Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Bloggersation with Alvin Reid

This is the first of a series of "bloggersations" that I hope to publish here over the next several months. One of the vitally important dimensions to the resurgence of gospel unity that is developing within and beyond the SBC is the establishment of friendships. Too often, brothers who disagree with each other talk past one another rather than constructively to each other. When there is no vital relationship it is easy to traffic in caricature or to allow misconceptions to go unchallenged. But where the respect engendered by friendship exists, those destructive tendencies are not tolerated.

It has been my joy to get to know Dr. Alvin Reid over the last year and to be able to call him my friend. He is a Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. As you will read below, our friendship developed because he initiated it. His example should encourage all who love Christ and His gospel to reach out to others to establish gospel-centered friendships. As Alvin and I have traded emails, tweets and phone calls, it began to dawn on me that aspects of our conversations might be of interest and perhaps useful to others. The idea of blogging part of a conversation dawned on me a few months ago, and Alvin quickly agreed to participate. What follows is a bloggersation between Alvin and me about the 2009 SBC and our friendship.

What happened at the SBC this year?

AR:While I agree with Jonathan Edwards that one should best judge a movement a posteriori than a priori, i.e., by its fruits, I believe we can say that the meeting in Louisville was of historic proportions. I wrote of this at my website, but in a nutshell it said we (in no certain order): 1) said to a coming generation of younger men of God that we believe in them and the future; 2) affirmed the call for a Great Commission Resurgence with an overwhelming voice; 3) affirmed wholeheartedly the leadership of men like Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin, and Al Mohler among others; 4) said as a body we will not focus on secondary issues of disagreement but come together to strive to fulfill the great commission; 5) proved we can differ on matters such as Calvinism, eschatology, etc, and yet bind together as a people for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel.
For me, it was every bit as historic as Dallas in 1995, my first SBC.

TA: I came away more encouraged from this convention than from any of the others that I have attended, going all the way back to 1979. There were several elements that combined to bring this about. First, God is giving us the kind of leaders that we need for this new day. Johnny Hunt's grace and spirit is contagious and I sense that lots of those who attended--me included--want to catch whatever it is that he has! Danny Akin's leadership resonated with the convention as he chaired the Resolutions Committee without a glitch and spoke in 4 different forums on Tuesday. Al Mohler's motion to have a task force appointed, and Frank Page's timely support of that motion signaled a new spirit of cooperation that many Southern Baptists have been longing for.

How do you account for what took place?

AR:I certainly think it was God at work, although I try to be careful to speak for God beyond what He clearly reveals in His Word. I also think it came as a convergence of many factors, signified first in Frank Page's election, and from where I sit this was the culmination of what I had been hearing for three years as I travel around the SBC: a general sense of unrest, that culture has changed and we have not been willing to adapt to reach this culture (adapt methods not our message which is unchanging). I have spent my entire life studying movements, and this has all the marks of a growing movement. I am praying for a revolution of gospel-saturated believers who will live as missionaries in our increasingly unchurched and dechurched world. Add to that a flattened world where we can gain information and communicate more easily, and the sense that we are not doing our best to serve the Lord God has been reaching a crescendo.

TA: I think Alvin has a good take on this. There is a growing unrest that began years ago in the SBC. I think the rising generation has added energy and passion to that unrest that is now forcing some vitally important issues to be addressed. The informational gatekeepers have been forever circumvented by the new media. I think the last 2 SBC presidential elections have signaled the strength of the new winds that are blowing. So in one sense, I think the recent SBC in Louisville represents the next step in this development. Enough Southern Baptists are now willing to admit that we have real problems that cannot be solved by more cheerleading or doing more of the same. We need to get honest and start caring about not only the authority of Scripture but its sufficiency.

How did you guys become friends?

TA: Twitter. For real. On November 8, 2008, Alvin sent me a Direct Message saying, "We have never met personally...I would love to interact with you by email." Less than two hours later I received a warm, lengthy email with the subject heading: "Hello my brother." He told me a little about himself and said that he wanted to get to know me better and hopefully enjoy fellowship in the future. I had read some of Alvin's writings and appreciated his insights into and love of revivals and awakenings. But, to my shame, had he waited on me to reach out to him we would not be friends today.

