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Zeal for missions means reformation at home, Founders group maintains

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–A church which caps off a year of biblically anemic preaching and scandalous internal sin by mailing an envelope to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering can hardly consider itself a truly missions-oriented church, said speakers at the 17th annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference. Instead, speakers pointed to a “vital connection” between the gospel vitality of churches at home and the effectiveness of the Great Commission endeavor overseas.
“Passion for missions demands a commitment to reformation,” said Tom Ascol, executive director of Founders Ministries and pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Fla., during the group’s July 20-23 sessions at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. “What we must do is increase our passion to see the gospel carried to all peoples of the earth, and out of that passion we must fully embrace the call of reformation at home.”
Preaching from Romans 2:17-24, Ascol contended the morally scandalous lives of so many American churchgoers has caused the name of God to be blasphemed as the world population equates Christianity with American moral chaos. Because the United States is so visible to the nations, he said, those who love the unconverted abroad will seek to cultivate a biblical understanding of evangelism and church discipline in the congregations at home.
“How can we explain that our trinitarian God is himself love when we can’t even get along with one another?” Ascol asked. “Why believe that our Lord spiritually and morally transforms people if we who make that claim are no different from the world?”
Noting millions of people languish on church rolls despite not having “enough spiritual impulse even to show up among the people of God” once a year, Ascol argued the chief need for reformation is the recovery of the doctrine of the new birth. Such a recovery will necessitate bold preaching on the necessity of genuine repentance and faith for salvation both in the United States and around the globe.
“If we are wrong regarding what it means to be right with God and on what is required to get right with God, then we are poised not only to propagate spiritual confusion and disease at home, but abroad as we send people from our confused churches,” he said.
Greg Wills, assistant professor of church history at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued the practice of church discipline, though largely nonexistent in contemporary church life, is a crucial part of the Southern Baptist evangelistic heritage. Recounting historical data from Southern Baptist churches in the 19th century, Wills contended early Southern Baptists saw the purity of a regenerate church as necessary to the Great Commission task. Contemporary Southern Baptists who accept the doctrine of biblical inerrancy have no choice but to submit to its authority as they seek to evangelize the world, Wills said.
“Some will object that discipline will harm missions and evangelism, but since when was obedience to God an obstacle to conversion?” Wills said. “How can we expect God’s blessing on churches in deliberate and indifferent disobedience to his plain command?”
Bill Ascol, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, Shreveport, La., argued for the biblical necessity of church discipline in an exposition of Matthew 18. Recalling his early struggles with the issue in his first pastorate, Ascol warned church leaders of pitfalls while exhorting them to be obedient in pursuing the purity of the church. Noting discipline is always exercised in grave concern for the spiritual well-being of the erring member, Ascol warned against those who would enact church discipline with a “gleam in their eye” of vengeance against another. Instead, Ascol asserted, church discipline should be lovingly administered by the congregation as a means of bringing the offender to restoration and recovering harmony within the fellowship of the church.
Ascol cited an article by theologian James Leo Garrett on the loss of discipline in Southern Baptist churches which appeared in the Kentucky Western Recorder 40 years ago. Ascol noted the article appeared just as a13-year-old William Jefferson Blythe IV was entering the sphere of influence of an Arkansas Baptist church. Blythe, who later took his stepfather’s name, Clinton, is now as president of the United States arguably the most famous Southern Baptist in the world. Ascol pointed to Clinton’s public policies and scandalous personal behavior as one fruit of the loss of church discipline in the SBC.
“President Clinton is not the problem. He’s a product of the problem,” Ascol said. “Who is growing up in the congregation you pastor? What will you unleash on the world if Jesus tarries?”

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  • Russell D. Moore