Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Arrogance Hindering the SBC in the Spread of the Gospel?

Memphis Declaration

We publicly repent of an arrogant spirit that has infected our partnership with fellow Christians in the advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, without the hearing of which men are incapable of conversion.

The Memphis Declaration alleges Southern Baptist arrogance. Arrogance is essentially the same attribute as Narcissism, or at least must be so with reference to an institution. Narcissism tends to imply an obsession with one's own appearance, but then, the SBC doesn't really have a physical appearance, does it? The delcaration employs the term metaphorically (or imprecisely, if you prefer), to imply simple arrogance. The apparent difference between the two paragraphs lies in effects, not causes. In the first paragraph, the declaration is alleging that Southern Baptist arrogance renders us incapable of evaluating our ministries. In the second paragraph, the declaration is alleging that Southern Baptist arrogance prevents us from spreading the gospel effectively enough, specifically by alienating us from the partnerships that we supposedly need to pursue more vigorously in order to accomplish this goal. So, what do we make of this allegation? I've got to say, I just don't know. My question is, "What partnerships?" Some folks we don't need to be in partnership with. Some folks, each of our local churches can partner with just fine without dragging the entire convention along with them. Are there partnerships out there that we ought to be pursuing but aren't because of our "arrogance"? Maybe. I don't know who they are, but I didn't write the declaration. With more data, I might be able to come to a conclusion. Burleson's comments offers a little more data—something of a hint as to what the declaration is trying to say. He highlights Wiley Drake's partnership with Pentecostals. So, I guess Burleson is suggesting that Southern Baptists could do a whole lot better spreading the gospel if we cooperated more with Pentecostals (perhaps among others). I disagree. First, Drake's behavior illustrates the flaw to this thinking: Drake is a Southern Baptist, but his affiliation with the SBC has in no way limited his freedom to cooperative with Pentecostals. Burleson is free to partner with Pentecostals or anyone else to any degree that he likes. At the church I pastor, we partner with churches of several denominations in our ministerial alliance. I think a lot of Southern Baptist churches are involved in local ministerial alliances (I am not drawing a conclusion from sound data, nor do I know that anyone has ever comprehensively surveyed this phenomenon). So, where's the problem? Second, and following from the first point, why do I need my missions partnership to enter me into further missions partnerships? I wonder whether Burleson's polity and ecclesiology are clear in his own mind. According to good Baptist ecclesiology, the SBC is only a quasi-denominational entity—it is secondary to the local churches. The convention is our missions partnership (among other things). Do we really need this missionary partnership to enter secondary partnerships, which maybe in turn enter into tertiary partnerships? Is that a sound organizational structure? Why not simply let each local church ally itself as it sees fit? I submit that local churches are already doing so, and the Memphis Declaration simply amounts to dissatisfaction with other local churches that have chosen a different set of partnerships than those chosen by the Memphis 30. Or, perhaps it reflects dissatisfaction for the way that other churches select their partnerships—a conviction that it is evil for churches to be more theological than pragmatic. Third, it is difficult enough to maintain a partnership among ourselves as Southern Baptists. If Burleson is proposing that the Southern Baptist Convention as an entity ought to entangle itself in some sort of official partnership with other denominations, then that has to be the worst idea I've heard in a long time. Different denominations exist because we have serious theological differences with Christians from other denominations. Those differences are going to matter to some people if a formal denominational partnership is in view—some of us aren't so sure that rampant pragmatism is a good foundation for churches. Why sow division in the SBC without any solid ideas about what we would accomplish thereby? Or, Burleson is not suggesting that sort of formal partnership, in which case I really don't know what this point of the Memphis Declaration is trying to accomplish. Perhaps someone will enlighten me.

No comments: