Dr. Bruce Ashford delivered a powerful sermon from Hebrews 11 in the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Chapel on August 20th. My hope with this post is to hit the highlights of his message, point people to the audio because it is a must-listen, and intersperse some of my thoughts throughout as I meditate upon the themes of his message. Dr. Ashford began with a testimony of a sleepless night from his seminary days. The map of the 10/40 window and the thought that “I could take the gospel to them,” haunted him. The idea that nearly 2 billion people could walk for days without encountering a Bible, a Christian or a Church preoccupied him. Therefore, he asked himself the question: “Have I surrendered to the ministry, or now that I once surrendered to it am I trying to regain control of it?” This question, stated by Ashford in his message, is a major question that has lodged in my mind since hearing him speak. He says that at the time of this move of the Spirit in his life he was speaking at hundreds of youth events and churches a year. He said that this preaching had become an idol to him. This is a word for every minister of the gospel. Every minister should ask himself the question, “Are the ambitions of my heart blinding me to another service that God has called me to?” He says that ministry is an easy place to hide the idols of hearts because “we take the selfish ambitions we have before conversion and we baptize them, clothing them in Christian garb.” Is this keeping you or me from doing something that God has for us?
Dr. Ashford moved to the Hebrews passage to speak about ministry, and about where a life of a faith can take you. His constant refrain throughout this section of the message was another important question that I took away, “Have you surrendered to the path God is calling you to?” He focused on three major elements in the passage. First, sometimes God sees fit to bless men and women of faith with visible victories. Hebrews 11:30-35a: “By Faith the people crossed the Red Sea… the walls of Jericho feel down… who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.” If these are the events of your life, Dr. Ashford says to praise God; this is the act of a gracious Lord.
Second, Ashford states that, “Sometimes God sees fit to issue suffering for men and women of faith.” Hebrews 11:35b-38: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword… of whom the World was not worthy.” Dr. Ashford said of these, “This is something like the opposite of the health and wealth prosperity gospel.” If I may add my thoughts, the sad state of the “Prosperity Gospel” is a different post for a different day, but it is important to see that God is not calling us all to visible victories – - even for those that are giants of faith, these verses deal a crushing blow to that heretical teaching. Dr. Ashford mentioned what suffering does for the believer. First, suffering produces growth in the servant of God. Second, suffering demonstrates the greatness of Christ to a watching world. This is true because saying, “blessed be the Lord” when you have a nice, middle class American life looks easy to the watching world. The suffering that our brothers and sisters in arms around the world are facing is producing rapid growth in the number of disciples of our Lord. Why is this so? This is how it has always been. The famous quote assigned to Tertullian, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” captures this thought. The on-looking world sees true faith and the power of God in a man like Polycarp, who while facing the edge of the sword, unless he says that Christ is not God, instead says, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and he never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior.” This is faith; this is a visible demonstration that there is something different to hold on to in the life of true believer. The on-looking world sees something completely different in a man who at the edge of the sword refuses to say “Allāhu Akbar” and instead in the midst of persecution says, “blessed be the Lord.” The watching world sees true transformation here, that is true faith and it is manifested more clearly many times through suffering.
Finally, on the suffering of a servant of God Ashford points out, sometimes we do not see the whole picture of suffering. Again, if I can expound on this idea, the blessing is that God has not remained distant from this suffering, but has become a part of it through the crucifixion of His Son. The problem of pain and evil is always a tough subject for us, but we must point people to the one who not only enables His servants to endure, but also became the solution to the problem by “bearing in His own body” the sins of the world. Dr. John Lennox who was recently with us at SEBTS says this is the only answer (that of God becoming part of the solution) on the market that begins to answer the theodicy problem. Ashford ends here with another question, which I have rephrased as follows: “Does Christ have the preeminence in my life?” Am I willing to be a Hebrews 11 type of man whatever that means? Dr. Ashford says often times our lives, as ministers, will be a mixture of both visible signs of victory and times of suffering. Or more poignantly, we may ask, “Am I willing to die like those at the end of the chapter 11 if that is what God sees fit for my life?”
Ashford’s final point is that both groups provide a testimony to Christ. Hebrews 11:39-40 states, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
Ashford then moved to discuss the final question, a question that he had asked himself during his seminary days: “Am I an obstacle to the nations hearing the Gospel?” There are 2 billion with little or no gospel witness, with so many in our seminaries, why is it the case that most stay? He pointed out, that humanly speaking, in the year 2008 it has never been easier in the history of the world for the gospel to reach the ends of the earth than it is right now. It is especially easy for those in the SBC (to take the Gospel to the nations) as we have the opportunity of working through the IMB. He said that it does little good to expound about inerrancy if it makes no change in our hearts. He pleads that we all (beginning with himself) pray that God will break our own grips on our lives. He reiterates that not all are called to full-time overseas mission work, however more are probably called than go. More are probably called to tough, uncomfortable areas here in North America than go. It is time for us to be men and women of faith. My father, Danny Akin, often says the question is not “Should I go?” Instead, we should be asking “Why Should I stay?” One of the major things that we hope to do with this site is to point to the beauty of cooperating for the sake of the Gospel. The IMB is one of the main resources to that end. Never before has travel and technology allowed for us to so easily access the ends of the earth than right now. Dr. Ashford closes with an appeal to contemplate very seriously spending 1/40th of your life overseas, a two-year stint. But maybe, just maybe, he says some of us should go ahead and take our caskets with us overseas and prepare for a life served in a foreign context. And maybe, just maybe, the life that is lived with that kind of faith will be worthy of the label used to describe the saints in Hebrews chapter 11—they were those “of whom the World was not worthy.”
This message is a must hear, it can be downloaded here.
Also, check out Dr. Akin’s convocation sermon from 2 Timothy 1:8-12 entitled “The Pattern of Paul’s Missionary Life Revealed in the Ministry of David Brainerd for the Furtherance of the Gospel Among the Nations” and Dr. O.S. Hawkins’ sermon from Acts 9:31 entitled “Walking in the Fear of the Lord.”
Dr. Alvin Reid is the Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism Professor at Southeastern. He is a student-favorite on the seminary campus as well as among many high school and college-aged students who have the privilege to hear him speak. He is an author, and we at Baptist21 wait eagerly for his co-authored book with Mark Liederbach entitled “The Convergent Church.” This guest blog we post because it hits at one of the main ideas we hope to converse about, “why we are Baptist.”
One of the more common subjects of discussions among Southern Baptists today regards those who are leaving, have left, or are considering leaving the SBC. I can sympathize to some extent. As a younger man in seminary in the 1980s, I considered the possibility as well, disillusioned by some things I had seen and heard theologically. I decided to stay, and have never regretted that.
Some who read this, particularly among my Facebook friends, may wonder what the big deal is, why it would matter whether I am a Southern Baptist, or another form of Baptist, or a Methodist or Charismatic, etc. After all, Jesus saved me from sin to become part of the Kingdom, not the local Baptist church. True enough, but while I would not put my being a Baptist on the level of being a Christian, it still matters. We all choose to be a part of this group or that because of some overarching values that guide such decisions. We should give more a little thought to something as vital to our discipleship as the tradition we serve Christ (and raise our children, for that matter). Be a little more random when it comes to your musical choices or clothing style; be a little more intentional about the church in which you live your life for Christ.
So why have I chosen to be and to remain a Southern Baptist? In particular, as a minister of the gospel, why do I choose this fellowship to serve God? Here are a few reasons. You the reader must make up your own mind about your convictions on the issue.
1. I am a Southern Baptist because I value relationships over technology.
We live in a throw away society. I have owned at least 7 laptops and probably more desktops in our family. I have lost count of how many TVs we have had. I have driven several types of automobiles. Sometimes we replace these things because they stop working. More often than not we do so because something better comes along (yes, I have a smartphone but want an iphone). We recently purchased a sweet 50” flat screen. I love watching sports on it. The other TV was fine. This one is simply better.
We throw away things in our society for better things. But more than a few confuse technology with relationships. In a throw away, consumer driven culture, too many let their attitude toward technology (an item is fine until something better comes along) bleed into other aspects of life that matter more. Today, marriages are thrown away, even in the church. Too many parents throw away their parental role, too many friends break their friendships far too easily, and too many hop from local church to local church, seeking something new and better. Too many in ministry leave their churches for poor reasons. If I had a dollar for every opportunity to go and do this or that in ministry I could retire early. And some leave the SBC because they simply want to find something better. Or they so undervalue relationships that the next better thing becomes more important than the people with whom you have shared much of life. So, is the SBC your family, or just a convenience for ministry—training, experience, etc—until something better comes along?
I will not fight for a lot of things. But I will fight for my family. I would die for my wife and kids. And I would kill for them. Really. I would. I would not die or kill for my convention. But I will fight for her. I am a debtor to many who have invested so much in my life financially (the Cooperative Program underwrote much of my educational cost), in discipleship (so many men of God have poured their lives into me), in friendships, in providing places of service. So, if the SBC is your place until something better comes along, why not just go ahead and leave? You are hardly here anyway. I just hope Jesus is not next (No I am not comparing Jesus to the SBC, don’t miss my point). I do not sit around and whine for months when my laptop is bad. I get a new one. But I am very careful about terminating relationships. And it would take more than a level of dissatisfaction to make me leave the SBC.
