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Archive for October, 2009

There is really no easy way to say this, but the state of far too many of our Southern Baptist Churches is poor. One has to look no further than the deacons who serve as de facto elders in many churches.

Those coming from other denominations may be unaware of the leadership model commonly found in Baptist churches. In these churches, the deacons function as ruling elders. They are the authority in the church, superseded only by congregational vote. Instead of a plurality of elders having oversight of the church in teaching and administration, most SBC churches (and most other Baptist denominations as well) have deacons functioning in that role. (Even more egregious than this model is the one that has a church council operating as ruling elders, but that is for another discussion.)

Usually these deacons are nominated and voted upon by the congregation. Business sense and popularity are often the criteria for getting elected. Spiritual requirements found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 are seldom acknowledged. These deacons typically have little awareness of the Scriptures, no knowledge of church history, no understanding of why they are Baptists other than immersion as the mode of baptism, and yet have authority over the church. When someone in the church has a complaint about the pastor, these deacons confront the pastor to change in order to keep peace in the church. Heaven forbid that a disgruntled church member offended because his sin is confronted through the preaching of the Word should leave and take his money with him. At all costs, the budget must be met!

But why do we have this situation? The blame cannot help but be placed upon pastors who have been more concerned with keeping their positions than being faithful to the Scriptures. Pastors have before remarked about some particular doctrine with this: “I believe that, but I can’t preach it in my church. They won’t stand for it.” Didn’t the apostle Paul warn us of this very thing?

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4, ESV)

So now we have church after church led by deacons who possess little understanding of the Scriptures and yet determine whether the church’s pastor stays or goes. Too often they are more concerned about the budget and attendance than with sound doctrine and godly living. Have our churches ever been in a more deplorable condition? I doubt it. May God have mercy on the pastor who seeks to be faithful to the Scriptures in such churches. Unless God intervenes, he will find himself either without employment or with a drastically-reduced congregation (as well as reduced compensation). And often his antagonist will be some curmudgeon retired pastor who has remained as a member of the congregation, the very cause for the congregation’s wretched spiritual condition! (I have in mind a church in which this has recently occurred.)

May God be pleased to change the hearts of our people to be submissive to his Scriptures, to seek to glorify him in all things, and to rejoice in having pastors who preach the whole counsel of God.

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Dr. Ross Layne is a godly pastor in Lavonia, Georgia, who without reservation preaches the gospel of Christ. Ross received his Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and served as pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Lavonia, Georgia, for five years.

Check out Ross’s blog, Captivated by Christ. In a day when few Baptist churches are interested in the biblical gospel and few pastors dare preach it, Ross is a happy exception. I commend him highly. Ross can be reached at rosslayne at ymail dot com (yes, replace the “at” and “dot” with their respective symbols ;-)).

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During the past century or so, the concept of pragmatism has become the guiding force behind how conservative churches function and how the gathered church worships. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, pragmatism is “a practical approach to problems and affairs.” Philosophically, pragmatism is “an American movement in philosophy founded by C. S. Peirce and William James and marked by the doctrines that the meaning of conceptions is to be sought in their practical bearings, that the function of thought is to guide action, and that truth is preeminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief.”

Basically, pragmatism boils down to doing what works, doing what produces the desired results. The April 25, 1912, issue of The Christian Index, the weekly paper of the Georgia Baptist Convention, editorialized: “‘What can it accomplish?’ is the question that meets every man today who presents to the world for its consideration either some new invention, or some new theory of social, civil or political activity; or some religious belief and practice.” That which applied to individuals also applied to organizations: “‘What are you accomplishing for the betterment of men and of society?’ is the question which every organization of men has to meet and answer. And the higher the claim of such organization the more searching the investigation that then will make into the results it is achieving.” Obviously, then, those churches which were producing tangible results were the ones which had satisfactorily answered the question. For support, the work of the Salvation Army was presented: “Some years ago, the Salvation Army began its operations, and by its strange, biazarre [sic] methods, shocked the sensibilities of the thoughtful. It had to run the gauntlet of suspicion, ridicule, contempt, and misrepresentation. But it stood the test. It has done a great work where no one else was working. In the parlance of the day, it has ‘made good;’ and now men of every creed and nation recognize it as a great power for good. Its officers get a hearing anywhere and purses open to its pleas that remain closed to those of regular churches.”

Neither the doctrine nor the methods of the Salvation Army were examined for biblical faithfulness. The criterion for approving the Salvation Army’s methods was that they had “made good.” The Index found support in the words of Jesus: “‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ is as true of churches and denominations as it is of individuals.”

Whatever works, whatever gets the most persons to the worship “service,” whatever appeals to the populace so we can get out our message—these are the concepts which have been directing much of the work of evangelical churches for over a century. In the twenty-first century we find churches following the latest fads to attract a following. Pastors wearing suits are out; pastors preaching in jeans and untucked shirts are in. Reverent worship is out; high-powered bands are in. The use of discretion in sermons is out; explicit talk about sex is in.

Many of these churches teach doctrine which we would endorse, and yet there seems to be danger lurking. When a church appeals to outsiders through a “hip” pastor and a certain style of music and the use of coarse speech, that church is on the slippery slope to compromising its message. It may not happen in the first generation, but the next generation will discover that people are turned off by concepts such as personal holiness, judgment and hell, the wrath of God, and the inability of humans to come to Christ in their own power. After the hip wears off, the message will come under attack. The apostle Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 will come into play: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

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