Jeff Iorg Blog
Dec 09 2013
This past Sunday, four men were baptized in our church. Baptisms of adult men aren’t that common, but that wasn’t the most significant part of the service. The most striking aspect of the service was the reason for their baptisms – obedience to believer’s baptism. All four men had experienced infant baptism, had later made personal commitments to Jesus, but had never been baptized as believers. In a Bible study, they discovered the biblical truth about baptism and the importance of believer’s baptism. As a result, in obedience to God, they requested baptism.
Southern Baptists are baptizing fewer people each year. Last year, we baptized fewer people than any year since 1948. There are many reasons for this – but one is seldom mentioned. From my vantage point, many leaders no longer emphasize believer’s baptism as an essential first-step of obedience to God. Baptists rightly emphasize justification by faith alone – apart from any religious work, including baptism. In doing this, we have gone too far. Many Christians now believe baptism, since it’s not required for conversion, is optional. It’s a nice tradition, a meaningful ceremony – but only if you want to do it.
Our Baptist forefathers would be shocked at this lackadaisical attitude. Practicing believer’s baptism cost them their lives – at the hands of so-called Christian preservationists who labeled them radical reformers or extremists. Yes, for what happened in our church this past Sunday, our spiritual ancestors were persecuted by those who considered themselves more orthodox Christians.
There’s never been a better time to reclaim the significance of believers baptism for what it is – a public declaration of private faith in Jesus. In our world, there needs to be a marked difference between believers who really follow Jesus and people who culturally or politically identify as “Christians.” That “mark” is believer’s baptism. Let’s teach the truth about this important act of obedience to God and practice it with fervor and humility.
Out with Doctrine!
Sep 30 2013
This week, Golden Gate will be hosting a conference called “Ministry in the New Marriage Culture.” We will address how churches can respond to the changing definition of marriage. We will have presentations on the legal, cultural, biblical, and theological perspectives on the current situation. All of this will be bent toward practical steps churches and church leaders can take to address the myriad ministry issues in the new marriage culture.
We are a confessional seminary. We take the Bible seriously and allow it to shape our positions and guide our decisions. We embrace words like “doctrine” and “theology” to describe our biblically-centered framework for institutional choices. This pattern will be reflected in the upcoming conference. Unfortunately, even as a religious organization, we are becoming more of a minority in this regard.
Brian Cahill, former executive director of San Francisco Catholic Charities recently editorialized in the San Francisco Chronicle about the Pope Francis’ comments on sexuality. Mr. Cahill is very enthused about what he perceives as the Pope’s less strident position on sexual ethics. He wrote, “What is changing is that we have a pope who is a real shepherd, a pope who believes and articulates that the Christian message is primarily a message of love and inclusiveness, not doctrine and belief.”
Mr. Cahill accurately articulates how many people, even religious leaders who should know better, are re-defining Christianity to suit their purposes. The Christian message is now all about “love and inclusiveness, not doctrine and belief.” Seriously, what “Christian message” is he talking about? He may believe in a modern religious message of love and inclusiveness, devoid of any theological conviction – but it isn’t a “Christian” message. It’s simply a syrupy, self-help, self-indulging message of self-justification. It’s idolatry - subtle but sure. It’s redefining God in our terms, not acknowledging Him on his terms.
While my worldview is contrary to those who are abandoning convictional leadership, it’s refreshing to see them clearly articulate their position. The contrast is clear, and you have to make a choice. Will you practice a religion, even calling it “Christianity,” in terms you decide or will you submit yourself to God and allow him to define your religious standards?
Even though I will do it imperfectly - I choose to shape my convictions to God’s standards, not define his positions by my preferences. I hope you will do the same.
Jul 01 2013
Southern Baptists have never had more money, more trained leaders, more materials and programs, more technology, more of a national presence, and more of an international reach. Yet, despite all this, we are becoming less and less effective at communicating the gospel and baptizing people – the first public step of discipleship. In 2012, we baptized fewer people than any year since 1948. Why?
The reasons are many and varied. Over this summer, I am blogging about some of the reasons – making no attempt to write a comprehensive treatise, just sharing some perspectives from my vantage point.
Behavior always emerges from belief. Last week, we considered the first of two theological issues impacting evangelism in the SBC. The first issue was universalism – officially denied, but quietly embraced by many people. The second issue is Calvinism or Reformed Theology.
Before you blow a gasket or jump to a wrong conclusion, calm down a minute and read carefully. The SBC recently heard a report – put together by a special study committee – to call Calvinists and non-Calvinists to emphasize their common ground and work together, rather than dissipate so much time, energy, and money arguing with one another. The report was well-received by the convention and if we follow its recommendations, will lead to positive steps forward on this issue.
My goal in this blog is not to rehash the report or open wounds it attempts to heal. My perspective on Reformed Theology, as it relates to evangelism, is it only undermines evangelism when defined with a perspective on election that mutes efforts to persuade people to follow Jesus. Some in this camp do this, but many (if not most) do not.
Our seminary has a few self-described Reformed or Calvinist employees. One of them is a leader of street evangelism in the Bay Area, often taking students with him to share the gospel in public forums. The other is an evangelistic pastor of a growing church. He regularly talks with me about their efforts to win more people to faith in Jesus. While both these men strongly affirm the doctrine of election, neither claims the capacity to discern who’s elected and who isn’t. They rightly understand the biblical mandate to share the gospel with everyone, letting God elect who he will and save those who experience his grace. Their theology motivates personal witnessing and evangelistic church programming. It’s hard to find fault with that!
Any theological position which undermines the church’s missionary mandate, no matter its high-sounding label or historic place in church history, is suspect. Any theological position that motivates the church’s missionary endeavors is helpful - to the extent it does not compromise other important doctrinal positions.
Rather than defining yourself by one of these historic labels, can I propose a new category? It’s my blog so the answer is yes! Let’s divide into two camps – Theology motivating gospel-sharing and Theology eliminating gospel-sharing. However you choose to define yourself, make sure you are in the first category. Then, do the same things I suggested last week – preach on these themes and lead church-based doctrinal studies reinforcing sound theology. Over time, you can establish a foundation of belief leading to the behavior we need – more effective evangelistic work by churches and individuals called Southern Baptist.
A friend of mine committed himself to Jesus as his Lord and Savior a few weeks ago. I was part of the process, helping him along the way in his decision. I felt like a midwife – in the room trying to help but really only catching the baby when new birth happened! It was an amazing moment, watching a person’s inner transformation happen before my eyes.
Because I’m a seminary president, people ask me all sorts of complicated theological questions (assuming I have the answers, or at least I want to argue the points). My practical bent (remember, I’m really a displaced church planter masquerading as a seminary president), always tilts my answers toward how theological complexity works itself out in the crucible of doing ministry with everyday people.
Consider the doctrine of salvation. When my friend was ready to become a Christian, the grace of God was evident. Repentance and faith were in the mix. He was definitely deciding to change, but larger forces were shaping him toward his decision. Looking back, all of that can be analyzed. In the moment, none of it mattered to my friend. He had never really considered those theological categories. After a long process, he had simply come to the end of himself and wanted Jesus to take over his life. Submission to Lordship, experiencing grace, repentance from sin, faith in God – all of it was happening all at once as my friend became a follower of Jesus.
Theology is important – very important. But one measure of how well you understand theological concepts is your ability to explain them to everyday people. Is your theology – no matter how pristine it is in the ivory tower – communicable to shift workers, the woman who served your lunch, the high school dropout raising two kids, or the urban professional who has never read a Bible? In short, can you communicate your theology to everyday people with no theological training in such a way they experience God? If not, your theological training was inadequate. The professionals may get it, but the people who need it don’t understand what you are talking about!
May God give us, especially those of us who work hard at teaching theology, the humility to remember this: the end of theological pursuit is changed lives, not polished papers earning good grades from the academy.
What About Those Who Have Never Heard?
Mar 31 2008
One of the outstanding younger theologians in Southern Baptist life today is Dr. Chris Morgan, Professor of Theology, at California Baptist University. In the past two years, Dr. Morgan has edited two important books – Hell Under Fire
and Faith Comes by Hearing
– A Response to Inclusivism
If you can judge a man by the company he keeps, these books reveal much about Dr. Morgan. He has assembled outstanding writing teams that produced significant contributions on two subjects of vital importance. Golden Gate is a Great Commission-centered institution. Grappling with the present condition and eternal state of those who have not heard about Jesus Christ is part of spiritual formation for our students. Dr. Morgan’s books are well-reasoned, well-documented resources for students thinking through this challenging subject.
Faith Comes by Hearing
is a particularly important book because it addresses a fundamental issue in our world – the unique claims of Jesus Christ. Most people do not mind interjecting God – as a generic concept - into almost any discussion, situation, or arena of life. But Jesus is another matter. To follow him, and espouse his exclusivity as a means of salvation almost guarantees you will receive the most onerous modern negative accusation possible – intolerant!
One of the reasons I like Dr. Morgan is he has a pastoral perspective on theology. He is a professor…but also a pastor of a “rank and file” Baptist church. Something about preaching weekly, leading the typical people found in a normal church, struggling with church problems and challenges, and helping lost people become vibrant disciples keeps a person’s perspective from being skewed by the ivory tower of academia. Dr. Morgan writes like Christians should live – with uncompromising biblical conviction, but also with love and respect for persons with different beliefs or conclusions.
Dr. Morgan represents the best of Baptist academic life – serious biblical scholarship coupled with passionate missional practice. Our Golden Gate faculty also has many men and women like this. It is an honor to serve with them and partner with Dr. Morgan and the team at Cal Baptist as we train leaders on the west coast.