Thursday, September 27, 2007

Agnes Velores Barber, 1920-2007

My father's mother has joined her husband, her siblings, and two of her children in the presence of Christ. Born in the Ozarks, she journeyed seasonally every year into the cotton fields of Northeast Arkansas to pick cotton. While there one year, she met my grandfather, James Clifton Barber. They lived just a few miles from one another in the hills, but had never met one another until they were away from home working. They settled down in the flat lands, raised three children, and built a better life that did not include picking cotton! Yesterday we stood in her hometown of Salado, Arkansas, and placed her body beside Grandpa's. The last of my grandparents is now gone. I wonder how things are going to change now? I shook cousins' hands, receiving and giving updates on our lives, all the while wondering in the back of my mind, "Will I ever see you again in this world?" We started Tuesday morning at 3:30 EDT just across the Grand Central Expressway from LaGuardia in Queens, NYC. We caught a 6:00 flight to Chicago Midway, followed by a 9:00 CDT flight to Houston Hobby, arriving at 11:35 am. After wolfing down lunch, we started our drive from Houston back to Jonesboro, AR. We arrived at 11:08 pm CDT. That, my friends, is a full day! I've got lots of material to post—I'm really behind. I hope to get things up and going next week.

Monday, September 24, 2007

David Dockery Supports "Narrowing of Parameters"

Dr. David Dockery, president of Union University, is a brilliant theologian and an exemplary Christian gentleman. As I will reveal in an upcoming post, Dr. Dockery was significantly responsible through his published works for instilling within me a passion for the biblical doctrines that define us as Baptists. To his credit, Dr. Dockery realizes the specious nature of claims that a commitment to inerrancy is faith-commitment enough to guide any Christian enterprise. In this Baptist Press article, Dr. Dockery has endorsed an effort by Dr. Ray Van Neste and Dr. Denny Burk to narrow the parameters of cooperation in the Evangelical Theological Society. At present, the only ETS doctrinal statement simply reads, "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory." Van Neste, Burk, and Dockery (among many others) support the adoption of a more narrow and robust set of theological parameters to govern membership and practice within the ETS. Will anyone question their commitment to the "sufficiency of the scriptures"? After all, these men have apparently concluded that even those who affirm the inerrancy of the written Word of God might misread it and come into doctrinal error serious enough to make them something other than an Evangelical Christian. I do not question the belief of these men in the sufficiency of the scriptures, but perhaps some will. Will anyone question their willingness to cooperate with other believers? After all, the clear outcome of this action would be to make ineligible for participation in ETS those who are currently able to participate. If all current and potential members of ETS were theologically acceptable to the three, there would be no need and no campaign for the stricter theological statement. I do not question the cooperative nature of these men, but perhaps some will. Will anyone label these men as Fundamentalists or Legalists? Probably so. All it takes to earn those labels from somebody somewhere is a commitment to the smallest kernel of biblical truth. I believe that they are neither Fundamentalists (in the pejorative sense) nor Legalists, but perhaps some will make the allegation. Quite simply, here is what has happened—the ETS tried to employ as minimalist a theological statement as it thought would work to bring together Evangelicals for cooperation in a tightly-defined scope of activities. Because only God knows the future and the scope of human depravity, the founders of ETS did not foresee how some might skew the ETS's Doctrinal Basis. Now, with a few years of history under its belt, the ETS has come to see the weaknesses in their minimalist statement. They are narrowing the parameters of their cooperation not to take the ETS away from its raison d'être, but to try to keep it anchored there. It is a common scenario. It is a common need. It is a common-sense solution. Bravo to these men for championing it.

Friday, September 21, 2007

If You Should Go Looking for Adoniram Judson

Adoniram Judson died at sea in 1850. His body was buried at sea, but a memorial to Judson lies on Burial Hill, Plymouth, MA. Unfortunately, finding a particular grave on Burial Hill is not the simplest thing to do. If you should ever decide to do so, I want you to have an easier time of it than I had. Burial Hill lies immediately behind the Plymouth Unitarian-Universalist meeting house (I'll not employ the 'c' word here). Just to the right of the building is a steep staircase with iron rails on either side by which you may ascend Burial Hill. At some point nearly atop the hill, the railings cease and the path diverges. At that point, Judson's memorial lies just in front of you just a few feet away, enclosed by a white wooden fence. Here's how it looks from that vantage point: Judson, of course, is the great missionary to Burma who serves as such a wonderful example to us all. Judson began his missionary service as a Congregationalist (that is, as a pedobaptist). While sailing around the world to his post, Judson's independent study of the New Testament convinced him that Christ instituted believer's baptism, not infant sprinkling. Upon arrival in India, Judson sought believer's baptism. Judson's change of theology put him in a peculiar position. Here he was, planning to live on Congregationalist support, yet newly possessed of Baptist convictions. The Congregationalists did not wish to fund Judson as a Baptist missionary. Judson neither threw a fit claiming that his rights had been violated nor sued anyone for support. He trusted in God to meet his needs, and God raised up support among American Baptists, vindicating Judson's integrity. The legacy of Adoniram Judson still lives among the Karen people and in the existence of such entities as the Southern Baptist Convention, since Judson's efforts became the nucleus around which Baptists in America first organized for missions. Hats off to Adoniram Judson. Thank you, dear brother, for your faithfulness to the Lord. See you soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Baptist Not-So-Hypothetical

Imagine for a moment that you are a member of a certain church. This church contains many devout believers. Every member has suffered persecution for his faith. In fact, the entire congregation has had to flee its home country due to the dire peril that it has brought upon itself for its bold testimony of the truth. The congregation affirms the trustworthiness and accuracy of the Bible. The congregation is evangelistic. The congregational leadership has a bold vision for the group. But the congregation sprinkles infants. A member of the congregation arises and asserts that it is a sin—that it is Antichristian—to sprinkle infants. He asserts that it is a sin to remain a part of any church that does so. He starts to convince others that his is the biblical position. He promises to leave the church if it does not concur with his views. And then he does leave, taking a group with him. Remember, you are supposed to be imagining that you are a member of this very church. Some agree with this man that infant baptism is a sin and they follow him out. Others do not believe that infant baptism is a sin, or even if it is, they do not believe that it is a serious enough matter to split the church, so they stay behind and sail off to America in the Mayflower. What will you do? Do you agree with this man? Do you think him right enough to follow him out of fellowship with the other congregants and into his new group? Who is the man? He's John Smythe. A few years later, he's Roger Williams. And if you are a member of a Baptist church, you have followed him out into this church split. Did you make the right decision? And what implications does your answer have for your actions?

Is This Where the SBC Is?

Tuesday I had the grave misfortune to get on the wrong train in Grand Central Station, New York City. The conductor, briefly after we left the station, informed me that our train was not stopping at Garrison. He put me, my bride, and our four suitcases out on the platform in Harlem, where we waited for the arrival of the proper train. It is sometimes disconcerting to discover that I am not where I think I am. Les Puryear has written a post entitled "Is This Where the SBC Is Going? In his post, Les takes umbrage at my assertion that it is a sin to sprinkle infants for Christian baptism. According to Les, if denouncing pedobaptism as a sin is where the SBC is going, then he's out. Here's my question: Does denouncing pedobaptism as a sin constitute the SBC "going" anywhere? In other words, would we be moving from where we currently are to reach the conclusion that pedobaptism is a sin? Is that not where we are already? Is that not where Baptists have been for four centuries? If that isn't where we are, then could someone tell me where we are? And where are the Baptists? If I get off here, will they be coming by soon?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Political Speculation, not Prophecy

