Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Jack Graham on "The Truth about Grace," Pt. 2

More from Jack Graham:
(I finally found an internet connection!!)

"So I believe and reject these aberrant theologies because of the character of God and because of the cross of Christ that Jesus died for all men and he will therefore bring unto himself all who will be saved. He said, if I will be lifted up I will draw all men unto myself. Now when he draws all men some will come in faith and some will come in unbelief. Remember when Jesus was facing the cross and he prayed over the city of Jerusalem and as he looked over the city and the lostness of people there, he wept over with copious tears, sobs and heaves are described in the Scripture when it says that Jesus wept over that city. And he cried out, 'O jerusalem jerusalem, how I would have gathered you to myself as a hen gathers her chicks. But you would not.' Not you 'could not' but you 'would not.'"

My comments:
John 6:44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." Not "will come" but "can come." Of course it is also true that they will not come, but this verse (and others like it, notably Romans 8:7-8).

"Unbelievers can believe or they can not believe. They can receive the gospel and be saved or they can reject the gospel and be condemned."

"Somebody says but wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, doesn't God have to give us even the faith to believe? You will hear this often. Because we are so dead and depraved in sin God has to give us even the faith to believe. He has to regenerate us before we can even believe in Him. Now thats a little backwards, isn't it?... But that is the way this logic--or illogic--goes. God has to regenerate you before you can ever say, I receive Christ. No the Bible says believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. You say but doesn't God have to give us faith to be saved. Didn't you say salvation is of the Lord? Absolutely. Even our faith comes from God. And guess what? Romans 12:3 says that God has given to every man, to all men a measure of faith. Every person has been given by God this faculty this opportunity to believe."

My comments:
Really? Rom. 12:3 says, "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith." Try to put Graham's understanding into the actual words of this verse: "I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has [start Graham's interpretation} given to every man, to all men a measure of faith. Every person has been given by God this faculty this opportunity to believe."

If Graham's understanding of this verse is correct, here is Paul's argument: Since God has given every person the the faculty to believe, since He has given to everyone a measure of faith, do not think more highly of yourself than you ought. In other words, Christians (to whom Paul is writing in this letter of Romans) are to think soberly of themselves because God has given every person the faculty to believe. Somehow, the logic of this escapes me.

"In 19th century England, 18th century England because this kind of theology was spread through the congregation[s] there, there was no mission programs there was no evangelism going on."

"While there are rare exceptions--and I acknowledge exceptions to what I am about to say--in great part this kind of hyper theology of Calvinism is the death sentence to missions and evangelism."

My comments:
Well, I for one would like to know of one exception. I cannot think of a single person in history who has believed what Jack Graham has described who did not also completely reject evangelism and missions. But, then again, I cannot think of anyone in history who actually believed what Jack Graham has described. Just who does he think is an exception? Unless of course, as seems obvious, he is simply misrepresenting Calvinism by constructing a straw man and then destroying it.

This kind of display of theological ignorance is very sad. Jack Graham titled his sermon, "The Truth about Grace." At best, this is false advertising.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Jack Graham on "The Truth about Grace," Pt. 1

I tried to resist commenting on this sermon by Jack Graham but it is further evidence of how desperately we need biblical reformation in our churches throughout the SBC and beyond that I feel compelled to at least give some quotes from it so that others can see my point. Very often--more times than I can ever hope to remember--I have simply let such uncharitable misrepresentations pass without comment and even without calling attention to them. Several reasons have motivated me to pursue this course of action.

1. Love hopes all things. I want to believe that brothers who misrepresent my beliefs are not doing so intentionally but out of ignorance or fear. When such attacks have been personal they have been easier to simply overlook. But when they are principled or are specifically directed to the truth of God's Word, they have been more difficult to ignore.

2. I find myself in agreement with such critics on many important issues and I do not want to detract from the good that they are doing by calling attention to the bad that they are doing.

3. The misrepresentations have been so frequent and so similarly unthoughtful that to respond to them all would be a full time job--and a repetive one at that! The same old straw men have been passed around by the detractors of the doctrines of grace for centuries. They are so familiar that I can easily express the false accusations as eloquently as those who really believe them.

But, the time has come, I believe to start switching on lights and simply calling attention to the slanderous, Bible twisting caricatures that prominent leaders spew forth about the Gospel of God's grace. I take absolutely no pleasure in doing so. But we need reformation. Desperately. Others are not so sure. Some sort of think that we do but do not think that the need is really that desperate. Maybe by turning on the lights to expose what is being said and practiced in some of the most respected places and churches within the SBC and beyond more people will be convinced that our need is desperately great and will pray and labor more intensely to see the Gospel recovered and local churches reformed according to the Word of God. is Part 1 of some selected quotes. I will resist the temptation to make extensive comments. What comments I do make will be in bold.

"Some people believe that God's love is selective. And their definition of his love is seen as almost capricious."

"[They believe] that God has chosen only to choose whom He chooses and that doesn't include everyone."

Now this is an unusual way to say it, and perhaps he simply got a little tongue twisted (what preacher has not experienced this!), but who would argue with this statement? Has God not chosen to choose whom He chooses?

"There is a brand of elitist theology that is being taught aggressively today in some seminaries, and Christian universities, some churches and well-known Christian ministries. A brand of arrogant theology that claims that God only loves the elect and that the rest of the world is without a prayer, without a hope without a chance to know this grace of God. And this perverted form and theology, this hyper view of the grace of God is an abuse of Scripture. It is a perversion of the promises of God and it is slanderous to the very nature and character of God. God's sovereignty, God's grace does not diminish his love for all people."

What seminaries? What universities? What churches? What ministries?

"Limited Atonement--the effect of what Christ did on the cross is limited only to the chosen and everyone else is predestined to hell and to judgment."

"I can stand up here and say to you: GOd loves you. every person."

"This past week I led a decision service for our 3rd-6th graders in our Bible school."

"I was able to look at those children and tell them that, 'God loves you. Jesus died for you,' that 'Jesus loves all the little children of the world.' Yet, according to this theological system that is so aggressively taught in some sectors of Christianity today, I would honestly have to look at many of those little boys and girls with their bright eyes and beautiful faces and warm hearts, I would have to look at them and say, 'No! God has chosen you but God may not have chosen you, God loves you but I can't tell you that God loves you. God loves this one but He doesn't love that one. God has chosen and predestined that one to be saved and God has predestined that one to be lost....'"

Who in the world believes that this monstrous picture is a proper way to deal with anyone, especially children? This is simply an emotional ploy that makes no effort to promote understanding at all. It is sad to see men of Dr. Graham's stature construct such straw men, then with great flourish destroy them and pretend he has dealt with something real and significant. It is like watching a little boy break a light bulb and then go around telling people he has extinguished the sun.

"That slanders the character of God. It is an arrogance that verges on blasphemy. The Bible says in the simplest of terms, that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life."

"It [John 3:16] doesn't say that God so loved the elect or God so loved his chosen ones, or God so loved part of the world. But God so loved the world. And you know, we better be careful about adding [to] and subtracting from the Bible and playing little theological games with truth."

"Why don't we just believe the Bible and take God's Word as it is? God loves every person. That's what the Bible teaches." (applause)

"Some teach that God's grace is irresistible. In other words, that you have no choice in the matter of whether you receive Christ or reject Christ. That once the grace of God appears to you it attacks you, and forces you and coerces you to believe. You couldn't say, 'No,' if you wanted to. Because God's grace is irresistible.'"

See my straw men comment above.

"God does not impose His will upon us. Lest God would be a despot a dictator. God has given us in Christ the opportunity and the awesome responsibility to either reject the gospel or receive the gospel."

Folks, it gets worse. I will post some other excerpts in the near future (assuming I have email access while traveling).

Conservative resurgence and the slippery slope, right back down the path toward theololgical apostasy, pt. 2

Over the last 25 years we have had a renewal in our doctrine of revelation and Scripture. This is foundational to vital Christianity because the authority for our faith and life must be clear in order for us to discern truth from error and right from wrong.

But if this first stage of renewal is not followed by a further renewal of our doctrine of salvation (what is a Christian?) and our doctrine of the church (what is one and how is it to be ordered?) then we will have regained our balance only to stumble again in a different direction.

How did neo-orthodox and liberal teachings creep into SBC life? Most people answer that question by pointing toward the seminaries and colleges where students are influenced before taking places of responsibilities in local churches. Those professors who surreptitiously advocated higher critical ideologies sowed seeds of spritual confusion and destruction that sprouted up in various places across the denomination.

But from where did those teachers come? By and large, from the churches of the SBC. Anemic church life spawned spiritually and theologically anemic leaders and teachers who in turn infected those under their influence. Now, I realize that this is a severe generalization and I duly stipulate that there were many--or at least some--godly, devout teachers and denominational leaders in the middle to latter part of the twentieth century. But most of these grew up in churches that were not confessional and where discipline had long stopped being practiced. So, aided along by the ideal of academic freedom, a cultural of easy-going tolerance permeated many of our academies. Error was allowed to spring up and even thrive at times.

Can you think of a situation in twentieth century SBC life where a church exercised corrective discipline over a college or seminary professor who fell into heresy or serious doctrinal error? I can't. But is that not the church's responsibility? Granted, the administration and board of trustees have a responsibility as well. But doesn't the church bear that stewardship before the Lord first and foremost?

If churches abdicate their responsibilities to teach clearly the way of salvation and to maintain proper oversight over their members then they will once again become hotbeds for the very kinds of teachers and leaders who were at the heart of the problem in the 1970s. Without ongoing doctrinal and ecclesiological renewal the gains made in the conservative resurgence will not be conserved.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Conservative resurgence and the slippery slope right back down the path toward theololgical apostasy

The conservative resurgence that we have witnessed in the SBC will not last without ongoing spiritual and theological renewal. When noted inerrantists make statements that condemn the teaching of God's Word as expressed in confessions of faith long esteemed by Southern Baptists (and I am not talking about the Philadelphia or Charleston Confessions here, the Abstract of Pinciples and even the Baptist Faith and Message will do), then they demonstrate that something other than true reverence for God's Holy Word is driving their agenda. I am not suggesting that Jack Graham and others like him need to be Calvinists in order to prove their commitment to Scripture's authority, but I am saying that when such guys say that the battle in the SBC was strictly over the Bible and yet they go on to castigate fellow inerrantists and the teachings of confessions of faith that seminary professors have signed saying that they believe and will teach "in accordance with and not contrary to," then the evidence indicates this sad truth: something other than inerrancy is their real concern.

If this kind of mentality obtains in the leadership of the SBC and spreads to others, then the gains for the cause of biblical authority will be short-lived.

We need to have conversations about conserving the conservative resurgence. Perhaps the attacks on the doctrines of grace will provide such an occasion. I certainly have further thoughts on this subject.

I am currently in the great Pacific Northwest for the Alpha-Omega Conference on Scripture. I hope to blog while here, but given all the travel and communication challenges of the last 2 days, I hesitate to say that it should be easy to do.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Founders Study Center

I want to take a moment to commend The Founders Study Center, which is currently enrolling students for Fall classes. Under the direction of Dr. Ken Puls, the FSC is entering its 3rd year of existence. The center is an excellent way to for a minister or church leader (or any serious Christian, for that matter) to be exposed to some of the premier Christian teachers of our day. It is also an excellent tool for pastors to use in training men in their congregations. For more information, visit the website.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Why work for biblical reformation in the SBC?

Some of what I have been doing in this blog can be compared to turning on lights in a dark house. The light does not bring the furniture, fixtures, junk, etc. into existence, it merely exposes it. It was already there, but just lurking in the shadows. It is painful to own up to much of the sinfulness and wrongheadedness in the evangelical world or in our denomination or in our local churches. We wish that the bad simply did not exist. Some want to overlook it completely and thus get upset with anyone who seeks to turn on the light. Charges of disloyalty and worse are quickly levelled. But if cancer is present in my body, I want to know the truth about it and I will not get mad at the diagnosticians who make me aware of it and call me to own up to it.

I also realize, however, that some of the things that I have spoken plainly about, especially in the realm of SBC life, can tend to leave those within and those looking at us from without disillusioned. "Why stay in?" Or (as Doug mentioned), "Why even consider joining?" Well, I wrote an article that addresses that kind of concern a while back and I will link to it below. But let me make this one observation (OK, two observations). First, every Southern Baptist church is independent. No one dictates to a church what to do. Now this autonomy gives some--really, only a few--associational and denominational workers a cramp, but there are over-the-counter medicines that they can take to help with that. No Southern Baptist church should allow any person or entity to infringe on its autonomy. We voluntarily associate and cooperate with other churches under the Lordship of Christ. This makes our position patently different from the Roman Catholic Church or even from Anglican or Presbyterian churches. No top-down structure defines a Baptist church. Our ecclesiology works from the local church down. The churches define the associational and denominational structures. It is simply time for churches to start taking this responsibility seriously and quit being intimidated by denominational employees who might like us to think otherwise.

Secondly--and this is the point I want to underscore--every problem that is brought out into the light, every erroneous idea, unhelpful practice, misguided promotion and biblically unwarranted practice is not a call to retreat, but rather a call to advance! What we need is a reformation mindset that, like the cavalry of old, rides to the sound of the guns. Where the battle rages the hottest, where the need is the greatest, let's be willing to engage our labors there. Not to win arguments. Not for the love of contention (may such emotional perversion perish!). Not with the spirit of theological pugilists. But out of love for Christ and His truth and His church and with the conviction that reformation here will benefit the advance of the Gospel around the world. We must never lose site of this fact: the manifested glory of God and the eternal salvation of souls are at stake. This does not mean that everyone who loves the Gospel of God's grace should be (or even remain) Southern Baptist. Every church and pastor must settle that question before the Lord. What I am saying is this: the problems that sometimes tempt us to throw up our hands in despair are the very reasons that we should keep laboring for biblical reformation.

Here is the article I wrote. May God raise up a mighty army of local churches who will begin taking more seriously than ever our calling to be the church!

Pastors and church members who are committed to historic Southern Baptist principles regularly find themselves confronted with the question, "Why stay in the SBC?" After all, when many denominational leaders have made it very clear that you and your theological convictions are suspect at best and unwanted at worst, why put up with the headaches and animosity that often accompany SBC affiliation? Wouldn't it be easier and even better to disassociate oneself from a convention of churches that has deviated so far from its doctrinal roots? Isn't staying in the SBC compromise--making truth secondary to denominational loyalty? (read more)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Baptism Central

That's the name of a DVD that arrived in my mail today from the Florida Baptist Convention's Evangelism Strategy Department. The subtitle is, "Unlock the Meaning of Baptism!" The blurb on the cover says, "This DVD will answer many questions children (and even adults) are afraid to ask." It is a high quality production (obviously done on a Macintosh!) that is designed to help prepare children for the ordinance of baptism. Most of the actors are children, with the exception of "Field Agent Harper" (see below), who looks to be in his twenties. Practical things are covered, like what to wear, what to expect when going under water, be careful not to slip on wet floors, etc. But theological things are covered as well.

(The DVD opens with 2 girls on swings)

First girl: "Hey Hannah, you wanna come to my baptism Sunday?"

Second girl: "What's a baptism?"

First girl:"Baptism is the celebration that I asked Jesus into my heart."

"A baptism is kind of like a birthday party. A birthday party celebrates the day you were born into your family. Baptism celebrates the day you were born into God's family."

(cut to a man and boy standing in a baptistry; the man is "Field Agent Harper")

Field Agent Harper: "Hey! I look good."

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(later Field Agent Harper appears in the baptistry again, this time in a wetsuit with a snorkel and goggles, to show how baptism is to be performed)

Among other things that Field Agent Harper says is that "the pastor will normally ask you one question: and that question is, 'Have you trusted Jesus as your personal Savior?'"

At this point, Field Agent Harper--wetsuit, snorkel and all--"baptizes" a boy "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

The desire to help children (and adults) understand and prepare for baptism is commendable. But this DVD strikes me as one more example of the quest for relevance resulting in the loss of significance. Baptism is a vital ordinance--sacrament, if you will--of the church. Many of our forefathers suffered greatly at the hands of persecutors because of their commitment to observe it according to the New Testament pattern. To see it being treated so flippantly detracts from its meaning and purpose.

Marshall McLuhan's famous dictum, "the medium is the message," is hardly given a thought in our rush to relevance. How many times have you heard that we must change our methods without diminishing our messsage, as if methods are completely indifferent things? The next time you meet someone who believes that any medium is appropriate to convey any message ask him to convey Handel's Messiah using smoke signals.

But perhaps this Baptism Central DVD was an inevitable extension of the wave started 5 or 6 years ago by First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas. A former Disney designer was hired by the church to design a new children's worship area that included two sets, Toon Town and Planet 45. Included in the design is a special baptistry which is built in a fire engine. When a child is baptized, the sirens sound and confetti is fired out of cannons. I am guessing that this probably helps children overcome any hesitations that they to be baptized.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Apologies vs. repentance

As a father of six children and the possessor of one heart I have had many opportunities to both to practice and to teach the art of acknowledging sin and seeking to make amends. What I have discovered both paternally and internally is that expressions of true repentance are much more rare than the dime-a-dozen-variety apologies.

"I'm sorry" is regarded as some kind of magical phrase that is assumed to give the speaker a free pass from seriously owning up to his wrongs. Adolescent short-hand renders it simply, "Sorry." Say the word, get out of jail free, as if making an audible declaration completely clears the air and sets things right. "I said, I was sorry!" Right. So now we must simply move over the page and let bygones be bygones. At least that's what those who trade in this magic formula expect, if not demand.

Worse yet is the more sophisticated apology that goes like this, "If I have done anything to offend you, I'm sorry." As far as I am concerned you can save your breath rather than trying to pass that as a sincere expression of sorrow. It is an admission of nothing except the possibility that perhaps someone may have taken offense at any number of possible actions that you have taken. The way I see it, if you are not convinced that you have done anything wrong, then do not offer an expression of sorrow. How can you be sorry for something you are not convinced you have done? If you are convinced you have done it, then why the face-saving "If?" Simply admit your wrongdoing and then express your sorrow for doing it. If you genuinely are not sure if you have done wrong, then find out. Ask questions. Seek counsel. After your investigation, if your actions are exonerated, do not express sorrow. If you are found guilty, admit it.

But even such admission of guilt is still far short of what the Bible means by repentance. It is commonly noted that the New Testament Greek word that is behind the English word "repent" means "to change one's mind." That mind change inevitably leads to a change in life as well. There are many examples of how repentance works in the Bible. But the classic text on repentance is found in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11.

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

Verse 11 is the key verse. Do you want to learn to recognize true repentance? Study verse 11. Teach it to your children (and to your own heart). Godly sorrow leads to repentance--the kind of repentance that results in making things right, setting the record straight, becoming indignant not at those whom you offended, but at your own offending heart. There are not qualifications in biblical repentance.

All of this leads me to note that, so far, Dr. Steve Lemke of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has not responded to my appeal that he issue a statement declaring that he does not indeed believe what he previously wrote concerning the identification of Founders Ministries with hyper-Calvinism.

I made the appeal 3 weeks ago in response to his gracious letter in which he stated, "I apologize to those who felt I misrepresented or caricatured them." Such an apology is far as it goes. But if falls far short of the kind of zealous righting of wrongs that Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 7:11.

Perhaps Dr. Lemke will yet display what real repentance looks like by issuing a statement that corrects the misrepresentations he published about many of those who help pay his salary. If he doesn't, then his "apology" will mean very little.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Annual Church Profiles-Round 2

I promise not to make a habit of this, but after giving in to curiosity about another prominent church in the SBC I looked up their statistics for the last 4 years based on the Annual Church Profile (ACP). What I found was a situation that appears to be far more serious than I imagined. I present these figures as further indication that church life in the SBC is desperately lacking. If churches do not return to meaningful membership and biblical church discipline, then there is little hope that some congregations will resemble anything close to a church in the next 20 years.

Again, this is from the ACP of a prominent Southern Baptist church in the south. The pastor has been a prominent leader in the SBC and a man who, in many ways, deserves respect and honor for his life and testimony. Yet, look at what I found:

27905 members
21555 resident members
982 baptisms
683 other additions
9035 primary worship attendance

28325 members
21686 resident members
801 baptisms
720 other additions
9186 primary worship attendance

28837 members
21987 resident members
774 baptisms
652 other additions
8828 primary worship attendance

29349 members
22189 resident members
774 baptisms
667 other additions
9168 primary worship attendance

In 4 years, according to the ACP, this church baptized 3331 people and had 2720 other additions. This means that 6051 people joined the church from 2001-2004. Yet, the primary worship attendance in 2001 was 9035 and in 2004 was 9168 or a total increase of 133. The resident membership increased from 21555 in 2001 to 22189 in 2004, a total of 634.

Once again I want to go on record acknowledging that statistics do not tell the whole and maybe not even the most important story about a church. But since our denomination is so captivated by them, these are worth considering.

Is this the kind of evangelism that we want to propogate in the SBC? The kind that has to baptize 5 people to increase a church's membership by 1 resident member 4 years later (3331:634). Or that has to baptize 25 people to gain 1 new worshiper 4 years later (331:133)?

Is this the model that we want to hold up as a pattern for other churches?

I realize that there may be all kinds of extenuating circumstances that help put these statistics in a different light, but my fear is that these kinds of percentages are not at all uncommon in typical SBC churches.

The need to address these issues is patently clear. The good response to the resolution idea may be a good start. Southern Baptists simply must be encouraged to face up to the realities behind our sham statistics. Souls are at stake. Real evangelism is at stake. The gospel is at stake. The manifested glory of God is at stake.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Resolution on Integrity in Reporting

Gene Bridges had a great idea. Why not offer a resolution at the annual SBC meeting next year? The gatekeepers have pretty tight security around the process now, as spelled out in bylaw 20. Nevertheless, any member in good standing of a qualified Southern Baptist church (remember, there's over 16 million of us!) can submit a resolution to the committee on resolutions up to 15 days prior to the annual meeting.

We could work on a resolution here and offer it--or various versions of it--at our local associations and state conventions and then at the SBC in 2006 in Greensboro, NC. If everyone gets enough supporters in his or her own association and state to propose and pass this kind of resolution, it should be harder to for the committee on resolutions to ignore or dismiss it at the national convention.

OK, here is my offering, just to get the process started:

Whereas this 148th annual session of the Southern Baptist Convention marks the 26th anniversary of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention; and

Whereas at the heart of this resurgence has been a determination to return to an unashamed commitment to the inerrancy and infallibilty of the Bible as the written Word of God; and

Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and

Whereas the inerrant, infallible Word of God instructs us not to bear false witness (Exodus 20:16), but to put away lying and to speak truthfully to his neighbor (Ephesians 4:25); and

Whereas in 2004 the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicated that there are 16,287,494 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas well over one half of those members never attend or participate meaningfully in the life of any local Southern Baptist church and are thus no different than non-members; and

Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle; now, comma, therefore, be it

RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2005, urge Southern Baptists to repent of neglecting the effort to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further

RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of their failure to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further

RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement out Lord's teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior's teachings on church discipline especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership.

Well, that's at least a start. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Annual Church Profiles

It is that time of year when Southern Baptist churches are being encouraged to fill out and turn their "Annual Church Profile" (ACP). This is the document that is used to compile all those statistics that Southern Baptist leaders like to tout.

It was the Annual Church Profiles of 233 "Founders Friendly" churches that Dr. Steve Lemke, of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, studied to come up with his assessment that such churches "had considerably fewer baptisms, smaller congregations, more declining membership than the average Southern Baptist Church. In 2004, not a single one of the 233 self-identified Founder's [sic] Fellowship Southern Baptist Churches had 40 or more baptisms. Their baptism to member ratio was 1:62; it was 1:42 in the rest of the Southern Baptist Convention (which is the worst in our history).... The Founder's [sic] Fellowship churches were not only smaller, but they were more likely to be plateaued or declining than most Southern Baptist churches. Over 79 percent of the Founder's [sic] Fellowship churches were plateaued or declining, 10 percent more than the typical Southern Baptist church." (see my July 27-August 1 blogs for my assessment of his treatment of Calvinism and Founders Ministries)

Those ACPs are used to determine "successful" ministries and "dynamic" churches. I am beginning to question the wisdom of filling them out at all, for many reasons, not the least of which is the use of the statistics in the way that Steve Lemke did to mischaracterize pastors and churches.

Statistics simply cannot tell the whole, or even necessarily the most important, story of a church.

For example: what would you think of a Southern Baptist church that had the following profile over a 4 year period?

3506 members
203 baptisms
253 other additions
2200 primary worship attendance

3812 members
296 baptisms
190 other additions
2100 primary worship attendance

4011 members
209 baptisms
137 other additions
2031 primary worship attendance

4163 members
237 baptisms
204 other additions
1874 primary worship attendance

Would this church meet Dr. Lemke's criteria for "declining?" It went from a counted Sunday morning worship attendance of 2200 in 2001 to 1874 in 2004. If my math is correct, that is a 15% decline.

