Monday, April 30, 2007

Conference on the Holy Spirit: Tongues Are Probably the Only Issue

Alan Cross has posted his reflections upon the recent Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit (see here). In his post, Alan expressed some surprise at the different ways that conference speakers interpreted the assignment:

Dr. Sam Storms and I were asked to defend the Continualist position. Bart Barber and Robin Foster were asked to defend the Cessationist position. Unless they got more detailed instructions that we got, the results were very interesting. Without collusion, Dr. Storms and I both defended the idea that all of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are for today, including speaking in tongues. We each talked about tongues, but they were minor parts of our presentations, as they should be. Bart and Robin both focused on tongues almost exclusively. Again, they might have had more detailed instructions, but I wonder if they did that because the main issue for many cessationists or semi-cessationists is tongues? To me, tongues are not the big deal - they are just one of many gifts. For others, including the trustees of the IMB, it seems to be THE issue. That was educational.
I am encouraged to see Alan post these words. Yes, tongues is the issue. Why? Because we are not really in disagreement anywhere else. Dr. Storms's handout 12 Bad Reasons for Being a Cessationist includes the following:
An eighth bad reason for being a Cessationist is the argument that since we typically don't see today miracles or gifts equal in quality/intensity to those in the ministries of Jesus and the Apostles, God doesn't intend for any miraculous gifts of a lesser quality/intensity to operate in the church among ordinary Christians.
Additionally, as a clarifying comment, Dr. Storms noted that he believed that even cessationists believed in the continuation of the sign gifts, but just refused to give them those names. Dr. Storms noted, for example, the way that Christians will observe the leadership of God giving them just the right words to say in prayer or in counsel to another person, identifying that with the "word of knowledge" gift (if I recall correctly). Frankly, if Dr. Storms, Alan, and their tribe are willing to make that concession, then we are not in disagreement. This distinction I think clears up a lot of our prior confusion, particularly (as Robin Foster has noted here) the way that people falsely allege that folks like Robin and myself deny the continued miraculous activity of God. Of course, we do no such thing. Rather, I suppose that we just have a higher threshold at which we begin to refer to something as a miraculous spiritual gift. Consider, for example, healing miracles. I see three categories in the New Testament.
  1. There is the kind of healing that pertains only to individuals in the churches possessing "gifts of healings" (1 Cor 12:28-30). The text explicitly notes that not everyone possesses this gift.
  2. There is another kind of healing that pertains to particular Christians by office, particularly to the elders (James 5:14-15). This kind of healing seems perhaps to be tied specifically to sickness that is chastisement for sins committed.
  3. A third kind of healing pertains to all believers (James 5:16-20). This is the same context as the second category, and likewise appears to deal with sin-precipitated sickness.
I have noted in the past particularly what Dr. Storms may be conceding in this point—that nobody is instantaneously healing the blind or restoring paralytics today. Nevertheless, I have seen miraculous gradual healing in my own family in response to "the effective prayer of a righteous man." I don't know anyone arguing against the continuation of this kind of healing. Therefore, if Alan and Dr. Storms are not arguing for the continuation of New Testament era Eutychus-raised-from-the-dead grade miracles, but are merely arguing that God still heals people, then not only am I in agreement with them, but also I know no Christian who disagrees with them. We might differ among ourselves as to whether such activity rises to the level to deserve categorization as the gift of healing, but isn't that perhaps a distinction without a difference? So, if I understand Dr. Storms correctly, then tongues is indeed the only area in which we differ. In that category, our differences are not only with regard to quality/intensity, but also with regard to nature. Is the primary nature of the gift of tongues xenoglossy (the miraculous speaking of human languages foreign to the speaker) or ecstatic utterance? I was glad to hear Dr. Storms assert that the biblical gift of tongues is linguistic. What I would be interested to read is analysis from a linguist to counter the classic analysis of William. J. Samarin, confirmed several times over by other experiments, concluding that modern so-called speaking in tongues is entirely non-linguistic. Dr. Storms and I agree that the biblical gift of tongues, whether it consist of tongues of men or of angels, must be linguistic. Careful analysis has determined that the modern practice is not linguistic. Thus, it is not the biblical gift of tongues.

My Convention Service Debut

One of two things has happened: Either Dr. Frank Page has selected me to serve on this year's SBC Committee on Committees, or I have a long-lost brother named "Bert" whom I have somehow failed to meet in spite of attending the same church together! (find my misspelled name here) Bro. Benjamin S. Cole, known far and wide for his reluctance to put people on the spot, quizzed me about (among other things) whether I would make cessationism a "litmus test" for the exercise of my duties on the committee. I do have a litmus test, but cessationism is not it. I would be opposed to the deliberate stacking of convention entities with non-cessationists—our institutions ought not to depart from the beliefs of her people—but I do not find, for example, the situation on the SWBTS board (a tongues-speaking voice vastly overwhelmed by non-tongues-speaking voices) an unhealthy one. I am a supporter of the Conservative Resurgence. I favor the same litmus test that defines the Conservative Resurgence. Anecdotally, I have heard that a member of the SBC Executive Committee, when someone mentioned the Conservative Resurgence, replied with a bewildered look, "What's that?" I credit this person with the profound intelligence to know what he does not know. I periodically read things that make me wonder about whether a lot of people fail to grasp the nature of the Conservative Resurgence. The Southern Baptist people did not become more conservative during the Conservative Resurgence. I submit to you that the people of the Southern Baptist Convention have been conservative all along. The story of the SBC since Reconstruction has been one of periodic conflict between the consistently conservative Southern Baptist people and the increasingly non-conservative Southern Baptist employee pool. Yes, the SBC has had some liberal churches and some liberal members all along, but they have been a fringe element. The Toy controversy, the Evolution controversy (occurring around the time of the 1925 BF&M), the Elliott controversy, the Broadman Commentary controversy, and the Conservative Resurgence reveal a century-long pattern of aggressively-lefward-leaning denominational bureaucrats and educators being reigned in by a conservative Southern Baptist rank-and-file. Here's what happened in the Conservative Resurgence: the architects of the Resurgence asserted (successfully, as it turned out) a new standard for denominational leadership: No longer was it sufficient to be conservative personally; the people of the SBC required of their leadership that they be willing to fire other people who were not conservative. Thus, to say, "I support the Conservative Resurgence," is the equivalent of saying, "I think any non-conservative working for the SBC ought to work elsewhere for an institution that agrees with them, and I'm willing to fire them if necessary to make that happen." That is the heart of the Conservative Resurgence. I will concede that it is a harsh solution. Being fairly soft-hearted myself, I could not support it but for the fact that every other alternative was explored for a century, yet unsuccessfully. Diplomacy failed. It amounted to modernist SBC elites suffering through the occasional obligatory exercise of issuing empty "there, there"s in attempts to placate the conservative SBC plebians (in their view) while all continued as before. Another way to view the Conservative Resurgence litmus test is that Southern Baptists began to place into leadership only people who would not suffer such foolishness. As a genuine supporter of the Conservative Resurgence, I affirm the same litmus test.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Conference on the Holy Spirit

I expect to post ruminations about the Conference on the Holy Spirit in a week or so. Regretably, I missed a good bit of the conference. I hope to see video and catch up with everyone else before commenting in detail. I greatly enjoyed getting to meet everyone, although I feel sharply the regret of having virtually no time to devote to the informal interaction of the presenters. I met for the first time (corporeally) Alan Cross, Wade Burleson, Debbie Kaufmann, Bob Cleveland, Sam Storms, Boyd Luter, Jack Maddox, and a whole host of others. Robin Foster and I renewed a long dormant relationship. Ben Cole and Dwight McKissic I had met once, and the continued interaction was delightful. As to my presentation, I will let others evaluate it. I always walk away wishing I had done better. After hearing the registration numbers, I was surprised at how few people were there. Word must have gotten out that I was presenting. I'll let Robin Foster tell about what happened to him last night. I missed it, and that is one huge regret of mine! :-) At the conclusion of this experience, I walk away profoundly aware of how undeniably and unchangeably white, stodgy, and Baptist I am (none of those adjectives is meant as synonymous with any of the others). Enough froth…I'll give some substance later.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

