Month: February 2005

CHURCH GOVERNANCE 1: What constitutes a local church?

The lack of clarity as to what constitutes a local church prompted leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board and North American Mission Board to study the issue during the past year with each entity drawing from the Baptist Faith & Message as a doctrinal foundation.



Congregationalism takes multiple forms within Baptist context

Once a church staple, discipline cases rare

What constitutes a local church?


Successes and failures come in all church governance shapes and sizes

Tug of war over authority often fuels conflict

Pastor firings always sin on someone’s part, SBTC ministry leader argues

Misuse of ‘priesthood of believers’ challenged pastor leadership

LifeWay reports 913 pastors fired in 2003

Southern Baptists through their mission boards expect missionaries to uphold biblically accurate models of how churches are governed when encouraging new church plants.

The International Mission Board drafted a definition and guidelines for local churches in January while the North American Mission Board approved a 34-page document last fall to guide church planters.

“It is important that the North American Mission Board have a very clear statement of what we see to be a Baptist church,” stated NAMB President Robert E. (Bob) Reccord, noting that NAMB starts 1,500 new Southern Baptist churches yearly. He told trustees the document was needed because some non-biblical church models were rapidly proliferating across the country.

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Church planting fellowship gets gospel in written form to 13,400 Plano-area homes

PLANO?The gospel message went to 13,400 homes and an estimated 40,000 residents in the Plano area Feb. 5, thanks to 240 volunteers armed with plastic bags full of gospel tracts, flyers, church magnets and CDs.

The volunteers from Southern Baptist churches in Collin County surpassed the 205 who showed up last year for a similar effort with Stepping Stones, a McKinney-based church planting fellowship working in concert with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Jeff Nyberg, founder of Stepping Stones and a former pastor of a church plant, has helped start 19 churches in the last 14 years, 13 of which are still functioning, he said. Since resigning his pastorate to devote himself to Stepping Stones 16 months ago, the ministry has helped form six more congregations.

The Feb. 5 outreach concentrated on areas near three SBTC congregations, NorthPointe Church in Richardson, Ascension Baptist Church in Allen and Cornerstone Church in Plano, the host church where Nyberg formerly was pastor.

Last fall, volunteers held a similar outreach that aided two church plants in Farmersville, Fellowship Worship Center and Farmersville Bible Fellowship. The participants leave with a grasp of what it means to have a “kingdom mindset,” Nyberg said.

Stepping Stones focuses on helping new churches face foundational issues that challenge their vitality?from financial help to specialized support in varied church ministries. The quarterly outreaches, such as the one in Plano, encourage the planters and the congregations, Nyberg said.

The results of such an outreach?the fourth one Stepping Stones has organized?show in the weeks and months afterwards, not necessarily the following Sunday, Nyberg noted.

“As a church planting fellowship, we want to plant 100 churches in concert with the SBTC over the next 10 years,” he said. The ministry’s website states that of 280 million people in the United States, 196 million are unchurched. Nyberg believes church planting is the most effective evangelism strategy.

“With the failure rate being 50 percent or higher, new church plants need a heavy dose of encouragement. Everyone benefits from these outreaches?the communities being reached, the church planting pastor and the new church plant.”

“Their kingdom agenda?helping plant new churches that grow by conversion and multiply by planting more churches?is the same as ours,” said SBTC Missions Director Robby Partain. “The ministry partnership we have with Stepping Stones is part of our long-range strategy to identify partners in the field with whom we can work to plant new congregations.” Within Texas, Stepping Stones’ work is exclusively SBTC based, Partain noted.

Nyberg said he needed encouragement 14 years ago when he founded Cornerstone Church. Consequently, Stepping Stones aims to help churches and their leaders mature and reproduce themselves. Participating church plants give back financially to Stepping Stones to fund more church plants, Nyberg said.

Information about Stepping Stones’ annual fund-raiser on April 8 featuring Zig Ziglar, nationally known author and speaker, can be found at

Loving discipline makes a healthy church

I recall sitting in a room at the Army Ammunition Depot in McAlester, Okla., on a Sunday morning in the early 90s, listening intently as a fellow Navy Seabee, perhaps 15 years my senior, spilled his guts.

The night before, this married man with kids had hooked up with a barmaid from the NCO club and was apparently feeling guilty. The only reason I can imagine that he was telling me his transgression is perhaps he sensed that I was a believer and he needed to unload.

I can’t recall anything I said to him, but I do remember his words like it was yesterday. “Once you jump over that fence,” he said, comparing himself to the neighborhood cat, “it gets easier and easier to jump over again.”

