There is an expression, “win the battle, lose the war”, used to describe those who lose sight of the big picture and get short-term wins but the reality becomes a long-term loss. My question is, are we there?
My trek over the past years has brought me very close to the inside of several arenas. I have participated in and even spoken or facilitated group discussion at national and global conferences of Evangelicals (including Baptists) on evangelism and prayer. I know most of the early leaders in the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention and have seen some of the Moderate Baptist movement.
Some of these Evangelicals seem to want everyone to come together for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission. But there are certain leaders that always have the “next big thing” and seem to pop in at just the right time to offer them. I left these kinds of gatherings because I felt used in the negative sense. These were para-church organizations needing money, data base, and volunteers to extend their ministries. Discretion keeps me from calling organizational names.
The Moderate Baptists of whom I am speaking have gone so far in a religious version of political correctness and tolerance that participation in worship events with various religions is practiced. One only has to roll back the calendar a few months to an interfaith (not inter-denominational, but inter-faith) meeting in a city in Texas that was held in a local Baptist church facility.
So what of us? How do we who have taken our stand for inerrancy as a descriptive of Scripture fare in all this? Are we known more for legalism and backward thinking or lovingly sharing the Gospel of Christ? I and most others who are conservative in theology would look at the Conservative Resurgence as necessary in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. I will not re-visit all the reasons nor will I affirm everything and every word spoken through-out those years. Movements often produce what the military calls “collateral damage”. Some of us have been there, done that, but didn’t get the t-shirt.
I want to affirm that I am deeply committed to a conservative theological path and to the inerrancy of Scripture. I am a complementarian, and was before I knew that was the word to describe my beliefs. But what has happened in our neck of the woods over the past years?
The Barna Group gave results of a year-end survey here based upon thousands of interviews during the year. They summarized their findings around four themes. You can read their commentary and explanation, but the major points of that survey were the four themes copied below.
Theme 1: Increasingly, Americans are more interested in faith and spirituality than in Christianity.
Theme 2: Faith in the American context is now individual and customized. Americans are comfortable with an altered spiritual experience as long as they can participate in the shaping of that faith experience.
Theme 3: Biblical literacy is neither a current reality nor a goal in the U.S.
Theme 4: Effective and periodic measurement of spirituality – conducted personally or through a church – is not common at this time and it is not likely to become common in the near future.
It is a cop-out for us to say these do not reflect some of the values of the people in our pews. I would agree these likely do not show the belief of the average Baptist church member who involved in the life of the church. However, what of the community in which you serve? And do we really know that “average” church member? Are we a shrinking minority in a sea of population seeking hope and moving toward some form of Universalism?
A pastor friend of mine (SBTC) told me a story of when he first arrived as the new pastor. One of the fine upstanding deacons in the church was taking him on a tour of the city. They were on one side of the town square when the deacon pointed out a man on the other side. He said to the pastor, “That is ______. He’s one of the finest Christian men in this town. Funny thing though. He’s never made a profession of faith.” Is there a dis-connect there somewhere?
I sat in on a Senior Adult Sunday School opening exercise a few years ago and heard the Dept. Director say “I believe that God looks at all of us and sees what we do. If we just do the best we can, I believe God will accept that.”
Perhaps we need to refresh our passion and church ministries to show an intentional focus on sharing the Gospel. Romans 1:16-17 reminds us “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (NKJV)
One resource offered you is the annual SBTC Evangelism Conference February 15-17 at the Arlington, TX Convention Center. You may access information and schedule here. I urge you to attend and bring several influential leaders from your church.
Pray daily for the Great Commission Resurgence task force of the Southern Baptist Convention and for NAMB’s GPS emphasis. I hope you will take part in it. And, wherever you find yourself in the landscape of North American Christians, return to your first love (Rev. 2:1-7) and use all of your influence in home, church, community, and workplace to speak and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is not too late to encourage your congregation to join you in reading the Bible through in 2010. There are some very good web sites that give various plans. You can access the best ones I know here, here, and here. I am using the Chronological reading from Back to the Bible as listed on the ESV site. I looked at some other sites and could not find Bible reading plans.
May God grant you your best year in 2010.