One Motion I Will Make in San Antonio

OK...so I've never been very good at honoring a hiatus. :-) At San Antonio I will offer the following motion:

I move that the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, elected in our 2007 annual meeting, appoint a committee consisting of the Council of Seminary Presidents, four seminary professors, and three members in good standing of cooperating Southern Baptist churches who are not denominational employees, to research and bring recommendations to the 2008 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention regarding how the Southern Baptist Convention can best enable our seminaries to raise professorial salaries to the median values of the latest salary survey published by the Association of Theological Schools.
By the way, I did have a white paper published yesterday (see here).

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Hiatus

Until the Conference on the Holy Spirit is over, I will not be blogging. By the way, I got a very nice and helpful letter from Benjamin Cole spelling out some of the details of the panel discussion. Thank you, Ben.

Be Faithful unto Death, and I Will Give You the Crown of Life

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
The words quoted above come from Jesus' message to the church in Smyrna. Today in Smyrna, funeral services memorialize the death of Necati Aydin, a man one year younger (36) than I am. Aydin was born in Smyrna a Moslem. In his young adulthood he was born again to Christ. He worked at Zirve Publishing in Turkey distributing materials developed to present the gospel to Moslems—to share with others the same chance for spiritual freedom that he had received. Wednesday five young Moslem men burst into Zirve Publishing, accosted Aydin and two colleagues, bound them hand and foot to chairs, inflicted multiple stab wounds upon their bodies, and then slit their throats. All three died. Like me, God has blessed Aydin with a wife (Semse) and a preschool son and daughter. Today in Smyrna, they mourn the loss of a husband and father, and they look to God to learn what is next for their family. Today I'm praying for the Aydin family. And I'm praying for myself, too—that I would be the kind of man who would sacrifice family, future, and life itself for the cause of Christ. I do not know who delivered the message today, but Necati Aydin has preached his own funeral in the way that he was faithful unto death. I hope they mentioned Revelation 2:10 in the service. See more about the story here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Proposed Solution to the Sexual Predator Problem

I won't even start to link to all the blogs that have tried to crack this nut. I have greatly enjoyed participating in the discussion at several sites. In general, I believe that it is impossible for the SBC to do anything about this problem that both (a) enjoys any chance of making a substantive positive difference, and (b) does not violate Southern Baptist polity. But how about this? Why not pass secular federal legislation requiring every institution (schools, churches, day cares, Chuck E. Cheese) that interacts with children to perform a thorough criminal background check on every employee? I could not support legislation in which the government dared to tell a church whom it could hire or couldn't hire (violation of the First Amendment), but if the government required every church to run the check, then no church could hide behind the excuse that it didn't know it was hiring a convicted sexual offender. Churches that knowingly hired sexual predators would quickly be out of business, I imagine. Finally, let me mention—at great personal risk of being accused of being soft on sexual predators—another reason I could not support federal legislation preventing churches from hiring convicted sexual offenders. Currently in Texas, if I understand the law correctly, there is no legal distinction made between the following two situations, as far as "sexual offender" status goes:

  1. An eighteen-year-old boy falls in love with a sixteen-year-old girl, has sex with her, her parents find out and hit the roof, they call the police, and the boy is charged with and convicted of statutory rape.
  2. A thirty-five-year-old man molests his seven-year-old nephew.
The latter should not serve in a church, but should federal law prevent the former from doing so? I am much more confident in churches making this decision (although many of them admittedly will do very dumb things) than I am with the federal government making this decision (who will do more and dumber things).

