Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why I signed the Great Commission Resurgence declaration

Danny Akin, Johnny Hunt and others have released a manifesto entitled, "Toward a Great Commission Resurgence." It is a document aimed at Southern Baptists with implications far beyond the SBC. In some respects this call is the culmination of a growing concern among many Southern Baptists over the last several years. The essence of the concern, as I see it, is that having won the battle for the authority of Scripture in the SBC, we are in danger of losing the peace through infighting, political power struggles and neglecting the "weightier matters of the law" while championing other things.

I am sure that some would not articulate this exactly as I have, but from ongoing conversations that I am having with brothers and sisters across the SBC, I don't think my way of stating it would be contradicted by those leading the charge in calling for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). One of the most encouraging dimensions of this growing movement is that those who are joining it come from diverse sectors of the SBC. Calvinists as well as non-Calvinists, elders (older boomers) and youngsters (Gen Xers) as wells as "in-betweensters" (I am sure that there is a name for us, but I didn't read the newspaper the day it was announced) all all signing on. Denominational workers, pastors and laymen are on board.

What unites us in this movement is not some naive notion that we are all the same or that we all agree on every doctrinal or practical issue that confronts us. Rather, we agree that the gospel is central to any and every Christian effort and that we must not allow anything, no matter how good and noble it might be, to detract from proclamation of that gospel around the world.

Let me try to explain a bit. Everyone whom I regard as a fellow-laborer in the gospel would fully affirm the the first of the GCR's 10 points, which has to do with the Lordship of Christ:
We call upon all Southern Baptists to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things at the personal, local church, and denominational levels. (Col. 1:18; 3:16-17, 23-24)
Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Therefore, Jesus Christ must be our passion and priority and we should aspire to both know Him and love Him more fully. We must long to see Him have preeminence in all things. We desire to see a Convention of Christ-centered, "Jesus-intoxicated" people who pursue all that we do by God's grace and for His glory. We believe we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to lead us into a new and fresh intimacy and communion with the Lord Jesus that results in greater obedience to all that He commands. Christ's Lordship must be first and foremost in a Great Commission Resurgence or we will miss our most important priority and fail in all of our other pursuits.
This is a great statement. I may want to call attention to our Lord's commandment to exercise church discipline (Matt. 18:15-18) while others in the movement may be zeroed in on His commandments to love or to evangelize or to care for the poor and needy. The great hope of joining with brothers who are clearly committed to the statement above is that we can genuinely help each other by pressing each other to take seriously all that Christ commands and perhaps even expose our respective blind spots or weaknesses. I need that and want that and even invite it from those who are pre-committed with me to the type of vision articulated in the GCR.

Or take another example. The second point addresses the centrality of the gospel:
We call upon all Southern Baptists to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in our lives, our churches, and our denominational ministries. (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:17-21)

The gospel is the good news of all that God has done on behalf of sinners through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. As individual Southern Baptists, we must be gospel-centered from first to last. Gospel-centered living will promote a grace-filled salvation from beginning to end by putting on display the beauty of the gospel in every aspect of our lives. It will remind us that we do not obey in order to be accepted, but rather we obey because we are accepted by God in Christ. Gospel-centered living will help ensure that the bloody cross of a crucified King is the offense to non-believers rather than our styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes.

The gospel must also guide and saturate our local churches and denominational ministries. Too many of our pulpits have jettisoned the pure proclamation of the gospel, which has resulted in many of our people losing the full meaning and wonder of the gospel. Too often our denominational programs and agendas have been crafted without a close tethering to the gospel. If we assume the gospel, we will lose the gospel. We must get the gospel right and proclaim it with clarity and boldness if we are to experience a Great Commission Resurgence.
This statement reflects, perhaps more noteably than any of the others, the fresh winds that are blowing across many of our churches. The gospel is not only for unbelievers. It is for Christians, too. It is not simply the means for the beginning of new life in Christ. It is the way and essence of that life. I might want to argue (as I have repeatedly over the years), perhaps more than some others who affirm this statement, that in many respects we already have lost the gospel and need to work for its recovery. And as this statement recognizes by way of warning, I believe that one of the main ways we have lost it is by assumption.