Sin is like that–even for the believer. We must guard ourselves, lest we fall. Amid moral chaos such as what we see today, that pagan man’s warning rings ever true.

It’s not unlike what Paul warned the church in 1 Corinthians 5.

A man in the church was sleeping with his father’s wife, likely his widowed stepmother, though the Scripture doesn’t say for certain. Regardless, such an act was illegal by Roman law. Even the pagans found such a thing anathema. Yet it had invaded the Corinthian church.

Paul instructions were clear: expel the unrepentant man from your midst for his own good. And it came with a warning: A little leaven ruins the whole lump.

In other words, once one cat jumps over the fence and seemingly survives the fall, it gets easier for others to do likewise. Desensitization follows, and before long, sin gets tolerable in the church. Not that anyone would dare endorse it. Yes, we might even grieve over it. But the danger is that we’d tolerate it.

The Corinthian church was at a crossroads, and many of our congregations today sit at the same intersection, opting to do nothing with the couple contemplating unbiblical divorce, or the layman who year after year cheats on his taxes, or the patristic family that rules the church with a jackhammer.

The current cultural climate screams for a disciplined church, yet the very idea is foreign to many church leaders, let alone laymen. Mention the idea of church discipline, as outlined by Jesus in Matthew 18, apply it to the above scenarios, and watch your fellow Baptists squirm in discomfort.

We’ve become so accustomed to our society’s values–be a good neighbor, but butt out of private matters–that we fail to be, in the truest biblical sense, our brothers’ keepers.

Discipline in the church is all about the love of Christ. A church that doesn’t practice loving discipline in its positive, preventative form and in its corrective form is not a loving church. Not really.

By the way, church discipline encompasses more than just rebuke and the steps that follow it. For the church member, it begins upon entering the local church family and embracing the responsibility, not unlike a marriage, to love, cherish and care for Christ’s church.

In shoe leather application, that means the men and women in the pew next to me are family, and I owe them my best Christian service. I owe them Romans 12:1-2. “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (HCS)

The positive aspects of a disciplined church begin with meaningful church membership and the understanding by both church and prospective members that this is more than moving one’s “letter” from the church across town.

In fact, a Dallas-area pastor told the TEXAN he asks prospective members to affirm a series of membership expectations before the congregation. Such an understanding would perhaps slow church growth, but it might head off problems with unregenerate church members too.

Those who seek our fellowship should know what they are signing up for.

The suggestion that more churches need to practice corrective discipline comes with some pause, I must admit.

It wasn’t long ago that legalism ran rampant in many Southern Baptist churches. In the early 1940s, I recall my mother privately voicing her discomfort about several women in our church who were wearing slacks to Sunday services.

Bless my mom, she’d admit now she was being petty and would probably laugh, but it was the mindset of the day. Such legalism on petty secondary issues has no place in the church.  The danger is that some might see corrective discipline as a license to stamp out every perceived offense.  It’s a danger worth guarding against, for legalism, too, is leaven.

Which raises another question: What rises to the level of loving confrontation?  Do I run amok like the preacher who was bent on curing his flock of cigarettes?  Every time the pastor saw a church member standing on the sidewalk smoking, he snatched the stogie and stomped it out with his foot.  Never mind that he died later—of foot cancer.

A useful sampling of appropriate scenarios where corrective discipline is warranted is found on the website of 9Marks Ministries, led by Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. According to 9Marks, rebuke is necessary when:

>The sin is private and the sinner in unrepentant.  “For private sins committed again private individuals, the steps of Matthew 18 should be followed.  Private warning, rebuke, admonition, or correction would be appropriate here, depending on the nature of the sin.  If repentance is expressed at either of the first two levels of confrontation, the next level is unnecessary.

“Only if the sinner is unrepentant after the visitation of two or more brothers is it legitimate to bring a privately offending brother before the church for public rebuke or excommunications.”

>When the sin is serious and public, and the sinner is unrepentant. “This is perhaps the most urgent situation, because the church’s public witness is most visibly at stake.”

>When the sin is public even if the sinner is repentant. “Sometimes sins are committed by Christians in public that are so heinous that even if the offender is repentant, some disciplinary action must be taken by the church to vindicate her corporate witness by showing that Christians do not condone such behavior or sweep it under the rug.”

>When a member is negligent in attendance for an extended period of time.  “Discipline for non-attendance is necessary because refusing to show up for months in a row is usually a mask that covers other more serious sins.  The necessity for removal form the membership rolls in this instance arises even more fundamentally because of the nature of membership as the local church’s affirmation of the member’s salvation.”

