Thursday, November 16, 2006

Which Is More Important: Being Right or Being Righteous?

Recent news from the annual SBTC meeting has raised quite a bit of discussion. Of interest is the discussion on Art Rogers’s Twelve Witnesses blog. After reading this discussion, I was prompted to read and discuss the 2006 resolutions from the SBTC meeting. A pastor friend of mine pointed out some surprising resolutions, which I believe merit closer scrutiny. First off, these resolutions merit scrutiny because they were discussed and examined by committee members and then, presumably, the voting body present at the meeting. Secondly, they represent the views of a significant portion of Southern Baptists (significant, though I could not give any specific number or percentage).

Here are some of the resolutions: (for further reference see the SBTC 2006 Resolutions [pdf format]). Bold emphasis mine.
Resolution #2 “On the Sufficiency of the Word of God for the Entire Christian Life”
The resolution runs into trouble about second resolution statement:
RESOLVED, we call on Texas Southern Baptists to remember that the Word of God alone is righteous, and that fallen human beings lack righteousness; and be it further

WHAT? The Word of God is certainly inspired, but not righteous, nor is IT righteous ALONE. Friends, the Bible tells us what is and is not righteous, but I know of nowhere in the scriptures that Bible is called righteous, much less exclusively holding such an attribute (an attribute of God no less). Let us continue:
RESOLVED, we encourage Southern Baptists to remember that the Word of God alone is able to redeem sinful human beings, and that they may look nowhere else than to the Bible for the source of redemption; and be it further

Did I miss something? Whatever happened to “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus?” Now the Bible (a Holy book and the Word of God) is able to save us? Should we put our faith in the Bible or in the God that it tells us about?

We’re doing ok with the rest of the resolutions, which are emphasize the importance of the study and application of the Word of God. I want to comment again on a couple of things. I totally agree that we should give the Bible precedence over any other reading, studying, or singing material. We definitely ought to live, worship, disciple, and minister according to the Word of God, although we must remember that we worship not the Bible itself, but Jesus Christ, without whom there would be no need for such a book.

Q: How did this slip by so many people? Was this an accident or was there something that I missed. I read the Observations (the WHEREAS statements), so I think I got the context, but I still don’t see a reason to elevate scripture to the role of Savior.

The third resolution of the SBTC was concerning Tongues and a Private Prayer Language.

The resolutions are as follows:

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention meeting in Austin, Texas, November 13-14, 2006, declare that Southern Baptists in Texas typically believe that the modern practice of private prayer languages lacks a tangible foundation in Scripture; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we are opposed to unscriptural teaching relating to speaking in tongues, whether such speech be done in private or public; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention not knowingly to employ consultants and ministry staff who participate in or promote views or practices contrary to the position described herein; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage all Southern Baptists to be patient, kind, and loving toward one another (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) regarding this ancillary theological issue, which ought not to constitute a test of fellowship; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we encourage all Southern Baptists to refocus their attention upon the public and intelligible proclamation of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the divine Trinity, Who became a man, died on the cross, and arose from the dead, so that those who believe in Him may have eternal and abundant life.

Now for my question: Why? I don’t mean the observations (the WHEREAS statements), I mean why the whole resolution on this. I understand that the issue was brought up recently and has been a big deal, but it is an issue that divides, and needlessly so. I read the resolutions that say that "this ought not to constitute a test of fellowship," but they've left no room for those who wholeheartedly embrace the private prayer language. They include the cessationist and open but cautious, but exclude continualists.

My personal views on the private prayer language (and a number of other charismata) would best be described as an “open but cautious” view. I am not a cessationist, nor an avid continualist. One of the central issues that faces the SBC today and various state conventions and associations down to the personal level is a single question. The question here is whether it is more important to be right or more important to be righteous. The two are not always mutually exclusive, but in this instance, as with a number of non-essentials, the question is valid.

We must ask ourselves if it is more important to cooperate with others who may disagree with us on non-essential issues (I’m talking about others of like faith here) to further the work of the Kingdom or if it is more important to be right on the non-essential issues. If being right is more important, then we’re in the wrong. Are we so fixated on the small issues that we lose sight of the big ones? How much have churches grown in the SBTC this year? How many new people have we reached with the gospel? Can cooperating with other churches improve these areas? How many people will be saved by denouncing a private prayer language? Surely that will make people run to our churches! (I think not).

The other resolutions (on which I will not now comment at length) include topics of: Alcohol, Immigration, Wal-Mart (will a boycott follow?), North Korea (I definitely agree with boycotting them), The CP, and The conflict in Darfur.

In conclusion I have to say this; we ought to continue to carefully consider the issues that we give weight to. I agree that a number of these issues are important and should be addressed, but others may be best left without an official position. If we are obsessed with being right, how far will we go to make sure that we are always right? Will we exclude anyone who disagrees with us? When that happens we will end up alone and powerless to bring about any change in our world. Let us remember that it is through our faith and our unity (i.e. cooperation) that we are able to be God’s agents for change in this world.


Anonymous said...

Just a thought, maybe "Word" is strictly interpreted as "Jesus," given the capital "W" and the use of the word "Bible" in the same sentence.

Matt Knight said...


Yes, I had considered this as well. It does seem to fit better in some ways than assuming "Word" to be the same as "Bible." However, the use of "Word of God" to mean "Bible" throughout the rest of the resolution seems to weigh against this. Also, it is proper to refer to Jesus as Righteous, though not proper to refer to things as righteous (rather, things set apart to God would be called "holy"). Ultimately, it seems that the committee and the assembly together overlooked this. However well intentioned they may have been, this resolution as it was approved is a mistake.

Anonymous said...

I missed the link the first time, and went and read it. You are correct that they cannot be referring to Jesus. I think the first statement you cite is no problem. For you must go further than the word being a "thing" when referring to God's revelation. The Word of God being the revelation of God can properly be regarding as a thing on the order of a non-tangible thing, i.e. a spoken thing. Therefore, being the actual words out of the mouth, as it were, of God, they are non-tangible. Because it is in written form does not make it less so. IF we were to call the Bible holy, then we would venerate the object of the Bible, not put it on the floor, etc. Therefore, it can be correctly called righteous.

The second statement is indeed troublesome, and I cannot defend it. Jesus Christ redeemed me. Obviously an oversight.

Mark Spence said...

After resolving to rid our churches of the Holy Spirit, at least we still have a Trinity- Father, Son and Holy Book!