Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why the Lack of Commitment?

Recently our staff was discussing problems we face in leading people who don't want to go anywhere. There are many reasons for this, of course, but certainly one concern I expressed is a deadly serious one. I shared how I had trouble understanding why people would not want to be committed to Christ and His church. Now, before I was saved I had to be forced to attend. But when I gave my life to Christ, all that changed. I not only wanted to go--but went every time the doors were open. In addition, no one had to twist my arm to get me to serve. I was thankful for the privilege and that was before I became a pastor and was "paid" to do it. So, I found it interesting to run across this internet post the very same day,and thought I would share it with you.

Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination (Part 1)
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.

Copyright © Jim Elliff Permission granted for photocopy and internet transmission. For other uses, write info@ccwonline.org. (This part of 1 of 2 parts). More of Jim’s articles may be found at www.CCWonline.org. Distributed by www.ChristianWorldviewNetwork.com

So, what do you think? Is this off-base, or does it hit the heart of the problem--the problem of the heart?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006



Ephesians 6:1-4

"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." (John W. Whitehead).

That being true, the question is, "What kind of living letter are you preparing?" Too many dip their parental pen in poison and write a deadly message on their child's heart. These children will grow up to be turned loose on society to spread their deadly toxin. Even Christian parents often fail to write the Word of God upon their kids' hearts. Yet, we have the potential under God to turn this around and send out living letters of testimony to the grace and power of Christ to future generations. Paul tells us four requirements for being effective parents. First:

1. DEMONSTRATION "you fathers" (6:4a)
It is not that mothers do not play a significant role in the spiritual development of their children for they certainly do. Still, God has placed men as the leaders of their home. There are things we need to teach our children and I'll talk about that, but we have no moral platform to do so if we are not practicing what we preach. Our children will not become what we say, but what we are. They had rather see a sermon than hear one. What do our children need to see in us?

· A HEALTHY MARRIAGE (5:22-33) This is not isolated subject matter. In the context Paul has just addressed Christian marriage as the necessary foundation for a Christian family. Your children desperately need to see a healthy marriage. Men, the best thing you could show your kids is how you cherish your wife. Ladies, the best thing you could show your kids is how much you respect your husband. Listen to these statistics.

Tonight, 33% of U.S. children will go to bed in a home without a biological father. (U.S. Census Bureau)
More than 1 million children are part of a divorce each year. (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Teachman, Tedrow and Crowder document changes to the American family over the past three decades: a tendency to marry later or not at all, increased divorce, an increase in children born out of wedlock, a decrease in households composed of families, a decrease in family households of two parents with children, an increase in children spending part of their childhood in a single parent household, and an increase in multiple changes for children's living arrangements. Their conclusion, "It is no longer the case that a child born today can expect go live his or her childhood with both biological parents." (Teachman, J.D., Tedrow, L.M., & Crowder, K.D. Journal of Marriage and Family)
Lang and Zagorsky found that children who grow up with both biological parents achieve significantly better results educationally, in marriage, and economically. They receive better grades, on average complete one year more of schooling, are 10% more likely to graduate from high school, are more likely to marry, earn more income, and accumulate more wealth. (Lang, K., & Zagorsky, J.L. Journal of Human Resources)
The Family Pediatrics Task Force found that women and children areseverelyy punished when a husband or father is not in the home. Income for single women head of households is only 47% of married couple family income. The probability of children living in poverty is 5 times greater in single women households (Pediatrics)
Perhaps the greatest cost to the physical absence of fathers in the home has been to create the practical absence of mothers in the home. Essentially, one person must now do the work of two. As a young woman who grew up in a single parent home said, "When my mom and dad divorced I didn't just lose my dad. I also lost my mom because she had to work long hours to support us."

Then demonstrate:
· A HOLY MODEL (6:1-2) In this series, we are talking about building a household of faith. This is the Bible's blueprint for raising children. If you want your children to honor you, then be an honorable parent, not a hypocritical oneProverbs17:6 says, "Parents are the pride of their children." Little eyes are watching our every move. A person's image of the Heavenly Father is often patterned after the image they have of their human father.

Bringing children up the right way not only requires demonstration, but:

2. DEVOTION "bring them up" (6:4b) This requires a commitment to them, to making our sons and daughters a priority. In the Old Testament a father would give a blessing to their kids. The father would place his hands on them and speak to them words of blessing. Have you given the blessing? It is:

· PROPER TOUCH. Kids need our touch. They need lots of hugs. They grow up secure when they receive this affection and they know how to express love to others. You don't spoil your children by giving them too much affection. A survey of teens from Christian homes found 79% felt unloved!

