Our Church on Solid Ground

All around us Christian doctrines that once seemed indispensable are being distorted or made irrelevant. At the same time, local church membership is increasingly emptied of its meaning, and church discipline, once a core practice of almost every local body of believers, is being dismissed as hopelessly out of step with the new cultural tolerance. Yet in the midst of this confusion and laxity, there are hopeful signs of renewal. This book is intended to provide supportive tools for those who value this recovery—churches who wish to return to biblical foundations, new church starts, leaders who train and equip church planters, or even students in Bible schools and seminary classrooms.

Each statement of belief and practice provided rests solely on the Bible. We affirm that the Bible is not only inerrant and infallible, but also entirely sufficient for showing Christians what to believe and how to live together.

This book contains three concise summaries of biblical truth and practice:

Holding Fast the Word of Life (a statement of faith),
The Fellowship of the Spirit (a membership agreement or covenant), and
Restoring Those Who Fall (a statement regarding the practice of church discipline).
For those who are building, strengthening, or reforming local churches, this book will serve well as a brief manual of doctrine and polity in these three foundational areas.

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Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination

“How are you doing?”
“Pretty well, under the circumstances.”
“What are the circumstances?”
“Well, I have a very effective arm. It moves with quite a bit of animation. But then I have my bad leg.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“I guess it’s paralyzed. At least it doesn’t do much except twitch once a week or so. But that’s nothing compared with the rest of me.”

“What’s the problem?
“From all appearances, the rest is dead. At least it stinks and bits of flesh are always falling off. I keep it well covered. About all that’s left beyond that is my mouth, which fortunately works just fine. How about you?”

Like the unfortunate person above, the Southern Baptist Convention has a name that it is alive, but is in fact, mostly dead (Rev. 3:1). Regardless of the wonderful advances in our commitment to the Bible, the recovery of our seminaries, etc., a closer look reveals a denomination that is more like a corpse than a fit athlete. In an unusual way, our understanding of this awful reality provides the most exciting prospects for the future—if we will act decisively.

The Facts
Although the Southern Baptists claim 16,287,494 members, on average only 6,024,289 people (guests and non-member children included), a number equal to only 37% of the membership number, show up for their church’s primary worship meeting (usually Sunday morning). This is according to the Strategic Information and Planning department of the Sunday School Board (2004 statistics). If your church is anything like normal, and is not brand new, your statistics are probably similar. In other words, if you have 200 in attendance on Sunday morning, you likely have 500-600 or even more on your roll. Many churches have an even worse record.

Discerning who among us is regenerate is not an exact science, but a closer look at these numbers will at least alert us to the fact that most Southern Baptists must certainly be dead spiritually. That is so, unless, of course, you claim that there is no difference between a believer and a non-believer.

In the average church you can cut the 37% Sunday morning attendance by about two-thirds or more when counting those interested in a Sunday evening service, or other gatherings held in addition to the principal meeting of the church. In 1996, the last time the SBC kept these statistics, the number of Sunday evening attenders was equal to only 12.3% of the membership (in churches that had an evening meeting). One might ask what makes us claim that the rest are Christians, if they involve themselves with God’s people only on such a minimal, surface level? How are they any different from the people who attend the liberal church down the street—the “church” where the gospel is not even preached?

And remember that the numbers of those attending include many non-member children and guests, often making up a third of the congregation’s main meeting attendance. When all factors are considered, these figures suggest that nearly 90% of Southern Baptist church members appear to be little different from the “cultural Christians” who populate other mainline denominations.

To make matters worse, we tell a lot more people that they are true Christians (because they prayed a prayer sincerely) than we can convince to be baptized. Our largest pizza supper may bring in a hundred new “converts,” but we will likely get only a few of those on the roll. After that, the percentages that I have been mentioning kick in. In other words, if you compare all who we say have become Christians through our evangelistic efforts, to those who actually show signs of being regenerate, we should be red-faced. In the Assembly of God’s 1990s “Decade of Harvest,” out of the 3.5 million supposedly converted, they showed a net gain of only 5 new attenders for every 100 recorded professions. When one considers all of our supposed converts, including those who refuse to follow Christ in baptism and who never join our churches, our numbers are much the same. Doesn’t anybody see that there is a serious problem here?

Let me illustrate in rounded figures by looking at some of the churches where I have preached as a guest speaker. Each could be any Baptist church in any city. In one church, with 7,000 on the active roll, there were only 2000 in attendance on Sunday morning, and a mere 600-700 on Sunday evening. When you account for those attenders who are not members of this flagship church (i.e. guests and non-member children), you have about 1500 actual members coming in the morning and 500 or so in the evening. Where are the 5,500 members who are missing on Sunday mornings? Where are the 6,500 who are missing in the evening?

Another church had 2,100 on the roll, with 725 coming on Sunday morning. Remove guests and non-member children and the figure drops to 600 or less. Only about a third of that number came out on Sunday evening, representing less than 10% of the membership. Yet another church had 310 on the roll with only 100 who attended on Sunday morning. Only 30-35, or approximately 10%, came to the evening worship service.

These are all considered fine churches. All have an extremely competent level of leadership and vision. Some shut-ins and those who are sick, out of town, or in the military, certainly affect the figures a little. But those who are justifiably absent are not enough to alter the bleakness of the picture, especially when we remember that these numbers represent people who have been baptized and have publicly declared their allegiance to God and the Body of Christ. Even if you generously grant that the 37% are all true believers (an estimation that most pastors would say is way off the mark), one still has a church membership that is more dead than alive. If we are honest, we might have to ask ourselves, “Do Southern Baptists believe in a regenerate membership?”

Missing Christians are No Christians
What do these facts and figures, as general as they are, suggest? First, they reveal that most of the people on our rolls give little evidence that they love the brethren—a clear sign of being unregenerate (1 Jn. 3:14). It is impossible to believe that anything like real familial affection exists in the hearts of people who do not come at all, or who only nominally check in on Sunday morning as a cultural exercise. Love is the greatest mark of a genuine believer (1 Jn.3:14-19). Attendance alone does not guarantee that anyone is an authentic believer, but “forsaking the assembling,” is a serious sign of the unregenerate heart. The phrase: “They went out from us, because they were never of us” (1 Jn. 2:19) may have doctrinal overtones, but it nonetheless represents many on our membership rolls.

Second, these numbers suggest that most of those who do not attend (or who only come when it is convenient), are more interested in themselves than God. To put it in Paul’s words, they are “fleshly-minded” and not “spiritually-minded” (Rom. 8: 5-9). The atmosphere that most pleases them is that of the world and not God. They can stand as much of God as makes them feel better about themselves, and they find a certain carnal security in “belonging” to a local church. But beyond that, they will politely resist getting involved. They use the church, but are not really a part of it. For some, the extent of what they can take is an Easter service now and then; for others it is an occasional sterile (and somewhat Pharisaical) trip to church on appropriate Sunday mornings as fits into their schedule. But their apathy towards regular and faithful church attendance betrays their true affections. The fact is, you do what you love to do.

Third, the numbers indicate that some people have joined other denominations and our churches have not kept up with their movements—a sign of inadequate pastoral oversight and the built-in deficiencies of the “inactive membership” concept. I’m quite certain Paul never dreamed of “inactive membership.” Embarrassingly, some left on the rolls are dead—physically! It goes without saying that a dead person is about as inactive as one could be! But others, though presumably alive physically, have disappeared without a trace. I believe it was our beloved Dr. Roy Fish of SWBTS who said, “Even the FBI could not find some of them.” Yet, if we want to claim them as members, we are responsible to keep up with them.

All of these people have “prayed the prayer” and “walked the aisle.” All have been told that they are Christians. But for most, old things have not really passed away, and new things have not come. Most are not new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In too many cases, obvious signs of an unregenerate heart can be found, such as bitterness, long-term adultery, fornication, greed, divisiveness, covetousness, etc. These are “professing believers” that the Bible says are deceived. “Do not be deceived” the Bible warns us concerning such people (see 1 Cor.6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; 6: 7-8; Eph. 5:5-6; Titus 1:16; 1 Jn. 3:4-10; etc.).

Jesus indicated that there is a good soil that is receptive to the gospel seed so as to produce a fruit-bearing plant, but that the “rocky ground” believer only appears to be saved. The latter shows immediate joy, but soon withers away (Mt. 13:6, 21). This temporary kind of faith (which is not saving faith, see 1 Cor.15:1-2) is rampant among Southern Baptists. In The Baptist Faith and Message we say we believe that saving faith is persistent to the end. We say we believe in the preservation and perseverance of the saints (once saved, always persevering). In other words, if a person’s faith does not persevere, then what he possessed was something other than saving faith.

In John 2:23-25 Jesus was the center-piece for what turned out to be a mass evangelism experience in which a large number of people “believed” in Him. Yet He did not entrust Himself to even one of them because “he knew their hearts.” Is it possible that we have taken in millions of such “unrepenting believers” whose hearts have not been changed? I say that we have. Our denomination, as much as we may love it, is on the main, unregenerate. Even if you double, triple, or quadruple my assessment of how many are true believers, we still have a gigantic problem. It is naive to believe otherwise.

There are those who would say that such people are “carnal Christians” and don’t deserve to be thought of as unregenerate. It is true that the Corinthian believers (about whom this phrase was used; see 1 Cor. 3:1-3) acted “like mere men” in their party spirit. Christians can commit any sin short of that which is unpardonable.

