I would be a bit embarrassed if we were not one of the first to promote this excellent new tome that came forth from the efforts of the Center for Theological Research and the Smith Center for Leadership Development at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Thomas White, Jason B. Duesing and Malcolm Yarnell III edit a book longing for the recovery of Baptist identity and integrity entitled Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches.
The book endeavors to examine how current trends and events have led to a loss of Baptist identity and purpose. The work also attempts to demonstrate how maintaining or regaining the integrity of the local church does not render the ecclesia irrelevant or ineffective. In light of Willow Creek’s recent research that retooling and revisioning needs to occur, perhaps Baptist leaders might be more prone to take a second look at biblical ecclesiology as a corrective to pragmatic marketing techniques. Essays on church membership, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church discipline, and the priesthood of the believers are written by a host of scholars including Mark Dever, Daniel Akin, Malcolm Yarnell, and Emir Caner.
The introduction, ably done by Thomas White, mentions five major challenges to Baptist ecclesiology. It serves as a reminder to some and an eye-opening corrective to others. The challenges run the gamut from a culture of extreme individualism to the emergence of the megachurch. Let me leave you with a quote and a suggestion. I suggest you take time to order this collection and chew on its contents. I am certain not all on the plate will appeal to every reader, but no one will go away without much to digest. The quote might engender a bit of discussion and even a quibble here and there. Still, the conversation over the proffered offering will be well worth the time:
Perhaps the biggest challenge confronting Baptist churches is the “seeker sensitive” movement. This movement positively seeks to remove unneeded barriers to reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. At the same time, most seeker-focused churches do not practice church discipline. Few things could be less seeker-oriented than the act of publicly disciplining a member for improper behavior. Most, if not all, seeker churches do not practice the strictest form of Communion, limited to members only, and many do not practice Communion with like faith and practice, commonly called close Communion. Seeker churches tend to practice open Communion, with a few not making any statement at all about the Lord’s Supper being for believers only. Restrictions placed on the Lord’s Table could come across as not being seeker-friendly to many visitors. Controversial doctrines like believer’s baptism by immersion do not receive extensive discussion in seeker-sensitive churches. This clearly biblical doctrine historically has been very important to Baptist tradition but does not fit nicely within the seeker-sensitive tradition.