Friday, June 30, 2006

When Is a Church Not a Church?

Not "When is a Christian not a Christian?" That is, in and of itself, a valid question. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is indeed a Christian. I'm not exclusively talking about false professions. Mormons, for example, claim to be Christians but are not. But that is for another post someday.

Instead, I'm asking the similar question, "When is a church not a church?"

The old Landmark Baptists asked this question and answered that only Baptist churches are really churches. Their reply has drawn upon them great criticism. I, too, criticize this answer as a poor one.

But I notice this: Those who criticize the Landmark answer refuse to propose an alternative. If compromise of the Baptist Distinctives does not invalidate the existence of a church, then what does? Does anything?

I hope to inaugurate some discussion of this topic. I'm going to dedicate the next few posts to an exploration of the biblical basis for church validity/invalidity, the history of Baptist thought on this topic, and contemporary issues surrounding this item of ecclesiology.

In the end, I hope to propose an alternative to the Landmark system.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Texas's Stormy Petrel of Denominational Politics

One of the major talking points of the recent dissent in the Southern Baptist Convention has been its supposed unswerving allegiance to the theological content of the conservative resurgence as expressed in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000: "Frank Page is a sound conservative. Wade Burleson is a sound conservative. Ben Cole is a sound conservative. ad infinitum"

And it is possible.

The Castroesque propaganda campaign waged for years by liberals of the BGCT ilk notwithstanding, SBC conservatives have never been a monolithic host of mindless lemmings preprogrammed to vote the party line. The old liberal lie is that all conservatives are stupid automatons. Dissent among conservatives is almost to be expected. Depending upon the nature of the controversy—the issues at stake—controversy can be healthy. It is certainly possible that a group of faithful orthodox conservatives have taken issue with the status quo of the SBC and have inaugurated a minor-yet-important course correction of the convention.

But from the beginning there have been warning signs that have made me nervous. One of those warning signs appears right in the list of Memphis Declaration signatories.

In the comment log of another blog Gene M. Bridges defended the orthodoxy of the people on this list, not against a skeptical conservative like me, but against a jaded liberal angry at the group for not going far enough. Bridges said, "Nobody among this group disagrees with BFM 2000." From everything that I read, Bro. Bridges is a devout believer and a good guy. I believe that, in making that statement, he was sincere. But I know him to be sincerely wrong.

Among the signers (toward the bottom of the list of those who didn't make it to Memphis) is David Montoya of Mineral Wells, TX. Let us examine who Montoya is:

  1. Montoya is a CBFer...a liberal. He is clearly on record as someone who disagrees with the BF&M 2000 and favors the ordination and service of women as senior pastors.. I think Bro. Bridges needs to retract his earlier affirmation that the Memphis Declaration group is entirely comprised of SBC conservatives (hey, I have to retract something from time to time myself...we all do).
  2. Montoya is a mean-spirited attack dog. He is a remarkable man. He has been able to do something that I never thought anyone would be able to do: He has made me feel sympathetic toward Charles Wade (for a brief, fleeting moment). He is the only guy I know who has been able to burn his bridges to both the SBTC and the BGCT. Can this guy get along with anybody? Practically every sentence that falls from his lips is an accusation. Is this the sweet, repentant spirit that the Memphis folks tell us they are ushering in?
  3. Montoya is a long-time hardball player in denominational politics. First he wore the conservative jersey for a while. Then he wore the liberal jersey for a while. In both cases he insinuated himself into the inner circles of denominational politics (as he now appears to be trying to do with this dissent movement). And Montoya plays for keeps. He once snuck a tape recorder into a political strategy session. The fact that he was invited to a political strategy session reveals that he plays hardball politics. The fact that he managed to take in a recorder and publish the proceedings shows that Montoya plays harder ball than even the hardballers. Now he's tearing apart the BGCT (no skin off my nose, but it is a fact worth considering). Is this man an example of the new aversion to power politics that Memphis supposedly represents?
  4. Montoya is completely unreliable. At best, he spreads unsubstantiated gossip. At worst, he is a liar. He is currently busy assassinating the character of a man named Rick Hagar. I contacted Hagar to ask about Montoya's allegations, and Hagar assured me that he can document the falsity of Montoya's rumors. By the way, Montoya had never notified Hagar that Montoya's blog would contain allegations that Hagar had been fired from a previous position for alleged-by-Montoya financial improprieties. Montoya has published lies about the SBTC. I called and asked about his allegations that the SBTC was cooking up some grand strategy to use the Rio Grande Valley embarrassment to steal away BGCT churches. I asked friends who work at the SBTC. Some of them have close relationships with folks from the BGCT and are whole lot friendlier with that organization that I am. If such a thing were true, I would know about it. But Montoya's allegations about the SBTC are not true. That doesn't matter much—Montoya is not the sort of guy to let the truth get in the way of a good political strategy.

Conclusion

So a hateful, reckless misanthrope with a long history of savage political dealings on every side of contemporary SBC issues...this is one of our new young leaders who is going to rescue us from the misdeeds of the past? Surely no sane person believes that.

David Montoya is just one man. His character is not that of the others involved in this movement. Some of the folks on the Memphis Declaration list are much different. I've had a little bit of Internet chatter with Kiki Cherry, and she's got to be one of the most delightful people on the planet, from all that I can tell. Let nobody think that I am trying to paint with a broad brush.

But I do know this: Some of the people involved in this movement are not conservatives. Some of the people involved in this movement are indeed desperate to undo all the hard work of the past 27 years. Some of them will gladly affirm the Memphis Declaration or the Baptist Faith & Message disingenuously if it will help them further their personal agendas. And yet none of the people involved in the dissent movement, even if they themselves are conservative, seem astute enough to recognize this (or perhaps theologically-minded enough to care). One must seriously ask whether their brand of kinder, gentler conservatism is really prepared to deal with someone like David Montoya. The kind of naivete that counts the David Montoyas of this world as sweet-spirited, controversy-eschewing, hot-hearted, rock-solid SBC conservatives is the kind of naivete that might just ruin the Southern Baptist Convention.

May God prevent it.

More Gushing over Baby Sarah

Aren't new parents hard to be around? We think that the whole world ought to drop everything and join into our private celebrations.

So...have you dropped everything yet? I've got some more celebration for you.

First you have to know a little bit about the bad in order to appreciate the wonder of the good. I've lost track of the adoption leads we have pursued that have fizzled out. The aggregation of those can eventually discourage you a little bit. But the most painful experience in the adoption world is what adoption experts have termed the "adoption loss." An adoption loss comes when you get all the way down to the end of the adoption process and it flies apart at the last minute. An adoption loss often involves having taken custody of a baby, only to have to give it back. Adoption loss is like a death. It is a brutal ordeal.

We have done that twice.

Now that will knock the wind out of you.

But on the other hand, we already have one adopted son, Jim. We had gone for a weekend at SWBTS's conference center. Tracy was attending a ministers' wives event; I was buried in books, working on seminar papers. On our return voyage to Farmersville, Tracy and I met our friends Keith and Melissa Sanders (at that time not yet married) to watch Gods and Generals at the Grapevine Mills movie theater. We finally got home, where we found a string of messages on our answering machine. At the opening syllables of the very first message, our heartbeats stopped.

A doctor in Arkansas had received one of our fliers. A baby was about to be born in need of an adoptive family. The call was more than a day old. The ensuing messages reiterated the proposal and wondered why we hadn't returned the call. They wanted to give us the first chance at adopting this baby, and didn't want to move on down the list until they heard from us. We were terrified that we had waited too long. That was on Saturday.

We immediately called the provided numbers, got in touch with the doctor, and started to make arrangements. On Wednesday, Jim was born and we started the process of adopting him. Now he's three years old and wonderful.

Entire elapsed time from our first knowledge of Jim until we were holding him—less than four days.

Fast forward to last week...our journey home from Greensboro. On the way home we stopped to spend the night with Dr. Joe Early, a friend who lives in Corbin, KY. Sitting on his back deck and looking into the forest, we discussed the convention (Joe and I have strikingly different perspectives upon convention politics), lots of boring Baptist History stuff, and the other things that very good friends explore. At one point the conversation turned to our prospects for adopting another baby. Joe asked how that was going.

I told Joe, "Well, we haven't really gotten any good leads lately. Not even that many nibbles. Sometimes we can get a little discsouraged. We need to do something to stir the pot a little and generate some more inquiries. But whenever we get down in the mouth, we always think about our experience with Jim. That happened so quickly. We always remind ourselves that we could be a week away from having a baby, but just not know it yet."

That conversation took place Thursday night. Exactly one week later, Sarah was born. Now we've cleared enough hurdles to be really confident that this adoption is going to go through.

Now I'm Going to Preach a Little

You never know what God is doing right now for you that you just don't know about yet. He is indeed faithful. He really does work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

OK. You have permission to resume your life now. Thanks for listening.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Baptist Political Accomplishments

Throughout our nearly-four-centuries, Baptists have swapped correspondence or face-to-face discussion with a pretty impressive array of political figures, and although there has been some bad to come of it, we've seen a lot of good fruit for our efforts. Most of those results can be clustered into two broad topics.

Religious Liberty

I do not know that we would enjoy religious liberty if it were not for the blatant, controversial, unrelenting political involvement of our Baptist forebears. One of my favorite Baptist heroes is Thomas Helwys. John Smythe had modeled for Helwys the route of political disengagement—he led the earliest Baptists to flee England to find a place to worship according to the dictates of conscience. When Helwys took the helm of the church from Smythe, he soon rejected the Smythe policy. Helwys believed that English Baptists had a responsibility to their fellow Englishmen to try to change England. So, Helwys & Co. packed up their belongings and left the Netherlands for England. Helwys authored his Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, mailed it directly to King James himself, and landed straight in jail for his trouble. The subject matter of Helwys's book was political. Many other heroes followed Bro. Helwys, and their influence is one of the major reasons that we enjoy religious liberty today. That, in my opinion, is worth a lot.

In 1802, it was a Baptist association that conducted the correspondence with Thomas Jefferson birthing the phrase "wall of separation between church and state." In 1913 the Southern Baptist Convention established the Christian Life Commission to interact with the civil government and defend religious liberty. In 1920 it was in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting held in Washington, DC, that George W. Truett delivered from the steps of the U. S. Capitol itself his message "Baptist and Religious Liberty." Our contribution to this concept has changed the fabric of our society. And mark my words: God brought about these changes not as much through our preaching as through our lobbying.

Human Rights

Some will doubtless point out the irony of highlighting the convention birthed in pro-slavery rhetoric as a defender of human rights. And they would be right. Our record on this issue has been embarrassing at times. But thank God for the occasions when we have boldly defended human dignity and human rights. One of the great improvements to the 1963 BF&M was a pointed affirmation of universal human dignity, regardless of race. This was controversial in an age when Southern Baptist laypeople were debating whether black people had souls. Making such a political statement posed a serious risk of alienating existing Southern Baptists and blunting Southern Baptist evangelistic efforts in the South, but Southern Baptists took this action anyway because it was right.

And today, Southern Baptists are taking a strong stand on the dignity and rights of unborn humans. It is the right thing to do, and I'm proud of us for doing it. God forgive us for the pre-1979 years when we couldn't quite seem to figure out whether slaughtering babies was right or wrong.

Conclusion

So, from King James to George W. Bush, Baptists have reasoned with, debated, supported, denounced, and lobbied a wide range of political figures. The Baptist distinctive is not that we will not be involved in politics, but that we will not be involved in politics to gain an advantage for ourselves at the expense of religious liberty for everyone. They have spoken to us; we have spoken to them.

That legacy continues today. Our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission continues to lobby the civil government to defend religious liberty and human rights. Although these important concepts are relatively secure in the United States, we have an opportunity to export religious liberty throughout the world. Certainly this effort is critically important to our evangelistic efforts. Some will pretend that lack of piety or zeal is the root cause of a world unreached for Christ. The fact of the matter is that a large swath of the world makes our missionary efforts illegal. They do so because these areas do not embrace the basic concept of religious liberty. Frankly, Dr. Condolezza Rice's comments about the deliberate spread of religious liberty around the globe are more pertinent to the basic purposes of the Southern Baptist Convention and hold more potential for missiological breakthrough than the sermons of a hundred local pastors. If she is successful in what she says she is trying to do, she will be one of the most powerful forces that God will use in our lifetimes to spread the gospel. I cannot say for sure that she was sincere. I cannot say for sure that she can be successful. I can, however, say for certain that she was relevant and that her work is important to our convention.

But let's get the man himself to speak next year.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What Has Washington DC To Do with Jerusalem?

As astute a reader as you will no doubt recognize hidden in my title the famous question of Tertullian: "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" Tertullian was challenging the relationship between faith (represented by Jerusalem) and philosophy (centered in Athens). I'm referring more to the relationship between faith and politics (represented by Washington, DC). Should Christians be involved in politics? Should churches be involved in politics? Should politics be involved in churches? These questions are significant, and exhausting the reply would exhaust the reader. But once again, let's hit the highlights.

Politics and the Christian

The only mandatory level of involvement in politics for a Christian involves praying for and honoring political leaders and paying one's taxes (see, for example, Romans 13:1-7). But the question at hand is not so much what must a Christian do to support the civil government, but what may a Christian do to participate in government.

With regard to this question, we note that the New Testament mentions citizens, soldiers, tax collectors, eunuchs, jailers, procurators, governors, and kings hearing the gospel. Many of them received Christ. Nowhere does the Bible suggest that converting to Christ necessitates the abandonment of such pursuits. Continental Anabaptists believed that Christians should not serve as magistrates, effectively prohibiting government service for Christians (see the Schleitheim Confession, Article VI). Baptists have historically differed, affirming the right of individual Christians to participate in political endeavors, even including the use of lethal force as magistrate or soldier. John Smythe set high standards for Christian magistrates, but by acknowledging that such a creature might exist he distinguished himself from the Anabaptist tradition (see Smythe's Confession of Faith of Certain English People Living at Amsterdam, articles 83-85).

Thus, it is entirely permissible for Christians to be involved in civil affairs. Since one might argue that in a democracy the responsibilities not only of subjects but also of rulers belong to the people, one might argue that civil involvement is even positively required of Christians (at least as regards the responsibility to vote, serve on juries, etc.).

Politics and the Churches

But just because individual Christians are involved in civil politics, that does not necessarily imply that churches ought to be involved in civil politics. There is no New Testament command or example that portrays early churches as ever choosing to interact with the civil government. Ought Baptist churches or groups like the Southern Baptist Convention to be involved in government? Some have answered in the negative. Arguments against this practice deserve attention:
  1. Some say that Baptist churches violate our historic legacy of advocating religious liberty when churches get involved with civil politics. Those offering such arguments usually point to Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, and John Leland as their exemplars. And I love it when they do so, because their own examples disprove their point. Helwys, Williams, Backus, and Leland (among the four of them) lobbied governments, shaped legislation, endorsed candidates, and were generally far more politically active than any pastor I know today. Isaac Backus led his local association to form a committee (the Grievance Committee) for the sole purpose of lobbying the government. Our Baptist heritage is not a heritage of civil disengagement—it is a heritage of vigorous civil activism by Baptist churches to secure the just rights of all mankind.
  2. Some say that Baptist churches corrupt the body of Christ when churches get involved with civil politics. Certainly we can produce plenty of examples of non-Baptist churches corrupted by official entanglement with governmental entities. I think there can be some validity to this claim on occasion. For example, while the Democratic Party dominated Southern Baptist life, we endorsed racial slavery, Jim Crow, and the KKK. Yet one might argue that the culture at large was as much to blame as was party politics, but certainly the Democratic Party was a negative influence upon the SBC for as long as it dominated our political outlook. Indeed, for me that touches upon the key distinction: Life is great as long as Christians are influencing politics; things get ugly when civil politics influences Christian organizations. Obviously, involvement in civil politics makes us more vulnerable to some of the latter. Nevertheless, I do not know that this objection is so grave as to preclude political involvement—one must weigh it against the nnegative aspects of being politically disengated.
  3. Some say that Baptist churches impede the forward progress of the gospel when churches get involved with civil politics. Indeed, one of the comments on the first part of this post made this very argument. Sometimes political involvement might interfere with the promulgation of the gospel, I suppose, but I do not believe it to be necessarily true. In fact, sometimes I think that avoiding political involvement can be detrimental to the spread of the gospel in some situations:
    1. When the world comes to view the church as morally spineless, it hurts the spread of the gospel. Think about this: What is your opinion of German Christians who took no stand against the rise of the Nazi Party? What is your opinion of 1960s American Christians who weren't KKK members but who weren't going to get involved in the Civil Rights movement (which might have had a different character if Southern Christians had championed it)? Why wouldn't one come to the same conclusions about Christians who would sit idly by while we murder a multitude of innocent babies every day? If a church has absolutely nothing to say about the great moral questions that surround me, why on earth would I ever believe that it has anything worthwhile to say about the great moral questions of eternity? To steal from, mangle, and employ Clarence Jordan's words for my own purposes, if your church is unable to speak to the basic issues confronting society, then the question is do you really have a church?
    2. When the church disengages from the culture, it hurts the spread of the gospel. As a shortcut, I remind you of H. Richard Niebuhr's book Christ and Culture. It seems to me that complete disengagement from civil politics is only feasible under the rubric of "Christ Against Culture." Yet churches that withdraw are rarely evangelistically successful. One need not embrace the extreme of "Christ of Culture" (e.g. a state-church) to acknowledge some forum for politico-cultural involvement of churches. Don't churches exist to transform the world around us (or at least to experience paradox while trying to transform the world around us)?
    I will consent that wrongful political involvement can be deadly to evangelism. God help us when we ally ourselves with immorality and error. Mainline churches are dying all around us from this very thing. But instead of complete disengagement, wouldn't churches be better served by a simple determination to support that which is moral and right in opposition to that which is immoral and wrong? And if we can't tell the difference, God help us indeed!

