Friday, June 30, 2006

Keith Green and "Spiritual Abortion"

I would venture to say that few people influenced my generation (I am 45) for world missions more than Contemporary Christian Music artist Keith Green. Still today, I am continually meeting people on the mission field who credit a big part of their call to missions to the influence of Keith Green. I remember clearly the privilege of seeing him live in concert in Austin, Texas, just a few months before his tragic death at the age of 28, in an airplane crash, together with 2 of his children, in the year 1982.

Keith Green had a passion and authenticity in the Lord’s work matched by very few. The vision is still clearly etched in my mind of the moment that evening in Austin, as he was singing his classic song Grace By Which I Stand, when he came to the line "And like Peter, I can’t even watch and pray for just one hour, and I bet, I could deny you too," and he literally broke down and cried, and was unable to finish the rest of the song.

Keith Green was also known as a fiery prophet, speaking his convictions without mincing words. As we continue to think about evangelism, I want to draw your attention to something Keith Green wrote in a pamphlet entitled What’s Wrong with the Gospel?, in which, in addition to some other subjects, he discussed the concept of what he called "spiritual abortion."

As with the altar call, the practice of having someone repeat a prayer with the minister probably originated from the best of intentions. And no doubt, there are those who have "followed through," continuing to pray and walk with God, entering into the path of righteousness through God's infinite grace. But also, like the altar call, the so-called "sinner's prayer" is one of those tools that make it alarmingly easy for someone to consider himself a Christian, when he has absolutely no understanding of what "counting the cost" (Luke 14:28) really means.

The greatest reason I believe that God can be grieved with the current use of such tools as the "altar call" and "sinner's prayer" is because they can take away the conviction of the Holy Spirit prematurely, before the Spirit has time to work repentance leading to salvation. With an emotional splash that usually doesn't last more than a few weeks, we believe we're leading people into the Kingdom, when really we're leading many to hell - by interfering with what the Spirit of God is trying to do in a person's life. Do you hear? Do you understand that this constitutes "spiritual abortion"? Can't you see the eternal consequences of jumping the gun, trying to bring to birth a baby that isn't ready?

We are so afraid that we'll see a "big one that got away," that we'd rather rush someone into a shallow decision, and get the personal gratification of seeing him "go down the aisle," than take the time to fully explain things to him, even if it takes long hours and nights of travailing prayer for his soul. We just don't "have the time" to do things God's way anymore.

But God would rather see one true convert than an ocean full of "decisions." Oh, can't you see what a mess we're in? What we've done to the Gospel? And when those "converts" no longer want to fellowship with us, when they want to go back to their old friends and their old way of life, we have the nerve to call it "backsliding," when we stood in the very way of them ever "front-sliding" toward the cross! Oh, it breaks my heart to think of that awesome day when God will judge those who have "stumbled one of these little ones." (Mark 9:42)

I am painfully aware of the danger of being so concerned of the dangers of "spiritual abortion" that we never get to the point of bringing new Christians to a healthy birth. I am personally convicted that I don’t do near enough to cultivate redemptive relationships with lost people with the hope of one day leading them to surrender their lives completely to Christ. But, as we as Southern Baptists make a greater push, both around the world, and in the States, to lead more people to Christ, and baptize more converts, I think we would do well to heed the warnings of Keith Green, lest in working harder, we begin to see diminishing returns for our work, and are unable to figure out the reason why.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Missionary Strategy and Hermeneutics

This post is more about questions than answers.

A poster with the blog name of “mr. t”, who, on his blog, on mission, identifies himself as a fellow missionary in South Asia, left a couple of comments on my last two posts about evangelism, referencing the missionary strategy given by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 regarding finding a “man of peace” and staying in that same house, rather than going from house to house.

Let me say right off, I am not looking to “pick a fight” with “mr. t”. In fact, I went to his blog, and absolutely loved what all he has to say. I highly recommend it. However, his recent comments, which are representative of a good bit of recent thinking by quite a few missions strategists, bring up some questions in my mind that I think are worthy of discussion.

