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Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions, Conclusion

Well, I am finally coming to the end of this series of posts on “Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions.”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.

7 comments:

Bart Barber said...

As a first-time reader here, please allow me to begin by stating my deep, personal appreciation for your father. I do so realizing the danger that you may tire of hearing that from people whom you do not know. I grew up in the Jonesboro, AR, area, and although I never met your father, his ministry impacted mine from a distance. So, you start out with a huge quantity of respect from me merely via genetics, however unfair that may be.
Here's my question about all of this: Granted that God's will does call upon Southern Baptists to cooperate with other "Great Commission Christians" from time to time, is inter-agency or inter-denominational cooperation really the way to accomplish this?
Whatever its shortcomings, one positive contribution Landmarkism made is in keeping the Baptist focus upon the local church. It seems to me that the underlying assumption I read in your work and that of others is that whatever cooperation Southern Baptists have with other Christians must take place through our conventions and mission boards. Yet it seems to me that this is neither necessary nor necessarily wise.
First, a great deal of inter-denominational cooperation takes place at the local church level. Before branding Southern Baptists as non-cooperative, we need to assess the level of local church cooperation and involvement that is taking place.
Second, local church directed interdenominational cooperation strikes me as a more efficient path. The SBC is nothing more than a missionary partnership. The idea of missionary partnerships entering missionary partnerships seems to me so convoluted and vulnerable to bureaucratic waste as to be a non-starter. In other words, if I want to work with YWAM, why on earth would I want to do so through the SBC rather than directly?
Third, local church interdenominational cooperation keeps control of interdenominational alliances precisely where it needs to be--in local congregations. Today we're seeing the inevitable result of official intermingling between the IMB and other groups. Some Southern Baptists will feel good about group A, but have reservations about group B. Others will have the opposite opinion. Some will not like any of them. It is difficult enough to hold together a partnership like the SBC, why complicate matters and introduce division by forcing local churches into partnership that they may not approve? Why not just let each local church partner as they see fit.
The Southern Baptist Convention can focus on Southern Baptist missions while at the same time recognizing that other people are doing missions work and that some of our people are a part of it. That's OK. We don't have to have our finger in every pie in the world...not even in every good one.

David Rogers said...

Bart,

First off, thanks for the kind comments about my father. No, I do not tire of hearing of those who have been impacted by his life and minsitry.

I have read through your comment, as well as the posts on your blog, and reflected a bit upon them.

I must say that you do provide some interesting "food for thought". The main problem I see is that, it seems to me, it cuts both ways. If you say that, on a denominational or institutional basis we should not cooperate with other "GCCs" because it might disenfrancise some of those in local churches who have "signed on" as part of our cooperative agreement amongst ourselves, would we not by the same token be disenfranchising those who would choose to cooperate with other "GCCs".

If we maintain the principle of the Cooperative Program, then we need to come to some way of trying to respect the preferences of as many of those who are cooperating as possible. If we were independent baptists, or even if we still mostly did societal missions, and each congregation made their own choices about how to do missions beyond their local congregation level, what you propose might make more sense. However, those of us who have joined on to the Cooperative Program way of doing things have done so because we think it is a good stewardship of the resources God has entrusted us with, understanding that, upon doing so, we give up some of our autonomy.

If the SBC, IMB, and NAMB decide to go a strict non-cooperative route in regards to other GCCs, I would need to make up my mind if staying as a partner in the Cooperative Program were really in my best interest, as I seek to be the best steward possible of the resources, gifts and talents God has given me. By the same token, those individuals and churches who are really opposed to cooperation with other GCCs might decide to "pull out" if they see the SBC, IMB and NAMB are all going the "GCC cooperation" route.

Some issues are just that way. You can't have it both ways at the same time. But I don't see why those who like the idea of inter-denominational cooperation should necessarily yield to those who don't, and not the other way around. I guess it's something we need to decide in some sort of democratic or at least parliamentary procedure. And I think the jury is still out on how Southern Baptists would come down on the issue. In the meantime, I do think there is a lot of demagoguery going on that is impeding many Southern Baptists from really understanding the issues involved and expressing an objective opinion on them.

