The Perfect Storm–Part 2

Posted: August 5, 2011 in Baptist, Bill Harrell, Calvinism, Contemporary Worship

Rev. Bill Harrell

In our last post Brother Bill Harrell began a discussion of Contemporary Worship and Calvinism.  It is concluded in this post.

William F. (Bill) Harrell, has been the Pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Augusta, GA for the past 30 years.  He has served in many capacities in the Georgia Baptist Convention as well as the Southern Baptist Convention and has just completed his second eight year term on the Executive Committee of the SBC.  Brother Bill, as he is affectionately called, was vitally involved on the Executive Committee during the years of the Conservative Resurgence chairing one of the main sub-committees through which many of the necessary changes were made.  He is the preacher on Strength For Today, the television ministry of Abilene Baptist which has a potential audience of over two million people each week in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.

This casual approach is also affecting the preachers and staff members.  Many preachers and musicians stand before their church each Sunday dressed in a way that my school teachers would not have tolerated and would have sent me home to change.  My mother used to make me get new jeans if a hole came in the knee.  “Boy, you can’t wear those jeans to school, they look terrible”, she would say.  But, the casual, contemporary philosophy is that one cannot “reach” the people unless they are like them.  Quite frankly, from what I have witnessed, those church leaders who hold that philosophy are insulting their members.  Are they saying that they dress sloppily because their church members dress the same way?  Sounds like it to me.  The people of the world are looking for an example to follow, not someone else like them.  Most unsaved sinners are sick of who and what they are and they are looking for something different….something to change their lives both spiritually and socially.  But they are made comfortable with who and what they are when they see pastors, staff and church people who don’t seem to be concerned with what they are projecting.  I am weary of being expected to condone the idea that the casual, contemporary model is setting the right example and is acceptable.  What does the lost person who is looking for answers to life’s deepest questions think when he sees a preacher on the platform looking like he just washed his dog, put on a sloppy coat, left his long shirt tale hanging below his coat hem and rushed to the church to preach without even combing his hair?  When the preacher and staff project the casual approach to Christianity that is what the people will adopt.  Everything rises or falls on leadership and that is why a leader must make sure that he does not project the wrong thing.

The way people dress to attend church these days is downright dishonoring to God.  When the pastor bites the bait of casual dress, it results in casual actions which breed a casual approach to God.  Of course many in the contemporary movement will say, “God is interested in what’s on the inside more than He is interested in what’s on the outside.” Oh, really?  Does one mean to say that because God cares about what’s on the inside that He does not care about the outside and how we come before Him?  If one were called and asked to be in the Oval Office within two days what do you think he or she  would do?  If he did not have a suit and tie he would go to the expense of buying one so that he could go into the presence of the President of the United States properly attired.  Likewise, a lady would not think of entering the Oval Office in shorts and flip flops.  But these same people think it is permissible to come before the God of the universe with an appearance they would never deem appropriate for their president.  I tell the people of our church that if a tee shirt and jeans are the best they have, wash them, iron them and wear them to church.  That is just fine.  But if the best thing one has is a fine tailored suit then don’t wear the tee shirt and jeans.  We should come before God in the best we have.  How can the pastor be a proper spiritual role model for others unless he sets the right example?

In the Old Testament God was very particular as to how the people constructed the Tabernacle.  He outlined it specifically and the people followed his instructions.  When it came time to give the  instructions on how the Priest should be clothed, he designed the wardrobe very specifically.  He told them how the head piece should be made.  He designed the breastplate very intricately as well.  Certain stones were used for particular reasons known only to God.  The robe was of particular significance with the hem to be sewn with red thread.  Now, why did God say He wanted red thread.  First, the red thread is a “type” of the blood of Christ.  Secondly, He said to have the robe hemmed with red thread because that is the way He wanted it and He does not have to make excuses for anything He says to do.

Everything about the design of the Priest’s garb was for a purpose.  He was to come before the Holy God of the universe in a certain way.  He stood out from the crowd.  He set the example of how to present oneself before God.  The people didn’t dress that way but they saw him as an extension of God in their midst.  That is the way preachers should be today.  They should stand out as an example and as an extension of God’s presence among His people.  The same God that prescribed how the Priest was to come before Him is the same God who still sits on the same throne He occupied then.  He is the God who does not change in any way so why do we think that He has now modified his approach as to how we present ourselves to him?  He does not care which century we occupy.  He does not care about social implications in today’s world.  He is unchanging and I think He still wants us to honor Him by coming before Him in our best attire to signify our awareness of where we are and Who we are coming before.

