Thursday, February 08, 2007

Doug Baker: "Inerrancy isn't enough"

This Baptist Press release by Doug Baker is worth reading and heeding. He very helpfully assesses certain sectors of SBC life.

22 comments:

Joshua Chavers said...

Tom,
With a title like that, he must be a liberal ...

=) kidding only

G. Alford said...

Great article Tom,

"It is not enough to trot out the usual statements about the importance of inerrancy and expository preaching... but (have) little application and practice in pulpits and Sunday School classrooms."

"Early church standards indicated an understanding that an individual who professed to be a Christian actually knew and believed certain theological tenants -- so much so that the person actually showed up for meetings of the church."

"The church of Jesus Christ was established to be a theater for God’s glory. Today, however, it is hard to see His glory in churches whose rolls list as “members” chronic no-shows who in reality are unregenerate pagans in urgent need of saving faith."

All that I can say is Amen, Amen, and Amen!

Thanks for passing this along Brother Tom.

B Nettles said...

Thanks, Tom. Hmmm. Wonder where he goes to church.
Baker writes that outsiders view
denominations as simply playgrounds for wannabe politicians who eschew the field of politics as "too dirty," finding denominational life a more suitable theater for their brand of political hardball.

I think that is exactly where many in the SBC find themselves, either by purpose or by action. The desire to be "in charge" is so subtle that it distracts from truth.

Tom, it also sounds to me like you've started a ball rolling on the "integrity in church membership" issue. It may take a few years, but I think the issue is unstoppable.

Blessings,

Bill

Arthur Sido said...

This is the crux of the issue...

>>>It is not enough to trot out the usual statements about the importance of inerrancy and expository preaching. While these are laudable expressions of orthodoxy and practice, the reality remains that the mere mention of these words now too easily evokes expected agreement and adulation (a good hearty “Amen” in Baptistspeak), but little application and practice in pulpits and Sunday School classrooms.<<<

We have gone only part of the way in reforming the SBC. We are in agreement that we believe in the Bible, now the next hurdle is to agree to believe what is IN the Bible. Many a preacher pays lipservice to expository preaching while never having actually preached an expository message or even realizing what it means. These are the same folks who speak glowingly of Spurgeon, when the reality of what he preached and taught would likely horrify them. A reformation that only goes half way is doomed to fail and right now the SBC is teetering on the brink.

willreformed said...

Brother Tom and other founders members:

I do not know personally the "leadership" of the SBC.

What is your assessment of how SBC "Leadership" views the denomination. I guess leadership would be Seminary Presidents, Executive Council, SBC President, head of NAMB/IMB?

Do they view the SBC as a titantic? Or are they (largely if not entirely) part of the political infratstructure referenced in this article?

I appreciate your thoughts.

Will

Mike McIlwain said...

I appreciate Doug's candor on these issues. I know that when I attended the SBC annual meeting in 2004 and 2005 that I was appalled at the lack of doctrinal preaching at the sessions. The best parts were always the seminary presidents reports. Even though the reports were shorter than the sermons they usually had much more "meat" in them.

Let's all continue to work and pray for reformation not only in the SBC but in all of evangelicalism.

SelahV said...

Dr. Ascol: Given the common acceptance of inerrancy with God's Word to the majority of SBC folks, I was wondering exactly what the majority is errant in their application of the Word according to the "Reformed" SBC churches.

Is it our methodology in applying our faith in Jesus? Our having invitations at the end of a sermon? Our outreach to children outside of the existing membership within our churches? Or is it because we don't preach and teach expositionally on the Doctrines of Grace? Please, Dr. Ascol, tell me some specifics as to how our belief in "inerrancy" is not enough? Please, give me some ideas on what you see we need to improve upon, eliminate, add to the inerrant theological understanding of God's Word.

I don't seem to see anything in the blogs about the specifics of how one must be "reformed". This is the fly in my ointment. PLEASE understand that I am not being sarcastic or begging for a debate. I do not want to incite, I want to obtain insights. I have tried with all that is within me to be transparent in my own faith and understanding of God's Sovereignty. I trust His plan is the best plan. What I don't understand is what the "reformed" plan sees as its obligation and responsibility to alter in my understanding of the Plan.

Please don't ignore me any longer, Dr. Ascol. I am not your enemy. Ignorant, I may be. Unknowledgeable, too. But I am being as open as I know how to be in order to engage in an honest dialog about YOUR understanding of being "reformed". Should you be too busy to deal with me, then simply say so and I will no longer pester you with questions. I won't even come back to the table. I will simply await the resolutions and recommendations Founders puts forth in San Antonio. Just tell me. I have tried with all that is within me to follow the guidelines you set forth to me in communicating. Where am I falling short?

SelahV

G. Alford said...

SelahV

I am not able to answer for Dr. Ascol, but if you will allow I would like to recommend that if you truly wish to understand the “Reformed” prospective then you will not get it by just reading blogs…

If you are honest in what you say, (and I think you are) and you are truly seeking to understand the “Reformed” mindset, then may recommend that you purchase just one short and easy to read book… take a weekend off from bloging… get some coffee, a highlighter, your Bible and a notebook and read – “The Doctrines of Grace” by James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken.

Here is a link to where you can purchase it for just $14.40
http://ebiblebookstore.com/cart.php?target=product&product_id=16682

If I could give just one book to a non reformed friend it would be this book…
Grace and Peace

Bill0615 said...

selahv

You are wanting to understand where "the majority is errant in their application" of the teachings of God's inerrant Word. This is a good question and goes to the heart of some of the concerns of folks like me. (I know that you asked "Dr. Ascol" to respond to you, but I hope you don't mind my feeble attempt here to do so.)

As a pastor who has been in the battle for inerrancy and the conservative resurgence since its inception in 1979, I have always been willing to stand with my Arminian friends on the issue of the inerrancy and infallibility of Holy Scripture. I have been dismayed, however, when time after time these same people oftentimes did not advocate (much less attempt to practice) the "sufficiency" of Holy Scripture in their ministries. While this could be demonstrated in many areas of ministry (Doug Baker alludes to the heavy dependence upon Oprah and Dr. Phil for sound counsel concerning relationships), I will simply address two areas: 1) meaningful church membership and 2) the practice of corrective church discipline.

First--Concerning meaningful church membership, Baptists are supposed to believe in a "believers' church," made up only of regenerate church members. This principle cannot be practiced if people are allowed to join a Baptist church by simply walking to the front of the auditorium while a choir is singing, taking the preacher by the hand, exchanging a few cordial whispers, and then being received by the congregation as members of the church essentially on a unilateral basis--i.e., simply because they WANT to be members. Oftentimes the pastor knows little or nothing about this person's profession of faith and spiritual walk, and the congregation knows even less. It should stop all of us in our tracks to remember that the fellow who wrote half of the New Testament (i.e., the Apostle Paul) was NOT ALLOWED TO JOIN the church in Jerusalem the first time he expressed a desire to do so. (cf. Acts 9:26-28) Only after Barnabas took him aside and he shared his testimony with the Apostles was he received as a genuine disciple. The SBC today is overrun with churches whose membership is essentially meaningless. By this I mean that typical attendance NEVER approaches the number of the members. The average attendance in SBC churches versus the total membership is somewhere between 25% and 35% (and remember, this attendance counts unconverted children as well as visitors). The question I have is, "At what low level of percentage do we stop calling these gatherings a Christian church? Many church rolls have dead people's names still on them. How many times does a person have to die to be removed from the roll of an SBC church? "Non-resident members" make up a significant portion of typical SBC church membership rolls. The FBI couldn't find most of them, yet they are counted as "members" of churches in a denomination that we are told is "16 million strong." Then there are the resident inactive members. They live within traveling distance of the church, and somehow don't have the spiritual motivation to attend even on Mother's Day or Christmas.

I just finished a retreat with our pastors and deacons in which I spelled out the path of the journey we are about to take to return our church to "meaningful membership." (I have been at this present pastorate for almost 18 months, and our folks know that it is time to address the disparity between those who actually gather with us and those who make up our membership list.) This is not the first time I have embarked on this endeavor in a church, however. I had the privilege of taking another SBC church through this process 23 years ago. Today, by God's grace, it is thriving and its membership has integrity about it.

