THE SBC’S Gospel Inferiority Complex

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”  Proverbs 29:18
There are two kinds of people in the Southern Baptist Convention.  This will be evident to you, if you are a Southern Baptist and if you’re paying any attention to the accelerating pace of our modern downgrade.

These two groups aren’t the sheep and the goats, or the wheat and the tares, or even the saved and the unsaved.  These two types of people have, rather unsurprisingly, nothing to do with Scriptural categories at all.  Having abandoned anything that may be likened to Scriptural obedience, we merely give lip service to Scripture and tend to disregard those aforementioned people types.

It’s because of our abandonment to the AUTHORITY and SUFFICIENCY of Scripture, BY PRACTICE, mind you, (We still vigorously tout these doctrines as though we were standing next to Luther holding his nails as he pounds the 95 Theses to that door) that these two new classes of definition have risen to primacy within our ranks.  If we still believed AND practiced our faith on those fundamental, Scriptural convictions, these two categories of people would never have been accepted by us.

The two types of people?  There are vision-casters and there are vision-catchers.  While the terms may allude to a certain synonymity, in SBC vernacular these days, they represent the SBC elite in the former case, and the average pew-sitter in the latter.  You are either in a position in which you are expected to receive and then cast a vision, or you are expected to obediently be a vigorous supporter of a vision cast to you.

If you are a pastor, you should have a vision.  If you’re a church member, you should support his vision.  Each pastor of the over 46,000 cooperating Southern Baptists churches is told by the denomination’s “visioneering” cheerleaders, including Rick Warren, “ A church without a vision is never going to grow, and a church’s vision will never be larger than the vision of its pastor.  So you, as a leader and as a pastor, must have God’s vision for your church.”

Well, if you’re one of those anachronistic sort of Southern Baptists – you know, the sort who actually bases your life and faith on the words of Scripture and try, best you can, to be Berean when curiously “spiritualized” things like “visions” cross your purview – you might ask, “Chapter and verse, please?”

The vision casters have an answer.  Oh yes-siree!  Proverbs 29:18.  “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  (Now, please be seated in your pew and begin praying on how you may support your pastor’s vision.  Repentance might also be in order for your suggestion of doubt.)

Oh, so they do have a Scriptural basis for vision casting?  Well, sort of.  But let’s dig in a little further first.

The notion of vision casting is rampant about the Convention these days.  No doubt, as you read this, emails about visions and castings are being bounced off satellites among the intelligentsia of the SBC.  It’s that important, or haven’t you realized the precipitous crumbling of membership and baptism numbers of late?  The SBC is losing more members every time it plants another church.  How’s that work?   Well, it’s not working, thus the impassioned need to find something, anything, that will stem the tide of the looming demise lurking over the denomination’s spiritual horizon.

There are conferences that teach vision casting techniques for SBC pastors.  There are webcasts and podcasts that push, prod, and cajole pastors to become vision casters, for the sake of their own church, and for the sake of even greater promise of denominational grandeur.  Books and articles and blog entries promoting vision casting litter the virtual lanes of the SBC web world, all encouraging, teaching, and guiding the effective use of vision casting for the local pastor.  There’s even a website for pastors dedicated to vision casting.  It’s a rather big deal, folks.  God only works through visions these days, or haven’t you heard?

Current president of the Convention, Ronnie Floyd, has written much about vision casting and the dire need for pastors to partake in the glories such a noble pursuit can produce.  In an article on pastors.com, Floyd opened with the words “Casting vision is one of my favorite things to do as a pastor.”  He aggressively promotes the practice among pastors because, “As a servant-leader, you are God’s instrument to rally the people to a better future.”

“As the communicator of the vision,” Floyd continues, the pastor must “do your very best to be strong, believable, and capable of moving people into owning the vision enthusiastically.”  (I encourage you to re-read that previous statement, pausing momentarily over the word “believable”.  What do you think that means?  Hmmm.)

Because Floyd, whose term ends this year, is leaving the helm of the convention in decidedly worse shape than when he took it (Umm, didn’t we just have to yank over 1,100 missionaries from the field?) , his blog post from March 30 hits on vision casting in a more weighty way, appealing for bigger, better, and bolder visions.

