Thursday, November 30, 2006

Being American and a Missionary at the Same Time

A few days ago, Spanish Minister of Interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, presented a study carried out by sociology professor José Juan Toharia on the attitudes of Muslim immigrants living in Spain. According to Rubalcaba’s evaluation of the study, the "Islamic community in Spain is tolerant, liberal, and westernized. It is well integrated and practices an open form of Islam." He also pointed out that Muslims in Spain have practically the same attitude as Spaniards in general related to the important issues of our day, and an even higher degree of trust in various institutions in society than other Spaniards.

The one thing that really stands out to me, as an evangelical missionary, and American citizen, living in Spain, is what this study has to say about anti-americanism, both among Muslims and other Spaniards in Spain. When asked "To what degree do each of the following people or institutions seem trustworthy to you?," the answers of the Muslim immigrants were as follows (on a scale of 1 to 10):

The Spanish King 7.2
Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) 6.8
The Spanish Parliament 6.5
Judges 6.2
The Police 6.2

The United States 2.4

The study also added that the attitude of Muslim immigrants towards the United States is essentially the same as the rest of Spaniards.

Having lived in Spain for the last 16 years, none of this really surprises me. But reading in print the results of this study and the comments of someone of such stature as the Minister of Interior, lead me to make several observations. I believe that as American Christians, trying to impact the world with the Gospel of Jesus, we cannot "stick our heads in the sand" as if this reality did not exist. Perhaps there are some areas of the world where, as Americans, we still have an open door, relatively speaking, to influence others with our ideas. But, at least in the areas of the world with which I am more familiar, this appears to be less and less the case.

How should we respond to this reality? I would offer several suggestions:

1. If we really take seriously the core value of making disciples among all nations, we cannot afford to "put all of our eggs in the basket" of our personal witness as American missionaries and American volunteer teams. Even though we, as individuals, do our best to overcome negative stereotypes, there are still significant barriers that our national identity puts in the way of many in regards to their open and objective consideration of the message we hope to proclaim. Because of this, I believe we need to seriously look for more and more ways to support the witness of believers of other backgrounds (both nationals and other foreigners), who do not carry with them so much negative cultural baggage, and content ourselves with having a more "behind the scenes" testimony and presence.

2. At the same time, we should not shirk our responsibility, as Christ’s disciples, to put the "talents" with which He has entrusted us to the best use possible towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. If we are going to support others in their evangelistic efforts, we must first show them how. We must be faithful at setting a good example, in spite of the difficulties involved, as well as develop quality relationships of trust and camaraderie with those who will eventually "take the baton" from us. We should do this, however, to the best of our ability, in a way that minimizes as much as possible the potential "stumbling-block" of our national origin.

I am not suggesting being ashamed of who we are, or being unnaturally self-deprecatory. This, at times, requires a delicate balance. What we should not assume, however, is an attitude that communicates that others should pay attention to what we have to say, just because we are Americans. In the past, in some places in the world, we have used our American-ness as a "calling card," which has met with varying degrees of success. More and more, however, I sense that this approach, at least in the areas of the world with which I am familiar, is likely to "fall flat on its face."

In spite of all this, though, around the world, "people are still people." Most, in spite of the cultural prejudices they may harbor, still respond positively to sincere friendship and a humble, servant attitude that seeks to love them for who they are. We must give our best effort to do just this, while at the same time avoiding everything that might only serve to confirm their stereotypes of the "ugly American."

3. Believers and churches in the States should be more aware of the difficult situation in which this reality places the missionaries they send out around the world. Trying to communicate to love of Christ in such a setting can be a serious blow to your sense of self-esteem, if it is not firmly grounded in who you are in Christ alone, and not who you are as an American. Those who support missions back at home should also be aware of how political issues in the States can, at times, make the burden that the missionaries they send out have to bear, even heavier. Without compromising on our God-given responsibility to be salt and light in our society, and maintain a prophetic voice in the face of evil and injustice, we should be sensitive as to how our public image affects not only our witness on the home front, but also, more and more, on the international mission field, as well.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Right Kind of Unity?