> When the sin is of a nature that is scandalous even in the eyes of the unbelieving community.  “This is the situation of the sinning brother in 1 Corinthians 5, who was committing a kind of immorality that even the pagans of the day didn’t normally commit.  This kind of sin must be met with swift excommunication (Exclusion from communion and removal from the membership rolls) until genuine repentance is observed with fruits to back it up.”

Understand these are guideline, not Bible, though one could make a case biblically here. The bottom line:  We are our brothers’ keepers.  We are to lovingly pursue our fellow pilgrims and rescue them when we see them drifting toward danger.

I can think of one instance several years ago in which a couple we were friends with began to miss church, then became absent altogether. They assured everyone they were busy building a business and would be back.  We knew they were experiencing some grief over infertility, so the inclination was to back off and give them space.  We didn’t press them.

We found out last year, a few months after we’d moved to Texas, that they were divorcing. I’d give my right arm to lovingly press them now.

What we believe, not what we call ourselves, makes us Baptist

Dr. Stan Norman is the director of the Baptist Center for Theology & Ministry at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The center exists to provide theological and ministerial resources to enrich and energize ministry in Baptist churches. It brings together professors and practitioners to produce and apply resources on Baptist life, polity and ministry. The mission is to communicate the distinctive identity of Baptists.This is a much-needed ministry, because it ain’t cool in many places to be a Baptist. While I prefer Baptist in the name over the door of my church, this is not what makes you a Baptist. Some are Baptist in name only. Others are Baptists without the name. What we believe is what makes us a Baptist.

Doctrines such as priesthood of believers and autonomy of the church are important. These are not to overshadow such teachings as inerrancy of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, security of the believer and baptism of believers by immersion. Certain doctrines are non-negotiable.

Methodology is a different matter. Church leadership style, names, music and dress code are open to contextualization. Form does matter. We cannot endorse an anti-biblical model. On the other hand latitude and grace should be extended to those who are different from us. For the SBTC and the SBC to be significant in the 21st century we must be willing to lay aside some of our preferences, per Romans 12:10.

Churches differ in polity. Over the next few issues of the TEXAN various positions will be discussed. It is healthy for us to affirm a broad fellowship that includes a number of interpretive positions. The liberals said we would squabble among ourselves to our own demise. I am not willing to let them be prophetic. Let’s not compromise one iota on the major doctrinal beliefs. Let’s be open to contextualization in doing church, missions and evangelism.

Now, back to the Baptist Center for Theology & Ministry. You can visit its website at You will find stimulating material about our collective Baptist future and discussion that will help your understanding about Baptists. There are good reasons to be a Baptist and especially a Southern Baptist.

CHURCH GOVERNANCE 1: Once a church staple, discipline cases rare

Baptists on the early American frontier were known for practicing church discipline, wrote Donald F. Durnbaugh in “The Believer’s Church: The History and Character of Radical Protestantism.” Baptist forebear Thomas Helwys, for example, held “censures” every Sunday afternoon after worship to



Congregationalism takes multiple forms within Baptist context

Once a church staple, discipline cases rare

What constitutes a local church?


Successes and failures come in all church governance shapes and sizes

Tug of war over authority often fuels conflict

Pastor firings always sin on someone’s part, SBTC ministry leader argues

Misuse of ‘priesthood of believers’ challenged pastor leadership

LifeWay reports 913 pastors fired in 2003

ensure discipline among the congregation, Durnbaugh noted.

Such censuring is the common notion of church discipline, though a broader definition includes all practices that contribute to a healthy New Testament congregation, wrote Southern Baptist theologian J.W. MacGorman in “The People of God: Essays on the Believers’ Church.”

“How believers were related to each other as an expression of the body of Christ; how they comported themselves in the midst of a pagan society; how the ministries of the churches were organized and the ordinances were observed; how the essentials of the faith were formulated into confessional statements and their history?these were the positive features of church discipline,” MacGorman wrote.

History shows legalistic excesses among some Reformation groups, which is a danger, Durnbaugh wrote. But, he added, “It is clear to contemporary observers of church life in the western world that excessive discipline is not a problem. Rather, it is the almost universal absence of meaningful requirements for church membership tha

CHURCH GOVERNANCE 1: Governance: Holding the local church together

“A somewhat paranoid autocrat as pastor, monthly business meetings dedicated to senseless issues that only eat up time, a committee structure that looks like the Department of Education and is about as efficient, and a deacon board that functions like a carnal corporate




board”?that’s how one Southern Baptist described an unbiblical model of how many churches operate.