Second--Regarding corrective church discipline, Baptists have understood historically that in order to "make disciples" their must be sound and effective teaching so that they are exhorted and enabled to do all the things that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church, has instructed us to do. Teaching takes on both a formative aspect and corrective aspect. Remove either of these and effective learning seldom occurs. Churches that hold to the inerrancy of the Holy Scripture must apply the truths of this inerrant Word to doctrine and practice. It is not unusual to discover in most SBC churches that there are adulterers, fornicators, alcohol and drug abusers, divisive people, etc., etc. scattered among the congregation. The typical response from the typical SBC church? Bury heads in the sand and do nothing all in the name of "love." (There is a fine line between being loving and being a coward.) Yet, the Bible makes it plain that divisive people are to be marked out, and if they remain recalcitrant they are to be removed. It is equally clear that there are some things that should not even be "named" among churches, and when these expressions of conduct show themselves in the congregation then such should be handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh with the stated goal of the soul being saved. Most SBC churches do not believe in or practice corrective church discipline today--except a few deacon "boards" who seem willing to "fire" their pastor. One of the largest churches in the SBC has recently "terminated" a long time staff minister for sexual misconduct. Yet in their press release (if my memory serves me accurately) there was not one syllable about the exercise of corrective church discipline. I could just as easily been reading about a member of the Bush Administration. Speaking of which, is there any doubt in anyone's mind that William Jefferson Clinton should have been disciplined by the Baptist church in Little Rock of which he was a member while Governor of Arkansas, as he carried on with his immoral lifestyle? Instead, Southern Baptists gave to this nation and to the world a man who denigrated the office of President of the United States and left a legacy that includes redefining sex and has had the effect of opening the door to a growing number of teens who now think they can engage in sexual conduct that is not sex.

selahv, if the goal of the conservative resurgence begun back in 1979 had been to recover the "sufficiency of the Scriptures," then the landscape in the SBC would be significantly more hopeful. But I am willing to believe that we will yet see such become reality in our Southern Baptist Zion.

Bill Ascol, Pastor
Bethel Baptist Church
Owasso, OK

SelahV said...

g.alford: Thanks so much for your suggestion. I will get the book. I will read it, underline it and take time to grasp it.

However, will it, in fact, answer the other questions I have asked Dr. Ascol? The specifics in how a "reformed" church and one that is not reformed "do church"? An understanding of the Doctrines of Grace is important--in fact, most assuredly vital--to the comprehension of the differences in of discussions, on and off the blogosphere. But given that many "reformed" and Calvinist discussions keep appearing on this web-site, I am perplexed at why my questions are so difficult to answer. Aren't they the same types of questions any pew-sitter, student of God's Word and present member of any non-reformed SBC church would ask. They are being asked of me by friends of mine. I keep telling them, no one is answering them for me so I cannot answer either. I don't want to answer in a way that leaves them thinking incorrectly. I don't want to be accused of attacking the legitimacy of Founders, Reformed Theology, or 5-point Calvinists for simply posing questions which, to me, seem should have a simple answer. If one cannot get simple answers to simple questions, then how in the world does one explain the deeper truthes to individuals.

If you would give me the name of a "reformed" Founders/type SBC church in the Lawton, Oklahoma area, I would be happy to attend there to see the differences (if there are any that are visible) between all I've ever known a SBC church to be.

It is the ignoring of people like me that forces people like me to throw up our hands and say "forget about it", I give up", brother G. If my pastor repeatedly ignored me like this when I'm asking a direct question about one of his sermon points (which he has never done), I would find another church to attend.

You do understand, that I would gladly accept answers via email too. And I would gladly keep all emails cofidential and private. I have a wonderful "reformed" gentleman who is corresponding with me at this time and he has given me some insights into the reason folks here at Founders feel threatened by those who do not adhere to their "reformed" ideas. HOWEVER, this gentleman is not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention--nor is he Baptist. So forgive me for being such a nuisance, brother G.. But since it is Dr. Ascol who is leading the charge in this endeavor to "reform" all SBC churches, I feel compelled to have Dr. Ascol define his thoughts, position and guidelines on how it is he wants my church to correct its flaws. Other than to follow the theological Doctrines of Grace, what must be "enough" to satisfy Doug Baker and Founders?

Are you a pastor, brother Alford? What do you do differently in your church? Are you a Southern Baptist? Thank you for reading my un-pithy response. SelahV

SelahV said...

WOW! I like you, Bro. Bill Ascol! A man who can actually address a subject succinctly, forcefully, without wavering and immensely descriptive. I totally agree with you on the Clinton/church issue for starts.

I also think most of what you say in regards to trying to love erring folks with gentleness while admonishing and reproving with the Authority of God's Word has created a easement for sin in many churches today.

I have some thoughts on the description you gave of people coming down the aisle and being put forth to a church for approval of membership without first engaging them in conversation regarding their action to receive Jesus into their lives.

Most churches accept them only under the watchcare of the church until they are proved to understand what they are doing and what they are about to do in the way of following Christ in baptism.

If I may, does your church have a program or indoctrination in which you require of persons in order for them to become members of your church? In what way is a person to make known to your church they want to become a member? If you are in a church now, that you've only been pastor of for 18 months, how do you get the un-reformed to become reformed members? Are you taking them through lessons on the Doctrines of Grace? And are all reformed churches free of adulterers, slanderers, idolators, liars, homosexuals, divorced men and women? Of are reformed churches working to weed out such individuals?