Undoubtedly, however, Paul did suspect that some of the Corinthians were unbelievers, for he later warns them about such a possibility in 2 Cor.12:20-13:5. A long-term and unrepentant state of carnality, is, after all, the very description of the unregenerate (Rom. 8:5-14, 1 Jn. 3:4-10, etc.). In calling some people “carnal” Paul did not mean to imply that he was accepting as Christian a lifestyle that he clearly describes elsewhere as unbelieving. He wrote, in the same letter: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9-11, etc.). Apparently there were some, even then, who were deceived into thinking that an unrighteous man or woman who professes faith in Christ could really be a Christian!

Is Follow-up the Problem?
A great mistake is made by blaming the problem on poor follow-up. In many churches there is every intention and effort given to follow-up, yet still the poor numbers persist. One church followed up “by the book,” seeking to disciple people who had been told they were new converts during the crusade of an internationally-known evangelist. The report of the pastor in charge was that none of them wanted to talk about how to grow as a Christian. He said, “In fact, they ran from us!” I have known some churches to go to extreme efforts to disciple new believers. We must do this. Yet, like the others, they generally have marginal success. They have learned to accept the fact that people who profess to have become Christians often have to be talked into going further, and that many, if not most, simply will not bother. Authentic new believers can always be followed up, however, because they have the Spirit by which they cry, “Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15). They have been given love for the brethren, and essential love for the beauty and authority of the Word of God. But you cannot follow-up on a spiritually dead person. Being dead, he has no interest in growth.

It was the preaching of regeneration, with an explanation of its discernible marks, that was the heart of the Great Awakening. J. C. Ryle, in writing of the eighteenth century revival preachers, said that they never for a moment believed that there was any true conversion if it was not accompanied by increasing personal holiness. Such content was the staple of the greatest of awakening preaching throughout the history of revival. Only such a powerful cannon blast of truth could rock the bed of those asleep in Zion.

Facing the Dilemma
What must be done? I suggest five responses:

1. We must preach and teach on the subject of the unregenerate church member. Every author in the New Testament writes of the nature of deception. Some books give major consideration to the subject. Jesus Himself spoke profusely about true and false conversion, giving significant attention to the fruit found in true believers (Jn. 10:26-27; Mt. 7:21-23; Mt. 25:1-13, etc.). If this sort of teaching creates doubt in people, you should not be alarmed, nor should you back away from it. Given the unregenerate state of so many professing Christians, their doubts may be fully warranted. In any case, as one friend told me, “Doubts never sent anyone to hell, but deception always does.” Most will work through their doubts, if they are regenerate and if we continue to preach the whole truth. Contrary to popular opinion, all doubts are not of the devil. Speak truthfully the whole counsel of God. You cannot “unsave” true believers.

It is true that there may be some who are overly scrupulous and overwhelmed by such examination. But most who will be affected are those who are too self-confident, having based their assurance on such shaky platforms as their response to an invitation, praying a perfectly worded “sinner’s prayer,” or getting baptized. If they are unregenerate, they may take offense and leave. But if they are truly regenerate, patient teaching and care will help them to overcome their doubts and gain biblical assurance. Such preaching may even result in true conversion for some who are deceived. And don’t forget that the overconfident ones are not the only ones at risk. Quiet, sensitive, insecure people can be deceived also.

2. We must address the issue of persistent sin among our members, including their sinful failure to attend the stated meetings of the church. This must be done by reestablishing the forgotten practice of church discipline. Each church should adopt guidelines that state just what will happen when a member falls into sin, including the sin of non-attendance or very nominal attendance. Such discipline for non-attendance is clearly found in the history of Baptists—but more importantly, in the Bible.

Everyone in the church, including new members, should be made familiar with the biblical steps of church discipline. Jesus said that a person who was lovingly, but firmly, disciplined by the church, and yet failed to repent, should be thought of as “a heathen and a tax collector” (see Mt. 18:15-17). Though David committed atrocious sins, he was a repenter at heart (see 2 Sam.12:13; Psalm 51). Every Christian is a life-long repenter and church discipline brings this out. (See “Restoring Those Who Fall,” in Our Church on Solid Ground: Documents That Preserve the Integrity and Unity of the Church, www.CCWonline.org)

Leaders must get into the homes of all our erring church members, seeking either to bring them to Christ, or to reluctantly release them to the world which they love more than Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to keep non-believers on the rolls. As a side benefit from church discipline for the SBC, remember that when we reduce our membership to what it actually is, we will be amazed at the statistical improvements in the ratio of members per baptism and members to attenders. Of course, statistics are not worth dying for, but obedience to God’s Word is.

We are never to aggressively pluck the supposed tares from the wheat as if we had absolute knowledge (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43). We might be mistaken. However, loving church discipline is a careful process by which the obvious sinner in essence removes himself by his resistance to correction. The church is made up of repenting saints, not rebelling sinners (see 1 Cor. 5). The slight improvement in the disparity between membership and attendance in the last couple of years is likely due, in major part, to some churches beginning to practice church discipline—a matter of obedience that thankfully is regaining credence among us. Some have removed hundreds from their rolls in this process, and regained some also.

3. We should be more careful on the front end of church membership. In my estimation, the public altar call (a modern invention) often reaps people prematurely. Others will disagree or can perhaps make significant improvements on the traditional “invitation system.” We have used this method in our evangelism because of our genuine zeal to see the lost converted. But in our zeal, we have often overlooked the fact that many who do what our method calls for (i.e. respond to our invitation) may not be converted.

Though sacrosanct to Baptists, careful study should be done related to the historical use of the invitation system evangelistically. For eighteen hundred years the church did not use such a method. It was not until its principle originator, Charles Finney, a true pelagian in his theology, promoted his “new measures.” Earlier preachers were content to let true conviction play a greater part in conversion. They needed no props for the gospel—no persuasive techniques to prompt people to make a “decision.” Instead of relying on a method, their confidence was in the preached Word and the Holy Spirit. Baptist giant, C. H. Spurgeon, for instance, saw thousands converted without the use of an “altar call.” His message was his invitation. We should always offer a verbal invitation in our gospel preaching, meaning we must invite people to repent and believe. But there is no real benefit, while there is much potential harm, in our inviting them to the front of the church and then assuring them that their short walk or tearful response proves their conversion.

We don’t need better methods to get people down to the front. What we need is more biblical content and more unction in our preaching. You cannot beat sinners away from Christ when God is bringing them in (see Jn. 6:37, 44-45). When as many as 70-90% of “converts” are giving little, if any, evidence of being saved after their first weeks or months of emotional excitement, questions should be asked, both about our understanding of the gospel and about our methods. Forget the fact, if you must, that there is no clear biblical precedent for the altar call. Even considering the matter pragmatically ought to make us quit. Though prevalent in our churches for decades, it has not helped us. (See “Closing with Christ,” www.CCWonline.org/closing.html)

The dangerous practice of receiving new members immediately after they walk the aisle must finally be abandoned. Also, more careful counsel should be taken with those entering in as members from other churches. And add to this a need for much deeper thinking concerning childhood conversion. An alarming percentage of childhood professions wash out later in the teen and college years. For unconverted yet baptized church kids, the more independence they are granted, the more they live out their true nature. (See “Childhood Conversion,” www.CCWonline.org/cconv.html)

4. We must stop giving immediate verbal assurance to people who make professions of faith or who respond to our invitations. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to give assurance. We are to give thebasis upon which assurance can be had, not the assurance itself. Study 1 John in this respect. What things were written so that they might know they have eternal life? (1 Jn. 5:13). Answer: The tests given in the book. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).

5. We must restore sound doctrine. Revival, I am finding as I study its history, is largely about the recovery of the true gospel. The three great doctrines which have so often shown up in true revival are: 1) God’s sovereignty in salvation, 2) justification by grace through faith alone, and 3) regeneration with discernible fruit. Revival is God showing up, but the blessing of the presence of God is directly affected by our beliefs. God most often comes in the context of these and other great doctrines, preached penetratingly and faithfully, and with the unction of the Holy Spirit.

As an illustration of our doctrinal reductionism, repentance is often forgotten completely in gospel presentations, or else it is minimized to mean nothing more than “admitting that you are a sinner.” Also, “Inviting Christ into your heart,” a phrase never found in the Bible (study the context of Jn.1:12 and Rev. 3:20, the verses used for this), has taken the place of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. The doctrine of God’s judgment is rarely preached with any carefulness. And comprehensive studies of the meaning of the cross are seldom heard. Merely looking over the titles of the sermons which awakening preachers preached in the past would surprise most modern pastors.

Be Healthy or Be Ashamed
Which army would you rather have? Gideon’s first army or his last? No church, and no denomination, should call itself healthy unless more people attend than are on the roll. This is a standard kept by most of the world, and was kept by our great-grandparents in Baptist churches as well. We would be closer to the revival we desire if we would admit our failure, humbly hang our heads, and seek to rectify this awful hindrance to God’s blessing. When we boast of how big we are, we are bragging about our shame.

In the Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, our first association, our initial American statistical record shows that five times as many people attended the association’s churches as were on their rolls. Greg Wills in Democratic Religion in the South (Oxford University Press, 1997, p.14) reports that three times the number on the rolls attended Baptist churches, then located mostly along the eastern seaboard when surveyed in 1791 by John Ashlund. In 1835, the Christian Index of Georgia recorded that “not less than twice the number” of members were in attendance.