It doesn’t have to be that way, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin wrote in the book “Perspectives on Church Government: Five Views on Church Polity.” In it, Akin defended a congregational model of church government that features a single elder?more commonly called a pastor in Southern Baptist churches?as leader.

Within congregationalism and in Baptist life, various forms?pastor-led, congregation-led and plural elder-led churches?have appeared.

Unlike the dysfunctional example Akin described as “not necessarily a pretty sight to behold,” he believes a congregational approach that follows biblical guidelines “locates the authority of the church in each local body of believers” with no person or organization above or over it except the Lord Jesus Christ as its head. Members have equal standing and responsibilities though certain ones may be chosen to lead and serve in particular, specific ways, such as the pastor, he wrote.

“Striking a delicate but discernable balance, leaders in a local congregation are answerable ultimately to God and responsible to those who chose them,” Akin said, citing Hebrews 13:17, James 3:1 and 1 Peter 5:2-4. “No particular group or individual may be interposed between any child of God and the heavenly Father.”

Congregationalism is the broad category in which Southern Baptists are placed, distinct from the presbyterian model where a presbytery oversees local churches and church elders alone rule in congregational affairs, and the episcopal form where authority is placed in the hands of one or more bishops who direct the affairs of one or more churches.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary emeritus professor James Leo Garrett Jr., argued in the same book for the congregation-led model of church government, another approach in the broad category of congregationalism.

“Human authority rests with the local or particular congregation when it gathers for decision-making. This means that decisions about membership, leadership, doctrine, worship, conduct, missions, finances, property, relationships, and the like are to be made by the gathered congregation except when such decisions have been delegated by the congregation to individual members or groups of members.”

Congregation-led churches decide to what degree the pastor, deacons, commi<script src=http

Texas Baptist leader Rudy Hernández dies

GRAND PRAIRIE?Rudy Hernández, a past Southern Baptist Convention second vice president and former president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, died Friday at his Grand Prairie home after battling cancer. He was 77.

Hernández was born in San Antonio, the youngest of seven children, was well known in Texas for his work among Hispanic Baptists and in the SBC as a statesman and devoted Baptist leader. From 2001-2003, he served as special assistant to the SBTC executive director and strategist for Hispanic Ministries while founding what became the SBTC’s Hispanic Initiative.

Hernández served on the Baptist Faith & Message Study Committee that drafted changes to the confessional statement SBC messengers approved in 2000 and on the Implementation Task Force during the SBC’s restructuring in the mid-1990s.

He served as president of four different Texas Baptist organizations during his long ministry. He was saved at age 10 at Rosillo Street Baptist Mission in San Antonio, began preaching at age 13 and was licensed to preach at age 15. He was ordained at 19 and served as a pastor in San Antonio, Menard, Eden, Galveston, Fort Worth and Corpus Christi.

He held doctor of divinity degrees from Howard Payne University, where he earned his undergraduate degree, and Criswell College. He also was a Southwestern Seminary alumnus and a former Texas alumni president.

Since 1973, he was president of Rudy Hernández Evangelism International. He served the Baptist General Convention of Texas (1955-69) as the first Hispanic evangelism director and was a past BGCT second vice president.

The following Southern Baptist leaders eulogized Hernández, describing him as a “statesman” who loved souls and led with gentleness and humility.

?SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards: “Rudy Hernández was a giant among Texas Southern Baptists. His service to God’s kingdomtouchedTexas and the world. His support forthe SBTC was wholeheartedand sacrificial.His leadership as the second president of our convention was crucial during a time of explosive growth. Our convention’s Hispanic Initiative was born in his heart and will bear fruit for generations if the Lord tarries.

05 Evangelism Conference draws high of 2,300 to FBC Euless despite cold and rain

EULESS?Cold, damp weather didn’t keep the 2,300 people who attended the opening session of the Empower Evangelism Conference from being challenged to present Jesus as God’s communication of himself to mankind and to worship him with our minds as well as our hearts.

The opening session at First Baptist Church of Euless Jan. 31 drew the conference’s largest crowd and despite dank conditions, the best weather of the three-day meeting that carried the theme “Jesus: Hope of Glory.” Throughout, conference speakers challenged those attending toward holiness, personal integrity and empathy toward sinners.

Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson and Houston-area evangelist Voddie Baucham preached during the first session. Also during the opening session, SBTC Evangelism Director Don Cass presented Roy Fish, distinguished professor emeritus of evangelism at Southwestern Seminary, with the 2005 W.A. Criswell Lifetime Achievement Award for Pastoral Evangelism.

Cass also announced a new award to be given in Fish’s honor: the Roy Fish Lifetime Achievement Award for Vocational Evangelism.

Fish has written numerous books, preached countless sermons and taught thousands of pastors and evangelists during his long ministry.

On Tuesday night, dozens prayed at the altar while others kneeled in the aisles as First Baptist Church of Dallas Pastor Mac Brunson, after preaching from Jeremiah 8 on Israel’s stubborn unrepentance, called his listeners to examine themselves and lay down any unconfessed sin (See story, page 9).

“2005: Year of Double Harvest”?a challenge to double baptisms?was a big-screen backdrop for many of the platform guests, which ranged from Patterson to humorist Sylvia Harney to Christian musicians Larnelle Harris and Jaci Velasquez.


Taking from the conference theme, “Jesus: Hope of Glory,” Patterson posed the question, “Why talk about Jesus?”

Christianity is not about the inerrancy of the Bible, nor about the premillenial return of Jesus Christ, but “Christianity is about Jesus Christ, who he is, what he did and what he is going to do next,” Patterson said.

Preaching from John 1, Patterson explained that Christ is noted as the Word or “Logos” who existed eternally with God, who also was God, and through whom all things were made. Understanding John’s gospel is key to understanding the whole Bible, Patterson said. “There was never a time that Jesus was not.”

Patterson said the word that carried weight in the first few verses of John is the Logos?the communication of God to man.

In John 1:14, “? the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and while the Word always was, he wasn’t always flesh. “And the remarkable development of Bethlehem is that the eternal God became man. The Word became flesh. ? When Mary held that little baby in Bethlehem in her arms and looked into his face, do you know whose face she looked into? The face of the eternal God.”

When he became flesh, the Scripture teaches that we had opportunity to “carefully observe him.”

“People say, ‘Oh, if I could just see God. Look at Jesus and you’ll see God.'”

In fact, Patterson said the earliest and best New Testament manuscripts render in John 1:18, “the only begotten Son,” as in the King James, as literally “the only begotten Theos (God)”?a clear statement of Christ’s deity.

“I rarely pick a fight with the King James version. It’s good enough for Paul, it’s good enough to me,” Patterson quipped. “But I’ll pick a little one right here. Here it is: The best manuscripts ? the earliest ones we’ve got of the New Testament all say Theos, ‘the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared him.’ My friend, that verse is a clear statement that Jesus is God.

“He has exegeted God for us; he explains God in such a way that we can know him.”

Voddie Baucham

Voddie Baucham of Spring, near Houston, told of the passion God gave him to communicate the gospel to individuals without neglecting or despising the mind.

“For whatever reason we have become so incredibly anti-intellectual in the modern American church, particularly among Southern Baptists, that we treat head knowledge like a disease from which we need to be cured.”

Baucham said, “I fully expect somebody to come up to me one day and say, “‘You know brother, I’m doing much better, but I went to church, got a shot and now I’m stupid and in love with Jesus and everything is alright.'” Insisting that God does not despise the mind, Baucham said, “I yearn for us to understand the significance of the anti-intellectualism that we display when it com

Vocational evangelists’ meeting draws 1,000 plus

EULESS?The Conference of Texas Baptist Evangelists met Jan. 31 preceding the Empower Evangelism Conference, drawing more than 1,000 people to First Baptist Church of Euless to hear preachers such as Malcom Ellis, Ronnie Hill and Paige Patterson.


Ellis, Colmesneil-based evangelist, preached from Acts 6:3 about the Jerusalem church’s appointment of the first deacons and used their description as Holy Spirit-filled men to demonstrate the necessity of spirit-filled Christians to serve the church.

Ellis made three observations about the Holy Spirit’s filling of Christians:

4not all believers are filled;

4when one is filled, it’s obvious;

4and the filling of the Spirit is necessary for any ministry.

Ellis noted that the early church sought men full of faith, wisdom and full of the Holy Spirit. Though not a mystical or emotional experience, being spirit-filled makes “an obvious, noticeable difference in your life,” Ellis said.

He noted that at the funeral earlier that day for Rudy Hernandez, a pioneer in Baptist work among Hispanics, that Hernandez’ life testified to the indwelling Holy Spirit, to which his family also testified.

“The fruit of the Spirit hung off the branches of his life like precious apples,” Ellis said.

