For Your Edification (6.7.2012): The Southern Baptist Convention Edition

This edition of FYE is dedicated to the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention.

Getting Ready for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, Eric Hankins and about 350 other distinguished signatories released the ““A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”  In ten points, it articulates affirmations and denials about a number of important topics concerning the doctrine of salvation.  This statement is important on a number of fronts.

For Southern Baptists, it is important because of what it means for our convention; for non-Southern Baptists, it is important because it tells the watching world what the largest Protestant denomination America is contending with at this moment in time–and the issue is the differing views of salvation as defended by Calvinist and Non-Calvinist alike.

Because this topic is so important, this week’s FYE is devoted to rounding up some of the most helpful statements around the web.  But first, let me state my discouragement and my optimism that comes from these recent discussions.

As to discouragement, it is sad that the unifying work of the Great Commission Resurgence has met the resistance of this document.  As Albert Mohler has rightly and most helpfully pointed out, these men have every right to express their beliefs, to make them public, and to engage in dialogue about doctrine.  Praise God, the discussion is about the nature of salvation, and not the inspiration of the Bible or the permission for clergy to marry homosexuals.  Nevertheless, the statement does belie a party spirit that goes against the good work that has been going on in the SBC since the infamous dialogue on election in 2006.

Now more hopefully.  I am optimistic that this document with clear points of affirmation and denial will bring light.  I pray it will bring to light what Scripture teaches on the subject of salvation and that both sides might see where they are weak.  But even if such light is not shed on the Scripture–which I am praying will take place–light will be shed on the true condition of our convention, and hopefully this itself will cause us to seek the face of God more earnestly, more jointly, and more continually.

Discouraged and yet not despairing.  That is the Christian way, right?  Paul thought so.  His words are appropriate in these days.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

May that be our prayer: As jars of clay, may we not follow others clay pots; may we instead rest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is worth being crushed for his sake, so that other future generations might know him.

Surely, in New Orleans, there will be much heat, but may we pray for light.  While it would be relaxing to enjoy a placid convention in the ‘Big Easy'; may God be pleased to give us grace to do the hard work or self-sacrificing cross-bearing, attentive listening, and golden-ruled cooperation.  Doctrines that tell of God’s glorious gospel are worth suffering to understand, to articulate, and to proclaim.  They are worthy of serious reflection, but even as we labor to nail down the doctrinal positions we affirm, may we not forget the cooperative unity that is already stated in the Baptist Faith & Message and more importantly, may we not forget the Son of God who was nailed down for us.  May we follow in his lead, boldly speaking truth but always in a manner that is pleasing to the Father.

In preparation, here are a few things to read to be prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention.

The current document that governs all SBC entities and which unites the Southern Baptist Convention: The Baptist Faith and Message 2000

The document released at SBC Today on May 30, 2012: A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

Here is an explanatory piece with lots of sound bytes from Baptist Press: “Statement on Calvinism draws approval, criticism

Joe Carter, at The Gospel Coalition, highlights a number of other articles and reasons why this discussion is so important for the larger evangelical community: “FAQ’s : Southern Baptists, Calvinism, and God’s Plan of Salvation

Baylor History Professor, Thomas Kidd gives a concise history of Baptists and the divergent traditions that have always marked our conventions: “Traditional” Baptists and Calvinism

Pastor Jonathan Akin’s response: A Response to “Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

President Albert Mohler’s response: “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk

Former Pastor and SBC President, Jerry Vines, responds to Dr. Mohler: “It’s Time to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

LifeWay’s Trevin Wax reminds us the difference fifty years makes: “Southern Baptists, We’re Not in Zion Anymore

Professor Malcolm Yarnell’s call for prayer: “The grace of unity: a prayer for the Southern Baptist Convention

My response to Malcolm Yarnell: “Unity in the SBC

Pastor Tom Ascol is in the middle of a series of responses to the Traditionalist statement.  In his replies, he gives biblical reasons for concern with the statement.  However, he also points out that W. A. Criswell, a Southern Baptist statesman admired by Traditionalists and Calvinists, would not have been able to sign the document because of his doctrinal affirmation of Calvinism: Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?

All told, there is much to discuss.  The elephant in the room has the spot light shining on it, and Southern Baptists of all persuasions need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  We do need to pray together and to return to Scirpture to understand one another and to work together for the preaching of Christ and him crucified to peoples who have yet to even hear the name of Christ.

