Friday, September 28, 2012

Non-Calvinists: We're Not A Monolithic Group

In a post at SBC Voices entitled "Trust and the Trustees of MWBTS," deep in the comments, Rick Patrick said, "Calvinists think Dr. Allen is eminently qualified, while everyone else thinks his only real qualification is that he knows Al Mohler." The subject of the post is the nomination of Dr. Jason Allen to the helm of our seminary in Kansas City and the subsequent reaction to that nomination by some friends of mine (we'd probably all agree that this post by Peter Lumpkins and the several that followed it on Peter's blog have given leadership to the voices dissenting against Allen's nomination).

It's Rick's comment, mostly, that brings me to my keyboard tonight. I'm not a Calvinist. I'm also not opposed to Dr. Allen's candidacy in Kansas City. And I like to speak for myself rather than to be defined by being lumped into some group. Really, I wasn't sure WHAT I thought about Allen's candidacy, because until all of this came up I really didn't know much about him. But I've performed a little bit of research, and here are some of the questions I would ask my non-Calvinistic brethren:

  1. Are you sure Dr. Allen is a Calvinist? Because one of his best friends in the world says that Dr. Allen holds to fewer than 4 points and always has. Now, if he were a Calvinist, that wouldn't exclude him from service in the SBC as far as I'm concerned, but I've yet to see a single quote from Allen in which he actually claims to be a Calvinist. Working for Dr. Mohler, I wouldn't think that he would have been afraid to own up to it, if he actually is a Calvinist at all.

  2. Are you sure that Dr. Mohler is behind Dr. Allen's candidacy at MBTS? Because the rumors I hear are that Judge Paul Pressler is a big booster of Dr. Jason Allen. I haven't spoken with Judge Pressler directly about this, but I do live in Texas, and from not too many hops away, that is my impression of things. I don't doubt that Dr. Mohler is supportive of Dr. Allen, but why is that one relationship, above all of the others, the one that defines who Dr. Allen is? Pressler's endorsement would have some persuasive force with me.

  3. Is Dr. Allen's performance at his seminary church really the right measure of his candidacy? I served FBC Farmersville while I was a Ph.D. student. It was tough. Dr. Allen, as I understand things, served a church while being a Ph.D. student and holding down a full-time job at SBTS. Wow. I'm not sure how prudent that is, presuming as I do that Dr. Allen has not cloned himself, but I must admit that, from someone who has lived some portion of that life, it earns a bit of my admiration.

  4. Is Dr. Allen a member / leader / Manchurian Candidate from the "Founders movement"? I don't know. Again, if he's not a Calvinist, then I doubt that he's a leader in the Founders movement. I believe it when I read that he served a church that was listed as "Founders-friendly," but I don't know what that means. You know, CBF will list your church among their affiliated congregations if one wayward member is sending them money. How does a church wind up on the Founders list? Does the church have to vote to affiliate? Or is it just the pastor? What if the church changes pastors—does the listing automatically come down if the new guy doesn't have the same relationship with Founders that the last guy had?

  5. I wonder whether all of the YRR supporters of Dr. Allen know what he believes about beverage alcohol? I hear that he's a convictional teetotaler like me, or at least something close to that. Peter is the author of an excellent book on this topic. It's interesting to me to discover that, on this issue, it's (I think) Peter Lumpkins and Jason Allen on one side, and Mark Driscoll on the other.

So, things are a little more complicated than Rick's comment makes things out to be. Not that I'm picking on Rick. His comment generally summarized what had been the tenor of online discussion up to that point. But that's because I wasn't saying anything, and perhaps a lot of other people who aren't Calvinists but aren't opposed to Dr. Allen's candidacy likewise weren't saying anything. I've decided to speak up, not to strike a blow against Peter, who is my brother and stood up for me in a difficult hour once upon a time, but just because Rick's comment made it clear to me that the discussion had come to speak for me in a context in which I'd rather speak for myself.

Whatever happens in Kansas City, I'll be praying for Midwestern and for Dr. Allen. May God lead the seminary there to carry forward the gospel into new work states where it is increasingly needed!

Monday, September 17, 2012

It's Really About Baptism

Lifeway Research is reporting that 52% of Southern Baptist churches no longer really consider obedience to Christ's command to be baptized to be that big of a deal.

That's the true, central meaning of this report. Although the subject of the report is ostensibly the Lord's Supper, the shift in Southern Baptist practice actually reveals movement in Southern Baptist thinking about the OTHER ordinance. It would be different, I suppose, if 52% of SBC pastors had responded that the Lord's Supper should be provided to whomever wishes to participate, but that's not how the survey came back. SBC churches are willing to dictate who should and who shouldn't partake; they just don't think that baptism is all that important—not significant enough to enter into such deliberations.

This is hard evidence of the movement away from being Baptist that is sweeping through SBC churches. What factors have brought us to this point? Here are my thoughts.

  1. Cowardice. Going open-communion is easy. On the other hand, anyone who leads a church to make refusal to be baptized a bar to open communion is going to have to be prepared to endure enormous pressure for doing so.

  2. Evangelicalism. It is the nature of market-driven evangelicalism to de-emphasize ecclesiology in general and the ordinances in particular. These things are but impediments to the growth of one's market.

  3. Liberalism. The flight of paedo-baptists from liberal denominations into SBC churches has filled our churches with people who do not share our core convictions.

  4. Pragmatism. Atheological pragmatism—the worship of method and numerical success—bothers not at all with whether Christ has really commanded that we baptize and be baptized or whether ongoing rebellion against Christ's command is reason for one not to partake of the supper. Rather, it simply asks what will be the cost of closed communion in attendance and dollars.