I personally feel working with other GCCs (realizing this is stating a complex issue very vaguely) is more biblical, Christ-honoring, and strategic than not doing so. And I have decided to use whatever gifts and influence God has given me to help other Southern Baptists to see the same thing.

I am aware, though, that the possibility exists that one day I could be "on the outside looking in." If that day comes, it will not be the end of the world. I will look for other channels through which to serve. But, in the meantime, I do not feel I would be being a good steward of the gifts and influence God has given me if I were to just quietly slip away, and yield the decisions on this issue to those who think differently than me.

Blessings,

David

Bart Barber said...

Thanks so much for the response, David. I remain hopeful that it is possible to have one's cake and eat it, too.

My solution is...cooperate with Southern Baptists through the SBC; cooperate with whomever you like through your local church, or even as an individual.

1. It allows those entering the SBC partnership to know exactly what they are partnering to do.

2. Yet nobody entering the SBC partnership is in any way limited in their freedom to work outside the system to do whatever they wish (as long as they aren't doing it on an SBC paycheck).

3. It keeps the SBC focused, which in my mind is always a good thing and quite difficult to do.

So, the only point at which your response is not making it through my sometimes-intellectually-dull, sometimes-willfully-obstinate head is that I don't understand why people called to cooperate with GCC's are so determined that every Southern Baptist be joined with them in partnering with the specific group of GCC's (defined as they define it) that they themselves have chosen. Can't there be a way for folks to do this on their own as a part of their individual liberty in Christ?

Bart Barber said...

Thinking things over, I wish to add something...

So many different issues congeal in this discussion. I should make clear my specific viewpoint. I think Southern Baptist entities ought to plant Baptist churches. I'm not as concerned with the name on the sign as I am with the nature of the church. If a church practices the theology contained in the BF&M and the more recent ecclesiological guidelines you have referenced, it is a Baptist church (not simply "baptistic", whatever on earth that means) no matter what it calls itself.

Having read your entire series, I'm confused. I get the feeling that this is all about "inside baseball" stuff at the IMB. Sometimes you guys speak a language that is all your own. This is, by the way, a fact that makes oversight of the IMB pretty doggone difficult.

Me...I'm a church historian, and a historical theologian of sorts. Thanks for all the history on this, by the way. So, when I speak about avoiding official entanglements, I'm specifically referring to the employ of CP money to fund efforts by non-Southern-Baptist groups or to plant non-Baptist churches (defined theologically, primarily ecclesiologically). I hope that clears up any ambiguity in what I'm saying.

David Rogers said...

Bart,

While I can appreciate your good intentions of letting everyone do what they feel best before the Lord, and not infringing upon the liberty of the rest, I am still not sure your suggestion really would accomplish this.

If I, in my desire (and even conviction) for cooperating with other GCCs eliminate myself from CP-funded programs, I would thus involuntarily cut myself off from the blessings and benefits of the CP (the entire IMB infrastructure, in my case). Yes, I would be free to work with whomever I please, but I would be without the great network of resources provided by the CP, which greatly enriches and enhances my ministry efforts.

And, if only a minority of Southern Baptists, due to their desire (or conviction) to not work with GCCs are standing in the way of the majority who would like to do so by means of the CP, we sort of have a tyranny of the vocal minority.

Regarding the "inside baseball" stuff at the IMB, maybe that is what it is. The issues we deal with do tend to be different from those dealt with in the States. I think it would greatly help anyone trying to understand these issues to read through "Something New Under the Son", the "Church Planting Movement" booket, and "Mobilizing for Missions in the New Millenium", all available to read on-line at www.imb.org.

Although, having said that, there are a lot of people in the "missional church" movement who are saying that the churches in the States need to be thinking the same way as international cross-cultural missionaries, in order to better reach people there in the States.

Bart Barber said...

Well, if it is only a "vocal minority," then the system will take care of itself. We are, after all, an organization built upon congregationalist polity. A month from now, we'll know what's what.

I can't speak for Spain (well, I can, but I just wouldn't know what I was talking about....but that doesn't always stop me). But regarding things here in the States, I am convinced that any move away from our Baptistness is a king-sized leap in the wrong direction. I've put up a post on my blog explaining why, so I won't reinvent the wheel here.

This has been a rewarding conversation. You, sir, are a Christian gentleman.

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