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Trinity Baptist Church, Jacksonville - A Warning
June 16, 2016
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
Trinity Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, which has long been associated with Southwide Baptist Fellowship, is another name in a rapidly growing list of a former separatist Baptist church that are moving into the contemporary, emerging sphere. The church is pastored by Tom Messer.

Changes were evident ten years ago, and the pace of change has increased ever since. But of course, there is no such thing as a slippery slope!


The following was published in
Friday Church News Notes, October 7, 2005: “We have been aware for some time of the contemporary direction that Trinity Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, has taken under the pastorate of Tom Messer. Former pastor Bob Gray led the church out of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1960s. I recall his testimony about that during one of his sermons at Tennessee Temple when I was a student there in the mid-1970s. In those days, Trinity was a fundamentalist church and had high standards for sacred music and separation from error, but that is no longer the case. A friend sent the following information: ‘I wanted to share some sad information with you. As I visited the Trinity Baptist website, I found them doing what Dan Lucarini refers to as blended song services. Bryant Shipton is referred to as the worship pastor. The two songs that I heard were Lord Reign in Me by Brenton Brown of the Vineyard U.K. and Call on Jesus by Nicole C. Mullen. Over the last two Sundays they have used Rise Up and Praise Him by Paul Balouche, I Am friend of God by the non-Trinitarian Philips, Craig and Dean, and Shout to the Lord by the charismatic Darlene Zschech. When you see them using these radically ecumenical groups and musicians, it is obvious that they are headed away from their former position.’”

It is important to understand that a move toward contemporary worship music is not a mere change in music. It is accompanied by a change in a church’s overall philosophy. In the case of Trinity Baptist, Pastor Messner is a prominent member of the “progressive” wing of the Southwide Baptist Fellowship, with its New Evangelical philosophy, a move toward a more positive focus, a move away from separatism, a tolerance of error and worldliness not formerly tolerated.

In 1996, a mere nine years earlier, Southwide Baptist Fellowship, meeting at Trinity Baptist in Jacksonville, published a statement warning against Promise Keepers and its “unholy music.”

How quickly things changed! By 2005, Trinity was using that very music, but if it was unholy in 1996 it was unholy nine years later.

Trinity Baptist epitomizes what is happening in large numbers of Independent Baptist churches.

Of course, another great problem, perhaps even more fundamental, is the Quick Prayerism methodology that has always permeated the Southwide Baptist Fellowship, as well as many other groups of IFB churches. Through the Quick Prayerism program a church becomes populated with unregenerate members and loses its spiritual conviction. (See “Fundamental Baptists and Quick Prayerism,” a free eBook available at


Jerry Falwell spoke at the 51st Southwide Baptist Fellowship, October 22-25, 2006, at Trinity Baptist Church. This was evidence of Southwide’s deeply compromised direction and the fact that it had left its original moorings.

As a student at Tennessee Temple in the 1970s I attended three Southwide conferences, and there was no contemporary music, no modern Bible versions, and no sympathy for ecumenism and New Evangelicalism. All of that has gone by the wayside, though.

Tom Messer, Trinity’s pastor, was the host of the 2006 conference, and the speakers included David Bouler (Highland Park Baptist Church, Chattanooga, TN), Dino Pedrone (New Testament Baptist Church, Miami, FL), Gary Coleman (Lavon Drive Baptist Church, Garland, TX), Gordon Godfrey (Marcus Pointe Baptist Temple, Pensacola, FL), George Grace (First Bible Baptist Church, Rochester, NY), Tim Lee (evangelist), Bradley Price (King’s Way Baptist Church, Concord, NC), Jerry Vines (former pastor of the SBC First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL), Jerry Walls (Southside Baptist Church, Warner Robins, GA), and Johnny Pope (Christchurch Baptist Fellowship, Houston, TX).

The music was led by Mike Speck. His choral book
Everlasting Praise features many songs that are on the CCLI list of top 25 contemporary “praise and worship” songs in America, including “Shout to the Lord” by the radical ecumenist and charismatic rocker/pastor Darlene Zschech.

