Monday, October 31, 2005

Ready for Reformation? Pt. 3

It was 488 years ago that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. This event signifies the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It also reminds us that reformation is indeed possible. In our day when this same kind of movement of God is desperately needed again, the lessons learned from history can encourage and guide us.

Tom Nettles' new book can help us at just this point. Before continuing on with my own comments on his book, let me recommend 2 reviews that have recently appeared.

Scott Lamb has a good review of Nettles' book as does one of Nettles' students at the provocations and pantings blog. Scott has also included a picture of Reformation Wall. See if you can notice anything different about it!

In his call for a reformation in contemporary preaching, Dr. Nettles describes the sermon of a modern "strategically influential pastor" who claimed to have received "fresh fire from the altar." Nettles evaluates the man's sermon:

How many of God's sheep have been led to endure this kind of pompous imposition! He never read the text to the congregation, for it was not apparent that its content was germane to his sermon. All of his points supposedly flew straight from the altar from which were drawn the coals that cleansed Isaiah's lips. Oh, that such had been the case, for then the entire sermon would probably never have assaulted a Christian pulpit. Each succeeding assertion came as a result of an immediate perception of what God wanted him to say to that particular congregation ... (p. 35).

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Nettles notes that "some of his ideas rescued his hearers from mistakes they might have derived from Scripture." He concludes this third chapter with a succinct warning and call. "Without a recovery of confidence in the transforming power of proclaimed truth, the reformation will fail, and the Baptist advance for truth and the divine glory will stagnate and corrupt." Instead, through self-criticism and examination preachers must give themselves to preaching "Christ and him crucified" and to resolve "not to handle the Word of God deceitfully" (p. 38).

The next two chapters are entitled, "Baptists must recover the work of evangelism" (parts 1 and 2).

Nettles and Dever at the Evangelical Forum

Since I am in the middle of giving comments on Tom Nettles' new book, Ready for Reformation?, I thought I would let you know about a meeting next week where he and Mark Dever will be speaking at the Evangelical Forum in Alexandria, Virginia on November 9, 2005. Those interested can get more information here.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ready for Reformation? Pt. 2

One of the values of Dr. Nettles' new book is the vast amount of historical research that it weaves together. For example, he cites Paige Patterson's writing in the Shophar Papers of 1980 as an "early reformation proposal." Nettles writes:

Patterson noted that "denominational executive offices can become 'Protestant Meccas' to which all must bow, with 'programs' being substituted for righteousness." Any questions or doubts make a person susceptible to anathemas by "those who claim to be 'loyal'" (p. 6).

A little later Nettles' offers this astute, if measured, observation:

"The warnings that Patterson issued in the initial glow of challenge to the dominant theological and administrative culture of the Convention do not lose their relevance when the doctrinal stance of the denominational leadership changes toward conservatism. Some would wonder if the 'king-maker' operations that he detested and criticized are once again firmly entrenched" (p. 8).

After showing the "health of confessional Christianity" in chapter 2, Nettles turns his attention to preaching in chapter 3. Here he acknowledges that though the recovery of inerrancy has provided some impetus for the recovery of expositional preaching, "sufficient cause for deep concern still reverberates from Sunday to Sunday in Baptist pulpits....Though inerrantists have a better theory about biblical authority, sermons of biblical substance pop up much less frequently than needed. They come as refreshing interludes to give relief to the droning run-on sentence of mesmerizing emptiness in much that passes for preaching" (p. 33).

Nettles gives several examples of problematic preaching to illustrate the need for the "priority and power of truth in proclamation." Kindly and dimplomatically, he does not name the preachers cited as examples. But he has the references documented in his private notes. By not naming them--though some are very prominent--he avoids the charge of being unkind and also prohibits personalities from confusing the issues or blunting the force of his arguments. Some readers, no doubt, will nevertheless recognize preachers who are quoted.

-to be continued-

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Ready for Reformation?

Tom Nettles' latest book is hot off the press from Broadman and Holman publishers. Ready for Reformation? Bringing Authentic Reform to Southern Baptist Churches. You really should get a copy before finishing this blog. It ought to be required reading for the following Southern Baptists:

-Church leaders
-Associational Directors of Missions
-College Presidents
-College Professors
-Seminary Presidents
-Seminary Professors
-Seminary Administrators
-State convention Executive Directors
-Members of the Executive Committee
-Trustees of institutions and agencies
-Convention President

Beyond these, the book should also be read by every Southern Baptist church member who is committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. Dr. Nettles has identified issues that are tragically and harmfully being overlooked by many conservatives in the SBC today.

I will be commenting on this book, giving pertinent quotes over the next few days. It is a labor of love from the author. Not only are we challenged to think biblically and learn lessons from history, but in this book Dr. Nettles also reveals his own heart to us. With the kind of gentleness and precision that we have come to expect from him, Nettles argues pointedly for the need of ongoing reformation in the SBC. In essence he declares that inerrancy is not enough. Having reestablished the "formal principle" of reformation--that the Word of God written in our final authority--we must go on to reestablish the actual teachings of that final authority. In other words we must press forward with doctrinal reformation (the "material principle").