Today, in rough numbers, it takes 300 people on our rolls to have 100 attenders. In the 1790s, it took only 33. Or, to put it in larger figures, it now takes nearly 3000 people, supposedly won to Christ and baptized, to result in a church attendance of 1000. Then, it took only 333. Our potency has diminished to such an extent that we must “win” and “baptize” over 2,000 more people to get to the same 1000 to attend.

Apparently, being orthodox in terms of inerrancy and infallibility is not enough, though without these doctrines we have no foundation for true evangelism. A lot has to be done, and a lot undone. And, sadly, we have been actively transporting this mainly American problem overseas for many years.

To conclude, I suggest two remedial steps for the convention as a whole, in addition to what was suggested for the churches:

1. We might reverse some of our proclivity to continue as normal if we introduced our preachers more accurately in our evangelism meetings and convention settings. Try using this introduction: “Here is Brother ______, pastor of a church of 10,000 members, 6400 of whom do not bother to come on a given Sunday morning, and 8600 of whom do not come on Sunday evening. He is here to tell us about how to have a healthy, evangelistic church.”

It might be better to ask a man to speak who shepherds 100 members, all of whom attend with regularity and all of whom show signs of regeneration—a man who, in the last year, has baptized 5 people who stick—rather than a pastor of 10,000 members, 7000 of whom do not come—a man who has baptized 1000 in the past year, 700 of whom cannot be found. The smaller, but more consistent numbers of the first pastor reveal a far more effective ministry and thus a far better example for other churches. (Please understand that I don’t like this talk about “numbers,” but this is the main way we evaluate people and churches as Baptists. I am sure God is not really impressed with any of our statistics.)

2. We should establish a study group to explore our presently deplorable situation and to track its history. This group should also seek to re-examine the biblical mandate to have a regenerate church. Then this study group should report back with a strategy to help us out of the dilemma. They should be painfully honest. I am hopeful that individual churches will act without this prompting, but this would be an added stimulus to getting us to our fighting weight as a denomination. Some church leaders will not act without this sort of backing since independent action would be a departure from the status quo.

Our only alternative is to carry on in the old way—the way that produces 70-90% fallout. By continuing on as we are, we will gradually blur, and eventually obscure altogether, any distinction between the professing and the authentic Christian. In the end, we will look like every other mainline, liberal denomination. We are only one-third to one-tenth alive now. If we want to avoid complete deadness, we must take dramatic measures immediately. Like cotton candy, our apparent size does not add up to much.

Our forebears, especially those who died for the biblical concept of a regenerate church, would hardly recognize our compromised condition. It will admittedly take us down a notch or two, in the estimation of the rest of professing Christianity, when millions are removed from our rolls. But humility and a new reality might be the starting place for God’s greatest blessings on us yet!

The next time someone asks how your church and your denomination are doing, tell the truth. Tell them that we have a new confidence in the inerrant Bible. Tell them that we have seminaries that promote orthodoxy, and new evangelistic fervor among the true believers. Tell them we have a lot to be excited about. But also tell them that when considered as a whole, most Southern Baptists need raising from the dead.

The Rural Church Dilemma

Recently I drove to several small towns in rural Arkansas with my 89 year old father and my siblings, tracking the steps of the ministry of both my dad and his father. The experience was memorable. We visited small towns that even Arkansans might not recognize today: Cotter, Caledonia, Hagersville, Greenwood, LaVaca—twelve in all. These were the places where my father, and his father, labored for Christ seventy and eighty years ago.

Much has changed in the landscape of rural America in those seventy plus years. For one thing, most farms have been eaten up by large conglomerates, dramatically reducing population. The size of families has dropped and the area Walmart has made ghost towns of the typical downtown area.

Families long ago moved out of these rural areas for the big cities in order to find work, and what young people you may find will almost certainly not stay where there is no action. With these demographic alterations, the country church has been reduced to only a shadow of what it once was.

But this does not mean the country church is not there. There are yellow brick buildings with mud stains around their base that still exist as the gathering place for those few faithful (and often reserved) older citizens and, in rare cases, a family or two containing younger people.

The “county seat” town churches are doing better, but even they feel the changes. Some have become regional churches for the surrounding areas. In fact, there are some notable exceptions to the general rule that rural churches are failing. In one Arkansas town that you have likely never heard of, there were 900 attending the largest church on Sunday mornings. The more remote rural churches have yielded their younger families over to these active centers which often carry on vibrant ministries. Regionalization is definitely a trend. We could call it the “Walmartization” of the rural church.

I’ve been there in my own ministry, pastoring in historic Washington, Arkansas as my first assignment. Thirty-five years ago, this town consisted of about 400 occupants, half black and half white. It has now lost much of that population and has turned into a state park (it was the old Civil War capitol of Arkansas). I never knew what quiet was until I pastored in that town. I used a “privy” behind the café and I waited out the lonely nights in a “Jim Walter” home provided by the church. It grew up to about 60 in attendance while I was there, but stayed mostly around 40. The grade school moved to Hope just after I was there, and things went down further. There is not much going on now. I’m not even sure if the church still meets. We said, even at that time, that the church was “just past Hope.”

In addition to that, I’ve preached in so many rural churches that I could not even begin to recount them all. My ministry of 40 years of preaching has landed me in both city and rural churches, some huge, others in towns so sleepy that the grass grows unmolested on the two-lane highway—and deacons wear overalls. Though I’ve loved all of the experiences I’ve been privileged to have, I have to admit that it is often easier to visit than to stay in such a church. And I’ve scratched my head with the pastor wondering how the church could find vitality.

What happens when the young seminarian or college ministerial student takes his first churches in these areas? And what should the committed rural pastor think about his church’s future?

Here are some thoughts for rural pastors. You are the experts, not me. But these thoughts might stimulate something in a church that is not going to be known, outside of a miracle, for its numerical growth. In fact, you may wonder sometimes if God knows you are there.

Remember that you are entirely unaware of the impact of your ministry. For instance, you may teach older adults without much visible impact. But one of them, perhaps a grandparent of an unconverted child, may receive stimulus from your ministry that makes her a true witness to her grandchild. Her witness, prompted by your stimulus and instruction, may be the very thing God uses to bring that child to Him. She may not even be aware of her impact. In fact, it may not come to bear until after she has passed on. The grandchild, in time, may one day marry a believer and raise up children who also become believers in another part of America. Do you really know what that will mean in terms of eternity? Do you know what it means in terms of generations of believers? What if, three generations down the line, one of the Christians in this line is instrumental in the evangelization of an unreached tribal group? Did you see that when you taught that grandparent on a sleepy Sunday morning? Likely not. Don’t forget that Jesus said, “I will build my church.” The time you taught that grandparent might be far more instrumental in the building of the universal church than ten years of ministry in some large city church with all its innovations and activities. You cannot know how God will work for sure, yet you can be confident that it would be a total surprise to you how significant your labors are. Therefore, “sow in hope.”

Be happy to know that you may not be able to change much but lives. I mean by this that the structure of things, the hackneyed songs, the unrefined style of your meetings, the organizational plan, the leadership set, etc., may not be within your power to alter. I don’t say you should not try. But, at the end of the day, the real purpose of your being there is to change lives, not to make things look good.
I found, through years of ministry, that you will often not know your impact until you are gone. I recently received a letter from someone at that Old Washington, Arkansas church who was affected by my novice ministry in ways I did not dream. She was then a child visiting without her parents, and I had paid real attention to her. She continued to come, though almost always hidden in the shadows. My attention to her resulted in her eventual conversion and a life of serving God for which she was extremely thankful. Her brother, who died as a youth, had also been converted. She had been seen as not just a visiting girl, but as a soul important to God. The importance of that attempt at caring was completely unknown to me until I received that letter.

The focus, then, should be on people. So, keep your aim right. For instance, you may start a book club with any of your people who care to participate. Let’s say that you provide readable, accessible books, that have marvelous truths to be understood. You set reachable goals and meet every week, or every other week in your home, just to chat informally about what is learned. You drink coffee and just enjoy learning something. No pressure. Over time, this one idea may build some mighty believers. It’s not a great program that somebody will write up, but it focuses on people and the changes that God can bring.

Be energized by the concept that your church could become the most loving church in the world. I find this compelling. There will be many things your church may not be. It may not be the most educated church or the most innovative church, or the most evangelistic church, etc., but it can be the most loving church. There is nothing to stop that from happening except your lack of determination and/or the will of the people. Love, after all, is the sign of maturity as a church. Now, if you are seeing this, you will find ways to encourage love. This will mean that you will work out ways for people to be in your home, and in the home of the other church members. You will think of ways to get people to really know the insides of each other. Sheep need help to overcome their reserved nature. They will need to be commended for acts of love, just as Paul often did. You will need to set the pace and demonstrate a passionate love for the people. Dream about this. And, my experience is (and the Bible’s teaching is) that this is a powerful way to witness. The love of the people of God for each other is, as Francis Schaeffer said, “the final apologetic.”
Well, there is more, but these three should serve to encourage you. I know you need it. When it is all said and done, we are going to be thrilled at the way God has used the out-of-the-way places, the forgotten places, to do some of His most significant things.

I love the rural church and hope you do. Some of you will serve all your life in them. God bless you for your perseverance and courage.

 

Review of Great Preachers of Wales by Owen Jones

Jones, Owen, M.A., Great Preachers of Wales, Clonmel, Ireland: Tentmaker Publications, 1885, reprint 1995, 540 pp. (c/o Bethel Christian Bookshop, New Hall St., Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, ST1 5HQ, Staffs. England.)

I found this reprint by Tentmaker Publications on a recent trip to Wales, along with several other reprints of good quality from this ministry. I contacted the director of the ministry and found out that several more items can be expected in the future. Other reprints by Tentmaker include the six volume Days of Revival, History of Methodism in Ireland by Crookshank, and Hugh Hughes’ Life of Howell Harris. At the time, these books could only be purchased in the UK, but this has possibly changed since.

Tentmaker Publications is designed to help Irish ministers with its profits since most evangelical churches in Ireland are small and cannot fully support their ministers.

Unfortunately, the publisher has not included any biographical information about the author. The author’s intention was to write an additional book containing other Welsh preachers of note. I was unable to find any other book written by the author on the subject of revival and assume that his intention was never fulfilled. I also assume from the author’s name and the Welsh language source material used that the author is Welsh by birth.

This is a pleasing survey of seven of Wale’s most prominent preachers, all of which were instruments of God during seasons of revival. The names of Daniel Rowlands, Robert Roberts, Christmas Evans, John Elias, William Williams (Wern), Henry Rees, and John Jones, are well-known and their ministries much admired. These men are known not just for their spirituality, but for their immensely successful preaching; it is this preaching that the author particularly notes and analyzes.

The author purports that the origin of convictional Welsh preaching was in the eighteenth century revivals. Both Howell Harris and Daniel Rowlands were born in 1735, the same year that George Whitefield joined the Oxford Holy Club, and a precursor revival to the American awakening broke out in Jonathan Edward’s Northampton, Massachusetts church. Proper signification is given to the underlying prayer and conviction of these men. But there was something different in view also-the Welsh fire. That imagination and dramatic power found in the Welsh temperament was used by God to stir the entire province of Wales time and time again. It was Dr. Lyman Beecher who first called preaching “logic on fire.” He could not have described the best of Welsh preaching in any more accurate terms.

This emotive and doctrinal sermonizing changed Wales, but it was not mere ability that induced those changes. “When we see a man falling down dead, and hear a shot, and see the mark of the bullet, we have no difficulty in finding the cause of death. So when we see this vast and mighty change in the Welsh people, and find that the only element of difference between what is now and what was before, is the great fact that the Bible is taught and the Gospel preached, the logic of the human breast soon finds the cause.”1 Only the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit on these preachers could make such a difference.

The first revival character, Daniel Rowlands, is in my estimation the most notable of the figures addressed. Born in 1713 his father was the unconverted parson of Llangeitho. Rowlands eventually became the curate to his unregenerate brother, John, in the same church. He began, for effect, to imitate the law preaching of a popular neighboring pastor he envied, but was unconverted until he heard the educator and gospeller Griffith Jones.

The preaching of Rowlands continued with even more feeling on the themes of the terrors of God, but with a difference. Soon everyone knew of the changes in the preacher. “The great bursts of feeling to which the preacher was now subject told intensely upon the hearers.”2 By 1737 Rowlands was preaching outside of his own parish. Gradually the tone of his preaching changed. “His preaching became now as marked for its sweetness and attractiveness as it was before for its severity and awfulness…A great revival followed.” 3

It was while Rowlands was publicly reading the phrase, “By Thine agony and bloody sweat,” that the Spirit came. Scores fell under the power of the Word by Rowland following that time leading finally to expulsion from the Church of England. He was instrumental in the beginnings of the Calvinistic Methodist denomination. Some vital information is given on the Society meetings and the formation of that denomination. Llangeitho became a place repeated revivals, the whole of his ministry there being over fifty years. Jones notes that “the whole of that time it was accompanied with the special influences of the Spirit of God.”4 Once a year he made a tour throughout the entire country. “‘His words did fly like darts.'”5

Christmas Evans, born on Christmas day, 1766, provides one of the most interesting of studies by the author. This one-eyed preacher came out of wicked past to serve God in a magnificent way from his home base of Anglesy. He embraced Sandemanianism during his ministry, but later rejected it, which was the only serious blight on his useful life. He articulated his views of limited atonement through the written page in two books entitled, Redemption Within the Circle of Election and Particular Redemption. After a period of some lapse spiritually, Evans wrote out his “Solemn Covenant,” and initialed each part, which became a model of self disciplinary action. Some of Evan’s sermons are included, the most famous of which was his “Graveyard Sermon,” a message often called for in his travels. “His ‘face is language, his intonation music, and his action passion'”6 Jones notes his strong reasoning powers and his force of logic, coupled with the unction of the Holy Spirit, and great imaginative expression as the major attributes of his preaching.

More space is given to Henry Rees than any of the other figures. The depth of spirituality of all of these leaders is noteworthy. One contemporary said:

In one thing he transcended every one I have been acquainted with-that is, as far as I have had opportunities of observing-in the persistent absorption of his mind by things spiritual and eternal. Like Enoch, he ‘walked with God.’ Religion had taken full possession of his soul; and he seemed to live at all times not only under its influence, but also in actual and immediate communion with its realities.7
A deacon’s wife who watched over Rees during a ten year period said that she could never enter his room without seeing the print of elbows on the bed where he had been praying. A certain pew in the church was said to be often found wet with tears from Rees’ praying bouts.

Rees had been greatly affected by puritan John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin and The Indwelling of Sin in Believers. This understanding aided him in searching the human heart in his preaching. Rev. Dr. Hughes, Liverpool, said, “If we are not mistaken, it was under his ministry we saw the greatest flow of tears, and such tears! 8 His close and searching preaching, if not as animated as others, produced great effects on the people. The entourage at his funeral testifies to just how beloved he was.

…there were eight medical men, sixty-five ministers and preachers, three abreast; seventy deacons, four abreast; two hundred singers, six abreast; six thousand men and women, six abreast, trending slowly on the road from Talsarn to Llanllyfni, singing on the way some of the old Welsh tunes… 9
As I wrote earlier, the book is a pleasing presentation of several great Welsh preachers. It reads, not as a scholarly critical survey of their lives, but is unblushing in its advocacy. It is too adoring. However, by admission, I find Welsh preaching so appealing that I can sympathize with Jones’ raving. These were great men in the history of the church. As a source for some of the best stories of Welsh preaching, either for inspiration or for illustrative material, the book is quite useful.

I am not one who generally enjoys reading sermons, especially sketches of sermons (with the exception of those by puritians). There are some of those in the book. They should be there, because it is a book on great preachers, but most of them are the kind you want to breeze through. I find it difficult getting into the spirit of them.

What does stand out? I found these thoughts invigorating, even if already in my arsenal of ideas. First, God blesses preaching. He told us he would; here we see that He does. These men were consumed with preaching. They passionately, untiringly spent themselves for the gospel. This is true of everyone presented in the book. In fact, this abandonment to the Savior and the task is the hallmark of all revival preachers of note. I am personally challenged by that. The commitment to the responsibility of preaching was not only their obsession for a lifetime, but was their focus in the immediate. Long walks through the hills of Wales and nights in travailing prayer before preaching were characteristics of their preparation. Preaching was life to them; it was worth whatever price was necessary.

Secondly, I was struck again with the accessibility of the preachers to the public through the quarterly Association meetings of the Welsh Calvinistic Church. The several churches from a region gathered for these days, though it was not unusual for treks of many miles to be made by other interested parties. These meetings principally set up for preaching were often the scene of revival. It also provided the context for ministers to meet together for discussion, decisions, and prayer. When large crowds were involved, and the weather permitted, the preaching was done outside. When the rains pelted and the cold winds blew, they divided the preachers, usually two per location, according to the various church buildings in the town. This thought captured my attention: We must arrange such times for extensive, three of four day, preaching of the Word. The accumulative effect of this kind of arrangement is potentially powerful, even if not in a season of revival. Richard Owen Roberts makes the point that revivals of the Old Testament often happened when the people were gathered for the purpose of hearing God and repenting of sin. I believe that such a setting is useful in our day. I know that there are such meetings, of a sort. But there are not many whose focus is just preaching and simple, unadorned hymn singing with sincere prayer. Most of such gatherings in our day are glued by entertainment and what could hardly be called biblical and searching preaching of the Word. I think this impression of the need for extended times of preaching will shape some of my thoughts about conferences in the future.

Studies in Perfectionism by Benjamin Warfield

Warfield, Benjamin B., Studies in Perfectionism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958. 464 pages.

  1. B. Warfield is known as one of the major exponents of the Reformed view of theology. He studied at what is now Princeton University and Seminary, graduating from the later in 1876. He taught first at Leipzig, Germany but was later the successor to Archibald Alexander Hodge as professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary. He died in 1921. During his life he earned several distinguished degreesHe wrote theology profusely. This book was taken from the original ten volume series of Warfield works first published by Oxford University Press which has been popular for years as a corpus of his writings.

    The original work, Studies in Perfectionism, included material on “German rationalists as Ritschl, Wernle, Clemen, Pfleiderer, and Windisch.” For the use of the present audience this one thousand page work was truncated by excluding this material. The study’s foci is on such men and movements as Asa Mahan, Charles Grandison Finney, Hannah Whitehall Smith, the Oberlin teaching, the Higher Life teaching, the Fellowship movement, Keswick, and the Victorious Life movement, mostly as they appear in English-speaking countries.

    Perfectionism is a phenomenon which, if dealing exclusively in the Christian context, has appeared in Catholic, Arminian/Weslyan, Quaker and Quietists circles. It has been most prominently displayed in the Keswick and Victorious Life movement. The predominate theme of Warfield is that sin is under-evaluated and under-appreciated by these perfectionists, and that sin consists of any failure to conform to the law of God. In Warfield’s view, the perfectionists discussed have a theoretical rather than actual perfectionism. Salient arguments and a great deal of vital history make this a most useful book.

    “Perfectionism was first given standing in the Protestant churches through the teaching of John Wesley, although he himself never claimed perfection.”2 Warfield’s initial concern, however, is with the Oberlin College situation and the two men, Asa Mahan and Charles G. Finney, and the development of what is called “Oberlin Theology.” His evalution?—”The cold, Pelagian system of the new divinity has been attached to the engine of fanaticism.”3 This “New Divinity” emphasis on the ability of man stood in direct opposition to the teachings of Jonathan Edwards which had predominated prior to this time. In its earliest days the Weslyan perfectionistic view took hold at Oberlin. A second stage of the Christian life was called by the different names of “entire sanctification,” “holiness,” Christian perfection,” and sometimes “the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”

    Finney’s theological perspective was largely shaped by the Congregationalist N. W. Taylor. A distinctive aspect of this perfectionism is that “what is taught is a perfection that consists in complete righteousness, but in a righteousness which is adjusted to fluctuating ability.”4 A person is not responsible for righteousness beyond what he knows that perfection to be.

    As their perfectionism developed a more serious “sea change” occurred, centered around the doctrine of “the simplicity of moral action.” The end result was that Finney and the Oberlin Theology taught that man was either entirely holy or entirely sinful in each and every action. There could be no mixed actions. The doctrine turned further into the message that a man “to be a Christian at all must be perfect: and the concern of the Christian is not to grow more perfect, but to maintain the perfection which belongs to him as a Christian and in which, not into which, he grows. What, then, he seeks after is not holiness—he has that. Nor more holiness than he has—if he has any he has all. What he seeks after is ‘establishment.'” 5 This shift leaves no room for two classes of Christians, a view which was first held by these Oberlin theologians.

    Finney’s Pelagianism is seen in his belief that the Christian “is justified no further than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys.”6 This means that the person continues to move between justification and damnation depending on their obedience. Finney taught as well that atonement had nothing to do with the Augustinian system of imputation by which the sinner is justified even though a sinner. “The penitent soul remains justified no longer than this full-hearted consecration continues.”7 Additional doctrines of the Oberlin system and Finney are drawn upon by Warfield to establish the Pelagian underpinning of their theology.

    Coming back to the Weslyan influence on sanctification, Warfield lays out the life of W.E. Boardman and the Pearsall Smiths. Mr. Boardman wrote the definitive beginning book on sanctification, however poorly written, entitled, The Higher Christian Life. Mrs. Smith wrote the most popular holiness book of all time, The Christian Secret of the Happy Life. Though she had discovered her views through Methodism, she recalled that she had first heard them in her Quaker circles. In this she rejoiced. She remained a Quaker all of her life.

    The “higher life” is built upon the double conversion theory, dividing justification from sanctification. The later is obtained as the former through an act of faith. The product of the later is rest in Christ and the complete victory over sinning, hence the inclusion in this book on perfectionism. There are two kinds of Christians in this movement, the sanctified and the merely justified. One is supposedly freed from the guilt of sin in the first conversion and the power of sin in the other.

    Boardman, the Smiths, and the Oberlin faction of perfectionism, among many others, come together in the great Oxford Union Meeting in England in the later quarter of the 19th century for an historic gathering. They are alike in this: they all want perfection and they all believe that it comes, not by work, but by faith. There is this also which distinguishes them: they give a very large place to the will. It is the strong place of the will in choosing to allow the perfection work of Christ to take place.

    The Smiths taught that man could sin constantly even though a Christian. But, when they choose to abide in Christ, then there was perfect rest and holiness. This is perfectionism, though not in constancy—only as the will is operative to abide in Christ.

    They also stressed the place of faith in opposition to works in sanctification. In other words, contrary to the Reformed position which give the law a continued use and obedient works a rightful place, the “higher life” teaching puts all its emphasis on faith. It is “resting, not working” that is the principle.

    It is interesting to note, as a sideline, that Mrs. Smith was a universalist in her view of salvation, but this does not show up in her holiness teaching.8 And it is of even greater interest for our discussion that Mahan and the Smiths were together in the formation of the Keswick movement which continued this same two-tiered life of the believer.

    Warfield discusses the German Fellowship movement and the Victorious Life movement with Charles Trumbull in largely the same vein. The purveyor of the later was the Sunday School Times which was edited by Trumbull and by Robert McQuilken. Here again we have the motif of “let go and let God”. Trumbull goes in some ways even further by saying, “It is not your faith. You have no faith in you, any more than you have life or anything else in you…You have to take His faith as well as His life and healing, and have simply to say, ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God.’…It is simply Christ, Christ alone.”9

    This book hits the nerve of modern evangelicalism. I have often seen the encroachment of the higher life movement in America’s view of revival, for instance. It is most disconcerting to find that, for the most part, those who host conferences on revival do so with the intention of promoting the “deeper life” view of things. In other words, most of such meetings more or less become extended “deeper life” conferences. My suspicion is that many of the religious leaders in evangelicalism today were affected heavily by the resurgence of this sort of teaching in the seventies and believe that coming back to it in force will bring some of the joys they experienced when younger. I consider this a grave mistake.

    Some might contend that what Warfield was addressing in the later part of the book on the “higher life” is not related to the subject of perfectionism. Yet it is germane. Today we might call such movements “semi-perfectionism.” We would see that the idea of the purveyors of this sort of thing believe that man is somehow suspended above two types of living—the one carnal, the other spiritual. As long as the spiritual is operative, that is, Christ through the believer, then there is perfect rest and victory over sin. In this way Christ works through you, and He works perfectly because of His nature. This is a transient state, however, for when the carnal, or merely natural human aspect of our being is in charge, the result is entirely selfish and sinful. Here we can see the results of the Oberlin teaching and the “higher life” teaching. This entire holiness or entire sinfulness is directly descending from Finney’s view of the “the simplicity of moral action” stated above. The suspended will theory is more akin that of the Smiths and the Keswick people. I have personally espoused this view in former days and can vouch for its inaccuracies and frustrations.

    For Warfield there is the knowledge that it is God’s intention to sanctify with whatever means He chooses. He will do that with every person who is his without need for a second “conversion” (cf. Heb. 12:14; 1 Thess. 5: 18, etc.). Sanctification is not ultimately dependent upon our will, but God who promises “He will do it” (1 Thess. 5: 19). The believer progresses in his sanctification, aggressively disciplining his life because God is in him working to perform His will (Phil. 2: 12-13).

    In the overall look at this kind of perfectionism seen today, we can observe the following; 1. There is a lack of appreciation for the place of the demands of God through the law. For Warfield, an understanding and appreciation of the moral law is needed. Instead, everything is adjusted in terms of the law so that rectitude is not adherence to the law precisely, but to whatever we interpret to be the highest state. There is a vast difference. In other words, these perfect people are not really perfect, except in relation to their own perception of perfection.

    2. The “higher life” teaching produces a certain passivity. In “letting go and letting God” all of the Bible’s commands are not brought to bear on the believer’s life. All he is concerned about is relaxing in Jesus.

    3. The “higher life” teaches a two-tiered view of the Christian life which is unbiblical. The carnal life mentioned in relationship to the believer in 1 Corinthians 3 is largely misunderstood and has damaged many. Because we teach that one can be saved without sanctification, masses of unconverted church members are lulled to sleep and end up in hell. The Bible teaches that “without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12: 14). This teaching abuses the doctrine of perseverance.

    4. This type of teaching creates a lack of self-examination about one’s state with God. One is admonished to look away from themselves to Christ for sanctifying life . As in most theories, there is some measure of truth in that thought, but the Bible also enforces the need to look at ourselves seriously and to take responsibility for sin.

    This is a seminal book on the subject of perfectionism and is apropos to our day. In fact, it is almost uncanny, just how appropriate it is, though written almost a century ago.

 

Scotland Saw His Glory edited by Richard Owen Roberts

Roberts, Richard Owen, editor, Scotland Saw His Glory. Wheaton, Illinois: International Awakening Press, 1995. 351 pages.

Richard Owen Roberts, President of International Awakening Ministries, has taken out-of-print sources to compile this book. One source was issued in a limited edition of only thirteen copies; the earliest source is dated 1743. No information is given on the lives of the authors. He claims no originality; the works he uses are fully incorporated, with almost no quoting. He mixes and complements the six primary sources to accomplish his purposes.

It is of note to mention that Robert’s own personal library on revival is one of the largest in the country, and that he also helped build Wheaton’s revival collection into the thousands of volumes. Mr. Roberts is known throughout the United Kingdom and the United States for his work in historic revival.

The book is a chronology of major revival events and personalities in Scotland from the reformation days of the fiery John Knox in the 1500’s to the visit of the evangelists Moody and Sankey in the 1800’s. The survey stops in the nineteenth century due to the sources chosen, all of which were written before the stirrings of revival in the 50’s on the Isle of Lewis.

Scotland has seen the glory of God! The recurring revival waves built what was at one time a mighty witness in Scotland. The beginning wave was Reformation itself, a movement of life and spiritual verve and associated with Knox the Reformer. There were, of course, other men, such as Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart, William Cooper, and the larger-than-life John Welsh, who were sixteenth century men of note. But all revivals cool at some point and another shower must refresh the soil. This first happened when the participants of the Reformation were now up in years, through the ministry of John Davidson. In 1596 at St. Giles in Edinbugh the pastors of the nation met in a solemn assembly under his spiritual leadership, until a great breaking took place, the effects of which rippled throughout the land through the various synods.

