Sunday, May 31, 2009

FBC Farmersville's Proposed Covenant

In this morning's worship services the members of our congregation will receive copies of our proposed church covenant. This is a momentous occasion in the 144-year history of our congregation, representing a key element of our prayerful quest to become more and more a church in the New Testament pattern.

I am thankful to say that the process of developing this proposed covenant is representative of the best in church polity. It bears the mark of the leadership of our pastors/elders/overseers, who first began to labor over some of this wording as much as five years ago. It demonstrates the value of congregational leadership, having been considered by a committee of lay leadership and our deacons. Many improvements have taken place in the development of this covenant. Each group has given transformational leadership to the initiative, with the result that this document now legitimately belongs to our congregation and not to any individual person.

So today, we place it before our congregation. We have already done so with our proposed Constitution & Bylaws. We will be voting on both of these documents together in our July 19 business meeting. For our members of FBC Farmersville, and for whoever else has interest, below is our proposal. This may very well not be the document that we eventually adopt, for the membership of the congregation will have the same opportunity to improve the document that others have had. Nevertheless, we are happy at this stage to place the document before the broader Christian family in the hope that it might open a conversation that will clarify the discipleship journey of other congregations as it has our own.

God established the church to change every member—especially me—into a Christ-like disciple to carry out the Great Commission. (Matthew 28: 19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 1:6) Because such transformation is impossible apart from being born again, I make the following two affirmations (which are prerequisite for church membership):

  • That I have been born again, having personally repented of my sin before God; sought and received His forgiveness; believed upon Jesus Christ—crucified, buried, and resurrected—as the one-and-only Savior of all mankind; surrendered to Him as the master of my life; and identified myself publicly as a Christian. (Mark 8:38; John 14:6; Acts 3:19, 16:31; Romans 10:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Timothy 2:5)

  • That, after having become a Christian as described above, I have received New Testament baptism as explained in this congregation’s statement of faith. (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Peter 3:21-22)

I want to see God change my life according to His plan, and I need the help of the entire church body for that to happen. I am not perfect, and God will not be finished perfecting any of us until we get to Heaven. That is why, whatever commitments we make, we will need much love, grace, and gentleness to keep us together. (Proverbs 27:17; Ephesians 2:19-22; Philippians 1:6) As a member, in spite of my failures, I commit never to quit trying to live up to the following affirmations:

  • To join with my fellow members in this congregation to seek God’s will in our common decision-making; to allow every member the privilege of seeking to influence the church in its pursuit of God’s will; to accept congregational decisions without grumbling; and to work to prevent division in the church. (Matthew 18:15-20; Acts 15:1-33; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 2:6; Philippians 2:14; Jude 19)

  • To confess and repent of personal sin; to practice personal worship, prayer, and Bible study; to participate in corporate worship and Bible study with this congregation, except as prevented by illness, travel, necessary labor, or other serious incapacity; to join my fellow members in observance of the Lord’s Supper; to discover and use my spiritual gifts for the common good of the congregation; to seek the conversion of those who are lost; and to serve others in Christian ministry. (Mark 9:35; Luke 22:19; John 4:23-24; Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, 12:7; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Hebrews 10:25; James 5:16; 1 Peter 2:2; 1 John 1:9)

  • To treat other people as the Bible teaches me to treat them. (Matthew 22:37-40; Philippians 2:1-8)

  • To practice biblical stewardship of my resources, including the faithful support of this congregation. (Malachi 3:8-12; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; 1 Timothy 5:8; 1 Peter 4:10)

  • To pursue brotherly love in my relationships with other members of this congregation, to aid them in times of difficulty, to pray for their spiritual and physical needs, to encourage them toward spiritual growth, to resolve conflict with them as the New Testament teaches, to pursue peace with all, and to be eager to forgive fellow members of this congregation. (Matthew 18:15-35; John 13:35; Romans 12:10, 14:19; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, 13:1-13; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:32; Hebrews 10:24-25, 12:14, 13:1; James 5:13-18)

  • To respect the spiritual leadership of pastors (also called elders or overseers in the Bible) and the service of deacons as taught in the Bible. (1 Timothy 3:1-13, 5:17-19; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:5)

  • To keep my speech and my conduct pure and unstained by the world, pursuing biblical morality as a consistent lifestyle (James 1:27; 1 Peter 1:14-16; Ephesians 4:29). In particular, I commit to pursue biblical holiness with regard to those sins that pose the gravest dangers in this age, including my commitments:

    • To employ chemical substances such as alcohol and drugs only as informed by the teachings of the Bible, wise medical counsel, and the dictates of the law (Proverbs 23:29-35; 1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Timothy 5:23).

    • To flee sexual immorality; to shun pornography; to dress modestly; to reserve sexual activity solely for one man and one woman united in marriage; and not to initiate a divorce, except optionally if wronged by an adulterous spouse. (Genesis 2:24; Leviticus 20:13, 15-16; Psalm 101:3; Malachi 2:13-16; Matthew 5:28, 19:1-12; 1 Corinthians 6:18, 7:10-16; Ephesians 5:3; Philippians 4:8; 1 Timothy 2:9; Hebrews 13:4)

    • To protect and defend the lives of my children from the moment of their conception; to abstain from abusive violence in my home; to practice biblical discipline of my children; to obey my parents so long as I am a child and to honor them always; and to encourage every member of my household to learn about and serve God. (Exodus 20:13; Psalm 139:13-16; Proverbs 13:24, 22:15; Colossians 3:19-21; Ephesians 5:22-6:4; Hebrews 12:6)

    • To practice justice and compassion toward all people, including the poor, the sick, the disabled, widows, and orphans. (Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 14:31; Isaiah 1:17, 47:6; Luke 14:13; Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17)

    • To conduct all business in honesty and integrity, practicing the Golden Rule in my dealings with others. (Deuteronomy 25:13-15; Matthew 5:37, 7:12; James 5:1-6)

  • To pursue the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in my life. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Because I am a sinner, I know that I will not fulfill the terms of this covenant perfectly. Nevertheless, I affirm the ambitions of this covenant as my own, and I commit always to try to fulfill its terms. As I fail to live up to this covenant, I commit to yield to correction, to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, and to turn from my sin. (James 1:19-25)

Because my fellow members are also sinners, I know that they will not fulfill the terms of this covenant perfectly. Nevertheless, I commit to encourage them to pursue spiritual growth by following this covenant. As they fail to live up to this covenant, I commit—as much as it depends upon me—to correct and restore them in gentleness and humility, never refusing forgiveness and reconciliation in the face of repentance. (Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20)

If I find myself unwilling even to try to fulfill this covenant, I commit to remove myself from this congregation. If relocation outside the community prevents me from fulfilling this covenant, I commit to unite with another congregation and to continue to pursue growth as a Christian.

I enter into this covenant voluntarily. I believe that attempting to follow this covenant will benefit me spiritually, so I ask my fellow members to interpret this covenant, apply it to my life, and live a life of mutual spiritual accountability with me.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Qualified Affirmations of the Great Commission Resurgence

SBC Today is reporting that Dr. Jerry Vines is affirming the Great Commission Resurgence document with caveats. The Great Commission Resurgence website lists Dr. Paige Patterson as having done the same.

I have already listed the areas in which I agree with the document, the areas in which I disagree, and the areas in which I can't quite tell whether I agree or not. I affirm in its entirety the resolution on the Great Commission Resurgence that the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention affirmed at our annual meeting in 2008. Not only am I in agreement with that statement, beyond my mere agreement there is enthusiasm about all that it says.

I will not ask to be an asterisked signatory on the GCR website. However, I request that nobody construe me as an opponent of the idea of a Great Commission Resurgence. I am indeed someone who is enthusiastically in support of portions of the statement, uncertain what the convention would mean by other portions of it, regretful about the absence of some things within it (e.g., the actual interaction with the text of the Great Commission evidenced in the SBTC resolution), and yet willing for the deliberative process to unfold further before concluding one way or the other about this particular set of ideas.

I have determined to do this: I am going to bring the text of the SBTC resolution before my church for its own consideration. I would encourage each of my readers, if you desire to see a Great Commission Resurgence in our convention, to start in your own life and in the life of your local congregation. Let this not be exclusively a conversation of blogs and national conventions; let it be a conversation opened in our own assemblies, where it ultimately must rise or fall.

Noah and the Problem of Sin

I've recently concluded a brief sermon series on the story of Noah and the Flood. The story seems to me to say something profound about the condition of human sinfulness. If you could find the most innocent, most dedicated, most pious, most conscientious person on earth (probably not the category any of us are in); kill everyone else (THERE we are!); and start all over with just that rarified collection of super-saints, how much better would the world be?

Really not much at all, apparently. God did just that very thing, and Noah managed to be mired in sin in a mere three verses (if we can still agree that it is sinful to be wandering around naked in a drunken stupor).

The problem is not “out there,” but is inside each of us—including even the best of us. Divorcing your spouse will not solve your problems, even if you are the better half of the marriage. Throwing up a wall around the church and building some sort of commune or compound will not solve our problems. Leaving church A and driving down the street to church B will not solve your problems. Wherever we go, our often sinful and rebellious hearts go there with us. How will we escape our own selves?

And so, the ultimate solution was not just to get rid of some of the sinful people or most of the sinful people, but to get rid of them all and start all over—the entire destruction of fallen creation. But this time, we who are lost in the flood (“buried with Christ through baptism into death”) are, by the miraculous power of Christ, somehow the transformed survivors who are “united with Him…in the likeness of His resurrection” “not [through] the removal of dirt from the flesh, but [through] an appeal to God for a good conscience.”

All of which you already knew. But it stirs up good things in my heart to speak of it, and I trust that it does you no harm to hear it again, either.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How Great Would THAT Be?

…if their home church, or some prominent national parachurch ministry like Focus on the Family, could reach out to Jon & Kate Gosselin and get their marriage back on a sound footing? Or, perhaps a good outcome would be for the Duggars to become a mentor couple for the Gosselins?

I've been watching the show for about a year. Having kids around the same age, I've enjoyed it. But I'm going to stop watching now. No more Jon & Kate. Why? Because it has become clear that the popularity of the show is feeding their marital problems. If I continue to contribute to their ratings, then I become a part of their problem. I just don't think that those of us watching can claim “innocent bystander” status.

TLC should (but won't) cancel the show now—immediately—or they bear some of the responsibility for damaging these children's lives. The Gosselins should refuse to tape any more shows as of right now, and perhaps good sense will overcome the love of the spotlight, and they will.

