Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Denomination Formerly Known as the Southern Baptists

Some thoughts on the decisions coming out of the annual SBC meeting in New Orleans...

There's a new name written down in Georgia, and it's mine, oh yes it's mine!
**With apologies to whoever wrote, "There's a New Name Written Down in Glory"

The messengers voted to change the name of the SBC to the GCBC (Great Commission Baptist Convention).  This is a great name change since the SBC is no longer strictly "southern".  As a church planter in New York State I am glad for the change.  It may be hard for some of the brethren south of the Mason-Dixon line to accept, but the word "south" has as much appeal to northerners as the word "yankee" has to southerners.  All of the same kinds of images and baggage that comes with "yankee" comes with "Southern" in northern ears.  And frankly, many northern evangelical churches actually remember the fights of the 70's and 80's within the SBC regarding little things like the inspiration of the Scriptures and they remember that the SBC became compromised since they even had to have the discussion and controversy when they stood for the truth.  Some distance from that heritage is a good thing.  I will barely mention the fact that the SBC was started as a reaction to an issue we'd all like to forget: slavery.  The south's support of that institution has not been forgotten.  

However, I can't help but think that we have painted ourselves in a corner a bit with our choice of a new name.  To have the brazenness to say that we are "Great Commission Baptist Churches" requires some sort of proof.  It's sort of like calling yourself a "Holiness" church.  Someone who reads that church sign has to think, "Well, let's see how holy you all really are!" If they set the bar that high it's not long before outsiders take notice about what that church really does.  When this happens, an impartial observer often finds that the name is overstatement.

Reporting high numbers of conversions through sinner's prayers and dubious if not unbiblical evangelistic methods does not a "Great Commission Baptist" make.  I am happy to be called a Great Commission Baptist because evangelism is a huge part of our church's work.  We strive to do it Biblically and we do a lot of it.  If a name change actually changes churches, then I'll expect to see a lot of Great Commission Baptists out in our area actually doing evangelism, but if the last year or so is any indicator, I shouldn't hold my breath.  When revival hits the GCBC then there will be a change in more than the name.  In the meantime, I hope the name change is not just overstatement, posturing or chest thumping. 

I see that hand!

Speaking of flawed methodologies, the messengers of the various GCBC churches voted to uphold a statement on the sinner's prayer that is patently ridiculous.  In the document, the author ignores the issue of regeneration and takes a number of Scriptures out of context in order to uphold a tradition that is unbiblical.  The question is, "Why?"  Anyone with a Sunday School education could debunk the document but few took the time to do so.

Here are the reasons: 1) if you say that praying a sinner's prayer is wrong then you are saying that all of those who did and are now nowhere to be found might not actually be saved.  And in a denomination that depends heavily on over-reported numbers for PR, it's simply not good PR to admit this fact.  2) In the churches, pastors would have to explain to over-protective parents that their apostate sons and daughters are actually apostate and not "backslidden" and that they should be treated as the unbelievers they are and not as being "in rebellion" or any number of euphemisms we have dreamed up for apostates.  3) Thousands of pastors in the GCBC and outside of it would have to admit they (and those who taught them) were wrong.  So don't hold your breath on any document coming from any denomination at any time in any universe or alternate dimension repealing the sinner's prayer.

After all, how could missionaries make any money if they can't report results?  Call this reason number four. 
When someone can show me in the Scriptures just one example of Jesus and the apostles (or anyone else for that matter) leading someone in a "repeat after me" sinner's prayer, I'll start using it. 

The First Real African American President

 The GCBC voted in our first African American president (and I'll leave you to your own imaginations about what I mean by "real").  I am glad for this in a denomination that started over the issue of slavery.  I am even more excited by the fact that Luter started out as a street preacher before he was a pastor.  The bio sketch on his church's website reports, "With no church to preach in, Luter set up shop every Saturday at noon on the corner of Galvez and Caffin Avenue where he would preach to anyone who would listen."  Amen!  He's a radical!  Once a month his church engages in several hours of street evangelism in addition to many other evangelistic ministries.  

This is an appropriate leader for a denomination that takes the name "Great Commission Baptist" on themselves.  I hope that many pastors and aspiring pastors will take it upon themselves to follow his example in great commission work and take the work of preaching to a street corner and not just the pulpit.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Early Retirement

I am taking an early retirement. 

No, I am not independently wealthy.  No, I am not at the age where I can receive Social Security benefits (I'm 40).  No, I am not quitting my job as a church planting pastor or as a representative with The Lost Cause Ministries. 

I am retiring from the drama--the drama of the street evangelism community.

This does not mean that I am quitting street evangelism.  Not by a long shot.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am doing more evangelism as a church planter than I ever thought about doing when I was solely a street evangelist. 

It means that I am retiring from the de facto position of policing the community.  It's not my job.

Once upon a time, it was (quite literally) my job.  I worked in a para-church ministry which helped establish evangelism teams across the United States and in eight other nations.  I interviewed the leaders, prayed over establishing them, wrote resources for them, and received reports from them.  I often intervened in issues related to evangelism.  Occasionally I fired them from their unpaid positions.  In the process I got to be known as a leader of leaders and as a result, I have hundreds of friends around the world who respect my thoughts on evangelism and theology.  I spoke at conferences and churches across the country and in other countries.  I helped organize large scale outreaches and wrote a book on evangelism.  I have one more book in the works and an idea for a third.

As a result of my background in evangelism over the last eight years, I often find myself in the middle of drama.  Sometimes it is theological--someone is bent on going heretical and I get a phone call or an email.  Sometimes it is political or personal.  Often it is methodological.  In the past I had time for all of this stuff.  I don't any more.  I've already written all that I am going to write about the errors in the street evangelism community.  I am done.   

Why?  I'm a church planting pastor.  I don't have time for any additional drama.

The evangelism that I do now is part of the process of gathering a body of believers for the purpose of worshipping the Lamb that was slain.   I'm not primarily in the business of equipping any professing believer in evangelism.  I am in the business of equipping Christ is King Baptist Church to do the work of the ministry.  My responsibility and authority extends no further than that. And honestly, even when I was paid to do it, I never had any real authority to oversee evangelists anyway.  That authority belongs to the local church alone.  

I have no plans for correcting the errors that there are in the street evangelism community outside of what I can deal with here in our church.  Street evangelists are not accountable to me.  They are not accountable to any parachurch ministry.  They are accountable to their respective local churches.  I've found that when I try to correct people I have never met, the usual response is something like, "Who do you think you are anyway?"  Good question.

So, if you choose to neglect the local church, preach out of pride, interrupt your grandmother's funeral with an open-air sermon, carry sandwich boards with neon-light flames and a stadium amplification system, think all Calvinists are twice the sons of Hell as John Calvin (or Arminians are twice the sons of Hell as Arminius),  and choose to divide with brothers in Christ over it, then have at it.  I am not getting involved.  My prayer is that the Lord will bring you to repentance.  He doesn't need me to play the role of the Holy Spirit in your life.  If you are one of His sheep, He will see you through to the end without my help.  If you are not, then He can take care of that as well. 

There are 150,000 in Syracuse, NY that need the gospel.  There are 700,000+ in our county.  These precious souls need evangelism, discipleship and a local church that is Biblical.  There is enough to do here for a month of lifetimes.  Yes, the world still needs the gospel and I will gladly take it to them where the mission is connected with a local church or church planting.  But it is impossible for anyone to reach the world by himself.  Hence, the need for the local church.  Invest there and you will invest wisely. 

A verse keeps rolling around in my head that is applicable here: 

"...aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you." (1 Thess. 4:11). 

So that's it.  My resignation letter.  I hope my friends will come by to visit me in my retirement and that we'll be able to preach together here in Syracuse.  Your help is welcome and all retirees like to see old friends. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Jon Speed