When someone is filled, “you won’t just go witnessing, you’ll be a witness.”

Ellis also noted that if the filling of the Holy Spirit was necessary for deacons charged with “carrying bread baskets,” it’s crucial for anyone who serves the Lord.

“And don’t let anyone minister on behalf of the church who is not spirit-filled,” noting the application is even for pre-school Sunday School teachers.

Ellis said he is often quizzed by search committees about prospective pastors’ education, experience, temperament or leadership abilities.

“I can never remember being asked, ‘Is this man full of the Holy Spirit?’

In the first church were men full of the Holy Spirit, Ellis noted.

Ellis said the goal of walking in the Spirit is attainable. “If God would fill Philip with the Spirit, he’ll fill you with the Spirit.”


Preaching from 1 Corinthians 2, Hill, a Benbrook-based evangelist, cited Paul’s example to preach not with persuasive words but merely “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Hill said evangelists must first remember the message God gave them, the cross, and then remember what God can do. “We don’t have to wax eloquent” or speak with impressive oration or a stage presence. Rather, preachers must preach the simple gospel with Holy-Spirit empowerment, he said.

Hill noted that most church budgets are geared toward adult ministry though most conversions involve people under age 18.

“Is it because the children don’t bring the money?” Hill said. “We have got to beef up this effort and reach this generation now.”

In 1 Corinthians 2:4, Hill explained that Paul had an unimpressive stage presence but spoke “with a demonstration of faith and power.”

Only way out is up,’ Brunson tells conference

EULESS?For too many Christians and churches, the only way out of a life-and- death predicament “is up” through a repentant heart and directional change, Mac Brunson told the Empower Evangelism Conference during its Feb. 1 session.

Brunson, pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas, began his sermon with the story of three mountain climbers, one of whom strayed from his two friends while climbing in Yosemite National Park and found himself clinging for life on an icy ledge. The climber, Ben, faced one opportunity for survival?a risky step up onto a small crevice chiseled out by his friend and a hand extended toward his buddy. There was no room for error, “and it took less than two seconds to find out that my faith (in my friend) was well founded,” Brunson said as he read from Ben’s narrative of the story.

“And where Ben was is where so many Christians and so many churches are today,” Brunson lamented. “We’re in a precarious situation and we’re stuck and if we take a step, it’s generally going to be backwards and it’s going to be disastrous. And the only way out is up.”

Brunson said it must be a step up out of sin and into repentance, grabbing hold of the hand of grace.

In Jeremiah 8, Judah was in such a position and God had appointed the prophet Jeremiah to stand outside the temple gate and preach repentance?part of the temple gate sermons recorded in Jeremiah 7-10.

In many ways the American church resembles Judah in the days of Jeremiah, desiring its own ways over God’s ways to the point that “God eventually says, ‘You can have it,'” Brunson said. What resulted was its subjection to Babylonian conquest.

In Jeremiah 8:4-5, Brunson noted that the word turn is mentioned five times as the passage describes Israel’s refusal to repent.

“What happens in a nation is usually a reflection of what is going on in the life of a nation spiritually. Wonder why we’re in the mess we’re in in this nation? It is linked to where we are spiritually. Spiritually, the nation of Israel, or Judah, was worshipping not only Jehovah, the true God, but at the same time they had incorporated the worship of all these other gods.”

Even from its earliest days, Israel had incorporated the worship of pagan gods from surrounding nations into its worship.

For many believers, “we have so longed for and so lusted for the things of this world that God has essentially said to the church in America, ‘You can have it! It’s yours. You’ve longed for it and you’ve sought it and you wanted it, so now, it can be yours.’

“And we wonder why the divorce rate in the church is as high as it is in the society that we live in. Do you remember back when I was a boy the only people that got divorced were people in Hollywood? And yet we have longed for that lifestyle so much that now we are living the lifestyle that they lived and we’ve got the woes that they have.”

Brunson likened the spiritual numbness of many American Christians to living in a fantasy that will only be interrupted by God’s judgment.

Jeremiah’s message to the people at the temple gate was redemptive because God gives his people an opportunity to repent before he brings judgment, Brunson said, noting in Jeremiah 8:7 God’s charge that even a bird knows the seasons and when to turn.

“Now pastors, let me ask you something. What would it say to you if God had to call somebody to stand outside the front door and preach the word of God as your people came out of your church? ? That’s exactly what God called Jeremiah to do.”

At the close of the sermon, several hundred people gathered to pray at the front, followed by most of the congregation kneeling in prayer in the pews.