The basic idea is that, as church planters, our main goal upon arriving in a new city, town, or people group, is to identify the “person of peace.” Once we find that person, who will many times be our first disciple, he or she will become the key to reaching the rest of the city, town, or people group. “Mr. t” makes the additional assertion that he believes “there are those persons of peace and worthy households out there among every people.” It is basically a matter of persevering until we find them.

For a good many contexts around the world, I believe this is great missiology. God is blessing it, people are being saved, and churches planted. However, as a foolproof, cookie-cutter, promise from Scripture, I have my doubts as to its hermeneutical validity.

First of all, many who use these passages as their strategy guide conveniently omit the part about not taking along “a purse, or bag, or shoes.” Some also by-pass the part about healing the sick. But my main concern here has to do with the part about “shaking the dust off your feet.” I honestly don’t know how to transfer the biblical principle here to our modern-day missionary context. I mean, it seems like the disciples knew pretty soon when it was time to leave town and shake the dust off their feet. Both William Carey and Adoniram Judson went 7 years each before baptizing their first convert, though.

Some make reference to the worshippers “from every nation, tribe, people and tongue” gathered around the throne in the book of Revelation, and say we thus have biblical warrant to expect a positive response to the preaching of the gospel from every people group segment. While this idea is appealing to me, I can’t help but wonder about various entire people groups from the Old Testament who in the last days were to be the objects of God’s wrath. And what about Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum in the New Testament (Luke 10:13-15)? I’ve always wondered how we specifically define nations, tribes, peoples and tongues. John Piper does as good a job with this as anyone in Let the Nations be Glad. But he still doesn’t answer some of my questions. What about, for example, entire generations of people groups in the Dark Ages without one person who we would today call an “evangelical believer”?

Then there are those who point to the supposed missionary strategy of Paul, stating he had the habit of staying in towns just enough time to preach the gospel, gather a few converts, name elders among them, and then leave—all in a period of a few days or weeks. My impression, upon reading Acts, is a bit different. I see Paul, towards the end of his missionary ministry, after he had learned some important lessons, staying on 3 years in Ephesus, setting up his ministry training school at the Lecture Hall of Tyrannus, and having more strategic impact there than anywhere else in his previous travels. I also see New Testament “missionaries” like Timothy and Titus, going back to places where Paul had been, in order finish the work he had started.

What’s my main point in all of this? In missions, one size does not fit all. Different situations and different spiritual and cultural contexts demand different strategical approaches. There is a time to reap. But there is also a time to plow, a time to sow, and a time to water. And even perhaps a time to “shake the dust off your feet.”

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hard Soil

A few years ago, a colleague and friend of mine, who was a missionary at that time in the city of Ibi, Spain (pop. 20,000), over a period of several years, knocked on every door in the city of Ibi at least twice, and in some cases three times, with the intent of sharing the plan of salvation to those who came to the door. When I first heard of this, I was amazed, and I continue to be amazed at the boldness, faithfulness, and dedication of this dear brother in Christ.

After several years of doing this, my colleague shared with me that he had not seen one person give their heart to Christ as a result of his efforts. Upon arriving in Ibi, he did not know of one single evangelical believer in town, and upon leaving, several years later, he still did not know of one single evangelical believer.

In a technical sense, you could say what my friend was doing was “sowing”. He was literally “spreading the seed” of the Gospel.

In the city of Mérida (pop. 50,000), where my wife and I worked for 5 years, we began in a similar situation to that of my friend in Ibi, though there were a handful of believers in town. For the first couple of years, we did (with the help of a number of other people) extensive literature distribution, open-air preaching, and door-to-door work, lending videos of the Jesus film. However, we saw no real response from these “sowing” attempts. A few years later, though, we were blessed to be able to leave a congregation of about 25 baptized believers, and an average Sunday morning attendance of about 70, in the hands of a team of local leaders.

The difference? First of all, I would point to the sovereign grace of God, who chooses to work whenever and wherever He wills. Next, I would point to massive efforts in prayer, through various prayer-walking teams, and other methods of prayer mobilization. Finally, I would point towards personal relationships, social ministry, and pastoral care of needy and hurting people, which are the areas from which we saw the most fruit during our time there.

Why am I making this comparison? To build myself up, and cut my friend down? By no means. If rewards in heaven are based on our faithfulness here on earth, I am pretty sure he will have more than me. Compared to many contexts in other parts of the world, neither one of us saw much fruit from our labors.

But I do think there are some lessons to be learned in regard to how we approach evangelism in different contexts. Following the agricultural analogy, it is often necessary to “plow” the ground, and add “fertilizer” to it before spreading valuable seed on hard, unproductive ground.

Jesus, in the Parable of the Sower, tells us there are different types of soil. In a “micro” sense, I believe the soil is the hearts of individuals. But in a “macro” sense, I believe it is also true that the soil is the cultural context in which we live and work. And, for some reason, there appear to be some “cultural context soils” where it is a lot more difficult to find “individual heart soils” ready to receive a “one-off” Gospel presentation, and respond positively, than others.

Some would point out that the sower in the parable spread the seed in all different kinds of soil. But I wonder whether, in unproductive, hard soil, there is something better we can do than just “spread seed”. Matthew 13:23 says “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.” I think that individuals’ understanding of the Gospel is often clouded by their cultural context. We can help to “plow” and “fertilize” the “soil” of their hearts, first and foremost, by prayer, and next, by building personal relationships, and seeking to understand their cultural context better, in order to make sure the message we are intending to communicate is really the message that they are “understanding”.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ripe for Harvest?

I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor. John 4.35-38

We have been told that baptisms are down in the Southern Baptist Convention. We have been told we need to re-double our efforts in witnessing. We have been told the reason for the decline is our lack of commitment and relaxed attitude toward soul-winning. Some have suggested that perhaps we need to tweak our methods.


However, I am not so sure that lack of evangelistic zeal or poor witnessing techniques are mostly to blame for the decline in baptisms.

No one in their right mind would call Western Europe, or more specifically Spain, where God has given me the privilege of serving Him for the last 16 years, a great "harvest field." Several years ago, I came across the little book Sowing, Reaping, Keeping, written by Lawrence Singlehurst, Director of Youth With a Mission, England. In this amazingly simple yet profound book, Singlehurst cogently makes the point that evangelism is made up not only of "reaping", but also of "sowing" and "keeping". And, in order to be most effective at the evangelistic task, it is necessary to analyze the context in which one finds oneself, and adapt the strategy accordingly. Upon my recommendation, the IMB Western Europe leadership has since made Sowing, Reaping, Keeping required reading for all new missionaries to Western Europe.

Another book with a similar message is Finding Common Ground, by Campus Crusade for Christ worker Tim Downs. I cannot recommend these two books strongly enough. In order to capture the force of the arguments made, you must get the books and read them for yourself.However, in light of recent admonitions to re-double our efforts at harvesting in the context of Southern Baptists in the United States, I want to leave you with some choice quotes from Finding Common Ground...

Many of our modern churches and evangelistic movements were founded during a time when the American fields were abundantly white for harvest. But the fields of the fifties and sixties, like the fields of Jesus’ time, were ripe for harvest because of countless sowers who had worked to create a soil that was conducive to the growth of the gospel. The "soil" of our society is the whole environment in which Christians seek to live and minister. It is the culture, the atmosphere, the worldview, the zeitgeist—the "spirit of the time" in which we live. In each generation, Christians must attempt to plant the seed of the Word of God in the soil of the prevailing culture. Historically, some soils have been better than others. In each case, the nature of the soil determines what kind of life it will support…

There is no doubt that the soil of our society has eroded significantly in a short period of time. Over the last forty years, many para-church organizations and churches have struggled with a thinning harvest in America. In an attempt to recapture the glory of past harvests we have recruited more harvesters, sharpened our sickles and scythes, and challenged our workers to greater commitment and longer hours.

Maybe it’s time to analyze the soil. Maybe it’s time to sow. (pp. 16-17)

Almost thirty years ago, as a young college student and a very new Christian, I was trained in the basic principles of evangelism. I learned to present the gospel using a simple tract, the Four Spiritual Laws. I discussed that little booklet with roommates, fraternity members, grad students, international students, and even professors. I presented the gospel to literally hundreds of people during my four years of college, and I found a tremendous amount of openness—even eagerness—to discuss spiritual things. In those days, I could assume the openness of the average hearer. My sole filter when considering a potential listener was, "Are you busy?" Today, many Christians attempting to do evangelism find that they now must assume the disinterest, or even the hostility, of the average hearer. As a result, the statistics on evangelistic success from most ministries are much lower than they were thirty years ago.

