Things Remembered

One of William Thornton’s posts prompted me to think about Southern Baptist practices of the past. I’m 69 years old, and I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. So, I remember lots of things that may seem quaint to our younger readers. Other old codgers (like William and Dave) may want to add to my list.

Hymns and hymnals. In the old days we did not have LCD projectors, and no one knew anything about PowerPoint, so we sang hymns from the hymnal. Typically, we sang three hymns on Sunday morning, not counting the invitation hymn. The only time we sang a chorus in worship was during a revival meeting. Often, we had a theme chorus that we’d sing at each revival service.

Doxology. Every Sunday morning we sang the doxology after the offering had been taken. I kind of miss doing that. It’s good to be reminded that all our blessings come from God.

Organs. No, not heart and lungs—a musical instrument that was played during worship services. Wealthy churches had pipe organs, and most other churches had an electric organ. Even small churches used a small Hammond organ. Not many churches use one now. I’ve heard it’s hard to find an organist.

Responsive Readings. In the back of the hymnal you could find many responsive readings. These were passages of Scripture, divided into verses read by the leader and verses read by the congregation. I miss these, too; responsive readings involved everyone in reading the Bible aloud. Surely, that is a good thing.

Revivals. When I was a boy, most Southern Baptist churches held a fall revival and a spring revival. At first these were two weeks long and later one week long. Now, they are usually a weekend meeting or even a one-day event. Many churches also sponsored a summer youth revival, and there were young evangelists who became famous for preaching in these youth revivals.

Training Union. On Sunday evening, before the Sunday night worship service, we attended Training Union, which was a church program intended to disciple new believers, train leaders, and teach Bible doctrine. Typically, each participant had “a part” to read to the group.

M-Night. M-Night was short for Mobilization Night. Baptist associations sponsored these rallies in in September, before the new church year began in October. These were like pep rallies and informational meetings to promote Training Union.

Women’s Missionary Union (WMU). The WMU was an organization for SBC women, and they promoted missions education, prayer for missions, and giving to missions. They sponsored the Week of Prayer for Foreign Missions every December and the week of prayer for Home Missions every Easter. Of course, they also encouraged the church members to give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions and the Annie Armstrong Offering for Home Missions. They taught missions to little children in Sunbeams and to girls in the Girls Auxiliary (GAs). Every year our church would have a GA coronation service to honor the girls who had earned recognition. One year Mary Alice was crowned “Queen Regent with Scepter.” Of course the WMU still exists, but its numbers have steadily declined in recent years. Our SBC churches miss the missions emphasis provided by the WMU.

World Missions Conferences. When I was a young missionary, while on furlough I was required to speak in a certain number of World Missions Conferences. These were 8-day (Sunday through Sunday) conferences that were sponsored by local Baptist associations. Foreign missionaries, home missionaries, and state missionaries would go to the association, and we would speak in a different church each night and on two Sunday mornings. I would preach on missions on the two Sunday mornings. Every night I would lug my Kodak Ectographic slide projector to another church and show my 2 by 2 slides and tell the folks about our ministry in the Philippines. At one church a man came up to me after the meeting and said, “Usually, these missionary talks are really boring, but yours wasn’t half bad.” I believe that is called faint praise. Very few associations sponsor these events any more. I’ve been told that our folks will not attend them these days. That makes me sad.

Dressing Up. In by-gone days we wore our “Sunday best” to church. Men wore suits and ties, and women wore hats and gloves (when I was really young). Now, folks dress more casually, and that does not bother me, though it seems some people take it too far.

Well, what are your memories, precious and otherwise?


A Call to Prioritism

I’ve followed with interest the debate about social justice. We seem to struggle with a definition of what it is, much less agree on what to do to achieve it. The Lord Jesus issued two primary commandments to His followers: The Great Commission and The Great Commandment. Of course, the Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:18-20—

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20  teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NASB)

We find the Great Commandment in Matthew 2:36-39–

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37  And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38  This is the great and foremost commandment. 39  The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’” (NASB).

We would all agree that these words from the mouth of our Savior have equal importance and authority. The problem comes when we try to obey both
simultaneously and equally.

Dr. Al Mohler spoke about this in this in his recent remarks in the Southern Seminary chapel. He spoke of conversionists and transformationists. The conversionists emphasize evangelism and missions, while the transformationists seek to do good to all people and transform society. Dr. David Hesselgrave wrote a great book on missions in 2005: “Paradigms in Conflict.” In chapter four of that book, he discussed the dilemma faced by foreign missionaries. Should they focus on evangelism and church planting or should they alleviate the physical suffering that they encounter in developing countries? In his book, Hesselgrave used the terms “holism” and “prioritism.” In the chapter, he wrote that though foreign missionaries have always sought to do ministry to social/physical needs, historically they have prioritized evangelism.

This debate is not a new development in church history. In the early years of the twentieth century, Walter Rauschenbusch and others founded a movement called “the Social Gospel Movement.” Faced with grinding poverty in America’s cities, they declared that it was not enough to offer salvation; churches should seek to minister to the whole person, alleviating suffering as best they could. The conservative churches reacted to the Social Gospel Movement and the influx of liberal theology into the USA by publishing “The Fundamentals,” a series of books on the basic beliefs of Christianity, written by conservative scholars. The conservative churches also published statements of faith, and our own Baptist Statement of Faith and Message (925) was one such. The conflict between these opposing camps became fierce, and conservatives came to distrust any mention of the “social gospel.”

After World War II Carl F. H. Henry and other leaders, like Billy Graham and Harold Ockenga,
sought a middle way—a way that would display fidelity to the Bible and also address human needs. They called their movement the “Evangelical Movement.” In recent years many Evangelicals, especially younger ones, are calling for a more holistic approach to foreign missions and church ministry. For example, the amount of money donated for the alleviation of poverty overseas has increased tremendously in proportion to the amount given for evangelism and church planting. As a result, Evangelical missions agencies focus on holistic ministries in their fundraising.

What can we say about this? Certainly, we accept our obligation to make disciples of all nations and also to love our neighbor as ourselves. These are not contradictory commandments. Some Christians demonstrate a passion for missions, while others express their concern for “human needs ministry” (to use the IMB’s term). Surely, that is a good thing. We need plenty of both. In our churches, we recognize that some members have a passion for children’s ministry, and others serve as champions for ministry to shut-ins. Jesus Christ provides us with a way to resolve this dilemma. Jesus came preaching the good news of the Kingdom, but He also fed the hungry and healed the sick. Our foreign missionaries have always done this. Certainly, they have preached the gospel and planted churches. They have also established schools, founded hospitals, and built orphanages around the world. Properly done, human needs ministry opens the door for evangelism, and going about doing evangelism brings one into contact with those who have physical needs. I like to tell my students that one hand washes the other. They work together to bless people in every way.

In “Paradigms in Conflict” David Hesselgrave makes that very point. Missionaries should engage in both types of ministry: evangelism and human needs. In the end, though, he insists that evangelistic ministry must be our highest priority. Why so? Evangelistic efforts address humanity’s deepest need—the need for eternal salvation. Feeding, healing, educating, and freeing persons from oppression are important and needful. Those ministries deserve our attention and activity, but they meet temporal needs. In his final words to His disciples (Acts 1:8) Jesus commanded them to witness about Him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the whole world. He did not speak of alleviating physical and social needs. This then is “prioritism.” It acknowledges responsibility Christians have to meet human needs, but it recognizes the greatest human need is reconciliation with God through Christ.

Is Calvinism Anti-Missions?

Disclaimer and disclosure: I am not a Calvinist, nor am I an anti-Calvinist traditionalist. Theologically, I am somewhere in the middle, and the Baptist statement of Faith and Message summarizes my beliefs accurately. I am not a theologian, and I am not writing to assess the worth of Calvinism. Rather, I was trained as a historian. I’ve taught seminary courses on the church history, missions history, and the history of evangelism.  I have written/published a book on the history of evangelism and a book on the history of missions. I’m writing to counter a common criticism against Calvinism—that Calvinism is inherently anti-missions. I hope our commenters can focus on history and not lambast each other over doctrine.

The Claim

Anti-Calvinists often claim that Calvinism is inherently anti-missions and anti-evangelism. They imply that if the SBC embraces Calvinism, our evangelism and missions will decline precipitously. For example, Dr. William Estep, long-time professor of church history at Southwestern Seminary, wrote an article for the Baptist Standard (the state paper of the Baptist General Convention of Texas) in April 1997 in which he stated: “logically, Calvinism is anti-missionary. The Great Commission is meaningless if every person is programmed for salvation or damnation.” Well, what about this claim? Does it stand up under historical scrutiny?

The Facts

Calvinism derives its theology from John Calvin. So, what did he teach and do about missions and evangelism? In his commentary on Matthew 28:19 Calvin wrote this: “This is the point of the word ‘go’ (exeundi): the boundaries of Judea were prescribed to the prophets under the law, but now the wall is pulled down and the Lord orders the ministers of the gospel to go far out to scatter the teachings of salvation throughout all the regions of the earth.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, eds. D. F. Torrance and T. F. Torrance, Eerdmans Publishing, 1972, 251). That is what he wrote. What did he do? He sent evangelists and church planters throughout France, and they established the Huguenot churches. Calvin also sent a mission team to Brazil. Sadly, it was short-lived due to the persecution of the Catholic priests there, who incited the Indians to attack the mission settlement.

What about later Calvinists? Richard Baxter wrote the classic book on practical theology from the Reformed perspective: “The Reformed Pastor.” What was Baxter’s practice in regard to evangelism? According to Dr. Tim Beougher of Southern Baptist Seminary, who wrote “Richard Baxter and Conversion,” Richard Baxter went door to door throughout his town, asking each person if they had professed faith in Christ. The First Great Awakening in America was led by Theodore Frelinghuysen, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield, Calvinists all.

Missions historians call William Carey the Father of the Modern Missions Movement, and he was a Calvinist. Adoniram Judson, the great pioneer Baptist missionary to Burma, also was a Calvinist. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Prince of Baptist Preachers, was a staunch Calvinist, yet he preached evangelistically and wrote many books on evangelism, as well as many gospel tracts. Beyond that, he was an enthusiastic supporter of foreign missions and formed a close friendship with Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission.

In modern times John Piper, a firm five-point Calvinist, served as the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for many years. Bethlehem Church has been a model for local church missions, both in its support of foreign missions and inner-city missions in its locality. John Piper wrote a book, “Let the Nations Be Glad,” which has been used as a missions textbook in many seminaries. Dr. Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Seminary is an outspoken Calvinist. Yet, I heard him declare in a chapel service at Southern Seminary: “If your Calvinism does not motivate you to share Jesus Christ with others, then take your Calvinism and leave.”

The Conclusion

In conclusion, what can we gather from this brief historical sketch? Calvinism is not inherently anti-missions, and those who say this are mistaken. It is accurate to say that hyper-Calvinism is anti-missions. In Baptist history, there was an anti-missions movement led by Daniel Parker (circa 1820). He believed in double-predestination; that is, some people are predestined to be saved, and some people are predestined to be condemned. Therefore, he objected to missions for theological reasons. From his point of view, if the eternal destiny of all souls is predetermined, there is no point in doing evangelism or missions.  He also rejected the idea of any kind of missions society. In the end, we must insist on precise language. It is incorrect to say that Calvinism is anti-missions, but it is correct to say that hyper-Calvinism is. Now, you might respond, “I know a pastor in my association who is a Calvinist, and he is not active in evangelism.” That may well be true, but I know non-Calvinist pastors who do little in evangelism. When I taught at Southern Seminary, I was walking down the hallway one day, and I student approached me. He announced, “I’m a Calvinist!” That declaration caught me by surprise, as I did not know him and had not asked him about his theology. I replied, “Very well. Be a Calvinist like Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and we’ll get along fine.”