"The [Protestant] Reformers knew that reformation--deeply theological, intensely personal, and pervasively institutional--was necessary. They also had confidence that they had devoted themselves to the right issues. They never exhibited confidence that they had completed all that needed to be done. They lived under the motivation of the truth that the reformed church must always be reforming--ecclesia reformata semper reformanda" (5).

Southern Baptists are in danger of allowing a triumphalistic spirit to blind us to the need of ongoing, further reformation. The historically informed biblical instruction in Nettles' book can help rescue us from this danger. Get it quickly and read it carefully. Secure extra copies to give to people in the list above. Then pray that God will awaken many to see the desperate need of ongoing biblical reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Out of commission for a few days

I am in Brandon, Florida at the First Brandon Conference on Biblical Theology hosted by Grace Bible Church. The conference is scheduled for October 27-29. Unfortunately, before I arrived here I had computer woes--more precisely, computer operator woes--and do not expect to be able to blog until next week. If you are in the Tampa Bay area, drop in for a visit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Why point out attacks on truth?

Christians sometimes debate the propriety of exposing the public errors of others. After all, love covers a multitude of sin and keeps no record of wrongs. Isn't it at least, then, unloving to call attention to the theological foibles of others? I do not think so, although I do think it can be a dangerous task.

Scripture has ample instructions and illustrations about the wisdom, value and even necessity of exposing erroneous teaching. Jesus did it. Paul did it. And Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to do it.

Obviously, no one could possibly point out all the error that is being promoted in the name of Christianity today. Nor should anyone--at least, any pastor--try. To make such an attempt would be to relegate your waking hours to nothing more than searching for and exposing error. It would be a never-ending task.

Furthermore, the necessary responsibility to contend for and defend the faith is dangerous. Not because it makes a person unpopular, but because it opens the contender up to many inroads of pride. Spiritual pride always lurks at the door of truth lovers. It is what makes a man feel justified in making jokes about the doctrinal mistakes of others. It breeds a sense of self-importance and doctrinal superiority as the errors of others are addressed. While contending for and defending the Gospel the temptations to indulge spiritual pride are great. Succumbing to them is deadly and must be fought tenaciously. I am so weak and so prone to this that I have asked others to help me guard against at least the manifestation of such pride. Reading Jonathan Edwards on the subject is also very helpful. Be warned, reading Edwards is like taking a spiritual bath in a tub full of razorblades!

So, if it is so dangerous, then why point out error at all? Because truth matters. It matters to God and it matters to us. George Will recently made this astute observation:
A long life in journalism and around Washington, D.C., has taught me not just that ideas have consequences, but that only ideas have large and lasting consequences.
When wrong ideas about the Gospel of Jesus Christ are publicly promoted among those who are in positions of leadership and influence, they ought to be exposed.

By calling attention to the public attacks on the truth which many today hold dear, those who marshal such attacks are at least held accountable to public scrutiny. I do not begrudge a Christian leader to believe whatever he will about controversial subjects. In fact, I genuinely esteem many who disagree with me on matters of eschatology, ecclesiology, pneumatology and even points of soteriology. I appreciate it when such men nail their colors to the mast clearly for all to see. But when someone takes unwarranted, public potshots at the truth that I hold dear, or when he publicly castigates those who disagree with him, or when he violates his own professed theological heritage and declared confessional boundaries, I find that kind of behavior worthy of making public. Exposing such castigations is simply turning on the lights for others to see what otherwise might have gone unnoticed, at least for a while.

In my own denominational context I have lived through an era when theological snipers could assassinate their victims from a distance under the cover of darkness. With the exception of cyber-rags like, very few engage in those kinds of maneuvers anymore. It is simply too risky for them. Twenty years ago, a speaker could vilify "Founders" or "Calvinism" in a public context and usually get away with it, deceiving unsuspecting people who took the speaker to be trustworthy in his assessments. Today, such vilifications are easily exposed and refuted using the internet. Through the inevitability of public scrutiny, such unjust critics are held accountable. Feelings may suffer in the process. But truth receives the benefits.

That is why I have been willing to point out public attacks on truth.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Post Wilma update

Here on the SW coast of Florida we are in the last stages of Wilma's western bands. Our neighbors to the south took the brunt of the storm. We were spared much damage. At our house we lost some trees and a patio door. I hope to assess our roof later today. Our neighbors lost a carport and another had damage to the siding of their house. I plan to go check on our church facilities (and my books!) in an hour or two.

My wife and three of my daughters have blogged about the hurricane. If your interested in a more feminine--and more creative--assessment, you can read it here, here, here, and here.

They also have some interesting pictures.

Steve Gaines on Calvinism

We are beginning to feel the arrival of Hurricane Wilma here in Southwest Florida and have been told to expect to loss of electrical power in the next couple of hours. I thought I should go ahead and post this, even though I may not have time to offer many comments.