Jerry Falwell represented Southwide’s new direction and philosophy. In the late 1970s he formed the Moral Majority, and by February 1986 he told
Christianity Today that Catholics made up the largest constituency (30%). In his autobiography Strength for the Journey, Falwell referred to the “Catholic brothers and sisters in the Moral Majority” (p. 371). Falwell was one of the speakers at the April 1980 “Washington for Jesus” Rally. Fellow speakers included Catholic priests John Bertolucci, John Randall, and Michael Scanlon, self-esteem guru Robert Schuller, and a host of radical Charismatics, including Jim Bakker of PTL, Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, and Demos Shakarian of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. In an interview with the National Catholic Register, May 9, 1982, Falwell listed Pope John Paul II as one of the two “greatest men in my lifetime.” He did not give any warning about the pope’s false gospel that is cursed of God (Gal. 1:6-8). In fact, Falwell made the amazing and ridiculous statement that Roman Catholics accept “the new birth experience.” Falwell endorsed Chuck Colson’s 1992 book, The Body, which urged evangelicals to join forces with Roman Catholics and charismatics. Colson said, “...the body of Christ, in all its diversity, is created with Baptist feet, charismatic hands, and Catholic ears--all with their eyes on Jesus” (World, Nov. 14, 1992).

Billy Graham was the commencement speaker at Falwell’s Liberty University in 1997, and in the October 1995 issue of the
National Liberty Journal Falwell praised Graham for his “long and faithful ministry.” Billy Graham, who accepted degrees from Catholic colleges and said the Catholic gospel is the same as his own; who has turned thousands of converts over to apostate churches; who thinks the previous pope was a great evangelist; who believes there is special power in infant baptism; who doubts that hell is a place of literal fiery torment; who invites Catholic bishops onto his platform to bless those who come forward at his invitations; who praises Christ-denying Modernists; who has promoted practically every perverted Bible version to appear in the last five decades--Billy Graham has had a faithful ministry? This statement is evidence of Jerry Falwell’s spiritual blindness, which was the result of his downward spiral through wrong associations (1 Cor. 15:33), and it was sad to see Southwide Baptist Fellowship honoring such a man. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).


The following is excerpted from “Preacher Helps” #93 by Evangelist Don Boys :

“A November 11, 2007, report on First Coast News in Jacksonville revealed that an audio recording has been discovered that supports the molested victims of Dr. Bob Gray who died recently of a heart attack! The husband of one of the victims made the recording a couple of weeks before Gray was arrested in May of 2006. Both the husband and his wife attended Trinity Christian Academy and they are not part of the civil suit or demanding money from the church. The husband said, ‘I want people to understand we’re not out to take a ministry down.’ Present at the meeting were some of his family members, Trinity pastor Tom Messer, and two Trinity leaders, including a deacon. All knew that the meeting was recorded. Ann Steward, now a North Carolina pastor’s wife, and former member of Trinity was featured on the newscast and repeated what she told me and my wife: She was molested by Gray many times while a young child, and at age 21, went to Tom Messer, hoping to expose the truth. She told him about the incidents, but her words were twisted to ‘lie to the congregation.’ Ann told me that on the Sunday night following her meeting with Messer, the church was told that Gray had committed an ‘indiscretion that was neither sexual nor immoral,’ suggesting to gullible members that nothing serious happened. And that is the mantra that has been shouted (or whispered) at Trinity since 1992. Ann told Jeannie Blaylock (who has been incredibly fair) of First Coast News, ‘It was just a cover-up.’ It was supposed to be church discipline, but it was a farce and fraud. Dennis and Pat Cassell, former longtime Trinity members and employees at Trinity Academy, were also featured on the newscast. The Cassells told me that they resigned from Trinity and walked out when it was obvious that Pastor Messer was manipulating the events to cover up ‘Gray’s sin and to mitigate the church’s legal exposure.’ Pat Cassell, told First Coast News, ‘The victims are vindicated. The kids are vindicated. Tom [Messer] knew and covered it up for years.’ Dennis Cassell says, ‘The truth is finally out and that’s what we’ve been praying for many years.’ He was Trinity’s coach.”


