Monday, November 14, 2016

Baptists Do Not Typically Care If Baptismal Candidates Are Truly Born Again

How long does the typical Baptist pastor wait after a sinner’s supposed conversion before the baptism takes place? Five minutes? Ten minutes? To what lengths will a Baptist Church go to make sure the person who is awaiting baptism has what seems to be a genuine, orthodox, Scriptural conversion testimony, one that doesn’t sound like a Mormon’s testimony, or a Church of Christ member’s testimony, or a Roman Catholic’s testimony?
Sadly, it has been Baptist practice for the last fifty or sixty years to get baptismal candidates into the tank as fast as possible. But what if the person you are trying to get into the tank isn’t converted? Do you not care whether the baptismal candidate is truly, or as nearly as you can tell, converted to Christ? And are you willing to put off the baptism for a couple of days to make sure, or as sure as you can be, that the hopeful convert is saved and is thereby qualified to be baptized?
Why is it that Baptist pastors, for all their professed concern about a regenerate membership, cannot see to it that their baptismal candidates have at least some comprehension of the born again experience? And I know that modern pastors complain that the press of ministry makes it impossible for them to deal with and verify the testimonies of baptismal candidates. But Charles H. Spurgeon dealt with each and every baptismal candidate in his huge congregation before immersing them. And that was in the days before automobiles, telephones, and all the other conveniences that enable a pastor to accomplish more by the use of labor-saving devices.
The fact of the matter is that for the most part pastors these days simply do not care about the spiritual welfare of those they are funneling toward their dip tank. They have set personal and Church goals for the numbers they want to baptize for the year, and anyone they can get into the tank (even if they get them into the tank repeatedly) is to be dipped.
Why else is it that pastors steadfastly refuse to consider asking the most basic questions of a baptismal candidate before immersing him?[1] How else can you explain a pastor’s unwillingness to be careful about his obedience to Christ’s clear intentions that only converted people be baptized? And how else can you explain a pastor’s callus attitude toward someone who, once he has been baptized, may very well be permanently inoculated against the Gospel for the rest of his life, either because he wrongly thinks he is a Christian when he is not or because he thinks Christianity based on his sad experiences is not real?

[1] A pastor friend responded to my expressions of concern about baptizing unconverted candidates by insisting he was always very careful. He assured me that he always asked candidates “Are you saved?” as if anyone in the baptistery would ever say “No” or would understand what such a question actually meant.

Baptists Do Not Typically See Anyone Converted Anymore

Of course, I am generalizing, based upon my experiences as a Baptist preacher, and my experiences as a Baptist preacher convince me that it is most unusual for someone to be converted in a Baptist Church these days. Professions of faith seem to be a dime a dozen, but life-changing conversions of the type that reflected John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress are almost unheard of today.[1] I say this with regret, as one who is a Baptist by personal conviction. I am not alone in my conclusion since even the Southern Baptist Convention reports a decline.[2]
What does this have to do with a discussion of baptism? Baptist Churches most frequently baptize people they claim have been converted as a result of their evangelistic efforts. So, the people Baptist Churches baptize are people Baptists claim they have led to Christ in one way or another. However, when you keep in mind what Baptists do to get their conversions, what their converts typically believe, and how their converts are typically saved, you, too, would conclude that Baptists do not typically see anyone converted anymore. Even if you disagree with my conclusion, you cannot disagree with statistics produced by the Southern Baptist Convention showing a decline in baptisms.[3]
The angel Gabriel said,

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins,”

Matthew 1.21. The Lord Jesus Christ said,

“the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost,”

in Luke 19.10. Typical Baptist converts these days have only the most superficial grasp of their sinfulness and are likely to have no real awareness of their lost condition. This is why Baptist evangelism over the last 100+ years always seems to have been in a rush, for fear that the sinner’s conviction will “wear off” before he is saved. It sadly looks so much like selling used cars or life insurance.
As well, it is extremely common for Baptist evangelism these days to urge sinners to “ask Jesus into your heart,” even though no such act is sanctioned anywhere in Scripture, and such instruction conveys a confusing picture of the “outside work” of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. Justification by faith takes place based upon what Jesus Christ did for the sinner, not what Jesus Christ does to the sinner.[4] But asking Jesus Christ into your heart portrays a saving experience based upon an infusion of grace to make the sinner good enough to go to heaven, which perfectly portrays the confused Roman Catholic view of salvation.
It is also extremely common for Baptists these days to evangelize sinners without taking the necessary steps to persuade them to abandon their unscriptural notions about a false christ for the Savior as He is presented in God’s Word. Many today who are supposedly converted are exposed for false professors by a few properly phrased questions asked by an experienced Gospel minister to which their answers show that they have not placed saving faith in the Jesus of the Bible at all.[5] Rather, these poor misguided souls are trusting in the false christ of some cult, or a christ who is not a coequal member of the Triune Godhead, or a christ who has not risen from the dead in a glorified physical body. Such false christs do not save sinners. Only the Jesus Christ of the Bible saves sinners.
I could go on and on, but perhaps the best reason for concluding that Baptists do not typically see sinners converted anymore comes from talking to many members of Baptist Churches. When you hear someone make a comment that no one who believes in the Trinity would make or a comment that betrays a personal conviction that justification is by works and not by faith, then there is reason to be suspicious about the genuineness of that person’s Christianity. After all, Psalm 107.2 says,

“Let the redeemed of the LORD say so.”

However, if the person either doesn’t say so or if what he says is utterly at odds with what a redeemed person is shown in God’s Word to understand to be true, then a discerning person reasonably becomes concerned. I do not subscribe to the notion that there are huge numbers of perpetually carnal Christians floating around out and about.[6] People are either lost or saved, with relatively few Christians behaving like lost people. My observations lead me to conclude that, for the most part, Baptists do not typically see many people converted anymore.

[1] Though conversion such as is portrayed in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not the experience of everyone who comes to Christ, it is common enough that even Christians who held quite different views than did the Calvinist Bunyan made it the most popular book read for several centuries (second only to the Bible). See R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Today’s Apostasy: How Decisionism Is Destroying Our Churches, (Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., Second Edition, 2001), pages 55-58.
[4] Romans 5.1.
[5] Matthew 24.24; Mark 13.22.
[6] I am convinced the concept of perpetually carnal Christians is an invention of C. I. Scofield to explain the large numbers of clearly unsaved professing Christians resulting from Charles G. Finney’s new approach to evangelism. Prior to Finney neither Arminians or Calvinists believed those Christians who were long term examples of carnality were Christians at all.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Mission Drift

A term that has gained popularity over the last few decades is “mission drift.” “Mission drift” is the tendency for organizations of every kind to deviate from the purposes for which they were established.[1] Churches, which are in some respects like other organizations, are very susceptible to “mission drift.” Our mission, which was given to us almost 2000 years ago, is to make disciples for Jesus Christ. But what has happened in the intervening 2000 years that can be ascribed to “mission drift”? Churches of all stripes and persuasions have run so far down rabbit trails that it seems they exist for anything but making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Even among Churches most like your own, there are the terrible fruits of “mission drift.” How else can you explain ministries that have resorted to counting the number of “souls saved” each year, or the number of “baptisms” each year, or the number of members who have “joined” that year, or the total number of “members,” or the total number of “decisions” at special meetings? Such efforts to measure a Church’s success by tabulating numbers cannot only give evidence that “mission drift” has occurred in a Church but can cause “mission drift” to occur.
Churches and pastors need to be extremely careful of “mission drift.” As well, we need to keep in mind that Charles G. Finney’s efforts to subvert orthodox ministries succeeded, in great measure, by his use of numbers and statistics to “show” that his methods were superior to those he was supplanting. And if we are not careful, a pastor who finds greater numerical success in one area of ministry will tend to focus on that area in which he enjoys apparent success leading him off in a direction that will result in “mission drift.”
Thus, a pastor and Church can focus on stewardship more than making disciples, or can focus on decisions more than making disciples, or can focus on attendance goals more than making disciples, or can focus on professions of faith more than making disciples, or can even focus on seeking to reach certain ethnic groups to the exclusion of others instead of making disciples. But remember, what the Lord Jesus Christ told us to do is make disciples, something that’s much harder to track statistically than baptisms and professions and new members or attendance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Nice Try

Yesterday’s blog entry included some comments about C. H. Spurgeon’s practice of interviewing (usually on Tuesdays) those who were moved by one of the sermons he had preached on the previous Sunday. Those were the days when every Baptist congregation in the English-speaking world worshiped twice on Sundays, with the evening service in England being particularly devoted to evangelism. Spurgeon’s practice was to elicit responses from auditors to questions he asked during the Tuesday interview so that he could more certainly discern if what he meant to convey when he preached was what was heard by his audience. He correctly reasoned that what preachers say is not always what auditors think preachers mean and if you want to find out what people think you said in your sermon you should ask them. It is very simple for pastors who are not in such a hurry to get to lunch to engage in this practice. It would help preachers to get feedback who want feedback. Alas, many preachers want nothing of the kind from their audiences.
To my amusement, one among those pastors from different parts of the world who read my blog suggested, “It seems to me you are advocating for a kind of seeker friendly or felt needs approach preaching.” What makes the comment amusing is that I think it came from a pastor who led his congregation to remove the word Baptist from the name of the congregation he presides over (I have not), who I would imagine has also abandoned the more formal suit and tie attire that used to be the norm for Baptist pastors in favor of cowboy casual (I have not), and who has abandoned the classic view of Biblical counseling held by such as Richard Baxter, Jay E. Adams, and John MacArthur in favor of the medical model view held by Minerth & Meier and others that seeks to mix Scripture with secular psychology (I have not).[1]
The response to his intentional misread of my blog was, I assume, to confuse the hundreds of other readers who comprised the audience he wrote for and distract them. There is no way my responding critic believes that I am advocating anything like a seeker friendly or felt needs approach preaching. He knows enough about me and my ministry over the years to know that such a remark is disingenuous. As well, he knows perfectly well that a third party objective observer would be far more likely to conclude that his is a seeker friendly and felt needs approach to preaching than my own, based on the sermons we have each preached over the last ten years (see for my Sunday morning and evening sermons). However, methinks his real reason for responding as he did was to subtly bolster the Free Grace position he advocates and I do not. I am far more in agreement with Wayne Grudem and his book “Free Grace Theology: 5 Ways it Diminishes the Gospel.”[2]
It was a nice try; the attempt to distract and divert attention from Spurgeon’s sound approach to obtaining feedback from his auditors as a means to decide what he would preach about the following Sunday prayerfully. But it didn’t work. C. H. Spurgeon was no precursor of anything like a seeker friendly or felt needs approach Gospel preacher, and neither am I. I am just a Gospel minister with occasional musings that are designed to express my views without attacking anyone.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Annual Preaching Calendar. A Good Idea? Maybe Not

I just finished reading a short article in a periodical I no longer pay any attention to unless someone suggests I look at something of particular interest. The article advocates an annual preaching calendar, which is essentially planning a year ahead of time what will be preached (prayerfully, I presume). The author suggests that there are many reasons for planning an annual preaching calendar. I would suggest three reasons why a pastor should not plan an annual preaching calendar.
First, the approach of the most effective and famous Gospel preacher of the 19th century was undeniably C. H. Spurgeon, long-time pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. I once read that throughout his ministry he preached one sermon series, of two sermons length. The reason why Spurgeon did not use a preaching calendar was the same reason he was the most relevant preacher of his day and why preachers who do use preaching calendars are usually not relevant preachers. In a word it is feedback. Spurgeon was habitually committed to learning from his auditors, something that is rarely done these days. Spurgeon realized that more important than what he actually said to his audience in his sermons was what they thought he said. How to find out what they thought he said? Ask them. And ask them he did when those troubled souls who sought his counsel and who were referred to him by his ten helpers scattered throughout the auditorium when he preached. When Spurgeon detected a common thread among those he elicited feedback from he knew he was on to something, something that invariably led to one of his sermons the following Sunday. Had he an annual preaching calendar that he adhered to he could never have achieved the relevance he was noted for. Sadly, most preachers these days have little contact with those they preach to for the purpose of providing counsel to troubled souls and at the same time obtaining much-needed feedback to obtain the pulse of the congregation. Looked at in this way an annual preaching calendar might be seen to be more of a hindrance than a help to effective pulpit ministry.
Second, consider the tidal wave of contemporary momentum advocating verse by verse exposition of books of the Bible. Almost every preacher who is orthodox in his theology advocates verse by verse expositional preaching. I engage in such exposition, though I do so with trepidation as I ponder the ministry of the most famous of the 20th century’s verse by verse expositors, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose own Church went quickly charismatic soon after the doctor’s retirement despite decades of Bible exposition by a man singularly opposed to the charismatic movement. May I suggest that the benefits of expositional preaching through books of the Bible may be overblown? Frequently, expositional preaching isn’t preaching at all but is boring drudgery that only pretends to be preaching. I am not suggesting Lloyd-Jones was boring, but neither you nor I am Lloyd-Jones. As well, expositional preaching is sometimes a lazy man’s replacement for prayerfully agonizing as you wrestle with God for your next sermon. Messages that God wrings from a man are usually better for everyone than the bland expositions that are pasted together by a spiritually lukewarm pastor. If a man is going to preach through books of the Bible I will urge him to do one thing while considering another thing: First, the one thing to do is preach vigorously for a response, and when auditors respond be sure to seek their feedback. Second, the other thing, if you get good feedback make use of it to consider addressing an apparent need rather than continuing in the exposition. You can always get back to it the following week, but your opportunity to be relevant is a soon-to-close window of opportunity.
Finally, consider that the reasons why a preacher may want to preach verse by verse through a book of the Bible may not be reasons that are appealing to his auditors. Preachers are drawn to verse by verse expositions for several reasons: First, it makes the decision about your next sermon easy. Second, it encourages you to study how the verses connect with each other to form the message of the book you are preaching through. Third, you end up learning things you would not otherwise learn if you preached topical or textual sermons. That is all well and good, but do your Church members care in the same ways you care? I suggest to you that they do not, for the most part. Auditors want sermons that are first and foremost interesting. They also want sermons that apply to their daily lives. Both of those interests are more difficult to provide for when preaching verse by verse exposition, and most who preach expositional style sermons are far less capable preachers than those who do so less frequently. Is it because guys who are less capable preachers are inclined to depend on expositions as a replacement for being interesting, or are really interesting preachers who do not preach so much of the expositional style sermons just so much better at reading the interest of their auditors?

Be mindful of two things when you prayerfully decide the approach to sermon preparation you plan to use: First, it is a sin to bore people with the truth. First and foremost your sermons must be interesting in both their delivery and their content. Second, be very reluctant to pass up opportunities to obtain feedback from your auditors because it doesn’t so much matter what you say to them as it matters what they think you say to them. How will you know what they think you said if you do not purposefully seek to find out?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ethically Challenged Leadership

     What would you say to a nation's leader who informed the citizenry that he had decided to become the citizen of another country? Even if the nation he chose for his dual citizenship was a friendly nation, an ally, would it not stick in the craw of many in his homeland to learn of his decision? And would those in the land of his nativity be unreasonable for wondering why he did not wait until his term of office had expired before dividing his national loyalties? After all, no two nations are perfectly aligned insofar as goals and objectives are concerned. At the very least such a national leader would be thought by most of his countrymen to be unethical. It is unethical to openly and publicly divide one's loyalties while presiding over a country as its leader. Who would disagree with that?
     Along the same line of thinking, what has gotten into spiritual leaders who assume responsibility as the leader of an organization only to then divide their loyalties to that organization by affiliating with another organization while they are still leading the first organization? Have I lost my mind for thinking that engaging in such rash behavior while one is leading an organization is at the very least unethical? Yet it has happened twice during my ministry lifetime that a president has demonstrated that he is ethically challenged by dividing his loyalties while in office!
     "Who are you to call into question a man's ethics?" Who am I? I am a nobody, and no longer affiliated with any organizations other than the wonderful congregation I serve as pastor (and the Chamber of Commerce of my little city Monrovia, CA). However, I have been around long enough to derisively laugh about a Bible college teacher teaching a course on pastoral ethics without even touching the matter of sheep stealing and in other ways enlarging one congregation at the expense of another, while he energetically sought for his congregation the members of other Churches. Huge Churches in the United States are built on that unethical practice. Growing Bible colleges implicitly teach that philosophy by not warning against it as a ministerial practice and by holding up for adoration pastors and ministries that do not know how to grow otherwise.
     But let's not stray too far from the unethical leadership of presidents, be they presidents of countries, presidents of colleges, presidents of other entities, or presidents of navel lint societies. If a man is the president of the green linen society, so chosen by green linen merchants everywhere, you would think he could wait at least until his term of office as green linen society president has expired before joining (while maintaining his membership in the green linen society, mind you) the purple canvas cooperative. If a man is a member of the green linen society he can do anything he wants in a free society. However, it strikes me that since the green linen society and the purple canvas cooperative are two different textile organizations their short and long term objectives are not exactly the same. Not a big deal at all for an ordinary member of the green linen society to join the purple canvas cooperative. But while he is president? Is the matter so pressing that he can't wait until his term of office is expired?
     I don't know everything. I have never claimed to know everything. However, it strikes me as a denigration of the green linen society to join the purple canvas cooperative while still the former's president. Methinks we are becoming ethically challenged in these last days. I just can't imagine the big boys back in the old days doing that, at least not until their term of office had expired.