Chapman's call to prayer and the elephant in the corner

Dr. Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, called on Southern Baptists to pray during his report to the excom earlier this week. Specifically, he said that we need to be praying for God to bless us with “His wisdom, His glory, His holiness and His witness of Jesus Christ.”

Amen.

Those 4 concerns are vitally important and should be focal points of our praying. But sometimes, I wonder if prayer is tantamount to hypocrisy, or at least a cover for our clear disobedience to God’s revealed will.

When the Israelites, still basking in the displays of God’s power in their victory over Jericho, were humiliated in their efforts to conquer Ai, Joshua and elders of Israel fell on their faces for hours and cried out to God in heart-felt prayer (Joshua 7:6-9).

God’s response is very instructive as well as timely for Southern Baptists. He said, “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned ….” (7:10-11a). There was sin in the camp due to Achan’s violation of God’s clearly revealed will. Because of this, it wasn’t time to pray. It was time to act. The sin must be addressed before it would even be appropriate for Joshua to pray for God’s blessing.

God had clearly spoken, making known His will that the Israelites were not to take any of the “accursed things” from Jericho and that all of the silver, gold, bronze and iron was to be placed in the treasury of the Lord (6:18-19). Achan did not do this, but stole some of the forbidden things (7:1).

Then, when Israel marched on Ai, expecting God to go with their army as He had at Jericho, the Lord let them flounder in defeat. In the wake of that humilation, Joshua and the elders pray. And the Lord, in effect, tells them to stop praying and to get up and correct the sin that is in the camp.

I have often wondered what that scene must have looked like from heaven’s perspective? His people are praying for His blessing while violating His revealed will. It must have appeared to be highly presumptuous in the sight of God.

Granted, Joshua did not yet know about Achan’s sin. When it was made known to him, he did not pretend like it was no big deal, or ignore it, or justify it or make excuses about why it couldn’t be addressed. We don’t read about him saying, “But Lord, we don’t want to violate the autonomy of the local clan.”

Which brings me to the elephant in the corner of our SBC zion. I am grateful for Dr. Chapman’s call to prayer. We desperately need what only God can provide. But isn’t it time for our leaders to do something about the elephant that is stinking up the room? Of course, I am talking about the horrible, God-dishonoring fact that most of our SBC church members give no signs of spiritual life. If you can assume that merely showing up at church is a minimum indicator of spiritual life then it is not too much to conclude that over half of our denomination’s 16.3 million members are spiritually dead.

We are Baptists. We say and have repeatedly confessed in our writings that we believe we understand the Bible to teach God’s clearly revealed will that a local church should be comprised only of regenerate members. We have, historically, been champions of our Lord’s teachings on church discipline. We believe that by doing so we are merely submitting to the revealed will of our Master. Or at least, we used to believe and do those things.

What must it look like to heaven when we pray for the Lord’s guidance and blessings as we intentionally ignore and refuse to do what He has called us to do? I think it must look like presumption and hypocrisy.

The issue of our inflated statistics and regenerate church membership has gained increasing attention over the last 2 years. Even some leaders are now admitting that we have a problem (see here and here) . But admitting to a problem and calling for action on it are two different things. It is time for Southern Baptist pastors, churches and denominational leaders to stand up and say unequivocally,

“We have sinned. Our churches are filled with unconverted members. Our evangelism has too often encouraged this very malady, and we must repent!”

We must have reformation in our church life. It will not be easy. It will not be painless. But it is absolutely necessary if we are serious about desiring God’s blessing.”

Do we want His wisdom? It is displayed in the church that is ordered according to His Word (Ephesians 3:10).

Do we want His glory? It is displayed to those who humbly seek Him in obedience to His revealed will (Exodus 33:18-34:7).

Do we want His holiness? Then we must obey His will, delight in what He delights in and do what He commands (1 Peter 1:14-16)/

Do we want His witness to shine through us? It will, when we live differently from the world and bear His image in lives of obedience and good works (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:9-12).

These are all things for which we must pray. But let our prayers be without presumption. We must be willing to deal honestly and humbly with our sin–particularly with the sin of churches filled with unregenerate members.