The ultimate effect of the contemporary, casual approach to Christianity and particularly worship, is to lead the people to believe that they really don’t have to give up anything or change anything to come before God.  They can dress in such a way that they don’t have to change clothes in order to go for an afternoon at the lake.  One doesn’t have to give up their love for rock music, not even for one hour because we are going to give them the same style, volume and appearance while calling it “Christian rock”.  One doesn’t have to be concerned about living the Christian lifestyle because we now tell them that social drinking is just fine according to the Bible.  The bar is lowered so low that the world will be glad to come into our church because we will take them as they are and send them on their way as they are with the idea that because they came to church they will go to Heaven when they die.  This casual approach leads one to believe that God is happy to take us just as we are with no commitment from us concerning a change in our lives.  If the Bible says anything about Christianity it is that we must have a life-changing experience with Jesus Christ.

The Contemporary movement combined with Calvinism is, in my opinion, what is causing a decline in baptisms in the SBC.  The Contemporary movement, in general, does several things which result in the decline in baptisms.  First, it does away with the evening worship as an evangelistic event and replaces it with some activities or “educational” opportunities.  What they have effectively done is to convert worship time into the old Church Training mode.  Question:  how many people in the SBC were saved in an evening worship hour?  A significant percentage of our people were saved in the evening service.  To remove it takes away an opportunity for people to hear the gospel and be saved.  Second, it does away with revivals.  Not all contemporary churches have ceased to have revivals but so few do that the effect has been that they are almost nonexistent in those churches.  Question: how many people in the SBC were saved during a revival?  I can assure the reader that many of them were.  To do away with revivals is to limit the number of people who just might give their heart to Jesus.  Are the contemporary church leaders saying that an office that is ordained of God, (the evangelist) should not be employed in our churches simply because what he is gifted to do doesn’t fit the casual church model any longer and simply won’t work in these days?  I think this is exactly what is being stated overtly by many  and implied by others.

This casual approach to Christianity also tells people that they won’t be asked to be dedicated and consistent in their attendance.  The casual Christianity approach falsely assumes that people won’t come to your church if you demand anything of them.  They are not asked to make a public profession of faith as Jesus tells us to do.  In the New Testament one could not be a silent or secret Christian.  They made the declaration of their faith in Jesus in a public way.  Jesus told us to “confess Him before men” and that if we do He will “confess us before the father”, (Matthew 10:32-33).  But if we follow the casual model the idea is that if one has to make a public profession of faith, they will not come to your church.  Also, don’t place the visitors in any kind of situation in which they will feel uncomfortable in being welcomed.  This whole process is a “you do it your way” mentality because we want to make sure that you come to our church even though you will be a “lowest common denominator” Christian and church member.  My question is:  is the “lowest common denominator Christian” really saved or are they being led astray?  This movement is one of the major reasons that the baptisms in the SBC are falling.

Calvinism is contributing to the fall in baptisms as well.  I won’t take the time to go into the theological reasons I think this is true but I will point out a simple truth.  Calvinism, traditionally, produces few baptisms and smaller churches.  This is undeniable and beyond debating.  Now, I am sure that one can point to a few Calvinistic churches that are larger than some non-Calvinistic churches, but overall, what I have stated is true.  When one weds these two things together, Calvinism and the Contemporary church model, the result will be fewer baptisms.

Casual Christianity is the model and mode of the day.  This crude society in which we live has influenced even the pulpits of our convention and beyond.  More and more, some “preachers” are willing to use crudities in the pulpit.  They apparently think it is cute and that it communicates.  Here again, if a preacher does such things as using crudities and “light” profanity from the pulpit, he is saying to his audience that they really don’t mind him doing that.  He feels comfortable doing it and in so doing he insults the sensitivities of many people.  The pulpit is no place for cursing or crudities.  It is no place to be used to excuse social drinking.  It is no place to speak of bodily functions or tell questionable jokes.  God is nowhere within a million miles of such a thing.  The world has been very effective in convincing the Lord’s Church to “let its hair down” and “quit being so stuffy.”  And, the church has been willing to be convinced if the process will increase the numbers of people who will come.  Many of the people who do come into the casual church environment are not coming to be changed.  They are coming because the church no longer expects them to change and just because they have come they feel that when they walk out the door they have done God’s bidding and will be welcomed into Heaven when they die.  Perhaps these will be in the company of those to whom the Lord says, “Not everyone who says unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We are in the Day of Apostasy, I fear.

