Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Lasering Lemke - Issue 6

Issue 6 - Evangelistic Fervor

"Are going to revive our focus on evangelism, or we going to go into decline like most other denominations? Are we going to continue on the plateau of baptisms that we have been on for the past half a century, or are we going to refocus on evangelism again?"

Could there be any link between the methodology we Southern Baptists have used for the last 50 years in evangelism and our flatlined baptismal statistics? Dr. Lemke doesn’t suggest any specific changes except more of the same old, same old – like Flake’s Formula and “personal evangelism”, which has been the mantra of SBC leadership since I can remember. He seems to think that the decline or the plateaued statistics of our churches can be cured simply by more personal evangelism and more Sunday School attendance.

I really don’t know any pastors who are deliberately de-emphasizing Sunday School. I know personally I’d love to have a growing, thriving Sunday School but I simply haven’t been able to get that going in the right direction lately. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s I personally led three churches to grow in Sunday School enrollment and attendance but in the last 10 years, the bottom has dropped out. I saw one of those growth Sunday Schools decline and the church I now pastor has not grown in Sunday School attendance to any measurable extent since I’ve been here. I’ve seen the same trend with Baptisms in the Churches I’ve pastored as well, so I can’t say I’ve witnessed a de-emphasizing of personal evangelism either.

Maybe I’m just getting old and long for the good old days but I’m thinking that ministry is harder today than it ever was in the history of the SBC. I know it is in my experience. I think the trend for Church Growth across all denominations in the USA is downward. What makes us think that our denomination will be an exception when the whole country is moving away from spirituality and religion instead of toward it? Could it be that the last days of which several of the New Testament writers assured us would come are upon us with their scoffing attitude toward Christianity abounding and a general falling away from the truth evident even among Southern Baptists?

Or Perhaps we Southern Baptists are just now beginning to realize we are reaping the whirlwind of our evangelistic methodologies. With our focus on numbers, baptism and attendance, we have downgraded the “gospel” down a simple formula that only takes a brief canned presentation and only requires simple assent on the part of the listener, with the presenter prompting the right answers and even providing the prayer of repentance for the “new convert.” Check the proof in the testimonies of our newly “saved.” They are a far cry from the detailed agony and wrestling with God we read about from newly converted Baptists of the late 1700’s and early 1800’s in this country.

If all we Southern Baptists have to hope in to reverse the trend is Bobby Welch and his goal of a million baptisms in 2006 as Dr. Lemke alludes then we may be further gone than we have ever imagined. I would think a better hope would be that the Church in America, SBC included, would be allowed by God to come under severe persecution for we know from history that the church when persecuted has grown both stronger in doctrine and in holiness.

Dr. Lemke predicts and warns that “Southern Baptists will go into a spiritual and numerical tailspin of decline unless we refocus on sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with a lost world and God sends a revival.”

I too predict and warn the same but the answer is more than just refocusing on sharing the gospel – first we have to agree that much of what we have done in the past is not Biblical and then we have to agree on what the gospel is because I’m afraid some Southern Baptists are confused about the basics. Then we have to share it like the New Testament Christians shared it rather than how pragmatic “Church Growth” gurus repackage it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Lasering Lemke - Issue 5

Issue 5 - Denominational Identity – "Can Southern Baptists survive as a denomination in what is often depicted as a “post-denominational era”? What does the future hold for Southern Baptists in a day when denominational name brand loyalty is at an all-time low? How will traditional Baptist entities such as Lifeway and NAMB intersect with the emerging church movement? Will the Cooperative Program survive?"

After a below average appearance at the plate thus far in his study, the good Dr. hits this one out of the park. But then again the subject matter is served up like a slow breaking pitch across the middle of the plate by none other than the leaders of the SBC.

Let me address this from a local church perspective. After pastoring SBC Churches for almost 26 years I think I have learned a few things about how the local church responds to outside stimuli from the “Convention”.

1. The local church has learned that it can never send enough money to the Cooperative Program or to the Special Offerings that are solicited by the convention, it has therefore decided to keep more of its own receipts and send less or at the very least channel its giving to its preferred providers of service. Growth in Giving campaigns are increasingly viewed with skepticism since they encourage greater percentages for national and state causes than most local churches are willing to support.

2. The local church has discovered that using a Sunday School quarterly is not the only way to teach the Bible in Sunday School. More and more pastors are writing their own curriculum or opting for cut and paste options being offered by more and more providers. And if you want to buy something, sells almost all the books that Lifeway sells at much lower prices. Many local church pastors have realized that with projection technology and a good book for the class members to add to their personal libraries they can have a quality education program and expose their members to cutting edge teaching and materials. After all it is no secret that average Southern Baptists write the bulk of the standard traditional Sunday morning curriculum not the movers and shakers of the convention.

3. The local church has learned that the “denomination” reacts to change in the Christian realm rather than leading the change. Therefore the cutting edge, high profile resources seldom come from Nashville but from other sources. With the internet many local churches are asking “Why do we need Nashville?” Outside of Beth Moore, I can’t think of a thing my church really needs that I can’t get elsewhere.

The prediction/warning that Dr. Lemke gives is right on the money.
Prediction/Warning: Without a course correction in which SBC entities earn again the respect and confidence of Southern Baptists, other evangelical groups will fill the void left by a disconnection between individual Baptists (and their local churches) with the SBC. The day is over that Baptists will use an approach just because of denominational name brand identity.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Lasering Lemke - Issue 4

Originally posted on SBCCALVINIST.COM on NOV 10, 2005 at 9:00am

Issue 4 – Hyper-Calvinistic Soteriology "Will Baptists change their soteriology such that persons are no longer seen as having any capacity to respond to God’s invitation to salvation? Will Baptists take a “hyper-Calvinist turn” than hinders missions and evangelism?"

OK, I’ll admit it. Dr. Lemke frustrates me with his choice of wording as he asks the questions. I have to be honest. I believe he is predisposing his hearers and guiding his audience with his own bias and toward his conclusions before he submits his answers.

Why couldn’t he just have asked simply – Will Southern Baptists become more Calvinistic in the future and what are the ramifications if such a shift takes place?

I cannot for the life of me think of one Southern Baptist Calvinist who believes that lost people have no capacity to respond to God’s invitation to salvation! And furthermore I don’t ever remember even hearing of one!

There, I’ve vented the first of my frustrations. Now let’s get on with the substance of Dr. Lemke’s observations.

The first statement that Lemke makes that I’d like to challenge is when he states, “Throughout its history, the Southern Baptist Convention has swung periodically toward and away from Calvinism.” I simply do not believe that this statement can be proven. In fact, I believe that the theological movement within the Southern Baptist Convention has been consistently and almost universally away from Calvinism until the final three decades of the last century.

Dr. Paul A. Basden in his book Has Our Theology Changed? Southern Baptist Thought Since 1845, wrote the chapter on Predestination. He clearly shows that the SBC has moved since 1845 from a very strong Calvinistic theology through a more moderate Calvinistic position to a pragmatic Arminianism which tends to presently dominate the convention. The writings of Thomas Nettles and Timothy George represent the first movement back toward Calvinism in SBC academic circles. And while Dr. Basden does not cover the Founders Movement per se, it is safe to say that the Founders represent the grassroots movement that has paralleled the academic movement. The current theological movement toward Calvinism in the SBC is unprecedented.

The second statement that Dr. Lemke makes that drew my attention has to do with his not so subtle connection of “hard hyper-calvinism” to the Founders movement. He offsets this with a glowing mini-review of Timothy George’s doctrinal study book Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative – Our Response. Without getting into personalities there seems to be a bit of divide and conquer strategy being employed here. We’ll embrace the “soft” Calvinists and go after the “hard” Calvinists, using our definitions of course. I personally think that Dr. George has more in common theologically with the Founders Movement than he would with this caricature of “soft” Calvinism that Dr. Lemke draws from Dr. George’s work.

And you tell me – do you really know any hard hyper-Calvinists who are successful at pastoring SBC Churches? I don’t. But I do know that there are pastors all across the theological spectrum in Southern Baptist life who are incompetent and inept. Calvinists are certainly not immune to that problem. I suspect that “hard hyper-Calvinist” SBC Pastors are few and far between and while they give a bad name to all SBC Calvinists they are quickly unemployed and not a real threat to the SBC.

Let me preface my next comments by saying that if Dr. Lemke had stopped writing before he included the “study” that he and a colleague did on the churches that are listed as Founder friendly on the Founders' website then we would have all agreed that Dr. Lemke is OK. This is merely a friendly discussion and everything is fairly represented from Dr. Lemke’s perspective. We SBC Calvinists understand that perspective. We can live with it and we can cooperate with it with no problems. In fact we applaud the good things that Dr. Lemke says about us Calvinists. We appreciate the fact that he and Dr. Kelley have hired Calvinists at NOBTS. Let’s all go get a cup of coffee and talk about how we’re going to work together to get the SBC out of the decline it’s in.

But no, Dr. Lemke has to inject this “unscientific study”; this absolutely absurd study into the discussion! Now this raises the question. Does Dr. Lemke have a hidden agenda? Why would he admit to having a part in hiring Calvinists at NOBTS and then do a chop job on Calvinists at large in the SBC?

What Dr. Lemke doesn’t tell you about the “study.”

The churches listed on the Founders' website are voluntary listings, usually listed by the pastor of the church WITHOUT formal permission of the church.

The churches listed on the Founders' website are NOT ALL of the Founders Friendly churches in the SBC, nor are all of the listed churches Founder Friendly!

With the current climate of hostility, suspicion and misinformation about Calvinism in the SBC, many Calvinistic pastors are reluctant to declare their affinity to the Founders publicly where that information can be used by denominational workers and associational directors of missions to profile pastors in their state or associations.

Many of the small churches if not the majority listed on the Founders' website were small before the Founders Friendly pastor arrived and many of them were in decline long before they heard a Calvinistic sermon from a Founders Friendly pastor.

The findings of the "study" support the a priori convictions of the researchers without any reference to unscientific methodology employed or the incompleteness and unreliability of the data. It's interesting to note that the President of the SBC, chose this "study" from Lemke's paper to highlight his concern over Calvinism and the Great Commission.

Dr. Lemke may really be a friend to Calvinists in the SBC but he has a strange way of showing his friendship and I dare say that after this “study” has been circulated his reputation as a scholar and as a friend will be tainted at least in Founders Friendly circles.

The prediction and warning of issue four simply stated by Dr. Lemke says, “The resurgence of Calvinism will slow over the next few decades, but will exert a stronger influence on the SBC in the future than has been the case in many years.”

I’m just a little confused. How can the resurgence of Calvinism slow while exerting stronger influence on the SBC? I think the opposite will occur and Dr. Lemke has contributed by making this debate much more visible than it was before he published his paper. What Dr. Lemke and others who are publicly alarmed at the resurgence of Calvinism will learn the hard way is that the more controversy that erupts over the issue, the more interest in Calvinism will be stirred among the rank and file Southern Baptists. As more rank and file Southern Baptists read the works of Tom Nettles and Timothy George and are exposed to the Doctrines of Grace they will become more Founders Friendly not less.

That the President of the SBC took Dr. Lemke’s work and used it as evidence against Calvinism proves one incontrovertible fact. Regardless of the real reasons behind the continued decline of the Southern Baptist Convention, Calvinistic Southern Baptists will catch the majority of the blame.

We will be the convenient whipping boy.

Get used to it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Lasering Lemke - Issue 3

Issue 3 - Baptist Polity – Will Baptists hold to their traditional confessions in issues regarding the doctrine of the church, such as the appropriate practice of church ordinances and the scriptural offices of the church or will we compromise our historic beliefs in order to become more homogenized with other evangelical Christians?

Glaring omissions concerning Southern Baptist Church polity in the early days of our denomination and in the early days of Baptist History make this warning by Dr. Lemke almost irrelevant. The idea that a Southern Baptist Church today with elders is somehow out of the mainstream of Baptist history is an incredible conclusion in face of all the evidence to the contrary.

In the London Baptist Confession of 1644 the following article appears. “That being thus joined, every Church has power given them from Christ for their better well-being, to choose to themselves meet persons into the office of Pastors, Teachers, Elders, Deacons, being qualified according to the Word, as those which Christ has appointed in his Testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of his Church, and that none other have power to impose them, either these or any other."

In the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1742, which is the same as the 1689 London Baptist Confession except for two additional articles concerning the laying on of hands and the singing of hymns we find this statement; “A particular church, gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which he entrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons.”

In my own church, the mother church of the Missouri Baptist Convention, which was founded in 1826 in Callaway County, Missouri, we find these words in the Church’s original documents; “And now upon the above articles and covenant the undersigned was constituted and pronounced a Gospel Church of Christ by elders Nineon Ridgeway, Thomas Stephens and Toliver Craig at our meeting at brother Lewis Turners on Middle River Auxvasse in the county of Callaway, Mo the 5th day of August 1826.”

In Article 12 of the original Articles of Faith we find this statement: “Article 12 - We believe that no Minister has a right to the administration of the ordinances only such as are Regularly Baptized, Called and authorized by the presbyter.”

The idea that Dr. Lemke puts forth that Baptist churches should not have elders and that pastors and churches pursuing that end in these days are somehow following “pied Pipers” from other denominations is both condescending and absurd.

The truth is, and Dr. Lemke knows this, that many flagship Southern Baptist Churches operate more like Presbyterian Churches with their boards of deacons and requirements that every item of business must be approved by the deacons before it reaches the floor in a church business meeting, than do some of the new churches espousing elder rule in our convention.

I challenge Dr. Lemke to show me a large mega church in the SBC where there is not an “unofficial board of elders” at work behind the scenes that is actually “running” the church.

Baptism is for believers only and is to be by immersion. It is a church ordinance. Dr. Lemke in his warning seems to be implying that all baptism outside of a Southern Baptist Church is alien immersion. This is a Landmark Baptist keynote doctrine. The truth is that if a person is baptized by immersion by a church of like faith and order (another Baptist church or a Bible church with baptistic church government and doctrine) then most Southern Baptist Churches have no problem receiving members on their “statements” from such churches. Dr. Lemke seems to be advocating a return to a more Landmark position with his implication that we not receive members in this fashion. By seeming to advocate re-immersions he appears to be insisting on a more stringent policy than even scripture requires.

As far as his Lord’s Supper statements, all one needs to do is go back to the first meeting of the delegates of the first meeting of the SBC in 1845 in Augusta, Ga., and discover that the FBC of Augusta practiced open communion on that Sunday when the delegates were in town and all were invited to the table. Yes, the Lord’s Supper is a Church Ordinance but the table of the Lord should not be off limits to like minded Christians who might be visiting in the congregation.

Look at the first three Rules from the original Rules of Decorum of my church in 1826.

Article 1st - The Church Shall hold a meeting for business once in each month which shall be opened and closed by public worship and the members present shall form a quorum to transact any business that shall come before them.
Article 2nd - The Pastor or Elder of the Church shall act as Moderator until the Church shall direct otherwise. It shall be his duty to keep good order.
Article 3rd - The Moderator shall invite all Baptists of Sister Churches which are in good standing to seat with us and act in council with us. That third article is the one that caught my eye. All Baptists of Sister Churches are invited to sit with us and act in council with us.

Now can you really see that church forbidding the Lord’s Supper to those visiting Baptists?

Dr. Lemke closes the discussion of this issue with the following prediction/warning:

"If the current trajectory of Southern Baptists is not redirected, key Baptist distinctives about ecclesiology and church polity will be increasingly compromised and ignored."

I fear Dr. Lemke is stuck in the 1950’s when it comes to Southern Baptist polity and ecclesiology. These distinctives that he insists that we hold on to are basically the products of the 1900’s which came out of the Southern Baptist process of institutionalizing the local church.