…so I don't want to hear any business about putting me to death if this doesn't come true. One of the reasons that I named my blog "Praisegod Barebones" was my desire to comment periodically upon the state of secular politics. This is as muddled an election as I can recall. Nevertheless, I'm going to make the following predictions:
  1. Republicans are going to lose the White House. I don't like it. I won't be voting that way. But that's my prediction.
  2. The only way Republicans have a chance not to lose the White House is if Hillary Clinton is the Democrat nominee. But I'm doubtful that she'll secure the nomination. She has too much baggage, and most of it hasn't been unpacked and put onto display yet. Things will get D-I-R-T-Y before the primaries get into full swing.
  3. Mike Huckabee will perform better than expected, but will not be the Republican nominee. His strong showing will put him into a favorable position to run next time with a larger war chest. He may have the chops.
  4. Obama could very possibly be the next POTUS. I've heard people say that our country "isn't ready for a black president." People overestimate the impact of race upon politics among whites and underestimate the impact of stereotypes upon politics among all demographics. Politics is indeed all about stereotypes. People don't want to think; they would rather categorize. The mistake that people make with regard to Obama is to think that there is only one stereotype into which a black man can fit. Not true. Too many people personally like Bill Cosby (or Heathcliff Huckstable…take your pick). If Obama can steer himself into a Cosbyesque stereotype, then I think that he can win.
  5. If the Democrat nominee is elected, he or she will not withdraw from Iraq nearly as quickly as he or she will have to promise during the election.
  6. The Democrat elected this time will be a one-term president.
I stand behind absolutely none of this, nor do I offer it particularly forcefully. Just something to talk about.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Best Post Ever!

It has been a sort of running joke around here for Jeremy Green to show up and label one of my missives "your best post ever." Well, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to tell you, in as authoritative a tone as I can muster, what is truly my best post ever. It is this post about our recent celebration of Gotcha Day. What makes this my best post ever? A dear, wonderful, incredible, now-on-our-Christmas-card-list-forever, Oklahoma lady who reads this blog called us Monday morning. She read my Gotcha Day post and decided to contact us about an expectant mother she knows who is looking for a family to adopt her baby girl. The baby should be here in January, and if all goes well, she'll be moving shortly thereafter to the parsonage in Farmersville, Texas. I don't know about the rest of you bloggers, but this is the first post I've ever written that has prompted even the potential of something so precious. I hereby bestow upon that post the designation: "My best post ever." By the way, I cordially invite you to view our family web site for the stories of how God brought our other two children into our family.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Gotcha Day 2007

In addition to their birthdays, we also celebrate a "Gotcha Day" for both Jim and Sarah. "Gotcha Day" is the day that their respective adoptions became final. Jim's Gotcha Day is September 11 (a date we were glad to swap for a more positive meaning), and Sarah's is September 29. Falling as close together as they do on the calendar, we combine them into one big celebration sometime in September (although we still have mini-observances on the actual day for each child). This year we went to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, TX, for our Gotcha Day treat. On the way back, we stopped at Bass Pro Shop, one of Jim's favorite destinations, where he spent about $2.00 racking up the lowest scores in history shooting the light-emitting rifles at nothing in particular. He had a great time—we all did. God puts together families by whatever means He chooses. We're so thankful for ours.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Ecumenists of the Mouth; Sectarians of the Heart

My last post has generated quite a bit of conversation, most of which can be summarized into a few categories:
  • Those who would dodge my point by pretending that I am calling for separation over any and every unrepentant sin.
  • Those who would dodge my point by pretending that I believe Southern Baptists to be without unrepentant sin.
  • Those who would dodge my point by trotting out the tired old steed of Landmarkism.
  • Those who would dodge my point by priding themselves in their broad, irenic, tolerant way of speaking.
  • Those few, to whom I am genuinely thankful, who actually engaged my point. We did not come to universal agreement, but we had a great conversation.
But so muddled have the waters grown, that I choose to reiterate the main point in a closing post. Those who would pat themselves on the back for talking about the unity of the Body of Christ, all the while maintaining sectarian churches that will not recognize the rites of other churches as valid baptism, will not call ministers of other denominations as pastors of their congregations, would not receive as members those who have not been immersed as believers, etc., ...such folks are a strange hybrid. They are ecumenists of the mouth, wanting to talk the Christian unity talk, but in their actual church practice, they are as sectarian as I am, or at least nearly so. It is my desire that my walk and my talk would coincide with one another. If I am dividing or restricting the Body of Christ over something, my actions are calling it a matter of unrepentant sin, whether I wish to be honest with my mouth or not. Oh, and appending to my own post, I submit as Exhibit A for the preferable opposite, my brother in Christ, Dr. Mark Dever. He, while being perfectly up-front and honest about exactly where he differs with our pedobaptist brethren, acknowledging that he regards it as unrepentant sin, is one of the great champions of appropriate cooperation with those brethren. His mouth and his heart line up perfectly and reveal a commitment to doctrinal honesty coupled with a genuine love for the brethren. I aspire to the same.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Pernicious Evil of Mere Preference

