Monday, April 30, 2012

Will the "Great Commission Baptists" Vote Matter?

In my present way of thinking, only a landslide vote one way or the other will have any substantial impact regarding the "descriptor" for the SBC, "Great Commission Baptists":

  • If it fails by a landslide, then it will fall away into the dustbin of forgotten history. That kind of a vote would matter.
  • If it fails by a narrow margin, what's to keep churches or other autonomous state conventions or local associations from using "Great Commission Baptists" anyway? Nothing. And so, if a lot of Southern Baptists support this name, even if they don't muster a majority in New Orleans, won't they just move forward undeterred with their intention to use this name?
  • If it passes by a narrow margin, will any institution, church, or individual be constrained to use the phrase "Great Commission Baptists" ever at all? Not that I can see. Frankly, I don't see our congregation using "Great Commission Baptists" in place of "Southern Baptist Convention" any time within my lifetime. We still send "Adopt an Annuitant" money to "The Annuity Board!"
  • If it passes by an enormous margin, then I think that the phrase "Southern Baptist Convention" will only appear again in footnotes and legal pleadings as far as the national convention apparatus is concerned. Such a vote would embolden those who dislike the name "Southern Baptist Convention" to drop it forthwith. That kind of a vote would matter.

I'd be surprised if the vote were to achieve a landslide either direction. For that reason, I'm wondering how much this particular vote will really matter in the long run.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Why I Find David Rogers's One-Loaf Argument Unconvincing

Five years ago David Rogers penned a blog post entitled The Illustration of the Hypothetical "Common Loaf Denomination". He intended it as an argument in favor of open communion. I stated then, and continue to state now, that it is an equally effective argument in favor of open membership. I can't recall what David's response was to that assertion.

And so, the present public state of things, as far as I can tell, is that both David and I accuse one another of inconsistency (please don't read mutual hostility into the word "accuse"). David accuses me of inconsistency because he believes that I make the smaller details of the biblical witness regarding baptism a test a fellowship while I do not make the smaller details of the biblical witness regarding the Lord's Supper a test of fellowship. I accuse David of inconsistency because I believe that he makes the smaller details of the biblical witness regarding baptism a test of fellowship when it comes to local church membership while he does not make them a test of fellowship when it comes to the Lord's Supper.

For five years, as Baptist blogging has touched upon the relationship between pedobaptists and credobaptists, David has from time to time linked back to this original article and used it in ongoing debate. Others have linked to it and have defended it. By the way, nobody, to my recollection, out of any of the endorsers has ever explained why this wouldn't apply equally to open membership as well as to open communion.

I thought I had already written to refute David's argument, but I cannot find that I have done so. I confess that other people often keep better track of my blogging than I myself do. If this is a repeated post, then I apologize, but I give you the reasons why David's pedagogical attempt does not convince me.

  1. Immersion is not really a "mode" of baptism. Yes, I and others have used that terminology for convenience's sake. We have made "mode" a property of "baptism" and have asserted three possible values for that property: "Immersion," "Aspersion," and "Affusion." This is convenient terminology, but it is inaccurate. It does not reflect reality.

    The reality is that there is no such thing as "baptism." There is only "immersion." We know definitively that "baptism" is a made up word, a transliteration of βαπτίζω concocted into the English tongue for the sole purpose of avoiding the accurate translation—the word "immersion"—in the New Testament. The world being as it is, we cannot avoid the use of the word "baptism," it being as firmly established as it is, but linguistic drift does not alter reality: Immersion is not a "mode" of baptism; it is the essence of "baptism."

    For this reason, the credobaptist vs. pedobaptist controversy is not a question of "The New Testament commands that you baptize: How does YOUR church do it?" Rather, it is a question of "The New Testament commands that you immerse: Does your church obey this command or not?"

    Rogers refers to this part of the discussion as the linguistic argument. In an attempt to show the validity of his illustration and his accusation of inconsistency, he states that there is a corresponding linguistic argument regarding the Lord's Supper:

    Linguistically, the term "breaking bread," generally accepted as referring to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, directly implies the use of a "common loaf."

