Archive for ‘Baptists’

10/13/2017

The New Reformers

You’ve heard about the “old” Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. Their recovery of core biblical doctrines paved the way for what we call Protestantism.

Those first Reformers certainly did not agree on everything, but when it came to the mysterious interplay of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation, they all leaned toward prioritizing God’s role. This position has come to be referred to as ‘Calvinism’ or ‘Reformed theology.’

Yet from the earliest days of Protestantism there arose an alternate stream that tilted toward a greater emphasis on human free will. This camp is generally called ‘Arminian’ or ‘non-Reformed.’

Throughout the last 500 years of Protestantism, each of these traditions has enjoyed times of ascendancy and also experienced periods of decline in popularity. Even among Baptists, both strands have been present since the beginning, and continue to vie for influence today.

To the consternation of some and celebration of others, Reformed theology has been on the rise over the last several decades. In 2009, Time magazine even included the movement on its list of “10 ideas changing the world right now.” Here are some of the new Reformers who have been instrumental in Calvinism’s comeback:

JI PackerJ.I. Packer
Though he is British, J.I. Packer’s impact on late 20th- and early 21st-century American evangelicalism has been profound. Better known for his writing than his speaking, Packer’s books and articles have re-introduced the spirit of the Puritans to new generations. While displaying theological meatiness, genuine and lively piety also comes through in his works, like the best-selling classic “Knowing God.” And his book “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” seeks to dispel the idea that Calvinists do not have motivation to share the gospel.

 

RC SproulR.C. Sproul
Together with Packer, R.C. Sproul was a key figure in the “Battle for the Bible” in the 1970s and 80s that produced an articulation of inerrancy that continues to moor many evangelical institutions. In addition to being a popular author, Sproul is also a pastor in Florida and founder of Ligonier Ministries that spreads his teaching through multiple media. Countless people have been introduced to Reformed theology through Sproul and his teaching that if God is not sovereign, God is not God.

 

John MacArthurJohn MacArthur
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the faithful ministry of John MacArthur plods on. He is best known for his expositional preaching ministry through books of the Bible. In almost 50 years at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Ca., he has preached on every single verse of the New Testament. His Calvinistic flavor is distributed through his radio program “Grace to You,” his conference speaking, and the school he founded, The Master’s Seminary.

 

John Piper

John Piper
Calvinism can be found in several different forms. Packer is an Anglican. Sproul is a Presbyterian. MacArthur is a non-denominational dispensationalist. The next, and arguably the most influential, of the new Reformers is a Baptist. John Piper left academia for the pastorate in 1980, serving at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis until he retired in 2013. His preaching passionately portrays a big and majestic God who is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Piper is known for re-applying the emphases of 18th-century pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards to today, combining rigorous biblical thinking with white hot religious affections. Piper’s most famous book, “Desiring God,” became the name of his ministry which furthers Reformed theology largely through free online content. Now retired from pastoring, he is still a sought-after speaker and is chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, which he founded to further spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

 

Tim KellerTim Keller
If Piper is best known for directing attention to God’s glory, Tim Keller tries to help people see that the pinnacle of God’s glory is his grace in the gospel of Christ. Keller co-founded The Gospel Coalition, a broadly Reformed network of churches that advocates for gospel-centered ministry.

He has also done more than any other to highlight cities as strategic places for gospel ministry. Keller planted Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the center of New York City in 1989. After seeing dynamic conversion growth over the last 20-some years, he has just recently retired from the senior pastor role there. Now he works with the church planting center that spun off from his church and has helped start 423 new churches in the last 15 years. Keller waited well into his ministry before publishing much, but now he is cranking out about a book a year, many of which model how to winsomely engage today’s secular city-dwellers with the gospel.

 

Al MohlerAl Mohler
Al Mohler has been the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) since he was 33 years old. In his book “Young, Restless, Reformed,” Collin Hansen called SBTS “Ground Zero” not only for the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), but also the upsurge of Calvinism. Mohler courageously led the seminary to return to the Abstract of Principles, its original doctrinal statement, which not only reflects a high view of Scripture but also the Reformed bent that some claim was held by the founders of the SBC. Under his leadership, the denomination’s flagship seminary now claims to represent the largest number of students training for pastoral ministry in one place at any time in the history of the Church.

 

Mark DeverMark Dever
Mohler teamed up with friend and fellow Southern Baptist Mark Dever and others in 2006 to start a conference called Together for the Gospel, which has fanned the flame of Calvinism via bi-annual conferences. Dever also has pastored the historic Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., since 1994, overseeing its renewal. Out of that experience he wrote a book titled “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” that birthed a ministry by that name which seeks to build healthy local churches. Through materials, conferences, and internships, Dever has impacted many pastors seeking to reform the church.

