Allen S Nelson IV

7 Signs of a Strong Convention

I am grateful to the Lord to be the father of five children. Being the father of five by no means makes me a parental expert, but it does mean I’ve had some repeat experiences with each child. One of those experiences is taking your newborn to the pediatrician for their first appointment. The nurse measures, weighs, and may even do a bilirubin test on the little one. And then the doctor gives you the results. As a father, what I was always most interested in with these exams is, “Is my child healthy?” The doctors, you see, have a standard, and by this standard, they are able to give you a pretty good idea of whether or not your precious baby is on a healthy track.
As Christians, we have a standard too. We have the Word of the living God. The Bible is a sufficient plumb line for measuring the health of an individual Christian, individual local church, or even a group of churches choosing to cooperate together like we have in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Much has been written over the last few years about areas of drift in our convention. I am among those who’ve written about matters of concern. But this is not what I want to do in today’s post. My goal is to give you a standard for what a solid, healthy convention looks like, not based on history or experience, but on the Scriptures. I do not mean to suggest history and experience have no place. Of course, they do! But the goal of today’s post is to give you God’s standard for what constitutes a strong group of churches. In doing this, I urge you to consider our convention’s state for yourself and pray for any area that we are weak in based on this evaluation.
I am sure other verses could be used for such a test, but the passage I want to examine is found in Ephesians 4:7-16. I have a couple of disclaimers before we begin. First, I cannot get into verses 7-12 in this post as that could take a whole book to get through! Secondly, I understand that Paul is writing to a specific local church here. However, the same principles that apply to one local church necessarily apply to a group of local churches.
With that being said, and understanding this is not a full exposition, let’s dive in. Our focus is primarily upon verses 13-16. What does a strong convention of churches look like? Here are seven signs:

Genuine Unity

“until we all attain to the unity of the faith…” (v.13)
As local churches focus on Bible-centered, prayer-saturated, local church loving, Christ exalting ministry (cf. v.11-12), they are brought into greater unity. This unity is not centered on secular ideas, skin color, or social issues. Instead, this is genuine unity created by the Holy Spirit of God (cf. Eph. 4:3) as He continually grows us together by faith in Christ.
Because of Christ’s sovereign and gracious gifting each local church may have certain areas of ministry they thrive at better than others. But the diversity of gifting comes together in a convention only to strengthen cooperation together in unity for the same mission: Seeing Christ exalted over the nations.
Churches rooted in the Scriptures, bowing to their authority and trusting their sufficiency, and focused on the glory of Christ have genuine unity even if they may disagree on certain peripheral issues. Not every church in a strong convention will look exactly the same. But each one will have full dependence on the gospel as the hope of the nations and seek to have the Bible as their final standard on all matters of the faith, including soteriology, anthropology, ecclesiology, and so on.

Doctrinal Fidelity

“and knowledge of the Son of God…” (v.13)
Knowledge of the Son of God is certainly necessary for any person to be a Christian. Yet, it is also true that a strong Christian, church, or group of churches is continually growing and standing firm in the knowledge of the Son of God.
A healthy convention is one that is faithful to sound doctrine. It possesses confessional integrity. And this doctrinal fidelity leads to greater unity! Curtis Vaughn writes,

“Unity” is to be taken with both “faith” and “knowledge,” and the latter two words are both modified by “of the Son of God.” What Paul contemplates is a oneness of faith in, and a oneness of knowledge concerning, the Son of God…The word “faith” is to be taken in the sense of trust and confidence. The Greek word for “knowledge” is a particularly strong one, denoting full, accurate, and true knowledge.[1]

A strong convention is one strong in the doctrine of the Son of God and all of the implications for His local churches that flow out of His life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coming return.

Increasing Maturity

“…to mature manhood…” (v.13)
A strong convention is a mature convention full of mature and maturing local churches and Christians. This doesn’t mean there is no room for those who need to grow because we all need to grow!
It does certainly mean, however, that the leadership of such a convention consists of those mature in the faith. The metaphor Paul uses here is one of “manhood.” True, the church is often referred to as the “Bride” of Christ. But here, there is another image: one of a strong, healthy adult man unwavering in his convictions and resolution in his commitments to Christ.
Churches in a strong convention seek to spur one another on into greater maturity in the faith, holding one another accountable to the Scriptures and the convention’s stated confession. A mature convention is not afraid and even compelled to separate from churches that repeatedly and persistently show a lack of concern for God’s Word or growing in Christ.

Christ Conformity

“to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (v.13)
This is how we know maturity is never finished. Because our goal for maturity is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Complete conformity to Christ is something not fully and finally realized until glory. Yet, a healthy Christian, church, or convention constantly strives toward sincere holiness of life.
Being full of Christ means loving all He loves and hating what He hates. It means, like Jesus, we are concerned first and foremost about the glory of God. It means having the powers of our discernment trained in differentiating between good and evil. It means loving the Word of God, biblical worship, the local church, and the lost. It means bearing the fruit of the Spirit and understanding the moments that call for humble compassion and those that call for a strong rebuke.
In sum, a strong convention is a holy convention seeking to follow Christ in all areas.

Steadfast Immobility

“so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (v.14)
A healthy convention of churches is one that shall not be moved. It is not a ship drifting too far from the shore or a crumbling leaf blown around by an autumn wind.
The contrast here in this passage is between a grown man and a small child. A child can be easily tricked, but not a mature man. Thus, a strong convention is on guard against the godless ideologies and worldly philosophies constantly seeking to infiltrate the church.
A healthy group of churches understands that the Evil One is perpetually seeking to destroy the work of Christ on earth. It understands that today’s liberal tendencies might not look exactly like yesterday’s because Satan is crafty and will adapt his tactics custom-made for every epoch of history. Therefore, a strong convention will stand resolutely upon God’s Word and warn and even rebuke churches or leaders who are not showing appropriate care when it comes to guarding against deceitful schemes.

