La. president addresses 'crisis of faith & practice' among churches
WESTWEGO, La. (BP)--Most members of churches in the 12 largest denominations in America have beliefs that "fall far short of orthodox Christianity," T.C. "Tommy" French told messengers to the Louisiana Baptist Convention. He based the statement on the recent findings by the Barna Research Group.
Such "shocking" statistics "represent only the surface of a deeper crisis of faith and practice within the Christian faith and our Southern Baptist Zion," French, pastor of Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, said in his presidential address to the Louisiana Baptist Convention's Nov. 12-13 annual meeting in the New Orleans-area Alario Convention Center in Westwego.
French's texts for his message -- titled "Another Generation" -- were Judges 2:6-10 and Hosea 4:6. They record the "transition from a godly to an ungodly generation of Hebrews that was ignorant of God's Word and of his mighty works," he said. "They were uneducated in God's Word and in their historical relationship with God....
"Have we raised up a new generation that knows nothing about the vital and fundamental doctrines of the gospel? ...
"According to the recent Barna report, it is apparent that many Baptists are without instruction in orthodox Christian doctrine, and if this trend is not checked, like the Hebrews of old, they will be destroyed for lack of knowledge.'"
The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 "by Baptists who believed that the Bible was truth without any mixture of error," French said, and by 1945, Southern Baptists had grown to a membership of more than 6 million.
"Then there arose another generation," French said. "It came subtly like tares among the wheat, a stealth generation that flew below the radar, unseen and undetected."
French maintained this new generation -- "clandestine and subversive, an advocate of neo-orthodoxy" -- sneeringly questioned, "Hath God said?"
This was a "'vertical invasion' of another generation that does not know the Bible as our forefathers knew it...." French said. "They use the sacred language of Zion, but they have a different dictionary. They declare, 'We believe the Bible is the Word of God,' but a careful analysis of their theology reveals that their concept of biblical authority is different from that of the vast majority of Baptists.
"Their unorthodox views undermine the foundation of biblical authority. Once our Baptist theology has been seduced by this pattern of thought, it will have lost touch with the historical roots that have sustained and nurtured it."
French used the words of A.H. Strong to state that the invasion of this new generation can be countered "by vigorously asserting the authority of Christ and the inspiration of the Scriptures."
"We must stand firm on God's infallible Word," French stated as his first point of exhortation to messengers.
French referred to a newspaper article about meetings of two Baptist bodies in that city. "One of the leaders said that Southern Baptists have the Bible for their authority, but the Baptists of their brand have Jesus for their authority....
"This is highly deceptive, because Christ and the Bible are one united authority," French said. "The two cannot be separated. Not only does the Bible tell us all we know objectively about Christ, but Christ also identified himself with the truths, concepts, words and meanings of the Bible."
French then offered a second exhortation -- "We must affirm pastoral authority."
He quoted a newspaper article in which someone said, "Baptists believe in the democracy of the congregation and their ability to hire and fire a pastor."
French decried that position, insisting, "This attitude downgrades the office of pastor and relegates him to the role of a hireling. ... Baptists enjoy a congregational church government that places all the members on an equal basis in the transaction of church business, but this does not remove nor diminish the scriptural authority of the pastor. ... Pastors are chosen, not hired, by the churches over which they preside. ...
"Let it never be forgotten that God has called out a special class of men and set them apart officially and has committed to them certain official duties," French said. "The pastor has been given the title of overseer that has special duty and authority as he directs the labors of those he oversees."
When some individuals send letters to church leaders and bypass the local pastor "in a brazen attempt to undermine his authority and influence the membership, this certainly smacks of an arrogant papal attitude and assumes an authority that is not Baptist or New Testament," French said.
In his third point, French emphasized the need for a strong confession of faith.
"The ringing cry of 'no creed but the Bible' does not have a Baptist origin," French said. "It received its origin from Alexander Campbell, founder of the Church of Christ, whose theology was rejected by Baptists before he was disfellowshiped.
"If by 'creed' we mean any state-imposed religious test or any human standard that is held to be equal or superior to the Bible, Baptists are not and never have been creedalists nor have they advocated creedalism," French noted.
"[But] despite this Baptist aversion to creedalism, the idea of voluntary, conscientious adherence to an explicitly doctrinal standard is not foreign to Baptists....
"It is not enough to say, 'No creed but the Bible,' for immediately there comes to mind two imperative questions -- what is believed concerning the Scriptures and what is believed according to the Scriptures?" French said. "The answer to these questions becomes a person's creed and confession of faith."
Baptists have always been a confessional people -- "and anyone that declares we are not truly is a different kind of Baptist," French continued.
In addition to those emphases, French told messengers, "We must lash Christian education to the Bible."
French said the goal of a professor at a Baptist college should not be, "I intend to teach you to think for yourself and to decide what you believe is the truth."
In that case, "objective truth does not matter [and] only what you believe is true...." French charged.
"A Baptist college justifies its right to exist and can claim the generous support of God's people only when it lovingly and faithfully instructs the students under their care in the Holy Word of God. None but the pious can teach the Bible properly. It is the solemn duty of those that govern a Christian institution to see that it is filled with the Spirit of Christ....
"Let future historians record that Louisiana Baptists, in our generation, lashed Christian education to God's Holy Word and to the cross of Jesus Christ in their homes, in their churches, in their educational institutions and agencies."
French's concluding point focused on protecting cooperative missions.
The Cooperative Program, the funding mechanism for the Louisiana and Southern Baptist conventions, was birthed in Louisiana, French recounted. He credited E.O. Ware as the visionary for the Cooperative Program, who led in 1895 to the creation of the "Plan of Systematic Benevolence" for Louisiana Baptist causes. In 1924, French recounted, Louisiana pastor M.E. Dodd made the first presentation to the SBC of the proposed Cooperative Program.
"Southern Baptists were unwilling to adopt this broad-based and central form of mission funding without a theological basis of accountability," French said. "It needed consensus and the Baptist Faith and Message confession of faith gave that consensus and won the approval of the messengers....
"[Now] there are proposals being offered and actions being taken today that threaten the vitality of the Cooperative Program," French said. "A different program that is competing for Cooperative Program dollars is being offered to our churches by individuals and groups of people that have a separate agenda. They are asking Southern Baptist churches to divert all or part of their mission giving to a shadow convention that is trying to mirror what the Southern Baptist Convention is already doing."
Citing other states where conventions have split over Cooperative Program support, French said, "We must not allow this to happen in our Louisiana Baptist Convention....
"Recently, I read the new slogan of the Baptist Message [state newspaper]: STICK TOGETHER -- ACCOMPLISH MORE," he recounted. "We must continue to walk in the footsteps of our Southern Baptist forefathers and the apostles. Let us march on together as tried soldiers of Christ in the conflicts and successes that await us, for we have the certain knowledge that the work in which we are engaged is not our own, but God's.
"I urgently call on all Louisiana Baptists: STICK TOGETHER -- ACCOMPLISH MORE."
The full text of French's message can be viewed at the Baptist2Baptist website, www.baptist2baptist.net.