We also bless then with:
· POSITIVE TALK. We communicate by the tone of our voice whether our children are special or a nuisance. Critical, negative parents undermine their child's potential and raise kids that either become perfectionists pursuing an elusive goal of pleasing their parents or we embitter them.

What else is required for the proper upbringing of children?

3. DISCIPLINE "training" (6:4b) Has both a negative and positive dimension. We can't neglect either. It calls for:

· REINFORCING POSITIVE ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOR. We must reward good behavior. When they get it right we must let them know. When you are rewarded on your job with a raise or promotion it inspires you to work harder. That principle is just as valid with our kids. But coupled with this comes:

· REMOVING NEGATIVE ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOR. Correction should be swift, direct and proportionate. I subscribe to canoe-ology: paddle them from behind and they'll go straight. Don't discipline when you're angry. Don't do it out of embarrassment. Our Father in Heaven disciplines us in love and we are to follow His example.

The fourth requirement is:

4. DIRECTION "admonition" (6:4b) Teaching them for:

· CONVERSION TO THE SAVIOR. The most important thing you can teach them is, "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so." We don't want to bring children into the world if we aren't going to take them to heaven with us. Along with this direct them in:

· COMPREHENSION OF THE SCRIPTURES. There is a power in the Word of God to direct them. A recent survey of church youth found that many of them thought Sodom and Gommorah were husband and wife and that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife! We are raising young people without the knowledge of the Bible. Without this comprehension, they are sitting ducks for cults, and the occult.

· COMMITMENT TO HIS STANDARDS. Nature abhors a vacuum. Someone is going to set the standard for your kids. It must be you as a parent sharing Biblical convictions.

· CONSECRATION TO HIS SERVICE. Too many Christians think that if I can raise my kids to be decent people, get a college education, and get a good job, that's success. Yet, an atheist or pagan might accomplish those things. True success is serving Christ. We need to help our children be open to His call. We want them to grow up to impact the world for Christ in whatever field of endeavor they pursue.

You can't be a Christian parent unless you are a Christian! Have you received Christ as your Lord and Savior?

The church can't replace you as a parent, but we can support you. Are you part of a solid, Bible-believing church?

Every Christian parent needs to pray for wisdom and grace--to humble ourselves and seek God's help or we will fail in this most important task, with our children as the casualties.

God the Father

“God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all-powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.”

Genesis 1:1; 2:7; Exodus 3:14; 6:2-3; 15:11ff.; 20:1ff.; Leviticus 22:2; Deuteronomy 6:4; 32:6; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 19:1-3; Isaiah 43:3,15; 64:8; Jeremiah 10:10; 17:13; Matthew 6:9ff.; 7:11; 23:9; 28:19; Mark 1:9-11; John 4:24; 5:26; 14:6-13; 17:1-8; Acts 1:7; Romans 8:14-15; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:6; 12:9; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 John 5:7. (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)

One of the first words to escape the lips of a little child is, “da da.” Instinctively the helpless infant looks into the face of the father and utters a plea, encapsulated in these two syllables a longing for protection, provision and love. So, the children of God, born into His family by faith in Christ, cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)

Our Heavenly Father reigns over all things. He spawned the created order by the sheer power of His spoken command. He cares for His creation and all that dwell upon this planet. God the Father presides over the course of creation and is channeling all things to the consummation of His will and glory. In the sense of being created beings, made in the image of God, all humanity can be considered His offspring. This gives dignity and establishes the sanctity of human life.

Yet, in a superlative sense, He calls those whom He elects into a personal relationship with Him through regeneration. Only those who have had a new birth—a spiritual second birth—can fully and truly call God their Heavenly Father. In fact, Jesus said of those who rejected Him that they were of their father, the devil! (John 8:44).

Unlike human fathers, our Heavenly Father has limitless resources to supply our every need. He has limitless knowledge to know our every need. He has limitless love so that He desires to supply our every need. There are times, as a frail father of flesh, when I may desire to do something for my children but do not have the means to accomplish my will. Other times I may not know what is best in a particular circumstance for my children and so, even of I had the ability to do something for them, it might work for their ruin rather than their welfare. A less frequent problem, yet still a struggle, is that I can be self-centered, self-absorbed and look to care for myself first and not my children. In short, I try to be a good father, yet I know I am not a perfect father.

But this is not true of our Father in Heaven! God the Father is the perfect Parent. Do you know Him in this personal, most intimate relationship?

Have you spoken to your Father today? He’s waiting to hear from you.