Finding Balance in Ministry

Several weeks ago Dave Miller published a post that presented a retrospective of his life. (Undergoing major surgery does give one a different perspective.) I understood Dave’s post to communicate that he wished he had achieved better balance in his life. Certainly, we all want to balance our lives and ministries, but that often proves to be a great challenge. How can we balance our lives?

I can still remember my years as a Master of Divinity student at Southwestern Seminary (1972-75). In our homiletics class, the professor said we should spend at least 20 hours study on each sermon. Preachers who preach three times each week thus would spend 60 hours each week on sermon preparation. A chapel speaker exhorted us to maintain a fulsome devotional life and spend at least an hour in devotional Bible reading and prayer each day. Another chapel speaker declared that Southern Baptist ministers are fat, weak, and out of shape. He encouraged us to spend 30 minutes a day exercising. My pastoral ministry professor told us that we needed to spend our afternoons visiting the hospitals, counseling hurting people, and doing church administration. My evangelism professor encouraged us to go out and witness several days each week. During those years James Dobson and his Focus on the Family gained great popularity, and he taught us to spend adequate time with our families.

My seminary buddies and I talked about these exhortations, and one friend added up the time required to fulfill all those expectations. The total came to 120 hours a week, or about 17 hours a day. Now, to be sure, all the activities mentioned above are essential, but that would not leave C B Scott much time to watch Crimson Tide football or me to watch University of Kentucky basketball.

What can we do realistically to balance our lives and do all the good things we were taught in seminary? Here are some suggestions for achieving balance.

First, remember the biblical principle of Sabbath rest  (Gen 2:1-3).

The Lord rested on the seventh day of creation and made Sabbath observance one of the Ten Commandments. Of course, pastors and staff members cannot rest on Sunday, but it is important to take a day off each week. Doing so will prolong your ministry. I’ve heard guys say, “I’d rather burn out than rust out.” My response is—either way you’re out. Ministry is like a marathon race, not a sprint. You have to find a pace of life/ministry that you can maintain for 40 years.

Second, work out a time budget.

If you allocate your time carefully, you’ll be surprised how much you can do.

Third, avoid time robbers.

These are activities or habits that steal time from more important things. I read an article by a pastor who struggled with time management. When he analyzed his daily activities, he realized that each day he would walk to the post office to pick up the church’s mail. On the way back he would stop in the coffee shop and talk to folks there for two hours. He asked the church secretary to get the mail and freed up ten hours of prime working time each week. Fourth, delegate responsibilities to others, when possible. Enlist and train lay persons to do what they can do, and you can focus on doing what they cannot do.

Last, and most importantly, establish your priorities.

Our highest priority is our relationship with the Lord. So, make your devotional time a priority. You cannot give out spiritual food continually if you are not ingesting spiritual food daily. Second, don’t neglect your family. I heard Dr. Ken Hemphill share this story in a conference. He was at his church (FBC of Norfolk, VA) one day, and his wife called. She said, “Honey there is a couple in the church that is about to be divorced.” He replied, “Tell me who it is, and I’ll go right over there.” She responded, “It’s us.” He told his secretary to cancel all his appointments for the next two days, and he went home to reconcile with his wife. You won’t do your church much good if you lose your family. In his old age, a reporter asked Billy Graham what he would do differently. He said, “I would spend more time with my family. I was away too much and left Ruth with too much responsibility.” As a field missionary, I began scheduling family time, and I reserved those times for my wife and two children. Last, a time budget or time use plan will help you ensure that you are giving adequate time to sermon preparation evangelism, pastoral care, etc. We all struggle with achieving balance. Perhaps our Voices readers can share some tips that will help others.