Church-Targeting Politics

I draw the line here. I don't like politicians campaigning in a worship service. I don't like church rolls given to political parties for campaign purposes. I will not tolerate a state church. Politicians do not have the liberty to meddle in churches, but churches do have the liberty to meddle in politics.

For the final post in this series, I will survey the distinguished history of Baptist bodies interacting with American political figures.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Ain't God Wonderful


Welcome to the wonderful world of private adoption, where you conceive, gestate, and deliver in 24 hours! That's right—as of noon yesterday, we knew absolutely nothing. By yesterday afternoon, our world was turned upside down. Last night at 9:30, Sarah Ann Barber was delivered. I am currently posting from a room in Labor & Delivery at an area hospital, where Tracy is holding our new baby girl!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hiatus

We have a huge personal thing that has emerged today. We're on pins and needles. I don't want to say any more now. I'll elaborate in the next few days. Part 2 of my political posting will have to wait. Sorry.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Other "Denominational Politics"

Jeff Richard Young, a fellow North Texan, has published on his blog a thoughtful post questioning the propriety of having Dr. Condolezza Rice speak at this year's Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. I got carried away with my own commenting, and it seemed to me that I had done enough work on my comments to post them here.

Thanks, brother, for stirring up the muses.

What caught my interest was not so much defending Dr. Rice (who seems to have a soft spot in her heart for the murder of innocent unborn babies), but the question of the proper level of interaction between the SBC and secular politics. Usually, when we speak of "denominational politics" we are speaking of internal denominational politics. Yet the convention has always participated in external secular politics as well. What can we say about this other "denominational politics"?

In the University of Chicago's online journal Sightings, the eminent Martin E. Marty has published (back in 1999) an article entitled "Concerns about Membership Decline in the Southern Baptist Convention" alleging (not as the main point of the article) that the Southern Baptist Convention, "which was once only lightly involved in politics, is now among the most politically active." Dr. Marty's suggestion would certainly resonate with the sentiments of some who commented on Bro. Young's blog entry, insinuating that the SBC has embarked upon some kind of an unhealthy, unprecedented alliance with the GOP that has short-circuited our historic aloofness from secular politics.

Let me try to put that notion aside once and for all by demonstrating a more realistic appraisal of the SBC's political history than that which Dr. Marty has offered. At the end, I will offer a conclusion that will probably shock and scandalize more than a few.

A comprehensive treatment of this topic would constitute a book, not a blog, so I'll just try to hit the highlights;

  1. The Southern Baptist Convention was born out of a secular political conflict. Does anyone recall a little thing called the Civil War (that's the War of Northern Agression for those of us from the South)? National political conflict over slavery was the proximate cause of the division between Baptists North and South.
  2. Throughout the nineteenth century, Baptist newspapers editorialized regularly on political subjects. As the best example of this, I recommend that one read J. R. Graves's Tennessee Baptist. From my own doctoral research, I can also suggest the Arkansas Baptist and Baptist Evangel from Arkansas.
  3. Although Baptists started from behind in the older states on the East coast, in frontier states that were dominated by Southern Baptists during their formative periods, the intermingling of state politics and denominational politics was pronounced. Again, my area of expertise is Arkansas, so I will offer David Orr and Silas Toncray as good examples from my home state. The most recent history of Arkansas Baptists, A System and Plan, demonstrates clearly a synthesis of secular and denominational politics that goes back to the earliest post-Louisiana-Purchase settlement of the state.
  4. During the New South Period (the turn of the twentieth-century), Southern Baptists displayed probably the tightest partnership of secular and religious politics in our history. In my dissertation I have argued that the Bogard Schism in Arkansas is nothing more than the injection of secular agrarian dissent into denominational politics. Consider the officers of the SBC elected in 1901: Gov. W. J. Northen (Democrat governor from Georgia) as President, Gov. A. H. Longino (Democrat governor from Mississippi) as 1st VP, and Gov. W. W. Heard (Democrat governor from Louisiana) as 2nd VP. Gov. James P. Eagle (Democrat governor of Arkansas) served two terms as SBC President immediately after Gov. Northen. By the way, Gov. Eagle was also the President of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention for twenty-one consecutive years. Eagle's church, Second Baptist Little Rock, publicly excommunicated agrarian upstart Gov. Jeff Davis during a political campaign.
  5. Southern Baptists were extremely politically active during the 1928 Presidential Campaign, mostly in opposition to Catholic, anti-Prohibition, New York Democrat candidate Al Smith. For example, Southern Seminary President E. Y. Mullins publicly campaigned against Smith.
  6. In 1957-58, Democratic Congressman Brooks Hays of Arkansas was the President of the Southern Baptist Convention.
  7. From 1845 through the 1970s, Southern Baptists were monolithically aligned with the Democratic Party. The 1928 election is a noteable exception, as is the election of John Kennedy. But barring extraordinary religious factors, Southern Baptists have toed the line for the Democratic Party.


Conclusion

I believe that the recent alignment of the Southern Baptist Convention with the GOP is one of the healthiest things that has happened to us in our history. The stranglehold that the Democratic Party held over the SBC for so long has collapsed because of Roe v. Wade. The resulting friendship with the GOP is something so startling that virtually nobody would have predicted it as recently as 1970. The SBC's connection with the GOP is not yet any sort of blind loyalty, but is issue-oriented and genuine. It has not yet come anywhere near the kinds of improprieties that we demonstrated during our marriage with the Democratic Party. By building closer ties with the GOP, Southern Baptists have proven that neither party had better take us for granted—that we will go where our convictions take us regardless of past history with a party. I think that is an extremely healthy thing.

This post has focused upon Southern Baptist alignment with various political parties. Next time I'll look at Baptist interaction with governing officials, regardless of party politics.

Monday, June 19, 2006

My Motives Regarding the Cooperative Program

Rzrbk offered a thoughtful comment in response to my Greensboro analysis. With a name like Rzrbk (??razorback??), I'm thinking that he has to be an Arkansan, and therefore a person of impeccable character and high IQ (guess where I'm from). In respect for his comment and because of the length of the response it commands, I have chosen to respond with an entire post rather than just another comment.

The section that most caught my attention addressed the question of my motives behind the comments I made regarding the Cooperative Program amendment both on the floor of the convention and in a post on this blog. I quote from his comment:

You seem to really resent the cooperative program or churches that support it for some reason.

I had no problem with the state convention directors being part of the committee recommending this change. My state convention gives over 40 per cent of CP receipts to the SBC. It was a good political move by the old guard to turn the discussion toward the state conventions so they would not look at the poor support their churches give. I think the churches need to pick up their giving then the states can give more.

I agree with you. We need to be led from the top down. That is why I am glad Frank Page was elected president. He can lead us to give to the CP program because has led his church to do that. The other two candidates have not and many of our recent SBC presidents did not provide the leadership needed because they wanted the SBC to serve them and not to serve the SBC.


Talking About Motives

Some people don't want to talk about motives. They resent it when people ask about motives. They suggest that talking about or seeking to analyze motives is improper or unsound reasoning.

