Thursday, October 19, 2006

What Makes the SBC Great

I have always attended only Southern Baptist Churches. All my life I’ve been taught that the SBC is great and that Southern Baptist is the way to be. As a child and a youth I never questioned why I was a Baptist, but once I began my college and seminary education I did question. As I have learned about our Baptist Heritage, our Baptist Polity, and Baptist theology I am still as convinced as ever that I am Southern Baptist, now by conviction not simply by upbringing.

Although I confess I do not know everything there is to know about the SBC or its politics, I recognize that our convention at a crossroads. There are voices and personalities vying for change in the convention. Some cry out for widening the SBC “tent,” others for narrowing it. I personally tend to like this old tent the way it is.

While this squabble goes on and tensions build, I seek to humbly remind those who will listen of the simple beauty of the denomination to which we belong.

The SBC is great for a number of reasons. Foremost of these reasons is a single overarching principle—unity amidst diversity. Although we come from different places, backgrounds, and sometimes speak different languages; although we may govern our churches differently, or have different priorities in ministry; although our churches may be big, HUGE, small, or tiny; despite all our differences we come together under one banner and one simple belief system that uniquely defines us all as “Baptist.”

Our unity makes us great: Although the SBC claims over 16 million people in over 40,000 congregations, all Southern Baptists are united by a single faith. We affirm Jesus Christ to be the true and only way of Salvation. We honor and study the same holy book – the Bible. Southern Baptist churches are guided by two documents—the Bible and the Baptist Faith and Message.

Our mission makes us great: Southern Baptists recognize that Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and proclaim the Good News. To this end, Baptists send hundreds of missionaries, raise millions of dollars, and have formed benchmark organizations such as the NAMB and IMB.

Our structure makes us great: The SBC is not one big church; it is thousands of individual churches, with their own unique values and goals that have come together to support a greater mission or cause—namely the advancement of the Gospel. Our cooperative program funds the six major SBC seminaries (one of which I attend), as well as our missions organizations, and a number of other endeavors. Our size is a strength because it allows us to mobilize resources on a scale that none of us could achieve individually.

Our heritage makes us great: While there have been blots on our past, such as slavery and segregation, the SBC also carries a rich tradition of faithfulness to the word of God. In the past century and a half the SBC has raised up numerous men and women of God, many who have gone on to achieve great recognition and prominence, and more still who will be richly rewarded in heaven if not on earth.

Finally, the SBC is great because of our future potential. As a seminary student I see that there is the potential for a bright future in ministry, not only for me but also for the many other seminarians and young ministers who serve Christ within our denomination. There is also a potential for strife and dissention in our near future. We must choose today what we consider important, as our actions now will determine our future. Will we seek to conform the SBC to our personalities or will we leave room for disagreement? We must hold the line and maintain the integrity of orthodox and Baptist theology while at the same time allowing the diversity that makes us great.

Here’s the bottom line: If we narrow the tent too far, it will fall down upon us; widen it too broadly and it will come apart at the seams. We must determine where to put the stakes into the ground and leave them there. The BFM 2000 is still a good tent, in it there’s some clarity but we must maintain room for diversity.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Why I Blog

There seems to be a lot going on the Baptist Blogosphere these days. There are trustees meeting at SWBTS, Dwight McKissic is in the news again, there’s the mass assault on likes of Paige Patterson and the Caner brothers, and there’s talk of legal culpability for bloggers who post or allow libelous content on their blogs. In the midst of this, I’m tempted to dive headlong into the fray, but instead I pause here to give a perspective on blogging.

I have been blogging now for a mere two months—here it can seem like a great deal of time. In that limited amount of time I have seen many opinions, attacks, rumors, and downright stupidity asserted within the blogosphere. Conversely, I’ve also seen some decent writings, some people who seem to be genuine, and some who truly have something meaningful to say (although it’s quite demanding I’m sure and I don’t see how they do it).

In the midst of all this, here I am and here’s why I blog:

- I blog because I believe in the exchange of ideas. Just because some these ideas are ill-conceived or misguided does not mean that the exchange should not go on.

- I blog to be sharpened. As I blog I’m challenged by those like Ben Cole who, although I may not always agree with him, knows grammar, spelling, and word usage and at times castigates other bloggers for grammatical or spelling infractions. I’m also sharpened by some of the theological debate (both good and bad) that goes on.

