Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Mindless fundamentalist evangelical Christian lemmings" - SF Chronicle

Mark Morford waxes eloquent in his recent San Francisco Chronicle op ed piece entitled, "American kids, dumber than dirt." In the midst of bewailing the sad condition of the government education system, Morford offers this erudite display of intellectual flatulence:
We are, as far as urban public education is concerned, essentially at rock bottom. We are now at a point where we are essentially churning out ignorant teens who are becoming ignorant adults and society as a whole will pay dearly, very soon, and if you think the hordes of easily terrified, mindless fundamentalist evangelical Christian lemmings have been bad for the soul of this country, just wait.
It is ironic that this came to my attention on Reformation Day. Apart from the blessings of God that erupted with the recovery of the Gospel in the 16th century Morford would not even have the opportunity to publish this intolerant rant. The social and political freedoms that we take for granted in our land today germinated in the Protestant Reformation.

Of course, I suppose it should surprise no one that I would say this because, afterall, isn't it what all of our kind say?


Restoring health to an unhealthy church

The rationale behind the resolution on integrity in church membership is that too many of our churches are spiritually sick and ready to die. Indeed some of them may already be dead but simply haven't bothered with having a proper funeral, yet.

Over the next two weeks or so I intend to offer some thoughts on principles of restoring health to an unhealthy church. Several people have asked me to address this topic here as questions have arisen about the serious problems that plague many of our modern evangelical churches. I have been somewhat reluctant to make such an attempt for several reasons.

First, every church situation has its own unique challenges and opportunities. This means that there is no "one-size-fits-all program" that can be recommended to pastors and church leaders. In fact, there simply is no program for church renewal. Those who suggest otherwise betray how detached they actually are from local church leadership.

Second, good people disagree on approaches to this subject and I have no desire to cast aspersion on what some are teaching on matters related to church reformation.

Third, the pursuit of ecclesiological health is never-ending. Any effort to talk about this subject in a definitive way tends to cloud that reality. Though I do think we can speak in general terms of healthy vs. unhealthy churches, it is more precise to speak of more healthy vs. less healthy ones.

With those caveats delineated, here are six questions on church reformation and renewal that I plan to address over the next two weeks.
  1. Why attempt it?
  2. What is the goal?
  3. What principles should guide you?
  4. Where do you start?
  5. What should you expect?
  6. How do you persevere?
I am in my 22nd year of pastoring Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. Though we have much, much further to go in our efforts to follow Christ and grow in His grace, the Lord has lovingly taken us down a long road and through some rough patches in our pursuit of spiritual health. He has also taught us some very valuable lessons along the way. Some of those lessons might be of use to fellow pastors and church leaders.

Many others have travelled this same path in other local churches and I hope that their insights will be offered in the comments of these posts. A growing number of younger pastors and students are committed to pursuing this kind of ministry and I hope that some of them will offer their reflections and questions as we dialogue about this vitally important issue.

Monday, October 29, 2007

9 Marks at Missouri Pastors' Conference

Scott Lamb is liveblogging the Missouri Baptist Convention's Pastors' Conference today. All of the sessions are being led by staff from 9 Marks Ministries. Pastor Joe Braden, the President of the Pastors' Conference, is also one of the coordinators of the Midwest Regional Founders Conference and has done Missouri Baptist pastors a wonderful service bringing this line up of speakers together.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Where are you on the pandemic vaccination schedule?

The United States government is working on a vaccination rationing schedule in the case of influenza pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services announced the plan earlier this week. The opening sentence of the report says this:
Effective allocation of vaccines will play a critical role in preventing influenza and reducing its effects on health and society when a pandemic arrives.
"When" not "if." The emphasis is mine. Followers of Christ should think about how the Gospel works when a killing disease is spreading across their nation.

Once a pandemic hits, production will not be able to keep up with need so the population has been divided into 4 tiers and descending priority levels to receive the limited supplies of vaccine. The highest priority category includes military and homeland security personnel, health-care and emergency medical workers, police, firemen, pregnant women and young children.

I am in the lowest priority category (healthy adults, 19-64 years old) as I imagine most evangelical pastors are. I have no complaints about it.

How will American Christians respond to a deadly pandemic? Will we clamour for the vaccine without regard for our neighbors? Will we be terrorized like those who have no hope? Those of us who know the Gospel should minister out of the grace that we receive in Christ, and should prefer others above ourselves and teach our people to do the same.

Our brothers and sisters have faced this kind of situation before. We can learn from their example.

In the 3rd century Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, preached to his people to minister to those affected by a great plague that laste from 252 to 254. Unbelievers were so terrified of the disease that they left infected loved ones on the streets to die. Christians, who had been severely persecuted a few years before under Decian, ministered to such persons and took care even of their enemies, having been admonished by their pastor to remember the way of Christ to do good to those who hate us.

Cyprian, who a few years later was beheaded for his faith, wrote a small treatise entitled, On the Mortality, to encourage the church to stand firm in the face of the devastating plague. In it are found these triumphant lines:
What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! what sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment!
The people of Carthage were amazed at the response of the followers of Christ to the plague. While others were fleeing the infected, Christians were humbly putting their own lives at risk by nursing the sick. As a result the Gospel was put on display and its proclamation was given a loud voice. Many former enemies became believers.

The time to prepare for tragedy is before it strikes. The way to prepare is to drink deeply from the wells of God's grace in the Gospel. Knowing and delighting in Jesus sets us free from the tyranny of death and dying. And it empowers us to show the way of liberty to those who are held captive to such fears

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pray for rain...and repent

Last Sunday we joined churches across the southern states in praying for rain in the southeastern region of the country. The fires out west and the storms that recently ripped through the heartland have also left many people homeless and in very dire circumstances. Compassion compels us to pray to the One who controls wind and rain and to plead to Him for mercy.

Drought has a way of exposing the limitations of human strength and ingenuity. It calls us to remember our Creator, which is precisely one of His designs in withholding rain. Scripture is full of teaching that gives this perspective (1 Kings 8:35-36; 17-18; 2 Chronicles 7:12-14; Jeremiah 2:3-5, etc.). The prophet Amos spells it out in unmistakable terms.
“I also withheld rain from you, When there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, And where it did not rain the part withered. 8 So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, But they were not satisfied; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD (Amos 4:7-8).
Drought, like hurricanes, floods, plagues and other natural disasters are warning shots fired by our Creator to awaken us to the fact that wrath awaits all who continue in rebellion to Him. They are, as even modern insurance companies recognize, "acts of God." People may live without fear of God for awhile, but He will not be forever ignored.

Jesus confirms this interpretation of natural disasters and shows that they are tools in the hands of God for all people and not merely His Old Testament covenant nation. When asked about the victims of an atrociously immoral act Jesus took the opportunity to teach that not only moral evil but also natural disasters are God's call to repentance.
“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? Luke 13:5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5).
Droughts, storms and fires, then, should awaken us to consider our ways in the light of God's revealed will. They should show us our weakness and and remind us our sinfulness before God. If we respond to them properly we will humble ourselves before the Lord of wind and rain and confess our sins, and seek His forgiveness by entrusting ourselves wholly to Jesus Christ.

So, when the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, when people are made to suffer because of natural disaster, what are we to do? We are to pray to the only One who can help and plead for mercy. And in our praying we are to repent of our sin against Him--"our" sin, not "theirs"--recognizing that something eternally more devastating than a drought awaits all those who continue to turn away from God.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Church Membership Resolution Adopted

Tonight the Royal Palm Baptist Association of Southwest Florida adopted a resolution on church membership tonight at our annual meeting. This follows on the heels of a similar resolution adopted by the Frisco Baptist Association in Southeast Oklahoma last week. Wes Kenney chaired the committee that introduced that resolution and reports on in over at SBC Today.

