvinism) and compares them to Dr. Lemke's analysis.

As one example of what I am talking about, consider the following. Dr. Lemke writes:

Finally, unlike limited atonement, singular redemption communicates that Jesus’ death was sufficient to save everyone but is efficient only for those who repent and believe.

He pits what he calls Dort's "hyper-Calvinism" of "limited atonement" against Dr. George's "softer version Calvinism" of "singular redemption" because the latter speaks of the sufficiency of Christ's death to save everyone.

Into which of Dr. Lemke's two categories would the following statement on the atoning work of Christ fit?

The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.

This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only-begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.

This sounds like Dr. Lemke's "softer Calvinism" does it not? It sounds like the antithesis of his depiction of Dortian "hyper-Calvinism." Guess where it comes from? Some of you recognized it immediately, even though you are not professional theologians. These words come from the Canons of Dort--Second Head of Doctrine, Articles 3 and 4.

There is more of this kind of misrepresentation to be found in Dr. Lemke's treatment of Calvinism in the SBC. Quite honestly, I am growing wearing of exposing it all. I take no pleasure in this kind of writing. But I take great offense when pastors and churches are slanderously mischaracterized, especially by those who should know better, more especially still by those whose salaries are paid by the very churches they falsely accuse.

I am not sure if I will continue my critique next week or merely sum up with some reflections of what these kinds of unjustified attacks are doing to the unity of the SBC. The phone calls, emails and posted responses to these observations the last few days have only confirmed my awareness of the rising frustration that many, primarily younger pastors and church leaders within the SBC, have with the unjustified, unChristlike attacks on that which we--together with the founders of the SBC--believe and teach. I--we--welcome theological discussion, even of the most animated and strongest sort. We do not think that we have everything figured out and cannot be instructed any further in the truth. We not only are willing but genuinely desire to be helped with our deficiencies. But if denominational leaders and employees sincerely want to be of help to us, these kinds of careless castigations should stop.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

President Bobby Welch, Dr. Steve Lemke, Southern Baptists and Calvinism, Pt. 2

Dr. Lemke's 4th issue of concern relates to Calvinism...of a sort. He writes:

(4) Hyper-Calvinistic Soteriology – Will Baptists change their soteriology such that persons are no longer seen as having any capacity to respond to God’s invitation to salvation? Will Baptists take a "hyper-Calvinist turn" than hinders missions and evangelism?

Dr. Lemke demonstrates by his first question a lack of awareness of or, at best, insensitivity to the significant historical debates about the nature of fallen humanity's spiritual inability. Is it moral or natural? This issue was crucial to the very argument of Andrew Fuller's apologetic for sending missionaries to unreached people. He was instructed on it by Jonathan Edwards' On the Freedom of the Will. I would not expect most Baptist church members to know this. Most likely there are many Baptist pastors who are unaware of this issue and its significance. But it is hard for me to understand how the Provost of a Baptist theological seminary would be oblivious to it. Yet, Dr. Lemke's first question leaves me doubting his awareness of the nature and importance of this question.

I will give selected quotes from Dr. Lemke's article in bold and then follow them with my own observations.

"Among Southern Baptists, Calvinism has been on the rise for the past few decades. Throughout its history, the Southern Baptist Convention has swung periodically toward and away from Calvinism."

I do not think the historical record of Southern Baptist life will sustain this assertion. The SBC was founded by 293 delegates who gathered in Augusta, Georgia in 1845. Each man came from "congregations and associations which had adopted the Philadephia/Charleston Confession of Faith as their own" (Timothy George in Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms, Broadman and Holman, 1996, p. 11). Calvinism was the theological womb out of which the SBC was born. I have written a brief booklet that demonstrates this: From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention. The whole text is available online.

Tom Nettles has written far more extensively on this issue in his book, By His Grace and For His Glory. He argues that this Reformed theological consensus lasted until the 3rd decade of the 20th century. As this consensus broke down confessional theology denigrated in the SBC to the degree that by the 1960s-70s pragmatism and neo-orthodoxy could live comfortably side-by-side. When the inerrancy wars erupted in the late 1970s many Southern Baptists were challenged to do 2 things: 1) to reexamine the Bible's teaching about its own authority, and 2) to reexamine our Southern Baptist doctrinal heritate since both sides in the debate were claiming to be the rightful representatives of that heritage. It was almost inevitable, therefore, that God would use these means to reignite a devotion biblical Calvinism or, as I prefer to call it, historic Southern Baptist orthodoxy. Dr. Lemke is correct that this theological renewal has been on the rise over the last couple of decades. But his statement about periodic swings toward and away from Calvinism gives the impression that what is happening today is little more than a "course correction" that has happened at other times in Southern Baptist history. I do not read the record that way.