2. I am a Southern Baptist because of theology more than politics.
Some say they want to leave the SBC because it is nothing more than a big political organization. More than one has said, “I was once a Democrat, but the Democratic Party left me. Now, I once was a Southern Baptist, but the SBC has left me.” Maybe it’s just me, but I find it a little ironic to use a political analogy to complain about politics in the SBC ☺. Still, I can understand the concern. I once thought the SBC was drifting so leftward theologically that she was about to leave me. But a conservative resurgence gave me hope. I am a Southern Baptist because of theology. Does the political aspect bother me? Sure. I loathe it when some seem to choose personal loyalty over truth. That is a local church issue also, for we would rather not hurt someone’s feelings than tell them the truth.
A convention as large as ours must have some political aspect. Any entity this large does. But I would rather work in a system like ours to bring about change than complain about it. Someone recently said to me, “If Hillary becomes president I am leaving the US.” Fine. Go live in Somalia a while. Go move your letter to the First Baptist Church of Darfur. You will find the US a little better place to raise a family regardless of who is president (I am not voting for Hillary or Obama, don’t miss my point).
I am a Southern Baptist by conviction. Jesus got me first, but the Baptists were not far behind. I am not a Calvinist. I do not affirm a limited atonement (or particular redemption, choose your term). But I believe in the sovereignty of God, and some of my greatest heroes historically were. I know enough history to know lots of Calvinists were used of God in great awakenings. So I think there is plenty of room on the theological plateau that is the SBC for Reformed SBC people who love the Great Commission and for those who are not who also love the Great Commission. I will not let the cocky Calvinist (yes there are some) or the utilitarian pragmatist (who too easily water down the gospel for the sake of numbers) push me out. If you truly are a classical Pentecostal on the one hand or a Presbyterian on the other, you likely will never be happy as a Southern Baptist (I have plenty of friends who are Pentecostal and Presbyterian, by the way. Do not miss my point ☺). But at our best we are a theologically robust people, and there is room on the plateau for people with whom I disagree. Truth matters, and the BFM2000 forms a confession of faith I can follow, for example.
I presented a paper a few years back at New Orleans Seminary on Congregational Polity and the Great Commission. I tried to argue that for congregational polity to keep us focused on the Great Commission we must have two things: first, a core conviction about the truth of the gospel (theology). Second, a strong leader to keep us on said focus (leadership). Unfortunately a “good old boy” system can overtake bold, courageous leadership, pushing for conformity over creativity and for control over respect. I do not care if you are a liberal or a conservative, a good old boy system can warp your view of reality. Theology must drive our politics, not vice versa.
Some of you are tired of the sectarianism you see. I agree. I wonder if some have forgotten that the most famous sectarians in the New Testament were the Pharisees, whom Jesus did not really compliment (unless you think being called a white washed tomb is some new street term for cool). But I am secure enough in my convictions to work with those who embrace our fundamental beliefs, even if we disagree over other issues.
3. I am a Southern Baptist because of the God-given passion in my soul to be part of something that matters. Yes, a convention as big as ours sometimes fails to be the stewards we should. You and I can complain about the bureaucracy, the repetitive, duplicating ministry at the national, state, association, or even local church levels. It is frustrating. You want to plant a church and discover there are four or five different groups, all of whom are trying to do the same thing, and all of them turn you down. That can hardly be encouraging. I too am weary of the waste, the fat budgets and the number of people who spend as much time in ministry defending the reason for their position than actually ministering. Part of me almost wants an economic downturn to force us to refocus our priorities. But leave the SBC for that? Seriously?
I guess I could leave over that if I never found myself being wasteful. You have probably never bought a candy bar you never needed or got a credit card statement you regretted. Well, I have. I have been guilty of bad financial decisions. But I am not going to close my bank account and sell my house. I am going to try to keep learning better how to be a steward. And I will keep pushing the SBC to do the same.
Some younger ministers who want to or are leaving are GenXers. Not to be a big proponent of generational studies, but if you are not careful you will prove the pundits right. After all they call those in your generation slackers, complainers, uncooperative, cynical, relativistic, things like that. Prove the pundits wrong. Go against your generation. Have some conviction, trust some people, and work for change. Hang in there and do something that matters with others who seek to be about the same. Be part of the solution not a statistic. (I am thinking that I just made a lot of people mad. But don’t miss my point ☺).
It is ironic that we complain about money spent in the SBC when our church and personal budgets rarely reflect the kind of mission commitment we expect of the convention. But when we take a moment to see the good–the disaster relief after Katrina, the growing numbers of converts overseas, the rise in urban church planters, and so on, perhaps we can see that despite her imperfections and no small amount of waste, the SBC still makes a great deal of difference globally. Every time I walk into a classroom at Southeastern I am reminded that I am part of something that matters.
4. I am a Southern Baptist because of a sense of call to change the world, not because I am an opportunist. I know the game. I know how to shake the right hands and make the right people happy. I know the temptation to be in the “in” crowd in a community or in a convention. I get along with most folks pretty well, but I have ruffled a few feathers in my day. God did not call me to kiss the ring of any person, but to serve the Most High God. I have found I can do that just fine here. If you are a reader who is unhappy with the SBC, is your dissatisfaction over the state of the SBC because your opportunity to climb is diminished? I doubt this reason would describe many. But, the “I am going to take my ball and go home” mentality has been evident more than once to me. I am in the SBC in part because I am part of a movement that is literally touching the world. I want to change the whole world. I want to be part of that which can.
One can easily become discouraged with the programmatic ministry, the confusion between truth and style (yes, some really do think changing the worship service from a piano, organ and robed choir to a praise team is the work of the devil), and the institutionalism that often thwarts the movement of God in our time. My call to ministry was not a call to the path of least resistance or to mark time until He returns. My call is to be a part of changing the whole world with the amazing gospel. And I have found no better place to do that than as a Southern Baptist.
5. Finally, I am a Southern Baptist because I love a challenge, and these are challenging times. A close friend of mine said something in our seminary days I have never forgotten. It was the height of the conservative resurgence, when so many like us longed to see our leaders, our schools, and our agencies unapologetically affirm the Scriptures. “Alvin,” he said, “I want to tell my grandchildren that when it came time to take a stand for truth, I did so.” I agreed. And I agree.
At many levels the Southern Baptist Convention is sick. And even worse, in many circles leaders are in denial. We are in decline. We have been pathetic at evangelism in the US for a long time, not just recently. We have too often confused preference for truth in embarrassing ways. Imagine that, we are at the place where we have no hope but to trust in God to move us forward. I like that challenge. I am giving my life to the next generation, in particular those under 25. I still believe God is at work and we can turn this big old aircraft carrier toward a new horizon. I want my children and grandchildren to see the SBC as a movement of God capable of touching the globe. It is so easy simply to pack and go, to leave a church, a community, even a family. But there is so much more joy in hanging in there, watching God work, fighting for change, and knowing you were a part of that. I want to be a part of that. By no means do I think that Southern Baptists are the only Christians on the earth doing that. In fact, I have met more than a few in the SBC whose salvation I would question! But I have a sense of call, and passion, and urgency to be a part of God’s great work in this world. And I do so as a Southern Baptist.
I hope you will as well.
Historically speaking, the question of whether or not inerrancy matters has been a significant one for the SBC. Unless the reader is new to the SBC, he or she will be aware that this very issue was pivotal in the battle for control of the convention in the last quarter of the twentieth century. While there were many other issues involved, and while there are exceptions to the following statement, those in the conservative and moderate camps (in the battle for the convention) can be generally classified as those who arrive at different answers to the inerrancy question. Conservative leaders strategically lighted upon the inerrancy issue, speaking and writing about its importance to lay Southern Baptists. This issue, perhaps more than any other, awakened a grassroots movement among Southern Baptists; Baptists began to show up in greater numbers at the annual convention, casting their votes for SBC presidential candidates who believed the Bible was the inerrant Word of God. If the reader will allow this grossly over-simplified historical retelling to continue, the plan among conservatives was that the newly elected conservative (and inerrantist) SBC president would make appointments which would lead over time to theological change at the level of our denominational entities (particularly at the six Southern Baptist seminaries). As history has demonstrated, this plan to recover our historical, biblical roots and preserve our convention’s theological heritage worked. All six Southern Baptist seminaries now teach their students that the Bible is inerrant and are sending out pastors, church leaders, and missionaries who are conveying that message to the people with whom they serve. Sadly, this could not have been said of all six seminaries in the years before the “Conservative Resurgence” took place. Of course, those on different sides of this issue have different feelings about this change in the convention. While some approvingly refer to this time in SBC history as the “Conservative Resurgence,” others, with a note of mournful disappointment, call it the “Fundamentalist Takeover.” [Just so there is no confusion, this author calls it the “Conservative Resurgence,” thinks the question of inerrancy is, to borrow from Judge Pressler, “A Hill on Which to Die,” and is eternally grateful to those who fought to keep our denomination from taking the path of theological liberalism tread by so many others]. No matter your position, what has taken place in our convention is a matter of historical record. Those interested in learning more about the “Conservative Resurgence” can do so by reading any number of books on the subject (see below for a few examples).