Though others who buy into this movement may not agree fully with me on this point, by expressing our agreement on this statement we have established clear grounds to have meaningful conversations about it. The statement recognizes that without the true evangel, there cannot be true evangelism, and I am delighted by such a declaration.

No doubt many in the SBC will not want to sign on to the GCR movement. Some of these are men with whom I share much in common and for whom I have great respect. Bart Barber fits into that category and his recent explanation of why he cannot sign the GCR document is worth reading though, obviously, I did not find it convincing.

Others are opposed the the GCR for reasons that appear to me to be primarily political--they fear losing control of the SBC or at least their (or their elders') sense of legacy in having fought for the conservative resurgence (CR) of the last 30 years. I have no sympathy with this mindset and hope that it will have no influence on those calling for a GCR. While I worked for the CR from the time I first cast a vote for Adrian Rogers in 1979 it is time for Southern Baptist inerrantists to recognize that inerrancy is not enough. Timothy George was prophetic when he warned decades ago that "the exchange of one set of bureaucrats for another does not a reformation make." We must keep pressing forward for the sake of the gospel.

Others seem to be afraid that embedded in the gospel-centeredness of the GCR is an inevitable loss of Baptist identity--that to speak of Christian essentials as being more important than Baptist distinctives somehow diminishes the latter. While I don't know anyone in this group to whom I would have to take a backseat regarding Baptist credentials (and I know several whose calls for Baptist distinctives--such as regenerate church membership--are more theoretical than practical when their church life is examined), I simply do not share their fear and believe that it is unwarranted. The call for a GCR is made by convinced Baptists and is directed primarily to Baptists. To claim that the substitutionary death of Jesus is a "weightier" matter of biblical doctrine than believers' baptism is no slight to baptism. Any view that disagrees with this will ultimately devalue both doctrines of atonement and baptism.

All of this to say, I am encouraged by this call for a Great Commission Resurgence. I am under no delusion that issuing a manifesto and gathering thousands of signatures will bring about the reformation that we need. But such actions may further that effort by clarifying lines of demarkation regarding what we must be and do, and what we must not be and do if we are going to be faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is why I am grateful to Drs Akin, Hunt and others who are boldly leading the way in this effort.

Our God will receive the glory that is His due when His work is engaged in His way; when His message is received and passed on without any editorial adjustments by well-intentioned messengers; and when His Son is seen and honored and delighted in as the all-surpassing treasure of His people.

The GCR could well be an instrument that helps further this cause. For that reason, I support it and want to stand with others who are committed to the vision that it casts for the future of the SBC.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reflections on the death of a friend, Brian Hamrick

Pastor Brian Hamrick entered the land of the living last night, April 24, 2009, while recuperating from surgery in Gulf Coast Hospital in Ft. Myers, Florida. Brian served as Pastor of First Baptist Church, Clewiston, FL. He was admitted to Gulf Coast via medi-flight on April 11 after serious complications from surgery set in. Brian was 33 years old and leaves behind his wife, Katherine, and two sons, Nathan (4) and Luke (1).

I visited with Brian last Sunday night during one of his more difficult times. I read Augustine's favorite Psalm to him (Psalm 32) and before we prayed, he said, "Tom, I want you to know that I am ready for whatever the Lord has for me. If He heals me, I am ready. If not, I am ready for that, too. It's OK." His grip was as strong as his faith and I left encouraged by the obvious display of God's grace in his life. I grieve over our loss.

I hate death. It is, after all, our "last enemy." We were not built to die. Sin ushered in death to the human experience. For the Christian, death is gain because it means entrance into the immediate presence of our Lord. But it is still a sorrowful experience because not only does it separate a husband from his wife, a father from his children and a pastor from his flock, but it also separates the spirit from the body. We were not designed to experience any of these losses.

Although death is an enemy, for the follower of Jesus Christ, it is a defeated enemy. Christ has conquered death through His powerful resurrection. As such, He is the "firstfruits," the trail blazer for all who are trusting Him. As He has gone, so those who are His shall also go. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead has removed the sting of death for every believer. Though we will not escape it, we no longer have to be terrorized by it.

That is why Christian grief is different from the grief of unbelievers. Yes, we grieve, but not as those who have no hope. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with HIm those who sleep in Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

Brian was a faithful husband, father and pastor. He loved God's Word and was willing to teach and preach with gentleness and patience, trusting the Lord to do His work in His time through His appointed means. I am grateful to have known him.

Please pray for his family. Katherine knew far more clearly than did Brian the seriousness of his situation. The one request that she made of me last week was to pray that her faith would be strengthened. May the Lord grant her this. Pray for Nathan and Luke who are too young fully to comprehend what their dad's death means. Pray for Associate Pastor Joshua Vincent, Worship Pastor Todd Buck and the church as they grieve the loss of their friend and shepherd. And pray that, as in his life, so in his death, Brian's Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will receive glory and honor.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Akin: Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence

In a much-anticipated message at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Danny Akin today unveiled 12 "Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence." Dr. Akin, more than anyone else, has been outspoken in his call for such a resurgence. His leadership in doing so has met with mixed response ranging from condescending, dismissive scoffing to enthusiastic support.

One question that has been raised is, what exactly is meant by "Great Commission Resurgence" (GCR)? Dr. Akin begins to answer that question today in his address. Obviously, no Christian will position himself against the the great commission. That leads some to feel justified is decrying the need for a great commission resurgence. But that attitude was common when the Conservative Resurgence earnestly began within the SBC in 1979. "Everyone believes the Bible, so why is this issue being raised?" That was the question then. Now it goes like this, "We never stopped believing in the great commission, so what's the point in calling for this resurgence?"

The axioms that Dr. Akin outlined help give definition to the GCR vision. Notice how gospel-centered it is:
  • "We must be gospel centered in all our endeavors for the glory of God" (II)
  • "...building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel" (V)
  • "We must covenant to build gospel saturated homes" (VII)
  • "We must encourage pastors to see themselves as the head of a gospel missions agency" (X)
  • "We must pledge ourselves to a renewed cooperation that is gospel centered" (XI)
If this vision begins to shape the mission of Southern Baptist churches then the future of the association known as the Southern Baptist Convention will be much healthier than many would ever have imagined. If such a vision does not win the day then I fear that the SBC, as a convention, will continue down the path of increasing irrelevance.

Audio and video recordings of Dr. Akin's message will soon be posted here. Following are the axioms as reposted from Between the Times.

Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence
Acts 1:4-8
By: Daniel L. Akin, President
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, NC
April 16, 2009

I. We must commit ourselves to the total and absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of our lives (Col 3:16, 17, 23-24).

II. We must be gospel centered in all our endeavors for the glory of God (Rom 1:16).

III. We must take our stand on the firm foundation of the inerrant and infallible Word of God affirming it's sufficiency in all matters (Matt 5:17-18; John 10:35; 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

IV. We must devote ourselves to a radical pursuit of the Great Commission in the context of obeying the Great Commandments (Matt 28:16-20; 22:37-40).

V. We must affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a healthy and sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord's Commission (1 Tim 6:3-4).

VI. We must dedicate ourselves to a passionate pursuit of the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus across our nation and to all nations answering the call to go, disciple, baptize and teach all that the Lord commanded (Matt 28:16-20; Acts 1:8; Rom 1:5; 15:20).

VII. We must covenant to build gospel saturated homes that see children as a gift from God and as our first and primary mission field (Deut 6:1-9; Psalm 127; 128; Eph 6:4).

VIII. We must recognize the need to rethink our Convention structure and identity so that we maximize our energy and resources for the fulfilling of the Great Commission (1 Cor 10:31).

IX. We must see the necessity for pastors to be faithful Bible preachers who teach us both the content of the Scriptures and the theology embedded in the Scriptures (2 Tim 4:1-5).