What "material" is used to teach in a Reformed Church? The Bible, for sure, but are all the leaders and teachers Reformed in their theology? Are they all theologians who thoroughly understand the Doctrines of Grace? Or must they also do a thorough study of all the Confessions and history of Baptists, too? How does your church go about selecting teachers?

Thanks for offering your thoughts to my questions. While I realize you aren't Dr. Ascol, I value your thoughts. But I wouldn't want your thoughts to be words in his mouth or his written accounts on his blog. So I will take them as your thoughts only.

Thank you again, and God bless you immensely as you and your men seek to follow God's direction for corrections in your church in Owasso. May His wisdom abound. SelahV

Tom said...

Selah V:

Since both Bill and Greg have given thoughtful responses to your questions, I will simply say, Amen to what they have written. Please do not assume that just because all of your questions are not answered directly by me, that I am therefore ignoring you. One of the values of a blog is that it allows for group-like discussions and, as Bill and Greg have demonstrated, it provides for lots of shared, helpful insights.

May your Lord's Day be blessed.

G. Alford said...

SelahV,

The book I recommended will give you an excellent understanding of the Doctrines of Grace… and it will also answer your question as to the how and the why a "reformed" church and one that is not reformed both view and do ministry.

SelahV, Wow! You are getting a response from both the Ascol brothers… many blogers are now jealous!

Bill Ascol pastors Bethel Baptist Church, 10705 E. 86th Street North, Owasso, OK 74055 - I am not sure how far that is from where you are but I am sure Pastor Bill would love for you to visit his church one Sunday.

Yes, I am a pastor and I am Southern Baptist…

Sorry I have to run for now… my wife and I are meeting my mother and father at the only cafĂ© in our little community for Supper at 5:30. This is something we do each Friday night and it something we look forward to each week… I will try and answer some of your specific questions when I get home tonight if Bill or Tom does not beat me to them.

Grace for now,

Cornelius Lover of DOG said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SelahV said...

Greg Alford: LOL. You are funny! I doubt very seriously that anyone is turning green over the Ascol brothers commenting to me. I didn't realize Bill was Tom's brother. I will give his words a bit more weight now.

I'm not familiar with the geography of Oklahoma. Only been here three years. But after I finish this comment, I will do a mapquest search and see how far it is to Pastor Bill's church. I really would like more information.

Wish you were closer. I think I'd enjoy [should I enjoy? hee, hee :) ] attending your church. I look forward to reading your comments upon your return home. I'm glad to know you drink coffee. Don't trust folks who don't drink coffee. :) (I assume you drink coffee since you told me to drink mine while reading the DoG book)

Speaking of being honored by the Ascol brothers...I think the fact that Dr. Tom rubberstamped your statements should give you some kind of brownie points among your peers. Just kidding. And at least I can kid with you and know you know that I am kidding. SelahV

SelahV said...

Hey Bro. Greg: It looks like Bro. Bill's church is over 3 hours from my house. Wouldn't bother me to take a trip up there, because I have a really close friend who lives in Broken Arrow, not far from Owasso. However, right now my '94 Astro has nearly 150,000 miles on it and the service engine light keeps coming on. I need a new exhaust system and brakes so I don't dare chance a trip that far without my hubby. And he must teach each Sunday. And I'm teaching a class on Sunday evenings to ladies. I could get back in time for my class, but afraid my hubby would have to miss his altogether. I will see if I can find one closer to home. I'll ask my pastor. He'll know. Thanks for the address of Bro. Bill's though. I may have my friend go visit and give me her thoughts. SelahV

Tom said...

Will:

I doubt that there is a strong consensus of opinion on the part of the SBC leadership. Certainly, most or all of them would realize that we are at a pivotal point in the history, but I would guess that recommendations of what needs to be done would vary widely.

Bill0615 said...

Selah V

Wow, you ask a lot of questions!  I will do my best to answer them one by one.

First, let me respond to your assertion regarding church membership being accomplished by someone simply walking an aisle at the end of a worship service. You state, “Most churches accept them only under the watchcare of the church until they are proved to understand what they are doing and what they are about to do in the way of following Christ in baptism.” You may be correct about this (I don’t get around much because I try to stay fairly close to my own pulpit.) but from my conversations with many pastors over the years I was under the distinct impression that membership in a typical Southern Baptist church was accomplished as follows:

Someone coming forward to be saved—The preacher says something like, “Bow you head and repeat this prayer after me.” (This usually takes about one stanza of a hymn to accomplish.) “If you were sincere when you prayed that prayer, then you are now a Christian.” When all who have come forward have been dealt with respectively, the preacher says something like, “We have so and so coming forward today and he/she has prayed to receive Jesus as his/her personal Savior.” (Congregation applauds.) “If you would join me in receiving him/her into the membership of this church upon his/her baptism, give a hearty ‘Amen.’”

