(Editor: Dan Barnes is the Associate Pastor of Heartland Community Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa. He has some interesting perspectives here, so enjoy the discussion and play nice.)
I am excited and encouraged by the movement taken by the Southern Baptist Convention with the Great Commission Resurgence. I am excited to see so many coming together to focus on reaching the lost and touching the down and out. I am excited to see where God’s Plan for Sharing takes us during this decade and I am optimistic. I do have some concerns, however, that I think are holding us back. More than that, I fear that God will not bless our efforts if a few things don’t change within our churches, our ministries and our modes of operation. I am throwing these things out there as concerns of mine, feel free to disagree, I know many of you will think I am off base. Come, let’s reason together to see the bigger picture.
My first concern I have to say is the way we present the gospel. As a Professor once told me “Southern Baptists preach grace, but we live works.” There are a number of ways that we do this, so let’s start at the beginning with Salvation. We have taken God out of the equation all together, and salvation has been reduced to a simple decision. All I have to do is accept it, reach out and take it, as long as I make the choice, I do the deed, I do the right thing and make the right decision. Will someone explain to me how that is NOT works theology? Is God saving me, or is God passive here, and I go get my own salvation. After all, I went to church, I listened to the sermon, I walked the isle, I said the prayer, I made a good decision, right? Now I know many of you are already starting to seethe with the “C” word. I won’t tell you if I am or if I am not a Calvinist, because that is not the point. The point is, we have given the pastor and the individual all the glory. If I preached a message, then I led someone to Christ, and they went and got salvation (we use the word received, because it sounds more passive), then who gets the glory? We give God glory because He made us so smart?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against people coming forward and praying and asking for forgiveness, but we have the process wrong in our heads. We preach the gospel, that’s it. We need to tell people they stand in judgment before a Holy and Righteous God, that they are lost and that they need Jesus. At the sermon of Pentecost, Peter didn’t give an alter call. He didn’t need to, the Holy Spirit touched the people and they responded. We knew they needed a Savior because of the message, and they didn’t need to be told to make a decision. They made a decision because the Holy Spirit worked in them and touched them, and Peter gives God the credit. In verse 39, he says “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:39 (emphasis mine). Peter didn’t say “for everyone who hears my preaching.” Folks, we have to give credit where credit is due, and begin to give God glory of salvations. For far too long we have taken far too much credit. Any time our salvation message gives glory to the preacher, to the sinner, to the church or to anyone other than God, than we have missed the mark, lost our mind and we have sinned. We must take the pride from our evangelism.
We have put too much of God’s work on our shoulders. One of the phrases that has really started to bother me is “damage our witness”. What that really means is, if you mess up, you can’t lead someone to the Lord. There are so many thing wrong with that, it’s hard to know were to begin. I am not saying we have free license to sin, so I don’t want a bunch of comments saying “so it’s ok to act however you want”. That’s not that point. The point is, how can you damage the fact that you were once dead, standing in judgment and now you are a child of God, even if you break a rule, if you sin, if you really blow it, God still loves and forgives you. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. No, just like Paul says in Romans 6:1 that we don’t continue to sin because we have grace, but we strive to be more like Jesus because of grace. So then, where did the talk of damage our witness come from? If my job is to preach the gospel, share with people that they are sinners in need of a savior, and the Holy Spirit does the rest, where does this ideology come from? The idea that I need to protect, build and maintain my witness in order to do the work of the Gospel. We have built a structure of works, or law and legalism to the point we are blinded by it and accept it as gospel truth. In reality, the people who are often the most successful at sharing their faith are people who are trying to get out of the mess of life where Jesus found them. I have seen addicts and down and out people who Jesus reached down and touched, and they shared their heart, and the Spirit moved. They are still in the depths of their sin and addiction, but God used them. They didn’t have to earn it.
We tell people that they don’t have to earn grace, they don’t have to earn salvation, but they have to earn the right to take communion. We love the passage in 1 Corinthians verse 27, that if we eat in an unworthy manor, we are guilty of profaning the body and blood. My question become, what is an unworthy manor? If someone is newly saved, but still has issues, are they unworthy to take communion? If someone gets in a fight with their spouse on the way to church, can they take communion? We have taken this passage out of context so far, that most of us aren’t even sure what the surrounding passages are all about. Paul is chastising the Corinthians for their treatment of one another. The “haves” and the “have nots” are separated, and the sin committed is against the body, as it says in verse 29. “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 1 Corinthians 11:29-ESV (emphasis mine). Notice it doesn’t say “body and blood”, just body. The reason is simple, it’s referring to the Body of Christ, the church, the community. Instead, we have taken this passage and made it about me as an individual, if I am worthy and if I have earned the right to partake in this remembrance. In doing so, I believe we are often guilty of the same sin as the Corinthians, looking at the “have nots” as not worthy to participate in communion. In reality, none of us are worthy, the only thing good in us is the Spirit of the Lord.
Lastly, I believe that God will not bless us for the way we have treated and used His Word. We have proof texted our ideals to the point that we don’t know what the word really says or really means. Let me give you one example that is the most common and obvious. I have heard many, many pastors and leaders over the years condemn tattoos because it mutilates the body, and of course it says in Leviticus not to get a tattoo. Have you ever read that passage of scripture? Why is the tattoo portion still valid, but we can wear mixed fabrics? Yes, cotton blends are forbidden according to that same passage. So are goatees and eating fruit off a fruit tree before it’s produced for 4 years. The common Southern Baptist has no context for that passage at all, but it says something we like. We don’t like tattoos, because bikers and sailors get tattoos, they are bad people and we don’t want them. We found a verse that fits our ideology, and we use it. Then we throw in the “your body is a temple” and “honor God with your body” without any thought to the meaning, text and ramifications or implications. We have used and misused the scripture for our purposes, and that does not glorify the Lord.
In my opinion, we have sins and issues in the Convention that need to be repented from and corrected before we can really see a Great Commission Resurgence. I welcome your thoughts and comments about this issue. We have addressed the issues of programs, of partnerships, of priorities. We have looked at allocation of funds, personnel, vision and ministry focus. Now we must examine the spiritual aspect of the community of Christ that calls themselves Southern Baptists if we ever want to see an impact made for Christ. I truly believe God will never bless anything that doesn’t give Him the glory and honor.