Wednesday, August 27, 2014

David Platt is My IMB President, Too

The International Mission Board is reporting that Dr. David Platt is the new president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. I had opposed his election. He now has my support. Here's why:

  1. According to our system, I had my say. The trustees had the opportunity to give full consideration to the questions that I raised. I trust that they did so. I do not regret having raised these concerns, but I respect our system of polity. I freely acknowledge that the trustees had access to more information than I had. More of them favored his election than opposed it.

  2. The very critique that I made of Platt requires that I support him now. This is the way that our system is supposed to work. You engage yourself in the process. You advocate vigorously for your point of view. Together we Southern Baptists come to a decision. Unless the decision is so bad that we cannot follow Christ and abide by it, we coalesce around the decision that we've made and we move forward for the sake of our Great Commission task.

    From the bottom of my heart I urge any of you who have talked about cutting your CP support if Platt were elected not to do anything so reactionary and foolish as that. If you were to reduce your support of the CP in reaction to this decision, in my mind you'd be putting yourself into the exact same category as the critique that I made of Platt. Please don't do that.

    Instead, do what I said that Platt hadn't done. Get involved in our polity. In good faith, help us to make decisions and appoint people even better than we have done so in the past. Don't disengage; do the hard work of consensus building and peacemaking for the cause of the Kingdom.

  3. I'm committed to making my initial post about David Platt a self-unfulfilling prophecy. If I still worry that the man most responsible for rallying us all to support the Cooperative Program is not someone all that committed to or passionate about the Cooperative Program, then guess what that means: I just have to do more myself to promote the Cooperative Program in order to make up for it.

    Southern Seminary exists today because four men agreed among themselves that "the seminary may die, but we will die first." If just four hundred Southern Baptist pastors were to make the same commitment regarding the Cooperative Program, I don't think any power on earth could stop us.

    I neither storm off from this election in protest nor throw up my hands in hopelessness. Rather, I simply acknowledge that a task lies before us and I put my hand to the plow. I hope you all will join me.

    If Cooperative Program support was not considered important in this season of Southern Baptist decision-making, together let us make certain that it will be in the seasons to come.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Cooperative Program Is More than a Money Trail

The Cooperative Program is a way of polity. In other words, it is a ethos of cooperative work among Southern Baptists that just happens to work best with a certain financial pathway.

It is Cooperative Planning. The Cooperative Program ideal means that none of us get precisely the budget we might plan all by ourselves. Rather, we join forces with sister churches who are around us and plan a consensus strategy and a consensus budget for the work we are going to do with one another.

This kind of vision is difficult for some of our Southern Baptist churches to embrace. I think one reason is because it demands a high level of respect for sister churches, and sometimes we tend to get so wrapped up in our own little silos that we lose sight of intercongregational fellowship and partnership in the gospel. This is made more difficult when Southern Baptist bodies grow very diverse doctrinally, methodologically, doxologically, and otherwise. We can work together through a great deal of diversity, but there has to be some unifying basis around which we gather and work. Our confession of faith is probably the best provision for that need.

Working in this way requires that our mutual respect for sister churches should facilitate a quest for a common plan. We have to be ready to submit our personal visions, plans, and objectives to the communal negotiations of the family of churches and work toward some consensus plan that lies within the realm of the possible outcomes.

To disagree with the budget of one's state convention and then summarily pull out of the Cooperative Program without having at least attempted to step up to the mike and influence the common plan toward some superior alternative is to betray this communal, cooperative planning mindset. It is a go-it-alone approach that views missions not as our common business but as our individual pursuits.

It is Cooperative Fundraising. The entities that benefit from the Cooperative Program have historically agreed to forego direct solicitation of the churches for anything other than the Cooperative Program. There have been, of course, exceptions (like the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering), but the general agreement is that Southern Baptist entities cooperate with one another in raising money toward the common good through the Cooperative Program.

Five years ago I tried to describe the lay of the land before we had the Cooperative Program in a post entitled "The Year 25 BCP." When our entities were counting on direct funding from individual churches rather than upon the common stream of the Cooperative Program, increasing amounts of money were lost to the professional fundraisers.