The fact that he had gone out of his way to establish some interaction with me intrigued me and engendered an immediate respect and appreciation for him. As we corresponded back and forth and talked on the phone I came to discover what many people have known about Alvin for years--that he is hard not to love! I am very grateful to the Lord for his friendship. Alvin is sold out to the gospel of Christ and is a passionate evangelist. I have a lot to learn from him.

AR: I had forgotten who took the initiative, but I am glad I did. I think our friendship is a great example of how God has been working in hearts. There are new coalitions and constituencies forming around biblical unity centered on the gospel, and less on certain causes some support. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure I was ready to be good friends with a brother in Christ who also led the Founders Ministry five or more years ago. But we began to converse via email, and then on the phone a couple of times. We finally met for lunch this past April near Tom's area when I was there preaching.

Let me unpack what I said about where I was five years ago to now. Most of my friends were not Calvinists all through college and seminary. The occasional Calvinist I met typically wanted to tell me (since evangelism is obviously a big deal to me) everything wrong with evangelism, but never seemed to offer ways they sought to fulfill the great commission. This would be a total of a handful of people. Then on occasion I would get to know men of God of a Calvinist bent who also loved the gospel. Mark Coppenger hired me in Indiana out of seminary. I went door-to-door on several occasions with this Calvinist brother who was both brilliant and not snotty :-). I realized that I too can stereotype others even as some have stereotyped me!

Then I began to be consistent (not a bad idea). I love Edwards. And Whitefield, Carey, Spurgeon, etc. I also love Wesley and Graham. But while I could love the many Calvinists God used in the history of revival and evangelism, I had more disdain than affection for my contemporaries who were Calvinists.

And then I met Nathan Finn. Nathan was in my PhD seminar. I had no idea who he was. I soon learned two things. First, he knew history a lot better than I did. Second, he was truly humble about it. He and some others in the seminar who shared a more Reformed theology helped to make the seminar a delight. I realized that there seemed to be a growing number of Calvinists who were serious about the Great Commission, in the heritage of Andrew Fuller and Carey.

Finally, I watched my president, Danny Akin, who like me is not a Calvinist but who takes seriously the sovereignty of God and His work in salvation without affirming all five points. He has become a model for building bridges for all who love the gospel. Let's be honest; I have known plenty of non-Calvinists who never share Christ. So like Akin, I would submit that the believer who is not serious about the great commission is in rebellion before God, whatever his "ism".

So by the time Tom and I met I had been on a journey that led me to love Calvinists today who love the gospel as much as Edwards and Spurgeon of old. I can learn much from Tim Keller today about reaching the cities as I can from Samuel Mills and Carey who longed to reach the nations.

Where are your doctrinal agreements and disagreements?

TA: Other than the fact that I am a hyper-Calvinist and Alvin is a Pelagian, we really see eye-to-eye on theological issues. :) Seriously, those kinds of caricatures are what too-often become the default judgment of men who disagree on certain points of the doctrine of salvation. When they are unjustifiably harbored, communication and relationship inevitably break down.

Alvin and I have not talked at length about the details of our doctrinal convictions. We could, and I am sure at some point we will, and it won't endanger our friendship, because we are in great agreement on so much. We both believe in the sovereignty of God, the depravity of people by nature, substitutionary atonement, perseverance of the saints, that faith and repentance are duties, along with all the other orthodox Christological and Trinitarian doctrines.

I would assume that we disagree on the extent of the atonement, though I certainly affirm universal dimensions to the definite atoning work of Jesus and I would suspect (though we have not talked about it) that Alvin sees limitations to the saving benefits of Christ's atoning work. We could have a profitable conversation about that without dismissing each other as heretics.

AR: I think Tom articulated this very well. I have spent my life teaching applied theology. In other words, I care little what one says he believes if how he lives does not back that up. So what drives me is the practice of one's faith, which is why Paul is such a remarkable example to this day. He was both a brilliant theologian and a remarkable practitioner. That is why the conversations I have had with Tom and others on his staff have focused on how we practice the theology we affirm. And, the more we talk about practice, the less we seem to divide. I suspect if we talked more about theology apart from practice we may find increasing disagreement. But as I said above, whether you call yourself a Calvinist, a non-Calvinist, a simple biblicist, a compatibalist, or another word bigger than mayonnaise, if your life does not demonstrate a heart for the gospel and a burden for the lost, your theology or mine needs work. But the shrill stereotypes, "Calvinists do not witness," or "non-Calvinists have abandoned the gospel," help no one. Such rhetoric can gain a collection of followers, but hardly resembles a yearning for biblical unity.

