25 June 2010

60 Years and Counting

On this day in 1950, North Korean People's Army units invaded the Republic of South Korea. By September, the KPA had pushed combined ROK and US forces into a small pocket around the city of Pusan on the southern tip of the peninsula. The landings at Inchon cut off the KPA forces, and a great number were captured or destroyed in the following few weeks.

MacArthur, contrary to guidelines given him by the Pentagon, began pursuing the KPA forces north towards China. In late November, the Communist Chinese Army began attacking US and UN forces all along the front south of the Yalu River. One part of this action, the fight between the US Marines and CCA forces around the Chosin Reservoir, would become one of the most legendary battles in the history of the Corps. In only a few months, battle lines were back to about the 38th parallel, where they had started in June of 1950. Stalemate was reached, and a cease fire was signed in July of 1953.

No treaty was ever signed. While there was no formal declaration of war, we are still technically at war with North Korea. Recent events have illustrated this fact (the sinking of a South Korean ship with great loss of life, North Korean posturing, etc.).

Perhaps the saddest part of the whole thing, documented in the book Breakout by Martin Russ, is the huge number of Christians in the North who have been sent into hiding, prosecuted, and even killed since 1950. Missionaries had been active in Korea for the first half of the 20th century, and the country was majority Christian at the time of the communist takeover. Many US soldiers and Marines told stories of people bringing bibles out of hiding places and praying and singing with the troops upon their villages and homes being liberated by northward-advancing forces. Once they communists moved back south, these people were forced back into hiding (or worse) again. Nothing has changed in 60 years.

I wonder what the state of the church in North Korea is today? I pray for those folks to someday (soon) have the freedom to worship God openly again, as the people in the old Soviet Union were able to do after 80 years of communism there.

22 June 2010

Why 'Contemporary' as a Criterion is Not Helpful

"Why are there not signs outside churches that read: “Theologically Significant Worship,” or “Worship Appropriate to a Meeting between God and His Assembled People,” or “Worship That Is Literarily Apt and Thoughtful”? Why do the signs say “Contemporary Worship,” as though that criterion were itself worthy of promoting?"

That quote comes from the introduction to, "Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns" by T. David Gordon (can be found HERE).

It is an interesting thought...we put the term 'contemporary' on a lot of things without regard to what it means, and more importantly, what it doesn't mean. It's not just our music either. Historically, we used quite a few criteria for selecting our hymns, and in the same vein, our worship content. Gordon submits these criteria as historically important to the church-

> theologically orthodox lyrics
> theologically significant lyrics
> literarily apt and thoughful lyrics
> lyrics and music appropriate to a meeting between God and his people
> well-written music with regard to melody, harmony, rhythm, and form
> musical setting appropriate to the literary form

Then he says, appropriately, that only an arrogant generation could imagine that it could possibly replace and surpass (and render obsolete) all previous hymns with a new body of music. I agree.

We should seek to evaluate the worth of our music not with the label of 'new' or 'old' but with the consideration that it is gospel-centered and appropriate to the meeting of God and his people. Some contemporary music does these things well (consider, "In Christ Alone" for example). Some traditional music does not (consider, "The Savior is Waiting" as a classic example of B.A.D. traditional music). Even the idea of mixing contemporary music with traditional music (the so-called blended worship style) is a bad idea of the content is wishy-washy and not gospel-focused and God-glorifying (and yes, I have a problem with singing 'Jesus is your boyfriend' songs in worship...it is not God-glorifying but rather self-glorifying).

If you want to hear some good stuff, go HERE and listen to some samples of the T4G 08 conference music. I bought the CD, and I love it, along with my kids. That's how a worship service should sound.

18 June 2010

What was the Most Important Thing to Come from the SBC 2010?

The most important thing to come out of the 2010 SBC which ended this past week in Orlando wasn’t the adoption of the GCR (which was good, as best I can tell); it was a resolution.
The convention overwhelmingly passed the following resolution on the centrality of the gospel, which is one of the the topics majored on in Sunday School class and church meetings. There are quite a few, ‘whereas’ clauses, but each one is worth reading carefully and looking at the given scripture reference.

