Thursday, May 31, 2007

Radio Interview with Dr. Denny Burk

Dr. Denny Burk, Assistant Professor of New Testament at the Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, will interview me about integrity in church membership and the resolution that I have submitted to the Southern Baptist Convention's resolution committee for the annual meeting in San Antonio next month. The radio station is KCBI out of Dallas. Denny is guest-hosting for Dr. Jerry Johnson on the Jerry Johnson Live talk show. It can be accessed online via livestream at station's website. The program begins at 5 PM Central Time today. That is 6 PM for those of us on the right coast.

There is also a podcast for the show: Jerry Johnson Live Podcast which should be available for download tomorrow.

Last Call for Founders Breakfast with Voddie Baucham

Tickets for the 2007 Founders Breakfast, held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio, Texas are still available. The deadline for ordering a ticket is June 6, or until we are sold out. Voddie Baucham will speak on "Southern Baptists at Sardis." Tickets are only [EDIT: $15.00]. The breakfast will be held at the Marriott Riverwalk in the Alamo Ballroom on Level 2, at 6:30 AM, June 12, before the opening session of the convention.

I hope to see you there!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Na Day One [EDITED]

EDIT: There was no wifi available at the convention center, so the "live-blogging" never materialized. For a full account of the conference, check out the New Attitude blog.

Here I am, writing from the backseat of a borrowed mini-van heading down the highway towards the Nettles home in Louisville, Kentucky. Day One of the 2007 Na conference is finished and we're tired from the activities of the day, excited about what's up ahead, and challenged and convicted by all we have heard this evening.

We began the day touring Southern Seminary with Dr. Tom Nettles.

I was impressed by all the history surrounding the seminary and enjoyed hearing Dr. Nettles talk about the past presidents, paintings from the book of Revelation on the walls, and historic artifacts in the Lottie Moon Heritage Room. We saw Lottie Moon's shoes and Spurgeon's Bible!

The Bible in the Heritage Room

Examining Spurgeon's Bible

We also saw a picture of Daniel's great great Grandfather, J. J. Stamps, who was a member of the first class to attend Southern Seminary.

Daniel and the picture

After visiting Southern, we headed over to the Convention center to check in to the conference. Once we got our nifty black boxes with wristbands and maps, we walked all over downtown Louisville in search of food and a good place to park the car. With both objectives met, we returned to the Convention center to wait for the first session to begin.

Daniel got a little tired of waiting :-)

The first session featured Pr. Josh Harris, who addressed the Na Conference's central theme for this year, "Humble Orthodoxy takes Discernment." He spoke primarily from Romans 12:1-2 , and outlined four things that Spiritual Discernment requires.

First, Discernment requires Resistance. We must not "be conformed to this world." This, of course, requires that we be aware of how the world is seeking to influence us and realizing that resistance of the world often means rejection by the world. This isn't easy - it takes work, and it isn't always "fun" either. However, in the end, it is always better.

Second, Discernment requires Renewal. We must choose to review and refresh the truth that we know. We can't simply hear it once and then think we've got it forever; everyday we need to remind ourselves of what we know is true.

Third, Discernment requires theologically informed Action. The only way to grow in discernment is to act on what you already know. Discernment is no good if it is not lived out, we must obey God's clear commands to us for discernment to grow. When we refuse to act on the truth we know, discernment dies and the issues that require discernment become more cloudy.

Finally, Discernment requires the Gospel. This is the most important thing, because the Gospel supports everything else Discernment requires. We are unable to be discerning unless we understand that everything depends on, not us, but on all that God, in Christ, has done for us. Discernment is only possible because of the Gospel. We can only resist the world because Christ did. We can only be renewed because Jesus has already given us life. We can only act because God first opened our eyes to see the Gospel truth.

Because we are completely dependent on God, there is no room for pride and arrogance in the action of Discernment. Rather, the use of Discernment is an opportunity to thank God for His mercy to us. Ultimately we are called to something greater than Discernment - we are called to give up everything, all of our lives, to God. Discernment is the fruit of that kind of surrender.

After the sermon and worship led by Bob Kauflin, we split up into community and family groups - but it's really too late at night for me to go into all that now. It will simply have to wait for tomorrow.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Safely in Louisville

This is Rebecca for the NA crew here in Louisville. Praise God, we made it all the way here safely!

We have all had an amazing time so far, even though the conference has not started yet. I sat next to a girl on the flight out of Fort Myers who turned out to be a neighbor of our church, (she lives only a few blocks east of our building) and whose family has been looking for a church home since moving down our way almost a year ago. We had a great time talking, swapped contact information, and I hope and pray to see more of her over the summer.

Our group survived the 5-hour layover in the Detroit airport (or should I say, the Detroit airport survived us!). And we managed to get all of us on the connecting flight to Louisville just before the doors on the plane closed.

Upon arriving in Kentucky, we somehow piled all seven of us, plus luggage and a driver, into a modified minivan with only 5 seats for the 5-minute shuttle ride to a nearby hotel. There we were met by some great new friends, Timmy Brister and his wife Dusti, who escorted us to Dr. Tom Nettles' house, where we were greeted warmly by pizza and a game of frisbee in the backyard. (We discovered that some of us were not called to play frisbee). :-)

Now, well past midnight, we are finally settling in here at the Nettles and getting ready for the conference tomorrow. No, we did not keep them up. On the contrary, Dr. and Mrs. Nettles were the ones who instigated a "talent show" after dinner that ranged from piano duets ("chopsticks") and cooking tips, to recitation of government facts (complete with an attempt to name all of the Supreme Court Justices), selections from "The Music Man", and a dramatic scene from Pilgrim's Progress. It was a wonderful time of fun and fellowship for all of us, culminating in group devotions led by Dr. Nettles before we all headed to bed.

One of the greatest things about flying is experiencing some of the grandeur of God's creation from a new perspective: 32,000 feet in the air. It gives an amazing feeling both of how awesome God is, and how small we are. More than once, from more than one member of our group, I heard phrases like "This is so awesome!" "My God made this!" and "Wow. I feel so tiny" as we flew over the numerous states between Florida and Michigan and back down to Kentucky. It was a much-needed "perspective glass" from God that has helped to set the tone for what we pray will be a wonderful conference over the next few days.

Friday, May 25, 2007

New Attitude Conference--Live Guest Blogging

Seven outstanding young adults from Grace Baptist Church are enroute to Louisville, Kentucky for the New Attitude Conference. Among them are my children, Rebecca and Rachel. They and their traveling buddies, Ricky, Daniel, Darcie and Rachel H., have agreed to guest-blog the conference here as they have opportunity. The line-up looks great and the potential for thousands of young adults to be powerfully impacted by the Gospel is certainly worth praying over.

Check back over the next few days to see what "the kids" have to say.

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Rachel H, Rachel A, Darcie, Daniel, Rebecca, Ricky

Thursday, May 24, 2007

State Senate Resolution to Pray for Florida

Florida Senate Resolution
On May 3, 2007 the Florida Senate passed a resolution calling on the residents of our state to pray "that God would have mercy on our state" as we approach another hurricane season. Not only Florida but nearly the whole Gulf Coast region and much of the Atlantic Coast has been chastened by hurricanes the last few years. Other parts of our nation have experienced natural disasters from tornadoes, fires and floods. All of these are reminders of our smallness and dependence on power far greater than ours for protection. We may be able to name the storms, but we cannot change their direction or impact.

This is an appropriate resolution for our state legislators to pass. The text is found below. May the Lord who commands winds and waves (Job 38:11) indeed show mercy to us in the months ahead. More importantly, may He turn many hearts to Himself and remind us of our need of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • WHEREAS, throughout our history, our Nation has turned to prayer for strength and guidance in times of challenge and uncertainty, and
  • WHEREAS, past presidents, including Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and others, have called for a day of prayer at times of crisis and disaster, and
  • WHEREAS, our first President wrote in 1790, "May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths..." as we face the challenges of our times, God's purpose continues to guide us, and we continue to trust in the goodness of His plans, and
  • WHEREAS, we have been warned by leading hurricane forecasters of the likelihood of a very active hurricane season, and
  • WHEREAS, our preparations can protect against hurricanes but cannot influence the strength or frequency with which they occur, and
  • WHEREAS, in addition to these preparations, the residents of this state are in need of protection,
  • NOW, THEREFORE, Be It Resolved by the Senate of the State of Florida: That in recognition of the first day of Hurricane Season, June 1, 2007, the Senate calls upon the residents of this state to pray that God would have mercy on our state and protect us from harm.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

David Wells at the National Founders Conference, June 26-29, 2007

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Theologian and author, David Wells, will be the main speaker at this year's Founders Conference in Owasso, Oklahoma. The theme is "God's Truth Abideth Still: Confronting Postmodernism."

Few evangelicals have thought as deeply or written as carefully about postmodernism as Dr. Wells. His most recent book, Above All Earthly Powers, Christ in a Postmodern World, is the fourth and final installment of his ambitious and very helpful project to analyze the intersection of confessional Christianity and postmodernism. The first book of the series, No Place for Truth: or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (1993) is one of the most significant books to have appeared in the last half of the twentieth century. David Wells understands how the Gospel works and has courageously called evangelicals to return to and stand firm in that Gospel in the face of cultural sea changes.

This conference promises to be very instructive as well and encouraging. The fellowship, singing and teaching that take characterize the Founders Conference provide an opportunity to get your spiritual batteries recharged. I encourage you to join us for what promises to be a very beneficial few days together.

Monday, May 21, 2007

RNS article on Integrity in Church Membership

Amy Green, who writes for the Religious News Service, gets it mostly right in her article on integrity in church membership. It is available online at the Dallas Morning News blog, the Washington Post and The only complaint I have is the paragraph that states,
Ascol, the Southern Baptist, takes issue with some churches that enroll people after they answer an altar call and commit themselves to following Jesus. He says it's a superficial means of joining the church and requires no real commitment. Even after those members disappear, the denomination counts them, he said.
Actually, my concern is not that churches use an altar call--though I am no fan of that modern invention and think it has been complicit in fostering many spiritual problems in churches. Neither do I object to people being "enrolled" into a church's membership after committing themselves to following Jesus. Indeed, I wish that only such people were accepted into the membership of Baptist churches.

What I obviously did not communicate clearly to Ms. Green is my objection to the way post-sermonic altar calls are typically employed in adding people to Baptist membership rolls. It often works something like this: At the end of the sermon the pastor will say something like this, "If you want to trust Jesus as your Savior, or redicate your life to Him, or join this church, then while the music is playing just step out and come down front and let your desire be made known." Anyone who comes down front and expresses a desire to join the church, through statement of faith, promise of a letter (of recommendation from a sister church) on profession of faith is usually voted on at that moment by the church to be accepted as a member.

Too often those who are not really known, or whose testimony is unknown, are immediately accorded full membership. I think it undermines a church's Baptist identity to accept members this way. How can the congregation exercise any discernment at all in receiving new members when they know nothing about them and when those prospective members have not been adequately interviewed to hear their Christian testimonies? Obviously, the whole church cannot interview every applicant, but they can assign that responsibility to their leaders.

However it is done, every church owes it to the candidate for membership as well as to the congregation to look for a credible profession of faith before accepting new members into the fellowship. The process for doing this need not be complicated or too extensive, but it should be thoughtful and intentional.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell, 1933-2007

I received a phone call 30 minutes ago that Jerry Falwell has died. Don't you believe it! He is more alive right now than he has ever been. He left "the land of the dying" and entered the "land of the living." That is the way that he would see it, and all of us who love the Lord Jesus should agree. For the Christian, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

You may not have agreed with Dr. Falwell on some points of theology and you may not have even liked him. But you should certainly have respect for him and compassion for his family and many ministries that will miss him.

I had the privilege of meeting him and spending an hour in his office with a mutual friend in May 2000. George W. Bush was the Republican candidate for President. Dr. Falwell explained to us how Bush would have to "dance" around certain issues and that the evangelicals and Fundamentalists would need to give him room to do so, in order for him to be elected. He predicted what the polls would do, and how the vote would turn out--Bush by the slimmest of margins. I remember being very impressed with his political presence of mind, and even more impressed 6 months later when the election fiasco erupted and was finally sent to the Supreme Court.

