Sunday, December 31, 2006

Application of Grudem's Article to the Current Situation in the SBC (Part 2)

The second section of Wayne Grudem’s article Why, When, and For What, Should We Draw New Boundaries? is entitled “Why Should Christian Organizations Draw New Boundaries?” In this section, Grudem defends, I believe successfully, the idea that there are times when doctrinal statements of Christian organizations must be updated, not to reflect changes in truth (which stays the same down through the centuries), but rather to reflect changes in our understanding of Scripture, and especially in our application of Scripture to new situations and contexts that perhaps did not exist when the original doctrinal statement was written.

Grudem’s first point in this section is: False teaching changes, so old boundaries do not protect against new problems. Just as there are questions that were hotly debated in New Testament times (such as, whether Gentile converts to Christianity should be obligated to be circumcised) and in the Early Church (such as the divine-human nature of Christ), and are now pretty much non-issues, regarded by all orthodox believers to have already been resolved, there are new questions that arise that are just as relevant, and that require further reflection and definition in order to come to a God-honoring resolution. This is the crux of the phrase the Reformers used to describe the true church: semper reformanda.

I believe that Grudem has correctly identified several issues that have cropped up in recent history for which it has proven necessary for orthodox Christians in various organizations to make some sort of a pronouncement. These include such things as: annihilationism, universalist inclusivism, and homosexuality. During the last century, the whole question of the inerrancy of Scripture (though not previously uncommented) came to the forefront. During a period of time, it seemed as if inerrancy was a good “measuring stick” to determine who were, as Grudem describes them, “genuine evangelicals,” and who were not. However, the development of the concept of “open theism” among some who also claim to embrace inerrancy, has left many questioning the adequacy of inerrancy in this regard.

At this point, I will throw in my own agreement that inerrancy, in and of itself, is not a sufficient benchmark of doctrinal orthodoxy within Southern Baptist life. It is a very important, “watershed” issue. However, it is possible to assent to inerrancy, and at the same time, be woefully heretical, as the existence of groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses amply demonstrates. To say the Bible, in and of itself, is our sufficient guide is all well and good. But, if, by way of your interpretation and application of the Bible, you completely “butcher” its message, we suddenly find ourselves in need of some other standard of orthodoxy beyond just inerrancy.

Grudem’s next point is phrased by means of a question: Why does God in His sovereignty allow these various false teachings to come into the church in different ages? The answers Grudem proposes also seem to me to be relevant for us today as Southern Baptists.

First, Grudem states that God allows false teaching for the purification of the church. Although throughout history there have been periods of deep spiritual darkness and regression in understanding of the Bible and obedience to its message, I am in agreement with Grudem, when he states:

“The long-term pattern has not been 19 centuries of decline in the purity and doctrinal and ethical understanding of the Church, but rather a pattern of gradual and sometimes explosive increase in understanding and purity.”

I think it is especially significant for us what Grudem says next:

“But all of these advances have come through controversy. As the church struggled to define its own beliefs clearly in distinction from false doctrine, it grew in its understanding of the teachings of Scripture. So God has used controversy to purify his church.”

This is encouraging to me. It is true that we seem to be embroiled in a good deal of controversy at the present. And, by no means, is it a good thing to treat others poorly or have a combative spirit. However, if Grudem is right (and I believe he is), controversy, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It may well be a sign we are on the brink of one of the “explosive increases in understanding and purity” Grudem mentions earlier.

Grudem brings this right to home, when he says:

“Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity came to be understood much more fully and clearly through the doctrinal controversies of the fourth century. Similarly, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy came to be understood much more fully through the inerrancy controversies of the last part of the twentieth century. In our present time, controversies over the nature of spiritual gifts and over appropriate roles for men and women in the home and in the church are also resulting in much deeper understanding of the teachings of God’s Word on those subjects.”

It is because of this that I believe we should not shrink back from discussing controversial topics such as these. It is only as we have the courage to delve deep into what the Word of God teaches, and the openness and objectivity to consider the viewpoints of those with whom we may have traditionally disagreed, that God can lead us more and more into the discovery of his eternal, unchanging Truth.

A second reason Grudem points out for God allowing false teachings to have influence in the church is in order to test the faithfulness of His people. I think Grudem makes an important point when he says that not everyone who teaches false doctrine in a church or Christian organization is necessarily the equivalent of a “false prophet” in the Old Testament, or an unbeliever. There are definitely degrees of false teaching. That is the whole point behind the recent discussion on “theological triage.” This does not mean, though, that we should be careless in our approach to doctrine. Correct doctrine, even in matters of apparent detail, has its significance.

It matters whether or not we are completely faithful to our understanding of God’s Word. It is a question of integrity. It is a question of the state of our heart. If we are easily led to compromise and downplay the teaching of God’s Word, then our loyalty and devotion to the absolute Lordship of Christ can also be legitimately called into question.

Grudem states:

“Believing the Bible is not always the easiest or most popular thing to defend. There are many things that God asks us to believe that are not really logical contradictions but are mysteries or paradoxes, matters that we cannot fully explain.”

In the current discussions in Southern Baptist life, I am encouraged by what I perceive as a sincere desire on the part of most of the participants to be faithful to biblical truth. Although I do think there are times all of us let our personal experiences and traditions blind us to what the Bible really says, I, for one, am not yet so cynical as to believe that very many at all in the current discussion are intentionally distorting the Word of God in the positions they defend.

And, I think this is especially helpful to keep in mind, as we come to Grudem’s last reason why God sometimes allows false teaching in the church: in order to test our attitude toward false teachers. This does not refer to compromising the truth, but rather to the disposition of our heart. As Grudem asks: “Will we act in love and gentleness toward those with whom we disagree?”

Grudem’s quote of Francis Schaeffer, commenting on divisions within the Presbyterian denomination in the 1920’s and 30’s, is especially relevant for us today as Baptists:

“At the same time, however, we must show forth the love of God to those with whom we differ. Thirty-five years ago in the Presbyterian crisis in the United States, we forgot that. We did not speak with love about those with whom we differed, and we have been paying a high price for it ever since…we did not talk of the need to show love as we stood against liberalism, and, as the Presbyterian Church was lost, that lack has cost us dearly.”

I personally think it is a good thing we are discussing the issues we are discussing over the blogs, and through other media. I am learning a lot from fellow bloggers, and coming to understand several doctrinal issues better than I had before. At the same time, though, I am concerned that we may be failing the test of our attitude toward false teachers.

George Verwer, in the book The Revolution of Love, sums it up as follows:

“There is no more biblical teaching than love, and apart from love there is no biblical teaching. Love is the foundation of all other biblical teaching, and you cannot build the builiding of biblical truth without that foundation.”

May we all take to heart, as we continue to seek the truth of God’s Word together, Paul’s admonition to Timothy:

“And the Lord’s servant much not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2.24-25a).

Friday, December 29, 2006

"Heads Up" on a Good Discussion on PPL

On various different occasions on this blog, I have made reference to the question of so-called “Private Prayer Languages.” However, I have never yet taken the time to present a systematic biblical argument for the view I hold on this matter. Recently, I was made aware of a series of posts by Geoff Baggett on the subject of PPL. I do not know Geoff personally, but through my interaction with him on various blog-posts, he seems to be a nice enough guy. Also, the fact that he grew up in the Memphis area is a point in his favor in my book. :^)

On this particular question of PPL, Geoff takes a different view than I do. Geoff’s comments, however, have provided a good platform for me, in my comments to his posts, to explain in a fair amount of detail the rationale behind the view I take in my biblical understanding of this topic. Especially relevant in this discussion is our different interpretation of several key verses in 1 Corinthians 14.