Now, I know that this issue of Calvinism is a very "hot" and sensitive topic, so before I address it I want to make several things very clear. First of all, Calvinism is a valid expression of the Christian faith and of the Baptist tradition. Its popularity has risen and fallen through history, and today it is a minority view in the Southern Baptist Convention. But it is a valid and important perspective within the Baptist tradition.

He is correct that it is "hot." The reasons for this are due in large part to the misrepresentations of those who hold this theological perspective by those who fear it. Increasingly over the last several years, denominational employees and recognized leaders have unjustly caricatured Calvinistic soteriology. There have been similar misrepresentations that have been made from the Calvinists' camp as well. But I do not think you will find many if any whose salary is paid by Southern Baptist churches collectively who are taking shots at the semi-Pelagians in the convention. I appreciate Dr. Lemke's acknowledgment of both the validity and importance of Calvinism in Baptist life. I also recognize and appreciate the fact that he and Dr. Kelly have hired more Calvinists for the faculty at NOBTS than any other administration. However, the next quote leaves me wondering exactly what Dr. Lemke understands historic Calvinism to be.

If you'll allow me to oversimplify a bit, in the Southern Baptist Convention there are essentially two streams of Calvinism. One stream is what we might call hard hyper-Calvinism (often associated with the Founder's Movement), and the other is a softer baptistic Calvinism. I will be delineating these more clearly later, but for now my point is that it is with hyper-Calvinism that I have major concerns.

Dr. Lemke went way beyond oversimplification (a strange ingredient in itself in a "scholarly paper") and has fallen into the sin of bearing false witness. I recognize that he did not directly assert that the Founder's (sic) Movement is hper-Calvinistic and has only reported that it is "often associated" with that perversion, but leaving that report unqualified is a tacit approval of it, as his further analysis indicates.

Hyper-Calvinism is heresy. It is damnable. Those who advocate it should be disciplined out of the SBC. The charge that Founders Ministries advocates or even tolerates hper-Calvinism is a lie. We have been unequivocal in our denunciations of this error. We have published articles on this issue.

Dr. Lemke is clear in asserting that he does not challenge "the validity of Calvinism with in the Southern Baptist Convention." Given the current climate in the SBC and the willingness of many to castigate those Southern Baptists who are Calvinistic, this is a refreshing statement to read from a denominational employee. However, given the doctrinal heritage of the SBC, it does seem a little strange that such a statement would even have to be made. Nevertheless, I appreciate him making it. Dr. Lemke also reviews some of the benefits of having this theological perspective within the SBC, namely, reminding us that salvation is not found in methods and that revival must come from God who alone gives the increase.

However, Dr. Lemke cannot shake his fear that ulitmately, Calvinism will be detrimental to the SBC. He raises a series of questions that reflect this fear:

"How far is the resurgence of Calvinism going to go in the SBC?"

I do not know anyone who would speculate on an answer to this question. I can say, however, that the revival of the doctrines of grace continues to grow, both within and beyond the SBC. The more that denominational leaders dismissively rant against this theological position, the more Southern Baptist pastors and churches they alienate.

"What boundaries should there be when the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction toward hyper-Calvinism?"

Dr. Lemke writes as if hyper-Calvinism is on the far edge of the Calvinistic continuum; as if a hyper-Calvinist is someone who takes his Calvinism really seriously. But hyper-Calvinism is, in the words of Andrew Fuller, FALSE CALVINISM. This question reflects the same kind of misunderstanding that some liberals in the SBC displayed when they warned of inerrancy, if not checked, leading to bibliolatry. Perhaps my brief description of the differences between Calvinism, Arminianism and hpyer-Calvinism might be of some use at this point.

"Will Baptist Calvinists distinguish themselves clearly and definitively from hyper-Calvinists?"

