LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Southern Baptist churches must be known as passionate for God’s glory, loving toward others and winsome in their discipleship if they are to make the impact on society that God desires, pastors were told during the opening session of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference, June 21 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.
A passion for God’s glory, and not mere external religion, must drive and animate the local churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, said J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C.
Preaching from Matthew 23, where Jesus uses seven “woes” to upbraid the Pharisees for their adherence to legalistic false religion, Greear pointed out that some Southern Baptists have focused on superficial outward piety to the exclusion of a substantive faith that goes hard after a relationship with God.
Greear noted six timeless truths that define people who are merely religious: obsession with self-exalting titles, substituting ritual for a love for God, elevating secondary church traditions above a love for God, emphasizing religious ritual above a love for others, keen awareness of the sins of others but not their own and thinking sin is always a discussion about someone else.
A genuine believer instead sees the depth of his own sin and need for God’s mercy above all, Greear said. The external religion of the Pharisees views God as a means to a man-centered end, fails to take seriously the matchless grace that converted sinners have received from God and ultimately undermines evangelism and missions, he said.
Greear warned Southern Baptists about the dangers of formalism and encouraged them toward a renewal of genuine religion of the heart, one that exhibits profound humility.
“We don’t live under a sense of how merciful God has been to us,” he said. “Instead, we emphasize behavior and politics as the things God is most concerned about. We don’t teach people to cast themselves on the mercy of God where we live on a daily basis.
“We have many who have not converted to Jesus; they have only converted to Southern Baptist religion,” Greear continued. “We must repent of our sin of using God and for delighting in anything but Him [and] repent of our self-righteousness and thinking there is something about us that makes us better than others.
“We [in the SBC] are the ones God brought back from the deadness of liberalism,” Greear concluded. “God has brought us too far to trade the deadness of liberalism for the deadness of traditionalism.”
Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said even though the Southern Baptist Convention has the best preaching, the best churches and the best unified giving plan in America, the reason membership numbers aren’t growing could be that people in a watching world don’t like what they see.
“Do you not think Satan knows the best thing he can do is get you angry at something, and if he gets you angry at something, he’ll get you off your rhythm and he’ll get you off of your game,” Brunson said. “I’m afraid that’s where we are.
“I’m afraid we as Southern Baptists right now are off our rhythm and off of our game,” Brunson continued. “We desperately need to get back to what God’s Word calls us to and that is to hold forth the Word of life — to preach the Gospel.”
Southern Baptists, Brunson said, need to focus on the ideas they can agree on and have compassion for one another, rather than getting involved in emotional tennis matches that destroy their witness to unbelievers.
“You don’t have to defend yourself. You’re not your own,” Brunson said. “You were bought with a price and you belong to Jesus. Let Him have it.”
How Southern Baptists treat each other will send a message with eternal implications to a watching world.
“If they like what they see, they’ll listen to what we say. If they don’t, they won’t,” he said. “My concern for the Southern Baptist Convention is that we not let the foundation crumble so that all that is left is an impressive façade.”
A country in crisis needs Christians who can explain their faith winsomely and have the courage to live it out, Chuck Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship ministry in Lansdowne, Va., told the pastors.
Like a platoon leader charged with preparing his soldiers for combat, a pastor has a great responsibility to equip and prepare his people to take their faith into the world and make disciples for Jesus Christ, Colson said.
“Too many times, pastors today are more concerned with comforting the congregation than leading them,” Colson said. “Don’t pander to the people in the congregation. Lead them. Show them what they’ve got to do to understand their faith and to be able to defend it in the world and live it out in the marketplace.”
The United States is in great conflict, a “perfect storm” of crisis that presents tremendous opportunities for the Gospel, Colson said. Economic meltdown, the unprecedented expansion of government power, the continued threat of terrorism and the loss of America’s national identity tempt people to crawl into their bomb shelters and look after themselves, when they need to proactively take the Christian Gospel to their friends, neighbors and co-workers.
The challenge facing the church is to make disciples of the one-third of the American people who claim to love and follow Jesus Christ, Colson said.
“We have misread the Great Commission,” Colson said. “The Great Commission isn’t to go into all the world and make converts. The Great Commission is to go into all the world and make disciples…. The most critical thing the church of Jesus Christ can do today is to disciple its own members to know what they believe, why it matters and then to have the courage to live it out in society.”
England has seen a wave of prominent atheists converting to Christianity because Christian faith alone can make sense of life and transform sinful human beings, Colson noted. A crisis is the perfect time to equip Christians to explain their faith in a winsome way people can understand.
“Yes, these are desperate times. They are filled with fear, and lots of people are cowering in their bomb shelters, but it’s no time to give up,” Colson said. “God is sovereign. He only wants our best efforts. And our job as Christian leaders is to make disciples … to develop Christian minds so people can think Christianly about all of life and then behave that way and present a winsome witness to our neighbors and live out our faith in the marketplace.
“Thirty-four percent of the American people share our convictions,” Colson said. “If we started training and discipling them and turning them into a movement, we would turn this country upside down. We start on our knees, repent, disciple people and then watch what God chooses to do through us.”
Reported by Jeff Robinson of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Erin Roach and Mark Kelly of Baptist Press.