Monthly Archives: June 2009

Present Reality: Southern Baptist Are In Decline.

FROM THE 2008 MOVIE, “THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL”

Professor Barnhardt: There must be alternatives. You must have some technology that could solve our problem. Klaatu: Your problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change. Professor Barnhardt: Then help us change. Klaatu: I cannot change your nature. You treat the world as you treat each other. Professor Barnhardt: But every civilization reaches a crisis point eventually. Klaatu: Most of them don’t make it. Professor Barnhardt: Yours did. How? Klaatu: Our sun was dying. We had to change in order to survive. Professor Barnhardt: So it was only when your world was threatened with destruction that you became what you are now. Klaatu: Yes. Professor Barnhardt: Well that’s where we are. You say we’re on the brink of destruction and you’re right. But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. This is our moment. Don’t take it from us, we are close to an answer.

Below are statistics, quotes, and thoughts about the state of Southern Baptists in North America. There is quite a bit of discouraging news and yet there is some good and encouraging news. Studies for a while now have pointed out that denominations in general are in decline as are most churches who make up those denominations. The only up-turn in attendance among churches, generally speaking, is that of interdenominational or nondenominational mega-churches and my feeling is that in a lot of cases these growing churches are growing largely from transfer growth of those who have left the denominations that are in decline.

What is bothersome to me about what I have already written and what I report below is not that we are seeing the demise of our or any other denomination, but that we are not advancing the Kingdom of the King. The data and concern show that people are not zealous with the good news of Jesus and therefore Baptism is declining and Baptists are declining. Let’s take care not to make the cooperative program or the denomination the point. The Kingdom of God and His glory are the end, and denominations are the means to accomplish that end. We are not advancing our denomination but the message of Jesus. That is a sidebar.

So what do you want first, the bad or the good news? Either way they both deserve our consideration.

THE NOT SO GOOD NEWS

79% of SBC churches baptized 10 or fewer people in 2007-08 church year. 38% baptized 5 or less. 23% baptized 0! – Reported from the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention.

According to data from 672 messengers who provided additional information during the registration process, messengers 18-29 years old accounted for 5.95 percent of the total; 30-34, 4.76 percent; 35-39, 5.51 percent; 40-44, 5.51 percent; 45-49, 13.10 percent; 50-54, 14.73 percent; 55-59, 18.90 percent; 60 and over, 31.25 percent. From Baptist Press and the SBC

Offsetting the rise in giving, along with a slight increase in the total number of SBC churches and primary worship attendance, was the nagging reality that baptisms in 2008 fell for the fourth straight year to 342,198, a drop of 1.1 percent. “The numbers simply tell us that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did,” said Rainer. “It still takes 47 Southern Baptists to baptize one person for Christ. – Ed Stetzer http://blogs.lifeway.com/blog/edstetzer/ Southern Baptist Are In Decline by Ed Stetzer

Total SBC membership fell by 38,482, or 0.2 percent last year, to 16,228,438. Sunday school enrollment dropped 123,817, or 1.6 percent, to 7,752,794.

We are a denomination in decline, at least in our membership and definitely in our evangelism and baptisms. The most rational decision now is to acknowledge its reality so we might deal with its consequences and discover solutions for our churches.- Ed Stetzer

But today we are facing a set of numbers to which we are not accustomed. Last year, I said we “peaked” in our membership. This year, I believe that our tipping point continues to tip. Unless things change, we are about to enter a time when we grow accustomed to decline and think back to the good ol’ days of growth. – Ed Stetzer

SOME GOOD NEWS

“But, as I said in my post-SBC analysis, I am still encouraged. Once people acknowledge the problem (and increasingly they did at this year’s SBC), the more likely we are to focus on the real issues, not pretend everything is going “just fine, thank you.” – Ed Stetzer

Southern Baptists support more than 10,500 missionaries who engage nearly 1,200 people groups throughout North America and around the world.

Despite the recession, giving to the cooperative program was up just over 2%.

The Gospel will not fail, even if SBC declines and the church in North America declines. Jesus promised it would overcome and the Bible leads no doubt that the gospel will not fail.