Someone coming forward on a profession of faith—Pretty much the same protocol as above. Sinner’s prayer may or may not be used, depending upon the preacher’s feeling as to whether or not the person was saved before he/she walked the aisle, at a time prior to the worship service, and has previously said the “sinner’s prayer.”

Someone coming forward on a statement of faith—The preacher asks if the person has been saved and baptized. (although more and more it seems that there are some who will only be satisfied with a “Southern Baptist baptism”—but then this does allow for not missing ANY opportunity to baptize someone and keep those numbers up!) If the person gives a satisfactory answer to the question, then the preacher will announce that so and so has come forward to join the church on a statement of faith, having been previously baptized, etc., etc. Then the preacher says, “If you would join me….”

Someone coming forward on the promise of a letter—The preacher will soon discover this and the fact that a person is currently a member of a Southern Baptist church means defacto that he/she is a Christian and, without any questions asked, the preacher says to the congregation, “If you would join me…” The action is taken and the person is a new member of the church. Oh, yes, there is the issue of sending for the “letter.” So, after the fact, without regard to the individual’s relationship to the church where his/her membership has been, the church has the audacity to write to the church and ask for a “recommendation” on the person who has already joined! Amazing. The whole process is usually so superficial that it makes a Roman Catholic priest in the confession cubicle look like a “physician of souls.”

Now, the above is my understanding of the current state of affairs in SBC life. Perhaps things are changing, but I am not familiar with many churches placing people who have come forward for membership “under watchcare.” If this is happening on an increasing basis, then this is a step in the right direction. My point in the previous descriptions is to show that in EVERY instance the person in voted INTO membership BEFORE any close pastoral examination has taken place.

Now, on to your questions! You have asked 11 of them.

SV: “Does your church have a program of indoctrination in which you require of persons in order for them to become members of your church?”

BA: Even before I arrived at Bethel there was a practice of interviewing prospective members BEFORE they actually became members. Since I have arrived at Bethel we have practiced having two pastors interview EVERYONE who “makes application for membership.” We have recently instituted a “Prospective Members / New Members” Class that lasts six weeks on Sunday mornings during our regular Sunday Morning Bible study. We offer new sessions as needed. It has met with very positive reviews from everyone who has gone through it so far. In these classes (and in the pastoral interviews) we listen for testimonies of grace which reflect a genuine saving experience. (We realize we are not the Holy Spirit and do not have infallible judgment. But there is a “sound of grace” in the life of the believer.) We determine whether or not they have been baptized by immersion SUBSEQUENT to their conversion. We introduce them to the doctrines, disciplines, and direction of Bethel and discuss with them the reasonable expectations that attend church membership. They know that they can expect us to minister to them, teach them, exhort them, bear their burdens with them, and rescue them should they go astray. They know that we expect them to walk together in Christian love with the rest of the congregation, be in attendance at all Lord’s day services, give faithfully to the church, live among us in a substantial, non-divisive relationship regarding our doctrines and practices. NO, a person does not have to be a full-fledged adherent to the doctrines of grace, nor does he/she have to be a Calvinist, nor does he/she have to have a fully developed reformed worldview. They simply have to be (as best as we can ascertain) genuine followers of Jesus Christ, saved by His grace, and desiring to increasingly become Great Commission Christians. I don’t think “indoctrination” properly fits this approach. We like to think of it as making membership meaningful.

SV: “In what way is a person to make known to your church they want to become a member?”

BA: We offer an opportunity at the end of the worship service for someone to come forward and “apply for membership.” We visit with them briefly (as the choir sings on) and inform the congregation who they are and why they have come forward. Our congregation comes by and assures them that we are excited that the Lord has led them our way, and that we look forward to receiving them into membership and having them as a part of our church family. At this point a pastoral interview is scheduled (if it has not already taken place) and they are lined up for the next session of our “Prospective Member / New Member” Class. We typically wait for a brief season to give our congregation time to visit with them about their testimony (if anyone should choose to do so). This also gives our congregation time to inform the pastors if they know of something that would stand in the way of this person becoming a member of Bethel. (“Hey pastor, did you know that the person who applied for membership last Sunday has several warrants out for his arrest?” True story!) After an appropriate time span has passed and we have gotten all of our preliminary ducks in a row, we present the person to the congregation at the end of a Sunday morning service and allow our congregation to take a MEANINGFUL vote on this person. Oh, yes, one other thing. BEFORE we receive someone into membership we contact the church from which they are coming to see if they have been faithful there and to discover if there are any unresolved issues we need to be aware of.

