Monday, October 30, 2006

Core Value # 3: The Great Commission

A desire to see the Great Commission fulfilled, and concomitant desire to see the kingdom resources God commends into our hands used with the best stewardship possible.

I love the following quote by Bethlehem Baptist’s Missions Pastor Tom Steller in the "Afterword" from John Piper’s Let the Nations be Glad

Not every Christian is called to be a missionary. But every follower of Christ is called to be a world Christian. A world Christian is someone who is so gripped by the glory of God and of the glory of His global purpose that he chooses to align himself with God’s mission to fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea. Everything a world Christian does he does with a view to the hallowing of God’s name and the coming of God’s kingdom among all the peoples of the earth.
The fulfillment of the Great Commission is one of my primary core values, and most certainly one of the primary core values of Southern Baptists as well. Why does the Southern Baptist Convention exist? Some would say because, at a certain point in history, Baptists from the North didn’t want to send slaveholders as missionaries, and Baptists in the South didn’t think that should be a barrier to missionary service. This is true. But, beyond that, why did the Triennial Convention, the predecessor to the SBC, before the 1845 schism, first exist?

I believe, in regard to this, the words of Ellen G. Harris, researcher from the University of Virginia, are instructive:

No denominational unity existed among Baptists in America prior to the middle of the eighteenth century. Local Baptist churches determined their own policies without any connection to other Baptist churches or to any sort of governing organization. During the eighteenth century, some Baptist churches began joining together in local associations, but by the early nineteenth century only 115 such associations existed in the United States, and their activities were primarily limited to debating theological issues.

The growth of denominational organization among Baptists in America during the nineteenth century was a product of the simultaneous growth of interest in foreign mission work. Both trends -- the growth of bureaucratic organizations and an emerging interest in foreign missions -- affected not only Baptists but were at work throughout the larger American culture during the nineteenth century.

It was not until the 1814 that interested Baptists in the young republic formed a national organization. This "General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions" (also known as the Triennial Convention) convened in order to pool resources for the support of Baptist foreign missionaries Luther Rice and Adoniram Judson. Given Baptists' fundamental beliefs in the individual's ability to communicate directly with God and in the independence of the local church to set its own policies, the Triennial Convention that formed in 1814 was a completely voluntary organization that exercised no control over matters of theology. Its sole purpose was the financial support of foreign missions, and supporters of its work could be found in local churches and associations throughout Southern and Northern states.
The point I am trying to make, here, is that we as Baptists churches work together with other Baptist churches, in the Southern Baptist Convention, primarily, so that we can be more effective and more efficient in our efforts to contribute towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. We are not like some other denominations that have other theological or ecclesiological reasons for their existence. If it were not for our desire to be more effective at the task of obeying the Great Commission, we could just as well continue on as independent Baptist churches, with no organizational tie beyond the bond of Christian love that links us together with the entire Body of Christ.

By no means, though, am I meaning to minimize orthodox biblical doctrine as a key element of our working together. If we did not have a common doctrinal foundation, we would run the risk of working together to fulfill a mission that we each understood differently. Unquestionably, what drives us in our commitment to world missions is our previous commitment to the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of His Word.

But, we could potentially be just as committed to Jesus and the authority of His Word, and yet live out that commitment in the world in which we live, as independent churches. What motivates us to work together, as Southern Baptists, is our desire to be more effective in our efforts to work towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Now, it would require empirical research beyond the scope of this post to conclusively demonstrate greater effectiveness in Great Commission work by means of cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists than by the theoretical efforts of the same churches working independently towards the same end. However, I believe such greater effectiveness to be practically self-evident, and have previously defended this point on other posts here and here.

It is interesting to note, at the same time, that a significant argument was made, at the time of the founding of the SBC in 1845, that dividing from Baptists in the North would actually help to further the cause of world missions. Walter Shurden, for example, in a Winter 2002 article in the Baptist History and Heritage Journal, observes that William Williams, one of the first four professors at Southern Seminary, while preaching the 1871 SBC annual sermon, "gladly quoted at length from a Northern Baptist newspaper of April 1845 which argued that the division would aid the cause of missions by causing both groups to double their efforts."

The truth is, there may be, at times, strategic warrant for working in separate organizations. It has been observed, albeit ironically, that one of the best methods of church growth, many times, are church splits.

What I believe we must ask ourselves as Southern Baptists, though, when faced with the possibility of narrowing parameters of cooperation in world missions, is not only does it help to further the cause of planting more Baptist churches around the world (which, in and of itself, remains highly doubtful, in my opinion), but also does it help to bring us closer to what I understand to be the "end-vision" of world missions, as expressed by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:13: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

I believe that a consistent application of each of the three "core values" I have been defending recently on this blog hinges on a proper recognition of the importance of the other two. You cannot be truly faithful to the authority of the Word of God without at the same time working towards unity of Christ’s Body, and seeking to be obedient to the Great Commission. Neither can you build an adequate foundation for Christian unity, if you don’t base it upon orthodox biblical interpretation, or carry it forward by a joint commitment to the cause of world missions. By the same token, a zeal for missionary advance that has lost its biblical moorings, or tends more towards sectarianism than the edification of Christ’s Body, the Church Universal, is, in my opinion, largely misguided, and even runs the risk of proving counterproductive.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Core Value # 2: Christian Unity

A desire to honor the desire of Jesus that his Body may be one, and that we not divide unnecessarily over 2nd and 3rd tier issues (recognizing at the same time the complexity of many 2nd tier issues).

I believe Tim Sweatman’s comment on the "Core Values" post is especially apropos at this point:

"I share these core values as well. Numbers 1 and 3 have always been central to me, but it's only been over the past year or so that I have come to recognize the importance of Number 2."

I appreciate Tim’s honesty here. I believe that, as Southern Baptists, we have traditionally emphasized both denominational unity and local church unity, but many times, at the expense of the wider-scope unity of the Body of Christ. Actually, in my opinion, to emphasize either of these first two, outside of the broader context of the unity of the Body of Christ, may even serve to hurt the cause of true unity. The unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17 was the unity of His entire Body.

Traditionally, the unity of the Church has been a "core value" of Christians down through Church history. The Apostles Creed includes among those points of doctrine singled out as being the most essential of all: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic (or universal) church, the communion of saints."

Martin Luther was deeply troubled over the prospect of causing division within the organized "Church" of his time. John Wesley never intended on founding a new denomination. Even the early Anabaptists, under the spiritual guidance of Michael Sattler, in the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, declared:

"So it shall be and must be, that whoever does not share the calling of the one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one spirit, to one body together with all the children of God, may not be made one loaf together with them, as must be true if one wishes truly to break bread according to the command of Christ" (thanks to Alan Knox for the quote).

Yet, for some reason, true Christian unity has come to be the "Cinderella" doctrine, as it were, of Southern Baptists. There are certainly reasons for this. In order to defend the biblical doctrine of believers' baptism by immersion, Baptists, for centuries, have had to suffer the scorn and rejection of much of the rest of Christendom. In more recent times, the Ecumenical movement advocated by the World Council of Churches has, while giving much emphasis to unity, compromised, at the same time, on biblical authority, and other crucial points of Christian orthodoxy. As a reaction, I believe that, at times, Christian unity has tended to get "swept under the carpet," as it were, in Southern Baptist circles.

Yet, the truth is, it is impossible to truly be faithful to the authority of God’s Word, and the Lordship of Jesus, and at the same time, not care deeply about the unity of His Body. There is a delicate balance that must be maintained. I am not advocating an accommodating stance on doctrinal error. False unity, based on error, is, in reality, no unity at all. Yet, we must, as Dr. Albert Mohler has recently reminded us, know how to distinguish correctly between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd tier priorities of Christian doctrine. The only ones of us who agree about 100% of our interpretation of the Bible are "spiritual robots."

The tricky point, at times, is correctly dividing between 2nd and 3rd tier issues. It is almost impossible, for instance, to work together to plant churches with those who have different convictions as to the basic nature of Christian baptism. I have known of churches that tried to get around this by practicing both believers’ baptism and infant baptism, according to the preference of the individual (or, in the case of those favoring infant baptism, the parents). What really ends up happening, though, in such churches, is that both sides end up compromising on their convictions.

Even in cases like this, though, when there are legitimate issues that would give credence to the need for separate congregations, care must be taken to maintain a spirit of cooperation and mutual support towards other groups of believers who, in essence, are cherished members of the same spiritual family. Also, while recognizing the existence of authentic 2nd tier issues, I believe that if we are to truly honor the Lord’s desire for unity in His Body, we must be especially vigilant to not allow issues that biblically warrant no more than 3rd tier status to be elevated to 2nd tier category.

I am glad to see a new generation of younger Conservative leaders (and some not so young) within the SBC who are finally waking up to the relative importance of Christian unity. The path will not be easy to find, due to the other false paths that have muddied the water (WCC, et al). But I am beginning to see encouraging signs that perhaps the time is finally drawing near for "Cinderella" to "go to the ball."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Core Value # 1: Biblical Authority

A desire to properly understand the message of God's Word and submit to its authority in my daily life.

Inherent in this statement, are several key concepts. My submission to the Word of God is my practical application of the Lordship of Christ in my life, which, as a Christian, is my bottom-line loyalty and first core value. At the recent Spanish Baptist Convention, in one of the messages given from the platform, it was mentioned that in all of the Baptist Confessions of Faith up until the New Hampshire Confession of 1833 the article on the authority of the Bible did not come first in the list, but somewhere further down the line, after articles on the Person of God, the authority of Christ, etc. It was stated that this was a reflection of "landmarkist" tendencies among Baptists in the States at that time. If my memory of history doesn’t fail me, the "landmarkist" movement didn’t really gain steam until several years after this. I can see, however, how this placement may have been a reflection of growing concern over theological liberalism, which was blossoming in several circles of Europe at this time. (Perhaps some of you "church history buffs" can help me out here.)