  1. Steve Hammon says:

    Thank the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit–our triune God–that I am not a member of Bill’s church, have no reason to attend Bill’s church, and will never intentionally set foot in Bill’s church. His philosophy of church leadership is precisely the reason the SBC is tanking and looking more and more like Jehovah’s Witnessess as the months roll along.

  2. Steve Ball says:

    While I agree we should dress “appropriately” to go to church,it’s also a sign of where we are in time…women DO go to the white house in flip flops.My wife has pointed out pictures of it to me.Frankly,I DON”T see anything about presidents of either party that tells me they DESERVE the respect they were once accorded.They have power, but not respectability! Preachers are bordering on losing respect also…If you keep spending your time “debating” instead of soul winning (the most important aspect of a good shepherd).People are smarter than given credit for…we know some preachers are merely charlatans.There will always be fools to follow them,there is no use in getting too upset about that.They both will have their will and way and their reward one day.Let’s do as the scriptures say,” …he that winneth souls is wise.” None of us are doing enough of that,including myself! God help us to see the truth of that!

  3. birchtreepastor says:

    When someone starts talking about a pastor using “light” profanity and social drinking, we can usually assume they are talking about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. Well, as this blogger says, “the proof is in the pudding.” Earlier this year, a young man from our church who lived with my family for a while joined the Army. He was stationed near Seattle so he found his way to Mars Hill. When he came back home, he had all kinds of questions about why discipleship and high membership standards were lacking in our church (very traditional, Bill Harrell would feel right at home) like his new church does. Seems young people flock there not because of cursing and drinking but because Christ is lifted up, the Word is taught, and it actually means something beyond a Sunday morning routine.

  4. It has been my opinion for the last few years that the real divide in the SBC is not really between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. It is between historic Baptists (who trace their roots through the founders of our convention back to the English Particular Baptists) and revivalists (whose roots go back to the revivals of the Second Great Awakening, in which Charles Finney’s “new measures” began to become defining marks of evangelicalism).

    Historic Baptists tend to be Calvinistic in their theology. Revivalists tend to be anti-Calvinistic. But their divide is not just over the TULIP. It is over an entire approach to ecclesiology. Historic Baptists (as did their forbears) favor a robust ecclesiology, where regenerate church membership is the hallmark. That means that the process of admitting members to the church is not as simple as someone walking an aisle and then taking a vote (or not) and declaring it a done deal. These churches take care to make sure prospective members understand and believe the gospel and that they understand and agree to the obligations of church membership. As a result, those members who are failing to meet the obligations of church membership (through non-involvement or open sin) are pursued in the steps of church discipline outlined in Matthew 18.

    Revivalists, on the other hand, are much more individualistic and therefore lacking in a biblical understanding of ecclesiology. They elevate non-biblical revivalist methods to the status of biblical mandate. The altar call, for example, even though no church practiced it prior to the 19th century, is considered the pinnacle of evangelistic practice. To question it is on par with questioning God himself. (I’m not necessarily saying that a so-called “altar call” is bad; I’m just saying it’s not binding on all churches because it’s not commanded in Scripture). Revivalists naively assume that their particular tradition and methods are sacrosanct, and any deviation from them (i.e., a plurality of elders, biblical church discipline where excommunication is the last step, dispensing with the altar call or traditional Sunday night services, not having a bus ministry, etc.) represents a departure from the gospel.

    The greatest example of this divide between historic Baptists and revivalists came to the fore a few years back at a convention meeting. Tom Ascol brought a resolution to the floor that called on churches to recover a biblical understanding of church membership and begin removing people from their rolls who were no longer part of the life of the church. The resolutions committee did not bring the motion for a vote. Ascol asked why it was not brought up, and he was told that non-attending members should remain on our rolls because they are good prospects for evangelism.