I believe the comment string on a blog-post can be an effective way of discussing theological questions such as this one. Although it does not have the formal precision of some other channels of communication, the “give and take” of the discussion provides a means to clarify doubts regarding what the other participants are saying, as well as to challenge points on which one believes other participants may not be presenting a totally viable argument. It also gives you the opportunity to hold your own point of view up against the critique of other participants, in order to see where you yourself may have some possible “blind spots” in need of reevaluation and possible revision.

Through the comment string on Geoff’s series of posts, I believe I have found a good means to present the biblical argument for the view I hold and defend it against possible objections. I invite any of you who may be interested in this topic to check out the following posts, and especially the comment string of each one, where I add in my contribution to the discussion.

"Private Prayer Languages" - Part I
"Private Prayer Languages" - Part II
"Private Prayer Languages" - Part III
"Private Prayer Languages" - Part IV
"Private Prayer Languages" - Part V
"Private Prayer Languages" - Part VI
"Private Prayer Languages" - The Final Chapter

And I’m sure Geoff wouldn’t mind me saying… Feel free to add in your own comments, wherever you think you have something interesting to contribute to the discussion.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Application of Grudem's Article to the Current Situation in the SBC (Part 1)

In the first section (Why Should Christian Organizations Draw Boundaries at All?) of Wayne Grudem’s article Why, When, and For What, Should We Draw New Boundaries? (see previous post), there is much common ground from which those expressing different views regarding new policies at the IMB and other SBC entities can find a good starting point for the discussion related to these questions.

Although some “liberal” Baptists may perhaps voice disagreement with the initial thesis that there are indeed times when Christian organizations (including local churches, denominations, mission organizations, specialized ministries, educational institutions, and professional groups) should set doctrinal boundaries, it is my impression that nearly everyone involved in the current discussion would be in agreement with Grudem at this point. If doctrinal boundaries are left completely up in the air, the door is indeed opened for false teaching that harms the church.

Moreover, as Grudem argues, “if false teaching is not stopped, it spreads and does more and more damage.” The history of Christendom is rife with examples that show this to be the case. Grudem states: “In practical terms, once a church or Christian organization allows some vocal advocates of a false teaching (or even one) to have a position of influence in an organization, then those people become precedents by which others can be allowed in.” I think that as Southern Baptists today, we would almost all be in agreement with this idea as well.

On Grudem’s third point, “If false teaching is not stopped, we will waste time and energy in endless controversies rather than doing valuable kingdom work,” I think it is very important the distinction he makes, when he says: “I do not think that he (Paul) meant they (his readers) should avoid profitable doctrinal discussions or even useful debate…when Paul urged his readers to avoid controversies, he did not mean all controversies, but rather the fruitless, endless controversies that disrupt the peace of the church, that hinder us from doing more productive ministry, and that show no indication of moving toward resolution.”

It is my opinion that the discussion on the controversies of the past year have been, for the most part (with a few exceptions), fruitful thus far. Blogging has opened a door for many who would not otherwise have such an opportunity to communicate their thoughts. I personally have learned a lot about why people hold the views they hold, and been able to evaluate the Scriptural basis for these views more thoroughly, as a result of the written opinions of many bloggers.

At the same time, though, I think we do well to remember that blogging also opens the door more widely than ever before for “fruitless, endless controversies.” I think we all would do well to seriously take into account, before we post anything, whether or not what we have to say is really constructive, and will help work towards the edification of the Body of Christ, and the advance of Kingdom of God.

I also believe that there is general agreement on Grudem’s fourth point: “Jesus and the New Testament authors hold church leaders responsible for silencing false teaching within the church.” We may have some nuances of disagreement over just what is “false teaching” and what is not, as well as over exactly how church (and other Christian organization) leaders should go about enforcing this accountability. But, on this basic point, I believe we are in essential agreement.

As to the fifth point, a refutation of the objection that “doctrinal boundaries don’t do any good, because they cannot be enforced,” I also believe there is general agreement. It is true that there will always be the possibility of those who are not totally honest regarding their agreement or lack thereof with established doctrinal boundaries. I do not believe those who express any caveat they may have in relation to doctrinal boundaries (such as the BFM) are necessarily being dishonest, however. It is rather those who secretly maintain discrepancies with these boundaries, and say nothing about it, or intentionally try to twist their language to make it sound as if they are in agreement, who show true dishonesty. I believe it is generally incumbent on those leaders with the authority to enforce doctrinal accountability to determine whether or not expressed caveats fall outside the realm of acceptabilty.

There is also the reality that words are often interpreted differently by different people, no matter how specific we intend them to be. I, for instance, was not aware of the great significance certain people attach to the phrase “church ordinance,” as it appears in the Baptist Faith and Message, until reading views expressed on blogs this past year. Several have argued, for instance, that this implies that baptism is always to be administered under the supervision of a duly established local church. While that may have well been the intention of the original drafters of that phrase, I am almost certain that many who have signed the Baptist Faith and Message did not grasp the full implications of what they were signing regarding this point. I am likewise convinced that a significant amount of people who voted to approve the BFM were unaware of the supposed implications of this phrase.

In spite of these almost unavoidable weaknesses, however, I think we all (or almost all) would be in agreement that it is much better to have clear doctrinal boundaries than to have none at all.

Although, at this point, we still haven’t gotten to the “meat” of the issues involved in the current discussion, I think we do well to point out the essential agreement that exists here, with the intention of preempting possible “straw man” arguments that might crop up, as well as unfair labeling of others and accusations that don’t really square with the truth.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas from Spain

Dear Friend,

Greetings from Madrid, Spain! We send our love and thank the Lord for each of you and your prayers for our family and ministry here in Spain.

At our ministry team meeting this week, we reflected on the idea that Christmas is not about us. It is not about traditions that make us feel good. It is about our Savior, who left behind everything that might have "made Him feel good," and sacrificed Himself, putting the welfare and comfort of others above His own. Although it is not the most "traditional" Christmas passage, I think the following summarizes well what Christmas is really all about:

"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! "

Philippians 2.1-8

As you reflect on the "true meaning of Christmas," let me encourage you to take 60 seconds right now to turn the volume up on your computer speakers, click here, and view an impacting video that I hope will stimulate you, as you look for ways to put into practice this Christmas the example that Jesus gave for us. (Hint: if you click on the little box in the bottom right-hand corner, you can see the video in full-screen mode).(HT: Guy Muse)

The Rogers Family wishes that you may truly have a Christ-filled Christmas, and that as God blesses you, you will let Him use you to bless others as well.


David, Kelly, Jonathan & Stephen

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why, When, and For What, Should We Draw New Boundaries?

I just came across the article Why, When, and For What, Should We Draw New Boundaries?, by Wayne Grudem, published in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, edited by John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Helseth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), pp. 339-370.

As the title of the book indicates, the original context of the article is the discussion within the Evangelical Theological Society over Open Theism, and its compatibility or incompatibility with membership in the society. However, the scope of the issues dealt with in the article is much broader than just ETS and Open Theism. I, personally, believe that it provides a very helpful framework for continued discussion on the questions of "narrowing parameters of cooperation" in the IMB and Southern Baptist life in general that have been frequently discussed on blogs and other media over the last year.

In his article, Grudem deals specifically with four questions:

A. Why should Christian organizations draw boundaries at all?
B. Why should Christian organizations draw new boundaries?
C. When should Christian organizations draw new boundaries?
D. For what doctrinal and ethical matters should Christian organizations draw new boundaries?

Since the article is 28 pages long, it is not practical to copy it here. However, I would strongly recommend anyone who is interested in these questions to give an attentive read to what Grudem has to say. Although Grudem is a well-known advocate of "continuationalism" (the view that all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible are still in effect today), nothing he says in this article comes down clearly on any side of the issues currently being debated among Southern Baptists. He does, at one point, mention the Baptist Faith & Message 2,000, and the process involved in bringing about the revision of the earlier statement. But, the current issues being discussed were evidently not specifically in mind when Grudem wrote this article.

Having said that, however, I think that Grudem's article is highly relevant to the discussion at hand, and has much potential to guide us through the process of looking for a workable solution on the questions that threaten to divide us. I would be interested in what any of you have to say after reading this article, and possibly "parking" here awhile, for a more in-depth analysis of implications of specific parts of it, in future posts.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The church, "pillar and foundation of the truth"

A lot of the issues being discussed lately in Southern Baptist life (as well as in Evangelical life at large) revolve around our understanding of the “church” (or the “Church”). It seems to me that various participants in the discussion are coming from widely different perspectives.

At one time, the majority of Southern Baptists appear to have embraced a very narrow view of church, encapsuled in the Landmarkist movment of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The main points of this movement, according to the Wikipedia article on Landmarkism (of which our brother and fellow blogger, Bart Barber, confesses to being a primary contributor), are: 1) The exclusive validity of Baptist churches; and 2) The invalidity of non-Baptist churchly acts. Although the influence of Landmarkism has waned a good bit since that time, many believe it is making a comeback in Southern Baptist life in recent years.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, a group of people, affiliated in great part with the Emerging Church movement, have adopted a much more loosely defined understanding of church. At a recent conference entitled “You say you want a Revolution!,” researcher and author, George Barna, gave nine reasons why he “left the conventional church for a house church.” In his book, Revolution, Barna makes it quite clear that he no longer believes that it is necessary for Christians to be members of and participate in a “local church.” When I first heard about Barna’s book, I thought some people might be over-reacting. Surely it was just a question of semantics. But, upon reading the book, I was confronted with quotes such as the following:

“Whether you become a Revolutionary immersed in, minimally involved in, or completely disassociated from a local church is irrevelevant to me (and, within boundaries, to God). What matters is not whom you associate with (i.e., a local church), but who you are.” (p.29)

“If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope.” (p. 36)

“There is nothing inherently wrong with being involved in a local church. But realize that being part of a group that calls itself a ‘church’ does not make you saved, holy, righteous, or godly any more than being in Yankee Stadium makes you a professional baseball player.” (p. 36)

“Ultimately, we expect to see believers choosing from a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal ‘church’ of the individual.” (p. 66).

“The major concern about the Revolution is that millions of its adherents are not affiliated with a local church. As described in earlier chapters, Revolutionaries’ distancing themselves from formal congregations does not reflect a willingness to ignore God as much as a passion to deepen their connection to Him. In my experience, Revolutionaries do not try to draw other people away from the local church. Theirs is a personal choice based on a genuine desire to be holy and obedient, but finding that need better served outside the framework of congregational structures.” (pp. 112-13)

“In fact, there is no verse in Scripture that links the concepts of worshipping God and a ‘church meeting.’” (p. 114)

“It seems that God really doesn’t care how we honor and serve Him, as long as He is number one in our lives and our practices are consistent with His parameters. If a local church facilitates that kind of life, then it is good. And if a person is able to live a godly life outside of a congregation-based faith, then that, too, is good.” (p. 116)

“I am not called to attend or join a church. I am called to be the Church.” (p. 129)
From what I understand, Barna, and many others espousing similar views, are well-motivated. They really are interested in glorifying God, advancing His Kingdom, and honoring His Word. I consider him to be a brother in Christ, as well as a treasured co-laborer in the work of the gospel. I myself have been greatly blessed and helped by Barna’s book The Power of Vision. But, on this particular issue, I believe He is wrong. If he were just anybody, what he is saying might not merit that much attention. But, according to the publicity for the Revolution conference, Barna is "the most quoted person in the Church today."

From what I can make out, there is indeed something called the “local church” that is commended to us in the Bible as an important part of God’s plan for this age. It is not enough to say that we are all a part of the “Universal Church,” and that all that really matters is that, in one way or another, we are fulfilling the functions we are meant to fulfill as believers in Christ.

Paul, in 1 Timothy 3.15, tells us that the “church” is the “pillar and ground of the truth.” Some, such as Roman Catholics, have taken this verse, and inferred that the authority of the Roman hierarchy takes precedence even over that of the Bible. I do not at all agree with this interpretation. But, I do see, that in the context in which this verse is placed (right between vv. 1-13, that talk about qualifications of elders, deacons, and either wives or women in ministry, according to the translation you prefer; and v. 16, that talks about the essence of the gospel) seems to indicate a significant role for the local church, with local church offices, and accountability structures, as a key part of His plan to bring the gospel message to the world.

On Jan. 25, 2005, the IMB issued the following statement:

The definition of a local church is given in the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message:

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scriptures.


We believe that every local church is autonomous under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of His inerrant word. This is as true overseas as it is in the United States. Some churches to which we relate overseas may make decisions in doctrine and practice which we would not choose. Nevertheless, we are accountable to God and to Southern Baptists for the foundation that we lay when we plant churches, for the teaching that we give when we train church leaders, and for the criteria that we use when we count churches. In our church planting and teaching ministries, we will seek to lay a foundation of beliefs and practices that are consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, although local churches overseas may express those beliefs and practices in different ways according to the needs of their cultural settings. Flowing from the definition of a church given above and from the Scriptures from which this definition is derived, we will observe the following guidelines in church planting, leadership training and statistical reporting.

1. A church is intentional about being a church. Members think of themselves as a church. They are committed to one another and to God (associated by covenant) in pursuing all that Scripture requires of a church.

2. A church has an identifiable membership of baptized believers in Jesus Christ.

3. A church practices the baptism of believers only by immersing them in water.

4. A church observes the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis.

5. Under the authority of the local church and its leadership, members may be assigned to carry out the ordinances.

6. A church submits to the inerrant word of God as the ultimate authority for all that it believes and does.

7. A church meets regularly for worship, prayer, the study of God’s word, and fellowship. Members of the church minister to one another’s needs, hold each other accountable, and exercise church discipline as needed. Members encourage one another and build each other up in holiness, maturity in Christ, and love.

8. A church embraces its responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission, both locally and globally, from the beginning of its existence as a church.

9. A church is autonomous and self-governing under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of His Word.

10. A church has identifiable leaders, who are scrutinized and set apart according to the qualifications set forth in Scripture. A church recognizes two Biblical offices of church leadership: pastors/elders/overseers and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
I am in essential agreement with this statement. My only possible caveat would be, if, someone, on the basis of this statement, were to try to argue (a la the Landmarkists) that “non-Baptist” churches were not authentic churches. I am also happy to use these guidelines as an IMB worker as we are specifically involved in “church planting” work.

It is true that many of the cultural expressions of church may vary from context to context. For instance, in many contexts around the world, IMB missionaries are finding that several different types of “house church” or “cell church” models seem to be helpful in penetrating their local culture with the gospel. I see no inherent incompatibility with this and the guidelines given above.

I do, however, see some potential incompatibility with what I read from people like Barna and these guidelines. And, when faced with such a dilemma, I am inclined to side with the IMB guidelines (not just out of a sense of duty or organizational loyalty, but out of scriptural interpretation and conviction). I would hope that IMB colleagues, as well as other fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard (whether in SBC circles or otherwise), would use some serious discernment when reading things well-intentioned people like Barna are writing about “the church.” If, as Paul says to Timothy, the church really is “the pillar and ground of the truth,” we do need to be careful with how we deal with it.