Cooperative fundraising benefits us all because the moneychangers all take their cuts and we therefore benefit from the relative lack of them in our system. Right now those churches who just give large sums of money directly to the IMB are getting illegitimate benefits. They know about the IMB because of CP-funded promotional work, but they give around that stream. When the Cooperative Program dies, the funding for the fundraising will have to come out of those funds being raised. As the competitive environment becomes more threatening, entities will lose higher and higher percentages of their received gifts to cover fundraising overhead.

It is Cooperative Giving. We had one transitional year when our church delved into a little bit of direct giving to entities. We were, at that time, still in the Baptist General Convention of Texas. When the BGCT capped the amount of CP dollars that could go to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, making sure that our church's CP dollars could not flow through to SWBTS, we started to give some amount of money directly to SWBTS in order to offset that spiteful act.

I quickly discovered that a lot of perks and benefits come from direct giving. We had never been recognized before, but suddenly the same level of contribution, given directly to the institution, qualified us for the President's Club. I got invited to soirees. Our church's name was printed on fancy programs.

But as soon we were able to do so, we returned to a thoroughly Cooperative-Program-focused giving strategy. Our church didn't get the same level of recognition, but we weren't in it for the recognition to begin with. We just wanted to be found faithful to do our part in giving to support our common Great Commission work. We give not only as an obligation to our Lord in fulfilling the Great Commission, but also as an obligation to our sister churches, that we should not leave others on the hook for more than their fair share of the burden of what we have planned together.

It is Cooperative Work. The Cooperative Program is built around the idea that it takes a multi-homed approach to accomplish the work of the Great Commission. It's wonderful that we have an International Mission Board. Now, who's going to train the missionaries? We're going to need seminaries for that, and they're going to have to produce students who aren't up to their eyeballs in educational debt. By the way, where will the seminaries find those students? They're going to be the students who surrendered to missions at Falls Creek and at other Baptist encampments maintained mostly by state conventions and operated either by them or by folks like our friends at Lifeway. How did they get there? They fell under the influence of pastors or youth pastors or other people at a local Southern Baptist church, which was probably planted once upon a time by a state convention and whose leadership probably attended a seminary. That local church, by the way, will provide the funding for every link in the chain.

The Cooperative Program is simply what you get when you fully realize that none of these parts will thrive without the others. We work cooperatively because we cannot succeed otherwise.

Conclusion

Do you see why I think it is so important that the leaders casting the vision for our convention should be proven supporters of the Cooperative Program? It is more than just a question of accounting. It is more than just dumpster-diving through ACP records to ferret out who gave what when.

Promoting leaders who have a passion for a Cooperative-Program-centered vision for our future means promoting leaders who buy into a whole philosophy of cooperation. It will affect the way that they raise funds. It will affect the way that they view their relationships with one another and with the state conventions and local associations and churches. It will affect the way that they envision the interface between the cogs of their work and all else that happens in Southern Baptist life.

Having this CP-vision is therefore among the most important qualifications for a person who would serve in a role like the IMB Presidency. At least I think so. Whatever bold vision a man might have for the future of the IMB, the power to achieve it will be found only—mark my words—only in his ability to bring Southern Baptist mules (a deliberately chosen metaphor!) together and yoke them into the same harnesses and get them coordinated in the traces. The only approach that has ever accomplished this objective well has been the approach that we call the Cooperative Program.

The best bet for a leader who will successfully accomplish that approach is the man who has already demonstrated an appreciation for it. May the Lord give us that man.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Why David Platt Should Not Be the Next IMB President

I hope you'll recall that I have, in general, tried to be a voice of reasoned, calm moderation in the midst of previous administrative transitions in the SBC. When so many of my friends were vocally opposed to the election of Dr. Jason Allen at MWBTS, for example, I wrote this to ask them to take a deep breath and calm down (and I've got to say, I'm pretty pleased with his performance so far). Those of you who know me well have come to conclude, I hope, that I am not unreasonably reactionary.

Nevertheless, having received confirmation from multiple independent sources across the country that David Platt is the IMB Search Committee's choice to receive the presidency of the International Mission Board, I cannot help but express my opinion that the trustees must not elect him to serve in this position. I offer the following reasons, pretty much in descending order of their importance to me.

First, his election is a disastrous blow to the Cooperative Program. His church makes no Annual Church Profile report, and the strongest endorsement of the Cooperative Program he was able to make when asked was, "I'm still wrestling through how [the Cooperative Program] looks in the context of [the church I pastor]." Wrestling. In other words, he affirmed the Cooperative Program with his words even though he didn't lead his church to support the Cooperative Program financially. It isn't because they are so embarrassed about how high their CP support is that Brook Hills is refusing to complete Annual Church Profiles. The Southern Baptist Convention is full of pastors, missionaries, and laypeople who don't have to wrestle with it at all. We know how the CP looks in our churches. We give money through it and change the world for the gospel.

I've got to say, generally I'm the guy who is uncomfortable with all of us picking on each other about our varying levels of CP support. Churches are autonomous. They make their own decisions. Especially I find it distasteful for denominational employees to dare to criticize churches for what they give or don't give. We ought to be thankful for every dollar.

But the calculus of all of that changes a little, I think, when you're asking to be considered for the position of heading up the agency that receives over half of the national CP allocation. At that point, I think it becomes relevant whether you've been a CP visionary who has given actual leadership to strengthen the CP or whether you're somebody who didn't consider strengthening the CP to be worthy of your time and effort. The latter category reflects a group of people who are too lacking in vision and leadership to be promoted to such a position as the helm of the IMB.

David Platt simply has not given leadership with regard to the CP—neither to contribute to it effectively nor to fix whatever he thinks is broken that might prevent him from having confidence in the CP. I'm not saying that he could not; I'm simply observing that he has not. If he wants to go about doing so between now and whenever the next guy at the IMB retires, I'd be happy to consider him among the other qualified candidates at that time.

Look, friends, the Cooperative Program is not dead yet, and it will only die if you and I sit by and watch it die. If those setting the vision for the future of the SBC are a collection of people who really don't care very much about the Cooperative Program, then it certainly will die. I think that would be a shame. I'd be ashamed of myself if I stood by and watched it happen without having said anything. That's what brings me to my keyboard tonight.

Second, His election will be a needlessly polarizing event. And our trustees ought to ask themselves whether that's good for the IMB, good for the SBC, or good for the cause of the gospel. Think of all of the constituencies in the SBC who are going to be offended and polarized by his election:

  1. Pro-Cooperative-Program Southern Baptists are not going to like it.
  2. Anti-Calvinists are not going to like it (and this time there are not going to be non-Calvinist voices like mine speaking to mitigate them)
  3. Anyone who uses "The Sinner's Prayer" is likely to have some concerns.

Perhaps you don't sympathize with ANY of those points of view. But that's not really the question, is it? The question is whether it makes a brighter future for the IMB to put a stick into the eye of every Southern Baptist who does fall into one or more of those categories.

Some of you will be offended by what I am writing tonight. I beg of you to ask yourself this question: If you and I have sometimes agreed… If you've ever in the past respected anything else that I have written or felt that I was at all a reasonable interlocutor when we disagreed… If ever you've felt that you and I were partners in the work of the Great Commission or could be partners in the work of the Great Commission… If any or all of that has ever been true for you, then do you think it is a wise choice for the IMB to elect a president who would bring you and me to an impasse like this?

Why, at this moment, in this way, should we polarize the Southern Baptist Convention over this?

The clear answer to me is that we shouldn't. There are other good choices. I pray that the IMB will make one of them.

Third, I fear that, even after his election were over, if it were to occur, he would prove to be a polarizing personality. His statements about "The Sinner's Prayer" are a good example. Ask yourself, how much worse would that controversy have been if the sitting president of the IMB were to make statements like that? And if the president of the IMB made statements like that, wouldn't more than his book sales suffer from it? Should the International Mission Board be jeopardized in that way?

But I think that being "Radical" necessarily involves being someone willing to charge off into controversy from time to time. The question is not whether the world needs people like that. The question is not even whether the Southern Baptist Convention needs people like that. The question is whether Southern Baptists need people like that…at the helm of the International Mission Board.

For my part, I think that personality type and aptitude fit very well the role of a seminary professor. I think it fits very well the role of a pastor and author. I'll even say that I'm entirely comfortable with the idea of David Platt as a successor to Al Mohler or Danny Akin (especially if he shows a little more leadership with regard to the Cooperative Program in the future). I just think it is a mistake we cannot afford right now for us to make him the IMB President. The right guy for the wrong job.