While all the figures mentioned above are currently alive, they range in age from 57 to 91—not exactly young. Who will provide leadership for the next phase of this movement? Several new New Reformers have already crashed and burned.

Furthermore, there is a (white, male) elephant in the Reformed room—the list above includes no people of color or female voices. There are some signs Reformed theology is gaining traction in minority contexts, as seen in places like the Reformed African American Network (RAAN) led by Jemar Tisby. There are also Reformed conferences, blogs, and books popping up that are for and/or by women (e.g. Aimee Byrd’s “Housewife Theologian”).

In many ways, the future of the new Calvinism remains to be seen. But as a Calvinist would quickly remind you, “God knows, and he is in control.”

 

This article originally appeared in the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

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01/24/2017

Pastors at Trump’s Inauguration

A sad example of bad hermeneutics and the dangers of civil religion:

On Inauguration Day, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, delivered the sermon at the private prayer service prior to the swearing-in ceremony. He titled the sermon, “When God Chooses a Leader,” taking the message from Nehemiah 1:11.

“When I think of you,” Jeffress said to Trump, “I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.”

He noted the first step God instructed Nehemiah to take in rebuilding the nation was building a wall around Jerusalem to protect is citizens. “You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress shared. Jeffress recalled sitting with Trump on a jet, eating Wendy’s cheeseburgers, and talking about the challenges facing the USA. Jeffress was an early supporter of Trump.

He told the incoming President and Vice President to look to God for strength and guidance: “…the challenges facing our nation are so great that it will take more than natural ability to meet them. We need God’s supernatural power.

“The good news is that the same God who empowered Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago is available to every one of us today who is willing to humble himself and ask for His help.”

Hmmm…  I thought the Good News is that God sent his Son to live the perfect life we should but never could, and die the death we deserve in our place so that all those who repent of their sin and put their faith in Christ alone could have his righteousness given to them by grace so they could be part of God’s eternal kingdom.  I thought SBC pastors knew that…

 

https://ib2news.org/2017/01/23/sbc-well-represented-at-trump-inauguration/

 

Addendum (from an email to someone asking for clarification):

I think it’s great for people to pray to God and ask for his help!  But it’s sad when a pastor will let the Christian message be understood as simply that – God is there to give you a boost with your plans.  If you read the whole text of that “sermon” it makes no mention of Jesus, sin, the cross….  It’s just really confusing to apply Nehemiah and the OT nation of Israel to Trump and the United States of America.  The book of Nehemiah has more to say today about the Church – the NT people of God – maintaining its distinctiveness from the world (i.e. staying true to the Gospel!) than it does about border security for the U.S.  I just want the Church to be the Church in the midst of it all and keep the gospel clear and call people to repentance and entrance into the eternal kingdom of God and not get sidetracked to the Right OR to the Left.

 

06/23/2016

Reflections on My First SBC Annual Meeting

I did not grow up a Southern Baptist.  In fact, I only stumbled into the denomination 12 years ago.  But every year I become happier and happier to be associated with this great tradition and organization.  And this year’s Convention in St. Louis, MO, made me more pleased than ever before to be a Baptist.

 

Maybe I am set up for future disappointment.  I hear that these meetings are not always as eventful.  Attendance was up.  Emotions were high.  We gathered in the immediate wake of the worst mass shooting in our country’s history in Orlando.  We remembered the tragic shooting in Charleston one year earlier and acknowledged the racially charged atmosphere reflected in nearby Ferguson, MO.  Racism was explicitly addressed in a panel and in the controversial resolution on the Confederate battle flag.  ‘Election’ also loomed large.  The theological understanding of the term was a subtext for the hotly contested SBC presidential election.  And the upcoming U.S. presidential election was in everyone’s mind.

 

Yet it was not just the drama that made this meeting significant for me.  There was one critical theological concept lurking behind many of the memorable moments.  It lies at the heart of what it means to be Baptist.  I am referring to Religious Liberty – the belief that no religion should be established by the state, but all faiths should be free to win adherents through the power of persuasion and not the sword.

 

Amid the flurry of motions, one brother from Arkansas requested the removal of Southern Baptist officials or officers who support a right for Muslims in America to build mosques.  The next day after the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Report, the same brother pressed Russell Moore on the issue, likening the defense of the right to construct mosques to Jesus endorsing the erection of temples for Baal in ancient Israel.

 

Dr. Moore’s response was sharp and received by the majority of messengers with applause.  He defended the principle of soul freedom for everyone and declared, “The answer to Islam is not government power.  The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the new birth that comes from that.”

 

In our history, Baptists have been persecuted by the government for non-conformity.  We have seen the damage done by state churches to true religion.  We do not baptize babies, in part, because we believe you cannot be born a Christian.  Everyone must be genuinely converted without coercion.  This should compel us to a radical witness to our Muslim neighbors and refugees, not to seek political action against them.

 

In the New Testament era the church is an altogether different institution than the state, with distinct ends and means.  The two cannot be confused.  So today the proper analog to Baal altars in Israel is not Islamic Centers in Wheaton.  It is idolatry in the corporate worship of the Church.

 

Patriotism definitely has its place, but perhaps one appropriate application would be to examine whether nationalism has crept into our Christianity.  There are many forms of syncretism.  As James Merritt eloquently stated when he spoke to his amendment to the Confederate battle flag resolution – “Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag.  We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God.”  This is why I felt uneasy about the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag followed by praise and worship… but had no problem singing the national anthem at the Cardinals game later on.

 

As our culture continues to unravel and even the Bible Belt unbuckles, we must remember that our hope is in Christ, not country.  His kingdom is unshakeable.  And in many ways the dismantling of cultural Christianity that fused God and country is a good thing for the cause of the gospel.  We Baptists want real believers that worship Christ alone, even if they are persecuted by a secular state or Islamic State.

 

A version of this appeared in the Illinois Baptist newspaper and can be seen here.

04/16/2016

Cooperation in Theological Unity

Here’s my latest article for the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

I often find myself at denominational functions looking around the room and wondering, “What is it that really brings us together here?”  Is our unity based simply on an expressed common desire to reach the lost?  Or do we gladly join together in mission because we have deeply shared doctrinal convictions?

 

Did you know that there is actually a lot to be found in the little books of the Bible?  One way to read 2 and 3 John (which combine for a total of just 28 verses) is to put them side-by-side as two crucial lessons in cooperation.

 

Here is the background to both books: a church planting movement is taking root in the Roman world furthered by traveling missionaries who depend upon support from other Christians, primarily in the form of food and lodging.

 

In 2 John the tone and feel is one of caution.  “Many deceivers have gone out into the world.”  “Watch yourselves.”  The emphasis is on getting the gospel right.  Specifically, some of these traveling missionaries “do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” – what has been referred to as the “Gnostic heresy.”  John speaks soberly of remaining in Christ’s teaching and not going beyond it.  He then directs genuine believers – “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home… for the one who says, ‘Welcome,’ to him shares in his evil works.”  In other words, don’t cooperate with everyone!

 

The tenor is different in 3 John.  Here John is commending a “dear friend” for his generosity to certain missionaries.  The emphasis in this mini-epistle is on getting the gospel out.  “You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.”  These missionaries “set out for the sake of the Name” and trusted God to provide through his people.  “Therefore, we ought to support such men,” says John.  He even calls out a guy named Diotrephes for his independent spirit.  “He not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but he even stops those who want to do so.”  Don’t be like Diotrephes.  Don’t cooperate with no one!

 

2 John teaches us not to make our tent too big.  3 John encourages us not to draw our circle too small.  We need both messages.  Notice the disproportionate amount of times that the words truth and love occur in these two short letters.  We absolutely cannot disconnect them.  There are people who have great drive, but do not have good doctrine.  We have to be discerning about who we partner with.  On the other hand, there are Christians who are cranky and overly separatist.  We must be large-hearted and kingdom-minded.

 

Because of 2 John I know that the Apostle John would applaud the “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC.  Is it not amazing that we have six top-notch seminaries that are committed to robust and orthodox theological training?

 

At the same time, based on 3 John I am pretty certain that the Apostle would thoroughly endorse the concept of the Cooperative Program and be thrilled with our North American and International Mission Boards.  It is wonderful that we have state and local associations.  And is it not telling that we have Directors of Mission and not District Superintendents?  We are the people who come up with campaigns like “Million More in ’54.”  And I love that I live in what was once a Strategic Focus City, now a SEND City.

 

However, we have not always gotten this balance right.  At times I have seen people approved for work in the SBC based on their passion without an examination of their doctrine.  And at other times I have seen people who were well qualified turned away because of a technicality.

 

In all of our missional zeal, may we will never fudge on doctrinal clarity.  And in making sure we are all on the same page about what the gospel is, may we make sure we are doing whatever it takes to get the gospel out.  If we are truly faithful to Scripture we will heed the lessons of both 2 and 3 John.  But there just might be something to the fact that 2 John comes before 3 John.

10/22/2015

Is It Baptist To Be Multi-Site?

You are probably familiar with the term “multi-site” by now. Maybe your church has already gone to the model, or is considering it. Very simply put, multi-site refers to the concept of one church that meets in multiple locations. Twenty-five years ago, there were fewer than 25 such multi-site churches in North America. Today there are over 5,000! It is a relatively recent phenomenon, yet an increasingly popular strategy for reaching more people with the gospel.

Opening up another campus allows for growth that is usually quicker and more cost-effective than building bigger or sending people out to start something new. It is in many ways simpler and more streamlined. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but can keep the same name, logo, website, 501(c)3 status, support staff, etc. Resources can be shared more readily. You can be more certain that your own “DNA” is being replicated.

I understand the appeal and practical benefits. There are many Baptists whom I respect that have gladly joined the multi-site movement, motivated by a genuine desire to penetrate lostness. But I’ve always had a lingering doubt about whether this method is entirely consistent with our Baptist principles, particularly that of local church autonomy.

Now you may be wondering why I don’t pose the question as, “Is it biblical to be multi-site?” It is because I don’t have space to make a full argument from Scripture. I am assuming that we are all Baptists here. And I am assuming that we are Baptists because we believe it is biblical. We are solidly convinced the Bible teaches that baptism is to be administered to believers only. And we believe that “a New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers” (The Baptist Faith & Message 2000, Article VI). Our views about credobaptism and congregational ecclesiology are the principal reasons why we are Baptist, and not Methodist or Presbyterian.

But while they may remain firm on the practice of baptism, Baptist practitioners of the multi-site model appear willing to compromise the autonomy of the local assembly. Each distinct location is not allowed the responsibility to receive and dismiss its own pastors and members. There is limited leeway given to determine the best programs and strategies for evangelism and discipleship. In many ways, the satellite congregations are bound by the decisions coming out of central headquarters.

When it comes to organizational structure and leadership in a multi-site operation, there may be one single pastor over all the campuses, in which case you have a hierarchy. How is this different than having a bishop? Or there might be a representative group of elders overseeing all the campuses, in which case you then have a presbytery. It seems to me that while the language may be “one church in multiple locations,” what you really have is a small denomination.

There are potential dangers in any system, but with multi-site, the pull towards empire-building and a cult of personality is extremely strong. There is also a temptation to trust in a franchise brand instead of the power of the Word and Spirit.

I can see how in true revival circumstances where massive amounts of people are being converted at once, a temporary multi-site solution might be needed. But I would rather see this as church planting in slow motion.

What all this means is that the task of pastors is not just to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5), but also to commit what we know to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). We must be committed to raising up leaders from within our churches who could do what we do and be released from our authority to start other churches as the need arises. Hopefully these churches would retain a similarity and organic connection, without control or formal structural unity.

A growing number of like-minded yet independent congregations freely choosing to associate and cooperate together in mission…that sounds more Baptist (and biblical) to me.

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago. This article first appeared in the Illinois Baptist. Read the latest issue online.

http://ib2news.org/2015/10/22/is-it-baptist-to-be-multi-site/

04/27/2015

The Family

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Illinois Baptist newspaper on the final article in the Baptist Faith & Message on “The Family.”

The Family

03/01/2015

Historical Evidence and Exegesis

On the question of infant baptism, R.C. Sproul writes [Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1992), 228]:

…it would naturally be assumed in the early church that infants were to be given the sign of the covenant.

History bears witness to this assumption.  The first direct mention of infant baptism is around the middle of the second century A.D.  What is noteworthy about this reference is that it assumes infant baptism to be the universal practice of the church.  If infant baptism were not the practice of the first-century church, how and why did this departure from orthodoxy happen so fast and so pervasively?  Not only was the spread rapid and universal, the extant literature from that time does not reflect any controversy concerning the issue.

But Everett Ferguson claims [Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 856]:

There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century.

Who to believe?

11/20/2014

Which Kind of Baptist Are You?

It is simply not true that Reformed and Baptist can’t go together.  There is a significant stream of Baptist history in line with the magisterial Reformation.  It runs from the Westminster divines to the English Baptists known as ‘Particular Baptists’ who adopted a revised form of the Westminster Confession called the Second London Confession (1689).  This stream was the dominant one feeding the early Baptist movement in America.

 

However, it is true that not all Baptists are Reformed.  Some in fact, are downright heretical.  It’s true today.  It was true at the beginning of the Baptist movement.  There is a polluted stream that runs through the English Baptists known as ‘General Baptists’ and finds its headwaters at a man named John Smyth (1570-1612).  Timothy George writes in Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms (Nashville: B&H, 1999), p. 6:

[Smyth] rejected the classic Reformation doctrines of original sin, election, and justification.  Article Ten of his Short Confession is a clear denial of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find anything in this article which could not have satisfied the Roman Catholic theologians at the Council of Trent!