The deeper story is that the very complementarian Duggar family, strange as they must appear to American society, seem to have a strong marriage and are doing just fine. The much more “modern” Gosselin family appears to be in the midst of severe relationship trouble, with strong hints of divorce on last night's show and rampant allegations of infidelity. The Gosselins have experienced a role reversal in the past two years, with Kate going on the road to promote her newfound celebrity while Jon quit his job to stay at home and play Mr. Mom. The curt discussion of the arrangement between Jon & Kate on last night's episode clearly reveals how disastrous this role-swapping has been to their relationship.

Both the Duggars and the Gosselins make clear their church-going ways in their respective TV shows. On the line in the Gosselin saga is the question of whether Christianity has any answers for these sorts of problems. If the Gosselin family goes under, the clear message taken by a watching world will be that Christian marriages are no better suited to survive than are the marriages of those who do not know Christ. Indeed, this is the message that the world has already embraced not so much by looking at their TV screens as by looking up and down the block in their neighborhoods at the families in our churches.

The Bible does have answers for keeping a marriage healthy, and the Duggars are living out some of them in front of America through their own show. If they, or somebody else, could point the Gosselins to repentance, the granting of forgiveness, and the adoption of biblical priorities for their marriage, the wonderful message communicated would be that Christ has the power to turn people around from any unrighteousness. That kind of message does much to glorify God.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

International Mission Board No Longer Maintains that BGCT Is Escrowing Lottie Moon Christmas Offering Funds

After publishing my most recent post, I completed a revival that I was preaching and then swung by to see my surviving grandparents-in-law in far rural Missouri. For the past forty-eight hours I have been blissfully oblivious to the ongoing discussion generated by that post. As I pen these words tonight, I still have not read any of the comments that took place after my latest comment in the thread.

I have, however, received numerous telephone calls and emails, some of which I have read. Through these conversations I have learned something of a summary of what has ensued in that thread. I will read it when I have opportunity (but not before I preach tomorrow…priorities always), but there are well over 100 comments, and it may take a while.

I apologize for contributing to this imbroglio. A couple of telephone calls before clicking "Publish Post" and I could have helped to right a misunderstanding of someone else's making rather than becoming an unwitting accomplice. I candidly offer an explanation of why I did not do so, not as an excuse, but in an effort to allow others to learn from my mistake:

  1. Because the source of the information was credible.

    The direct source of my information is immaterial. I did not go out of my way to publish this story. I was asked to put it up, and I was willing to do so. The essential data of my previous post was part of the information presented by the staff of the International Mission Board as it hosted its most recent trustee gathering. The exception, as I understand it, is that the BGCT was not identified by name in that presentation as being one of the three conventions. The BGCT's explanation makes it clear that it was indeed one of the conventions in question, even if the entire scenario was a misunderstanding. In discussing presentations at the trustee meeting, I am not talking about secret Executive Session data, but about information presented at a meeting that any of us could have attended had we wished to do so. I took that fact as all of the confirmation that I needed. Call it naivete on my part: I presumed that the IMB both knew what it was talking about and was prepared to stand behind whatever it told its trustees. At least one of these presumptions was demonstrably false.

    I still think that the International Mission Board is a credible source, just not an infallible one. As I was driving home today, I considered the location not far from my route where the I-40 bridge over the Arkansas River collapsed in Oklahoma. I still believe that our Interstate highway system is well-constructed and safe. I trust it well enough to drive over it without any apprehension that it might collapse under me. But we all now know that it happens on rare occasions.

    Likewise, the International Mission Board is staffed by good people trying to accomplish an important task—the important task. I will continue to trust what they say to their trustees and to the public. I consider this episode, inflammatory as it has been, to have been a fluke. Somebody either misunderstood something or made something up. It wasn't me. It wasn't anyone with whom I spoke. We bought it. And with the weight of the IMB behind it, I wasn't in "verify" mode; I was in "publish" mode. I should have verified.

    And then I repeated it, although I did so in a careful manner that remains factually accurate. I accurately reported someone else's inaccurate information, and in doing so was careful to represent the information as someone else's data and not as my own first-hand knowledge. Nevertheless, I threw some measure of my credibility behind it. If you believed it because I reported it, then I have done you a disservice. And for that I apologize.

    And if you ever write or speak in public as I am doing, then perhaps you can learn from this situation that you can never fact-check a story too much, no matter how good your sources are.

  2. Because the scenario was believable to me.

    I imagine that some portion of the comments on the previous post questioned my motivation in reporting about the Baptist General Convention of Texas. I could write that I meant the BGCT no harm and was just dispassionately reporting what I heard from others.

    You wouldn't believe me, nor should you.

    Whatever the comment thread says, it would be unlikely for anyone to have placed into my mouth a lower opinion than I actually hold regarding the BGCT. Because they forward as little CP to the SBC as they can possibly get away with (they keep 80% and forward 20%), because of their ongoing animosity and hostility toward the SBC, and because they are reportedly struggling financially, the scenario seemed to me to be precisely the sort of thing that the BGCT would do. My opinion about the BGCT long predates the events of the past two days and arises from air-tight, publicly declared, verified data. Some of you will hold a different opinion of the BGCT. I have not shown you the disrespect of pretending that I don't hold regarding the BGCT precisely the opinion that you think I hold. My church's opinion of the BGCT was expressed in our actions when we determined not to cooperate with the BGCT any longer.