From my understanding, it is impossible to divorce the authority of God from that of His Word. It is true that in Jesus, and the New Testament, we have the key for properly understanding and applying the message of the Old Testament in our lives today. But, when I place as the first core value my submission to the authority of the Word of God, I believe this is nothing more than the manner in which I submit to that of its Author, and show my love and allegiance to Him.

Also, if the authority of the Word of God is so important for me, I want to do everything I can to understand properly its message. It is not good enough to give "lip-service" to the Word of God, and then, by means of shoddy hermeneutics, do blatant violence to what it is meant to say to us. At the same time, I realize my understanding of God’s Word will never be infallible, this side of heaven. I therefore, must be somewhat flexible in my demands for conformity on matters on which others, who have the same love for the Word of God, and the same desire to take seriously its message, come to different conclusions.

I believe that the Baptist Faith & Message does a good job of summarizing key doctrinal issues originally communicated to us in the Bible. Although the BFM is not infallible, my study of the Bible, up to this point, has led me to adopt personal beliefs in line with all of those stated in the BFM, with the exception (as previously stated on this blog) of what I believe to be a misguided affirmation of "closed communion." As long as Southern Baptists are willing to accept my convictions on this matter, though, I personally don’t see this particular wording of the BFM as a big enough issue on which to part ways.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, who is committed to understanding and obeying His Word, I, at this time, feel at home in the Southern Baptist Convention. In the eventuality my sincere understanding of the teachings of God’s Word were ever to begin to conflict unreconcilably with standards imposed by the SBC, the logical response, in my mind, would be to search for a "spiritual family" (within the larger context of the Body of Christ around the world) more compatible with my convictions. I remain hopeful that day will not come anytime soon.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Core Values

Among my most important core values, somewhere very close to the top of the list, come:

1. A desire to properly understand the message of God's Word and submit to its authority in my daily life;

2. A desire to honor the desire of Jesus that his Body may be one, and that we not divide unnecessarily over 2nd and 3rd tier issues (recognizing at the same time the complexity of many 2nd tier issues); and

3. A desire to see the Great Commission fulfilled, and concomitant desire to see the kingdom resources God commends into our hands used with the best stewardship possible.

It is these very core values that lead me to continue to be a Southern Baptist, and at the same time, voice my opposition to the recent policy changes at the IMB, and now, for all practical purposes, at SWBTS. As long as serving under the auspices of the SBC continues to be the best option for applying in everyday ministry and practice these core values, I hope to continue to serve the Lord from this valuable platform. Whenever the day comes (hopefully never, this side the Lord's return) when this is no longer the case, many of us, who are in agreement with what I say here, may need to seek together a better way to be faithful to these core values.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Tale of Two Conventions

After an extremely God-blessed and anointed time at the Pioneer Evangelism seminar at the Spanish Baptist Union’s home mission workers’ retreat on Wednesday and Thursday, I am now at the Spanish Baptist Union’s annual convention, which lasts until Sunday. Thanks for your prayers during the home mission workers’ retreat. God was with us in an unusual way, and I believe we are going to see some wonderful results in the years ahead from the things we all learned during this time.

Having recently attended the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro this past June, I can’t resist making a few comparisons to the Spanish Baptist Convention in Gandía. Whereas in Greensboro, there were more than 11,000 registered delegates, in Gandía there are just over 200. Whereas in Greensboro, everyone was spread out between a number of hotels, and ate in many different restaurants, in Gandía, everyone is in the same hotel, and we all eat together. An interesting cultural note is that, in typical Spanish style, there are bottles of wine automatically placed on all of the tables at the hotel restaurant (of which the great majority, with the notable exception of IMB missionaries, partake). There is also almost certainly a greater diversity of theological views on various subjects represented among the delegates and other attendees at the Spanish Baptist Convention than among those at the Southern Baptist Convention. Among the group, there are a smattering of female pastors. The great majority of Spanish Baptists have no problem with that. Spanish Baptists continue to form a part of the Baptist World Alliance, and have a hard time understanding why we, as Southern Baptists, do not. Of the churches that are growing, it would probably be a fairly safe estimate to say that the great majority are quite open regarding their stance on the practice of miraculous gifts. No entity of the Spanish Bapstist Convention would ever dream of eliminating someone from service because they admitted to having a "private prayer language." In Gandía, there will likely be no politicians giving speeches, but there is expected to be a lively debate regarding whether Baptist churches and/or entities should accept government subsidies for church-related social aid and cultural activities.

The truth is, although I have lived for the past 16 years in Spain, my personal views on many (not all) of these topics align more closely with those of the majority of Southern Baptists than they do with those of the majority of Spanish Baptists. Many Spanish Baptists are aware that, in general, IMB missionaries take a different view on some issues than they do, yet are open to cooperate with us, and respect our views, provided we remain open to cooperate with them, and respect their views. Many of my closest friends in the world, as well as servants of the Lord for whom I have a deep love and respect, are here present at the Spanish Baptist Convention.

