Posted on Monday, August 20, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

In an article in the July/August issue of “Touchstone” Magazine, James Harrison describes a recent visit to a Mosque in Detroit, Michigan. Harrison, a Baptist pastor from New York, was struck by the variety of people in the mosque that day. He called it a “true rainbow coalition.” Many, he writes, were “Middle Eastern” in appearance. But there were many others who were not. He writes, “Americans of European ancestry, or who were European-born, sharing something akin to my Irish complexion, knelt beside African Americans, North Africans, Persians, and Arabs of various stripes.”

One of the worshipers caught pastor Harrison’s eyes particularly. “He appeared to be in his early twenties and as American as apple pie.” So, after the service, Harrison approached the young, pale-faced Muslim convert. He asked him what it was about Islam that would cause him to convert. Interestingly, the reason was not about theology.
“I grew up in church. My parents took us to Sunday school every week. They even went to church themselves, on and off. And what I remember about church is that no matter where I went, everyone was just like me. As I grew older, I noticed, too, that people who were not like me all had their own churches, as well.
“Islam is different,” he said. “I’m sure you noticed that. It’s the first thing I noticed when I began to investigate Islam. And that’s what prompted my conversion. If Islam can accomplish that, it’s something that I can commit myself to.”

That is a profound observation. The churches I have been a part of have, in most cases, been just like me. And the reason is simple. I am most comfortable around people who are like me. This is true for most of us. And that fact was not lost on the architects of the church growth movement in the later half of the 20th century. One of the first principles discovered in the “science” of church growth is that churches grow best when structured along lines of homogeneity. In fact, “homogeneous groups” became official language for the church growth movement.

People are attracted to people like themselves. In contrast, people are not comfortable around people who are not like them. It became an easy equation. If you desire your church to grow, then target a specific group. Interestingly, it seems that most pastors want to target rich, white, suburbanites. I don’t know of very many pastors who feel called to plant churches in poor “black” neighborhoods. I know of many churches that moved from the city to the suburbs. But I know of no churches that moved from the suburbs to the city. North Dallas and Suburban Atlanta are far more attractive church planting fields than are Compton or Detroit.

Harrison writes, “When we allow our comfort to cage us in when we should be reaching out, we refuse to be and to do that which Christ has commanded, and our comfort has become a less obvious kind of sin.” He points out that early in American history many denominations came to be defined along lines of national origin: Swedish Baptists, Dutch Reformed, etc. However, these nationalistic designations did not reflect well the barrier breaking character of the Gospel. “Eventually, many came to see this desire for comfort as a hindrance to the mission of the church.”

I do not believe that the push for homogeneity among the church growth experts is racist or bigoted. It is, I believe, simple pragmatism. The leaders in the church growth movement were not prophets. They were marketers. They understood what people wanted. Therefore, the conclusion was that if the church would simply supply consumers (George Barna’s language) with what they wanted then the church would grow. One of the things people want from a church is comfort. And one of the things that makes most people uncomfortable is being around people who are different from them. The conclusion was simple. Create churches for people just like me. This could be done, we have been promised, without compromising the message. But is this true? I believe not.

Harrison continues:
“The idea seems to be that if we can be more like the culture, or like a specific subset of the culture, the people will be comfortable with us. If they are comfortable with us, we’ll be able to convince them that not only are we just like them, but Jesus is just like them, too. And if they think Jesus is just like them, maybe they’ll want to follow him. Why they would want to follow someone who is just like them, however, remains a mystery…
“But what makes the Gospel unique is the way in which Jesus is not like us. I don’t need someone who is just like me. I’m sinful. I need someone holy. I’m human. I need someone divine. I cannot stand under the wrath of God. I need someone who has stood there in my place. I cannot raise myself from death to life. I need someone who can raise me up because he himself has been raised…
“[T]his emphasis on similarity is not a good thing for the church. It runs counter to the biblical ideal of what the church is to be, and also counter to the biblical example of what the church is to accomplish before a watching world.
“In the New Testament, whenever a problem of cultural or racial division arose within the church, the solution to the problem was not separation into compatible social or racial groups. The solution was to foster ever-increasing union around the gospel and its implications…
“The church is to be an earthly representative, imperfect though it is, of the heavenly glory, in which men from every tongue and tribe and nation are gathered together, worshipping the One who sits on the throne, and the Lamb.”