In Is Your Vision Big Enough?, Floyd says “Vision is rallying people to a better future.  Vision is helping people see what you see already.  Vision is calling the invisible into visibility.”

“Calling the invisible into visibility” …. WHAT?  Please wait for presumed rabbit to be yanked from the denominational Armani fedora.

“A better future?” Something amazing happened to me when the Lord saved me. I learned three very important, and divinely taught things … where I came from, why I’m here, and where I’m going. As I write this, I can assert with full conviction that Ronnie Floyd, nor your pastor, nor my pastor will EVER have a vision that meets with the glorious hopefulness of the “better future” I’m already promised by God.

A few more Floydism vision quotes for your cogitation:

“He (Jesus) pulls for your vision to be fulfilled.”

Well, in the typical Southern Baptist gospel proclamation where the Gospel “ is all about us”, it makes sense that Floyd would enjoin Jesus into this otherwise spurious, spiritualized endeavor. One time, similarly, I heard a preacher tell me Jesus wants me healthy, wealthy, and wise, too. Of course, that was some bouffant bearing guy with a really toothy grin on TBN. Floyd just blogged his Jesus promise.

“We begin to realize that when God factors into our lives and churches, He creates something that is powerful!  The power escalates along with the vision.”

Huh?  “WHEN God factors into our lives and churches?”  What?  Where’s He been Ronnie?  What have you done with Him?  What have all these pastors done with Him?   And what’s this about “power escalating with vision?”  Where is THAT in the Bible?  Sounds like Ronnie’s been moonlighting in the Joel Osteen School of Positive Power In Preaching.

“Are you thinking big enough?”

Again, I’m not so sure that this is divinely commanded in Scripture.  It sure sounds a whole lot more like something Floyd’s conference buddy Kenneth Copeland and those prosperity Gospel heretics tout.  Is he dipping into “Think And Grow Rich” literature in the hopes of stopping the hurling downgrade under his watch?

“It all begins with our vision.  Do you have one?”

Be certain of this. If my pastor starts proclaiming that he’s getting visions from God, I can assure him that he’ll be getting one less family as members of his congregation.   Any pastor claiming to receive visions is brushing right up against a vainglorious endeavor more suitable for a TBN viewing audience than for a Southern Baptist pulpit.

Remember, if you are, like me, a pew sitter reading Floyd’s words, his comments are meant for your pastor, not you.  We are not qualified, capable, or encouraged to have said visions.   We’re part of the people who are to be rallied “to a better future.” Hmm, is “priesthood of the believer” becoming, like Scripture, a doctrinal notion that we’re just going to ignore?

Floyd isn’t the only high-profile vision casting proponent in the Convention, however.  On his webcast from February 12, 2016, LifeWay president Thom Rainer interviewed Will Mancini, author of God Dreams in a broadcast Rainer entitled “A Unique Approach to Vision Casting.”

Mancini, with the support of Rainer, defines vision as “a picture of the future.” He continues to describe not just the importance of vision casting for the pastor, but the necessary enthusiasm he must have in mobilizing “the people” in support. He says “every leader ought to be able to help people get excited, energized, enthusiastic, and focused.   I deeply believe in the power of enthusiasm.”

Another influence on SBC pastors, and author of a book that, along with Warren’s Purpose Driven drivel, has been used as a touchstone for the vision casting pastoral industry is Andy Stanley. In his 1999 book Visioneering, Stanley seconds Mancini and Rainer’s emotion, (see what I did there? Seconds the emotion. LOL)   that enthusiasm is critical.   “Vision evokes emotion. There is no such thing as an emotionless vision.”

Do you sense where this is going? It’s tied directly to the Finneyesque style in which so many churches go to any lengths to produce a new member. Our churches have increasingly become something other than churches. They have become arenas of entertainment in which, in order to keep the unconverted, though prayer-repeating goats within the sheepfold, pastors must create ever new methods to motivate the Gospel-less masses to achieve decidedly worldly (They call it vision) goals of growth for the sake of growth, the perpetuation of a social gospel (help the needy for the sake of helping, not for the sake of the Gospel; oh, and let’s plant churches, too.) and the continued proclamation of a gospel that amounts to nothing less than a theistic self-help theo-psychology.

That was a long paragraph. Sorry. But the point is, with so many truly unregenerate folks in our pews, saved by “feel good-ism emotions, in order to keep them active, engaged, and, hopefully tithing, SBC leaders, pastors, and churches must continually create new methods of excitement. The Gospel, an absent motivation for the unsaved goats, is insufficient for this task.

Spurgeon, during the days of the doctrinal downgrade of his day, spoke to this. Oh, yeah, he called it “evil.”

An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it during the past few years. It has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.

When the SBC has watered down the Gospel, made salvation a certainty on the basis of a repeated, unbiblical prayer, responded to in the midst of an emotionally-induced setting; when we’ve discarded authentic, holy worship for entertaining, lyric-repeating praise; and, when we’ve allowed sermons to be scripture-less motivational, “how to get through your life” speeches, it’s critical to keep the excitement level high among the pews.   When you’re saved on the basis of an emotional, and unbiblical, emotional experience, in order to keep you engaged, the emotions are the tool of the vision caster. They’re also, FYI, the tool of Satan, but your pastor, like Floyd, is likely to avoid that.

“If emotions saved you, emotions will keep you” seems to be the secret of success for the vision casters.   In Stanley’s version of vision casting, emotions are fundamental, allowing the “feelings” associated with a dream of the future to be felt in the present because we have a vision for the desired result.  “A clear, focused vision actually allows us to experience ahead of time the emotions associated with our anticipated future.   Through the avenue of vision, the feelings reserved for tomorrow are channeled back into our present reality.”

Hmm. Vision casting involves “channeling” the “feelings” of the future into “our present reality?”   Really. For Scriptural confirmation of this highly lauded technique, please turn in your Bibles to the Second Book of IT AIN’T THERE.

Think about vision casting in this way. It’s a spiritualized form of “the power of positive thinking” and rather than having a denomination full of Scripture focused, prayer warring pastors, we’re being engulfed with wanna-be Norman Vincent Peales who need to motivate you to plant another church, feed another hungry, clothe another clothesless, and succeed in your life.   And we’re doing it without the authentic Gospel, which we have to do because, in an authentic Gospel where it’s not all about you – it’s all about Christ – you have been elevated in status, and God has been lowered. In losing the Gospel, we’ve lost the sovereignty of God. And absent His sovereignty, we must take things into our own hands … much to our own demise, and the spiritual peril of the people.

Vision casting of some sort is all over the SBC. If you web wander over to the Baptist Press and perform a search for the word “vision”, you’ll be served up nearly 6,000 related articles. (5,960 at the time of this writing) Rick Warren is a constant cheerleader for it since it fits perfectly into his “purpose driven” heresies. Thom Rainer is a notable, broadcasting proponent.

J.D. Greear, nominee to become the next president of the Convention, is also a “vision caster.”   Greear, on his blog page, once outlined his tasks as pastor, “there’s so many things that are part of my job, and that I enjoy doing… vision casting, preacher-teacher, counselor, staff-coach.”  Some pastors are so focused on their vision, the engagement needs reach all the way to the children’s department, as in Steven Furtick’s vision, which includes coloring books for kids to teach “unity” behind his vision.

You, as the pew sitting, congregational “vision catcher”, might be wondering, “Where does the vision come from?”   Are these guys actually presuming to be receiving Apostle John-like revelations from God with specific messages about God’s specific plans and goals for their specific church? (If so, we’re gonna need a whole bunch of extra pages after Revelation in our Bibles!)

Perhaps the answer lies elsewhere from the resources of the SBC. Perhaps a guide book published by the North American Mission Board, copyright 2003, will be of help in sourcing these visions being tossed at us.

In Seven Steps For Planting Churches: Planter Edition, NAMB outlines the requirements for the SBC church planter prospect. The very first step is “Receive a Vision from God.”  Here are some pertinent excerpts for your perusal:

“It is clear in Acts 16 that the Apostle Paul’s motivation for going to Macedonia was a clear and compelling vision or revelation that he received from God.”  (Hmm, you see? Vision equals revelation.)