Wolfgang Simson, author of the book Houses that Change the World, and one of the most influential leaders in the worldwide House Church movement, says some things in his book, and in person (I have had several opportunities to hear him), that are very insightful, and, I believe, helpful, as we are working to see the Great Commission fulfilled. He also says some things that, in my opinion, are a bit too radical, and of which I am not completely convinced, from the standpoint of a proper contextualization of biblical ecclesiology. However, there is one thing I heard him say on one occasion with which I am in complete agreement. Upon being asked "What is the best thing we as Western missionaries can do to help facilitate church planting movements in other parts of the world?," he responded: "Find a national believer who is on fire for God, and pour gasoline on his/her fire."

Among Spanish Baptists, and especially among the Spanish home mission workers who were at the Pioneer Evangelism seminar these past couple of days, there are a good group of men and women that fit this description. There are others from other denominations and groups of Great Commission Christians who also fit this description, with whom I am happy to work as well. I strongly believe that if we are going to see many disciples made, and churches multiplied, in places like Spain, it will not be through the efforts of Southern Baptists alone. Some of the groups and individuals God is using, and who He is going to continue to use, do not dot every "i" and cross every "t" just like we do. It is my hope, though, that we can be humble enough and strategically perceptive enough to not let this get in the way of doing what we can to come alongside of them, encourage them in their struggles, and "pour gasoline on their fire."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pioneer Evangelism

Today through Thursday I am in Gandía, on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, for the Spanish Baptist Union’s annual Home Mission workers’ retreat. It is a special privilege this year to have as guest speakers recently retired IMB workers Wade & Barbara Akins, as well as Pastor Aloizio Penido from Minas Gerais, Brazil, to present their Pioneer Evangelism training seminar to a group of about 50 Spanish home mission workers.

Out of Spain’s 8,022 cities and towns, approximately 7,450 have no on-going evangelical witness. It has been calculated that at the current rate of church planting, it will take 200 years to reach all 7,450 towns with the Gospel. I believe a big key to reaching the unreached towns of Spain will be not only more new missionaries and seminary-trained pastors, but especially teams of "lay pioneer evangelists," trained and sent out by local pastors to share Christ in a culturally relevant way in the communities where they live, and begin evangelistic Bible Study groups with neighbors, friends, and workmates.

In Brazil, as well as many other countries around the world, this method, called "Pioneer Evangelism" has had great success, and thousands of churches have been planted in response to the training offered by Wade & Barbara, as well as national pastors such as Pastor Aloizio. I would appreciate your prayers for me during these days, as I will be translating for Wade & Barbara, as well as for the group of workers gathered here, that God would speak to them in a mighty way, and help them to catch a fresh vision of what God wants to do through them in this spiritually dry and thirsty land that is Spain.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New International Study on Pentecostals & Charismatics

In case you haven’t heard yet, a new study has just come out on Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity around the world. Here are some significant quotes from the introduction…

By all accounts, pentecostalism and related charismatic movements represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity. At least a quarter of the world's 2 billion Christians are thought to be members of these lively, highly personal faiths, which emphasize such spiritually renewing "gifts of the Holy Spirit" as speaking in tongues, divine healing and prophesying. Even more than other Christians, pentecostals and other renewalists believe that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, continues to play a direct, active role in everyday life.

Despite the rapid growth of the renewalist movement in the last few decades, relatively little is known about the religious, political and civic views of individuals involved in these groups. To address this shortcoming, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently conducted surveys in 10 countries with sizeable renewalist populations: the United States; Brazil, Chile and Guatemala in Latin America; Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa in Africa; and India, the Philippines and South Korea in Asia. In each country, surveys were conducted among a random sample of the public at large, as well as among oversamples of pentecostals and charismatics.

I believe this Pew Forum study, entitled "Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals," sheds some interesting light on several myths regarding Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity around the world. Among the findings of the study, a few statistics I think are interesting for us as Southern Baptists (especially in the context of cooperation and fellowship on the international mission field) are:

*(you can download the entire 233 page study here)

1. In every one of the 10 countries, Pentecostals are more likely than other Christians to say the Bible is the Word of God, to be taken literally. In 8 of the 10 countries, this is true of Charismatics as well. The exceptions are Brazil and the Philippines, where the high percentage of Charismatic Catholics (as compared to other countries, where most "Charismatics" are Protestants), no doubt skews this statistic.

2. In every one of the 10 countries, both Pentecostals and Charismatics are more likely than other Christians to say they pray to God daily, and read the Scriptures daily.

3. In every one of the 10 countries, both Pentecostals and Charismatics are more likely than other Christians to say they share their faith at least once a week.

What this study does not tell us is how we as Baptists (as a group separate from other Christians) would compare in these areas. However, I think it is significant that Pentecostals and Charismatics apparently share many of the same values we as Southern Baptist profess to hold as important. I don’t have the hard facts in front of me to prove it, but I would be surprised if the percentages of Pentecostals and Charismatics who accept the Bible as the Word of God, and who actively share their faith, are not higher than that of Baptists in most countries. I also think it is significant they are growing so fast, all around the world. I know, for example, that here in Spain, the churches that are growing the fastest are Pentecostal or Charismatic. Even within the Baptist Union, the churches that are growing the fastest almost all take a more open stance toward charismatic gifts.