Gonzales v. Carhart

The Congress of the United States (no, not this Congress currently seated, but a prior incarnation) has written a law to condemn partial-birth abortion, the President of the United States has signed it into law, and now, as of yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed the law as Constitutional. Hooray! Yet I offer a tempered "Hooray!" The decision in Gonzales v. Carhart will not save a single life. It is valuable simply for the promise it holds out for future decisions. Other abortion methods remain for the murder of any baby whose mother has determined to murder it (as, according to the Unted States Supreme Court, 1.3 million women do in this country alone each year). I would encourage you to read the actual opinion (found here) for yourself. But first, a primer on how to read such things. The first section is the actual law. It gives a synoptic narrative of the case's history, then prescribes what the Court has "held." The remaining sections are dicta, opinions given by the various justices. These comments may influence the future decisions of the court and may influence the deliberations of other courts, but are not binding law. Gonzales contains three such opinions. The "Opinion of the Court" section (so stated in a header on each page of this section of the document) is the Majority Opinion. Portions of this opinion belong to the category of actual law, those that represent the ratio decidendi, or reason for the decision. Any aside comments in the Majority Opinion are dicta. Telling the difference between the two is a subjective pursuit. Following the Majority Opinion is a brief "Concurring" opinion by Justices Thomas and Scalia (and allow me to offer my "Amen" to their sentiments). Finally, Ginsburg wrote a "Dissenting" opinion for herself, Stevens, Souter, and Breyer. Although I completely disagree with the conclusions that Ginsburg draws, I want to highlight some items of fact upon which I do agree with her:

  1. The primary purpose of abortion is to advance a notion of the proper role of women in society. Quoting Ginsburg:
    Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.
    This is the goal of pro-abortionists, and I credit Ginsburg for saying so rather than hiding behind disingenuous arguments about privacy, rape, incest, or medical risk for women. Many women consider their own babies to be the primary enemies to their career aspirations or life plans, so with all the tender mercies of Don Corleone, they eliminate them. And this happens at least 1.3 million times in the United States every year. Surely it is a grievous sin to murder one's own child to further one's own pecuniary interests.
  2. This debate is not so much about whether people may commit infanticide in the United States as it is about where people may commit infanticide in the United States. Above the cervix, infanticide is legal.
    Instead of drawing the line at viability, the Court refers to Congress’ purpose to differentiate “abortion and infanticide” based not on whether a fetus can survive outside the womb, but on where a fetus is anatomically located when a particular medical procedure is performed.
    Indeed, the effect of the law is even more arcane than that: Infanticide is legal in the United States even below the cervix, so long as the doctor murdering the baby outside the uterus intended to commit the murder inside the uterus when he began the procedure.
  3. The legal procedure (D&E) may well be more gruesome and offensive than the now-illegal procedure (D&X, or as the Court has termed it, "intact D&E"). After all, the whole thing becomes legal if you rip apart the baby's body rather than bringing it out in one piece.
    As another reason for upholding the ban, the Court emphasizes that the Act does not proscribe the nonintact D&E procedure. See ante, at 34. But why not, one might ask. Nonintact D&E could equally be characterized as “brutal,” ante, at 26, involving as it does “tear[ing] [a fetus] apart” and “ripp[ing] off” its limbs, ante, at 4, 6. “[T]he notion that either of these two equally gruesome procedures . . . is more akin to infanticide than the other, or that the State furthers any legitimate interest by banning one but not the other, is simply irrational.” Stenberg, 530 U. S., at 946–947 (STEVENS, J., concurring).
    Yes, Justice Ginsburg. That's why all abortion ought to be illegal.
  4. Finally, I agree with Ginsburg that the only rationality for this ruling is as a partial step toward the overthrow of Roe v. Wade.
    One wonders how long a line that saves no fetus from destruction will hold in face of the Court’s “moral concerns.” See supra, at 15; cf. ante, at 16 (noting that “[i]n this litigation” the Attorney General “does not dispute that the Act would impose an undue burden if it covered standard D&E”). The Court’s hostility to the right Roe and Casey secured is not concealed. Throughout, the opinion refers to obstetrician-gynecologists and surgeons who perform abortions not by the titles of their medical specialties, but by the pejorative label “abortion doctor.” Ante, at 14, 24, 25, 31, 33. A fetus is described as an “unborn child,” and as a “baby,” ante, at 3, 8; second-trimester, previability abortions are referred to as “late-term,” ante, at 26; and the reasoned medical judgments of highly trained doctors are dismissed as “preferences” motivated by “mere convenience,” ante, at 3, 37. Instead of the heightened scrutiny we have previously applied, the Court determines that a “rational” ground is enough to uphold the Act, ante, at 28, 37. And, most troubling, Casey’s principles, confirming the continuing vitality of “the essential holding of Roe,” are merely “assume[d]” for the moment, ante, at 15, 31, rather than “retained” or “reaffirmed,” Casey, 505 U. S., at 846. . . . . . . . . In candor, the Act, and the Court’s defense of it, cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court—and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.
    Ginsburg seems peeved that the majority will not simply acknowledge their overall goal and matter-of-factly overturn Roe. Part of me agrees with her. But if such methods are the manner by which 1.3 million American children's lives are saved annually, I'm willing to live with the compromise. My preferred outcome would be that the USSC would overturn Roe and force abortionists to try to gain legislative or popular support for baby-murder. If we can only cut off the dog's tail one inch at a time, I'll live with it. Of course, I'm assuming that the majority will indeed eventually have the guts to take this momentum to its ultimate conclusion.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What Makes Praisegod Praise God?