We in Founders Ministries have repeatedly done so, and yet we are still misrepresented as hyper-Calvinistic, even in Dr. Lemke's paper. My question is this: What will it take before Dr. Lemke and people like him believe us when we renounce hyper-Calvinism as grievous error? Founders Ministries gave away 2000 copies of Iain Murray's book, Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism, when it first came out (and we endured the caustic criticism of a prominent denominational servant for doing so). We are not hyper-Calvinists. We believe in the duty of all men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel. We Christ should be preached to all men without discrimination. We are committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ through the spread of the Gospel throughout the whole earth.

"Will some varieties of Calvinism limit or hinder our evangelistic focus?"

I recognize that many people fear the resurgence in the doctrines of grace because they are concerned that it will hinder evangelism. The truth is, biblical Calvinism will indeed kill some so-called evangelism. It cannot abide with the man-centered, mechanistic, deceptive, manipulative and dishonest kinds of "evangelism" that are on the market today. Such "evangelism" needs to be killed and the sooner the better. But biblical Calvinism has never been a hindrance to real evangelism. Many of the greatest evangelists and missionaries in the world have been Calvinists. I have addressed this question previously when responding to a seminary president who accused Calvinists in general and Founders in particular of being "a drag on evangelism." The article, entitled "Calvinism, Evangelism and Founders Ministries," is available on the Founder website.

In the next post I will further assess Dr. Lemke's concerns and analysis of the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

President Bobby Welch, Dr. Steve Lemke, Southern Baptists and Calvinism, Pt. 1

July 10, 2005, just in time for the 23rd Annual Founders Conference that met in Ormond Beach, Florida, Southern Baptist Convention President, Bobby Welch posted an article in the newsletter of the First Baptist Church of Daytona, where he serves as pastor. The title of his article is "Calvinism and Christ's Great Commission." Here is how the article begins:

Some one asked me, “How does Calvinism and great commission evangelism connect?” Likely no clearer answer could be given than Dr. Steve W. Lemke, Provost and Professor at New Orleans Baptist Theology Seminary, gave in a recent scholarly paper. Complete paper is on our web site www.FirstBaptist.Org(under Weekly Newsletter) Following is an excerpt:...

The timing of this article is probably just a coincidence. Perhaps Brother Bobby (as he prefers to be called) had no idea that the Founders Conference was in town. To my knowledge, he did not attend. But regardless of the timing, the content of Dr. Lemke's article leaves much to be desired in terms of scholarship, analysis and fairness. The title of it is "The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals." It was a paper originally presented at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, April 2005 at the "Maintaining Baptist Distinctives" Conference. Lemke addresses what he considers to be 6 key issues as he thinks about the future of the SBC. Some of the issues he identifies may indeed be important for Southern Baptists to consider as they contemplate their collective identity in the American evangelical world. However, I find his analysis too often to be superficial in addressing those issues.

For example, the second issue he identifies is "Biblical Authority." He asks, "Will Southern Baptists submit their lives and opinions on the authority of Scripture, or will cultural and pragmatic pressures force us to 'reinterpret' the Bible?" So, far, so good. Dr. Lemke whets our appetite for an insightful analysis of the ways that pragmatism has undermined biblical living in our personal lives, homes and churches. But then he disappoints by aiming his guns on drinking and dancing.

"Even if we pay lip service to the divine inspiration and truthfulness of Scripture, will we place our lives under the authority of the Word of God? Just since I've been alive, Southern Baptists have moderated their stand on a number of issues. In each of these issues, we said we took that stand because it was being faithful to Scripture. For example, when I was growing up, many Baptist churches had something called a "Church Covenant" either posted at the front of the sanctuary or printed in the hymnal. This Church Covenant summarized the biblical commitments required for meaningful church membership. Among other things that were in this document that are often ignored today, this Church Covenant called for church members to not only refrain from the use of alcoholic beverages, but from their sale as well. How consistently is this practiced in Baptist life today? When is the last time you heard a sermon addressing how we keep our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20)?"

Please. Of all of the vitally important issues taken up in J. Newton Brown's popular Church Covenant, for Dr. Lempke to camp out on drinking alchohol is very disappointing. I write as a "tee-totaler" who would be happy if everyone else in the world was one, too. But it boggles the mind of anyone who is half-awake to the horrible spiritual state of Southern Baptist Churches why this issue (along with dancing--which is not even mentioned in the covenant) was singled out to the neglect of matters like church discipline, pursuit of holiness, family worship, evangelism and missions!