From some of my recent posts, and from what I say here, some might think I am trying to convince us all as Baptists to become Pentecostals or Charismatics. I want to make clear that is not my intention. I am Baptist by conviction, and am not planning on changing my affiliation anytime soon.

The point I am trying to make then? As Baptists, a little "cross-pollination" every now and then with some of our more Pentecostal, Charismatic and/or Third Wave brethren is not necessarily a bad thing. We are concerned about declining growth and baptism rates. We are trying to get our people more excited about sharing their faith. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from some of those who seem to be having a bit more success at these things.

"But," some people say, "we must be careful that our people don’t get sucked into false doctrine. The Pentecostals and Charismatics are notorious ‘sheep-stealers.’"

I am by no means against teaching sound doctrine, especially if it is done in an up-beat, non-condemnatory attitude towards other groups of Christians. But, take a look at this statistic:

4. In 7 of the 10 countries, when Pentecostals were asked about their previous religious affiliation, a "whopping" 0% said they had previously belonged to another Protestant group. In the other 3 countries, 27% in the United States, 12% in Kenya, and 2% in South Africa, said they had previously belonged to another Protestant group.

Very interesting. In the United States, for some reason, perhaps the "sheep-stealing" accusation has a little bit of warrant. But, for some reason, in the majority of the rest of the countries around the world, the Pentecostals and Charismatics are growing, not so much by winning converts from other Protestant groups, but apparently by people being born again and accepting Christ for the first time. In Latin America, and the Philippines, a big number of their converts are former Catholics. In other parts of the world, more are from non-religious, Muslim, or Buddhist backgrounds.

Now to close, one more statistic I’ll leave you to ponder for yourself:

5. In the following countries, the percentage of Pentecostals who said they had never spoken in tongues was:

United States 49%
Brazil 50%
Chile 45%
Guatemala 35%
Kenya 27%
Nigeria 32%
South Africa 41%
India 54%
Philippines 45%
South Korea 18%

The percentage of Charismatics who said they had never spoken in tongues was:

United States 32%
Brazil 84%
Chile 38%
Guatemala 39%
Kenya 53%
South Africa 57%
India 34%
Philippines 65%
South Korea 12%

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wayne Grudem on "Ministering Together"

In the compiling of the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, each of the four main contributors first wrote their main essays defending their respective views. Next, each one wrote a response to each of the original essays. After this, all four of them, together with editor Wayne Grudem, met together for a two-day closed-door conference to further discuss their views and differences before composing their concluding remarks. At the end of it all, Grudem himself makes some closing remarks. Given the issues being talked about lately within the SBC and parameters of cooperation, I believe Grudem’s closing paragraphs are especially poignant:

Could we minister together? My second comment has to do with relationships among pastors who differ over these issues, taking myself and the four authors as a test case. In reflecting on all that has now been written and said, I have wondered what would happen if, by some unusual work of God’s providence, the five of us somehow found ourselves together in a church where we were the only five elders and where we could agree to share the pulpit ministry equally among ourselves. Would it work? Would we stay together, or would we inevitably form five different churches?

I don’t know what the other authors might say, but my answer is this: I think we would have to work hard to find some "neutral" vocabulary that we as elders could use to refer to certain experiences and phenomena in the life of the church. I think we would have to work hard at allowing a variety of kinds of home fellowship groups with different emphases and different styles (and perhaps different things happening!). I think that we would have to spend regular hours in prayer and earnest discussion together to be sure that the overall focus of the church was on Christ and the advancement of his kingdom. I think that we would have to work hard at letting the congregation know that, though we differed on certain doctrinal matters, we greatly appreciated each other’s gifts and ministries.

But after acknowledging those challenges, and yet knowing these other four men as I do, I really think that it would work. I think that we could live and minister and pray together. I think we could offer pastoral care to one another and to each other’s families. I think that we would frequently know times of incredible depth of intercession together for the work of the church. In fact, if this were to happen, I think that it might even be the most exciting and enjoyable time of ministry that any of us had ever known. And I think that the Lord himself would take delight in it and would enjoy fellowshipping with us and blessing us, and would tell us,

How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sam Storms on "Motives for Holding Views on Miraculous Gifts"

No matter which point of view you accept regarding miraculous gifts, I believe the following words from Sam Storms, in his essay defending the "Third Wave" position in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, are great "food for thought":

There is one more reason why I remained for years committed to the doctrine of cessationism. This one is not based on any particular text or theological principle; yet it exercised no less an influence on my life and thinking than did the other five. In mentioning this fact, I am in no way suggesting that others are guilty of this error. This is not an accusation; it is a confession. I am talking about fear: the fear of emotionalism, the fear of fanaticism, the fear of the unfamiliar, the fear of rejection by those whose respect I cherished and whose friendship I did not want to forfeit, the fear of what might occur were I fully to relinquish control of my life and mind and emotions to the Holy Spirit, the fear of losing what little status in the evangelical community that I had worked so hard to attain.

I am also talking about the kind of fear that energized a personal agenda to distance myself from anything that had the potential to link me with people I believed were an embarrassment to the cause of Christ. I was faithful to the eleventh commandment of Bible-church evangelicalism: "Thou shalt not do at all what others do poorly." In my pride I had allowed certain extremists to exercise more of an influence on the shape of my ministry than I did the text of Scripture. Fear of being labeled or linked or in some way associated with the "unlearned" and "unattractive" elements in contemporary Christendom exercised an insidious power on my ability and willingness to be objective in the reading of Holy Scripture. I am not so naïve as to think that my understanding of Scripture is now free from subjective influences! But I am confident that at least fear, in this form, no longer plays a part.

While I realize that different ones of us, even when trying to be as objective as possible, are probably going to come to different conclusions regarding what the Bible teaches about miraculous gifts, and the possibility of their continuation in the Church today, I think we all need to do a self-check from time to time, asking ourselves what is the real motive behind the views we take.

No doubt, many get "sucked into" the Charismatic movement, and "fake" the gift of tongues in an attempt to gain the approval of those around them. The motive of fear certainly cuts both ways.

And yes, as Storms confesses, we are all influenced, to some extent or another, by our subjective presuppositions. Hopefully though, with God as my judge, I am doing my best to read my Bible, with an open heart and an open mind, asking for and expecting the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If, as a result, the conclusions I make lead me to be considered persona non grata by certain other people, so be it.

If, in the meantime, you feel you are doing the same, and you come to different conclusions than me, (and you don’t embrace clear heresy, or persist in blatant, unrepentant sin), in the words of Twila Paris recently referenced on another post: "Brother, I commit my love to you."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Robert Saucy on "Relating to Those Who Differ on Miraculous Gifts"

In the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views, Robert Saucy, in his defense of the "open but cautious" view, makes some very honest and insightful observations. Below, I am including in today’s post several paragraphs from Saucy’s essay that I think are relevant for the discussion of the new IMB policy on "private prayer language." I have chosen to emphasize several phrases in bold print, which I think are especially relevant.

Among the many theological issues over which Christians differ, some hinder practical fellowship far more than others, especially those that immediately impact the life of the church. People may live together happily while differing on theological interpretations that do not directly or significantly impact behavior (e.g., eschatology or creation issues) or on those that are practices individually (e.g., particular practices of spiritual growth). Such is not the case with the topics of this book. Many of these issues directly affect behavior within the corporate church, making it difficult for people of differing opinions to fellowship together.

In my opinion the greatest problem to unity comes from those views that create (perhaps unintentionally) distinct spiritual levels among believers or cast aspersions on another person’s spirituality. Insisting that a particular relationship to the Spirit be evidenced by a particular miraculous manifestation clearly draws a line marking off some from others spiritually. So also does advocating the manifestation of a particular gift as providing a significant key to fellowship with God. Even teaching that the failure of the church to manifest gifts equal to the apostolic era is a sign of sin or lack of faith can imply a spiritual differentiation. At least those who believe this recognize their failure, while others are not even repentant over their unbelief.

At the same time, perhaps more subtly, those who advocate that no miraculous gifts are available today may disparage others who do believe, for example, that they are using the biblical gift of tongues in their prayer life. They imply (or even teach outright) that such tongue speakers are deceived at best and involved with other spirits at worst. In all such instances, it is hard to see how those who hold the contrary positions could maintain fellowship in the church.

Unity in fellowship is based on similarity of belief and practice. Unity grows as divergent beliefs become less or are held as less significant, thereby providing more toleration of those who differ. History demonstrates that full unity on all things is probably not possible. But it also reveals that discussion among those of goodwill can do much to dissolve some differences and bring greater love and respect when difference remains. The recent history of miraculous gifts, while it has engendered some confusion in the church, has also brought helpful dialogue among opposing positions and some blurring of the traditional lines. Believers who seek Christ’s goal of unity for the church must continue to make these issues a matter of study. Where the positions sincerely held allow for coexistence in church life, such fellowship should be pursued. Where issues sincerely held make regular church fellowship impossible, respect, love, and cooperation in the things of Christ must still flow across the lines to those who hold the same precious faith in the other areas of vital Christian doctrine.

I believe the old policy of the IMB—

Reasons for termination…

"A persistent emphasis of any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive to the Baptist fellowship"
—was probably a good policy, due to what Saucy says in paragraph 2 of the quote above.

At the same time, I believe that the new policy—

Tongues and Prayer Language

That the following policy regarding tongues and prayer language of missionary candidates be adopted:


1. The New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia that generally is considered to be a legitimate language of some people group.

2. The New Testament expression of glossolalia as a gift had specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.

3. In term of worship practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice glossolalia. Therefore, if glossolalia is a public part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.


1. Prayer language as commonly expressed by those practitioners is not the same as the biblical use of glossolalia.

2. Paul’s clear teaching is that prayer is to be made with understanding.

3. Any spiritual experience must be tested by the Scriptures.

4. In terms of general practice, the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept what is referred to as "private prayer language." Therefore, if "private prayer language" is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.
—violates the spirit of Saucy’s third paragraph.

I believe the trustees, in their wording of the justification for this new policy, have taken on the role of interpreting Scripture for Southern Baptists beyond what Southern Baptists have done for themselves, by way of the Baptist Faith & Message.

The reason given against "private prayer language" is not due to its potential to "disrupt," but rather out of a disqualification of one aspect of both "Third Wave" and "Pentecostal/Charismatic," and even some "open but cautious" biblical interpretation. The wording given, in my opinion, is tantamount to saying that: "tongue speakers are deceived at best and involved with other spirits at worst."

Although not officially given as a reason for the new policy, trustee Jerry Corbaley has implied on his blog (both the old one, in which his post on "tongues," and the related comments were removed, as well as the new one) that the practice of tongues (or "babble" as he calls it) in private, will invariably become "public," thus leading to "disruption" in church life.

I believe this is an unfair assumption, and that the burden of proof is on those making this claim. In any case, verifiable cases of the practice or "emphasis" of any spiritual gift to the point of "disruption" were already covered under the old policy.

The real "sticking point" for the Board of Trustees concerns those like myself, who do not actually practice a "private prayer language," but who do not at the same time, subscribe to the doctrinal basis given for the new policy against "private prayer language." If asked what I believe concerning tongues, or any other spiritual gift, ethics will not permit me to lie. When teaching through the Bible systematically, upon coming to the passages that teach on spiritual gifts, I will teach what I consider to be the proper interpretation, taking care, in accordance with my own convictions, to not "emphasize any spiritual gift as normative for all." But I will teach that I understand the gift of tongues to be valid for today, and that it is among the gifts that God might sovereignly choose to give you as a believer. At the same time, I am not going around "parading" my view on this subject (with the possible exception of this blog, in response to questions raised initially, in my opinion, by others). In the past 16 years of missionary service in Spain, I can honestly say I have preached and taught far more on the dangers of the excesses involved in the Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave movements than I have the benefits or blessings associated with any particular spiritual gift.

In my opinion, there is no reason to expect that the practitioner of "private prayer language" who agrees to abide by the same policy will be any more likely than me to "emphasize any spiritual gift as normative for all" or to become "disruptive" in their practice of their gift. Just like me, though, it would be unreasonable to expect him/her to lie or gloss over his/her understanding of Scripture on these issues.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Differing Views of Miraculous Gifts and the SBC

Among frequent comments registered in the debate throughout the blogosphere in recent months regarding the new IMB policy on "private prayer language" have been those expressing the sentiment that, as Baptists, we should be planting "Baptist" churches and not "Charismatic" or "Pentecostal" ones. I personally believe these comments reflect some false presuppositions and unfair stereotyping about who we are as Baptists, as well as who are those who may either practice or allow for the practice of a "private prayer language."

It is often assumed that all those who "speak in tongues," whether publicly or privately, are either "Charismatic" or "Pentecostal." But this is not the case. In the book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views, editor Wayne Grudem, while not dealing exclusively with the gift of tongues, describes the following five categories of belief and practice regarding spiritual gifts in the contemporary church (two of them, the Pentecostal and Charismatic views, are later treated together as one):

1. "The cessationist position argues that there are no miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit today. Gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and healing were confined to the first century, and were used at the time the apostles were establishing the churches and the New Testament was not yet complete."

This view is defended in Grudem’s book by Richard B. Gaffin, professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

2. "Pentecostal refers to any denomination or group that traces its historical origin back to the Pentecostal revival that began in the United States in 1901, and that holds the following doctrines: (1) All the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are intended for today; (2) baptism in the Holy Spirit is an empowering experience subsequent to conversion and should be sought by Christians today; and (3) when baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs, people will speak in tongues as a ‘sign’ that they have received this experience."

3. "Charismatic, on the other hand, refers to any groups (or people) that trace their historical origin to the charismatic renewal movement of the 1960s and 1970s and that seek to practice all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament (including prophecy, healing, tongues, interpretation, and distinguishing between spirits). Among charismatics there are differing viewpoints on whether baptism in the Holy Spirit is subsequent to conversion and whether speaking in tongues is a sign of baptism in the Spirit."

Both the Pentecostal and Charismatic views are defended in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views by Douglas A. Oss, professor of hermeneutics and New Testament and chairman of the division of Bible and theology at Central Bible College (Assemblies of God) in Springfield, Missouri.

4. "In the 1980s a third renewal movement arose, a movement called The Third Wave by missions professor C. Peter Wagner at Fuller Seminary (he referred to the Pentecostal renewal as the first wave of the Holy Spirit’s renewing work in the modern church, and the charismatic movement as the second wave). Third Wave people encourage the equipping of all believers to use New Testament spiritual gifts today and say that the proclamation of the gospel should ordinarily be accompanied by "signs, wonders, and miracles," according to the New Testament pattern. They teach, however, that baptism in the Holy Spirit happens to all Christians at conversion and that subsequent experiences are better called "fillings" or "empowerings" with the Holy Spirit. Though they believe the gift of tongues exists today, they do not emphasize it to the extent that Pentecostals and charismatics do."

