Monday, October 6, 2008

Highlights from our State Convention

A few blessings from the annual meeting of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana:


This past weekend, the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana celebrated its 50th anniversary during its annual convention meeting. I enjoy going to the pastor’s conference and convention and always come away challenged and blessed. This year was no exception. I found this year particularly gratifying in terms of Great Commission ministries (the ongoing theme of this blog). Here are three highlights, from my perspective.

1. The speakers this year were especially helpful in focusing us on the importance of kingdom work, staying focused on our mission, and ministering in the Lord’s power and for His glory. The messages were, for the most part, thoroughly biblical and provided both admonishing and encouraging words to those who serve in ministry. You may not think this to be unique to a gathering of this type. Let me say, however, that I heard from men who are not just talking heads, but who live out the message that they preach and who spoke forthrightly about ministry rather than repeat the same old tired clich├ęs about evangelism. It’s difficult to describe, but this year’s pastor’s conference and convention sermons was particularly uplifting to me.

2. For the first time, the State Convention gave out a “Church Planter of the Year Award.” Church planters have one of the most challenging roles among ministers of the gospel and are often under-appreciated for their hard work and commitment. Also, as a State Convention, we have found church planting in general to be a difficult task and have, in many respects, seen more failures than successes. This year, our state honored one of our own church planters, Phil Thorne who planted River’s Edge Fellowship Church in Bedford, Indiana. I’m looking forward to the next issue of the Indiana Baptist for the story about what God is doing at River’s Edge. More importantly, I hope the giving of this award will be an encouragement to the church planters in our state and will remind churches of the importance of church planting as a tool for reaching the lost. Congratulations Pastor Thorne!

3. I personally got excited about the state budget. Several years ago I made and, because of a misunderstanding, withdrew a motion for the executive committee of our state to formulate a plan to begin increasing the percentage of Cooperative Program (CP) giving we send on to the SBC. I recognized later that my motion was an exercise in “zeal without knowledge.” Our executive director, Dr. Steve Davis, graciously observed the spirit behind my motion and let me know that such a plan was already in the works. The executive committee had decided to adopt a policy in which each year that our giving increased to exceed our budget, the apportionment forwarded to the Convention would increase by 1%. Over the past several years, the executive committee has followed through on this plan. This year, we have once again seen an increase in CP giving in our state and also seen the giving exceed our budget needs. As a result, by recommendation of the executive committee, the SCBI has once again voted to approve a budget which reflects a 1% increase in the allotment to the SBC. If I am doing the math correctly, that means that we are now forwarding about 31.6% to the CP, where a few years ago we were only giving about 28%. Thank you churches, thank you executive committee, and Praise the Lord!

Well, there are many other reasons to rejoice over what is happening in Indiana. These are just the highlights that are fresh in my mind. I am thankful that God has allowed me to stay and serve in Indiana. I look forward to what God is going to do in and through our churches in the coming years.

Blessings,
Todd

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Evangelism Bullet Points -- Reminding myself

Last year about this time, my then pastor asked me to teach a course on personal evangelism. Given the time frame and my creative bent, I put together my own course sessions, hoping to give a sufficient overview of the practice of personal evangelism -- at least for the context in which I was ministering. Of course, my end result was nowhere even close to worthy of publication, but I was, nevertheless, well received and happy with the end result.

After the course, my pastor (himself in a different course) asked my if I could summarize what I had taught in one page. I came across the one page summary this week as I was thinking about my own need to lead my present church by teaching and example in personal evangelism. The following is the "bullet point" summary of the course I taught. Not all the points apply in every situation, but I found it a good reminder for my own practice of personal evangelism. Perhaps you may find it helpful as well:

How to be a Witness for Jesus Christ

1. Have a vital, personal relationship with Jesus Christ – Matt 5:13-15.

2. Begin to see with “spiritual eyes” – John 4:35; 2 Cor 5:16.

3. Identify persons who need Christ within your circles of influence: immediate family, relatives, close friends, neighbors/co-workers, acquaintances.

4. Ask God to show you 7-10 people on whom you will focus your prayers and evangelistic efforts for the next 6 months.

5. Pray . . .
• for those who need Christ – 2 Tim 2:1-4.
• for opportunity – 1 Cor 16:9; 2 Cor 2:12; Col 4:3.
• for clarity in our witness – Col 4:4-6.
• for boldness – Eph 6:19-20.
• for fellow believers – 2 Cor 1:11; Col 4:3; 2 Thes 3:1.
• for more workers – Matt 9:38; Luke 10:2.

6. Invest in others – build relationships with un-churched people.

7. Remove any human barriers to the gospel – language, cultural, intellectual, personal offense, etc. Leave only the barrier of the gospel itself. – 1 Cor 1:20-25; 2:1-5; 9:19-23

8. Invite others to church, Sunday school, church event, or outing with other Christians -- John 1:40-42; 45-46; 4:29.

9. Include the Lord in your conversation – Col 4:5-6.

10. Ask good questions – Luke 10:25-28; Matt 22:41-46; Mark 8:27-30.

11. Share personal testimonies of what God has done/is doing in your life – Mark 5:19; Isa 12:4.

12. Share your salvation testimony – How you become a Christian – Acts 22:1-21; 26:4-29; Psalm 66:16.

13. Share a gospel tract (best to read with them and explain as you go) or follow the “Romans Road” (i.e., Rom 1:16; 2:4; 3:23; 5:8; 6:23; 10:9-10, 13).

14. Use the Scripture – 1 Cor 15: 3-4; Isa 55:11; Luke 24:45-46.

15. Ask for a response. – Mk 1:15; Acts 2:38; 20:21

16. Trust that God will be faithful in drawing people to Himself and grow His church. – John 6:37; 12:32; Acts 2:47; 1 Cor 3:6

Friday, September 19, 2008

One more post on Baptism and the IMB (posted primarily so I don't hijack my brother's blog comment stream).

On the issue of Baptism and eternal security, I submit once again that a baptism should not be disqualified because of a lack of belief in the doctrine of eternal security (or because of what they believe about Baptism of the Holy Spirit, or any number of other doctrines). Thomas White, in a White Paper for the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary made the following summary statement on the validity of baptism: “The determining factor is the ordinance itself. Was the ordinance performed with the proper subject, in the proper mode, and with the proper meaning by a true church? If so, then it is valid” (White 2006, 10). In most cases, for a person baptized by immersion in an Arminian church, the answer to all four questions is “YES.”

A person who disagrees with my statement can show me all kinds of beliefs from the AG or any other Arminian denomination that are in error and I would agree with them. I am a Baptist, afterall, because I believe Baptist doctrine. The fact that other doctrines are in error still does not change the fact that their view of water baptism is identical to ours. When I was baptized, I could have readily affirmed the BFM statement on Baptism, as could almost any Arminian who practices believer's baptism. Yet, some want to argue that one's entire doctrine must be correct for baptism to be valid. If you believe that, then it's time for YOU to be re-baptized :)

If baptism is a picture of salvation, then only two doctrines must be correct for their baptism to be valid: (1) They must have a correct view of salvation. Few would suggest that Arminians teach a false gospel (for those who do, I have addressed that issue here). (2) They must have a proper view of baptism. (Note to Baptist Theologue, I have already demonstrated that such is the case, but you seem unwilling to accept their stated view.) Let me be clear. My view on Baptism is no different now than it was when I wrongly denied eternal security. I will not submit to rebaptism nor require anyone else to do so merely because some other pastor, denominational leader, or trustee claims I or my former church did not believe what we in fact DO believe.

Further, while I do not expect all Baptists to agree with me on this, although they should because it is the biblical position :), I DO expect the Convention to support my right and my church’s right to differ on this view and to send missionaries through the mission board that we fund. If the belief that a denial of eternal security negates baptism is one that is important enough to disallow missionary service, it is important enough to put in the BFM, and important enough to disassociate my church.

