Monday, March 06, 2006

Coming Clean

I have observed with great interest and concern recent developments related to the IMB, most specifically the new policies passed in the November meeting of the Board of Trustees, and the motion to recommend the dismissal of Wade Burleson from the Board in the January meeting. On Jan. 24, I sent an e-mail letter addressed to each of the trustees, expressing my concern, which I feel I should now make public.

During the past weeks, I have read the blogs of various individuals commenting on these matters, as well as the comments sent in from many others in response to these blogs. It has been of particular interest to note the amount of comments sent in by anonymous IMB missionary colleagues. I understand and appreciate the need of some colleagues to remain anonymous due to security concerns. I am concerned, however, about the perceived climate of fear and mistrust which has led many to remain anonymous, primarily due to concerns about possible reprisals from within the Board. I would like to make clear that I am not so much criticizing those who have chosen to remain anonymous as I am expressing concern over the perceived organizational climate which has apparently motivated their desire for anonymity.

I personally would like to "come clean" regarding my views on "private prayer language" and "charismatic tendencies" within the IMB. Since my college days, I have had a great interest in the "charismatic movement" and in the various differences of opinion related to the practices related to it. This interest has led me, as the Bereans in Acts 17:11, to "search the Scriptures" in order to determine "whether those things were so". My study of Scripture has led me to the conclusion that the so-called "sign gifts", including those of tongues and interpretation of tongues, continue to be valid for today (especially 1 Cor. 1.4-9; 12-14; Heb. 2:3-4).

This conclusion, for me, has several important implications. I have not personally had the experience of "speaking in tongues". In accordance with my understanding of Scripture, this is due to one of two things, either: 1) I for some reason, in my spiritual life, have placed some barrier in front of something God would want for me; or 2) God, who distributes each gift to each individual as He sees fit (1 Cor. 12.11), has not seen fit to give me either the "gift of tongues" or the experience of "speaking in tongues". I personally believe it is due to reason # 2.

At the same time, I do not automatically question the validity of the supposed experiences of brothers and sisters in Christ who profess to have had the experience of "speaking in tongues". I have known and enjoyed Christian fellowship with a number of believers, both within Baptist life, as well as without, who have professed to have received from God at one time or another the supernatural ability to "speak in tongues". If I did not accept their testimony as valid, this would leave me, as I see it, with only two other possible alternatives: 1) they were dishonest, and intentionally sought to deceive me and others regarding their experience; or 2) they themselves were deceived, interpreting some sort of psychologically induced experience as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Although, in the case of some individuals, I do not completely rule out the possibility of either of these two alternatives, in regards to many, if not the majority, of those I have known who have professed to "speak in tongues", I have a very hard time, based upon the Christian testimony and fruit of the Spirit evident in their lives, attributing their profession to one of the two above-mentioned alternatives.

This, in turn, has led me to the conclusion that in my missionary work for the advance of God’s Kingdom around the world, I need to work together with these brothers and sisters in Christ, just the same way that in the body, the eye needs the hand, and the head needs the feet (1 Cor. 12.21). I, at the same time, am well aware of many of the aberrant doctrines and practices frequently associated with the "charismatic movement", and affirm the need to be discerning regarding false doctrine. However, it has been my observation, that many brothers and sisters in Christ who profess to "speak in tongues" do not at the same time advocate either the classical Pentecostal position that those who have not "spoken in tongues" have not received the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" or various extreme practices frequently associated with the "charismatic movement". In the country of Spain, in which I minister, many of the warmest-hearted Christians I know, with the greatest evangelistic and missionary vision, profess to "speak in tongues". Many of these happen to also be Spanish Baptists.

While I am in this process of "coming clean", I might ought to add, at the same time, that a couple of years ago, in accordance with the request of IMB leadership, I signed the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 statement, indicating my essential agreement with it. At the same time, we were asked to specify any points within the statement with which we had any possible discrepancy. At this time, I specified the following line, referring to baptism, under Item VII on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper:

Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.

My reasons for specifying that line were that I do not find clear Scriptural justification for it. Based upon my understanding of Scripture, the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the unity of the Body of Christ based on a common faith in the grace of God made possible by the sacrificial atonement of Jesus at Calvary, not lock-step agreement on secondary points of doctrine. Perhaps in New Testament times, there was such agreement on the matter of believer’s baptism that there did not exist such a thing as true believers who had not been baptized by immersion subsequent to their conversion. However, I find it hard to harmonize my understanding and corresponding application of the principles of Scripture with the exclusion from the Lord’s Table of a true brother or sister in Christ, who, due to differing conclusions based on a serious study of Scripture, sincerely believes that their infant "baptism" experience meets the qualifications of authentic obedience to Christ’s command.

