Archive for the ‘Baptist’ Category

In recent days we have seen the blogs light up over a vote by a North Carolina Baptist Association to dis-fellowship one of its member churches.  The vote to withdraw fellowship is a very serious matter and one that should not be taken lightly.  The action of this association has drawn many articles in the news and also on the blogs.  The Baptist news agencies coverage can be found here and here. The various blogs that I have seen covering this issue can be found here, here, here, here, and here.  What is truly amazing to me is the lack of coverage over at the Baptist Life forum and also on my favorite Moderate’s blog, The BigDaddyWeave.  However, something else has surprised me concerning this issue.

I called Dr. Billy Blakley and received his permission to post this on my blog. In my conversation with him he expressed to me that no blogger has contacted his office and this comes after we had a blogger express his ethical guidelines. However, he posted about this issue without even contacting the DOM and even admitted as much in his article.  Here you will find the Association’s official response concerning this situation. Below you will find this same letter composed by the Association’s Vice-Moderator for their church.  He gave Dr. Blakley permission to use it as the Association’s response to this issue.

The following article is written by Dr. Joel Stephens, pastor of Westfield Baptist Church and Vice-Moderator of the SBA, and by Rev. Jim Richland, associate pastor of Westfield Baptist Church and chairman of the Membership Committee of the SBA. Since it explains the rationale and the biblical basis for the motion made to remove fellowship with Flat Rock Baptist Church, I want to share the article with all our Surry Baptist members.

This month, due to a situation that has developed in another church within the Surry Baptist Association (SBA), your pastors felt it necessary to write a joint article to address the situation and how it may affect our Association and our congregation. The situation is as follows: Flat Rock Baptist Church of Mount Airy voted to call a new pastor who happens to be a female. Many within the Surry Association feel that this action is unbiblical, and we agree.

The role of women within the church is a complex, broad, and hotly disputed issue. Our newsletter forum does not provide adequate space to deal with this subject exhaustively. But there are some basic issues that need to be addressed. In order to address these issues, it is absolutely necessary to investigate the Scriptures that relate to it without taking those verses out of context and therefore arriving at a faulty interpretation.


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.

Rev. Bill Harrell

Brother Bill Harrell has done it again.  In this two part series he presents to us some of the issues we must be aware as we lead our churches.

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.

In the early nineties, a movement  was born in the Evangelical world which has grown beyond the expectations of even those who started it.  A pastor in Chicago, Bill Hybels, is credited with being the genesis of the contemporary movement and even he has acknowledged the destructive side of it and has stated so.  When I concluded my first eight year term on the Executive Committee of the SBC, I delivered a short devotional to the subcommittee on which I was serving.  In that devotional, I stated that there were two things which were going to have to be confronted and solved in the coming years and that they both begin with a “C”.

The two things to which I was referring are Contemporary worship and Calvinism.  Concerning the Contemporary worship style, I made the following observation:  There is the risk of losing our denominational identity because people, by their nature, would always be looking for something new and fresh and that they would ultimately seek things which have, traditionally, been outside of who we are as Southern Baptists.  I stated that we would finally become confused as to who we are and if we become confused about it, the society around us will see nothing distinctive about us at all.  The result will be that we will blend into the surrounding spiritual landscape to the point that we will no longer be recognized as the Southern Baptist Convention we have known.  This is in the process of happening to us and it is happening at warp speed.

The second thing I mentioned beginning with a “C” was Calvinism.  In the SBC of the early nineties hardly     anyone could see that, ultimately, this would be a problem.  We have always had Calvinists in our midst and we have coexisted with no problems.  Even a cursory reading of history will show one that, while seventeenth and eighteenth century preachers in our developing country disagreed on this issue, they respected each other and worked together.  After the formation of the SBC in 1845 we might have disagreed with each other but we never sought to bring the SBC to a unified position on the issue.  Everyone could believe as he preferred as long as salvation through the blood of Jesus was the unifying factor.  However, I believed then, in 1994, and I believe now, that the Calvinists had an agenda to identify the SBC as a “reformed” convention.  While no one denies that many of our prominent founders were Calvinists, there were others who were not.  Whatever the case, the SBC began to turn away from that position near the middle of the nineteenth century.  This has resulted in those holding to Calvinism being in a small minority among our people and churches.