So, I guess the headline could read, "Association after Association adopts resolutions on church membership issues." Actually, submitting this kind of resolution to local associations is a great idea, first suggested here by Tom Bryant a few months ago. If your association's annual meeting is coming up, consider offering a resolution like the one unanimously adopted by my association tonight.

This resolution is adapted from the one offered in San Antonio last summer to the Resolutions Committee of the SBC. As I have repeatedly stated, God willing, I will offer it again next year in Indianapolis.

Resolution on Church Membership
Adopted by the Royal Palm Baptist Association October 16, 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 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 Royal Palm Baptist Association meeting in Ft. Myers, Florida, October 16, 2007, urge our churches to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further

RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Royal Palm Baptist Association 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 state 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 heeding His words on these matters.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism conference Schedule

The schedule for the Building Bridges Conference has been finalized. This historic gathering next month promises to be a wonderful time of fellowship, instruction, worship and encouragement. Here is what you get for $104.00:
  • 2 evenings of worship
  • 3 days
  • 5 meals
  • 7 sessions
  • 19 speakers
One of the great hopes of the organizers of this conference is that those who gather will experience the joy and encouragement that come from having open, honest dialogue on important theological issues. God has entrusted His Word to us. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth. Too often, we have been guilty of either ignoring controversial points of doctrine or of using the Bible as a club against others in an effort to establish our own points of view.

Our Lord calls us to speak the truth in love. Christian brothers and sisters not only violate this admonition but also miss out on rich blessings when they refuse to speak for the sake of love and when they fail to love in the name of truth. Some people do not believe that Southern Baptists can discuss an issue like Calvinism without falling into one of those two errors. By God's grace, this conference will demonstrate otherwise.

If you have not signed up yet, there is still time to register. Whether you are able to attend or not, please join me in praying that the Lord will cause this meeting to be characterized by grace and humility.

Building Bridges:
Southern Baptists and Calvinism

November 26-28, 2007
Ridgecrest Conference Center

All sessions to be held in The ARC -- Auditorium Recreation Center

Monday, November 26

3:00 - 3:45 p.m. Introduction -- The ARC
Greetings from LifeWay Research
Brad Waggoner - Vice President, Research and Ministry Development
Ed Stetzer - Director, LifeWay Research and resident missiologist
Building Bridges Theme
Thom S. Rainer - President and CEO, LifeWay Christian Resources
3:45 - 5:30 p.m. Session 1 -- The Historical Record
David Dockery - President, Union University
Tom Nettles - Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
5:45 - 7:15 p.m. Dinner -- Rhododendron Dining Hall

7:30 p.m. Worship
James Merritt - Pastor, Cross Pointe, The Church at Gwinnett Center, Atlanta, GA
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. - President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Tuesday, November 27

7:00 - 8:00 a.m. Breakfast -- Rhododendron Dining Hall

8:00 - 8:30 a.m. Prayer Time -- The ARC

8:30 - 10:15 a.m. Session 2 -- Calvinism: A Cause for Rejoicing, A Cause for Concern
Malcolm Yarnell - Assistant Dean, Theological Studies; Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Jeff Noblit - Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals, AL
10:15 - 11:00 a.m. Break

11:00 - 12:30 p.m. Session 3 -- The Atonement: Its Design, Nature, and Extent
David Nelson - Senior Vice President, Academic Administration; Professor of Theology, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Sam Waldron - Academic Dean; Professor of Theology, Midwest Center for Theological Studies, Owensboro, KY
12:30 - 1:45 p.m. Lunch -- Rhododendron Dining Hall