- I blog to learn. There are blogs like Kevin Bussey’s that often have news updates on issues that interest me. There are also a vast number of blogs dealing with issues of theology. I get to read numerous viewpoints and arguments (some persuasive, some ill-conceived) for and against certain beliefs. Furthermore, I can learn almost anything about SBC politics from the blogs I read. The better question is, “how much of it is worth knowing?”

- I blog to express myself. I’ve heard it said that ideas can untangle themselves over lips and through fingertips. This means that we often are able to process thoughts better by speaking or writing them. As a verbal person, this is often a big help to me. Furthermore, sometimes I have something to say and this provides me a simple outlet through which I can express my viewpoint.

- I blog to think. Too often this is something that is lacking in the blogosphere. As I prepare a post I try to give careful thought to what I will say. It is disappointing as I read other blogs to see well articulated—clearly thought out arguments that are juxtaposed with ignorant off-handed remarks. Worse still are the posts that do not reflect or encourage thinking.

Here’s the reversal:

- I do not blog to build my own ego. This can be a struggle for me from time to time, but ultimately I have a life beyond this blog. While I confess I have a counter on my blog and like to see the numbers go up, that's not what I'm all about. My ideas may be accepted, rejected, or ignored, but here they are. Too often it seems that the criticism of narcissism is true of some bloggers. I pray that it is never something that may be accurately said of me.

- I do not blog to tear others down. This is not an anti-so-and-so blog. There are anti-Patterson Blogs, anti-Burleson blogs, anti-Page blogs, and so many others. If there’s someone to criticize, bloggers are there criticizing or libeling them. This is unChristlike and unacceptable.

- I do not blog to share rumors, lies, or urban myths. These blogs exist and ensnare far too many—God will judge them for leading those astray.

- I do not blog to support “the establishment.” My views are my own and may or may not coincide with those of certain institutions or important individuals. My views do often happen to be in line with the school I attend (SWBTS), the church I attend (North Richland Hills Baptist Church), and the country I live in and serve. However, when my views tend to diverge, they’re mine, and belong to none of these.

I know better than to think that my thoughts and reasons on blogging will turn the Baptist blogosphere around, but there does seem to be a backlash against those who post negligently ignorant, misguided, or libelous content. Maybe others will clean up their acts or find another pastime. I enjoy blogging for now, but when it becomes a burden rather than a joy, I too will find another pastime.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Politics and the SBC pt.2

In my previous post I discussed my views on the issue of politics within the SBC. I discussed a few definitions of politics and I made this statement:
The Church in America must stop playing politics, but must not retreat from the political realm altogether.

Having discussed this issue of playing politics within the Church, I believe it is important to look at the role the Church (and the SBC in particular since that is the church or group of church of which I am a part) within the political realm.

First, what I’m not saying. I am not doing an about-face on my previous post. I am not advocating that the church ought to “play politics” outside its boundaries while not playing politics within. My views on this issue are somewhat Falwellian, this I admit up front. I was a student at Liberty University for four years and agree in many respects with his philosophy of political involvement. With that said I will proceed to lay out my own view (not necessarily his view).

Should the church be involved in the political realm? YES!

It seems foolish to ignore the political realm because we believe in separation of church and state. Separation of Church and State may be a good policy in a number of respects, but it ought not equate to separation of Christians from government. When we surrender the political realm to those whose worldviews are diametrically opposed to ours we are not being godly, we are being negligent. I am not saying that America should be ruled by the Bible, but that I would much rather have advocates within the government who will be sympathetic to the Church and allow the free spread of the gospel than be ruled by those who are more sympathetic toward Muslim or atheistic influences to the exclusion of Christianity.

As to the issue of persecution, I too agree that the church often grows through persecution, yet I recall that persecution and subjugation in the Old Testament are punishments for not honoring God in the first place. We should desire to be more Christ-like, and as we pursue that goal we will encounter more than enough suffering without actively seeking it. Our goal should be godliness, and not the persecution that often leads to it.

