Monday, June 29, 2009

...a stirring wake up call; a must read

by Jim Elliff

"How are you doing?"
"Pretty well, under the circumstances."
"What are the circumstances?"
"Well, I have a very effective arm. It moves with quite a bit of animation. But then I have my bad leg."
"What's wrong with it?"
"I guess it's paralyzed. At least it doesn't do much except twitch once a week or so. But that's nothing compared with the rest of me."
"What's the problem?
"From all appearances, the rest is dead. At least it stinks and bits of flesh are always falling off. I keep it well covered. About all that's left beyond that is my mouth, which fortunately works just fine. How about you?"

Like the unfortunate person above, the Southern Baptist Convention has a name that it is alive, but is in fact, mostly dead (Rev. 3:1). Regardless of the wonderful advances in our commitment to the Bible, the recovery of our seminaries, etc., a closer look reveals a denomination that is more like a corpse than a fit athlete. In an unusual way, our understanding of this awful reality provides the most exciting prospects for the future—if we will act decisively.

The Facts
Although the Southern Baptists claim 16,287,494 members, on average only 6,024,289 people (guests and non-member children included), a number equal to only 37% of the membership number, show up for their church's primary worship meeting (usually Sunday morning). This is according to the Strategic Information and Planning department of the Sunday School Board (2004 statistics). If your church is anything like normal, and is not brand new, your statistics are probably similar. In other words, if you have 200 in attendance on Sunday morning, you likely have 500-600 or even more on your roll. Many churches have an even worse record.

Discerning who among us is regenerate is not an exact science, but a closer look at these numbers will at least alert us to the fact that most Southern Baptists must certainly be dead spiritually. That is so, unless, of course, you claim that there is no difference between a believer and a non-believer.

In the average church you can cut the 37% Sunday morning attendance by about two-thirds or more when counting those interested in a Sunday evening service, or other gatherings held in addition to the principal meeting of the church. In 1996, the last time the SBC kept these statistics, the number of Sunday evening attenders was equal to only 12.3% of the membership (in churches that had an evening meeting). One might ask what makes us claim that the rest are Christians, if they involve themselves with God's people only on such a minimal, surface level? How are they any different from the people who attend the liberal church down the street—the "church" where the gospel is not even preached?

And remember that the numbers of those attending include many non-member children and guests, often making up a third of the congregation's main meeting attendance. When all factors are considered, these figures suggest that nearly 90% of Southern Baptist church members appear to be little different from the "cultural Christians" who populate other mainline denominations.

To make matters worse, we tell a lot more people that they are true Christians (because they prayed a prayer sincerely) than we can convince to be baptized. Our largest pizza supper may bring in a hundred new "converts," but we will likely get only a few of those on the roll. After that, the percentages that I have been mentioning kick in. In other words, if you compare all who we say have become Christians through our evangelistic efforts, to those who actually show signs of being regenerate, we should be red-faced. In the Assembly of God's 1990s "Decade of Harvest," out of the 3.5 million supposedly converted, they showed a net gain of only 5 new attenders for every 100 recorded professions. When one considers all of our supposed converts, including those who refuse to follow Christ in baptism and who never join our churches, our numbers are much the same. Doesn't anybody see that there is a serious problem here?

Let me illustrate in rounded figures by looking at some of the churches where I have preached as a guest speaker. Each could be any Baptist church in any city. In one church, with 7,000 on the active roll, there were only 2000 in attendance on Sunday morning, and a mere 600-700 on Sunday evening. When you account for those attenders who are not members of this flagship church (i.e. guests and non-member children), you have about 1500 actual members coming in the morning and 500 or so in the evening. Where are the 5,500 members who are missing on Sunday mornings? Where are the 6,500 who are missing in the evening?

Another church had 2,100 on the roll, with 725 coming on Sunday morning. Remove guests and non-member children and the figure drops to 600 or less. Only about a third of that number came out on Sunday evening, representing less than 10% of the membership. Yet another church had 310 on the roll with only 100 who attended on Sunday morning. Only 30-35, or approximately 10%, came to the evening worship service.