Loving Honesty

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (v.15)
A strong convention speaks the truth in love. That is, churches do not speak deceitful schemes or faulty doctrine. Rather, they speak, preach, teach, and live out the truth of the Scriptures. The only way to “grow up” is through the Word of God. Therefore, a healthy convention of churches loves to speak the truth to one another and to a lost and dying world. It holds the inerrant, infallible Bible as its highest authority and it trusts the Bible to teach it on all matters of the faith and to speak a sufficient word to every generation.
Often, this speaking the truth encourages and edifies the churches. But at times, the truth will convict, challenge, and rebuke people. Consider the opening illustration of taking your newborn to the doctor. If something was wrong, you would want to know, right? It would not be loving of the doctor to lie to you. So, a healthy convention of churches speaks even difficult truths to one another. Yet, all of this is done in love. In the words of R.C. Sproul, “we call attention to the truth in an extraordinarily compassionate and tender and loving spirit.”[2]
And finally, when speaking the truth to the unregenerate, a healthy convention does not seek to minimize God’s Word. Instead, it calls upon all to repent of every sin and come to Christ in faith, finding Him as the only suitable and all-sufficient Savior for all mankind.

Godward Affinity

“from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (v.16)
A strong convention of churches builds itself up in love. Though its churches may be in different geographical locations, have diverse demographics, and possess a variety of gifts, there is a genuine love for God and one another that binds the convention together.
A love for the triune God and bringing Him glory in all things means that a strong convention is concerned about honoring God in all things, from worship to evangelism, to everyday life, to convention practices. Loving God means that a convention of churches seeks to please one another by first and foremost pleasing God. A strong convention understands that we love one another best when we love God most. And it is through this that a convention will be continually built up in love.
This is not an exhaustive list, of course. But it reminds us that God would not have any convention of churches to be childish. A strong convention must be growing in the Lord, aspiring to mature manhood. A childish convention would have symptoms that are the opposite of the signs of health above, like Superficial Unity, Confessional Infidelity, Acceptable Immaturity, Worldly Conformity, Drifting Carelessly, Hating Honesty, and Cultural Affinity.
God has given us a standard, brothers and sisters. It is by His own Bible that we are to assess our spiritual health. May we not compare ourselves to contemporaries or generations past. We must look into the mirror of the Word of God. Take some time today to consider your own walk with the Lord, the state of the local church you are a member of, and the Southern Baptist Convention. Pray for our health. Pray that the Lord would be pleased to bring about the recovery of the gospel and the reformation of churches in our convention.
[1] Curtis Vaughan, Ephesians, Founders Study Guide Commentary (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2002), 95.
[2] R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 107.

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4 Ways to Pray for the SBC in 2022 and Beyond