Dr. Falwell and I discussed Baptist colleges and universities as well as Baptist seminaries. He was still a new Southern Baptist at that point, but I was amazed by how much information he had at his command about the various institutions affiliated with the SBC. He knew about religion departments, faculty members, recent hires, struggles, enrollment figure...and other matters that I had never even considered. I remember leaving his office thinking that he would be a very formidable opponent on any field of contest.

It is no secret that Dr. Falwell has made some statements about the doctrines of grace that are regrettable. I have taken issue with these statements, and more notably with those of some of his staff, on more than one occasion. Those differences, as significant as they are, should not in any way diminish the loss that all Bible believing evangelicals should feel on this occasion of his home-going. He was a rare man who used his considerable gifts to advance the cause of His Savior in the best ways that he could.

Pray for his wife and children and grandchildren. Pray for the Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University and seminary families. Many have contemplated this day, and have done so with some understandable trepidation. Dr. Falwell was an incredible leader. May the Lord raise up other leaders who will be able to build on his legacy and lead those bodies and institutions to even greater usefulness in Christ's kingdom.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

2007 Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

As promised, I have submitted my resolution on integrity in church membership to the Resolutions Committee for the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention. From what I understand, others may well submit similar resolutions this year.

Before sending my resolution in, I consulted with a few respected leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. I sent each a copy of what I intended to propose. All were very favorable about the concerns addressed and offered advice. One encouraged me to wait a year or two before submitting the resolution in hopes that the convention might be better prepared for such a dialogue at that time. I understand and respect his reasoning, but decided to go ahead with my original plan.

I am very gratified to see more and more people giving serious attention to the issue of ecclesiology in general and Baptist polity in particular. In case you missed you, you really must read the Baptist Press story on John Hammett's recent faculty lecture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a professor of theology at the school and spoke on the need to recover our commitment to a regenerate church membership. Here is a summary statement from the article:
Hammett said the most pressing problem facing the Southern Baptist Convention today is not the decadent, post-modern culture, but the Southern Baptist culture, which has lost sight of the Baptist mark of the church -- regenerate church membership -- and allows anyone to join the church and maintain their membership without any interview process or accountability.
Read the whole story here. Who knows if the SBC will adopt my resolution or not? In one sense, it really doesn't matter. As I have explained to various reporters and interested observers of things SBC a resolution carries no binding authority on any person or institution within the convention. But it is an expression of what messengers think on a given subject at a particular time. More importantly, a resolution can be a way of raising an issue to the level of conversation within the SBC. If that happens again this year, then I will be most grateful.

Here is the text of what I submitted. Pray that our Lord will use it to provoke greater concern for biblical integrity in the way that we seek to live in our churches.

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership
Submitted by Thomas Ascol
May 1, 2007
  • Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and
  • Whereas life in a local church should be characterized by loving discipline as the Bible teaches in passages like Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5 and Titus 3:10-11; and
  • Whereas the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,306,246 members in Southern Baptist churches; and
  • Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,138,776 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and
  • Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle as described in Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message; now, therefore, be it
  • RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord's teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally
  • RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Tom Nettles will stay at Southern

On April 23 I announced that the elders of Grace Baptist Church were recommending Dr. Tom Nettles to the church as a candidate for Associate Pastor. After months of serious prayer and consideration, we and Dr. Nettles believed that the Lord had led us to this point and could well be leading us to unite in pastoral ministry in Grace. Tom and his wife, Margaret, visited with the Grace family over the past weekend and Lord's Day. Just prior to last night's final worship service, He informed me that the Lord had convinced him that he should withdraw his name from consideration and should return to his teaching responsibilities at Southern Seminary.

I informed our church during the evening service and Dr. Nettles spoke with heartwarming humility and transparency about how he had come to this unexpected and abrupt change of heart. He spoke of a renewed sense of call and a burden of stewardship to the opportunities the Lord has given him in teaching seminary students. Needless to say, we were all deeply saddened as we considered that the future we had anticipated was not to be. Nevertheless, we could not help but rejoice in the Lord's goodness in leading in such a clear way. That has been our prayer from the beginning--that the Lord would direct us to do His will. Though He has done so in a way that we did not expect and which we would not have chosen, He has unmistakably done so, and He is to be praised.

There are many lessons to be learned through all of this and we hope not to miss any of them. We will keep our time of congregational meeting on Wednesday night, but will now turn that into a season of biblical reflection and prayer. We will also keep the appointed day of prayer and fasting on Friday, but now, instead of seeking the Lord's guidance about issuing a call to Tom Nettles, we will be seeking His guidance and spiritual provision for our immediate future. We plan to end that day with a baptism at the beach.

James clearly instructs us that we should only make our plans with a humility that remembers, "if the Lord wills" (James 4:15). The last 4 days have provided a very poignant reminder of that truth. The Lord is good in all His ways. The cross of Jesus Christ stands as an eternal testimony to that fact. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32).

On behalf of Grace Baptist Church and the Nettles, thank you for your prayers. We believe that the Lord has heard and answered. I am excited about Tom's future ministry at Southern. If the Lord grants him life and strength, I believe that his best, most productive days are in front of him. The counsel that I have given to students at Southern for the last 10 years remains the same: take every course that you can from Tom Nettles. He will help you understand the Gospel both in its nature and in the way that it works.

On a lighter note, this announcement will hopefully regain me some friends and slow down the "dislike mail" (it really didn't rise to the level of "hate," but some of them flirted with the edges of "perturbed") from students and others who were lamenting the thought of Tom not being around to teach at the seminary any longer. I fully understood their sentiments and rejoice with them at the Lord's leading. The kingdom of God is certainly far greater than any single church or school. The events that have transpired will, I believe, serve the cause of that kingdom very well for years to come.

Frank Page on Evangelism with integrity

Amen. May this call be heard far and wide throughout the SBC.

Read Frank Page's "Evangelism with integrity."

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pres of ETS joins the Roman Catholic Church

Francis Beckwith, Baylor University professor of church-state relations, has returned to the Roman Catholic Church. He recently has been restored to full communion, and his wife has been accepted as a catechumen. He gives his reasons and explains the timing of his announcement on his blog, linked above. James White has an interesting commentary on the announcement.

These are certainly curious days when the President of the Evangelical Theological Society resigns his position in order to return to full communion with the RCC.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Timmy Brister blogs True Church Conference

Timmy Brister, host and author of Provocations and Pantings, will live blog the True Church Conference First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Alabama beginning today. The conference looks great and certainly is addressing one of the most pressing needs of our day. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Toledo, Memphis, Louisville, Owasso and San Antonio

The last week has afforded me little time even to check the comments on my blog, much less post a new article. The Toledo Conference on Reformed Theology was a real encouragement. All of the messages were helpful. I was privileged to join Don Kistler, Steve Camp, Phil De Coursy and Steve Lawson to address the theme, "Developing a Passion for Christ." CDs are available from the conference website.

Before that conference I was with my good friend and fellow Founders Ministries Board member, Phil Newton, for the 2oth anniversary of Southwoods Baptist Church in Memphis. Phil planted that church and has led it faithfully for 2 decades. Be sure to check out Phil's sermons that are available from their website. Currently he is preaching through Revelation.

On Monday, I met with some men in Louisville to discuss church planting. It was a very productive meeting and I am hopeful that some very positive initiatives will develop over the next year. For more information, check out Joe Thorn's comments.

I also sent in my resolution on integrity in church membership to the SBC Resolutions Committee this week. I will post the revised resolution in the near future.

I learned a few weeks ago that 3/4 of TeamPyro will be attending the National Founders Conference this summer in Owasso. That should make for a hot time in Oklahoma when David Wells addresses the theme, "God's Truth Abideth Still: Confronting Postmodernism."

If you have not secured your tickets for Founders Breakfast at the Southern Baptist Convention, now is the time to do so. Voddie Baucham will speak on "Southern Baptists at Sardis." That in itself will be worth a trip to the Lone Star State in June. While you are there, you might as well hang around and vote for my resolution...if it makes it out of committee.