These are all considered fine churches. All have an extremely competent level of leadership and vision. Some shut-ins and those who are sick, out of town, or in the military, certainly affect the figures a little. But those who are justifiably absent are not enough to alter the bleakness of the picture, especially when we remember that these numbers represent people who have been baptized and have publicly declared their allegiance to God and the Body of Christ. Even if you generously grant that the 37% are all true believers (an estimation that most pastors would say is way off the mark), one still has a church membership that is more dead than alive. If we are honest, we might have to ask ourselves, "Do Southern Baptists believe in a regenerate membership?"

Missing Christians are No Christians
What do these facts and figures, as general as they are, suggest?

First, they reveal that most of the people on our rolls give little evidence that they love the brethren—a clear sign of being unregenerate (1 Jn. 3:14). It is impossible to believe that anything like real familial affection exists in the hearts of people who do not come at all, or who only nominally check in on Sunday morning as a cultural exercise. Love is the greatest mark of a genuine believer (1 Jn.3:14-19). Attendance alone does not guarantee that anyone is an authentic believer, but "forsaking the assembling," is a serious sign of the unregenerate heart. The phrase: "They went out from us, because they were never of us" (1 Jn. 2:19) may have doctrinal overtones, but it nonetheless represents many on our membership rolls.

Second, these numbers suggest that most of those who do not attend (or who only come when it is convenient), are more interested in themselves than God. To put it in Paul's words, they are "fleshly-minded" and not "spiritually-minded" (Rom. 8: 5-9). The atmosphere that most pleases them is that of the world and not God. They can stand as much of God as makes them feel better about themselves, and they find a certain carnal security in "belonging" to a local church. But beyond that, they will politely resist getting involved. They use the church, but are not really a part of it. For some, the extent of what they can take is an Easter service now and then; for others it is an occasional sterile (and somewhat Pharisaical) trip to church on appropriate Sunday mornings as fits into their schedule. But their apathy towards regular and faithful church attendance betrays their true affections. The fact is, you do what you love to do.

Third, the numbers indicate that some people have joined other denominations and our churches have not kept up with their movements—a sign of inadequate pastoral oversight and the built-in deficiencies of the "inactive membership" concept. I'm quite certain Paul never dreamed of "inactive membership." Embarrassingly, some left on the rolls are dead—physically! It goes without saying that a dead person is about as inactive as one could be! But others, though presumably alive physically, have disappeared without a trace. I believe it was our beloved Dr. Roy Fish of SWBTS who said, "Even the FBI could not find some of them." Yet, if we want to claim them as members, we are responsible to keep up with them.

All of these people have "prayed the prayer" and "walked the aisle." All have been told that they are Christians. But for most, old things have not really passed away, and new things have not come. Most are not new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In too many cases, obvious signs of an unregenerate heart can be found, such as bitterness, long-term adultery, fornication, greed, divisiveness, covetousness, etc. These are "professing believers" that the Bible says are deceived. "Do not be deceived" the Bible warns us concerning such people (see 1 Cor.6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; 6: 7-8; Eph. 5:5-6; Titus 1:16; 1 Jn. 3:4-10; etc.).

Jesus indicated that there is a good soil that is receptive to the gospel seed so as to produce a fruit-bearing plant, but that the "rocky ground" believer only appears to be saved. The latter shows immediate joy, but soon withers away (Mt. 13:6, 21). This temporary kind of faith (which is not saving faith, see 1 Cor.15:1-2) is rampant among Southern Baptists. In The Baptist Faith and Message we say we believe that saving faith is persistent to the end. We say we believe in the preservation and perseverance of the saints (once saved, always persevering). In other words, if a person's faith does not persevere, then what he possessed was something other than saving faith.

In John 2:23-25 Jesus was the center-piece for what turned out to be a mass evangelism experience in which a large number of people "believed" in Him. Yet He did not entrust Himself to even one of them because "he knew their hearts." Is it possible that we have taken in millions of such "unrepenting believers" whose hearts have not been changed? I say that we have. Our denomination, as much as we may love it, is on the main, unregenerate. Even if you double, triple, or quadruple my assessment of how many are true believers, we still have a gigantic problem. It is naive to believe otherwise.

There are those who would say that such people are "carnal Christians" and don't deserve to be thought of as unregenerate. It is true that the Corinthian believers (about whom this phrase was used; see 1 Cor. 3:1-3) acted "like mere men" in their party spirit. Christians can commit any sin short of that which is unpardonable.

Undoubtedly, however, Paul did suspect that some of the Corinthians were unbelievers, for he later warns them about such a possibility in 2 Cor.12:20-13:5. A long-term and unrepentant state of carnality, is, after all, the very description of the unregenerate (Rom. 8:5-14, 1 Jn. 3:4-10, etc.). In calling some people "carnal" Paul did not mean to imply that he was accepting as Christian a lifestyle that he clearly describes elsewhere as unbelieving. He wrote, in the same letter: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived" (1 Cor. 6:9-11, etc.). Apparently there were some, even then, who were deceived into thinking that an unrighteous man or woman who professes faith in Christ could really be a Christian!

Is Follow-up the Problem?
A great mistake is made by blaming the problem on poor follow-up. In many churches there is every intention and effort given to follow-up, yet still the poor numbers persist. One church followed up "by the book," seeking to disciple people who had been told they were new converts during the crusade of an internationally-known evangelist. The report of the pastor in charge was that none of them wanted to talk about how to grow as a Christian. He said, "In fact, they ran from us!" I have known some churches to go to extreme efforts to disciple new believers. We must do this. Yet, like the others, they generally have marginal success. They have learned to accept the fact that people who profess to have become Christians often have to be talked into going further, and that many, if not most, simply will not bother. Authentic new believers can always be followed up, however, because they have the Spirit by which they cry, "Abba Father" (Rom. 8:15). They have been given love for the brethren, and essential love for the beauty and authority of the Word of God. But you cannot follow-up on a spiritually dead person. Being dead, he has no interest in growth.

It was the preaching of regeneration, with an explanation of its discernible marks, that was the heart of the Great Awakening. J. C. Ryle, in writing of the eighteenth century revival preachers, said that they never for a moment believed that there was any true conversion if it was not accompanied by increasing personal holiness. Such content was the staple of the greatest of awakening preaching throughout the history of revival. Only such a powerful cannon blast of truth could rock the bed of those asleep in Zion.

Facing the Dilemma
What must be done? I suggest five responses:

1. We must preach and teach on the subject of the unregenerate church member. Every author in the New Testament writes of the nature of deception. Some books give major consideration to the subject. Jesus Himself spoke profusely about true and false conversion, giving significant attention to the fruit found in true believers (Jn. 10:26-27; Mt. 7:21-23; Mt. 25:1-13, etc.). If this sort of teaching creates doubt in people, you should not be alarmed, nor should you back away from it. Given the unregenerate state of so many professing Christians, their doubts may be fully warranted. In any case, as one friend told me, "Doubts never sent anyone to hell, but deception always does." Most will work through their doubts, if they are regenerate and if we continue to preach the whole truth. Contrary to popular opinion, all doubts are not of the devil. Speak truthfully the whole counsel of God. You cannot "unsave" true believers.

It is true that there may be some who are overly scrupulous and overwhelmed by such examination. But most who will be affected are those who are too self-confident, having based their assurance on such shaky platforms as their response to an invitation, praying a perfectly worded "sinner's prayer," or getting baptized. If they are unregenerate, they may take offense and leave. But if they are truly regenerate, patient teaching and care will help them to overcome their doubts and gain biblical assurance. Such preaching may even result in true conversion for some who are deceived. And don't forget that the overconfident ones are not the only ones at risk. Quiet, sensitive, insecure people can be deceived also.

2. We must address the issue of persistent sin among our members, including their sinful failure to attend the stated meetings of the church. This must be done by reestablishing the forgotten practice of church discipline. Each church should adopt guidelines that state just what will happen when a member falls into sin, including the sin of non-attendance or very nominal attendance. Such discipline for non-attendance is clearly found in the history of Baptists—but more importantly, in the Bible.

Everyone in the church, including new members, should be made familiar with the biblical steps of church discipline. Jesus said that a person who was lovingly, but firmly, disciplined by the church, and yet failed to repent, should be thought of as "a heathen and a tax collector" (see Mt. 18:15-17). Though David committed atrocious sins, he was a repenter at heart (see 2 Sam.12:13; Psalm 51). Every Christian is a life-long repenter and church discipline brings this out. (See "Restoring Those Who Fall," in Our Church on Solid Ground: Documents That Preserve the Integrity and Unity of the Church,

Leaders must get into the homes of all our erring church members, seeking either to bring them to Christ, or to reluctantly release them to the world which they love more than Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to keep non-believers on the rolls. As a side benefit from church discipline for the SBC, remember that when we reduce our membership to what it actually is, we will be amazed at the statistical improvements in the ratio of members per baptism and members to attenders. Of course, statistics are not worth dying for, but obedience to God's Word is.

We are never to aggressively pluck the supposed tares from the wheat as if we had absolute knowledge (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43). We might be mistaken. However, loving church discipline is a careful process by which the obvious sinner in essence removes himself by his resistance to correction. The church is made up of repenting saints, not rebelling sinners (see 1 Cor. 5). The slight improvement in the disparity between membership and attendance in the last couple of years is likely due, in major part, to some churches beginning to practice church discipline—a matter of obedience that thankfully is regaining credence among us. Some have removed hundreds from their rolls in this process, and regained some also.

3. We should be more careful on the front end of church membership. In my estimation, the public altar call (a modern invention) often reaps people prematurely. Others will disagree or can perhaps make significant improvements on the traditional "invitation system." We have used this method in our evangelism because of our genuine zeal to see the lost converted. But in our zeal, we have often overlooked the fact that many who do what our method calls for (i.e. respond to our invitation) may not be converted.

Though sacrosanct to Baptists, careful study should be done related to the historical use of the invitation system evangelistically. For eighteen hundred years the church did not use such a method. It was not until its principle originator, Charles Finney, a true pelagian in his theology, promoted his "new measures." Earlier preachers were content to let true conviction play a greater part in conversion. They needed no props for the gospel—no persuasive techniques to prompt people to make a "decision." Instead of relying on a method, their confidence was in the preached Word and the Holy Spirit. Baptist giant, C. H. Spurgeon, for instance, saw thousands converted without the use of an "altar call." His message was his invitation. We should always offer a verbal invitation in our gospel preaching, meaning we must invite people to repent and believe. But there is no real benefit, while there is much potential harm, in our inviting them to the front of the church and then assuring them that their short walk or tearful response proves their conversion.

We don't need better methods to get people down to the front. What we need is more biblical content and more unction in our preaching. You cannot beat sinners away from Christ when God is bringing them in (see Jn. 6:37, 44-45). When as many as 70-90% of "converts" are giving little, if any, evidence of being saved after their first weeks or months of emotional excitement, questions should be asked, both about our understanding of the gospel and about our methods. Forget the fact, if you must, that there is no clear biblical precedent for the altar call. Even considering the matter pragmatically ought to make us quit. Though prevalent in our churches for decades, it has not helped us. (See "Closing with Christ,"

The dangerous practice of receiving new members immediately after they walk the aisle must finally be abandoned. Also, more careful counsel should be taken with those entering in as members from other churches. And add to this a need for much deeper thinking concerning childhood conversion. An alarming percentage of childhood professions wash out later in the teen and college years. For unconverted yet baptized church kids, the more independence they are granted, the more they live out their true nature. (See "Childhood Conversion,"

4. We must stop giving immediate verbal assurance to people who make professions of faith or who respond to our invitations. It is the Holy Spirit's job to give assurance. We are to give thebasis upon which assurance can be had, not the assurance itself. Study 1 John in this respect. What things were written so that they might know they have eternal life? (1 Jn. 5:13). Answer: The tests given in the book. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).

5. We must restore sound doctrine. Revival, I am finding as I study its history, is largely about the recovery of the true gospel. The three great doctrines which have so often shown up in true revival are: 1) God's sovereignty in salvation, 2) justification by grace through faith alone, and 3) regeneration with discernible fruit. Revival is God showing up, but the blessing of the presence of God is directly affected by our beliefs. God most often comes in the context of these and other great doctrines, preached penetratingly and faithfully, and with the unction of the Holy Spirit.