Gary Ledbetter, editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, posted an editorial on the on-line edition of Nov. 22 entitled "The right kind of unity." I think the issues he brings out help to define some of the key differences among conservative Southern Baptists being voiced recently on this crucial matter. Let me make clear from the start that I regard Mr. Ledbetter, as well as those who sympathize with the views he advocates in this editorial, as dear brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom I am proud to join together to work towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I would like, however, to take this opportunity, through the following reprint of his editorial (Ledbetter’s text in italics) and some comments of my own, to dialogue some about the ideas contained therein. Though, as my comments will make clear, I see some of the questions involved a bit differently than Ledbetter, I hope this post will be read with the same spirit in which it is intended: not one of attack but rather friendly dialogue.

Ledbetter: We’re often reminded that Jesus’ prayer for his disciples (including us) is that we would be one (John 17:21) and that we would love one another (John 15:12). The interpretation of these commands has led some to suggest that denominations should be done away with, that creeds and confessions are contrary to the mind of Christ, that doctrine divides. Interpret Scripture by Scripture, though. This is the same Lord who a few weeks later commanded us to: make disciples (evangelism, teaching), immerse those disciples in the name of a Trinitarian God, and teach these newly baptized believers all the things he has taught us, presumably by means of an authoritative Bible.

There is a lot of doctrine and denominationalism in that little passage, isn’t there?

Rogers: Doctrine, yes. Denominationalism, only if you equate believers baptism by immersion with denominationalism, which I do not. Among the things Jesus taught us that He expects us to teach new believers is the doctrine of the unity of His Body. If we are to be true to His Word, in my opinion, we must work out the appropriate balance of this clear teaching with other more dubious teachings on ecclesiological specifics.

Ledbetter: Our unity must be in service of something and not an end in itself.

Rogers: Our unity should be in service of the King of Kings, obedience to His Word, the glory of His name, and the advance of His Kingdom.

Ledbetter: A good unity story is the burgeoning relationship between the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas and our own SBTC.

For about a hundred years the Baptist Missionary Association and the Southern Baptist Convention went their own ways in the specifics of missionary support. Southern Baptists have been more centralized in their support of various denominational causes than have Missionary Baptists. In Texas, at least for the past few years, we are once again finding ways to work together. On page 2, our annual meeting wrapup describes the latest initiatives between our two state fellowships.

The point is that we are once again finding unity for specific ministries with others who substantially agree with us regarding faith and practice. Without revisiting the reasons for our initial separation, the reasons for this growing unity seem biblical and godly. For the most part, it was movement on the part of Southern Baptists that strengthened our relationship. The fact that our convention has clarified its beliefs on significant matters of faith answered a lot of questions for Baptists of other bodies.

In other words, our confessional nature told them a lot about what we are and are not. It defined the meaning of cooperation so that biblical compromise was not sacrificed for the sake of unity. Maybe you’ll argue that compromise never was part of the deal. OK, but setting the parameters in unequivocal language makes a big difference for many within and outside our fellowship.

Rogers: Are we talking about moving closer to Landmarkism, the defining doctrinal stance of the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas, and the reason for their past differences with Southern Baptists? Are we talking about not accepting "alien immersion"? Or not accepting "private prayer language"? Or, are we just talking about taking a clear stand on the inerrant Word of God? If the latter, there are other groups besides just "Missionary Baptists" who are becoming more and more open to working together with us on "specific ministries." If the former, though, we are moving further away from being able to work together with some of these same groups.

Ledbetter: Here’s another example. Back in the early 1990s I served the Indiana state convention. We were about to host the SBC during a year when the convention was going to clarify its stance on homosexuality with an amendment to the SBC Constitution. At the same time the American Baptist Convention was being less clear, to put it nicely. Our state office received several calls that year from conservative ABC churches who were troubled by the stand of their own denomination. They called us because they were heartened by the stand our denomination was taking. A clarifying of our stance opened the door to greater unity among Baptists in Indiana.

Likely that same thing happened in other places across the Midwest during that year. It was doctrinal clarity, not vagueness that best served the cause of Christian unity. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has more clearly defined itself than any other Southern Baptist denominational body larger than an association. Of course this means that some will choose another affiliation for doctrinal reasons but it is mistaken to think that doctrinal firmness is only divisive. If we want unity, what’s the alternative?

Rogers: This depends on how you define unity. Is it working together on specific ministry projects? Is it denominational merger? Is it more believers and more churches joining the same denomination? I personally see spiritual unity and denominational affiliation as two separate issues (see "Unity in the Body of Christ and Unity in the SBC").

Greater clarity on "tier one" issues is one thing. Tighter parameters on "tier two" and "tier three" is something entirely different. If we are unable to make this distinction, we are well on our way to sectarianism, which is not, by definition, "greater unity." If it is always a good thing to define oneself more and more clearly and narrowly, where do we stop?

