Thoughts on J.D. Greear’s Comments on Homosexuality

I was once asked to officiate a wedding for a young couple that had been attending our church.  The young man had waited for me outside the building and he was very nervous.  I knew the couple had been living together, and when he asked, I looked into his face and said, “I don’t normally marry couples who are living together.  That’s against what God’s Word says, so we’ll have to talk about that.”  I’ll never forget that conversation. I was right. However, I did a poor job of loving my neighbor.  I loved being right more than I loved that young man, and it cost me the opportunity to influence a young couple with the gospel.

J.D. Greear has been accused by American family Radio of jettisoning gospel truth in favor of loving his neighbor, particularly those neighbors who happen to be homosexuals.  If you haven’t read the accusations, you can read them right here.  The statement that prompted these accusations seems to have been “We have to love our gay neighbor more than we love our position on homosexuality.”  Greear went on to say, “We say yes, this issue is important.  I cannot compromise, but I love you more than I love being right.

I’d like to give a few thoughts on this article:

  1. The author says that the number one cultural and social issue of the day is homosexuality.  I respectfully disagree and believe that the number one social and cultural issue of our day is the tribal nature and labeling so prevalent in our culture.  If we could find our identity in Christ rather than a political party or a certain moral position, then, as Dr. Tony Evans said at the 2018 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, “Two hundred year problems would become two-minute problems.”
  2. Loving our neighbor does not mean we have to jettison Biblical truth.  we need only to look at the example set by our Savior to see an example of loving they neighbor and standing for truth.  In the eighth chapter of John, Jesus is confronted with a woman caught in adultery.  Did He shame her for her adultery?  Did he tell her that adultery was against God’s plan for her life?  Did he tell her that she would need to repent of her evil before He could offer His help?  No, He saved her life!  think about that for a minute.  Jesus, who could have rightly condemned this woman for her evil act, saved her life first from the hypocritical religious leaders of her day.  He loved her.  Did he let her sin slide?  No, he instructed her to go and sin no more.  He both loved her and stood for Biblical truth.
  3. We have to learn to live with those who have specks in their eyes.  The author of this attack on Dr. Greear seems to assert that we cannot live with those who are living homosexual lifestyles.  How exactly is Christ supposed to use us to draw others to Himself if we have to live separate from them?  We can live with sinners and not participate in their sins.  We do it all the time.  If we knew everyone in our communities who had been convicted of a crime or spent time in jail, we would understand that we’ve always lived among sinners without participating in or endorsing their sins.
  4. What about millennials?  The author says something about millennials and the election of Greear as SBC President.  I’m not sure what that has to do with Greear’s election other than I guess the author is blaming our generation for the future demise of the SBC.  I’ve been a Southern Baptist since I was born, and if our convention is advocating showing more love to those who do not know Christ, then I will continue to be a Southern Baptist.

Let me be clear, I believe sin is clearly defined in God’s Word.  God has shown us what is right and what is wrong, and we are responsible for communicating God’s truth to the unbelieving world.  We’re also responsible for loving the unbelieving world.  I would be willing to bet that the man who had been beaten and left for dead in Luke 10 was glad that the Samaritan man didn’t read him a list of all his sins before he bandaged his wounds. I’d bet Matthew was glad that Jesus didn’t condemn him for being a cheating tax collector before He asked Him to come follow.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a ringing brass gong or a clashing cymbal.”  What good does it do us to have knowledge of everyone’s sin yet fail to show them love?  I’m afraid AFR is becoming a clanging gong or a clanging cymbal.

Lost in #SBC18 Noise: Evangelism Task Force Report and Recommendations

My how we SBCers do love the ‘National Blue Ribbon Task Force’ approach to addressing seemingly intractable, long-running problems in the SBC chief of which is the steadily declining baptism total. Steve Gaines appointed and the Convention approved last year such a group, the Evangelism Task Force.

Baptist Press reported on it with a couple of stories:

Evangelism Task Force Releases Report, Recommendations

‘All of us’ must evangelize, SBC agrees with task force

The ETF produced a report that included a section on “affirmations” and “denials” about evangelism. Naturally, soteriology is infused in the report. I haven’t seen any Cals or Trads complaining about the wording. Maybe we agree on it, or, perhaps the more vocal of the two camps is just being tight-lipped about it.

I’ve already seen a gripe or two about the statement that, WE DENY that the gospel is primarily concerned with social justice, political engagement, or secular aims resulting in the call to personal repentance and faith being minimized or ignored. I’m comfortable with that statement and the report does go on to state that WE DENY that the gospel only addresses personal spirituality and individual behavior. Seems to be a balanced statement to me.