Some thirty years later (1625) in the sleepy town of Stewarton God came again. The town certainly “has little or nothing otherwise to commend it” 1 than the revival which goes by its name. According to Fleming, one of the sources, “This great spring time of the gospel did not last for a short time merely, but continued many years.”2

One of best known of revival experiences followed at Kirk of Shotts in 1630 when the young preacher John Livingstone took the last service of the communion period. Over 500 were converted as they listened standing in the rain. This same man preached one other occasion and a thousand were converted3 . On both occasions he had been up all night in prayer and had minimal preparation time.

The Cambuslang revival under the leadership of a very mild and quiet spoken preacher named William M’Cullough, also has become a standard. Though sometimes associated with Whitefield, it commenced four months before his first visit.4 The crowds associated with this season of revival sometimes reached thirty thousand, especially during the two communion periods. This great work about which so much has been written began in a church that was spiritually stagnant, and through a pastor who was so average in his preaching skill that he was called, a “yill minister.”5 This term was used at the time to mean that “his rising to speak during field preaching [before the revival] at communions was taken by many as the signal to seek refreshment.” But revival changes a man and on his tombstone was written, “He was eminently successful in preaching the gospel.”6

The author continues his sketch by a survey of several other lesser movements such as Moulin in 1799, Arran in 1812, Skye in 1812, Breadalbane in 1816-17, Lewis in 1824-33, and Kilsyth in 1839. The revival of 1859-60 is well known transatlantically for the very reason of its connection with America and the Prayer Revival of 1857-8. In fact, the 1859 effected all of the British Isles, especially Wales, Ireland and Scotland, under such men as Brownlow North and Edward Payson Hammond and others. Roberts ends his survey with the visit of Moody and Sankey. A notable characteristic of the 1859 was the emphasis on the Spirit and Moody’s own “baptism with the Holy Ghost”7 added to that emphasis.

Roberts has done a yeoman’s work in compiling the data and in making the book read as if it were authored by one individual. The use of language is even throughout. The flow of the work is agreeable and covers the salient history. For many this will be an excellent introduction to the work of God in Scotland, without overbearing detail. The book reads well, though the American reader will continually struggle with getting the “feel” of the country geographically. It does move me. I have already recommended that others buy the book for its ability to stir the emotions and to excite the vision for revival.

At first I was disappointed that Moody and Sankey were included. They certainly do add a very different tone to the book, being more akin to the mass evangelists of today. Indeed, it is commonly known that they are the first of the truly organized of the mass evangelists. They put the “city-wide” into crusade evangelism. Though evangelism is in the center stage of revival, one almost never thinks of revival as an organized evangelistic effort. Perhaps I could say, in defense of Mr. Robert’s choice, that the contrast was important and the shift we see in Moody has been more or less permanent. For this reason we need to engage these two men. Roberts did include a revealing footnote from one of his sources, noting that their success “arose and was maintained in connection with the preaching of the theology of the Westminster Confession.”8

What this means is that the previously sound theology, even though Moody did not fully espouse it, was instrumental in the effect which their message had. I have seen this phenomenon in other revival literature. It is not uncommon for American Finney-styled theology (Moody was a direct descendant of Finney methodologically though less catastrophic theologically) to have an immediate effect in reaping what years of better theology has prepared. By that admission I still personally do not espouse the Moody way of conducting business, even if he is a powerful and engaging figure. I do think that he was a godly man, but his ways were too manipulative and set a problematic precedent.

I was again struck with the place of preaching on regeneration which is seen in Scottish revival history. Let me develop this by quoting Mr. Roberts in three places:

“The minister [William M’Culloch, prior to the Cambuslang revival] in his ordinary course of sermon for nearly a twelve-month before the work began had been preaching on those subjects which tend most directly to explain the nature, and prove the necessity, of regeneration according to the different lights in which that important matter is represented in Holy Scripture.”9

“Robe [of Kilsyth in the 1742 revival] traces the preparation made for the revival back to a series of discourses on regeneration which, like his friend M’Culloch of Cambuslang, he preached to his people. ‘It is probable that both ministers were influenced by Doddridge’s Letters on Regeneration, which were at that time in the enjoyment of a considerable popularity.’10

“In that month [March, 1799 at the inauguration of the Moulin revival] Stewart…began a series of discourses on regeneration, founded on the story of Nicodemus.”

The significance of this information is that of correcting common misconceptions about revival. In our day, we think of revival in terms of the Christian life. Questions such as how one can live effectively and handle stress and cope with family problems, loom large in our thinking. We must address these. But historically revival was more centered on the foundational doctrines of salvation. It really was gospel work, in that larger and more doctrinal sense. And at the heart of it all was the repeated call to regeneration. The doctrine was tuned to the sin of the day in this way. Since regeneration, or the giving of life to dead souls, is knowable in the true Christian’s life (“by their fruits you shall know them”), a professed believer can be challenged to examine himself to see the evidence of it. This kind of preaching made regeneration a searching doctrine. Many souls were brought under conviction by the preaching of this truth. I am convinced through this further evidence that we must preach regeneration again today. No doctrine fits our day quite like it.

Entertainment Evangelism, a Response to a News Reporter

Hello, this is B____ L_____, religion reporter for the W_____ E____. I am writing an analysis story on a trend we see hear of “entertainment evangelism.” D____ C____ of Current Thoughts and Trends magazine said you would be a good person to talk with.

In a couple of weeks, a group called “Impact World Tours” affiliated with Youth with a Mission will have a crusade here. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the group but they will put on four shows featuring Polynesian dancers, world-class athletes, skateboardsers, roller bladers and a “hip-hop dance team.”

At the end of each night of entertainment, there will be an altar call where people will be invited to accept Christ.

There are also other events planned for the Wichita area that combine rock climbing, Christian rock music and evangelism for kids. I’d like to tlak to you about the benefits and drawbacks with this kind of evangelism in contrast with other ways of trying to reach people. My phone number here is _________________.

thank you,
B____ L_____

Dear B_______,

I have known the Youth with a Mission people, intersecting with them through the years in various places around the world. They are always zealous and concerned people. The issue of entertainment evangelism, of course, does not originate with them. For instance, I know of one pastor of a large church who had mud wrestling in his church on a Sunday morning and another who made a baptistry for kids in the shape of a fire engine. Bells clang and confetti is shot out when a child is baptized. Another man I knew jumped on a rope and swung out over the congregation one Sunday morning. The list of strange antics is endless, and to my thinking, quite demeaning of the gospel of Christ.

We began to see more and more of this sort of entertainment evangelism in the emergence of the youth movements in evangelicalism in the 60s. It was all quite innocent then, and very unprofessional for the most part. The concert music artists expanded the practice considerably and added the professional touch. Many churches, for instance, are not driven by great preaching of the Bible, but by their massive music programs. In fact, I think that some of the poorest preaching is sometimes found in these churches, and I am always surprised that people continue to go to them. This is not a statement about large churches, but about those who have nothing much but their music to hold them together.

Concerning the larger picture of evangelism, two matters are getting attention in our day. First is the question, “What is the gospel?” Some say it is merely a system of good works, or moral actions, plus going to church that makes a person a Christian. Others disagree, but nonetheless trivialize the gospel by the lighthearted way in which it is presented and responded to. But the gospel is more than this. The gospel is the news that Christ has come into the world as God’s Son in order to deliver sinful people from the justice of God. Jesus died in the place of needy, sinful people who will put their lifelong trust in Christ as their only hope. A true Christian puts his trust in Christ alone and not at all in himself, and desires to live wholly for God, though imperfectly due to weakness.

The second question that we struggle with is the one addressing the problem of entertainment evangelism. It is this: “How do we get a crowd to preach the gospel to?”

In the early church, this problem is informed by two important observations.

First, the early church gathered on Sundays for believers to worship God. The emphasis is that the design of the meetings was for believers. Unlike so many worship services today, no real emphasis was given to the nonbeliever. They did not spurn them, of course. And if they came in they might be convicted by what they heard (see 1 Cor. 14: 24-25), but the church was not focused on attracting outsiders during these services. Because of this they could pray long prayers, hear long sermons, get on their knees, etc., all practices which would not be appealling to the outsider. In other words, worship and evangelism were consider two different things. The Lord’s Day gathering was about worship. The rest of the week was about evangelism.

A second observation is that the early church, to my knowledge, did not plan any meetings for attracting nonbelievers. The history shows that they always borrowed the crowds of others. Over a dozen times, for instance, the early Christians went to the Jewish synagogues to spread their message. Sometimes they conversed or reasoned with the people for months in these settings. Even in Athens, Paul went to the synagogue first. They also used any mob settings where people would gather in opposition to them. They sometimes saw crowds gather through the apostolic miracles or by just preaching in the marketplace. Again, they went on the other man’s turf.

Unlike the early church, the major way evangelism is done today is by arranging various gatherings for the nonbeliever. When you design meetings for evanglism, you have to ask the further question, “How do we get them there?” This is what is driving the whole entertainment evangelism movement. At first, churches would use any means as long as it was close to the gospel. That is, they might use music as a primary means. But now, anything goes, whether it is systemic to the gospel or not. And, because people generally don’t want to hear the gospel preached, the methods are getting more and more unusual and dramatic.

