Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Southern Baptists Unwilling to Reason Together?

Memphis Declaration

We publicly repent of having forsaken opportunities to reason together with those who share our commitment to gospel proclamation yet differ with us on articles of the faith that are not essential to Christian orthodoxy.

The Memphis Declaration alleges that Southern Baptists have forsaken opportunities to reason with other orthodox Christian groups. I really wish I knew what this means. When I read "reason together" I guess I imagine my Methodist brother down the road and me sitting down over cookies and discussing our differing views over sprinkling babies. I'm willing to do that, and I have done it (without the cookies and with this pastor's immediate predecessor), but I've got to tell you, not much new came out of that. I already knew the unscriptural Methodist error at this point, and he already knew what I believed. Personally, I think that Southern Baptists have pretty much plumbed the depths of our theological interactions with other denominations. Are we under some obligation to rehash the same old thing on some sort of a regular schedule? Count me out of that. If there is some sort of a change and an opportunity to convince other denominations of biblical truth, then we certainly ought to seize those kind of chances. But why don't I think that's the kind of dialogue that this document has in mind? But maybe the declaration is barking up a different tree. The commitment part that follows the repentance here speaks not of reasoning together, but of "building bridges", "listening more and talking less", and "extending the hand of fellowship." Trying to think this through, I can come up with four broad categories that this point may be trying to address:
  1. Maybe the Memphis 30 think that we aren't friendly enough to non-Southern-Baptists.
  2. Maybe the Memphis 30 think that some of our doctrinal convictions are offensive to non-Southern-Baptists.
  3. Maybe the Memphis 30 think that we are too organizationally aloof from non-Southern-Baptists.
  4. Maybe this point is not about our relationship with non-Southern-Baptists, but with Southern Baptists whose views diverge from that of the majority.
So, not knowing which charge they are levelling here, I guess we'll need to address them all. Are we unkind toward other denominational groups? Well, what constitutes unkindness? Presbyterians are great folks, as far as I know. I would love to have dinner with a good, devout Presbyterian family. I think an envigorating discussion about where on earth they came up with the idea of a divided presbytery would be a lot of fun with an astute Presbyterian. But if kindness toward a Presbyterian requires that I...oh, I don't know...hire one as a missionary, then I'm unwilling to rise to that level of kindness. If the local church is the primary instrument of the Kingdom (as the Memphis Declaration affirms), then missionary activity has to be focused on planting and sustaining local churches. Presbyterians build bad churches...unbiblical ones. I will not pay a Presbyterian to plant a Presbyterian church anywhere. Period. Paragraph. It will be great if they win a lot of people to the Lord while they are planting their Presbyterian churches. I'll cheer with them. Let them do it with Presbyterian money. I don't think that makes me unkind; it makes me Baptist. Are our doctrinal convictions offensive to non-Southern-Baptists? If so, they need to learn about religious liberty. Live and let live. I don't hold any grudges against the UCC folks for being so enthusiastic about gay marriage. They're dead wrong, but they have the right to be dead wrong. Christ's removal of their lampstand will take care of their heterodoxy. That's not my job. I defend their right to be whatever they want to be in their own churches. I merely expect them to extend the same courtesy to me. I'm sure that SBC doctrinal convictions do occasionally offend other Christian groups. That's their problem. I care about my relationship with them, but I care about my relationship with God more. Are we too organizationally aloof from other denominations? I'll refer you to the previous post on Arrogance, where I discuss the folly of official entanglements between the SBC and other denominational entities. I also refer you to the post on Triumphalism and Narcissism, where I disabuse us of the notion that Southern Baptists are isolated from the remainder of Christianity. Have we forsaken opportunities to reason together, build bridges, listen instead of talk, and extend the hand of fellowship with other Southern Baptists? I imagine that there has been some unreasonableness in our recent turmoil. I've witnessed some on both sides. We ought to do better. But I would stipulate an important principle that I will not compromise to accomplish that goal:The SBC has full and unabrogated freedom to state its beliefs and determine its policy. Although it ought to pursue free and full discussion, it need not remain paralyzed from action merely because somebody somewhere disagrees. In other words, my failure to agree with you and do what you want does not necessarily indicate my failure to listen to you. Perhaps we had a great discussion in which each of us communicated our positions perfectly, but we just hold different opinions. If my opinion happens to be a minority view, then the SBC has the obligation to implement the wishes of the majority without regard to my opinion. I do not speak hypothetically—this has happened to me in my lifetime. I just didn't get all bitter and go off somewhere to pout and compose declarations. To sum up: I'm not quite sure whether this complaint translates to "The SBC isn't ecumenical enough" or "The SBC isn't tolerant enough." It either of these is the point, I disagree for reasons already stated.

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