President Bobby Welch, Dr. Steve Lemke, Southern Baptists and Calvinism, Pt. 1

July 10, 2005, just in time for the 23rd Annual Founders Conference that met in Ormond Beach, Florida, Southern Baptist Convention President, Bobby Welch posted an article in the newsletter of the First Baptist Church of Daytona, where he serves as pastor. The title of his article is “Calvinism and Christ’s Great Commission.” Here is how the article begins:

Some one asked me, “How does Calvinism and great commission evangelism connect?” Likely no clearer answer could be given than Dr. Steve W. Lemke, Provost and Professor at New Orleans Baptist Theology Seminary, gave in a recent scholarly paper. Complete paper is on our web site www.FirstBaptist.Org(under Weekly Newsletter) Following is an excerpt:…

The timing of this article is probably just a coincidence. Perhaps Brother Bobby (as he prefers to be called) had no idea that the Founders Conference was in town. To my knowledge, he did not attend. But regardless of the timing, the content of Dr. Lemke’s article leaves much to be desired in terms of scholarship, analysis and fairness. The title of it is “The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals.” It was a paper originally presented at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, April 2005 at the “Maintaining Baptist Distinctives” Conference. Lemke addresses what he considers to be 6 key issues as he thinks about the future of the SBC. Some of the issues he identifies may indeed be important for Southern Baptists to consider as they contemplate their collective identity in the American evangelical world. However, I find his analysis too often to be superficial in addressing those issues.

For example, the second issue he identifies is “Biblical Authority.” He asks, “Will Southern Baptists submit their lives and opinions on the authority of Scripture, or will cultural and pragmatic pressures force us to ‘reinterpret’ the Bible?” So, far, so good. Dr. Lemke whets our appetite for an insightful analysis of the ways that pragmatism has undermined biblical living in our personal lives, homes and churches. But then he disappoints by aiming his guns on drinking and dancing.

“Even if we pay lip service to the divine inspiration and truthfulness of Scripture, will we place our lives under the authority of the Word of God? Just since I’ve been alive, Southern Baptists have moderated their stand on a number of issues. In each of these issues, we said we took that stand because it was being faithful to Scripture. For example, when I was growing up, many Baptist churches had something called a “Church Covenant” either posted at the front of the sanctuary or printed in the hymnal. This Church Covenant summarized the biblical commitments required for meaningful church membership. Among other things that were in this document that are often ignored today, this Church Covenant called for church members to not only refrain from the use of alcoholic beverages, but from their sale as well. How consistently is this practiced in Baptist life today? When is the last time you heard a sermon addressing how we keep our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20)?”

Please. Of all of the vitally important issues taken up in J. Newton Brown’s popular Church Covenant, for Dr. Lempke to camp out on drinking alchohol is very disappointing. I write as a “tee-totaler” who would be happy if everyone else in the world was one, too. But it boggles the mind of anyone who is half-awake to the horrible spiritual state of Southern Baptist Churches why this issue (along with dancing–which is not even mentioned in the covenant) was singled out to the neglect of matters like church discipline, pursuit of holiness, family worship, evangelism and missions!

The typical Southern Baptist church cannot get even half of its membership to show up regularly for worship! “Yeah, well, but it sure would be better if they never sipped wine!” Dr. Lemke’s facile treatment of the issue of pragmatism is in itself a testimony to how serious the problem is. I keep waiting for some Southern Baptist leader to stand up and declare honestly to the world that our denominational statistics are in many respects a sham, a lie and false advertising. We are not “16 million strong.” The FBI could not find half of them if we put them on the most wanted list. Take Brother Bobby’s church, which is above average, for example. According to their website, their total membership is 4000 and average attendance is 2000 (I assume this latter number reflects the Sunday morning worship attendance and not the Wednesday night prayer meeting attendance). The typical Southern Baptist church has less than 40% of its total membership in attendance on any given Sunday MORNING.

Why would Dr. Lempke be more concerned about prospect that Southern Baptists are attending proms and imbibing wine coolers than he is that we cannot even get half of them to attend worship once a week? For a more thoughtful analysis of this question, see Jim Eliff’s article on the Founders website entitled, “Southern Baptists, An Unregenerate Denomination.” Or read the Baptist Press version of it.

My greatest problem with Dr. Lemke’s article, however, has to do with his misrepresentation of Calvinism in general and Founders Ministries in particular. I plan to deal with that later this week.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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