Friday, April 17, 2009



Introduction: 1) Following His resurrection Jesus spent time with His disciples for 40 days preparing them for their assignment once He had ascended.  He led them out to Mount Olivet where He would return back to the Father.  However, just prior to His ascension, the disciples wanted to have a theological conversation concerning matters of eschatology.  Specifically they wanted to know, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v.6). Jesus did not rebuke them for asking what is certainly an interesting question.  His response did, however, indicate that it was not the most important question.  His response reveals that the better question is this, “what should we do until you do come again and establish Your kingdom?” To that question He provides a definitive answer in the Acts version of the Great Commission found in verse 8, “Be my witnesses.”  In essence Jesus was saying to His followers, “do not get distracted over issues that are secondary and non-essential. Stay focused on the main thing.  Make sure your priorities line up with the Father’s.  Be my witnesses and advance the gospel until I return.”

2) Like the disciples, Southern Baptists today run the risk of being distracted from the main thing.  Many of the issues we are emphasizing and debating are interesting things, but they are not the most important things.  They don’t line up well with the priorities we find revealed in Holy Scripture.  The result: we are fractured and factionalizing.  We are confused having lost our spiritual compass.  We have reached, many of us believe, what Alvin Reid describes as “a tipping point.”  We have tragically devolved into “a giant movement now in decline,” experiencing far too much ineffectiveness in gospel ministry and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

3) How do we change this and experience a much needed course correction?  How do we, by God’s grace and for His glory, get in sync with the Savior’s heart, a heart that cried, “I have come to seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).  I share, humbly and with no illusion that I have all the answers, 12 axioms, or values, that I believe can move us in the right direction.  Many of these principles are being talked about all across the Southern Baptist Convention, and people get excited and energized when that happens.  The Great Commission has been defined for us in Matthew 28:18-20.  These principles or axioms describe what the implementation of a Great Commission Resurgence for Southern Baptist might look like.

4) It is not too bold to say that both frustration and anticipation is building among our people, and the time is right to put the former behind us and to pursue the latter with a laser beam focus guided and directed by what so many believe God is leading us to embrace.  It is hard to imagine the evil one leading us to intensify our involvement with what the blogging demon Wormwood calls that “cursed Commission!”  I do think all the demons of hell would do all that they can to distract us from it.  What must happen to make us ready for and get us moving in a God sent Great Commission Resurgence?  My agenda is purposefully positive and forward looking.  I share what I pray will be an encouragement to all of us.

I. We must commit ourselves to the total and absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of our lives. (Col. 3:16-17, 23-24)

II. We must be gospel centered in all our endeavors for the glory of God. (Rom. 1:16)

III. We must take our stand on the firm foundation of the inerrant and infallible Word of God affirming it’s sufficiency in all matters. (Matt 5:17-18; John 10:35; 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21)

IV. We must devote ourselves to a radical pursuit of the Great Commission in the context of obeying the Great Commandments. (Matt.28:16-20; 22:37-40)

V. We must affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a healthy and sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord’s Commission. (1 Tim. 6:3-4)

- We affirm the inerrancy, infallibility, authority and sufficiency of the Bible.
- We affirm the Triune God who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.
- We affirm God as Creator and reject naturalistic evolution as nonsense.
- We affirm both the dignity and depravity of man.
- We affirm the full deity, perfect humanity and sinlessness of Jesus the Son of God.
- We affirm the penal substitutionary nature of the atonement as foundational for understanding the cross work of our Savior.
- We affirm the good news of the gospel as the exclusive and only means whereby any person is reconciled to God.
- We affirm the biblical nature of a regenerate church witnessed in believer’s baptism by immersion.
- We affirm salvation by grace alone thru faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.
- We affirm the reception of the Holy Spirit at the moment of regeneration/conversion and the blessing of spiritual gifts for the building up of the body of Christ.
- We affirm the literal, visible and historical return of Jesus Christ to this earth when He will manifest fully His kingdom.
- We affirm the reality of an eternal heaven and an eternal hell with Jesus as the only difference.
- We affirm a “sanctity of life” ethic from conception to natural death.
- We affirm the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, the goodness of sex in marriage and the gift of children, lots of them.
- We affirm the complementary nature of male/female relationships rejoicing in the divine ordering of them for the home and the church; and the list could go on.