Aren't you at least a little bit suspicious of each other?

TA: No. I have come to see some of Alvin's heart and what I have seen I love. His tireless investment in students and relentless efforts to make disciples of Jesus convicts and challenges me to follow Christ more diligently. So I have no reason to be suspicious of him and many reasons to have great confidence in him.

AR: I am not at all. I once was somewhat. See, full disclosure :-). But I have discovered we trust those more whom we get to know best, if there is a shared love for God and His truth. I can speak for the Tom Ascol I know now, as I did not know him in the past, but the Tom I know now I am convinced has a great heart for the nations and a desire to see the gospel proclaimed. Let me take a taxonomy from one of my favorite philosophers, Aristotle, who wrote in his Nichomachean Ethics about three kinds of friendships:
1) utility--friendships formed because we find one another useful for a task or agenda.
2) pleasure--we enjoy merriment and humor.
3) perfect friendship--common virtue, a common conviction.

I use this because I have found a few (very few) cases in SBC life where what I thought were close friendships were actually utilitarian--I was considered a friend as long as I promoted the agenda of certain friends. Such friendships are not as deep as we sometimes believe. But I am finding that most of my lifelong friends, and more recent friends like Tom, have become the third type of friendship. Our desire to see Christ exalted, the gospel proclaimed, churches planted, and God's truth taught, are far more important than other matters than seem quite vital to others.

I guess I would say finally that the common virtue we share is not only for the Word and the gospel, but there is a great sense of urgency. Tom has a daughter serving in a far away land for the gospel. My president, Danny Akin, has two children doing the same thing. This is not a theoretical or even a utilitarian connection. We are driven by a sense of urgency for a world lost and in need of Christ Who alone can save.

We not only should join together for the gospel, we must!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

How are you celebrating Calvin's 500th?

July 10 marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth. His impact on western civilization is hard to measure. Recently I was asked to provide 3 reasons that Calvin is important today. Here is what I wrote:
1. Western civilization owes an incalculable debt to John Calvin because his exposition of Scripture's view that all creation is the theater of God's glory helped set a vigorous, world-changing agenda for vocation, culture-making and society. The political freedoms and other blessings that we enjoy have been granted to us by God, in large part, through the outworking of ideas that were first systematized and promoted by Calvin.

2. Calvin has left a great legacy for the church by virtue of his personal testimony of grace, humility, industry and perseverance through desperate times. It is far easier to vilify him than it is to consider his life carefully in light of his historical context. In a hard age when church and state were in complete upheaval, he maintained a steady course as a faithful pastor. Despite his preference to "die a hundred other deaths" than to give himself to pastoral ministry in Geneva, he nevertheless took up that cross and bore it well. Despite threats, opposition, sickness and mistreatment from those who should have been his supporters, he pressed on in his calling to shepherd the people of Geneva, strengthening the church through consistent preaching and teaching and leading them to send out missionaries to preach the gospel in hard places.

3. In my estimation the most significant reason that Calvin is important for us today stems from his exposition and theological writings. His commentaries are models of exegetical skill and power and set a standard for all successive Protestant commentaries. His Institutes demonstrate the inextricable relationship between doctrine and life by combining exegetical, historical, systematic and pastoral theology that is written not for the academy but for the church. Calvin's influence is so profound in this area that a man can scarcely regard himself as educated while remaining unacquainted with his works.
With all of his flaws--and as with all sons of Adam, he had many--all Christ-followers owe a debt of gratitude to the Reformer from Geneva. His advocacy of civil punishment, even to the extent of death, for religious ideas is something that most believers, especially those of us the free church stream, abominate. Likewise, we Baptists cannot tolerate his position on paedobaptism (a position that, according to this picture and this explanation from the ruins under the present church structure, the church he served evidently did not share with him in earlier centuries). After all, the best of men are men at best. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that he was--and remains--a great gift to the church.

How will you celebrate Calvin's birthday? In the true spirit of the Reformer from Geneva and, more importantly, in keeping with the biblical, missional gospel which he taught (see FJ 75), I am laboring with a team of 8 from Grace Baptist Church to make Christ known to an unreached people group in SE Asia. We got here today and look forward to 10 days of working with field personnel here with the IMB.

Pray that God will use us to make disciples and add to that glorious multitude of worshipers "that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages" for whom our Savior shed His precious blood.

Friday, July 03, 2009

A long journey in church discipline-Pt. 3

This is the third and final installment of the story of God's grace of restoration through church discipline at Grace Baptist Church. The other parts can be found here (#1) and here (#2).

When I came to serve Grace Baptist Church 23 years ago it was like many contemporary evangelical churches in that it was completely unfamiliar with biblical church discipline. There were many serious problems in the church, some of which called for corrective discipline, but the church was in no shape to administer it. I could have tried to "take the bull by the horns" and forced the issue, but even if I had been successful, the result would not have been church discipline but only pastor discipline--something that does not have the authority of the New Testament behind it.

Teaching on church order and what constitutes a healthy church was one of the top priorities of my early years at Grace. By the time we were called on to address the situation with Steve, the church was biblically equipped and had already come to understand the wisdom of God and the blessings of both formative and corrective discipline.

God has put His great grace and mercies on display for us and others through this whole process. The reason that I asked Steve if I could put his story on this blog is because I believe it can encourage lots of other people as much as it has the family of Grace. I know that there are pastors and others who are in churches that have neglected the practice of biblical church discipline. They want to see their congregations led to recover this teaching and begin to obey our Savior's instructions. It can happen, and the benefits are worth the efforts.

Steve's story serves as a warning to every Christian. The sin that remains in us is not of a lower-grade quality from the sin that formerly reigned in us. It is deadly and if left unmortified, will take a person to hell. "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13; cf. Matthew 5:27-30). If this seems inconsistent with perseverance of the saints then I suggest that you get John Owen's Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers and read it before next week. If you can't do that then read chapter 27 of John Piper's Future Grace before tomorrow night.

Steve's story also can give incredible hope for both those who have loved ones who have turned away from the gospel they once professed to believe and those who are themselves prodigals. Sometimes we are tempted to give up on people who have walked away from Christ. Steve is a reminder of the truth I like to rehearse often with our church: "As long as there is breath, there is hope." Had you taken a snap shot of Steve's life at nearly any point over a 15 year period it would have looked hopeless. Yet, all things are possible with God and He is able to rescue anyone by His sovereign grace and power. Therefore, we must keep praying and persuading, confident that nothing is too difficult for our God.

Sin brings devastating consequences. The sorrows that Steve has lived through and the pain that he has inflicted on people he loves as a result of his choices have left scars that will not be healed completely until heaven. There is no need to go into detail in order for this lesson to be recognized. Scripture has many illustrations of this (David and Samson, to name just two) and most of us know of modern examples that underscore this point. God has shown great mercy to Steve but those mercies have been very severe. Whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and no discipline is joyful at the present, but grievous (Hebrews 12:5-11).

The practice of church discipline is designed by Christ for the honor of His Name, the welfare of His people and the advance of His kingdom. We have seen these purposes fulfilled to some degree in this process with Steve. One dear brother in the church was converted as a direct of Steve being removed from the church 14 years ago. Several members have already expressed to me that Steve's testimony has humbled them and led them to take more specific steps to put sin to death in their lives and to make no provision for the flesh.

There is no easy way to lead a church to understand, embrace and practice church discipline. It is hard work and pastors must not allow themselves to become paralyzed by the myth that "there's got to be an easier way." There isn't. If we are going to be faithful shepherds then we must roll up our sleeves, dig in our heels and do the hard work of lovingly, prayerfully and persistently leading our churches to obey Christ at this point. It is not easy, but it is worth it because God will be glorified, the church will be strengthened in holiness and mission and individual believers will be helped. Fortunately, there are many resources readily available today that can assist in recovering biblical church discipline in a local church. I will list a few at the end of this post.

Many of the good things in ministry occur over long periods of time. Though God may well lead a pastor not to spend the better part of his life in one church, there are wonderful blessings that come from doing so.

If you have been at your God-assigned task for a long time, be encouraged. There still blessings ahead that the Lord will show you that you would not be able to see if you had not stayed the course for the long haul.

Resources on Church Discipline
James Leo Garrett, Jr., Church Discipline: Lost, But Recoverable
This is an revision of an article Dr. Garrett first published in 1959

A Summary of Church Discipline from the Charleston Association
Instructions for Baptist churches in the South from 1774
James P. Boyce, Church Discipline—It’s Importance
The founder of Southern Seminary published this article in 1852
Mark Dever, Editor, Polity: A Collection of Historic Baptist Documents
An excellent resource from ancient Baptist wisdom on discipline and related issues
Don Whitney, Reforming through Discipline (mp3)
A very helpful message from one who has done it
Wyman Richardson, Walking Together Ministries
A website with a wealth of resources, including workbooks, on church discipline and heath
A few articles that I have written that touch on the subject:
Robert Murray M'Cheyne on Church Discipline
A Plea for Church Discipline
Bill Clinton and the Discipline of our Churches

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Danny Akin, Creeds, Deeds and the Great Commission MP3

Here is a link to the audio file of Dr. Akin's talk from the 2009 Founders Breakfast (thanks Tim Brister!).

A long journey in church discipline-Pt. 2

When I received Steve's email I was overwhelmed with a sense of God's power and grace which certainly appeared to be working to rescue a man who had been living in the far country for over a decade. I wish I could say that I had lived in expectation that one day I would get a phone call or email like that. But too often, to my shame, it is easier to believe in depravity than it is in grace.

I immediately sent the following email response to Steve and began an exchange that included phone calls along with at least a couple of dozen emails back and forth.

I am very encouraged to get your email today. I have often prayed for you. Each time I see your old house I ask the Lord to rescue you and your family....I have fond memories of some of our times together here.

Steve, this morning I preached on some of the strategies of the devil that the Bible warns us to guard against. One of the things Satan does is misrepresent God to our minds so that we do not believe the truth about God. God is a true Father--the perfect Father--to all of His children who trust in the Lord Jesus. As such, He is full of mercy and compassion. He delights in mercy and He has mercy enough for you.

Jesus said "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:11-13). If you know that you are sick (which you do) and you know that you are a sinner, then you can be sure that you are exactly the kind of person that Jesus came to rescue.

No doubt there are some confusing thoughts about your experience over the last 12 years. Was your faith ever real? Have you, as a real believer, been running away from God? What is the state of your soul? These and probably dozens of other questions can plague your mind and, if you are not careful, can paralyze you from doing what you should. And what should you do? You should take God at His Word. Trust Him. Believe what He says in the Bible and heed His calls. Your sin is great. His grace is greater.

Think about this gracious invitation that Jesus makes in Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Read Luke 15:11-31. It is your story. Believe what it says about God.

I want to hear the rest of what you have to say. This email address come directly to me. I have friends and know of a couple of good churches in the Baltimore area. I will be glad to put you in touch with them and to help you in any way that I can.

Psalm 130 is one of my favorites. May the Lord enable you to pray it from your soul:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” - Psalm 130

In Christ,
Over the next few months we worked through issues related to his repentance. He also was able to make contact and become involved with a great church with faithful elders who took him in and helped personally shepherd him through the process. Since he lives in a different part of the country, having the cooperation of a church that understands biblical church discipline to assist and nurture him was was great blessing from God.

As Steve prepared his testimony, expressing his repentance and seeking the forgiveness of his church family, we made arrangements to bring him to Cape Coral for a scheduled Lord's Supper service. Only a handful of the current members of Grace know Steve from 14 years ago. But it was evident from the very outset that he was indeed among family.

As he spoke through tears, we listened through tears. We experienced a heightened degree of what every Christian must learn to experience regularly in order to maintain emotional health and spiritual stability--sorrow and joy at the same time (2 Corinthians 6:10). It was a God-honoring testimony. Sin was not minimized. Neither was it glorified. The grace of Jesus Christ for sinners was the dominant theme.

Next, I spoke briefly before we ate and drank at the Lord's Table. My remarks included reading this letter:

The elders and members of Grace Baptist Church love and forgive you. Many of us wept with grief 14 years ago when we were forced to take that most sobering step that a church can ever take and, in the words of the Apostle Paul, delivered you to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that your spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:5). Today we weep tears of joy that God has indeed preserved you, that the wandering sheep has returned to our Lord and Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

We reaffirm our love for you and express our thanksgiving that the Lord has rescued you and brought you back from the far country. The same grace that pursued and restored you has rescued and sustained us. All of us in the household of faith are children of grace. All of us are dependent on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our lives. None of us has any reason to think himself better than others because each of us must say, I am what I am by the grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10).

