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Fewer baptisms in the SBC

One of the distinctives which make Baptists “Baptist” is the belief in a regenerate church membership. In other words, only those who profess faith in Christ and give evidence of regeneration are to be baptized and admitted into the membership of the local church. Because we hold that the Scriptures restrict baptism to believers (with all due respect to my Presbyterian brothers and sisters, whom I love dearly and often envy!), fewer baptisms means that are fewer conversions.

During the past several months there has been a lot of hand wringing among Southern Baptist Convention leaders at the fewer number of baptisms reported by churches throughout the convention. Strategies have been put forth and non-program programs have been implemented to reverse the trend. (I say “non-program programs” because we’re supposedly past programs, so the new “programs” are said not to be programs, but “if it walks like a duck . . . .”)

The latest lament has come from Ron Herrod, recently-elected president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. Dr. Herrod, doubtlessly a man of integrity and motivated by a concern for those who are not Christians, believes that the reversal of baptisms requires a movement of God and change in strategy. Pastors need to take more members on mission trips, train their members to do evangelism, and engage vocational evangelists to hold revival meetings in their churches. Baptist Press reported,
“As an evangelist and president of COSBE, Herrod encourages current pastors to take advantage of God-called evangelists who are trained to ‘draw the net.’ There are certain people God has gifted that when ‘the invitation is given, the harvest comes,’ he said.”

BP’s story is most telling,

In addition, Herrod noted churches that hold revival meetings require 24 resident members to win one person to Christ, compared to 36 resident members to win one to Christ in churches that do not hold revival meetings.

‘Use God’s gift to the church — the evangelist — on a regular basis to help draw the net and bring in the harvest,’ he challenged.

The former pastor is dismayed over a trend he sees in some churches to not offer an invitation at every service.

‘I don’t understand pastors who do not give an invitation. An invitation is biblical,’ he said. ‘What if a lost person is there and he walks away without an opportunity [to make a profession of faith]. We have failed to do what God calls us to do.’

Actually, I think Dr. Herrod is mistaken on most of his points and is part of the continuing problem, not the solution. First, the very office of vocational evangelist is without biblical support, at least the type of vocational evangelist which Dr. Herrod represents. Ephesians 4:11 speaks of evangelists, but these are better understood to be what we called “missionaries,” not a man engaged to hold “revival meetings” in a local church.

Second, the idea of hiring a man—the vocational evangelist—to lead services in a church “on a regular basis to help draw the net and bring in the harvest” is simply silly, and again, without biblical support. The apostle Paul reminds us, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5-6, ESV). Poor Paul could only plant. Where was the vocational evangelist to come behind him to “draw the net”?

Third, the modern invitation system is itself an unbiblical practice. There is no mention of its practice in the Scriptures. Church history reveals its practice to be only some two centuries old. One cannot help but wonder how the Church survived for eighteen centuries without giving “invitations” and “altar calls.”

I contend that one of the reasons for fewer baptisms is that Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have engaged in unbiblical practices and offered a less-than-biblical gospel (such as “asking Jesus into your heart”) for so long that people have been conditioned to believe the gospel really doesn’t matter. After all, only a third of Southern Baptists bother to show up for worship on any given Sunday. Attending corporate worship is the easiest thing a Christian does; non-attendance is most telling about one’s spiritual state. Our methodologies have resulted in a lot of decisions, and those churches which engage a vocational evangelist may witness more decisions, but I fear that most of those decisions are not true conversions.

As I stated above, I think Dr. Herrod is an honorable man motivated by a concern for those without Christ. He is sincere, but I think he’s sincerely wrong.

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