*Other thoughtful perspectives on related issues to this topic (all somewhere in between the extremes of the Landmarkist position on the "right", and Barna's position on the "left"), can be found from:

Bart Barber (expressing a view somewhat to the "right" of my own), at Praisegod Barebones, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and other assorted posts.

Alan Knox (expressing a view somewhat to the "left" of my own), on various assorted posts at The Assembling of the Church.

John Reisinger (expressing a view somewhat closer to my own), here. here, here, here, here and here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Contagious Christianity

In the historic city of Toledo, Spain (pop. 76,000), Spanish "church planters" José and Jenny Portillo have been working several years to get a Baptist church established in this town that for centuries, up until 1560, was the capital of Spain, and is still today the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of all of Spain. The small group of believers that meets together answers to the same description given by the Apostle Paul of the New Testament church in Corinth: "Not many...wise by human standards; not many,,,influential; not many...of noble birth" (1 Cor. 1.26). About half of the congregation are immigrants from Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia & Brazil.

It has been my privilege, together with my wife Kelly, to visit and encourage the believers in Toledo on a fairly regular basis for the last year. A couple of weeks ago, I had the joy of leading the group pictured above through a 2-day seminar entitled "Becoming a Contagious Christian." Based on materials produced by Willow Creek Association, this seminar, in my opinion, is one of the most strategic tools we have for helping to see reproducing, growing congregations of New Testament Christians in places like Spain.

The seminar is based on the thesis that God wants all believers to be "contagious Christians," but He has gifted us all with a unique personality and a different evangelistic style that is natural for each one. Some of us are naturally gifted at confronting people directly with the claims of Christ. Others are more naturally adept at answering difficult questions and objections. Others feel most at home sharing their testimony of how Christ changed their life. Others are great at making their lost friends feel understood, and that they really care for them. Others find their niche inviting their lost friends to special events and activities, where they know they will be exposed to the gospel. And, others bloom evangelistically in a context of doing acts of kindness and service for those in need.

The point is, there is no "cookie-cutter," "one-size-fits-all" approach to evangelism that works for everyone. There are certain tools that are good for everyone to be familiar with, such as being able to share your personal testimony in 3 to 4 minutes, and knowing how to share the key points of the gospel through something such as the "Bridge Illustration." But, just because you or I are not gifted in one certain approach doesn't mean we don't have an important role to play in sharing the gospel with those around us.

I personally think that training people like those in the picture above in these concepts is one of the most important things I can do as a missionary in Spain. In other places of the world, things like "chronological storying," "the Camel Method," or the "Alpha Course" seem to be showing good results. In the end, though, if we are going to see true spiritual reproduction and multiplication, we are going to have to help the local believers learn how to share Christ in a natural way, that fits the context in which they live.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Entrepreneurial Spirit

As Americans, one of our typical cultural characteristics, in comparison with those of other backgrounds is our entrepreneurial spirit. This can be a very good thing. I lifted the following off of the Wikipedia article on Entrepreneur...
John G. Burch [Business Horizons, September 1986] lists traits typical of entrepreneurs:

* A desire to achieve: The push to conquer problems, and give birth to a successful venture.
* Hard work: It is often suggested that many entrepreneurs are workaholics.
* Desire to work for themselves: Entrepreneurs like to work for themselves rather than working for an organization or any other individual. They may work for someone to gain the knowledge of product or service that they may want to produce.
* Nurturing quality: Willing to take charge of, and watch over a venture until it can stand alone.
* Acceptance of responsibility: Are morally, legally, and mentally accountable for their ventures. Some entrepreneurs may be driven more by altruism than by self-interest.
* Reward orientation: Desire to achieve, work hard, and take responsibility, but also with a commensurate desire to be rewarded handsomely for their efforts; rewards can be in forms other than money, such as recognition and respect.
* Optimism: Live by the philosophy that this is the best of times, and that anything is possible.
* Orientation to excellence: Often desire to achieve something outstanding that they can be proud of.
* Organization: Are good at bringing together the components (including people) of a venture.
* Profit orientation: Want to make a profit; but the profit serves primarily as a meter to gauge their success and achievement.
As international missionaries, one of the things we most frequently "bring to the table" as Americans, is our "entrepreneurial spirit." The truth is, however, when we are guests in someone else's country, and working under someone else's cultural norms, our "entrepreneurial spirit" is not always greatly appreciated. Many nationals in other countries, including some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and ministry partners, have seen more than their share of American missionary "entrepreneurial spirit."
I am more and more convinced that, after 16 years of full-time missionary service in Spain, our "entrepreneurial spirit" as American missionaries needs to be tempered by an at least as healthy dose of "servant spirit" and "cooperative spirit." We must come as learners, both from the national believers and churches, as well as those foreign workers who have come before us. We must earn our right for our opinions to be heard and taken into account. This, especially for us as Americans, is not easy to do. I have learned this the hard way on more than one occasion. And I'm sure I will have occasion to learn this again in the future as well.

Monday, December 04, 2006

This Post is not about Alcohol

When I first came to Europe about 27 years ago on a summer missions campaign with Operation Mobilization, I was surprised to learn that committed evangelical believers from other denominations, countries, and cultural backgrounds were not all “teetotalers.” Since that time, especially after 16 years in Spain, I have pretty much come to terms with the fact that we as North Americans, and especially as Southern Baptists, are pretty much a minority among the world’s evangelicals on our stance regarding alcohol. In Spain, for instance, at the annual Baptist Pastors’ Retreat, you would typically see wine served and consumed at every table, both at lunch and supper.

In spite of all of this, I myself have maintained a position of total abstinence. I see with great conviction the untold harm the alcohol industry has caused, in terms of broken homes, highway mortality, and ruined lives. I see the risk involved of not being able to control oneself, and, unintentionally winding up an alcoholic. I also see the issue of respect for the convictions of others, primarily believers in the States, who voluntarily contribute of their tithes and offerings in order to keep missionaries like myself on the mission field. I also see the need to submit to the authority of the organization with which I serve, which has a policy that enjoins me, as a field worker, to not partake of beverage alcohol.

However, I do not see quite as clearly that the Bible necessarily commands total abstinence. Injunctions against drunkenness? Yes, indeed. Warnings against the dangers associated with the abuse of alcohol? Without a doubt. But, across the board, no exceptions, total abstinence? A little harder to make the case biblically.

In any case (remember, this post is not about alcohol), in the majority of the evangelical churches (both Baptist, as well as others) in Spain, at the Lord’s Supper, they serve wine, and not grape juice. It just so happens at the church where my family regularly attends that they serve a combination of small cups, some (on the outside of the serving tray) with wine, and others (on the inside) with grape juice. The reason for this? First off, I imagine, out of love for those with an alcoholic background, in order to not be a motive for “stumbling.” Next, out of deference, for those, like myself, who have convictions against the consumption of alcohol. All in all, a posture for which I have great respect, and which, for me, represents a high level of spiritual maturity, being willing to sacrifice cultural values out of love and deference for those with other convictions and values.

Normally, when the plate comes around, I always choose from among the glasses of grape juice on the inside of the plate. One Sunday, however, by the time the plate got to me, the only glasses left were those on the outside, the ones with “real wine.” What to do? And, now we are finally getting to the point of this post…

How do our core values determine the decisions we take? For me, one of my main core values is a commitment to the authority of the Word of God. If I were totally convinced that the Bible mandated total abstinence on every occasion, this would be a “no-brainer” for me. However, I cannot honestly say that.