Last week on the website of Bellevue Baptist Church of Cordova (Memphis) Tennessee, a sermon by new pastor, Dr. Steve Gaines, was posted, entitled "I Believe in Salvation," based on 1 Timothy 2:1-10. The featured sermon on that site evidently changes weekly, so I am not sure if you can still access this sermon from there.

I will give some excerpts from it and try to comment on them briefly as long as electricity remains available.

I got the impression that Dr. Gaines is not overtly hostile toward Calvinism but that he believes it is unbiblical and dangerous and so he needs to warn people against it. Unfortunately, despite quoting from AW Pink's The Sovereignty of God, he perpetuates caricatures of historic Calvinism. As you will see from his comments, these misrepresentations are typical. They are also inexcusable in this day of readily accessible information.

Here are excerpts:

"Today it's very popular to believe that Jesus died only for, and I quote, for the elect, end quote. This is real popular on college campuses and even in some seminaries. This teaching, which I believe is foreign to scripture, comes from a theological view known as Calvinism. It's named for one of the heroes of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin. Calvin's teachings have been summarized into five major points that I would like you to write down...."

"It can be remembered by the acronym TULIP

T-total depravity; ... man's utterly lost in sin
U-unconditional election, man cannot save himself because GOd has elected him by his grace.
L-limited atonement-Jesus only died for the elect
I-irresistible grace-that if God wants to save somebody they don't have a choice of it, he'll just save them if he wants to, they can't resist it
P-perseverance of the saints-that's another of talking about once saved always saved"

Of course, his brief description of irresistible grace, or effectual calling, is a complete caricature. Do you know anyone who believes what he has described?

"Now I want to say something, I am not a Calvinist. .... I am not a five-point Calvinist. I don't believe that points three and four are in the Bible. I don't believe you can find in the Bible limited atonement. I don't believe you can find in the Bible irresistible grace. I tell you there are people that Jesus wanted to save but they resisted his grace."

"How many of you know that God won't make you do anything? He won't make you do anything. Nothing. I tell you, coerced love is not love."

Will God make people go to hell or stay there? Did He make Adam and Eve leave the Garden?

"No where in Scripture, you will not find one verse in the Bible that says Jesus died exclusively for the elect. So I am not a Calvinist. I am not knocking people who are, but they know themselves that they got the idea of limited atonement from their own logical thinking, they didn't get it out of the Bible.... That doesn't mean that Calvinists are all bad; that doesn't mean that we don't like them and that they're the enemy. Its just that we disagree with them on this point."

"This teaching is pervasive on college campuses in our day.... It is absolutely taking college campuses by storm."

Then he quotes AW Pink: "'Many have affirmed that a merely conditional provision of salvation has been made by his death.' I believe that. I believe that it's conditional."

Dr. Gaines here affirms--rather boldlly--that he believes in a conditional atonement. Jesus did not actually accomplish anyone's salvation but rather accomplished the possibility of everyone's salvation. This is an Arminian view.

"This [limited atonement] is an unbiblical teaching and I don't believe it."

"What does the Bible say, John 1:29, 2 Corinthians 5:15; Hebrews 2:9; A Calvinist cannot give you one verse that says Jesus died [only for the elect]."

"I was talking to a Calvinist one time and he said, "Well, you are a universalist." I said, "No I'm not. I believe Jesus even died for the people who go to hell." He didn't know what to say."

"Get your theology from the Bible..."

Well, amen to this!

Maybe I can comment on this more in days ahead. The electricity is flickering here, so I am out for now!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Bucket-worthy books

I did the drill twice last year and had hoped to avoid going through it yet again this hurricane season. But when making final plans for the anticipated arrival of a hurricane, one of my necessary tasks is to store some of my books in plastic containers. That is what I did today in anticipation of Hurricane Wilma.

It is an agonizing experience. Like most bibliophiles I have more books than container space. How do you decide which books are "bucket-worthy?" I felt like I was back in the 5th grade enduring the "values clarification" drill of deciding which of the seven people are not allowed on the five person lifeboat. Who goes into the plastic container and who stays on the unprotected shelf?

Some choices were easy to make. Dave Hunt, What Love is This? and Laurence Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism--stay on the shelf; Robert Schuller--lower shelf; Geisler, Chosen But Free--shelf; Boyd--God of the Possible--shelf. Those, and others like them, were gimmes, no-brainers.

Others were not so cut-and-dried. Arminius' Works? Well, they regrettably didn't make the cut. I had the same feeling about Chafer's multi-volume Systemtatic Theology. But I could hardly justify space in a container for these kinds of books when many of my very favorite theological books had to remain on the shelf.

I had to leave Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, Berkhof and Strong shelved. Calvin, Boyce, Dagg and Grudem got their special places in a container, however.

I only had room for a few hundred books so many of the ones left behind (which reminds me, Tim LaHaye did not make the cut) found themselves in that position through no real fault of their own. Many of my Spurgeon volumes fall into that category. They can be replaced and I haved duplicates on CD, but it still feels like I abandoned a close friend and mentor by leaving him in my study.