The typical Southern Baptist church cannot get even half of its membership to show up regularly for worship! "Yeah, well, but it sure would be better if they never sipped wine!" Dr. Lemke's facile treatment of the issue of pragmatism is in itself a testimony to how serious the problem is. I keep waiting for some Southern Baptist leader to stand up and declare honestly to the world that our denominational statistics are in many respects a sham, a lie and false advertising. We are not "16 million strong." The FBI could not find half of them if we put them on the most wanted list. Take Brother Bobby's church, which is above average, for example. According to their website, their total membership is 4000 and average attendance is 2000 (I assume this latter number reflects the Sunday morning worship attendance and not the Wednesday night prayer meeting attendance). The typical Southern Baptist church has less than 40% of its total membership in attendance on any given Sunday MORNING.

Why would Dr. Lempke be more concerned about prospect that Southern Baptists are attending proms and imbibing wine coolers than he is that we cannot even get half of them to attend worship once a week? For a more thoughtful analysis of this question, see Jim Eliff's article on the Founders website entitled, "Southern Baptists, An Unregenerate Denomination." Or read the Baptist Press version of it.

My greatest problem with Dr. Lemke's article, however, has to do with his misrepresentation of Calvinism in general and Founders Ministries in particular. I plan to deal with that later this week.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Baptist Fire--who are these people and why do they hide? has a firm grasp on its place as the National Enquirer of the internet. Many of the articles have the same appeal as the old carnival hawkers of my youth ("Come see the Man Eating Chicken!"). They intentionally imply what they carefully avoid saying. I have been wise to this tactic ever since I wasted hard-earned money to watch a man chow down on a bucket full of chicken when expecting to see the opposite.

Case in point--this is from an article on their website entitled, "Crept in Unawares."

"As far as we can tell, Founders Ministries does not advocate a return to slavery. Which makes it a rather odd name for the organization."

I am glad they cleared that up! People are always calling our offices and asking if we are advocating a return to slavery. I have read similar types of subtle mischaracterizations, but often they have come from people on drugs. Let me hasten to add, however, that as far as I can tell, the people behind are not currently smoking marijuana.

The writer(s) of the articles on this site are obviously Fundamentalist(s) and they (he/she) are (is) may be (a) coward(s) because they (he/she) refuse(s) to sign their (his/her) name(s). Whew! The cloak of anonymity leaves me pronominally challenged when responding to their (his/her) writings. In addition, I wonder whether I ought to engage them at all. It is sort of like sizing up a tar baby. You may be pretty confident that you can win the fight but after it is over, you will look at your ruined clothes and wonder if it was really worth it.

But over the years I have received numerous questions and comments about the screeds that appear on their site and recently I have been made aware that their misinformation has been used to run off pastors from churches. Do not misunderstand, I firmly believe that there are occasions when pastors should be removed from a church (see my article on this in the Founders Journal), but the cases that I am aware of where deacons and others have employed the lies, distortions and half-truths of are examples of worldly men using worldly means to accomplish worldly goals.

So, because of the spiritual damage that they are doing I am calling attention to their (his/her) sad abuse of truth. Violation of the 9th Commandment permeates their (his/her) website. Good Fundamentalists still believe in the 10 Commandments--or at least 9 of them, including (presumably) the 9th. Yet, violates the 9th commandment by twisting truth, distorting truth, and misrepresenting those with whom they (he/she) disagree(s).

I learned long ago in ministry to put no stock in anonymous letters. If a man (woman/group) does (do) not have enough integrity before God to sign what he (she/they) write, then I will not give any credence to the charges he (she/they) make. If the person (people) behind have integrity, let him (her/them) quit hiding behind anonymity. Let him (her/them) sign his (her/their) name(s) to the articles on his (her/their) site.

Come out into the light--where Jesus calls us to live. Be willing to put away the cloak of darkness and discuss our differences like children of light. Perhaps we both (or all) might learn something that will help us better follow our Lord.