This has the following results, in my thinking. First, it trivializes the gospel message. Coming to Christ is a very serious thing. A person is damned and is going to hell because he or she is rebelling against God. But now they are reverting from that whole way of life to enter into relationship with Christ. Entertainment does not mix well with such a serious message. The result is that the message suffers.

Second, I believe that it produces spurious results. When persons respond to such a message that is so intermingled with entertainment, they often misunderstand the calling of God given in the gospel. An emotional appeal at the end of an emotion packed and excited period of entertainment causes people to act without clarity and sensiblity. At times, even a kind of group response to the gospel can take place. Many of these so called converts fall away and show no signs of really entering into relationship with Christ.

Finally, the entertainment approach to evangelism creates an appetite that cannot be fulfilled by most churches. The next meeting must have more of the same kind of entertainment to keep the people coming and it must be better than the last. This causes pastors to work harder at the next show than at the content of their message and the personal needs of the people. The appetite of the people commands his life and not the call of God and truth.

 

The Unrepenting Repenter

The believer in Christ is a lifelong repenter.  He begins with repentance and continues in repentance. (Rom. 8:12-13) David sinned giant sins but fell without a stone at the mere finger of the prophet because he was a repenter at heart (2 Sam. 12:7-13). Peter denied Christ three times but suffered three times the remorse until he repented with bitter tears (Mt. 26:75). Every Christian is called a repenter, but he must be a repenting repenter. The Bible assumes the repentant nature of all true believers in its instruction on church discipline. A man unwilling to repent at the loving rebuke of the church can be considered nothing more than “a heathen and a tax collector.” (Mt. 18:15-17)

What Is Repentance?
Repentance is a change of mind regarding sin and God, an inward turning from sin to God, which is known by its fruit—obedience. (Mt. 3:8; Acts 26:20; Lk. 13:5-9) It is hating what you once loved and loving what you once hated, exchanging irresistible sin for an irresistible Christ. The true repenter is cast on God. Faith is his only option. When he fully knows that sin utterly fails him, God takes him up. (Mt. 9:13b) He will have faith or he will have despair; conviction will either deliver him or devour him.

The religious man often deceives himself in his repentance. The believer may sin the worst of sins, it is true; but to remain in the love of sin, or to be comfortable in the atmosphere of sin, is a deadly sign, for only repenters inhabit heaven. The deceived repenter would be a worse sinner if he could, but society holds him back. He can tolerate and even enjoy other worldly professing Christians and pastors well enough, but does not desire holy fellowship or the fervent warmth of holy worship. If he is intolerant of a worship service fifteen minutes “too long,” how will he feel after fifteen million years in the eternal worship service of heaven? He aspires to a heaven of lighthearted ease and recreation—an extended vacation; but a heaven of holiness would be hell to such a man. Yet God is holy, and God is in heaven. He cannot be blamed for sending the unholy man to hell despite his most articulate profession (Heb. 12:14).

What Are the Substitutes for True Repentance?

1. You may reform in the actions without repenting in the heart. (Ps. 5 1: 16-17; Joel 2:13) This is a great deception, for the love of sin remains. (1 Jn. 2:15-17; Acts 8:9-24) At this the Pharisees were experts. (Mk. 7:1-23) The heart of a man is his problem. A man may appear perfect in his actions but be damned for his heart. His actions are at best self-serving and hypocritical. What comes from a bad heart is never good. “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” (Jas. 3:11-12)

2. You may experience the emotion of repentance without the effect of it. Here is a kind of amnesia. You see the awful specter of sin in the mirror and flinch out of horror yet immediately forget what kind of person you saw (Jas. 1:23-24). It is true, repentance includes sincere emotion, an affection for God and a disaffection for sin. Torrents of sorrow may flood the repenter’s heart, and properly so (Jas. 4:8-10). But there is such a thing as a temporary emotion in the mere semblance of repentance; this emotion has very weak legs and cannot carry the behavior in the long walk of obedience. Your sorrow may even be prolonged. Yet if it does not arrive at repentance, it is of the world and is a living death—and maybe more (2 Cor. 7: 10). It is an old deceiver. Judas had such remorse but “went and hanged himself.” (Mt. 27:3-5)

3. You may confess the words of a true repenter and never repent. (Mt. 21:28-32; 1 Jn. 2:4; 4:20) Confession by itself is not repentance. Confession moves the lips; repentance moves the heart. Naming an act as evil before God is not the same as leaving it. Though your confession may be honest and emotional, it is not enough unless it expresses a true change of heart. There are those who confess only for the show of it, whose so-called repentance may be theatrical but not actual. If you express repentance to appear successful, you will not be successful at repenting. You will speak humbly but sin arrogantly. Saul gave the model confession (1 Sam. 15:24-26) and later went to hell. Repentance “from the teeth out” is no repentance.

4. You may repent for the fear of reprisal alone and not for the hatred of sin. Any man will stop sinning when caught or relatively sure he will be, unless there is insufficient punishment or shame attached (1 Tim. 1:8-11). When there are losses great enough to get his attention, he will reform. If this is the entire motive of his repentance, he has not repented at all. It is the work of law, but not grace. Men can be controlled by fear, but what is required is a change of heart. Achan admitted his sin after being caught but would not have otherwise. Find his bones in the Valley of Achor; his soul, most likely, in hell. (Josh. 7:16-26)

5. You may talk against sin in public like a true repenter but never repent in private. (Mt. 23:1-3) The exercise of the mouth cannot change the heart. Your sin is like a prostitute. You are speaking against your lover in public but embracing her in the bedroom. She is not particular about being run down in public if she can have your full attention in private. “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (Jas. 4:4)

6. You may repent primarily for temporal gains rather than the glory of God. There are gains for the repenter, but the final motivation for repenting cannot be selfish. Self is a dead, stinking carcass to be discarded. We are to repent because God is worthy and is our respected authority, even if we gain nothing. Indeed, our repenting may appear to lose us more than our sin had gained. (Mt. 16:24-26; Phil. 3:7-8) And this is a test of true repentance.

7. You may repent of lesser sins for the purpose of continuing in greater sins. (Lk. 11:42) We try to salve our nagging conscience by some minor exercise of repentance, which is really no repentance at all. The whole heart is changed in the believer. The half repenter is a divided man: part against sin and part for it; part against Christ, part for Him. But one or the other must win out, for man cannot serve God and mammon (or any other idol); he must love the one and hate the other. (Mt. 6:24)

8. You may repent so generally that you never repent of any specific sin at all. The man who repents in too great a generality is likely covering his sins. (Prov. 28:13) If there are no particular changes, there is no repenting. Sin has many heads, like the mythological Hydra. It cannot be dealt with in general, but its heads must be cut off one by one.

9. You may repent for the love of friends and religious leaders and not repent for the love of God. (Isa. 1: 10-17) A man talked into repentance may reform for the love of friends or the respect of the spiritually minded, yet do nothing substantial. If a man turns from sin without turning to God, he will find his sin has only changed its name and is hidden behind his pride. Now it will be harder to rout for its subterfuge. You have loved others but not God. And you have loved yourself most of all. Lot’s wife left the city of sin at the insistence of an angel and for the love of her family, but turned back. She had left her heart. “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Gen. 19:12-26; Lk. 17:32)

10. ‘You may confess the finished action of sin and not repent from the continuing habit of sin. If a man is honest, he is a good man in human terms; but he is not a repenting man until the sin is stabbed to death. He must be a murderer if he would be God’s: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8:13) God knows what you have done; what He wants is obedience. (Lk. 6:46)

11. You may attempt repentance of your sin while consciously leaving open the door of its opportunity. A man who says ” I repent” but will not leave the source or environment of that sin is suspect. Though some situations which invite temptation cannot be changed, most can. A man who will not flee the setting of his temptation when he is able still loves his sin. A mouse is foolish to build his nest under the cat’s bed. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14)

12. You may make an effort to repent of some sins without repenting of all the sin you know. The businessman learns to show concern for the needs of his clients, yet he batters his wife through neglect. Another gives his money in the offering plate weekly but steals time from his employer daily. Every man boasts of some sins conquered, but true repentance is a repulsion of sin as a whole. The repenter hates all sin, though he fails more readily in some than in others. He may not know all his sins, but what he knows he spurns. Repentance is universal in the believer; the spirit is willing even when the flesh is weak (Mt. 26:41).

Repentance and faith are bound together. A repenting man has no hope for obedience without faith in the source of all holiness, God Himself. In repenting of sins, he loses his self-sufficiency. God is his sanctifier. (Jude 24-25; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; 1 Pet. 1:5)
Repentance is a gift of God (Acts 11:19; 2 Tim. 2:25) and a duty of man (Acts 17:30; Lk. 13:3). You will know if it has been granted by the exercise of it. (Phil. 2:12-13) Do not wait for it; run toward it. “Be zealous and repent.” (Rev. 3:19) Pursue it and you will find it; forget it and perish.

Reformation or Revival?

If you have been around me very long, you have heard me emphasize that the crying need, the absolutely desperate need of the hour, is reformation. You have also been aware that for years I have also longed for revival. Recently I was asked what the difference actually is, if any, between revival and reformation. This is an important question worthy of your precious time to think it through.