    This assertion fails for several reasons. First, it fails because any number of loaves of bread can nonetheless be broken and a church can still have accomplished, linguistically, the breaking of bread. Furthermore, the loaf can be broken at any time during the Lord's Supper, or even beforehand, and the breaking of bread can still have been accomplished. In 1 Corinthians 10:16, the phrase, "τὸν ἄρτον ὃν κλῶμεν" simply refers to "the bread which we break into pieces." If you have bread, and if it winds up being broken into pieces, then you've entirely lived up to the linguistics of this phrase. The same cannot be said of βαπτίζω and the sprinkling of water onto a baby.

  2. More than "mode" is at stake in the disagreement between pedobaptists and credobaptists. Differences in "mode" followed differences in meaning and differences in sequence and differences in candidate. Sprinkling is merely a symptom of the choice to force baptism upon unwilling, unregenerate babies in the service of the foolish notion that spiritual benefit can accrue to them thereby. Almost everything about baptism is different between these two groups. The only similarities that I can find are that we all use water, we all use human beings, and we all talk about Jesus when we do it.

    Where the "mode" really IS the only thing at stake, we've actually been much more generous. For example, we know that John Smythe and Thomas Helwys merely poured water upon one another. The same is true of Roger Williams. I regard these men as Baptists.

    Of course, these men are an historical anomaly. With the benefit of further light on the subject being disseminated widely, nobody on the planet holds the view of Smythe, Helwys, and Williams today. All those who reject pedobaptism routinely perform their baptisms by immersion. To begin to perform baptism by sprinkling or pouring today is to reject much more than the only scriptural "mode" of baptism.

  3. A single common loaf was not necessarily (and I think cannot possibly have been) the eucharistic practice of the New Testament church. The Jerusalem church simply was too large to have celebrated the Lord's Supper by using a single loaf of bread. Yes, if one receives as inerrant truth the hypothesis about house churches in Jerusalem or David's own "city church" notion, then one might make a case for each cell group celebrating with its own single loaf of bread, but I don't believe that even David would assert his theories of New Testament ecclesiology as being so iron-clad that one should build his entire doctrine of an ordinance in a way that would crumble to the ground if "city church" ecclesiology later proved to be untenable. After all, the New Testament explicitly states that the entire Jerusalem church met in one accord at Solomon's Portico (Acts 5:12). The weight of that one statement alone should be enough—even if house church advocates can form some answer to it—to give us pause before we build our entire theology of the Lord's Supper upon the presumption that every celebration of the Lord's Supper in the New Testament used a single common loaf.

    In David's article he makes the assertion flatly:

    Historically, in the examples we read in the New Testament (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19, 24:30, 35; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11; 27:35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-24), it is apparent that the Lord’s Supper was celebrated with a "common loaf."

    It is true that "apparent," like "beautiful," can exist in the eye of the beholder, but I believe that I have at least demonstrated that David's assertion here falls far short of being invincible.

    There is some recourse for David's argument. He might assert that it is not necessary that the New Testament share a single common loaf across the entire congregation. Rather, he might say, he is merely asserting that each Christian believer received the Lord's Supper from a loaf that he or she shared in common with at least one other Christian believer. In other words, if the Jerusalem church had to distribute 500 loaves at Solomon's Portico, then even if the congregation did not all share the SAME common loaf, we can presume that groups of ten people or so all shared a loaf with one another within the congregation. The implication would then be that we can only partake the Supper rightly if the bread we consume has come from a loaf that went to feed at least one other person during that celebration of the Supper. I do not see that David can reasonably argue any more than this, but even this, I would assert, is an argument from silence.

    If the average loaf of unleavened bread in Jerusalem in AD 33 was enough to serve 12 people during the Lord's Supper, and if there were a congregation of 1200 people partaking, then the math is simple enough: Just bake 100 loaves of bread and distribute them out to people grouped by the dozen. But what happens when the congregation grows to 1201? Are we suggesting that New Testament churches could never have encountered the situation in which a loaf of bread was completely consumed when the penultimate member of the congregation took her or his piece? Certainly the New Testament speaks nothing to us of any precautions that were taken to prevent this from happening. But that's all it would take for a New Testament congregation to have celebrated the Lord's Supper in such a way that at least one member of the congregation didn't share his particular loaf with anybody else.