What accounts for this change? Our first instinct has been to examine ourselves. Have we lost our first love? Are we lacking in dedication or commitment? Are we as bold as we used to be? Our second response has been to reconsider our methodology. Is this booklet out-of-date? Are we behind the times? Should we expand this, enlarge this, reprint it in four-color, or make it available on CD-ROM? The option we rarely consider—perhaps because it sounds unspiritual—is that times have changed. Perhaps our nation has entered a different phase of the harvest cycle. Perhaps our culture’s fields are not as ripe as they used to be.

In John 4, Jesus uttered His famous words, "I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest" (v. 35 NIV). Christians have often assumed that Jesus was stating a timeless spiritual principle: Now that the Messiah has come, a new era has begun. The fields will always be white for harvest. Is that what Jesus was saying? If so, He picked a strange metaphor. In actual farming, a time of harvest is followed by a time of rest, followed by a time of sowing, and the process begins all over again. In farming, no field is always ripe for harvest Was Jesus telling us that His fields were different, in that they were always ripe? Or was He tellling His disciples something about the day in which they lived? "But when the fullness of the time came," Galatians tells us, "God sent forth His Son…" (4:4). Much has been written about the "fullness of the time" and why the Messiah came when He did. Could it be that a part of the "fullness of the time" was that the fields of Jesus’ time had been throroughly sown and were now abundantly—perhaps uniquely—ripe for harvest? (pp. 102-03)

Let me state my concern plainly. Because we enjoyed such evangelistic success in the sixties, we told ourselves that the American fields would always be white for harvest. Because harvesting was so effective, we told ourselves that harvesting was the only technique we would ever need. If the fields are eternally ripe, we only need to harvest. Why bother with anything else?

So we teach each new generation of Christians how to harvest—only how to harvest—and we assure them that the fields around them are ripe and ready for the picking, if only they will have the faith and the boldness to go. Our books and our training videos are loaded with illustrations that show how easy it is and how open people are to hearing the gospel. But when they go, they sometimes have a rude awakening. The fields around them do not always seem ripe. People are not as eager and open as they expected—sometimes they’re even hostile. And so, because harvesting is all they know how to do, they begin to withdraw from the fields. (p. 105)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Denominational Idolatry Reproved

I invite you to check out the following post on Strange BaptistFire referencing the Introductory Sermon to the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1859 by C. D. Mallary, as published recently in the Winter 2006 Founders Journal.

Denominational Idolatry Reproved

It is interesting, refreshing, and confirmatory for me to see that Mallary was saying much the same things back in 1859 that I have been trying to communicate for the last several months on various posts on this blog.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Joyce Rogers Testimony Video Clip

For those of you who either missed it, or would like to see it again, here is the link for the video clip of my Mom's testimony and tribute to my Dad at the Pastors Conference at the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro.

Joyce Rogers Testimony Video Clip

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Blessings of Blogging

If you had told me a year ago that I would be into blogging now, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But for me, this "adventure into blogging" these past months has been one of the most positive developments of my life.

Blogging for me is a lot like journaling, with the main exception that it is open for the public to see. I have always thought that someday I might like to write, but until I started blogging, never really knew where to get started. Having a blog has finally given me an excuse to put down into words ideas about which I have thought for a long time, but had never gotten around to writing down.

Another blessing of blogging is the "blogging community." Through reading others’ blogs, and commenting on them, and from interacting with those who comment on your blog, you begin to build relationships with people who share common interests. You meet and interact with people in other parts of the world, with whom you would most likely never have interacted otherwise.

Just as "iron sharpens iron," the comments of readers and other bloggers, whether supportive or antagonistic, help you to refine your ideas, and to think through issues in new ways. When you write something on your blog, and you leave the comments section open, you had better be prepared to defend yourself in the "marketplace of ideas."

