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Biblical EvangelismJune 20, 2017
Anne and I have just returned from Phoenix, AZ. We made the trip to attend the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I love going with the other messengers from all over the world to these meetings. To plug in completely to what goes on at an SBC meeting requires a huge investment of time and energy. It is no picnic. It is surely no vacation. For example, we arrived on Saturday night late and were up early Sunday morning to prepare for worship, then lunch, then registration for the Convention, then the first session of the Pastor’s Conference until 9. Monday would be a nine hour day of meetings, Tuesday a fourteen hour day of meetings, and then another nine hour day on Wednesday. Long days. Great days. Wonderful experience.
One of the main themes this year throughout the week was evangelism. The theme is biblical. Evangelism is a mandate. It is the heart and soul of who we are called to be as believers. We are saved by the grace of God in the Gospel of God to give ourselves through the church of God to the worship of His great Name which when done biblically compels us to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. But what the data declares about the SBC is that we have been in steady decline as a denomination now for almost sixty years. That means that we reached our high water mark before 1960 and have been battling ever since. Older churches in our denomination are dying. Many rural churches are closing and there is nothing to indicate that that trend will ever be reversed in the next couple of generations. Baptisms have been declining for quite a few years now. Some of our most well-known and beloved Baptist church programs are in rapid decline. Yet, church plants are happening all over the world and there is a vigorous and aggressive approach to evangelism and discipleship among much of the younger generation. In fact, some of the tension (surely not division) in the SBC is between older generations who see doing whatever it takes to increase baptisms as the answer and many in the younger generations who are very oriented to evangelism but they add a most necessary term: discipleship. They are doing evangelism that results in discipleship. They are doing biblical evangelilsm.
Let me tell you just one story that demonstrates why evangelism that leads to discipleship is so necessary. It may help us to see why we are struggling in evangelism. Anne and I attended the alumni luncheon on Wednesday for Southern Seminary. I sat with a man whose story I had actually read in the Southern Seminary Magazine. He was a very successful businessman specializing in turning around decaying and dying companies. He was ultra-successful in his work. He made lots and lots of money. But God called him to preach and with every legitimate call to preach comes a call to serious preparation. So he, his wife, and their four children moved in mid-career to the seminary where he finished multiple degrees and was called not surprisingly to church revitalization. He has been working the last four years in a church in Fort Worth, Texas that was about to close its doors. The church had a history of unceasing strife and conflict. Younger generations did not stay in the church. He went to a church consisting almost entirely of older adults who were simply nostalgic for what used to be. He would tell me that day that it was six months or so into the work that he began to see what is the primary, number one, top of the list issue in most of our dying churches: these churches are led and occupied by people who profess to be Christians because they once made a profession of faith and were baptized but they have never been saved. They were evangelized by a partial Gospel that taught nothing of the depth of their depravity in the face of the holiness of God. They were taught that all they needed was to say a prayer of make a public profession to add Jesus on to their already sin and self driven life, with the good news that their sins were forgiven and they were going to heaven. They believed that partial Gospel. They were baptized and over time emerged into leadership in the church. It only takes one generation of this kind of leadership for a church to gather the smell of death.
This man’s story represents what is happening all over the SBC. Here is the good news. Many of these churches are willing to employ young men on fire for Jesus with the glorious truth of the Gospel in their hearts and hands, and these churches are willing to hand the reins of leadership over the men like this man at met at the luncheon. And God is blessing and reviving His church. Praise His Name. We need to be evangelistic. It is the inevitable outcome of the work of the Gospel in our lives. But the evangelism needs to be fully biblical: present the holy standard of the law from our holy God, show how far short we fall so that it is clear and that it is impossible for us to do anything to save ourselves, point them to the law-obedient life of Jesus culminating in His substitutionary death and glorious resurrection and call them to turn from their way of living to trust in Jesus alone to save them. And then begin to teach them from God’s Word what it really looks like when a person is truly saved. That would be good, sound, solid, biblical evangelism.