    Perhaps a simpler way to understand the New Testament is that the collective amount of bread held by the congregation for the Supper—however many loaves that might have been—was broken up into pieces that were then collectively shared by the congregation such that every member was fed. Such a viewpoint goes no further than what the biblical text asserts, and it requires no extra-textual assertions about maximum numbers of loaves allowed or minimum numbers of people to consume from each particular loaf. Of course, it is also a way of understanding that poses no problems (as far as I can see) for the way that Southern Baptist churches generally celebrate the Lord's Supper.

  4. The extent of "sharing in the body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians 10:16 is necessarily neither coterminous with nor dependent upon the number of people who could receive the Lord's Supper from a particular loaf of unleavened bread. David Rogers, above all people I have known, would assert that two believers who have never been in the same hemisphere with one another and who have never partaken from any shared physical loaf together are nevertheless people who join in "a sharing in the body of Christ." I would almost say that this concept strikes at the heart of David's defining contribution to Southern Baptist blogging. I do not think that he will retreat from it now. But if he will assert that we only have a sharing in the body of Christ to the extent that we have a sharing in the same loaf of bread, then he must.

    The "sharing" in this passage refers to our sharing in the collective group of loaves of bread that have symbolized the body of Christ in the Lord's Supper. We might easily descend here into the sixteenth-century Ubiquitarian controversy, but we can surely agree that the partakers of different loaves in the Lord's Supper are nonetheless sharing in the same broken body of Christ (symbolically and memorially, I believe). And it is precisely THIS sharing—what we share with Christ more than what we share with one another—that is the thrust of 1 Corinthians 10, with its warning that we not share Christ with the cup of demons.

    I am not asserting that the common sharing with one another is entirely absent from 1 Corinthians 10. Rather, I am asserting two things: First, I am asserting that our sharing with Christ is primarily in view in this passage and that the sharing among ourselves is decidedly secondary and incidental. Second, I am asserting that the sharing with one another is a consequence not of how many loaves of bread were used in the Supper, but of the fact that we are all sharing in the body of Christ. However many loaves can communicate a sharing in the body of Christ, those are how many loaves can communicate our sharing with one another. The sharing in the body of Christ comes about through regeneration and is, I believe, symbolized equally well by the concept of sharing I articulated in the preceding point as it is by David's idea. David and I would both agree, I think, that it is by conversion that we become sharers in the body of Christ, and that the Lord's Supper, with however many loaves, appropriately symbolizes this spiritual truth.

    In contrast, the sprinkling of unwilling, unregenerate infants and the passing off of this practice as Christian baptism resembles this situation with the Lord's Supper not at all. It explicitly extends a symbol of Christian mortification and regeneration to those to whom it does not apply. It is, ironically, a violation of the very prohibition given in 1 Corinthians 10—it is the profaning of something sacred that believers only should share by dragging it into fellowship with the property of demons. David writes:

    Symbolically, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 10.16-17, the use of a "common loaf" represents physically and visually an important spiritual truth: the essential unity of the Body of Christ ("For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread").

    As I hope I have demonstrated, David himself believes that the "loaf" of the body of Christ extends across many physical loaves of bread. Consequently, the only way that "the essential unity of the Body of Christ" can be illustrated in the Lord's Supper is if the number of loaves employed is of no consequence. As I also hope I have demonstrated, the precise principle asserted and defended in this passage—the importance of protecting from defilement by the profane world of unbelievers those things which are sacredly shared by believers—is a principle that necessarily denounces the practice of pedobaptism.

  5. There is a difference between commandment and description in the New Testament. With regard to immersion, we are commanded to immerse. With regard to the Lord's Supper, we are commanded to take, to eat, to share, to remember…but nowhere are we commanded to have a common loaf and to break it out among one another at a particular moment in the observation and in a particular way. The corollary to a refusal to immersion would be if we could find a group of people who passed out the elements of the Lord's Supper, looked them over, prayed a little prayer, and then threw them away without eating them. Or, perhaps, it would be the Quakers, who refuse to observe the Lord's Supper at all. These are people who are clearly in violation of the imperative commands of Christ in the New Testament with regard to the Lord's Supper, and they stand in parallel with those who do not obey the imperative command to immerse.