Having answered one objection I’ll move to another. Some will say that we ought to stay out of the political realm because “politics is evil,” or “the devil’s business,” or some such nonsense. These arguments ultimately fall flat because their foundation—the premise that politics is wicked simply is not so. The fact that many politicians are not good people, or do not hold to a standard of Christian morality does not make the science of politics inherently evil. With that said, however, I do agree that we must guard our hearts when we do foray into that arena, for we know that power and money can often lead to corruption (but that’s a post for another day).

The corruption within the political realm seems to be all the more reason for the church to go there. Three of the gospels give an account of Jesus dining with Matthew (who had been a tax collector). The Pharisees question Him and here is what Matthew’s own account says:
“And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Matthew 9:11-13

There’s a post on Bowden McElroy’s blog about some others who are going where the sinners are here. We must be willing to go where the gospel is needed – this includes confronting our leaders with the message of Christ.

What is our role to be?
A) Be Good Citizens
The New Testament seems to indicate that Christians are to be good citizens of the community, nation, or kingdom of which they are a part. In Romans 13 Paul tells us that we are to subject ourselves to our authorities and give them the honor that they are due (including the confiscatory taxes they charge). Peter likewise exhorts us in 1 Peter 2 to honor the authorities and do good as a way of honoring God. Jesus himself in the first three gospels encourages submission to Caesar.

In America, we are in a unique position. The democratic republic did not exist in Jesus’ day. Christians then did not get to choose who would govern them. I believe that we are to engage in the political process and choose godly leaders.

B) The SBC should work to advance the gospel, using social programs to advance that goal if necessary.
I do not believe in big government. I do believe, as a political and religious conservative that individuals are to take personal responsibility for their conduct and well-being. It is not the government’s job to care for the needy in the community—it is the job of the church. The scriptures exhort us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit those in prison. I’ll admit this is a challenge that I don’t often feel up to. I am thankful that we have ministries that are designed to reach out to those who are in need and who are hurting and I confess that I often feel inadequate to meet those needs.

C) Be Advocates for Godliness in our Sphere of Influence.
Some may be wondering, “Does this include lobbying?" Absolutely! Since we have a say in what our government does and the laws it passes, we have a responsibility to advocate for Christ’s interests (as His ambassadors!). I hear some saying already “But you can’t legislate morality!” This is true and I agree. However, we can and should have laws that dictate and enforce civil order. The New Testament says that the government’s role is to punish the evil and reward the good. This ought to be our framework as we advocate for godliness. Murder, rape, theft, adultery, kidnapping, and the like are evil, and should be punished. Do we not also believe that homosexuality, polygamy, fornication, and drug and alcohol abuse are immoral behaviors? We can and should have laws that protect the institutions that we hold dear, such as the church and the family.

As Christians we believe that the Christian worldview is superior to all others. That is the nature of our faith—it is (rightly) exclusive. In a nation that will be ruled by men and women who have worldviews, we must choose the leaders with the worldviews that most closely align with ours, and encourage others to be sympathetic to our views. America will be ruled by our worldview or by another worldview. As I said before, we may be persecuted. If it comes to that during our lifetime then I will submit to it as the will of God, but we have a choice.

Let us not be found negligent or apathetic when the time comes to choose freedom or persecution. God can use a free people to spread the gospel—it has happened in the past and will happen in the future. The SBC ought to stand together to advocate for what we believe is right. God has given us the influence that we have, but when we cease to use it wisely, it will be taken from us and given to someone else.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Politics and the SBC pt. 1

Since its inception the SBC has dealt with politics, both in its own ranks as well as in the American and global political scene. Many have been quick to point to this as a striking flaw within the convention. Some have even said or implied that if we could rid the SBC of politics, we would be able to focus on the real issues.

I must confess that there is a certain appeal to the cries of those who advocate an end to the political strivings of the convention. In this series of posts I will discuss what I believe about politics and the SBC.

First, let us first look at a definition of politics and briefly sketch their role (if any) within the SBC and its churches. The word politic comes from the Greek politicas, which refers to civic matters (FYI, this word is not found in the NT). The root word is polis meaning city (this root appears in several variations in the NT). This word is also the subject of Aristotle’s 4th Century BC work Politics, which concerns itself with the proper “structure, organization, and administration of the state” (see politics). This is also the same root from which we get the word “polity” (i.e., how the church is governed).

Politics is also commonly used today to refer to those who are shrewd or even cunning or manipulative. This is what we often think of when someone is accused of “playing politics.”