Some have related the IMB trustees’ response to the differing views on baptism to its response to differing views of divorce. Namely, that the IMB does not allow divorcees to serve as full time missionaries. I do not know enough about the history or rationale of the divorce policy or any possible actions at the Convention level related to it to offer informed commentary on it at this point. However, I could envision a scenerio in which divorced persons are denied service on the pragmatic grounds much like they deny service of persons with high a Body Mass Index or certain medical concerns. If the trustees have based that decision on doctrinal grounds, however, and if the Convention has not spoken to the issue elsewhere, then I suppose I would add the divorce policy to the list of IMB personnel policies that should be reversed. Indeed, the Convention acknowledges there is no consensus on the issue. They also list a number of other doctrinal issues on which Baptists have not taken a stand. I do not think it is proper for the mission board trustees to make policy decisions on any of such issues, regardless of any perceived consensus among Southern Baptists. Doctrinal issues must be decided at the Convention level, not by trustees.

Back to the BFM… I think it is certainly demonstrable, that the BFM has intentionally left out certain tertiary doctrines (on tertiary doctrines see Mohler, “Theological Triage”). The BFM statement on election, for example, is intentionally worded to allow for varying opinions including Calvinism. The statement on end times is intentionally worded to allow for various views on the millennium and tribulation, etc. While Baptist polity allows for the IMB trustees to set their own policies, one should not support the Trustees if they were to set a personnel policy that disallowed Calvinists or Dispensationalists or people who preached from the NIV from serving with the Board? Incidently, the same poll that demonstrated a majority view on Baptism, showed a majority are concerned about the rise of Calvinism. Should Calvinist missionary candidates be worried that they may be the next target of IMB personnel policies? Let’s hope not. The poll shows that one fourth of SBC pastors do not practice the rebaptism of Arminians – a view allowed by the BFM. The IMB should not be making doctrinal policies at all, except those that are consistent with the BFM2000 – the consensus document of our Convention and the basis for Southern Baptist cooperation.


Blessings,

Todd

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Upholding the Right of the Minorty View -- The Impact of the Lifeway Study on the IMB Policies

Well, the folks at SBCToday have already started using the new Lifeway study to support the IMB baptism policy. I have posted a response on their blog and am re-posting my thoughts on my own blog as well. In response to Tim Rogers, and anyone else who supports the IMB policy, I would argue three things here in response to the Lifeway study as it relates to the IMB policy:

One, I would argue that the 74% figure (i.e. those who would re-baptize someone previously baptized in a church that did not affirm eternal security) shows that the majority of Baptist pastors have an insufficient view of baptism or a misinformed understanding of Arminian theology or both (see my previous posts on this). On what basis, other than Baptist tradition, do we require rebaptism? If baptism means what we say that it means in the Baptist Faith and Message, then there is no grounds to rebaptize a born-again believer who has been immersed after conversion to Christ.

Two, 26% is a significant enough minority to demonstrate that the IMB personnel guidelines are a excessive. The guidelines go well beyond the BFM2000. Our statement of faith allows for this minority view. To restrict missionary service in this way goes against the practice of 1/4 of our SBC churches. That is no small minority. Thus, the personnel policy concerning baptism should be reversed.

Finally, the fact that a majority hold a particular doctrinal opinion, does not mean that those who hold that position wish to restrict missionary service to only those who agree with them. Lifeway studies have shown that 90% of SBC pastors are not Calvinist and 63% are “concerned” with the rise of Calvinism in the Convention. If one reasons that the Baptism policy is appropriate because it reflects the majority opinion, the IMB should hurry up and add Calvinists to the list of faithful Southern Baptists who cannot serve on the mission field.

Contrary to the folks at SBC Today, the new Lifeway study shows not that the IMB policy should be upheld, but rather that it should be reversed.

Blessings,

Todd

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Believer's Baptism by Immersion -- I thought we believed this

I find the new Baptism survey staggering. If I am reading the survey correctly, a full 87 percent of Baptist pastors hold a faulty or deficient view of baptism. What we say that we believe in the BFM2000 is not what we practice in reality.

Some pastors it appears, view Baptism too narrowly. According to the study, 74% of our pastors would re-baptize someone because their church does not believe in eternal security. Among them, a full 16% would rebaptize someone from another Southern Baptist church!

This reflects, in many cases, a misunderstanding and unbiblical view of Baptism. First, Baptism is not biblically related to eternal security.[1] Persons are not baptized because they believe in correct Baptist doctrine or because they have a sound understanding of soteriology. Rather, they are baptized because they have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Jesus Christ. A person who has, after conversion to Christ, been immersed “symbolizing [their] faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus”[2] have indeed been scripturally baptized. There is no call to re-baptize someone because they have come to a more biblical understanding of the security of the believer. Granted, some have argued that a person who does not believe in eternal security has a deficient faith and is trusting in a “works” salvation (thus the need to be rebaptized). This view, however, demonstrates a misunderstanding of Arminianism and its rejection of eternal security. I have argued against this misunderstanding elsewhere[3] and am, frankly, disappointed at the willful ignorance of pastors on this issue. I am not surprised, however, because similar false doctrinal assertions are made against our 5-point Calvinist brothers because they misunderstand and distort the Calvinist view (which, incidently, seems evident from the other part of the Lifeway study). In any case, the idea that Baptism is tied to eternal security rather than on conversion shows either a misunderstanding of baptism or a misunderstanding of Arminianism, or both.

Second, Baptism, while an ordinance of the local church, is not confined in its application to the particular local church in which the Baptism was performed. While baptism is indeed a “prerequisite to the privileges of church membership,”[4] baptism is not an ordinance that is to be repeated in each local church. There is no evidence in the New Testament of a Christian being re-baptized at all, let alone for joining a new local assembly.[5] While it was a small percentage, a significant number of SBC pastors would require rebaptism of persons coming from a church of like faith and practice – even another SBC church. This view, again, demonstrates a faulty view of baptism.

While these first two groups have understood baptism too narrowly, it seems another group has understood the ordinance too broadly. The study also reported that 13 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism of someone baptized in a church that believed in baptismal regeneration, 3 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism of someone not baptized by immersion, and 1 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism. Thankfully, these are minority positions. I should not have to argue to my Baptist readers that scriptural baptism is (1) believer’s baptism, (2) by immersion, and (3) symbolic rather than salvific. I thought this was a Baptist distinctive.

Again, I find this a significant problem in our application of Baptist theology. A small percentage seem to be accepting ANY baptism as valid. A larger percentage view only baptism performed by Baptists is valid. Only 26%, it seems, embrace the thoroughly biblical view that baptism is the symbolic immersion of a believer. Some accept a baptism whether or not is was symbolic. Others accept a baptism whether or not it was by immersion. Many reject the baptism of a believer, merely because that believer was not a Baptist. All of these are a distortion of baptism as pictured in the New Testament. Whether understood too broadly or too narrowly, who knew that the denomination that is most readily identified with their view baptism would by and large not fully embrace biblical believer’s baptism.



[1] Tom Ascol makes this point in his 2006 blog post.

[2] BFM2000, section VII, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper”

[3]For an Arminian perspective of this issue see the Assembly of God position paper on eternal security here.

[4] BFM2000, section VII, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper”

[5] Appeal to the rebaptism of the Ephesian believers in Acts 19 is not an example of the kind of rebaptism we are talking of here. Their initial baptism was not a Christian baptism at all because they had not been “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” Acts 19:5 (NASB). Rather, in terms of Christian baptism, they were being baptized for the first time.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

More thoughts on the IMB restructuring

In my last post, I focused on the change that is still needed at the IMB. However, I do not want in my dissatisfaction with the personnel policies -- which is a MAJOR issue in my opinion -- to ignore the very positive change this restructuring represents.