  5. Permissivism. The loss of church discipline is an important factor in this downgrade. Really, without church discipline, our Baptist understanding of baptism and the Lord's Supper doesn't make any sense.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is Your Money Where Your Mouth Is?

Baptist Press is reporting that that Florida Baptist Convention faces a liquidity crisis in the future because of its commitment to forward 50% of the Cooperative Program funding that it receives from churches to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to fund missions on a national and international scope. Half of the money, of course, the FBC would retain to fund missions within the state of Florida.

I'm a big fan of this kind of reallocation. Yes, there are gospel needs within our states. Yes, we need money in places like Florida in order to address those needs. But no, it is not the right priority to take more than half (or, in the case of some state conventions, as much as 80%!) of Cooperative Program money for ministries within our states. I'm thankful that states like Florida have begun the process of reallocating their budgets.

The story goes on to reveal a rift between two philosophies of how to accomplish this reallocation without bankrupting the convention. One approach would address the problem primarily by cutting expenses in other areas. I think that's a good approach, for a number of reasons. Another approach would slow the progress toward 50% to avoid financial stress on the convention.

Here's what needs to happen. Every pastor or church in Florida who has ever complained about bloat or inefficiency at the Florida Baptist Convention needs to step up right now with increased CP giving as they see the Florida Baptist Convention take bold steps to forward more funding to the field. As the FBC acts with a greater sacrificial commitment to see the gospel carried around the world, if the member churches of that convention continue (or worsen!) the current sorry state of CP giving among SBC churches, they simply reveal that all of the excuses bandied about are just that—excuses designed to cover up the real motivation of self-absorbed greed that I fear underlies most of our declining cooperative financial estate in these days.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Is Catholicism a Monotheistic Religion?

The village chief sat before me and firmly—immovably—declared that he is a Christian, a faithful Roman Catholic, and leading and elder member of the local Roman Catholic parish, and a teacher with a lengthy pedigree of instructing catechumens in their parish for decades. And so, he told me, he is happy to hear us telling stories about Jesus to the people of the tribe, but he himself has no real need for the gospel.

It was an interesting conversation to have in that particular setting, seated as we were right beside the outdoor shrine containing his family's idol to which he had recently sacrificed a young goat. He's a liar, right? No doubt, but beyond that, he seems not to perceive any substantial tension between being a faithful Catholic and being a worshipper of idols and fetishes and animistic spirits.

I know that bad missiology can bring about horrible perversions of the truth, and I realize that this man came to his particular variety of polytheism contrary to the official wishes of the Roman Catholic Magisterium, and yet maybe this chief sees something about Roman Catholicism that many of us don't see…or don't want to see. Maybe he thinks Roman Catholicism is compatible with his polytheism because Roman Catholicism itself is actually polytheistic.

Consider the following:

  1. The Veneration of Saints: Since the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea, AD 787), the official position of the Roman Catholic Church has supported and encouraged Christians to offer worship (Lat. "dulia") to the saints. The Roman Catholics set aside particular days that are the holy days of particular saints on which they are to be worshipped particularly. Saints are associated with professions, events, situations, and themes, and people are encouraged to pray to the particular saints on particular occasions or for particular needs. Furthermore, people and churches are encouraged to have graven images made of these saints so that people wishing to worship the saints can worship these sculpted images of them.

    And this is something other than polytheistic idolatry?

    If you think otherwise, I'd love to hear you explain to an African chief how it is OK for someone to bow down, pray, and offer incense to a fourth-century Roman soldier who gave away half of his cape and became a bishop, but it is not OK for someone to bow down, pray, and offer a sacrifice to an idol in a shrine that his grandfather built.

  2. The Veneration of Mary: Everything that Roman Catholics do for "saints" they also do for Mary…plus much more. It is common Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary's mother's conception of her was miraculously immaculate, that Mary did not sin, that Mary did not die but was bodily admitted into heaven, that Mary remained a virgin for all of her life, that Mary serves with Jesus Christ as co-Mediator, -Redeemer, and -Advocate on our behalf.

    All of this is common Roman Catholic belief. Much of this is the official position of the Roman Catholic Magisterium. None of it is in the Bible, and most of it is in explicit contradiction to things that the Bible has said.

    Yes, Roman Catholics say that Mary is less powerful than Jesus. But, then, Greeks said that Athena was less powerful than Zeus. The Greeks were polytheists nonetheless. How is it that Roman Catholics are not?

  3. The Veneration of The Elements of the Mass: It is not as common today as it once was, but the Protestant Reformers reacted against an idolatrous Roman Catholic view of the elements of the mass that expressed itself in people filing lawsuits for closer seats to the front so that they could see the elements better or opening holes in church walls in order to be able to see the consecrated bread. (If you're interested to read more about this, see Joseph A Jungmann's 1961 work, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development).

    Of course, this kind of idolatry regarding the Lord's Supper is nothing more than the natural and inevitable consequence of taking seriously the notion of transubstantiation. How is this worship of a loaf of bread and a cup of wine essentially different from the animism in African traditional religions?

'Tis an ill time for me to be writing this sort of thing. Because of our social and political landscape in the USA, Evangelical Protestants (including Southern Baptists) are friendlier toward Roman Catholics than we ever have been. Of all four people on major national electoral tickets this year, the one that Evangelicals support the most is a Roman Catholic. We don't hear much anti-Catholicism around these days, and I must admit that I myself have struggled to find just the right position on Roman Catholicism, considering the defection of high-profile Evangelicals like Francis Beckworth. Is Roman Catholicism a non-Christian cult or is it merely a false and apostate church?

Increasingly I'm coming to the conviction that Roman Catholicism not only isn't Christian, but that it's not even worthy to be grouped together with Judaism, Islam, and non-Catholic Christian as one of the major monotheistic religions.