I am according to Tim Challies (whom I greatly respect as a Christian blogger) from Challies.com. In this post, which draws heavily from an article by Jim Elliff, Challies takes Southern Baptist to task for having inflated church membership roles without having inflated church attendance.
My first instinct is to fire back, “Get the plank out of your own eye!” But there is truth to what Challies and Elliff are saying, but I don’t think it is limited to Southern Baptist.
As I said Tuesday in Same Ol’ Same Ol’, the American evangelical church in general is in poor shape, going the way of the virtually nonexistent European evangelical church.
There are problems in the Southern Baptist church that need to be addressed. I am occassionaly called on to fill in for my pastor during services or to teach Sunday school. Virtually everytime God calls me to confront things like lazy Christianity and unfaithfulness for church services. I have heard my pastor rid apathetic Christianity to shreds and implore everyone on Sunday morning to become more involved on attend on Sunday nights, Wednesday nights and other times we get together as a body of believers or smaller groups. The attendance never changes.
Now sure you can say Southern Baptist is an “unregenerate denomination,” but is that especially helpful in the discussion or is that intended to create more heat than light?
It seems that to call an entire denomination of Christians “unregenerate,” you brush with an extremely large brush. I am sure there are scores of lost people on the roles of my home church, but I am just as sure there are lost people that come to every service.
The post almost makes it seem that church attendance is the key to salvation. Both the post and the article claim that the Southern Baptist denomination is unhealthy spiritually because of the abundance of non-attending members and berate Southern Baptist pastors and leaders because of their over-reliance on numbers. But Challies and Elliff do the same thing when they evaluate the attendance numbers and make a pronouncement on the well-being of Southern Baptist as a whole.
Yes, many Southern Baptist love to quote church membership numbers to make their churches seem bigger and more important, but it seems Challies and Elliff do the same thing when they quote attendance numbers to make Southern Baptist churches seem smaller and less important.
The issues of cultural or nominal Christians, those who call themselves Christians but show no evidence of it, is not limited to the Southern Baptist denomination or even the South, although it may be more prevelant in both. When close to 75% of your population claims to be Christian you are going to have numerous people take the title without taking the responsibility.
Also, Challies and Elliff raise issues dealing with church discipline and enforcing church attendance. Those are worthy issues which should be evaluated, but one must be wary to not venture into the barren land of legalism.
I spend a good portion of my Christian life stuck in that dreadful place. I say what a “good person” I was and how so many other people didn’t do as much good as I did. I went to church all the time, but “those people” didn’t care enough about God to come on Wednesday nights. Pharisitical pride ruined most of my Christian life through high school and into college where God had to completely break me to get through all my pride.
When evaluating another denomination (or another person) it is easy to get caught up in that type of pride and legalism. “They must not be good Christians because they don’t have the same percentage of Sunday night attendees as we do.” That type of thinking is very dangerous and just as damaging to the church (if not more so) than the number pushers that Challies and Elliff call out. You are still focused on numbers, just not your own.
Also a lot of the issues raised are merely differences between Southern Baptist and the Reformed Protestant traditions, such as the use of deacons instead of elders. While I am sure those in the reformed traditions see the Biblical basis for their system of leadership, Southern Baptist also see the Biblical and practical basis for theirs.
So while I agree that problems exist in the Southern Baptist church (especially mine, I would add), I am not sure if agree with the way Challies and Elliff have gone about addressing those. I think all American Christians should wake up and see the laziness and complaceny around us and in us, not just point fingers at a single denomination.