Going to New Orleans in just a few days, that is my hope and prayer, that God will be glorified by Southern Baptists working towards reaching a consensus accord such that Traditional and Calvinistic Baptists might be able to move forward together proclaiming Christ to our neighbors and the nations.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Lottie Moon: Her Upbringing and Education

Each year at Christmas, Southern Baptists turn their attention to the nations and raise funds for the missionaries sent out by the International Mission Board.  The giving campaign is named after Lottie Moon, an inspirational missionary to China in the nineteenth century.  Many know the story of Lottie Moon, but many do not.  So for the next few days, I am going to recount a number of the key turning points in her exemplary life.  A life worth consideration and imitation (Hebrews 13:7).

Upbringing

Lottie Moon was born on December 12, 1840 to Edward Harris and Anna Maria Barclay. Raised in a large, wealthy family, Lottie Moon grew up as a child of the old South.  Her uncle had purchased the estate of Thomas Jefferson, and she grew up in a home built by a friend of George Washington.  As one biographer reports, “The Moons had money, children (11 born, 7 survived to adulthood), servants (52 in all), and kept a tutor in the home for languages and classical literature” (Tom Nettles, The Baptists, 2:363).

But there is one significant difference: Lottie Moon was not the least bit interested in religion as a child.  Despite all her earthly advantages, including a religious father, she was a devilish little girl.  And when I say little… she only grew to be 4’ 3”.

To give you a sense of the Christianity she rejected: Her father was originally a Presbyterian, but he became a Baptist when he studied the Scriptures to fight the growing Campbellite movement—this is the religious movement that resulted in the Christian Church, as we know it today.  In other words, to resist the teaching of baptismal regeneration, he searched the Scriptures in order to retain his views on infant baptism, and the result was a conversion to the Baptist faith.  Sounds a lot like Adoniram Judson.

With his change of theology on baptism, Edward Moon became a founding member of the Scottsville Baptist Church.  He was a faithful member and a lifelong deacon.  This would be the church where Lottie Moon would grow up.

Further aversion to her parent’s Christianity can be seen in Lottie’s Sunday habits. In the Moon household, in order to preserve the Sabbath, the Moon’s would prepare all their meals on Saturday.  However, this never suited Lottie.  Instead of attending church, she would sneak off, return to their large home and prepare a meal for herself before the family returned.   She was by her own admission a ‘naughty’ girl.  And as she aged this did not change.  It only worsened.

So for the first 18 years of Lottie’s life, she was an object of wrath and one who violently opposed the faith of her father.

Education

In 1853, at the age of 13, her father died on a business trip.  But instead of jarring her into faith, she kept aloof.  One year later, at age 14, Lottie was enrolled in the Virginia Female Institute (Albemarle, VA).  She proved to be a good student, especially in literature and foreign languages.  But she skipped chapel 26 times in the last two quarters.  While Lottie possessed a love for learning, she despised all sorts of religious instruction.

In an essay written on Grecian Literature, she wrote, “man’s intellectual powers have ever been the theme and study of the wise” (Nettles 364).  For the unconverted Lottie, wisdom was not found in Christ but in literature and classical studies. Tom Nettles writes about her,

For Lottie, “Sunday, unlike home, was not for sitting in a church pew hearing a sermon but for lying in a haystack reading Shakespeare.  Her friends, not unprovoked by Lottie’s attitudes, considered her a skeptic.  She even insisted that the ‘D’ in her name stood for ‘devil’ instead the family name ‘Digges’ (365).

In fact, Lottie would even sign off on her poetry with the pseudonym, “Deville.”  A play on words for the word ‘devil.’  All in all, no one would have suspected that Lottie Moon would be missionary hero that she is today.

Lottie’s life reinforces the truths outlined in the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Matt 19).

  • Discipleship is not based on what we bring to Christ, it is what he gives to us.
  • Discipleship is not based on our intellect or understanding.  It is based on our faith in Christ.  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6), and without a daily life of faith it is impossible to be the disciple that God calls us to be.
  • In truth, God is not looking for attractive people.  He is looking for people who are simply Faithful, Available, and Teachable.  God gladly uses anyone who is sold out for him.

In the case of Lottie Moon, it would take a miracle of God to change her heart of stone, into a heart of flesh, and thankfully that is exactly what happened at the end of 1858.

More tomorrow.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Southern Baptists: An Unfinished Denomination

Yesterday, I posted an article on the SBC : “Southern Baptists: An Unregenerate Denomination.”  If left to that singular reflection, it might be assumed that by my assessment, the Southern Baptist Convention is in great peril or that I am a cantankerous critic.  However, I think there is great reason for hope in our convention.  And in spite of the millions of missing Southern Baptists, I think God has mercifully provided for the SBC and revealed once again that he loves those who do not deserve it.

Let me mention just a few of the encouraging things that I see (from my myopically-small point of view) which should be indicators of encouragement, or as C.J. Mahaney likes to call them, “evidences of grace.”

First, before taking my post as pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour, IN, I had the wonderful privilege of helping coordinate the graduation ceremonies at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY.  It was like I got to plan a party for a thousand people three times a year.  Fun!  However, the real joy was in seeing more than 500 graduates sent out into the convention and to the nations each year.  The graduation of these God-called and trained ministers means that God is replenishing his churches.  As these graduates have had the privilege of sitting under some of the best Christian scholars in the world, they are now going out ready to minister, by God’s grace, to a lost and dying world.  And Southern is only one of six Southern Baptist Seminaries that are graduating faithful and equipped men and women.  While this does not assure success, because not every graduate is uniformly committed to God’s call; it is an encouraging as we look to the near future.

May God be pleased to use such institutions now, as he has in the past (for an excellent testimony of how God uses solidly-evangelical seminaries, read the first two chapters of The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray).

Second, the ministry of Mark Dever (IX Marks) among Southern Baptist churches and ministers has been a salubrious antidote to the bloated results of too many church growth strategies.  It is not by accident that Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC is now bursting at the seems with young Christians and has trained and sent out dozens of young men who are committed to the centrality and the purity of the church.  In time and by God’s grace, these pastors-to-be will have a powerful effect on revitalizing “dead” churches.  9 Marks books, conferences, weekenders, and online resources have influenced thousands of pastors to take seriously the role of the church.

Calling attention to 9 biblical, but oft neglected, marks of a healthy church– expositional preaching, biblical theology, biblical conversion, biblical evangelism, biblical leadership, biblical discipleship, church discipline, rightly defining and proclaiming the gospel, and church membership–will surely meet opposition in Sardis-like churches (Rev 3:1), but they are key ingredients to seeing God’s glory in the local church again (Eph 3:8-10).  Joining his ranks are the ministries of Tom Ascol, Johnny Hunt, and countless unnamed church leaders who have invested in training pastors to cherish disciple-making more than numbers inflation.

Third, this years Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Florida was filled with hope-giving activity.  For starters, the Great Commission Resurgence was received and passed with overwhelming support (75-80%).  While all the details of this will be worked out in the following years, it means that Southern Baptists are wanting to put their money where their mouth is–namely the Great Commission.  The strong support of this motion indicates self-sacrifice and a willingness to reevaluate the ways we are doing ministry today.

Additionally, at the SBC, the list of resolutions that were passed by the convention were very encouraging.  The first resolution was “On the Centrality of the Gospel,” the second emphasized the need for greater “Family Worship,” and the third addressed the “Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce.”  Each of the reflect the heart of SBC pastors to lead their churches towards greater gospel-centrality, greater family discipleship, and greater accountability to Scripture.  May God be pleased to bring these resolutions to reality.

Fourth, and finally, I am encouraged by the leading spokesmen of our convention, those who possess great conviction and commitment to the gospel.  Younger pastors like David Platt and Matt Chandler are pressing Baptists young and old to suffer joyfully for the sake of the gospel; while seasoned pastors and theologians like Johnny Hunt, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, and Danny Akin, are leading our denomination towards greater gospel precision and more fervent great commission vision. I pray that new SBC President Bryant Wright will have the same vision and commitment to the gospel.

For all these reasons and more, I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention is an UNFINISHED DENOMINATION.  It is not perfect, but it is petitioning God to work in us, and there are evidences that Christ is answering prayer.   This is why I am glad to be called a Southern Baptist.

Going forward, I hope and pray and believe that the Conservative Resurgence of the last three decades has great potential to cause a Great Commission Resurgence and Gospel Advance in the years ahead.  Still, it won’t just be the leaders in denominational offices that will bring change in local churches; it will be the bi-vocational pastors in small churches faithfully preaching the word of God and the lay leaders who sacrifice their time to invest in the lives of others.  It will be the result of the Spirit of God to grip our hearts to do what Paul said so long ago, “to entrust [the gospel] to faithful men [and women] who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).  It will take a grass-roots movement of gospel-breathing people, living for the sake of Christ’s name, at the expense of their own.  May God be pleased to do that in our generation!

May we who preach the word do so with boldness and consistency, and may we all hear the word with openness and anticipation of what God can do in a people radically surrendered to him.  May we not simply point fingers at others, may we examine our hearts (2 Cor 13:5) and show ourselves to be approved before God.

Lord Christ, galvanize your churches in the Southern Baptist Convention and throughout the world.  Unify us as a cooperative army of gospel-centered churches, wherein the grace of God is proclaimed and the glory of God is displayed.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss