I ran across an interesting article today written by Bobby Welch, who happens to be in his second (and final) year as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The article, written in his church newsletter, is titled “Calvinism and Christ’s Great Commission.” (HT: Scott Parrish, who has a good commentary on it.) In it, Welch describes a study undertaken by a couple of profs at New Orleans Baptist Seminary that sought to compare Calvinist baptist churches (they used churches registered with Founders Ministries, an association of theologically reformed SBC churches, so named because the denomination’s founders were similarly reformed in their theology), with other SBC churches (Welch doesn’t say how they picked which others).
If you know much about Bobby Welch, you know that the comparison would be based on numbers – mainly how many were baptized in a particular church. The study found that founders churches baptized fewer numbers of people and had smaller congregations (“only one had a regular worship attendance of 1,000 or more.”) Thus, Welch and the New Orleans guys concluded that churches that teach Calvinist doctrine are not effective evangelistic churches when compared with those that do not.
Now, I’m tempted to say something about what Scripture teaches about salvation, but apart from this sentence I will not do so. What is more troubling is the idea that Welch and so many others have that numbers and visible signs of success are the only way of measuring fidelity to the gospel. (I can’t help but wonder how many of those baptized by a typical SBC church are actually regenerate, how many are “rebaptisms,” how many are six year olds, etc.) Whatever you think of Founders churches, they are more apt to have really walked through the gospel with people rather than give them a sales presentation, and are more apt to look for more fruit of repentance than walking the aisle one Sunday morning. They are also more likely to have covenants of church membership such that membership is a meaningful commitment and responsibility. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the same churches were studied in order to measure less quantifiable but equally important aspects of church health like discipleship and spiritual growth, knowledge of Scripture, that kind of thing.
The bottom line is, whatever your theology, we should not be in the business of measuring spiritual success by such worldly means. We must focus on discipleship and laying the whole counsel of Scripture before people, not at the exclusion of evangelism, but as its logical consequence. We don’t call people to “make a decision,” but to a life of discipleship.