Granted, they have baptized 945 people during that 4 year period and they have added 784 people by other means. But the church membership only grew by 657. It took 1729 new members for the church to grow by 657 members.

In addition those 1729 new members resulted in 326 fewer worshipers! If the church continues to grow at this rate then by the time it adds around 10,000 new members the preacher will be preaching to an empty auditorium at his "primary worship" service.

So, back to my question: How should we evaluate such a church? What judgments should we make about the ministry of its pastor? Would Southern Baptists look at such a church with concern and even alarm? Would they want to bus over church growth specialists to help them reverse the decline? Would they encourage the church to get on board with the latest denominational baptismal goals?

No you won't find any of these responses. Nor will you find the pastor slammed in a seminary professor's paper. Shucks...the church might even be held up as a model for Southern Baptists. Who knows? They might even elect the pastor to become the convention president.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Citizen-kings and political activism

My antipathy toward JSII and the growing evangelical political activism does not mean that I think Christians should opt out of the political process. In fact, I want to be clear in stating that I recognize the church has a prophetic role to play in relation to political powers. "Speaking truth to power" may have been sloganized by liberals but it is an apt description of the church's responsibility to civil authorities. This is a part of the church's calling as the pillar and ground of the truth.

Beyond this, I believe that American Christians actually have a responsibility to be involved in the political process to promote justice and goodness. Let me try to explain the direction of my thinking about this.

Does the Bible give directives to civil rulers and monarchs? Even the most convinced pietist would, I think, agree. Romans 13:1-7 not only calls for Christians to submit to civil authorities but it also states that civil authorities are under God's authority and are therefore accountable to Him to reward good and punish evil. The Old Testament abounds with examples of God holding rulers accountable for the way they rule. This is true not only of the kings of Judah and Israel but also the kings of pagan nations.

If we lived under a monarchy we would have not only the right but the duty to call on the monarch to govern justly, knowing (whether he acknowledged it or not) that he is God's servant and obligated to reward good and punish evil.

But we do not live in a monarchy. We live in a democratic republic. Who is our civil king? We are. The citizens. We are citizen-kings. Thus we have not only the right but the responsibility to use the political process established by the republic to promote that which is good and restrict that which is evil. Citizen-kings should advocate good laws and decry bad ones. We should hold elected officials responsible for the trust we vest in them. Citizen-kings are responsible to work for justice and goodness in society.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Church and politics

Lest I be misunderstood, let me try to clarify my thinking on church and politics. The nature, purpose and mission of the church is to be determined by the Word of God and the Word of God alone. As a pastor I have often been lobbied by individuals and organizations who have wanted "my church" to go on record in support of (Right to Life) or protest against (public schools) various political and social causes. By and large I have declined such overtures.

I have done so while having strong convictions and being very outspoken about some of those very causes (prolife is my one-issue-litmus-test for candidates for public office and I think the government education system is hopelessly broken). This has resulted in charges of being inconsistent, "pietistic" and even "liberal" (it is hard to imagine how anyone could confuse me with a liberal!). In my own mind, I am simply trying to be carefully consistent.

I make a distinction (a necessary one, it seems to me) between the role and function of the church and the role and function of individual believers. A Christian can go to war in behalf of the state, but a church must never take up the physical sword as part of its mission. A Christian can be a magistrate (king, president, senator, etc.) but a church must never seek to rule a geo-political structure with political authority.

In 1996 I wrote the following words. They still express my convictions on this matter:

There is within the religious right much which is commendable. Their stated motivations and intentions are worthy of every Christian's appreciation. Who among the people of God is not dismayed over the cultural decay all around us? Adultery, fornication, homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia are now widely hailed as standard practices of the new morality. Governmental corruption is accepted as inevitable. Educational lunacy prevails at what are supposed to be the highest centers of learning. The prophetic judgment against "those who call evil good, and good evil" (Isa. 5:20) cannot help but resonate within the heart of the believer.

We all recognize that some kind of action is called for, and at least the religious right is doing something. They will not allow us to close our eyes to the moral degeneration all around us. As citizens, individual Christians who fulfill their calling in this way can provide a tremendous ministry. It is right and proper for Christians to be involved in every level of politics as individual citizens. But when they call for a Christian congregation to become institutionally involved in political activism they are guilty of distracting that church from its God-given mission. It is precisely because of this that the religious right's proposals are disastrous for evangelical churches (from "Reformation, Revival and the Religious Right").

I find much agreement with Martyn Lloyd-Jones at this point. In an interview with Carl Henry in 1980 he said, "It amazes me that evangelicals have suddenly taken such an interest in politics." He went on to call such interest "sheer folly.... You can't reform the world. That's why I disagree entirely with the 'social and cultural mandate' teaching and its appeal to Genesis 1:28. It seems to me to forget completely the Fall. You can't Christianize the world. The end time is going to be like the time of the Flood. The condition of the modern world proves that what we must preach more than ever is 'Escape from the wrath to come!' The situation is critical. I believe the Christian people--but not the church--should get involved in politics and social affairs. The kingdom task of the church is to save men from the wrath to come by bringing them to Christ. This is what I believe and emphasize. The main function of politics, culture, and all these things is to restrain evil. They can never do an ultimately positive work. Surely the history of the world demonstrates that. You can never Christianize the world" (Christianity Today, February 8, 1980, pp. 33-34).

It is for this resason that all the calls to "reclaim America for Christ" leave me cold. Our real need is to reclaim the church for Christ. When Christ is exalted in His church, when He is loved and revered and cherised with passion by those who bear His Name--in other words, when the church starts living like the church--then His body cannot help but make an impact on culture.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Justice Sunday II

Tonight was Justice Sunday II, hosted by Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. "God Save the United States and this Honorable Court!" This announcement that is made when the Supreme Court sits in session was the theme for JSII.

Joe Carter of the Evangelical Outpost blogged live from the event. Here is one of my favorite comments from his report:

5:50pm -- After thirty years as an American evangelical you'd think I'd be used to seeing an American flag in the church. But while I respect the symbol of our country, I've never been comfortable with an object that inspires patriotism sharing the stage with the symbol of our Savior's sacrifice. So I feel a bit uneasy seeing the two flags flanking a cross with a plaster statue of the Ten Commandments centered in front, used as the backdrop for the speakers. The cross is sufficient for salvation. Why is it not sufficient for the church?

Why indeed?

I met with others for worship tonight, so I was not able to tune in for the show. Other than what I read at the EO, I do not know how the program came off.

These kinds of events strike me as David trying to combat Goliath by using Saul's armor. He had sense enough to realize that it wouldn't work. Many evangelicals seem to think that encouraging churches to engage in political activities in order to attain desirable moral goals is a wise strategy. I think it is wrong-headed and self-defeating.

The church has been given a mission and it has nothing to do with exerting political pressure. Impact on culture and political structures has been most signiificant when it has come as a by-product of that mission being pursued with zeal and passion. If evangelical Christians want to see the moral degeneration of our culture reversed then they must become more serious in preaching and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their churches.

The best thing that the church can do for the world is not to try to influence who gets appointed to the Supreme Court but to be the church. Well-ordered, Gospel-saturated, Christ-centered churches are a far greater need in our country than are the right kind of judges.

I am not at all suggesting that Christians should not care about the political process. I am suggesting that a church as a church should never allow itself to be confused with a political action committee. Hosting a political rally does exactly that.

Our churches are filled with people who give no signs of regeneration, who cannot even recite the ten commandments, who do not know the Gospel and who do not live any differently from their unconverted neighbors. What we need is biblical reformation. Political activism is much easier and may well rally and excite the masses of unregenerate people in many churches, which means that the success of such theopolitical efforts may prove more deadly than their failure. Anything that keeps us from facing up to our greatest need, no matter how much "good" it may apparently accomplish, is spiritually deadly.

That is one of my greatest fears in all of this: that JSI and JSII and all the future JS gatherings may actually be politcally effective. If they are, then look for more of the same which will mean that we will continue traveling further and further from what Christ has called His church to be and do.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Get it from the horse's mouth

Though I normally do not blog on Saturdays, this one deserves to be made known early and widely. The M-Fuge prayer experience that I wrote about has provoked much interest. People have written me privately as well as commented publicly. Some have expressed disbelief, understandably so. Others have asked--again, understandably--for verification. A few have just assumed that I could not have my facts straight because... well, for a lot of reasons.