Posted on Monday, August 20, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

More on the Southern Baptist Convention and numbers from the editorial pages of Christianity Today(Evangelical Conviction).

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

This article written for Baptist Press by a professor at Boyce College at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is worth the read ((BP)).

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Al Mohler has posted a blog (Heresy in the Cathedral) about John Shelby Spong's visit to Australia. If you don't know, Spong is an Anglican from the U.S. whose views are so heretical he would be hard to caracature. Anyway, Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney has refused Spong entry into any of Syndey's Anglican pulpits. In a day where there seems to be little or no price to pay for heresy, Rev. Jensen's move is laudable.

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

http://youtube.com/v/V9DhDpF8GzE

John Piper on the Prosperity "Gospel".

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I found this video posted at "Recover the Gospel" (Allow Me to Reintroduce the Christ.). It may be a bit unconventional for white suburban Christians but it is powerful. There is more good theology and doxology packed into this presentation than many church goers heard last Sunday in their church.

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Tony Kummer over at "Said at Southern" has posted a good interview with Derek Webb (Derek Webb podcast interview).

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Section V. God’s Purpose of Grace
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which he regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by his Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end.

- From the Baptist Faith and Message

I have often been asked, “Do you believe in election?” My response is always the same, “Yes, and so do you if you believe the Bible and the Baptist Faith and Message.” It is sad to me that so many Southern Baptists do not even know that the Bible uses the words “election” and “predestined.” They would be just as surprised to know that the BFM speaks explicitly to the biblical doctrine of election.

Notice that the BFM affirms that election is “the gracious purpose of God” which is contrary to what many Southern Baptists have always been taught: that election is according to the free will of man. In other words, most Southern Baptists have been taught that God “elects” those people whom He foresees will choose Him. In this scheme, election is contingent, that is, it is based entirely on what someone else will do. God acts in salvation retroactively and strictly in response to the sovereign actions of man. “Elected because I selected” is one unfortunate slogan that has come from this curious doctrine. Nowhere in Scripture is this idea affirmed.

Contrary to this “popular” view is the careful wording of the BFM: “Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which he regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners…It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness…” To call election “the gracious purpose of God” is to necessarily affirm that election is a purposeful act and not merely a contingency. Election (eklektos) is a strong word and is far from passive. It is not an “after the fact” declaration. It is active and purposeful, eternal and un-changable just as the Bible and the BFM affirm.

God is the author, initiator, sustainer, and finisher of salvation. This is why election “excludes boasting and promotes humility.” Any scheme of salvation that makes man the decisive factor in his salvation (“Elected because I selected”) would promote boasting and pride. If God’s people are responsible for their election by virtue of their good sense and spiritual insight then they deserve a great deal of the credit for their salvation.

Why did God choose Abram? Why did God choose Israel? Was it on the basis of anything they had done or would do in the future? Absolutely not! “The Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you…” (Deut. 7:6ff). Why did God choose Jacob over Esau? Paul tells us precisely why in Romans 9: “…though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – [Rebekah] was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’…So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy” (vv.11-13, 16).

A small sampling of New Testament texts effectively demonstrate that election is according to the gracious purpose of God just as the BFM states: John 6:35-40, 44; 17:6, 9, 24; Acts 14:48; Romans 8:28-9:26; Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 1:1-14; I Peter 1:3, 2:9; II Peter 1:10; I Thess 1:4-5, 5:9; II Thess 2:13; II Timothy 1:8-9. Please take the time to read these passages of Scripture. They are glorious!