I disagree. Trying to understand motives is an important part of historical analysis and contemporary analysis. Without trying to understand motivation, you really can't understand. Discovering motive is more difficult, but not less valid than other kinds of analysis.

So, I think that rzrbk is asking a great set of questions. I hope to answer them.

Do I resent the Cooperative Program or the churches that give to it?

Well, if I do, then I really need to see a psychiatrist soon, because that would mean that I resent myself.

Fresh out of college, I was recommended to a small church in Oklahoma as the guy to rescue it for the Cooperative Program. The church had just endured a three-way split, and the former pastor had left to start an Independent Baptist church. Before leaving, he had convinced the church to cease entirely its participation in the Cooperative Program. After two years of zealous trying, I got the church to resume partial participation in Southern Baptist missions, but I never got them to give to the CP. Their previous exposure to problems (embezzlement in the construction of something like a retirement village, to hear them tell it) in their state convention had them convinced against the validity of the CP. My convictions in favor of the CP were strong enough that, when I was unable to lead them to participate in the CP, I left. I could not in good conscience pastor a church that would not give through the Cooperative Program.

Today I pastor a church that gives 10% to the CP...sort of. We were giving 10% through the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Now we are halfway along in a move to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Our money is split between two conventions and a small portion is designated to undo some of the things that BGCT is doing. Soon our move will be complete and we will be giving 10% to CP again.

I love the Cooperative Program and am proud to lead a church that faithfully contributes through it.

As an aside, let me mention that I think it is a dubious thing to assign the credit or blame for a church's CP participation exclusively to the pastor. Hey, folks...some of us are still Baptist and practice congregationalism! My church was giving 10% long before I showed up. On the other hand, I've just given an example from my past where I pastored a church giving zip to the CP not because of my leadership, but in spite of it. Yet the entire outcome of the presidential election this year was based upon the notion that Frank Page is responsible for his church's CP giving. What percentage were they giving before he came?

Do I have a problem with state executive directors being a part of the Ad-Hoc Cooperative Program Committee?

No. My problem is an application of Jesus' speck-in-your-eye-log-in-mine parable. A committee of state convention people is free to address our current deplorable lack of CP support all that they want as long as they don't point fingers at everyone else while trying to shirk their own responsibility for the problem.

Why not mention 50-50 in the report? Simply do that and I would have been silent. The resolution was no more binding upon state conventions than it was upon local churches. Why not at least mention the 50-50 goal? Especially when the SBC just last year affirmed the 50-50 goal and asked for a timetable of when the state conventions would achieve 50-50? Especially when the report to the convention cited this very report as the answer to the query about when the state conventions estimate that they will achieve 50-50? The SBC asked when the states expect to achieve 50-50, and the answer didn't even mention 50-50!

Why? Because some state convention executives are trying to weasel out of the 50-50 and bury it. I am not making this up. One state convention exec told me from his own lips that the 50-50 split is unreasonable. The SBC messengers asked for a good-faith estimate of when the state conventions would achieve the 50-50 split stipulated at the founding of the CP. The state conventions' answer? Never.

So, my problem is not with the state convention execs being on the committee; it is with their actions on the committee. It would be bad enough to answer "Never" and disavow an ancient promise, yet I would not have spoken out just for that. But the committee went further than that. While turning their backs on their own CP obligations, they laid the blame for flagging CP support upon everyone else. Then they overturned Baptist polity and dared to tell autonomous local churches how much they ought to give. At that, I could not be silent.

Did the "Old Guard" turn the discussion toward the states and away from the local churches?

Umm...only if I qualify as the "Old Guard." I'm 36. I've never held an elected position or served on a committee for anything farther up the food chain than my local association. My family has not been important in Southern Baptist life. I come from a tiny church in Northeast Arkansas. Ask yourself this, reader: If I qualify as a member of the "Old Guard," who doesn't?

I am the only person who mentioned the state conventions in the floor discussion at Greensboro. Two bona-fide members of the "Old Guard" elite, Jack Graham and Jerry Vines, spoke after me, and neither of them brought up this topic.

Nobody prompted or coordinated what I said. The moment I read the Ad-Hoc Committee's original report, I didn't need to hear from anyone in order to know that I disagreed with it. My daily Baptist Press newsfeed reported the basic gist of the report, and I immediately fired off an email to complain to my state executive director. I asked him for contact information to complain further up the chain. He gave me the email addresses of Anthony Jordan and Morris Chapman. I sent them an email to complain. This precipitated a flurry of email conversation among the three of us over the course of the next couple of days.

When the Executive Committee dropped the 10% stipulation, I decided not to say anything at Greensboro. I would prefer a report that specified the 50-50, but I could live with no mention of percentages as a compromise. When an amendment came to reinstate the 10% at Greensboro, I knew that I had to speak to it. I could not remain silent. Surely the nervousness in my voice and the lack of good organization in my comments made it clear to everyone that I had not prepared my remarks in advance.

So, no "Old Guard" was at all involved in my comments.

By the way, I'm a whole lot less impressed with the "New Guard" (who so far have accomplished nothing for the SBC) than with the "Old Guard" (who have a pretty impressive track record). But forgive me for stating my opinion. :-)

Would increased giving from local churches enable the state conventions to give more?

Well, the Cooperative Program has been around for 81 years. In 1979 the average SBC church was giving more than 10%, but state conventions weren't giving anywhere close to 50%. In good days and bad days, state conventions have never given 50%. Why? Because they aren't trying to give 50%. Local church contributions are the symptom, not the cause. The historical sequence is absolute, irrefutable proof of that. If local churches step up to the plate and raise their giving back up to where it ought to be (which I hope they will do), we have no reason to think that the state conventions will do any differently than they have done in the past eight decades: Keep every penny they can in-state.

So, I am motivated by my passionate love for the CP as envisioned in 1925, including respect for local-church autonomy, strong encouragement for local churches to give sacrificially, and a 50-50 division of CP receipts between in-state and rest-of-the-entire-world expenses.

Conclusion

I conclude by saying this: Not all state conventions are equally to blame here. The 40% that your state convention gives puts them far ahead of average. That's commendable. My state convention gives 52%, and I'm really proud of them for that. If I were in a different state convention, I think I would go to the state convention and say something like this: "I want to help you convince local churches to give more through the CP. But I also want us to work toward the 50-50 split that is our moral obligation from all the way back in 1925. Let's negotiate a common goal. How much of an increase would you need in order to achieve the 50-50? I'll work hard to enlist sister churches toward that goal if you'll promise me that we'll make a Herculean effort to do what we should have done so long ago."

I don't want just to sit on the sidelines and criticize. I want to be a part of the solution. In putting that solution together, I'm more than willing to admit my own shortcomings and the shortcomings of local-church pastors like myself. I want the solution to face those problems honestly and address them directly.

I just wish that the Ad-Hoc Committee of state executives had taken the same approach

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Irresistible Grapes???

Recently I read an article on Wade Burleson's blog that has to be the most Arminian description of a conversion experience that I have heard in a long time. Credit for a woman's salvation is given to a pastor's decision to drink wine. Somebody told me that this guy is a Calvinist, but I'm really beginning to doubt it.

This Is My Father's World

God has created a remarkably beautiful world:

  • I-40 through the Great Smoky Mountains is spectacular.
  • Morristown, TN, at the entrance to the Cumberland Gap, is breathtaking. A lake as calm as a mirror lies at the base of Clinch Mountain. From the moment I saw it, I got this powerful sense that God had called me to plant a church there and stay forever. :-)
  • At Cumberland Falls in Williamsburg, KY, the Cumberland River plunges 60 feet in a dramatic display of creation's power.
Flying would have been cheaper, quicker, and easier on my body. Thank you, Lord, that we drove instead. Your creation is awesome and inspiring!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Greensboro Analysis

No...not a summary listing of what all happened. Not even an analysis of any single event. Instead, I want to give an analysis of the overall event.

Headline One: The System Works

The mysterious cabal that we've all been led to believe is pulling everyone's strings obviously doesn't exist. Let me say it loud and clear: Not one thing has happened in the past 27 years that has not been under the control of the messengers to the SBC. Everybody who wanted to make a motion got to make it. Yes, committees canned several of them, but the messengers demonstrated once-and-for-all that it really isn't all that hard for messengers to bring these items right back out of committee if they so desire. The messengers also declined to do so over and over again. Thus, the messengers demonstrated once-and-for-all that these committees usually are right in line with the wishes of the majority. I say "usually" because the committees aren't perfect, but Greensboro has demonstrated that nothing is broken with the system, whiners notwithstanding.