Friday, July 22, 2005

SBFYC update

Thanks for your prayers for this meeting. Though I do not have a final report from the leaders of the conference, more than 50 people indicated that they believed God was calling them to give their lives to cross-cultural evangelism and church planting. Several from our church spoke with me and other adults about their sense of being called. One recent high school graduate put it like this, "I do not want to waste my life!" Another told my wife that she now believes that the reason she is pursuing an education degree is so that she can go to "some hard place where Jesus is not known and try to make Him known." That is language that we regularly use in our church--both in preaching and teaching as well as in our praying--that God will call many from among us to go to some hard place to live and die in order to make Jesus known.

The last 5 days have seen some real difficulties and trials with some of our youth during the conference. Some of these were never-before-experienced-kinds-of-challenges. One of our men astutely observed last night that in praying for and calling for our youth to be thrust into the harvest fields we were inviting the assaults of hell and should not be surprised at the resultant spiritual battles. I think he is right. In addition to those who are seeking further counsel to sort out a call to go to unreached people groups, one of our young ladies professed faith in Christ.

In a previous post I mentioned "To Every Tribe Ministries" but did not give their website address. My friend, John Divito, sent it to me. Find out more about them at:

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

From SBFYC at Laguna Beach, Florida

I am spending this week with 50 of my favorite young people and several favorite adult church members attending the Saved By Faith Youth Challenge conference. The theme is "Evangelizing the Last Frontier." David Sitton and Steve Henry are the guest speakers and, thus far, the meetings have been very good. They are from To Every Tribe Missions (they have a website, but I don't have the address at hand). Nearly 300 campers are attending. An IMB worker from an unreached Muslim group is also speaking. Each of these missionaries are committed to the Doctrines of Grace and engage their ministries not inspite of, but because of their understanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation. I wish my Arminian friends could be here to hear them. Not that I think they would all instantly become Calvinists by doing so. But the experience may at least give them pause when tempted to perpetrate the lie that biblical Calvinism kills missions. In the first week of this conference (held in Bolivar, Missouri earlier this month), over 40 young people and adults committed themselves to cross-cultural missions. That doesn't seem like a missions-killing impact to me.

Pray for this meeting today and tomorrow. May God raise up hundreds of youth and adults to storm the nations with the Gospel.

I will give a further report later this week or early next week.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

American Preaching Idol

Original Productions, creators of such "cultural documentaries" as "Monster Garage," "Monster House" and "Plastic Surgery Before and After," is hoping to add a new reality television show to its line up. "Pulpit Masters" is intended to be the homiletical equivalent of American Idol. Initial auditions were held recently in Dallas, Texas to begin the search for "the next great American preacher." According to the update on their website, the producers are down-right giddy with enthusiasm over their beginning:

"'Pulpit Masters' is officially underway! We're back in the office after our first audition/casting session in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and it could not have gone any better. We were blown away by the number and diversity of people who answered our call to 'show up, sign in and speak out!'" The breadth and scope of inspirational messages they shared was truly overwhelming and we want to thank everyone who participated. For everyone else around the country who is interested in climbing onboard the "Pulpit Masters" train and trying out for the show we ask you to keep visiting the website for updates. We will be heading out to other cities soon for more auditions. Our goal is get as wide a selection of contestants as possible so we will be visiting cities and towns all across this great land. Stay tuned!"

I suppose we should not be surprised that we have come to this. The church has become so much like the world that is only follows that the world should set itself up as the judge of preaching. What is truly tragic is that there will be more than enough contestants--no doubt many of whom will come from various sectors of the evangelical community--to set up all the drama and pseudo-reality that characterizes "reality TV."

How long will it be before experience in "Pulpit Masters" starts showing up on pastors' resumes?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

2005 Founders Conference

Last week the 23rd annual Founders Conference was held at Riverbend Community Church in Ormond Beach, Florida. The theme was "The Gospel and the Family." Ted and Paul Tripp were the keynote speakers. Anton Fourie, pastor of FBC Birmingham, host of next year's conference, preached the opening message from Psalm 84. It was warm, passionate and Gospel-focused and set the tone for the whole meeting.

Don Whitney spoke convictingly on Family Worship. It is sad that so many Christian adults are negligent in worshiping God together with their families in their homes. This is true even in many pastors' homes. Sometimes the fear and hesitancy is born out of misconceptions of what family worship should look like. I remember the liberty and encouragement that came to me in this area when our firstborn was two years old and we visited in a home that, after supper, had a simple Scripture reading, prayer and singing. I remember thinking, "That' simple!" It was considerably simpler than the full-blown, Sunday-morning-type worship services I had repeatedly tried (and failed) to institute in our home. For the last twenty years family devotions have been a sweet time of togetherness, conversation, Bible study and prayer. Don Whitney's message is scheduled to be aired on Dennis Rainey's Family Life radio show on August 30-31.