    Now, I realize that Dr. Ascol’s motion did pass either the following year or two years down the road (I can’t remember which), but that particular moment in time encapsulates the differences in the SBC. One group, represented by Ascol, is seeking to return to the hallmark of Baptist identity: regenerate church membership. The other group, represented by the brother on the resolutions committee who explained the reason for the denial of Ascol’s motion, clearly has a good motive to bring people to Christ, but has not integrated that good motive into a biblical understanding of what church membership is and has, consequently, denied a hallmark of Baptist identity. If ANYTHING is clear about Baptist identity it is that prospects for evangelism should NOT, by definition, be members of Baptist churches! Isn’t that diametrically opposed to what a Baptist church is supposed to be?

    (By the way, removing people from a church roll does not mean you can never evangelize them. In fact, I would argue that removing them from a church roll is the first step in evangelizing them, because you are acknowledging with such an act that they are not true believers and need to believe the gospel in order to be saved. To allow them to remain on the church roll will only aid their false sense of assurance and build up a barrier when you try to evangelize them).

    This divide, I believe, is the more fundamental divide in the SBC than the Calvinist/non-Calvinist issue. Non-Calvinist revivalists are seeing a number of their most cherished methods threatened by a return to historic Baptist practices, and they perceive this as a threat to the gospel itself, for they have erroneously equated their methods with the gospel.

  5. Aaron,

    You wrote, “This divide, I believe, is the more fundamental divide in the SBC than the Calvinist/non-Calvinist issue.”

    Sorry… in my opinion, your conclusions are off base. First of all, you state, “Non-Calvinist revivalists are seeing a number of their most cherished methods threatened by a (Calvinist) return to historic Baptist practices, and they perceive this as a threat to the gospel itself, for they have erroneously equated their methods with the gospel.”

    I find that statement completely without basis. I no more fear that “my cherished methods” are threatened any more than the Calvinist who is as you imply, “returning to historic Baptist practices.” This seems to me to be an odd assessment in the first place, since neither camp ought to be “returning to historic Baptist practices”. I for one am not interested in that but rather seek to be as Biblically based as I can possibly be. Of course there are those who assert that “only true Christianity” is Calvinism. See quote below from Founders Website.

    “Calvinism is nothing more than biblical Christianity. It lies in a profound apprehension that God is imminently majestic, holy, beautiful, and glorious, and that God’s creation is profoundly sinful and needful of redemption. Hence, it promotes an attitude of dependence on God through all the activities of life. It teaches that salvation comes only when the sinful person rests in humble, self-emptying trust in the most wonderful, amazing grace of God. These are the fundamental principles of Calvinism.”

    Problem number 2 is in the next statement, ” I would argue that removing them from a church roll is the first step in evangelizing them, because you are acknowledging with such an act that they are not true believers and need to believe the gospel in order to be saved.”

    I am amazed at how something like unregenerate church membership is the only thing that the Sovereign God of Calvinists must have problems with in regeneration. If removing them is indeed the first step in evangelizing them, where does this fit into the regeneration process? To as you assert, “allow them to remain on the church roll will only aid their false sense of assurance and build up a barrier when you try to evangelize them.” Are you saying that this is a problem that God has in the process of regeneration? If regeneration is indeed essential before any saving faith or repentance can take place then it would appear to me there ought not be any real problem to worry about; unless unregenerate membership is worse than being totally depraved in the first place.

    If God is incomplete control of the salvific process then who is to say the fact that this unregenerate church member is not there in the first place by God’s divine design… after all… without God… unregenerate man is dead and cannot and will not seek God on his own. So… who is to say whether his seeking, however flawed it may be, is not part of God’s plan in His process of regeneration… after all… if Calvinism is correct, (which I am not a proponent of) who is to say that this person who is unregenerate today is not scheduled for regeneration tomorrow or next week or next year for that matter?

    The divide between non-Calvinists and Calvinists is an ever growing one and the differences in that divide are equally shared by both sides.

    Grateful to be in His Grip,


  6. Transformed Theology,

    I am going to offer some words in response, but before I do I would like to ask in sincerity for you to come with an open ear and hear what I have to say. It is clear to me that you simply do not understand Calvinistic theology, and I hope that by taking the time to show you what we Calvinists really believe, it might help you understand us and represent us better in the future. I am not asking you to agree with me theologically, just to try to understand.

    Most Calvinists believe that regeneration logically precedes faith and is the cause of faith. However, that does not mean that God does not use means to bring it about. The means he uses to accomplish regeneration is the preaching of the gospel, and we can only see that regeneration has occurred once someone gives a credible profession of faith in the gospel.

    God is sovereign in salvation, but his sovereignty does not operate apart from secondary causes and means, nor does it obliterate human responsibility. Could God save someone who is an unregenerate church member? Of course. But the fact that God can do something is no excuse for us to be unfaithful to what he has revealed to us, and as Baptists it has long been our position that Scripture teaches that the unregenerate cannot be members of a church, for they are not members of Christ. If we are going to waver on this, why don’t we just start baptizing infants like everybody else?

    The moment you begin to think that the sovereignty of God reduces or eliminates our moral obligation to be faithful to what he has revealed is the moment you are no longer describing Calvinism. It may not make sense to you that divine sovereignty and human responsibility can both remain intact, but this is what Calvinists believe and have always believed, because this is what Scripture teaches.

    All of this discussion is really a sidetrack from my previous comment, however, which was really about how there are two different visions of what the church is in the SBC today, one vision which upholds biblical (and Baptistic) regenerate church membership, and another vision which is entrenched in revivalist individualism and is, consequently and unintentionally, opposed to this hallmark of Baptist identity.

  7. Ron Hale says:

    Respectfully, your history lesson comes up short concerning the General Baptists or in your words the baptists of the revivalist tradition.

    Thomas Helwys started the first General Baptist Church in England in 1611 and many historians believe John Smyth started the first General Baptist Church (believed in a general atonement, not a particular atonement in Amsterdam some ten years earlier than Helwy’s church plant in Spitalfield, England.

    In essence, General Baptists are just as much “historic” as are Particular Baptists.

    Aaron … it seems that most Baptists today are a blend of both historic groups. Would you agree?

  8. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Steve,

    If you would like to interact with the post that is fine. However, your opinion of Dr. Harrell’s church is irrelevant to this post. This is not about the “kind” of church you like or dislike. It is a veteran pastor who has been in the trenches and fought the fight for the inerrancy of Scriptures expressing what he is seeing. What you need to ask yourself is a simple question. Do you think the direction of SBC is the direction that people like Bill Harrell placed their ministries on the line? Brother Bill says no it isn’t and gives his experienced and learned analysis. One may not agree with it, but he certainly has earned the right to express it freely and we should listen and not degrade the ministry he has built in Augusta.


  9. Hi Ron,

    I am not speaking with respect to the General Baptists. They were a full-fledged Arminian group whose legacy can be seen today, not in the SBC, but in small Baptist denominations like the Free Will Baptists. Southern Baptists are descendants of the English Particular Baptists, but along the way we picked up the influence of 19th century revivalism, which, as far as I know, has little or no connection to the General Baptists.

    Yes, General Baptists are “historic,” but they are not direct ancestors of our denomination. In addition, the General Baptist churches of the 17th century likewise would have had no connection to the new measures of the 19th century revivals.

  10. Ron Hale says:

    Can you share with me some historical evidence there was “no” merging of these two theological streams that led to some influence in SBC history? Thanks.

  11. Brad Whitt says:

    I for one am thankful for a leader in the Conservative Resurgence sharing some wise words of warnings for those of us who follow in their footsteps. Also, from my study there were two traditions that were found in the early days of the SBC – the Charleston tradition and the Sandy Creek tradition. One was more particular and the other more general in their view of the atonement. So, as has been mentioned, we’ve always had both reformed and non-reformed in the SBC. However, as many are observing – including many of my reformed friends and mentors – there is a more radicalized, militant vein of reformed theology that is gaining ground in the SBC today that trends more toward presbyterianism than simply being a Baptist who holds to a reformed view of soteriology. Additionally, an odd almagamation – and one that Bro. Bill has put his finger on – is that of the hyper contemporary calvinist. This results in a view of church that the overwhelming majority of SB’s would be uncomfortable with, if not out right reject it. Thus, we have the current top-down emphasis on church planting so that the young, restless reformed, hyper contemporary calvinists can have a church to call their own.

    One last thing. Steve, you were very unkind and unchristian in your response to Bro. Bill’s post. Having been to Abilene many times and knowing Bro. Bill personally, I can only say that if you were to ever visit ABC or ask for a meeting with Bro. Bill, he and his church would greet you with Christian kindness and grace. You might learn a lesson in graciousness from an southern, Christian gentleman.