X. We must encourage pastors to see themselves as the head of a gospel missions agency who will lead the way in calling out the called for international assignments but also equip and train all their people to see themselves as missionaries for Jesus regardless of where they live (Eph 4:11-16).

XI. We must pledge ourselves to a renewed cooperation that is gospel centered and built around a biblical and theological core and not methodological consensus or agreement (Phil 2:1-5; 4:2-9).

XII. We must accept our constant need to humble ourselves and repent of pride, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, contentions, lying, selfish ambitions, laziness, complacency, idolatries and other sins of the flesh; pleading with our Lord to do what only He can do in us and through us and all for His glory (Gal 5:22-26; James 4:1-10).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pray for Brian Hamrick

UPDATE: Wednesday at 3:30 PM Eastern Time I spoke with Katherine and learned that Brian has had 2 stable days. He was taken off the ventilator for 15 minutes today and responded well. The doctors are hopeful that further surgery will not be necessary and they plan to start slowly taking him off the heavy medications soon. The family is encouraged and very grateful for the prayers of friends far and near.

Please pray for my friend, Brian Hamrick, pastor of First Baptist Church in Clewiston, Florida. Brian had to be rushed via life-flight to Ft. Myers late Saturday night due to complications following major surgery. Early Monday morning his condition deteriorated and sepsis set in.

In an email late last night his wife, Katherine, wrote, "He is a strong man and is fighting for his life. Please be in prayer for him. God is in control and can do anything! Our hope is in Christ, the ultimate healer and great physician."

Please pray for Brian, Katherine and their 2 sons, Nathan (4) and Luke (1).

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Better to Light a Candle" - Pierre-Charles Toureille (1900 - 1976)

From Kairos Journal (an excellent online resource):

Pastor Pierre-Charles Toureille risked his life during World War II to keep Jews out of Nazi death camps.(1) At the beginning of the war, before many people could fathom Hitler's true intentions, he served under the Protestant Federation of France (FPF) as chaplain for refugees in southern France. His job was to make living conditions in the internment camps as comfortable as possible. When it became clear the Jews were not being merely relocated but killed, Toureille pushed his colleagues to adopt a more aggressive stance. They refused, preferring instead to maintain their cordial relations with German authorities. Thus rebuffed, Toureille began secretly hiding Jews in his own church-members' homes or smuggling them to safety in Switzerland. He finally resigned in frustration from the FPF in 1945.

Some years later, Toureille wrote about the Christian Church's mission in the world. In true evangelical fashion, he pointed to a fate even worse than physical death in a German gas chamber--spiritual death. In the face of an enemy so terrible as that, he said, the Church simply cannot afford to stand on the sidelines.
There is a Buddhist saying, adopted by the Quakers as a motto for their aid to the needy: "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." It is in passing the light to others that one disperses the shadows . . . I often see boxing matches on television where the boxers lose because they only defend themselves without ever attacking. The same is true today for the Christian Church. It is by going on the offensive that the Mission will save the world.

Please understand me: it is not uniquely the church's mission to save men socially, economically, politically. But above all else, it is the church that must save men's souls. If the church does not accomplish this task, nothing else will. A church that does not evangelize is useless on earth. If the Church does not go to the front, with zeal and faith, the world will die, however it might be magnificently equipped technologically, monstrously rich and developed, endowed with superior social legislation and possessed of the best possible material conditions for living comfortably--this world will die because it has no soul. Unless the world has this peace of the soul that authentic conversion and the assurance of eternal life can give, all is useless and in vain. The night comes, when no one can work. Let us work, then, without cease. (2)


Footnotes:

(1)For other examples of pastors being faithful to their calling during the Holocaust, see Kairos Journal articles, "The Pulpit at Le Chambon" and "The End - A Beginning."

(2)Tela Zasloff, A Rescuer's Story: Pastor Pierre-Charles Toureille in Vichy France (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), 211

Monday, April 06, 2009

How to stay out of debt

Owen Strachan has a very good post about financial strife that many people bring with them to marriage. Debt has a way of creating stress in a marriage and, unfortunately, it is a subject that too few are willing to consider biblically.

In our consumeristic age (now compounded with a growing "government bailout" mentality) the idea that a person should live within his means seems rather quaint. Even Christians are often influenced more by the prevailing cultural attitudes on debt than biblical teaching. Yet, as Proverbs 22:7 summarizes, "the borrower is the slave of the lender."

I ran the following clip in 2007. It is still funny. And it still communicates the kind of practical wisdom that the Bible commends and that is far from common in our day.

Enjoy.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Founders Breakfast with Dr. Danny Akin

This year's Founders Breakfast will be held June 23 at 6:30 AM in the Crowne Plaza Hotel Coronet Ballroom A/B (on Level One) in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary will be our speaker. He is one of the key leaders in calling for a Great Commission Resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. Akin will be addressing this theme as he speaks on "Creeds, Deeds and the Great Commission." Tickets are $15.00 but may be purchased early at a discount for only $10.00 (before June 1). They are available exclusively online from the Founders Website.


Friday, April 03, 2009

No National Founders Conference in 2009

The National Founders Conference will not not meet this summer. Though we will miss the fellowship, instruction and encouragement that the conference has generated over the last 26 years, there are good reasons behind this decision. Let me list several of them:

1. There are now many excellent conferences based on the doctrines of grace that are regularly held throughout the United States. Last year we counted over 50 such gatherings. That was not the case over a quarter of a century ago when the Founders Conference first began. The revival of the doctrines of grace has spawned this new era in which it is relatively easy to find a good conference to attend nearly any time of the year. We are grateful to see this development and encourage Founders supporters to consider attending one of the many Christ-exalting gatherings that will be held this year.

2. As announced at last year's conference we are in the process of working on a church planting initiative that will involve future networking and gatherings of like-minded church leaders and planters. Taking a break from the national conference this summer allows us to keep moving forward with this and adequately to prepare for such efforts. I am very excited about what God is doing in this regard and believe that it has the potential to further the advance of the gospel in significant ways.

3. Our regional conferences continue to meet annually and are doing a great job. Currently we have 4 conferences that are meeting: Arklatex (Shreveport), Southwest (Ft. Worth), Deep South (Jackson) and Midwest (St. Louis). These are excellent conferences that collectively serve several hundred people each year. Additionally, we continue to host an annual Founders Breakfast at the Southern Baptist Convention. This year's speaker will be Dr. Danny Akin. The breakfast will be on June 23, 2009 in the Crowne Plaza Hotel Coronet Ballroom A/B in Louisville, KY at 6:30 AM. (watch for further details and tickets to go on sale soon).

4. Though Founders has hosted dozens of conferences over the years and has seen the Lord use them to accomplish great things, we are not in the "conference business." We are in the "reformation business." Our goal has always been to see biblical reformation take root in churches throughout our nation and into the nations of the world. We have articulated this by declaring that we are committed to the recovery of the gospel and the reformation of local churches. We want to see the simple gospel of Jesus regain its place of preeminence not only in the work of evangelism but also in work Christian living and church growth.

5. We may periodically host future national conferences as the need and opportunity arises. We also may partner with other groups to sponsor gatherings and share resources that will further the advance of the gospel in our day.

Through the efforts of Ben Cripps, 16 years' worth of the past Founders Conference messages are available online. These, together with the wealth of material available on our website (maintained by Stan Reeves) will continue to provide loads of resources that are readily available to anyone who cares to access them.

It is encouraging to see what the Lord is doing in our day. Founders Ministries remains committed to to pray and work for ongoing reformation and revival. We are deeply grateful for the partnership, encouragement, support and prayers of those who share our vision to see vital Christianity returned to our churches that will result in renewed devotion to spread the gospel throughout the nations.

These are exciting days for all who love the gospel of Jesus Christ. God is doing a work of restoration among us. From what can be observed, this is obvious. But it I am convinced that there is far more taking place than can be observed. So let's keep pressing on as we look forward to even greater displays of His glory being manifested among us.