In openly stating my personal views on these issues, I am motivated by more than merely arguing the legitimacy of my perspective. I am convinced that beside myself, both in the IMB, as well as in many other areas of Southern Baptist life, there are quite a few others who hold either the same views or at least views similar to those I have expressed above. If such is indeed the case, I do not believe it is a healthy dynamic to feel the need to remain secretive about such views, for fear of reprisal.

Just as I have "come clean" about what I believe, I believe we as Southern Baptists, through the due processes which have been established, need to "come clean" related to what is expected of those who serve the Lord while receiving spiritual and financial covering from the Southern Baptist Convention. I, and I believe many more like me, want to know if there is still room under the Southern Baptist umbrella for those who believe like me. If the answer is yes, I will rejoice. I believe that the vast wealth of spiritual, human, creative, and financial resources represented by the SBC make up an excellent platform from which to serve the Lord and work together with His Body around the world for the advance of His Kingdom. If, however, the answer is no, I, in good conscience, will need to seek another platform from which to serve.

In either case, I am convinced that God’s work will go on, and that He will continue to use all of those He calls out, in harmony with His Body around the world, with the purpose of "showing forth the praises of him who hath called (us) out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2.9).

15 comments:

GuyMuse said...

Welcome to the blog world. I am new myself. I read Wade's blog about your letter to the BoT, and have enjoyed reading through the various entries on your site. My wife and I are IMB also, serving in Ecuador. I admire your "coming clean" and stating, without fear, what you think and feel. I too have been amazed at the number of anon.M commenting on various sites. If you get a chance in the coming days visit our site at http://guymuse.blogspot.com We too are writing about contemporary missions themes. I think you'd find we have a lot in common. Keep writing and I look forward to more good posts from you in the days to come.

Tim Sweatman said...

David,

I was introduced to your blog via Wade's blog. I appreciate your candor and your courage. Our views on "charismatic gifts" appear to be quite similar. Regarding the anonymous missionaries speaking out on the blogs, they and a number of former missionaries have expressed concerns about an organizational culture that does not welcome differences of opinion. As an outsider to the workings of the IMB, I cannot say for certain if these concerns are valid, but the simple fact that they are so widespread should cause the trustees and staff of the IMB to do a thorough self-examination.

Burwell said...

David,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. In light of the current events, I must say I appreciate your willingness to stand and be counted. I, at one time, was considering becoming an IMB missionary; however, I have put that on hold for the time being.

I am a seminary student at one of the SBC seminaries, and am greatly dismayed at the lock-step thinking that occurs. We are supposed to be teaching the Word, not a specific cultural adaptation of it. However, a former president of my school that he was intending to make it a "preacher factory," and apparently that is what it has become.

In Christ we do not all become Texans, or have a Texan-esque interpretation of Scripture. We are all members of His body, not anyone or anything else's. None of us are the head, and our only recourse for authority is Scripture. None of the current prohibitions are flagrant misapplications of the Bible, so I can only assume what the motivation is.

Romans 14:19 says "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding." Peace CAN be achieved by forcing everyone to submit to a narrow interpretation of Scripture. However, that is not true peace. Nor is it building up the body.

Baptist Theologue said...

David, I respectfully disagree with your belief that people who have only received infant baptism can be included in the Lord's Supper at a Baptist church. Clearly, infant baptism is unbiblical from a Baptist perspective. Just as unsaved children of church members should not be allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper, so those who have received only infant baptism should not be allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper. In both cases, a teachable moment is provided. Church members can lovingly explain to their children the significance of salvation, biblical immersion, and the Lord's Supper. Church members can also lovingly explain to their friends who have only received infant baptism the significance of salvation, biblical immersion, and the Lord's Supper. Exclusion of both unsaved children and non-immersed adults is thus not an unloving act; rather, it is a loving act that may help them be obedient in the future. Disobedient church members should not be allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper in the final stage of church discipline. Likewise, people who have not been immersed because of disobedience or ignorance should not be allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper.

James Hunt said...

Thanks for your confidence in God's Providential control of your life...as evidenced by your boldness to "come clean".

Barrett M. Lampp said...

David,
I appreciate your "blog" and the letter to BoT! I've known your Mom and Dad since we were at Stetson together.
My perspective relates more to the adverse implications for disqualifying local Baptist autonomy when young people who have been certified as Biblically Baptized by those cooperating entities (the churches), are then disqualified based on restrictive procedures adopted by "select" individuals given "over all" responsibility by the messengers from those same churches? Since I believe that the two ordinances reflect the Hebrew cultural practices of the first century, it would appear there were very restrictive/intimate "qualifiers" or guidelines (ie. such as circumcision for participation in the pesach, which was used as the pattern for Jesus in his establishing the "Lord's Supper") but those restrictions are related to our concepts of local congregational autonomy and in my opinion are adequately represented in the current Baptist Faith and Message!
I think you are on target with reference to how Adrian would have looked at these issues. Though I served in the West and we often talked in Air Terminals and Meeting Halls, he was always gracious in discussing dissenting opinions while holding faithfully to the appropriate/applicable Scriptural text!
Incidently, I believe Wade is asking questions that need to be addressed and this action by the Trustees will allow a forum for SBC Messengers to discuss and deal with varied implied issues that have come to light!
Keep your focus on the "Kingdom" work! ......
for Souls, Service and Celebration.....in THE glorious Name above all Names, Jesus Christ, Savior, Lord......of LORDS.....
Blessings as you "blog" and " . . . make disciples, . . ."
Barrett M. Lampp, now in Tallahassee, Florida

David Rogers said...

Baptist Theologue:

Your last line- "Likewise, people who have not been immersed because of disobedience or ignorance should not be allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper" - is the key to me.

I would be completely in agreement with you, if their reason for not being immersed is disobedience. However, if it is ignorance, Paul says in Romans 14.1 "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." The context in the rest of the chapter leads one to believe the "weakness in the faith" alluded to has something to do with different interpretations of secondary doctrine and practice.

Unless you consider the "one baptism" of Ephesian 4.5 to be water baptism, I think you would agree with me that water baptism, while important, is not such a central doctrine as to base our spiritual communion with other parts of the Body of Christ upon it.

Baptist Theologue said...

David, in regard to Romans 14:1, Paul was speaking about matters where believers in the church at Rome had different opinions. In a baptistic church, there will be no difference of opinion about immersion versus infant baptism. Baptists believe that the immersion of believers is the correct type of baptism. Non-baptists may be ignorant about the correct type, but true Baptists are not. Immersion is not a “secondary doctrine and practice.”

You said that baptism “is not such a central doctrine as to base our spiritual communion with other parts of the Body of Christ upon it.” Remember that the Lord’s Supper is about communion with God, not about communion with other parts of the Body of Christ. Notice what Hershel Hobbs said about it in his 1971 commentary on the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message:

“New Testament baptized believers are eligible to take the Lord’s Supper. Some Baptist churches hold that one should be a member of the church in which he partakes of it, holding that he should be in the fellowship and under the discipline of the church which administers it (1 Cor. 11:20-34). Most Baptist churches hold that any member of any Baptist church is eligible. . . . A brief word should be said about the charge that Baptists are ‘closed communionists.’ To begin with, the Lord’s Supper is not communion between men but between the believer and the Lord. The word ‘communion’ is used only one time with reference to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16). The reference here (1 Cor. 10:16-33) is to the believer eating meat offered to idols. Paul was thinking of the Christian’s union with Christ. All Christian groups which practice baptism hold that it should precede the Lord’s Supper. Baptists say the same thing. The question is, What constitutes New Testament baptism? Thus the difference between Baptists and others is at this point, not about the Supper. Therefore, if Baptists are ‘closed’ anything they are ‘closed-baptismists.’!”

Hobbs, The Baptist Faith and Message (Nashville: Convention Press, 1971)

David Rogers said...

Barrett:

Thanks for sharing that about my parents. I am pleased to meet you, even if it is through something so impersonal as the internet. As a side note, I have heard from others who did have the opportunity to talk briefly with my Dad in the months before his death, that he did indeed indicate that he thought it would be counter-productive for the BoT to follow through with what they have now done with the new policies. Once again, knowing him as well as probably anyone outside of my Mom (who by the way, has confirmed to me she also believes I would not be misrepresenting my Dad's views), I find this entirely credible.

The rest of you guys:

Thanks for the encouragement! Let's continue to work and pray together with grace and love as we strive to stand up for what we believe to be the truth .

David Rogers said...

Baptist Theologue:

Thank you too for your input and thoughtful comments. I can see you have "done your homework", and are also interested in "standing up for the truth". Even though I don't agree with all your views, I do appreciate the opportunity to dialogue freely, mutually recognizing the Scripture as our supreme authority.

Once again, even though my main intention in this post was not to defend my doctrinal position, I will "indulge" you, and respond, from my perspective, to the points you make.

1. You say:

"in regard to Romans 14:1, Paul was speaking about matters where believers in the church at Rome had different opinions. In a baptistic church, there will be no difference of opinion about immersion versus infant baptism. Baptists believe that the immersion of believers is the correct type of baptism. Non-baptists may be ignorant about the correct type, but true Baptists are not."

I see the New Testament is directed to the entire Body of Christ, not just to Baptists. I would see it as a distortion of the historical context of the New Testament, to have a specifically Baptist church application for something intended as authoritative for the church (or, the churches, if you prefer) in general. The reality in which we live today is that many true, born-again believers, do not understand the Bible to exclusively teach believers baptism. While I disagree with them, and have spent many hours trying to convince some of them of the error of their view, I still believe I must accept them as true brothers and sisters in Christ.

2. You say:

"Immersion is not a “secondary doctrine and practice.”"

I am guessing we are just having a disagreement over semantics here. I definitely believe that immersion is "important". However, I make what might be considered to be a technical distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrine. Primary doctrine for me includes the basics of what is needed for salvation (by grace through faith), as well as the 7 foundations of the unity of the Spirit presented in the first verses of Ephesians 4. I would consider believers baptism by immersion to be a secondary, but not a tertiary doctrine. That is, it is important, but not as relatively important as what I have already defined as "primary doctrine".

3. You said:

"You said that baptism “is not such a central doctrine as to base our spiritual communion with other parts of the Body of Christ upon it.” Remember that the Lord’s Supper is about communion with God, not about communion with other parts of the Body of Christ. Notice what Hershel Hobbs said..."

As much as I with "fear and trembling" hesitate to voice my discrepancy with someone as distiguished and learned as Dr. Hobbs, I must respectfully disagree with him at this point.

While unquestionably, the Lord's Supper does have everything to do with our communion with the Lord, I believe it also quite clearly relates to our communion with His Body, i.e. the church. I believe this first of all because the general context of 1 Corinthians is Paul's concern about divisions in the church. In my opinion, that idea is still very much in the backdrop when he comes to the teaching about the Lord's Supper. Next, 1 Cor. 10.17, "For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" seems to me to clearly refer to our joint participation in the Lord's Supper as a celebration of our unity as the Body of Christ. Next, I also interpret the phrase "not discerning the Lord's body" in 11.29 to refer both to Jesus' physical body broken for us on Calvary, as well as His mystical body, present with us through the church. Granted, some interpreters may not agree with this, but I am far from alone in my view. Next, I see it as signficant that John, in his gospel, places Jesus's teaching about loving one another, and his prayer for unity, in the same context as his narration of the Last Supper (John 13-17).

James Hunt said...

I'll be more impressed when churches also dis-allow someone to partake of the Lord's Supper due to other sins of disobedience, such as, excess in eating, laziness, gossip, and such.

I do agree with Brother Rogers on his assesment of who should be allowed to partake of the Lord's table.

It someone is in ignorance...do make it a teachable moment...but don't just focus on baptism.

If someone is in disobedience...do address those issues...but don't just focus on baptism.

Kiki Cherry said...

David,

I really appreciate your comments, and share your views on both areas.

You don't know how refreshing it is to hear someone like you speak openly and honestly about your beliefs, even at your own personal risk.

I grew up on the field, and serve in the Northern U.S. now. I began really searching out these answers for myself a few years ago, when the signing of the BF&M began within the IMB.

That journey has continued, and I have honestly sought to find the truth. But that research, as well as my experience with fellow Christians from many doctrinal backgrounds, has led me to much of the same conclusions that you have arrived at.

Thanks for your transparency. And blessings on you as you reach out to the people of Spain.

I have been reading how the world is coming to you there in Europe. What an amazing opportunity you have to reach every nation, tribe and tongue from right where you are. How exciting! Praying for you and your family.

steve w said...

I wonder what believers without a broader biblical view towards other believers and spiritual fellowship, even cooperation in the fulfillment of the Great Commission, will do in heaven? Will they continue to refuse fellowship with them? Will they continue to look at them as second-class Christians? Of course, we know they won't. But I believe there are going to be some very shocked believers in heaven.

Thank you for "coming clean." May we always be more biblical than Baptist.

Jenni said...

I am so glad, David, to hear you're speaking out and I am so grateful to you for taking the time to articulate opposition so beautifully and thoughtfully. I really don't think it's fair, tho, for you, Adrian Rogers' son, to expect those of us from less prominent families to speak out without fear. Unless you do something really, really awful, your position is secure by virtue of not only your father's memory, but the publicity that would follow.

David Rogers said...

Jenni,

Yes, I think you are right. I've thought about that quite a lot. I think that's one reason why I am speaking up. It's kind of like a responsibility, knowing there are others who feel the same way, but due to different circumstances, do not feel the same security to say the things I am saying.

That being said, it could get very interesting, don't you think, if everyone out there in "m" land were to speak as openly about what they think as I have been doing.