So, brother, as we rejoice in your repentance may you rejoice in our forgiveness. Live for the One who has saved us and is preparing us for heaven. Seek His glory and let the story of your life be the story of His amazing grace.

In behalf of Grace Baptist Church,
Tom Ascol

In the next (and final) post, I will mention some of the lessons that we have learned (and are learning) through this process.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A long journey in church discipline-Pt. 1

On June 1 I began my 24th year of serving as pastor of Grace Baptist Church. While there are challenges that go with a long pastoral tenure blessings that attend it far surpass them--things like baptizing and marrying the children of people you baptized and married 20 years ago. A long ministry in one place also allows you the opportunity to see God work in ways that you would otherwise miss if you hadn't stuck around.

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. If you show up long enough you get to see some special things. One of the greatest blessings of my pastoral ministry at Grace has been unfolding over the last 6 months and culminated last Sunday night. A man that we had been forced to remove from our membership due to unrepentant, public, scandalous sin was restored to our fellowship after living for more than 15 years in the far country. He has given me permission to tell part of what happened. It is a great story of God's great grace.

Steve came to faith in Christ and was baptized during the 2nd or 3rd year of my ministry in Cape Coral. He had been caught up in long-time patterns of life-dominating sin that had taken their toll on his personal life and his family. When I first met him his wife had taken their children and fled to Texas to get away from him. After Steve became a covenanted member of Grace I had the opportunity to fly to Texas to meet with his wife and persuade her to return home. When she agreed, several men from our church took up a collection for plane tickets for her and the children to come home.

Within a few months, she also professed faith in Christ and their home began to be rebuilt by the gospel. After 4 years, Steve began secretly to flirt with some of the sins that had previously dominated his life. His activities were providentially brought to light when he was arrested one night. That event began a 2 year effort to help him put sin to death and learn to live by gospel grace. He was removed from all ministry responsibilities, formally admonished and the church was called on to engage in the effort of encouraging him to live faithfully.

These efforts, though apparently promising for the first year, ultimately proved fruitless and ended when Steve became belligerent and completely rejected the counsel he was being given. As we moved forward with the final step of church discipline, he moved his family to Texas.

On September 25, 1995, with many tears, the church voted to remove him from membership. On that occasion I said to the church, "In one sense Steve has already removed himself from us. Our action tonight is simply a sad confirmation of that. In another sense, we are called on by the Word of God to 'deliver such a one over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus' (1 Corinthians 5:5)."

As you would imagine there was no joy in taking that unanimous decision. After we voted, I made the following statements to the church:
  1. This is the most serious step the church of Jesus Christ can take on this earth. It ought to humble us and make us very sober. It is not something that we have come to lightly. There have been countless tears and sleepless nights by many of those involved who have tried to help Steve.
  2. Do not stop praying for the __________ family. They have left our area, but God knows exactly where they are....Pray that God will bring Steve to the end of himself, that he will repent of his sin and will be restored to fellowship.
  3. Take this as a reminder that Satan is constantly on the prowl seeking whom he may devour. Do not trifle with sin. What may seem to be a harmless, secret tryst with sin today can destroy you tomorrow. Do not give Satan a foothold in your life.
  4. Pray for your church. That God would protect us and keep us faithful as we seek to follow Jesus Christ in obedience to His Word.
Over the next several months and into the ensuing years, I had indirect contact with Steve through one of a couple of his relatives. For most of the last 14 years, however, he has been out of contact even with them. All that changed on Sunday afternoon, January 11 of this year. Waiting in my in box after church was the following email, sent through our church's website:
Pastor Tom:
May I first start off by apologizing for turning my back on Jesus Christ, Grace Baptist Church and all the people who helped me in my faith and walk with GOD. I don’t know where to start but you are one person I know I can trust for direction. I’ve spent the last 12 or so years going through divorce’s addictions, etc. due to my own doing and [I am] very empty inside (soul sick). I have been attending several different Baptist churches...but just can’t seem to fit in or understand how Christ can allow me to return for what I’ve done, or if my faith was ever real. I have a lot more to say, but want to make sure it is you that will get my e-mail. I just want to find my way back into Christ’s love and His grace.
Pray for me and thank you for your time,
That email led to the reestablishment of a relationship that culminated in Steve's restoration last Sunday night. In the next post, I will explain how that process unfolded.