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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Mad Dash to 1,000,000

I have been thinking about the whole baptize a million thing. I admit - I don't know a whole lot about the strategy and all the details of this deal, but I want to make a few simple observations and voice some concerns. It appears to me these days that there is far too little discernment on behalf of church leaders on the matter of candidates for baptism. If they simply "pray the prayer" or walk down the aisle or answer all the questions correctly, then they will be baptized (some don't even go that far). With the push to baptize, it appears that we Southern Baptists will baptize almost anyone, even if they have been baptized three times already in three previous years. Furthermore, the age we are baptizing kids further leads me to believe that we are on the verge of inevitability when it comes to infant baptism. This is my first concern. My second concern is the growing invisibility of the church. What I mean is, those whom we consider "church members" are becoming, to a greater proportion, unregenerate because of our practices. There are no true marks of conversion or grace in their lives, and what our churches are becoming are gatherings of moralists, not people who have grown to treasure Christ because he has transformed our lives. Clear proof of this can be found in Ron Sider's latest book called The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? In this painful analysis, we see that Christians are equally guilty if not worse in the matters of divorce, materialism, racism, physical abuse in marriage, and sexual disobedience. In my old home state of Alabama, Christians have a higher divorce rate than non-Christians, and this is a state littered with Southern Baptist churches on every street corner. Now you may be thinking, "But you are using morality to determine regeneration. Isn't that what you are refuting?" My answer is no, if it is the grace of God that "teaches you renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age . . ." (Titus 2:12). The point is there is no distinction anymore between the regenerate sheep and the unregenerate goats. No, I am not saying that we should have litmus tests, nor can we be definitive or absolute in determining whether a person is truly born again. But that does not mean that we throw off any biblical criteria to knowing what fruit is coming off what tree! Where is the visible church - those set apart from the world? You almost can't see the wheat amongst the chaff. A person who holds a high view of ecclesiology will not glibly or hastily baptize without warranted fruit. Thirdly, what about the gospel? What about preaching the gospel to the saved? I do believe that everyone can, and everyone should win people to Jesus. But are they? Why or why not? I submit that the majority of Christians today don't understand the gospel themselves. We Christians must preach the gospel to ourselves everyday. We cannot think that this message belongs only to the lost! The "unfathomable riches of God's grace" will ravish your souls for an eternity, and far be it that we treat it so lightly! Yet out of the 16 million that comprise the SBC, I dare say that there be less than 1 million who actually can articulate the gospel message clearly to a lost person. Tonight at work, I talked to my friend Dan (if you have been reading previously you know that I have been investing my life in him over the past 6 months) on the belt. He told me that he shared the gospel with some of his friends for several hours while camping out. This may not mean much to you, but Dan is a recent convert and God has captured his heart in less than six months, and he has gone out (by the way without a neat outline or FAITH presentation training) and told his friends about Jesus, some of whom were atheists and into Scientology. Nothing could have thrilled me more tonight than to hear a young Timothy share with others what has been entrusted to him (2 Timothy 2:2). I wonder what a difference would be made in the kingdom of God if we didn't pride ourselves in statistics but saw the value in one person, giving ourselves to that one person, to show that one person one other person to invest their life in. Isn't the Great Commission more about making disciples than simply getting them wet? As Robert Coleman at a Billy Graham School of Evangelism said, "Biblical evangelism is incomplete until the evangelized become the evangelist." So can we call simply baptizing folks real evangelism? And we cannot say that discipleship is dealt with as a program in the church. Discipleship, as is evangelism, worked through relationships, not with propped up programs. I would like to humbly submit my challenge to Bobby Welch and the SBC. Instead of trying to baptize a million, let's make it a goal to reach one. One that you will build a relationship with and pour your life into. Paul called these little ones his children as he was their father. This is what the kingdom of God needs. Disciples is what we should be after, not statistics. "My little children, of whom I am in labor until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19) - this is the Great Commission in action - the laboring of "presenting everyone complete in Christ" (Colossians 1:28-29). And I would like to give a homework challenge to Dr. Steve Lemke as well. Go to the say top 100 churches in baptism, and see how many of these baptized are under the age of 6, and how many have been previously baptized, and how many of those baptized last year are still faithful in serving the Lord or have ever shared their faith. I believe the statistics will be alarming. I know of one church in particular where over 50 have been baptized, but I know for a fact that at least 75% of them have been baptized before. I guess it's nice to have people to count twice. Let's not be foolin' ourselves with feel-good numbers which don't correspond with reality. A million? Sounds nice. But it sounds like a playcall from Rick Warren's book of "exponential thinking" which tells you to shoot so high that you can't possibly attain it, but in the end you will have done more than you would have otherwise expected. It's kind of like the quote, "Shoot for the moon, and if you don't reach it, at least you will land among the stars." Hear me clearly, I am all for baptizing folks. But we have to be biblical and discerning in the process. As ministers, we are "soul-physicians" and "stewards of the mysteries of God". This matter we cannot take lightly, nor can we chalk up numbers which are not in God's accounting. So as we are on this mad dash to 1,000,000 in one year, maybe it would be good to take a step back and think about one that would last a lifetime.


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