SV: “If you are in a church now, that you've only been pastor of for 18 months, how do you get the un-reformed to become reformed members?”

BA: I think your nomenclature is a bit off the mark. Let me address this first. The way you use these terms “reformed” and “un-reformed” has a Gnostic sound to it—like the “informed” and the “uninformed” or the “enlightened” and the “unenlightened.” I can tell you that EVERY man who serves on the Board of Founders Ministries is interested primarily in seeing lost people become Christians and then seeing Christians become responsible church members, growing in grace as disciples of Jesus Christ and increasingly becoming Great Commission Christians. We have NEVER thought it our responsibility to make everyone CALVINISTS, even though every one of us is a committed, thorough-going, unapologetic Five-Point Evangelical Calvinist and we have been for decades. You need to know that Founders Ministries takes a lot of abuse from people who do not have one clue what they are talking about. For instance, I would love to know what “insights” have been derived from the “wonderful reformed gentleman” who has enlightened you as to why some “here at Founders feel threatened by those who do not adhere to” our “reformed ideas.” Please forgive me, but that makes me almost bust a gut. I am surrounded every day by church members who do not necessarily share all of my theological convictions, and not any of them “threaten” me. I guess that is because I am more interested in fellowshipping in the gospel than fellowshipping in Calvinism. Make no mistake about it—a biblical understanding of the doctrines of grace magnifies the glory of God, exalts the person and work of Jesus Christ, and humbles man in the dust—all of which are good for the glory of the gospel. BUT Calvinism IS NOT THE GOSPEL. And no one on the Board of Founders Ministries would claim otherwise. How do I know this? I have sat in the middle of these fine Christian men since Day One—November 1983. I do not know of a finer group of humble, compassionate, devotional pastoral theologians (this writer, excepted, of course) and/or world class theologians to be found anywhere on the North American continent. Our desire for reformation in local churches is tied to our desire to see God glorified in the salvation of sinners. (By the way, I do not identify myself as “reformed.” This implies that I have arrived. I am a historic, reforming Southern Baptist. There is a group that refers to themselves as “Reformed Baptists.” They are dear brothers by and large, and we enjoy great fellowship with them. But I am not a Reformed Baptist, per se.) So I think you would be more accurate to speak of the Founders men as “reformational” or “reforming.” We have not arrived, and will not arrive until we arrive in glory. Then all the labels will evaporate.

Now to your question. We let prospective members know what we believe concerning the doctrines of grace, and assure them that it will not be a point of fellowship if they do not agree. They understand that our members must be in “substantial, non-divisive” agreement with our church’s doctrines, discipline, and direction.” They also understand that all of our pastors, all of our deacons, and all of our teachers must be in “whole-hearted, non-divisive” agreement with our church’s doctrines, discipline, and direction.” Should we discover that one of our pastors, deacons, and/or teachers rejects any of the doctrines of grace or one of the articles of our confession of faith (primarily the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689), then we help them to resign their leadership in an amicable way and assure them that they are still qualified to be members.

SV: “Are you taking them through lessons on the Doctrines of Grace?”

Prospective members and new members get exposed to the doctrines of grace in the aforementioned class. Because of my reformational worldview, the doctrines of grace are like a TSR (terminate, stay resident) program in a computer. These things are continually running in the background of everything that I preach and teach. I even take time occasionally to instruct our people to examine what they believe about these things and how these beliefs have impacted their lives and zeal for souls. If they are developing an “anti-missionary” disposition, we exhort them to toss their (aberrational mis-) understanding of the doctrines of grace into the garbage and go back to the Scriptures to derive them from the divine source book. I am sure that at some point in time I will preach a sermon series through the “doctrines of grace.”

SV: “Are all reformed churches free of adulterers, slanderers, idolators, liars, homosexuals, divorced men and women?”

BA: I can only speak of the church of which I am a pastor. The goal is not sinless perfection, but a congregation of repenting and believing sinners who find it impossible to “sin successfully” (my understanding of what John was teaching in 1 John). Anyone engaged in the sins you have listed above needs to be loved enough to be rescued from such sins, the habitual practice of which will land the practitioner in the fires of hell, his or her profession of faith and church membership not withstanding. In love we would undertake to rescue and recover such erring persons, even being willing to ultimately treat him/her as a “heathen and a publican” and “hand such a one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his soul might be saved in the day of Jesus Christ.” In other words, to recover the wayward we would be willing to take the final redemptive step of corrective church discipline and excommunicate the unrepentant, in the hopes that God would use such action by the congregation to lead them to repentance and recover them to the gospel and to their convenantal relationship in their church. This is not theory for me. I have led a church I previously pastored to take these steps on behalf of my grown daughter.

SV: “Or are reformed churches working to weed out such individuals?”

BA: “Weed out” is the wrong language to use when referring to biblical corrective church discipline. Reformational churches are constantly working to promote the personal holiness of its members and because we submit to Jesus Christ as the Lord of the church we are willing to trust Him and exercise the “redemptive” process (far from weeding out) of church discipline.

SV: “What "material" is used to teach in a Reformed Church? The Bible, for sure…”

BA: Again, I can only speak for Bethel Baptist Church. For years we wrote our own material, but since my arrival (for reasons I will not go into in this blog) our pastors led our congregation and teachers to begin using the “Explore the Bible” curricula from LifeWay in all of our adult and youth Sunday School classes. We will probably make a similar move in the children’s and preschool area at some point in the future. Our teachers also use the excellent Study Helps provided on the founders.org site and prepared by the very capable scholarship of Dr. Sam Tullock. We encourage our teachers to “teach for transformation.”

SV: “Are all the leaders and teachers Reformed in their theology?”

At Bethel it is a requirement that they be in “whole-hearted, non-divisive agreement with the doctrines, discipline, and direction” of the ministry of Bethel. This includes our confession of faith, which is thoroughly reformational in its content (i.e., the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689).

SV: “Are they all theologians who thoroughly understand the Doctrines of Grace?”

BA: Most are very articulate and have a wonderful grasp on the doctrines of grace. For instance, we have more than one teacher who is a somewhat regular participant in John MacArthur’s annual conference. They realize, however, that they need to be always growing. Knowing the doctrines of grace is not the same as having a grasp of the “whole counsel of God” as revealed in Holy Scripture.

SV: “Must they also do a thorough study of all the Confessions and history of Baptists, too?”

BA: They should be conversant in our confession of faith. The more they know of Baptist history the less likely they are to repeat its mistakes, and the more likely they are to emulate that which made Baptists great in the past.

SV: “How does your church go about selecting teachers?”

BA: We look for faithful members who show promise. We discover where they are in their understanding of and appreciation for the doctrinal convictions of our church. If they give evidence of being in “whole-hearted agreement…” then we put them in something of an informal mentoring roll, and will ultimately allow them to substitute in a class. We get feedback from the teacher and other mature believers in the class. At the right time, when the need to re-align a Bible Study class to promote growth, we will place the teacher into the appropriate class.

Now, I think I have answered all of your questions. Let me close with some observations. Dr. Tom Ascol is my younger brother. I have known him for half a century (that makes him 50 for everyone who is paying attention—and recently I might add). He is a very godly man, who loves God and the Lord Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. He is a faithful husband and father of six growing (very precious, I might add) children. He is an earnest pastor of one of the most amazing congregations in the U.S. What God has accomplished in the life of Grace Baptist Church regarding Anglo-Hispanic relations is a pattern that NAMB would be wise to study. He is a bona fide PhD in theology, and received this degree at a time when some of his professors threatened him that he would not graduate if he did not distance himself in his friendship with Dr. Tom Nettles. He has become one of the finest theologians in (and beyond) the Southern Baptist Convention and is a peerless communicator in print AND from the pulpit. No one (other than his dear wife) knows him better than I do. I tell you these things because he will never “toot his own horn.” He is a very busy man with many “balls in the air” at any given time. He often “takes it on the chin” because what he writes and says makes so much sense, rings so true, and is typically irrefutable. So, when someone cannot refute the message, the “American” thing to do is often to shoot (or at least wound through slander and defamation) the messenger. Make no mistake about it. He is a big boy and can take anything dished out to him. But I would make an appeal to anyone who reads this blog and finds himself/herself at odds with various assertions by Tom Ascol. Don’t caricature him. And if he doesn’t seem to answer your questions, please believe me when I tell you that it is not because he can’t. Like everyone of us, he simply must make decisions concerning how to best spend his time.

I hope this helps. Let me encourage you to make plans to travel to Owasso (which is 10 minutes north of Tulsa) this summer for the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Founders Conference, to be held at the Bethel Baptist Church facility. You will get to fellowship with some of God’s most precious gospel servants and ministers.

Bill Ascol, Pastor
Bethel Baptist Church
Owasso, OK
http://www.bethelowasso.com

SelahV said...

Dr. Bill A.: Again I must thank you for taking time for me. I do appreciate the detailed explanations and though they are detailed, some have raised further questions with which I will not bother you at this time. Funny you should mention the Conference this Summer. I had just read about it on the main page of Founders and had just told a friend of mine I was thinking about going.

I will say for the gentleman who spoke of why folks felt defensive at Founders, he also praised Dr. Ascol and his work. He meant no ill-will by his statements. He was simply trying to help me understand why folks like me who do not embrace all the 5-points would appear to be attacking and baiting rather than sincerely be asking a question.

I did assume Dr. Ascol was an incredible busy man. And I find your assessment of him in keeping with what I have already heard about him from others. So, although, you may be a teensey biased because you love him (not meant to be anything but a tender observation), I do not for a moment discount his integrity, his zeal, his intelligence or his love for Jesus the Christ, our Lord.

I love the part of Oklahoma that you live in. Far more foliage. May God grant you peace and wisdom in the coming days should He tarry. SelahV

Bill0615 said...

Selah V

I do hope that you will be able to attend the conference this summer. I look forward to meeting you. Also, if your friend from Broken Arrow should attend, tell her that I hope she will take the time to stop by the Hospitality Room after the service (if she comes in the AM) so we can meet. If she comes in the evening then she can simply catch me in the hallway. (Our schedule of services is posted on our web site--see beow.)

I plead guilty to bias when it comes to Tom Ascol. But then again, I know him--warts and all--and he comes up sterling.

May our great God bless you and yours with His richest blessings through Christ Jesus our Lord. If you want to email me your questions "off blog" or if you want to try the old fashioned way and talk over the phone, you may feel free to contact me at the following email addresses and I will do my best to help you understand our way of expressing our passion for the glory of God.

Bill Ascol, Pastor
Bethel Baptist Church
Owasso, OK
http://www.bethelowasso.com
bascol@bethelowasso.com
bill0615@olp.net

SelahV said...

Brother Bill Ascol: Ahhh..a breath of fresh air. I so appreciate your graciousness and your invitations. I do want my friend in Broken Arrow to visit. She is a dear sweet Christian gal who I was privileged to have in the couples class my husband and I taught while in Kentucky. She is precious to me. I consider her a daughter. We chat frequently.

I also greatly appreciate your email address and your phone number. While I have multiple questions and a few observations, I do not want to litter this blog with things other readers find simplistic and a "given" if only I were able to grasp what they grasp as truth.

You will not know--this side of heaven--how much your careful, kind attention to my queries has meant to me. I think perhaps, you are the purest of sterling yourself. Thank you for your sincere blessings on my behalf. May God bless your heart and your efforts as much as you have blessed me with your goodness. SelahV

deacon said...

Dear SelaV and Dr. Bill Ascol,
I wanted to thank both of you for the gracious dialogue that I have just finished reading. I have only been a Calvinist for about 3 years and I don't know if I have read a more pleasing discussion between two Christians than tonight.

SelaV, I have been reading your discussions for a couple of months now, and I wanted you to know that I have appreciated your candor and honest questions to both sides of the debate. Also, I have never thought of your questions as a threat, although I have never interacted with you one on one. I have just seen others answer your questions better than I could most of the time so I remained silent.

Not to take away from Rev. Alford or Dr. Ascol's response, which I must say are great answers, I would also recommend the 9Marks Ministry of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Dr. Mark Dever is the Senior Pastor, and he wrote an excellent book on the "9 Marks of a Healthy Church." We used at our church with the ministers and deacons with great success. 9Marks has excellent resources and articles that I think would answer many of the questions you had. Another book that Dr. Dever co-authored was "Deliberate Church." This is almost a part II to "9 Marks of a Healthy Church," and it deals with the application and "How-to" of a Christian church (notice I didn't say Reformed).

To carry that last thought further, our forefathers in the Baptist church recognized other churches as being true Christian churches only if they held to the "three marks of the authentic church" (Quoting Albert Mohler in "Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life," edited by Mark Dever page 43). The three marks were, 1) preaching and teaching God's Word correctly, 2) correct administration of the ordinances or sacrements, and 3) church discipline. All of which (minus the second) were covered by Dr. Ascol. Nevertheless, Rev. Alford was correct in that you need to assess the Reformed Baptist movement and the Doctines of Grace from other sources other than the Internet. The Internet is a great tool, but it would be like receiving all of your news from CNN, your not going to get the whole story.