Though many are blinded to the current dilemma, the fact is that a sound and lively truth-basis has been ejected from the premises of modern evangelicalism. Evangelicalism has been dispossessed of truth to such an extent that it is becoming frightening. In its place experience and mysticism are house-sitting the church or, if not these, then church growth pragmatism or an unhealthy preoccupation with the psychological. But the necessary doctrines of the holiness of God and His just wrath, justification by faith alone, the transforming nature of regeneration, the sovereignty of God over all of creation and in salvation itself, the nature and extent of grace in justification and in sanctification—doctrines upon which the earlier revivals thrived—have been considered unimportant and useful only for wizened old theologs holed up in ivory towers who do not relate to the church’s future.

Many are unaware that Jonathan Edwards was preaching a series on justification by faith alone when revival came to New England, or that the many of the Scottish revivals, for instance, were precipitated by the preaching of series on regeneration, or that the highly doctrinal book of Romans has an illustrative history as a tool of great revival of the kind I am speaking. Sound doctrine was at the core of revival. But sadly, to large numbers of evangelicals, it doesn’t seem to make any difference what we believe, only that we are feeling something or enjoying any number of the other substitutes for biblical Christianity.

On such a foundation, does it make sense to revive the experience of believers alone? To revive a church’s experience alone when it has a mushy and insufficient doctrinal foundation is only to magnify our problems, to give credence to error, and to expand what got us into trouble in the first place.

Because of this dilemma, let me make an easily misunderstood statement: Revival, as we commonly understand it, would be ill spent on such doctrinally deficient churches as we find today. This may seem a strange comment to make since I, like many of you, have actually hoped for and preached for revival. But my conviction has to do with the usual, one-sided understanding of revival prevalent in most circles. As A. W. Tozer said, “A revival of the kind of Christianity which we have had in America the last fifty year would be the greatest tragedy of this century, a tragedy which would take the church a hundred years to get over.”

Merely bringing to vibrancy or bringing to life the experience of the believer alone may be extremely useful for dead orthodoxy—orthodox or correct belief without life. But we do not, on the main, have dead orthodoxy today. We have live heterodoxy. Hetero means “other” or “different.” Heterodoxy is divergent or even heretical belief. Reformation is that word we use to speak to the recovery of the correct doctrines and their vigorous application to all of life.

We should not want a revival of experience alone without true reformation. And so the term revival is not adequate for our day unless we add the qualifiers “reformational” or “word-driven.” It is not wrong to desire revival if we mean a revival that is a resurgence of correct believing along with the enlivening of our experience with God which comes out of (not apart from) that sound doctrine. This means that I believe the most long-lasting change would not come by only having merely warm, or even powerful, dramatic experiences with God. No, what is needed is for some of the major organizations and churches, for instance, to reshape their view of the gospel to conform to the Bible.

I pick this issue of the nature of the gospel, from among many choices, because the “gospel” which is being preached is resulting in such massive fallout (sometimes as high as 90% or more in certain campaigns) that failure to re-think doctrinally the nature of the gospel is one of the great anomalies of our day. But, unfortunately, if you gather the leaders of many of the religious organizations together today, they would make a very definite point of not discussing what they believe. Their aim, in terms of revival today, is to see more experience, or more expansive growth. I do not mean that anyone is malicious in this oversight, but somehow the importance of reformation is just not sinking in.

This incognizance explains why the theologians almost never invite the parachurch leaders to their meetings, and the leaders, who are planning and writing the future of evangelicalism, almost never get the theologians to speak to them about the message they are promulgating. There are exceptions which could be noted, but, in the main, we are really failing to help each other by going our own way.

Now, to clarify, I am not saying that experience with God is not useful or desirable. Remember that I said dead orthodoxy needs experience with God. And if that is a description of you, then you know just what you need. I don’t doubt the extreme value of renewed experience with God. What I am saying is that experience is the servant or handmaiden of the truth, and first things should be first.

If you shoot past truth to get to experience, then you will have at best something very limited and immediate only, something which, in the final case, will produce a greater heteropraxis (wrong living). Heterodoxy always leads to heteropraxis. God has already instructed us as to how transformation of behavior is to take place. It is through the truth, not by mere experience. “Sanctify them by Your truth; Your Word is truth.” Jn. 17:17.

Perhaps it will help to illustrate through the recent and rather short-term season of public confession which affected many of our schools and churches. Sadly, in the midst of this wonderful and blessed activity, there was the distinct desire, perhaps in more cases than we would like to admit, to suspend preaching or teaching of the Word in favor of on-going experience. Now I believe God brought the conviction we saw, and I believe that it is possible for a group to experience times of confession within biblical sanctions, but a major mark of the recent work was the stark absence of the centrality of preaching.

During this period of public confession, it seemed to be a matter of excitement in the testimony of people that there was no preaching at all. It was as if preaching was unnecessary, that truth explained would actually get in the way of the work of the Spirit. Compare this to the early church in the New Testament during their inaugural revival. These people would hang on to Paul’s teaching through whole nights if possible!

Again, I am quite happy to believe that God was involved in much of what happened, and we should all be thankful for that, but it is possible, unwittingly, to fail to obey God in our handling of this great blessing of conviction and Divine presence. You will find nothing like such minimizing of preaching, for instance, in the Great Awakening or other earlier revivals before the mid-1800’s. And even if we could point to a work of God here and there with a reduced emphasis on the preaching of the Word, our present dilemma would still demonstrate the need for such a reforming work of God. It is not just great experience over a few days or even weeks that will rectify our situation, but a complete re-orientation to truth and a return to thinking and doctrine.

Experience-driven revival is more like a flash flood than a mighty river. Heightened experience certainly leaves its mark, some of which may be good wherever it meets orthodoxy, but a reformational revival is a life-giving river which has continuing positive effects. When reformation takes place, the conviction is not just over our behavioral sinfulness but over wrong doctrine (or simply apathy toward pursuing truth itself) as well. As Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and author, Dr. Don Whitney, said to me, “We must repent of our doctrine as well as our lives.”

A Church Membership Recovery Model

“What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.”
~~Matthew 18:12,13~~

Our Desire:

We exist to love God and share His love with everyone. With this in mind, out attempts at recovering members will be done in the spirit of love and grace. We desire that they recognize God’s love for them in our efforts of restoring them to active service within the body of Christ. To ignore their absence and situation would be unloving.

Our Goal:
Lord willing the result of this ministry will produce members of First Baptist Clever who recognize the blessings of being identified and committed to the body of Christ. We are praying for a membership that loves Christ and the fellowship of other believers.

Our Current Status:
Resident Members = 289
Non-Resident Members = 225
Total Membership = 514
Average AM Worship = 125
Future Status:
Total Membership = 250
Average AM Worship = 300
Ministry of Recovery Involvement:
This is a church wide ministry and will involve everyone possible. We will focus especially on already established relationships with straying members while attempting to create new relationships with them.

Ministry of Recovery Process:
Saturate each stage of the process with prayer.
Plan and prepare ministry in Deacon meetings.
Host guest speaker to discuss the Biblical nature of the ministry and encourage the church in their decision to proceed.
Prepare updated Membership List.
Review the Membership List with the Deacons.
Categorize the Membership List:
Unknown Members
Known w/o Contact Information
Known w/o Significant Relationship
Known w/ Friendships
Known w/ Family Ties
Prepare a letter for the initial contact with straying members. This letter will be sent to one category at a time to the last known address.
Hold a special church wide meeting to discuss the Ministry of Recovery.
Mail letters.
Contact by phone and/or home visit if possible once the letter has been sent. Encourage members of church who know the straying member to contact as well.
Report regularly during business meetings.
Ministry of Recovery Decisions:
Resident Members:
No address or phone number (no contact possible) – Remove
Attending another church – Transfer
No longer wishes to be affiliated – Remove
Wishes to be restored:
& recognizes importance of Christ and Churchmanship – Recovered!!
w/o attendance or involvement – Educate
if same desire after being patiently informed – Remove
Non-Resident Members:
No address or phone number (no contact possible) – Remove
Attending another church – Transfer
Missionary (remain in contact) – Maintain
College student (remain in contact) – Maintain
No evangelical church in new community (remain in contact) – Maintain
Military w/o evangelical church in area (remain in contact) – Maintain
Evangelical church available & not attending anywhere – Educate -if same after being patiently informed – Remove
Recently relocated and actively searching (remain in contact) – Maintain
Membership Qualifications:
Understanding that no one is qualified in and of themselves, it is God that qualifies us by grace alone through faith alone in the work of Jesus Christ alone, we recognize there are Biblical qualities that must be present in receiving and maintaining members. For a person to be received into membership he/she must be:

Regenerated: God must have given spiritual life to the person. This new life is made evident by the fruit of faith and repentance along with devotion to Christ as Lord. The individual must have the ability to articulate their faith (they must have a credible profession of faith).
Baptized by Immersion as a believer: Christ and His disciples taught the importance and significance of Scriptural Baptism. This first step of obedience must be taken prior to being received into membership.
Committed to the church covenant: The church covenant is a document that summarizes the Biblical teaching related to congregational life. The congregation recognizes this document as a statement that reflects its commitment to Biblical Christianity.

The church covenant covers such topics as:
– Salvation
– Mutual encouragement
– Mutual accountability
– Unity of the body of Christ
– Christian obedience to Christ
– Financial stewardship
– Congregational worship
– Proper observance of the ordinances
– Missions
– Membership movement after relocation

Committed to the church’s confession of faith: The confession of faith is a document that summarizes Biblical doctrine. We recognize that in order to have true unity doctrinal agreement is necessary.

This piece is taken from the First Baptist church of Clever, MO., Doug Richey, pastor. They granted permission for us to use this. Permission is granted to you to adapt and use it also.