Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 16, 1961
NUMBER 40, PAGE 7,14b

The Baptist Declension

J. D. Tant, Portales, New Mexico

The Baptist Church in Oklahoma (and possibly elsewhere) has been experiencing a steady decline in baptisms over the past few years, and this is a matter of growing concern among Baptist "pastors."

In an article in a recent issue of Baptist Messenger, this problem was discussed, with several men giving their views as to the root of the problem. Some of the answers they gave are worthy of our consideration, for these men are dealing with the same trend that has been developing in the churches of Christ during the past two decades.

Following are some quotes from the article:

"For the fifth year in a row, baptisms reported by Oklahoma Baptist churches will show a decrease over the preceding year. This is indicated by unofficial figures for 1960, prepared by the state convention evangelism and Brotherhood department."

(Total baptisms have dropped some 20% since the peak in 1955. There were 22,704 baptisms in 1955, and 18,305 in 1960. JDT)

"Reasons for the decline are complex. In an effort to discover factors involved, the BAPTIST MESSENGER asked several pastors, in Baptist churches over the state, for their views.

"The pastors' answer could perhaps best be summarized in one word:


Matters of secondary importance have had primary emphasis.

"(1) Activities, church and personal, crowd out soul-winning efforts of both pastor and people.

"'The church is preoccupied with many good things to the exclusion of the primary task,' stated one pastor.

"'Church members,' outlined another pastor, 'are preoccupied with (1) their personal lives, including their work, their homes, their entertainment, and with (2) church activities which keep them busy at many things other than soul winning.'

"Said another, 'There is nothing wrong with organization, but when class meetings, committee meetings, study course meetings, etc, become an end in themselves rather than a means to an end of reaching people, we're in trouble.' "

"'It is indeed sad to see people put major emphasis on class meetings and do absolutely nothing about going out and reaching others. Distressing is the sight of women in a WMU meeting talking about world missions, who would not walk across the street to lead a soul to know Christ as Savior....

" 'It is easier to give and let someone else be responsible for the results than to be personally responsible.'" (Emp. mine — JDT)

And isn't that true! Some of the "Church of Christers" can certainly testify to that fact. The member of a 300-member church which gives some $50 monthly to orphan institutions is personally contributing about 41/2 per Week. And he looks upon himself as a "benevolent-minded, orphan-supporting, faithful Christian," while he labels with names like "anti," "orphan-hater," "church-splitter," etc., those who prefer to take such children into their own homes.

But Back To The Article:

"Comfortable living plays a part. 'Our church people have more than they have ever had before in the way of living comforts....which has led to an obstinate complacency on their part,' lamented one pastor.

"Worldliness is involved. Pastors commented on: 'Increasing pressure of worldly demands....multiplied activities outside the church; 'worldly activities have reduced the power in our churches; 'Increasing demands of the civic clubs and school activities have drained the efforts and time away; 'increased worldliness (among members) destroys their effectiveness as a witness; 'lost people are preoccupied with work and play....they have little time to give thought to spiritual matters."

"(2) Program promotion and methods overshadow reliance on prayer and the Holy Spirit.

"'Without realizing it, preachers and people alike are giving more emphasis to method than to motivations, more emphasis to program instead of prayer,' one preacher warned. 'There has been emphasis on standardization of evangelism....but goals for baptism can never be high enough. Jesus set a goal — 'every creature.' "

"'It seems,' commented a long-time pastor, 'that Southern Baptists have gone through what might be called the 'gimmick age' in securing Sunday school attendance and numbers to join our churches for baptism.... It may be that in evangelism we have majored more or less on quantity rather than quality.' If so, many have become members 'who have not been born again.' As a consequence, 'fewer real soul winners.' "

And to that I must say Amen! Certainly we should realize that when the church becomes "popular" with the masses, as it is in many places now, many people actually do "join" the church of Christ simply because the socialites go there, or because it will be good for business, etc. When enough of these people are in one congregation, they can use their influence and bring pressure upon the congregation to adopt some of their denominational practices which have not been "converted" out of them. This seems to be one of the basic difficulties contributing so much to the unrest and division over unscriptural practices in the church today.

This same difficulty gives rise to the further comments of the Baptist pastors:

"'Our preaching has become too topical and too promotional,' declared one. 'There must be greater emphasis on Bible-centered preaching,' agreed another.

We preachers had better get down to basic, sound, doctrinal preaching,' warned a third."

In order to please the unconverted mass of "joiners," many of our "gospel" preachers water down their preaching, lest they endanger a lucrative job with some Church of Christ on the march.

In answer to the problem, J. Frank Davis, Baptist state convention president, makes a statement which we should all seriously ponder:

"It is going to require earnest prayer, powerful preaching and persistent personal visitation and soul winning."

"More people are being born than re-born....I am convinced that we do not need new methods, but to go back to God's method our Lord outlined for us in his word: 'two by two' going from 'house to house' with a warm, compassionate heart and an open Bible, witnessing and winning the lost to faith in Christ."

If he had just added "obedience" to that last statement, there would be no objection on our part, but I guess that is one of the things that makes him a Baptist.

If no one told us otherwise, we might think that these pastors had been speaking of problems in the Lord's church. Certainly much they have said does apply to us, and we would do well to give ear.