It looks like this-

On The Centrality Of The Gospel
June 2010

WHEREAS, We are, every one of us, sinners against God and, apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, deserving of only condemnation (Romans 3:23; 6:23); and

WHEREAS, The gospel is the good news of salvation that reveals who Jesus is, what He has done, and why it matters (Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16; 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4); and

WHEREAS, Repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ brings believers into right standing with God through the blood and righteousness of Jesus (Mark 1:15; Romans 4:5); and

WHEREAS, The power of the gospel transforms believers (Romans 1:16) so that we are able to put sin to death and to pursue holiness (Romans 6:8-22); and

WHEREAS, The hope of the gospel assures us of life beyond death through the promise of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14); and

WHEREAS, The value of the gospel shows us the relative poverty of the love of money and the pursuit of worldly success (Acts 8:20-22); and

WHEREAS, The stewardship of the gospel has been entrusted to us by our Lord Jesus Christ in His Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 9:16-17); and

WHEREAS, The grace of God in the gospel grants salvation to anyone and everyone who believes, regardless of who the person is or what the person has done (Ephesians 2:8-9); and

WHEREAS, Apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no salvation (Acts 4:12); and

WHEREAS, The Great Commission Resurgence conversation has prompted Southern Baptists to a heightened awareness of the vast scope of lostness in our communities, across our nation, and around the world; and

WHEREAS, Any claim to personal self-righteousness or racial supremacy stands in contradiction to the gospel of free grace in Christ alone (Galatians 2:21; 3:27-28); now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16, 2010, call on Southern Baptists to reaffirm our commitment to the supremacy and centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our churches; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to keep the gospel foremost in every sermon they preach, so that the whole of Scripture and every aspect of life can be seen in the context of how every promise of God finds its “Yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20) in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage churches in preaching, teaching, and discipleship to proclaim the gospel to unbelievers, showing them how to find peace with God, and to proclaim the gospel to believers, that through the renewing of our minds we might continually be transformed by the gospel; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge churches to display the gospel by transcending ethnic, racial, economic, and social barriers due to our unity in Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage our churches to celebrate the gospel through the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, teaching our congregations the joy of the gospel therein; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we recommit ourselves to the glory of the gospel by greater faithfulness to the Great Commission both in personal witness and in sending more gospel workers to the unreached peoples of the world; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge churches and individual believers to study, identify, and act upon the lostness of their communities, the nation, and the world; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage each church to support its pastor as he leads personally in ongoing Great Commission involvement, both locally and globally; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we commit to speak to the outside world as those who are forgiven sinners, who have received mercy as a free gift, and not as those who are morally or ethically superior to anyone (1 Corinthians 1:27-31; 4:2-7); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we seek to live as those who have been rescued by the gospel, evidenced by forgiving our enemies, setting aside personal offenses, crucifying selfish pride, breaking down carnal divisions, and loving one another joyously, counting others as more important than ourselves; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we pray that God would pour out His Spirit to make us truly gospel-centered, gospel-saturated people whose lives and words point the world to our Lord Jesus Christ.

07 June 2010

The GCR and the McDonaldization of the SBC

There's a lot of talk in the blogosphere about the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention meetings in Orlando and the key piece of strategy called the Great Commission Resurgence.  It is a plan to get the SBC back on track with sustained growth.

I found this blog entry at


which is the news outlet for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.  It is a very objective look at the issues with an eye toward the centrality of the gospel (or lack thereof) in the SBC.  It is one of the best pieces on the issue I've seen to date.

Editor's Journal:  Against the McDonaldization of the SBC

By Douglas Baker • June 7, 2010 • 

He that delighteth not in holiness, hateth not iniquity, loveth not the unity and purity of the Church, and abhoreth not discord and divisions, and taketh no pleasure in the communion of saints and the public worship of God with his people, is not fit to be a pastor of a church.
                                                                                                         —Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

Since the days of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), it has become acceptable (even appreciated) for modern men and women to become “Machiavellian” in their actions. Effective leadership is often described as saying one thing and doing another to the point that it has become the unspoken hallmark and goal of leaders to know and understand the art of clandestine warfare—even in the church.

Many pastors, like many politicians, now combine the proverbial wiles of the fox with the strength of the lion to produce an “if you don’t lose, you win” type of attitude. Modern ministry has become so very large and lucrative that para-church ministries have, at least in the recent past, overshadowed the struggling local church with all of its problems. Specific ministry expertise combined with an ever-growing technological capacity has produced an entrepreneurial cadre of ministry professionals to create, in the words of sociologist George Ritzer, the “McDonaldization” of the church.

The idea of “McDonaldization” is a somewhat new term based on the American food chain that remains the largest franchise in the world. Ritzer’s understanding of the phenomenon is “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world.” To McDonaldize something is to put in place collections of rules, procedures and an established bureaucracy so that efficiency and effectiveness become the goal for all actions of the organization. Some aspects of this idea are extremely beneficial. They have been widely adopted across the world precisely because they are so very helpful in many ways.

It is not so much that well-run organizations fail in their mission. It is that the organization becomes the mission to the point that the original vision of its founder(s) can easily become a distant memory. Evidence that this is indeed the case in modern evangelicalism can easily be obtained by simply walking into most any Christian bookstore. The multitude of products and thousands of various books promising a fulfilled life simply by completing certain “steps” or achieving genuine spirituality through careful bite-size doses of successful Christian living in 60 minutes or less have made the “Christian” industry one of the largest in the American business market.

Yet, even as Americans continue to purchase more than 20 million new Bibles each year (which adds to the four which already sit in the average home in the United States), the state of general Bible knowledge is at an all-time low. One Gallup survey discovered that less than half of Americans could name the first book of the Bible, only a third know who actually preached the Sermon on the Mount (Billy Graham is one of the most popular answers), and only a quarter of the entire population know that the Christian church actually celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead at Easter. Sixty percent cannot name half of the Ten Commandments leading George Gallup (an Evangelical himself) to describe the United States as “a nation of biblical illiterates.”

All this in light of the special interest groups that have arisen which permeate local church ministry to such a degree that a quick survey of a pastor’s daily mail reveals everything from Christian koozies to that latest denominational program guaranteed to boost baptisms. Pastoral ministry, therefore, has easily become in many congregations more the management of a religious franchise rather than personal ministry to people the Bible calls the bride of Jesus Christ. Doctrinal rediscovery (even though deepening among denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention) has not yet overcome decades of franchise-like programs which often produced “results” with little long-term roots for genuine spiritual growth and lasting effects on the culture of both the church and society.

Large numbers mask an unhealthy reality in many congregations. This is even true in the Southern Baptist Convention. How else can the vast membership of the Southern Baptist Convention (over 16 million) result in only six million in attendance on any given Sunday if not for the organizational aptitude of the denomination to produce numbers? How many of these numbers represent authentic disciples?

In response to this McDonalization of the church, a revolt of sorts has commenced among a growing number of pastors. It is not simply determined by age (admittedly, however, most are younger), but by a stubborn refusal to be cajoled into a corporate mindset of ministry where large programs and initiatives dwarf the community of a local congregation—no matter the size. Many large and small congregations are seeking a renewed emphasis on Bible teaching, community and a personal transparency that freely admits human struggle and pain through life’s journey. Churches that are denominationally linked are creating a certain thrashing about resulting in massive shifts of momentum for denominational identity. The Southern Baptist Convention is no exception.

What the Great Commission Resurgence has revealed about the inner workings of the Southern Baptist Convention is something far more than generational conflict and loyalty to the Cooperative Program (or the lack thereof). The question: can a denomination the size of the SBC overcome its programmatic tendency toward an “SBC” franchise complete with all of its institutions, boards and programs, and advance in its place a more church-centered, gospel-driven denomination? For all of the dichotomies of spiritual/structural, obedience/allocation and heart/wallet that have captured the recent attention of various media outlets and blogs, the reality is that without severe corrective measures, the SBC might be nearing the end of organizational efficiency. The next step the denomination takes will set its course for decades to come.

Whatever transpires when messengers gather in Orlando this week will leave the SBC forever changed. For many pastors, there is no turning back. The status quo is unacceptable and the denomination’s organizational identity must be re-framed and re-formed lest it continue its slide further into merely a political turf battle. The change which is needed is a radical shift away from the denomination itself to what Richard Baxter termed the “personal conference, examination and instruction” so desperately needed by members of Christ’s flock. Baxter saw his role as pastor in the local church as “the nurse of Christ’s little ones” and those for whom he was to personally involve himself as teacher, exhorter and shepherd.

Such images give rise to a new vision for the modern church (and the SBC as a whole) that remains as old as the Bible itself. God has always provided for His people men capable of caring for others through the careful preaching of His Word, the counsel of His church and the impact thoughtful organization can bring to the advance of His kingdom. The Gospel is the key. It is the declaration that God has accomplished something so spectacular in the person and work of Jesus that even denominations must bend to its strength.

What looms in Orlando is not simply a civil war of organizational priorities, but also an opportunity for a renewal of unity around the essentials of the Gospel for the strengthening of local SBC congregations. Viewed in this way, the surge the SBC so desperately needs might be found in the re-discovery of a gospel realignment that sets its course for the 21st Century. In the words of Baxter, “Our very business is to teach the great lesson of self-denial and humility to our people, and how unfit is it then that we should be proud ourselves!” Great humility is required for the 2010 annual meeting of the SBC. Time will tell if truly spiritual men can come together to agree on gospel priorities and cast aside any pride of ownership, prestige and position.

Douglas E. Baker is executive editor of the Baptist Messenger and Communications Team leader for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.