Andrew Fuller's Works found space in a bucket--not because they are irreplaceable (although some of my early editions of his works would be harder to replace) but because my blood, sweat and tears mark their pages. Ditto John Gill's Body of Divinity.

Many of my Puritan buddies are left unprotected. They are made of hardy stock, though, and so I am sure will bear up as well as any. I did bucket Edwards, but left Flavel, Baxter, Brooks, Boston, Sibbes, Witsius, et al.

Dozens of Lloyd-Jones volumes found their way into containers along with Iain Murray's 2 volume biography of the Doctor. Not many books by living authors made it, not because there were none bucket-worthy but mostly due to the prospect that they would be easier to replace than others. There were exceptions, of course, but I hesitate to get too specific in identifying them because even some books by good friends had to remain on the shelf.

All-in-all it was a painful experience. No matter how I rationalized it in my mind I vacillated between feeling like a traitor and a botttom-line pragmatist ("How much would it cost me to replace this?").

Under God I owe much to my books. Through them I have been challenged, corrected, strengthened, rebuked, humbled, instructed and encouraged in my Christian life. The thought of losing any of them to wind or rain or storm surge saddens me. If God in His mercy and wisdom spares me that loss, I will once again be very grateful. If in His mercy and wisdom He does not, perhaps I will at least have those who are riding out the storm in buckets to help me in its aftermath.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Evacuating--out of touch for awhile

We have just been put under a mandatory evacuation order from our county and city emergency management officials. For the first time in history, large parts of Cape Coral, including where we live, are in flood zones. After deliberating for a couple of hours, our church leaders determined to go ahead with our Sunday morning schedule. Instead of our normal Bible Study classes, we will meet to pray and make last minute arrangements to assist those needing help to get ready for the storm. Then we will worship together. Then we will leave and hope to be able to meet together again on Wednesday.

I anticipate being out of touch for awhile. Thanks for your prayers.

Psalm 93
(our unofficial "hurricane psalm")

The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty;
The LORD is clothed,
He has girded Himself with strength.
Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved.

Your throne is established from of old;
You are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
The floods have lifted up their voice;
The floods lift up their waves.

The LORD on high is mightier
Than the noise of many waters,
Than the mighty waves of the sea.

Your testimonies are very sure;
Holiness adorns Your house,
O LORD, forever.

Friday, October 21, 2005


We have been carefully watching Hurricane Wilma for the last 48 hours. We have already cancelled a lecture hosted by our church Saturday night and are now making decisions about our Sunday schedule. If the current projections hold true the storm should pass south of us, possibly as a category 1 or 2 hurricane. That would be very difficult for Naples and would spare us the brunt of the storm.

Last year we had 4 major hurricanes that hit Florida. One of them (Charley) directly hit Cape Coral, two others affected us and the other one (Ivan) threatened us before slamming Alabama and the northern panhandle of Florida. After Charley, we learned to pray more humbly about our desire for protection. To pray for the Lord to change the path of a storm headed toward us is, in effect, to pray that it will hit others. We no longer pray like that at our church. Instead, we try to remember to pray that the Lord will direct the storm into the exact path that will bring Him the greatest glory. If that means directly over us, then so be it. What matters is that our Lord be glorified in and through the storm.

We have already seen God bring great good out of the storms we endured last year. While we do not relish going through another one, if He directs its path to us, by His grace we will accept it and fight hard to remember His great and precious promises to us that Jesus Christ has made absolutely certain by His life, death and resurrection.

Join us in praying that God will direct Wilma in ways that will put His glory on display, accomplish good for His people and bring many folks to faith in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Soul-a-month-club update

Gene Bridges has informed us of an update on the soul-a-month-ministry from Bailey Smith Ministries (BSM). Without explanation the page promoting that ministry was removed recently from the BSM website. The "Calvinist Gadfly" gave BSM a call and reports on the conversation here.

In short, the page may have been removed from the website but the ministry has not been removed from BSM's practices.

Responding biblically to disasters

Hurricane Wilma is setting records this morning as it veers north into the storm-weary Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters are once again putting Southwest Florida right in the middle of the "cone of uncertainty." Our church is about to shift into preparation mode, hopefully implementing plans born out of lessons learned from last year's hurricane season. I will most likely not be blogging much this week.

Living in hurricane alley, experiencing a direct hit from category 4 Charley last year and sitting helplessly 1200 miles away as family and friends were displaced by Katrina and Rita have forced me to think frequently about disasters. Over the last 20 years I have preached several times on this theme. The most recent sermon was given on September 11 of this year. Here is the substance of that message.