2:00 - 3:45 p.m. Session 4 -- Theological Stereotypes: Let's Be Fair and Honest with Each Other
Charles Lawless - Dean, Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Nathan Finn -- Instructor of Church History, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
3:45 - 5:30 p.m. Session 5 -- Election and Calling: A Biblical/Theological Study
Ken Keathley - Senior Associate Dean; Professor of Theology, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Greg Welty - Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
5:45 - 7:15 p.m. Dinner -- Rhododendron Dining Hall

7:30 p.m. Worship
J.D. Greear - Pastor, Summit Church, Durham, N.C.
Voddie Baucham - Church planter and Pastor of Preaching, Grace Family Baptist Church, Spring, TX
Wednesday, November 28

7:00 -- 8:00 a.m. Breakfast -- Rhododendron Dining Hall

8:15 -- 9:45 a.m. Session 6 -- Panel Discussion

10:00 -- 11:30 a.m. Session 7 -- Working Together to Make Christ Known
Daniel Akin - President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Tom Ascol - Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL; Executive Director, Founders Ministries

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Amazing Grace DVD project responses

Responses are still trickling in from pastors throughout Florida who received copies of the Amazing Grace DVD in the mail. Overwhelmingly, they have been positive. Several pastors indicated that they plan to show the DVD to their churches as a discipleship tool. Others have mentioned that they plan to use in small group settings.

Here are some comments from the emails and letters that we received.
Thanks so much for the Amazing Grace dvd. I do appreciate all the time, energy and resources that went in to mobilizing and making this available to Florida pastors.
After listening to the Jerry Vines cds that were sent out previously, I was very disappointed on a couple of fronts. I certainly disagreed with his weak and inarticulate theology. I was also disappointed in his characterization and association of Reformed Baptists with liberals, drinkers, etc. But I was probably most disappointed with John Sullivan in sending the tapes out under the Florida Baptist Convention letterhead. If it wasn't for the information I read on the Founders blog, I would have presumed, as I am sure many others have, that our CP dollars were spent to underwrite this endeavor.
Brother Ascol, please extend my appreciation to all who made it possible for
me to receive the DVD "Amazing Grace." I am not a Calvinist (nor a follower
of Arminius); however, I do welcome this resource into my library. I also
appreciate your gracious and kind spirit in which you are moving to
accomplishing your agenda.
If it is of any interest to your research, I am neither of Calvin nor Arminius. I hold to a high view of God's sovereignty - God does what He chooses to do according to His good pleasure and will- not only regarding the plan of salvation, but also every doctrine found within the pages of Scripture. In addition to the high view of God's sovereignty, I hold to the belief that man does not have a free will, but a personal will with which to exercise obedience or disobedience to the Word of God.

There is no doubt in my mind that Calvinism will remain a debated issue long past our years. I choose to fellowship with those who differ with me in their view on this matter, as well, I choose not to spend time with those, who choose not to spend time with those, who do not hold to Calvinism. That is why I say that I appreciate your spirit in what you are trying to achieve.

Please do not misunderstand me to say that Calvinism is not a worthy subject or conversation. I believe that every Bible student, and for that matter, every Christian should wrestle with the issues associated with the "mystery of God's grace."

Thank you for the DVD about Calvinism and its history in our convention. I want to take a couple of paragraphs to share an opinion with you on this important matter, from the perspective of one who could care less about the politics of this issue.

I too, was disappointed that anyone would see the need to distribute the CD by Dr. Vines, for whose ministry I thank God. However, I believe that many Calvinists within our convention have become uncomfortable with those who do not share their views choosing to answer back after years of divisive talk on the part of some Calvinists in the SBC. Most of this talk has been behind the scenes, but divisive, none the less.

For my part as a pastor, I have lost church members who were Calvinists simply for paraphrasing verses like Romans 10:14-17. Since I didn't specifically say my words came from scripture, these Calvinist church members assumed that I did not embrace unconditional election and irresistible grace and left the church. I am many times ashamed of my Calvinist brothers and sisters who consistently display a spirit of intellectual superiority over those who do not agree with them. In short, I believe that pastors like Dr. Vines could perhaps be justified in making the observation, "We didn't start the fire."