  12. Bill Mac says:

    Brother Tim,

    It is ironic that you would direct a commenter to deal with the article (rightly, in my opinion) when the author of the article makes a statement like “Calvinists produce smaller churches with fewer baptisms”, declines to offer evidence or theology to support his claim, and then says it is “undeniable and beyond debate”.

    The fairly explicit assertion that bigger is better when it comes to churches does trouble me. I am also a Calvinist but I’ve gotten better at letting anti-Calvinist sentiment roll past me.

  13. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Bill,

    No place in this article has Dr. Harrell expressed a specific person and how he thanked God he was not a part of that particular ministry. Dr. Harrell has his perspective based on his experience. The commenter I directed back to the discussion was attacking Dr. Harrell personally. Also, Dr. Harrell is a respected pastor that has in the past and still in the present leading a growing church. He has also been in the trenches and worked hard to bring about the Conservative Resurgence, placing his entire ministry on the line to do so. He hasn’t just recently come out and said, “oh, I have been conservative all along” just because the conservatives began gaining control. That is not something that can be said about some of our current leaders in the SBC.


  14. Ron,

    You are asking me to prove a negative, whereas the burden of proof would be on those who affirm a connection between the English General Baptists and today’s Southern Baptists. The Southern Baptist Convention arose out of the Regular Baptist tradition in America, which was a Particular Baptist movement (their theology is exemplified in the Philadelphia Confession, which is almost identical to the Second London Confession, which in turn is a Baptist version of the Westminster Confession, the most thoroughly Calvinistic confession of faith ever produced). Even the Sandy Creek stream of influence was Calvinistic in its theology, and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.

    Solid proof for the Calvinist origins of the SBC can be found in the convention’s very first statement of faith, the Abstract of Principles. This document, which is still the statement of faith for Southern and Southeastern seminaries, clearly affirms unconditional election. If the General Baptists were a major part of the founding generation of the SBC, why would they have affirmed the Abstract of Principles as a summary of Southern Baptist theology in the 1850’s?

    None of this proves that Calvinism is true or biblical. But it does refute the claim made by so many today that Calvinism is a cancerous intruder into Southern Baptist life. It most certainly is not. It has been there from the beginning and deserves a place at the table

  15. Ron Hale says:


    I would like to point you to the work of Dr. James Leo Garrett and Baptist Theology: A Four Century Study. He has a good chapter on English General Baptists who rejected reformed theology, elder rule, practised regenerate membership (while many of the early reformers still practiced the parish model and Calvin’s invisible church model of having a “mixed membership”). They may have been the first to practise Believers Baptism by immersion. I’m sure there were a few Baptist preachers of the “revivalist” tradition that may have read some of the early writings of the English General Baptists. Blessings!

  16. Scott says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post for several days now and have several responses to it:

    1) There is very little nuance in this article. For example, contemporary and Calvinistic churches are blamed for a mentality that doesn’t put forward the demands of church membership. This ignores the fact that that both of these streams of churches require membership classes before people are able to join and many have in their bylaws a provision removing a person from membership if they do not attend for a particular amount of time. It is not unusual to see a person in a traditional SBC church walk the aisle to join the church, be accepted into membership, and not attend that church again.

    2) The article tends to take church practices from the mid 20th century and make them normative for all of Christian history. When discussing dress, the author says that God does not change and the way that we present ourselves should not. The problem with this is that guys dressing up in suits and ties is a relatively new phenomena if you consider the whole of Christian history. What is way more indicative of Christian history in the west is a guy preaching in vestments.

    3) This is a rant. Yes, I know that reformed guys on blogs rant; but that does not change the fact that this is a rant. The author sees a decline in baptisms and some trends that he is uncomfortable with. Rather than writing a carefully thought through post in which he dissected the many reasons SBC baptisms are declining, he went on a diatribe against two strands of the SBC that he disagrees with. The author totally ignores the fact that there are many traditional SBC churches that have Sunday night services and revival meetings who are not baptizing anybody.

    4) The use of Scripture in this post is weak. Using the dress of the priest to argue that pastors should wear ties is stretching the text in a serious manner.

  17. Ron,

    My claim with respect to the English General Baptists is simply that we are not direct descendants of them. They are an important group, and they were among the earliest in the Baptist family (preceding the Particular Baptists by about three decades, according to the records I have seen). But there is no direct line from them to the SBC.