Not every church in the SBC or North America is failing or declining, just most of them.

WHAT NOW?

Here is the principle: People do not change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. And, neither do denominations… – Ed Stetzer

First, we have to deal with the continued loss of SBC leaders. As we have recently reported in Facts & Trends, we have witnessed a serious (and increasing) depopulation of young leaders at our convention. Also, ethnic leadership remains absent after decades of ethnic change in America…

A second issue is the infighting which defines so much of the SBC–its meetings, its churches, and its blogs… Satan has used our incessant bickering over non-essentials to promote his last great mission on earth–to keep lost people lost… If the focus of every SBC meeting is a new controversy to be debated, new parameters to be narrowed, and new issues to be fought, the trend toward decline will only accelerate.

The third, and most important, issue is our loss of focus on the Gospel… We must recover a gospel centrality and cooperate in proclaiming that gospel locally and globally.” 3 Solutions from Stetzer
Southern Baptists gave 2.3 percent more to missions last year despite the economic downturn, but they lost members and baptized the fewest number of people since 1987, according to the denomination’s Annual Church Profile (ACP), compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in conjunction with Baptist state conventions.

What now? Acknowledge reality. Pray and depend on God, trusting Him knowing that He is faithful to His promises. Make the Great Commission the Imperative Mission and be willing to change and hopefully we won’t have to come to the precipice.

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“Present Future” – Recap of Chapter 3

RECAP

The church has largely prevented people from being “missional” by getting them to spend their time doing church work that props up the institution for the sake of the club. We need to help people be on mission with God where they are or where they are going, which may mean we give them less church work to do (which is really true church work:)

THE WORD “MISSIONAL”

I expressed that I have reservations, as did others, over the use of the word “missional.” I am afraid that it muddies the water for the historical and right understanding of what it means to be a missionary, which is going cross-cultural as described by Acts 1:8. Is it possible that taking Jesus to other ethnic groups and engaging their culture could be down-played because people think they are missionaries where they are. Perhaps this is just an issue of education about missions and missional, but perhaps there is a better term.

This begs another question though. Is it necessary to coin terms to inform the culture we want to create in advancing the gospel where we are? Do we need “buzz words” that help articulate what needs to happen that don’t have the “church baggage” that prevent us from communicating effectively about what God would have us do? Are evangelism and outreach helpful and persuasive vehicles of meaning or do they sound like a program or an event that we have championed in the past and have not produced the results that were promised? If we were going to put five values on the wall, would “missional” be helpful or would evangelism or outreach?

BRENT’S RANT

I suggested that McNeil in his critique of Modernity and Post-Modernity created the false dichotomy that we are either head Christians or heart Christians. He asserted that Christians with a modern mind-set are on a head-trip (I am not denying that this is true in some cases). I ask though, is it one or the other? Why so often in Christianity do we see it is as Theology verses Obedience? Or why do we see at as heart verses mind? Why do we hear statements like, “He was more interested in obedience than he was theology?” Or “This time I’m going to let my heart defeat my mind.” From a popular Christian song that apparently asserts the mind is an obstacle to obeying God? Should it not be both. Shouldn’t we love God with all of our being? Shouldn’t good and sound theology drive us to love God and others and protect us from all sorts of error? I digress. Here is a video that articulates in a positive sense what I am getting at. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDr_4Njb0nY

TYSON’S RANT

We were going a long and finally got to the end of the chapter and thought we had some solutions or suggestions that we could implement and Tyson chimed in and suggested that McNeil was asking us to do the very thing he had been suggesting we steer away from. It seems we ought to be careful that we don’t do away with one program or event only to erect other programs and events that distract us from being on mission with God where we are. How then do we go to those who aren’t coming to us without creating an event or program?

I suppose that’s why they are tough questions.

Please feel free to comment or add to the discussion. I really have enjoyed the lively conversation we have had and hope that as we talk through this we can continue to do it in a way that displays we all really want the same thing, which is to be a part of taking Jesus to a changing world.

How Do We Discern If A Child Is Saved?