This way of understanding the question “Does Inerrancy Matter?” isn’t actually the point of this post. This post is not written with the goal of convincing non-inerrantists to switch camps and take an inerrantist position “because inerrancy matters.” I am writing to conservatives. I am writing to those who would affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I am writing to those who would say wholeheartedly “Inerrancy does matter!” And I am asking you the question, “Do you live like it matters?” I am convinced that if it really did matter to us like we say it does, we would do some things differently. I am convinced that we as Southern Baptists are not living, teaching, preaching, and worshipping like inerrancy matters to us.
Let me mention three key areas where I think we can do a better job of demonstrating that inerrancy matters to us and is indeed “A Hill on Which to Die”:
(1) Personal Bible Reading—We say we have a perfect Bible, with God as its ultimate author, and yet the number of those in our convention who have actually taken the time to read this perfect Bible in its entirety is relatively few. Does this fact jive with our belief in inerrancy? If it’s not perfect, maybe there are some parts we should skip? But if it’s perfect, and if 2 Timothy 3:16 is true and every single piece of Scripture is beneficial for us, then how can we not read it all? Yet many who take an inerrantist position on Scripture have read each volume of the Lord of the Rings trilogy many times over but have never taken the time to read through the Bible even once. While our copies of Harry Potter have well-worn pages with tattered edges, our Bibles are in mint condition from want of use. Which book on our shelves does this practice suggest is the perfect one?
(2) Scripture Memory—The Bible we believe is perfect is filled with commands to hide God’s Word in our hearts. Even apart from such commands, since we believe that every verse in Scripture is intended for our spiritual well-being why would we not want to have as much of the Word as possible memorized? Yet I fear that accurate statistics on scripture memorization in the SBC would be even more alarming than statistics on Bible reading. Pastors, try this out in your next worship service. Ask every person in the congregation to rise. Then ask them to sit down if they cannot quote one verse (with its reference) for every year they have been a Christian. See how many you have left standing. Most likely, you will only have a handful for every hundred believers in your church. What does this say about how important we think our perfect Bibles are? Apparently we believe that since the Bible is perfect, it is perfect-ly fine for us to look up every verse we need when we need it.
(3) Preaching—How can a Southern Baptist congregation, that presumably believes in a perfect Bible, tolerate a sermon which barely mentions the Bible? I have heard, and heard of, Southern Baptist preachers constructing entire messages around the latest Christian book they’ve read or the latest forwarded email they received in their inbox. How did we as a convention get to a point where, in any of our churches, such behavior passes as “preaching” in any sense of the word? Preaching, as understood in Scripture, takes the Word as its subject matter. “Preachers” are tasked with explaining the meaning of Scripture so that their hearers can apply the Word to their lives (e.g. Neh 8:8). While this task of “explaining” will include the appropriate use of illustrative material, the subject matter of the sermon is never in doubt—it is the Word of God. Preaching anything but the Bible expresses either the height of arrogance (“I have something more valuable to say that what God has said”) or laziness (“It is easier to read this email and talk about it than to actually study the Scripture and find out what it says”). While this is a topic too large to expound fully at the close of this post, I would submit to you that expository preaching best matches a stated belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. The preacher who delivers an expository sermon in effect says to his hearers, “We have been given a perfect Bible. I don’t need to add anything to it; I just need to explain it. I will let the God-given text of Scripture determine my main point and my preaching outline (my supporting points). Why would I think I can organize this material any better than God and try to preach this passage some other way?” Sadly, while many in our denomination label themselves “expositors” their preaching could not be called “expository” by any conceivable definition. It is not enough to call yourself an “expositor;” you must actually “exposit” (uncover, lay bear) the text during your message to merit that self-designation. [For more on the connection between inerrancy and expository preaching, consider: John MacArthur, Jr., “The Mandate of Biblical Inerrancy: Expository Preaching,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, John MacArthur, Jr., ed. (Dallas: Word, 1992): 22-35.]
The battle our theological fathers fought for inerrancy was a difficult one. We should not give away the fruit of their victory so easily. We should continue to fight for inerrancy, because it really does matter—without a perfect Bible, we have an unsure epistemological foundation for our faith. But we must also live as if inerrancy matters. We must live under the realization that because the Bible is the inerrant Word of God it has absolute authority over our behavior as individuals, families, and churches. God has spoken to us and we are to listen and obey. We should read the Word, memorize the Word, and preach the Word as if we believe we have a perfect Word from the Lord—because we do!
–Scott S. Wilson
Recommended Resources on the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC:
We serve a King who is a rescuer, a King who conquers, who defeats, and who heals. He not only puts all His enemies under His feet, He also comforts the hurting, heals the sick, and brings hope to the broken if they run to Him. He conquers the enemies of His children. I encountered two things recently that caused me to think more deeply about the victorious, rescuing power of our King. These things caused me to realize that I often times do not “love His appearing” when He will make all things right and at other times do not trust in the Power He has to set things right now. These two things caused me to sense anew that there are indeed greater things coming for our cities, a hope for the nations that is greater than wealth or prosperity, and a King who is drawing in some from all of those nations.
The first thing that caused me to start thinking about these things was a blog that Dr. Danny Akin wrote entitled “A Ride Down Prostitution Row: Why the Nations Cry Out for a Great Commission Resurgence.” Here are some excerpts:
As we were headed to our restaurant, our driver turned down a street where I was totally unprepared for what I saw. Suddenly on both sides of the road, for at least a half of a mile, hundreds and hundreds of prostitutes lined the sidewalks. Some could not have been more than eleven or twelve years old. They were actually dressed in seductive uniforms that were similar to what you would see in a private Junior High or Middle School. The faces of these little girls and women I will never forget. Sadness, emptiness and hopelessness was etched across their countenance. Sex slave traders prey on ignorant and unsuspecting parents, especially in rural areas, promising a better life for their children in the “big cities.” I was overcome with a sense of sorrow and despair I have seldom experienced. God you must do something. We, as your ambassadors, must do something!
Do you need a little motivation to pray and work for a Great Commission Resurgence? Take a short ride down prostitution row. I think you will find it will be all that you need.
The lostness and darkness of a world without Christ came home in a new and unexpected way the night I was taken down prostitution row. The need for Southern Baptists to get radically serious about the gospel and the Great Commission never seemed more urgent. The nations are crying out for hope, and we have it. The nations are crying out for deliverance, and we have it. The nations are crying out for life, and we have it. The nations are crying out for salvation, and we have it.
Do you need a little motivation to pray and work for a Great Commission Resurgence? Take a short ride down prostitution row. I think you will find it will be all that you need.
Later my father, Dr. Akin, and I received an email from Dr. Alvin Reid because of the blog. This was the second item that caused me to think about the rescuing power of our King. The email told about the background to the song “God of this City,” which was inspired by the same city and Street that prompted my dad to write his blog. Here is what Dr. Reid wrote:
Hey Guys I wanted both of you to see this. After your stirring story about Thailand, Danny, I wondered if you knew about this song and its story. It is called God of the City. Tomlin sang it at Passion but the original group, Bluetree… wrote it. This song was inspired from their trip to Thailand. If either of you get the time, read the story of the song below and then listen to it. Pretty much messed me up In a good way.
Here is the story. Read it and listen to the song, and if it hits you like it did me, weep:
“Nov 2007, Bluetree are heading out to Pattaya Thailand to participate in an event arranged by Belfast missionaries living in Pattaya, Thailand called Pattaya Praise. We’ve no expectation of the event; we were just looking for an opportunity to serve somehow.
We didn’t know much about it before we left, but Pattaya is a dark place. It’s a small seaside town notorious for it’s sex trade. Throughout our time there we heard countless stories of girls who are bought from their parents for a price, sold to the sex industry at ages as young as 5 years old. Arriving in Pattaya the spiritual climate seems to change, it’s hard to define, but there is a very tangible change. On the bus journey in we’d been our usual cheery selves, but entering Pattaya at 10am and turning on to a street lined by girls ready for business, the bus became very quiet. We’re in total shock. It’s a sunny day but it’s incredible how dark it feels.
‘Walking street’ we learn is the epicentre of the sex trade in Pattaya, it’s about a mile long and at night springs to life with neon signs. Thai people are generally conservative in their dress sense – it’s generally considered provocative to bare your shoulders. But on their street the girls are wearing very little, and offering anything you can imagine for a price. It’s easy to look around with human eyes, see the depravity and get angry. You see older men walking hand-in-hand with young girls – as a daddy, that’s hard to take in. It’s easy to get angry, it’s easy to judge – but that’s not our job, so we grit our teeth.