    If there were a direct line from General Baptists to the SBC, then it would be difficult to account for the universal commitment among Southern Baptists to the doctrine of the security of the believer. That doctrine is the most obvious Calvinistic legacy in our denomination.

  18. By the way, I thought I would throw this in for good measure. Another Calvinistic legacy in the SBC is the Baptist Faith and Message. It does not affirm unconditional election, but it does affirm perseverance of the saints, and it includes this strongly Calvinistic statement on regeneration:

    “Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.”

    Clearly, the BFM affirms that regeneration precedes faith. That is not a radical idea.

  19. Ron Hale says:

    Sorry, I don’t read the statement on “regeneration” as being strongly Calvinistic … or that regeneration precedes faith. I don’t think Dr. Hobbs read it that way. I don’t think Dr. Adrian Rogers read it that way. I don’t think the majority of SBC Pastors read it that way (at least at this point in SBC history).

  20. Ron,

    If someone responds to regeneration in repentance and faith, as the statement clearly says, how could regeneration not logically precede faith? How can the response of repentance and faith come before the thing to which it responds?

  21. Ron,

    I just did a little research on the statement on regeneration, and it’s interesting what has turned up.

    First, here is the statement on regeneration from the New Hampshire Confession of the 19th century, which was the precursor to the Baptist Faith and Message:

    “We believe that, in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, and faith, and newness of life.”

    Note here that regeneration secures our voluntary obedience to the gospel (i.e., faith). In other words, regeneration causes faith. Just to make it clear, the statement goes on to say that repentance, faith, and newness of life are the “proper evidence” of regeneration.

    However, it looks like the SBC moderated its Calvinistic leanings by 1925 when it affirmed the first version of the Baptist Faith and Message, for this is what the 1925 statement says:

    “Regeneration or the new birth is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit, whereby we become partakers of the divine nature and a holy disposition is given, leading to the love and practice of righteousness. It is a work of God’s free grace conditioned upon faith in Christ and made manifest by the fruit which we bring forth to the glory of God.”

    Here the order appears to be reversed. Regeneration is “conditioned upon faith in Christ,” which would seem to imply that faith precedes and causes regeneration.

    The revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963 says this, which I already quoted above:

    “Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    (The 2000 BFM contains no revisions on this particular statement).

    I find all of this interesting, because it looks like the authors of the New Hampshire Confession were clearly working with a Calvinistic theology, but then the framers of the 1925 BFM introduced some changes that seem to reverse the order between repentance and faith. However, by 1963, the statement was revised in a more Calvinistic direction again.

    It would be an interesting study to find out why the 1963 statement moved in that direction. I doubt that it would constitute evidence that the convention as a whole was more Calvinistic in 1963 than in 1925 (I find that highly unlikely). But perhaps there were some Calvinists who served on the committee to revise the BFM who were able to have input at that one point.

    As I have looked at the statement a little longer, it appears there is one possible way to read it as not necessarily affirming that regeneration precedes faith. It all depends on what is the antecedent noun of the relative pronoun “which”. Clearly, we respond to something in repentance and faith, something represented by the word “which” in the statement. Read most naturally, “which” refers back to the word “change,” which refers to the divine act of regeneration. Read in this natural sense, regeneration must precede faith.

    However, it seems just barely possible to read the antecedent of “which” as the word “conviction,” so that the statement could say that we respond to the conviction of sin in repentance and faith. Read this way, the statement is saying nothing about whether repentance precedes or follows faith.

    So, it looks like there are two possible ways to read the current BFM on regeneration:

    (1) It is clearly Calvinistic (this seems to be the most natural reading to me).
    (2) It neither affirms nor denies a Calvinistic theology.

    The point I am trying to make here is not that Calvinism must be the creed of every Southern Baptist. It is simply that Calvinism is a major part of our history and tradition, and it should not be viewed with the kind of suspicion that it is receiving right now. Nothing in our doctrinal statement excludes Calvinistic theology, and at least one major doctrine that is universal among Southern Baptists (security of the believer/perseverance of the saints) is owing to our Calvinist roots and is enshrined in our confession. I wish that the alarmists would stop painting us as the enemy.

