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To guard the future, 10 mandates urged for SBC

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s past successes do not ensure the future, seminary President Danny Akin said during “The Mission of Today’s Church” conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., addressed the conference on the SBC’s future.

From the small initial meeting in 1845 attended by only 293 people, the SBC has grown to include 40 state conventions, more than 1,000 associations, 43,000-plus churches, a membership of 16.3 million and an array of efforts over the course of 160 years to make the Gospel known, Akin said.

In recent years, the conservative resurgence that began in 1979 and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 have been defining moments.

“The conservative resurgence gave Southern Baptists a second chance, but it did not secure our future,” Akin said in his address during the Feb. 10-12 conference cosponsored by the seminary’s Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry and Broadman & Holman Publishers of LifeWay Christian Resources.

“Has there been a resurgence? Yes,” Akin said. “Has there been a restoration? Doubtful. Have we experienced revival? Clearly, the answer is no.”

Despite the successes of the past 25 years, Southern Baptists still struggle for a clear vision of what God wants them to be, Akin said in prefacing 10 mandates Southern Baptists must embrace as they face the 21st century.

Akin began by calling Southern Baptists to redefine their concept of church at the outset of the 10 mandates.

1) The non-negotiable of a regenerate church.

“The membership of the local church is made up of those who confess Christ as Savior and Lord and whose life gives evidence of conversion,” Akin said.

“This does not mean that unbelievers are not invited and welcomed as they attend,” he said, noting that churches should be seeker-sensitive but not seeker-driven.

Church membership is a privilege -– and not a right -– of Christians, Akin said.

“There are requirements and expectations that are clearly defined and articulated when it comes to local church membership,” Akin said. “This involves more than raising a hand, walking an aisle, filling out a card. It requires an understanding of the gospel, public confession of one’s faith evidenced by a clear verbal testimony and a pledge to walk in the newness of life in Christ.”

This led to Akin’s second mandate:

2) The essential nature of believer’s baptism by immersion.

In the New Testament, Akin noted, public confession of Jesus Christ was not carried out by walking an aisle. Noting that he fully supports public invitations and sees the concept in the Bible, Akin said, “Still, public confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord was not by coming forward to the front of the church at the time of invitation. Public confession in Christ was by baptism. Indeed, an ‘unbaptized believer’ is an oxymoron in light of the New Testament.”

The mode (immersion), the member (a believer) and the meaning (public identification with Christ and the Christian community) are laid out in Jesus’ mandate in Matthew 28:16-20, Akin said. He encouraged churches to seek evidence for regeneration in baptism candidates, exercise great care when baptizing children and emphasize the biblical mandate for a follower of Christ to be baptized.

3) The recovery of church discipline and genuine disciple-making as essential marks of the church.

“Church discipline is clearly and repeatedly taught in the New Testament,” Akin said. “Unfortunately, it is rarely practiced in Christ’s church today.”

Some key verses on church discipline cited by Akin include Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Galatians 6:1-4 and Titus 3:9-11. Without proper discipline within the church, church members will gradually lose their distinction as holy or set-apart people, Akin said.

“Historically, Baptists have viewed church discipline as an essential mark of the church, along with the Word rightly preached and the ordinances properly administered,” he said. “We find this evidenced in our earliest confessions, going back to the Anabaptists.”

Unfortunately, Akin said, there is no specific mention of church discipline in Baptist Faith and Message from 1925, 1963 or 2000.

In order to regain this key aspect of the church, Akin challenged Southern Baptists to teach what the Bible says about church discipline and begin applying it to areas like absentee membership.

Akin’s mandates not only focused on the overall definition of the church but they also entailed a refocus on its function and ministry strategy:

4) The emphasis and practice of a genuinely Word-based ministry.

The first passage Akin mentioned with regard to a Word-based ministry was John 8:31-32 in which Jesus says, “The truth will set you free.” If knowing truth comes from holding to Jesus’ teaching and if truth brings freedom, then many Baptists and their American neighbors are still in slavery, Akin said.

“Seduced by the sirens of modernity,” he said, “we have jettisoned our Word-based ministry that is expository in nature. We have, in our attempt to be popular and relevant, become foolish and irrelevant.”