And I cannot make this point strongly enough (I mean that: I won't be able to make it strongly enough for most of you to hear it and believe it). I like David Platt. He's a good preacher. He's a good author. He has said a few things that we need to hear. I support him. I want him to succeed. I support David Platt, and I support the IMB. I just don't support David Platt at the IMB.

Those facts won't keep me from losing friends over this post. And with a heavy heart I realize that if David Platt were to author a post like this about me, I would certainly take it personally and would be offended. It would cast a pall over any friendship or partnership we might try to have afterwards. I realize that the personal stakes involved in a post like this one are high.

But I value the tens of thousands of dollars that my church annually gives through the Cooperative Program. I value the UUPG work that my church is doing through the International Mission Board, to which tens of thousands more dollars are going and to which I personally have given a lot of time, prayer, effort, and discomfort. I value the lives of young people and not-so-young people who are close to me who are serving through the IMB or are planning to serve there. I value the Great Commission. I value the cause of the gospel. I value these things too much to be able to remain silent at this point when I believe so much of this is on the line. We are to be servants of one another. To borrow a phrase from Thomas More, I desire to be David Platt's good servant, but God's first.

I believe in our trustee system. Our trustees have not voted yet. I beg of you not to do so until you have given these questions full and careful consideration. That's your job. You owe that to the rest of us. There are better choices out there. Please be careful to get this one right.

The IMB President's salary comes from the Cooperative Program. Whoever draws that salary ought to have been supportive of the Cooperative Program. For me, it's no more complicated than that. We need not an IMB President who wrestles with the Cooperative Program, but one who has embraced it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Eugene Dewitt Brady (1916 - 2014)


Eugene Dewitt Brady (1916 &endash; 2014)

Below is the obituary that they family asked me to compose for my wife's grandfather, who died early this morning.

Eugene Dewitt (Gene) Brady of Nebo died Tuesday, June 3, 2014, at the age of 98. He actively worked on his farm until just a short time before his death. That he died peacefully in the hospital from pneumonia is one of the great anticlimaxes of history, since throughout his life he was never hospitalized by illness but was a frequent and infamous visitor to local emergency rooms due to his many adventurous and death-defying mishaps and injuries.

Gene was born to James Thomas Brady and May Preissinger on February 16, 1916, on the same farm at which he has resided to this day. His father died in 1933, leaving behind nine children with his wife, who herself died in 1941. In 1935 Gene joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. He served the CCC in Missouri, Nevada, and Oregon. After he left the CCC, he resided briefly in Anaheim, California. While working there in a cannery he met Lillie Ada Matthews of Heber Springs, Arkansas, whom he married on January 14, 1942.

The world was at war, and Gene joined the United States Army on September 1, 1942. He served in the Pacific theater of the war as a Radar Tech Sergeant with the Deadly 166th AAA Gun Battalion until his discharge on December 17, 1945. His battalion served in Australia, New Guinea, Leyte, Palawan, Mindoro, Mindanao, and other locations throughout the Southwest Pacific.

After the war, Gene returned to the farm in Laclede County with Lillie to raise their two children, Dale Eugene Brady (1943) and Marsha Ann Brady Prock (1948). In addition to his farming activities, he founded and operated the Brady Wood Treating Company for several years. Gregarious and generous, he became an integral part of his rural community. He voluntarily maintained private roads and county roads in the area, annually gave dictionaries to children in the Plato Elementary School, and served as a good neighbor.

Gene was among the longest-tenured members of the Cedar Bluff Baptist Church, serving there as a deacon. The church sanctuary sits on land that adjoins and once belonged to the Brady farm. He was ever faithful to the church in attendance, service, giving, and leadership. He and Lillie were earnest students of the Bible and devout practitioners of their faith.

Gene’s family and friends remember him as a playful and mischievous character with many idiosyncrasies—most of them delightful. He believed that cattle ought to remain in a pasture out of some moral obligation to “honor [his] fence,” whether the fence needed maintenance or not. He preferred over the use working dogs or agricultural implements to herd cattle by threatening them with his Buick. He never met a broken John Deere part for which he didn’t think that he could manufacture for himself a superior replacement. Our hearts are emptier today, but our highways are safer.

