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.

18 comments:

tl said...

David, you said it exceptionally well.

As an IMB m in Asia, I have come to very similar conclusions: if the IMB BoT mandates that which is beyond the clear teaching of God's Word (without ambiguity), my commitment to God won't allow me to stay with IMB. I think there will be a mass exodus.

IMB missionaries have high regard for the Bible and for the church: we work every day to implant His Word in the hearts of the lost and to plant NT churches. We think more than most about ecclesiology because that is where our work is so very focused--the emergence of movements to Christ, rather than small or big personal kingdoms, and second campuses.

When traditions become as authoritative or superceed the Scripture, Southern Baptists will have become more Roman Catholic than Baptist.

GuyMuse said...

You have expressed succinctly an issue that nearly every M I know faces on a daily basis. Where I am encouraged is to see that there are more and more Baptist voices out there expressing concern about these kinds of missions issues.

As "tl" says above, we have to keep going back to Scripture and measure our traditions, customs, practices by what what we find in the NT; not the other way around mistaking our traditions for being the commands of Christ.

Jesus warned the Pharisees, "neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men...you are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition." (Mark 7:8-9)

Kiki Cherry said...

What???!!!! Are you saying pickles DON'T have souls????!!!!

: )

jbacher said...

David,

You are right on. I am the pastor of these missionaries you speak of. I assure you that the story as covered by Marty Duren and Micah Fries is the whole story, absurd as it may sound.

Thank you for covering this situation on your blog. I fear that if allowed to remain under the radar, the implications of such action will impact many missionaries in many parts of the world. May we always be a Kingdom convention and not a Convention kingdom.

Jason Helmbacher

Joel Williams said...

David
In the "tradition" of the above comments, I, too, am an IMB missy in Asia. You've expressed my sentiments better than I can. I'm going to have to pray harder now. For our sakes, the cause of the Kingdom, and the lost souls all over the world who need to hear the gospel regardless of who it comes from and the label on the church, let's hope it ain't so.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother David and Others,

I agree with some of your statements, but strongly disagree with the conclusion you reach.

Don't resign!!!

Missionaries who are convinced they are acting and speaking according to sound biblical doctrine, when faced with directives from their sending agency that are not based on sound biblical doctrine should NOT resign! Instead, they should just keep acting and speaking according to sound biblical doctrine and pray for the best. If they are fired, then of course there's little or nothing they can do about that. But they should not resign based on errors in doctrine or practice on the part of their sending agency.

I also don't agree that a seminary professor should comply with or resign on the basis of unbiblical directives from the seminary administration, BOT, etc. He should just continue to teach in accordance with the truth and trust God to take good care of him. If he is fired, so be it, but he should not resign.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

David Rogers said...

Jeff,

Please don't read into my post more than what I am saying.

I only am talking about resignation as a last resort - only in the case I were to be convinced that Southern Baptists as a whole were out of step with what I understood to be sound biblical teaching and/or sound application of that teaching. And I am not talking about minor inconsequential points in which all of us disagree with each other from time to time. As long as there is reasonable hope for working towards change within the system, my Plan A, just like that of my father, would be to do that - work for change within the system.

However, if it were ever to come down to it, as I state in another post, my "Bottom-line Loyalty" is to the Body of Christ as a whole, and not to just one part of it.

steve w said...

Well said, David. I hope and pray there will be a groundswell of Southern Baptists that will speak out against this nonsense. Like you, if Southern Baptists want to be as narrow-minded as those making this decision, and do not want to partner with GCC to reach the lost, then I am out of place. On the other hand, if this is not the way Southern Baptists want to operate, those making this decision are out of place.

mixilmash said...

Your rationale is exactly why the IMB is very anemic in organizational "middle management" personnel.

The IMPERIAL EDICT that finally "came down" to field level personnel was sign the BFM 2000 or else. The organizational contortions that accompanied this started with encouragements to cooperate, then moved to strong suggestions and then ultimately the ultimatums were issued.

The IMB lost part of its corporate missiological memory bank as a result of insisting that experienced missionaries, Baptist to the core, sign a revised humanly-originated document. Seeing the BFM 2000 as a move toward creedalism that elevates an INTERPRETATION of Scripture to the level of Scripture itself, a'la the Book of Mormon/Watchtower etc., rather than capitulate to the organizational demand for conformity to something they couldn't in good conscience agree with, they resigned.

These were not heretics or liberals, they were proven, experienced missionaries that while agreeing with the majority of statements made in the BFM 2000, (as evidenced by their service according the previous BFM) felt as though they couldn't in good conscience sign the latest organizational equivalent of "pickles have souls".

This is what our organization did to our brothers and sisters in His Name for the sake of placating an apparent paranoia among the IMB BoT, so please be very circumspect in your writings that you're not perceived as being "another liberal in the field must be removed" by the IMB BoT.

Not only is there a track record of assasination of the call (and the ripple effect of such action in the lives of the called!) by the IMB BoT, apparently that predisposition of paranoia is still at work a'la Wyman & Michelle D. from West Africa.

