There is clearly soteriological heresy in the SBC

The long lament of SBC leaders concerns declining baptisms. The weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth was intensified last June when the lowest number of baptisms was reported since 1946, when Georgia’s Louie Newton was SBC president. The drop was called a “freefall.” Thom Ranier, LifeWay head said that “evangelism and discipleship are waining” in the SBC. Frank Page said that we should all “lament the poor state of our churches, our lack of evangelistic fervor, and our increasingly irrelevant programs.”

Indeed. We are accustomed to the June swoon of SBC leaders when the baptism figures are released.

So, we should all be pleased to have J. D. Greear as a nominee for SBC president, since his church has baptized 4,326 over the past six years, an average of 721 per year. Shouldn’t we?

Apparently not, since anti-Greear voices have found creative ways to diminish the success of The Summit in reaching people for Christ and seeing that they are baptized.

The first line of complaint is that Greear’s church is a multi-site mega-church but dividing the baptism totals up among the various church sites or even generating a ratio of baptisms to membership still shows The Summit as far above the SBC average.

So, the approach is to say that Greear has a soteriological problem. This, of course, flows from the anti-Calvinist zealots who are then faced with the problem of someone they label a Calvinist who does stellar and exemplary work in the area of evangelism. Thus, the talking point for the anti-Greear crowd is that his evangelism is fine but his soteriology is flawed.

Consider this hacker and plodder to be puzzled as to how one can have flawed soteriology and yet have authentic evangelism at the same time. Are those baptized not saved? Did they receive a false Gospel? Is an equivalience being made between The Summit’s evangelism and that of the Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witnesses where there are converts and baptisms but they aren’t saved?

Let’s be honest, though, and acknowledge that we clearly have soteriological heresy in the SBC. That heresy is an old one and has been labeled “functional universalism.” It abounds. It is the unspoken but clearly practiced belief that somehow, some way, everyone will end up in heaven with Jesus.

I wish Adrian Rogers, the most outstanding SBCer in the last half of the 20th century, was still around. He’s not but one can usually find a key quote on most problems facing the SBC. How about this (and I may be slightly paraphrasing it):

“In doctrine you can be just as straight as a gunbarrel and just as empty.”

The baptisteries of  a good portion of the 47,272 SBC churches will be empty as well this year.

Here is an expression of J. D. Greer’s soteriology, in his own words:

For the record, I believe Jesus died for all people, that every person can and should be called to repent and believe, and that you haven’t fully preached the gospel if you haven’t called for that response. #GospelAboveAll

                                                                                                                                           — J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) February 6, 2018

I often come back to the prophet Isaiah’s words: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isa 59:1). In other words, the hesitation is not in God; it’s in us. God has not changed.  He still desires to extend his salvation to the ends of the earth, he still has the power to do it, and he still plans to use us. The question is, are we prepared for him to move? How We Can Reverse Our Downward Trend of Baptisms

Realistically, the office of SBC president has little to do with baptisms. All SBC presidents are in favor of increased evangelism and baptisms and all of the SBC presidents in my memory pastored churches with outstanding records in this area.

There is soteriological heresy afoot in the Grand Old SBC. Thousands of SBC pastors are guilty of it. Some of these are Calvinists. Some of them are Traditionalists.

J. D. Greear is not one of them.

 

More about satellite SBC annual meetings and remote voting: still a bad idea

Why wouldn’t all of us be in favor of expanding participation for voting for the SBC Annual Meeting by having satellite meetings, perhaps at your local Baptist associational office, where folks who can’t make the annual meeting in Dallas or Phoenix or Nashville or Indianapolis could cast their vote? It’s tough to address some populist ideas because the presumption of greater participation always puts you on the defensive, having to explain why more people voting is a bad idea.

Well, it is a bad idea but I offer a bit more about it. I have speculated about that as a way to increase attendance (Can’t get a crowd at the annual meeting?)  which has been in the neighborhood of five to seven thousand for the last seven year or so. Orlando had 11,070 back in 2010, the last time the five-digit barrier was broken. Here’s a site that gives an attendance list for the last half-century.

The idea has been discussed here and elsewhere in the run-up to the convention this year in Dallas. Location makes a difference. There will be more in sultry Dallas than in overbaked Phoenix. Controversy and contention always bring out the Baptists as well. I haven’t seen any attendance predictions but will make a wild conjecture that attendance in Dallas will be 11,352. We’ll see what kind of prophet I am. Probably not so good.

Reaction to my March 17th article (Satellite SBC meetings and remote voting: The best terrible idea around) on the subject included a request from a commenter (Randy Seale) to see an Executive Committee study on the subject that I mentioned. I suggested he email the Executive Committee, which he did. He received some information and shared that with me. Here are some of the points made in that email from the Executive Committee.

