Monday, January 13, 2014

An Open Reply to Dr. Thom Rainer

Dr. Rainer has written a heartfelt letter to all Southern Baptists that I encourage you to read at:
Letter for Dr Rainer

Dr. Rainer,

I wanted to write a letter to you expressing my thoughts on this subject that you have very eloquently addressed.  Have Southern Baptists and Evangelical Christians forgotten their first love?  I would say yes, they have less love for Christ and more love for self.  I want to unpack this for a minute, and explain why I think we are in the peril we are in.

I think the church in America today has placed WAY too much emphasis on the individual.  We talk often about our "personal relationship with Christ" in a way that begins to isolate the individual.  We make "personal decisions" and we focus on the individual void of the community.  We use the word "I" too often in our worship and praise songs, and we focus so much on personal responsibility, we have forgotten the bigger picture.  Christianity is a group thing.  We are called into a following, a gathering, we are the Church, which literally means called out ones.  Jesus is the team captain, and He picked His team, He called us by name to be on His team, and we have forgotten that we are in this together.  Our relationship with Christ is a relationship as part of the body, part of the bride, part of the church.  We need unity.  We need to focus on Christ AND each other.  As we build community, we will be much more interested in adding too and building community, which includes outreach and evangelism.

Second, we have made salvation a small thing.  We say things like "simply pray this prayer".  That is at best bad theology.  Being born again is not about saying a prayer, it's about understanding the depths of your sin and despair, being convicted by the Holy Spirit.  It's about seeing and experiencing unmatched grace and forgiveness and crying out to God in confession and repentance.  It means making Christ your Lord and Master and living for Him.  We preach a message, a person comes forward, says a short prayer, then we congratulate them on making a great decision and give them a pat on the back for being so smart.  God is so often not a part of what happens in our alter calls, but we are shocked when this person who said the short prayer is unchanged and they leave the church when things get hard.  We have made it all about the person praying, all about the glory of the preaching, the pastor, the person and nothing about God.  We have made salvation a drive-thru experience and people are not being converted.

Lastly, we are all about our comfort and happiness.  We want church to play music we enjoy, a message that feeds us, people who are nice to us and we want it in an hour once a week.  We want it to be nice, fair, happy, cheap and helpful.  We want to feel good about it, we want to be happy and fulfilled by church, we want someone else to do the work and we just want to sit back and enjoy.  We want bigger, better, brighter and high tech.  We love the experience, we love the enjoyment factor.  We don't want to add people to the group who would change that.  We have so many church folks who get upset about a change in the music, adding another service, changing a program of moving resources to reaching the lost.  Doing outreach is fine and dandy, as long as it don't interfere with the comfort and satisfaction of the pew sitters.

In short, we are selfish and lazy because our love for self is greater than our love for Christ.  We love ourselves with all our heart, soul and mind, love Christ with what is left and we love our neighbor if they love us.  We have slipped so far that it has become hard for us to see what we have and what we are becoming.  Blame it on the seeker-sensitive movement, blame it on the Emergent church, blame it on the young people, or the increase in technology and social media, it comes down to one thing.  It's the same thing that Israel struggled with, the early church struggled with, we are struggling and we are losing.  Sin has caused us to turn inward, become selfish and as a result, we have substituted feeling good for being holy.  We have done what is right in our eye, and what is right by us.  I pray that God will convict us of our selfish tendencies and call us back to our first love, giving the Lordship back to Christ.

Thank you Dr. Rainer for your letter and your honesty, I am thankful for you and what you do.

In Christ,
Dan Barnes


  1. Hi Dan:
    I agree with most of the thoughts in your response, but I disagree with your thoughts on “personal decisions” and our “personal relationship with Christ”. Jesus is all about relationships, He made many relationships during His time on this earth, getting down and dirty in a personal relationship with the amounts of people that he made contact with. As He reached down and touch a leper, which was a no-no is that day, as He healed them of their affliction, that is personal. How many people that were “unclean” did He have personal contact with? The bible only describes this as many, but just how any people had that personal relationship with Jesus?
    The group (the church) is very important in helping people to grow and mature in their journey with Christ, but the group can in no way make the decision for people to accept Christ, that is a personal decision!
    Regarding our personal relationship with Christ, He (Christ) is not only our Lord and Savior, but Jesus is also the son of God, so He is also our brother. When we accept Christ as our savior, we are adopted by God as his sons and daughters. Through Him (Christ) we cry Abba, Father. Can you get any more personal than that?
    I hope that I misunderstood, but these are my uneducated thoughts on the subject. I really have no authority to make any comments except that I am passionate about my Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ!

    1. I understand what you are saying Mark, my focus is we do this in a way that isolates the person. I am not detracting from the personal relationship with Christ as much as I am saying we do it to the exclusion of the community of faith. We have made people into islands and they are not connecting with others anymore. The personal relationship is great, but we experience Christ also in community.

  2. Broken and contrite is the result of our love for Christ which is the result of Christ's love for us. As a SBC member I hope we try to reachout to the lost in a way that explains God's love and God's plan for us. Joy is not the goal, it is a byproduct!

  3. Hi Dan: This is a little off the subject, but maybe not too much. What is your opinion on this question?
    Does a person really need to go to church to worship God? I have heard a lot of people say that they can worship God alone that they don't need church.
    My opinion is that it's true that we can worship God alone, but that church if very important because it helps us grow as Christians, making our relationship even closer with God.
    I use the example that our spiritual tank gets emptied during our busy week and going to church gives us the ability to refill our spiritual tank so we can continue our work for God.