Ledbetter: Usually it’s to draw the circle larger with indistinct edges. Ecumenical movements have been trying that for years and for them, the circle is never large enough. Interfaith witness becomes interfaith dialog. "The way, the truth, and the life," becomes "many roads up the same mountain" or "God is the judge, I wouldn’t dare claim to know who will and won’t go to Heaven."

Rogers: Here, where we are talking about "tier one" issues, I am in total agreement.

Ledbetter: Doctrines that define denominations, believers’ baptism, eternal security, local church autonomy and the like are downplayed until a generation has no idea what their own churches believe.

Rogers: Here, where we are talking about "tier two" and "tier three" issues, we are talking about something entirely different. By no means am I in favor of local churches "downplaying" their convictions and beliefs on these issues. Each believer, and local congregation as a group, must search the Scripture, and to the best of their ability, arrive at some conclusions regarding what is being taught.

However, true Christian unity is not based, in my opinion, on lock-step interpretation of controversial biblical passages. Otherwise, there is nothing to keep us from getting narrower and narrower, basing fellowship and cooperation on similar views of eschatology, number of points of Calvinism one accepts, worship style, etc.

In the Body of Christ, there will always be those with whom we do not agree on 100% of our interpretation of the Bible. The question is: "where do we draw the line of fellowship and cooperation"? In my understanding, the line of fellowship must be the same that God draws with us. 1 John 1.3 teaches that our fellowship with one another is based upon our previous fellowship "with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." John 6.37 says: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." John 14.6 also tells us that no man comes to the Father, except through Jesus. Hebrews 10.19-20 tells us more specifically that we have access to the Father through the blood and flesh of Jesus. And Ephesians 2.8-9 tells us that we appropriate this by grace through faith.

The question of cooperation is a little trickier. Practical concerns make it difficult to fully cooperate in certain ministry projects with certain other true brothers and sisters in Christ, due to differing interpretations of Scripture that are incompatible with each other. For example, it is hard to hold to believers’ baptism by immersion and infant sprinkling in the same church. They are mutually exclusive. By the same token, either a church takes a stand allowing for women pastors, or it takes a stand not allowing for women pastors. It is impractical to hold to both views at the same time.

With other interpretative differences, it is easier to work together. I believe, for instance, that "private prayer language" is one of these. As long as those with a "private prayer language" do not make their practice normative for other believers, or disparage the spirituality of those who have other gifts, I see no reason why fruitful cooperation in ministry need be hindered by the taking of different views on this subject.

There is a whole gamut of other issues that must be worked out individually. One man’s "second- tier issue" is another’s "third-tier issue," and vice-versa. I do not believe the answer is defining ourselves more and more clearly and narrowly on every single issue, though.

Ledbetter: Is anyone who believes the Bible to any degree happy with the way that’s turning out? How is it then that some of us toy with other strange practices and beliefs that seem only meant to convince people that we’re tolerant?

Rogers: It doesn’t have anything to do with convincing other people we’re tolerant. It is all about obeying Jesus’ desire, communicated to us by way of His inerrant Word, for unity in His Body.

Ledbetter: Alcohol use among Christians may not be, for example, the crucial definition of cultural compromise. But it’s also dangerous, more dangerous, to make this one practice the test of cultural coolness or relevance. It may sound intolerant but I still maintain that nothing positive, except the acclaim of the sensual among us, comes from using our freedom in this way.

Rogers: Who wants to "make this one practice the test of cultural coolness or relevance"? That, as I understand it, is not the issue at all, but rather, who do we exclude from fellowship and cooperation, and on the basis of what? What does alcohol have to do with "the right kind of unity," anyway?

Ledbetter: Downplaying the importance of baptism by immersion seems to also be a place where some play to the crowd. Except for the appearance of tolerance, and the resulting larger numbers drawn to his ministry, I can’t think of a reason for a pastor to redefine a word that has never meant anything but "immersion." Sure, it’s a nice big circle and there are a multitude of shining and multidenominational people inside, but what is the basis of their unity?

Rogers: Maybe this article is directed towards people other than those I read and with whom I correspond. But, among those I read and with whom I correspond, I don’t know of anyone wanting to "downplay the importance of baptism by immersion" or wanting to "redefine" the word "baptism."

Ledbetter: What beliefs do they hold in common that will hold them together in ministry? It is unlikely that baptism will be the only casualty when an evangelical or even Baptist church decides to smear its doctrinal foundation.

Rogers: Once again, to whom are we referring here? Henderson Hills? Bethlehem Baptist? If so, in what way have they decided to "smear their doctrinal foundation"? All I see is churches and believers sincerely doing their best to search the Scriptures in order to come to some conclusion about where they draw the line of fellowship. They may well come to some different conclusions than I do. But I am not prepared to accuse them of "smearing their doctrinal foundation" and heading down the road of abandoning other biblical doctrines, as a result.

Ledbetter: A form of ecumenism developing among those who believe in biblical inerrancy will/has rapidly become less committed to biblical inerrancy. The fact that Open Theism (the belief that God is limited in his knowledge of and power over the future) has already found adherents among inerrantists cries out for a more specific definition of the term. The circle is already too big and we didn’t notice.

Rogers: This seems to me to be largely a "straw man" argument. Who, at least in Southern Baptist circles, claims to be "inerrantist" and adheres to "Open Theology"? Perhaps there are some, but I am not aware of them. Is that what’s really being discussed, or what’s really at stake, here? I, for one, am open to greater cooperation in various degrees in working towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission with other conservative evangelicals. But for me, at the same time, adhering to "Open Theology" is the furthest thing imaginable.

Ledbetter: If we are to be Great Commission Christians we must constantly strive to take seriously the words of the Commission and the "all things that I have taught you" contained in the entirety of Scripture. It is a balancing act to define the parameters of biblical belief and practice without either compromise with worldly influence or legalistic narrowness. It’s a struggle worth trying. Surrender to either side of the balance is unworthy of our call.

Rogers: On this, I am in complete agreement. Especially the phrase: "Surrender to either side of the balance is unworthy of our call."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Partisan Arrogance on the Mission Field

One more concern voiced by Latin American missionary "Antonio Peralta" at COMIBAM 2006 in Granada has to do with what he calls "partisan arrogance" on the mission field:

The last concern I want to mention is once again one that I believe can be perceived more easily from the Muslim field, where the followers of Jesus, inasmuch as we know, are more or less one out of every 50,000 people. Before the reality of so many unreached people groups, it is sad to hear of missionary projects that, in the end, are only efforts so that, in places that already have several evangelical churches, there may be one more of our denomination.

The desire to plant our flag, whether as a church, denomination, or mission agency, many times has much more to do with fleshly pride than with the Spirit of Christ. Neither our denominations nor our mission agency will go to heaven, only people redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. In the country in which I serve, the leaders of the approximately thirty small secret national churches (one for every million inhabitants) have decided that they do not want to use, nor for anyone from the outside to impose on them, denominational labels. They are simply members of Kenisat Nur ("The Light" Church), or Kenisa Kalimat Al Hayiat ("Word of Life" Church) in such and such a city. I believe that, as foreign workers, we ought to respect this desire. Will we be able to do it? Or will our partisan arrogance eventually betray us?

Among the missionary agencies, at times, something similar happens: we end up having to "reinvent the wheel", creating a whole other supervision and support structure, just because the agency that already has teams working in that place is not ours. And in the end, who will get credit for the results? Partisan or denominational (or ethnic or classist or nationalist) arrogance, just like any other idolatry, brings along with it a grave danger, since we are dealing with a jealous God, who resists the proud, and will not give His glory to another (Exodus 34.14, 1 Peter 5.5, Isaiah 42.8). On the mission field, we need humble workers, who fear God and respect their brothers and sisters, with a big heart and an open mind, desirous to serve Jesus together with all those who call on the Lord with a clean heart.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Evangelical Zionism and World Missions

Antonio Peralta (not his real name) has been a missionary in North Africa for 20 years. His plenary message this week to the audience gathered at the COMIBAM conference in Granada was a "spiritual bombshell." He was not afraid to speak clearly on several issues of great practical relevance for evangelical missions in today’s world. Although his message was directed more towards the Latin American church, I believe that what he had to say contains some very convicting food for thought for us as North Americans as well. What follows is an excerpt I have translated from the text of his message in Spanish…

Living in an Arab context, it is frankly shocking for me to see the naivete with which so many Latin American evangelical churches have identified with different aspects of Zionism (such as the prominent use of the Israeli flag), and the ease with which, in the name of a supposed "fulfillment of prophecy," practically any act committed by some individual from among the chosen people is justified. I wonder if at some time we have ever sat down to think how far this is from the universal message of all the biblical prophets and apostles, who did not shrink back from proclaiming the judgment of God on all human sin, without showing partiality (Deuteronomy 10.17, 2 Chronicles 19.7, Galatians 2.6, Romans 2.11).

