In this 2nd part of the interview, Pastor John Cross and Pastor Brad White deal with some hot topics of the day. They address things they are doing in their churches that more traditional churches would consider innovative. They speak about the day-to-day activities of their churches, with a major focus on evangelism. They also speak to why they are in the SBC, why they stay in the SBC, and why some of their stripe are jaded by the SBC. In addition, they speak of the influences in their lives. Finally, they tell us why they do some things that are attacked by others, such as taking Baptist out of the name.
Check out this interview and the first part as we listen to many voices and evaluate what it will mean to be Baptist in the 21st century.
N.A. and J.A.
Baptist21 was able to sit down with two young Floridian Pastors. Both serve growing churches that are considered by some to be a bit edgy. One went the route of church planting. Brad White is the pastor of LifePointe Church in Tampa, Fl. The other went the route of church renewal. John Cross is pastor of South Biscayne Church in North Porte, Fl. He is also the newly elected President of the Florida Baptist Convention.
John Cross is a third generation Baptist Pastor that does church differently than his father’s church. He has taken Baptist out of the name, wears Jeans and T-shirts, etc. He has been at his church for 18 years and has seen tremendous growth. During this interview, he tells his testimony and the steps he took to take South Biscayne Church from an older, dwindling congregation to a younger and growing congregation.
Brad White also is the son of a pastor. He decided to plant a church in Tampa because he noticed that some of the most influential churches were those that were plants. He also shares his testimony and how he went about planting a church that is now thriving in the Tampa area.
Both of these men share the “Whys” and “Hows” of their planting and revitalization efforts. For those interested in church revitalization or planting this is a fantastic interview to hear. We at Baptist21 hope to hear from many voices in the SBC and these guys share a fresh voice. Take time to listen to this interview as we think through how to plant and revitalize our churches in the 21st century.
The second part of this interview will touch on: things these guys do in church that more traditional churches would see as innovative, day to day activities of their churches, evangelism in their churches, how they became Southern Baptist, why many of their stripe are jaded by the SBC, why they choose to stay in the SBC, influences in their lives, and why they choose to do non-traditional things (such as taking baptist out of the name) and how they would defend themselves against some of the attacks levied against them.
N.A. and J.A.
Part of the reason why a recovery of church discipline is essential for the church in the 21st century is because Jesus says that discipline is a practice carried out with his authority. When Jesus gives the process in Matthew 18 He also says that whatever the church binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever the church looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. Then Jesus gives his famous words that are so misunderstood, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (18:20). What is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying that when the church comes together and practices discipline the congregation is speaking with the authority of Christ. If the church lovingly calls someone to repentance and the person repents, the church restores them to the fellowship and is announcing with the authority of King Jesus that this is what the Kingdom of God looks like (this person is acting like a saved individual). If the person refuses to repent and the church dismisses them from the congregation, then the church announces with Christ’s authority that this is an unbeliever who will face judgment if they do not ever come to repentance. However, if the church refuses to discipline someone who is involved in serious, public, unrepentant sin, then the church is saying nothing except that they have removed themselves from Christ’s authority. Churches that refuse to practice discipline in these cases are telling the person, the congregation, and the lost that the Kingdom of God is made up of the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, etc. That is anti-Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The practice of discipline calls sinners to repentance with the authority of King Jesus and those who heed it hear the words from King Jesus himself through the congregation, you were sexually immoral and outside of the Kingdom “but you were washed…you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
At this point a word of caution is necessary. Church discipline is in need of recovery because so many churches fail to practice it. However, this does not mean that pastors or congregations who suddenly come to embrace discipline as a biblical practice should in response suddenly implement it in the congregation. Rushing into this, doing it without a firm handle on the biblical directives, or doing it before the congregation has been given time to understand and embrace it can be foolish. A pastor must first teach his congregation what the Bible says concerning discipline. Then, it can be implemented slowly, humbly, lovingly and wisely. Bitterness and retaliation are far too easy for fallen creatures, so we must guard against using church discipline as a weapon to inflict harm or payback (see purpose above). Church discipline should not be rushed into. Loving and patient leading is necessary.
Third, churches who do this can expect increasing backlash and persecution in the future.
The truth is that we live in a culture in which even the discipline of children has been rejected. Withholding discipline from children is seen as loving and progressive. If you say that you spank your children, then many will look at you as if you are an alien from another planet. It is obvious that in that kind of culture, a church that practices loving discipline will face backlash. Not only will public complaints increase, but the churches that practice discipline can expect to face being sued, other law suits, and much more in the future.
Fourth, we need to sincerely pray for this woman. She should be more concerned with the impact her actions have on her children than she is with the impact the church’s actions will have on her children.
Hancock has two children (20 year old son and 18 year old daugher). They have remained members of the church and will be there on the Sunday (January 4th) that the church votes to remove their mom from the congregation. Hancock says, “I don’t really care what they do to me. But I am concerned about my children sitting in church with their mom being crucified by the church that they trust.” She is worried about how this action will affect her children. It is ironic that she is more concerned with how the church lovingly calling her to repentance for an action that Jesus says will end in the judgment of Hell will affect her kids than she is with how her continual sexual immorality will affect them. The church is lovingly preaching a message to her, her children, and others that we will give an account for our sin. We cannot create our own morality. Actions have consequences. We will stand looking Jesus of Nazareth in the face awaiting judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). I pray that she would come to embrace this truth being preached with Christ’s authority by her church and repent. I have seen what church discipline can do, and it is wonderful. I have a friend who was also involved in immoral sexual relationships, pornography and other sins. His church began the discipline process on him, but through loving accountability and counseling God began to change his life. He turned from his sin. He threw himself on the mercy of King Jesus. He was saved. His marriage and family were rescued. He is serving faithfully in the church. Now, the Gospel transformation in his life has also led to the salvation of others in his family. This is what church discipline is intended to do! That is the Gospel message this congregation seeks to preach to Hancock, her children, her boyfriend, and others. I can think of nothing more loving. This congregation and this post are NOT trying to thrown stones at Rebecca Hancock. The message of church disicpline is that ALL of us deserve the judgment of God, and if it was not for the cross and the resurrection of Jesus we would all receive it. Church discipline calls us ALL to repentance and trust in our King.
Hancock speaks of herself almost as if she is Jesus being unjustly “crucified.” She is being tortured while her children look on helplessly. But, Jesus is not the biblical character she most resembles. In fact, she is more like the woman at the well who is in an immoral relationship (John 4). When Jesus encountered this cohabitating and sexually immoral woman, with a past filled with divorce and relationship turmoil, He both lovingly offered her the water of life and lovingly rebuked her immorality. Jesus’ words not only transformed her life but also “many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:39). Naming her sexual sin on that occasion was not cruel. It changed her life and the lives around her. I pray that this would be the outcome in Jacksonvile, Florida. Jesus stood in the flesh calling this woman to repentance and eternal life, and He changed an entire town. If this church carries out discipline then Jesus of Nazareth will be in Jacksonville, Florida on January 4th speaking familiar words that he uttered almost 2,000 years ago to another woman in a similar situation. His voice shook that town. It will certainly shake Jacksonville.
A 49 year old woman in Jacksonville, Florida was in the news recently because she made it known publicly to news outlets that her church is in the process of disciplining her and is going to make her sins known publicly (something she has ironically done for them already). You can read the story for yourself. Rebecca Hancock has been involved in a sexual relationship with her boyfriend that is clearly condemned in Scripture. When her church mentor learned of the sin she too told Hancock that it was sinful and urged her to repent. After refusing to repent of the habitual sin, she was confronted by her mentor and other women. After this meeting, which she thought was an incredible invasion of her privacy, she withdrew from the church but her children remained. She recently received a letter saying that if she refused to repent then the church will publicly identify her sins (and presumably vote her out of the congregation, though the news story does not indicate this).
This is an extremely interesting story, and several observations about it need to be made. First, the church is acting appropriately! They are following a command laid out by King Jesus to restore those who refuse to repent of sin and might be on a path to destruction and judgment (Matt. 18:15-19). Jesus describes the process of church discipline as first lovingly confronting the individual, calling them to repentance and restoration. If the person refuses to repent, then there should be a second confrontation, and this time others should come along so that there are two or three witnesses. If the person again refuses to repent, then the final step is to tell it to the whole congregation and remove the person from the fellowship of the congregation. Jesus says that the congregation now treats the person as if he or she is an unbeliever and lost because the person is not giving any evidence that they are saved.
What is the purpose of church discipline? The purpose of church discipline is ALWAYS redemptive and for the good of the person. Discipline is loving. The Bible says that those who refuse to discipline their children do not really love their children (Prov. 13:24). We discipline our children because we love them and want to keep them from harm. The Bible even says that disciplining children is evangelistic. We discipline our kids to see them come to Jesus as their Savior (cf. Prov. 19:18; 23:13-14). The same is true of church discipline. Churches discipline to keep the offender from harming self or others who might stumble at their sin. This process is undertaken to rescue someone not exclude them. It is just like evangelism. The church is telling the person that if they continue in the path they are choosing then it will mean God’s judgment, so the church lovingly calls the person to repentance and the avoiding of judgment. It is the equivalent of stopping a car that is headed off a cliff. If the person repents, then it gives evidence that he or she might be saved. If the person refuses to repent then it casts doubt on whether or not the person is actually saved.
Why should churches practice church discipline? They practice it for at least three reasons: 1) for the good of the person in sin (see above), 2) for the good of the church (1 Corinthians 5 says unrepentant sin can spread to whole body and affect them. Discipline calls others to repentance and the fear of God’s judgment. It serves as a warning to the whole congregation), 3) for the good of the lost in the community. If a person is allowed to continue in a sin expressly condemned in the Bible and still remain a member in good standing with the church then the lost in the community will think that this is what a Christian (a person saved by King Jesus) looks like. That kind of practice would preach a false gospel that God has no standard and is okay with people who claim to be His living immoral lives. This church in Jacksonville is loving Rebecca, even if she refuses to believe it. This church is loving the other members in the church. And, this church is loving its community because it is preaching a message to them that sinful actions will be judged and if they are not repented of then the outcome will be deadly. This church is preaching the gospel to its community, telling them that the Kingdom of God is made up of sinners just like them who humbly repent and depend upon Jesus.
Why is church discipline necessary in the church? The Chursh is supposed to look now like the Kingdom of God will look when Jesus comes back. That means that there should NOT be any lost people on church roles. However, in a fallen world until Jesus comes back it will be true that the membership of churches will be made up of genuine believers and false professors (though churches should work hard to minimize this). The church discipline process is intended to reveal those who are false and those who are genuine before it is too late. If a person repents then it gives evidence they are saved. If a person refuses to repent of a habitual sin, then it gives evidence that they may not be saved. The church practices this judgment ahead of the final judgment to plead with the person to repent (cf. 1 Cor. 5). If they never come to a state of repentance then there is no good reason to believe they will be saved from the judgment to come.
Second, other churches need to recover the biblical practice of church discipline in the 21st century.
The Pastor of the church in Jacksonville stated that the church is simply doing “nothing more than following the practices of what biblical churches have done through history.” That is true. Discipline has been a mark of the church from the beginning. Unfortunately far too few churches actually practice it today or practice it rightly. So many have shied away from it for one reason or another. Many have stopped practicing church discipline out of cowardice and accomodation to the culture. We live in a culture of political correctness where morality is seen as negotiable and no one has the right to tell another what he or she is doing or believes is wrong. Others have stopped practicing it because they are unaware of what the Bible says. Still others, mainly pastors, refuse to practice church discipline out of fear for their jobs. Sometimes discipline might affect a prominent family in the church, or the congregation might not be on board with it so pastors will refuse to (patiently!!!) lead their congregation through the process. Sometimes it is because discipline would actually decrease the numbers in the church, and that is obviously not a good resume builder for any pastor… I pray that churches in the 21st century, especially the churches of the SBC, will recover this biblical practice because it is right and it is helpful (see above). If what the Bible says is true, and church discipline is loving and evangelistic (seeking to save lives from Hell), then it is clear how important it is for churches to practice discipline and how dangerous it is for them to refuse to practice it. Nothing less than the purity of the church, Christ’s Bride, is at stake here.
The need for recovery is even seen in some of the comments made by Dr. Bock in the news piece. He rightly says that it is not uncommon for churches to focus on discipline, but he also says that discipline is normally reserved for church leaders rather than “a normal member of the church.” This is not what the Bible says. Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 are two of the key texts on discipline and they do not mention a distinction between the discipline of members and leaders within the church. 1 Corinthians 5 talks simply about “a man” in the congregation. Matthew 18 talks about “your brother.” Dr. Bock also says the actions of the church are unusual because Hancock withdrew from the membership of the church. While it is true that many churches will simply stop the process when a member stops coming, that is NOT what the Bible is talking about when it explains church discipline. In our culture people attend and join churches as consumers. If I at any point don’t like the product any more then I’ll simply “shop” elsewhere. That is why church discipline is so necessary. Even if the offender leaves, the church should still carry out discipline because it has the responsibility before God to do what He calls them to do. Allowing an unrepentant offender to leave the church and potentially go to another one without ever having to face accountability or be publicly disciplined is not right or good for the person, the congregation he or she is leaving, the congregation he or she is going to, or the community. The offender’s disciplining church should notify any future church that the person left under discipline so that any future church could pick up the process of loving accountability.
Part 2 will be posted later this week. It will deal with issues like the authority of Jesus in discipline, practical words of caution, what the future will hold for churches who practice discipline, and the hoped for outcome of the situation in Jacksonville.
One of my favorite things about Christmas is the opportunity to give. As long as I live I want to always have a giving mindset. As a student pastor, one of my goals is to help students understand that nothing they own belongs to them. All time, possessions, and thoughts belong to God. Everything belongs to God! Every minute of the day belongs to God. Every dollar we have belongs to God. Every thought we have belongs to God. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” Because what we have actually belongs to God in the first place, we should give back to God and to others cheerfully. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 9:7 “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Giving is not so much about money, but rather it is an issue of the heart.
With only a few days left in this Christmas season I’ve compiled a list of seven ways you can give in ways that are outside of your weekly tithe. I hope this list will stay with you and your family every year and help you to develop a giving mindset in life.
It is easy to fall into the trap of keeping all that we receive or by only giving the ten percent to the church. We can sit and imagine all the things we could buy if we had all the money in the world. We could buy nicer clothes, cooler cell phones, shoes, cars, and go to the movies every single day. You could probably even pay someone to do all of your work! But we don’t have all the money in the world. If you only think of the money you receive as an opportunity to buy you more stuff, then you miss the point. Every time we choose to give of ourselves, we are showing the love of Christ. We must understand that getting is designed for giving. I hope sacrificial giving will always be incorporated into your life, especially at Christmas time. Merry Christmas!
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