Wednesday, July 29, 2009

FBCF Passes Church Covenant

I blogged earlier (see here) about the proposed covenant being considered by First Baptist Church of Farmersville.

Sunday evening, our church adopted the covenant with 91% of those voting supporting the adoption of the covenant. I'm proud of our congregation. We discussed the matter thoroughly. We probably spent a cumulative total of 4 hours in congregational discussion about the covenant over the past three months. That's not counting at least 2 hours of discussion by the deacons and an untracked and incalculable amount of time spent over the course of the past several years in development of this document.

At First Baptist Farmersville, we believe in allowing every member of our congregation his or her opportunity as a believer to pray about our congregational decisions and to share what they perceive to be the results of that prayer. I mentioned the above high percentage of consensus for adopting the covenant, but you would be wrong if you presumed that 91% of our congregation had no questions about the covenant or that 91% of our congregation started out in favor of this action when they first heard about it. The document has been improved along the way by the input of our congregation. Congregation members' understandings and opinions of the document and that nature of the church have grown through the unfolding dialogue that we as a congregation pursued. We had a robust discussion about this before our vote.

I thought that the 90 minutes spent Sunday evening discussion this covenant represented the absolute apex of biblical congregationalism. I felt like we were experiencing Acts 15 all over again in some sort of an updated framework. The leadership of elders was a part of the experience. The members of the congregation interacted with one another. The whole congregation had an opportunity to express its approval of our final outcome. And this business meeting was not centered around financial statements or paint colors or indemnity—we spent 90 minutes talking about people, their relationships with the Lord, how to aid new believers in their spiritual growth, how to have a biblical church of mutual accountability and encouragement without its devolving into legalism. We spent far more time conversing with one another about spiritual things than about temporal things. I was so proud of our congregation.

The highlight for me was the church member who told the story about having used the list of scriptures given in the church covenant to minister to couples having marital problems, young believers struggling to grow spiritually, and even to witness to some lost people. We discussed the use of the covenant catechetically (OK, so that particular word never actually entered the congregation) as a curriculum framework for an ongoing class for new believers, new members, and people who just think that the class would be helpful for their spiritual growth.

Our Constitution & Bylaws vote has been delayed. It turns out that changes in the Texas Business Organizations Code make it worthwhile for us to postpone that vote while we secure a legal review of our organizational documents (both those in force now and those proposed).

Monday I shared this thought with my pastoral staff: The job before this congregation now is to proceed with such careful grace, such heavenly wisdom, such mutual love within our congregation, that a decade from now our 91% who voted in favor of the covenant will be glad that they have done so, and that the 9% remaining will rejoice that their fears did not materialize. Perhaps even more importantly, we need to fall on our faces before the Lord and ask him to work through our growing emphasis upon the biblical nature of the church to see the large numbers of people who are members of our church but were not present for the vote—those who are never present for anything at the church—either saved if they are lost or reclaimed for Christ's service through our persistent gracious and restorative wooing of them in Christ's name.

Upon my return from London, I will share some of my reflections upon this process so far, as well as my hopes and fears for the work yet to do.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Obama Solution for Disorderly Conduct

The White House has announced a new proposed solution for dealing with people guilty of disorderly conduct—Get 'em drunk.

That always improves people's behavior, right? So President Obama plans to have Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Sgt James Crowder of the Cambridge PD over to the White House for a brewski. Yeah…that'll help them be more civil toward one another. Who knows? Maybe they'll grab a brew and discuss their view of theology. Maybe somebody in the trio will get saved by the miraculous Holy Spirit power of fermented drink.

In other news, the new Middle East Peace Plan reportedly involves slipping some PCP to Bebe Netanyahu and Salam Fayyad.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why I, Not We, Must Ration Health Care

The infamous Peter (A-Three-Toed-Sloth-Has-More-Rights-Than-Your-Newborn) Singer has been favored by the New York Times with a lengthy Op-Ed today entitled “Why We Must Ration Health Care.” Would that he had written it in 1965, so that our forefathers could have read it before first turning down this broad road leading to socialized medicine (the destination of which is just coming into sight).

As you read Singer's article, I believe you'll soon note that his argument in favor of health care rationing is flawless. The rabbinic philosophy which he cited in the article, he also soundly refuted. Health care absolutely must be rationed.

What Singer has not addressed is the more pertinent and important question: Not whether health care should be rationed, but WHO should do the rationing?

I believe that I should do the rationing. I should be entitled to all of the health care that I'm willing to fund out of my own pockets. I should be entitled to all of the insurance that I can afford and wish to purchase. Beyond my insurance coverage, I should be entitled to all of the health care for which I am willing to write a (non-bouncing) check. Some people will not be able to afford basic health care for themselves, and I should be entitled to decide whether I would like to help them or not. I should be constrained in my decisions by the compassionate example of Christ, which will compel me to give generously to help the infant born with a defective heart, but will likely not lead me to fund a Viagra prescription for anyone.

I support the HealthSaver formula of combining a High Deductible Health Plan with a Health Savings Account (see more about this option here or here). The best thing about this medical option, in my opinion, is the fact that it puts decisions about the rationing of my health care right where they belong—in my hands. My insurance does what insurance exists to do: It protects me from being destroyed financially by a calamity. My HSA money is money that I use either to save for a rainy day or to spend on medical care today. To decide which I'm going to do, I ration my health care. Before I go to the doctor, I ask myself, "Is this really worth spending my money?" Before I fill a prescription, I ask myself, "Maybe I should wait a day or two and see whether I feel better on my own before I spend money on an antibiotic?" Sometimes I spend the money; sometimes I don't. It depends upon how my own rationing decision works out.

And by the way—about that Health Savings Account—my health insurance has given me $2,829.61 in the last three years, all of which is socked away in a Money Market account and a Bond Fund. Furthermore, I haven't spent a penny out-of-pocket for health care in three years (the "pocket" not including my Health Savings Account, which is extra money I wouldn't have under any other plan). Switching to the HealthSaver 2800 was the best financial decision I've made in a long time.

Many of us will want insurance coverage that provides extensive coverage for major unforeseeable injuries and disorders that could affect us or our families. As those in charge of our own health-care rationing, we negotiate with insurers, shop around for coverage, and decide how much we're willing to pay extra for how much extra coverage.

This is not a perfect system, but neither is it the worst possible outcome. I can't think of a system with better appeal, personally. The only area in which the Big Brother system can tout its superiority over the free market is with regard to providing health care for the deserving poor. But the free market system can address that need as well, when it is populated by the compassionate and generous. And apart from the compassion and generosity of individuals, any system is doomed to failure.

That's one reason why I favor free enterprise so much. It cultivates compassion and generosity. In the free enterprise system, people know that those who have fallen down will not be able to get up unless I help them. I am motivated to show compassion and give generously. But if I have fallen for the lie that it is somebody else's job to help—the government's job—then I have delegated away the tasks of compassion and generosity (as well as administering a death-blow to gratitude on the part of the recipient) and can comfortably look the other way. "The government has programs for that."

Certainly I am more comfortable with making my own decisions about health-care rationing than I am with putting those decisions into the hands of the Federal Government or (may God protect us all!) into the hands of Peter Singer. There will be little compassion and generosity in either case. But between the two of them, at least Singer is being honest. Socialized medicine will always involve bureaucratic rationing of health care. We need to read Singer's article and think long and hard before our government steals away from us the ability to make our most critical and private decisions for ourselves.

In summary, I provide three reasons why I, not we, must ration health care:

  1. Because rationing is ultimately a moral question, and we cannot trust utilitarians like Peter Singer nor the Federal Government to make such moral decisions. If they advise that a severely disabled fetus should be aborted, what rationing decision will they make about extending treatment to such a child if the mother rejects their opinion on moral grounds and bring the baby to term?
  2. Because the tendency of people toward selfishness—toward over-valuing one's own life—has not been demonstrated historically to pose nearly the problem that has been inflicted upon humanity by the tendency of governments to under-value the lives of people. Strange as it may seem, people often courageously put aside their own needs and value their own comfort below the needs of others. Ask the disabled veteran. Ask the good mother. Ask the first-responders of September 11. Government? Put the needs of others ahead of its own needs? I'll let my good readers cite all of the examples of that phenomenon that they find in history.
  3. Because the shift of rationing away from the individual and toward the insurance company and the government has contributed greatly to the increase of health care costs that threatens us today so much.

For all of these reasons, and more, let us avoid Peter Singer's solution and ration our own health care.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

GCR Pushback?

Unless you don't read this blog or haven't followed it carefully of late, you know that I'm not exactly in the running for head cheerleader of the Great Commission Resurgence. I wrote an early post in which I criticized elements of the GCR Axioms document. I'm not in opposition to the GCR movement; I'm praying for and hopeful about the GCR movement; I'm not pushing for the reorganization.

Personally, I'd like to see some more specifics before I commit too much one way or the other

In that earlier post, I predicted that people would be bullied and categorized based upon their support or lack thereof for the GCR Axioms. People unsure of this particular plan for fulfilling the Great Commission would be derided as being against the Great Commission itself. Sure enough, we've heard some of that.

But now we face the speculation in Southern Baptist circles that SBC Executive Committee Vice President Clark Logan may have lost his job because of his connections with people in favor of the Great Commission Resurgence movement. I have seen several "tweets" on social networking site Twitter in which #clarklogan and #gcr are both listed in the message—an indication that people are linking the two topics.

I, like other Southern Baptists, will not know what to make of this until more information is released about this situation. However, I would like to note that most of our entities contain sizable communities both of those who have affirmed the GCR Axioms and those who have not. I am appreciative, for example, of Dr. Chuck Kelley's statesmanlike articulation of his own reservations regarding the GCR plan (which tracked so closely with my own reservations), which he coupled with a strong affirmation of the liberty of NOBTS employees to choose to sign or not to sign the document. That's the approach that I advocate—view the GCR, like all matters of tumultuous change in the SBC, with the wise eye of appropriate skepticism, but treat one another in a Christlike manner by granting liberty to explore this important topic. That's the stance that I've seen from so many denominational statesmen on both sides of the present question.

Although proponents of the GCR have occasionally slipped to slur the GCR-reluctant as "against the Great Commission," they have not yet fired anyone. Indeed, as a colossal act of statesmanship, SBC President Johnny Hunt has appointed to the Reorganization Task Force some people who never did affirm the GCR Axioms. That's the kind of leadership that Southern Baptists appreciate.

Although my predictions were accurate as far as they went, I am embarrassed not to have anticipated what may have been an even more ferocious anti-GCR reaction of bullying. We will all know more if more facts are ever forthcoming, but if things are ever revealed to be in line with present speculation, I will owe an apology to the leadership behind the GCR for the lopsidedness of my predictions.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Were They Thinking? Now You Know.

The legal decision Roe v. Wade was so nonsensical, so pulled out of thin air, so clearly a matter of agenda rather than sound jurisprudence, that even liberal judicial scholar John Hart Ely (such an abortion-rights proponent that he said, "Were I a legislator, I would vote for a statute very much like the one the [Supreme] Court ends up drafting [in Roe v. Wade]") derided the decision, flatly stating, "[Roe v. Wade] is bad because it is bad constitutional law, or rather because it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be."

These words appear in the Yale Law Review as a part of Ely's now-famous article, "The Wages of Crying Wolf." Ely basically asks the Supreme Court, "What were you thinking when you wrote this decision?" He's not alone in his opinion of the landmark 1973 court opinion.

Well, if you want a little insight into what they were thinking, you might check out Ruth Bader Ginsburg's new interview with the New York Times (HT: Baptist Press). In that article, not only did Ginsburg trample over SCOTUS protocol to come out in support of Sotomayor's nomination to the court, but she also disclosed her understanding that the Supreme Court was attempting in Roe v. Wade to keep America from being overrun with poor ethnic minorities (you know, the folks who have way too many kids).

In my opinion, it is controversial enough to hear first-hand that the Supreme Court has ANY agenda in mind other than interpreting the Constitution of the United States. On top of that, to hear that the Supreme Court is dabbling in eugenics? Well, Ginsburg's interview is as incendiary as it is revealing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sound Thinking about Church Planting

Ed Stetzer asserts that missiological cooperation is often the doorway to theological compromise and explains the tensions between cooperation and theological vigilance, as well as how the level of necessary theological agreement goes up depending upon what local congregations are attempting to accomplish together. Here's the link. I'm thankful to Ed for his insightful and thought-provoking answer to this question.

Andy Johnson, a pastor with Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, hits the ball out of the park dealing with the idolatry of pragmatism in church planting and missiology (here's the link). He specifically mentions Garrison's Church Planting Movements and indirectly refers to Greeson's The Camel. Johnson is a trustee for the International Mission Board.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

First Baptist Church: We Put Up With Each Other

The title of this blog post is probably not the kind of slogan that anyone on Madison Avenue would ever recommend for a church. I do not expect to see it on a billboard in the Metroplex anytime soon. In the hallways at the various state conventions this Autumn, I would be surprised to hear any pastor, when he is asked how things are going at his church, to utter the sincere sentiment, "Well, they're putting up with me, and I'm putting up with them."

We like to indulge in and sell the fantasy that church is a place where you don't have to put up with people. We like to tell people to come to church where they'll get along with everyone and everyone will get along with them. We like to create genetically screened and modified congregations, demographically controlled to lessen the likelihood of their having to put up with anybody too different from them.

We pastors speak of our church having no problems that "a few good funerals" couldn't solve. We aspire to a more frequent practice of church discipline, sometimes because we wish to return to a biblical ideal, but if we will be honest with ourselves, sometimes because there are some people we'd rather ship off to somebody else. (Do not misconstrue: I'm working toward a better practice of biblical restorative church discipline here at FBC Farmersville, and I think that most of our SBC churches are in disobedience to the Lord if we are not doing so. I'm just saying that we pastors ought to check our own motives while we do so. More on that in several coming posts.)

But putting up with one another is a good and biblical idea. This morning I am preaching from the first two verses of Ephesians 4, in the first steps of a journey that will take us through that entire chapter. In the second verse, we find the powerful command (in Greek) that we should be “ἀνεχόμενοι ἀλλήλων ἐν ἀγάπῃ” unfortunately rendered in English in the NASB as "showing tolerance for one another in love." I say "unfortunately" not because of any defect in the NASB translators, but simply because the language of "toleration" in twenty-first-century English has come to carry so much baggage. We have come to associate with "toleration" a sort of attitude in which another person's behavior doesn't bother us. Often, in this age, the apex of toleration has come to be characterized by laissez-faire at the best and amorality at the worst.

The meaning in Ephesians, in contrast, conveys expressly the state of being bothered terribly by something or someone, yet patiently enduring the offense and putting up with the offender. The church that puts up with each other—that's a high biblical ideal to which we ought to aspire.

Ultimately, as I said in this morning's sermon, these attitudes arise out of our gospel calling. Each of us should pose two questions to ourselves as churchmen and churchwomen: (1) Do I really believe the gospel? (2) Do I really believe that the other members of this church are in the gospel?

If I really believe the gospel, including what it says about what I was and about what it took to remove me from what I was and to move me toward what I will be, then I will be humble in the church. And if I really believe that the gospel is at work in my fellow believers, then I will patiently put up with them in love, confident that whatever unChristlike thing I am enduring at their hands, it will not last forever in them as the Spirit has His gospel way with them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Microsoft: "Browse Better" = "Browse Worse; Hide Better"

Microsoft's newest advertising campaign defines a new low in the company's public relations history. Their advertisement "O.M.G.I.G.P" (the elaborated title is a violation of the third commandment, so I'll not be providing it) depicts a wife uncovering her husband's browsing history and becoming violently ill at the sight of what he has been viewing online.

What is Microsoft's solution to a depraved and perverted husband and a sickened wife? Will the folks at Redmond suggest that pornographic sites like the bleeped out URL given in the advertisement are inappropriate? Of course not. Their proposed solution is "InPrivate Browsing." Indulge the darker recesses of your heart, just learn to keep secrets better. Now THERE'S an approach that will strengthen the fabric of our society (not)!

Microsoft's slogan for Internet Explorer 8 is "Browse Better." How Orwellian that this slogan is actually an encouragement for people to browse worse!