The following is by Jeff Royal , January 29, 2010:

“I visited Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville several weeks ago where Pastor Tom Messer is pastor. What concerned me was the music. They opened with a jazzed up version of ‘To God Be the Glory’ and I could not follow the worship leader Jason Cross although I tried. It was sung very fast and choppy and had a whole new chorus inserted in the song that supposedly made it more meaningful. They next led with the celebration choir and worship team in ‘Let the Worshippers Arise’ by the Pentecostal group Philips, Craig, and Dean. They followed that with ‘Lord, I Offer My Life to You’ by Don Moen of Integrity music. In my opinion, Trinity has succumbed to and completely bought into CCM as part of their worship services. Of course, this change has been going on for several years now. They just didn’t decide a few weeks ago to embrace CCM. The people in general are very friendly at Trinity. Something I’m sad to say is lacking at many fundamental IB churches today. Please pray for Pastor Messer and the leadership at Trinity Baptist. In my opinion, they are headed down a dangerous road. While introducing a choir performance, Jason Cross mentioned Lou Giglio in no less than glowing terms. Giglio in my opinion is from the ‘emerging’ church camp and Pastor Messer should know better even if his worship leader doesn’t. I’m reminded of the wise words of the late evangelist Gordon Sears who said, ‘When the standard of music is lowered, then the standard of dress is also lowered. When the standard of dress is lowered, then the standard of conduct is also lowered. When the standard of conduct is lowered, then the sense of value in God’s truth is lowered’ (Songfest newsletter, April 2001).”


Trinity Baptist Church’s September 2010 Church Life Conference featured a video message from Southern Baptist bridge builder and rock & roll lover Ed Stetzer, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay research department.

Stetzer holds to the “in non-essentials liberty” philosophy, despises separatism, and associates with pretty much anybody and everybody. He is a bridge to the “broader church” that is filled to the brim today with ancient and end-times heresies (such as baptismal regeneration, popery, Mariolatry, sacramentalism, anti-Trinitarianism, universalism, Catholic contemplative mysticism, kingdom now reconstructionism, charismaticism, theistic evolution, fallible inspiration of Scripture, panentheism, the non-judgmental male/female “Shack” god, and Christian homosexuality).

As far as I know, Stetzer, as a “conservative evangelical,” doesn’t hold to these heresies, but he is a bridge to the broader “evangelical church” where an individual can easily be influenced by any and all of these. (Most of these things are represented in any LifeWay Bookstore.)

Consider some of Stetzer’s direct associations.

He is closely affiliated with Mark Driscoll, who is “culturally liberal” (e.g., ushering in the New Year through champaign dance parties), hates the doctrine of the pre-tribulational Rapture, and promotes Catholic contemplative mysticism, among other things. Stetzer is affiliated with fellow Southern Baptist Rick Warren, who in turn is closely affiliated with many New Agers and universalists (e.g., Tony Blair, Mehmet Oz, Daniel Amen, Mark Hyman, and Leonard Sweet) and promotes Catholic contemplative mysticism. Stetzer is non-critically affiliated with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who in turn is affiliated with the papacy, praises the pope, and has turned thousands of “converts” over to the Catholic Church. Stetzer is also affiliated with the most liberal of emergents, who deny the infallible inspiration of Scripture, the substitutionary atonement, a literal Hell, and many other fundamentals of the faith. Though Stetzer criticizes their heresies, he does so in gentle terms and refuses to disassociate from them. For example, Stetzer participates in Shapevine, an emerging church blog that features liberal emergents such as Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Sally Morganthaler, Alan Hirsch, and Leonard Sweet. Shapevine is called “a global community of collaborators”; and “conservative Southern Baptists” like Stetzer are right in the middle of this unscriptural collaboration (Romans 16:17; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 2 Timothy 3:5).

