Two days ago I read the July 10, 2005 Weekly Messenger, the weekly newsletter of First Baptist Church of Daytona, FL, pastored by Bobby Welch. He cites a couple of paragraphs from Dr. Steve Lemke's 'scholarly' paper entitled "The Future of the Southern Baptist Evangelism." (Lemke is a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.) Lemke criticized the Founders movement because there were so few baptisms and their churches were small or declining in membership. The SBC has always put a huge weight of importance on baptisms, membership, and numbers. But there are two reasons why mainline SBC churches have more baptisms than Founders-friendly churches (although not that many more, according to the statistics Lemke cites).
First, the doctrine of salvation is totally different. Mainline SBC churches hold to decisional regeneration, the concept which says that when a person makes a 'decision' for Christ by way of a prayer, the walking of an aisle, coming forward, signing a card, throwing a pinecone in the fire, etc. that a person by that single act has become a Christian. This is a relatively new belief for the SBC, not having come to the forefront of the convention until around the early part of the 20th century. (It is makes an interesting study to reflect upon the first delgates of the founding convention meeting. Upon such investigation, we find that this theology had no such place, but rather Calvinism was the theological ocean in which these men swam vigorously.)
Founders-friendly churches, on the other hand, hold to sovereign regeneration, the biblical concept which says that a person cannot 'make' himself saved by some human act, but that God and God alone saves freely and always by His mercy (all themes inherent in the reformed understanding of election).
Comparing the two then, it stands to reason that if you baptize every single person who makes a 'decision' for Christ, whatever that means, then you'll definitely have a lot of baptisms. And conversely, when you foster the biblical mindset regarding salvation, you'll have fewer baptisms, but those baptisms will more than likely be authentic, genuine, and instantly maturing. Baptism can never be a litmus test of true growth in the local church. Simon Magus already taught us that (cf. Acts 8).
Second, there is very much a spirit of practical hyper-calvinism at work among many reformed folks in general, me included at times. Perhaps the doctrine of election has in fact so settled our minds that we have grown complacent about winning souls. But there are many who have raised up that banner (again, me included), and rightly so since the very history of Calvinism in the SBC (and Baptists as a whole for that matter) reflect that missions and evangelism was at the very heart of the modern missionary movement as we know it today.
That said, it would only be fair to note that one's doctrine of salvation may not necessarily have so much to do with evangelism as laziness and a plain old lack of concern for the lost. Why do I mention this? Because just as many Arminian, decisional-regeneration type pastors in mainline SBC churches fail to evangelize as do pastors of Founders churches. Let me poke two more holes in the Welch/Lemke conspiracy theory.
First, Lemke cites that the baptism to member ratio for mainline SBC churches in 2004 was 1:42. You know what it was for Founders-friendly churches? It was 1:62. That's a grand total of 20 more members per baptism. Somehow I'm not seeing the convincing nature of his argument that Founders-friendly churches are less concerned about evangelism.
Second, at the pastor's conference at this year's SBC in Nashville, TN, Johnny Hunt, pastor of FBC Woodstock, GA shared from the platform that 94% of all SB churches in the convention are non-evangelistic. So, I don't think that Welch and Lemke's concerns can be relegated solely to Founders-friendly churches. Therefore, Calvinism doesn't seem to really have that much to do with the failures of SBC evangelism, does it?
Furthermore, comparing the size of local churches, membership totals, and similar information continues to give credence to the notion that Welch and the SBC in general seem to care more about numbers than they do the authenticity of a person's regeneration and spiritual growth. Building bigger, better 'churches' is the name of the game. 'Knocking' small Founders-friendly churches just because they are smaller than the average SBC church is a perfect example of comparing apples and oranges.
It is no accident of providence that this week I read these two articles by Welch and Lemke as well as another by Jim Elliff entitled "Is the Southern Baptist Convention an Unregenerate Denomination?" Elliff, a former SBC itinerant evangelist, has rightly recognized the failures of the Convention with regard to its mainline model of regeneration, specifically in relation to baptism, membership, and numbers. Welch would do well to read Elliff's article, one just as 'scholarly' as Lemke's. He would also do well to consider the history of Calvinism in the SBC more thoroughly, as well as consider the biblical reality of what really goes on in the convention. If I may use a southernism: God don't care 'bout no numbers. In the end, I can't help but wonder if Phil Johnson's reflections on the Fad-Driven® Church are just as much applicable to the SBC (which helps them 'grow' so well)?
P.S. What's the connection, if any, behind Welch's criticisms of Founders-friendly churches when he helped plant one of the largest such churches many years ago?