The defense of the "Third Wave" view is given by C. Samuel Storms, at that time president of Grace Training Center, a Bible School connected with the Metro Vineyard Fellowship of Kansas City.

5. "There is yet another position, held by a vast number of evangelicals who think of themselves as belonging to none of these groups. These people have not been convinced by the cessationist arguments that relegate certain gifts to the first century, but they are not really convinced by the doctrine or practice of those who emphasize such gifts today either. They are open to the possibility of miraculous gifts today, but they are concerned about the possibility of abuses that they have seen in groups that practice these gifts. They do not think speaking in tongues is ruled out by Scripture, but they see many modern examples as not conforming to scriptural guidelines; some also are concerned that it often leads to divisiveness and negative results in churches today. They think churches should emphasize evangelism, Bible study, and faithful obedience as keys to personal and church growth, rather than miraculous gifts. Yet they appreciate some of the benefits that Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave churches have brought to the evangelical world, especially a refreshing contemporary tone in worship and a challenge to renewal in faith and prayer… For the purposes of this book, we have called it the open but cautious position."

This view is defended by Robert L. Saucy, Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Talbot School of Theology in California.

It is my position that we, as Southern Baptists, are not Pentecostals, and certain Charismatic interpretations of Scripture seem to clash with traditional Baptist interpretation. The "Baptist Faith & Message" states, for example, in the section on God the Holy Spirit, that "at the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ."

At the same time, I believe there is room in SBC life for much (though not all) "Third Wave" belief and practice, as well as that of the "cessationist" group and the "open but cautious" group. Nowhere have Southern Baptists officially defined ourselves one way or another, in relation to the continuation of all of the spiritual gifts present in the New Testament church. Neither have we defined ourselves regarding our understanding of the nature of the gift of tongues, whether it is always expressed in the ability to speak known human languages, or whether or not it includes as well "languages" that cannot be translated by normal human means.

Wayne Grudem, editor of Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views, is not completely neutral regarding his own perspective on these issues. He does try to remain as objective as possible in his moderation of the different views presented, but is widely known as a leading proponent of the "Third Wave" position. Although Grudem has in the past been involved in the Vineyard movement, he is currently, as I understand it, a member of a Southern Baptist church. Apparently, Grudem does not see his "Third Wave" theology to be incompatible with being Southern Baptist.

Grudem’s Systematic Theology, together with Millard Erickson’s text, is one of the leading theology textbooks used today in Southern Baptist seminaries. The following is a quote from Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson:

"Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem is a fair-minded, thorough text in systematic theology--the best I have seen in recent years in terms of convenient organization, clarity, and a willingness to tackle the most salient issues of the day. This is an admirable blending of the scholarly and devotional elements seldom achieved in academic books."

Apparently, Paige Patterson does not think that Wayne Grudem is either naïve or shallow in his theological convictions.

I, personally, when I read each of the four views, find something compelling in each one. I find myself almost being convinced by the arguments presented for each view. At times, I wish Scripture were clearer on these issues. But God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to give us a record that can be interpreted differently by different scholars, each of whom is fully dedicated to the Lordship of Christ, and fully committed to the authority of His inerrant Word.

After carefully thinking through, and searching the Scriptures, I have come to the conclusion that my own understanding lies somewhere between the "Open but Cautious" and "Third Wave" view. Of the four views defended, Sam Storms’s "Third Wave" exegesis is the most convincing to me personally. However, due to what seem to me to be certain excesses and abuses commonly associated with the "Third Wave" movement, I also identify closely with the "Open but Cautious" view defended by Robert Saucy. It is not my purpose on this post to defend my personal position, but rather merely to point out that there are those, like myself, who hold to these different positions, and who, at the same time, consider themselves to be good Southern Baptists.

Lately, some seem to be suggesting that perhaps the view I, and/or others like me, take is out of line with traditional Southern Baptist interpretation; and thus, those, like me, who hold to it, would be better off in other denominations. I believe the new policy on "private prayer language" at the IMB is a reflection of this opinion. It also appears to be the opinion implicit in the paper written by Paige Patterson, Keith Eitel, & Robin Hadaway referenced several days ago on this blog.

I do not personally speak in tongues, either in private or in public. However, my interpretation of Scripture is essentially the same as many who do. I believe the gift of tongues is valid for today. I also believe that the gift of tongues may be legitimately used as a "private prayer language." In my opinion, the only reason I do not have a "private prayer language" is because God, who in His sovereignty distributes each gift to each one "just as he determines" (1 Cor. 12.11), has not chosen to give me this particular gift.

On the basis of the information given here, I would like to ask two questions:

1. In your opinion, are the views I take on these issues compatible with service in the IMB?

2. In regards to IMB service, what is the practical difference between someone like me, who holds these views, and does not practice a "private prayer language," and someone else, who holds the same or similar views, and does practice a "private prayer language"?

Related links:

Sam Storms: Speaking in Tongues and the Southern Baptist Convention (part 1)

Sam Storms: Speaking in Tongues and the Southern Baptist Convention (part 2)

Wade Burleson, The Point Is Being Missed Yet Again

Wade Burleson, What Students at Our Seminaries Learn About Tongues