Another one of my core values is the unity of the Body of Christ. And, here we are, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, in which we commemorate the Lord’s death, but also show symbolically our communion one with another, as brothers and sisters in Christ, from different races, backgrounds, and cultures. Since I do not believe in hiding the truth from others in order to make things less awkward, I will come out and let you know now that, on this occasion, I went ahead and drank the wine from the outside cups. And I don’t feel guilty about it. As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure I would have felt bad if I had not been able to join together in unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ to commemorate His death, just as He commanded, on that particular Sunday morning.

Several other bloggers, among them, Art Rogers, have written recently about a suggestion given at the recent Florida State Baptist Convention to eliminate from consideration from denominational leadership anyone who either partakes of alcohol in moderation, or (if I have understood correctly) who advocates the legitimacy of moderation. I am not sure, based on what I have just shared, whether I myself would be included among those eliminated from possible leadership. I am more confident that the majority of Baptist pastors in Spain, and in many other countries in the world, would be.

Which brings me back to the point of this post. Another one of my core values is a commitment to working, with the best stewardship possible of the resources with which God entrusts us, towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I believe this implies working together with believers from other cultures and denominations. I am concerned that there is a certain disposition in the air to move us as Southern Baptists to more and more of a narrow and isolationist approach towards our work together with other believers for the advance of the Kingdom of God.

This, in my opinion, goes far beyond attitudes towards cooperation with those who take a different view on the use of alcohol in moderation. I will not be able to be in attendance at the Sandy Creek-Charlestonian Roundtable this Tuesday in Fort Worth, to talk about some of these issues, and consider what should be done in response. I do pray, however, that God would give an unusual amount of wisdom, insight, vision and charity to those of you who will be there.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Being American and a Missionary at the Same Time

A few days ago, Spanish Minister of Interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, presented a study carried out by sociology professor José Juan Toharia on the attitudes of Muslim immigrants living in Spain. According to Rubalcaba’s evaluation of the study, the "Islamic community in Spain is tolerant, liberal, and westernized. It is well integrated and practices an open form of Islam." He also pointed out that Muslims in Spain have practically the same attitude as Spaniards in general related to the important issues of our day, and an even higher degree of trust in various institutions in society than other Spaniards.

The one thing that really stands out to me, as an evangelical missionary, and American citizen, living in Spain, is what this study has to say about anti-americanism, both among Muslims and other Spaniards in Spain. When asked "To what degree do each of the following people or institutions seem trustworthy to you?," the answers of the Muslim immigrants were as follows (on a scale of 1 to 10):

The Spanish King 7.2
Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) 6.8
The Spanish Parliament 6.5
Judges 6.2
The Police 6.2

The United States 2.4

The study also added that the attitude of Muslim immigrants towards the United States is essentially the same as the rest of Spaniards.

Having lived in Spain for the last 16 years, none of this really surprises me. But reading in print the results of this study and the comments of someone of such stature as the Minister of Interior, lead me to make several observations. I believe that as American Christians, trying to impact the world with the Gospel of Jesus, we cannot "stick our heads in the sand" as if this reality did not exist. Perhaps there are some areas of the world where, as Americans, we still have an open door, relatively speaking, to influence others with our ideas. But, at least in the areas of the world with which I am more familiar, this appears to be less and less the case.

How should we respond to this reality? I would offer several suggestions:

1. If we really take seriously the core value of making disciples among all nations, we cannot afford to "put all of our eggs in the basket" of our personal witness as American missionaries and American volunteer teams. Even though we, as individuals, do our best to overcome negative stereotypes, there are still significant barriers that our national identity puts in the way of many in regards to their open and objective consideration of the message we hope to proclaim. Because of this, I believe we need to seriously look for more and more ways to support the witness of believers of other backgrounds (both nationals and other foreigners), who do not carry with them so much negative cultural baggage, and content ourselves with having a more "behind the scenes" testimony and presence.

2. At the same time, we should not shirk our responsibility, as Christ’s disciples, to put the "talents" with which He has entrusted us to the best use possible towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. If we are going to support others in their evangelistic efforts, we must first show them how. We must be faithful at setting a good example, in spite of the difficulties involved, as well as develop quality relationships of trust and camaraderie with those who will eventually "take the baton" from us. We should do this, however, to the best of our ability, in a way that minimizes as much as possible the potential "stumbling-block" of our national origin.

I am not suggesting being ashamed of who we are, or being unnaturally self-deprecatory. This, at times, requires a delicate balance. What we should not assume, however, is an attitude that communicates that others should pay attention to what we have to say, just because we are Americans. In the past, in some places in the world, we have used our American-ness as a "calling card," which has met with varying degrees of success. More and more, however, I sense that this approach, at least in the areas of the world with which I am familiar, is likely to "fall flat on its face."

In spite of all this, though, around the world, "people are still people." Most, in spite of the cultural prejudices they may harbor, still respond positively to sincere friendship and a humble, servant attitude that seeks to love them for who they are. We must give our best effort to do just this, while at the same time avoiding everything that might only serve to confirm their stereotypes of the "ugly American."

3. Believers and churches in the States should be more aware of the difficult situation in which this reality places the missionaries they send out around the world. Trying to communicate to love of Christ in such a setting can be a serious blow to your sense of self-esteem, if it is not firmly grounded in who you are in Christ alone, and not who you are as an American. Those who support missions back at home should also be aware of how political issues in the States can, at times, make the burden that the missionaries they send out have to bear, even heavier. Without compromising on our God-given responsibility to be salt and light in our society, and maintain a prophetic voice in the face of evil and injustice, we should be sensitive as to how our public image affects not only our witness on the home front, but also, more and more, on the international mission field, as well.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Right Kind of Unity?

Gary Ledbetter, editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, posted an editorial on the on-line edition of Nov. 22 entitled "The right kind of unity." I think the issues he brings out help to define some of the key differences among conservative Southern Baptists being voiced recently on this crucial matter. Let me make clear from the start that I regard Mr. Ledbetter, as well as those who sympathize with the views he advocates in this editorial, as dear brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom I am proud to join together to work towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I would like, however, to take this opportunity, through the following reprint of his editorial (Ledbetter’s text in italics) and some comments of my own, to dialogue some about the ideas contained therein. Though, as my comments will make clear, I see some of the questions involved a bit differently than Ledbetter, I hope this post will be read with the same spirit in which it is intended: not one of attack but rather friendly dialogue.

Ledbetter: We’re often reminded that Jesus’ prayer for his disciples (including us) is that we would be one (John 17:21) and that we would love one another (John 15:12). The interpretation of these commands has led some to suggest that denominations should be done away with, that creeds and confessions are contrary to the mind of Christ, that doctrine divides. Interpret Scripture by Scripture, though. This is the same Lord who a few weeks later commanded us to: make disciples (evangelism, teaching), immerse those disciples in the name of a Trinitarian God, and teach these newly baptized believers all the things he has taught us, presumably by means of an authoritative Bible.

There is a lot of doctrine and denominationalism in that little passage, isn’t there?

Rogers: Doctrine, yes. Denominationalism, only if you equate believers baptism by immersion with denominationalism, which I do not. Among the things Jesus taught us that He expects us to teach new believers is the doctrine of the unity of His Body. If we are to be true to His Word, in my opinion, we must work out the appropriate balance of this clear teaching with other more dubious teachings on ecclesiological specifics.

Ledbetter: Our unity must be in service of something and not an end in itself.

Rogers: Our unity should be in service of the King of Kings, obedience to His Word, the glory of His name, and the advance of His Kingdom.

Ledbetter: A good unity story is the burgeoning relationship between the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas and our own SBTC.

For about a hundred years the Baptist Missionary Association and the Southern Baptist Convention went their own ways in the specifics of missionary support. Southern Baptists have been more centralized in their support of various denominational causes than have Missionary Baptists. In Texas, at least for the past few years, we are once again finding ways to work together. On page 2, our annual meeting wrapup describes the latest initiatives between our two state fellowships.

