Brian Priest recently saw firsthand how acts of service open doors for the Gospel.
When Priest and a team of students from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offered to rake leaves for one Louisville family, they learned that the family had been praying for someone to do their yard work. The family was so grateful for the students’ assistance that they promised to attend church the following Sunday.
Priest, a master of divinity student from Canton, Ga., was among 202 students and faculty who participated in Southern’s “Reaching Out 2003” effort Nov. 8. Reaching Out involved teams of seminarians undertaking projects such as rural outreach, servant evangelism, prayer walking and inner city evangelism. It was Southern’s second such outreach effort this year.
“I am greatly encouraged,” said Twyla Fagan, director of Great Commission ministries at Southern. “We almost doubled our attendance from last semester’s [Reaching Out project]. I really feel like the Spirit of God is moving on our campus and people are being called out to do evangelism. This is just one small indication of what He’s doing here.”
Matthew Cooke, a master of divinity student from Maynardville, Tenn., said Reaching Out 2003 gave him an opportunity to apply the knowledge he has gained in seminary classes.
Cooke served on a rural outreach team that traveled door-to-door telling people about the love of Jesus Christ.
“I learned today that I have learned things [in seminary] that are going to ... make me more effective in winning souls,” Cooke said. “... I learned in my evangelism classes that complimenting people will create opportunities to share the Gospel. So I tried it today and it worked.”
Through encounters like Cooke’s, Reaching Out 2003 participants communicated the Gospel to hundreds of Louisville residents and distributed copies of a tract entitled, “Experiencing God’s Grace,” which was developed by Southern’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth.
“The greatest encouragement was that the Gospel was shared,” said George Martin, M. Theron Rankin professor of Christian missions and a Reaching Out 2003 participant. “And that really was the focus with all the teams whether it be servant evangelism raking leaves, whether it be Hispanic outreach, rural outreach, it was all about sharing the Gospel. We understand here at Southern Seminary that everything we do ultimately must result in sharing the Gospel.”
For Katie Shults, a master of divinity student from Spring, Texas, serving on a prayer walking team was an eye-opening reminder that God’s heart breaks for the lost people who live near Southern Seminary.
“I think for all of us, it was pretty impacting,” Shults said. “Some of us spoke about the fact that we were really personally convicted because we’re in that area a lot but we don’t see it all the time the way God sees it. ... The darkness there is very tangible, but we had a lot of opportunities to pray for those homes and those businesses.”
Brad Morrow, a Southern Ph.D. graduate who participated in an inner city outreach project, discovered that in some cases sharing the Gospel has an immediate effect.
“The church was following up on a block party they did in back September,” Morrow said. “So a group of us went out into the neighborhood to find those folks that attended the block party. ... And the group that I was in had an opportunity to share Christ with a 13-year-old boy. He prayed to receive Christ and it was very exciting.”
Morrow also shared the Gospel with a 22-year-old man who may attend church in the weeks to come.
Martin concluded, “We must share the Gospel. Whatever else we do, ultimately that is what we are about.”
The Pastoral Epistles--1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus--offer valuable instructions for ministry in a postmodern culture.
That is the conclusion of writers in the latest Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, which focuses on “The Pastoral Epistles” and is published by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“It is safe to say that the issue of ‘truth’ has fallen on hard times in our day,” writes Stephen Wellum, SBJT editor and associate professor of Christian theology at Southern.
“Living in what has been dubbed a ‘postmodern’ culture, people are quite skeptical about the human ability to know the truth. ... [W]e are told on every side that we must respect and tolerate everyone’s viewpoint as equal no matter what it may be.”
Wellum argues, however, that the postmodern rejection of truth poses a dangerous challenge to the Christian Gospel, which insists on the existence of objective and universal truth.
“A helpful antidote to help the church avoid the relativistic tendencies of our postmodern age is the Pastoral Epistles,” writes Wellum. “Often neglected in the life of today’s church, the Pastorals are a necessary corrective and reminder for the contemporary church as to the need, urgency, and privilege of standing firm for the gospel.”
Wellum is one of five authors who tackle various issues related to the Pastoral Epistles. The others are Andreas Kostenberger, Ray Van Neste, Benjamin Merkle and Philip Towner. The journal also includes articles by Paul Helseth and Michael Haykin.
The writers note that students of the Pastoral Epistles will face several interpretive challenges. Kostenberger, professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that one such challenge is distinguishing between general principles in the Pastorals and specific applications that Paul intended solely for his first-century readers.
“In the case of widows, for example, the general norm is that the church care for widows who have no other means of support,” Kostenberger writes. “This applies in Paul’s day as well as in ours. In Paul’s day, the specific application was for widows over sixty years of age to be up on a list. While the church’s outworking of the general scriptural norm may be different today, the norm still applies.”
One area where the Pastorals are immediately relevant is their discussion of church leadership, Kostenberger argues. First Timothy provides particularly clear insight into the biblical pattern of church polity, he writes.
Though some contend the church should be governed by a hierarchy of leadership where elders or bishops rule over local church overseers, Kostenberger argues that “closer scrutiny reveals that the Pastorals do not in fact conform to this model but rather display a synonymous usage of the terms ‘overseer’ (episkopos) and ‘elder’ (presbyteros) as referring to one and the same office.”
Van Neste, director of the Center for Biblical Studies at Union University, presents an overview of Titus, explaining the book’s structure and usefulness for Christian life.
“This letter summarizes the essence of the Christian life, particularly with a view to what the Christian community, the church, is to do,” Van Neste writes. “Indeed, I believe the letter to Titus is a tract for our times, and the church today bears the marks of having neglected its message.”
Van Neste highlights four key issues discussed in Titus: proper leadership in the church, proper discipline, proper living and proper doctrine. Titus instructs leaders to refute error in order to protect Christians from false teachings which lead to ungodly practices, he says.
“The church needs elders who can refute error precisely because there are some in the church already who are teaching falsely and are thereby upsetting entire households,” Van Neste writes. “... The situation is urgent. What is at stake is not merely some minor interpretation but the souls of men.”
Merkle, a Southern Ph.D. graduate who currently teaches in Southeast Asia, discusses the biblical model of church leadership according to the Pastoral Epistles.
“Does the biblical model include pastors, senior pastors, elders, overseers, bishops, archbishops, and popes?” Merkle asks in his essay. “Based on the evidence from the Pastoral Epistles it will be shown that besides the office of deacon, there is only one other New Testament church office—that is, the office of pastor, elder, or overseer.”
Many argue that the Bible advocates a hierarchy of leadership, which includes both overseers, or bishops, and elders, Merkle explains. But he denies such a distinction, arguing instead that there are “compelling reasons for equating the offices of elder and overseer.”
“If overseer and elder are two separate offices, it is strange that Paul never mentions the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy, especially since the character of the one who is to fill the office of elder is so important,” Merkle writes. “If elder is a distinct office from overseer, it would seem that qualifications would be clearly stated for such an important position.”
Towner, translation consultant for the United Bible Societies, notes the command in 1 Timothy 4:13 to pay attention to “the public reading of Scripture.” He argues that the command stems from the Jewish tradition of reading in the synagogues but still has relevance for Christians.
“There is little doubt that the formative background of the activity enjoined in 1 Timothy 4:13 is the practice in Judaism of public Scripture readings in the synagogue,” Towner writes. “... But the close relationship between worship in the synagogue and the worship of the early Christians, especially in the Diaspora, clearly explains the reference to the practice in a Christian document in a way that implies that it was a standard feature of worship.”
Public Scripture readings remind Christians of God’s mighty acts and of their relationship with God, according to Towner.
He concludes, “The lesson to be learned from 1 Timothy 4:13, and the background that informs the exegesis of this text, is that the deliberate public reading of Scripture ... is one way of rehearsing the acts of God in behalf of his people and his creation and finding and renewing our identity-center in that story over and over again.”
Christians must adopt a biblical understanding of gender in order to combat widespread confusion about the roles of men and woman, said author and theologian Mary Kassian.
Kassian, author of multiple books including “The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism With the Church,” spoke to seminary wives about biblical femininity Oct. 16 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“It is a jungle out there when it comes to understanding masculinity and femininity, when it comes to making sense out of relationships, when it comes to understanding God’s Word and what God’s Word has to say to women,” she said. “... We are living in a time when women do not know what it means to be a woman and men do not know what it means to be a man.”
Kassian highlighted several keys to living out a biblical conception of femininity.
First, women must know what they believe about gender and be able to offer biblical support for their position.
Though men and women have equal worth before God, the Bible assigns unique roles to each gender, she said. Man was created to be the leader and initiator in a family, and woman was created to be a helper, according to Kassian.
By fulfilling these roles, Christians can achieve unity with their spouses and bring glory to God, she said.
“God’s pattern is one of complimentarity, and yet that complimentarity doesn’t draw apart,” Kassian said. “It drives together in unity. There is a more profound unity and oneness than is possible than if it was just sameness. That is the Genesis plan for men and women.”
When biblical gender roles are lived out in marriage, the unity between husband and wife illustrates the mysterious unity present in the Trinity, Kassian said.
“How can it be that two can be one? How can that be? ... I can’t tell you exactly how that can be. But I can tell you it points to God because God is three but God is one. So it’s important the way I relate to my husband. It’s important the way I relate to other men as a woman,” she said.
Some women may think that submitting to their husbands is oppressive, Kassian said. But when properly understood, biblical submission actually empowers and satisfies women.
“The Bible tells us to submit, and it tells us ... that submission is good. It’s beautiful, and I have grown to believe that a submissive woman is in an incredible position of power because she can influence for righteousness and for good.
“And she is an incredible strength for her husband and her marriage, and she does not suffer one bit. In fact, she probably has much more in her relationship, in her marriage, in support than she would have had had she been clinging to her rights,” Kassian said.
Living out biblical femininity, however, is not an activity limited to marriage, she said. Women must model biblical womanhood in all of their relationships.
“I interact with men in my life as a woman,” she said. “The Bible does not say I need to submit to all men in my life. I don’t. Before God I am bound to submit to my husband, not every man that walks on the face of the earth. But there is a gentleness and a quietness in my spirit so that I can interact in a womanly fashion even with men who are not my husband.”
Modeling biblical womanhood includes teaching sons how to treat women, Kassian said.
“When we come to a door, I stand there and wait for my boys to open it,” she said. “Over and over again, I have instructed my boys, ‘You need to understand that you need to begin to prepare for being the leader in your family and providing spiritual leadership. And you need to guard and protect all the women that are in your sphere of influence.”
A godly woman, Kassian said, has incredible potential to impact her world for Christ.
“It is amazing the power of a godly woman. I have so much power in my marriage relationship that it scares me. It’s scary. I am very ... careful with the words that I say because I know the impact that they can have. And ladies, God has given you a great deal of influence.
“You are able to strip a man down to nothing or build him sky high simply with [your speech] and you know it. And you use it sometimes to manipulate and control and for your own advantage. And you know what happens? It backfires. Unless you’re being a godly woman, it won’t work over the long haul.”
God has not left Christians to worship Him in any manner they please, but has instructed them in Scripture how He is to be worshiped, author and teacher Don Whitney said Oct. 16 during a lecture series at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
While most Christians know when they are worshiping in spirit, many are at a loss to explain how they are to complete the imperative of Christ in John 4:24 to worship Him in truth, Whitney said.
Whitney is associate professor of spiritual formation at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also author of a number of books including “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life.”
Whitney argued that the Bible provides the “truth” aspect of the double command. Scripture sets forth the elements that are to be included in worship and nothing should be added to them, he said.
This biblical mandate is known as the “regulative principle of worship” and if it were faithfully followed by churches, Whitney said many of the skirmishes in the so-called “worship wars” would be avoided.
Whitney said the regulative principle may be summarized in a two-fold question every congregation should ask when considering the addition of an element to corporate worship: Is it God-centered and biblical?
“The regulative principle of worship in essence says that God knows how He wants to be worshiped better than we do,” Whitney said.
“He has not left us in the dark about that and has revealed in Scripture how he wants us to worship Him, what the elements of worship are to be. If He has done so, then those are the things we must do and we should not bring any of our own ideas in addition to that.”
Biblical elements of corporate worship include preaching and teaching the Word of God, prayer, the public reading of Scripture, the singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and celebrating the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The regulative principle rules out extra-biblical elements such as drama, clowns, and the like, Whitney said.
Whitney pointed out that many Baptists today practice what is known as the “normative principle” of worship. The normative principle says that corporate worship must include all biblical elements, but believers are also free to include things not forbidden by Scripture.
This approach is dangerous because we know God’s will only through His special revelation, he said.
“We don’t know what honors God except that which He has revealed,” Whitney said. “In areas like worship where He has revealed His truth, we may not go beyond the bounds of that.
“There are other areas of [church] life [in which] He has not revealed the activities or elements. So we don’t say the Bible tells us the elements of a good church nursery, for example. For those things, we have general principles to apply.”
Whitney said Baptists historically held to the regulative principle as evidenced by its inclusion in many of their early confessions of faith.
For example, article 22.1 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith reads in part, “...the only acceptable way of worshiping the true God is appointed by Himself...Visible symbols of God, and all other forms of worship not prescribed in the Holy Scripture, are expressly forbidden.”
There are variously nuanced views among Christians who subscribe to the regulative principle, he said. For example, some say the principle can be taken only from commands on worship in the New Testament and not from the Old.
Whitney argued that all of Scripture is to be brought to bear on worship because all Scripture is inspired by God. However, there is an acknowledged priority of authority in Scripture among evangelicals of the New Testament. A New Testament command on worship, such as that found in John 4:24, is the highest authority on worship, he said.
While a single verse does not teach the regulative principle, numerous passages from across the canon, when considered together, make a strong case for it, he said. These include:
* The first four commandments found in Exodus 20:3-4, 7-8. All deal largely with worship.
* The details given by God in the construction of the furniture and garments of worship in Ex. 25-30. In Ex. 30:33,38, God promises the death penalty for the misuse of anointing oil and incense.
* The death of Nadab and Abihu in Lev. 10:1-3. God struck them dead for offering “strange fire” to the Lord.
* The disobedience of Saul in offering the sacrifices Samuel was to have offered in 1 Sam. 10:8 and 13:8-13.
* The death of Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Sam. 6:3-8. Whitney pointed out that Uzzah’s motive can be assumed to be pure in keeping the Ark from falling off a cart, but God struck him down for his irreverence. This overturns the argument of some contemporary worship leaders who say only a worshiper’s attitude, and not how he worships, matters to God, he said. God must be worshiped equally in spirit and truth.
* The leprosy of King Uzziah for offering incense in 2 Chron. 26:18-21. Only priests were allowed to offer incense by divine fiat.
* The sin of King Ahaz for replacing the altar of worship in 2 Kings 16:10-16.
* Jesus’ rejection of the Pharisees’worship in Mark 7:6-7. Christ said they worshiped in vain because their doctrines of worship were the precepts of men.
* The warning of the Israelites in Deut. 12:30-32 not to get their ideas of worship from the world around them, but only from God’s revelation.
The regulative principle is not a stifling “cookie-cutter” approach to worship, Whitney said. It merely regulates the elements used in worship and demands that God be worshiped in a manner consistent with Heb. 12:28: “in reverence and awe.” There is freedom in how we apply the elements, he said.
“We are to worship in ways that edify our local church,” Whitney said. “That is a New Testament command on worship. Worship in a black church does not have to be the same as in a white church. Worship in an inner-city church does not have to look like worship in a suburban church.
“They should have the same elements, but that doesn’t mean the musical style is going to be the same in them all. Just ask yourself: is it God-centered? Is it biblical? If you will evaluate everything in your worship service by that, you will do well.”
Private worship is an essential part of a healthy relationship with God, said prominent Christian author Donald Whitney.
Whitney, who spoke as part of the Institute for Christian Worship’s lecture series Oct. 14-15 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., is associate professor of spiritual formation at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
“How can once-a-week worship satisfy the heart of those who know and long after God?” Whitney asked. “How in the world can anyone walk out of a worship service where God has been exalted and they claim they have met with God and say ... ‘Well, I don’t need anymore of that for a week?’
“How can you meet with God and not be compelled to want to meet with Him more often than just what is convenient once a week?”
Ministers are especially prone to ignore personal worship as they settle into the daily routine of ministry, he said.
Ignoring personal worship, however, will transform a minister into “the politicking and the ladder-climbing and the name-dropping and the prideful string-pulling sort of person that seems to take more delight in politics than preaching sermons or preparing for ministry,” Whitney said.
Statistically, only one of every 20 seminary graduates will remain in ministry through age 65, he said, and the attrition rate is due largely to a neglect of private worship.
Without private worship, ministers “will burn out because there’s no drinking from the wells of living water,” Whitney said.
“In private worship God reveals Himself through His Word, shining divine light upon the divine book so that we might find our minds instructed by God, our hearts encouraged by God, our hopes refreshed by God and our spiritual hungers satisfied by God,” he said.
“Here we can delight in God, sing to God, weep to God, pour our thoughts to God, confess our sins to God and feel the worth of God. When with God alone we can rejoice in His forgiveness, revel in His goodness, thank Him for His blessings and bask in His love.”
In particular, private worship includes three essential elements, Whitney said.
First, private worship includes the intake of God’s Word.
Reading, studying and memorizing the Bible are all vital parts of taking in God’s Word, he said, but meditation on the Scriptures is perhaps the most important activity of private worship.
“Meditation on Scripture is not just leaning back and staring at the ceiling after reading a bit of the Bible. Meditation as worship means focused thinking on the text of Scripture, and thus on God and the things of God revealed in the words of Scripture,” he said.
Second, private worship includes prayer.
Despite an active public ministry, Jesus took significant blocks of time to pray by Himself, Whitney said. As followers of Jesus, we must do the same.
“To pray during the intake of Scripture is a valuable way of absorbing and applying the text and a way of conversing with God about what He is saying through these words or how He would have you put them into practice,” Whitney said.
“... Some passages lend themselves to such prayerful reading more easily than others. Frequently you might read an entire chapter and pray no more than, ‘Lord, please keep me from ever sinning like the man in this story.’ But whatever the text, don’t just read it—respond to it.”
Third, private worship includes worshipful song.
Singing praises to God is “part of letting the Word of Christ richly dwell in you,” Whitney said.
Citing the example of eighteenth century theologian Jonathan Edwards, Whitney encouraged Christians to sing their prayers and praises to God in private.
“In some situations it may be impractical to sing aloud in private worship,” he said. “But unless there’s a compelling reason to sing in a whisper or only in your mind, why not sing aloud? It’s almost impossible to envision public worship without openly singing our praise to God. What makes private worship so different?”
Whitney warned students, “The risks of rushing through life without resting beside the quite waters of daily worship, virtually unmindful of God, are many and great. But so are the benefits and blessings [of private worship].”
O.S. Hawkins and James T. Draper encouraged students to reflect on faithful Christians of the past during the 5th annual Heritage Week at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Oct. 13-17.
Hawkins, president of the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, told seminarians that every generation of believers faces a key question that it must answer. Considering how past generations answered their most pivotal question, can equip the church to confront today’s issues properly, he said. Hawkins and Draper addressed students during Heritage Week chapel services.
First and second century Christians had to answer the question Christ posed in John 13:38, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake?’” Hawkins said.
“From Stephen outside the Sheep’s Gate in Jerusalem to James at the sword of Herod to Peter to Paul to most all those apostles and into those next generations ... Ignatius that great pastor of the great missionary church at Antioch who was devoured by those wild lions, Polycarp of Smyrna who was burned at the sake. ... They all went to their martyr’s death with that question of their time burning in their hearts: ‘Will you lay down your life for Me?’” he said.
Subsequent generations of Christians faced other questions, Hawkins said. For example, Christians during the Protestant Reformation were confronted with the question of John 11:40, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
“Armed with the question of their time, and armed with the truth of the book of Romans, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg and the glory of God began to fill Europe through the likes of Calvin and Zwingli and Knox ... and our Baptist forefathers ... and so many others,” Hawkins said.
More recent generations dealt with the question of liberalism, Hawkins said.
“In these past generations, we watched as one major mainline denomination after another after another after another went away from the faith of their founders, their forefathers and the truth of the Gospel,” he said. “The question of their time [was], ‘Will you also go away?’ I thank God that over 20 years ago, Southern Baptists answered that question in a very positive way.”
Today, the most important question for Christians is the exclusivity of the Gospel, he said.
“It is the question of Matthew 16:15, ‘Who do you say that I am?’” Hawkins said. “For as these generations unfold before us now, and particularly into this next decade, the single most important issue that you will face as you go out into ministry and seek to engage and impact the culture and convert a culture around you is this issue of the exclusivity of Christ, whether He is the one and only way to eternal life.”
Christians must be particularly careful to avoid two incorrect views of salvation: pluralism and inclusivism, Hawkins said.
Pluralism is the belief that “there are a plurality of ways to get to heaven,” he said. “It permeates our culture and the mindset of people all around us who believe that there are many roads that lead to heaven and a plurality of ways to get there.”
Inclusivism is the belief that Christ’s death on the cross may bring salvation to some who have not explicitly trusted Jesus as their savior, Hawkins said.
“Why should we be concerned about these two issues?” he asked. “Because they dramatically affect the nature of our faith. ... For if you believe there are a plurality of ways to get to heaven, what need is there to believe in the Incarnation or the Virgin Birth or the sinless Deity or the vicarious death or the bodily resurrection or any of the great doctrines of our faith?”
Inclusivism, Hawkins continued, “affects ... how be behave, our mission. And so is it any coincidence that churches that believe in this fashion in mainline denominations that have gone this way no longer talk about evangelism? [They] no longer talk about world missions?”
Faithful Christians must embrace explicit faith in Christ as the exclusive way of salvation because the exclusive Gospel has power to transform lives, he said.
“What motivated Simon Peter to meet a martyr’s death...? Was it a belief in pluralism? Was it a ... belief in inclusivism?” Hawkins said.
“No, he gave his life for the message of the exclusivity of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. ... What motivated Paul, who gave us most of our New Testament, to meet his martyr’s death? This belief in an inclusive gospel, a pluralistic gospel? No, it was this insistence on the exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of a pagan culture.”
He concluded, “You have a heritage here at Southern, and this heritage is about the future. Go out and raise high a standard and let the world know, as Simon Peter did, that neither is there salvation in [no other name].”
Draper, president of Lifeway Christian Resources, exhorted students to preach the Gospel faithfully amid cultural chaos.
“We have one message, one person: Jesus Christ,” Draper said. “The world doesn’t need some clever new theological philosophy. The world does not need some clever new psychology. The world needs to experience the living presence of Jesus Christ who Himself is God in the very essence of God.”
Preaching from John 1:1-5, Draper emphasized several essentials that ministers must teach about Jesus Christ.
First, ministers must teach the preexistence of Jesus.
“Jesus has always existed as God,” he said. “He is not just a late bloomer on the theological scene. He is not just some historical character that you can give deference to or you can ignore. He is in the beginning with God. He preexisted. He didn’t come into being. He always has been.”
Ministers also must emphasize the preeminence of Christ, he said.
Because many religions teach that Jesus was merely a prophet or teacher, it is vital that Christians declare Him to be fully God, Draper said. When humans understand the deity of Christ, His power will be released in their lives, he said.
“[Jesus] has the power over the conflict between light and darkness, between truth and error. There’s a battle taking place today, and I have good news for you. We don’t have to win the battle. The battle has already been won. The light lasts. The darkness cannot extinguish the light. It cannot overcome the light.
“We go out to announce a victory, not to win a victory. Ours is to go out and proclaim that the light has come, the Word of God has come, and He has power over life and power over light [and] over the darkness of this world.”
Jesus Christ, said Draper, “is the message we proclaim today.”
“Shock and awe” has an all-new context for David Dixon.
Dixon, who serves as associate pastor of evangelism and church growth at Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., said he was intensely surprised when the church was named “Church of the Year” at the second annual C.H. Spurgeon Awards ceremony Oct. 23 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The only advanced notice Dixon and other staffers at Englewood received was a letter informing the church it had been nominated for an unspecified C.H. Spurgeon Award.
“It was shocking and surprising,” Dixon said. “The letter said we had been nominated for an award but it was not specific as to which award. We had no idea. We are excited about winning it but we certainly give all the praise and glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ because that’s why we are here, for His glory.” The C.H. Spurgeon Awards ceremony and conference debuted last year. It is sponsored by the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth and was conceived by the school’s dean, Thom Rainer.
The Spurgeon Awards honor top churches in a number of categories including global missions, evangelism, prayer and innovative ministry, among others. Rainer had been sending certificates of recognition to top SBC churches for several years prior to his founding of the Spurgeon Awards.
“The purpose of the Charles Haddon Spurgeon Awards is to bring glory to God by recognizing His work in His churches,” Rainer said. “Although the churches do get rightful recognition, we are very clear that we do not seek glory for the churches, but to encourage and exhort them in the manner of the apostle Paul.”
Both objective and subjective criteria determine finalists and award recipients in each of the 12 categories. All finalists receive a recognition letter from Rainer and the Graham School. A winner is selected from among the finalists.
The Spurgeon Awards have broadened their scope since their inaugural year.
Last year, only Southern Baptist churches in the Midwest were eligible for the awards. This year, nominees came from SBC churches nationwide and the event will continue on a national scope in the years to come, Rainer said.
This year’s top church, Englewood, has experienced profound growth in recent years. The church averages 1,250 in attendance for Sunday morning worship and 800 for Sunday school. Sunday school attendees have increased by nearly 200 in the past two years and have climbed by a greater percentage of late, Dixon said.
“The past two months we have averaged 950 in Sunday School so the Lord is continuing to grow the church,” he said. “We just moved to two worship services in October.”
The Spurgeon Awards are named in honor of the famous 19th century British Baptist pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He lived from 1834-1892 and served as pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London which underwent such meteoric growth during Spurgeon’s ministry that the church built a 5,000-seat sanctuary.
“We use Spurgeon’s name for these awards for several reasons,” Rainer said. “He was a Baptist who had a high view of Scripture and believed that no church could be healthy without firm theological convictions. He had an evangelistic passion as clearly evident in his book, `The Soul Winner.’
“He was a pastor’s pastor, evident in the pastor’s school he started at Metropolitan Tabernacle... He insisted on churches having some type accountability beyond themselves. That is why he urged churches to report records of attendance and baptisms. He had no interest in numbers for numbers’ sake, but he did believe in congregational accountability through numbers.”
Rainer said the response from participating churches has shown that the Spurgeon Awards are accomplishing their goal of celebrating God’s work and encouraging congregations and leaders.
“We have had countless church leaders, staff and laypersons, tell us that they rarely, if every, have received encouragement as they did through the Spurgeon Awards. They tell us that they are now more motivated than ever to press on for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of God.”
Other winners were:
* Evangelism, Canaan Baptist Church, Bessemer, Ala.
* Prayer, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga.
* Worship, Valley View Church, Louisville, Ky.
* Discipleship, First Baptist Church Thayer, Thayer, Mo.
* Ministry, Word Tabernacle Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pa.
* Church planting, Eastwood Baptist Church, Haughton, La.
* Global missions, Calvary Baptist Church, Elko, Nev.
* Sunday School/small group, Holgate Baptist Church, Portland. Ore.
* Innovative approaches, The Country Church SBC, Marion, Texas.
* Preaching, Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla.
* Fellowship, Brown Springs Baptist Church, Mosheim, Tenn.
* Most comprehensive programs, First Baptist Church Brandon, Brandon, Fla.
* Church of the Year, Englewood Baptist Church, Rocky Mount, N.C.; First runner up, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga.; Second runner up, Long Heights Baptist Church, McKenzie, Tenn.
Christians are not called to a life of self-absorbed ease, but to one of militant spiritual warfare in which they deploy the Gospel as a weapon to overthrow the false worldviews of the modern age, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said during an Oct. 15 sermon at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Mohler, Southern Seminary president, said the Gospel has many enemies in the contemporary culture just as it did in the early days of the Christian church. Mohler preached from 2 Cor. 10:1-6 during Southern Seminary’s annual Heritage Week celebration, held Oct. 14-16.
“The Gospel has its enemies,” Mohler said. “Why do we delude ourselves into believing that the Gospel had its enemies in the first century and we can be at peace now? Why do we harbor the narcissistic illusion that the apostle Paul had to deal with the reality but we can be freed from this?
“We can go on and make our decisions and plans and plot the future of our churches, our denomination, our institution, and our ministries as if we will not have enemies. But that is delusional...We should not be any more militaristic than the Scripture obligates us to be...but we had better not be any less.”
Believers must realize what it means to be “in the world but not of the world,” Mohler said. It means that they must not try to win the spiritual battle by worldly means in building a cult of personality or employing persuasive, but unbiblical, rhetoric, he said.
“Charisma [in personalities] can’t be the center of our ministry,” Mohler said. “Powerful personality [and] self-aggrandizement [or] pragmatism; that’s what it means to walk according to the flesh.
“There is [also] the pitfall of persuasive rhetoric. There are people who can sell almost anything, especially ideas. That is what is so dangerous in this society...Persuasive rhetoric was condemned for the church once for all in 1 Cor. 2.”
Christians must not fight the spiritual war “according to the flesh,” Mohler said. The enemy is not the people who believe or proclaim false worldviews. Rather, the enemy is the one who stands behind all unbiblical ideologies--Satan, Mohler said.
“We must keep ever before ourselves [the fact] that the enemy, even in the battles we fight on this earth, will not be the human beings we will engage,” Mohler said. “We must engage them. But the enemy is behind them...If the enemy were limited to those we engage in debate and in confrontation...we could deal with them in the flesh.
“But the problem of course is, they are not really the enemy. They are the mouthpieces of the enemy and they will answer for that...Because we realize this is a spiritual battle, we have to understand we must fight in a spiritual way.”
The Christian’s weapon is to be the Gospel, which alone is mighty to destroy competing belief systems, Mohler said. In the 20th century alone, two great worldviews—Nazism and Communism—both of which loomed as might fortresses on the sociopolitical landscape, were taken out by truth, Mohler pointed out.
There are scores of modern-day “fortresses” that have established themselves in opposition to the Gospel, Mohler said. Among them are moral relativism, secularism, postmodernism, hedonism, false tolerance, individual autonomy, and a culture of death, he said.
It is the authentic biblical Gospel that possesses the power to explode all competing worldviews, he said. And ultimately, this destruction is God’s work and must be done God’s way—through proclamation of His Word, Mohler said.
“The tearing down of fortresses in our day is going to have to be God’s work,” he said. “In the Gospel, we have God’s weapon of mass destruction. In the preaching and in the teaching of the Gospel, there is the power of God and that alone is the weapon of worldview destruction.”
In preparation for the battle, Christians must study and know the content of the faith to a degree that it becomes a comprehensive worldview. But they must wed this knowledge of God’s truth with undying obedience to it, for authentic Christianity is bound up in two commands, Mohler said: “believe” and “obey.”
“Christian truth is the power of the Gospel. We must stand by our Christian cognitive statements in the Gospel but [also] know that this truth is a transformative truth,” he said. “There is a moral character of knowledge that we as Christians must ever have in mind.
“The transformative vision of the church [is that] it is the church after all. We are to be part of an army, not lone warriors. We are called to be the soldiers of Christ, not mercenaries. We are called to be the church militant until by God’s grace, when the Lord comes and claims His church, we are the church triumphant. The triumph will be His, not ours.”
Members of both the board of trustees and the faculty at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously adopted a resolution affirming “God’s exhaustive definite foreknowledge” and condemning open theism as “an egregious biblical and theological departure from orthodoxy.”
Trustees acted on the resolution at their fall meeting on Oct. 14, adopting a statement penned by a committee of seminary faculty members. The faculty unanimously passed the resolution earlier this month.
The statement reaffirms the historic Christian teaching on God’s foreknowledge as set forth in both the seminary’s confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles and the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message. Proponents of the so-called “openness of God” deny that God exhaustively knows the future, and that God can know only possible future outcomes.
Scripture clearly teaches otherwise, seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said. If open theism is correct, then the plan of salvation through the person and work of Christ only took place through God’s “good intentions” and not as His saving act, he said. It also undermines biblical prophecy, he said.
“When Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin and Peter in his day of Pentecost sermon, he made clear, ‘these things happened by the plan and predetermined will of God in order that Christ would die,’” Mohler said.
“If you take this position of open theism seriously and begin to look at it, the entire plan of salvation comes down to God’s good intentions rather than His saving act.”
The resolution reads as follows: “Open theism’s denial of God’s exhaustive definite foreknowledge constitutes an egregious biblical and theological departure from orthodoxy and poses a serious threat to evangelical integrity. In accordance with our confessional documents—the Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message—the Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary affirms God’s exhaustive definite foreknowledge including the knowledge of all future free choices and actions of his creatures, and thereby denies that open theism is a viable evangelical view.”
Faculty members wanted to make a statement on open theism in light of a pending action on the issue at the upcoming meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS).
At the society’s annual meeting set for Nov. 19-21 in Atlanta, the membership of ETS—composed of scholars and theologians from across the evangelical world—will likely vote on whether proponents of open theism may remain within the society.
Southern faculty members have been active in the debate over open theism with theology professor Bruce Ware publishing two major books on the subject. In 2001, the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology devoted an issue to the topic.
“I think [it is] an extremely powerful statement from an institution to have a unanimous action by the faculty and by the board affirming this,” Mohler said.
“It’s not as if this is an open question for us, the answer is absolutely and explicitly given to us in the Baptist Faith and Message and the Abstract of Principles. So it’s not like we are coming up with a new doctrinal statement. This is a specially-timed resolution addressed to an issue that is not, by name of course, mentioned in our confessional documents.”
To accommodate continuing growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the school’s board of trustees Tuesday approved a revised master plan that will add classrooms and parking spaces within the next year.
Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., told trustees the seminary’s growth requires difficult decisions regarding campus facilities. Because of the need for classroom space, Southern will renovate and reassign two existing buildings for academic use.
Rankin Hall, which now houses the seminary’s Child Development Center, will be transitioned into a classroom facility for Boyce College, Southern’s undergraduate school. The center, which provides daycare to 72 student, faculty, staff and community children, is scheduled to close at the end of the academic year in May 2004.
The seminary will also convert a 76-year-old gymnasium into two high-technology classrooms.
Mohler said the changes are necessary because the seminary must keep its mission of preparing Gospel ministers as the main priority.
“The moves reflect a concentration on our core assignment,” said Mohler. “We are forced by enrollment gains to make difficult choices and must look to other options for child care needs. We are very concerned for the well-being of the children and families currently using the Child Development Center. We will work with staff and families over the next several months to develop a transition plan.”
Southern Seminary’s enrollment exceeds 3,500, including more than 600 students at Boyce College.
Mohler told trustees that Southern must remain on a “wartime footing” because of the urgency of its call to proclaim the Gospel amid a culture that is becoming increasingly secularized, he said.
“An institution that is called to a wartime footing will make different decisions than an institution that thinks we are at peace with the world and our future is secure,” Mohler said.
“It means as we look to the future and as we are operating in the present, we have got to insure that we are doing what the churches have called us to do. Actually, our assignment is not just to mobilize students. It’s not just to build a seminary. You need to re-conceive this seminary as a West Point or an Annapolis [whose purpose is] to train those who will go out and lead the church for the battle.”
The master plan includes several projects, totaling more than $3.2 million in the first year. The entire revised Master Plan is scheduled for completion by December 2006. Under the plan:
* Levering Gymnasium, built in 1927, will be converted into two high-technology classrooms in 2004. Each of the two classrooms will seat 160. The gym currently serves as an auxiliary to the Honeycutt campus center, which features a modern gymnasium facility.
* Rankin Hall, which houses the school’s Child Development Center, will be converted into eight new classrooms for Boyce College.
* Parking capacity will increase with the addition of 136 spaces in 2004 and an additional 86 in 2005.
* Twenty-four residential units will be added to Fuller Hall in 2005, along with cosmetic improvements, a sprinkler system, and other amenities.
* Alumni Memorial Chapel will receive an upgrade in technology.
* Sprinkler systems will be installed in Carver and Mullins halls. Mullins will also receive a cosmetic renovation.
* Boyce Library will receive improvements including high-density book shelving and floor-by-floor refurbishing. Dated or worn aesthetics will receive a cosmetic facelift.
* Village Manor Apartments will be sold to a “friendly buyer” in 2004. The private entity buying Village Manor will renovate the 251-unit complex and maintain it as a low-income facility. The renovated apartments will continue to be available for student occupancy under private ownership.
Mohler said the master plan’s current projects are only the beginning of changes the seminary will undertake to allow continued growth. The changes will not only allow more students to benefit from the seminary, but will also increase Southern’s ability to carry out its stewardship in the way it uses campus space, Mohler said.
Churches are seeking ministers from Southern Seminary at a rate that exceeds the number of graduates annually going out from the school, Mohler said. The master plan is aimed at meeting that demand, Mohler said.
“We’ve had the opportunity over the last several years, in a number of very different ways, to make certain we are doing what the churches want us to do,” Mohler said.
“But the proof is always in the pulpit. And the good news is that churches demand our graduates. We have no trouble placing our graduates. We have more requests for our graduates than we yet have graduates.
“The time is short. We need to do everything possible to equip those who are currently studying at Southern Seminary to be readied in every way that we can possibly make possible for them to go out in the churches to be faithful servants of the Word and under-shepherds of the flock.”
In other business, trustees:
* Elected with tenure Duane Garrett to the faculty. Garrett presently serves as Old Testament professor at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. He will begin as professor of Old Testament at Southern in the fall of 2004.
* Unanimously approved a resolution denying that open theism is a viable evangelical view. Open theism contends that God does not have exhaustive definitive foreknowledge (see accompanying article).
* Approved the repair of Southern’s swimming pool. The pool has been out of service since earlier this year and will undergo extensive repairs. The project will cost $215,000 and is expected to be completed by summer.