How gracious is our God! Unfortunately, you will find that the above cited texts are contrary to what many Southern Baptists have been taught. If you are a lifelong Southern Baptist, as I am, it is quite possible that you have never heard a sermon on any of the texts listed. If you have, then it is likely the texts were mentioned only briefly or were preached in such a way as to assert that they do not mean what they so clearly say. I do not recall ever hearing a sermon on the doctrine of election even though it is a key biblical doctrine from Genesis to Revelation.

I was once told by a retired and very kind Southern Baptist pastor that I should avoid preaching on the above mentioned texts because, according to him, they would just “confuse people.” He went on to counsel me, “Just give them the milk. Just give them the milk.” I was shocked and saddened. But that moment was very instructive for me. It helped explain why generations of Southern Baptists, while nice and sincere, are overwhelmingly shallow in their understanding of the Scriptures.

Continuing on the issue of Calvinism and Southern Baptists, Morris Chapman writes:
“The Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The Baptist Faith and Message agrees that both the work of grace and the responsibility of man are necessary elements in the salvation experience. This phenomenon is called an antimony (an apparent contradiction between two equally valid principles). For instance, how can salvation be totally an act of God, independent of human means, and a human response to a divine initiative? The Baptist Faith and Message identifies and embraces the antimony of these two seemingly competing truths.”

Chapman is partly right but he makes an unfortunate error. He is right in saying that God’s total sovereignty and man’s responsibility seem to be contradictory to the mind of man. We wonder how man can be responsible for what he does if God truly controls all that he has made (something Scripture explicitly affirms). We wonder how our responses of repentance and faith can be meaningful if God sovereignly elects his people unto salvation. These are deep and valid questions that have been explored by theologians for millennia.

Where Chapman goes wrong is in his statement, “For instance, how can salvation be totally an act of God, independent of human means…” I suppose he is trying to illustrate the Reformed position on salvation – that it is independent of human means. But this is far from the Reformed position. I know of no advocate of sovereign election from Augustine to Luther to Calvin to Bunyan to Edwards to Whitfield to those in our own day who have ever advanced the idea that salvation is “independent of human means.” The Calvinists who originally drafted the BFM wrote that election is “consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end.” This is the Reformed position! The Bible teaches, and Calvinists fully affirm that God uses means to accomplish his sovereign plans. Among the means that God uses to accomplish his “purpose in election” is the repentance and faith of all those who are saved.

I know what it is to have my beliefs mischaracterized. The hurt is especially deep when treasured friends are responsible for the distortions. I have never broken fellowship with anyone because of a disagreement over whether election is based upon God’s gracious purpose or man’s decision. While I am not afraid to disagree on and debate this issue, it has not kept me from worshiping and serving with my brothers and sisters who take a view different from mine. But I have had precious friends break fellowship with me on these grounds.

Let us allow the wise council of Charles Simeon the great 18th & 19th century preacher and teacher be our standard. Himself a Calvinist, Simeon urged Christians to not divide over the doctrine of election. In a sermon on Romans 9 Simeon said:
“Many there are who cannot see these truths [the doctrines of God’s sovereignty], who yet are in a state truly pleasing to God; yea many, at whose feet the best of us may be glad to be found in heaven. It is a great evil, when these doctrines are made a ground of separation one from another, and when the advocates of different systems anathematize each other…In reference to truths which are involved in so much obscurity as those which relate to the sovereignty of God, mutual kindness and concession are far better than vehement argumentation and uncharitable discussion.”

On these five things Calvinists and evangelical Arminians agree:
1. No one desires to be saved apart from a change of heart wrought by God.
2. There is no salvation apart from repentance from sin and faith in Christ.
3. All those who repent and believe in Christ will be saved.
4. No one who truly desires salvation in Jesus Christ will be turned away from God because they are not among “the elect.”
5. It is the responsibility of the church to declare the Gospel throughout the world because it is the power of God unto salvation for ALL who believe.

It seems to me that those are strong grounds for unity.

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

In the August issue of SBC Life Morris Chapman comments on the discussion concerning the Baptist Faith and Message at the 2007 Convention in San Antonio. He writes:

“Our forefathers had the foresight to determine the core beliefs about which they could agree in order that Southern Baptist churches could come together to send missionaries around the world and build seminaries to educate individuals who were to pastor, preach, teach, and minister in our churches.”

