Friday, April 28, 2006

Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions, Part 4

Today's post takes us to the time of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention. It would appear William Carey’s words regarding “the present divided state of Christendom” and Baptist involvement in world missions (see my last post) were prophetic. Tennessee Tech University student Jennifer Jones Greene, in a research project on the “Rationale for the Formation of the Southern Baptist Convention,” writes the following:
In the mid 1800s, the Baptists were the last of many Protestant denominations to divide into southern and northern factions. On May 8, 1845 there was a meeting held in Augusta, Georgia, of what would soon become known as the Southern Baptist Convention. The eight states of Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Kentucky were represented at the meeting. Four more states, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee who were unable to send delegates, dispatched letters expressing their opinions of the separation. It seems the precipitating cause in producing this division had been the refusal of the General Missionary Convention of Baptists, popularly known as the Triennial Convention, to appoint slaveholders as missionaries. Though the "peculiar institution" of slavery appears to have been the cause of this urgent meeting, upon closer examination, one will see that a myriad of causes existed for formation of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

The propensity for division among Baptists in the United States was certainly not a new condition in the mid 1840s. Many issues in the past had been catalysts for division and numerous events had caused ruptures among Baptists. The anti-mission controversy was one of the first disputes to cause a split among the Baptists. Due to the westward movement of the American people during the late 18th century, a new frontier was established. Baptists soon began to see a need to send missionaries to the frontier to proclaim "the glad tidings of salvation to the heathen." This area, already filled with Baptists, seemed to be rich in opportunity, but soon a controversy emerged that would plague the frontier from 1820 to 1840. One of the main reasons for this conflict was jealousy. Frontier preachers were usually uneducated and many times illiterate. When missionaries from the east began to arrive, the frontier preachers feared losing their congregation to their urbane and educated counterparts. As a result, these frontier preachers began to speak to and influence their congregations against missions. Furthermore, the leaders of the anti-mission movement were often Calvinists or hyper-Calvinists and believed it wrong to try to actively evangelize to or convert the lost. They thought missionary societies were unscriptural and were against the man-made establishments of Sunday school and theological seminaries. The antimissionists were also fierce believers in the autonomy of individual churches and feared the control of the more sophisticated eastern churches.
It was in this context of general church division and disagreement over the best ways to join with other churches in supporting missions that the Southern Baptist Convention was born. By 1845, most Baptists in the south came to the conclusion that the best method was the “associational method” as opposed to the “societal method”. This meant a more denominationally-oriented mindset, as opposed to leaving it up to each local congregation to determine for itself how it wanted to invest its mission dollars. Article II of the original Constitution of the SBC reads as follows:

It shall be the design of this Convention to promote Foreign and Domestic Missions, and other important objects connected with the Redeemer’s kingdom, and to combine for this purpose, such portions of the Baptist denomination in the United States, as may desire a general organization for Christian benevolence, which shall fully respect the independence and equal rights of the Churches.
Almost certainly, the most influential person in Baptist life at this time was W. B. Johnson. Tom Nettles writes the following:

No single individual had more to do with determining the nature of the Southern Baptist Convention than W. B. Johnson ... That Johnson was the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention surprised no one who was familiar with his unparalleled qualifications. As early as 1813, when Johnson was about 30, he discussed with Luther Rice the formation of a general body of Baptists to support foreign missions. This discussion later bore fruit in the formation of the General Missionary Convention, known more familiarly as the Triennial Convention … When in 1845 division in the ranks of the General Missionary Convention became inevitable, Johnson, who served as president of that Convention during the years 1841-1844, became a leading figure in the new organization for Baptist in the South. Not only was he elected president of the consultative convention which met in Augusta, May 1845, but he was elected first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a position he held until 1851.
I have copied below a few relevant excerpts from W. B. Johnson’s 1845 SBC Address to the Public