    That being said, I am in no way obsessed with the BGCT. Out of 537 posts on this blog, I only find 10 (now 11) that have to do with the BGCT, and of those 10, some actually say positive things about the liberal SBC denomination in Texas. I'm no Math major, but that constitutes less than 2% of my posts. I'm hardly playing Ahab to the BGCT's Moby Dick.

    But the lesson here deals with our human tendencies, when we see exactly what we expect to see, not to look too closely. Magicians depend upon this strongly ingrained feature of human intelligence. The story not only came from a credible source, but it matched up precisely to the reality that I could imagine to be most likely. Thus I posted without performing more research.

    And the entire situation puts me in the bitter-tasting situation of having somewhat wronged an institution that I dislike and owing it an apology. So, to the BGCT, I apologize for not taking greater care in reporting damaging information about you. I will endeavor, whenever criticizing you in the future, to exercise greater caution to stick to the many publicly verifiable items on which we disagree.

    And, although I believed the story, I am glad to learn that this is merely a situation of lackadaisical inattentiveness toward Lottie Moon money on your part rather than deliberate withholding of these much-needed funds from our missionaries. While we were still affiliated with BGCT, we designated around the convention budget for several years. We never had any reason to suspect that the BGCT did anything other than honor our wishes for our donations.

  3. Because the subject matter was very important in my estimation.

    This, I think, is the reason why the trustee meeting was reportedly abuzz about this topic long before I posted my little blog entry. The slow pace of CP and LMCO funds coming to the IMB is reportedly jeopardizing our board's ability to appoint missionaries. I was in a hurry to report what I found to be a credible and disturbing story because I did not want our convention to fail in the funding of a single qualified missionary candidate.

    On this question, I hope that we all agree. The large number of comments is evidence that we all consider this to be a very important question. What I hear about the inflammatory tone of some of the comments is, if accurate, further evidence. We all care about this subject a great deal. Faced with a credible story of such magnitude and importance, I published it in a careful manner that remains to this moment generally factually accurate.

    But, I only achieved that level of enduring accuracy by employing weasel words to cover my limited research into the matter. As a result, I have contributed to a scandalous forty-eight hours that have accomplished precisely the opposite of my intentions—I have brought to the convention's attention a discredited story that will not motivate any Southern Baptist to do anything with regard to missions. And now the fact that our International Mission Board needs a renewed commitment among Southern Baptists to fund this ministry of paramount importance—that story has been lost in the shuffle. The story that I presented, if it had been true, would have been more important in my estimation. As a discredited story, it is obviously of much lesser importance.

    And because of the importance of the topic, I owe it to our missionaries to close out this episode and do my part in moving us all forward to the verifiable and pressing matters of the day. Toward that end, and to contribute to a speedy resolution, I will try to reply promptly to any person with questions to present on this post. I have closed the comments on the other post, not to stifle conversation, but to allow us all to have one place rather than two places to submit comments and to look for replies. I am not going to reply to any of the comments on the other post, but will make a good faith effort to converse in this thread with each and every person who wishes to inaugurate a conversation in this thread. I do not commit to an unlimited conversation with any individual, but I promise to try not to leave anyone out entirely.

I'm a bit embarrassed for whoever got this wrong to begin with, although I hold no ill will toward whoever that was. Furthermore, no matter what caution I exhibited before, I'm a bit embarrassed to have been at the center of it all. A blogger contacted me shortly after I posted my last article rueing the fact that I put it up before he did. Nobody has expressed that regret today!

Nevertheless, as a strong believer in Romans 8:28, I'm glad to do my part to try to bring something good out of it all. As I see those opportunities in this comment thread, I will try to avail myself of them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

DISCREDITED POST...SEE CORRECTION: BGCT Refusing to Release Lottie Moon Funds, Sources Report

The content of this post is no longer representative of the position of the International Mission Board. See the next post for more information.

Sources within the International Mission Board report that the Baptist General Convention of Texas is escrowing Lottie Moon Christmas Offering funds to safeguard BGCT cash flow.

Although churches collect the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for the sole benefit of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the funds generally follow the same pathway as do Cooperative Program gifts—churches send their offerings to their respective state Baptist conventions, which serve as the collecting agents for the Southern Baptist Convention. For eighty-four years the various state conventions have acted in good faith in this role, promptly forwarding Lottie Moon Christmas Offering funds to the International Mission Board for rapid distribution to the cause of international missions.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas has trimmed its staff, programming, and budget substantially over the past several years. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that my church has switched affiliation from the Baptist General Convention of Texas to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention within the past few years. Although the official BGCT budget has shown increasing hostility toward SBC ministries since the 1990s, this event would constitute a rare occasion of BGCT's taking action to blockade funds designated by BGCT churches to SBC causes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

NAMB, IMB, and the GCR

I promised my inerrancy piece next, and I've been delaying blogging in order to try to keep that promise. But that piece is coming out on a different site than this one, and the date of its publication is not entirely within my control. I have decided to move forward and let it come out whenever it comes out. I should also mention this—some of the comments on the last post seemed to indicate that I left a false impression. I am going to be writing about someone who does not affirm inerrancy. I am not going to be “outing” anyone. I will be interacting with the published works of someone. If you do not already know that he is an anti-inerrantist, then you just haven't been paying attention to this particular person. I don't want to spill the beans entirely at this point, simply to preserve a little drama for the unveiling of the piece, but this is not going to be a post in which I reveal that Keith Eitel is a closet liberal <snicker>

Now, to my post.

Recently I received in the mail a form letter from Geoff Hammond and Richard H. Harris commending FBC Farmersville for having given more money in 2008 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering than any other church in the Collin Baptist Association. As I look at the piece of paper sitting on my desk, with the North American Mission Board logo emblazoned at the top of the stationery, I find myself wondering whether I should save the stationery in case it soon becomes a collector's item and a memento of bygone days in the SBC.

Tim Patterson, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the NAMB, has announced his support for the dissolution of the NAMB and the folding of its tasks into the present International Mission Board (IMB). Whatever Dr. Daniel Akin's and Dr. Johnny Hunt's intentions for Axiom IX of the Great Commission Resurgence document, Patterson's idea is what I expected would be the most likely initiative to emerge as the outcome of the discussion promoted in that document. I think that it is a bad idea.

Don't get me wrong—it isn't that I'm a big proponent of the status quo at NAMB. The letter on my desk is Exhibit A in the case that Southern Baptists could do a better job of cooperating through NAMB. Collin County, Texas, is a mostly urban area populated with many large churches. We're a small-town church in one of the few remaining relatively rural sections of the county. In a decade of ministry here, I can't ever recall us having been the top dollar giver for anything. At least in Collin County, NAMB is so under-supported that our mediocre effort took top prize. I suspect that our association is not atypical.

Frankly, at the risk of self-incrimination, I confess that I personally under-support both NAMB and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. I promote the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering much more. We send much more money to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (and, by the way, get nowhere close to top ranking in our local association in spite of our doing so, so the other congregations in our association must be giving much, much more to Lottie Moon as well). Why? Respectfully, the answers have absolutely nothing to do with this being the twenty-first rather than the twentieth century. Our mission efforts at home have comparatively struggled since even the century before that.

I can see that the movement to consolidate NAMB and IMB has gained some momentum. I am dubious about the potential of my quiet objections way over here in the corner to divert the steamroller. I presume that some substantial portion of my readership is all jazzed up at the potential of a NAMB-IMB consolidation, and that some further impressive fraction doesn't care one way or the other. Either of these groups may actually be wiser than I am. Nevertheless, for the benefit of us all, I offer the following few ideas that I urge you to consider before supporting the idea of a consolidated mission board for the SBC:

  1. Are you certain that this will solve NAMB's problems rather than spread them?

    Back in January 2007 I composed and published a post about the history of NAMB. In addition to providing you with a link, I would like to provide you with most of the text of the post (it was uncharacteristically brief for me):

    The institution that is now known as NAMB has struggled to define itself since 1845. It has struggled to find good leadership since 1845. And since 1845, Southern Baptists have regularly reshuffled and reorganized this institution, throwing at it all of the odds and ends of our denominational life. Just consider the names it has held down through the years:

    1. Board of Domestic Missions (1845)
    2. Domestic and Indian Mission Board (1855)
    3. Domestic and Indian Mission and Sunday School Board (1873)
    4. Home Mission Board (1874)
    5. North American Mission Board (1995)

    Each of those changes involved the folding in of new responsibilities and a reorganization of the board. The last of those was in 1995, when our Covenant for a New Century completely reorganized the SBC and threw all the leftover scraps into NAMB.

    As Southern Baptists, we need to remind ourselves that the scraps are not garbage. So many of the individual ministries inside NAMB are incredible success stories that we need (Disaster Relief is a prominent example that comes to mind, but there are others). Others are areas of pervasive need with few successes (like the evangelization of our major cities in the North). Some of these areas of failure are not NAMB's fault—carrying the gospel to Boston is not an easy assignment. But with the organization focused on so many different, unrelated things, one wonders how it could be expected to maintain institutional focus for such an important task.

    I do not work for NAMB. I do not know many people who work for NAMB. In no way can I give you an inside story about NAMB's achievements, failures, structure, etc., as regards the present day. But as a Baptist historian, I can absolutely tell you this: If the North American Mission Board today has a well-defined, well-understood, well-led, well-executed sense of its nature and mission, then this is virtually the first time in 160 years that such has been the case.

    The International Mission Board has had the benefit of pursuing a concise and clearly understood mission for over 160 years. We've never reorganized it from the outside, folding new entities into its structure. Even if a few proto-John-Maxwells down through the ages have tried to make their mark by “recasting the vision” of the IMB, the common Southern Baptist church knows that the International Mission Board and only the International Mission Board exists to apply the financial and human resources of the Southern Baptist Convention toward the spread of the gospel outside of the United States of America. In the mind's eye of the SBC churches, the International Mission Board exists only to do that.

    Nothing so simple can be said of the North American Mission Board, and that to its detriment. The lack of a clear, simple, intuitive understanding of precisely what it is that the NAMB exists to do eventuates in a lack of congregational allegiance to and support of this vital SBC entity.

    Consolidation of these two boards would do nothing to simplify the tangled web of dissonant tasks existing within the NAMB. Rather, all it would accomplish is the robbing from the IMB of the simplicity and straightforwardness from which it has benefitted for a century and a half. All of these problems would simply move from Atlanta to Richmond.

    Do we really want to do that?

  2. Aren't we already organized for the twenty-first century? Are we now getting a head start on the twenty-second?

    A new “FAQ” section has appeared on the Great Commission Resurgence web site. The section is very helpful and was an encouragement to me in several areas. It addresses the fact that Southern Baptists radically reorganized the convention not so very long ago. It omits the name of our 1995 reorganization plan, which was “Covenant for a New Century” (perhaps we should have entitled it “Covenant for the Next Year or Two”). The purpose of that major reorganization was to streamline the SBC and design it to face the new challenges of our present century—the Twenty-First Century. The FAQ handles the objection that Article IX is nothing more than a call to go back and do the same old thing that we did before. Here is that particular question and answer in its entirety:

    We went through a restructuring of the SBC agencies in the mid 1990s, and some feel like the changes were positive while others believe they set us back. Why would we go through this hassle again?

    If you feel like previous changes made us more ineffective, to argue against making a change (since you felt bad decisions were made last time around) is to surrender and assume that we cannot or will not make good decisions as we reexamine the structure of our convention.

    If you feel like the changes made us more effective, to argue against discussing our structure again is to conclude that we cannot make even more effective improvements. We should always be willing to discuss anything and everything to make sure we are being wise stewards of Cooperative Program dollars and resources being used to advance the Kingdom.

    The logic is simple enough. If you didn't like the last round of reorganization, then you must not like the way things are today after that reorganization, and therefore you must see the need for change. On the other hand, if you did like the last round of reorganization, then you must see how beneficial it is to do this sort of thing. No matter what you thought of the last round of reorganization, your opinion must bring you to see how great it would be to reorganize again!

    Simple enough, but some of the logic is missing a few pieces. The key missing ingredient is the fact that reorganization is costly. Reorganization costs

    1. Energy. The Southern Baptist Convention only has so much denominational attention span and so much denominational energy. To commit to a path of reorganization is to decide that the brightest and best minds of our convention will spend the next several years focusing upon organizational charts instead of lost people.

    2. Ministries. Whenever we consolidate, some ministries always die. Consider the Brotherhood Commission. The Covenant for a New Century didn't improve the ministries of the Brotherhood Commission. They certainly needed improvement. RAs, for example, was a program in decline by 1995. Did the folding of the Brotherhood Commission into the NAMB make any actual improvement to the ministries of the former Brotherhood Commission? Not that I can observe. The RA program has gone from sick to comatose.

      Have the ministries of the Radio & TV Commission improved since we consolidated them into NAMB? No. In fact, we sold them out entirely. I think that Southern Baptists could benefit from some creative and energetic harnessing of electronic media. The Radio and Television Commission was a good idea poorly executed. If we cannot learn to use media to spread the gospel, then God help us. Television is full of TBN trash because they took TV seriously while we (Southern Baptists as a whole, not necessarily the folks at the RTVC) did not. Consolidating the RTVC into the NAMB was supposed to be the solution to these problems. It solved nothing; it killed the RTVC.

      Reorganization and consolidation means simply this: Killing off ministries that wind up being tangential to the new behemoth created.

      Am I opposed to the killing off of SBC ministries? Not at all. If we didn't kill off a thing or two from time to time, then we would be a bloated bureaucracy like you couldn't believe. Whatever we have that is not given to us in Scripture may be consigned to the categories of fading flowers and withering grasses.

      But if there are ministries that we need to kill, let us make certain that we do so intentionally and forthrightly. Let us not vote to improve something and wind up killing it instead.

    3. Money. Funding study committees, relocating entity headquarters, redesigning logos and business cards and stationery and the like—these things all take money.

    We're told, “We've got to do something. Why not this?” I agree that we've got to do something. But we don't have to do just any old thing. I am not impressed by the results of our last bid at reorganization. I've read and considered the argument that, because I don't like the results of the last reorganization attempt, that's all the more reason to re-reorganize. But the concept of consolidating the NAMB and the IMB does not represent a course correction from the Covenant for a New Century. No, quite the contrary, it represents a steaming full speed ahead on the same course of overconsolidation of muddled behemoth entities into even more gargantuan muddled entities. This is no slow turning of the Titanic; it is playing chicken with the iceberg.

  3. Have you no interest in broadening participation within the SBC?

    Rather than consolidating the NAMB and the IMB, I think we ought to consider doing just the opposite. Leaders in the SBC always talk about trying to involve more people and bring in the younger folks into the SBC structure. They also keep talking about streamlining and efficiency. These are endeavors that work against one another.

    I predict that SBC President Johnny Hunt will proudly declare that his presidential appointments this year have reached out to people never appointed before to serve in the SBC and have brought in newer, younger leaders for the future of the SBC. Good for him; good for us all. When SBC presidents wish to show that they have taken action to broaden participation in the SBC, they always point to the appointment of people to serve on committees and boards.

    Well, the more that you consolidate the entities, the fewer committees and boards you're going to have. The fewer committees and boards you have, the less opportunity there is to broaden participation in the SBC.

    Consolidation of entities equals consolidation of power.

    If this trend continues, by the end of this century and the dawning of the next, fifty people will run the SBC during the year when the convention is not meeting. I'm a big fan of the trustee system. I've authored a paper in support of the trustee system. Some seem to think that the trustee system is the problem. Fewer boards! Fewer meetings! I say more boards, more members, and more meetings. Let us involve a greater number of grassroots Southern Baptists in our grand enterprise. Would this not be one good approach to getting Southern Baptists more involved in the pursuit of the Great Commission?

    Centralization always sounds good to the person in the middle. But I believe that the rest of us ought to think the matter through carefully before signing on the dotted line.

