From Resurgence to Re-Formation to Reformation: A Generational Vision for a Denomination Halfly Reformed

martin-luther-wittenburg-door.jpgI think it is safe to say when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on Wittenberg’s Door that he would have imagined the impact it would have 490 years later. It is rather fitting to find myself writing on a medium that has democratized the voice of Christians in the 21st century in a very similar fashion that Luther utilized the Gutenberg Press to promulgate his translation of the Scriptures to the masses. I am quite confident that, were Luther alive today, he would have taken full advantage of such mediums of communication as blogs to proclaim the gospel of justification by faith and herald the battlecry of ad fontes!

In the same year I was brought into this world, another birth came about, namely the birth of the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention. I am forever grateful for the ways in which God providentially brought about the recovery of something which Luther held so dear–the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. With every passing year of my life, the mile marker will remind me that I am a beneficiary of a generation of Southern Baptists who believed that the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Scripture was something worth fighting for and dying for. I pray God never allows me to take for granted the blessings and benefits I have received as a result of such a resurgence, not the least of which include me being saved, licensed to gospel ministry, ordained, and now being theologically trained.

Nevertheless, with nearly three decades of the Conservative Resurgence under our belts, the Southern Baptist Convention and the churches of which it is comprised, is no better off now than when we did not believe in the principle of sola Scriptura. During this span of time, we have not seen an increase in people being saved and baptized, even in the midst of a heightened emphasis on church growth and rise of megachurches. We have effectively replaced one bureaucracy with another and have failed to realize the implications of what the recovery of the formal principle in our churches. Setting all political and personal agendas aside, it would be only fair to conclude that the Southern Baptist Convention is currently a denomination that is halfly reformed.

So where do we start? I would argue that we must proceed from resurgence to re-formation. By re-formation I mean we must reconsider just how we function as Southern Baptists in cooperation with one another. One of the biggest obstacles of re-formation is our unwillingness to see that it needs to take place. It is a problem that denominational triumphalism and pride keeps us from being truthful when it comes to speaking about our denomination. It is a problem that the churches from whom we get our Cooperative Program money are the last ones to benefit from it. It is a problem that the Executive Committee and entities of the SBC are trying to enforce their agenda on local churches, thereby threatening their autonomy. It is a problem when state conventions and associations pressure churches to turn in the Annual Church Profiles so that they can continue to bankroll the Cooperative Program to fit the bill of their overpaid staff and travel expenses while at the same time telling blue-collar bi-vocational pastors how they should lead and grow their church (from “catalyst specialists”). It is a problem that a significant number of the churches being planted in the SBC are not being sustained while others are being constituted either from new affiliations or a new church splits. It is a problem that we provide celebrity status to certain mega-church pastors in our calendar-driven conference circuit, catering to their influence while neglecting the overwhelming number of ministers who pastor small churches in relatively obscure places that don’t have the where-with-all to rise above anonymity. Now, if we do have such problems, then it is only right to reconsider the re-formation of the SBC so that our primary focus can truly be on the kingdom of God through the building of healthy, growing churches. It is no use to tighten the nuts and bolts on a flat tire; it is no use to provide a new paint job when we have engine failure; and it is going to require a full-body inspection that can make the assessment whether our denominational vehicle needs more than a new fragrance.

Yet, I want to be clear that the move from resurgence to re-formation is only a small part of the generational vision for a denomination halfly reformed. The fundamental matter before us today is to move from resurgence to re-formation to a true reformation of the local church. I know that reformation is a scary idea to a lot of people, especially to those who would be the recipients of such reform. However, would we to reject the call for ecclesiological reform, history informs us that the demise of the SBC is almost inevitable.

First and foremost we must recover the gospel of Jesus Christ in our churches. The gospel has been suppressed and ignored through several agents, including semi-Pelagianism in the legacy of Finneyism in the SBC, unbridled pragmatism of the church growth movement, and unchecked nominalism whereby many have tipped their hat to the gospel in their “decision” but in no way is it normative in their lives.

Second, we must re-emphasize biblical expository preaching in our churches. Ecclesiological reform would be most evident if the sacred desk would sound forth “Thus Saith the Lord” in all earnestness and exultation.

Third, we must return to regenerate church membership in our churches. Statistics reveal that over half of our denomination do not believe attending church on Sunday’s is part of being a church member; half of those who do attend worship do not attend Sunday School. The integrity of the church requires an intentional and deliberate effort to hold all church members accountable to the faith they profess and the community of faith they belong.

Fourth, we must rediscover church discipline in our churches. Perhaps the single biggest reason why we have failed to see revival in our day is that we have unhinged the front door and sealed the back door. When churches begin to deal with sin in the camp, we will see more of the front door closed and the back door open, repentance and confession common and gossip and slander uncommon, passion for corporate holiness and a dismissal of sin management.

Fifth, we must reconsider plurality of elders and church government in our churches. The New Testament witness is clear that multiple elders were in every church whose primary role was to teach and exercise authority in a congregational setting. The current setting of committee-driven churches, pastor-as-autocrat churches, and deacon boards as elders are not prescribed anywhere in the Scriptures.

Six, we must renew our passion to communicate the glorious good news of Jesus Christ in our postmodern culture. Such renewal includes a perspective that all members have been entrusted as stewards of the gospel to the world in which they live. Evangelism and missional living must become more than a once-a-week program with an attractional emphasis.

These are some of the crucial areas that I believe must become the areas in which we focus our attention if we are going to see ecclesiological reform take place in the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I realize that many will dismiss this vision as too bold and highly improbable, and the desire to implement such a vision would come at the cost of being forced out of the Southern Baptist Convention. I am reminded that Luther, who did not desire to leave the Roman Catholic Church, was eventually excommunicated. Furthermore, the 17th century Puritans who sought to reform within the Church of England (the original “halfly reformed” denomination), eventually suffered under the Great Ejection, imprisonment, and even death.

Yet, we would be wise to consider the outcome of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England today. Who is blogging a tribute to either of these wings of Christendom in the 21st century? Now think of the legacy of Martin Luther and the Puritan Divines who, although dead, yet still are speaking and influencing scores of Christians across the world hundreds of years later (of whom I am in the ranks). Should the Lord tarry, has any of us given thought to what the legacy of the Southern Baptist Convention would be 490 years from now?

The fact is my generation in the SBC is positioned to see a reformation take place that could shape the legacy of the SBC for years to come. Southern Baptists will have to make the decision, however, either to follow in the path of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England in rebellion to reformation, or to chart a course in history that embraces reform and builds on the resurgence we have experienced for the past three decades. Jesus, who has shown Himself sovereign in history and Lord of the Church, will continue to build His Church. I pray that we as Southern Baptists would be so postured as a people who understand the importance of semper reformanda that we would not miss what He has in store for generations to come.

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15 Comments on “From Resurgence to Re-Formation to Reformation: A Generational Vision for a Denomination Halfly Reformed”

  1. Jason Says:

    I agree with what you have written, though I fear that our denomination will end up like those the reformers were so passionate about reforming…left behind, dead, or dying. Needles to say, I don’t see 16 million Southern Baptist ever being a reality (read: true reality) if not for some heavy intervention from God.

  2. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    Andrew,

    There was a discussion on the Pyro blog posted by Frank Turk. And you are well aware of Founders and Tom Ascols work. All that you have said here is relevant. And you recognize that the idea of autonomy that we have developed has inherited the politics of the culture, but without the judicial mechanisms required to keep the powers in check.

    I think we need to revist the 1689’s construction of a conference in reference to local autonomy and necessary council of accountabilty.

    These are good ideas. This formulation of what a church is and what a conference, or churches in cooperative association should be are not foreign or new. We should, as you did, honor the memory of those who have come before us. We might just learn something.

  3. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    By the way, did you catch the great video at P&P. I played it for my kids and about laughed my self into a coma.

  4. Barry Says:

    For clarification on your position, or desires, when you speak to the wish for all baptist churches to become “reformed” are you suggesting that they all become or espouse the 5-point view?


  5. Barry,

    No, I do not have in mind that all churches in the SBC espouse five-point Calvinism. Rather, I am more interested in seeing our churches become healthy, true churches according to Scripture as explained in the latter part of the post (right preaching of Scripture, recovery of the gospel, regenerate church membership, etc.). These are things that Calvinists and Arminians can agree upon (at least I hope so!). We who have emphasized our conviction on the inerrancy of Scripture have failed to see the implications such a doctrine should have in our lives and churches.


  6. Timmy,

    Though Calvinists and Arminians within the SBC should certainly agree upon the three areas you mention (right preaching of Scripture, recovery of the gospel, regenerate church membership), wouldn’t you be willing to say that part of the right preaching of Scripture (and even a full recovery of th Gospel of grace!) would entail the high view of God’s sovereignty that is commonly called “Calvinism”? In other words, wouldn’t we wish that all baptist church would become more “Calvinistic”, not through official pressure from some convention, but because they are persuaded of the Doctrines of Grace through exposition of Scripture?

    Your brother in Christ,
    -Andrew


  7. Andrew,

    If churches began to refocus on the gospel and preach and teach the Scripture, I believe it will be hard to avoid the doctrines of grace. However, it is one thing to come to that point by arbitration and it is another thing to get there through personal experience. I prefer the latter over the former. Like Edwards, it is through “having a sense” of the superlative excellencies of Christ and his sovereignty as being sweet that such doctrines find their home in the affections and thoughts of man. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit and instrumentality of God’s Word, such light also brings heat that convinces the Christian of such realities as glorious. Ultimately, I think this accounts for God’s providential work in recent years, especially in our generation, in bringing many to an understanding of the gospel, to the praise of the glory of His grace.

  8. Barry Says:

    Again for our edification, could you touch again upon what has been mentioned as the focus of pastors to utilize the “right preaching of scripture”.

    I’m not really clear on what you mean by this. Are some pastors skipping around scripture or not utilizing it as a basis for their work? Or, do you mean that there should be more uniformity between churches as they relay the themes of the bible?

    Do you view this as problematic?

    Thanks.

  9. Pat McGee Says:

    Why be in a denomination that is so wron on so many issues? Find an association that is driven by Calvinism. The SBC will die a spiritual death if simply left alone. Let it die. Find a place or create a place that exalts God’s sovereignty and the rest of the TULIP.
    I would recommend the Reformed Baptist association (ARBCA)


  10. Pat,

    For some, I suppose it is best to leave the SBC (it has been worse, you know). Tom Ascol recent addressed your question on his blog, and I would like to commend it to you. Here’s the link:

    http://www.founders.org/blog/2007/11/restoring-health-to-unhealthy-church.html

    In a post-denominational world, things will look different (as we are already beginning to see). I am one who is hopeful for change (a la reformation) that can only be brought about by a sovereign work of God. If I did not believe it could happen, I would not be wasting my (or anyone else for that matter) time trying to delay the inevitable. Furthermore, I am more ecumenical than sectarian, believing in the prayer of Jesus that we be one. Of course, that does not mean unity at any price, but it does mean that we take the unity of the Body of Christ seriously.

  11. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    Timothy,

    Could you explain what you mean by a post-denominational world.

    And perhaps you can comment on the section of the 1689 at the link above, specifically, those paragraphs that deal with inter-church and inter-association accountability.

  12. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    I’ll just post it here for reference.

    All believers are under obligation to join themselves to local churches when and where they have opportunity to do so. It follows that all who are admitted to the privileges of church fellowship also become subject to the discipline and government of the church in accordance with the rule of Christ.

    1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6,14,15.

    Any church members who have taken offense at the behavior towards them of other church members, and who have obeyed the instructions laid down in Scripture for dealing with such cases, must refrain from disturbing the peace of the church, nor should they absent themselves from church assemblies or the administration of church ordinances on account of their being offended by certain of their fellow-members; but they must wait upon Christ in the further proceedings of the church.

    Matt. 18:15-17; Eph. 4:2,3.

    All members of each local church are engaged to pray continually for the good and the prosperity of all churches of Christ, wherever located, and upon all occasions to assist all other believers, within the limits of their own areas and callings, in the exercise of their gifts and graces. It follows, therefore, that churches should seek fellowship one with another, so far as the providence of God provides opportunity for the enjoyment of such benefits.

    Ps. 122:6; Rom. 16:1,2; Eph. 6:18; 3 John 8-10.

    When difficulties or differences occur in respect of doctrine or church government, and peace, unity and edification are at risk, one church only may be involved, or the churches in general may be concerned. Again, a member or members of a church may be injured by disciplinary proceedings not agreeable to truth and church order. In such cases as these it is according to the mind of Christ that many churches in fellowship together should meet and confer together through their chosen representatives, who are able to give their advice on the matters in dispute to all the churches concerned. It must be understood, however, that the representatives assembled are not entrusted with any church power properly so called, nor have they any jurisdiction over the churches themselves to exercise discipline upon any churches or persons, or to impose their conclusions on the churches or their officers.

    Acts 15:2,4,6,22,23,25; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 John 4:1.

  13. Barry Says:

    Has anyone kept in touch with the “Building Bridges” seminar that was going to be held sometime in November in western North Carolina?

    I wonder how it went.

    It’s been a really great autumn.

  14. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    Barry,

    That is not until the end of the month, November 26-28.

  15. Rhett Says:

    Great article!!!


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