I am certainly not above making mistakes either in understanding or in communicating. For this reason, I want to make you aware of a place where you can read the whole account from Jared Moore, the youth minister I quoted. He tells all on his blog, "Buddhist Prayer @ M-Fuge."

Jared includes a follow-up letter that was sent out from Lifeway to those who participated in the week. The documentation he provides, along with his insightful comments, is well worth reading.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Guess what the kids learned at M-Fuge

Since 1995, M-Fuge has offered missions and ministry opportunities for students and adults within a camp context. M-Fuge, M-Fuge International, and Urban Connexx give your students the chance for hands-on missions and ministry opportunities during the day and creative worship and other fun activities in the evenings. Whether you are interested in missions in the United States or abroad, with your group or mixed in with students from across the nation, or ministry in a large, urban setting such as Chicago, M-Fuge has an option suited just for you!

That's what the Lifeway website says about this summer youth conference that is geared toward students.

Now read what a Youth Pastor from South Carolina has to say about his experience at M-Fuge.

I recently returned from M-fuge @ Southern Charleston University. We went from June 11-17. On Sunday night, June 12, all of the campers and staff gathered for worship. The speaker told all of us to close our eyes and to open our hands as if we're about to receive something... then he told us the following (this is word for word what he said, for this comes directly from the lifeway outline that every M-fuge preacher must follow)

"1. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, let yourself settle down. Let go of all the thoughts, tensions, and sensations you may feel and begin to rest in the love of God who dwells within.
2. Effortlessly, take up a word, the symbol of your intention to surrender to God's presence, and let the word be gently present. The word should be one syllable, if possible, and should communicate God's love to you. Repeat it over and over during your prayer time. Focus on the word and what it means in your relationship with God.
3. If thoughts subside and you find yourself restfully aware, simply let go of the word. Be in that stillness. When thoughts begin to stir again, gently return to the word. Use that one word as your only response to thoughts, questions, or anxieties that arise in your mind.
At the end of the prayer time, take a moment to come out of the silence gently. This is a good time to internally express thanks and gratitude to God, and to pray for others in need of God's grace. Pray over the audience as this time ends."

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi would be proud.

Who says that there is no longer any need for biblical reformation within the Southern Baptist Convention? This did not happen on the liberals' watch. This was brought to you by inerrantists.

Inerrancy is not enough. If we do not see an ongoing doctrinal and ecclesiological reformation in the churches of the SBC then within 30 years we will be right back where we were in 1970. Let me reitertate, I am not talking about promoting Calvinism, I am talking about recovering Christianity.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Spurgeon and Murray on Conversion

Consider these words from Charles Spurgeon, from his sermon entitled, "The Pentecostal Wind and Fire" (MTP, volume 27):

Furthermore, there was not merely this immediate confession, but as a result of the Spirit of God there was great steadfastness. "They continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine." We have had plenty of revivals of the human sort, and their results have been sadly disappointing. Under excitement nominal converts have been multiplied: but where are they after a little testing? I am sadly compelled to own that, so far as I can observe, there has been much sown, and very little reaped that was worth reaping, from much of that which has been called revival. Our hopes were flattering as a dream; but the apparent result has vanished like a vision of the night. But where the Spirit of God is really at work the converts stand: they are well rooted and grounded, and hence they are not carried about by every wind of doctrine, but they continue steadfast in the apostolic truth.

Consider also these words from Iain Murray:

"There is an urgent need today for the recovery of the truth about conversion. A widespread controversy on this subject would be a healthy wind to blow away a thousand lesser things [emphasis added]. A renewed fear of God would end much worldly thinking and silence a multitude of raucous services. There has been much talk of evangelism, and many hopes of revival, but Spurgeon would teach us that the need is to go back to first things" (The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, p. 68).

Here is a question worth pondering: Why isn't there a controversy raging over conversion? Is it because we are all agreed on what it is? Is it because we do not think that the encouragement of false conversions through unbiblical evangelism is not important? Is it because we love ease and quiet and care more about what others think of us than we do for the glory of God and the eternal welfare of souls?

Why is there no controversy over conversion?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Does conversion make a difference?

This ought to be one of those "duh" questions and among thoughtful evangelicals you will probably get that kind of reaction. We most certainly believe that conversion makes a difference...theoretically. But there tends to be a huge disconnect when our theory is measured against our practice. We know that theologically conversion to Jesus Christ is a life-changing experience. But experientially when purported conversions are counted and evaluated, too many evangelicals seem to put the question completely out of their minds.

There is a deadly unwillingness in our day to bring this simple question into the arena of evaluating the success of modern evangelism. Failure to do so, however, serves only to perpetuate evangelism that sends people to hell with decision cards in their pockets. Doesn't a true love of souls demand that we ask, "What's gone wrong with the harvest?"

God chose to plant the Gospel in the first century in the city of Jerusalem. Pentecost saw 3000 converts in one day (Acts 2:41). Shortly after that the total number of those who had been converted in the city was at 5000 (Acts 4:4). Many think Luke is speaking exclusively of male converts but that is debatable due to the way that he later uses the word in question (see 17:34). Even so, if women and children were not included in the 5000 then the total number of converts might have been around 10-12,000.

The population of Jerusalem at that time is hard to know with a high degree of certainty. Estimates from less than 100,000 to over 2 million have been made. William Smith thinks that it was perhaps 40,000 to 50,000. Josephus says that when Titus layed siege to the city that the population was 3 million. Tacitus says it was 600,000, which Smith suggests is a more realistic estimate. It is probably safe to assume, especially in light of the passover pilgrims, that hundreds of thousands of people were in Jerusalem when Peter preached at Pentecost.

What happened in Jerusalem as a result of several thousand people being converted? Acts 5:28 quotes the Jewish High Priest as accusing the disciples of having "filled Jerusalem with [their] doctrine." The whole city was turned upside down by these new converts. Remember, they did not have any Christian churches or background on which to draw. They did not have any built in support system, but rather had to construct such systems through the church. Jerusalem was not the same as before all these conversions took place. Life changed in the city because lives were changed by the Gospel. Conversion made a difference.

Contrast that with what regularly happens in our day. Take the 2001 Billy Graham Crusade in Louisville, Kentucky for example. I suppose I need to say that in taking this example I am in no way trying to take a "pot shot" at Dr. Graham or his organization. I have great respect for him despite obvious areas where I would take exception to his comments and practices. I use this example because, when offering a critique of a movement or group, one should always seek to take the best examples of that group to build one's case. It is easy to expose the problems with cranks and oddballs but no one wants to be (or should be) judged by the radical fringe of any group or movement with which he or she is associated. On that basis I choose to look at a Billy Graham crusade rather than at the church in my town that regularly baptizes 1000 people per year but cannot ever get more than 300 to show up for any meeting.

Many voices spoke with superlative language in anticipation of the Graham crusade coming to Louisville. During and after the crusade reports were given of thousands who "responded to the invitation" each of the four nights. That response was measured by walking down to the front at the evangelist's request. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 10,321 people were in that category.

First, let me express a word of appreciation for the care with which Baptist Press reported these results. They were not--at least in the articles I read--immediately proclaimed converts. However, the whole point of the crusade was to make converts, and the individual stories of people who did respond spoke of them being converted. Other news outlets understandably reported that those who walked to the front were responding positively to the invitation to "make a commitment to Christ." This is the common judgment about the 10,321 who "went to the front."

Let's be generous and assume that only half of those who came forward were, according to language that has unfortunately become common evangelical parlance, "first time decisions for Christ." In the view of those who advocate and promote this kind of evangelistic practice then, 5000 new disciples (to revert back to biblical language) were made in those 4 days. It is fair to further assume that if the other 5321 people could not be said to have "prayed the prayer" or "ask Jesus into their hearts" or "decided for Christ," then at least they could be judged to have made some kind of spiritual decision that would make them better Christians.

Here is my point: What happened to Louisville, a city of 250,000 people (700,000 if you include the Metro Louisville area), in the aftermath of the Greater Louisville Crusade? Was the city turned upside down with the Gospel message being spread by the new converts and newly rededicated old converts? In the first century, Jerusalem was eternally impacted by the thousands of converts mentioned in the book of Acts. In the 21st century has Louisville been filled with the teaching of Christ in the wake of similarly reported converts? Should not a similar kind of result be expected? Do not forget to take into consideration that those 5000 whom Luke counted did not have the kind of ecclesiastic support system that existed for the 10321 whom the BGEA counted. There were already tens of thousands of converts in established churches in Louisville before the crusade ever came to town. The new "decisions" simply added to an already large number.

Why was the impact on 1st century Jerusalem so much greater than the impact on 21st century Louisville? Does conversion make a difference or not? It used to. It did in the first century. It doesn't seem to make much difference now. Why not? Has conversion changed? Has God changed? Has salvation changed? Has Christ or the Holy Spirit become less powerful?

Of course not. What has changed is the common understanding of what it means to become a Christian. Our understanding of conversion has changed. The loss of a biblical understanding of salvation has spawned untold problems in today's churches. Until we go back to what the inerrant Bible says about what a Christian is and what it means to become one, we will continue to see spiritual carnage spread throughout our churches and culture.

Let me close with a quote from Tom Elliff that I cited a few days ago:
"If all the people that we say are truly born again are truly born again, we'd be a force to be reckoned with in this nation."

Monday, August 08, 2005

Baptist Faith and Message

The Baptist Faith and Message says some good things about the nature of a local church. It would be helpful if pastors and churches would take time to consider seriously the claims of this statement. Other Baptist confessions have more complete statements, but what the 2000 BFM says is good as far as it goes:

VI. The Church
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Notice the emphasis on life and activity. Churches are comprised of baptized believers who "associate," "observe," are "governed," "exercise," and "seek to extend the gospel." Church members are to have spiritual life. At least, that is what we formally confess. Our practice, however, tells a different story.

Despite what the confession says, the majority of Southern Baptist church members are not "associating together" in church, being "governed" by the laws of Christ, "exercising" spiritual gifts, or "seeking to extend the gospel." What we say we believe and what we actually believe and practice are two different things.

It might prove useful if the articles of the BFM--or at least selected articles--were expounded in a devotional and applicable way during the Bible study times of the annual Southern Baptist Convention. Pastors could be given models of how to teach the confession to their churches and encouraged to use the confession to promote spiritual health through reworking the church's approach to how members are accepted and maintained in the body of the church.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Interesting quotes

From time to time others have publicly acknowledged the meaningless membership numbers that dominate Southern Baptist statistics. While every honest admission of the problem is commendable, what we desperately need is a willingnes to move beyond acknowledgment of the problem to a serious investigation of its root and cause. Nevertheless, every public recognition of the problem can help move us closer to having such a conversation.

So, with a desire to see Southern Baptists become honest in our advertizing, I pulled the following quotes together.

Paige Patterson on typical Sunday morning congregations:

"Regrettably I have to believe that anytime you stand up and face a congregation these days in the average church you're looking at 30-40% that have never been born again and are not genuinely saved.... I'm talking about in Baptist churches where we supposedly emphasize nothing in the world but regeneration. Lord knows what it is in some others, but I think that's true of us and I think it's because we have been very careless. We've been more concerned about numbers to report to the denominational press than we have been about genuine conversion. So, yes, I'm very concerned about it. Matter of fact, I've got to where, going into churches, I preach hardly anything else but the new birth anymore from one of 18-20 passages that I work from, just because I'm so concerned about that. So, yes, I do share your concern about that. It can't be any other way for us to have as much of the world in the pew as we presently have." Read the whole interview here.

Do the math: If (and let's use Dr. Patterson's conservative estimate here) 30% of the regular Sunday morning attenders "have never been born again and are not genuinely saved" then the that means that only 4 million of the 6 million that tend to show up are converted. That would mean 1 out of 4 Southern Baptists are unconverted...if Dr. Patterson's assessment is correct.

Fifteen years ago the Wall Street Journal noted bogus SBC statistics

The April 25, 1990, edition of the Wall Street Journal carried an indicting article under the headline, "Official Number of Southern Baptists Is Overestimated, Even Their Leaders Agree" (p. A16). It charges that official claims of 14.9 million members are terribly inflated: "Baptist statisticians and even some top denominational officials acknowledge . . . that as many as half of that number no longer set foot in a Southern Baptist Church." Over 4.4 million of these are "so-called non-resident members, a technical term [which, we might add, has absolutely no biblical justification,] that actually allows the counting as members those the church has simply lost touch with."

"Baptist officials say such members should be stricken from church rolls. But in a denomination where membership is often equated with success, few churches will do that." Beyond this special species of members, the article also identifies another 3 million members on our rolls who "haven't attended their church or donated to one in the past year." That leaves about 7.4 million "active" members. But the picture becomes even more bleak when one considers that, according to Sunday School consultant Glenn Smith, included in this "active" figure are those members who only attend once a year at Easter or Christmas.

Former SBC President, Tom Elliff (Jim's brother) on AWOL church members

From a Feb 18, 1997 BP story by By Art Toalston (NASHVILLE, TN)
"I believe we are living in those few moments before sundown." Concern number one: "I believe every member of the Southern Baptist Convention somehow, some way needs to ... certify his or her experience with Christ," said Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, in suburban Oklahoma City. More than half of the nation's 16 million Southern Baptists do not attend church services, Elliff said, asking, "By what right do we just assume that those people really know Christ as their Savior ... and never call them to account -- never call them to certify their experience with Christ?" Acknowledging, "There are always people who think that it's wrong to encourage other people to think through their conversion experience," Elliff cited 2 Corinthians 13:5 in the New Testament: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves" (KJV). The word "examine," he said of the language of New Testament times, means "cut right down to the heart of a matter," while the word "prove" means "taking a test." "This is a scriptural mandate," Elliff stated. "Somehow we need to get this business of what true conversion really is into the process of Southern Baptist churches -- Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, every week, 52 weeks of the year. People need to hear, What does it really mea
n to know Christ? What does it really mean to be born again, to be a child of God? What does it really mean to experience genuine conversion, regeneration?"

Elliff contended: "If all the people that we say are truly born again are truly born again, we'd be a force to be reckoned with in this nation." Southern Baptists "could virtually have their sway in many arenas in this nation, if we were really hot for God."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Honest Statistics: A Large Convention of Small Churches, Part 2

The overwhelming majority of Southern Baptist church members give little or no sign of spiritual life. Countless studies of our churches' memberships over the last 20 years all tell the same story. The recently compiled statistics from the Annual Church Profiles of SBC churches indicates that in 2004, we had:

- 16,287,494 members
- 6,024,289 Sunday morning attendance
- 37 percent of the total membership typically attend Sunday morning worship

Of course, that percentage is actually much worse because it does not take into account visitors and children who show up. So we can safely say that on a typical Sunday morning less than 37% of the members in Southern Baptist churches show up.

As I mentioned yesterday, what is now the North American Misssion Board (formerly the Home Mission Board) issued a report in 1996 entitled, A Large Convention of Small Churches by Phillip Jones, which found that the typical (median) SBC church has:

- 233 members (of which 168 are resident)
- 70 people in Sunday morning worship service (30 percent)

When you move beyond Sunday morning worship attendance, the picture becomes even more bleak. Less than 1 out of 4 Southern Baptist church members attend Sunday School and considerably less than that attend any other function of the church. The median church baptized 5 people into membership and added 5 other members during the previous year. Despite this, Jones concludes, the median church is growing by only 1 member a year. Closer analysis indicates that this one member is more likely to wind up inactive than active. Jones concludes, "Although the typical church in the SBC appears to be barely growing, it is, in fact, in decline" (p. 23).

What this means is that the typical Southern Baptist church baptizes lots of people who simply do not hang around long enough even to become regular Sunday morning attenders. This is precisely what Jack Smith, a "soul-winning evangelism associate" for NAMB, has discovered in his own experience with Southern Baptist churches. According to a Baptist Press story, He has found that "only about 30 percent of baptized believers in SBC churches typically are active in Sunday school a year later. When actual retention rates of new Christians are considered from the time of their decision, the percentage often drops to the single digits."

Now, take note: what the "soul-winning evangelism associate" calls "new Christians" are those people who have been led to "make decisions" in the typical SBC way of evangelism; ie. agree to some facts, pray a prayer, assume your saved. But, notice what he has discovered from this kind of evangelistic approach: LESS THAN 10% OF THE CONVERTS PRODUCED ACTUALLY STICK.

Unfortunately, the solution that Smith proposes is, "better follow-up" of new converts. Certainly intentional discipleship efforts are important in the lives of new believers. But folks, the problem is not a lack of follow-up. If it ain't alive, it can't grow.