As a colleague and fellow called missionary, unfortunately, I've learned that it takes at least as much faith to remain as an SBC missionary as it would to be one of those "poor independent" types for different reasons. Yes, financially the IMB support system is superior, however ANY system is only as good as those who operate it and given all the givens, we SBC missionaries have an approximately equal risk with the independent missionaries of losing our support base.

PLEASE be careful! PLEASE don't buy into the illusion that because the IMB is a "Christian organization" that you will be treated accordingly by the IMB BoT. My observation after multiple terms on the field is that this organization will treat you just as the religious organization treated HIM...and do it in HIS Name...for the same reason that HE was treated unjustly...because of the "higher priority of culturally based traditions". (your words....SOOOO accurate!)

Tim Sweatman said...

David,

Exceptional post. It truly amazes me, and it especially saddens me, that so many well-intentioned folks who are committed to the Great Commission would impose policies and take actions that will greatly harm our efforts to take the gospel to all peoples.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Amen!

JRY

David Rogers said...

Mixilmash,

Just a few questions out of curiosity, not with the intention to argue...

When you went through the application process, were you not asked if you agreed with the 1963 BF&M? Did you have any problem with this then?

If we did not have some sort of doctrinal statement as a requirement, how would we make sure we were not sending "heretics" to the mission field? A Jehovah's Witness will tell you they believe the Bible.

If some basic doctrinal statement is necessary to keep from sending heretics to the mission field, when does this cross the line, in your opinion, to creedalism?

David

imb m said...

Thanks for writing this and expressing what so many of us on the field are feeling and seeing.

We decided long ago that God is our God and not the IMB. We are so thankful for how we are supported and cared for, but if it ever comes to having to bow down to something else over the clear teaching of His Word, then we too have said we'll leave. God can care for us so much better than the IMB can...if He chooses for us to walk that way.

Blessings,

tl said...

David,

You ask mixilmash good questions.

We were appointed in the Keith Parks era, and were required to sign the BFandM1963 then.

So while the content of BFandM2000 may have been "new and improved", the process of affirming that one didn't feel much different than when we were first appointed.

CharlieMac said...

There is a move afoot to update the HCSB wording of Matthew 28:18-20.
"Then the RL came close and said to them, " All authority is given by the IMB BOT. Go therefore and make Southern Baptist of all converts, baptizing them in Baptist church buildings, in English and in the name of the chairman and trustees, teaching them to obey the 2000 BFM, and remember we are always watching."

Jeff said...

As a CMA missionary working in Kosovo, we constantly grapple with doing church planting while living in the tension of partnership with like-minded groups. IMB, until very recently, had a large team here that fit in well with the evangelical missions community.

I'd like to bend the flow of the comments a little in the direction of denomiational partnerships. In many contexts the real presence of the Kingdom, as demonstrated by multiple denoms working together, has a profound impact on nacent national churches. I hope and pray that we can continue.

Here in Kosovo, for example, we are not planting CMA churches (or even CMA-istic ones...that was a joke) but churches in cooperation with existing national partners. In fact, this has been our practice in all three Balkan countries in which the CMA works.

This has been a major stretch for some CMA powers-that-be who are more comfortable seeing the CMA flag flying over new church plants. I'm not familiar with the specifics of the West African situation, other than what I've read in this and another blog. It's clear though that these types of partnerships are going to continue to stretch us all. My prayer is that the Kingdom will be demonstrated in sound biblcal churches that are living in unity.

Blessings on you all.

Tim Sweatman said...

CharlieMac,

That would be funny if it weren't so close to the apparent reality of the situation.


Jeff,

"This has been a major stretch for some CMA powers-that-be who are more comfortable seeing the CMA flag flying over new church plants."

I'm sad, but definitely not surprised, to see that a similar mindset exists within other denominations. I'm thankful to God that you have been able to overcome this and cooperate with other believers in doing the work of the Kingdom. May the same be said of the SBC, and of all denominations.

mixilmash said...

David, Thanks for your questions.

For the record, I am in complete agreement with the BFM 1963 and have absolutely NO PROBLEM in affirming such...(I've been affirming it for a LONG time....smile) as long as it is NEVER equated as having the same infallability as Scripture.

To do that would be to cross the line into creedalism. Expressions of faith statements, yes; equal to Scripture, NEVER!

The use of a "new and improved" statement of faith as a CLUB to beat others into subjection should rankle the soul of any Baptist.

Granted, there were a few who abused the priesthood of the believer as a pretext for what I term theological libertinism, however, the opposite extreme of what I term theological legalism is just as corrosive to Biblical faith!

We were warned about the leaven of BOTH the Saducees AND the Pharisees....the only difference between them is the bigotry espoused as BOTH miss the ideal of loving Jesus, loving the lost and loving each other. BOTH masquerade as love, but in reality, both are death-dealing, the only difference is in the expression.

It's my contention that the "cure" which the BFM 2000 was intended to produce has put the "patient" at mortal risk from the virulent virus of lovelessness.

When I observe our beloved SBC "patient", I perceive that we are in grave danger. I am under no illusions of undoing errors of the past, for what is done is done and must be committed to the mercy of God, however, my intention is to sound out a warning in hopes that we will be allowed the privilege of corporate repentance and restoration.