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Preaching, church discipline addressed at Founders breakfast
--By Tim Ellsworth
    ATLANTA, June 15--Southern Baptists must recover the practices of biblical preaching and church discipline if they are to flourish in the years ahead, two speakers said at the Founders Fellowship Breakfast June 15.
    Founders Ministries is a group of theologically likeminded Southern Baptists who hold to the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation and theologians such as John Calvin and Martin Luther.
Tom Ascol, executive director of Founders Ministries and pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Fla., stressed the importance of biblical preaching to Southern Baptists, while Don Whitney, assistant professor of spiritual formation at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., lamented the absence of church discipline in many Baptist churches.
    Southern Baptists are living in "desperate days," Ascol said. "Despite all of our accomplishments, all of our resources, all of our statistics, we have made very little impact on our world."
    In fact, Ascol said, "the world has far more influence on the church than the church has on the world. ... People today despise authority, have an entitlement mentality, glory in immorality and find death and destruction entertaining. They hate what is good, deny the existence of truth and live for pleasure."
    He attributed Southern Baptist complacency toward societal attitudes to a lack of strong, biblical preaching.
    "Preaching is God's ordained means of spreading his gospel throughout the world," Ascol said. "No matter how desperate the days become, the church of Jesus Christ must continually insist that God's Word be preached in and through the congregation."
    Many pastors describe their preaching style as expository, "but there is more to it than merely using the Bible as your starting point," Ascol said. "Many preachers take their texts from the Bible and their sermons from the newspaper."
    The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to "preach the Word," Ascol said, not "preach from the Word." This requires diligent study on the pastor's part so that he may clearly explain what the Bible says and how it applies to people's lives.
    Ascol said pastors should be convinced of Scripture's authority and sufficiency and have confidence in the preaching of the Word.
    "We need a renewed confidence in preaching the Bible today," Ascol said. He listed three needs: "men who are fully committed to preaching the Word, men who unhesitatingly believe that God still uses the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe; and men who are willing to pay the price to study and discipline themselves to become effective, faithful expositors of the Word of God."
    Addressing church discipline, Whitney pointed to statistics that two-thirds of Southern Baptist church members are absent from church every Sunday. He cited three reasons for such a problem: a methodology that is bringing large numbers of unconverted people into the church; the lack of biblical preaching; and the failure of churches to practice church discipline.
    With many lost people as church members, churches often are not interested in calling a Bible-preaching pastor who supports church discipline, he said.
    "The church that follows that pattern over a long enough period of time is on the path to apostasy," Whitney said.
    Speaking from Matthew 18:15-20, Whitney said churches should practice church discipline because it honors Christ by obeying Scripture. Also, he said church discipline maintains the purity of Christ's church, restores fallen brothers and sisters to righteousness, returns believers to spiritual freedom and reconciles broken fellowship between believers.
    "One of the misunderstandings is that [church discipline] is punitive, but the goal is restorative," Whitney said. "The goal is to win someone back, not kick someone out."
    Church discipline, when done correctly, should follow a precise process, Whitney said. A Christian should first reprove a fallen brother or sister in private, then take one or two more people along for a second visit, if necessary. If the person still refuses to repent, only then should the church deal with the problem and consider withdrawing fellowship from the person.
    Withdrawing fellowship "requires a persistent refusal to listen to the church and repent," Whitney said. "It's not a one-time mistake where someone messes up and they're out of here."
    Church discipline is never an easy process -- Whitney called it "gut-churning" -- but Christians should take comfort in the fact that God has promised to be with the church through the process. Southern Baptists need pastors who are bold enough to stand on the teachings of Scripture, even when it's not popular to do so, Whitney said.
    And how do churches know when discipline has been successful?
    "It's when you obey Christ," Whitney said. "Our job is not to bring about the repentance. Our job is to obey Christ, and he is the one who will effect repentance."

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