Jesus talked about the change that must take place in a person's life before he can enter into or even see the kingdom of God. He spoke of that change in terms of birth. The analogy of birth tells us much about the nature of the change. A birth is followed by a life, except in those tragic cases of stillbirths. But under normal circumstances when there is a birth, we can expect there to be signs of life--eating, crying, breathing, growth and development. Where such signs of life are nonexistent, you can be sure that something has gone horribly wrong.

Too much of modern evangelism is tailor made to produce spiritual stillbirths. We look at the products of such methods and wonder why there are no signs of life and conclude, "It's because we need better followup." That is like a pediatrician ordering neonatal care for a stillborn infant.

We are long overdue to have a serious conversation about evangelism and conversion. Such a conversation must begin with a reconsideration of what the Gospel actually is. We cannot afford to assume any longer that we all agree on this.

I determined several years ago that, by God's grace, I want spend the rest of my life and ministry being clear on three questions:

1. What is the Gospel?
2. What is a Christian and how does a person become one?
3. What is a church?

As I have stated previously, the issues raised by these questions transcend the debates over Calvinism and Arminianism.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Steve Lemke's letter and my response

Dr. Lemke posted a letter to me and others in a comment on this blog. In order to highlight his gracious letter and my response, I am posting his letter and mine back to him in a fresh entry.

Tom and friends,

Thank you for the careful attention you have given to my paper, "The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals." Because I have great personal appreciation for you and a number of other people involved in the Founder's Movement, it distress me greatly that you have found my comments to be so harmful or misguided. I really tried in the paper to express my concern as kindly as I could (i.e., I stated at some length my appreciation for some aspects of Calvinism, defended its legitimacy within Christianity and the Baptist tradition, insisted that some Calvinists were very evangelistic, and brought out the wide variety of positions within Calvinism to make clear that my remarks did not apply to all Calvinists), but I obviously failed in that attempt, and for that I am truly sorry.

It probably goes without saying that the fact that most people were introduced to my paper through President Welch's comments very much shaped the way they read my paper. However, my paper was not primarily about Calvinism or the Founders Movement -- they weren't even the main thrust of the paper. The reason that I did not attempt to provide a scholarly theological critique of Calvinism or the Founders Movement (as some seem to think I was attempting to do) is simply because it was not the purpose of my paper. My topic of "The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals" was assigned by the leaders of the "Maintaining Baptist Distinctives" conference at MABTS, and my paper raised concerns about numerous areas of Southern Baptist life. The only reason that the Founders Fellowship was mentioned at all in the paper was that it provided a self-identified group of fairly strong Calvinist Baptist churches, which facilitated a statistical comparison between Founders Fellowship churches and the average SBC church. I did this to avoid merely repeating the rag that hard Calvinism might limit evangelism and missions without some hard evidence. I consider myself a soft Calvinist, and probably my best-known sermon is a defense of the security of the believer. As I mentioned in the paper, Dr. Kelley and I have brought more Calvinists on our faculty at NOBTS than at any time in our history. I say those things just to say that I am interested in balance, and I'm far from a rabid antiCalvinist. I certainly didn't accuse anyone of heresy. I value you as brothers in Christ. I do think it's important for brothers in Christ to have the freedom to voice different perspectives on issues and heartfelt concerns, but I apologize to those who felt I misrepresented or caricatured them. That was not my intention.

I have profited from the many critiques, commentaries, and criticisms of my paper in your blog and others. I agree with a number of points that have been made, especially concerning the need for better discipleship of those who are baptized and a more meaningful church membership (a point I made in the paper). I also have come to believe that the term "hyperCalvinism" is just too controversial and understood to mean too many different things to different people to be very useful in the discussion. I do think that some of the critiques were overreactions or misunderstandings of what I was trying to say (for example, several seemed to focus so much on my illustrations about dancing and drinking that they missed the point I was making -- my worry that we're compromising with the world too much in our lifestyles), but these critiques are just too many and it would require more time than I can give them to respond to them all.

The primary concern that I voiced in the paper was that Southern Baptists give the priority to evangelism and missions that the Great Commission commands and that we practiced in the past. My hope and prayer would be that we as Baptists could rediscover the passion for evangelism that the early church had, that brought a tremendous harvest across the Western world in the first century. May God do it again today!

Steve Lemke


Thank you for your gracious response. I appreciate the the kind words you have used about Founders. I was introduced to your paper by Bobby Welch. However, I read the whole paper and tried to evaluate it on its own merits. I also appreciate the fact that you did differentiate between various stripes of Calvinism. What distressed me is the identification of Founders Ministries and those who identify with us as "hyper-Calvinistic." It is impossible for me not to be sensitive to this issue since that charge has been recklessly and harmfully leveled against us more times than I can number--often by Southern Baptist leaders and denominational servants. Their words have then been invoked in justifying every kind of godless activity imaginable in dealing with pastors and church members.

I recognize that your spirit is not at all like that and that you would never take engage in or countenance such treatment of pastors or church members with whom you disagree. However, your paper, in effect, draws a huge bull's eye on the backs of many people. It is almost inevitable that you will now be cited by some who will characterize a church or a pastor as hyper-Calvinistic because they have an appreciation for Founders Ministries.

"Hyper-Calvinism" is a good theological term--though not a good theology! It has a historically verifiable identity. I would discourage you from ceasing to use it, but would encourage you to be more precise in how you use it. Peter Toon's book and Curt Daniel's dissertation on John Gill and Hyper-Calvinism are good sources for tracing out the historical contexts and theological contours of this view. I would make one very sincere plea to you. Please add a footnote to your paper or publish some brief statement that clarifies your views on this. If you indeed do not believe that Founders Ministries in guilty of hyper-Calvinism, please make that known. By doing so you will be following the wisdom of King Ahasuerus in issuing a second decree that allowed the Jews to defend themselves from his unfortunate earlier decree. As I have indicated, I fear that if you do not, others will take your words and use them wrongly to slander and attack good men and churches.

I share your conviction that brothers should be able to disagree and engage in serious dialog about their disagreements without writing each other out of the kingdom. For this to happen we must be careful to use proper designations and representations of those with whom we disagree.

I greatly appreciate your last comments. We do need a deeper passion for evangelism. That is true of Calvinists, Arminians and everyone in between. But as I have hinted at in an earlier post today, in order for this to be the case, we must make sure that we have not lost the Gospel. There can be no evangelism--true evangelism--without the evangel. I have no doubt that you agree. This problem--which to my mind is huge, much bigger than anything we have written about thus far on this blog--transcends the Calvinism-Arminianism debates.

Thanks again for the spirit and content of your comments. May the Lord bless you and your ministry as you make Christ known.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Honest Statistics: A Large Convention of Small Churches, Part 1

In 1995 the Home Mission Board (now known as the North American Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention issued a research report entitled, A Large Convention of Small Churches. It was authored by Philip B. Jones and employs standard statistical-analytical procedures to give insight into the reported membership and growth patterns of Southern Baptist churches using the Annual Church Profile. It is, in my opinion, a devastating report. Devastating in the sense that it confirms in bold letter the very kinds of concerns that Founders Ministries has been trying to address for more the twenty years.

The great problems that I see in many churches--Southern Baptist and otherwise--is not a lack of Calvinism. It is a lack of Christianity. I believe that the Gospel has been lost and that Christ is absent from many churches. There is no way to state that conviction without it sounding harsh, pharisaical and unkind, but I at least want to go on record that I do not want to be any of those things. My heart breaks when I see and hear what goes on in the name of Christ in many churches and Christian institutions. Souls are at stake. Heaven and hell are at stake. If the Gospel is missing, it does not matter what else is present.

Let me cite two reasons that I can make this statement with some sense that my assessment is at least not eccentric. The first support that I have for thinking this way is historical. John Dagg, the first writing theologian among Southern Baptists, said this: "When discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it" (p. 274). You may read his Treastise on Church Order here.

The other reason that I think we must be willing to consider the possibility that Christ is absent from some churches is because He Himself warned that such could happen. In his letter to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2 He threatens to remove the lampstand from its place among them (v. 5). That is, He threatens to unchurch them. I have often wondered what such an unchurched church would look like? Would it affect their activities if Christ withdrew? Would it change their schedule, their priorities, their worship, their prayers, etc? Probably not. Because the very reasons for which Jesus threatens to unchurch them are the very patterns of living with which they have already grown comfortable. A question I have put to myself and to our congregation is this: "If Christ were to leave our church, would we even notice?"

My fear is that some churches have become so dependent on so many resources other than Jesus Christ that if He withdrew, it really would not matter in their life and schedules. Obviously, determining whether or not Christ has left a church is at best a very difficult matter. However, it is not difficult to evaluate whether or not discipline has left a church, or if the Gospel is known and believed and preached in a church. These are objective, discernible realities that can be analyzed by simple Scriptural criteria.

Here is a question to put to your church, or the churches you know about and care about: "What if John Dagg is right?" How many churches--churches where Christ is present--would that leave us with?

Well, I have gone on longer than I intended in giving my justification for stating my fear that in many churches and Christian organizations, the Gospel has been lost. So I must wait until a later post to give you the information from the HMB report I mentioned above. You might try to secure a copy of this report for yourself. I have been told by some that it is no longer available. If that is true, it is a shame. The insights it gives are very instructive.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Final Observations on the misrepresentations of Bobby Welch and Steve Lemke

I stopped my evaluation of Steve Lemke's article (that Bobby Welch commended as a fine treatment of Calvinism and the Great Commission) primarily because the kinds of historical and theological mistakes that it contains tend to be repeated throughout the remainder of the 4th part of his paper. Others have sufficiently debunked his statistical musings. His treatment of the altar call begs to be addressed...but I am resisting the temptation to do so (at least at this point). As I mentioned before, I take no delight in this kind of writing and wish it were not necessary. If scholars and denominational leaders would simply be more careful in their critiques of views with which they disagree, then there would be no need for this type of response. May the Lord help us all to do so.

Here are my summary thoughts on this matter.

1. The day of unquestioned assertions is over. With ready access to important primary sources the scholar's guild no longer should expect to make gratuitous assertions about historical and theological issues and expect them to be accepted on the mere basis of some kind of supposed scholarly authority. Twentyfive years ago a seminary professor could assert (as one of mine did) that "The Synod of Dort affirmed hyper-Calvinism," and not worry that too many people would be able immediately to refute him. Today, anyone with internet access can expose that falsehood in minutes. This is a good thing and should make everyone a more careful student, speaker and writer.

2. Those Southern Baptist employees whose salaries are paid by Southern Baptist churches should at least exercise care in how they characterize their employers. One of the major arguments of the conservative resurgence in the SBC was that it is immoral to expect Southern Baptists to keep paying the salaries of those who ridicule and and misrepresent the convictions of the churches who send their money to the cooperative program. The legitimacy of that argument has not lessened now that conservatives have replaced liberals in those offices of denominational service. As several of the comments on this blog have indicated, this kind of disrespect breeds distrust and frustration. Inaccurate and unjustified criticism of those who believe what the founders of the SBC believed about salvation will result in the disenfranchisement of many Southern Baptist pastors and churches.

3. The leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention should recognize that many churches and pastors--especially younger pastors--in the convention are growing very weary of the lack of authenticity that comes through in their touting of numbers, largeness and programs. It smacks of triumphalism and a growing number are finding it increasingly off-putting. If SBC leadership wants everyone to jump up and down about the prospect of baptizing a million people in the next 12 months, then first convince us that you are willing to speak honestly about the ten million who have already been baptized but rarely, if ever, even show up on a Sunday morning in our churches. Get honest about our denominational statistics. Admit the truth, that we have far fewer disciples than we have baptisms, which means that we are baptizing a whole bunch of people who are not disciples. If that pattern is deemed acceptable to denominational leadership, then they at least should realize that it is not acceptable to many of us who are hold our Baptist convictions dear because we find them rooted in the Scripture. That is, many Southern Baptist pastors and churches genuinely believe in the baptism of diciples alone. Many of us still believe in a regenerate church membership as a principle of Baptist church life. The bloated statistics of the SBC are a veneer that conceals serious doctrinal and spiritual problems. It is time for Southern Baptists to drop the facade and to confront the problems directly, with humility and submission to the Word of God. This is not a Calvinist issue. This is a Christian and Baptist issue.

4. There is undoubtedly a growing doctrinal reformation afoot in the SBC. Despite the efforts of scandalous opponents like, this reformation continues to grow. Will Southern Baptist inerrantists who are not convinced that the theology of our denomination's founders is biblical be willing to accept those inerrantists who do? A few denominational leaders have stated that they are very glad to work with their fellow Southern Baptists who are reformed in theology (though these leaders themselves do not share that view). This spirit is commendable and helps generate the kind of trust and goodwill that promote genuine Christian unity. But in order for this trust and goodwill to grow, then those leaders must be willing to renounce serious and inflammatory misrepresentations of Calvinism and Calvinists such as Steve Lemke and Bobby Welch have promulgated.

For years people have said that "Calvinism is going to be the next big debate in the SBC." Lots of speculation has swirled about this question. I have no idea what will happen. But I do have an opinion on what could happen. If denominational employees and leaders continue to accuse Southern Baptist Calvinists of heresy, then the prospect of having a meaningful discussion over the issues will be seriously reduced.

Ray Van Neste on Steve Lemke's article

The Lemke/Welch misrepresentations of Calvinism and Founders Ministries have provoked responses in many different blogs. I have read some and had many more recommended to me. There are many excellent blogs out there that are worth reading. One of them is Locust and Wild Honey. Another is Words of Grace.

Dr. Ray Van Neste has recently replied to Dr. Lemke on the latter of these. Dr. Lemke defended his paper from criticisms leveled by comments on that blog and Dr. Van Neste responded to his defense. Dr. Van Neste's comments are so clear, kind and to the point I asked for and received permission to post them here. Pray that Dr. Lemke will take them to heart.

Dear Steve,

I had set out to write at more length in response to your response but other guys on this site have addressed some of the issues (these guys are quick!). I have not yet read Tom Ascol's response. But I wanted to write briefly to say in essence; "Come on!" You put a very positive spin on your paper in the response posted here, but it does not seem to fit with the actual paper. I read Bobby Welch's piece and your paper when all this came out. I think Welch understood you the way any reader would. Others here have pointed out in detail the error of calling belief in the TULIP hyper-Calvinism. They are absolutely correct and you should have been more careful here. If we want to foster good discussion and avoid fracturing we must avoid unfair, untrue generalization like this. In fact this generalization is slanderous. No one in the leadership of the Founders is a hyper-Calvinist though your paper makes it sound like they are. This is damaging and should probably require a public clarification. Though you set out to clarify that you only have a certain type of Calvinism in mind, your description then covers most people who affirm Reformed soteriology (T George is not refuting the typical understanding of TULIP but restating in a way to clarify).
Here are some points from your paper.

1. You ask if Baptist Calvinists will distinguish themselves clearly and definitively from hyper-Calvinists. They already have done so, clearly, directly, and often. It will be important for those who are going to criticize or even worry about (the category of your paper, perhaps) Calvinistic Baptists to actually read the writings of such people. Then your answer would be clear.

2. You also wonder about continuing "on the current trajectory". What is this trajectory? Simply the wording here suggests that anti-missional Calvinism is on the rise. If so where is it? I am sure you could find it somewhere (you can find almost anything somewhere in Baptist life!), but I have not seen it. In fact some of the most passionate young pastors we have would describe themselves as Calvinistic. I am worried that careless talk like this will continue to drive them away from the SBC. This line is continued later when you ask whether this newest generation of SBC pastors will "continue moving toward hyper-Calvinism." Continue? These kinds of charges continue to be thrown around without any real justification. This is not helpful.

3. Just in passing you state that you do not believe that the SBC will ever require belief in the five points. Does anyone else believe this?! Is anyone seeking this? No one I know of.

4. Lastly, in your response you suggest your data on baptismal ratios, etc. are really no surprise and no big deal- "Was anyone really under the impression that the Founder's Fellowship churches were coextensive with the Mega-metro churches?" But if this is the case, why did you in the paper describe the results as "startling" (p. 16)? Why did you include this inflammatory statement:
"But do churches who emphasize hard Calvinist theology tend to be less evangelistic? Look at the hard evidence and you be the judge!" (p. 17)

What is this? Note the exclamation point. Why would anyone not read this as a warning against 'those Founders people'? You must know that Reformed thinking Southern Baptists are a much maligned group and that therefore such careless talk will lead not to healthy conversation but bashing by others--whether intended by you or not. There is a high responsibility for carefulness with our words here. You seemed to lightly chastise these guys on the blogs for casting stones, but this paper sounds like stone casting to me.

I heartily agree that we need to keep talking rather than throwing stones. With good, careful conversation we can see growth rather than division.