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By Paul Proctor

April 29, 2008

In a story from the Christian Post, Lillian Kwon reports that Southern Baptists are now a declining denomination, meaning they are no longer getting the Results and Relationships they covet.

The troubling article begins this way:

For the first time, Southern Baptists can say membership has reached a tipping point and the nation's largest Protestant denomination is now declining, says one long-time Southern Baptist.

"The decline that many of us have already believed is there is now becoming real," said Ed Stetzer, director for LifeWay Research, in an interview featured on, a Web site for pastors and church leaders.

Baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention fell for the third straight year in 2007 to the denomination's lowest level since 1987, dropping nearly 5.5 percent to 345,941, according to LifeWay Christian Resources' Annual Church Profile (ACP), which was released this week.

Total membership also declined by 0.24 percent to 16,266,920.

Later in the article, Kwon offered a quote from the head of LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, in response to the findings:

"This report is truly disheartening," said LifeWay president Thom S. Rainer, according to Baptist Press. "Total membership showed a slight decline. Baptisms have now declined for three consecutive years and for seven of the last eight years, and are at their lowest level since 1987. Indeed, the total baptisms are among the lowest reported since 1970. We are a denomination that, for the most part, has lost its evangelistic passion."

Well, Mr. Rainer, that’s not all we’ve lost.

A quick stroll through the trinkets, toys and knickknacks for sale at LifeWay Christian Stores, formerly the Baptist Book Store, speaks volumes about our passion, doesn’t it?

Besides being president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, Thom Rainer is also the author of many books – one of which encourages churches to simplify and “unclutter their ministry” in order to “become more effective for the glory of God” – emphasizing “the importance of eliminating nonessential programs” to “focus on those ministries that really matter” – which is curious considering all the clutter and nonessentials being retailed by LifeWay.

Does he honestly think the Lord Jesus wouldn’t pull out a whip and start turning over tables if He walked into one of LifeWay’s ecclesiastical emporiums today? No, they’re not temples or houses of worship – but trivializing God’s Word by putting it on novelties, notions and assorted household items just so you can sell them to churchgoers is tacky. And does LifeWay really think there’s nothing wrong with using the Lord’s name in vain on their products and play pretties as long as it’s not in a curse word?

Is there nothing sacred anymore?

Where’s the awe, reverence, fear and trembling of our faith for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – in the bottom of a LifeWay bag with a receipt?

How can we expect the unredeemed to take Jesus seriously, if we don’t?

And what about the books LifeWay offers on Contemplative Spirituality, aka, Spiritual Formation, from Emerging Church authors and leaders, many of whom reject absolute truth, downplay doctrine and encourage their readers to incorporate mantras and mysticism into their Christian walk?

One of the foremost authors and leaders of the Emergent movement, Brian McLaren, recently spoke at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois at the annual Shift student ministries conference. Here’s what the SBC’s own Baptist Press had to say about him:

McLaren's views break harshly from traditional Christian theology that Jesus died on the cross as substitute for sinful humanity, taking the punishment that men and women deserved for their sin.

Yet, at this writing, his books are available for purchase at LifeWay Christian Stores.

I’m just scratching the surface here folks.

Then, Rainer’s associate, Ed Stetzer, author of last year’s Baptist Press piece, Understanding The Emerging Church, chimes in with a predictably progressive proposal in Kwon’s Christian Post article:

Offering a few suggestions for change, Stetzer said the Southern Baptist Convention needs ethnic and generational diversity in its leadership.

Is he talking about the “ethnic and generational diversity” of the Emerging Church’s young bohemians?

Stetzer went on to say:

…the "infighting" has to stop. Debates over theological differences and boundaries at every denominational meeting would only accelerate the trend toward decline…

Might he be referring here to The Emerging Civil War that’s brewing over all the liberal theology and pagan practices infiltrating Southern Baptist churches around the country and transforming them into something more culturally relevant?

So, heretical harmony and brotherly blasphemy are better than iron sharpening iron, huh? Just how does one earnestly contend for the faith without debate, Ed – sit in a circle, hold hands and hum?

”Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.”– 2nd Timothy 4:2

Stetzer reportedly summed up the situation by saying:

"We must recover a Gospel centrality and cooperate in proclaiming that gospel locally and globally," adding that, “we must refocus on the Divine Obsession (Luke 15), the obsession with lost people."

But, how does LifeWay propose to do that selling teddy bears, coffee cups, flowerpots, yard art and books by men who reject the Whole Counsel of God? Are we to evangelize the lost with the Emergent gospel of Brian McLaren?

Seems to me our obsession ought to be for the Living Word of God rather than the lost. After all, how can they be saved without Him? Shall we go into battle without our double-edged sword and offer merchandise and meditation instead?

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”– Romans 10:17

I mean, is LifeWay really offering biblical solutions for life here as their company slogan states or are they, in many ways, contributing to the problems plaguing the SBC and facilitating its decline?

“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” - 2nd John 1: 9-11      What are your thoughts on this article?