Lots of things, but one person in particular… My wife Tracy is a beautiful, incredible, devout, pious, intelligent, industrious, godly woman. Allow me to say a little something about Tracy's ministry. She's the lead volunteer for the Temporary Emergency Child Care ministry of Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief. I did one week at the Astrodome for Hurricane Katrina working under Tracy—Tracy did three weeks there, followed immediately by three weeks at Lumberton, TX, for Hurricane Rita. The TECC ministry is a sight to behold. Up pulls a trailer, and within an hour anything from a Sunday School classroom to a warehouse can be transformed into a state-licensed fully-functioning day care operation. The volunteers take care of displaced children while their parents fill out FEMA and Red Cross paperwork, but they do much more than that—they help children to process the experience of having been through a disaster and minister the love of Christ to them. At Houston, the unit had to move several times as the population shifted between the various buildings around the Astrodome. At one point, the unit had to move into what had been the medical quarrantine area just minutes before. The TECC unit did such an exceptional job sterilizing the area and setting it up for child care that the CDC has begun to sing the praises of Tracy's unit at national disaster conferences. Under her leadership the TECC ministry has developed an international emergency child care program, with resources packed in a manner such that volunteers can check them as baggage on international flights. This development will enable the TECC unit to respond anywhere around the world (previously they have been limited to places where they can tow a trailer). Tracy has also helped to develop a curriculum (she has a Masters in Educational Administration) for "trailerless training" for the TECC ministry. All of these things Tracy does while caring for our two preschoolers (and our one thirty-seven-year-old Baptist pastor) at home. Also, there are the myriad unwritten responsibilities of the pastor's wife, all of which she accomplishes with grace and aplomb. She's a remarkable, incredible woman. So, here's to all the volunteers for Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief. In anticipation of the National Disaster Relief Roundtable next week, I want to say that you represent Southern Baptists well. I'm proud of you all. Especially one particularly cute blue-cap from Texas.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Musical Recommendation: Glory Revealed

I don't often use the blog to recommend music, but if you have any appetite for acoustic music and any appreciation for scripture-song, then this is a great album for you to consider. The contributors are not really ones you would consider to be bluegrass/acoustic types (Michael W. Smith, Shawn Lewis, Mark Hall, David Crowder, Brian Littrell, etc.), so most of these folks are stepping out of their element. Yet the results are incredible. I would especially recommend "We Are Healed", a passionate (pun intended) musical rendering of Isaiah 53:5. Shawn Lewis's "Waters Gone By" I think combines excellent vocals with a compelling instrumental score—unfortunately, it did not perform enough exegetical homework to realize that it is commending to us all the advice of Zophar (Job 11:14-20), who is one of the villains of Job. Nevertheless, I think the advice is theologically sound even if Zophar applied it wrongly. Certainly it is a great song. Mac Powell and Candi Pearson-Shelton appear on the CD singing a song inspired by Psalm 51:9-12. This would be a great song to use during altar-calls (if you have not concluded that such activities are of Satan). There's not a song on the CD that I don't like, although I've listened to some more than others. I give it my highest recommendation. On the strength of that, I know that you'll all run right out and buy it! ;-)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Martin Marty on Evangelical Doctrinal Wanderings

Sam Hodges has authored a helpful article giving Martin Marty's views on the growing Evangelical willingness to ignore biblical teaching about divorce (see here). I don't always agree with Martin Marty, but I'm always careful about disagreeing with him. In this case, he is spot-on. Anyone who would reduce the Southern Baptist Convention to mere evangelicalism ought to peruse Marty's article and ask whether Evangelicalism really rests on any foundation other than market forces.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Conference on the Holy Spirit

Note of Clarification: Nobody has been anything but loving and cordial to me with regard to this conference. I fear that I might be giving the wrong impression. My nervousness comes from the inside, not the outside. My image of things "going badly" has only to do with me getting flustered and messing up. I've no worries about being tarred and feathered or run out of town on a rail. Indeed, I'm looking forward to enjoying Pastor McKissic's hospitality, which has always been world-class in my experience. Re-reading this post, I wanted to make crystal-clear my utmost confidence in the charity of Pastor McKissic and my expectation that all present will honor Christ.
Two weeks from today I will be presenting at the Conference on the Holy Spirit in Arlington. I would welcome the prayer support of anyone willing to give it. I'm a little nervous for a few reasons:
  1. Robin Foster and I are about as outnumbered on the panel as Martin Luther was at the Diet of Worms (although the disagreements are, I hope, much much friendlier).
  2. I am slow mentally. By that, I do not mean that I am unintelligent—I'm just vain enough to think that I am somewhat intelligent—I simply mean that I do best when I can ponder things slowly and at leisure rather than immediately in a high-stress situation. Oral exams were…well, I haven't seen a therapist about the experience…yet. My oral exam for my pilot's license was even worse. On the other hand, my dissertation was one of the most fun things I've ever done. I much prefer to sit down, take my time, and write. My participation in the panel discussion, Q&A, or whatever else might be planned, makes me nervous.
  3. If things don't go well, I have a really long list of people who have advised me not to participate in this conference under any circumstances, and it will be August before I've been through all of the "I told you so"s.
  4. Most importantly, my confidence in the position I am defending makes me even more nervous. As far as this conference goes, this entire viewpoint rides exclusively on the shoulders of Robin and myself. Do poorly, and detractors will attribute as weakness of the position what is in reality the weakness of the presenters (I am speaking of myself, Robin).
So, I suspect that Robin would appreciate your prayers. I know that I would.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Are Missionaries Apostles?

While reading over at David Rogers's place recently, I followed a link and found myself at the Internet home of Strider, a blog entitled Tales from Middle Earth. This brother has authored a post "On Being Apostolic" (see here). Strider's post is not particularly unique, although it is a well written post. It merely highlights the presumption of many today that the office of apostle is still in operation—that missionaries are apostles. I disagree. Thesis: Only a physical eyewitness of the risen Christ is qualified to be an apostle. Many derive their sense of latter-day apostolicity from the meaning of the word. An apostle, they say, is one who has been "sent." I retort that being "sent" no more makes one an "apostle" than being "old" makes one an "elder" or raising sheep for a living makes one a "pastor." Consider Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 15:1-9.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (emphasis mine)
In defending his apostolic credentials, Paul carefully mentioned the fact that Christ had appeared to him. His circumstances were different from the other apostles—so much so that he regarded himself as "one untimely born." By that strange phrase, Paul referred to the fact that he did not physically witness Christ until after Christ's ascension, after the "deadline" beyond which one could not become an apostle apart from such a miraculous occurrence. See also the close connection Paul put between apostolicity and being an eyewitness of Christ in his words earlier in the same book, in 1 Corinthians 9:1-2.
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
Not everyone who was an eyewitness was an apostle. Paul mentions in this passage two criteria that make him an apostle. First is the fact that he was an eyewitness of the risen Christ. Second is the fact that Christ sent and commissioned Paul to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. Of this second qualification, the very existence of the Corinthian church is evidence, thus they are "the seal of [Paul's] apostleship in the Lord." Roger Williams spent the last years of his life waiting for Christ to make him a latter-day apostle. He had become convinced that only an apostle could reinstitute New Testament baptism. Personally, I do not believe that the consequences of not having any apostles around today rise to quite that level of inconvenience. Apostle or not, we are all under obligation to be obedient. For many of those who lob around the term "apostle" these days, their intent seems to be as benign as describing the New Testament missionary imperative. Good for them. But the uniqueness of the actual apostles is a doctrine that makes a difference. Ultimately, it affects even our view of the Bible. The ministry of the apostles continues not through latter-day apostles, but through the written testimony of Christ offered to us by the original, real apostles. So, I would encourage all to cease from using the term "apostle" to refer to anyone other than the folks mentioned as such in the New Testament. Yes, that applies even to references to this guy.

Contorted Metallurgy

Has anyone noticed the strange silence in the Baptist blog world concerning the peace made among the SWBTS trustees? Has anyone compared it with the frenzied blogging that took place when peace among the SWBTS trustees could not be found? The fight gets front page billing—even multiple posts—but the peacemaking earns a collective shrug of the IP addresses. Are we Baptist bloggers only suited for the beating of plowshares into swords? UPDATE: Just today, Leslie Puryear has blogged about the situation. See here. Thank you, Bro. Les.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, "Were It So?"

I want to make public apology to all for my hit-and-miss presence on this blog lately. I warned earlier in the year that teaching responsibilities would severely curtail my faithfulness in blogging at points in the semester. Last week I was grading papers. This week I'm grading test. Oh yeah…then there's a little something called Resurrection Sunday! So, all of you are busy, too, meaning that it matters little to you that I'm not posting or commenting much. While I'm strangely silent, I'll direct you all to a recent sermon by Dr. Malcolm Yarnell. The sermon fascinates me because, in one fell swoop, Dr. Yarnell has managed to subsume into a single sermon the topic matter from the past several really good conversations on this blog. I think you'll all enjoy it. OK…so maybe not everyone will enjoy it, but it is quite thought-provoking. Here it is. I'll be back on Monday.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Are All Non-Evangelical Churches Cults?

It is an intriguing question. If a church is not an evangelical church, does that put it into the same category as the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses? Particularly, how do you classify Roman Catholicism? Do you find little reason to hope that you will see Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, or Mother Theresa in Heaven? The Southern Baptist relationship with Roman Catholicism has always involved tremendous theological tension. Such tension is understandable, since we occupy such vastly different locations on the theological spectrum. But I'm wondering, how many of you would put them into the same category as the Christian Science folks? (Hat Tip: David Rogers, for bringing up this fascinating question. See here.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

J. R. Graves: Radical Ecumenist?

Strange as it may sound, J. R. Graves was, in some ways, more committed to Christian Unity than any Baptist I know. Some time back, a discussion over at Les Puryear's blog drove me to the SWBTS archives to research Graves's views regarding Free Will Baptists. The question intrigued me because a Free Will Baptist Church meets all of Graves's published criteria for being a true church, yet I sincerely wondered whether Graves would have acknowledged the Free Will Baptist churches as valid churches, knowing how strictly he drew that line. I found the answer to my question in the 1890 revision of Graves's book The Trilemma. Here's the short answer: Graves rejected the Free Will Baptists not because of their doctrine, but because he adjudged them guilty of fracturing the unity of the church. According to Graves, when Benjamin Randall led the Free Will Baptists into exodus from affiliation with other Baptists, the wrongfulness of that schismatic action invalidated his church and all of the churches that followed him. Having pondered Graves's point, I raise four questions about Christian Unity:

  1. What exactly is Christian Unity if one believes in local church autonomy? Roman Catholics have no problem defining unity—those churches that know their place in the structure and stay within it are in unity. But what does unity mean among autonomous local churches? Does disagreement equal a lack of unity? If so, then we do not have unity within our local autonomous church—there are lots of opinions here. Must we adopt a quasi-Catholic approach (as it seems to me we might be tempted to do) and conjecture that partnership within our structure (the SBC) equals unity? Personally, I think this stretches the role of the convention far beyond propriety or the intention of the founders. The SBC is not (or ought not to be) a "structure" in any ecclesiological sense. It is a voluntary partnership. Christian Unity and intercongregational cooperation are not entirely unrelated subjects, but I do not beleive that they are identical subjects. Does Christian Unity amount to something akin to the "Full Faith and Credit" clause of the U. S. Constitution (the part of the Constitution requiring each state to respect the legal judgments of the other states)? In other words, does Christian Unity amount to recognizing the baptisms, ordinations, exclusions, etc., of sister churches as valid? By his actions more than his writings, Graves seems to have held this view (it seems to me). What think ye? What does Christian Unity look like among autonomous congregations?
  2. If the violation of Christian Unity is a sin (and I believe that it is), then what is the consequence of that sin? This will seem counter-intuitive to many, but I believe that the biblical witness is clear. Titus 3:10 commands us to "reject a factious man after a first and second warning." The verb paraiteomai (reject) is a multi-faceted word, but here it almost certainly has the meaning to "shun" such a person. Thus, the New Testament consequence for the sin of fomenting schism is…schism! The Bible commands us to separate from people who provoke separation. Inevitably, this means that it is possible to refuse to be in unity with someone, and for your refusal to be the other person's fault.
  3. If Second Baptist Church, Somewhere, Alabama is a split from First Baptist Church, Somewhere, Alabama, then how can we claim that those congregations are in unity? Even if both affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention, with the Alabama Baptist State Convention, and with a local association, at the local church level they are out of fellowship. It seems to me that modern forms of ecumenism want to pretend that such schismatic actions do not matter and have no consequences. Indeed, one confronts the assumption that major denominational differences, not just schism among fellow congregants, can co-exist with Christian Unity. If schism is a grievous sin, then we must address the possibility that a high percentage of our Southern Baptist churches are on-the-outs with the Lord for their sin of schism. Perhaps they are even false churches? My gut doesn't even want to consider that possibility, but my mind tells me that we must at least consider it, even if only to consider and reject it for good cause. I fault J. R. Graves for not taking seriously enough this question. On the other hand, I credit J. R. Graves with having the honesty to concede that no amount of friendly handshaking among Christians who insist upon organizational separation (by that I mean at the local church level) can realistically amount to Jesus' intentions when He prayed for the unity of the body. His approach precipitated such messy situations as his and R. B. C. Howell's competing claims as to which was the real First Baptist Church of Nashville; nevertheless, such pickiness does take seriously the matter of church schism. Perhaps this is why J. R. Graves, in spite of all of his contentiousness, never attempted to lead anyone out of the Southern Baptist Convention—he was committed to Christian Unity.
  4. If schism is a sin, then what is the path to recovery and restitution? The answer is repentance. Those who have fractured the body of Christ by insisting upon infant baptism need to repent of that sin. Reconciliation will then be possible. Those who have foisted popes upon the people of Christ need to repent of that sin. Reconciliation will then be possible. Those who have splintered congregations over styles of music need to repent. Those who have built denominations around pseudo-charisms and splintered the body of Christ need to repent. When schismatics repent, reconciliation is possible. If we, as Baptists, could be just as biblical in another kind of church, then we need to repent, too. We would then need to repent of being Baptists, for then our existence as Baptists would be nothing but needless division in the body of Christ. Of course, Baptist sectarian that I am, I believe that we must be Baptist to be biblical. Indeed, although it matters not very much to me whether they choose to use that word, I believe that the very repentance that is needed is for all Christians to become conservative Baptists. Then, we will have Christian Unity.