Thursday, September 20, 2007

Chapman's call to prayer and the elephant in the corner

Dr. Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, called on Southern Baptists to pray during his report to the excom earlier this week. Specifically, he said that we need to be praying for God to bless us with "His wisdom, His glory, His holiness and His witness of Jesus Christ."


Those 4 concerns are vitally important and should be focal points of our praying. But sometimes, I wonder if prayer is tantamount to hypocrisy, or at least a cover for our clear disobedience to God's revealed will.

When the Israelites, still basking in the displays of God's power in their victory over Jericho, were humiliated in their efforts to conquer Ai, Joshua and elders of Israel fell on their faces for hours and cried out to God in heart-felt prayer (Joshua 7:6-9).

God's response is very instructive as well as timely for Southern Baptists. He said, "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned ...." (7:10-11a). There was sin in the camp due to Achan's violation of God's clearly revealed will. Because of this, it wasn't time to pray. It was time to act. The sin must be addressed before it would even be appropriate for Joshua to pray for God's blessing.

God had clearly spoken, making known His will that the Israelites were not to take any of the "accursed things" from Jericho and that all of the silver, gold, bronze and iron was to be placed in the treasury of the Lord (6:18-19). Achan did not do this, but stole some of the forbidden things (7:1).

Then, when Israel marched on Ai, expecting God to go with their army as He had at Jericho, the Lord let them flounder in defeat. In the wake of that humilation, Joshua and the elders pray. And the Lord, in effect, tells them to stop praying and to get up and correct the sin that is in the camp.

I have often wondered what that scene must have looked like from heaven's perspective? His people are praying for His blessing while violating His revealed will. It must have appeared to be highly presumptuous in the sight of God.

Granted, Joshua did not yet know about Achan's sin. When it was made known to him, he did not pretend like it was no big deal, or ignore it, or justify it or make excuses about why it couldn't be addressed. We don't read about him saying, "But Lord, we don't want to violate the autonomy of the local clan."

Which brings me to the elephant in the corner of our SBC zion. I am grateful for Dr. Chapman's call to prayer. We desperately need what only God can provide. But isn't it time for our leaders to do something about the elephant that is stinking up the room? Of course, I am talking about the horrible, God-dishonoring fact that most of our SBC church members give no signs of spiritual life. If you can assume that merely showing up at church is a minimum indicator of spiritual life then it is not too much to conclude that over half of our denomination's 16.3 million members are spiritually dead.

We are Baptists. We say and have repeatedly confessed in our writings that we believe we understand the Bible to teach God's clearly revealed will that a local church should be comprised only of regenerate members. We have, historically, been champions of our Lord's teachings on church discipline. We believe that by doing so we are merely submitting to the revealed will of our Master. Or at least, we used to believe and do those things.

What must it look like to heaven when we pray for the Lord's guidance and blessings as we intentionally ignore and refuse to do what He has called us to do? I think it must look like presumption and hypocrisy.

The issue of our inflated statistics and regenerate church membership has gained increasing attention over the last 2 years. Even some leaders are now admitting that we have a problem (see here and here) . But admitting to a problem and calling for action on it are two different things. It is time for Southern Baptist pastors, churches and denominational leaders to stand up and say unequivocally,
"We have sinned. Our churches are filled with unconverted members. Our evangelism has too often encouraged this very malady, and we must repent!"
We must have reformation in our church life. It will not be easy. It will not be painless. But it is absolutely necessary if we are serious about desiring God's blessing."

Do we want His wisdom? It is displayed in the church that is ordered according to His Word (Ephesians 3:10).

Do we want His glory? It is displayed to those who humbly seek Him in obedience to His revealed will (Exodus 33:18-34:7).

Do we want His holiness? Then we must obey His will, delight in what He delights in and do what He commands (1 Peter 1:14-16)/

Do we want His witness to shine through us? It will, when we live differently from the world and bear His image in lives of obedience and good works (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:9-12).

These are all things for which we must pray. But let our prayers be without presumption. We must be willing to deal honestly and humbly with our sin--particularly with the sin of churches filled with unregenerate members.


Worship Leader Ron said...

Thanks for the post, Bro. Tom. It is a call we all need to hear again and again. Thank you for continuing to call us to integrity, honesty and the truth about Christ's church.


Tom said...


I know I sound like a broken record (for all those in the younger set, read: "skipping CD") but I am convinced until we address this issue it doesn't really matter much what other issues we do address. Thanks for your encouragement.

GUNNY said...

Yeah, I think repetition is key on this issue. I've heard other SBC leaders of great stature lament the problem as well, but not that many want to champion such an unpopular cause.

The connected issues (e.g., faulty evangelism, hokey growth methodologies, etc.) necessarily come under scrutiny and nobody wants that ... which is unfortunate.

At some point, we cease to have "Baptist" churches as a result.

Scott Gordon said...


I think you are right on. What steps should we take? Resolutions to our associations, state conventions, or national convention meetings?

I definitely believe we must start with our own churches. We are moving in that direction here in Shawnee, OK. As part of the renewal of our church's covenant we are calling for all members on our roll to attend a celebration/affirmation service in which we will dedicate ourselves to the fulfilling of the covenant we make to one another upon joining our church. We are contacting 'inactive' members regarding their desire to remain connected to our church and discussing their profession of faith.


GUNNY said...

P.S. Ags vs. Miami tonight on ESPN!

Gig 'em, Tom. Represent down there in your hood.

Sojourner said...


I was going through Baxter's "The Reformed Pastor" again, and I came across this quote. I hope that you don't mind my posting it here, the context of the quote itself is worthy of a post. Anyway, here it is:

My second request to the ministers in these kingdoms, is, that they would at last, without any more delay, unanimously set themselves to the practice of those parts of Church discipline which are unquestionably necessary, and part of their work. It is a sad case, that good men should settle themselves so long in the constant neglect of so great a duty. The common cry is, "Our people are not ready for it; they will not bear it." But is not the fact rather, that you will not bear the trouble and hatred which it will occasion?

A little note of encouragement from another pastor who struggled to call his fellow ministers to deal with the same 1656.

Tom said...


You are profoundly and sadly correct when you say, "At some point, we cease to have "Baptist" churches as a result."

I am only 100 miles from Miami, but ticketless. Even more tragic, I don't even get ESPN! I should be able to catch it on internet radio, though.

Gig 'em,


What a great idea, to have a covenant renewal, celebration service! This is a battle that must be fought in each local church. It would be great to hae some denominational leaders on board in bold ways, but with or without them, every pastor and church must address the issues involved locally.

Several folks have contacted me indicating that they plan to offer resolutions to their local associations and state conventions this fall. I think that is a super idea and want to encourage it. Again, a resolution does not solve the problem, but it can call attention to the problem in ways that encourage local churches to address it.

Press on,

Tom said...

Brad (Sojourner):

Great quote! It is good to be reminded that we are walking where others have walked before us. Thanks!


Larry said...

Tom, Amen to your whole post.

And, Gig 'em from the class of '74.

Larry Thompson

J.D. Rector said...


Thank you so much for reminding us of the simple basics that are proclaimed in God's Word about the church! The perception at times portrays our church/denomination as patronizing God. I really believe that Dr. Chapman is a humble, godly man who wants to see genuine revival/reformation within our denomination. Until the other influential leaders of the SBC call for strategic changes, the elephant will remain in the corner.

Just this week I had the responsibility to remind a family within our fellowship what God's Word revealed concerning a matter, when they asked for prayer for the contrary to happen.

Be encouraged brother, and thanks for being a voice in this denominational wilderness called the SBC!

J.D. Rector

Tony said...

What you said is so true. I have said this before and continue to believe it and that is what needs to be dealt with is the sin of pride. The SBC for many years has been so enamored with numbers that to strip the roles of those that by their own actions, or should I say inaction, deny the belief they may profess would take a great shift in focus. Is the SBC ready to answer the press as to where the people have gone? Is the SBC ready to say they never should have been counted and be honest enough to say they were wrong?

Until the SBC is ready to do this, repent of their pride and do what is right, they will be living in denial and I am not sure how God can bless their prayers. Why would God send people to those that intentionally and openly sin? This is not saying that all SBC churches are this way, they are not, but so many of those touted as the pillars of the denomination do seem to be this way. Bottom line is it needs to start with the leaders and the leaders of the large, by the roles they report, churches doing something about this issue.

Thanks Tom for keeping this issue at the forefront as without the constant reminder the SBC will find some other issue to take up that does not point to them but to others. The prayer we should be praying is fro God to change hearts to seek after His will and not the SBCs image.

T.J. Milam said...


Below is an excerpt from a restructuring presentation Dr. Steve Davis, Executive Director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, delivered at Northwoods Baptist Church in Evansville, IN. I found it very interesting.

"Total church membership in Indiana since 2002-03 has declined from 98,000 to 96,000. We’ve had some churches that have cleaned their roles, but, the bottom line is it- it’s just stayed fairly constant. One of the things you need to know is we are considered a new work state. And the reason we are a new work state is because our state less than ten percent of the population of our state attend any—attend a Southern Baptist Church—o.k. So there’s probably a lot of states that fall into that new works state category that don’t consider themselves new work states- but that’s where we are. But one of the key numbers for us is when we reach the 100,000 membership mark in Indiana- church membership mark- then, uh, that opens up other opportunities in Southern Baptist life for us to have some representation that we don’t have now. One of those in particular would be Southern Seminary, we don’t have any trustees on Southern Seminary and yet Southern Seminary is right next door to us and we, you know, a lot of pastors come out of that seminary to serve in Indiana but we have no representative as a board or trustee-- on their board of trustees because of that membership number restriction. So that, among other things, are one of the goals we want to see happen in the state of Indiana so that it will open up better representation for us on the Southern Baptist Convention level. Whether you care about that or not I don’t know, I don’t even know that I care about it really, but it would be nice if we could have that kind of representation. The total resident membership in Indiana has increased from 2002-2003 from 71000 to almost 74000 now, it it, we had a peak here of 75000 here and again there was some churches that cleaned their roles. Now, if somebody’s died they ought to be taken off the role, don’t you think- I mean, you know, they’re not going to be attending anywhere- they’re in a much better Sunday School class now and attending probably a much better worship service. Uh, if somebody’s moved out of state, they’ve joined another church or they’ve joined another denomination you don’t need to be carrying them on your rolls, right? But other than that we need to keep them there and hang on to them so you don’t loose them- whether they come or not- they’re there- you know where they are and they need a contact from the church. There’s going to come a point in their life when they’re going to need you- and, uh, you’re the one they’re going to call if you’ve been the one to stay faithful to contact them even though they haven’t come.


Tom said...


Your comment reads like a transcript of a recording. Do you actually have these words on an audio recording?


T.J. Milam said...


Yes, the entire presentation was recorded on 2 CDs and sent to the pastors of our association. I transcripted this portion from the speech. (I was present in person at the presentation and have the 2 CDs in my possession)


Robert said...


I hope you don’t mind a British Baptist pastor adding his thoughts. There may be many things where SBC folk may consider many European Baptists as soft or theologically weak (and maybe rightly sometimes ☺ ), but one thing that has and does perplex me is how and when the practise of church discipline and a genuine commitment to regenerate membership slipped out of view in the SBC.

I know that sometimes we may baptise people who on later reflection we may wonder had ever truly come to faith, but I struggle to grasp how such genuinely evangelical churches could become like this. In an article in the Spring 05 edition of the SBTS Journal of Theology, Thom Rainer suggests from a very rough and ready study that at least 31% and as many of 45% of church members may not be regenerate based on their apparent poor understanding of the gospel.

Many of those might also be the folk who chose not to attend after an initial interest and so become lapsed members, but in combination – the “unregenerate” and the “backslidden” the numbers maybe huge. Maybe time for a conservative “restitution”.

If I were an American I might suggest its time to bring out the Elephant gun – but as I’m a timorous European, perhaps a nice veterinary sedative ☺


Robert Dando

Tom said...


Would you be willing to contact me via email? editor at founders dot org. Thanks,


Welcome, and thanks for your comments. Our Baptist brothers from other countries have much to teach us over here in the colonies! It is tragic, isn't it, when lapsed, backslidden and apparently lifeless church members are the norm. Something is horribly wrong. If Ford manufactored cars the way that we "make disciples" they would be shut down and forced to reengineer their plants until the autos that came off their production lines were more reliable.

I vote for your elephant gun! It is time to deal ruthlessly with the beast and reclaim our house!


Tom Bryant said...

May you be right about revival and continue to be wrong about Miami.

NativeVermonter said...

If I were a main teaching elder, it would bring much discomfort to my soul when I realize that at the Judgment Seat—I would have to render an account of what I did with those unregenerate members. While these precious ones are resting on membership, their foot is but inches from the flame. Press on with this resolution brother.

John in STL

Tony Kummer said...

I'm glad to see you've not given up - despite being shut down 2x at the convention.

My Two Cents

1. There is money and prestige behind the cover up. And we're collectively serving the wrong master.

2. We need to paint a positive vision for a regenerate and disciplined church - like Capitol Hill.

Kern R. said...

There is another elephant in the room. So many Southern Baptist pastors are not preaching God's Word. So many are speaking and telling stories and not letting God's Word do the work. But if they did start preaching all of God's Word, the rolls would also decrease and many churches would not be able to support their debt.

Tom said...


Point well taken!


Jeremy said...

While I agree that the deadness of SBC-ers is an elephant in the corner, what about the dinosaur in the other corner? I am, of course, speaking about the lack of genuine concern over the growing issue of SBC clergy sexual abuse. Very little is being said on Southern Baptist websites on the matter, and, if I recall correctly, the only response from the President of the denomination was that individual churches were autonomous and that nothing could really be done. What about that? Where is the public addressing of this issue? Where are the leaders? Why is autonomy more important than protecting our children?

William said...


It seems to me that too many pastors, denominational leaders, and/or lay leaders are willing to "pray for revival" while at the same time either ignoring or dismissing the importance of engaging in thorough biblical reformation (part of which involves the practice of redemptive corrective church discipline). This popular approach (i.e. praying for revival while not being willing to engage in reformation) is at best the ecclesiastical equivalent of asking God to sugar coat our increasingly putrefying congregational circumstances or at worst asking God to be our celestial garbage man, cleaning up circumstances for us that we are unwilling to address with the means He has already given us in His Word. Once again we see that the same folks who are all too willing to wave their “inerrant,” “infallible” Bibles are just as willing to deny its sufficiency.

I completely agree with your assessment. BEFORE we pray for revival, we must REPENT, and bear the fruit of REPENTANCE in the form of reformation in the local church in the area of membership. THEN prayer for REVIVAL is legitimate.

"If my people, who are called by my name, will HUMBLE themselves, and PRAY, and seek my face, and TURN FROM THEIR WICKED WAYS, THEN will I hear from heaven..." (2 Chron. 7:14)

Morris Chapman is on the right path, but there are critical pieces missing from his proposal.

Bill Ascol

CB Scott said...

Well...I say A-MEN to this post.


Tom said...


I think you are defintely on to something there, on both points.


I agree. Such work will be costly but we cannot afford NOT to engage it. Of course, you know this from first hand experience, first in Louisiana and now in Oklahoma. Press on!

Chris said...

I agree fully with regenerate church membership and that we as SOuthern Baptist should be truthful about the membership of our churches. Just yesterday, i read an article in the local paper about a church celebrating their 100 anniversary. The article said that the church has over 600 members. However, on any given Sunday no more than 100 people attend the worship service. But the church keeps reporting the number 600 to the local association.

On another note, I attended the Convergent Conference at SEBTS this past weekend. Mark Driscoll spoke and was talking about how Doug Pagitt is a false teacher and spouts some heretical views. Driscoll went onto say that Pagitt is coming to speak at an Evangelism conference in NC hosted by the NC Baptist Assocation
and you can check out some of Pagitt's latest views here

I heard repeatedly at the conference that Southern Baptists should stand for Biblical truth but yet in the same state where SEBTS is located, the state convention has invited a false teacher to speak at a conference. Shameful. It is even more shameful that Driscoll has to point this out to a room full of southern baptists. I am just a lay person in SC just over the border from NC but it grieves me as a southern baptist to see what is going on. I wonder if any of the professors that heard that Pagitt is speaking at a conference will speak out and contact the NC convention in protest. If we as southern baptist claim that we hold to biblical truth, then we should have the courage to oppose false teachers within our midst.

Thomas said...

Repentence for the sin of pride is on order, to be sure. But the pride is yours - the Calvinist bloggers. In your arrogance, you are confident of your ability to discern who the saved people are, and then "discipline" them as you see fit. This is an outgrowth of the desire among many Calvinist Baptists to take over churches, and ultimately the convention. You cover this pride with a pious call for others to repent.

Pride, power, and covering up. Sounds like the Pharisees to me. High irony, indeed.

Tom said...


This is hardly a "Calvinist" issue. It is an issue of taking God's Word seriously and living up to our Baptist ecclesiology. Efforts to distort it into something else are disingenuous and won't fool thinking people.