I have little doubt that you are correct in saying that many Southern Baptists misunderstand the historic doctrine of Calvinism. But for me, I have seen far more trouble caused by Calvinists who misunderstand it than non-Calvinists; my primary concern being a denial of individual responsibility and embracing a belief in the sovereignty of God that requires that God be blamed for sin. As you know, the Bible clearly teaches that God has given us the responsibility to choose between right and wrong; and to choose between salvation and damnation (Romans 1:18-32), as those who are "without excuse." This responsibility must necessarily be reconcilable, although perhaps not fully comprehensible, with predestination and election, since the Bible clearly teaches both. If anyone wishes to make Calvinism or a rejection of Calvinism a divisive matter, we will one day regret it. I know I do already. My advice would be that we refrain from labeling ourselves as Calvinist or non-Calvinist and simply teach what the Bible says about all thing salvation-related, even those things which are difficult, if not impossible to fully understand on this side of heaven. My explicit warning to those who are as proud of being a Calvinist as they are of being a Christian would be to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. An emphasis on Calvinist doctrine has contributed to the death of the Presbyterian Church, and it is likely to kill evangelism in Southern Baptist Churches that emphasize it as well. After all, John Calvin was a mere theologian; not an apostle, and certainly not God. We have no implicit doctrine known primarily as Pauline or Peterin. Why is it so important to name part of what the Bible teaches about salvation after a man who went to his grave defending infant baptism (which, of course, is the ultimate paradoxical belief for Calvin himself)?

Than you for your interest in bringing clarification from the Calvinist position, to Southern Baptists. I pray that your motives are to defend the perfect Word of God, and not to defend and emphasize one part of scripture at the exclusion of another.
Sir, I agree with everything Dr. Vines said in his sermon. You Presbyterians wish to believe Calvinist doctrine, fine, but I am a Bible-believing Southern Baptist and I resent your slur of Dr. Sullivan.
One brother expressed his appreciation and added this interesting tidbit: " unnamed convention bureaucrat told me specifically and directly not to associate with the Founders movement--alluding to the fact that it was akin to being associated with CBF!"

This is a good representation of the kind of feedback that we have received. Many have called, some have spoken to me in person and most have been very favorable.

Thanks to everyone who gave and worked to make this possible. Pray that the Lord will continue to use this information on the DVD to encourage many pastors and churches to examine the Word of God very carefully about the nature of salvation. As some of those who received DVD said, it is high time we get past drawing caricatures of positions with which we disagree and start learning how to treat one another with respect even in our disagreements.

My dream is that the day will soon arrive when the theological lines will not be drawn between "Calvinists" and "non-Calvinists" in the SBC, but rather between those who are willing to have honest and doctrinal dialogue on disputable points and those who continue to demonize brothers and sisters with whom they disagree.

If enough Southern Baptists of any doctrinal stripe are willing to step up and call to account folks from every theological camp who succumb to using caricature and misrepresentation in expressing their disagreements, then maybe, just maybe, that kind of unhelpful language will decrease.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Don Whitney Conference on Spiritual Disciplines

Don Whitney's insights into the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life have helped countless numbers of believers over the last few decades. Through his books, other writings, teaching and preaching, he has been a consistent advocate for biblical Christianity and healthy spiritual growth. His friendship has been a wonderful encouragement to me through the years and the church I serve has been blessed by his ministry numerous times.

October 26-27, 2007, the Center for Biblical Spirituality will host its first national conference on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Don will be teaching on the spiritual disciplines for these two days. The cost is incredibly reasonable and the venue is the beautiful Legacy Center on Southern's campus.

This is a great opportunity to sit under Don's teaching and be challenged and encouraged to go hard after Christ in the ways that God has prescribed in His Word.

For more information about the conference, check out Don's website.