  6. If David WERE right, what would the remedy look like? David begins his post by preemptively stating: "Please understand that what I am writing here is just an illustration to prove a point. I am emphatically NOT suggesting the founding of a new 'Common Loaf Denomination.'" One must ask the question, why not?

    Or, at least, to make allowances for David's (and hopefully all of our) distaste for denominational division, one must wonder why David is not working to encourage local churches to adopt this manner of observing the Lord's Supper. If David's argument is as strong as he says it is ("I believe it forcefully and poignantly drives home a point"), then shouldn't he be urging us all to implement it in our churches without fail? Are those who have quoted and cited David's article changing their own churches' practice of the ordinance?

    Why is it that we use allegations of inconsistency in this day and time always to urge people to be consistently lax and never to urge people to be consistently faithful?

    If we were to find David's argument compelling and if we were to take David's words seriously, what would be the outcome? In that circumstance, in order to be consistent in our treatment of the Lord's Supper and baptism, we would have to require people who were joining our churches to set aside their old way of observing the Lord's Supper and, from this point forward, to adhere to the right way of doing it.

    In other words, even if everything that I have written in this post were somehow set aside and David's "common loaf" theory were 100% vindicated, nothing would change about the way that our church receives members or opens the Lord's Table. That's because baptism is a punctiliar ordinance while the Lord's Supper is an ongoing ordinance. If our church has a conviction about how the Lord's Supper ought to be observed, we need not worry whether those who seek membership in our church or who observe the Supper in our meeting house with our church will observe it rightly. We control that. Everyone who partakes here will partake in the manner of our practice and conviction.

    Baptism, on the other hand, is different. We do not re-baptize. We merely have the awkward duty sometimes of informing people who think they have been baptized that they have not. Alike, in both the case of the baptism and the case of the Lord's Supper, the remedy is simply that those worshipping the Lord in this congregation and having been exposed to the teachings of the Bible must, if they will join with this congregation, observe the ordinances according to the New Testament commandments of Christ from this point forward. There is consistency there.

    It's just that doing so with regard to the Lord's Supper is not controversial at all, while doing so with regard to baptism can generate conflict.

And so, there is my answer to David Rogers. I apologize for waiting so long to post it. As you can see, it is not a brief task, and blogging is not, after all, my primary calling from God. I mean no disrespect to David Rogers in the publication of this post. Indeed, it appears only because of his request that I interact with his ideas. It is actually the case that I post this out of respect for him, not disrespect, for he deserves an answer to a question that he has posed more than once in the past five years: What do we think, we who disagree with him, about his "common loaf denomination" illustration?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Real Marriage and Natural Sex

WARNING: This post is, at times, sexually explicit.

I can see on the horizon that April is going to be a busy month for me. Seeing a particular week in which I know I won't be able to write anything, I'm setting this post to publish during that week. Ah, the wonder of computers, by which we can appear to be doing something that we actually did long ago!

Of course, the risk is that, although what I'm blogging about is current now, it may be old news by the time this post goes up. I disagree with Mark Driscoll's book Real Marriage in many ways. The controversy over the book has generated a lot of heat in the early reviews. I think it deserves to generate some heat, but I'd also like to try to contribute some light, not only to reviews of this book but also to the subject matter of sexual ethics in general and the human relationship with the created order (nature).

It seems to me that the role of nature in sexual ethics is woefully understated today. The Driscolls' book is a prime example. The Driscolls ask of sexual practices whether they are lawful, helpful, and non-enslaving. They ought further to have asked of each sexual practice under review, is it natural?

The Bible, after all, explicitly includes the question of nature as a key component of sexual ethics:

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the NATURAL function for that which is UNNATURAL, and in the same way also the men abandoned the NATURAL function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Romans 1:26-27

Notice the prominent use of nature in this assessment of homosexuality. Here, by the way, is one of the places where this essay is much more than a critique of Mark Driscoll's latest book. In discussions about homosexuality, too often we allow people to frame the discussion as though the argument against homosexuality is essentially a religious argument or an argument from tradition. Really, the argument against homosexuality is biological, scientific, and natural. Clearly, it is the design of penises and vaginas to function in cooperation with one another. Yes, people have devised all sorts of other things one can do with a penis or a vagina, but the design of the created order—the natural function of penises and vaginas—is indisputable.