So we have two strikingly different definitions of politics. I believe that both are important and will be discussed in this series of blog posts. The first definition is the one I will discuss second, and the second is the one I will discuss first.

Here’s the thesis :The Church in America must stop playing politics, but must not retreat from the political realm altogether.

First, we must stop playing politics.
Last month Jeremy Roberts posted about the political parties in the SBC. Recently, we’ve seen dueling confessions and seemingly endless arguments about a few issues that seem to keep coming up regularly. There is also the recurrent issue of the personal biases and attacks on and by prominent members of the current factions.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that debate should not go on, but I am saying that we should not allow it to become such a focal point that we are sidetracked from our mission as a church. Allow me to present some scripture that is relevant to the current issues at hand.

Paul exhorts believers to avoid foolish controversies.
2 Timothy 2:23-26 says:
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

This passage is particularly applicable to Christian leaders. He is specifically referring to the “man of God” one who serves as an ambassador for Christ. He exhorts us, not to avoid debates, but to pick our battles. We are not to engage in the fights that ultimately only hurt the body, but obviously we must be able to correct those who are teaching falsehoods or are leading people astray. Paul tells us the correct way to do that too: “with gentleness.” The goal is that those who are leading others astray might repent and become free “from the snare of the devil” (v.25-26).

We are also commanded to build up the Body of Christ
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 says:
“’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.’”
And vv.31-33 say:
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”

Here Paul is discussing the issue of eating the meat that had been sacrificed to idols. The meat wasn’t the main issue. Paul wasn’t so much concerned about cheap steaks as he was with the consciences of the believers and the unity of the church. Some could eat the meat in clear conscience, yet others could not—to them it was sin. Therefore, Paul tells us not to seek our own good, but the good of others. If eating certain meats or drinking certain beverages, or engaging in certain amoral (neither inherently good nor bad) acts causes disunity or sin in the body of Christ (the church) then it shouldn’t be done! This to me is the strongest argument for abstinence from alcohol. It’s not about how alcoholic it is, it’s about our testimony (to both believers and unbelievers) and about if it honors God. Since I can honor God and build up the body of Christ without partaking of alcohol –that is what I will continue to do. I mention a specific example, but you can see that the issue of building up the body applies to all that we do. If blogging does not build up the body of Christ, then we must find something else to do with our time and energy. Something that pleases God. I do happen to believe that I can honor God and encourage believers through my blog, which is why I do it.

Finally, we must accomplish the mission we have been given. The goal is to make disciples for Christ. The goal is not to be teetotalers or wine connoisseurs; not to worship men or tear them down; our goal is to build up the body of Christ as we live godly lives and train others to do so.

Where does politics enter into that? My point is that we ought not play politics within the body, yet in my next post I will discuss my views on the church’s involvement, or lack thereof, in the political realm and how I believe we can continue to build up the body and further God’s kingdom.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Heroes of the Faith

Recently, while having lunch with friends I began discussing some questions I use when I interview people. I am not a reporter, but have been involved in several interviews and find that asking the right questions can be the key to getting good answers. When I was in college I had the opportunity to sit down one on one with a number of pastors and professors and found that I could glean some great pearls of wisdom from these individuals simply by asking the right questions.

During the aforementioned lunch I tossed out a few questions including:

If you could address America for 30 minutes on primetime tv what would you say?

Or another was

Who are some of your heroes?

The question that we discussed for the longest time was:

If you could have lunch with any historical or theological figure (excluding Jesus) who would you choose and why?

We played with variations on this, narrowing it to exclude biblical figures, and then narrowing it to SBC figures.

Who did we pick? We would love to meet apostles like Peter and John, or maybe even Thomas (whose doubts we can sometimes identify with). We would like to talk with people like George Washington, Dwight Moody, C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Martin Luther, or Spurgeon. In Baptist circles, how about people like William Carey, or even just SBC leaders like Criswell, Truett, even Adrian Rogers and others.

Some of the great leaders of the SBC are still alive and we can learn from them. I think that opportunities such as these are important. I had the opportunity last year to sit down and ask Paige Patterson a number of questions. Maybe sometime I'll get my notes from that conversation and give the insights I learned there.

What about you? Who are some of your heroes? Who would you like to meet and talk with?