Dr. William H. Day, Jr. serves as the Gurney Professor of Evangelism and Church Health, and as Associate Director of the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health, at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as Pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Metairie, Louisiana.
Last year the number of baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was 331,008. Except for a minor increase in 2009, our baptisms have been declining since 1999. In just ten years our baptisms have declined over 87,000 (a 21% decrease). The number of baptisms in the SBC is now at the lowest since 1948 when we had 310,226. We wait each year to see a turn-around. After all, we’ve had declines before now. We console ourselves by remembering that periods of decline have eventually been followed by periods of increase. We think surely the end of our decline in baptisms will occur this year, only to be disappointed again and again.
While many know this decline in baptisms is bad, it is worse than people realize. Actually, baptisms in the SBC have been on a plateau since 1950. From 1936 to 1950 we had the greatest period of increasing baptisms in the history of the SBC, growing from 191,933 to 416,867. Since 1950 our overall situation has seen brief periods when baptisms increased followed by a similar period of decline. When you look at the total picture, our baptisms have been on a plateau for 60 years!
Nothing we have done seems to have changed this picture. We have hit what I call THE WALL. Evangelism campaigns, programs for Sunday School growth, emphases on revival, and the planting of new churches have not been able to knock down The Wall.
What is the solution to our baptism decline? How can we knock down The Wall? We could point to our denomination and say, “Fix it!” Let’s plant more churches. Let’s have a renewed commitment to evangelism. Let’s pray for revival. We could look to our churches and say, “Get on the ball!” Deacons, Sunday School teachers, and members stop being so involved in meetings and focus on our most important task – evangelism. We could say our baptism decline is a denominational or church problem. The downside of this approach is that it would take extensive planning, time, money, and work. While this approach may work over time, there is a quicker way to knock down The Wall.
In 2009 we had 122,285 clergy in the convention. Consider these startling ideas: If in 2010 each member of the clergy in the SBC had led one more person to Christ and baptized them, the number of baptisms in the SBC would have been 454,606 not 332,321. This number almost equals our best year in baptisms. Moreover, if each member of the clergy had reached one more person for Christ each quarter of last year and baptized them, we would have baptized 821,461.
Expanding this idea, if our clergy would set a goal this next year to reach one more person per quarter and in addition our deacons, teachers, and members followed this example, we would see millions saved and baptized. We must realize it’s not just my brother or my sister but it’s me Oh Lord standing in the need of sharing the gospel. Then, The Wall will come tumbling down.
Bill Harrell has served as Pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia, for over 30 years. He also is active in the Augusta Baptist Association, Georgia Baptist Convention, and SBC, including having serving as the Vice-President of the Georgia Baptist Convention and as Chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.
For the generation that is getting a little older, it is quite disconcerting and puzzling to observe that it is now more popular to be cool than it is to be godly. Only a few short years ago, pastors were men who stood out from the crowd because of the example they set in an effort to lead people into a godly, committed way of life. They looked different from the crowd because they set an example in their dress and in their good conduct. Men of God honored their position by dressing in a professional manner which was neat and orderly. It helped people understand that here was someone from which they could take an example as to how to conduct themselves as a Christian. These same men were not only identified by their dress, they were respected because of the way in which they conducted themselves in and out of the pulpit. People looking for hope and help looked to the pastor for a heavenly example. These men were more than mere men. They represented God to those around them.
In those days, what one believed was the most important thing. How could a pastor impart proper understanding of the Scripture unless he believed and revered it himself? He was concerned more with being right than he was with being “cool.” In fact, being cool was something that was a million miles from his conception of what a pastor and preacher was suppose to be. It never entered his mind to be “cool.” It simply was not part of the mix. These men from yesteryear, were disciplined and committed to being sure they led the people properly and set the proper example. It never crossed their minds that they needed to identify with the people by being like them even to the lowest common denominator of acceptability. The pastor was suppose to set an example of what we should strive to be like. He never dreamed that he would be expected to downgrade himself in order to win their affection or attention. Where was the example in that?
We have been examining reasons for the security of the believer from Ephesians 1 and other Scriptures – that persons who are genuinely saved are saved forever. We have seen five reasons in previous articles why the Bible teaches that we cannot lose their salvation:
“Part 1 — Salvation Is of God, Not of Us,”
“Part 2 — It is Based upon a Life Changing Experience with God,”
“Part 3 — It Is Based on a Scriptural Promise.” and
“Part 4 – It Is a Logical Necessity.”
“Part 5 – It is Based on an Unchanging Relationship Status.”
In this sixth article of the series I’ll discuss the Scriptures that are often raised against belief in the security of the believer, and attempt to explain why I don’t believe that these Scriptures teach that we can lose our salvation.
The Security of the Believer and Apostasy
In five prior posts, I have been presenting the biblical rationale for the belief that once we are genuinely saved, we are saved forever. We call this belief the security of the believer or perseverance of the saints. The five reasons presented to support belief in the security of the believer’s salvation are that we cannot lose our salvation because: (1) salvation is not ours to lose since God provides it, not we ourselves; (2) it is based upon a life-changing salvation experience with God; (3) eternal salvation is a Scriptural promise; (4) eternal salvation is a logical necessity; and (5) it is based on the unchanging status of our relationship with God. However, some other Christian denominations teach that believers can indeed lose their salvation. How do they reach this conclusion? What biblical basis do they claim for their belief? Let’s look together at what they take to be a biblical rationale that persons can lose their salvation, and why we believe that this is not the correct reading of these texts.
Can a Believer Fall Away?
The primary Scripture verses usually cited on behalf of those who believe you can lose your salvation include the idea of “falling away” from the faith in Heb. 6:1-6, or the mention of apostate believers who “fall away” or “err” from the faith (as in 1 Tim. 4:1, 6:10). The word translated “fall away” in Heb. 6:6 is the Greek word peripipto, which means to turn from or deviate from the correct path. At first blush, these verses would appear to indicate that persons could possibly lose their salvation.