By Bob Allen
A recent Wall Street Journal story profiling twin brothers who followed separate spiritual paths — one to become an Anglican bishop, the other a Catholic priest — represents failure by the Southern Baptist church in which they were raised, according to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler.
Mohler, who posts a daily podcast commenting on current events on his personal website, said March 6 he has no firsthand knowledge of First Baptist Church in Elkin, N.C., home church of the men now in their 40s featured in a March 3 article headlined “When We Leave One Religion for Another: How two brothers, raised Baptist, found their way to two different faiths.” But the story of young seeking answers outside their evangelical upbringing is all too common.
“We are losing far too many evangelical young people as they reach older ages because they are simply not adequately grounded theologically in the Christian faith,” Mohler said. “They may go to vacation Bible school, and they may go to Sunday school, but the question is, are they really grounded in the Christian faith? Are they well-grounded in the beauty of Scripture? Are they well-grounded in a knowledge of the deep theological convictions that define us as Christians?”
According to the Wall Street Journal piece, 43-year-old Brad Jones, a Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., and Bishop Chad Jones, rector at St. Barnabas Anglican Church in Dunwoody, Ga., grew up in the Baptist congregation where their parents remain faithful members. Both felt something was missing in the Baptist church, and they embarked on different paths to find it.
Like many kids, the story says, in their early teen years the boys began questioning things, including the teachings of the Baptist church. Their interest piqued when an older cousin converted to Catholicism and took them to Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Greensboro, N.C., when they were about 12 or 13.
The article describes the scene:
“The beauty of the building itself — the vaulted ceilings, marble steps, intricate woodwork, statues and stained glass — the smells of burning incense and the sounds of bells had a mystical quality that is hard to explain, says Father Brad. What struck Bishop Chad was watching the priest standing in front of the altar and elevating the Communion host.
“For them, the Catholic liturgy made the invisible God palpable and tangible to the senses. Their own Baptist church, where the walls are white and flat, the altar austere, and the worship focused largely on Scripture alone, didn’t. ‘We weren’t theologians. We were children. But as children we had open hearts and minds to it and were very receptive,’ says Bishop Chad. He remembers painting a picture of Jesus during vacation Bible school, hanging it on his bedroom wall and wishing his church had pictures.”
Mohler said failure to ground children in Christian doctrine leaves them vulnerable “to be led by their senses” rather than “a theological understanding grounded in the explicit teachings of Scripture.”
“When these two boys, identical twins, were asking deep theological questions, who was there to help them?” Mohler asked. “Who was there to guide them? Who was there as an evangelical thinker, apologist, theologian, friend, pastor and guide to help them to understand these questions?”
Mohler said the article comes as “judgment upon all those who missed the opportunity and failed in the responsibility to ground these young boys as they were then in the Christian faith, in the truth and the beauty of evangelical Christian doctrine, in the theological principles that based upon long biblical consideration and the long argument of the church have meant the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Christianity — the differences between the understanding of a Scripture-centered Christianity and one that is centered in the sacraments, as is the Roman Catholic system, and at least much of Anglicanism.”
Mohler said he knows of “no specific failing” by First Baptist Elkin, a congregation affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina with characteristics described on the church website as “worship that is intentional and inclusive,” a “vision of becoming a loving and accepting community of faith” and “a heart for missions.”
“What I do know is this,” Mohler said. “This story appears as judgment and as challenge to every single one of us: as pastors, as parents, as youth leaders, as those who care about the perpetuation of the faith once delivered to the saints. If we do not ground our children in the faith, then they are going to find the answers to their questions elsewhere.”
Mohler contrasted the boys’ two spiritual paths.
“When you look at this news article, we come to understand that the shift of one of these twins to becoming an Anglican is quite a different shift than the one who became a Roman Catholic,” he said. “Becoming an Anglican doesn’t necessarily mean in any sense the denial of the very essentials of the gospel that would be at stake in terms of the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church — in terms of those Reformation principles that we believe to be at the very heart of the gospel: of justification by faith alone, by grace alone, by the work of Christ alone, knowable by the authority of Scripture alone, and ultimately to the glory of God alone.”
Mohler said occasionally a “well-taught” young person will at some point later in life depart from the faith, “but for those who are not well-taught, it’s not just a possibility, it’s a probability.”
“This is a huge question,” Mohler said. “It’s a haunting question. I raise this article simply because every single evangelical parent needs to take it as a serious challenge, because every single evangelical church has to understand this story is telling us in one sense what we’re up against.
“The story of these two identical twins can be replicated thousands and thousands of times over, and surely will be, if we fail now in the responsibility to raise up the next generation in the faith, to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”