The Tripp brothers were very helpful in their analysis of family issues and dynamics. "The problem is the heart and the solution is the Gospel." That was the recurrent theme in all their messages. I was convicted, challenged and encouraged by their ministries. I was also reminded of the absolute importance of having a proper grasp on the relationship between God's Law and God's Gospel. The law--in it's strictness and spirituality--gives no wiggle room for us to find any comfort in the sin that remains in our lives. But the Gospel assures of of grace both to forgive sin and empower for the ongoing pursuit of holiness. A firm grasp of the grace of God in the Gospel enables us to deal honestly with the law as it examines not only our actions but also our thoughts, motives and intentions. It exposes the idols in our hearts. We can afford to see the reality of sin in our lives because the Gospel provides real salvation in Jesus Christ. The Gospel not only provides the entry into the Christian life, it is the ongoing power to live that life.

I highly recommend the CDs from the conference. They are available from Sound Word Associates (

Next year's theme is "The Doctrine of Salvation."

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Should we be concerned about reformation at home when so much of the world is still unevangelized?

Absolutely! Because the folks that we send to do the work of evangelism come from our home churches. This point has been driven home to me in a fresh way the last two weeks as my family has hosted missionaries our church sent out to an unreached people group 5 years ago. By the grace of God, they were able to see several people converted and plant a church among these people who formerly had no church. Their time on the field has been hard. And they have been refined by the Lord--at some points in very severe ways. Listening to their stories of the obstacles that stand in the way of evangelizing on the last frontier reminds of the need to remain faithful in working for biblical reformation here at home. The vision of American Christianity that much of the Muslim world has is quite different from the press reports we write and read about ourselves. Too often, the faith that we export via our missionaries is anemic, severely deficient of doctrinal strength. If the sending churches have an undetected (or at least untreated) virus, there is great probability that the receiving people groups will be infected as the gospel takes root among them.

In the last century Austin Phelps of Andover Seminary undertood this when he said, "If I were a missionary in Canton, China, my first prayer every morning would be for the success of American Home Missions, for the sake of Canton, China" (Call of the South, published by the Publicity Department of the Home Mission Board of the SBC, Atlanta, 1920, p 217).

Reformation and missions go hand-in-hand. If we do not strengthen our churches at home, we will ultimately undermine the effects of the gospel abroad. Do not shrink back from the hard work of reformation. Do not let others around you ignore its importance. Don't let anyone intimidate you into thinking that if you are concerned to order your life and see churches ordered by the word of God that somehow that undermines the evangelistic missionary impulse that the gospel is to have in the world.

And if you are a pastor, don't be so selfish with your time! There are other pastors who need to think about the things you're thinking about. If you simply order your own life and your own church and you're not winsomely trying to come along your brother pastors to challenge them and encourage them to start thinking about important things like church life and health, then you are not engaged enough in the work of reformation.

We need to continue to send missionaries--may God raise up even more! But we must never, ever cease the work of reformation.

I have written more extensively on this subject in a chapter entitled, "Reformation and Missions," in the book, Reclaiming the Gospel and Reforming Churches (Founders Press, Cape Coral, FL, 2002).

Friday, July 15, 2005

Welcome to the new Founders Ministries Blog

Our goal is to provide a forum for analyzing and discussing issues that relate to the work of biblical reformation in the churches throughout the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond. By "biblical reformation" we do not mean the promotion of a man, a system or a movement. We mean the ongoing re-formation of churches along biblical lines. A motto that arose out of the 16th century reformation recognizes this need. The reformers declared the need for "the church reformed, always reforming." So it should be. Any church leader who does not see this need is simply naive. Another way to state it is that a church needs to be growing--always growing according to the Word of God. If the church growth movement had not so effectively co-opted such terminology we could just as readily use it. But today, "church growth" is measured almost exclusively in terms of numbers and statistics, a standard to which 2 Peter 3:18 will not submit.

So, with this introduction, feel free to read, enjoy, agree, disagree, comment or lurk.

-Tom Ascol, Executive Director of Founders MInistries