I’ve heard Tom Ascol on a few occasions say, “The SBC is not important, but it matters.” That is, the SBC has been around less than 10% of Church History. And if the Lord should tarry and the SBC should falter, that percentage could shrink even smaller. Our gracious God does not stand in need of the Southern Baptist Convention. In that sense, it’s not important.
Yet, it does matter. The SBC continues to train thousands of men for ministry every year and quite a number of those will go on to pastor in churches not affiliated with the convention. Our seminaries are influencers both inside and outside the SBC.
If I may use a sports analogy here, the SBC also matters in the way that the Dallas Cowboys matter to the NFL. A lot of people are not Cowboys fans, but everyone is watching the organization. In a similar sense, but one so much more meaningful, everyone watches the SBC to see which way it will go. The SBC remains an influencer in the evangelical world as a whole.
God does not need the SBC. God can accomplish His mission without the SBC. We will meet myriads of people in heaven who never even heard of the SBC. And yet, in God’s kind providence we all live in the epoch of history in which the SBC does matter. And so, this post is about how those inside and outside the SBC can pray for her as she heads toward Anaheim in 2022 and beyond.
Here are four ways:
Unity
Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention is vital to its survival. The New Testament writers place a great emphasis upon unity. Jesus prays for unity in John 17. Unity is a big deal to our Lord, and we must never take this lightly.
Unity outside the church is a funny thing at times. I’ve been to a few Arkansas Razorback games where when someone scores a touchdown there is “unity” in the stands. Everyone’s fist bumping and celebrating, and you really don’t care who they voted for or someone’s skin color or even the beverage they may be holding in their hand.
This is superficial unity. It is fleeting unity. It is a unity not built to last. (Trust me, I’m a Razorbacks fan!)
This is not the type of unity we are striving to maintain in the SBC. The unity we desire, and which you must pray for, is a unity grounded in the truth. We are not after “unity for the sake of unity.” No. We are after unity around our core convictions as given in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
Thus, we are to be unified in not just the gospel, but in the things that make us Baptist as well. And the BFM 2000 is an expression of what we believe the Scriptures teach. We want unity around the authority, sufficiency, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. We, as the old VBS song goes, must “stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.”
Unity in these things means disunity with other things. We cannot be friends with the world (James 4:4). We must have disunity with godless ideologies that seek to undermine the gospel (cf. Colossians 2:8). Unity in the truth demands we separate from the things that attack the authority of or deny the sufficiency of the truth.
Purity
The second way you can pray for the Southern Baptist Convention is by praying for our purity. Pray that we would be a holy convention of churches. Pray that we would have holy leaders. Leaders who hate sin. Leaders who fear God. Leaders who understand the definition of repentance and model it before us.
Pray that we would have holy pastors and holy churches. Pray that our pastors and churches would seek to walk in the fear of our Lord. That we would take seriously the transforming power of the gospel.
Pray that we would recover a purer Baptist ecclesiology in our convention. That we would seek to have accurate membership rolls. That we would not allow unconverted persons to serve in areas of service or leadership within our churches.
We tend to focus on investigations and studies and task forces at the expense of recovering the purity of our churches. And if we recovered a purer Baptist ecclesiology, perhaps these other things would be far less needful.
The SBC needs to recover piety and seek conformity to Christ. Pray for us!
Fidelity
This is similar to the first point in the sense that pursuing fidelity will lead to unity among the faithful. But please pray specifically that we would be a convention faithful to the Word of God. That we would remember, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ…” (2 Cor. 5:10).
On that Day, we will not care so much what the 21st Century American culture thought of us. We will only care whether we listened to Him (cf. Luke 9:35).
Pray for our fidelity to the King! And we are faithful to the King when we are faithful to His Book. Pray, then, that we would submit to the Bible’s authority in all things. Pray that we would trust its sufficiency in all things. Pray that our pastors would pour over its pages week in and week out in order to preach this Word faithfully to our churches.
Pray that in 2022 and beyond, we would plant our feet steadfastly upon Sacred Writ and recover that old Baptist theme Song:
I shall not be, I shall not be moved!
Finally, pray for our:
Tenacity
Todd Wilson, in his commentary on Galatians, writes something that I think is fitting to our current situation in the SBC:
[H]ow can we avoid drifting? First, we must hold tenaciously to what we were taught. Tenacity is what Paul calls for here: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (1:8). When the Apostle Paul tells you to not listen to him and even to ignore an angel, you know he’s calling for tenacity. Charles Spurgeon had the right advice: “Cling tightly with both your hands; when they fail, catch hold with your teeth; and if they give way, hang on by your eyelashes!” Don’t let go of the gospel! That’s the kind of tenacity we all need if we’re going to stay the course and finish the race.[1]
In a very similar way, I’m asking that you pray for our tenacity in the SBC. Pray that we would be determined never to let go of the gospel. Pray for our perseverance to preach the true gospel to all sinners, believing it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Pray that we would strive toward God wrought conversion for our neighbors and the nations.
We must be tenacious in our evangelism. We are seeking to win lost souls. Not coddle them. Not adapt to them. But to win them by God’s sovereign grace. To see them brought from death to life.
The Southern Baptist Convention has inroads all across the United States and throughout the whole world that no other organization has collectively. And we must use these institutions for the promulgation of the truth of Christ.
The world’s greatest problem isn’t the color of one’s skin or the size of one’s bank account or the lack of one’s education. The world’s most significant problem is that all men stand condemned before a Holy God.
But in Christ is hope. In Christ alone is hope for all who will bow the knee to Him in repentance and call out to Him in faith. We must be tenacious about our missions and evangelism.
And pray for our tenacity in standing for the truth. Pray that we would remember God is watching. The greatest commandment is still this: Love God above all. We must have a tenacious zeal for the glory of God. Pray that we would not allow the culture to change us, but that we would be like the early church in Ephesus and change the culture (see Acts 19:17-20).
Pray that we would remember the words of Christ: “The ones who conquer will be granted to eat from the tree of life” (Revelation 2:7). No, this isn’t military conquest. But this is a tenacity to remain firm till the end to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. To conquer for Christ.
Men and women and boys and girls who love Christ must be courageous in these turbulent times for the glory of our King. And really, what the lost world needs right now is courage from the church too.
Because it’s only when the church stands for the truth that sinners come under conviction, and God brings them to saving faith in His Son.
Let us pray, then, for the SBC’s tenacity.
Conclusion
I hope these 4 things are somewhat memorable and will be practical for you in your prayers for the SBC. Let us pray for her unity, purity, fidelity, and tenacity.
We ought to have love and hope for our convention even as we call out to God for her. God has graciously and powerfully used her in so many wonderful ways. And she has an enormously bright future ahead of her if the Lord, in His kindness, is willing to hear and answer our prayers. We have hope for our convention because we serve so gracious a God!
But if we fail to pray, and if we ignore the cultural moment that we find ourselves in, if we move away from the truths of Scripture we have seen and discussed in this post, we will not have to argue about a name change anymore, for history will ultimately call us:
The Ichabod Baptist Convention – The glory has departed.
Please pray.

[1] Todd Wilson, Galatians: Gospel-Rooted Living, ed. R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 31.

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7 Words to Associate with the Body of Christ

We’ve had a wonderful journey through the book of Ephesians in our local church, and one of the recurring themes in this short letter is the unity of the church as “one Body” in Christ (Eph. 4:4, see also 2:14-16, 5:23, 29-30).
I would even widen this out and say that this them is a major theme in the New Testament and also the whole Bible. God’s goal from all eternity is to have a people for Himself who worship Him and enjoy Him and glorify Him forever.
So, I want to flesh out for us in this post this one Body – the Body of Christ. And in so doing I also want to tie in some big picture biblical theology to help us understand this reality.
Let’s consider 7 words to think of when thinking about this one Body. It is important that we do not separate these words, but rather take them all together in order to appreciate the fullness and wonder of the Body of Christ.
So, the first word is:
Invisibility
Now, we want to be careful with this word and not misunderstand it, nor do we only take this word alone as our only perception of the Body. Nevertheless, invisibility is an important concept. Sam Waldron is helpful here:
“In what sense, then, is the church ‘invisible’? It is invisible because we cannot directly see the work of the Spirit which joins a person to Christ. It is invisible because we cannot perfectly judge the truth of another person’s grace. It is invisible because the church as a whole is not yet a perfected earthly reality. Visible churches are only imperfect and partial manifestation of it.”
What we mean, then, by this word is that the full Body of Christ is known only to God. And ultimately this body includes all the redeemed of all time and those in heaven now and those around the globe.
Wilhelmus Á Brakel writes, “The church is a holy, catholic, Christian congregation, consisting of true believers only, who by the Holy Spirit have been called through the Word of Gd, are separate for the world, and are united to their Head and each other with a spiritual bond, and thus are united in one spiritual body…”
And so, by invisibility, we simply mean that this Body in its fulness is only seen by God right now. It includes only those who have been regenerated and trusted Christ by faith. In the Old Testament that means those looking forward to Christ by faith and in the New Testament that means those looking to the accomplishment of Christ by faith.
The full Body of Christ is known only to God. And ultimately this body includes all the redeemed of all time and those in heaven now and those around the globe.
This means even Old Testament Israel, those of faith, are part of this one body. That is, the promise to Abraham was twofold in the sense that he would have physical offspring, but also children of the promise, spiritual children, those born again and trusting Yahweh.
And not all physical Israel was part of this promise, but only those of faith. And Paul shows that those who are of faith, whether Jew or Gentile are the real children of Abraham. (See: Galatians 3. 3:7-9, 16-19, 25-29)
This one invisible body didn’t begin in the New Testament. We see its beginning in the Old Testament. And then we see in the New Testament that Pentecost, as Philip Griffiths writes, “marked the church having reached adulthood.”
Universality
The Body of Christ is invisible and universal. It is universal in 3 ways:

Doctrine – That is, the church is built upon the truth of Christ, His Word, His gospel, the triune God, etc.
Dispersion – that is, not any one local church or group of churches comprises the full body of Christ.
Diversity – When I think about diversity I think about passages like Revelation 7:9-10. The universal church is made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation, all those who have been born again and called upon the name of the Lord in repentance and faith.

Christ is head of this one body made up of true believers of all time and all around the world today.
Perpetuity
John Calvin wrote, “as often as we hear that Christ is armed with eternal power, let us learn that the perpetuity of the Church is thus effectually secured; that amid the turbulent agitations by which it is constantly harassed, and the grievous and fearful commotions which threaten innumerable disasters, it still remains safe.”
This One Body will endure. She is often persecuted or rife with fighting or strife, but one day, Revelation 21:9 is happening: “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”
The church will endure. She will endure for all eternity. That’s why it’s quite odd for so many to think that they can live without the fellowship of the church now but enjoy it in eternity. Not true.
Invisibility, universality, perpetuity. 4th word:
Visibility
Inherent in the word “body” is visibility (cf. Eph. 4:4). So, while the church is invisible in the sense that its fullness is known only to God, it is also quite visible. You can see it. You can’t see the wind, but you can see the leaves blowing.
You can’t see the Holy Spirit, but you can see His work in the lives of bringing people from death to life and joining them with the visible church, the outward expression of the inward reality.
Certainly, there are some associated with the visible church who aren’t members of the true church. There are names on roles, or people associated outwardly with the visible church, but who are not actually a member of the true Body of Christ.
But this does not mean there are two bodies of Christ. There is not the invisible body of Christ and the visible body of Christ in the sense that these are two separate people of Christ.
Even paedobaptist, Wilhelmus Á Brakel admitted, “There is no external church of which unconverted persons are members.” So, the visible church is those who credibly profess to have faith in and follow Christ. But if that profession is not true, then they aren’t actually members of the one Body (that is, unbelievers, including, but not limited to unconverted children of believers, do not share in the covenant of grace).
Therefore, it is our endeavor as a Baptists to seek having a regenerate church membership. We believe only those part of the Body of Christ are to be part of the visible manifestation of that Body. This is why we only seek to baptize believers and are serious about accurate membership rolls.
Locality
Also inherent to the word “Body” is locality. So, while it is true that this body is spread across time and geography, it’s also true that it has particular local manifestations. Like the saints “at Philippi” or “in Ephesus.”
Sam Waldron rightly notes: “One may not credibly profess to be a member of the invisible church while despising membership and fellowship in the visible church.”
The Body of Christ is not only invisible and universal, but it is also visible and local. In fact, I would argue that in one sense saints are heading toward a wedding feast where the whole Body will be both visible and local.
So, visibility and locality are inherent to this word in Ephesians 4:4. Remember that this letter is written to a local church. And all the rest of the commands in Ephesians 4-6 are about living out Christianity within the visible local congregation.
Being part of the invisible church, if you will, is easy. You can have invisible patience. Give invisible money. Be invisibly hospitable. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? That’s because the invisibility of the church finds real expression visibly and locally whereby, we tangibly live out our lives loving and serving one another in this Body.
So, if someone says, “I’m part of the invisible universal church but not any particular visible local congregation” they have ultimately misunderstood the expression of this One Body that the Spirit creates. R.C. Sproul soberingly warns,

“Some of us may be deceiving ourselves in terms of our own conversion. We may claim to be Christians, but if we love Christ, how can we despise His bride? How can we consistently and persistently absent ourself from that which He has called us to join—His visible church? I offer a sober warning to those who are doing this. You may, in fact, be deluding yourself about the state of your soul.”

The invisibility of the church finds real expression visibly and locally whereby, we tangibly live out our lives loving and serving one another in this Body.
Invisibility, universality, perpetuity, visibility, locality, 6thly:
Formality
The Body of Christ has organization. It is institutional. Think of your own body. It has formality. It’s put together in a certain way. Its various systems work together in harmony.
People do not like to talk about the Body of Christ in this way. They do not like the word “religion” or “institution.” But Christianity is a religion. The Body of Christ is institutional. God is a God of order.
Yes, the Body is organic in the sense that the Holy Spirit regenerates and binds us together into an organic union. But, in the words of Abraham Kuyper: “Since Christianity does not animate merely an individual, but binds many together, there necessarily comes into existence a legal relationship that degenerates into confusion if there are no judicial rules.”
There are formal rules to how this Body is organized. And we get these rules from our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ as He has instructed us in His Word. He tells us who can be pastors. He shows us what membership looks like in the church. He explains to us what the ordinances of the church are and how we are to perform them. He shows us the rules for church discipline and removing someone from the fellowship of the church.
There is a formality to the Body of Christ. Our Lord shows us in His Word how we are to be structured. We don’t come together on Sunday and just think, “Well, what should we do?” “Well, I guess we will do whatever we feel today.”
No. We seek the Scriptures and see that we ought to pray together and sing together and sit under the preaching of God’s Word and observe the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
It is right then to talk about the Body as an institution. It’s not only an institution of course. But the Lord Jesus has given us formal instructions for our governance, and we must take this seriously.
There are formal rules to how this Body is organized. And we get these rules from our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ as He has instructed us in His Word.
Purity
Ephesians 4:4 comes within the context of Paul instructing the church how to live out her calling among pagans. We are to walk worthily. Christ will “present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
The Body of Christ has been cleansed. She has been washed in the blood of Christ and by faith clothed in His righteous robes. She is in union with Christ and has been given a new heart, new affections, new desires…
The local church, then, aspires to be pure. Pure in doctrine. Pure in membership. Pure in life.
We long to live out the reality of who we are in Christ. We long for others to see the beauty and splendor and glory of our King as we shine as lights in this world. We want to tell others and show others that there is real change in Jesus. There is real forgiveness in Jesus. There is real transformation in Jesus. And we seek to fight our sin and flesh every day.
The holy lives of church members commend Christ and His gospel.
Conclusion
There is one Body. And these 7 words ought to be considered together as we think about this Body:
Invisibility, universality, perpetuity, visibility, locality, formality, and purity.
Are you part of this Body? Is your life immersed in the fellowship of this Body? Do you desire the purity of this Body? Do you strive toward maintaining the unity of this Body? Is your life given to the visible manifestation of this Body in the local church?

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3 Reasons to Hold to Monergistic Regeneration

There are two words to define at the outset of today’s post. The first is monergism, and the other is synergism. Both of these words contain the Greek word “ergon” which means “work.” The prefix syn means “with”, and the prefix monomeans “alone.”
In Christian theology, the word “Synergism” means that the new birth (regeneration) results from the work of both God and man together. It essentially teaches that being born again is God’s work with man. God does His part; man does his part, and voila! – regeneration.
Monergism, on the other hand, says that the new birth is entirely God’s work alone. Regeneration, rather than being God laboring “with” man, is God’s work in man. Every person is in such a dead and depraved condition that he or she is unable and unwilling to bring about the new birth. God does this of His own will by the Word of truth according to His great mercy (cf. James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:3).
As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached, “[Y]ou do not become a Christian as the result of human activity, not even human endeavor at its best and highest…Becoming a Christian is all of God.”[1]
In today’s post, I’d like to give you 3 practical arguments for why you should hold to monergism as opposed to being a synergist. You should believe that regeneration is God’s work alone apart from any assistance from the sinner. Here’s why:

The Bible is Trustworthy

I had to begin here. You should hold to monergism because it’s what the Bible teaches. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter so much what Calvin or Spurgeon or anyone else believed in comparison to what the Bible teaches.
Titus 3:5 teaches us that we did not save ourselves. We did not make ourselves savable. Rather, God saved us without our assistance.
We must not let our particular soteriological tradition or personal experience, or heroes of the faith cloud our understanding of what the Scriptures teach. The Bible is sufficient to teach us how salvation works. It is also authoritative; therefore we are obligated to trust its precious truth! “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63).
As J.C. Ryle preached, “if the Bible be indeed true and our only guide to heaven, and this I trust you are call ready to allow, it surely must be the duty of every wise and thinking man to lay to heart each doctrine which it contains, and while he adds nothing to it, to be careful that he takes nothing from it.”[2]
The Bible is our source for all sound doctrine. Everything we believe must be held up to the scrutiny of God’s Word. Everything we believe must flow from this Book for it is truth. It is in the truth we must stand, and it is by the truth that we are sanctified (John 17:17). The Bible is worthy of our time and study.
If the Bible never presses you, never makes you uncomfortable, never leads you to question yourself, never challenges you, never changes your mind, actions, and heart, never humbles you, never convicts you…I’m not sure which translation you’re using but switch now. Of course, the problem is not the “translation,” is it? It’s operator error.
To follow Jesus is to follow His Word. It is to desire to understand and know and grow in sound doctrine. And so rightly grasping the doctrine of monergism is practical because to not understand it is to misunderstand a core truth of the Bible.
The Bible is our source for all sound doctrine. Everything we believe must be held up to the scrutiny of God’s Word.
Yes, you can be a Christian and be confused on this doctrine. But why would you want to be confused or mistaken? Doesn’t being a Christian make you want to know His word rightly?
Psalm 111:2 says, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” Oh, how great a work of God is the new birth! So, may we continue to study to remove any unbiblical notions of this precious work from our minds.

The Holy Spirit is Truly God

Now, I do not mean to imply that those who do not hold to monergism are not trinitarians! But I do want to press us to understand that all sound doctrine is interconnected. Monergism is a consistent way of magnifying and glorying in the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
Herman Bavinck writes,
The Christian church…has consistently – and all the more vigorously as it gained more insight into the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit – assumed a special divine activity in regeneration. Just as, to the extent it became more firmly persuaded of the necessity of internal grace, it confessed all the more decisively and joyfully the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit.[3]
Now, certainly synergists can identify “a special divine activity in regeneration.” But only monergism understands this divine activity as wholly sovereign and all of grace, thus attributing to the Holy Spirit His due glory for bringing about the new birth.
To suppose the Holy Spirit needs our help in the new birth separates how He works from that of the Father and the Son. For example, the Father did not need our help in electing us for salvation. The Son did not need our help in dying on the cross for our sins. Why then would the 3rd Person of the Trinity need our help in regeneration? Is He lesser than the Father or Son? Of course not!
John Flavel rightly wrote,
[T]he Father hath elected, and the Son hath redeemed; but until the Spirit (who is the last cause) hath wrought his part also, we cannot be saved. For he comes in the Father’s and in the Son’s name and authority, to put the last hand to the work of our salvation, by bringing all the fruits of election and redemption home to our souls in this work of effectual vocation.[4]
Now, understand my point here. I am not saying that someone who thinks regeneration is a work of God and man together is out and out denying the Trinity. Synergism is not a heresy.[5] But I am saying that if you think regeneration is a work of God and a work of man together, you are being inconsistent in your understanding of the Trinity.
In the whole scope of salvation, in the entire trinitarian work of salvation, the Father doesn’t need your help. The Son doesn’t need your help. But the Holy Spirit does need your help? To say He does besmirches His glory.
May it never be so, beloved. The wind blows where it wishes. The Spirit moves as He will. He is sovereign. He is holy. He is in control. He is deserving of our worship.
Jonathan Edwards helpfully writes that “Those who are in a state of salvation are to attribute it to sovereign grace alone, and to give all the praise to him, who maketh them differ from others.”[6] He goes on to write how we ought to exalt God the Father and God the Son. But he does not forget the Holy Spirit! Edwards reminds Christians that they ought to also,
[E]xalt God the Holy Ghost, who of sovereign grace has called them out of darkness into marvellous [sic] light; who has by his own immediate and free operation, led them into an understanding of the evil and danger of sin, and brought them off from their own righteousness, and opened their eyes to discover the glory of God, and the wonderful riches of God in Jesus Christ, and has sanctified them, and made them new creatures.[7]

It makes You a Better Evangelist

There is a certain faulty line of reasoning that says if God is completely sovereign in salvation, choosing whom He will and regenerating whom He will, then evangelism is unnecessary. This is an example of fallen men using fallen logic to reject the plain teaching of the Scriptures. The sovereignty of God in salvation in no way negates the responsibility of believers to proclaim the gospel nor does it lessen the responsibility of sinners to repent of their sins and believe the gospel. As Will Metzger notes, “[W]e should not consider these two doctrines of sovereignty and responsibility as enemies but rather see them the way the Bible does–as friends!”[8]
Adhering to monergism actually makes us better evangelists. How so? Because it reminds us not that God “might” save, but that He will save His people from their sins (cf. Matthew 1:21). It confirms that evangelism will ultimately prove fruitful in the long run.
It also helps us to not rely on gimmicks or emotionalism in order to see people savingly converted to Christ. Rather, we rely on the power of the truth of the gospel proclaimed. God causes us to be born again by the word of truth according to the power of the gospel (cf. James 1:18).
But how do we “close the deal” with sinners then? If we believe in this biblical doctrine of regeneration and trust the monergistic power of God, what do we do to see sinners savingly converted to Christ? Am I saying we just do nothing? Of course not!
W.B. Sprague rightly lectured, “[If] the doctrine of divine influence be preached in such a way as to authorize the inference that man has nothing to do in respect to his salvation, but wait to be operated upon like a mere machine…there is little probability that [people] will be converted.”[9]
What did we see Paul tell the Philippian Jailer? Believe! (Acts 16:31). He did not say, “Wait to see if you will be regenerated!” Instead, he gave him the imperative, Believe. It was the Jailer’s duty to believe on Christ.
Revelation 22:17 declares, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” All men, women, boys, and girls are invited (and commanded) to come to Christ in saving faith.
The sovereignty of God in salvation in no way negates the responsibility of believers to proclaim the gospel nor does it lessen the responsibility of sinners to repent of their sins and believe the gospel.
And this proclamation we are to publish to the uttermost parts of the earth. Trust, dear soul. Come to Christ! Repent of your sins and believe the gospel. We must preach the gospel and issue this summons to respond to all sinners regardless of our assessment of their situation. All we need to know is they are sinners. We have been commanded to share the gospel with them, and monergism reminds us that God is willing to use the proclamation of His gospel to actually and really and truly save many.
Both in Scripture and history we see the circumstances surrounding conversion happen in a variety of ways. Charles Spurgeon heard a sermon from a layperson in the midst of a wintry storm. George Whitefield read a book by Henry Scougal. John Newton recalled Scripture he had memorized as a child. The Philippian Jailer was on the brink of committing suicide.
But all of these stories, in fact every conversion story, are tied to the gospel’s proclamation and a willful response of faith. That volitional response of faith is an inevitable reaction to the Spirit’s effectual calling and sovereign gifting. But we don’t have control over that. It is not our business to power the wind but to preach the Word. It is our duty to “implore [sinners] on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
We know a sinner will not make one step toward God in his own power, for the flesh is no help at all (cf. John 6:63). But God…(Eph. 2:4). Salvation truly is of the Lord! (cf. Jonah 2:9). Monergism, then, gives us all the confidence in God and His Work, and thus motivates us to be better evangelists.
There are more reasons to hold to monergism. Regenerate church membership and understand the proper mode and subjects of baptism come to mind. But the three above reasons are enough to consider for today. I hope you’ll think through them and affirm the wonderful biblical truth of monergistic regeneration.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Born of God: Sermons from John, Chapter One (Carlisle, PA Banner of Truth Trust, 2011), 233.
[2] J. C. Ryle, The Christian Race and Other Sermons (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1900), 15–16.
[3] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI Baker Academic, 2006), 78.
[4] John Flavel, The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel, vol. 2, (London, England: W. Baynes and Son, 1820), 20.
[5] It should be noted, however, that synergism is a dangerous trajectory and an inconsistent position within Christian orthodoxy.
[6] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 854.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Tell the Truth, 109.
[9] William B. Sprague, Lectures on Revivals of Religion, (London, England Banner of Truth Trust, 1959), 84.

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Josiah vs Jehoiakim: The SBC’s Decision for 2022 and Beyond (Part 2)

In Part 1, we considered 2 Chronicles 34 and King Josiah. We saw how Josiah responded humbly and obediently to God’s Word. It reminds us that the great hope for the Southern Baptist Convention is that we will respond to the Lord in a similar way as King Josiah.
If we hope to retain Biblically conservative institutions, be a faithful missionary enterprise, and continue to see Christ made known among the nations, we, comparable to Josiah, must:

Rediscover the Book – that is, let the Bible again take its place as our highest authority and trust it as wholly sufficient.
Understand Whose Book it Is – this is God’s And since we live in God’s World, we must live and worship according to God’s rules. God defines sin, not us. God defines justice and reconciliation, not us. This is God’s Book.
Be Humble – We must reject the pridefulness of the world and go about our lives in God’s Way.
Repent – Josiah tore his clothes in repentance. As God’s Word confronts us with sin we must be willing to turn from it knowing there is forgiveness in Jesus.
Believe what the Book says – We must be willing to put our hope and trust in God’s Word. We must believe that what God’s Book says is best, even if the culture scorns it.
Teach what the Book says – as Josiah taught the people, so we must teach this Book without apology.
Do What the Book says – it is not enough to “believe” and “teach” the Book. We must build all that we are and all that we do upon the unbreakable Bible (cf. John 10:35). God’s standards must be followed, and it is to our great blessing when we do what the Book says (cf. Psalm 1).

Yet, there is another path Southern Baptists can choose. We could, to our great detriment, reject the pattern of Josiah and decide instead to walk in the ways of his son, Jehoiakim.
Jehoiakim
2 Chronicles 36 teaches us that Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim, was 25 years old when he began to reign in Judah, having been appointed to the position by Neco, king of Egypt. Jehoiakim did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh. This reminds us that ultimately what we want to do is what is right in God’s sight, regardless of what the world might say. What God says is right is right and what God says is evil is evil.
Undoubtedly, one of the major reasons Jehoiakim’s life was evil was because he rejected God’s Word. Jeremiah 36 teaches us that when he was just 29, Jehoiakim had a similar encounter to God’s Word that his father Josiah did, yet with a woefully different outcome.
Deep Cuts the Knife
God worked through the prophet Jeremiah to prepare a scroll to be read before King Jehoiakim. The stage was set again, just like it had been in the time of Josiah. And although the people had been unfaithful once again, the Lord graciously pursued them by persistently sending them His prophets. This is just like God to do. Holy and righteous, but also ready and willing to forgive.
Over 100 years prior, the prophet Jonah saw this first hand as God’s grace poured over the wicked Assyrians leading them to repentance in Nineveh. But that time had long since passed. Jehoiakim’s reign was a new day.
God had not sent the prophet Jeremiah to a foreign land but right to the heart of His people. The Lord, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, was willing to forgive. How would the earthly king of God’s people respond?
Sadly, not like his father. Instead of tearing his clothes, Jehoiakim tore God’s Word. The king took his knife and plunged it time and again into God’s scroll. It was a crime of passion, tearing God’s Word apart piece by piece and casting it into the fire.
John Gill comments that this was “a full evidence of an ungodly mind; a clear proof of the enmity of the heart against God, and of its indignation against his word and servants; and yet a vain attempt to frustrate the divine predictions in it, or avert the judgments threatened; but the ready way to bring them on.”[1]
The Way Before Us
Thus, as we approach a new year, Southern Baptists have a choice before us. When it comes to God’s Word, will we go the way of Josiah or Jehoiakim? When we reject God’s standard, when we fail to submit to His authority as mediated through His Word, when we live as though His Book is not sufficient for all matters of a godly life before Him, we are really revealing a heart at enmity with God Himself.
To reject God’s Word is not merely foolish but also wicked. For to reject the Word of God is to ultimately cast aside the God of the Word. And for those who do that, retribution will come. Ignoring God’s Word will not get anyone out of His coming judgment.
God’s Word is sufficient for how we are to know Christ, how we are to reach the lost, how we are to worship, how we are to handle matters of sexual abuse, how we are to order the church, how we are to plant churches and send missionaries, how we are to understand the office and function of pastor, and the list goes on and on. But will we respond to God’s Word in humility like Josiah or will we idiomatically cast it aside into the flames of indifference as we continue to trust the wisdom and ways of the godless culture around us?
Josiah was not a perfect king. But his life points us toward the perfect king we do have in Christ. And at the end of days, we must find ourselves on the side of King Jesus or all hope is lost. And if we want to be found on the side of the King of Glory, we are compelled to bow to His Book. To trust His Book. To stake our very lives, and ministries and the Southern Baptist Convention itself upon all that is contained therein.
If we hope for repentance, reformation, and revival within our own hearts and the beloved SBC, then we must conform to, comply with, and concede all to the Book of God. May we rend our hearts before the King as we kneel to the authority and sufficiency of the Book.
God is holy and righteous. But He is also slow to anger and full of grace. He is most willing to forgive. But the route we will ultimately choose is not yet apparent. Choose wisely.
Trust and obey, brothers and sisters, for there’s no other way.

[1] John Gill, An Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 5, The Baptist Commentary Series (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1810), 609.

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Josiah vs Jehoiakim: The SBC’s Decision for 2022 and Beyond (Part 1)

In one sense, it can certainly be thought monotonous to write more about the state of the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet, those of us who believe in the importance of conservative institutions, and are committed to the authority, sufficiency, clarity, and necessity of the Scriptures feel compelled to continue to carry on this battle if you will for the heart and soul of the SBC. This brings us to today’s post.
Numerous individuals have sounded the alarm over the past few years about the SBC’s departure from the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Still, two main groups have undoubtedly championed the cause as of late: Founders Ministries and the Conservative Baptist Network. I don’t mean to suggest these groups have “rediscovered” the Bible, but I cannot help but draw an analogy from the life of King Josiah.
The Story
I am sure you are aware of the story. During the 7th Century B.C., young King Josiah became ruler of Judah. During the 18th year of his reign, as he was repairing the Temple, his men rediscovered the Book of the Law of Yahweh. Commentators argue that this was either the Pentateuch or perhaps only the Book of Deuteronomy.[1]
Regardless, Shaphan, the king’s secretary, read the contents of this Book before Josiah. The words of Yahweh cut the king deeply, and he tore his clothes in humble repentance. Additionally, Josiah gathered the people of Judah, both great and small. He had them hear from the words of this Book and led the people in a renovation of worship and service to God according to the standards of the Book.
The Significance
There is a lot that the people of God as a whole and the Southern Baptist Convention particularly can learn from the story of King Josiah in 2 Chronicles 34. Not the least of which is the reality that God wrote a Book.
While we may not be sure if this rediscovered Book was the entire Pentateuch or just a portion of it, it is still significant to note that the word “Book” is used 10x in 2 Chronicles 34.
No, this wasn’t a leather-bound copy of the 1611 KJV. Most likely, this was less of a “Book” as we think of the term and more of a scroll. But still, here’s the truth: Yahweh divinely breathed through holy men to put ink on paper in such a way that what they wrote is not “their” Book, but His.
Our Triune God used men to write us a Book that we may feast our eyes on His infallible Words; that we might hear His Words so that our hearts might be changed. We are held accountable for knowing this Book, and great things can happen in the lives of God’s people when they get in this Book both individually and corporately.
Charles Simeon once said, “It is scarcely to be conceived how great a benefit has arisen to the Christian cause from the invention of printing. The Word of God is that whereby the work of salvation is principally carried on in the souls of men: and the multiplying of copies of Holy Scriptures, in such a form as to be conveniently portable, and at such a price as to be within the reach of the poor, has tended more than any other thing to keep alive the interests of religion, both in the hearts of individuals and in the community at large…”
Oh, how sad to have lived in the 7th Century BC! Not everyone can read, and there are no copies of God’s Word to be found. And then one day, while repairing the Temple, there it is. How precious and wonderful! God’s breathed out Word that the people of Judah could take up and read. And read it, they did. And heed it they did.
But in another sense, what a travesty to live in the 21st Century A.D.! There is, basically, unhindered, unrestricted access to God’s Word in America. It’s in stores, on phones, online…But it is not prized.
It is as though the Bible is hiding from us in plain sight. It is God’s Book. And yet, in too many homes, it lies closed. Husbands and wives do not read it together. Parents do not read it to their children. For many, it is simply not read daily.
It’s not that people in America and even our churches can’t read or don’t have time. It’s that they don’t want to. This describes evangelicalism at large. But this has also crept into our beloved SBC.
I do not know who is and who is not reading the Bible. But I do know that we seem far more concerned as whole that the world is watching us rather than the fact that God wrote a Book for us to trust, obey, learn from, and follow.
Bible Power for Bible People
Another thing we learn from the life of Josiah: When God’s people take God’s Book seriously, great things happen. This gives me great hope and excitement in preaching the Word – not because there is power in me or any other preacher. Rather, there is power in the Word of God.
3 things we see in 2 Chronicles 34 when God’s people take God’s Book seriously:
Repentance
First, we see repentance (see 2 Chronicles 34:19, 26-27). Why do Southern Baptists need to return to the Book? Because we need to rend our hearts before God. Because when we read the Book with intent on seeking God, He will be found.
And through His Book, God will expose our laziness. Our pride. Our excuses. Our idolatry. Our captivation with the world. Our lust to be loved by the world. Our need for loving our church family more. Our need for loving the lost more. And God will lead us in repentance through the very words of His Book
Reformation
Secondly, we see reformation in 2 Chronicles 34:29-33. How do you know if repentance is genuine? When repentance is real, reformation will follow. 2 Chronicles 34:31–32 says,
31 And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this Book. 32 Then he made all who were present in Jerusalem and in Benjamin join in it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.
Josiah determined to live according to the Book. There was a reformation in life. God’s Word bears the highest authority over how we are to live before Him. Further, it gives us a sufficient word on living a life well-pleasing to Him. There is nothing we need to know about God that is not found in His Book. There is nothing we need to know about living in faithful service to Him that is not in His Book. Praise God for His sufficient Word!
There was also a reformation in worship. Josiah saw in God’s Word the importance of the Passover. He, therefore, did what was necessary to worship God according to God’s standards and 2 Chronicles 35:18 says, “No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet. None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah, and the priests and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
God’s Word carries the highest authority for how we are to worship Him. Further, it gives us a sufficient word on how to worship Him! That is, all that we need to know about worshiping God rightly in spirit and in truth is found in His Book.
Revival
Finally, following repentance and reformation, we see revival in Judah in 2 Chronicles 34. What I mean by revival is that God moved in a special way through Holy Spirit through His Word to bring Judah back to Himself. God used one young king to lead an awakening among His people and all by means of rediscovering His Book.
The Passover, if you remember, was the great reminder of God’s deliverance of His people in the Exodus. There was revival in Judah because the people hungered for God.
It’s not my point to create a formula here, but this truth cannot be denied: Our hope for revival is tied to how seriously we take God’s Book.
Not every king of Judah responded like Josiah when confronted with God’s Word. In Part 2, we will examine the response of Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim, and consider more pointedly the choice before Southern Baptists at this hour.

[1] See, for example, Richard L. Pratt Jr., 1 and 2 Chronicles: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Fearn, Tain, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2006), 676–677.

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