…in matters of denominational division

It is a serious matter to divide the Body of Christ. In the New Testament we find both the longing of Christ that division might not take place (John 17:20-23), and the accomplished fact of division as the necessary consequence of discipline in the church and the task of contending earnestly for the faith (e.g., 1 John 2:18-19; 1 Corinthians 5:13; its entirety; Revelation 2:2, 6, 14-16, 20-25). In every case, the only grounds for division in the New Testament were as a response to the continued, unrepentant sin (either in doctrine or in practice) of fellow members in the church. Every age of Christianity has understood this simple truism: Division is to be avoided and unity is to be prized in the body of Christ. The only appropriate time to cleave the people of God is in response to unrepentant sin.
  • When Christiantiy divided East and West, the leaders of the two factions mutually excommunicated one another. If they had not considered it a matter of sin, they would not have divided.
  • When Martin Luther left Roman Catholicism, he did so over what he regarded as profound, unrepentant sin in the theology and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. If he had not considered it a matter of sin, he would not have divided.
  • When John Smythe and company separated from their congregation of English expatriates, Smythe declared the faith and practice of the Anglican Church, the Ancient Church, and all of his former spiritual kindred to be "Antichristian." If he had not considered it a matter of sin, he would not have divided.
As I said, every age of Christianity has understood this simple truism—every age, that is, except for the present age. To divide the Body of Christ over anything other than obstinate, unrepentant sin is itself an act of obstinate, unrepentant sin. We have instituted in some corners among ourselves a consumeristic mutant of Christianity in which the basis of unity is, rather than our collective submission to the indwelling Christ, the common preferences of our little band regarding the things that we consume (music, activities for our children, activities for ourselves, or preferences for cultural trappings). People shop for churches like they shop for restaurants. This is the legacy of Evangelicalism, which derives its idiosyncrasies from the present zeitgeist—it is just so much more polite to sidestep questions of true or false, right or wrong, and find refuge in the concept of personal preference. Enter a recent conversation I had with Paul Littleton at his blog (click here). Paul had his knickers in a knot over Dr. Mark Dever's frank assertion that pedobaptists are engaged in unrepentant sin for baptizing contrary to Christ's institution of the ordinance in the Bible. I entered the thread to assert that Dever was no less consistent than Littleton (or John Piper), who would bar pedobaptists from positions of leadership in the church. Paul retorted that his church's refusal to place a pedobaptist in positions of high leadership within the church was based merely upon their preferences, and not upon any matters so grave to call them sinful:
No, our church would not call a paedobaptizer as pastor, but it isn't because we would say he is an unrepentant sinner. That I know of Faith Baptist would not allow an unrepentant sinner to knowingly speak from the pulpit. We also discourage unrepentant sinners from partaking of the Lord's table (though we don't always know who they are, so that is often left to their own consciences). But again, we would not consider our Presbyterian brother an unrepentant sinner. . . . . . . . . The reason would be that we are a Baptist church and he is a Presbyterian. We believe in believer's baptism by immersion and he does not. We practice congregationalism and I would presume he does not.
Littleton's underlying point here is that he considers "Baptist" and "Presbyterian" to denote personal religious preferences—that being one or the other does not amount to a sin. Certainly, I can comprehend coming to the conclusion that Baptists and Presbyterians are divided by mere preference. Christian history is replete with churches split, individuals alienated, and battles waged over things that, in the long run, history has adjuged to be less than substantial. Perhaps, someday, somebody like Paul will convince me that the distinctive beliefs of Baptists are not matters of biblical obedience, but instead are merely points of private interpretation. It's possible. But when I am so convinced, I shall know what I must immediately do—at that moment, if I would be faithful to Christ, I must immediately renounce the separate existence of such a thing as a Baptist church and repent of ever being a member of such a church. Why? Because it is a sin to divide the Body of Christ (or to perpetuate division) over matters of mere preference. Thus my reply to Littleton:
Put me in the same category as John Smythe, Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, John Clarke, et al. If it would not be a sin for me to merge with the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, the Romans, or whomever else (i.e., if to do so I would not be joining them in their unrepentant sin), then it would be a sin for me not to do so. Anything less fails to take seriously Christ's plea for Christian unity.