  4. Isn't there a dramatic risk that domestic church planting will become (more of) a stepchild to international missions if these two boards consolidate?

    Presently, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention vote each year on budget priorities balancing international missions and home missions. If we consolidate the mission boards, the messengers will no longer have that privilege. Rather, we will approve a generic line item for missions, and the new board will decide how much to spend on domestic church planting and how much to spend on international missions.

    Southern Baptists have always loved international missions more than we've loved the planting of churches in the United States. But a profound need exists for us to focus on church planting in the Northeast and the West. We will lose our nation unless we begin to impact those areas. If we consolidate the NAMB and the IMB, rather than having an entity for which reaching those areas is a top priority, we'll have an entity for which that mission is a footnote. Over time, I predict that more and more funding would migrate away from home missions and onto foreign fields, which has always been the kind of missionary work most exotic and appealing to Southern Baptists.

  5. Aren't there some fundamental differences between what NAMB does and what IMB does?

    Here's one difference right off the bat: The North American Mission Board exists to plant Southern Baptist churches, but the International Mission Board cannot plant Southern Baptist churches. The IMB should plant Baptist churches and only Baptist churches, but IMB churches are not geographically eligible to join the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Will our projected new consolidated mission board start planting non-SBC congregations here in the USA?

    The NAMB's benefactors are also its dependents. Thus it interacts with state conventions and local associations and local congregations in a manner unlike anything that happens at the IMB—differentiated from IMB interactions, if in no other way, simply by the fact that the people who receive NAMB ministries also have the ability to choose those who oversee the NAMB and to set the NAMB's funding.

  6. Is this a catalyst for a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists, or is it a diversion?

    Article IX will crowd out the remainder of the Great Commission Resurgence document. Whatever you think about the other articles, Article IX is shaping up to be the only article that matters.

    Here's why.

    First, Article IX is the only one of these articles that the Southern Baptist Convention has any ability to influence. Every other article represents tasks that can only be undertaken by local churches and individual believers, with the exception of Axiom V, which Hunt and Akin have clarified to be an affirmation of the status quo. The Southern Baptist Convention is inept to shape the actual ministerial practice of local churches and individual believers. This ineptitude is not a new development. It has never been the purpose nor the design of the SBC to shape the actual ministerial practice of its local churches and individual believers.

    So, to vote on the GCR at this year's annual meeting is to vote solely upon Article IX.

    Second, within Article IX, the only possible real outcome is a restructuring of our mission boards, seminaries, executive committee, and the ERLC.

    Do you think that some level of streamlining or reform needs to take place at some state conventions? The lack of financial support for national and international missions at the Baptist General Convention of Texas is shameful and criminal, in my opinion. I see areas within the Southern Baptist family that could stand some change.

    But I know that the Southern Baptist Convention is entirely powerless to effect any of those changes. The state conventions are autonomous. The local associations are autonomous. If the Southern Baptist Convention had the wherewithal to affect the workings of state conventions, the BGCT would not exist in its present form.

    So, no motion, no resolution, no study committee, no task force, nor any blue-ribbon panel of the SBC can get individuals to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, can focus individual Southern Baptists or Southern Baptist local churches on the gospel, can prompt individuals to live out the Great Commandments alongside the Great Commission, can make the SBC any more committed to biblical inerrancy than we achieved in the Conservative Resurgence, can improve the fidelity of SBC churches to biblical ecclesiology, can make Southern Baptist preachers preach better, can make local churches be any more biblically faithful or any more methodologically diverse, or can make Southern Baptist families more distinctively Christian. These are all tasks given by God to people and institutions other than the Southern Baptist Convention. And the SBC cannot change local associations or state conventions or local churches.

    What's left? The SBC can consolidate, eliminate, or reshuffle the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, the six seminaries, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Lifeway, Guidestone, or the Executive Committee of the SBC. And in this category, the only specific idea that I've heard anyone mention is the concept endorsed by Patterson: The consolidation of these two mission boards. Thus, in my analysis, voting on the GCR is essentially a vote on the consolidation of the mission boards.

    And because I agree with most Southern Baptists that we do need to focus our efforts upon the fulfillment of the Great Commission, I am not supporting what amounts to another distraction from it—a fiddling around with offices and titles and mission statements of our para-church entities.

A person should try not to be critical unless he is prepared to be constructive. Don't shoot at other people's ideas unless you're willing to put forward your own. In an upcoming post I will share my own ideas about better ways to incubate a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC.

In conclusion, I listened today to a podcast interview with Pastor Johnny Hunt on this topic. He had a great many positive and helpful things to say. I appreciated the interview. I encourage you to listen to it.

Two concepts that Hunt mentioned in this interview caught my ear. First, Bro. Johnny spoke about “pushback.” I want to clarify that, at least on my part, there is no pushback going on. Some of our leaders have taken us by the hand and asked us to go on a journey with them, with very few of the details of the trip known to us beforehand. Not all of us have responded with an immediate, “Yes! Whatever you say! Wherever You Lead, I'll Go!” A lack of immediate, unanimous, unconditional acceptance is not pushback. I'm not trying to oppose Bro. Johnny or Dr. Akin; I'm just trying to think this through and decide whether I think they have a good idea or a bad idea or just another SBC parade (to steal terminology from Tim Guthrie's recent excellent post). The consolidation of the NAMB and the IMB is, in my estimation, a bad idea put forward by good people. If the GCR is not about this consolidation, then it would be helpful to me for the GCR leaders to say so quickly, clearly, and publicly. Otherwise, what we have here is nothing more than my wondering aloud whether I personally intend to jump on this bandwagon or not. That's not “pushback” by any stretch of the imagination; it is just me being something other than an automaton.

