Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Update on Amazing Grace over Florida

Thank you for your prayers for the Amazing Grace over Florida project. The DVDs are landing on the desks of pastors throughout the state and we are beginning to receive feedback. The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far.

As I had expected, I have heard from brothers who believe the doctrines of grace who are very appreciative of this effort. Some were not familiar with the DVD and, after viewing it, now intend to pass it aong to others.

As I had hoped, several brothers who don't line up with me theologically at every point have also expressed appreciation for this effort. Far from feeling threatened or in any way disrespected, they have received the DVD in the spirit in which it was intended. I tried to convey that spirit in the letter that accompanied each packet. It said, in part:
As you probably know, "Calvinism" has become a topic of conversation across our denomination and the broader evangelical world the last several years. With the renewed commitment to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible over the last three decades, this is not surprising, since historically, Calvinism can only thrive where the Word of God is taken seriously.

The rediscovery of our Southern Baptist theological heritage has also contributed to this conversation. Early SBC leaders like James P. Boyce, P.H. Mell, R.B.C. Howell, John A. Broadus, and B.H. Carroll were not ashamed to be called "Calvinists." It is only natural that we who are their spiritual heirs should be discussing this issue.

Of course, the term "Calvinism" has been greatly misused in our day. Too often it is uprooted from its historic meaning and associated with all kinds of things that the men listed above would never avow. Tragically, such misunderstandings tend to provoke more heat than light and hinder any meaningful dialog on the important issues involved.

Southern Baptists need to be talking about these issues--things like sin, grace, election, atonement and perseverance. We need to be willing to reexamine what the Bible says about the core doctrines of our faith and encourage one another to be as faithful as we can in proclaiming the message of salvation to everyone in the world. We need to be talking to one another rather than about one another.

That conviction is what has motivated the recently announced conference coming up at Ridgecrest, NC November 26–28, 2007 on "Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism." Dr. Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay, Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Seminary and I are cooperating to make this the kind of conference where serious theological dialog can take place in a brotherly, helpful way. [INSERT: Watch for the press release on this within the next week].

It is in this spirit that the highly-acclaimed Amazing Grace DVD has been sent to you as a gift. The generosity of churches and individuals who share that spirit has made this possible.

Our desire is that you will watch it with an open mind and open Bible so that, whether you agree or disagree with what is presented, you will be strengthened in your life and ministry as a result.

Thanks for your time. May the Lord richly bless you as you continue to make His Gospel known to lost and dying sinners.
As I feared, I have also heard from some who are not thrilled that the DVD arrived in their mailbox. The first phone call I got was from a fellow pastor who said, "I mean no disrespect, but why don't you go ahead join the Presbyterians?" To which I responded, "Because I am a Baptist." We had a very cordial conversation. He intended no offense and I took none.

Continue to pray that the Lord will use this effort to promote genuine theological dialogue among pastors within the state of Florida, and that with such dialogue there will come a renewed commitment to the unashamed preaching of the Gospel of God's grace as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Finally! Prayer in Public Schools

The Carver elementary school in San Diego is paving the way for prayer to be returned to public schools. Carver administrators have set aside 15 minutes from classroom instruction each afternoon to accommodate 100 religious students that are newly enrolled in the school. Amazingly, the ACLU seems willing to stand down on this one and let the practice continue, evidently not concerned that this action violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Many fundamentalist groups would be celebrating this new found sensitivity toward and encouragement of religious expression in a government school if it were not Muslims who are being served. That's right. The Carver policy has been designed to allow Muslim students to observe salat as prescribed by the Quran.

This article from the San Diego Union-Tribune tells the story. What it does not tell, however, is what these events display to someone committed to confessional Christianity and the Baptist understanding of church-state relationships. Let me offer a few personal opinions of what the Carver school actions suggest.
  1. Our government elementary and secondary school system is irreparably broken. There are obvious exceptions from classroom to classroom and even from school to school, but the system is beyond repair. We no longer have a Christian worldview underpinning the efforts to educate the populace. McGuffey's Readers (in their original form) would never be allowed in most modern government classrooms. Though I realize that this issue is laden with difficulties and often addressed unhelpfully shrill voices, I am more convinced than ever that Christians need to start developing exit strategies for our children to leave government schools. By all means, let's keep sending Christian teachers to the classrooms. They should go as missionaries who recognize that they are invading territory that is hostile to the claims of our Savior.
  2. Education cannot be morally neutral. All teaching has an unavoidable perspective. The widespread perspective of our government schools has moved from a basically Christian worldview, to a secular worldview into rapidly developing anti-Christian worldviews that play right into the hands of radical Islamists who are unhesitant to work pluralism to their advantage as they plot to move from tolerance to equality to supremacy. If you doubt their goals you have not listened to their proclamations.
  3. The battle against Islam will not be fought primarily on foreign fields and will certainly not be won by guns and smart bombs. It is an ideological fight. It is a battle for the minds and souls of men and women and boys and girls. Only a muscular, vigorous, radically biblical Christianity can prevail. The insipid versions that dominate the American landscape--including the evangelical landscape--cannot stand against militant Islam. Only the true Gospel of Jesus Christ will do. And it is that Gospel that, I believe, has been largely lost or forgotten by many in our day who name the Name of Christ and assume that they understand and believe what He taught.
All of this to say, the Carver school administrators' antics further highlight our desperate need for reformation on a large scale. The Gospel must be recovered and churches must be reformed according to the Word of God. May the Lord grant us both through the outpouring of His Spirit.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Amazing Grace over Florida launches