By affiliating with bridge builder Ed Stetzer, Independent Baptist pastor Tom Messer is facilitating a bridge between his people and the “broader church,” and he will be accountable to God for those who cross that bridge and become deceived by the wiles of the devil.

Paul Chappell is also somewhat affiliated with bridge builder Ed Stetzer, though his contract with Stetzer and LifeWay for his survey of Independent Baptist churches and through his affiliation with Clayton Reed (they co-authored the book
Church Still Works) who promotes Stetzer’s blog and has interviews with him.

Sexton and Chappell and those who are committed to their model of ministry facilitate the evangelical bridge builders not only by their carelessness in associations but also by their positivist philosophy whereby they don't issue clear warnings against this type of thing and whereby they malign men who do issue clear warnings.

The lines are being erased; the edges blurred; because biblical separation and clear reproof of error and compromise is taking a back seat to church growth, evangelism, and missions, all of which are fundamental to the cause of Christ, but none of which are acceptable excuses for disobeying God’s Word.


Trinity Baptist College’s annual Church Life Student Conference for 2011 featured a speaker who is passionate about Christian rock. On his web site, Tony Nolan says he is “an outspoken advocate of Contemporary Christian Music” and “partners regularly in concert and conferences with rockers such as Third Day, Reliant K, SuperTones, Pillar, Skillet, Delirious, and Toby Mac.

Nolan also has a great admiration for Billy Graham, the grand master of spiritual compromise and ecumenical evangelism. In his blog for October 8, 2010, Nolan described a recent visit with Graham and George Beverly Shea.

Another speaker at Trinity’s Church Life conference was Greg Locke, who also speaks at the Gospel Light Youth Conference in Walkertown, North Carolina. Gospel Light Baptist Church pastored by Bobby Roberson has a reputation of being an old-fashioned, sin-hating, separated Bible-believing Baptist church, but Locke’s association with Christian rockers is a spiritual disease that will spread if it is not dealt with.

I hope I am wrong, but have serious doubts that the necessary separation will happen, though, because Roberson preaches at Clarence Sexton’s Friendship Conferences and thus apparently shares Sexton’s wrong-headed philosophy that for the sake of evangelism, Independent Baptists should associate together regardless of the various “secondary” issues that divide them today, one of those issues being contemporary music.


Trinity Baptist Church released its first full-blown Christian rock album in May 2011 by the in-house praise & worship band ChurchLife. The songs were written by members of the church and a faculty member of Trinity Baptist College (

Our extensively-documented report “The Transformative Power of CCM” demonstrates the reason why contemporary music changes not only the stance, but also the very soul and character of a church. The transformative power lies in the music’s philosophy as well as in the sensual music itself. We have seen many former fundamentalist churches changed in the last 15 years, and contemporary music is always involved, though it is not the only force at work in these transformations. I am convinced that it is spiritual lukewarmness and carnality that allows the CCM to enter, but the music acts within that atmosphere as a powerful transformative agent to carry the church far from its original principles and vision toward the “broader church” where ancient and end-times heresies abound.


Trinity’s worship leader, Jason Cross, illustrates the danger of messing with contemporary music. It puts the church into association with treacherous spiritual waters filled with ancient and end-time heresies, as we have documented in
The Transformational Power of Contemporary Praise Music and The Foreign Spirit of Contemporary Worship Music, which are available in DVD and eVideo formats from www.wayoflifeorg.

Trinity’s worship leader links to men, churches, and organizations such as Mark Driscoll, Getty Music, Stuart Townend, Tim Hughes, Tommy Walker, Ed Stetzer Matt Redman, Saddleback Church, Willowcreek, The Brooklyn Tabernacle, Granger Community Church, and Ancient Future Worship.

We have dealt with the spiritual/doctrinal dangers represented by these in books such as
The Directory of Contemporary Worship Musicians and What Is the Emerging Church?