Second, Bro. Johnny spoke frequently and at length about trust. Because I've been quoted in a couple of media outlets in criticism of the GCR, I feel some obligation to address the question of trust. Johnny Hunt and Daniel Akin have 100% of my trust that they love the Lord, love Southern Baptists, and sincerely want the days of our greatest obedience to the Lord to be ahead of us rather than behind us. I have no doubts that they want to help. There's a distrusting of people in which you suspect that they may be out to hurt you, but then there's also a distrusting of people in which you know for certain that they want to help you, but aren't entirely confident that they know how to help you. I know that Hunt and Akin want to help.

If I have any lack of trust in our leaders, it lies not in the area of their intentions, but in the area of their omniscience. Don't get me wrong: Each knows a great deal more than I know and has demonstrated it in the living of his life. They are probably right. I am probably wrong. I require them to convince me before I sign the document, but I acknowledge the high likelihood that they know better than I do. Indeed, for that very reason, I trusted our leaders in the 1990s when we reorganized the last time. But I've since lost the faith—not in the gospel or in the Great Commission or in Johnny Hunt or in Daniel Akin, but in the idea that we can reorganize ourselves out of our collective Southern Baptist situation. Ours are spiritual problems, not organizational problems. Our addressing them or failing to address them will take place this Sunday and the Sundays after that (and indeed, Monday may be a more determinative day), and not on June 23.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In One Woman's Case, Pro-Lifers Win the Battle, Lose the War

Ayelet Waldman's most recent book is entitled Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace. Terry Gross of National Public Radio recently interviewed Waldman on the program "Fresh Air" (audio available at the linked page).

The interview was very disturbing to me. Waldman characterized the 1970s debates about abortion as occurring between two polar depictions of abortion. The pro-abortion feminists of her mother's generation (including her mother) adamantly refused to employ the word "baby" in any discussion of abortion and argued that there was no moral problem with the removal of a "cluster of cells." The pro-life advocates adamantly insisted upon referring to unborn babies as, well, unborn babies. They argued that abortion is infanticide and is immoral.

Waldman sanely acknowledges that her generation of feminists can no longer maintain her mother's position. The onward march of technology has opened the womb to the world, allowing us all to look at these very babylike babies. In Waldman's case, pro-lifers have won the terminology battle. "There's a baby there…" Waldman concedes as unavoidable fact.

Does this fact change Waldman's position on the morality of abortion? Not at all. Rather, Waldman represents a bewildering and scandalizing hybrid—the woman who admits that abortion is the killing of a human baby just like any other human baby, but who is OK with that. "Bad Mother" indeed.

Waldman gets a tad weepy while describing the Dilation & Extraction procedure that she chose for the destruction of her third child, which the family named "Rocketship." She acknowledged the gruesome brutality of the procedure. Rocketship would be torn limb from limb and extracted through her cervix piece-by-piece. It was very important to her that the doctor make sure that Rocketship was good and dead before the dismemberment began—his assurances in this regard gave her great comfort.

Waldman was depressed for several months after the drawing-and-quartering of her offspring. Her mother was concerned that Waldman was making too much of the whole thing. She kept trying to convince Waldman that it wasn't a baby and wasn't a big deal. Waldman explains in the interview that it was important to her that she acknowledge and work through the real tragedy and brutality of the abortion in all of its horror. Disinterested in the farcical fantasies of her mother's generation of feminism, she chose validation through regret. Inhumanity is OK, so long as it includes a healthy dose of contrition. Waldman introduces us to the ultimate asking-for-forgiveness-rather-than-asking-for-permission.

Driving down the road, listening to the interview, I was mesmerized. There's much more in the NPR piece. You may not enjoy listening to it, but you need to take the time anyway.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Where's the Association of Convictional Baptists Website?

Somebody asked about the website for the Association of Convictional Baptists. What happened to it?

Well, my Microsoft SQL Server CD is scratched (actually, it is a Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2000 CD including a SQL Server 2000 installer). My SQL Server is down, and I can't reinstall it from the CD. Problems.

I need to fix them. I will. The data is all there; it just needs a functioning server to show it to you. My apologies for the outage. If I weren't such a cheapskate, I'd just pay for hosting and not have these troubles.

Possible Zero-Raise Year Coming Up?

If your church ties its annual review of salaries to the Social Security COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustment) in any way, then this is probably news you need to hear now. The New York Times is reporting today that “Social Security Is Not Expected to Rise” for 2010 and perhaps even 2011.

The good news is that they are contemplating this step because inflation is so low. But if your church salary structure operates in this way, and if your personal budget would be affected by a zero-COLA year even when done in the midst of low inflation, then you probably ought to be doing some contingency planning for 2010 starting now.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Good Daily Practice for You

My promised upcoming post is being vetted by a couple of friends. While it goes through the editing process, I offer you this little maxim.

I think it is a good idea every day (when practical) to try to read something that you don't understand at all (here was today's attempt). It keeps the mind working.

Of course, some of you will remind me that I also have a regular habit of writing things that I don't understand at all. ;-)