Akin called Baptists to return to preaching with an expositional method, a theological mindset and an evangelical mandate. That preaching should model how congregation members can, in turn, teach the Word to co-workers, neighbors and friends, he said.

5) The vision for a faithful and authentic biblical ecclesiology.

Akin brought attention to the issues of stewardship and discipleship –-concerns he described as related. For Southern Baptists, the statistics are alarming, he said, noting that undesignated giving by churches to the Cooperative Program has fallen one-third over the past 15 years, from 7.85 percent to 5.3 percent.

“A new and younger generation must be properly discipled and equipped so that they might do their work of ministry and financially support the work of ministry,” Akin said. “The members of our churches must move from being shoppers to buyers to investors.”

6) The continued nurturing of a fervent missionary and evangelistic passion wedded to healthy and robust theology.

Though taking the Gospel to the nations is a biblical mandate, it does not happen automatically, Akin said, noting that churches must be intentional about their evangelistic efforts. Pastors who are not committed to evangelism should not be in ministry, he said.

Effectively sharing the Gospel in America almost certainly requires a multi-pronged approach, Akin said. Churches and individuals should use whatever method is most effective in their context, he said, listing such evangelism tools as FAITH, Evangelism Explosion and NET.

The six Southern Baptist seminaries should train students to be personal evangelists and teach models of church evangelism that are easily transferable into the local church context, Akin said.

“God has brought a mission field to our land,” he continued. “If we ignore or neglect it, He will certainly and rightly judge us and do so most severely.”

7) The pursuit of a first-century biblical model for church planting.

Akin noted that the 21st century looks much like the first century, with the marketplace, the worldview and spirituality of today bearing a striking resemblance to that of the Apostle Paul’s day. With that in mind, Akin called for a return to church planting first century-style.

“We are losing America and the West because we are losing the great metropolitan areas where there is a concentration of people,” Akin said. “Paul’s strategy for evangelizing the Roman Empire must become our strategy with a clear focus and intensity.”

In addition to refocusing Southern Baptists’ concept of ministry, the mandates presented by Akin also called for a renewed sense of commitment:

8) The recovery of the Bible’s view of marriage as a sacred covenant designed by God to last for life.

Despite the view of marriage set forth in Scripture, such as Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:4-11, Akin said born-again believers maintain a divorce rate statistically identical to non-believers. He cited a study by George Barna that found the Baptist denomination to have the highest divorce rate of any Christian denomination.

“Today, our Lord must weep at what He observes in Southern Baptist churches,” Akin said. “Few men are willing to stand in their pulpits and utter with a prophetic voice the sin of divorce.”

In calling Christians to rediscover the significance of a God-honoring marriage, Akin noted that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 describes marriage as “God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His Church.” A biblical marriage makes God known not only to Christians but to non-Christians, Akin said. A God-designed, God-honoring marriage, he reiterated, brings glory to God.

9) The cultivation of vibrant, sound and productive seminaries in touch with the churches they serve.

Seminaries must seek to equip ministers with the tools needed to lead healthy churches that impact their communities with the Word of God, Akin said.

“Seminaries must never lose sight of the fact that they are servants of the churches and not the academy,” he said. “We may speak and engage the world of scholarship, but our first and primary calling is to serve and equip the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

With seminaries sometimes criticized for what they do not offer students, such as skills in leadership and interpersonal relations, Akin said seminaries could partner with churches in order to better join theoretical know-how with practical experience.

“Such an approach to theological education allows the seminaries to focus on and do what they do well, and it allows local churches to play a vital role in educating ministers for the churches,” Akin said.

10) The wisdom to look back and remember who we are, so that, as we move forward, we will not forget who we were.

Akin drove his point home by listing such names as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson.

Several generations of Southern Baptists now have no knowledge of these heroes from Christian history, Akin said.

“This is unacceptable. This must change,” he said. “To lose sight of our heritage is to forget who we are.”

A knowledge of the past necessitates a plan for the future, Akin said. A longing for the past is not the answer because it disregards the future, he noted. However, if Southern Baptists remember their heritage, he said, the challenges of the future will be met with increased hope.

    About the Author

  • Michael McCormack