The point is that we are once again finding unity for specific ministries with others who substantially agree with us regarding faith and practice. Without revisiting the reasons for our initial separation, the reasons for this growing unity seem biblical and godly. For the most part, it was movement on the part of Southern Baptists that strengthened our relationship. The fact that our convention has clarified its beliefs on significant matters of faith answered a lot of questions for Baptists of other bodies.

In other words, our confessional nature told them a lot about what we are and are not. It defined the meaning of cooperation so that biblical compromise was not sacrificed for the sake of unity. Maybe you’ll argue that compromise never was part of the deal. OK, but setting the parameters in unequivocal language makes a big difference for many within and outside our fellowship.

Rogers: Are we talking about moving closer to Landmarkism, the defining doctrinal stance of the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas, and the reason for their past differences with Southern Baptists? Are we talking about not accepting "alien immersion"? Or not accepting "private prayer language"? Or, are we just talking about taking a clear stand on the inerrant Word of God? If the latter, there are other groups besides just "Missionary Baptists" who are becoming more and more open to working together with us on "specific ministries." If the former, though, we are moving further away from being able to work together with some of these same groups.

Ledbetter: Here’s another example. Back in the early 1990s I served the Indiana state convention. We were about to host the SBC during a year when the convention was going to clarify its stance on homosexuality with an amendment to the SBC Constitution. At the same time the American Baptist Convention was being less clear, to put it nicely. Our state office received several calls that year from conservative ABC churches who were troubled by the stand of their own denomination. They called us because they were heartened by the stand our denomination was taking. A clarifying of our stance opened the door to greater unity among Baptists in Indiana.

Likely that same thing happened in other places across the Midwest during that year. It was doctrinal clarity, not vagueness that best served the cause of Christian unity. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has more clearly defined itself than any other Southern Baptist denominational body larger than an association. Of course this means that some will choose another affiliation for doctrinal reasons but it is mistaken to think that doctrinal firmness is only divisive. If we want unity, what’s the alternative?

Rogers: This depends on how you define unity. Is it working together on specific ministry projects? Is it denominational merger? Is it more believers and more churches joining the same denomination? I personally see spiritual unity and denominational affiliation as two separate issues (see "Unity in the Body of Christ and Unity in the SBC").

Greater clarity on "tier one" issues is one thing. Tighter parameters on "tier two" and "tier three" is something entirely different. If we are unable to make this distinction, we are well on our way to sectarianism, which is not, by definition, "greater unity." If it is always a good thing to define oneself more and more clearly and narrowly, where do we stop?

Ledbetter: Usually it’s to draw the circle larger with indistinct edges. Ecumenical movements have been trying that for years and for them, the circle is never large enough. Interfaith witness becomes interfaith dialog. "The way, the truth, and the life," becomes "many roads up the same mountain" or "God is the judge, I wouldn’t dare claim to know who will and won’t go to Heaven."

Rogers: Here, where we are talking about "tier one" issues, I am in total agreement.

Ledbetter: Doctrines that define denominations, believers’ baptism, eternal security, local church autonomy and the like are downplayed until a generation has no idea what their own churches believe.

Rogers: Here, where we are talking about "tier two" and "tier three" issues, we are talking about something entirely different. By no means am I in favor of local churches "downplaying" their convictions and beliefs on these issues. Each believer, and local congregation as a group, must search the Scripture, and to the best of their ability, arrive at some conclusions regarding what is being taught.

However, true Christian unity is not based, in my opinion, on lock-step interpretation of controversial biblical passages. Otherwise, there is nothing to keep us from getting narrower and narrower, basing fellowship and cooperation on similar views of eschatology, number of points of Calvinism one accepts, worship style, etc.

In the Body of Christ, there will always be those with whom we do not agree on 100% of our interpretation of the Bible. The question is: "where do we draw the line of fellowship and cooperation"? In my understanding, the line of fellowship must be the same that God draws with us. 1 John 1.3 teaches that our fellowship with one another is based upon our previous fellowship "with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." John 6.37 says: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." John 14.6 also tells us that no man comes to the Father, except through Jesus. Hebrews 10.19-20 tells us more specifically that we have access to the Father through the blood and flesh of Jesus. And Ephesians 2.8-9 tells us that we appropriate this by grace through faith.

The question of cooperation is a little trickier. Practical concerns make it difficult to fully cooperate in certain ministry projects with certain other true brothers and sisters in Christ, due to differing interpretations of Scripture that are incompatible with each other. For example, it is hard to hold to believers’ baptism by immersion and infant sprinkling in the same church. They are mutually exclusive. By the same token, either a church takes a stand allowing for women pastors, or it takes a stand not allowing for women pastors. It is impractical to hold to both views at the same time.

With other interpretative differences, it is easier to work together. I believe, for instance, that "private prayer language" is one of these. As long as those with a "private prayer language" do not make their practice normative for other believers, or disparage the spirituality of those who have other gifts, I see no reason why fruitful cooperation in ministry need be hindered by the taking of different views on this subject.

There is a whole gamut of other issues that must be worked out individually. One man’s "second- tier issue" is another’s "third-tier issue," and vice-versa. I do not believe the answer is defining ourselves more and more clearly and narrowly on every single issue, though.

Ledbetter: Is anyone who believes the Bible to any degree happy with the way that’s turning out? How is it then that some of us toy with other strange practices and beliefs that seem only meant to convince people that we’re tolerant?

Rogers: It doesn’t have anything to do with convincing other people we’re tolerant. It is all about obeying Jesus’ desire, communicated to us by way of His inerrant Word, for unity in His Body.

Ledbetter: Alcohol use among Christians may not be, for example, the crucial definition of cultural compromise. But it’s also dangerous, more dangerous, to make this one practice the test of cultural coolness or relevance. It may sound intolerant but I still maintain that nothing positive, except the acclaim of the sensual among us, comes from using our freedom in this way.

Rogers: Who wants to "make this one practice the test of cultural coolness or relevance"? That, as I understand it, is not the issue at all, but rather, who do we exclude from fellowship and cooperation, and on the basis of what? What does alcohol have to do with "the right kind of unity," anyway?

Ledbetter: Downplaying the importance of baptism by immersion seems to also be a place where some play to the crowd. Except for the appearance of tolerance, and the resulting larger numbers drawn to his ministry, I can’t think of a reason for a pastor to redefine a word that has never meant anything but "immersion." Sure, it’s a nice big circle and there are a multitude of shining and multidenominational people inside, but what is the basis of their unity?

Rogers: Maybe this article is directed towards people other than those I read and with whom I correspond. But, among those I read and with whom I correspond, I don’t know of anyone wanting to "downplay the importance of baptism by immersion" or wanting to "redefine" the word "baptism."

Ledbetter: What beliefs do they hold in common that will hold them together in ministry? It is unlikely that baptism will be the only casualty when an evangelical or even Baptist church decides to smear its doctrinal foundation.

Rogers: Once again, to whom are we referring here? Henderson Hills? Bethlehem Baptist? If so, in what way have they decided to "smear their doctrinal foundation"? All I see is churches and believers sincerely doing their best to search the Scriptures in order to come to some conclusion about where they draw the line of fellowship. They may well come to some different conclusions than I do. But I am not prepared to accuse them of "smearing their doctrinal foundation" and heading down the road of abandoning other biblical doctrines, as a result.

Ledbetter: A form of ecumenism developing among those who believe in biblical inerrancy will/has rapidly become less committed to biblical inerrancy. The fact that Open Theism (the belief that God is limited in his knowledge of and power over the future) has already found adherents among inerrantists cries out for a more specific definition of the term. The circle is already too big and we didn’t notice.

Rogers: This seems to me to be largely a "straw man" argument. Who, at least in Southern Baptist circles, claims to be "inerrantist" and adheres to "Open Theology"? Perhaps there are some, but I am not aware of them. Is that what’s really being discussed, or what’s really at stake, here? I, for one, am open to greater cooperation in various degrees in working towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission with other conservative evangelicals. But for me, at the same time, adhering to "Open Theology" is the furthest thing imaginable.

Ledbetter: If we are to be Great Commission Christians we must constantly strive to take seriously the words of the Commission and the "all things that I have taught you" contained in the entirety of Scripture. It is a balancing act to define the parameters of biblical belief and practice without either compromise with worldly influence or legalistic narrowness. It’s a struggle worth trying. Surrender to either side of the balance is unworthy of our call.

Rogers: On this, I am in complete agreement. Especially the phrase: "Surrender to either side of the balance is unworthy of our call."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Partisan Arrogance on the Mission Field

One more concern voiced by Latin American missionary "Antonio Peralta" at COMIBAM 2006 in Granada has to do with what he calls "partisan arrogance" on the mission field:

The last concern I want to mention is once again one that I believe can be perceived more easily from the Muslim field, where the followers of Jesus, inasmuch as we know, are more or less one out of every 50,000 people. Before the reality of so many unreached people groups, it is sad to hear of missionary projects that, in the end, are only efforts so that, in places that already have several evangelical churches, there may be one more of our denomination.

The desire to plant our flag, whether as a church, denomination, or mission agency, many times has much more to do with fleshly pride than with the Spirit of Christ. Neither our denominations nor our mission agency will go to heaven, only people redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. In the country in which I serve, the leaders of the approximately thirty small secret national churches (one for every million inhabitants) have decided that they do not want to use, nor for anyone from the outside to impose on them, denominational labels. They are simply members of Kenisat Nur ("The Light" Church), or Kenisa Kalimat Al Hayiat ("Word of Life" Church) in such and such a city. I believe that, as foreign workers, we ought to respect this desire. Will we be able to do it? Or will our partisan arrogance eventually betray us?

Among the missionary agencies, at times, something similar happens: we end up having to "reinvent the wheel", creating a whole other supervision and support structure, just because the agency that already has teams working in that place is not ours. And in the end, who will get credit for the results? Partisan or denominational (or ethnic or classist or nationalist) arrogance, just like any other idolatry, brings along with it a grave danger, since we are dealing with a jealous God, who resists the proud, and will not give His glory to another (Exodus 34.14, 1 Peter 5.5, Isaiah 42.8). On the mission field, we need humble workers, who fear God and respect their brothers and sisters, with a big heart and an open mind, desirous to serve Jesus together with all those who call on the Lord with a clean heart.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Evangelical Zionism and World Missions

Antonio Peralta (not his real name) has been a missionary in North Africa for 20 years. His plenary message this week to the audience gathered at the COMIBAM conference in Granada was a "spiritual bombshell." He was not afraid to speak clearly on several issues of great practical relevance for evangelical missions in today’s world. Although his message was directed more towards the Latin American church, I believe that what he had to say contains some very convicting food for thought for us as North Americans as well. What follows is an excerpt I have translated from the text of his message in Spanish…

Living in an Arab context, it is frankly shocking for me to see the naivete with which so many Latin American evangelical churches have identified with different aspects of Zionism (such as the prominent use of the Israeli flag), and the ease with which, in the name of a supposed "fulfillment of prophecy," practically any act committed by some individual from among the chosen people is justified. I wonder if at some time we have ever sat down to think how far this is from the universal message of all the biblical prophets and apostles, who did not shrink back from proclaiming the judgment of God on all human sin, without showing partiality (Deuteronomy 10.17, 2 Chronicles 19.7, Galatians 2.6, Romans 2.11).

It is essential for us today, just like it was for the disciples of yesteryear, to leave the fulfillment of prophecies and the details of eschatology in the hands of the sovereign Lord of history, and dedicate ourselves to the task He commended to us: to live and announce among all peoples (including the Jews) the only Gospel of salvation, that is through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ unto everyone that believes (John 3.16, Romans 1.16).

It seems to me that more or less related to this topic of evangelical Zionism is the tendency that I perceive in many evangelical circles to mix together the Kingdom of God and the national interests of countries where believers are numerous or influential. Apparently, we believe that with the political, economic, or military power of this world we can bring about the advance of the kingdom that is "not of this world." When in the national press of many Muslim countries articles regularly appear attributing the bellicose foreign policy of the current President of the United States to his evangelical faith and the influence of evangelicals in North American politics, all that is left for me to do is to worry about the credibility of the gospel message we are communicating to these peoples. In the same way, when I hear recognized Christian leaders publicly support, as supposed spokesmen of all the evangelical churches, undertakings such as the invasion of Iraq, or the bombing of Lebanon, I can only wonder when and how the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ will come to be understood by the Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, etc.

We would do well, as individuals and as churches, to decide clearly, just as Joshua and Elijah long ago (Joshua 24.15, 1 Kings 18.21), which kingdom do we want to represent—that of Jesus or of someone else?—remembering that no man can serve two masters. On the mission field, we need workers dedicated exclusively to Jesus, to His values, and His kingdom, men and women who show no partiality towards people or towards people groups, and who leave the future in the hands of the Master.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I have had the great privilege to be present throughout this week at the COMIBAM 2006 Latin American/Iberian Missionary Congress, held this year in Granada, in the south of Spain. This is the third time this monumental event has taken place, the other two being in 1987, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and 1997, in Acapulco, Mexico.

God is in the process of doing marvelous new things around the world! I am firmly convinced that the COMIBAM (Cooperación Misionera Iberoamericana) movement is one of the most significant. Here this week in Granada, more than 2,000 delegates from all over Latin America, and the Iberian Peninsula, are gathered together to share results and challenges of some 30 years of mission work, as God has begun to raise up and send out new workers for the harvest from among these countries to the unreached peoples of the earth.

The vision was cast in 1987 for Latin America to be transformed from a "mission field" to a "mission force." And now, some 30 years later, this reality is coming into full bloom, as experienced Latin American missionaries are able to share their victories, as well as the challenges they have met, as they have stepped out in faith to cross cultural barriers, and bear witness to the life-changing power of the Gospel.

The truth is, in many parts of the world, Latinos are better accepted, and are having success at breaking through barriers that are becoming harder and harder, in the complex world in which we live today, for missionaries from North America and Europe to transcend. In Latin America, as well as several other places around the world, the role of many missionaries from "the north" is transitioning into that of mobilizing and equipping the churches and believers there to "take the baton" and "step into the trenches" of frontline missionary service and proclamation.

It has been thrilling to hear the testimonies of some of the 300 active Latino missionaries present at the conference this week, who have launched out in faith from economically impoverished but spiritually rich situations, to preach the Gospel in word and deed in places such as Turkey, Albania, Algeria, Morocco, Indonesia and China. In 1987, at the first COMIBAM conference, it was estimated that there were then about 1,600 cross-cultural missionaries from Latin America. By 1997, this figure had grown to a little more than 4,000. And, now in 2006, statistics point to more than 8,500 cross-cultural missionaries from among the various evangelical denominations, churches, and mission agencies spread throughout all of Latin America, Spain & Portugal.

As I have said before on this blog, the Great Commission is not just given to us as Southern Baptists. And it is not just given to the church at large in North America. It is time for us to humbly admit that God does not need us to do what He is doing around the world. He certainly has a role for us to fulfill. And we must remain faithful in giving our very best effort at being the best stewards possible of the gifts, talents, and resources He has placed in our hands. But that role must be played out in the greater context of what God is doing in and through all His Body throughout the entire world to gather a people for Himself from among every nation, tribe, people and language on the earth.

*See also Baptist Press article "WORLDVIEW: A truly global missions movement is emerging"

Monday, November 13, 2006

Private Prayer Language

Those of you who have followed this blog for any length of time know that I am not in favor of the new IMB policy passed about a year ago eliminating from consideration for missionary service those who admit to having a “private prayer language.” As I have also stated here previously, I personally do not have a “private prayer language.” I do, however, believe in the continued validity, until the return of Christ, of all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament. This includes the possibility of a legitimate “private prayer language,” which may be something other than a “known human language.”

A stereotype exists in the minds of certain Christians, leading them to suppose that those who claim to find Scriptural warrant for the continuation of all of the spiritual gifts do so out of a need to justify their personal experience of “speaking in tongues.” I can assure you that is not the case with me.

Since my youth, I have been interested in the topic of spiritual gifts, especially as manifested in the Charismatic Renewal movement, both because I have seen how different views on this subject have divided conservative evangelical believers who are in agreement on practically every other issue, as well as because of the great impact Christians who believe in and practice miraculous gifts have made towards world evangelization. This interest has led me to do a thorough study on this topic, with the intention of being as objective as possible in my interpretation of Scripture. I have read many books and articles on both (and sometimes more than two) sides of the various issues involved. I have carefully studied the texts of the Bible that are related in one way or another to this topic. Although I will be the first to admit that my understanding of Scripture is far from infallible, I have no problem in affirming, on the basis of my investigation, my belief in the continuation of all of the spiritual gifts, not only as a possibility, but as a reality today.

I do not, however, consider myself to be either Charismatic or Pentecostal in my theology. I do not believe that all Christians should seek for the gift of tongues. I do not believe that speaking in tongues is the sign of a supposed post-conversion “baptism in the Spirit.” I do share some doctrinal views with what many have termed the “Third Wave” movement, yet, at the same time, feel uncomfortable with many of the extreme practices that have sometimes accompanied this movement.

Up until the announcement of the new policy last year, “private prayer language” was not a major item on my “radar screen.” Perhaps my understanding of Scripture has led me to be somewhat more open to fellowship with some on the more Charismatic/Pentecostal/Third Wave side of the spectrum than some of my other colleagues in the IMB, or others in the SBC at large. Beyond this, however, I consider myself to be very much in the “mainstream” of current conservative evangelical Southern Baptist life. I have never sensed my views on this topic to have caused any conflict whatsoever with my missionary colleagues.

However, my conviction on the biblical soundness of my beliefs in this area, as well as my concern over the negative effect of this new policy, have led me to speak out more and more on this issue. In addition to the various posts on this blog (here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) related in one way or another, I have also commented frequently on several other blogs, several of which take positions in support of the new policy and against a bibical interpretation that allows for the continued practice of a “private prayer language” in today’s Church. These include Brad Reynolds, Jerry Corbaley, Baptist Theologue, and Bart Barber (here, here, here, and here). Rob Westbrook, on whose blog I also commented, takes a different view. Many of my personal views based on my study of Scripture can be found on my comments on these posts.

I have not yet taken the time to write a thorough biblical defense of my view. However, of the many different people writing on this topic on the blogosphere, one person stands out in my mind as doing an extremely admirable job of representing a position that, to date, is almost exactly, if not exactly, the view that I hold. That person is Alan Cross.

Alan is currently working on a series of posts that gives a more thorough, systematic defense of the view I, and others like me, hold. I strongly recommend that you read Alan’s first three posts that are available here, here, and here, and continue reading as he posts more information in the coming days.

I also think Dwight McKissic does an excellent job of presenting essentially the same view (with the exception that he actually claims to have a "private prayer language") here and here.

In case this post sparks anyone’s interest in doing a more in-depth study of this question, I recommend the book The Kingdom and the Power, edited by Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer. I do not agree with every single thing written here, but it does give a more in-depth review of various issues associated with the Third Wave movement from a more scholarly perspective than many other books on the subject.

What is the purpose of this post? To lead you to seek after a "private prayer language"? No. I believe that is entirely between you and God. To convince you of the continualist interpretation? Not so much as to at least convince you that the continualist interpretation is not incompatible with a high view of biblical authority, nor with continued participation in Southern Baptist life, and service with the International Mission Board. If after giving an honest, objective study of these questions, you come down on the side of not accepting the legitimacy of "private prayer language," I can respect that, and have no problem working together with you to help see the Great Commission fulfilled, as long as you can respect those who hold the same view as me, and work together with us. Another purpose is I would like to see as many people as possible read Alan Cross's posts.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Immigration and the Church

In the past 5-10 years, immigrants from many parts of the world have begun to stream into Spain, especially from Latin America, Eastern Europe and North Africa. As a result, the majority of evangelical churches have seen a great influx of new attendees, many of which come from countries with a much higher percent of evangelical Christians than Spain. It is unusual to find a growing congregation in Spain today that does not have at least 20-30% foreign attendance, and in many cases, well over 50%. This has been a cause of revitalization in many churches, as well as a new opportunity for social ministry. It has also brought with it many challenges, as the socio-cultural makeup of many churches has been dramatically altered in a short period of time.

In a special conference held in 2003 at the Baptist Seminary in Madrid on "The Churches and Immigration," various Spanish and Latin American evangelical leaders weighed in on the implications of this new situation for the Church in Spain. I believe that much of what was shared holds true for evangelicals in the USA as well. Especially poignant, in my opinion, are the following words (which I have translated from Spanish) by Spanish Pastor and Seminary Professor Emmanuel Buch Cami, from his discourse entitled "A Pastoral Perspective on Immigration":

It is necessary to continue to warn against the creation of immigrant ghettos within the churches and against every substitute for true Christian fellowship. In the New Testament, the local church is a "space for fellowship," a place of meeting and integration established by Jesus Christ in order to embody God’s purpose of inviting all mankind to become one people in Christ, excluding no one, without exception. Immigrants are the perfect test case for measuring the faithfulness of each church to the New Testament model, free of nationalistic, linguistic, or class-bound ties. Immigrants are a challenge in the face of the temptation to lock ourselves up in "towers of Babel" that isolate us from one another; rather, they
encourage us to seek more of the Spirit of Pentecost that unites us, the Spirit of Christ Jesus, Lord of the church.

In the church, the community of the Spirit, no one is a foreigner. Every Christian, no matter what may be his/her place of origin or condition, has a place at the Father’s table, and no one should be banished to remain in the entryway of the house. This "anthropology of brotherhood" is based on the fatherhood of God. All of us are invited, nothing more, nothing less, to the table. The table does not belong to anyone but the Father who calls us each as equals. That is one of the images that the celebration of the Lord’s Table conveys. The sentiment that "outsiders are going to end up kicking us insiders out" is foreign to the church of Christ, who only knows of community under the shadow of the cross. If the church does not learn to give forth an effort at extending a welcome, "lengthening [its] cords" and "strengthening [its] stakes" (Isaiah 54.2), if the church limits itself to "renting out" its premises, but not sharing them, then it becomes irrelevant in its incarnation and proclamation of the Kingdom.

I wonder if there is anything more urgent today, for Christ’s honor and for the extension of the Gospel, than for the Church to be what it ought to be, and that it be seen as such, as what it already is by God’s purpose and Christ’s work: one united and new humanity, a model of human community, a family of reconciled brothers and sisters that love their Father and love one another, the visible dwelling place of God by way of His Spirit. Only then will the world believe that Jesus is the peacemaker. Only then will God receive the glory due to His name.