Take Stuart Townend, for example. Townend is charismatic in theology and radically ecumenical in philosophy, supporting the Alpha program which bridges charismatic, Protestant, and Roman Catholic churches. As such he is a builder of the apostate one-world “church.” He is a member of Church of Christ the King in Brighton, U.K. and supports the “extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit,” which refers to the demonic/fleshly charismatic mysticism such as nonsensical ecstatic “tongues,” spirit slaying, holy laughter, and shaking. Townend is holding hands with the “broader church” in all of its facets and heresies and end-time apostasies, and Townend’s stated objective in writing “hymn-like” contemporary songs is ecumenism. He is doubtless sincere in this, but he is sincerely and decidedly and dangerously wrong. Townend is a rock & roller, pure and simple. In his blog he says that he doesn’t go home and put on a hymns album, because this is not “where I’m at musically at all.” He wants to use the softer CCM to bring “traditional churches” into association with the “broader church.”

Consider Granger Community Church, which is recommended by Jason Cross through his prominent link to their web site. This church in Granger, Indiana, featured Beatles music as their 2007 Christmas theme. Pastor Tim Stevens said: “With
Across the Universe currently in the theaters and the new Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas called Love, the Beatles are as hot as ever. Using the music of the Beatles we will be telling the Christmas story all December. And we’ve been getting great feedback from music lovers of all generations” ( They advertised it as “Let it Be...Christmas -- A Story Told by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, George and Ringo.” Granger Community Church is engaged in wretched spiritual adultery and walks in blatant, presumptuous disobedience to James 4:4 and 1 John 2:15-16.

Trinity Baptist Church has built bridges to dangerous waters and the ensuing changes are occurring with breathtaking speed.


On November 15, 2012, Trinity Baptist hosted a Christian rock tour featuring Tenth Avenue North, Rend Collective Experiment, and Audrey Assad. These are all one-world “church” builders.

The REND COLLECTIVE EXPERIMENT, from northern Ireland, is hooked intimately into the emerging church via its close association with emergent leaders such as Tony Campolo, David Crowder, and Shane Claiborne ( Of the Rend Collective Experiment, Campolo says, “Here’s some music that will motivate Christians to participate in God’s revolution in the world.” He is referring to the heresy of building the kingdom of God in this present world. Campolo believes in evolution, rejects the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, believes that non-Christians will go to heaven, mocks the imminent return of Christ, supports the homosexual rights movement, and promotes Roman Catholic contemplative prayer practices. (For documentation see “Beware of Tony Campolo” at Claiborne has worked with the Roman Catholic Missionaries of Charity and praises Mother Teresa as a truly spiritual person, even though she held a false sacramental gospel that falls under the curse of Galatians 1 and worshipped the wafer of the Catholic mass as Christ. Further, she was a universalist and her “sisters” prepare Hindus to die by teaching them to pray to their false gods. (See the free Way of Life eBook
Was Mother Teresa a True Christian? for extensive documentation, In January 2012, Crowder led worship for the send-off of Rob Bell at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan (“Rob Bell Received a Tearful Farewell,” Christian Post, Jan. 9, 2012). Crowder thus put his blessing on Bell’s many rank heresies, including his denial that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and his denial of the eternal judgment of hell. In his 2011 book Love Wins, Bell preaches near-universalism, as well as a false god, a false christ, a false gospel, a false heaven, and a false hell. Adrian Thompson of Kingsway music publishers says, “Rend Collective Experiment are ... the musical equivalent of what people like Rob Bell and Francis Chan are trying to do with the Church.” These are extremely dangerous spiritual waters.

None of this heresy bothers emergents. They save their criticism for those who warn about such things.

AUDREY ASSAD converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 2007. Like her fellow Roman Catholic musicians Matt Maher, Kathy Troccoli, and John Michael Talbot, Assad is an ecumenical bridge-builder. She says that “the response to her music from Protestants is just as positive as it is from Catholics,” and, “radio has influenced and grown my Protestant fan base, which used to be more Catholic, but now it’s about half-and-half” (“Audrey Assad: A convert whose spiritual walk is a melody,” Catholic Online, Nov. 10, 2010). In 2008 she developed a relationship with fellow Roman Catholic Matt Maher after they met during Gospel Music Week. She subsequently moved to Phoenix and attends Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Tempe, where she sings with the worship team. Her song “For Love of You” mentions the Roman Catholic Sacred Heart of Jesus. When asked how her Catholic faith inspires her music, she replies: “The way that I see the world has been radically changed. I can’t emphasize enough how the Sacramental union with God in the Eucharist has totally changed the way I see the world” (“Audrey Assad: A convert whose spiritual walk is a melody,” Catholic Online, Nov. 10, 2010). She loves C.S. Lewis and one of her projects was to read all of his works chronologically. She observed that Lewis was “a great bridge between Protestants and Catholics.”

In a 2016 interview, Assad said that musical ecumenism is her passion. “Ecumenism, true actual dialogue between different branches of Christianity, is absolutely one of my greatest passions, and so music is a great way to accomplish that. Christians of many different stripes can come together to sing worship songs with each other. It’s a good way to open up the potential of dialogue … And so I just think music is disarming. I think it paves the way for people to put down their weapons for a minute. ... So I'm just very intentional about making sure we remain in a conversation going to all different kinds of places” (“Audrey Assad Shares Her Inheritance,”, Feb. 9, 2016).

Trinity’s leaders are far from the only independent Baptists who are too weak and lacking in spiritual discernment to recognize that contemporary worship music “disarms” their people toward the one-world church agenda.


The following is excerpted from “Prominent Independent Baptist Church Invites Worship Leader from Charismatic-Pentecostal Based Church,”
The Fundamentalist Digest, February-March 2013:

“Under the leadership of its pastor, Dr. Tom Messer, Trinity Baptist Church [TBC] Jacksonville, FL, a well-known Independent Baptist Church, has been rapidly moving in the last few years in a New-Evangelical, pro-Charismatic and CCM rock music direction. TBC recently participated in the national New-Evangelical ‘Back to Church’ [BTC] Sunday in September 2011. On the BTC Sunday, TBC featured as the ‘Guest Worship Leader’ Regi Stone, the ‘worship leader’ at the Christ Church, Nashville, TN. According to its official website, Christ Church unashamedly identifies its ‘roots’ as being ‘in the Pentecostal/ Charismatic renewal.’ Christ Church, Nashville, is ecumenically slanted. The church has as one of its goals ‘to encourage outreach and involvement with other congregations in an effort to mend denominational divisiveness and serve Nashville as the unified body of Christ.’”


In April 2014, Trinity Baptist again hosted the Rend Collective Experiment, mentioned above. This group is hooked intimately into the emerging church via its close association with emergent leaders such as Tony Campolo, David Crowder, and Shane Claiborne (

Joining the Rend Collective Experiment at Trinity in April 2014 is charismatic Kari Jobe, who claims to have a “prophetic ministry.” Her rendition of “Revelation Song (by Jennie Lee Riddle) “brought the song to the forefront rivaling Darlene Zschech’s ‘Shout to the Lord’ for songs most sung in churches nationwide” (“Kari Jobe Talks Prophetic Ministry,”, March 16, 2012). Jobe is worship pastor at the Pentecostal Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas, a multi-campus megachurch. She describes growing up in a Pentecostal atmosphere as follows: “We would go places where people were giving prophetic words and I would receive prophetic ministry. Many of those prophetic words have come to pass or are coming to pass.”


Who would have prophesied 20 years ago, when Trinity Baptist hosted the Southwide Baptist Fellowship and issued a statement warning about ecumenical Promise Keepers and its “unholy music,” that Trinity Baptist would have been swimming in these frightfully apostate waters today?

And yet the seeds of compromise had already been sown.

The next 20 years will see most fundamental Baptist churches swimming in the same waters for the reasons that we have documented in the free eBook
Why Most Independent Baptist Churches Will Be Emerging, available from

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