As an illustration of our doctrinal reductionism, repentance is often forgotten completely in gospel presentations, or else it is minimized to mean nothing more than "admitting that you are a sinner." Also, "Inviting Christ into your heart," a phrase never found in the Bible (study the context of Jn.1:12 and Rev. 3:20, the verses used for this), has taken the place of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. The doctrine of God's judgment is rarely preached with any carefulness. And comprehensive studies of the meaning of the cross are seldom heard. Merely looking over the titles of the sermons which awakening preachers preached in the past would surprise most modern pastors.

Be Healthy or Be Ashamed
Which army would you rather have? Gideon's first army or his last? No church, and no denomination, should call itself healthy unless more people attend than are on the roll. This is a standard kept by most of the world, and was kept by our great-grandparents in Baptist churches as well. We would be closer to the revival we desire if we would admit our failure, humbly hang our heads, and seek to rectify this awful hindrance to God's blessing. When we boast of how big we are, we are bragging about our shame.

In the Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, our first association, our initial American statistical record shows that five times as many people attended the association's churches as were on their rolls. Greg Wills in Democratic Religion in the South (Oxford University Press, 1997, p.14) reports that three times the number on the rolls attended Baptist churches, then located mostly along the eastern seaboard when surveyed in 1791 by John Ashlund. In 1835, the Christian Index of Georgia recorded that "not less than twice the number" of members were in attendance.

Today, in rough numbers, it takes 300 people on our rolls to have 100 attenders. In the 1790s, it took only 33. Or, to put it in larger figures, it now takes nearly 3000 people, supposedly won to Christ and baptized, to result in a church attendance of 1000. Then, it took only 333. Our potency has diminished to such an extent that we must "win" and "baptize" over 2,000 more people to get to the same 1000 to attend.

Apparently, being orthodox in terms of inerrancy and infallibility is not enough, though without these doctrines we have no foundation for true evangelism. A lot has to be done, and a lot undone. And, sadly, we have been actively transporting this mainly American problem overseas for many years.

To conclude, I suggest two remedial steps for the convention as a whole, in addition to what was suggested for the churches:
1. We might reverse some of our proclivity to continue as normal if we introduced our preachers more accurately in our evangelism meetings and convention settings. Try using this introduction: "Here is Brother ______, pastor of a church of 10,000 members, 6400 of whom do not bother to come on a given Sunday morning, and 8600 of whom do not come on Sunday evening. He is here to tell us about how to have a healthy, evangelistic church."

It might be better to ask a man to speak who shepherd's 100 members, all of whom attend with regularity and all of whom show signs of regeneration—a man who, in the last year, has baptized 5 people who stick—rather than a pastor of 10,000 members, 7000 of whom do not come—a man who has baptized 1000 in the past year, 700 of whom cannot be found. The smaller, but more consistent numbers of the first pastor reveal a far more effective ministry and thus a far better example for other churches. (Please understand that I don't like this talk about "numbers," but this is the main way we evaluate people and churches as Baptists. I am sure God is not really impressed with any of our statistics.)

2. We should establish a study group to explore our presently deplorable situation and to track its history. This group should also seek to re-examine the biblical mandate to have a regenerate church. Then this study group should report back with a strategy to help us out of the dilemma. They should be painfully honest. I am hopeful that individual churches will act without this prompting, but this would be an added stimulus to getting us to our fighting weight as a denomination. Some church leaders will not act without this sort of backing since independent action would be a departure from the status quo.

Our only alternative is to carry on in the old way—the way that produces 70-90% fallout. By continuing on as we are, we will gradually blur, and eventually obscure altogether, any distinction between the professing and the authentic Christian. In the end, we will look like every other mainline, liberal denomination. We are only one-third to one-tenth alive now. If we want to avoid complete deadness, we must take dramatic measures immediately. Like cotton candy, our apparent size does not add up to much.