Nearly 3000 copies of the "Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism" were put in the mail today and should be landing in the mailboxes of Florida Baptist pastors over the next few days. Please pray that the Lord will use this effort to promote a clearer understanding of His Word and will encourage a rediscovery of the glorious doctrines of grace that were once widely held among the people called Southern Baptists.

Thanks to everyone who participated in supporting this project. We have not quite met all of the anticipated expenses, so if you would like to give to this, there is still a need and an opportunity to do so. Simply use the button below.

Monday, July 23, 2007

"Why Al Qaeda Supports the Emergent Church" - sheesh!

I never heard of Frank Pastore until a fellow church member sent me his article from yesterday entitled, "Why Al Qaeda Supports the Emergent Church." He is an award winning radio talk show host based in California. Though I probably share many of Pastore's concerns about the emergent movement (as opposed to the "emerging" movement), this article is way over the top. It strikes me as wrong-headed on several fronts, not the least of which is the all-t00-typical tendency of modern evangelicals to locate our greatest problem "out there" rather than "in here."

We need to heed the wisdom of that late great theologian, Pogo, who rightly said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Here is the logic of Pastore's article:
A post-Christian, post-modern, secular-socialist America will be no match for a radical Islam fueled by petro-dollars and threatening the use of nuclear weapons.

But an America where the church is strong, resolute, and courageous? That's a different thing altogether.

Which is why al Qaeda supports the emergent church.
Read the whole article here.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Southern Fried Baptists

This may explain why this didn't make it to the floor of the convention in San Antonio but died in Resolution Committee deliberations.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Denominational Interference

I am always encouraged by SBC denominational employees who remember and appreciate the fact that they are servants of the churches. They exude a humble spirit and avoid giving any impression that they think Southern Baptists are accountable to them or in any way under their authority. Such denominational servants can be a blessing to churches and pastors by supplying information and access to resources to help congregations fulfill their callings.

When a denominational employee forgets who serves whom and acts as if local churches are inferior to convention structures or agencies, then that which can potentially be good becomes bad. And when the good goes bad it is the worst. Unfortunately, pastors sometimes must remind some denominational employees that they work for the churches we serve and should comport themselves accordingly.

When a denominational worker forgets this, he can come across as officious, condescending and even dictatorial in his attitude toward a local church. That kind of spirit is not only offensive it is deadly to the kind of cooperation that Southern Baptists are searching for in this post-denominational era.

Last Friday I received a note that tells of the kind of denominational interference that erodes trust and a spirit of cooperation. I am quoting part of this letter with permission from the author and staff member of the local church involved.
I am writing to inform you about something that is taking place here in ______. Today I received a phone call from [a staff member of my church].... He informed me that he had received a phone call today from a state convention worker who is concerned about our calling of a new senior Pastor. It seems that after learning his name, they did some research and wanted to let us know (as if we did not know already) that, "He is a five point Calvinist" and he "would hurt our evagelistic efforts."
That state official has been informed that he is not to interfere in the inner workings of this church any further. He has lost credibility with that congregation. He has also contributed to the kind of fear-mongering that plagues too many sectors of the SBC today.

I am grateful that this church saw through his attempt to act like a bishop and impose his (very faulty and prejudiced) views on them. In a polite but firm way, they "put him in his place." If he stays there, both church and denomination will be better off. If he begins to get bishopric fever again, then he should be required to take a remedial course in Baptist ecclesiology. Hopefully, his fellow denominational employees will remind him of of his place so that other local churches will not have to.

But, if he or any other denominational official seeks to interfere with or disrupt the inner workings of a local church he should be held accontable and reminded that he is the church's servant and not vice versa.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pray for Molly McCoy

Steve McCoy is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Woodstock, Illinois. He also is a very thoughtful blogger. I have had the privilege of getting to know Steve a little over the last year. He represents a hopeful future for evangelical pastoral ministry. He is the kind of young pastor that Southern Baptists should pray keep laboring within the SBC.

He and his wife, Molly, have 4 children. Molly was recently diagnosed with Chiari Malformation, which affects her brain functions, and is scheduled for surgery this Friday, July 13, in hopes of correcting it. Please pray for the McCoys as they travel this journey with faith and hope.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

DVD update and interview

For an update on the DVD project, go here. New matching grants are available.

Martin Downes over at Against Heresies recently interviewed me on pastoral ministry issues. The first part of that interview has now been posted.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Family and Youth Conference

Family Life in the Household of God is the theme of an upcoming conference hosted by Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral August 1-4. We would be glad to welcome any of our friends in the area or who are able to make their way down to Cape Coral to join us for what promises to be a wonderful time together.

Special guests Voddie Baucham and Steve and Vicki Cook will be leading us during the conference. Voddie is one of the leading spokesmen in our day for recovering the biblical priorities of family life. His most recent book, Family Driven Faith, is a very clear call to return to these priorities. I expect that his teaching on this theme during the conference will be spiritual dynamite.

Steve and Vicki are two outstanding musicians who have written and composed songs that are being used in Bible believing churches around the world. Two of the best-known are "Before the Throne of God Above" and "I will glory in My Redeemer," both of which we use and love at Grace. For more information, read the announcement at the GBC website.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Integrity in Church Membership--the conversation continues

Since the San Antonio convention I have heard from dozens of people who are frustrated, dismayed, puzzled or in some other way disappointed that my resolution on integrity in church membership did not make it out of committee for the second year in a row. My basic attitude and response is that the Lord is firmly in control of this process and will use it to bring about much good for His people.

I have absolutely no doubts about that (based on Romans 8:28) and would believe it even if I saw no evidence to suggest it. However, the Lord is already demonstrating some of the good things that are happening. One denominational servant has told me that, while he genuinely wanted to see the resolution pass so that he could use it as a talking point in encouraging his own church to study this issue, he nevertheless has been convicted by the Lord to move forward in gently trying to persuade the church leaders to evaluate their membership practices in the light of the teaching of God's Word on which our long-standing Baptist polity has been built. Several other pastors and serious church members have expressed the exact same conviction.

Over the next several months many churches will be encouraged to begin addressing the way they accept and care for members. We should pray that the Lord will use these efforts to humble and restore health to each church that walks down this path. It is likely that the road will not be easy for some of the leaders who seek to guide their flocks back to the spiritually life giving streams of church discipline as taught by our Savior in Matthew 18:15-18. Pray that the Lord will give grace, wisdom, humility and tenacity to His servants who are bent on honoring His Word in this way.

Regenerate church membership and church discipline are becoming a greater part of the ongoing conversation about the needs and future of the SBC. Several blogs accurately reported action taken by the convention in San Antonio and some even posted video the extended debate that accompanied my attempt to have the messengers consider the resolution despite the committee's unwillingness to bring it to the floor. The SBTC Texan ran an article highlighting the failure of the resolution to make it out of committee, and included some excellent quotes from supporters of it. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Dr. Danny Akin expressed dissapointment that the resolution did not pass and promised to continue speaking out on the issues it addresses.

One of the most encouraging reports comes out of Missouri, where the Pathway reports that Interim Executive Director David Tolliver has announced that he will start using a smaller figure to report total membership of Missouri Baptist Churches. This is a step in the right direction, and the statements attributed to Mr. Tolliver are very encouraging. Maybe his boldness will inspire other state Executive Directors to join ranks in becoming so practically concerned about integrity in reporting our numbers.

What should you do if you are burdened about your church's inflated membership numbers and loss of biblical discipline? Here are two things that I recommend that you do immediately. First, listen to Voddie Baucham's excellent message from the Founders Breakfast at the SBC in San Antonio. He spoke on "Southern Baptists at Sardis" and hit a homerun. Second, purchase Wyman Richardson's Walking Together: A Congregational Reflection on Biblical Church Discipline and the related Leader's Guide and Student Workbook. These are very useful, practical helps to encourage churches to recover our Lord's teaching on healthy church life. I highly recommend them. You can get more information from Wyman's website. [EDIT: Wyman Richardson recommends getting his books from the publisher directly at reduced cost.]

It is great that these issues are being discussed. Let's work to keep the conversation going. It is time for Baptists to deal with the issues related to our inflated numbers and undisciplined churches.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Florida Baptist Truth Project Update

Our effort to send the Amazing Grace DVD to Southern Baptist pastors in Florida is moving forward very rapidly. Read the latest, including another opportunity to participate in a matching gift at the Amazing Grace DVD Project blog.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Layman's Guide to Church Planting

Dr. Stan Reeves is many things. He is the husband and father of a growing family. He is the webmaster of Founders.org. He enabled me to get this blog up and running. He teaches engineering at Auburn University. He also serves as an elder at Grace Heritage Church in Auburn, a church that he helped plant, in Auburn.

For the last few years Stan has been thinking about the need to encourage others to become involved in church planting. As one who is not called to vocational pastoral ministry, he brings a very helpful perspective to that issue. Often, faithful men who are not pastors let themselves believe--wrongly--that since they are "only laymen" they cannot facilitate a church planting effort. Stan has written a very helpful article to demonstrate that this simply is not true.

Reformed Baptist Fellowship is running this article as a 7-part series. It is worth reading and spreading to others. Part one is already online.