No prob with the “sinner’s prayer” being legit: WE AFFIRM that a sinner’s prayer is a biblically appropriate and practically effective method by which lost people can personally receive God’s gracious offer of the gospel in repentance and faith. The report goes on to state that WE DENY that people are saved merely by mouthing the words of a specific prayer. Everyone happy with all this?

Vocational evangelists, a shrinking group in SBC life for a number of reasons, receive a plug: WE AFFIRM that God gifts certain individuals to function as evangelists as a gift to the church in order to lead in the harvest and to equip believers for greater effectiveness in personal witnessing and corporate outreach in order to build up the body of Christ…and WE DENY that the ministry of the New Testament evangelist ceased at the conclusion of the apostolic age and therefore is not a valid expression of God’s calling and gifting today. Everyone, presumably, can say a revival worthy, AMEN! to that.

The ETF report includes – in the form of recommendations for churches, pastors, seminaries, DOMs, state convention CEOs, NAMB, the Executive Committee, and all SBCers – concrete actions. The most significant ones are:

State convention CEOs: …should “prioritize evangelism in your staffing, training, and ministry…” My observation from the hinterlands is that evangelism staff were not effective unless the measure was in conducting conferences and training events. Although the recommendation is sensible and should be taken by state CEOs, I have a suggestion below that may prove more helpful in advancing baptism numbers.

NAMB: The ETF recommends that “senior level leadership” be hired. This is a throwback, I think, to an earlier NAMB. If NAMB goes back to creating evangelism resources and training events, there should be some metrics that justify devoting budget to such. Not having high visibility evangelism personnel has been one of the complaints about NAMB. I don’t know that it is justified here but I’ll state anyway that one of the things SBs do best is to throw money at a problem. Perhaps the new NAMB can rethink this and design something from the ground up that will do more than provide offices for staff and materials that churches might use.

DOMs: The ETF suggests that these “identify, celebrate, and use as training models churches and pastors who demonstrate evangelistic effectiveness resulting in baptized believers. We ask that you invite Baptist colleges, seminaries, state conventions, and churches who have effective evangelism ministries to assist churches that desire to increase evangelistic effectiveness.” Good ideas. If the DOM, many of whom are likely in a semi-retirement, terminal ministry position with few responsibilities would stir himself to do this, it may actually move the needle for some associational churches. No slam here against all DOMs, but most pastors know what is meant.

Executive Committee: Put a Sunday on the denominational calendar for “Baptism Day.” I think this is a good idea. If still a pastor, I’d join this one.

Here are a few suggestions of my own:

State Convention CEOs: Make it a requirement that your staff, all ministerial staff, engage in personal witnessing and report on it in staff meetings. Employ only those who model personal witnessing, starting with yourself. I’m all for competent administrators. I appreciate staff specialists in different ministry areas and I’m always pleased if they have preaching abilities. But, what would happen if all state staff had the reputation of being effective in personal evangelism? I am reminded of the overseas seminary prof who protested a requirement that he engage in personal evangelism with indigenous churches. He expressed that he thought teaching in a classroom was sufficient.

Seminaries: Almost half a century ago, a new Southern Baptist seminary was started that required personal witnessing by all students and faculty: Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. The six SBC seminaries would do well to adopt some version of this model and I think maybe some schools have done some things along these lines. The recommendations the ETF makes for seminaries, that they conduct annual witness training events for employees and students, consider enhancing curricular requirements in evangelism, and involve students and faculty indirect efforts to reach the lost through mission trips, local mission partnerships, and their local churches, are all good. You mean our seminaries, seedbeds for pastors, missionaries, and other SBC ministry workers do not already do these things?

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I appreciate the ETF’s work. These are serious, experienced, and knowledgeable individuals. I’m not optimistic that much will happen out of their work that will move the needle on SBC baptism numbers. I’d make a wild conjecture that NAMB will make some movement in this area. The rest, I don’t know. Maybe some seminaries will change a few things. I think Steve Gaines missed a good opportunity here by making this an all-male task force, though he couldn’t have known that women’s issues would be a dominant theme of #SBC18.

It will be interesting to see if this goes the way of the SBC name change of a few years ago: do it and forget it. I hope not.