Our forebears, especially those who died for the biblical concept of a regenerate church, would hardly recognize our compromised condition. It will admittedly take us down a notch or two, in the estimation of the rest of professing Christianity, when millions are removed from our rolls. But humility and a new reality might be the starting place for God's greatest blessings on us yet!

The next time someone asks how your church and your denomination are doing, tell the truth. Tell them that we have a new confidence in the inerrant Bible. Tell them that we have seminaries that promote orthodoxy, and new evangelistic fervor among the true believers. Tell them we have a lot to be excited about. But also tell them that when considered as a whole, most Southern Baptists need raising from the dead.

an encore presentation

(Jim Elliff is president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. by More articles by Jim may be found here.

Revised edition, Copyright © Jim Elliff 2005 Christian Communicators Worldwide, Inc. 201 Main, Parkville, MO 64152 USA Permission granted for not-for-sale reproduction in exact form including copyright Other uses require written permission. Write for additional materials.


Jeremy Weaver said...

Are you a Southern Baptist now?
Just curious.
This article by Elliff is the antidote to what ails us, but apparently Southern Baptists don't think they are sick.

Jeff Fuller said...

This is a very good article! I really appreciate that you posted it here.

I was teaching an evenaglism course last year and had a really hard time getting people to attend it. I consulted a friend of mine, Mark Cahill, as to how I could get more people involved. He suggested, "sounds like if they got saved first, then they would probably be more passionate about the lost."

I'd like to suggest a website I recently found from another friend of mine, Ray Comfort, called which deals specifically with this issue.

Rileysowner said...

Sadly, you could probably substitute almost any denominational name for Southern Baptist, and find the numbers much the same.

Terry Rayburn said...

I had a brief friendship with a new (though experienced) pastor of a SB church in my town, who told me, "Terry, I'm convinced that about 75% of my congregation is unregenerate." He implied that the Director of Education, responsible for Sunday School, was one of that 75%.

This pastor, though not "dynamic", was a real "shepherd", faithful in visiting, encouraging, and sharing Jesus.

Why was our friendship brief?

Because within a few months they ran him out of the church and out of town (at least 75% of them did).

It felt like some Peretti novel.


Gordan said...

My heart is strangely warmed to hear this finally coming from someone else in addition to Tom Ascol of Founders.

I think the writer was "spot-on" with his three marks of revival preaching, and it occurs to me that we need to be revival preachers in this manner...even before the revival starts. Preach new life in the graveyard till the life-giver is pleased to raise some!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. I was raised SB. I left the denomination after a few people in college sat me down and explained the TULIP.
At one level or another I have said very similar things about the Convention. It is good this is getting out.
Let the purity of the Gospel be preached. The Word does not return void.
Soli Deo Gloria
Paul C. Quillman

NP said...

The problem has to do more with standards of membership in the SBC. Walk forward, nod your head and yer in! Contrast this with PCA churches who have inverse attendance statistics vis-a-vis the SBC. PCA churches have MORE Sunday attenders than they do members due to the much more stringent process in place to receive members. Not trying to promote the PCA here - just pointing out that the SBC's "filter" is weak compared to an alternative model. Don't you agree?

Joel said...

Discerning who among us is regenerate is not an exact science...

Not an exact science? It's not even possible for a man. To claim to know the state of another's soul is arrogance not even a pope would have.

JohnTheReformedBaptist said...

ditto...For jeff fuller; my Church has aboout 1500 on Sunday morning, 300 Sunday night. We are "lucky" to have 2-5 new people for E.E. in addition to trainers. I am involved with our Church's Way Of The Master Evangelism. We go out Monday nights. We average 12-15 youth, 4-5 adults. My pastor is awesome, former elder at J Mac's Church, divides the Word like no other. Yet, the "numbers" are what they are.

4given said...