Four years ago most of us were riveted to our televisions and radios watching and listening to the horror unfold in Washington DC and New York City as our nation was attacked by radical Islamic terrorists. The images of the twin towers falling and people running for their lives--and jumping to their deaths--are, for many of us, indelibly etched into our minds. (finish reading the article)

Friday, October 14, 2005

$48.00 soul salvation scrutinized

Bailey Smith's claim that he can get one soul saved for every $48.00 he receives has set me to thinking. He touts his "Save-a-soul-a-month ministry" as something that everyone--at least everyone who is concerned for souls--should support. He claims to make a convert for every $48.00 you send him. But how does Bailey Smith's evangelism work? Others have already commented on his (in)famous "Wheat or Tares" sermon that gets church members "saved" and resaved all over the nation. So I will refrain from addressing the harmful results fostered by that message.

Instead, I want to focus on the fruit of his evangelism. After all, if he is encouraging folks to get in on the work of salvation at what he suggests is the bargain-basement price of only $48.00 a soul, people should know what kind of salvation is actually being promoted. Is it a salvation that lasts? Is it a salvation that builds churches? Is it a salvation that results in disciples? It would be helpful if Bailey Smith Ministries would make the statistics of his evangelistic efforts public. Such statistics obviously exist because he is able to calculate how much income is required to save one soul. But if those statistics are available to the public, I do not know how to access them. They could be compared to the number of lasting church members that resulted from his crusades and then we could at least have some indication of the quality of the converts that he claims to produce.

While those statistics are not available, what is available are the statistics from his years as pastor of what his website touts as the "second largest church in the [Southern Baptist] denomination," which he began to serve when he was 34 years old. His website further notes that "Bailey Smith is the only man in Convention history to baptize 2,000 people in a local church in one year" and "He is the only man of any denomination to leave a 20,000 member church to enter evangelism."

The church in reference is First Southern Baptist of Del City (FSBC) in Oklahoma. He served there from 1973 to 1985. Following are some statistics (compiled from the Annual Church Profile) from the last part of his ministry in that church. They put the above quotes from his website in a little different light, and provide a basis for gauging the value of his $48.00 converts.

In 1980, FSBC baptized 2028 people. The church added another 583 new members and reported a total membership that year of 15,539. This included 10,821 resident members and 4,718 nonresident members. As an aside, he was elected President of the SBC that year and his church gave 1.1% ($41,344) of its $3,488,130 reported tithes and offerings to the Cooperative Program.

In 1981, FSBC baptized 1164 people and had 501 other additions. Their total membership rose to 16,204, a gain of 665. The resident membership, however, decreased to 10,687 (a loss of 134) while the nonresident members increased to 5517 (an increase of 799). A charitable assessment might suggest that few, if any, of those 1164 converts stayed around long enough to become "resident." Other assessments, of course, would suggest something far more serious. Another aside, Smith was elected to a second term as SBC president in 1981 and the church increased its Cooperative Program giving to 3.1%

In 1982, 1060 people were baptized and 512 others were added as members. Total membership rose to 17,240, a 1036 gain. The number of resident members rose to 11,642 (an increase of 955) and nonresident members increased to 5598 (an increase of 81).

In 1983, 1025 were baptized. An additional 463 were added in other ways. Total membership went to 17,803 (a 563 increase) and nonresident membership rose to 6073 (a 475 increase). Resident membership went to 11,730 (an increase of 88).

In 1984, 1006 were baptized and 426 others were added. Total membership went to 18,417 (an increase of 614) but the number of resident members dropped to 9868 (a decrease of 1862) and nonresident increase rose to 8549 (a 2476 increase). A total of 1432 new members were added, including over 1000 who were presumably the results of Bailey Smith-style evangelism, and yet the resident membership decreased by 1862.

In 1985, another 1014 were baptized with 426 other additions reported. Total membership rose to 19,487 (a 1070 increase). Resident membership rose to 11,291 (an increase of 1423) and nonresident membership dropped to 8196 (a decrease of 353). This is the year that Bailey Smith resigned and Tom Elliff became the pastor. This year's total membership is what the quote above refers to, when Smith claims to be the only man anywhere who has ever left a church of 20,000 members to go into full time evangelism.

The statistics from 1986 are rather revealing, however, and cast a different light on the evangelistic legacy of Bailey Smith at FSBC. In that year, 732 were baptized. Another 406 members were added in other ways. Total membership dropped to 12,498--a decrease of 6989. Resident membership went to 11,010, a decrease of 281. The nonresident membership drastically dropped to 1488, a decrease of 6708. Tom Elliff evidently cleaned the bloated membership rolls that he had inherited.

Now, let me again make very clear that statistics do not tell the whole, or in some cases perhaps even the most important part, of a church's story. I am employing them because they are so often cited by people like Bailey Smith to tout their own success and the failure of those who do not measure up to their numbers. After all, Smith claims to be able to get a soul saved for every $48.00 he is sent. The implication is that his evangelism is not only effective, it is efficient. But how does it bear up under statistical scrutiny?

From 1980 to 1985 Bailey Smith baptized 7297 people. We can suppose that most of these are the fruit of the kind of evangelism that promises to save a soul a month for every $48.00 given to his ministry. At the very least we can assume that he would call all of these 7297 people converted or else he would never have baptized them. Yet, during this same period the church he pastored increased in resident membership by a total of 470 people (from 10,821 to 11,291).

It took 7297 of Bailey Smith's converts to produce a church growth of 470 over a 5 year period. In other words, it takes 15 and a half converts over a 5 year period to gain one new church member. Actually, it is much worse than that because this does not even take into account the other 2956 people who were added to the membership without baptism during the same period. Presumably, at least some of them stuck around.

So just what does your $48.00 buy, when you send it to Bailey Smith Ministries? If the last half of his pastoral ministry is any indication, it buys more false converts than we could possibly calculate. It finances the kind of shallow evangelism that has filled our churches with unregenerate members and sent countless numbers to hell with a decision card in their pocket. Those who truly love souls and love the only gospel that genuinely saves souls will have nothing to do with this kind of evangelism.

How long will this kind of shameless spiritual abuse be allowed to go on? How long will those who know better be willing to stand by silently while the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ is dragged through the mud by the proclamation of a false gospel which is no gospel at all? Spurgeon's challenge is as pertinent in our day as it was in his: "Here is the day for the man. Where is the man for the day!"

Thursday, October 13, 2005

What is the Gospel Conference

In light of Bailey Smiths' "Save-a-soul-a-month ministry, I thought it would be very appropriate to plug an upcoming conference on the Gospel. In many ways the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been lost in our day. If it is not recovered, we are sunk. May the Lord grant us such a recovery--regardless of the cost.

Next month Founders Ministries is sponsoring a conference in Tampa, Florida on the theme, "What is the Gospel?" The questions that I mentioned yesterday will be directly addressed. We can no longer afford to assume that "we all know what the Gospel is." Nor can we assume that we all know what a church is, or what evangelism is, or what Christianity is.

This conference will specifically consider each of these questions. For more information visit this site.

iMonk's analysis of the SBC

Michael Spencer has a very insightful observations on Southern Baptist life in this article. He is a long-time Southern Baptist and has a keen eye for analysis. If you have any interest in the SBC, or if you ever wonder what in the world is going on in the SBC, his thoughts are worth reading.

His last expressed wish, however, leaves him open to the charge of BUI (blogging under the influence).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Join the Soul-a-Month club for $48.00

I wrote a whole blog satarizing this, but after sitting on it for a day, I have decided that it is simply too serious for that kind of response. I do believe that satire has a place in Christianity. Proverbs 26:5 seems to allow, or even encourage this type of reponse at times: "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes." In other words, there is a time to respond in a way that shows the absurdity of an argument or position. But Proverbs 26:4 says, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him." That is a warning that I personally need to take to heart regularly, lest I overdose on sarcasm. So the satire stays in the closet while the issue is brought into the light.

Bailey Smith, former president of the SBC, has calculated that it only costs his ministry $48.00 to save a soul in one month's time. So he has formed the "Soul-a-month ministry." Let me give you his own words from a letter he has posted on his website:

May I share a ministry all can be a part of and I believe, should be, because of its need in this pagan generation? It is the Soul-A-Month Ministry.

I was at Peace Baptist Church in Wilson, N.C. and made the statement that for every $48.00 given to Bailey Smith Ministries someone will get saved. A couple after the service said to me, "Why don't you start a Soul-A-Month club. We would like to send you $48.00 a month." Ministry born!

He goes on:

You can email or call our office for a free envelope. Please keep this envelope in an upright visible place. Sandy and I lean our big envelope against the wall at our desk where we write our check. It will bless you just to see it, and then take the appropriate envelope and mail it to see a soul saved each month.

No, don't reach out to touch someone - reach out to save someone by helping them to the cross of the Lord Jesus. Of course, your $48.00 each month to save a soul is tax-deductible.

Finally, he adds this as a PS:
P.S. - By the way with, some churches it cost $100,000 to $300,000 to see one convert.

Please make your check to Bailey Smith Ministry. Some are giving $96.00 a month representing a soul for the husband and wife.

There is so much in this that breaks the heart it is hard to know where to start or stop in commenting. I will limit myself to a few questions.

Why $48.00 dollars? Couldn't he live more simply and do it for $40.00 a month? That would add another five souls saved every two years. Isn't this worth it? You see the line of reasoning here.

Can conversion really be reduced to a financial formula?

Isn't the comment about churches in the PS designed to make church members think that their financial contributions to their local congregation are less productive, valuable and eternally significant than contributions to Bailey Smith?

Is this the kind of fruit that the conservative resurgence in the SBC hoped to produce? Is this what the battle for the Bible was all about? If so, God help us. If not, who among Mr. Smith's colleagues will correct him?

Can it be possible that a man who promises to save a soul for every $48.00 he receives understands conversion in the same way that our Baptist forebears understood it? Could he possibly see the new birth as the sovereign work of the Spirit whom, Jesus said, is like the wind that blows wherever it chooses? (John 3:8)

This is one more tragic indication of the serious spiritual and theological confusion that dominates much of evangelical church life today. As I have repeatedly stated, the most pressing issues facing evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular are not the five points of Calvinism. As I see it, they are much more basic:

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

When I read Mr. Smith's letter my mind immediately went back to the 16th century:
As soon as the coin in the coffer rings
Another soul into heaven springs.

