By Collin M. Hain and Jessica Pigg
May 26, 2022
CAPE CORAL Fla.–When Southern Baptists vote June 14, 2022, in Anaheim, Calif. for the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention, they have the opportunity to steward well a pivotal moment in the trajectory of the SBC. With the selection of a courageous, text-driven conservative pastor, Baptists can steer the SBC back toward a commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.
At the 1990 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, La., Jerry Vines, then-senior pastor of First Baptist Church Jacksonville, preached a sermon entitled, “Glory in the Church.” Utilizing Ephesians 3:20-21, Vines stated that a “church denominationally should remain true to the inerrant, inspired, infallible Word of God. If she remains true to these doctrinal distinctions, she has a great future; if not, she is headed for the garbage dump of all other apostate denominations.” “Legitimate denominationalism,” he said, should include “local identity,” “doctrinal integrity,” and “evangelical intensity.”
Much like Vines referenced in his 1990 convention sermon, many Southern Baptists today seek a leader committed to healthy local churches, the sufficiency and inerrancy of God’s Word, and evangelistic fervor, and many believe current SBC presidential candidate Tom Ascol would serve Southern Baptists well in that regard.
Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., serves as president of Founders Ministries. His nomination for SBC president was announced in an article by the Daily Wire, March 22.
When asked how the doctrine of biblical inerrancy leads to biblical sufficiency, Ascol, who has served as senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in southwest Florida since 1986, responded by stating that one is the natural result of the other.
“The doctrine of biblical sufficiency is a corollary of inerrancy,” Ascol said. “That is, it extends from it because if the Word of God written is authoritative–if it’s inerrant, and if it’s infallible–then it has everything that we need for what He wants us to know.”
Quoting 2 Tim. 3:16-17, Ascol said that passage “in and of itself tells us that the authority of Scripture–breathed out–is tied to its sufficiency. It is profitable for all the good works that the man of God would need to engage in.”
Within the SBC, concern continues to grow regarding what many see as a neglect of biblical sufficiency and inerrancy. According to Ascol, the need for a change of direction comes down to having far too many “theoretical inerrantists” leading the SBC who, while affirming what the Bible says, refuse to be “doers of the Word, regardless of cost or consequence.”
“My fear is that we have fallen into patterns of theoretical inerrancy,” he said. “Everyone says that they are an inerrantist today because by God’s grace we saw the Conservative Resurgence do well in recovering that vitally important teaching. And so no self-respecting Southern Baptists today would deny the inerrancy of Scripture. But what I see happening is that we have people that say, ‘well yes, we’re inerrantist’ but then they begin to adopt positions or allow ideologies to come into our arena or church networks that are contrary to and that will undermine the authority of Scripture.”
Ascol has become known for chronicling various examples by which the SBC has drifted during the last 10 years. One such example is the passage of Resolution 9 at the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
“Resolution 9 was a resolution submitted to renounce Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality,” Ascol said. “It was then completely rewritten by the Resolutions Committee to basically promote CRT and Intersectionality as analytical tools that are useful. I think that was a significant blow to the sufficiency of Scripture. Although there [was] all kinds of language in that resolution that affirmed the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and the inerrancy or authority of Scripture … nevertheless, when you adopt tools that are contrary to the authority of Scripture, incompatible with the authority of Scripture, and say that they can be useful, you are inevitably undermining the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.”
In addition to standing courageously and unashamedly upon doctrinal integrity, Ascol maintains a commitment to the Great Commission. He believes that the health of a convention of local churches depends upon the faithful and regular practice of evangelism.
“For a church to be healthy it needs to own the responsibility Jesus Christ has given to us to go and make disciples, and we do that locally, and we do that globally,” Ascol said. “It ought to break our hearts to recognize that here we are 2000 years after Jesus, and there are still thousands of unreached people groups who have no viable gospel witness, no churches, or very few Christians that are in a position to target them or reach them.
“We are always in danger of losing our evangelistic impulse and our missionary enterprise. We can let those things run on auto-pilot if we are not careful, and that’s dangerous, deadly, and should never be done.”
As part of their commitment to the spread of the gospel, Ascol’s church prays for an unreached people group every week. The congregation has also adopted two people groups–the Tajik people of Uzbekistan and the Pashtun people of the Taliban.
“We pray for an unreached people group every week, we’ve adopted two unreached people groups, and we’ve sent our people to those unreached people groups,” Ascol shared. “I think anything we can do as a convention of churches to stir one another up to think about the nations and to think about how lost most of the world still is, is a right and good thing. God has given us so much in this county, we have so many resources, and shame on us if we hoard those resources and do not do all that we can to get the gospel around the world.”
Not only is Ascol committed to the nations, but he is also committed to his neighbors. Every week, Grace Baptist Church commissions open-air preachers that minister in various locations throughout southwest Florida.
“We have open-air preachers that go out every week, multiple times a week, and preach on the streets of Cape Coral and Ft. Myers,” he said. “They go out to various events and festivals…witnessing and handing out Bibles and tracks. We are committed to evangelism.”
In addition to his focus on Scripture and global missions, Ascol also prioritizes cultural engagement and biblical worldview. With terms such as “Christian nationalism” being used with increasing frequency, Ascol believes that Southern Baptists must “shine the light” and “have more productive conversations” regarding cultural engagement and biblical worldview.
“In the United States, we have tremendous opportunities that I think many people in the rest of the world—many Christians throughout history—have never had,” he said. “This is what makes us unique…that in the United States of America, we benefit because of the godliness of those who have gone before us, that worked diligently to provide us with a constitutional republic that recognizes—doesn’t give—but recognizes our God-given rights under our Creator.”
Quoting Abraham Kuyper, Ascol said “there is not a square inch of this universe that Jesus doesn’t look at and declare mine.” Expounding upon the quote, Ascol continued, saying, “the starting point in teaching people this is that all authority is God’s authority. If we understand God’s ultimate authority and that all human authorities are delegated authority, and you couple that with the Lordship of Christ which has no boundaries to it, He doesn’t stop being our Lord once we leave the doors of the church, then that’s the foundational ground that we must stand on.”
Ascol said that this view in no way constitutes, “Christian nationalism,” as some have asserted through a pejorative use of the term.
“In America, our final authority is not a person it’s a document–it’s the Constitution. And so, we are a constitutional republic, and as Christians, we have received the benefits of this constitutional republic by others who have faithfully worked for it, maintained it, and have handed it down to us,” Ascol explained. “How dare we let this just be squandered for our children and children’s children. I think its dereliction of duty and a failure of discipleship, it’s a lack of regard for the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Ascol further explained how “that doesn’t make me, in the words of some of my critics, the kind of Christian nationalist that they like to hang on like it’s a dirty word. But it does make me a patriot in the best sense of the word. I want to see Jesus Christ honored. I recognize what this nation has done in being placed by God, under His providence, for the advance of the gospel throughout the world and throughout generations. We are the nation that sends the most missionaries in the world. We educate the most servants in churches and mission fields than any place else in the world. So, why in the world would we just sit back and let godless ideologies and those who promote those ideologies take it over?”
Ascol recognizes that cultural engagement and biblical worldview need to coexist in a manner that exalts Christ.
“Now, you can do those things in a way that is less honoring to Christ. You can do those things in ways, that if you’re not careful, cause a church to drift from its mission,” he said. “What I want to contend for is that the mission of the church—making disciples, and teaching those disciples to obey everything that Jesus commanded us—includes teaching God’s people and all who will listen what it means to be a righteous people. ‘Righteousness exalts a nation; sin is reproach to a people’…we have forgotten the law of God.”
Like the Conservative Baptist Network, Ascol desires to champion local churches. He believes that healthy local churches are the sure foundation for a healthy Convention.
Ascol shared that a large number of churches being disengaged is a growing problem. His desire is for healthier and greater cooperation among 47,530 Southern Baptist churches to carry out the mission of equipping ministers of the gospel and engaging the lost.
“Although we don’t have denominations in the New Testament, I think we do have cooperation,” he said. “Churches are called to cooperate and there’s great wisdom in cooperating. In fact, I don’t know if you can fulfill everything Christ calls us as a church to be and do without intentional cooperation with other local congregations.
“My contention has long been, if you are not going to be a faithful Southern Baptist church, if you’re not going to work hard to try to see things be done to the best of our ability as a convention of churches, then why stay in? Why be Southern Baptist?” he asked. “We have so many of our churches that are largely disengaged. They give money, but they don’t really keep up, and they aren’t doing what a convention of churches must if we are going to stay healthy or regain health whenever we start drifting into sickness.”
Ascol believes that a healthy view of church membership and church discipline are essential to the overall health of local churches and the Southern Baptist Convention.
“One of the key tenants to Baptist life throughout our history, from our conception, is regenerate church membership,” Ascol said. “We believe that churches are to be comprised of believers. Baptism is for believers, alone, and church membership is for believers, alone. I think if we were to practice regenerate church membership and church discipline more carefully than we have, our churches would look more like what the New Testament calls churches to be, and the message that we preach would be more commended by the way that we live. A local church ought to display the gospel in how we live together under the Lordship of Christ.
“A healthy church is not a sinless church…It just means that we have a common commitment because we have a book. God has given us the Scriptures and He has told us what churches are to be and He has told us what Christians are to be.”
When asked what he would name as the broad pillars of a heathy church, Ascol explained that everything hinges on the Word of God being inerrant and sufficient. Continuing, he listed several crucial elements of a healthy church:
“Expository preaching of the word of God without apology, willingness to suffer for the cause of Christ without fear or self-pity, a determination to maintain the unity of the spirit in a church and bond of peace, the practice of regenerate church membership and church discipline, and the commitment to see the gospel to go around the world.”