A painful division has taken place in the missionary operations of the American Baptists. We would explain the origin, the principles and the objects of that division, or the peculiar circumstances in which the organization of the Southern Baptist Convention became necessary. Let not the extent of this disunion be exaggerated. At the present time it involves only the Foreign and Domestic Missions of the denomination ... In particular, a special rule of the Constitution defines who may be missionaries, viz: “Such persons only as are in full communion with some church in our denomination; and who furnish satisfactory evidence of genuine piety, good talents, and fervent zeal for the Redeemer’s cause.” Now, while under this rule the slaveholder has been, in this turn, employed as a missionary, it is not alledged that any other persons that those above described, have been appointed. Moreover, the important post of a superintendent of the education of native missionaries, has been assigned, with universal approbation, to the pastor of one of our largest slaveholding churches ... III. OUR OBJECTS, then are the extension of the Messiah’s kingdom, and the glory of our God. Not disunion with any of his people; not the upholding of any form of human policy, or civil rights; but God’s glory, and Messiah’s increasing reign; in the promotion of which, we find no necessity for relinquishing any of our civil rights. We will never interfere with what is Caesar’s. We will not compromit what is God’s. The objects will appear in detail on the face of our Constitution, and in the proceedings, which accompany this address. They are distributed, at present, between two acting Boards for Foreign and Domestic Missions, having their respective seats at Richmond, Va., and Marion, Ala. We sympathise with the Macedonian cry from every part of the heathen world,--with the low moan, for spiritual aid, of the four millions of half stifled Red Men, our neighbors; with the sons of Ethiopia among us, stretching forth their hands of supplication for the gospel, to God and all his people ... Our eyes and hearts are turned with feeling of parental fondness to Burmah and the Karens; with a zeal in which we are willing to be counselled by God and all considerate men, (but by none else,) to the continent of Africa, and her pernicious fountains of idolatry, oppression and blood, but yet more, with unutterable hope and thankfulness, to China and her providentially opened ports, and teeming thirsty millions ...
A few thoughts of mine...

The issues which face us as Southern Baptists today are not new. We have always struggled with how to best join with other members of the Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission. Although there is much in our past for which we should be proud, there is much for which we should be ashamed as well. The 1995 Convention's Resolution on Racial Reconciliation was a big step in the right direction. However, after 161 years of SBC history, we are still working at the objective of "extension of the Messiah’s kingdom, and the glory of our God" while not at the same time falling into the trap of "disunion with any of his people."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions, Part 3

Since the topic of Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions did not really even exist, as such, until then, let's fast-forward past 1700 years of church history, to the year 1792 and our Historical Document for today...

William Carey's An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.

If you want to read the entire 86 pages, you can do so on-line here. Specifically, in regards to our topic at hand, I would like to highlight the following quote from Sect. V., page 84...
If there is any reason for me to hope that I shall have any influence upon any of my brethren, and fellow Christians, probably it may be more especially amongst them of my own denomination. I would therefore propose that such a society and committee should be formed amongst the particular baptist denomination.

I do not mean by this, in any wise to confine it to one denomination of Christians. I wish with all my heart, that everyone who loves our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, would in some way or other engage in it. But in the present divided state of Christendom, it would be more likely for good to be done by each denomination engaging separately in the work, than if they were to embark in it conjointly. There is room enough for us all, without interfering with each other; and if no unfriendly interference took place, each denomination would bear good will to the other, and wish, and pray for its success, considering it as upon the whole friendly to the great cause of true religion; but if all were intermingled, it is likely their private discords might throw a damp upon their spirits, and much retard their public usefulness.
My comments...

There we have it. The start of specifically "Baptist" work in world missions. And the stated reason for carrying out this work specifically as "Baptists". As I read it, it was not due to any idea that it was inherently better to do it that way, but rather a pragmatic justification, the danger of "private discords" getting in the way of the "public usefulness" of such an enterprise. Carey intimates that "with all (his) heart" he wishes it could be otherwise.

Once in India, he seems to have acted consistently to this desire. Glenn A. Iglehart relates the following:

In 1806, in a letter to Andrew Fuller, Carey proposed a meeting of all Protestant missionary organizations to be held at the Cape of Good Hope every ten years. He asked:
"Would it not be possible to have a general association of all denominations of Christians, from the four quarters of the world, held there once in about Ten Years? I earnestly recommend this plan ... I have no doubt but it would be attended with many important effects; we could understand each other better, and more entirely enter into one another's views by two hours' conversation than by two or three years' epistolary correspondence."
In another letter the same year, referring to missionary efforts, Carey writes:

It is a work indeed in which Christians of all denominations may unite, and have united. The churches in America, have contributed largely to this work.
And he says in another letter, to Robert Ralston, dated December 31, 1827:

The work of conversion has been carried on more or less in most parts of the country, and churches are formed in various places; some of these churches are in our connection, and some in that of other Christian denominations: I rejoice to say that the different denominations of Christians, with one or two trifling exceptions, are of one heart in their exertions, and rejoice in each other’s success.
I would like to think we have in some degree moved beyond "the present divided state of Christendom" to which Carey alluded in his "Enquiry". Indeed, as I hope to show in several documents I plan on posting later, I believe there is good reason to believe we have.

In any case, I think it is instructive that William Carey, the Father of Modern Missions, and one of the leading contributors to the development of Baptist consciousness, seems to have cherished hopes of a different day, a day in which Baptists could join hands with other true disciples of Jesus Christ, in the glorious task of "making disciples of all nations".

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions, Part 2

Before moving on to non-biblical and more recent texts, I think there is one more key text, this time from the Apostle Paul, I would be remiss to pass over...
1 Corinthians 1.10-17 (NIV)

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
My comments...

While some might want to argue that all the believers at the time of Paul were essentially "Baptists", I have a hard time swallowing that if Paul were to write this today that he would direct it only to Baptists. And yes, he is talking most directly about divisions in the local church, but I don't think it is a far stretch to apply the principles to the universal church as well.

The vicissitudes of church history have left us with the sobering reality of denominations. I cannot accept, from what I read in this passage, that this is God's perfect will. However, I think we are much better off with denominations than we would be if we were all subject to the Pope and Rome. If my recollection of church history doesn't fail me, a good many, if not most, of the major church reformers never intended to start new denominations. I think the original Anabaptists or English Baptists (whatever your read on history might be) would have been quite surprised (and not necessarily pleasantly so) if they could look down the telescope of time and see something like the SBC today claiming them as their spiritual forefathers. However, the stands that many of these spiritual heroes took were absolutely necessary for their time and religious context.

I also think D. G. Tinder is probably right when he says:

One response has been to oppose denominations and urge all true Christians to leave them and meet simply as churches of Christ, Christian churches, churches of God, disciples, brethren, Bible churches, evangelical churches, and similar inclusive names. Despite obvious appeal in times of denominational confusion, strife, and declension, the reality is that no such movement has anywhere attracted most Christians to itself. Instead this has been just another way of increasing the number of denominations, and sects, usually with the group's reluctance to admit it.
Where does that leave us? Number one, I think we never need to shrink back from believing and teaching what we understand to be Bible doctrine. Number two, we need to avoid being overly idealistic and dogmatic about the supposed evils of our present denominational system. Given the various choices before us now, it is probably the "lesser of the evils". And, number three, we need to be generous in our acceptance of and cooperation with other true, born-again believers who may not answer to the name "Baptist". We need to look for every opportunity, whenever it does not at the same time mean compromising on biblical truth, to minimize "Baptist" distinctives, and maximize evangelical unity.

I also think it is quite interesting, given the current issues in the IMB, that apparently one of the causes of the divisions in Corinth had to do with differing criteria regarding who baptized who.

Still more to come...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions, Part 1

In the days ahead, I plan to post a series of historical documents, accompanied by some brief comments of my own, related to a subject that has been on my mind and heart for a long time: the degree to which we as Southern Baptists cooperate or do not cooperate with other born-again evangelical Christians for the cause of world missions. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will know this is not the first time I have written about this subject. I have already approached it from several different angles. While it is true that recent developments related to decisions being taken by the IMB Board of Trustees perhaps have brought these issues to the forefront, for me, they are not the latest "hobby horse" I have decided to ride. They are issues about which I have felt and thought deeply for many years.

I considered the possibility of pasting all of the documents and comments together in one gigantic "mega-post". But I have decided it would be more "user-friendly" to post one document at a time, together with its corresponding comments.

On this first post, I would like to start with what, in my opinion, is the most important "document" of all related to this subject: the words of Jesus in His prayer to the Father in John 17.20-23 (NIV)…

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Now, my comments…

I believe it is important to note the vital link that exists in our Lord’s mind between the matters of world evangelization and the unity of His Body. Biblically, they are not separate issues that can be dealt with separately, but rather go hand in hand. When we think of "strategies for world evangelization", to the extent it is correct to talk in those terms, one of the most important ones of all, if I understand this passage correctly, is working towards a greater unity among all true disciples of Christ.

One of the thorny issues related to this is the many different understandings of what this unity our Lord was talking about really means. The traditional Roman Catholic position, for example, is that we as "Protestants" have been primarily responsible for breaking this unity, when we separated from the hierarchy of Rome. I would argue, however, that it was the Church of Rome that initially caused the schism when it disfellowshipped the Donatists in the time of Constantine, while at the same time opening the door for church fellowship to thousands and thousands who had never been truly born again. In more recent times, the World Council of Churches and other "ecumenical" organizations have placed an emphasis on institutional unity. I believe they, for the most part, are following the same path marked by the Church of Rome, in recognizing adherence to a certain organization, rather than a common relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus, as the basis for unity.

As Southern Baptists, we do not, for the most part, accept either the Roman Catholic or the World Council of Churches definition of unity. I believe we are correct in taking this position. The problem, many times, however, is that, as a result, we tend to push to the side or minimize this question, which is not one of minor importance for our Lord. It would seem that, as Southern Baptists, we are more comfortable talking about unity in the local church, or even denominational unity, than we are unity in the Body of Christ at large. However, it seems clear to me that Jesus here was not referring primarily to either local church or denominational unity.

The bottom line? If we are really serious about doing the will of God and world evangelization, we will need to, at the same time, be deeply concerned about true, biblical unity of the Body of Christ around the the world, down through the centuries, in whatever denomination or organization it may be found.

More to come…

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The End of Christendom

I am still looking for some thoughts on the question with which I ended my last post: "Does the Bible really give us solid footing for continuing to have hope for Europe?"

In the meantime, I thought the following quote from the book The Church is Bigger than you Think, by Patrick Johnstone, would give some good food for thought...

The End of Christendom

Christendom itself as an ideology is flawed and failing fast too. The rapid marginalization of the Judeo-Christian cultural heritage and also the failure of Christians to preserve their privileged position are patently obvious to the Western world. We are being compelled to return to a much more biblical and radical position - that of being a minority in the world but not of it. Few Christians are aware that the 1,700 years of a politicized Christianity as the ideology of the ruling elite are rapidly drawing to a close. Whether we like it or not, the concept of the imperial Church dominated the thinking of Roman Emperors from Constantine onwards through the papacy, the Reformation and the nineteenth century mission movement. Its marks are also visible in the largely Protestant Moral Majority or Religious Right in the USA and the efforts of Russian Orthodoxy to eliminate every alternative religious opinion today. The era of Constantinian Christendom is ending. A Church deprived of political power is freed from the burden of trying to use human power to dominate and influence the world. The time for a more effective mission to the needy world is dawning. We need to recognize this, adapt and seize the opportunities offered. Our reference point is not territorial or church growth aggrandisement, but building a kingdom that is not of this world, yet which will fill the earth as a contrasting alternative society. We need to return to the concept of a pilgrim Church, a Church that will be hated, rejected, despised, persecuted, yet be an incisive, decisive, victorious minority which, one day soon, will be ready for its Heavenly Bridegroom as the perfected Bride. The twenty-first century may be the time when the alternative Church becomes recognized as the real Church.

Christendom is doomed, but the future of biblical Christianity is bright. It is taking us a long time to perceive this. We need to stop mourning the decline of Christianity in Europe and many parts of the West, and realize that the coming of Christianity did not convert Europe, but "baptized" the paganism that still has to be adequately confronted with the claims of Christ. The Europe of today has reverted to attitudes that prevailed in time of the early Church. Europe's secularism, unashamed sinfulness, infatuation with neo-Hinduist New Age thinking and occultism needs to be confronted once more, as in the first centuries of the Church, by a Christianity unafraid to love and win those who persecute it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hope for Europe?

I just got back from our week-long region-wide conference in Germany. It was wonderful to see old friends, and meet many new ones. It was also great to learn about what colleagues are doing all across Europe to reach their respective "target people groups" with the Gospel and facilitate Church Planting Movements among them. Being there, several things struck me...

1. Our IMB leadership really supports us in what we are doing. This includes, in our Western Europe region, all levels of administration, from Jerry Rankin, to Gordon Fort (Vice President for Overseas Operations), to our entire Regional Leadership Team. It was especially refreshing to hear Jerry Rankin address our entire region, and speak quite openly about the tensions within the organization related to recent decisions by the Board of Trustees. One important thing he noted, in light of recent posts on several blogs (and this one too), was that "New Directions" was voted on and approved by the Board of Trustees back in 1997. Accordingly, he emphatically assured us that we as an organization will continue to work with other GCCs. We are not going back on that.

2. It was also significant, in my opinion, to see the overwhelming groundwell of support from IMB field missionaries for Dr. Rankin and his leadership. In his address to us, upon the first mention of the recent tensions, and the criticism he has received from some, there was an almost immediate and unanimous spontaneous standing ovation lasting several minutes. I don't think anyone who was there was left with any doubt as to where the vast majority of IMB missionaries stand in regards to Dr. Rankin's leadership and the stands he has taken.

3. I was "blown away" by the dedication, talent and creativity represented by our fellow IMB workers across Western Europe. We have people who are without a doubt on "the cutting edge" of what God is doing, and who are developing and implementing some excellent strategies for reaching their respective people groups.

4. I was also "blown away" by the vast spiritual need of Western Europe. It is evident that we live and work in one of the most spiritually dark and difficult mission fields in the world. There are isolated rays of hope here and there, and places where some "fruit" is being "harvested", and new disciples are being made. But overall, the picture is quite bleak. The truth is, compared with most of the world, we in Western Europe are seeing very little response to our efforts to preach the Gospel.

While on the one hand, at this meeting we were given many motives for encouragement, on the other hand, there are also strong motives for being discouraged about the progress of the work in Western Europe.

Biblically, there are various passages and principles which have traditionally served as motivation for missionaries. Of course, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is the most cited text, with the reference to making disicples of all nations. There is also the oft-quoted reference in the Gospels to the fields being "ripe unto harvest". And then, we have the vision in Revelation of the multitude gathered around the throne from every nation, tribe, people and language.

Some, such as John Piper, in his classic book, Let the Nations be Glad, have reflected upon the implications of this missiologically. However, I find myself asking many times, how does Western Europe fit in to all of this? The vast majority of the people groups of Western Europe already have at least some born-again believers among them. The vast majority of people in Western Europe also have some knowledge of the Gospel, albeit, in great part, a distorted, spiritually void Gospel.

What I am getting to, and where I would really appreciate any insight any of you might have, is this: does the Bible really give us solid footing for continuing to have hope for Europe? I am aware that our eschatology in many ways shapes our missiology. And not all of us come from the same eschatalogical assumptions. In any case, whatever your eschatology happens to be, as long as you accept the Bible as authoritative, I am interested to hear any insights you may have regarding the hope we can expect as evangelical missionaries in the day in which we live for seeing something more than what we are presently seeing as far as response to the Gospel is concerned in Western Europe...

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Souls of Pickles and Church Planting in West Africa

One of the most referenced (and misinterpreted) quotes of my father, Adrian Rogers, by those who opposed the "Conservative Resurgence" is that SBC seminary professors much teach "whatever they are told to teach. And if we tell them to teach that pickles have souls, then they must teach that pickles have souls!" Of course, the point he was making, and with which I agree, did not have anything to do with whether or not pickles have souls, nor whether or not a small group of people in the SBC ought to be able to dictate what others believe – but rather the need for those who receive their salary from the Cooperative Program to be accountable for their doctrinal views to those who pay their salary: the churches of the SBC.

Not only seminary professors, but also IMB missionaries, NAMB missionaries, and other denominational "employees", in the interest of ethical integrity, should be expected to espouse doctrinal views compatible with the expectations of those who in good faith are giving their money to support their ministries. In the case of cross-cultural missions, however, there is a concurrent need for those responsible for determining whether or not the missionaries are faithfully carrying out the expectations of the Convention to have a good understanding of the contextual nuances that come into play on the mission field.

I would say it is a fairly safe assumption that, among the values Southern Baptists hold near and dear, one is the authority of the Bible, and another is a commitment towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. These two points are non-negotiables for Southern Baptists, and rightly so. However, there is a good bit of church tradition and cultural framework surrounding the way Baptists have traditionally "done church" in the States that does not necessarily translate so easily in other cultural contexts.

A lot has been said lately about supposed expectations on the part of Southern Baptists that IMB missionaries plant "Baptist churches" on the mission field. Without a doubt, Southern Baptists as a whole expect their missionaries to be doctrinally sound. They are not interested in giving their money in order to export heresy around the world. However, whenever the values of biblical authority and commitment to the Great Commission come into conflict with Southern Baptist cultural tradition, I, for one, have enough confidence in the hearts and minds of the bulk of Southern Baptists to believe that they place greater importance on the first two.

In addition to the recent policies passed to limit appointment of new missionaries to those who do not have a "private prayer language" and who have been baptized in a church which embraces "Baptist distinctives", a new story has recently come out regarding the imminent dismissal of an IMB couple in West Africa, supposedly for joining together in a church planting effort with missionaries from the Christian & Missionary Alliance. (Read more from Marty Duren, on The Natural Outworking of Landmark Influence: The D's; and Micah Fries, on A Doctrine that could Lead to Hell).

Perhaps, as has been suggested to me by some, there may be more to this story than meets the eye. I do not want to judge before all the information is out. However, if, as has been alleged, the real reason behind the request for this couple’s resignation is the expectation that they plant specifically "Baptist" churches instead of "baptistic" churches, I don’t think it is right to just remain quiet.

Bear with me now in a little bit of "foolishness" in order to drive home a point…

If, next week, one of the agencies of the SBC passed a policy saying that each of its employees had to believe that pickles have souls, I, for one, would not just sit quietly by and accept that. To begin with, I would find it hard to believe that the majority of Southern Baptists really did go along with this belief. If, however, it became evident that a good proportion of Southern Baptists were really being led to believe that pickles have souls, I would not just quietly accept that either. I would actively try to persuade Southern Baptists the best I knew how that pickles do not have souls. If, however, it were ever to come to the point where I were convinced that the majority of Southern Baptists, after having carefully weighed the information, came to the conclusion that pickles really do have souls, and thus, required that SBC employees should also believe and teach that pickles have souls, my only honest option would be to resign from the IMB, and look for another group with which to serve that more closely aligned with my personal views.

Back to the couple in West Africa. If they are indeed being told that they can no longer be IMB missionaries, just because they feel the best way to fulfill the Great Commission in their part of the world is through partnering with some CMA missionaries to plant "baptistic" churches, I find it hard to believe that the majority of Southern Baptists, if they understood the context of the situation, would go along with this. If, however, it were to appear that the majority of Southern Baptists really were more interested in propagating the Baptist denomination than seeing the Great Commission fulfilled, I would take it upon myself to join with others in reasoning from Scripture that this is not what the Lord would want, with the hope of changing their minds. If, however, the day were ever to come in which Southern Baptists, as a denomination, were to reach the conclusion that they ought to put a higher priority on culturally-based traditions than obedience to the Word of God and commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission, I personally will be left with no other choice than to look for another group with which to serve.

Monday, April 03, 2006

"Relevant", "Reconstructionist" and "Loving Each Stone"

*If you haven't yet read my last 2 posts, as well as the article by Mark Driscoll referenced in the last post, what I am going to write now will make less sense. I would also recommend the following article by Ed Stetzer of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board (NAMB), which apparently serves as source material for Driscoll's article: FIRST-PERSON: Understanding the emerging church.

My initial impression (limited by the fact that I am still not all that familiar with Mark Driscoll and his other views) is quite positive of the position taken in his article. I especially identify with the following observation...

If both doctrine and practice are constant, the result is dead orthodoxy, which the Relevants, Reconstructionists, and Revisionists are each reacting to in varying degrees. If both doctrine and practice are constantly changing, the result is living heresy, which is where I fear the Revisionist Emergent tribe of the Emerging church is heading. But, if doctrine is constant and practice is always changing, the result is living orthodoxy which I propose is the faithful third way of the Relevants, which I pray remains the predominant way of the Reconstructionists.
As IMB missionaries working in foreign fields, my read is that a good many of us are engaged in a dialogue marked by a tension between the "relevant" and "reconstructionist" streams. As cross-cultural workers, we cannot escape the need to be continually more relevant to the context in which we minister. In some cultures, this need for relevance is experienced in a different cultural milieu than the postmodern one addressed by the Emergent Church movement. In Western Europe, postmodernism is omnipresent, and, as a result, a whole lot of the Emerging Church discussion is very applicable for us.

With New Directions at the IMB, especially in (but not limited to) Western Europe, there has also been a lot of discussion related to new ecclesiological models, such as the "house church" or "simple church". Some missionaries, it would appear, have either crossed the line or are very close to crossing the line to what (if I understand Driscoll and Stetzer correctly) I would call a more "reconstructionist" approach.

My concern, as I think on the metaphor of "loving each stone" and "rebuilding spiritual Zion" is that this "reconstruction" not be undertaken without due appreciation for the larger context of the "building" which has gone on before, as well as that which is going on at present in other "sections of the wall", as it were. To be more specific, I have heard as part of the "simple church" presentation the encouragement to guard new believers and new churches from exposure to older, more traditional models of church, in order to avoid what is termed "contaminated spiritual DNA".

While it is definitely true that we want the new believers and churches to have good models, and to learn evangelism, discipleship, and multiplication as a way of life from the beginning, I am concerned by a tendency of some in the "reconstructionist" stream towards isolating themselves from the larger Body of Christ around them. Here in Spain, for example, it has struck me as signficant how few Spanish evangelical leaders seem to be ready to "jump on the 'house church' bandwagon".

I am by no means meaning to denigrate "house churches". But what I am implying is that it seems to me that when the Holy Spirit moves, in addition to bringing fresh winds of revival, and, at times, new structures and cultural expressions, He is also very concerned with unity in the Body of Christ at large. And, if we, as God's servants, are truly sensitive to His Spirit, we will have a heart for unity as well.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Recommended Reading

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am fairly new to the conversation about Emerging Church, and nowhere remotely close to being an expert.

However, I just came across an online article by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, in the latest edition of the Criswell Theological Review, that was very helpful for me in getting a basic overview of some of the issues at stake. I was especially aided by the descriptions he gives of three distinct streams within the "Emerging movement": relevants, reconstructionists, and revisionists.

The article is entitled A Pastoral Perpective on the Emergent Church.