We were in Pattaya to be part of a praise event not far from this street, the soul purpose of which was to worship and show God’s light in a dark place. We wanted to play more than the scheduled slots while we were there, so we found out that one of the bar owners would let us play a worship set in her bar on the proviso that we brought as many from the missions team who would buy coke-a-cola all night. We walk in to the bar which is about the middle of walking street, girls are lined up on the stairs waiting for business. We get set up, we’re really nervous and quite uncomfortable but we kick in to a familiar beat of worship and soon it’s ok. God starts to speak and we started to move in to this spontaneous song. The truth is when you worship in a place, you start to see God’s heart for that place. What would God say to a place like this?
Amidst the depravity God say’s, I’m the God of this City, I’m the King of these people and Greater Thing are Yet to Come, Greater Things are Still to be Done HERE. The song wasn’t written before that night, but we came out of the bar having worshipped with the song that is now the title track of our album – God of this City (Greater things). The song isn’t just for Pattaya – it’s for your city, and it’s true. By faith we must expect that greater things are still to be done.”
This situation is a tragedy. Yet, in the midst of all of this pain and sorrow and heartache, there is a message of hope, because we serve a King who is a rescuer and who will set all things right. It is my hope that we will believe this and fight for this in our cities, in our states, in our countries, and throughout the world realizing that someday the eastern sky will split and these cities will see something that they have never seen before. It is the hope of this song that millions will be changed by the message of an ever-advancing kingdom. Greater things are yet to come, and it has nothing to do with wealth or prosperity. It has to do with the appearing of a King who will march in to a city. Greater things are yet to come, and it has to do with a King that can transform lives and cities right now. Ultimately, we all need rescuing by the King who can truly make greater things come to the cities. May we believe that Christ can transform cities now, let’s pray for that transformation and envision that transformation as we seek to minister to our cities. Let’s resolve to be missions-saturated people who seek to give this message to our cities, the only message that saves, the only ONE who saves: King Jesus.
The version of the song written by Bluetree is at the top, at the bottom is a Chris Tomlin version. Please checkout the song inspired by that street in Pattaya.
In the wake of a landslide vote to pass the new resolution on regenerate church membership at this summer’s Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis, much conversation has rightly been generated among pastors and other church leaders regarding the integrity of church membership and the practical out-workings of biblical church discipline.
Even within the past few weeks I have been involved in a number of conversations on this issue. These conversations have differed greatly from one pastor who is all fired up about getting on the phones and “cleaning up the church roll” to another pastor who is soberly poring over the Scriptures to map out a redemptive and restorative process that might model Matthew 18. It is no secret that this resolution on church membership has been a long time coming. It is no secret that a great many Southern Baptist churches have been behind the eight-ball on this issue for years. And it should come as no surprise that many pastors went home from Indianapolis with much to think about regarding the work that lay ahead of them in the recovery of this historic practice.
Of course with all of this conversation being generated by this resolution, a good deal of the buzz has come in the form of concern. Could this be a symptom of the cold ivory-towerism of “Hyper-Calvinists” whose dead orthodoxy is continuing to squelch evangelistic fervor throughout the convention? Is this the rash idealism of a new generation of seminary-trained pastors whose freshly-minted Mdivs are burning theological holes in their pockets? Is this another manifestation of the “emergent” tendency to poke fingers in the eyes of “most Baptist churches” by boasting a superiority that is now not only technological and missiological, but even ecclesiological? There are many who wonder about the origin and the destination of this movement and have reacted against it for a variety of reasons.
The initial response of many resolution-supporters to all such “concern” has typically been a knee-jerk of cynicism and assumption. I must admit, while sitting in the convention hall in Indianapolis, I personally felt appalled to see even a single hand raised when the vote came to “all opposed.” Do these people not read their bibles? If they do, do they not believe them? What kind of hermeneutical gymnastics can bypass Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5?
Upon further reflection, however, while I certainly believe in the resolution and am encouraged about this move toward the recovery of an historic Baptist distinctive, I have come to realize that most dissent expressed on this issue is not at all founded upon differing views of the Bible or even differing interpretations of the relevant passages, but rather it is founded upon a perceived difference between the hearts of those who practice church discipline and the heart of Christ. In this, I believe a real problem is often being pointed out. How much damage has been done by theological Rambos who have gone after fallen church members with guns-a-blazin’ just to make an example of a “brother in sin?” How many unbelievers have been jaded to the Gospel by seeing a close family member ousted from his church via phone call or postage stamp without so much as even a knock on the door and a look in the eye? How many sinners have been cut away from local congregations with an explanation no more urgent or involved than that of a club member who did not pay his dues on time? Church discipline is biblical. Church discipline is essential to the Great Commission. But church discipline does not look like this. I would like to propose three areas that our churches must have in check if church discipline is ever to reach its intended goal of having a Regenerate Church Membership in the Southern Baptist congregations of the 21st century.