Gene is preceded in death by his wife and all of his siblings. He is survived by two children, Dale Brady and wife Phyllis of Nebo; and Marsha Prock and husband Stanley of Competition; six grandchildren, Tracy Barber and husband Bart of Farmersville, TX; Shannon Prock of Hartville; Matthew Brady and wife Beth of Southaven, MS; Sharon Fletcher and husband Kevin of Houston, TX; Shana Amos and husband Scott of Casper, WY; Shandy Williams and husband Brad of Columbia; and nine great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be Thursday, June 5, at the Cedar Bluff Baptist Church, with interment to follow at the Cedar Bluff Cemetery. Rev. Bill Jetton, Rev. Matthew Brady, and Dr. Bart Barber will preside. Viewing will be Wednesday evening, June 4, at Shadel’s Colonial Chapel.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Tale of Two Windows

Not long ago I had two windows open on my computer screen. On the one, I was being invited by a Facebook friend—a friend who is very liberal—to enter a comment thread and explain how it is that Christians could be so meanspirited and hard-hearted and judgmental and un-Jesus-like against people who live contrary to Christian sexuality. Although I often participate in the discussions that he hosts, I had to decline that night. The reason why I had to decline was because of the other window open on my computer desktop. In that window I was filling out the necessary paperwork to visit a prison in order to minister to a person who is a convicted sex offender. Of course, convicted sex offenders are the true pariah of our day and time.

Not long after that, I was invited (by someone else) to participate in an online discussion to defend Christians from charges that we are willing to let little children starve halfway across the world because of "sexual politics," at which time I was, no lie, on the computer making arrangement to actually GO to Africa, halfway around the world, to minister to the people there.

Today, I see another such discussion (no invitation from anyone yet) about how TEN THOUSAND CHILDREN are just going to starve to death because of how heartless conservative Christians really are, but I didn't see it until just now because I've been out all morning with SBC Disaster Relief crews helping people who were victims of a local tornado just fifteen hours ago.

To all of you who are launching a campaign in one window on my computer to try to make me feel guilty for being true to the faith (not MY faith, THE faith), I must tell you, the reason why you aren't succeeding with me is because of the other window on my computer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Of Pastors and Presbyters

When historians turn to consider the early twenty-first century in Southern Baptist life, a number of momentous events from our annual meeting will figure prominently. The revision of the Baptist Faith & Message in the year 2000 marked a turning-point in the history of our confession of faith and will be remembered as a milestone in the story of the Conservative Resurgence. The 2006 election of Frank Page later propelled him into his current role at the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the meeting (its prelude and its aftermath) launched Southern Baptist blogging. The 2012 election of Fred Luter as the first African-American President of the Southern Baptist Convention stands head and shoulders above all of these other historical events as a key element of a story that reaches all the way back to the convention's formation in 1845.

But something else has been happening in the Southern Baptist Convention—something that has not appeared on the agenda of any of our annual meetings—that will also figure prominently in our recollection of this moment in our history. This is the era when Southern Baptist churches in large numbers began to change the governance of our churches. This is the day of the "elder-led" movement in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Causes

The previous form of church government—congregationalism with varying levels of pastoral leadership and responsibility—held sway over Southern Baptist life for a century and a half. What factors have led to its precipitous decline?

The rise of the New Calvinism is one important factor. Groups like Mark Dever's IX Marks have championed the transition to elder governance as an important means to increasing church health. Other groups among the New Calvinists, even if they have not been as focused on ecclesiology as Dever's group has been, have lifted up a number of Presbyterian or presbyterial voices as heroes to younger Southern Baptists. The correlation between the elder-led movement and the New Calvinism is tight (although Southern Baptists from more than one soteriological viewpoint are embracing the elder-led option), and when the soteriological pendulum swings the other way, the most lasting impact remaining upon Southern Baptist churches by this movement may very well be the structural changes that it made to local churches by means of the spread of elder-led polity.

The sorry state of congregationalism in many of our Southern Baptist churches is another key factor. For decades nobody in the Southern Baptist convention SAID anything nice about congregational business meetings, and in too many dysfunctional churches it had been at least that long since anyone had DONE anything nice in a congregational business meeting. Furthermore, congregationalism had, in too many places, ceased to enjoin entire congregations in the search for God's will and had become the vehicle by which mean-spirited tyrants—too many of them unconverted—lurked in the shadows and dominated the church as covert power brokers. I previously wrote about this phenomenon in my blog post Pseudo-Congregationalism Is from Satan. Most of those who experienced these abuses first-hand, plus a number of those who heard the stories, were ready for an alternative.

A related matter is the weak and sorry state of the office of pastor/elder/overseer in so many of these dysfunctional churches. Bad congregationalism had eviscerated and emasculated many a minister of the gospel. A sizable number both in pulpit and in pew knew that something was amiss in an arrangement in which the pastor is little more than a hired speaker forced to cower in his corner in the meeting house.

A final factor to consider is the incongruity between what we as Southern Baptists said about the office of deacon versus what our deacons actually did. Much of the Southern Baptist preaching about deacons in the last half of the twentieth century would meet the formal definition of a riv (a literary device from the Old Testament prophetic books in which God formally airs his grievances against His people). The comparison and contrast between deacons and elders has been a mainstay in this conversation as Southern Baptist churches have considered the change to elder-led polity.

Objectives

What have the advocates for elder-led polity hoped to accomplish for Southern Baptist churches? Some, before enumerating perceived pragmatic benefits, have simply advanced the case that elder-led governance is the most biblical form of church polity. Southern Baptist congregationalism was made much more vulnerable to these attacks by the abandonment of the word "elder" in Southern Baptist parlance near the beginning of the twentieth century. Since the word "elder" is spread throughout the pages of the New Testament, and since Southern Baptists, having chosen the word "pastor" to the exclusion of "elder," appeared to the casual observer not to have any such thing as an elder, the moment was ripe to make the case that the "People of the Book" had abandoned something biblical.

Proponents of this change in church polity also reminded Southern Baptists that the elder-led pattern can be entirely compatible with Baptist belief, and indeed, can be identified in Baptist history. Particularly among Particular Baptists, plural-elder congregationalism appears in church minutes and confessions of faith as the practice of many early Baptists.

Among the pragmatic appeals was the suggestion that a transition to the elder-led pattern would liberate pastors from the tyranny of loneliness in an overwhelming task. "God never intended for one man to try to do this job alone" is a winsome slogan to the ears of a group of people who, in survey after survey, are highly isolated and overburdened. To impanel a board of elders is to call for backup, so they say.

Another winsome feature spanned both pragmatism and biblical fidelity: the prospect of elevating the station and power of pastors/elders/overseers in the church. Pastors in beleaguered situations knew that they should have more power to lead and they wanted that power, confident that the church would operate more smoothly and accomplish more ministry once their congregational roadblocks were out of the way.

Causes for Concern

As someone who despises so much of what has passed for congregationalism in Southern Baptist churches, I welcome and embrace the new openness in our churches to revisit our polity and make it better and more biblical. Also, I acknowledge that some of the more careful and faithful implementations of polities more dependent upon the leadership of pastors/elder/overseers in the local church have been both a success and a blessing. Nevertheless, in the broader movement, I see some causes for concern.

  1. The Lapse into Presbyterianism: I've been blogging for a long time now, and I hope that my readers recognize me as a cordial interlocutor with my more Calvinistic brethren. Specifically, I am not among those who reflexively cry "Presbyterian!" at every juncture when someone discusses his soteriological convictions. Permit me to air my view that the elder-led approach, if done carefully and well, can be done in a way that is more Baptist than Presbyterian. I am no opponent of these implementations.

    And yet, although everything I read from the hand of Mark Dever is unmistakably Baptist, when local churches put down their copies of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and go about implementing what they think they've read, the results sometimes look a lot more like John Knox than Mark Dever. Some of the individual points listed below will serve as the specific indicators of this diagnosis, but I'm going to leave it unsubstantiated for the moment in order to free this space in the essay to speak about the general phenomenon.

    A lot of interaction is taking place at this moment between Southern Baptists and Presbyterians or quasi-Presbyterians. Some of this is due to the facts of American Evangelicalism; some of it is due to the unique influence of men like Al Mohler. At least some movement of pastors between Southern Baptist life and Presbyterian life is taking place—Southern Baptist pastors becoming Presbyterian and Presbyterian pastors becoming Southern Baptist. In saying this I am not alleging a wrong (Southern Baptists ought to talk to more people than just Southern Baptists) so much as I am observing a trend.

    Because of this interaction and familiarity with Presbyterian life, when local Southern Baptist pastors start out to implement elder leadership in their local churches, the Presbyterian model may be more familiar to them, being as widespread as it is, than is the subtle nuance of the more Baptistic varieties of elder-led polity. Indeed, whether unwittingly or deliberately, "elder led" often becomes something more like "elder ruled."

    Since the move to elder-led polity is indisputably a movement TOWARD Presbyterianism, it is perhaps not surprising that the move sometimes fails to stop short of full-fledged Presbyterian polity.

  2. The Cleavage of the Presbytery: Although a less-noble author might have used that subtitle for a condemnation of immodest female preachers, I'm talking about the unsettling tendency among elder-led Southern Baptists to set aside our unified presbytery for a divided presbytery. A divided presbytery has a bifurcation between preaching elders and lay elders. A unified presbytery holds all pastors/elders/overseers to be occupants of the same biblical office without distinction. After all, the New Testament does not give qualifications for two kinds of elders, does not enshrine terminology for two kinds of elders, and does not assign tasks to two kinds of elders. A misreading of I Timothy 5:17 lies at the root of the error of a divided presbytery.

    I've spoken with Mark Dever about this topic (although he may not remember and probably doesn't have any idea who I am). He affirms a unified presbytery and does not agree with the bifurcation of preaching elders and lay elders that is a prominent feature of the Presbyterian system. And yet, is the bifurcation of staff elders and non-staff elders not a bifurcation just the same? Doesn't it appear important to the IX Marks system that some of the elders be people who are not paid at all? And yet, doesn't I Timothy 5:17 seem to suggest that all of the elders are paid something, just not all the same thing?

    If a careful, conscientiously Baptist, elder-led Southern Baptist church of the new type were suddenly to receive a windfall and were able to provide full-time income to all of its elders, would it feel compelled to go out and elect more elders, just to make sure that at least some of the elders were non-staff? I think a good many of them would. Although there is a strong, biblical case to use the term "elder" to refer to pastors/elders/overseers, and although there is a strong, biblical case to permit multiple elders to serve in a single congregation, where is the biblical case for insisting that some of these elders be unremunerated by the church, or for making any cleavage between different subcategories of elders?

    As a final word of clarification, if straitened financial circumstances cause one or more (or ALL) of a church's pastors/elders/overseers to go unpaid, I have no problem with that. I become concerned when the choice to have unpaid elders is strategic rather than circumstantial.

  3. The Demotion of Pastors: Another remarkable feature of this movement is related to the insistence upon non-staff elders. In many of the congregations that are adopting elder leadership, pastors other than the top pastor in the organization chart—men we might refer to as "Associate Pastor" or "Assistant Pastor" in the traditional parlance—are being excluded entirely from the elder board. And so, in selecting elders, these congregations are passing right over men who have already been ordained into the pastor/elder/overseer ministry, have trained and have been credentialed, and are serving in the role of pastor/elder/overseer in that local congregation. The congregation is passing over these men and are elevating onto elder boards laypeople from the congregation.

    I had a recent conversation with a young man being called to one of these churches. After talking with me, he approached the lead pastor of the congregation and asked, "Hey, if I'm the Youth Pastor, and if pastors, elders, and overseers are all the same thing biblically, then why don't I get to come to the elders' meetings?" The lead pastor replied, "Wow! I hadn't thought of that. I just read IX Marks of a Healthy Church, thought it sounded good, and started implementing it here as best I could, but I never considered that other staff pastors might need to be elders. We probably ought to change your job title to take the word 'Pastor' out of it."

    As an editorial note, it is remarkable to me that a movement holding out the promise to elevate lead pastors out of situations of bad congregationalism—situations that did not accord to them the rightful and biblical respect and leadership role that pertained to them—would then be used by lead pastors to deny the rightful and biblical respect and leadership role that pertains to other pastors in the congregation. Every pastor ought to be considered a full-fledged elder in our congregations. Indeed, ONLY pastors ought to be considered elders in our congregations.

  4. The Dismissal of Pastors: I know of two pastor-friends in recent months who have been fired by elders whom they themselves installed into the office of elder while the pastors were trying to transition the churches to elder leadership. In case you missed what happened there, these pastors (a) decided to adopt the elder-led model, (b) hand-picked leading laypersons in the congregation to serve as elders, (c) saw to their election as elders in the congregation, and (d) were promptly sent packing by the elders they had selected. In both cases there was no congregational vote involved (unless I've somehow misunderstood).

    I asked one of them, "If you hadn't made those guys elders at your church do you think they would have done this or even COULD have done this to you?" The answer? No.

    History guys should stick to talking about the past and should avoid prognostication about the future, but I'm going to go there: I predict that the stories of bad Presbyterianism that will come out of this new polity in Southern Baptist churches will make the old stories of bad congregationalism look like a church picnic. Why? Because the selfsame people who did so much damage through the congregational system will be the very ones who worm their way into the local presbytery. You think they were formidable when they held no official position at all? You think they were formidable when they were deacons? Wait until you encounter them as constitutionally empowered ruling elders of the congregation!

    Of course, a great many of the churches making this transition are more fortunate for now. After all, a great many pastors will pick people to serve as elders who will not, in fact, turn around and fire them. But this is the rosiest season for the elder-led movement—the season in which first-generation elder-led pastors get to serve with the elders that they have picked for themselves. The test of the movement will come after a few pastoral transitions, once pastors are coming into service alongside a PREDECESSOR's hand-picked elder board.

Proposed Solution

Those who are exploring the biblical role of the elder in Southern Baptist life should take the following biblical steps if they choose to implement elder leadership in their churches:

  1. Extend the office of elder to all pastors, since biblically the pastor, the elder, and the overseer are the same person.
  2. Restrict the office of elder to only pastors, for the same reason.
  3. Protect the authority of the voting congregation to select its own pastors/elders/overseers.
  4. Make it the goal of the congregation to pay all of its pastors/elders/overseers at least something.
  5. Require all pastors/elders/overseers to do at least some work at preaching and teaching.
  6. Make it the goal of the congregation to pay more to those pastors/elders/overseers who work harder at preaching and teaching.
  7. Charge pastors/elders/overseers to keep the congregation informed and to build congregational consensus behind key decisions.

If the elevation of pastors/elders/overseers in Southern Baptist churches will take place along these lines, it can be an opportunity for us to revisit our polity and strengthen it, making our churches healthier and more effective in the accomplishment of our mission.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Beliefs about the Extent of Communion

I believe that you should encourage to participate in the Lord's Supper any and everyone who, if he or she were a member of your church, you would not discipline out. That states my understanding of the extent of the Lord's Supper in its entirety.

A few corollary thoughts:

  1. This presumes that your church has the framework in place to exercise church discipline and the guts to do it.

  2. Our church is a Baptist church. That means that if one of our Sunday School classes started sprinkling infants and refused to stop, they would be subject to church discipline simply because they were sprinkling infants. Believer's baptism is not just our preference, it is the clear and indisputable teaching of God's word. Thus, any pedobaptist member of our church is necessarily someone against whom we would start discipline proceedings.

  3. The reason why I never make statements about the extent of communion using language like "Like Faith and Order" is because too much of a focus on baptism erroneously and dangerously conveys the impression that so long as you are saved and have been dunked subsequently, you need not consider the matter further. But truly every Christian ought to examine his or her own heart and ask the question, "If my fellow brothers and sisters knew about all of the attitudes in my heart and all of the things that I've done this week, and if I persisted in them unrepentantly, would I be a legitimate candidate for church discipline?" If the answer to that question is "Yes," then I need to spend some time getting my heart straight with the Lord before participating in the Lord's Supper. I tell people that only those who are believers and who have repented of their known sin should participate in the Supper. I further clarify that having refused scriptural baptism is a sin.

  4. It surprises me not at all that a sizable number of SBC churches are probably basically Stoddardian in their approach to the Lord's Supper since church discipline is all but lost among us.

    In my opinion, it is far more important (and is prerequisite) to recover a meaningful idea of church membership before trying to repair what has happened to our theology of the ordinances. It is difficult to make lasting and meaningful repair to the crack over the doorway before addressing the problems in the foundation.

  5. I am actually optimistic in the long term. More is being written and preached about ecclesiology today than has been the case for at least a couple of generations preceding us. Biblical preaching always bears fruit. I think that this problem will solve itself with time and with the help of the Holy Spirit.