Having a very thoughtful five-year old I wrestle greatly with the question in the title. My son has maintained for a while that he is a Christian and he says a lot of right things. (For instance, he has some renown for being a preacher among his peers.) I don’t want to hinder him or give him the impression that he isn’t saved when he very well may be, but I certainly don’t want to unnecessarily give him a false sense of assurance about something so great and so important, and I say emphatically that there is nothing more important than the salvation we have in Jesus for God’s glory. This especially weighs heavy on my mind and heart because not only am I a father but I am a pastor with a church loaded with young families who have little children who are inquiring about Christ and baptism and being a Christian and going to heaven. I want to be and I want parents to be zealous for the salvation of their children but I also want to make Christian children and not “children of Christian parents” to loosely quote Richard Dawkins. (The self-professed world’s most famous atheist)

Admittedly, I am cautious but I believe it to be a caution that is grounded in the Bible. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves that Christ Jesus is in you – Unless you indeed fail the test?” The book of John is the gospel of belief unto eternal life (96 times the word belief is used – John 20:30-31), but the book of 1 John is the epistle of knowing that you have eternal life. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” The book of 1 John was written to help us know if we truly are saved unto eternal life by believing in Jesus. (1 John 5:13)

Of course there might be something to be said for the fact that the scriptures that I have referenced are intended for people who are thought to be Christians. But I still think it is wise for us to have some sort of way to evaluate the readiness of those we love and shepherd so as to not give them a false sense of something they really don’t have. Because again, there is nothing more important than the salvation we have in Jesus. I wonder how many people today would have told the Rich Young Ruler that he was saved when the fact is that Jesus let him walk away without affirming that he was saved or objecting to his walking away and this to a man who asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18-27) Obviously, Jesus didn’t think he was ready and he let him walk.

None of us are Jesus and can completely discern the heart of a person the way He did, but what is our prayerful strategy in light of verses like Matthew 7:21 that says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.” There must be some indicators or signs that would help us discern whether we should affirm others to be in Christ. We would not want those we love to think they have the certainty of heaven because they thought they were Christians only to find out they never knew Jesus.

I say again that I write this with my own sons in mind and the many others we have baptized and will baptize because of their profession of faith in Christ. I write this wanting us to be glad and full of joy when someone calls upon the name of the Lord to be saved. I write this wanting to be biblical and helpful, not discouraging. I write this because it is too important to be haphazard about so great a salvation. I write this wanting to help others “so that you may know that the ones they love have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13

So I offer some help of a couple of dead guys who have been very helpful in my life through the years. These are men that I consider to be heroes in their own time and continue to be heroes for many in our time because of their perseverance in advancing the gospel without wavering. Each of these men were very successful by the standard of the Bible and I suggest strongly that we pay attention to the fact that they had a set of principles by which they sought to understand the authenticity of God’s work in saving people through Jesus. Here is what both John Newton and Charles Spurgeon had to say about signs that accompany salvation or marks of true conversion.

Newton was a former slave trader, a contemporary of William Wilberforce and perhaps most notably the writer of the hymn, Amazing Grace. In the following letter from 1799, Newton is writing to describe signs that accompany salvation. Newton says:

“First a broken and a contrite spirit. This is indispensably necessary, for by nature we are full of pride, and God resisteth the proud but giveth his grace only to the humble. Second, a simple and upright spirit free from artifice and disguise. It is said of the blessed man, whose sins are forgiven, in his spirit there is no guile. He is open and undisguised. Thirdly, gentle gracious tempers. If a man like a lion takes my medicine he presently becomes a lamb. He is not easily offended. He is very easily reconciled; he indulges no anger; he harbors no resentment; he lives upon forgiveness himself and is therefore ready to forgive if he has aught against any. Fourthly, benevolence, kindness, and an endeavor to please in opposition to that selfishness that is our natural character. Fifthly, a spiritual mind that is the beginning of life and peace, a weanedness from the world and its poor toys, and a thirst for communion with God through Christ.” (John Newton; From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, By Daniel Aitken, pp. 340-341)

As helpful as I find Newton to be I find Spurgeon to be even more concise and therefore helpful. Spurgeon was the pastor of a church in London in the 1800s and is known by many as the Prince of Preachers. Through his preaching and the ministry of the church there were thousands who came to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. There were apparently so many that Spurgeon sent out messengers to check on those who inquired about spiritual things such as following Christ. In dealing with a person who testified that he had come to know the Lord the messenger looked for three marks of true conversion.

“One, had the person, knowing himself to be a sinner and unable to do anything toward saving himself, gone to God, begging for mercy, and had he entirely trusted his soul to Christ, believing in the saving merit of His death upon the cross? This individual experience of the soul with God was the unalterable and basic necessity, and without it there was no recognition of the person as truly converted. Two, had the person entered into newness of life, experiencing a change of affections, victory over sin, a love for the Word of God, and a desire to win others to Christ? Three, did he or she possess a basic understanding of the doctrines of grace, recognizing that salvation did not begin with himself or his own will, but with God’s choice and God’s action, and that God, who saved him, would keep him through time and through eternity?” (Spurgeon; A New Biography, By Arnold Dallimore, pp. 80-81)

My synopsis of Newton and Spurgeon and their evidence concerning salvation would be this:

  1. A person must realize that they have sinned against a perfect God and they must exhibit conviction about their sins. For a child that may look a lot different than it does for an adult but certainly all children come to the point of understanding that lying, backtalk, disobedience, etc. is a violation of God’s perfect standard. If a child has no concept of sin or feels no sorrow for sin then they cannot be saved because sin against a holy God is the supreme problem in every person’s life that separates them from God. Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:1-4
  2. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ. Faith in Christ is accomplished by repenting and believing. We don’t get saved by doing good deeds, going to church, or being baptized but rather by trusting in Christ alone and His work of paying for our sins on the cross. True salvation produces fruit and works but is not the result of them. There must be a head and heart understanding that God sent Jesus, who is both God and man, to do for us what we could and cannot do for ourselves, which is pay for sins and give an alien righteousness that is credited to us by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  3. There will be a persevering change in a person’s desires, actions and affections. For a child that might look different than it does for an adult and we should keep in mind that becoming like Christ is a process, at least in the practical and progressive sense of sanctification. But if we are saved the Spirit will produce in us a desire to obey and our lives will display an incremental move toward Christ-likeness. (See Edward’s Quote Below) That’s why I think it is wise and healthy to wait for a short time, or perhaps even a longer time, before we baptize children. It gives us a chance to see the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in the mean time we reassure them and have confidence that we aren’t withholding salvation from them because it is not baptism or even a prayer that is necessary for salvation but repentance and believing in Jesus. 1 John 3:23-24

My sons want to do everything their daddy does and I am thankful that God would let me be a model for them to point them to Jesus, but I don’t want them to be a Christian because that’s what daddy is. I want them to be in love with Jesus because He is the only answer for sin and the only way to God and life eternal. So join with me in being zealous for the salvation of our children and others, but let us also be prayerfully cautious and biblical that we don’t make converts of ourselves instead of followers of Jesus Christ. There is a difference and the price is eternity.

IS A PRAYER NECESSARY FOR SALVATION?

I believe a prayer is not a necessary prerequisite to being saved. There is no command in the Bible that says we must pray to receive Christ in order to be saved. What is shown repeatedly in Acts for example as necessary is repentance and believing in Christ. A prayer is helpful as a sort of spiritual marker to reflect on for confidence and a person may be saved at that point, but the case may very well be that they were saved prior to their praying since the Bible says the necessary thing to do is call upon the name of the Lord which is really just another way of saying, repent and believe. Additionally, if a prayer is necessary a lot of people in the gospels and Acts must not be saved since it only says they repented or believed or both. I think all this indicates is that what is important is faith that results in spiritual fruit.

JONATHAN EDWARDS ON BACKSLIDING AND PERSEVERANCE

“True saints may be guilty of some kinds and degrees of backsliding (Think David in 2 Sam. 11), may be foiled by particular temptations, and fall into sin, yea, great sins; but they never fall away so as to grow weary of religion and the service of God, and to habitually dislike and neglect it, either on its own account or on account of the difficulties that attend it.” (Col. 1:21-23; 1 John 2:18-20; Hebrews 3:6,12-14 – Bible References are mine.)