 

 

American Family Radio Picking the Wrong Fight (Jimmy Meek)

As I come home from Dallas, I am refreshed at the Gospel unity shown at the Southern Baptist convention. I was however disappointed by what I heard on a Dallas AFR station. American Family Radio has a combination of broadcast sermons and political commentary shows, with a conservative Christian bent.  One of their commentators on Tuesday, hours prior to the election for SBC President between JD Greear and Ken Hemphill, was making an obvious push for listeners to side with Ken Hemphill. The reasons given seemed to be this commentator’s perception that the younger JD Greear was a liberal progressive etc… Greear’s concern for racial diversity and standing up for women who have been abused, apparently put him in the crosshairs of AFR.

I would like to think this was a misguided one-time incident, but my wife had already informed me that a week or so before she had heard an elderly former SBC leader on an AFR show touting the danger of a Reformed pastor like Greear leading the SBC. So while not knowing, this seems to be more of a concerted effort by AFR, than misguided zeal by one commentator.  My point is not that a political station like AFR can’t choose sides, but it would seem to me that taking up valuable air time, potentially used for promoting the person and work of Christ, could be better used than tearing down one of the most conservative, Biblically solid pastors around. Greear’s church, The Summit in North Carolina, is one of the most effective in our country in reaching the world for Jesus. Why would he be in the crosshairs of any true follower of Jesus, much less a national Christian radio station?

So while not angry at the political station AFR, I am disappointed that professing Christians would tear down one of Christ’s most effective ambassadors in Greear. I would have felt the same if they had wasted airtime tearing down the conservative, Biblically based Hemphill as well. Even from a practical standpoint, I would think AFR would be hesitant to alienate a huge percentage of their potential listener/donor base by going after a well thought of, Jesus honoring, conservative pastor. Spiritually it goes without saying this was unwise. So I will continue to listen to Adrian Rogers and Alistair Begg’s sermons on AFR and am thankful they are broadcast, but this example of horrible discernment on AFR’s part in their political commentary reminds me to turn my radio off, or to a more Christ-honoring channel when they go political. As I conclude this brief article, I will stop and thank the Lord for the good things AFR has done, and I will pray for them to have God-given wisdom in their future commentary.

 


Jimmy Meek is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in El Dorado AR. He was also one of the speakers at last year’s SBC Pastors’ Conference, Above Every Name.

 

 

The Annual SBC Statistical Weepfest

Just prior to each year’s annual meeting LifeWay releases the previous year’s Annual Church Profile statistical summary. Baptist Press reported on it yesterday, ACP: Worship attendance rises, baptisms decline. Last year I had an article on the previous year’s data: ACP 2016 Stats: Add a chapter to Lamentations. There’s a pattern here and I have the freedom to be more creative in my titles than BP.

Here are some highlights and lowlights from the 2017 data:

1. Baptisms are down, and by almost 10 percent. We in the SBC are highly spiritual and prefer not to talk about money. Baptisms are the coin-of-the-realm. If they’re down, we’re down. They have been trending down consistently for years. Churches reported 254,122 baptisms, 26,651 less than 2016. I have a medium-term solution: start having more babies. In a decade numbers will be up. Steve Gaines’ all-male Evangelism Task Force, chaired by none other than Paige Patterson, will report to the convention this year. Let’s see if they have a better idea than I.

2. The number of churches are up a tiny bit. It’s extremely difficult to close an SBC church, so this figure is easier to manage. There were 272 churches added, an increase of 0.58%. That’s not impressive but good.

3. Church membership is down slightly. We are at 15,005,638 members now and dropped by 1.39% from last year. First person to say “15 million strong” has to stand in the corner.

4. Weekly worship average attendance is up significantly. The percentage increase is small, 2.3% but that’s good, since the change last year was down by more than double that.

Overall there’s nothing much to brag about in all this, although we should brag on every single baptism. No need to despair. I’m not agonizing over declining numbers. I do my job. You do your job. I don’t think Jesus holds us accountable for denominational trends and results.

The most significant item in the 2017 statistical report is this: the number of churches that report their data through the Annual Church Profile dropped to 74% of all churches. Over 12,000 SBC churches did not file an ACP report last year. The reporting percentage was 80% in 2013. Looks to me like an additional 500 or more churches per year drop the report. It is good to see that “LifeWay Research plans to release statistical analysis of the current state of the SBC that includes estimates of the congregations that did not report.” I look forward to seeing that.

Adrian would say: “Don’t brag, don’t sag, don’t lag, and don’t nag.” There’s been too much of all of that in the Good Old SBC.

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Coming next week: a look at the state conventions.