Baptists


Words by Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Personal note: of the hymnals that I have on the shelf, this hymn is unique to the 1956 edition of the Baptist Hymnal. This does not diminish the power of a hymn; it just illustrates the struggle that editors encounter when choosing which worship songs to include when dealing with a limited number of pages. One thing that will attest to the strength of this hymn is the author—Isaac Watts wrote a number of hymns and a cursory glance at the “Author/Composer” index included in many (not all) hymnals shows that the writer is not neglected by any means among the great songs of faith written over the years.

The Hymn

  1. Let all on earth their voices raise,
    To sing the great Jehovah’s praise,
    And bless His holy name:
    His glory let the people know,
    His wonders to the nations show,
    His saving grace proclaim.
  2. He framed the globe; He built the sky;
    He made the shining worlds on high,
    And reigns in glory there:
    His beams are majesty and light;
    His beauties, how divinely bright!
    His dwelling place, how fair!
  3. Come, the great day, the glorious hour,
    When earth shall feel His saving power,
    All nations fear His name;
    Then shall the race of men confess
    The beauty of His holiness,
    His saving grace proclaim.

(In our study hymnal, each stanza includes a repetition of the last line—most likely a musical adjustment for tune adaptation when singing. I have accessed the lyrics above from the on-line SDA Hymnal.)

Here is another variation I found on-line (note the variety in the lyric as well as the extra verse—I am not sure which is the more accurate rendering of Watts’ original lyric.

  1. Let all the earth their voices raise
    To sing the choicest psalm of praise,
    To sing and bless Jehovah’s Name:
    His glory let the heathens know,
    His wonders to the nations show,
    And all His saving works proclaim.
  2. The heathens know Thy glory, Lord,
    The wond’ring nations read Thy Word,
    In Britain is Jehovah known:
    Our worship shall no more be paid
    To gods which mortal hands have made;
    Our Maker is our God alone.
  3. He framed the globe, He built the sky,
    He made the shining worlds on high,
    And reigns complete in glory there:
    His beams are majesty and light;
    His beauties, how divinely bright!
    His temple, how divinely fair!
  4. Come the great day, the glorious hour,
    When earth shall feel His saving power,
    And barb’rous nations fear His Name;
    Then shall the race of man confess
    The beauty of His holiness,
    And in His courts His grace proclaim. (this version accessed at Any Lyrics.)

Scriptural Connection

One on-line hymn site suggests Psalm 96 as a scriptural connection and I would concur that the Psalmist’s desire to call all of creation into praise of God fits nicely with Watts’ goal in this hymn.

What does it mean?

Part of the great beauty of this hymn is the inversion of word order. Phrases like “His glory let the people know” may sound a bit different to the ear, but the emphasis moved from the people to the glory is evident here.

The writer makes a point to include as many of God’s attributes that deserve our adoration—the beams that shine out from Him are majesty and light (He is the embodiment of royalty and light) and the beauty of God is not just bright, but divinely so.

The language may sound archaic, but the call to worship echoes over the centuries—Let us all (all of the earth—mankind, the animal kingdom, and all of Nature itself) lift our voices in praise to the Almighty God.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

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Or whatever you want to call it.  This will sound suspiciously like a rant, and may I apologize in advance for that. Now, on to the show:

I just received an e-mail from our wonderful state Baptist offices. You have them in your state too.  Some of you may even have more than one form. And within the confines of the attached invitation, I discovered that there are those who don’t really understand Southern Baptist Life. (Admittedly, such life has morphed and transmuted and otherwise distorted itself over the years that perhaps I’m the one who doesn’t understand, but let’s go with this for now.) I learned in reading that missive that the event advertised is a free event “provided through generous donations to the Cooperative Program.” (emphasis mine)

I love my fellow workers in this not so southern state where Southern Baptists are still seen as interlopers on northern soils, but to misunderstand the Cooperative Program (or even to change it to fit a form that those outside the SBC would recognize) is to reach a total misconception of who Southern Baptists have historically been.