 

That article reads:

10. That the justification of man before the Divine tribunal (which is both the throne of justice and of mercy), consists partly of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ apprehended by faith, and partly of inherent righteousness, in the holy themselves, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, which is called regeneration or sanctification; since any one is righteous, who doeth righteousness.

 

Don’t be that kind of Baptist!

04/14/2014

Why Denominations Matter

I recently returned from a great time at my fourth Together for the Gospel Conference. It was a great time with my wife, old friends, and new books sitting under great preaching, eating out, and enjoying a preview of Spring.

The session I was actually most looking forward to was the Panel entitled, “Denominations: Your Grandfather’s Oldsmobile?” The importance of theological traditions and denominational affiliation has been growing in my mind over the past few years. I grew up in a certain denominational context and then left that for broader Evangelicalism in my college days. Over time I’ve come to identify and benefit from what may be called the Young, Restless, and Reformed (YRR) movement expressed in conferences like T4G and organizations like the The Gospel Coalition. But I’ve also stumbled into a Southern Baptist Church and from there been drafted into denominational service and initiated into our confessional history and theological distinctives.

I was hoping that the Panel would be focused on making the case for YRR types not to settle for a mere non/inter/transdenominational movement, but to also settle down in a clearly defined ecclesiastical tradition. As it turned out, the discussion focused mostly on what to do if your denomination goes Liberal.

[As a fascinating aside: it was the hierarchical denominations represented (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Reformed) that had irretrievably strayed from orthodoxy and the Baptists representing congregational polity which told a story of righting the ship.]

One illustration that has helped me a lot in this comes from Michael Horton, drawing on C.S. Lewis:

I’ve argued elsewhere that evangelicalism is like the village green in older parts of the country, especially New England. There may be two or three churches on the grounds, but the green itself is a wide open space where people from those churches can spill out in conversation and cooperation. Evangelicalism is not a church, though it often acts like one. It isn’t the big tent (more appropriate, given the history) that encompasses all of the churches on the green. It’s just…, well, the green. When it tries to adjudicate cases of faith and practice through conferences, press releases, and blogs, evangelicalism (including Calvinistic versions) exhibits its movement mentality.

My analogy echoes C. S. Lewis’s “mere Christianity”: a hallway in a large house where believers mix and mingle, often opening the door as non-Christians knock. But, as Lewis insisted, it’s in the rooms where people actually live as a family—where they sleep, are warmed by the fire, fed and clothed, and grow. We are formed in the family life of Christ’s body by particular churches, with their distinct confessions and practices. You can’t live in the hallway.

I’m not against evangelicalism as a village green or hallway. In fact, I think it’s a wonderful meeting place. However, when it acts like a church, much less replaces the church, I get nervous.

10/28/2013

Hold Fast the Confession

Yesterday I preached on Hebrews 4:14-16. One of the points was that we must “hold firmly to the faith we profess” (v. 14b). This charge doesn’t stem from an isolated snippet of Scripture. This is a repeated admonition (for example see 2Thess. 2:15, Titus 1:9, Jude 3). Theology is not supposed to be creative. Our task is simple: hold fast to the faith once for all handed down from Christ and his apostles. Don’t tinker or toy with it. As Millard Erickson put it, we may translate, but we must not transform. Furthermore, to hold firmly implies that there is substance to be grasped and it is not slippery.

Yet there is always a perennial pressure to lose your grip on the faith, to drift from the confession. Study of Church History will repeatedly bear this revisionist tendency out. W.A. Criswell in his rousing address to the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in 1985 put this pattern into poetic terms:

An institution can be like a great tree which in times past withstood the rain, and the wind, and the storm, and the lightning, but finally fell because the heart had rotted out. Insects, termites destroyed the great monarch of the woods. This is the unspeakably tragic thing that happens to many of our Christian institutions, and eventually threatens them all. They are delivered to secularism and infidelity, not because of a bitter frontal attack from without, but because of a slow, gradual permeation of the rot and curse of unbelief from within.

If you want to watch a powerful explanation of this, you can go here. If you do, keep in mind a few things:

(1) Not all Southern Baptists are Anglo Saxons (the current SBC president is Black).
(2) This was 1985 and not all Southern Baptists look or talk like this today.
(3) Criswell gave this address when he was in his mid 70s.
(4) To affirm the full authority of the Scriptures and decry the dangers of modern critical methods is not to be obscurantist.
(5) By God’s grace, there has been an unprecedented (!) turn around in the SBC since 1985…

…but the pressure is always before us…