    And here I will come full circle and reiterate the point with which I began these comments. This is about more than Calvinism. It is about a whole approach to ecclesiology. One reason “historic Baptists,” as I have called them, are viewed with such suspicion is because most Southern Baptists are ignorant of our denomination’s history and think that late 20th century church practices have been normative for all baptists at all times. That is simply not true.

  22. Ron Hale says:


    You asked: If someone responds to regeneration in repentance and faith, as the statement clearly says, how could regeneration not logically precede faith?

    Are you sure you want to use the word “responds”? Some would ask: Can a dead man respond? Can a corpse respond? (just picking and playing with you here; I’ve been asked those questions before).

    My Brother, I see it as the sinner while under conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit and as the Spirit of God convinces with the truth of the Gospel, as the sinner repents (turns from) and believes (turns to) Christ he is born again by the regenerating power of God.

    Since I do not believe in “total inability”, my theology does not have a need to place “regeneration” before faith.


  23. Yes, I would use the word “responds.” A dead man cannot respond, but that is the whole point of regeneration (another way of saying “being brought back to life).

    If we are truly dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1), then we must be brought back to life through regeneration before we can respond in faith.

  24. Tim Rogers says:

    Dr. O’Kelley,

    A dead man cannot respond, but that is the whole point of regeneration (another way of saying “being brought back to life).

    If we are truly dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1), then we must be brought back to life through regeneration before we can respond in faith.

    So, you are saying that John 11:43-44 reveals a Lazarus as some kind of Zombie coming out of the grave?


  25. No. Lazarus did not respond to Jesus’ call as a dead man. The call of Jesus brought him to life (it “regenerated” him), and as a result of that new life imparted to him, he then obeyed Jesus’ voice. But Jesus did not leave it up to the dead Lazarus’s free will to decide whether or not he wanted to come to life.

  26. Ron Hale says:


    … I think some of the earliest reformers were wrong on “regeneration”. They taught that an infant was ingrafted into Christ and regenerated during sprinking/pouring (prior to faith). Did they get it wrong? I think so.

    The Westiminister Confession of Faith 1646
    Of Baptism.
    I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world….

    When looking at the Bible text … overwhelmingly … you find that we are saved by grace through faith … that is … we believe and receive.

  27. Ron,

    I certainly agree with you in that I disagree with the Reformers’ doctrine of baptism. Luther clearly believed in baptismal regeneration. I’m not entirely sure where to categorize Calvin, but his Presbyterian descendants fall on a spectrum of views ranging from baptismal regeneration to baptism of infants as a sign of expected regeneration to come.

    I have no interest in defending infant baptism. It is unbiblical. But the priority of regeneration is not tied exclusively to a paedobaptist view.

  28. […] Perfect Storm, Part 1” and “Part 2,” by Bill Harrell at the Southern Baptist in North Carolina blog, with Harrell’s thoughts and […]

  29. Job says:


    I feel that this is relevant to the conversation. I am looking for commercially available traditional Christian music, especially hymns and classics sung by choirs or at least “the traditional style.” I suppose that liturgical music counts, but I am not interested in Roman Catholic music. I am also uninterested in country gospel, southern gospel, or any of the other pre-CCM/Christian rock styles that a lot of people take to be traditional but really isn’t. (And also, no Mormon Tabernacle Choir stuff, which is I am just as averse to as Catholic music.)

    I have been searching for quite awhile on, online and places like that, and all I can find is either things by and for Roman Catholics, things made by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, southern/country gospel (which I am not averse to … it is just not what I am looking for at this particular time) or CCM/Christian rock versions of hymns and traditional songs (again, not against CCM or Christian rock … it is just not what I am looking for right now).

    Can anyone point me in the right direction? Searching for song titles on does me no good, because 95% of what I get is the CCM versions. But if anyone has album titles or artist titles, I would REALLY appreciate it. I just acquired a “30 All Time Favorite Hymns” from Lifeway that I thought was just what I was looking for … it contained “Amazing Grace”, “Rock of Ages”, “Holy Holy Holy”, “For The Beauty of the Earth”, “The Old Rugged Cruss”, “O For A Thousand Tongues”, “Trust And Obey” etc. on it, and it turned out to be generic CCM. I bought a similar CD set from Lifeway previously and it was generic Southern/country.


  30. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Job,

    Found this website that may be what you are looking. Don’t know what Southern did when they closed down their music school but it seems they have many of the things you are looking in their library.