The argument against homosexuality is not necessarily religious (for gay marriage has never, before this century, existed in ANY religious, or irreligious, culture or among any people), but is instead anatomical. Certainly, anatomy has spiritual implications, and religious faith is affected by these observations about the created order that God has given us, but one need not be Southern Baptist to look at the design of human beings—of vertebrates!—and conclude that these beings have been designed for heterosexuality (even if you somehow believe that randomness has done the designing).

Nature is not always such a faithful guide—nature will kill you, for example, if you drink "natural" water out of the wrong stream. But when it comes to sexual ethics, for anyone who believes that God is Creator, nature must be among the factors that we include in our thinking.

Which brings us back to the Driscolls and their failure to incorporate this concept.

How would it change Real Marriage if the Driscolls had considered the concept of "natural function" from Romans 1 in their thinking? Are there modern sexual practices that are "against nature" (the literal translation of the words rendered "unnatural" in Romans 1:26)?

Consider, for example, anal sex. The Driscolls conclude that, within marriage, a husband and wife may participate in anal sex with certain conditions in place. Anal sex, according to their analysis, can be lawful, helpful, and non-enslaving. They envision circumstances in which anal sex, done the wrong way, might not be helpful or might be enslaving (for example, if one spouse were uncomfortable with the idea and were being pressured), but they also consider circumstances in which it would not be.

What happens if you meet that case study with the question, "Is it natural?" I think you must conclude that it is not. The natural function of a vagina is (a) to have intercourse with a penis, (b) to serve as a birth canal for babies, and (c) to provide an outlet for the uterus. The natural function of an anus is to provide an outlet for the intestines. To insert a penis into an anus is an act against nature.

In this world of genetic splicing and the like, it is easy for us to conclude that nature is there never as a guide for us to follow but always as a limitation to be overcome and shaped according to our desires. This is, of course, nothing more than our desire that I rather than God should be the creator and that I should have the opportunity to make corrections where I think He got things wrong.

This post contains a lot of salacious material. It may be difficult for anyone to read all of this and to see past the hot-button issues to the deeper concepts. For that reason, I want to close the post by reiterating explicitly the deeper concept that is the focus of this essay. The design of nature is a factor to consider in many aspects of Christian theology. Sexual ethics is one of those areas in which the role of natural design must play a role. Real Marriage is just one example of an attempted Christian treatment of sexual ethics that has failed, among whatever other reasons, precisely because it has made no effort to include the design of nature into its process of reaching ethical conclusions, but it is hardly alone in this category. If we would be biblical Christians, we must be more careful to consider the design of nature in our future deliberations on the subject matter of human sexuality.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why I Say What I Say When We Observe the Lord's Supper

Growing up Southern Baptist, I learned about three different positions on who should partake of the Lord's Supper. One view restricted the Lord's Supper strictly to the members of the local church where the Supper was taking place. A second view welcomed any who professed a Christian conversion experience to partake of the Supper. The final view opened the table beyond the membership of the local church, but only to those who were members of another church "of like faith and order." The phrase "of like faith and order" was generally interpreted to signify another Southern Baptist church.

As an adult and a pastor, if I were to classify my view according to this schema, I would place it in the third category: the "like faith and order" viewpoint.

And yet, if you were to be present at FBC Farmersville when we observed the Lord's Supper, you'd never hear me utter the words "like faith and order" and would hear me say very little about church membership. Instead, you would hear me emphasize that those who partake in the Supper must be born-again believers who are free from stubborn, rebellious, unrepentant sin in their lives.

There's no bait-and-switch here: These are precisely the same point of view on the Supper, just expressed in two different ways. I avoid the way that I heard it in my childhood and express it the way that I do today for a number of reasons:

  1. I have substituted biblical language for extra-biblical language. The biblical basis for limitations in the observance of the Lord's Supper comes chiefly from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. In the fifth chapter of that letter—a chapter whose main subject is unrepentant sin and the failure of church discipline within the church—Paul commanded the church to restore sound church discipline against unrepentant sin for the sake of the health of the church's observance of the Lord's Supper:

    Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8, NASB).

    Purification was a central element of the precursor feast of Passover, and Paul reminded the Corinthians church that, in the New Testament, the Lord's Supper calls us not so much to the purification of kitchen utensils and dough, but to the purification of the believers who participate.

    A few paragraphs down the letter, in the eleventh chapter, again the Apostle chastises the church for allowing the sins of divisiveness, drunkenness, and arrogance to corrupt the church's observances of the Lord's Supper. Here Paul explicitly warns of the dangers of observing the Supper "in an unworthy manner." Although in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul enjoined the church to "fence the table," in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul commanded each individual believer to examine himself and to purify his own heart in preparation for the Supper.

    And so, when I speak of having been born again and of examining oneself to purify one's heart from unrepentant sin, I am speaking New Testament language. This is an important objective, in my opinion, in the execution of a New Testament ordinance. "A Baptist church of like faith and order," on the other hand, is not language found in the New Testament.

  2. I am telling disciples WHY rather than merely WHAT. True, "Baptist church of like faith and order" is what I believe about the Lord's Supper, but it is my observation that merely telling disciples what your church believes without telling them why you believe it is a recipe for the abandonment of your principles within a couple of generations. Indeed, I would suggest that much of the present state of our churches is a symptom of this very disease.

    And so, I want people to see that the Bible teaches that born-again believers should purify themselves from unrepentant sin before they partake of the Lord's Supper. I want them further to see that it is unrepentant sin to have refrained from New Testament baptism or to have held oneself aloof from biblical membership in a New Testament church. I'm happy for disciples to hold the same convictions that I hold, but I would rather that they arrive at the same conclusions as those to which Bible study has led me.

  3. I want to show correctly the relationship between church membership and participation in the Lord's Supper. It is false, I believe, to suggest that church membership is the basis of participation in the Lord's Supper. It is a sentiment NOT FAR from the truth, but it is not the same as the truth.

    The basis of participation in the Lord's Supper is not membership in a New Testament church; rather, membership in a New Testament church and participation in the Lord's Supper share the same basis: conversion and discipleship. This reality links church membership and the Lord's Supper closely to one another, but they share a peer relationship rather than a cause-effect relationship. To remain aloof from church membership is a sin. No believer should partake of the Lord's Supper while persisting stubbornly in that sin. Also, any sin that would place a believer under the hand of church discipline and would tarnish one's church membership would also jeopardize one's place at the table. Conversely, any persistent sinful rebellion that would make one need to refrain from participation in the Lord's Supper would also be grounds for the exercise of church discipline in relation to one's church membership.

    This peer relationship between the Lord's Supper and church membership is why it is so nonsensical and unbiblical for any church to be both open communion and closed membership. If it is a matter of unrepentant sin to refuse New Testament believer's immersion, then how dare a church set aside 1 Corinthians 5 and open the Lord's Table to the unrepentant?! If it is not a matter of unrepentant sin to refuse New Testament believer's immersion, then how dare a church withhold church membership from a brother or sister over a mere personal preference?!

    By using the Lord's Supper to emphasize those things that are also the basis of New Testament church membership, I am able to underscore rightly through this ordinance the themes that lead our church to a better understanding of church membership as well.

  4. I'm pretty sure that "Baptist church of like faith and order" no longer means what it once did and is, due to contemporary circumstances, a more complicated position than the one that I am now articulating. The one big advantage one might offer for just using the phrase "Baptist church of like faith and order" is simplicity. It only takes seven words to say it. Jargon is popular for a reason—it always represents a shorter, simpler way to communicate complex ideas among people who share common inside information.

    But are we all really confident which are the "Baptist churches of like faith and order" any longer? The rise of the crypto-Baptists and the rise of the pseudo-Baptists have changed our Southern Baptist reality, greatly complicating the idea of "like faith and order."

    Crypto-Baptists are all of the churches out there that eschew public identification as Baptist churches. Some of these are genuinely Baptist. Not a few, having the benefit of being early church plants with little institutional history, are more solidly Baptist in their ecclesiology than are some of our established churches. So, when somebody in your congregation hails from something like "Alive Fellowship of the Cross," how do you know whether that is or is not a "Baptist church of like faith and order"?

    Pseudo-Baptists are all of the churches out there that are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (and may even have the word "Baptist" on their signs), but are not Baptist ideologically or ecclesiologically. Indeed, even without quibbling over where a church ceases to be Baptist, we can agree that the diversity with regard to church membership alone has completely destroyed any possibility of our regarding membership in another Southern Baptist church as a basis for participation in the Lord's Supper. Imagine that the Jacobs family visits your church and you refuse church membership to them because they are sprinkled Methodists. Now, imagine that the very next week they go to a Southern Baptist church across town and obtain membership in that church without being baptized. They visit your church the third week and find you observing the Lord's Supper. Are they members of a "Baptist church of like faith and order"? If they are, does that really mean ANYTHING?

    Any Southern Baptist consensus that may once have existed on matters of ecclesiology is broken. Presuming upon it for something as significant as participation in the Lord's Supper is foolhardy, in my opinion.

    It is so much simpler and more understandable, I believe, simply to state that only those who have been born again and are, as far as they know, not in open rebellion against any command of Christ should partake of the Supper.

  5. I want to avoid giving my church members a free pass. I have long believed that the great weakness of tying participation in the Lord's Supper to membership in a "Baptist church of like faith and order" is the suggestion it places into the minds of my members that, being members of our congregation, they need not give their participation in the Lord's Supper a second thought. Heavens no! The command of scripture is for self-examination, and this command appeared in a letter sent explicitly to the members of a local congregation.

    Even in a context of robust church discipline, church members are vulnerable to secret, hidden sins. It is my responsibility in preparing the flock for the Lord's Supper to call upon every person in the room to entertain the possibility that she or he may not be ready to receive the Lord's Supper. Are they estranged from a brother or sister? Are they fighting with the Lord over some sin in the recesses of their hearts? Have they refused New Testament believer's immersion? Are they church-hoppers who remain aloof from and uncommitted to the disciplined commitments of biblical church membership? For all of those for whom any of these things are the case, they should get their hearts right with the Lord immediately and obey, or else they should abstain from the Supper.

    I want to preach before the observance of the Lord's Supper in a way that causes every disciple to ask "Is it I?" of the Lord before they sup with Him.

Simply saying, "Those who are not members of Baptist churches of like faith and order should not partake," is insufficient, in my opinion, to accomplish these objectives. It is an inferior approach, I believe. And so, I would encourage all of you who are pastors to say more rather than less when you prepare a congregation to come to the Table.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President:

I am one of the pastors at First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas. For many years, our church has housed and administered a food pantry. Ours is the only food pantry operating in Farmersville. During the years of your administration, the demands upon our food pantry have greatly increased. Several months ago, our church initiated a conversation about the possibility of moving the food pantry into its own organization, separate from the church. We believe that the food pantry would benefit from such an organizational change, and we were well on the way to formalizing this decision.

At this moment, those plans are completely on hold, and you are the person responsible. Your recent actions regarding Obamacare have made it clear to us that you and a sizable number of people in your political party do not regard the religious liberty of church-related ministries as inalienable rights that you must respect. Rather, you have signaled an intent to withdraw religious liberty from church-related ministries. Today you would force such ministries to fund abortifacient drugs contrary to their religious convictions. Since our food pantry does not employ anyone, your current directive would not affect our food pantry…yet. But once it becomes a settled matter that church-related ministries do not merit the same level of religious liberty that a church enjoys, then we can hardly anticipate all of the draconian dictates yet to come that WOULD affect our food pantry.

And so, the only wise course of action is for FBC Farmersville to refrain from allowing ANY of our ministries to achieve separate legal status from our church. This may not be the ideal circumstance for our ministries, but we're not confident that your policies will allow us to do what is in the best interest of serving those in Farmersville who are hungry. Perhaps you have not considered the overwhelmingly negative impact your astonishingly narrow construal of religious liberty would have upon church-related ministries. It seemed important to me to make the harm done by your policies clear to all.