- The exact nature of human depravity and transmission of the sin nature.
- The precise constitution of the human person.
- The issue of whether or not Christ could have sinned. (We all agree He didn’t!)
- The ordo salutis (”order of salvation”).
- The number of elders and the precise nature of congregational governance.
- The continuance of certain spiritual gifts and their nature.
- Does baptism require only right member (born again), right meaning (believer’s) and right mode (immersion) or does it also require the right administrator (ever how that is defined).
- The time of the rapture (pre, mid, post, partial rapture or pre-wrath rapture).
- The nature of the millennium (pre, amill or post)
- And, saving the best for last in our current context, we are not in full agreement about Calvinism and how many points one should affirm or redefine and affirm!

One essential task of the pastor is to feed the congregation and to assist Christians to think theologically in order to demonstrate discernment and authentic discipleship. The pastor’s concentration is a necessary theological discipline.  The pastor must develop the ability to isolate what is most important in terms of theological gravity from that which is less important.  I call this the process of theological triage.

The pastor must learn to discern different levels of theological importance.  First-order doctrines are those that are fundamental and essential to the Christian faith.  The pastor’s theological instincts should seize upon any compromise on doctrines such as the full deity and humanity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of atonement, and essentials such as justification by faith alone.  Where such doctrines are compromised, the Christian faith falls.

Second-order doctrines are those that are essential to church life and necessary for the ordering of the local church but that, in themselves, do not define the gospel.  That is to say, one may detect an error in a doctrine at this level and still acknowledge that the person in error remains a believing Christian.  At the same time these differences can become so acute that it is difficult to function together in the local congregation over such an expansive theological difference.

Third-order doctrines are those that may be the ground for fruitful theological discussion and debate but that do not threaten the fellowship of the local congregation or the denomination.  Christians who agree on an entire range of theological issues and doctrines may disagree over matters related to the timing and sequence of events related to Christ’s return.  Yet such ecclesiastical debates, while understood to be deeply important because of their biblical nature and connection to the gospel, do not constitute a ground for separation among believing Christians.

Without a proper sense of priority and discernment, the congregation [and denomination] is left to consider every theological issue to be a matter of potential conflict or, at the other extreme to see no doctrines as worth defending if conflict is in any way possible.

Brothers and sisters, some things are worth fighting over, and some things are not.  Some things are worth dividing over, and some things are not.  At the Building Bridges Conference I put it like this, and I have not changed my mind: “Our agreement on The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is an asset, not a weakness.  It is a plus and not a minus.  If I were to pen my own confession it would not look exactly like the BF&M 2000.  But then I do not want nor do I need people exactly like me in order to work together for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the building of His church.  Our confession is a solid foundation for a sound theology that avoids the pitfalls and quicksand of a straightjacket theology.  Do we want or need a theology that rules out of bounds open theism, universalism and inclusivism, faulty perspectives on the atonement, gender-role confusion, works salvation, apostasy of true believers, infant baptism and non-congregational ecclesiology’s just to name a few?  Yes, we do.  These theological errors have never characterized who we are as Southern Baptists and they have no place in our denomination today.  Inerrancy is not up for debate.  The deity of Jesus and His sinless life are not up for debate.  The triune nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not up for debate.  The perfect atoning work of Christ as a penal substitute for sinners is not up for debate.  Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is not up for debate.  A regenerate church is not up for debate.  Believers’ baptism by immersion is not up for debate.  The glorious historical and personal return of Jesus Christ is not up for debate.  The reality of an eternal heaven and an eternal hell is not up for debate.  There is nothing soft about this kind of theology, and we must avoid a soft theology at all cost.

Because of our passionate commitments to the glory of God, the Lordship of Christ, biblical authority, salvation by grace through faith, and the Great Commission, we should be able to work in wonderful harmony with each other.  We have a sound theology.”  The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is a solid confession for building theological consensus for Great Commission Cooperation.  The promise of the Conservative Resurgence was that eventually we would find common, biblical, theological ground that would be more than enough to get us focused on the Great Commission.  I think we have it, and I, for one, am ready to move ahead, and I believe the vast majority of Southern Baptists are as well!

VI. We must dedicate ourselves to a passionate pursuit of the Great Commission of the  Lord Jesus across our nation and to all nations answering the call to go, disciple,  baptize and teach all that the Lord commanded. (Matt 28:16-20; Acts 1:8; Rom. 1:5;  15:20)

VII. We must covenant to build gospel saturated homes that see children as a gift from God and as our first and primary mission field. (Deut. 6:1-9; Psalm 127; 128; Eph. 6:4)

- Children are a burden not a blessing.
- Less is best or at least less is better.
- Result: have less children!

- It is an inferior calling.
- It can be delegated, at least in part, to another.

- He is a bumbling idiot.
- He is not necessary, maybe not even needed.

- It loves Jesus.
- It honors God.
- It teaches the Bible.
- It casts a vision for spiritual greatness.
- It has fun!
- It let’s go so that our children may soar for the glory of God!

Will you pray for God to call your children and grandchildren into vocational ministry? To go to the nations far away and to the hard places as an international missionary?! Will you get a Godward perspective for life, for marriage, for family?

VIII. We must recognize the need to rethink our Convention structure and identity so that we maximize our energy and resources for the fulfilling of the Great Commission. (1 Cor. 10:31)

1) Is there not a way to have annual meetings on the National and State levels that are attractive, inspiring and worth attending? I confess if I were not required to attend I am not sure I would go to our yearly meetings either! So much of what we do is unnecessary and will never allow us to build momentum for the Great Commission.
2) Is the name “Southern Baptist Convention” best for identifying who we are and want to be in the future?
3) Do we need all the boards and agencies we currently have or could there be some healthy and wise mergers?
4) Do we have a healthy structure and mechanism for planting churches that will thrive and survive past a few years?
5) Do we have a giving program that fairly and accurately reflects the gifts many Southern Baptist churches are making to the work of our denomination?
6) Are we distracted by doing many good things but not giving our full attention to the best things? Church planting in the United States, pioneer missions around the world and theological education that starts in the seminaries but finds its way to the local church is a 3-legged stool I believe most Southern Baptists would gladly occupy! Let others do what they can do. Let us focus on what only Christ has commissioned us to do. Prioritize and simplify.

Our mission will require aggressive and intentional cooperation in church planting.  The churches we plant must be sound in their doctrine, contextual in their forms, and aggressive in their evangelistic and mission orientation.  In order to make this work, we need renewed commitment from our churches, local associations, and state conventions.  For local associations, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that they are still needed and that their existence matters.  In days gone by, local associations provided local churches with mission resources and advice that are now being provided by other institutions, networks, and people.  For state conventions, this provides an opportunity to return to their roots and stem the tide of churches that are bypassing (and many more that will) state conventions because they refuse to give money to what they consider to be bloated and inefficient bureaucracies with red tape a mile long.

IX. We must see the necessity for pastors to be faithful Bible preachers who teach us both the content of the Scriptures and the theology embedded in the Scriptures. (2 Tim. 4:1-5)

1) What does this text say about the Bible (and the doctrine of Revelation)?
2) What does this text say about God (also Creation, angelology)?
3) What does this text say about humanity (and sin, our falleness)?
4) What does this text say about Jesus Christ (His person and work)?
5) What does this text say about the Holy Spirit?
6) What does this text say about Salvation?
7) What does this text say about the Church?
8) What does this text say about Last Things?

X. We must encourage pastors to see themselves as the head of a gospel missions agency who will lead the way in calling out the called for international assignments but also equip and train all their people to see themselves as missionaries for Jesus regardless of where they live. (Eph. 4:11-16)

The missional church avoids ‘tribal’ language, stylized prayer language, unnecessary evangelical pious ‘jargon’, and archaic language that seeks to set a ’spiritual tone.’  The missional church avoids ‘we-them’ language, disdainful jokes that mock people of different politics and beliefs, and dismissive, disrespectful comments about those who differ with us.  The missional church avoids sentimental, pompous, ‘inspirational’ talk.  Instead, we engage the culture with the gentle, self-deprecating, but joyful irony the gospel creates.  Humility + joy = gospel irony and realism.  The missional church avoids ever talking as if non-believing people are not present.  If you speak and discourse as if your whole neighborhood is present (not just scattered Christians), eventually more and more of your neighborhood will find their way in or be invited.  Unless all of the above is the outflow of a truly humble-bold gospel-changed heart, it is all just ‘marketing’ and ’spin.’

XI. We must pledge ourselves to a renewed cooperation that is gospel centered and built around a biblical and theological core and not methodological consensus or agreement. (Phil. 2:1-5; 4:2-9)

XII. We must accept our constant need to humble ourselves and repent of pride, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, contentions, lying, selfish ambitions, laziness, complacency, idolatries and other sins of the flesh; pleading with our Lord to do what only He can do in us and through us and all for His glory. (Gal. 5:22-26; James 4:1-10)


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