You wrote: "In my estimation, the public altar call (a modern invention) often reaps people prematurely."
I truly agree and have met too many people that have repeatedly gone to the front for the alter call because the first time, 2nd, 10th... didn't cut it, so they keep going up there just to what? Make sure they aren't going to hell? I call that subjective emotional faith, not true saving faith. And what has happened to ongoing discipleship and accountability? Are we too busy or tired to do the work we are called to do for His glory because we are failing to get a pat on the back by men?
Quillman said...
"Let the purity of the Gospel be preached. The Word does not return void."...
AMEN!!! I go to a church that preaches, teaches, disciples, and you cannot "hide" there. It isn't hell, fire and damnation preaching or fluffy-feel good preaching, it is balanced, expositional, Biblical teaching and I walk away every Sunday both convicted AND encouraged.

G. Alford said...

Great Post... have you sent it to the "Brothers Grim"? (I mean the Caners of course)

Anyway, I met you at the Florida Founders Conference... and I very much enjoyed hearing you speak.

By His Grace Alone,

Timotheos said...

I pastored a SBC church for 3 years (first church, and last SBC church). The church had nearly 400 members and only 40 in attendance. I tried to get the church to purge the rolls and discovered that this was a sacred cow. After excercising church discipline on a disruptive member he left and went to another SBC church and was welcomed with open arms - and even given the pulpit. At that point, I had had enough.
The standard seemed to be pragmatic, not biblical. So, I sought out and moved to a more bible centered fellowship.
I grieve when I see articles like Eliff's, cause I know that it is true.

The Blainemonster said...

What a well-written and thoroughly thought out piece. I'm not SB, but so much of the thoughts contained in the article have to do with the church as a whole.

J. C. Ryle, in writing of the eighteenth century revival preachers, said that they never for a moment believed that there was any true conversion if it was not accompanied by increasing personal holiness.

We HAVE to make these judgements and preach this truth.

Given the unregenerate state of so many professing Christians, their doubts may be fully warranted. In any case, as one friend told me, "Doubts never sent anyone to hell, but deception always does."

Excellent quote! A keeper.

His message was his invitation. We should always offer a verbal invitation in our gospel preaching, meaning we must invite people to repent and believe.

mmm...the importance of Biblical preaching!

Which army would you rather have? Gideon's first army or his last?

Yes. I tend to be a little suspect of follow up programs and attendance counting. I'm just not sure that we can expect thousands and thousands on the church rolls. As much as we might want that, and rightly desire churches FULL of believers, sometimes I think that it really is true that many are called and few are chosen. But maybe I'm just feeling cynical this morning :)

donsands said...

"We don't need better methods to get people down to the front."

Nope. We can't "nice" people in the kingdom of God. Sure we need to be kind and meek in our proclamation of Christ, but we also need to be confident in the truth of God.
The Gospel is the Gospel. It's the power the Holy Spirit uses to convict, and to display the goodness and kindness of God to a dead sinner, a child of wrath.

It may be in a different atmosphere. Clothes, sitting arrangements, and other things may vary, and pulpits, or no pulpits, but the Gospel will only be powerful if it is preahced by a born again Christian, pastor, preacher, disciple, and evangelist. One who is grateful for his own salvation by grace alone, and who lives by faith alone in Christ alone, and most of all for the glory of God alone.

eric opsahl said...

I wonder what the statistics are for the "seeker friendly" churches.
Like Osteen and Warren. If not near as high, I would then have another follow up comment.
Also wonder what the statistics are for Reformed Baptist churches.

Detoured By Travel said...

Having originally heard the Gospel in a SB Church at the age of 10, it saddens me to read this. But it's true. Be careful my brothers about pinning this JUST on the can happen to any denomination and any individual whose focus is NOT on Christ and Him crucified.

As a young adult I attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. The SBC constructed a new facility (at least it was pretty new when I went there) as a mission outreach there called the BSU (Baptist Student Union). It was considered the lone "safe haven" that Christians could physically go to between classes, etc. Sure there were other groups that met on campus (Campus Crusade and Navigators to name a couple), but this was someplace that you could go to every day and meet other believers (plus they had 50 cent lunches every Thursday -- and this drew students in -- and it's how I met my wife of 28 years too). Since I was a believer who lived on campus and was among the rare breed not interested in the "party lifestyle," I am grateful for this mission and remember it fondly. But one of the older, more grounded students there told me something I've never forgotten. It must be JESUS first and your denomination after.

May God continue to cause us to (1) daily scrutinize the love we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ, (2) examine our motivations and relationships with those that are lost, and (3) strengthen our resolve to fight against compromise and sin.

Anonymous said...

Excellent and welcome article. Along with Timotheos, I also pastored an SBC church until just a few months ago. Similar situation. They had an extremely wicked member who was literally running the church and had ousted at least the previous three pastors. This man ignored the church covenant and publically taught that the Bible was not fully inerrant. (Along with many other counter-biblical issues). I confronted him biblically and we went through the appropriate process. He departed in wrath and then moved down the street to the next SBC church, where we subsequently received a “request for letter”. This transfer by letter issue has become one of the SBC’s more destructive methodologies, as it is virtually never honored appropriately. I, along with a solid majority of the congregation refused to honor the letter, as we could not in good faith represent him to the new church as meeting the guidelines of agreed SBC membership. That was summarily ignored and the new congregation welcomed him with open arms on a statement of faith. If this paradigm is not changed, it will be the eventual demise of the SBC.

fisherwoman said...

I highly recommend Ray Comfort's: and True and False Conversions there, as well as Paul Washer's sermons at :

We have forgotten that is the Law of God that is the schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, that shows His holiness and our spiritual bankruptcy.

I highly recommend Basic Training at :

PREACH THE WORD!! It is the GOSPEL that is the power of God to salvation.

The fellowship of the unashamed, Betty

Derek Joseph said...

This was a great article. Really sad at first because of all the problems, but you gave some great recommendations. Thank God for what he's doing in the SBC now, too! There's much good mixed in with all the bad.

I think there's a lot of truth in James White's phrase: "What you win them with is what you win them to." If people understood what they were accepting, I don't think they'd 'run.'

Hayden said...

Excellent article and very true. The church I am privileged to Pastor fought this fight over the 'church rolls' and it caused a split, but, those who are left are VERY FAITHFUL! We have a sweet fellowship here.

This has also caused us to pause, and consider if we are to continue on supporting the SBC.

If you wnat to hear an excellent sermon, Google Voddie Bauchman's sermon "Southern Baptists and Sardis".

calvinistbychoice said...

Joel said...
Discerning who among us is regenerate is not an exact science...

Not an exact science? It's not even possible for a man. To claim to know the state of another's soul is arrogance not even a pope would have.


LivingDust said...

As a Southern Baptist I am used to folk taking the ocassional potshot at the SBC and I remind them that the SBC is not the Church, but a cooperative effort of independent congregations. Unfortunately, the SBC intelligensia, a product of SBC-funded seminaries, have made a career and sport of the SBC and guard its key control points and entity boards oh so very carefully. The SBC has been effectively hijacked by the "professionals" and they won't give it up to the people, therefore congregations have pulled away and participation by rank and file Southern Baptists has waned significantly. Its time to clean house of ALL leadership and personnel at the SBC and institute a mandatory sabbatical. Its time for Southern Baptists laypeople to run the SBC and not the "professionals" who have battered and damaged it beyond recognition.

LivingDust said...

Some who might have read my comment and thought "how dare that LivingDust say such things". I'm not alone. Please read the following - "There is a serious disconnect between the leaders of our Southern Baptist Convention and the rank and file lay person and pastor. Some perceive that there is a well-oiled machine, filled with power hungry politicians, running the show while the vast majority of loyal, supportive people are left without any voice and/or influence. While this observation may or may not be true, there is a serious perception of disconnect and distrust." Who wrote these words you ask? - Dr. Frank Page, President, Southern Baptist Convention (2006/2007) Press Release, May 22, 2006

Joanne said...

I found a link to your article on another site. I'm a member of a dying church in a dying denomination. Right now, our church leadership is planning a 'block party' to try and bring people in! My husband and I won't be involved-in fact, we're looking for another church (hard in an area which is heavily SBC). This past Wednesday night, we attended a church about 30 miles from our home. The pastor actually preached on REPENTANCE! I felt like I'd just had a steak dinner after a long diet of junk food. Unfortunately, churches like this (SBC) seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

Waiting for the bridegroom's shout (Matt 25:6)