A Quick History Lesson

The Cooperative Program (CP) was developed in the mid 1920s as a response to the Southern Baptist charge to help churches to fund the various missions/ministry efforts chosen by the convention, and to do so outside of the Society concept. In the old society method, representatives would come to churches to sell their particular cause. If a particularly good communicator showed up, a church might remove support from a prior ministry and funnel those funds toward the nice speaker’s cause. Another difficulty arose when so many good/worthy causes were presented to the churches: so much was being sent to these efforts that churches were having trouble keeping up with local on-going needs. On top of this, pastors were asked to relinquish their pulpits so often that they rarely had ample opportunity to preach the Word.

And so the CP was born. This new concept (growing out of a unified effort of fund-raising previously devised by the convention) was indeed that–a new concept. Simply put, the idea was to ask churches to designate an amount–whatever amount deemed appropriate to the local congregation (eventually the SBC narrowed its encouragement on a goal of 10% of undesignated gifts to the church) to send cooperatively in order to pay ongoing costs of the Convention.

Until recent years, this method has been the well-worn practice of Southern Baptists. During the last couple of decades (has it really been that long?), we have changed and whittled the CP to something that it is not. It has only been in the last few years that churches have been allowed by convention ruling to include designated giving in their CP funds. We have always been given the privilege to designate gifts, but for a gift to be considered CP, it was given with no strings attached–if you were dissatisfied with where CP money was spent, you made a trek to the annual SBC meeting and voiced your opinion as a duly elected messenger (not delegate–that’s a whole different post), hoping to convince the budget and finance committee of the convention to redirect funds to a more appropriate recipient.

Semantics at Its Best

Now we get down to the nitty-gritty of my tirade. We must begin to understand what the CP truly is. It is not an offering that we give to. We have plenty of those–one at Christmas (named in memory of the late Lottie Moon) which is designated for the use of the International Mission Board’s ministry budget–every penny is to go to the work our missionaries are doing overseas; another (memorializing the champion of missions Annie Armstrong) is designated for use by the North American Mission Board; and others set up by various state conventions and local churches to benefit a variety of needs. All of these are good. But the Cooperative Program is not like this.

Instead of seeing CP as a special offering to which we give, we must reorganize our thinking to see it as a conduit through which we finance the work and ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s how we as Baptists get things done.

My point in all of this is that we need to educate our state and national Baptist employees and team members to use the right language in order for all of us to understand that we have the concept right. Perhaps then people will cease in trying to designate their “tithe” or trying to control their church from the grave by bequeathing a large sum of money to the church “to be used for ________” (fill in the blank).

Why do these words get me bothered? It’s because one says one thing and the other says an entirely other thing. So don’t donate generously to the CP, but give generously through it!

I’ve been Southern Baptist all my life. There, I’ve said it. I grew up in the home of a Southern Baptist preacher (then started one just like it). I’ve served in Southern Baptist churches my whole adult life. I’ve been a music director, a youth minister, a “minister of youth/music”, an associate pastor (with responsibilities for youth and education with the possibility of music), a bi-vocational pastor, an interim minister of missions, a career missionary, and am now serving as the pastor of a nice rural/village-type church (which is Southern Baptist even though we’re not in the South). These churches have been located in a variety of states–Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois (with a few years overseas). I’ve preached in churches from all those states mentioned, plus Wyoming and Arkansas thrown in–and they’ve all been Southern Baptist churches.

In all this Southern Baptist experience, I’ve learned something about our convention–we can do some pretty stupid things. There, I’ve said that, too! Over the past year we have been locked in a knock-down, drag-out fight over whether or not we should change the name. (I’ve even tossed in my two-cents’ worth–which is probably an inflated price. You can read it here.) Most of our church members don’t really care one way or another, “it doesn’t affect us” is the prevailing thought. For a number of months a special task force (the Baptist word is Committee) has been studying whether it would be a positive thing for our convention to re-dub herself with some name less regional or baptist sounding than our traditional “Southern Baptist Convention” (which is, btw, a denomination that has been working to build itself a good name after a rocky start over 150 years ago, and I think we’ve done pretty good as cases go) or leave well enough alone. The preliminary soundings of what the committee will suggest at the SBC annual meeting this summer gets us to a new high (or is it low?) in stupidity. All the time, effort, and resources have been spent with the following conclusion–The official name will remain Southern Baptist Convention, but churches will have permission (if the vote goes right) to call themselves “Great Commission Baptists” if they are afraid they will be offensive to their geographical region by being a part of something that is Southern. (Reminds me of when Kentucky Fried Chicken tried to re-invent itself by going by its initials-KFC-and everybody knew that they were still eating FRIED CHICKEN–which may or may not have originated in the Bluegrass State.)

If you missed it, we’ve spent all this energy to do nothing–and we’re allowing ourselves to vote on it!

That said, with apologies to the Bard, I’d like to present a few altered lines from a famous speech in a play:

(New Church Start somewhere outside of the deep South):

O SBC, SBC! wherefore art thou Southern?
Deny thy region and refuse thy roots;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my CP dollars,
And I’ll no longer be a Community Church.

‘Tis but thy region that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Baptist.
What’s Baptist? it is nor FMB*, nor HMB,
Nor Sunday School Board, nor Annuity Board, nor any other part
Belonging to a church. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a denomination
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So SBC would, were he not SBC call’d,
Retain that dear doctrine which he owes
Without that title. SBC, doff thy Southern Baptism,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

Have a great day–whoever you are!

[*All name changes have been ignored for the purpose of this post.]

I’ll chime in just for the sake of discussion. It seems that Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has convened an elite study group to consider the need or possibility of changing the name of our convention. I will start the discussion with a couple of disclaimer-type statements:

  • I’ve been Southern Baptist since riding in the womb. My father has been an SBC pastor for his entire adult life. I’ve served in a variety of ministry capacities in Southern Baptist Churches or ministries for the last 30 years. I was educated at several different Southern Baptist institutions of higher learning. In short, if you cut me I would bleed blue (or whatever color it is that Southern Baptists bleed).
  • With this in mind, you should know that I really couldn’t care less one way or the other what the convention decides to call itself–as long as it has something to do with the building up of the Kingdom of God.

I have heard some (if not all) the reasons for changing/not changing the name of the old behemoth we know as SBC and have found sound reasoning behind arguments on both sides of the issue. As a matter of fact, this isn’t the first time such a suggestion has been made, and so far those who desire the tradition behind the old moniker have prevailed in keeping the name the same.

My reason for jumping in is not to tell anyone what he or she should think on the matter (as I’ve said, I don’t really have a strong opinion one way or the other), but just to drop a couple of cents into the bucket as they were voiced to me by a couple of the members of my church. Understand that these men are not ministers (as I understand most – or all – of the study group to be) and that their reactions would be considered knee-jerk reactions–saying what they thought in immediate response to hearing that someone is even suggesting that our convention change its name.

First reaction of one man: “Why?”

First reaction of another in the room: “It seems to me they’d find better things to talk about.”

I don’t know if these statements will have any bearing on the committee’s study, but I think it would be good to note that these men are members of a Southern Baptist Church that is over 100 years old and has always been a Southern Baptist Church. The church is located outside of the region designated in the name of the convention to which we belong, and is in fact located in a part of the nation where to identify your church as Baptist garners an assumption that you are to be identified as American (not Southern) Baptist.

This morning in my humming around the words to this old hymn popped into my head. Sometimes I wonder why we enjoy certain hymns and songs, but not others. I suppose it’s often the style/meter of the music. Maybe it has a catchy tune, or an infectious chorus. For me, another kicker is if the words really say something. In that case I like to peruse the old, old hymns for something that hits home. This song is probably not the greatest hymn ever written, nor will it find itself among the favorites of very many lists. But the questions it raises over and over again demand an answer.

“Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart” by Leila N. Morris (1898)

If you are tired of the load of your sin,
Let Jesus come into your heart;
If you desire a new life to begin,
Let Jesus come into your heart.

Refrain

Just now, your doubtings give o’er;
Just now, reject Him no more;
Just now, throw open the door;
Let Jesus come into your heart.

If ’tis for purity now that you sigh,
Let Jesus come into your heart;
Fountains for cleansing are flowing nearby,
Let Jesus come into your heart.

Refrain

If there’s a tempest your voice cannot still,
Let Jesus come into your heart;
If there’s a void this world never can fill,
Let Jesus come into your heart.

Refrain

If you would join the glad songs of the blest,
Let Jesus come into your heart;
If you would enter the mansions of rest,
Let Jesus come into your heart.

Refrain    

[1956 edition, Baptist Hymnal, Hymn #230, attributed to “Mrs. C.H. Morris, 1862-1929”]

 1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and byhis appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, andexhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2; to contextualize, read on through verse 5)

 

Numbers. They are a tricky lot. I’m not sure that I am fully aware of how much we, as preachers rely on them. In my life as a Southern Baptist preacher, they tend to knock on (down?) the door more often than I would like. Perhaps it would be different if I were, say, a professor of mathematics like my brother. Numbers are his stock and trade. He likes them, and they like him. It’s a mutual love society when the two of them get together.

 

Me? I’m still haunted by the conversation that I had with the Blushing Bride’s cousin shortly before he lost his battle with cancer. He’d asked about the book I was reading at the time (Simple Church), and I tried to get the gist out in 150 words or less. His response seemed cynical with a touch of wry. You must understand that when one battles with cancer the battle shows up in, of all places, the struggle with faith. And I must admit that the fight with cancer often produces (cynicism aside) a rawer, if not more genuine, faith than the most holy (holier than thou?) of priests/ministers/preachers of the gospel.

 

And to this day, what he said still gives me pause: “So, it’s all a numbers game then.”

 

While that was not the intention of the authors of the book, and I pray that it is not my intention as a local pastor, I can’t help but occasionally check my motives. We like the old joke:

 

“How many are you running in Sunday school?”

“Well, we’re running about 500, but only catching about 85.” (It’s okay to laugh, after all it is a joke.)

 

But the truth of the matter is—we get so caught up in the statistical data that we forget why we’re here. I wonder if the God we serve is not nearly as enamored by the number of baptisms we had last year as He is the number of Christians who are actually showing signs of growth. Of course we can’t quantify closeness to God with our calculators and spread sheets. Unlike God, we cannot see the hearts of man (at least without open heart surgery, and then we only see the organ, not the motive).

 

I have a constant fear that I will strap myself so closely to the quantitative measure of my ministry (and thus, be jealous that I have not become the leader of a megachurch) that I throw all godliness to the wind in favor of the next big show, the trite tidbit of mediocrity that looks good to the gathering crowds. Then is when the preacher ceases to be the preacher and becomes the entertainer, the minstrel in black-face.

 

Numbers are numbers. They can be tools that are helpful, but they must never become our goal. We must remember: we are not here to please men, nor to impress them with our show, our expertise, or our ability to draw a crowd. Our purpose is to become more like Christ daily. How is my “becoming” going? Am I caught up in the numbers game? Or am I simply caught up in Jesus?

You’ve seen the news already. Sunday, tragedy struck in the form of a mad gunman. A church was devastated, a family ripped asunder, and still God can be glorified. In the midst of the ocean of prayers lifted up in behalf of First Baptist Church of Maryville (just down the road from us) and the family of Fred Winters, I raised the question “What do you say when there’s nothing to say?”

Today I want to pose an even more pertinent question: What do you do in light of faith?

Fred Winters (others would be much more qualified to eulogize him than I) was a man of great faith. He lived his life as the pastor of a church, the husband of a wife, and the father of two girls, in such a way that his faith was evident. Without having known him personally, I stand back and see the fruit of his life knowing that he walked with Jesus. So, how do you honor his memory? How can you let your faith be evident?

This morning I heard at least part of an answer. FBC Maryville was slated to host one of the concerts involved with the “Opening Act” contest sponsored by our local/regional Christian Radio Station. It seems that WIBI and the church have been in dialogue as to what to do about the upcoming concert (scheduled for this Friday night).

At latest word, it seems that the church membership has decided that carrying on for the Kingdom is the best way to honor their fallen pastor. The current plan is to treat this worship-filled service as a tribute to Christ in honor of Fred Winters. This I applaud. Dr. Winters would not want to stand in the way of advancing the Kingdom of God–in life or in death.

As we continue to pray for the church and for the family, let us keep on spreading the Word.

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