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The issue of annual meeting decentralization has been raised and examined by the Executive Committee many times, including in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1997, etc. and most recently in 2011, which was reported to the Convention’s messengers in 2012. [For that report, see page 127-8 of the 2012 SBC Annual.] The Executive Committee declined to take further steps in this direction and offered these reasons:

  • the simplicity of conducting business at a single site is preferable to the complexity of doing so via innumerable and complex off-site computer configurations;
    the Convention has a continuing interest in positively affecting various regions of America with as great a physical presence of Southern Baptists as possible during the Convention’s annual meetings and ancillary events such as Crossover;
  • the dependability of conducting business at a single site is superior to “distance” messenger participation because of the susceptibility of the technology to interruption or failure, which would negatively and significantly impact the meeting, its actions, and the relationships of those involved;
  • the present “public” method of casting ballots involves some level of “in-person” and “eye-witness” assurance that ballots have been received and cast only by qualified messengers, and is therefore preferable to any other system which would permit an individual to receive and/or cast a ballot privately and electronically from a remote location without accountability;
  • ministry and service opportunities and resources are now well-conveyed by high exhibitor participation, which would decline if attendance were to become less concentrated;
  • fostering and strengthening relationships with and between various affinity groups that schedule their meetings to coincide with the Convention’s annual meeting is best accomplished by encouraging the physical presence of messengers;
  • the funds required to undertake the study and then for any implementation would likely be substantial; and diverting missions offerings to pioneer the use of such technology (there being no known model for web-based constituent participation in any similarly-sized, deliberative body) would be an inappropriate prioritization.

The SBC has traditionally taken a course of great care and caution in adopting new paradigms, not wishing to invest ministry resources in untested or unproven methodologies before other organizations have worked through whatever challenges may exist (both anticipated and unexpected).  Said a different way, the SBC has shown little interest in being a proving ground for innovation, deciding instead to be extremely frugal in applying its ministry resources (money), waiting to employ new processes until they have been thoroughly tested elsewhere. 

…No similarly-sized, fully accessible and participative (open mics), parliamentary controlled and unscripted, deliberative body is yet known to have successfully adopted a multi-site format and maintained its character.   

…It is probable that the issue will be formally raised by motion again in the future, but whether it is or is not, the EC will continue to have the possibility in its “peripheral vision” as technology advances.   

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My SBC colleagues may not like the Executive Committee’s response to distance voting but no one can complain that they have ignored the matter or that they will not respond to requests for information about such things. Randy Seale should be thanked for taking the time to ask. He got answers.

 

 

 

 

 

A thriving Cooperative Program needs all kinds of churches on board

The Cooperative Program is our main funding mechanism. It puts more dollars than any other source into SBC state conventions and their assorted ministries as well as the SBC level entities (one proviso on this, though, is that direct giving puts more dollars into SBC level entities than does CP). Perhaps more important than the dollars is that the CP is our method of uniting churches, state conventions, and SBC level entities in cooperative ministry. Almost all of us desire a strong CP and most of us would think an increasing CP dollar flow makes us a healthier convention.

While it would be nice in some ways if we could go back to the double-digit percentage averages of the 1970s (we are at an average of 5.16% of church undesignated receipts to the CP according to the latest figures available), no amount of cajoling or cheerleading will put us there. I know of no SBC leader who expects that to happen although a few of the more long-in-the-tooth leaders do get overwhelmed by heavy doses of nostalgia and speak wistfully about the halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s.

It’s reasonable to be optimistic about having a stable and even increasing Cooperative Program…if we don’t blow off all our toes with denominational rancor or provincialism. Is it a reasonable conclusion that there will be no possibility of a thriving CP unless we conduct ourselves such that we convey the value of all kinds of churches, all kinds of church mission giving patterns, and all kinds of church mission giving priorities?

I think so, and I appreciate the denominational folks that I’ve dealt with over the years who have been careful not to disparage a pastor or church that gives less than 10% to the CP, or less than the current average, or who makes the two mission offerings a priority. I appreciate the leaders who have appealed to pastors and churches in a positive manner.

In regard to below average CP giving, there are plenty of targets. Just 4% of SBC churches accounted for half of all CP giving in a recent analysis. I’ve never seen a median CP percentage for all SBC churches, only an average, but I’d guess that if below average CP percentage churches are targeted that would be 30,000 or more of the almost 50,000 SBC churches. Some haughty SBCers disparage any church that gives under the mythical and unbiblical CP “tithe” of 10%.

We need all kinds of churches on board with the Cooperative Program.

Here are some approaches to promoting the CP that seem counterproductive to me:

  • Posit an artifical percentage goal as if that had some connection to reality. The 10% goal is disconnected from any reality in SBC life. It is not a goal that goes beyond a number, although some salivate over what we could do with all that additional funding. I liked Frank Page’s approach which was to encourage churches to increase what they are doing now. Divorcing the CP from where and how the money is spent is death to the program.
  • Disparage churches that give below the current average.  A state convention executive recently declared that churches which gave below the national average did not fully support the CP. That’s not much of a plan to increase the CP. Trashing churches isn’t a growth plan.
  • Declare war on a class of pastors and churches. While some object to martial terminology, I think it fits. If Calvinistic pastors and churches, and definitions are quite fluid on what that means in SBC life, are seen as the enemy, I doubt that is much of a motivation for increasing cooperation. There no argument that more calvinistic pastors are being graduated by our seminaries than previously. If a state convention decides that these are unacceptable within their borders, it only follows that those pastors and churches would consider more carefully where their mission dollars are sent. Such is not a threat but rather a reevaluation thrust upon them by (mainly) state convention leaders.
  • Ignore the fact that we now have considerable numbers of dually affiliated churches and that these lack our common history which affects CP giving.
  • Take a highly partisan and aggressive stance on the election of SBC leaders. If a state convention leader has a personal preference for SBC president or other SBC positions, that is to be expected. If the resources of a state convention are made available in a partisan fashion, that’s a bit different. State conventions are autonomous players in SBC life. They may act as they will but I cannot see how this would lead to increased cooperation.
  • Dismiss classes of churches who have substantially increased cooperation because it came too little and too late. Is it lost on us that there has been and is a considerable shift in behavior by larger churches? The megachurches of Ronnie Floyd, Steve Gaines, and J. D. Greear have greatly improved their previous very low CP percentages and are now giving huge sums to the Cooperative Program. Reasonable people would say that this is good. Unreasonable people are saying that it doesn’t matter and that it is not enough. Thank God these and other very large churches see value in the CP and in SBC mission support.
  • Create an artifical divide between “societal” and “cooperative” giving. Concomitant to this would be disparaging churches for “societal” giving, even if that giving was to our mission boards, seminaries, and other SBC work.
  • Present the CP as sacred and the standard by which all things SBC should be measured. It is both valuable and invaluable to our cooperative efforts but it is not sacred. The SBC did splendid work for 80 years without it. When it was established, it grew not because churches were required to participate nor because churches were cajoled and criticized for not participating at certain levels, but because leaders commended the CP on the basis of its value to the churches.

Frank Page will be replaced in due time. One hopes that the Executive Committee finds a leader who is as inclusive, positive, and encouraging to all pastors and churches as was Frank Page.

 

Things you probably need to know…

…and I’m happy to help.

Squirrels, those rats of the forest with long fluffy tails, are being brought back from the ‘dead’. Rodent CPR. Why?

Complaints are being noised that our ERLC leader can’t get into the White House. But we do have a few megapastors who seem to get there and end up being photographed standing beside prosperity gospel superstar Paula White. God bless Russell Moore.

Don’t worry about the world ending a week from Monday, National Geographic sez. Instead, plan for the usual Global Warming catastrophes. Seems that there has long been a conspiracy theory (Nibiru, look it up) on this. We’ve got our very own SBC conspiracy theories to occupy our time so it’s good to know the NGS is on top of apocalyptic stuff.

I never had to think about a church policy covering firearms in church until now. My pastor sent me a proposed policy the other day. Seems that in Georgia a church can either allow all legal carriers to have guns in church or no guns at all in church, not even your security team. Let me ruminate on this. If you want to have armed security in your facilities then all gun cowboys who manage to get a carry permit have to be allowed to roam around your facilities armed to the teeth? Some Second Amendment sage is going to have to explain this to me.

This is the most contentious pre-SBC election season in over two decades. It’s not Greear or Hemphill but some rabid supporters. It’s tough to have a sensible discussion with folks who think they are saving the convention. Lord, deliver us.

Percolating just under the radar…the court case where a federal district judge declared the cash housing allowance unconstitutional. Pastors don’t have enough to worry about already, so I though I’d keep this towards the top of the list. No need to thank me.

I have no desire to visit Dallas in June for a sweatfest but…I’ve been prevailed upon by family and will be there. Maybe I’ll rejoin the Y and acclimitize myself by getting in some sauna time. See you there brethren and sistren.

Frank Page was one of the best SBC leaders in a long time. His work will be missed. The IMB will have an easier time replacing David Platt than the Executive Committee will replacing our former Chief Encouraging Officer. If ever we needed someone with wisdom, diplomacy, and savvy, it’s now.

My state convention is the main driver behind two very large choral groups. My wife sings in one of them and they had a concert last night. It was fabulous. This is work that would likely not be done were the GBMB not behind it. It’s a great example of effective state convention ministry.

My church has a drummer. Sometimes he flails away at the poor drum heads con mucho gusto…so, they put him in a plexiglass cage, like something out of an old Twilight Zone episode. Looks like a pretty good solution to me.