1. Authentic Relationships
Contrary to popular belief, church discipline is not simply what happens when a pastor stands before a congregation and reads off a name. Instead, church discipline ought to be happening all around us all the time. Discipline for my sons doesn’t only take place when I have a rod in my hand. It also happens when I am putting them back on their tricycles and saying, “try again.” In the same way, discipline for a church member is not simply the moment when they are removed from a roll, but should begin the moment when they are brought into it through Baptism. We are to be always teaching, always rebuking, always correcting, always training one another in righteousness, and always calling one another to repentance, even if it means that call to repentance must come through excommunication.
The difficulty that we often face at this point is that we are surrounded by congregations who do not know one another. We do not spend time in one another’s homes and lives, but walk out of church foyers into pod-like individualism. In many cases, pastors do not even know their congregations well enough to speak the truth in love. Instead, the talking head in the pulpit blends with the nodding heads in the pews to form a mass of faceless people who make up the “service” you attend. Without the love and care shown on the tricycle, my sons would see the rod as vindictive and arbitrary. In the same way, without authentic relationships and ministry in the church, “church discipline” exasperates those disciplined and does little good in restoring the fallen to a Regenerate Church.
While I found most of the 1995 “Brady Bunch Movie” to be classless and distasteful, I did feel the sting of truth, even as a young Christian, in Marcia’s snide comment about her trip to church camp where she “learned to be more judgmental.” The truth is, human nature has always contained an inherent pharisaical bent. There have been “pharisees” in the world since even before there were Pharisees in the world, and the situation in our pews today is no different. Many pastors, from a right desire to muzzle wolves who would devour injured sheep, respond by doing away with “church discipline” so that the concept of judging others is never even brought to the table. In doing so, however, the right command to “judge those within the church” (1 Cor 5:12) is overlooked. We must guard against the self-righteous tendency to take an offending member outside for stoning. But we must balance this with the recovery of a right “judging”; a Gospel-Centered “judging.”
The admonition to “take the log out of your own eye” (Matt 7:5) does not teach that we must be sinless in order to rebuke a brother. Instead, Jesus points the hypocrites to their need for a Gospel foundation. When you rebuke a brother, it is not in haughtiness or self-righteousness, but with the common petition “Lord, have mercy on us sinners.” A call to repentance should not be a humiliating act, but a loving and urgent warning about the wiles and snares that lie ahead. Perhaps if we became more Gospel-centered in our worship, in our discipleship, in our teaching and preaching, even in the way we read the Scriptures…Perhaps our churches would have more of this Gospel foundation upon which to construct a Regenerate Church.
3. A Compelling Fellowship
What happens to an unrepentant sinner who is biblically confronted with one witness, two witnesses, and is then brought before the church? He is to be treated as an unbeliever and removed from membership (Matt 18:17; 1 Cor 5:2-5). What happens, though, when the person responds, “is that all?” Of course, this comment overlooks the obvious fact that excommunication equals judgment and danger of hell-fire. But the question, “is that all?”, should also serve as an indictment. If someone were removed from the membership of your church, would it be easy for them to see the gravity and majesty of what they are losing? Or, would it be merely an inconvenience similar to a parking citation or a late fee? Are unbelievers (or Christians for that matter) seeing in our churches a compelling vision of what it means to take part in Christ? Do our congregations present a vision of the church that causes unbelievers to fall on their faces declaring “surely God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:25)?
After Jesus tells His disciples “I am the vine, you are the branches”, He shows them what kind of fruit they will bear by commanding them to “love one another” (Jn 15:12). In fact, this is how the world will know we are His disciples (Jn 13:35). Perhaps if more of our churches were bearing fruit in keeping with the Vine, the prospect of excommunication would thrust sinners to their knees in realization that to be pulled from the church is to be pulled from Christ. Perhaps if our congregations loved and faithfully served one another as one body with a common redemption in Christ, the acceptance and affection seen by a watching world would cause inward groaning for unity like that. Perhaps if we presented a vision of what it means to be a church member that is more compelling than simply a wafer, a thimble of juice, and the right to vote, those who face discipline would see their removal as perilous and would be brought to repentance. And perhaps if we all learned what it means to be authentic, Gospel-centered, and one body in Christ…perhaps then we might all be able to see more clearly the Kingdom Glory of Regenerate Church Membership.
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