This new change at the IMB is positive for two reasons, both of which have been addressed well by other bloggers. I will offer a brief comment, then refer you to these two blog posts.

From a missiological perspective, the new structure simply makes sense. The policy both frees missionaries to use the methods and strategies that most effectively win the people whom they are trying to reach and completes the shift in focus from a regional to a cultural one. For a more detailed response from a missiological perspective, see the recent blog post from missiolgist, David Sills.

From a SBC politics standpoint, the change seems to indicate a willingness to hear from and support the administration at the IMB including its president, Jerry Rankin. Also, the wording of the core values, on its surface, gives a glimmer of hope that the pendulum may be swinging back to a more cooperative conservatism. In my opinion, the sure sign that this change is a reality and not just words will be the reversal of the personnel policies (but you can read my other post for that). The now somewhat infamous Wade Burleson, the point man of the IMB trustee controversy, has posted his positive take on the recent trustee meeting. While I think that Pastor Burleson has not always chosen his words wisely in the past, his current post is well worth reading.

In anycase, my assessment of the recent change is this:

New Mission, Vision, Core Values --> GOOD!!!
New Strategies that stem from them --> GOOD!!!
New attitude of cooperation --> Promising
Reversal of the personnel policies --> still waiting...but hopeful

Blessings,
Todd

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Report from the Latest IMB Trustee Meeting -- I love what you're doing, but still have a bad taste in my mouth that won't go away

Dr. Hershael York has provided a report of the happenings at the recent IMB trustee meeting. I am pleased with the result of that meeting in a renewed Vision, Mission, and Core Values that will guide the IMB in the coming years. In my opinion, they are well crafted and are exactly the direction needed. They reflect an emphasis on conservative evangelical/Baptist doctrine, a commitment to inerrancy, the exclusivity of the gospel, contextualization, church planting, and mission partnership.

Likewise, I am pleased with the proposals that proceed from this mission and values. Without going into detail, I believe they reflect a needed refocusing and address many of the issues that have been in discussion among those who are concerned with both biblical fidelity, sound missiology, and cooperation with other evangelicals.

I am not pleased, however, with the trustees continued support of the personnel policies (which I infer by the continued inaction on the part of the trustees to reverse these policies) that have been a center point of controversy in the Convention for over two years. It seems that the trustees have decided to ignore the issue and hope that everyone will just forget about it. Well, I have not forgotten.

Reading over the newly stated Core Values, I am struck by the dissonance between core value #5 and the personnel policies. The value as stated is as follows:

We serve churches to facilitate their involvement in the Great Commission and the sending of missionaries to bring all peoples to faith in Jesus Christ.

If this is really a core value, why then do we deny mission service to called men and women of God who are conservative, Bible-believing, and affirm the 2000 BF&M?!?!? The church to which I have recently been called as pastor was recognized by the IMB for being in the Top 2% of per capita giving to Lottie Moon (I cannot take credit for this). As their new pastor, I will continue to lead the church in sacrificial giving to IMB missions and partnering with IMB missionaries to take the gospel to the nations. Though we are a mission-minded, mission-giving, mission-going church, neither of our two pastors are eligible to serve with the IMB under the current policies. Both of us were baptized as believers, by immersion, in churches which did not affirm eternal security. The policies reflect an errant view of Baptism and what it means to be a New Testament church. Further, they narrow doctrinal parameters in a way that is inconsistent with the spirit of the 2000 BF&M, which I wholeheartedly endorse and for which I cast my ballot in Orlando.

My question is this: How can the trustees claim that they “serve churches to facilitate their involvement” when they deny involvement of those who are faithful Southern Baptists?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Read This!

If you are a young Southern Baptist, I encourage you to read this.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Toward a Great Commission Resurgence

Many years ago, while I was still a child and long before I was a Southern Baptist, conservative Baptist leaders began what would come to be known as the “Conservative Resurgence.” I was a late comer to this resurgence, attending my second Convention in Orlando to cast my ballot for the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message. I am grateful for those leaders who led our denomination back to a firm belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.

Over the past year, and many times at this year's Convention, leaders have been calling on the need now for a “Great Commission Resurgence.” For this resurgence to occur, however, there will have to be a different strategy. Put simply, the Conservative Resurgence occurred because the Convention elected conservative presidents who in turn appointed Conservative committees who nominated Conservative trustees. Over time, as political battles were won on the Convention floor, and with the 2000 BFM as a capstone, the Conservative Resurgence came to pass. If a Great Commission Resurgence is to occur, however, it will not be won by politics alone. We cannot vote our way to such a resurgence.

Such a resurgence will require two things. First, a GC Resurgence will require us to cooperate with each other to accomplish the larger tasks of world evangelization. To a certain extent, there is still a need for action at the Convention level. The needed action, however, is not in electing men passionate about evangelism and missions. I believe we consistently have done that in recent years. Rather, we need to return to a cooperation among the variety of conservative Baptist expressions for the common goal of Great Commission work, or, as David Dockery puts it, we need consensus and renewal. Electing men committed to such cooperation is a step, but we must each make a personal commitment to such cooperation. Second, and more significantly, a GC Resurgence will have to begin in my own life and the lives of each Southern Baptist as we renew not only our “commitment” to evangelism and missions, but actually change our practice and actually do evangelism. The problem cannot be fixed merely at the denominational level. As Frank Page stated in his president’s address, “Blame the denomination if you wish, but the problem is me.” I share in that culpability. Each of us should take a hard look at our own lives and seek revival in our personal evangelistic fervor.

Blessings,

Todd

Friday, June 13, 2008

Why I have signed the IMB Change Petition

I am appealing to all Southern Baptists with a concern for missions. Many of you are aware of the personnel policies put in place two years ago concerning Baptism and "Private prayer language." Recently, Allan Blume, a North Carolina pastor, and his wife Pam, a former IMB trustee, started an online petition to reverse these policies. At the Convention this week, I had the opportunity to have dinner with the Blumes and hear their heart on this issue. Heidi and I have added our names to this petition and encourage you to do the same. You may do so at http://imbchange.info. Of course, I realize the decision to add your name to such a list should not be taken lightly, however, I ask that you prayerfully consider doing so.

Previously, I have blogged on my reasons for opposing the “eternal security” clause of the baptism policy. This clause is the most personal for me, because it is the point of disqualification for me, were we to be called to international mission service. I was baptized, though by immersion and as a believer, in a church that did not believe in eternal security. I have come to believe that the baptism policy should be reversed in its entirety as well as the policy on private prayer language. Here are my reasons.

On the Baptism policy:

The policy goes beyond the BF&M 2000 and adds restrictions not included in the language of this consensus doctrinal statement.

The proper place for making decisions about baptism is the local church. The policy usurps the authority of the local church in determining whose baptism is valid and whose is not.

The policy makes a blanket restriction which does not allow for a more careful analysis of each situation – the local church is the best place for such a careful analysis and the proper place where such decisions should be made.

The remedy required, requesting (re)baptism by one’s local church is not practical in many cases. Many missionary candidates are pastors who have themselves baptized many members of their church. Others belong to churches who, because of their (correct) doctrinal stand, will not baptize the person again.

There is no biblical warrant for rebaptism of someone who has been baptized by immersion as a believer.

On the Private Prayer Language (PPL) policy:

PPL is a doctrinal issue, not a moral one, and is not addressed in the BF&M 2000 nor any resolution of the SBC. While I believe PPL to be a incorrect understanding of Scripture, I do not believe that a belief and/or practice of PPL should disqualify one from service, especially given the Convention’s silence on the issue up to this point.

PPL is part of a person’s private devotional life. There is no evidence that PPL practice among some Southern Baptists leads to Pentecostal/Charismatic doctrine or practice. Further, PPL is by definition a “private” practice not a public one.

Finally, it is absolutely bad form to pass a personnel policy which the current president of the IMB would himself be disqualified. The passing of this policy gives the appearance (whether or not this is actually the case) of intentionally embarrassing the current president. If there is a legitimate problem with Jerry Rankin, then by all means ask for his resignation. If not, then at the very least wait until Rankin retires to pass such a policy. To pass a policy which disqualifies the president, especially when there is no evidence of a pressing need to do so, is just plain wrong and in poor taste.

_____

Well, for what its worth, these are my reasons. If you are familiar with the issue at all, there is probably nothing here that you have not heard before. Because of these policies, I would be disqualified from service with the IMB. I know several highly qualified persons, fine Christian servants, who also are disqualified from service with the IMB.

If you are concerned about this issue, I encourage you to sign the petition. At this time, I believe this is the best course of action to see these policies reversed.

Blessings,

Todd


***Addendum (June 19, 2008): Let me add that a significant reason these policies should be reversed is that there is no where near a consensus of opinion among Southern Baptists on either PPL or alien immersion. While I do not support imposing a rule on how trustees can govern their entities, I do believe that mission board trustees have a responsibility, on doctrinal matters, to reflect the consensus of Southern Baptist belief.

Ten Highlights from the Convention that Have Nothing to do with Politics

With all the post-Convention blogging about various issues, I thought I would offer my favorite non-political aspects of my Convention experience this year. Here are my Top 10 experiences:


10. I got to reunite with old friends from across the Convention.

9. I got to hang out with my former college roommate for an afternoon.

8. I got harassed by my pastor’s wife because of my former college roommate.

7. I got to meet a pastor and his wife who are rightly opposing the IMB Personnel Policies, a seminary professor with whom I disagree a lot but was genuinely a nice guy, a church planter who used to grade for my professor, two staff members from a mission-minded church in NW Indiana, and I got Shane Hall’s autograph.

6. I ran into my former pastor (who gave me a signed copy of his new book).

5. I got to hang out at the NAMB and IMB displays and talk to missionaries.

4. I got to pray with and for fellow believers.

3. I got to stay up late and watch Indiana Jones.

2. I got to have butter on my popcorn.

1. I got 15 free pens, 6 bags, 2 coffee mugs, a T-shirt, 5 free books, 3 highlighters, 2 foam basketballs, a miniature bottle of hot sauce, and a tie tack.

Blessings,
Todd

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A quick thought about the SBC President elect

It’s Wednesday morning and so far all has been well. I have been able to touch base with a number of old friends and was pleased that the Convention has for the most part been uneventful.

Johnny Hunt, I believe, will make a good President. His election on the first ballot among six candidates is remarkable (for the record, I voted for Avery Willis). I believe Hunt will bring two things to the Convention that we need at this time.

First, as Southern Baptists, myself included, have come to the realization that we need a Great Commission resurgence, Johnny Hunt can effectively lead in that resurgence. Hunt is respected across the spectrum of Baptists as a man passionate about evangelism and missions and his passion is contagious. To the extent an SBC president can promote, model, and spur on Baptists to Great Commission work, I believe Johnny will do so.

Second, I believe Johnny Hunt can lead us in the direction of unity around the gospel. No factions on either side of current debates can claim victory because of their endorsement of one of the other fine candidates. Hunt will be in a better position to bring together the various groups around the cause of the gospel. (I also sincerely hope Hunt will inform himself about the “narrowing of doctrinal parameters” issue and will appoint men and women who will not further that narrowing.) He has done so in the past. I trust his presidency will continue that trend.

That’s all for now. More Convention analysis after I get home.

Blessings,
Todd

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Ministry Core Values

As I have been in the transition period from seminary life to full-time ministry, I have recently been asked to share my philosophy of ministry. I have thought through some of my core values and offer them for your consideration. Feel free to offer your comments or critique.

MINISTRY PHILOSOPHY

Among my ministry core values are the following:

Kingdom Focused Ministry – My focus must go beyond my own personal success or the success of my church, but the advance of God’s kingdom. If not, I run the danger of being self-centered, self-seeking, and self-glorifying. God wants churches to grow, but as part of the bigger grander vision of expanding his great kingdom. For this reason I will lead a church in being “kingdom-focused” and in having an “Acts 1:8” mentality—reaching the local community and partnering with others to take the gospel around the world. I will lead in partnering with Southern Baptists and other Great Commission Christians in reaching my community and the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I will actively support and promote the Cooperative Program and Southern Baptist partnership on the association, state, and national level. I will also lead in appropriate partnerships with both Baptist and non-Baptist evangelicals.

Relational Ministry – I place a high priority on relationships over programs and events. Evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and other aspects of church life all happen best in the context of relationships. Busyness in church life can often be detrimental to the health of a church. Being precedes doing. I will lead in developing certain programs and events and an aggressive pursuit of the Great commission, but will focus on those that build relationships in evangelizing non-believers and foster the “one another” aspect of being the body of Christ. Moreover, I will seek to equip believers in being a lighthouse to their family and neighborhood and to use their gifts and resources in service for his kingdom.

Biblically Based Ministry – The Bible is our authority as Christians. It contains “everything we need for life and godliness.” If the Bible is indeed our textbook, we must make every effort to conform our thoughts and practice to Scripture. All that I teach and preach will have its basis in Scripture. Most of my preaching is expository although I will preach topical sermons when appropriate. Ministries, strategy planning, counseling, and all other aspects of ministry will be biblically grounded and biblically measured. I affirm the doctrine of inerrancy as expressed in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

Great Commission Ministry – The mission of the church is the Great commission. To fulfill that commission means that we focus on making disciples. This begins with evangelism, and moves to discipling and equipping believers for service. Evangelism must be an urgent priority. We must implement innovative and “contextual” strategies to reach people where they are. Our job is not done, however, until we develop fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, growing in his likeness, using their gifts in the body of Christ, and reaching others with the gospel. I will lead a church to be fervent in evangelism, but also in discipling and equipping ministries.

God-empowered Ministry – The Bible teaches that it is the Holy Spirit which empowers our mission. Ultimately, it is God and not human effort which determines the success of mission – our attitude and action must reflect that. This emphasizes the need for absolute dependence on God, a vibrant faith, and a devotion to prayer. I am an avid supporter of church growth principles and effective strategizing. However, if we depend only on our knowledge and effort and not on the power of God, we will have not only an unfruitful ministry, but an ungodly one. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Revisiting the IMB Baptism Guideline

In this post, I will offer two reasons I believe the eternal security clause of the IMB personnel guidelines is in error and should be changed.

First, I believe that the policy is based on a mistaken view of Arminianism.

Before I was a Baptist, I held erroneous views of what Baptists believed. My Arminian pastors wrongly charged that eternal security or “once saved, always saved” was a false doctrine that taught that you merely had to pray a prayer or respond to an altar call then continue sinning all you want because now that you were saved you were saved forever. While, I suppose, there may be some Baptists who hold this view (I haven’t met any) that certainly is not what Baptists teach or believe. To the extent that Baptists do believe this, my Arminian pastors were right to criticize their doctrine.

Having become a Baptist, now 18 years later, I continue to find that many Baptists hold what I contend are erroneous views of what Arminians believe. To deny eternal security, I am told, is to lack assurance of salvation. Many Baptists think that Arminians believe that you may somehow “lose” your salvation because of sin; that Arminians teach that although you are initially saved by faith, your are kept by works. Arminians live in fear that they may “lose” their salvation if they sin or fail in good works. Like my former belief about Baptists, there are indeed some Arminians who hold this view, but this is not a teaching of classic Arminianism, nor the doctirinal position of the major evangelical Arminian denominations such as the Assemblies of God.

However, such a doctrine is not the belief of all or even the majority of Arminian believers. For example, the Assemblies of God, in an official statement on eternal security, states

“As the believer's salvation is received, not by an act of righteousness but by an act of faith, so the believer's salvation is maintained, not by acts of righteousness but by a life of faith!

Being a Christian then is not a matter of works; it is a matter of faith. This must be emphasized. In no case is the sinner accepted by God on the basis of any good that he has done. He is saved totally and solely by grace through faith . . . . Through the process of "becoming conformed" he is secure; his salvation is sure. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

The believer's security, then, is solely through faith, both in the receiving of salvation and in the keeping of salvation. This security is made possible through the mercy of God in imputing the righteousness of His own Son to the fallible and faulty believer as long as he maintains a living faith in Christ. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I agree that Arminians are in error in their denial of the doctrine of eternal security. This error, however, does not mean that Arminians teach a works salvation, lack biblical assurance, or are not a New Testament Church.


Second, I believe the policy is based on a faulty view of Assurance.

In the argument about eternal security and its relation to Baptism, some Baptists incorrectly equate assurance of salvation with the doctrine of eternal security. The two concepts are related, but not the same.

I do not find that the Scriptures join the two. Wherever the Bible speaks of assurance, it speaks of one’s present experience with Christ. That is, a person has assurance because of the evidence of Christ working in him. Further, the Bible encourages believers to test themselves to see if they are in the faith, and to make their calling and election sure.

In 1 John, assurance comes with our present walk with Christ as we obey his commands (1 John 2:3), love the brethren (3:14), believe in his name (3:23) and the experience the presence of His Spirit (3:24). No where in this letter, written “so that you may know that you have eternal life,” (5:13) does John link assurance with our initial conversion experience.

When a Baptist is not walking with Christ, he may indeed be saved, but he will not have assurance that he is. A person can thus believe in eternal security, but lack assurance. Anecdotally speaking, I am sure of my salvation, not because of my conversion experience 31 years ago coupled with my belief in eternal security. I am sure of my salvation because of the evidence of the Spirit as he works in and through me and because of my faith in the cross of Christ.

Further, true Arminianism does not foster doubt of one’s salvation. As noted above, Arminians believe that salvation is both “received and kept by faith.” If one believes, his eternal destiny is sure. It is only if one abandons the faith “by rejecting Christ” that one “loses” salvation. In reality, assurance is faith, so it is not improper for an Arminian to say that assurance is based on faith. Further, in our experience as believers, both Arminian and Baptistic views of the security of the believer are tied to faith. The difference is that when an Arminian abandons the faith they say that such a person is no longer saved and when a Baptist abandons the faith we say they were never saved in the first place. Either way they’re lost.

The possible danger of Arminianism, when not properly understood, is that one would have false doubt. The possible danger of our Baptist view of eternal security, when not properly understood, is that one would have false faith (I prayed a prayer, so I’m saved forever). All this is to say that assurance and security are related but not inseparable. A Baptist can believe in eternal security and still not be sure of his salvation. Likewise, an Arminian can be assured of his eternal salvation without believing in eternal security.

I agree that Arminian doctrine is in error. I do not believe, however, that Arminian belief is a false faith or deficient gospel nor that an Arminian cannot have assurance of eternal salvation.


Conclusion

I submit that a baptism should not be disqualified because of a lack of belief in the doctrine of eternal security alone. Thomas White, in a White Paper for the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary made the following summary statement on the validity of baptism: “The determining factor is the ordinance itself. Was the ordinance performed with the proper subject, in the proper mode, and with the proper meaning by a true church? If so, then it is valid” (White 2006, 10). In most cases, for a person baptized by immersion in an Arminian church, the answer to all four questions is “YES.”

In the final analysis, I believe the eternal security clause of the IMB personnel guideline should be reversed. I hope that it will be. In the mean time, I urge those who disagree with the guideline to continue their support of the IMB and the Cooperative Program. Further, I hope that Baptist on both sides of the issue will see the importance of preserving our Baptist Identity. In all things, let us continue to work together for the cause of Christ and for His glory!

Blessings,

Todd



_____

Note: Nathan Finn has also blogged on the IMB guidelines today.

Calvinists and Evangelism -- What Some Arminians are Saying

Here is an interesting quote about Calvinists and evangelism I came across in an article from the Assemblies of God home page.

"Certainly there are true Christians who believe and teach Calvinism; there are also true Christians who believe and teach that men and women have free will. Unfortunately, both sides have spent more time arguing doctrinal terminology and interpretations of theology than reaching out to a lost world. The irony of the disagreement is that Calvinists, who believe in predestination, are sometimes more active in witnessing and evangelism than Arminians who believe that man has a free will and should be encouraged to accept Christ as Savior."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reflecting the Love of Christ


Well, I'd like to introduce my first ever guest blogger: my wife, Heidi. Last night, Heidi was asked to speak at our church's mother/daughter banquet. With her permission, I am reproducing her speech here. I hope you will see Heidi's heart for the mission of God and her desire to serve Him in her everyday life. Here is her speech:


Tonight I would like to share a little of my passion for reflecting the love of Christ to others. I believe God has given me a desire deep inside to share his love with both my brothers and sisters in Christ and those who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

When Sheila asked me to speak I immediately thought , no I can’t do that, I don’t’ speak in front of people. I’m the person who hated speech class in high school and come college looked for a major that didn’t, once again require a speech class. But upon going home and telling my husband Sheila asked me to speak at the Mother/Daughter banquet, he lovingly said, you have to! So tonight I stand here before you a little out of my comfort zone but I pray that some little thing I may share will minister to your heart.

After committing to speak tonight I then began worrying first and then praying, I told God, I need a verse and faithful as He is He gave me one about a week later. I Peter 4:11 says “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves he should do it with the strength God provides so that in ALL things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power forever and ever Amen. “ I found this verse in my journal, I had written it there months before and God brought me right back to. This verse is meant for all of us here tonight. If anyone speaks! I know that I can speak, not always comfortably in front of a large group of woman but I definitely do my share of speaking and I’m sure y’all do as well. When we speak it’s as one speaking the very words of God, wow!!! I find that both a huge responsibility and challenge on our part, we are reflecting something when we speak, is it the love of God? The second part of the verse says , if anyone serves! Do it with the strength God provides - I have to say I like that part, the part that says I don’t do it alone - God provides the strength for us to do the things He calls us to do. In I Thess 5:24 God reminds us that He who calls us is faithful and will also do it. And why do we speak the words of God and serve others? So that in ALL things God may be praised through Jesus Christ and get the glory! So tonight I stand here before you to encourage you to look at your own life and see How you are reflecting Christ’s love to others?

I’d like to briefly share from my own personal experience that no matter how young or how old you are tonight God can and will use all of us if we allow Him to. I will share some examples from my own life. One thing that I have always loved to do when I have time is bake a large batch of Sugar cookies. One day I decided we would put them on plates and deliver them to the neighbors, all the way down the block. This was something my children loved to do, the knocking on the doors part especially, and delivering cookies,. This small task was something that allowed us to get to know our neighbors and begin relationships with them. This past year I mindlessly sent one of my children outside to give some cookies I had just freshly baked to a maintenance man who I saw outside. Months later I ran into this man and God opened a door to talk about spiritual things such as church and a relationship with God, and this man mentioned those cookies! I had completely forgotten about the day I shared those cookies, but he hadn’t. He mentioned that people just don’t do that anymore. God’s love was reflected.

A cookout is also something we have tried to do each year as a family. We invite neighbors again and try to build relationships with them. A baby girl can share the love of Christ when a Senior adult in the store stops to admire and we choose to slow down our pace and just be friendly and visit a moment. My daughter, Ashley, can reflect Christ’s love at school when she chooses a good attitude and chooses to make godly choices even when her friends and teachers don’t understand and give her a hard time. I can reflect Christ’s love by helping out a mom who needs a break, or a family who is struggling. I can reflect God’s love by stopping long enough to really listen to a person who just needs a friend and a listening ear. I can reflect God’s love by praying with that person. On a daily basis God gives us opportunities to share Christ’s love. I came across these words while I was reading a few weeks ago and they spoke to me and I want to also share them and I hope they will challenge you as much as they did me -

“He [Jesus] was fully present with people, whether they were religious leaders or lepers. He responded gently to the inevitable interruptions in life. Do you see interruptions as an opportunity for ministry? Are you mindful and unhurried enough to discern what people really need and whether you can give it to them? Are you humble enough to listen to what is really going on before you tell them how to fix themselves? I sometimes have to admit that my frustration with interruptions is mostly about my desire to be in control. . . .

I’ve found it easier to see interruptions as opportunities to love other people if I can keep my own agenda very short. Not that I ignore my own needs, not at all. But I seriously evaluate everything on the list and make sure it really needs to be done.” *

As I read these paragraphs shared in this book, I thought wow, am I that person, Am I mindful of others, am I unhurried? Not very often, if I’m honest. Am I humble, do I listen? Interruptions in our days are often opportunities to minister God’s love to others. So I challenge you, Choose to make interruptions great opportunities to share Christ! Choose to actively take part in others lives. As much as I’d like to stand before you and say that I always have time for others and I’m always ready and mindful of sharing Christ in every situation it’s not true. I believe we must choose to actively make these choices and remember I Peter 4:11 God provides the strength so that in all things He may be praised. I have had three opportunities in the last year to share Christ with others and I had to pray for courage and choose to do it. So I challenge you to think of maybe just one person, a sister in Christ or someone who comes to your heart that needs the Lord and start praying for them. God will open doors and I stand here before you tonight as an example of Yes, with God’s strength and through Him we can step out of our comfort zones, we can speak and we can serve and God will get all the glory. If you are here tonight and don’t have a personal relationship with Christ, it is easy and I just know that someone near you would be thrilled to share Jesus with you so I pray that you will not leave here tonight without finding Christ’s love, because He truly loves us and gave His life for us. Thank you!


__________
* Keri Wyatt Kent, quoted by Tina Cole and Nocona Koenig, “Never Enough Time” in My Husband Wants to be a Church Planter . . . , (Alpharetta, GA: North American Mission Board, 2007), 69.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Thoughts on the analysis of Paige Patterson on the ACP

Paige Patterson has offered what I believe is an insightful analysis on the ACP report and the wealth of punditry that has followed. Patterson concludes by suggesting four real reasons for the numeric decline. I believe Patterson is spot-on (Patterson’s words appear in italics with my comments following).

1. The first failure is the busyness of the age, which has robbed churches of serious prayer . . . Prayerlessness is foe number one.

Two comments: First, one unintentional aspect of the church growth movement has been a dependence on methods rather than on the power of God. This, of course, was never the attention of McGavran or of the second generation of CGM leaders. Nevertheless, more than fifty years later, McGavran has been largely forgotten and his God-dependent principles with him. I am personally an advocate of Church Growth and its emphasis on removing manmade barriers to the gospel and church growth. However, as McGavran would agree and Patterson alludes in his column, no method can advance the kingdom apart from absolute dependence on God. To the extent that prayerlessness is a characteristic of our churches, we should not be surprised at a decline in our numbers. Patterson rightly calls Southern Baptists to a return to prayer and complete dependence on God for success in ministry.

Second, prayer is not the only casualty of the busyness of the age. Christians have, by and large, abandoned the mission of God for other pursuits. It is time that Christians reject the busyness of the age that centers on the mundane and get consumed by passion for God’s mission. We must reorient our lives around the Great Commission rather than our own self-interests. This leads to Patterson’s second point.

2. The second culprit is our failure to witness. We are so adept at "marketing" and "programming" that we have failed to share Christ individually on a consistent basis. In fact, because meaningful church membership has been traded for numerical addition, most of our people hardly witness at all.

Again, another unintentional and non-McGavranite consequence of some modern mutations of the church growth movement. Numerical addition was never intended to replace meaningful church membership. In fact, McGavran argued for numbers that were meaningful. McGavran states,

It is not adding mere names to the roll or baptizing those who have no intention of following Christ. Roll-padding, aside from being dishonest, is useless. The numerical increase worth counting is that which endures from decade to decade. Roll-padding and dishonest baptizing will never produce lasting growth.”[1]

To the extent that numerical addition has replaced meaningful church membership, churches ought to repent and return to the growth principles centered on abundant, unhindered, contextual evangelism.

Second, as Patterson has so rightly reminded us, we must return to the actual practice of witnessing. As many have noted, the conservative resurgence has not yet resulted in a Great Commission resurgence. In my opinion, part of the problem among conservative evangelicals, is that we have pursued Christ-likeness in terms of character but not in terms of mission. Certainly, we must pursue the one without abandoning the other. We have forgotten, however, that to become truly like Him, we must allow God to work not only in us, but also through us. How can we know Christ and truly be like him without pouring out our life for his mission to reach the lost? Baptists must renew our commitment to evangelism, not only in theory, but in practice.

3. Third, the shallow state of preaching has exacerbated the lethargy of the church and left the lost with no real Word from God. The pastor ought to be the major source of theological understanding and the most able teacher of the Bible. Anemic pulpits create anemic churches and denominations.

I’ll let Patterson’s words stand on their own here. I will only add to my last point that we must return to preaching the full counsel of God so that our preaching is God-centered, cross-centered, and mission-centered rather than merely self-help, self-actualizing, felt needs preaching. Certainly, we need to preach those texts that help believers become better Christians, but even then the preaching must be centered in Christ and his cross.

4. Finally, our churches, in their hot pursuit of cultural adaptability look more and more like the culture and the world. Even at its best, the church is not good at being the world. In looking like a faint imitation of the world, the holiness of God and a thirst to be like Him have apparently been lost. And with the loss of holiness has come the corresponding loss of power and appeal!

Hear Patterson correctly here. I do not believe he is saying that we must abandon contextualization. He is, however, saying that not all contextual methods and models are God-honoring and faithful to him. We must approach contextualization critically and approach evangelism in away that both communicates to the culture and at the same time remains faithful to the biblical gospel. To the extent that churches have capitulated to the culture and abandoned the offense of the cross, we must return to the true gospel and to biblical models and methods.

In the final analysis, Patterson has offered wise words that should be considered by all Southern Baptists. We must recommit ourselves to the prayerful, powerful, critically-contextual, abundant proclamation of the gospel. Until we do, we should not be surprised when our statistics are not what we wish them to be.

Lord, send a revival and let it begin in me.



[1] Donald A. McGavran, How Churches Grow: The New Frontiers of Mission (London: World Dominion Press, 1959), 16.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Second Look at the Annual Church Profile (ACP)

As Dale Carnegie said, “Of course, I could be wrong – I often am.” The truth is, I don’t really know what the numbers mean for our denomination. Upon further review, however, I did find one statistic of particular interest. One significant number figured in the ACP is the ratio baptism rate—a ratio which continues to increase. In 2007, the number of baptisms to members was 1:47. In 2006, the ratio was 1:45.

The significance of the year-to-year changes reflected in the ACP report remains elusive. Even the change in the baptism ratio is not easily explained. Looking back at my last post, if I am correct about only the change in who is a candidate for baptism, i.e. we are baptizing fewer people but no less are being genuinely converted, then one would expect the ratio to rise. That is, fewer total baptisms means fewer baptisms per member. If, however, I am correct only about the change in membership reporting, i.e. some churches are cleaning their roles, then you would expect the baptism ratio to decrease. That is fewer members means fewer members per baptism. If I am right about both, then the numbers will off-set to some degree. If I am right about neither, then we have reason to be alarmed. While the year-to-year change may or may not be significant, I am more concerned with the change in ratio baptisms from 1:19 in 1950 to 1:47 in 2007. This seems to me to be a bigger problem than the changes in reporting practices can account for. If Dr. Stetzer is correct, the decline in ACP numbers is part of a 50-year trend. (I highly recommend reading and pondering Stezer's original assessment, whether or not you agree).

Regardless of what the numbers mean, I offer two opinions:

1. We should be concerned about increasing our evangelism efforts.

2. We should be concerned with statistics – that is, the numerical results of our efforts.

No, we should not make statistics an idol. Yet, neither should we ignore numbers as one useful indicator of our faithfulness to the evangelistic task. Results are not faithfulness, but they may indeed be an indicator of faithfulness or a lack thereof. In the face of declining numbers, every church must be willing to ask themselves whether their lack of results is an indicator of a lack of faithfulness. (For more on this, see my forthcoming dissertation).

In response to Stetzer's assessment on our declining numbers, Malcolm Yarnell suggests,

“Perhaps the churches are busy proclaiming God’s Word, but the Spirit in His sovereignty has not yet seen fit to bless us with the numbers we desire to see. Perhaps our focus should be less upon meeting statistical goals and more upon simply being faithful with what responsibilities we have been granted.”

Of course, Dr. Yarnell’s scenario is within the realm of possibility. However, should we default to the assumption that we are being faithful without conducting a rigorous examination of our evangelistic efforts? I respectfully offer another “perhaps.”

Perhaps we are NOT busy at the work of evangelism. Perhaps we do not often share the gospel. Perhaps in our evangelism we do not clearly present the cross of Christ. Perhaps we are failing to communicate the gospel clearly, in a contextual manner, without unnecessary social or culture barriers. Perhaps we are presenting facts without pressing for a verdict. Perhaps God is waiting for our obedience. Perhaps we are NOT being faithful.

Are we or are we not? Again, the answer to these questions is not in the ACP. The numbers may mean a variety of things. Of course, we should not base our entire assessment of either our denomination or our local church on numbers alone. Dr. Yarnell is right that we should be focused on being faithful more than on numbers. However, I would suggest that numbers are a good place to start in self-examination. The ACP ought to get us to ask of ourselves the hard questions. Just what IS the significance of the numbers? If we are unwilling to examine ourselves, our motives, our methods, and our evangelistic activity, how can we justifiably claim that all is well?

Let us press on toward the mark. Let us be consumed with the mission of God and his glory. Let us not be satisfied with sagging numbers until we are absolutely sure we are doing all we can for the cause of the gospel.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

SBC Numbers Down

Well, I just finished my dissertation and can return to blogging . . . just in time to respond to the 2008 ACP report. In a nutshell, baptisms are down, membership is down, church planting and attendance is up.

Before offering my analysis, let me affirm that I am neither interested in spinning the statistics for the purpose of preserving the perceived status of the SBC, nor do I wish to overstate the significance of the report as a way of highlighting the importance and urgency of renewing our passion for evangelism as a denomination.

That being said, while the ACP is valuable for self-evaluation and year-by-year comparison, the significance of numbers from one year should not be overblown. The number of churches reporting is not consistent (down 1300 this year), and the way that churches report is in flux. I personally believe that there is a gradual shift in the way that churches are counting. An increasing number of pastors are baptizing less people because they are, rightly or wrongly, raising the bar on who they are willing to baptize. This may account for at least part, if not all, of the decline in the number of baptisms. Further, some pastors are, under the banner of regenerate church membership, leading their churches to clean up their membership roles. An example of this attitude can be seen in the (defeated but widely supported) resolution proposed by Tom Ascol last year on integrity in church membership. That an increasing number of churches are reducing their membership in this way may account for some or all the decline in membership.

It is quite possible that the cumulative ACP statistics are seeing a kind of correction, similar to what happens periodically on the stock market, which could continue over the next 5 to 10 years as more and more church leaders adopt these practices. This, in my opinion, would be a good development in the long run.

The continued use of statistics, however, should not be rejected. Statistics are a valuable tool, but numbers are only as valuable as the facts they represent. While ACP reporting practices are changing, the value of the cumulative annual report may be, for the time being, diminished. However, ACP statistics can be a valuable tool in a church’s self-evaluation process. Since a church tends to report numbers in the same way, significant changes in particular statistics can communicate a lot about a church’s progress or lack thereof. Comparison with other churches, however, will prove useless as long as churches do not report their numbers in the same way. Likewise, when churches vary extensively in their baptism practices, comparison of the number of baptisms is often misleading and unfair. Such comparisons often reflect poorly on churches who may actually produce more genuine converts.

In any case, given the gradual change in the nature of ACP numbers, there may not be anything definitive we can conclude about this year’s ACP report. The report will be seen by some as a positive development, by others as a disaster, but hopefully will remind all of the urgency of our evangelistic task.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Answer to Prayer -- Dr. Mohler

This just in: Dr. Mohler does not have cancer. Praise the Lord! Please continue to pray for his complete recovery.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Please join me in praying for Dr. Mohler

I'm taking a break from my dissertation long enough to ask my few readers to pray for our seminary president, Dr. R. Albert Mohler. In chapel today, after a sermon on accepting adversity by Dr. Ware, and once the cameras had been turned off, Dr. Mohler announced to the seminary family that he has a pre-cancerous tumor on his colon. Dr. Tom Schreiner led us in prayer as we laid hands on the Mohler family. Please join me in continued prayer for Dr. Mohler, his family, and our seminary.

Blessings!
-- Todd

p.s. You can read the full story at Baptist Press. Of particular note to my readers is that Dr. Mohler has withdrawn is candidacy for SBC president. I regret that I will not be able to cast my ballot for him this year. Please pray for Convention messengers as they select a president in June.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Living the Missionary Motto

Early in my seminary career, Dr. Mark Terry taught me the missionary motto:

Where He leads me, I will follow;
What He feeds me, I will swallow!

This week, my "friend," colleague, and mentor, Bryan G helped me practice it.


For our Birthdays (we share the same day) the church where we are serving together as co-interim pastors threw us a pot-luck dinner. One group of ladies made Bryan his favorite dish, fish head curry. Not something I would choose for myself, but Hey, he's lived in the Pac Rim for 15 years.



As my Birthday gift to me, Bryan decided that I should share the "delicacy" of the dish, one of the fish eyes. So, before letting everyone eat, I got the special "privilege" of eating the first bite of our potluck --the curry flavored fish eye from this appetizing dish. Bryan ate his first . . .



Then I followed suit.



This of course doesn't make me a TRUE missionary, but in my opinion, it was a brave first step.

I can get the recipe for you if you'd like to try it too :-)

Blessings!
-- Todd


Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Driving Conviction about Evangelism: Practical Suggestions (Five Essentials, part 1B)

Passion for missional Christianity comes from the Lord. You cannot create a passion in your church, only God can. For that reason, the primary “methods” for creating this passion in your people are prayer and the Word.

In your personal devotion, pray and ask God to create this passion in His people. Pray for more laborers in His harvest (Matt 9:38). At the same time, be intentional in times of corporate prayer to pray for the lost, to pray for missions, to pray for unreached peoples, to pray that God would give his people a burden for evangelism, to pray that God would raise up more laborers.

Pray and ask God to give YOU a burden for the lost and for his gospel. Pray and ask God for opportunities to evangelize. Pray specifically for lost individuals. Set aside time for personal evangelism. Baptize believers with rejoicing. Allow the church to “catch” your own passion for the gospel.

Make God’s act of redemption through Jesus Christ central to your preaching. Spend more of your sermon and teaching time focusing on the Cross and Resurrection. When preaching on practical issues, make sure to emphasize not only the moral guidelines. Rather, preach Christian living in terms of redemption, putting on the new self. Preach a sermon series on God’s redemptive plan. Demonstrate this redemptive purpose through the entire corpus of Scripture and not just the Great Commission. Show how evangelism and missions is the role of His church.

How do we create a passion in God's people? Continually bring the need for gospel passion to the Lord in prayer. Then, bring that need to the church in your word and witness.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wade Burleson Resigns

For those of you following the IMB trustee story line, a significant event occurred yesterday. Wade Burleson has resigned from the IMB Board of Trustees.

Grace and Truth to You: A Decision I Believe Is Best for the Future of All

I have no comments at this time, but reserve the right to comment in the future. In the mean time, I encourage you to pray for Wade as well as the remaining Trustees. Above all, pray that the work of the IMB will continue to be used of God for his glory.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Weekend Reading for Missional Christians

Friends,

Here are a couple blog posts I recommend:

David Sills, on his blog Culturality and Missiology, has posted a compelling essay that deserves wide readership. I strongly encourage you to read "Has Anybody Seen Our Missionary Heroes?" May we live up to the standard set in this post. May God raise up a generation of missions leaders.

Also, Larry Baker has posted preliminary findings presented by Chuck Lawless on the habits of pastors of high impact churches. The official report will be released this spring. The findings may not surprise you, but they may convict you. Read the post here.

Blessings!
-- Todd

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Driving Conviction about Evangelism: Essentials of a Missional Church, part 1

It is surprising to me how many believers go through their Christian life with little or no concern for reaching people with the gospel. While teaching a discipleship course on evangelism at my church last fall, one member, a leader in the church, commented that he really did not have a burden for the lost. He admitted that he had never thought of evangelism as an important aspect of his Christian faith. I am thankful that he was candidly honest about where he was. Unfortunately, this man is not an anomaly. His viewpoint is far too common and in many churches is the norm. Multiply that perspective by 150 church members and you have a partial answer for why a church is not effectively reaching their community for Christ.

It is a good thing for churches to be concerned about the discipleship of their members. It is important for churches to teach their members the truths of Scripture and help them grow in faith and in the image of Christ. However, such discipleship must include teaching believers to be missional Christians. How can we claim to be like Jesus if we neglect his very mission?

If a church wants to fulfill the Great Commission, it will require first that its members share the heart of Jesus for the lost he came to save. We must share the heart of Jesus who wept for Jerusalem (Luke 18:41). We must follow the model of Paul whose heart was for the salvation of his fellow Jews (Rom 9:1-3; 10:1). We must be compelled by the love of Christ for a lost world and take on the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:14, 18).

Still, in many churches, evangelism is something we talk about and list among other Christian duties. As Russell Moore quipped in Southern Seminary’s chapel last fall, we know we should evangelize in the same way we know we should floss. Until evangelism ceases to be a Christian virtue that we have not yet achieved and becomes the driving passion of our church and personal ministry, we will never fulfill the purpose God has set for us. To become a missional church, we must have a passion for the Great Commission – reaching persons with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the grand theme of Scripture. It should be our theme as well.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Five Essentials of a Missional Church

The following is an outline I have been developing concerning evangelism and missions in the local church. I intend to blog about each of these points over the next couple weeks as well as offer suggestions for implementing them. For now, here is a summary of my thinking. Please feel free, as we go along, to offer your comments, additions, suggestions, etc. (Sidebar: In my view, verbal witness is primary and essential but should also be accompanied by the kinds of works described in Matt 25:31-46. Also, fulfilling the GC includes initial conversion as well as establishing of believers in the faith.)
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To be effective in Great Commission work, a local church ought to have the following:

1. A deep conviction about evangelism. The church must develop a heart for the lost and a passion for the gospel.

2. A church culture that in which fulfilling the Great Commission is central to the mission of the church. This priority should be evident in every aspect of church life.

3. An equipping ministry that trains believers to effectively share their faith and use their gifts in kingdom work.

4. Sufficient opportunities to be involved in missions and evangelism.

5. Complete dependence on the Holy Spirit for the success of the mission.

I will break up a more detailed discussion of these points over several posts. In the mean time, feel free to comment. (For those that prefer an alliterated list, here you go: To be truly missional, a church must have a Driving Conviction, a Dynamic Culture, a Developing Competence, Deliberate Connections, and a Dependent Confidence.)

Blessings!

-- Todd

Monday, January 7, 2008

Why R. Albert Mohler is Good for Evangelism

Many are weighing in on the prospect of a Mohler presidency. Whether or not he is elected, here are a few reasons (among many) that Dr. Mohler is a positive force for Great Commission work.

1. Mohler has shown himself as a uniter around the cause of the gospel. In his commentary, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity,” Dr. Mohler has laid out what he calls “second-order” and “third-order” doctrinal differences. While contending for right doctrine on all three tiers, Mohler has demonstrated a willingness to work together with those he differs with on second and third order differences for the cause of missions and evangelism. A number of examples demonstrate this willingness to unite around the gospel:

a. His prominent role in the 2001 Billy Graham Crusade in Louisville.

b. His 2006 Pastor’s Conference break out session with Paige Patterson, “Reaching Today’s World Through Differing Views of Election.” Mohler called Patterson, with whom he disagrees on the issue of Calvinism, a close friend. He went on to say, ““Dr. Patterson and I have discussed this far more extensively than a one-hour presentation here would allow,” Mohler said. “It’s a part of the vibrancy of our friendship in the Gospel. … We owe it to each other as brothers in Christ, who share an affection for the Gospel … to, as iron sharpens iron, talk about these issues so that we can be evermore faithful in preaching and teaching the Gospel.”

c. His co-founding of “Together for the Gospel” with Presbyterian Ligon Duncan and charismatic C.J. Mahaney, along with Mark Dever. The first line of the Together for the Gospel statement reads, “We are brothers in Christ united in one great cause – to stand together for the Gospel.” Mohler says of this group, “I am incredibly thankful for my friendship with Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, and C J Mahaney. In recent years, I have come to a new and deeper understanding of what these friends mean to me . . . I have come to prize most highly those friendships that can last a lifetime. Yet, I am confident that something deeper and more important is at work here. The friendship that binds us together is a friendship that is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here we have found our shared redemption, our shared identity, our shared calling, our shared commission, and our shared passion. . . . We are together . . . in and for the Gospel.”

2. As a major leader among younger reformed evangelicals, Mohler has rejected hyper-Calvinism and has defended the proclamation of the gospel. In his breakout session at the 2006 Pastor’s Conference, “Reaching Today’s World Through Differing Views of Election” Mohler explains, “there is the real theological danger of those who do not believe in the well-meant offer of the Gospel. These are not persons who are merely five point Calvinists. Five point Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism, it’s just Calvinism. However, if one takes an additional logical jump from that point and says, therefore, we should not present the Gospel to all persons, they’re in direct conflict with the Scripture and direct disobedience to the call of God and in direct contradiction to the model of the apostles.” Mohler is more pointed in his remarks in his major address, “Don’t just Stand There Do Something,” Mohler states, “if your theology does not issue a determination to see the glory of God in the salvation of the lost, and see that responsibility as a sacred privilege, then take your theology somewhere else.”

3. Mohler has continually demonstrated commitment to the gospel at Southern Seminary. Under Mohler’s leadership, Southern has founded the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth; added requirements that all students take both Introduction to Missiology and Personal Evangelism; established the Great Commission Center to promote missions and evangelism opportunities on campus. Further, Dr. Mohler continually challenges students to be involved in missions and evangelism.

4. If elected, Mohler has pledged to lead our Convention in the cause of the gospel. Speaking of his nomination for SBC president, Mohler states, “Our greatest challenge is to recover our passion for the gospel in evangelism and missions and to renew our determination to defend the gospel in an age of postmodern confusion. I would hope to articulate a vision that would unite Southern Baptists and energize us together. . . . We are not a top-down denomination—and for good reason. I promise to do my best to encourage Southern Baptists to be even more faithful, more biblical, more evangelistic, and more thankful for what God has given us in this convention of churches.” I am confident that whether Mohler is elected as president or not, he will be a champion for the gospel and a leader in Great Commission work.

May we follow Dr. Mohlers' example and passion for the good news of Jesus Christ!