While Calvinism is in the minority in the SBC, it enjoys influence far beyond its numbers.  As certain leaders have committed themselves to the “reformed” position for the SBC, they have affected this effort by intentionally raising up an “army” of Calvinists through the educational system that the people of the SBC have paid for with their Cooperative Program dollars.  This army is dedicated to the task of seeing that Calvinism is the major theological position of the Southern Baptist Convention.  These leaders have known that the young people who have been indoctrinated with the five point Calvinistic model will be just as dedicated to seeing it succeed as those of us were who fought the Battle for the Bible and dedicated ourselves to the task of dealing with the issue of inerrancy.

As I have said on other occasions, I feel it is necessary to reiterate it here:  I have no problem with one holding the “reformed” or Calvinistic theological stance.  They are free to believe as they wish and though I believe they are wrong, I have never let this disagreement hinder my fellowship with those people.  Let it also be stated that I do not seek to “convert” a person to my viewpoint.  Many lively discussions have been held but that was the end of it when the discussion was finished.  The fact that I have had noted Calvinists lead revivals in my church are proof of the fact that I harbor no ill feelings toward someone who follows that theological model.  However, I am opposed to the effort to “reform” the SBC especially through a planned, orchestrated process which has that end as its goal.

Anyone who has followed the situation closely knows that one of our theological seminaries in particular is leading the way with this agenda.  A second seminary has joined the effort in recent years after employing a new president who is in the process of taking that school into the same camp.  That Calvinism was taught at our seminaries in the past was not a big deal to most Southern Baptists, but to intentionally transform those schools for the intended purpose of installing Calvinism in the SBC in order that we be touted as a “reformed” convention is too much for me to tolerate.  I also feel that the majority of the people in the SBC share the same feelings.  The above statements will be vigorously denied but as my Grandmother used to say, “the proof is in the pudding.”

Competition for members between churches in a given geographical area has resulted in those churches taking the contemporary movement to the extreme in order to attract the largest crowd.  When one church goes to a certain level of the contemporary, casual model, others feel they must do the same things or either invent some new twist which will attract more people than their “competition.”  One noted pastor said that he wanted his music to get more “edgy” because he was tired of losing members to another certain church in town.  This approach is dangerous because of the nature of human beings.  When people are being entertained they always want something more sensational than they had the time before.  Human nature is never satisfied with its experience and is always seeking something new in order to keep itself entertained.  Just ask Disney about this.  Why are they always adding new attractions?  Once people have been there, done that and have the tee shirt, they want something new in order for the entertainment factor to always be there.  Churches are experiencing the same thing.

First, there was the addition of screens with graphics for an audience which was raised on television and video games.  Then there was the abandonment of hymn books and those old, musty hymns for the new, bright, entertaining choruses.  Of course, they were tailor made for the video screen and for quick and easy access.  Besides, one no longer had to hold the hymn book….that heavy old thing.  Along with that came the idea that everyone, no matter their physical condition, should stand for thirty minutes or so while they look at the video screen, read the words and sing the choruses.  This has its roots in the rock concert scene where young people stand for hours and listen to a rock band.  So let’s copy that behavior in our church.  Surely, it will work here too.  Then, lo and behold, in order to further emulate what the world does, let’s bring more entertainment and excitement by adding strobe lights and smoke framed up in a black background.  Don’t forget to make it so loud that one can hardly stand the decibel levels.  That is what one gets with the secular rock bands.  I believe this: the medium becomes the message if one cannot understand the words.  And, in most cases, a person would be hard pressed to understand the words as performed by the “Christian rock bands” which copy the style of the secular bands.  While we are doing all of this, we must do away with that old choir.  Too many older people in it and the young people won’t come to our church if they see that.  We can replace it with about six people with microphones and a pied piper in order to lead our people in the choruses they are going to read off the screen.  This writer is not trying to be sarcastic but when the truth sounds sarcastic, so be it.

In Part 1 of the concluding article posted here, I pointed out how we had Strong Theological Speech but Weak Doctrinal Practices.  Many of our leaders give excellent theological analysis and press us on thinking about the way our actions reveal our theology.  However, when it comes to doctrinal practice our leaders seem to have a discrepancy that veers from their talk.  I also expressed a concern that Covenants are Being Treated as Contracts.  In other words, we have people signing papers promising to do something they really do not believe in their hearts.  I want to conclude today with two more practices that need to change if we are going to see sacrificial giving to the Cooperative Program return.  Also, these four practices must cease if we are ever to see the return of some semblance of unity within our ranks.

Directing as Hierarchical Overseer


This is the first part of a concluding article for a four part series.  The series I presented laments the differences seen in the Southern Baptist Convention since 1990.  In Part 1 I expressed my dismay in the responses I received concerning the alcohol motion I presented at the NC Baptist State Convention. Part 2 reviews my theological journey and how that shaped my convictions throughout my pastoral ministry. In Part 3 I spoke of the leaders I saw taking stands and the way those stands strengthened the convictions that were shaping within my theological system.   In this concluding post I lament three activities that has become standard practices of our leaders that must cease.  Do not misunderstand, our leaders certainly hold solid biblical standards in their personal private lives.  These standards must become more than just words spoken publicly to rally the troops.  Our leaders must insist on those following them to hold these same standards as convictions for them to be convictions lived out in all areas of Southern Baptist entities. If entities do not begin returning to these standards as convictions and not some covenant signed like a contract there will be a continual decline in giving and participation by those sacrificially supporting the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  What is seen within SBC entity leadership that causes these standards to become mere guidelines and will cause those who are sacrificially giving cease their sacrificial gifts?

In this two-part conclusion I want to describe four areas that need our attention as Southern Baptist.  In the first concluding article I will examine the strong theological speech coming from many within our leadership but the less than stellar doctrinal practice.  I will also point out how covenants are being treated as contracts and how that is causing a disconnect within the practices we as Southern Baptist have come to expect.

Strong Theological Speech But Weak Doctrinal Practice


At Ebenezer Baptist Church, where I serve, various ministry groups visit and we often take up special offerings for them.  Many times we would find out months later that some members continued to send money to that particular ministry, designating it through the church.  But we eventually took a stand and set a policy that the church would only forward funds to outside ministries specifically approved by the whole body and we asked individuals to send contributions to their special interest ministries directly and without the imprimatur of the congregation.

We felt it was inappropriate to tie the church to a ministry without the consensus support of the entire membership.

Now Southern Baptists have learned that the North American Mission Board is not using this same type of discretion in the distribution of church planting funds Southern Baptists have contributed through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.


New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, whose president Dr. Chuck Kelley, found herself  some years back in opposition with the Executive Committee’s organizational interpretation.  The reason for such opposition was the interpretation of polity in the SBC.  Each entity is autonomous and as such make their own decisions.  Add to that legal matters and the involvement of lawyers interpretations of various state laws and you have a recipe for separation plain and simple.  However, we did not separate.  This matter was resolved the Southern Baptist way.  At the annual meting the Executive Committee presented its argument and NOBTS, through Dr. Kelley, presented its argument.  Dr. Kelley asked the convention to allow him to present an alternative plan and at the following convention a plan was presented by NOBTS.  After these debates New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustees voted on sole membership as the convention directed.

When the NOBTS trustees were gathering information concerning their position Dr. Kelley was asked to give them historical information.  The historical background for NOBTS’s  position was placed in a paper that clearly defines the polity that we as Southern Baptist operate within.  The Baptist Way: A Personal Perspective is the paper presented to the trustees for their consideration.  It is a fifteen page document that contains an excellent review of Southern Baptist history concerning the doctrine of autonomy.  One thing Dr. Kelley says that rings loud concerns the Priesthood of Believers.  Dr. Kelley laments the brevity of the paper concerning the omission of this important doctrine.

Enjoy the paper, it certainly is something worthy of all Southern Baptists attention.