Baptism, Assurance, and the Decline of Conservative Churches -- By: Paul R. House

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 02:1 (Spring 1998)
Article: Baptism, Assurance, and the Decline of Conservative Churches
Author: Paul R. House


Baptism, Assurance, and the Decline of Conservative Churches

Paul R. House

Paul R. House, editor of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, is Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of seven volumes, and has contributed several articles to journals and collections of essays.

Over twenty years ago Dean Kelly explained why conservative churches were growing.1 He argued that congregations that held a high view of scripture, that were making a concerted effort to reach persons they considered lost, and that expressed high expectations for its members were thriving. In contrast, more liberal churches were not growing because they did not emphasize these ideals. Instead, the liberal churches were stressing the “felt needs” of society, the desirability of the church being involved in social action, the necessity of having loose membership requirements for church growth to occur, and a more critical approach to the Bible. Ironically, in their desire to reach the masses by these means they failed to convince the very people they sought to influence of the importance of the church and its mission. More and more people simply considered the churches to be weaker, less compelling versions of the churches their parents and grandparents attended.

More recently, Dean R Hoge, Benton Johnson and Donald A. Luidens have confirmed Kelly’s research.2 They agree that many mainline churches have so relaxed their definition of Christianity and church membership that many congregations now consist of baptized pagans. The way back to health in a relativistic age, the authors write, is for the churches to recapture moral authority without returning to pre-critical notions of the Bible, the church, or the church’s authority. Perhaps in this way the Baby Boomers who have left or ignored the mainline churches will once again participate in worship and service. Though I do not believe they have the proper answer for the mainline denominations, I do think they have, like Kelly, analyzed the problem accurately.

Many conservative pastors and denominational leaders have cited such studies to prove that conservatism has triumphed over its liberal competitors. They seem to think that simply claiming a high view of scripture and preaching about evangelism will keep the conservative churches from going the way of the liberal denominations. Though biblical authority and evangelism are central to the health and usefulness of a congregation or denomination, conservatives had better learn from the mainline experience, not sooth themselves with the noti...

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