…in matters of church leadership.

It is also a serious matter to deny to any person the opportunity to exercise what the person believes to be a calling from God. Jesus Himself warned us about hindering people in the pursuit of Christian ministry (Mark 9:38-40). The Bible also provides us with a full set of qualifications by which we admit or bar people into the offices of the church (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:9-3:13; Titus 1:5-9). When we apply these biblical qualifications, we know that we are limiting the offices of the church not according to our personal prejudices but according to God's command. Who are we to restrict the calling of God? If we limit the offices based upon anything other than biblical authority, we limit them based upon illegitimate authority and are guilty of a grievous sin. Enter a recent post by Wade Burleson (click here). Burleson's post spun off from a post by R. L. Vaughn (click here), which in turn found its origin in the comment stream of a post by Emily Hunter-McGowin (click here). Burleson's position appears in his own words in comment #137 at the original post, where he said:
Finally, I have said publicly that I would not personally lead my church to hire a female pastor, would not be a member of a church where the senior pastor was female, and I have no problem personally with the BFM 2000 on this issue. However, I am honest enough to say that my discomfort is personal and cultural—and not Biblical.
Someday, somebody like Wade Burleson might convince me that the Bible does not prohibit women from serving as elders/pastors/overseers. Better men than I have reached this conclusion. It's possible. But when I am so convinced, I shall know what I immediately must do—at that moment, if I would be faithful to Christ, I must disavow my former affirmations of The Baptist Faith & Message, must campaign to alter the policies of FBC Farmersville to permit women to serve as pastors, and must give my personal benediction to women called to serve as pastors. Why? Because it is a grave matter to obstruct anyone in the pursuit of what they believe to be God's calling upon their lives. For me to dare to tell anyone, based upon nothing but the authority of my own mere preferences, that that person must not comply with what they believe to be God's calling upon their lives, would be a heinous act of sin. Either I have sound biblical grounds to say that they have misunderstood God's calling—that it would be sinful for them to pursue their plans contrary to the commandment of God—or I had better keep my opinion to myself and prevent my opinion from being legislated into the tenets of my church. But, in both of these matters (denominational division and qualficiations for biblical offices of the church), what if I am not convinced either way? What if I can see both sides of the matter? What if I have not come to any sound conclusion? Then I must preserve liberty on the matter. But liberty doesn't mean "I'll go arrange my church according to my view, and you go over there and arrange your church according to your view." Liberty means staying in the same congregation together and not making my uncertain preferences a test of fellowship. God prevent me from tying the hands of my own closest brethren over matters that I find entirely unimportant beyond the bounds of our local congregation. If I have matters of mere preference in view, my own congregation—my next-of-spiritual-kin—are the very last people upon whom I should impose my commands rather than the commandments of God. To divide or restrict the body of Christ over matters of mere preference (personal, cultural, denominational, or otherwise) is a pernicious evil.

Pointed Humor at SBC Outpests

I truly dislike Internet anonymity. People ought to have the courage to take ownership of their words. After making it clear that I am not behind SBC Outpests, I had determined not to make mention of what I would regard as a "spoof" blog in the future. But I may have to reconsider that conclusion. The current post at SBC Outpests is some of the best satire I've read in sixteen months of active blogging. The quality is so high and the insight so keen that it would be wrongful for me not to give you the opportunity to read it. I'm going to monitor this blog's feed for sure. But this will be the only plug I give them...unless they change my mind again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Not Me

I've already received inquiries as to whether I am behind the SBC Outpests spoof. I am not. Neither can I find out who is behind it (they used GoDaddy for hosting with private domain registration). But it isn't me. Of course, some of the people who asked whether I am behind SBC Outpests didn't really believe me when I said that I wasn't. In honor of the skeptics among us, I commission another Praisegod Research poll (see the sidebar). For some reason Virtual Stock Exchange has been completely down for several days. Now, today, it is up again. I have changed the settings to allow signup after the start of the game. I'll leave the competition open for enrollment for a couple of weeks. That should give everyone an opportunity to sign up.