Where are the Luthers of our day?

(HT to Scott Slayden and Jeremy Moore)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Lewis and Carson on worship

C.S. Lewis offers helpful insights on worship in his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. In the first letter he complains about the unhelpful innovations in worship that "new, keen vicar[s]" too often introduce in an established church's corporate worship. "It looks," he writes, "as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service" (p. 4).

Such an approach, he argues, is a distraction from worship.
"Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they [worshipers] don't go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best--if you like, it "works" best--when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping....

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celbrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question, 'What on earth is he up to now?' will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, 'I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks'" (pp. 4-5).

This point is similarly made by D.A. Carson in Worship by the Book (pp. 30-31):

"In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the 'feelings' of things--whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is 'better worship' there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it's a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset."

If we focus more on God than on worship we will worship God more and better.

New Rebecca Ascol

My second-born child, Rebecca, gave my blog a facelift. At the dusk of her teenaged years, Rebecca has become rather skilled at HTML and web design. She graciously offered to move her dad's blog out of the generic template mode into something a little more appropriately descriptive.

Thanks, Becca!

Monday, October 10, 2005

More thoughts on worship

Christians should be taught that our responsibilities to be like Christ do not get suspended when we step over the threshold of the worship center (or house or hall or room, etc.). Ironically, debates over corporate worship often reveal just how deeply American individualism has embedded itself into the evangelical culture. How many times have you heard church members complain about the type of music or instrumentation that is employed in corporate worship?

Just recently a pastor told me about 20 young adults who left a historic, inner city church because he would not promise to remove the pipe organ within a month of the commencement of his ministry there. Their justification was that they "did not like the worship." So they left. The church has a storied history with many elderly members who have been faithful for decades. The twentysomethings left the church because their preferences were not being served in corporate worship. By doing so they forfeited a great opportunity for spiritual growth. And they showed great immaturity, though they probably are oblivious to it. They probably feel as if their separating from (and thereby dividing) the church was not only justified but absolutely called for in order for them to worship the Lord more wholeheartedly. I say "probably" because, although I do not know these 20 individuals, I have met their spiritual cousins and have listened to their justifications.

Well, what should a 25 year old member of a staid, pipe organ, downtown church do when the worship music does not seem to be his natural "voice?" Here are a couple of suggestions. First, he should remember the Scripture's teachings that remain in force even in this area.

"Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another" (Romans 12:10).

"Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being" (1 Corinthians 10:24).

"Love...does not seek its own" (1 Corinthians 13:5)

Corporate worship is not a duty-free zone for Christian deference. Every church member should remember this when sizing up his or her congregation's expressions of worship.

Secondly, the church member should recognize that he is part of a body that has multiple generations. As a church continues to exist and incorporates people of various generations or from different cultures into its membership, its voice will (read "should") change to reflect that growth in variety. Obviously, leadership is crucial at this point. The elders--or other church leaders--must be wise in teaching and explaining how the church should work to offer its best expressions to the Lord in worship. Members should be willing to thoughtfully share their concerns and questions about this. As a pastor, I welcome suggestions that are made in humility and out of obvious concern that our church's corporate worship be more and more God-honoring. On the other hand, I refuse to cave into the threats--implied or stated--that are sometimes made in the form of "suggestions." Those who make them, or who would divide a church over music, are at best very immature believers and need to be encouraged to take seriously their commitment to Christ and His church.

The healthier a church is, the less likely it will face severe conflicts over corporate worship. So, issues of worship should be studied and considered in the context of a rigorous ecclesiology. It is incumbent on the leaders of a church to work hard to teach the members the importance of church life and to help cultivate a true sense of community. When brothers and sisters are relating to each other as "members one of another," they will be much better equipped to work together in offering to the Lord their very best efforts in worship.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Authentic Worship

I started responding to a couple of questions and observations about my previous post on worship and decided that my comments might fit better under a new heading. Time restrictions prohibit me from engaging all the questions, but I hope to comment more on this issue in the future. Here are my thoughts:

I think that much of the so-called "worship wars" is a waste of bullets. Questions of "style" and whether worship is "contemporary" or "traditional" seem to me to inevitably lead to dead ends. For the last several years, when asked, I have answered such questions by stating that, of course, our worship is contemporary--we do it every week and we are already planning for next week; and, of course, we are traditional because we have been doing it for years.

I find a much better approach in asking if God has spoken on how we should worship. If so, what does He say? Is the Bible sufficient to teach us how to worship? Is it one of the "good works" of 2 Timothy 3:17? I am convinced that it is. What I posted earlier is a summary of what I think Scripture has to say about regulating our worship.

A significant part of what is involved in worshiping "in spirit" is being authentic. This requires sincerity and honesty before God in acknowledging who we are and who we are not as we approach Him in worship. It also requires humility that refuses to allow individual preferences to undermine corporate expressions of worship.

Those three sentences require a great deal of unpacking. I doubt that I can successfully do that in this forum but let me try at least to indicate the direction of my thinking.

Ken Puls, who among his many other gifts directs the music ministries at Grace Baptist Church where I serve, has helped me think more clearly about this issue over the last few years. He speaks of a church "finding its voice," which is at the heart of what I mean by being authentic in worship.

Individual worshipers form a corporate body who approach God together in our times of gathered worship. Who are those individuals? First and foremost, they are disciples of Jesus (others may be with us, but worship is the activity of believers). This reality trumps but does not obliterate all other distinctions. Race, ethnicity, age, education, understanding, experience, marital status, language, etc.--all these and more make individual worshipers unique, but none of them is more important than knowing Christ (which means that I have more in common with a believing Zambian than an unbelieving sibling). Each covenanted member of a church adds to the tone of the body's "voice."

Here is how I see that working itself out in practical ways. A village church in Zambia will sing songs not only in the official language of English but also in the tribal languages of that village. The cadence, harmonies, bodily movements (such as swaying) and instrumentation may be completely different from those that mark the singing of equally orthodox churches in Houston or Beijing. There may also be differences in the way the Scripture is read and preached in those congregations. Scripture can regulate worship in all three settings without the expectation that worship in the three churches will look exactly the same.

In fact, if all three of the churches do look exactly the same in their gathered worship times then at least two of them (and maybe all three!) are not being authentic. Why? Because Zambians, Chinese and Houstonians have natural differences that will inevitably cause their respectively indigenous churches to have different "voices" even while seeking to worship the same God in the same spirit and in the same truth.

Hurricane relief update

Fred Malone writes:

We are glad to report that your generous gifts for our Hurricane Relief Fund are being used with great benefit. We have received the amazing sum of over $185,000 to date and have already distributed almost $50,000 to the 10 churches we have targeted. For the past week we have been in touch with most of the 10 churches and have found out more about their specific needs. (read more)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Heaven's Gates, Hell's Flames and baptisms called due to rain

According to a Baptist Press story, First Baptist Church of Horn Lake, Mississippi came up a little short in their baptismal service recently. After 3 nights of showing the drama called "Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames" (by Reality Outreach Ministries), 423 people made professions of faith.

The pastor, Joe Turner, explained it as "just a movement of God." "Jesus said in John 12:32, 'If I be lifted up, I'll draw all men unto me,' and what we've been doing is lifting up Jesus. That's what's doing it." What Pastor Turner did not say is that the very next verse, John 12:33, explains Jesus' statement: "This He said, signifying by what death He would die." When interpreting the Bible, context really is king.

Only 36 of those who made professions showed up for a special baptism service. The article notes that the "church was originally hoping to baptize 100 people in an outdoor service. But weather moved the service inside, and Turner said weather may have been a factor in fewer people showing up for the baptism than expected."

Isn't that just like Baptists? It takes 600 gallons of water to get them baptized and only a few drops to keep them from church. Of course, presumably the no-shows are not yet Baptists. Nevertheless, given their failure to make an appearance at a scheduled service, they already seem to be well on their way to becoming typical Baptist church members.

Word Regulated Worship

Does God have an opinion about how His creatures should worship Him? Yes He does. He has expressed Himself repeatedly on the subject. The first commandment tells us who to worship ("You shall have no other gods before Me," Exodus 20:3) and the second tells us how to worship ("You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:4-6).

God even killed Nadab and Abihu for their unjustified antics in worship (Leviticus 10:1-4). As R.C. Sproul once remarked, we can all be grateful that the Lord was simply making a point and not establishing a pattern when He did this. But the fact that the Lord does not strike dead everyone who approaches Him inappropriately in worship should not lead us to conclude that He no longer cares about how He is approached. Nor should we think that in the new covenant worship is less important to the Lord than it was in the old.

Jesus told the woman at the well that "an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24). Spirit and truth--with internal devotion and external guidance. Since God's Word is truth (John 17:17), shouldn't the Bible at least be consulted before we plan what we intend to do in a service we call "worship?"

The progress of God's revelation from old covenant to new is the progress from type, promise and shadow to antitype, fulfillment and reality. In worship it is a move from detail prescriptions and ceremonies to simplicity that encourages full focus on Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). What we find, then, in New Testament worship is from the heart and according to the Word. The essential elements of worship (which we ascertain from the Word--public reading of Scripture, preaching, praying, giving, observing baptism and the Lord's Supper) must all be regulated by the Word.

This does not mean that every corporate worship service will look the same or have the same "feel" wherever or whenever it occurs. Quite the contrary. This approach to worship safeguards it from cultural captivity. Word regulated worship will seek to be authentically expressed within any culture while following God's revealed will for how we are to approach Him. The elements of worship will remain the same while the heartfelt employment of them may vary widely from culture to culture.