7/28/97 Disney-like methodology garners criticism at Founders meeting
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--Christians who yearn for church growth and revival should avoid worldly methods and rely instead on the power and wisdom of God, said speakers at the 15th annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference, July 22-25 at Samford University, Birmingham, Ala.
Bill Ascol, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, Shreveport, La., criticized church leaders who look to corporate America for ideas on how a church may be improved.
As an example, he said a number of Southern Baptist pastors have sought training at Disney University, which is located at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Ascol said a prominent Southern Baptist evangelist hosts and sponsors the event, which is "a gathering for up-and-coming young Southern Baptist pastors who pastor mega-churches."
According to information on the Internet, Disney University provides professional development programs for business people in the areas of quality service, customer loyalty, leadership and people management, with Disney staffers serving as facilitators.
Ascol said the pastors "gather at Disney World to hear from CEOs, movers and shakers to help them improve their ministries."
Referring to a resolution passed in June by messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, Ascol said, "If you're going to ask Mickey Mouse to give you dance lessons, you shouldn't be surprised when he starts to take the lead and steps on your toes. ... It's strange to me that we will run to the world to learn its ways, to improve our ministries and then condemn it for its fallenness."
Just before his remarks about Disney, Ascol told the conferees he had worked at Disney World during the second summer it was open. "I am a former Disney kid. ... I was an entertainment host. I wore the costume all summer long. I learned to talk Disney-speak. I just wanted to get that out in the open."
In other messages at the conference, sponsored by a loose-knit network of Southern Baptists Calvinists who say their doctrine was the theology of most early leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention during the 19th century, Don Whitney, assistant professor of spiritual formation at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., said God uses several means to bring about church growth and revival, including preaching, prayer, pastoral care, church discipline, a God- centered ministry and leaders who are reformation-minded and godly.
But the timing of revival is in God's hands, Whitney said. "The means of revival are not mechanical means. ... We can't use them like a machine that, when rightly operated, will produce revival."
Iain Murray, co-founder of the Banner of Truth Trust in Edinburgh, Scotland, gave a similar analysis. "Our activity is not the control factor. ... The controlling factor is the gracious purpose and hand of God."
Murray said he disagrees with preachers who cite Old Testament Scripture as instructive on how revival may come about. "If a revival is an outpouring of the Spirit of God, by definition it is not something that belongs to the Old Testament Scripture."
Regarding 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is widely quoted as laying down conditions for revival, Murray said the verse pertains to national Israel of the Old Testament.
"In the New Testament, the church is not connected with any country in a theocratic manner," Murray stated. "There is no promise in the New Testament that if Christians will humble themselves and pray, God will heal the land. ... Revival is in the Old Testament in terms of promise and prophecy but not in terms of experience."
But Murray stressed such Old Testament passages are valuable to Christians as "illustrations of the supernatural, marvelous working of God."
Christians who long for church growth and revival should give proper attention to the written Word of God, Whitney said.
He decried the practice of some conservative churches where the inerrancy of Scripture is taught, but they have "cut out Scripture reading because they need time for other things or because it's not as exciting."
Scripture also can be used on church signs, which many drivers may see when passing a church building, Whitney observed.
"People are desperate to find books of clever sayings to put on church signs: ... 'Seven days without prayer make one weak' and those kinds of silly things," Whitney said. "Pray for the ministry of that sign, that people would see the Word of God there."
Young Min Pee, professor of church history at Korea Baptist Theological University and Seminary, traced the history of revivals in Korea during the past century.
The decline of Calvinistic theology has caused problems for Korean churches, he said. "I believe Arminianism (a theology that opposes key doctrines of Calvinism) is the cause of superficial evangelism in Korea. ...
"Many people accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour through the sinner's prayer, but actually they are not saved," Young said. "They have false (assurance) that they are saved; actually they are lost. Many people are lost, so churches began to be filled with lost people."
Young said Calvinistic theology "empowered and anointed by the Holy Spirit must be the indispensable means of continuous revivals in Korea for the coming third millennium."
Murray cautioned preachers that the true test of whether a revival has arrived lies not in abnormal events but rather in an intensification of ordinary Christian activities.
"The only safe test is to ask, 'Are the things that are true of normal Christianity all present but in the greater degree?'" Murray said. "When revival comes, people want more and more teaching. They will happily stay up 'til midnight or later for the preaching of the Word."
He observed some people have believed revival has arrived when people "fell on the floor, or they jumped with joy, they wept with tears, or they spoke with tongues, or they saw visions and angels."
But, Murray told the conferees, "My friends, these are very unimportant things."
He advised that people who display emotionalism during a worship service should be gently removed. "Don't make them an exhibit, because you'll then have many more people showing the same symptoms very quickly. If people can't be restrained in emotion, let them be quietly taken from the service."
Ascol said Heritage Baptist Church, where he is pastor, is a "seeker-friendly church," though not in the way most people use the term.
"John 4:23 says God is seeking (those) who will worship him in spirit and in truth; he is the seeker," Ascol said. "I pray to God we're friendly to him -- that he will find us as worshipers in spirit and truth. That is the only seeker-friendliness that should drive us, because there is none who seeks God."