“…it is essential that before anyone begins the journey of church planting that he understand what it means to receive a vision from God.”

“…it becomes the responsibility of the potential church planter to receive a revelation from God, which is the foundation for discovering a shared vision.”

“It is important to understand that this kind of vision is not created, for it already exists within the heart of God.  Therefore, it is discovered as God reveals it to the listening church planter.  This revealed vision must be shared by the church planter and the body of Christ.”

Frankly, the NAMB guide certainly sounds like mystical, Scripture-free hocus-pocus.  But the guide goes on to identify “some common processes” that can help “in discovering God’s vision.”  These include an “intense burden” that reflects “a real need.”  The vision can be cultivated “through a season of intense prayer and fasting.”  A shared vision may also be “affirmed and cultivated through Scripture.” (Notice, it’s not “sourced” in Scripture, but may merely be “affirmed” by Scripture.)  Finally, the vision “clearly reflects what God is doing in a given context.”

Couple the NAMB guide with what Floyd, Warren, Rainer, and others promote, and it appears that God has over 46,000 “visions” or “revelations” in His heart, one for each cooperating SBC church. Now, our God is supreme, sovereign, and personal. But given the SBC’s tendency to disregard the teaching of Scripture by obedience to it, it seems spurious to believe that these visions arise out of God’s Word.   Indeed, the NAMB guide implies a rather clear mystical transmission of these necessary revelations.

Vision casting is nothing less than an improperly spiritualized business plan, pumped up with enough pastoral enthusiasm and emotion to motivate pew sitting masses to accomplish the ultimate goal of the SBC, and each individual church within it: BUILD THE CHURCH.

Yet that itself is a disregard for the truth of Scripture. We cannot; we are not; we will not … BUILD THE CHURCH. Jesus was pretty clear when He said, in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” To apply any hermeneutic that allows His Words to be translated as our right, responsibility, or ambition is to misinterpret Scripture. Instead, go look up “Great Commission” in Scripture; that’s what we’re told to do.

Every pastor certainly has many hats to wear within the practical administration of his church’s organization.   Reasonable practices, well-considered plans, and prudent analysis of a church’s present, and anticipated future, needs are necessary. Such planning is not, however, a spiritual endeavor; it is a practical one. The pastor should be one, as Paul requires, who manages his own household so that he may then management the church well.

Paul, though, does not spiritualize these necessary management skills of the pastor. Neither does he, like the NAMB guide, set a requirement that includes the pastor’s receipt of a vision for the church. But when your denomination is in a tragic slide in membership, drastic methodologies, even those from the world of business marketing and management, become necessary, and, if properly spiritualized, can be pragmatically useful. Yet, they remain wrong.

A frequently referenced verse, listed at the beginning of this article, might not give the vision, but it is the go-to citation used as the Scriptural impetus for pastoral and leadership vision.  “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Proverbs 29:18

Writer Richard Ray, in The Baptist Standard, October 26, 2015 wrote, “Scripture clearly tells us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). Visions from God are necessary for the church to minister to this lost and dying world. It is not that the visions have stopped coming from God. It is the children of God who have stopped following the visions.”

Ponder Ray’s words carefully, for they inherently deny the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, and the Gospel, to achieve the many noble, envisioned goals being attributed to God for the church.

Visions from God are necessary” is a notion that is not in Scripture for us today. Scripture itself is the revelation from God that He deemed sufficient, clear, authoritative, and necessary for all believers, including pastors. His Word does not suggest we need further visions.

“It is not that the visions have stopped coming from God.” This is true, if you’re an avid TBN viewer, or if you are incorrectly identifying the truth from God’s Word as a new and unique “vision.” Whenever a true believer reads God’s Word, His Holy Spirit always illuminates it so that it may be understood. But that illumination is not, for the believer or the pastor, something that constitutes “vision” or “revelation”, neither is it something new.

Given natural variances in spiritual maturity, that you just learned something from Scripture that I already knew does not mean you just got a revelation; it merely means you are maturing in your faith, and He is showing you greater truths from His Word. In this sense, yes, God still speaks; but to imply these things as “visions” is unfaithful to the intent of Scripture and to its teaching.

“It is the children of God who have stopped following the visions.” Well, if we could interpret these words to mean the SBC, its leadership, its pastors, and its pew-sitters, on the whole, have quit reading, studying, and obeying Scripture, we could agree. But that we’ve quit following the over 46,000 purported visions of pastors for their respective local churches lacks evident Scriptural veracity since those visions aren’t Scripturally-prescribed nor mystically transmitted by God.

The fundamental dispute with all this vision casting nonsense, though, doesn’t come from the commentary of the likes of Floyd, Warren, Rainer, Stanley, or the local pastor. They have a motive for spiritualizing their goal setting agendas. Whether that’s even a righteous thing to do is yet another question. If their goal is to build the church, then they are wrong.   If their goal is growth for the sake of growth, and, might I suggest, their own personal grandeur, that is sinfully motivated.

The fundamental problem is their faulty use of that verse from Proverbs to justify what is an explicitly unbiblical interpretation.

Consider that Proverbs verse again.  “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

A fundamental rule of hermeneutics must be engaged here, for the use of this verse to support a Scriptural call for vision casting is flawed.  It’s flawed because, as it was quoted in the NAMB “get your vision” guide, as it’s quoted by Floyd, and Warren, et al, it’s been only partially quoted, thus concealing the verse’s real meaning that’s only to be gleaned from its full context.

The FULL verse gives us quite a different reality than the vision casting endeavors we hear touted under the verse’s implied auspices. In fact, the full verse denies the vision casting technique.

“Where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.”

Do you get it?   When God had no prophet in the land through whom He would chasten, encourage, or guide His people, what was left?   “The law.” In the stretches of time when God used no prophet, the believer was to remain focused, and thus be blessed, by keeping the law. The people were to remain in Scripture.

Today, unless you believe we have modern day prophets wandering around (We do not), or revelation-receiving apostles (No, not them either), what then does Proverbs 29:18 compel us to do?   CORRECT ANSWER: Obey Scripture.   INCORRECT ANSWER: Seek visions.

As the Baptist Faith & Message says “all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” (Emphasis Added)

Now as a visionless pew-sitter, I believe these claims about Scripture. It is totally true and trustworthy, and, it is the supreme standard against which my conduct will be tried.

The question is, for the vision-casting intelligentsia of the Southern Baptist Convention, why isn’t it for you?

When Paul said the “gospel is the power of God for salvation”, why do we yet behave as a denomination as though we don’t believe his words? It’s because, when we’ve presumed to take on the task of church building, we’ve discovered that we cannot succeed. The next best thing is to avoid the hard truths of the Gospel to make church appealing to the masses. We’ve moved from being more concerned for members than we are for souls. Hell, wrath, and divine justice don’t sell that well to a post-modernist world, we’ve found. So we resort to theistic, enthusiastic, self-help gimmicks.

But that ain’t the Gospel.   The SBC is exhibiting a massive case of Gospel inferiority complex. We don’t act out of belief in the power of the Gospel. We don’t act as if we believe Jesus when He said, “I will my church.”

So, when you hear about visions from SBC leaders, or from your pastor, perk your ears and, as Jesus said throughout the Gospels, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.” Vision casting is a spiritualized, therefore unbiblical, method of motivating you for a goal set by your pastor. Regardless of how noble, laudable, or worthwhile the goal, know that it is not a revelation from God, as God currently has no prophets in the land.

And, as is being evidenced by the SBC, if your pastor casts a vision to do something that only God can do, realize this – it will fail.

Encourage your pastor and SBC leaders to do as the Proverb they tout encourages. Get back to the Word. We have God’s vision there, and there alone. It’s not mystical; it’s not esoteric; and it’s not something reserved exclusively for the ecclesiastic higher-ups.

And you, yes, you, my fellow pew-sitter, we still believe in priesthood of the believer, so act like it.

Bemoan the visions; beseech the Word.

[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]


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