At the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, I was able to meet a good number of people in the "blogging community," who, up to that time, had been just a name, or at most, a photo on the screen, for me. People like Micah Fries, Paul Fries, John Stickley, Alan Cross, Tim Sweatman, Jeff Young, Wes Kinney, Travis Hilton, Kiki Cherry, Bowden McElroy, Jason Helmbacher, Wyman Dobbs, David Phillips, Art Rogers, Marty Duren, Kevin Bussey, Steve McCoy, Joe Thorn... Through blogging, I was able to renew contact with my old college friend, Wade Burleson, and his dad, Paul Burleson. I also discovered that because of blogging, other people knew me. A number of people I had never met, as well as a few I had met before, told me they were reading my blog.

Through blogging, it is also possible to influence others. Although it is almost impossible to estimate to what extent, many have suggested that the influence of bloggers played a major role in the election of Frank Page as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is the hope of many that blogging might be able to have a positive influence in the adoption of policies at the International Mission Board, which in turn might have an influence in winning a lost world to Christ.

During one of the sessions at the recent SBC, it was suggested that blogging takes away time from other more important things, such as evangelism and missions. My personal experience has been that those who are involved in blogging are often the most passionate about evangelism and missions. They blog precisely because they feel deeply about things, and feel the need to communicate their ideas and feelings to others. While it is true that it is possible to get so engrossed in blogging that you neglect other areas of your life, the same is true about any number of other activities in which we engage. The problem is not blogging, but rather lack of discipline.

It is also possible to be irresponsible with what you write on your blog. While there is plenty of room for good-natured humor, the temptation to be sarcastic and biting is all too near when writing about others who are not there in front of you at the time. It is possible to start false rumors based upon innuendo or unsubstantiated claims. However, as previously mentioned, whenever you do this, if you leave the comments section open, you had better be ready to defend yourself.

In actuality, I believe that overall, the openness and vulnerability of an interactive blog provides a good, healthy setting for developing Christian community. There is a lot of exhortation, sharing of concerns and needs, confession of weaknesses, and general encouragement that happens on many blogs. There is also rebuke and correction. Through it all, friendships are developed, and people’s lives are built up and edified.

I, for one, am thankful for the blessing of blogging.

P.S. While preparing this post, I just discovered this over at OK Preacher’s Christian Resource Center blog, referencing the original post at Under the Acacias. I think these are some excellent guidelines to keep in mind while blogging…

1. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your blog, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs. (Eph 4:29)

Is what comes from our blogs wholesome? Is what we are writing helpful for building others up? Or does it tear them down?

2. Blog about others as you would have them blog about you (Lk 6:31)

The golden rule. If we blog about others, do we do it with love, respect, and integrity?

3. But in your blogs set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience... (1 Pet 3:15,16)

Are we consciously allowing Jesus Christ to rule over our blogs? When people disagree with us, do we respond with gentleness and respect?

4. Each one should use whatever blog he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms (1 Pet 4:10)

Are we using our blogs to serve others? To encourage, stimulate, and help others? To build them up in Christ? Or to blow our own trumpet?

5. Let us therefore make every effort to blog what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (Ro 14:19) And Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the blog of peace (Eph 4:2)

Do we make every effort to maintain peace and unity in the body of Christ? Or do we focus on what divides us? When we disagree, are we humble and gentle?

6. Accept him whose blog is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters...Let us stop blogging judgment on one another... whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. (Ro 14 1-22)

Let us be careful not to condemn ourselves by dividing the body of Christ over disputable matters, or by judging the spiritual state of our brothers and sisters with whom we disagree.

7. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - blog about such things. (Phil 4:8)


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Healthy Pride, Gratefulness & Hope

Back in May, I added my name to the list of people who signed the "Memphis Declaration". Point 1 of that declaration states:

We publicly repent of triumphalism about Southern Baptist causes and narcissism about Southern Baptist ministries which have corrupted our integrity in assessing our denomination bureaucracy, our churches, and our personal witness in light of the sobering exhortations of Scripture.

Therefore, we commit ourselves to a renewed pledge to integrity demonstrated by accountability in our denomination, both before God and each other, lest in preaching the meekness of our Lord to others we ourselves will be found guilty of wicked, sinful pride.

I want to be careful to not contradict what I signed then in what I am going to say now.

I am proud today to be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. I am full of hope that God has great things ahead for us as a denomination.

While I feel to gloat over the results of the presidential election would not be glorifying to God, I do believe that the first-round absolute majority of votes for Frank Page sends a strong message that we as Southern Baptists are a people who believe in cooperation, both one with another in our support of the Cooperative Program, as well as with the wider Body of Christ in order to win a lost world to Christ.

I am hopeful for the prospects of all Southern Baptists, both those who voted for Dr. Page, and those who voted for Dr. Floyd and Dr. Sutton, uniting under Dr. Page's leadership as we move forward in our commitment to be the best stewards possible in our commitment to do our part, together with the rest of the Body of Christ throughout the world, in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

I also want to say I am especially proud of my mother, and the bold stand she took in proclaiming that my father, "Adrian Rogers would not have been a part of what is going on in some parts of our convention today, getting narrower and narrower about very highly interpretive issues." She truly was a major factor behind the strength of my father's ministry when he was alive, and, now that she must go on without him, continues to be a remarkably strong and courageous woman.

I am also deeply grateful for the two special times, one at the Pastors' Conference, and the other tonight during the Convention program, commemorating my father and recognizing his contribution to the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. I am also proud, humbled and challenged, all at the same time, as a result of the legacy my dear father left behind, and the many testimonies of how his life and ministry impacted others.

On another note, the issues that have caused concern during the past months related to the IMB have still not completely been solved. But I am thankful that a process is now underway in order to address these concerns. I sincerely believe this is not about proving who is right and who is wrong. It is rather about getting back on track, and joining hands one with another, laying aside our differences of opinion on secondary issues, and moving ahead in our commitment to work towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I, for one, commit to pray for this process in the days ahead, and urge each of you who read this to do the same. May the end result be that no one is hurt or shamed, but rather that only the name of Jesus is lifted up before a lost and dying world that desperately needs to hear an authentic, heartbroken presentation of the Gospel of grace and forgiveness that is ours thanks to the price that was paid on Calvary through the blood that was shed, and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Letter from IMB Regional Leader Rodney Hammer

IMB Regional Leader for Central & Eastern Europe Rodney Hammer has sent a letter to Baptist Press and to Marty Duren's SBC Outpost expressing his concerns over recent developments at the IMB related to new policies and the Board of Trustees. We will see if BP publishes this when their new releases come out today. In any case, I wanted to do what I can in the meantime to see that this very important letter gets the maximum circulation possible.

Rodney Hammer's letter at SBC Outpost

Friday, June 09, 2006

It's all about Stewardship

Yes, that very "churchy" sounding word we heard growing up, and always thought it had something to do with getting the people to put more money in the offering plate. Rick Warren, in Chapter 5 of The Purpose-Driven Life, says that one of three biblical "life metaphors" is "Life on earth is a Trust." In other words, one day we will be held to account for the "talents" we were given here on earth and what we did with them. And that vision ought to drive everything we do.

As I see it, as Christians, we have all been given the "trust" of fulfilling the Great Commission. Not doing it ourselves, but each one contributing his/her "grain of sand" to see that it is fulfilled. And it is not enough to just say we are working, each in his/her own way, toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission. If we are faithful stewards, we will want to do our very best to get the biggest "return" possible from our "investment".

As Southern Baptists, we have been entrusted with the oversight of a whole lot of Kingdom resources through the Cooperative Program, and the various SBC agencies. I believe the evidence is conclusive that we are getting a better "return" on our "investment" as we learn to cooperate with other Great Commission Christians for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. To take a step back on that, from my point of view, would be like burying several of our "talents" in the ground.

For example, one of the interesting phenomena in world missions in recent years has been the increasing contribution of churches and missionaries from the "Third World". The COMIBAM movement, linking Great Commission Christians and organizations from all over Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula, in order to make a bigger impact for world missions, is at the "cutting edge" of what God is doing around the world today. Sometimes it may be hard for us as North Americans to hand over the "protagonism" in world missions to our brothers and sisters from "south of the border." But, if we are really interested in being good stewards of the resources God has given us, we cannot afford to close our eyes to this important trend.

In recent months, a number of people in Southern Baptist life have begun blogging, many undoubtedly for different motives. I personally believe many have done it out of a sense of stewardship. My friend Wade Burleson (and others like him) have been the object of a lot of criticism because of their boldness in taking a public stand about issues they feel are crucial for being the best stewards possible of the resources God has given us as Southern Baptists.

Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is to remain silent in the face of controversy. I learned the lesson from my own father that, in order to be the best steward of the gifts God has given you, sometimes you have to be willing to take risks and take stands on issues on which you may be misunderstood and criticized.

In the beginning years of the "Conservative Resurgence", in the SBC, it was not near as easy to take a stand for the authority of the Bible as it is today. While we must be careful to not lose the ground gained through the "Conservative Resurgence", I believe the issues we face today as Southern Baptists are in large part different from those faced in earlier years.

As Southern Baptists, we have already pretty much established ourselves as a people who do not compromise with the authority of the Word of God. Now, instead of looking for more and more new ways to tighten the circle of cooperation, I believe the biggest challenge before us now is how to be the best stewards possible of the vast pool of resources with which God has entrusted us.

When He comes and asks an account of how we "invested" our "talents", may we not have to say that we "buried them in the ground."

"To whom much is given, much is required."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Missional and Attractional

Lately, the terms "missional" and "attractional" seem to be coming across my "church planting strategy radar" quite a bit. As best as I can make out, the people talking about being "missional" vs. "attractional" are talking about more or less the same thing as others several years back who were talking about a "go" model of church vs. a "come" model of church. Some of the more interesting articles I came across when I typed in "missional" and "attractional" into Google can be found here, here, and here

From my somewhat limited perspective as a missionary in Spain for the past 16 years, I think the general concept of being "missional" as opposed to "attractional", especially when it comes to reaching the "unchurched", is very valid. As "missional" people, we need to learn about the culture of those we are trying to reach, and "make ourselves all things to all men" in order to reach as many as possible. And the truth is there are tons of people out there who are never going to come to our "come" model churches, who might be open to becoming true, authentic disciples of Jesus, if approached the right way.

At the same time, though, I have picked up on the part of some a possibility of doing an "overkill" on the "missional" thing. I believe that New Testament ministry and evangelism is best done out of the context of a committed community of believers. A few years back, I believe the Lord taught me an important lesson from 1 John chapter 1. There we see 3 levels of community

First, the foundational level of community we have as believers with God the Father and God the Son. Verse 3b: "And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ."

Next, the community we enjoy with one another as fellow believers. Verse 7a: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another."

And finally, on the basis of these first two levels of community, we invite others to enter into this community with us. Verse 3a: "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us."

I believe that whenever we attempt to skip over level 2, and go directly from level 1 to level 3, we are missing out on a key element of God’s plan of reconciling the world to Himself. Jesus said "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13.35).

Yes, indeed, we must go out into the "highways" and "hedges" and look for lost souls. No doubt about it. But, if, in the meantime, we lose contact with the church, the community of the redeemed, I believe we have in the long run short-circuited our evangelistic and "missional" efforts.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Each Stone has its Place

This is a gate from the walls of the ancient city of Toledo, Spain, where we help out Spanish church planters José and Jenny some in the small Baptist church they are planting there.

I think this picture illustrates very well some points I have been trying to communicate on this blog. You will notice, for instance, that this gate is made up of stones of different sizes and shapes. The fact that each stone is unique helps to make the gate more beautiful. You will also notice that the stones at the bottom, or the foundation, are different than those at the top.

So it is as well in the spiritual wall in the spiritual city of Zion that God is building down through history. The spiritual stones who are us, as individual believers, are being built up and placed each one precisely in the place He has prepared for us. I believe this wall is made up of believers from different cultures, different denominations, different worship styles, etc. It is made up of individuals with different spiritual gifts and personalities. I also believe that as history progresses there are times when God uses new types of stone in his "building project". I think that what many are saying today about the "emerging church" or the "missional church" fits in well with this metaphor. At the same time, I think it is significant that the "new stones" are not all off by themselves in an effort to be built up in a completely different wall. They form part of the same wall as the old stones. I see a huge spiritual lesson here. We need to all learn to recognize and validate the worth of each other. The "old stones" need the "new stones" in order for the project to be brought to completion. And the "new stones" if they are not built on the foundation of the "old stones" (inasmuch as that foundation is not faulty), will suffer as a result, in their efforts to be built up as well.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions, Conclusion

Well, I am finally coming to the end of this series of posts on “Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions.” I must confess that it’s turned out to be a good bit longer than what I was originally intending. Also, it has been a learning experience for me. Although I have always been moderately interested in church history, I had never actually dug into so much Baptist history as I have while researching my posts for this series. Of course, I must in all honesty admit that I started out with a pretty defined thesis. But I also honestly believe my research has confirmed this thesis.

If you have read with me from beginning, we have looked at how it has been the will of Jesus that his Church be united, and that identification with different leaders and sectors within the Church not become a motive for disunity. We have also seen how such influential and important leaders as William Carey, W. B. Johnson, and Charles H. Spurgeon have had a vision for unity and Baptist cooperation with other evangelicals. We have also seen, however, that from the beginning, there has been a tempatation as well as a tendency for Baptists to separate from one another, and from other believers over issues that were not, in my opinion, worth dividing over. At other times, we have seen the pendulum swing to the other side, when some advocated a more open stance towards even those who were not in agreement with us on the essentials of the Gospel.

As we look towards the future, I see 4 main approaches to the issue of Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions that have vied for influence among Southern Baptists down through the years:

1. Landmarkism. Although we have left for others to give a more in-depth theological reply, I believe the point has been adequately defended that the Landmarkist vision is not in line with Jesus’s vision for the unity of His Body. It has been surprising for some to see the resurgence of Landmark thought in recent years in the SBC. While I believe we do well to point out Landmarkist tendencies among present leaders, and show from Scripture why we think they are wrong, in all fairness, we need to be careful to not label all those who strongly value “Baptist distinctives” as necessarily “Landmarkist”. There are all shades and colors, so we probably need to do our homework a bit before opening our mouths too widely.

2. Ecumenism. There are also different shades of meaning attached to this term. But, no doubt, the type of ecumenism embodied in the World Council of Churches, and which would seek to work towards closer “fraternal” relationships with groups such as the Roman Catholic Church, is not near as strong of a stream in Southern Baptist life as it was shortly before the Conservative Resurgence. In my opinion, this is a good thing.

3. Denominational Uniformity. This view is different from Landmarkism, in that it has emphasized the role of the denomination as over against that of the local church. The “unity” and “cooperation” promoted has been mostly that of Southern Baptists with other Southern Baptists. The bottom-line goal, in many cases, appears to be the success of this or that denominational program, more than the overall advance of the Kingdom of God. In my opinion, this view is more common today in Southern Baptist life than either Landmarkism or Ecumenism.

4. Balanced Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation. I strongly believe that God has brought us as Southern Baptists to a new day of unparalleled opportunities to join together with other born-again believers around the world in an all-out effort to fulfill the Great Commission. Perhaps as an IMB missionary, I am somewhat biased. But I believe that “New Directions”, under the leadership of Jerry Rankin, especially in its emphasis on working together with other “Great Commission Christians,” is at the forefront of what God is doing through Southern Baptists today.

I personally believe we as Southern Baptists are at a crossroads. It remains to be seen whether we will see where God is at work around the world, and join Him in what He is doing, or whether we will get sidetracked by any one of the first three approaches mentioned above. Having said that, I realize that these are not all “black and white” categories. There are many “shades of gray” in between. There is a real danger of going too far, and crossing over from balanced cooperation with other evangelicals to unhealthy and unbiblical ecumenism. “Pendulum swings” and extremism in any area are hardly ever a good thing. May God give us the wisdom and the grace to see and understand how He is moving, and to press forward, as closely as possible to the center of the pathway of His will, closer and closer toward “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” and toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission.