A recent article in Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector bemoaned the apparent failure of Southern Baptist churches to meet the 2006 institutional goal of one million baptisms. In the article, Mr.
Wilkey asked, “With all the effort and with all the passion Bobby Whelch [the previous SBC president and spearhead of the baptism campaign] put into ‘Everyone Can,’ why is it that apparently “everyone didn’t?”
“Apparently ‘everyone didn’t?'” How can we possibly and “apparently” know that? Is it because there were only 364,826 baptized in 2006 instead of 1 million? This represents a fundamentally mistaken understanding of evangelism. God is not obliged to save 1 million souls no matter how big the tour bus is. Ironically, the number of 2006 baptisms was even less than 2005. Isn’t it just like God to humble his people and let them know that He will do all the saving? Maybe he didn’t like the slogan “Everyone Can!” Maybe “God can!” would’ve set better in heaven.
As usual, I have my own delineated ramblings on this:
1. God causes the church’s growth (1 Cor 3.6). Sure, it’s primarily through the evangelistic efforts of his people, but that there were not more baptisms is not due to our “apparent” failure. The campaign would have been more biblically based if the goal was to share the gospel with (not baptize) 1 million souls. Of all people, we Baptists should know that baptism recognizes God’s sovereign work in the heart. Therefore, we could’ve shared the gospel with at least 1 million people and then celebrated the faith of those God had appointed to eternal life (Acts 13.48).
In Acts 2.41, we read that God added 3,000 souls to the church. Verse 41 does not say, “And the church lamented that there were not 3,001.” What if the disciples set a goal of 4,000? Did they fail because only 3,000 were added? Of course not! In fact, we see the church in awe that God would add any souls at all (v43). Again, our addiction to numbers and statistics make light of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. We’ve become our own news, not God.
2. I can’t believe we would consider 364,826 baptisms a failure. Let’s assume all of those are true converts, something the recent SBC track record does not allow, but let’s assume they are. That means there were 1,000 converts per day in 2006! How is that not amazing? That sounds encouragingly like Acts 2.47 to me.
3. In light of #2 above, we cannot assume that all those baptized are true converts. In fact, if recent history is any indication then only a 1/3 are. Therefore, if we wanted to see 1 million converts in SBC churches, we should’ve set a goal of 3 million baptisms. Until we recover our historic and biblical understanding of regenerate church membership, we militate against biblical church growth. God will not entrust souls to churches who will not take those souls seriously.
4. Why does we assume the SBC holds the corner on baptisms? I’m confident there are thousands of non-SBC churches that baptized new converts. I suspect there were 1 million converts baptized by all evangelical churches worldwide. Yet, we don’t seem to see ourselves as part of God’s global church, but want to hog all the new believers. Shouldn’t we celebrate our small, God-given part in the Kingdom rather than assume we are the Kingdom?
What are we to make of Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 1.14? He was glad he didn’t baptize any more Corinthians than he did! He knew the turf war it would’ve created (v15). Even the few folks he did baptize was enough to draw sharp lines in the sand (vv12-13). I’m afraid this campaign reflected a sense that SBC baptisms are somehow unique and more valuable to God. What if there were 635,174 other people who heard the gospel from a Southern Baptist, but were baptized at Main Street Bible Church or Anywhere Presbyterian Church (PCA) or New Guinea Christian Fellowship?
Nobody failed because “only” 365,000 were welcomed into Christ’s church. God is to be praised, Jesus is to be exalted that He saves sinners. I’m all for greater evangelistic efforts, but let’s leave the fruit to God and celebrate whatever number He adds. If it’s only one, then that’s one more than we’ll ever be able to convert ourselves.