Headline Two: Elections that Defy Analysis

Frank Page, Jimmy Jackson, and Wiley Drake. Do these three men have anything in common? Not that I can identify. Dissenters won the presidential election, but a strong factor in that was the respective CP giving of the three candidates. Were all of those folks trying to purchase a ticket on the Burleson express? Well, from the disposition of all of the other motions at the convention, I really don't think so. The mandate that the people gave was for CP support, not for "broadening the tent."

Headline Three: Cooperative Program Resurgence

We have needed desperately to reemphasize the CP for a long time. Allow me to state clearly and publicly: Any church that gives less than 10% to the CP ought to be ashamed. They ought to give more. We ought to place a priority on winning the world to Christ rather than building our own kingdoms.

The problems with the 10% recommendation as attempted this year are as follows:
  1. The recommendation was self-serving to the recommenders. As I stated on the floor, it is no coincidence that state convention executives drafted a report setting new, more agressive standards for everyone else, but ignoring the 81-year-old standard that actually holds their feet to the fire. Someone said that if the CP is a sacred cow, it sure gives good milk. That is a fitting analogy coming from the group of people the most firmly and forcefully attached to the fattest teat. Hear me again: I affirm the independence of the state conventions to set their budgets as they see fit. What I cannot tolerate is their audacity in placing such bold demands upon the local church while they are shirking their own ancient commitments.
  2. The recommendation violated Baptist polity This is an implication of the first point. What kind of body offers such bold, aggressive ultimatums to the local church while at the same time beating around the bush with regard to the state conventions? Men formed the state conventions; Jesus established the church. The local church is the pinnacle of Baptist life, and if our convention ought to speak with deference to anyone, it ought to be to the local church.
  3. The recommendation ignores the single best method for generating excitement for the Cooperative Program. Lead from the top rather than demanding from the bottom. Let the SBC demonstrate that it is working hard to get as much money as possible to the main tasks and onto the fields of service. I believe that they are—they have to in order to survive on the pittance that the state conventions allow out of their coffers—but they can do more to demonstrate it to us all. Let the state conventions model sacrificial giving to us. They can't find a single argument to justify keeping 70% of their receipts in-state that I can't use just as effectively to justify cutting our CP giving. Let them lead by example. Then let us as local-church pastors rise to the challenge and give sacrificially to the CP. Our example will then serve as a model for the people in our pews.

Reflections on Further Developments…Who's Narrowing Now?

It now appears that Frank Page has mentioned high levels of CP giving as a prerequisite to receiving a nomination to serve on SBC boards or committees under his administration. [see here]

Allow me to point out:

  1. Cooperative Program giving is not stipulated in the BF&M 2000.
  2. The appropriate percentage of Cooperative Program giving does not appear in the Bible.
  3. Therefore, Bro. Page's new rule represents a further narrowing of the basis of participation in the SBC beyond the parameters of the BF&M 2000.
  4. This clearly represents an instance of the manipulation of the nomination process in the Southern Baptist Convention.
  5. Obviously, we need to appoint an ad-hoc committee to investigate President Page's actions.


In Other News

We appear to have elected Wiley Drake as 2nd VP of the SBC...

On the one hand... I'm really proud of the SBC. In what other religious group can a mercurial guy like this from a tiny church rise to such a position of prominence? Truly, this is a great convention.

On the other hand... The only real action that the 2nd VP takes, as far as I know, is to preside over a portion of the annual meeting. God help us. Wiley Drake obviously has never exhibited at the SBC annual meeting the tact, decorum, or seriousness to moderate a business meeting. He's done a great job contributing to the agenda of the business meeting, but agitating is something entirely different from moderating. We're in for a wild ride next year. Let's hope that nothing serious is going to take place during his session next year.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What Happened Today? What Does It Mean?

What Happened Today?

Well...not everything I wanted to happen. You should probably take that into account in evaluating my comments.

All in all, I think that today was a mixed day:
  1. GOOD: We rescued a sensible Cooperative Program motion by defeating an absolutely non-Baptist amendment through which State Convention Executives (some of whom, by the way, will only move toward the 50-50 split over their dead bodies) might have put the SBC on record as saying that everyone EXCEPT State Conventions should give sacrificially at arbitrarily set levels to increase CP throughput.
  2. NOT GOOD: We elected Frank Page as president of the SBC. I wonder whether he has gotten his congratulatory phone call from Russell Dilday yet?
  3. GOOD: Most of the crazy motions made today found their way to someplace where sounder and cooler heads might prevail.
  4. GOOD: We managed to amend a potentially-disastrous recommendation that would have precluded anyone who had ever been employed by any entity (or whose spouse had been employed) from serving as a trustee of that entity.
  5. GOOD: No nominees got torpedoed.


Best Nomination Speech of the Day: By the guy who nominated Wiley Drake for 2nd VP. I can't recall his name, which is a shame. It provided some much needed comic-relief.

Dumbest Move of the Day: Assuming that we didn't actually elect Wiley Drake as 2nd VP (I didn't stay long enough to hear the voting results...can you imagine the chaos of a convention session presided over by Wiley Drake?), the dumbest move of the day was a recommendation from the Executive Committee that basically would have excluded every poor seminarian who scraped through school by getting his wife to work in the business office from EVER IN HIS LIFE being able to serve as a seminary trustee. Come on guys...get with the program. In my opinion, this is like term-limits in secular politics: I sympathize with the general concept, but I absolutely cannot consent to something that takes away the power of the people to select whomever they wish to represent them.

Craftiest Move of the Day: Wade Burleson for supporting the motion to refer his main motion regarding the investigative committee. After the presidential election, he had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Because he chose not to fight this fight, he can declare victory and move on, seeing what happens in the intervening year.

Worst Report of the Day: The Executive Committee. Ummm...Excuse me...but we already have people in charge of the music for the convention. Is it really necessary for you to take an HOUR for your report just so you can trapse out people for THREE SONGS that have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with your actual reporting? It just got so tedious.

Best Report of the Day: Southwestern Seminary. I know I'm biased, but really, the Q&A format posed serious, substantive questions and kept things INTERESTING. Dr. Patterson was content to say very little, let others address topics that struck to the heart of what SWBTS does, and then bring things to an end.

What Does It All Mean?

Particularly, the tragedy of the presidential election? I think that really remains to be seen. I will, however, make certain predictions:
  1. Page's election will energize SBC moderates. Since next year's meeting is in San Antonio, the extreme-left-wing Baptist General Convention of Texas will mobilize and attempt to sway the convention leftward. The only way this will not happen is if Page quickly and decisively makes it clear that he is at war with liberalism. Anybody see that happening?
  2. Next year's crop of nominations will almost entirely consist of moderates. Page will claim that all of his nominees are biblical inerrantists. Indeed, some may be, but they will be biblical inerrantists with no backbone—those who have no problem with folks who are not biblical inerrantists teaching in seminaries or serving as SBC missionaries.
  3. Page's coalition will eventually vaporize. After all, it involves everyone from the liberals to the Founders folks. They have NOTHING in common other than DISSATISFACTION. That, my friends, may be a basis for winning, but not for governing afterwards. They'll soon see their differences clearly, and Frank Page will have to choose sides. That won't be pretty.
  4. Page's election will also energize SBC conservatives. We were not organized well this year. Next year will be different.
  5. And thus, the SBC will plunge into yet another denominational struggle. This will distract us from everything we really ought to be doing. In return, the convention will emerge absolutely no better, and perhaps far worse, than it is today. Congratulations, folks! I hope you're proud of yourselves.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Keeping Score

I attended 2.5 breakout sessions today at the SBC Pastors' Conference. Here's my take on things.

The Great Debate

  1. Kudos to Dr. Mohler. He apparently had emergency eye surgery yesterday, but showed up anyway. Nothing like a player who plays hurt.
  2. In my opinion, Dr. Patterson won the debate hands-down. Dr. Mohler's physical incapacity no doubt affected the large gap in the horserace. But setting aside delivery, Dr. Patterson consistently spoke from the biblical text, but Dr. Mohler spoke more from logic and philosophy. Of course, this is more a reflection of the systems being defended than of the men themselves.
  3. I applaud the way that both men corrected the abusive misrepresentations of Calvinists and non-Calvinists by their respective opponents. Both gave considerable attention to the common beliefs of both camps before moving on to distinctives of their own systems.
  4. These men are friends, and it showed. But their friendship did not prevent them from dealing substantively with the issues. In my opinion, the most valuable thing contributed by this exercise was a model for people in our convention of how to disagree with one another.
  5. Finally, I don't know how anyone could walk away from the event without being proud that both of these men are Southern Baptists.


The Great Dever
Next I went to the breakout session on Church Discipline. Dr. Mark Dever and Mr. Art Something-Or-Other presided. Dever's part was brilliant, sticking to basic principles of church discipline that are plainly biblical and applicable to any Baptist church. I agree with Dr. Dever on many things. I disagree with him on a few. He did not take this as an opportunity to expound upon anything other than the topic at hand. I left with an increased respect for him.

The other guy gave us as much multi-campus and elder-led stuff as he did church discipline stuff. I wasn't impressed. I'm sure he's a great guy. To tell you the truth, I'm wondering how you have congregational church discipline once you've abandoned local-church autonomy. Do the folks at campus one try to discipline folks at campus two with whom they have absolutely zero koinonia?

The Great Disappointment
No, I'm not talking about another breakout session. I had to skip the third breakout session to drive halfway across town and liberate Jim from childcare. That's because childcare ended at 11:45 although the sessions didn't end until 12:30. Everything here is spread out hither-and-yon and running on different schedules. In my opinion, the Pastors' Conference is a shambles. Allow me to inject adequate humility by stipulating that I could never pull the thing together. But the scheduling an locations are just making life really difficult.

Furthermore, although I enjoyed 1.7 of the breakout sessions I attended, I miss what has really been distinctive and great about the Pastors' Conference: great Baptist preaching. Mind you, I don't steal it. I just stink at preaching other people's stuff and I never do it. But it always encourages and inspires me to hear great preaching. This year we have a whole lot less preaching, and what we have frankly ain't that great.

This is strictly point-of-view stuff, but then that's what a blog essentially is, right?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Guess Where I Went to Church Today


This morning I awoke in Greensboro, NC. Together with my in-laws, there are nine of us here. Under tremendous pressure from me, the whole group assembled and drove thirty miles out into the country to attend Sandy Creek Baptist Church. That's right...THE Sandy Creek Baptist Church. In 1755 a guy named Shubal Stearns planted the Sandy Creek Baptist Church, the mother church of the Separate Baptist movement. Much of who we as Southern Baptists are...well, it arises from the banks of that little ditch.

So we strolled in and discovered that we had arrived on business meeting Sunday. Today was the day of their big vote on plans for a new building. It seems that SCBC can no longer hold all of its attendees. The church's steady growth over the past few years has paved the way for a new facility. The church voted 85%-15% to go forward. Sandy Creek Baptist Church not only has a past; it has a future.

I think I know why. The pastor was obviously elated over the vote, but he spent more time extending genuine pastoral care and counsel to the 15% than anything else. This pastor gave genuine pastoral leadership, yet did so without abandoning or demonizing those who might have a difference of opinion. The Sunday School lesson and the sermon were sound, biblical, solid fare upon which Christians can grow. The pastor is a stable influence, a compassionate man without being mercurial or flashy, and a man committed to truth and exposition. The people were very friendly, genuinely welcoming to our presence and familial toward one another. The facility buzzed with excitement today—obviously somewhat about the vote, but more about the church. They know where they are going and they are thrilled about it.

The foundation at Sandy Creek Baptist Church is not some faddish human philosophy from Willow Creek or Saddleback. These people have been around too long to jump onto every bandwagon that rolls by. It is really quite simple: They've been around as a church long enough to know that God is their foundaiton and can get them through anything. They're strikingly unaware of their historical prominence. In their minds, they are simply a country Baptist church that God has kept around for a long time. There are no big egos at SCBC.

Sandy Creek Baptist Church is success, as far as Southern Baptists go. Our convention rises and falls as churches like this rise and fall. We never have been, are not today, and never will be a convention of megachurches. The fact of the matter is this: Being Baptist doesn't work all that well with being a megachurch. You can do it, but it presents all kinds of special challenges to your Baptistness. Even today, the majority of our churches are small. Most Southern Baptists attend a small, simple church. You wouldn't know it from the program of the SBC Annual Meeting. That's fine with me...the program ought to feature people who have distinguished themselves. But it does worry me that the emphasis upon megachurches may cause us to lose sight of what we really are: a convention of small churches. The pastor at SCBC may have a lot more to teach us about Southern Baptist Success than Ronnie Floyd, Frank Page, or even my candidate.

Tonight I have the option of going down to the Greensboro Colliseum to listen to Saddleback Rick. I think I'm going to drive back into the country instead.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Will the Antichrist Be a Landmark Baptist?

Instead of sinking VBS-week time into an SBC candidacy post, I'm going to write about something I care about: Baptist ecclesiology. Recent Southern Baptist discussions have thrust into the limelight the old debates about Landmarkism. And I'm not complaining. 2006 has been a great year for Baptist Historians—thanks to The DaVinci Code everyone wants to hear from us about Patristic Christianity, and now SBC controversies are giving us a chance to talk about Landmarkism. Two years ago everyone would have yawned and politely walked away from an opportunity to discuss these subjects. It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. Nevertheless, I think that recent talk about Landmarkism has displayed the immaturity of our scholarship in this area. Now is probably the time to mention that I am not a Landmark Baptist, but neither do I believe that Landmark Baptists all have 666 tatooed under their hairline somewhere. First, a few historical facts: Landmarkism emerged in the 1850s. The movement gained steam throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century. Although it retained some influence among Southern Baptists up through today, the prevalence and strength of Landmarkism declined sharply within the Southern Baptist Convention as the twentieth century unfolded. I think that virtually every informed historian would agree to these facts. Now, to the disputed stuff. Does anybody know what Landmarkism is? Practically every significant scholarly work has defined Landmarkism differently. We all agree about a core notion of Landmarkism, but from there different researchers are all over the map in trying to pin down what Landmarkism actually was. Yet people throw the term around in blogs today as though we all certainly know what Landmarkism is. For a good review of the issues, see the Wikipedia article on Landmarkism to which I contributed some content. Has Landmarkism become a debate tool with which to bludgeon people? Because the historical theory attached to Landmarkism is so demonstrably false, and because the core notion of Landmarkism (that only Baptist churches are really churches) is so contrary to the spirit of our age, Landmarkism has become something of a slur in Southern Baptist life. So, for example, James Tull and others have labored hard to blame Landmarkism for everything from the SBC's doggoned insistence upon planting churches outside our territory, to the SBC's refusal to join the World Council of Churches, to the inerrancy movement. Landmarkism is easy to knock down, so if you can tie anything else to Landmarkism, maybe you can knock it down, too. Clearly, some of this is going on in the blogosphere these days. Does Landmarkism have ANYTHING to teach us??? In my opinion, Southern Baptists have replaced Landmark ecclesiology with no ecclesiology at all. I would prefer a better Baptist ecclesiology to Landmark ecclesiology, but I would prefer a Landmark ecclesiology to a vacant ecclesiology. Does church membership mean anything? Is there still such a thing as local church autonomy in this day of multi-site Baptist bishops? Is congregationalism biblical? Why didn't our fathers teach us about these things? Because Baptists have dropped ecclesiology out of our lexicons. I see some hopeful signs of a renewed interest in such things. If we are going to think about ecclesiology, we simply must listen seriously to a system of thought that completely dominated Southern Baptist thinking for the better part of a century. We don't have to swallow everything it says, but we'd better at least make sure that we understand it. Is Landmarkism really totally at odds with "historic Baptist ecclesiology?" James Tull thought so, but then James Tull had an axe to grind (yeah....I know...as do we all). He tended to swap definitions of Landmarkism to suit the task at hand. 1851 is not the first occasion in history when Baptists thought that they populated the only New Testament church. John Smythe referred to his Baptist church's closest cousins in "Antichrist" sort of language. Clearly, many early Baptists regarded the Church of England and most of its derivatives as apostate churches. Landmarkism is distinct because it rejected the validity even of immersing churches, but Baptist exclusivism is indeed a substantial and ancient part of Baptist history. Debates over the extent of communion are much older than Landmarkism. Debates over Baptist organization beyond the local church are much older than Landmarkism. J. R. Graves did contribute some important innovations, but Landmarkism also clearly picks up some threads of Baptist thought that reach back to the very earliest days of our movement. Is Landmarkism opposed to missionary cooperation? Lots of people have claimed that the Hayden and Bogard schisms were the result of run-amuck Landmarkism trying to tear down the missionary structure of the SBC. Ergo, Landmarkism is inherently anti-missionary. Nope. Actually, in both Texas and Arkansas the major leaders on both sides of the issues were ALL DIED-IN-THE-WOOL LANDMARKERS. I have the goods. I can document this for you ad nauseum. Landmarkism is no more the cause of dissent for the dissenters than it was the cause of support for the supporters of the SBC missionary structure. Actually, the structure of the so-called "Landmark Baptist Denominations" for sending out missionaries is not so radically different from that of the SBC. Apparently, they're not so very anti-missions as some people like to suggest. If you went to seminary, I know that you were taught something very different from what I just wrote. Before you write off my words, just remember that our separation from the self-titled Landmark Baptist denominations is not that old, as history goes. Your teachers were, at most, one generation away from the actual battles. Some of the wounds were still fresh. Is it possible that not enough time had passed for our analysis of Landmarkism to mature? A crop of new dissertations is coming out in this decade, giving us a fresh look at Landmarkism. I think we've still got a lot to learn about the subject. In the meanwhile, maybe we ought to tone down the recriminations against alleged resurgent Landmarkism in the SBC. Maybe it is enough to say, "That guy believes this, but I disagree," without lobbing around inflammatory labels. The more we use terms like Landmarkism this way, the harder it is to rescue them to hold some authentic meaning.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Counterintuitive Worship

Tonight we ordained deacons. Can you think of anything less user friendly? Nobody in creative arts would ever invent anything like this. If I were trying to come up with an idea for a worship service, this would be the very last thing I would create. For some significant portion of the service, people were sitting on their hands watching the backside of other people leaning over to whisper and pray with yet more other people. Yet at the end, people were crying. These simple, biblical things—dunking people in water, eating a meal together, touching someone to consecrate him and pray blessing over his ministry—they are counterintuitive, but they move people. It doesn't surprise me that every now and again somebody comes along who thinks he knows better and says, “This just won't do. We've got to soup this up and make it more exciting.” So, they build a fire-engine baptistry with confetti cannons. They just don't understand that Christian worship is about mystery. I'm not talking about mystery as a mood or setting—the solemnity that some people seem to mean when they say “reverence”. When I say that worship is about mystery, I mean that worship is all about the Holy Spirit, whom we have not figured out. We can't conjure Him up like Aladdin from the lamp. If the Holy Spirit chooses to show up during some ancient, biblical rite that looks nothing like entertainment, then even that kind of worship service becomes compelling. Tonight He showed up. I'm always grateful when He does.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

What Kind of Housecleaning Does the SBC Need?

As I sat in the assembly at the SBC Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO, I was surprised at how conspicuously some of the platform personalities were wearing on their sleeves their disappointment that the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC had not eventuated a dramatic upsurge in baptisms and a Convention-wide revival. After all, one of the promises offered occasionally during the lengthy and difficult denominational campaign was that commitment to theological orthodoxy would usher in a new spiritual awakening. Of course, Americans expect results to come within no longer than 4 to 6 weeks after the effort begins, so by now we're beside ourselves as we watch our evangelistic effectiveness decline, not increase. What are we to do? Fast-forward to a later encounter, and you'll get my opinion on the matter. Sitting on a panel with Jerry Sutton at the Center for Theological Research, I offered, "Dr. Sutton, I really liked your book, but I think it has a bad title." Sutton's book, The Baptist Reformation, offered an inside history of the Conservative Resurgence. In Sutton's defense, the publisher chose the title. I told him, "Especially in Baptist life, when you've shuffled around the denominational entities, you haven't brought about a reformation. It is only legitimately a reformation, in my opinion, when you've dealt with the local church." Southern Baptist Churches are in desperate need of reform. The nature of the reform we need is ecclesiological. In this age of nondenominationalism, what we really need is to rediscover our Baptistness. I doubt that the early Baptists would consider as many as 10% of Southern Baptist churches to be genuinely Baptist. The central concept of the Baptist movement was the creation of local churches that were, to the best of the church's ability to secure it, comprised only of people who actually claimed and appeared to be Christians. Today we count on half of the membership of a Southern Baptist church to be missing in action. We have abandoned church discipline. We have abandoned the meaning of membership. We have abandoned our Baptistness. So, this is the A#1 reason that I'm opposed to the new dissent in the SBC. It works its way out in two aspects. First, I think that the convention agencies are in good enough shape. They aren't perfect, but neither will they be when Burleson & Co. get finished with them. And we'll have expended more effort and energy trying to fuel round 2 of convention reform. Round 1 was necessary. This round is not. Instead we ought to be moving past the convention level and focusing our attention upon local church reform. Second, the folks behind this round of proposed reform are, as best as I can tell, gung ho for moving further away (if that is at all possible) from our Baptistness and becoming more broadly evangelical. Half are enamored with Presbyterianism. Half are caught up in neo-pentecostalism. Half (I don't have any degrees in mathematics) have merely drunk deeply at the well of doctrine-shunning pragmatism that describes modern evangelicalism. Nobody is more "reformed" than Baptists. The Baptist experiment is the pinnacle of reform. We need more of it. Let the real Baptist Reformation begin!

Friday, June 2, 2006

If I Were King of the SBC…

Well, we'd all be in a lot of trouble, but here's what I would do:

  1. I would make distance-participation in the SBC annual meeting possible, so that it doesn't require a bucket of cash to participate in convention decisions.
  2. I would give more money to the seminaries and require them to bring professors' salaries up to a point where our seminary professors were not making less than virtually every other seminary professor in ATS and virtually every Baptist minister in the convention.
  3. I would inaugurate a repeating evaluation to take place every ten years to strip out all of the "extras" that we tend to add to our plate and retain our focus upon missions, theological education, and some limited role for the ERLC. Simpler is better. More focused is better.
  4. Finally, I would wonder why on earth a 36-year-old is in charge of the SBC when so many capable, older men are out there? At some point we've really got to distance ourselves from this youth-oriented culture that is so clearly contrary to what the Bible teaches. I've known more people than I can count who want to plant a new church for 20s or 30s, but I've never met anyone saying, "God has called me to plant a church for retirees in rural Texas." Hmm. I guess God doesn't like old, poor people.
I offer all of this as my final response to the Memphis Declaration, because it is probably incumbent upon me, having critiqued their work, to offer some positive contribution myself.

Southern Baptist Messengers Asleep at the Wheel?

Memphis Declaration

We publicly repent of our inattentiveness to convention governance by not seeking to hold trustees accountable to the body which elects them to preserve our sacred trust and direct our entities with the guidance, counsel, and correction necessary to maintain the integrity of those entities.

The Memphis Declaration alleges that Southern Baptists are not holding trustees accountable. This has been a recurring problem in Southern Baptist life. Historically, Southern Baptists are a people with a pretty severe case of corporate Attention Deficit Disorder. We have so many agencies doing so many things at so many levels that it is difficult to keep up with what they all are doing. Think about it: I'm the pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, TX. Rewind a few years to when our state convention affiliation was with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. I was supposed to keep up with the actions of the trustees/executive committees of:
  1. The Baptist General Convention of Texas
  2. Buckner Baptist Benevolences
  3. South Texas Children's Home
  4. Baylor University
  5. Hardin-Simmons Baptist University
  6. Howard Payne Baptist University
  7. Dallas Baptist University
  8. The University of Mary Hardin Baylor
  9. East Texas Baptist University
  10. Houston Baptist University
  11. Wayland Baptist University
  12. The Texas Christian Life Commission
  13. Collin Baptist Association
  14. The Southern Baptist Convention
  15. The International Mission Board
  16. The North American Mission Board
  17. Lifeway
  18. Guidestone
  19. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
  20. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
  21. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
  22. Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary
  23. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
  24. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
  25. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
  26. The Baptist World Alliance
  27. And this, my friends, is not a complete list!
Since we have joined the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, that list has slimmed down considerably at the state level, and for that I am thankful. Nevertheless, it remains a daunting challenge. I, for one, think the trustee system is great for the very reason that I cannot and will not commit to keeping up with everything that is happening at that gargantuan list of institutions. I will rely upon the denominational press to keep me up to date on major happenings, and if I have some personal displeasure, I will vent it at the various annual meetings. On rare occasions, I have written letters calling for some action or another to institutional trustees. I think that is fine to for extraordinary circumstances. Here's the difference between me and the text of the Declaration: I really don't see that this system is broken. I submit to you that the trustees of the various entities of the Southern Baptist Convention have done precisely what the majority of the messengers actually present and voting at the annual meetings have instructed them to do. Maybe they've overstepped their bounds in a very few, very recent actions, but we really won't know until Greensboro, will we? If they have, the present system will work fine, and the grievance will be redressed. Since 1979, I really don't think that anybody has been asleep at the wheel. Maybe trustees have had occasions when they really didn't know what to do. If so, maybe we ought to covenant to pray for them rather than to threaten them.

Southern Baptist Uniformity Rather Than Unity?

Memphis Declaration

We publicly repent of having disrespected the sovereign grace of our Lord Jesus Christ by falsely presuming that our strength as a people of God is found in uniformity rather than unity within the parameters of Scriptural authority.

The Memphis Declaration alleges that Southern Baptists have required uniformity. Are we united or are we uniform? I contend that the Southern Baptist Convention has come nowhere close to trying to achieve absolute uniformity. There is today, as there has always been, bewildering diversity in the Southern Baptist Convention: people who think Jesus didn't die for everybody, people who won't read anything but the KJV, people who won't sing anything but a Fanny Crosby hymn, people who won't sing anything but a Charles Wesley anthem, people who won't sing anything but a Maranatha praise chorus, people who won't sing anything at all, people who wear suits, people who wear leisure clothes, people who still wear leisure suits...I could go on, but I won't. OK...OK...I will go on one further: We even still have a pretty large number of liberals still in the SBC whom the masses do not trust as leaders or teachers, but whom we still admit as brothers and sisters. We're pretty doggone diverse. On the other hand, although we have not achieved absolute uniformity, we have accomplished some level of uniformity. EVERY organization enforces some level of uniformity. Without focus, you have no organization. There is such a thing as "strength in diversity" (e.g., Carey translates; Ward prints; Marshman preaches) but diversity certainly does not guarrantee strength. Diversity has a much greater history of tearing organizations apart than of empowering them to achieve great things. So, the question is not this contrived, intellectually vacant choice between "unity" and "uniformity" (which really just amounts to a propaganda soundbyte), but rather "how much uniformity do we really need in order to be unified." To that question, a lot of people will supply different answers. Personally, I'll be glad to abide by the way that thousands of messengers define it at our annual meetings.

Southern Baptists Losing Their Local-Church Emphasis?

Memphis Declaration

We publicly repent of having misplaced our priorities on the building and sustaining of institutions of secondary and far inferior importance than the local church.

The Memphis Declaration alleges that Southern Baptists have Demoted the Local Church. I completely agree. I think that we ought to support the institutions, and I propose strengthening, not weakening our financial and spiritual support of our seminaries and boards, but I think we are in serious danger of losing the Baptist Distinctive of local-church autonomy.
  • We have come to view the SBC too much as a denomination in the line of other denominations of churches that do not share our view of local-church autonomy. Thus, for example, if the convention doesn't enter church-planting partnerships with non-Southern-Baptists, then Southern Baptists are aloof. If the convention doesn't tell Southern Baptists to stay away from Disney World, then Southern Baptists have their head in the sand. I won't say that any of these things are bad. I merely object to the notion that "what Southern Baptists do" is exclusively or even primarily about what the convention does. I think it has more to do with what Southern Baptist churches do.
  • We've got this multi-site hogwash at work in our churches, which amounts to nothing more than pseudo-Methodist/Anglican/Catholic bishops presiding over multiple local congregations.
  • Thankfully, we're moving away from the most insidious form of tyranny over the local church—liberal professors and bureaucrats who demand financial support from the local churches while holding in disdain the theology of the local churches.
I can't repent of this one, because I've never been guilty. But I'll gladly applaud from the sidelines.

Southern Baptists Blind to Convention Wickedness?

Memphis Declaration

We publicly repent of having turned a blind eye to wickedness in our convention, especially when that evil has taken the form of slanderous, unsubstantiated accusations and malicious character assassination against our Christian brothers.

The Memphis Declaration alleges that Southern Baptists have turned a blind eye to intradenominational wickedness. This one is just too vague to comment upon without drawing upon specifics that appear outside the document. In Wade Burleson's personalization of this point, he confesses to "not believing that maliciousness...ever occurred in the SBC." And here I was thinking that he believed in Total Depravity! :-) In my experience, Bro. Burleson is in a pretty slim minority. Frankly, I think a great majority of Southern Baptists are as cynical of their convention leadership as they are of their secular government. Here I am defending the SBC against this attack, but I've got to admit that I'm a little suspicious of many in SBC leadership. The level of naivete that Burleson describes, "not believing that maliciousness...ever occured in the SBC," just is not nearly prevelent enough to be an item on a reform agenda that addresses the entire convention. Most of us believe that we are all sinners, and even those of us who are conservatives, if my circle of conversation is any indicator at all, clearly acknowledge that conservatives in the SBC are human beings whose fallenness actually shows up in what they say and do. Unfortunately for Bro. Burleson, the same open-eyed realism prevents me from naively hanging on every word that drops from his lips. Here's a guy making a serious bid for power within the SBC. There's simply no denying it. And he's doing it by making serious and derogatory accusations against other people. The entire "Memphis Declaration" is an accusation. Why is their accusation holy, while those of their elders (whom I thought the Bible taught us to respect) are "sladerous, unsubstantiated,... and malicious"? In fact, my "potential inquisitorial dictator" flag really starts to go up when I read allegations that the Memphis 30 have the Holy Spirit, the rest of us don't, and therefore nobody better have different ideas than these people because THEY SPEAK FOR GOD! (click the link above and read it for yourself). So, I'll concede that every last individual Southern Baptist has the need to repent for maligning somebody somewhere in their speech. But does that justify the "cure" proposed in the Memphis Declaration? "Therefore, we commit ourselves to confront lovingly any person in our denomination, regardless of the office or title that person holds, who disparages the name of our Lord by appropriating venomous epithets against our brothers and sisters in Christ, and thus divides our fellowship by careless and unchaste speech." Perhaps someone can interpret this for me, but this looks to me like a declaration that nobody can describe shortcomings in anybody. Have we focused so much on avoiding division that we've lost sight of 1 Corinthians 11:19 ("For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.")? The Southern Baptist Convention is simply untenable if people lose the freedom to approve and disapprove of theological and methodological options that are presented to them. Disapproval doesn't have to mean that a person is drummed out of the convention, but it must mean that Southern Baptists have the right not to listen to them. Here's a trivia question for you: In this supposed Draconian tyranny that this alleged cabal has thrust upon the SBC, how many churches have been kicked out of the SBC for being "liberal"? "Ah...," you say, "...not kicked out, but denied a seat at the table, so they had to leave!" Well, I grew up in Bethabara Baptist Church in rural Northeast Arkansas. Bethabara has been a part of the Southern Baptist Convention since at least the mid-1800s (the church's origins are shrouded in lost history). To my knowledge, Bethabara has never had a trustee, a member of a board, an agency head, or an elected SBC officer come from her midst. These things simply are not privileges of membership in the SBC. These things you must earn by garnering a special confidence from rank-and-file Southern Baptists. Unfortunately, some big-city or university churches have come to believe that these things are their birthrights. The Conservative Resurgence proved that they are not. And as soon as current leadership steps away from what grassroots Southern Baptists believe, they will learn that it is not their birthright, either. Perhaps they already have. We'll find out in Greensboro. But I think the Memphis Declaration is a far worse barometer of Southern Baptist messengers than, for example, the BF&M. To say that someone is too liberal to preside over a seminary, draw an SBC paycheck, or serve on a board of trustees may hurt their feelings. Nevertheless, it is not the same thing as saying that they are too liberal to be my friend, to be a Christian, to share the gospel, to be a good missionary when paid by people who really want to spread the ideas that they are teaching, etc. To say that they are too liberal for me to vote for them or write them a check is not to deny them any fundamental right of Christian or Southern Baptist brotherhood. If the Memphis 30 plan to confront everyone who seeks to make a judgment like that, then they are unrealistic and wrongheaded. Since they themselves are hard at work making the same sort of judgments, I don't think that's what they really mean. Instead, I suspect that they mean that everyone making judgments different from theirs have to stop making judgments. Indeed, it does matter whose ox is gored.