The Baptist Faith and Message is not an exhaustive statement of faith nor is it intended to be. Sometimes I lament this fact. I find myself wondering if our churches would be better served by a more comprehensive statement of faith. However, since there are certain important theological issues on which the BFM is either silent or speaks only in generalities it is important for Southern Baptists to extend charity to one another when there is disagreement over those issues. Sadly, this is often not the case. Both laymen and clergy within our denomination have drawn battle lines over doctrines not exhaustively explained or even addressed in the BFM.

Chapman continues:
“When we insist upon engaging each other in heated debates over doctrinal interpretations beyond the Baptist Faith and Message, our Convention shall sooner or later divide into even more factions and distract us from fulfilling the Great Commission…
“Discussing whether the Baptist Faith and Message is a ‘minimal’ statement or an ‘exhaustive’ statement misses its greatest attribute – that attribute is that it is a ‘consensus’ statement that defines Southern Baptist doctrine as believed by the greater whole of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Upon these doctrinal statements, we agree to agree. In doctrinal statements not included in the Baptist Faith and Message, we must learn to agree to disagree and debate the differences as Spirit-filled Christians who love Christ and one another.”

Chapman spends most of his article discussing three issues that, in recent years, have been at the center of often heated debates among Southern Baptists: 1) Calvinism, 2) Private Prayer Language, and 3) Water Baptism. When I was in college in the late 80’s the issue of private prayer languages (tongues) was a particularly hot topic. These days however it is Calvinism. Historically, Calvinism was the doctrinal position of most Baptists since the 17th century. In keeping with this trend, the Southern Baptist Convention was founded by men who were Calvinists. B.H. Carroll, the founder of Southwestern Seminary and J.P. Boyce, the founder of Southern Seminary were both Calvinists. The first Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, W.B. Johnson, R.B.C. Howell, and Richard Fuller were Calvinists. The great early Southern Baptist pastor/theologians like Basil Manly, Sr. & Jr., John Broadus, John Dagg, P.H. Mell, E.Y. Mullins, and L.R. Scarborough were Calvinists. What is more, the very first confession of faith adopted by Southern Baptists, The Abstract of Principles, is Calvinistic or Reformed in doctrine. It was the founding document of both Southern and Southeastern Baptist Theological seminaries. To this day, the teachers at those institutions must sign a copy of The Abstract of Principles signifying their agreement with its doctrine.

For whatever reason, as the 20th century progressed, Calvinist or Reformed doctrine was pushed aside by the majority of Southern Baptists in favor of a more Arminian understanding of salvation (I will write more about Arminianism in a future post). Along with this move came the encroachment of liberalism into the SBC. Efforts to adopt a more comprehensive statement of faith were strongly opposed by new Southern Baptist leadership. As the 20th century progressed, doctrine was de-emphasized in Southern Baptist life. The defining mark of Southern Baptist churches was no longer a common doctrinal confession but loyalty to the Cooperative Program. This is true, to a large degree, to this day.

However, Southern Baptists are witnessing a resurgence in the doctrines of their founders. Not surprisingly, the heat around the issue of Calvinism has increased dramatically. Fearing that Reformed doctrine is a threat, some of the SBC’s most well known mega-church pastors and denominational officials have said some very divisive things about Calvinists from their pulpits. In many cases, their statements about the doctrines on which they cast so much fury display an appalling ignorance. I do not know any Calvinists that believe the caricatures that are often called “Calvinism” by its opponents. These unfortunately common misrepresentations are either the result of ignorance or malice. Either way it is bad. Christians ought to carefully avoid misrepresenting the views of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Ironically, the statement on the doctrine of election in the Baptist Faith and Message would be fully affirmed by any Calvinist. Indeed, it is in this statement where the theological convictions of the SBC founders can be clearly seen. Of the doctrine of election the BFM states:

Section V. God’s Purpose of Grace
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which he regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by his Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end.