It is essential for us today, just like it was for the disciples of yesteryear, to leave the fulfillment of prophecies and the details of eschatology in the hands of the sovereign Lord of history, and dedicate ourselves to the task He commended to us: to live and announce among all peoples (including the Jews) the only Gospel of salvation, that is through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ unto everyone that believes (John 3.16, Romans 1.16).

It seems to me that more or less related to this topic of evangelical Zionism is the tendency that I perceive in many evangelical circles to mix together the Kingdom of God and the national interests of countries where believers are numerous or influential. Apparently, we believe that with the political, economic, or military power of this world we can bring about the advance of the kingdom that is "not of this world." When in the national press of many Muslim countries articles regularly appear attributing the bellicose foreign policy of the current President of the United States to his evangelical faith and the influence of evangelicals in North American politics, all that is left for me to do is to worry about the credibility of the gospel message we are communicating to these peoples. In the same way, when I hear recognized Christian leaders publicly support, as supposed spokesmen of all the evangelical churches, undertakings such as the invasion of Iraq, or the bombing of Lebanon, I can only wonder when and how the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ will come to be understood by the Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, etc.

We would do well, as individuals and as churches, to decide clearly, just as Joshua and Elijah long ago (Joshua 24.15, 1 Kings 18.21), which kingdom do we want to represent—that of Jesus or of someone else?—remembering that no man can serve two masters. On the mission field, we need workers dedicated exclusively to Jesus, to His values, and His kingdom, men and women who show no partiality towards people or towards people groups, and who leave the future in the hands of the Master.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I have had the great privilege to be present throughout this week at the COMIBAM 2006 Latin American/Iberian Missionary Congress, held this year in Granada, in the south of Spain. This is the third time this monumental event has taken place, the other two being in 1987, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and 1997, in Acapulco, Mexico.

God is in the process of doing marvelous new things around the world! I am firmly convinced that the COMIBAM (Cooperación Misionera Iberoamericana) movement is one of the most significant. Here this week in Granada, more than 2,000 delegates from all over Latin America, and the Iberian Peninsula, are gathered together to share results and challenges of some 30 years of mission work, as God has begun to raise up and send out new workers for the harvest from among these countries to the unreached peoples of the earth.

The vision was cast in 1987 for Latin America to be transformed from a "mission field" to a "mission force." And now, some 30 years later, this reality is coming into full bloom, as experienced Latin American missionaries are able to share their victories, as well as the challenges they have met, as they have stepped out in faith to cross cultural barriers, and bear witness to the life-changing power of the Gospel.

The truth is, in many parts of the world, Latinos are better accepted, and are having success at breaking through barriers that are becoming harder and harder, in the complex world in which we live today, for missionaries from North America and Europe to transcend. In Latin America, as well as several other places around the world, the role of many missionaries from "the north" is transitioning into that of mobilizing and equipping the churches and believers there to "take the baton" and "step into the trenches" of frontline missionary service and proclamation.

It has been thrilling to hear the testimonies of some of the 300 active Latino missionaries present at the conference this week, who have launched out in faith from economically impoverished but spiritually rich situations, to preach the Gospel in word and deed in places such as Turkey, Albania, Algeria, Morocco, Indonesia and China. In 1987, at the first COMIBAM conference, it was estimated that there were then about 1,600 cross-cultural missionaries from Latin America. By 1997, this figure had grown to a little more than 4,000. And, now in 2006, statistics point to more than 8,500 cross-cultural missionaries from among the various evangelical denominations, churches, and mission agencies spread throughout all of Latin America, Spain & Portugal.

As I have said before on this blog, the Great Commission is not just given to us as Southern Baptists. And it is not just given to the church at large in North America. It is time for us to humbly admit that God does not need us to do what He is doing around the world. He certainly has a role for us to fulfill. And we must remain faithful in giving our very best effort at being the best stewards possible of the gifts, talents, and resources He has placed in our hands. But that role must be played out in the greater context of what God is doing in and through all His Body throughout the entire world to gather a people for Himself from among every nation, tribe, people and language on the earth.

*See also Baptist Press article "WORLDVIEW: A truly global missions movement is emerging"

Monday, November 13, 2006

Private Prayer Language

Those of you who have followed this blog for any length of time know that I am not in favor of the new IMB policy passed about a year ago eliminating from consideration for missionary service those who admit to having a “private prayer language.” As I have also stated here previously, I personally do not have a “private prayer language.” I do, however, believe in the continued validity, until the return of Christ, of all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament. This includes the possibility of a legitimate “private prayer language,” which may be something other than a “known human language.”

A stereotype exists in the minds of certain Christians, leading them to suppose that those who claim to find Scriptural warrant for the continuation of all of the spiritual gifts do so out of a need to justify their personal experience of “speaking in tongues.” I can assure you that is not the case with me.

Since my youth, I have been interested in the topic of spiritual gifts, especially as manifested in the Charismatic Renewal movement, both because I have seen how different views on this subject have divided conservative evangelical believers who are in agreement on practically every other issue, as well as because of the great impact Christians who believe in and practice miraculous gifts have made towards world evangelization. This interest has led me to do a thorough study on this topic, with the intention of being as objective as possible in my interpretation of Scripture. I have read many books and articles on both (and sometimes more than two) sides of the various issues involved. I have carefully studied the texts of the Bible that are related in one way or another to this topic. Although I will be the first to admit that my understanding of Scripture is far from infallible, I have no problem in affirming, on the basis of my investigation, my belief in the continuation of all of the spiritual gifts, not only as a possibility, but as a reality today.

I do not, however, consider myself to be either Charismatic or Pentecostal in my theology. I do not believe that all Christians should seek for the gift of tongues. I do not believe that speaking in tongues is the sign of a supposed post-conversion “baptism in the Spirit.” I do share some doctrinal views with what many have termed the “Third Wave” movement, yet, at the same time, feel uncomfortable with many of the extreme practices that have sometimes accompanied this movement.

Up until the announcement of the new policy last year, “private prayer language” was not a major item on my “radar screen.” Perhaps my understanding of Scripture has led me to be somewhat more open to fellowship with some on the more Charismatic/Pentecostal/Third Wave side of the spectrum than some of my other colleagues in the IMB, or others in the SBC at large. Beyond this, however, I consider myself to be very much in the “mainstream” of current conservative evangelical Southern Baptist life. I have never sensed my views on this topic to have caused any conflict whatsoever with my missionary colleagues.

However, my conviction on the biblical soundness of my beliefs in this area, as well as my concern over the negative effect of this new policy, have led me to speak out more and more on this issue. In addition to the various posts on this blog (here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) related in one way or another, I have also commented frequently on several other blogs, several of which take positions in support of the new policy and against a bibical interpretation that allows for the continued practice of a “private prayer language” in today’s Church. These include Brad Reynolds, Jerry Corbaley, Baptist Theologue, and Bart Barber (here, here, here, and here). Rob Westbrook, on whose blog I also commented, takes a different view. Many of my personal views based on my study of Scripture can be found on my comments on these posts.

I have not yet taken the time to write a thorough biblical defense of my view. However, of the many different people writing on this topic on the blogosphere, one person stands out in my mind as doing an extremely admirable job of representing a position that, to date, is almost exactly, if not exactly, the view that I hold. That person is Alan Cross.

Alan is currently working on a series of posts that gives a more thorough, systematic defense of the view I, and others like me, hold. I strongly recommend that you read Alan’s first three posts that are available here, here, and here, and continue reading as he posts more information in the coming days.

I also think Dwight McKissic does an excellent job of presenting essentially the same view (with the exception that he actually claims to have a "private prayer language") here and here.

In case this post sparks anyone’s interest in doing a more in-depth study of this question, I recommend the book The Kingdom and the Power, edited by Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer. I do not agree with every single thing written here, but it does give a more in-depth review of various issues associated with the Third Wave movement from a more scholarly perspective than many other books on the subject.

What is the purpose of this post? To lead you to seek after a "private prayer language"? No. I believe that is entirely between you and God. To convince you of the continualist interpretation? Not so much as to at least convince you that the continualist interpretation is not incompatible with a high view of biblical authority, nor with continued participation in Southern Baptist life, and service with the International Mission Board. If after giving an honest, objective study of these questions, you come down on the side of not accepting the legitimacy of "private prayer language," I can respect that, and have no problem working together with you to help see the Great Commission fulfilled, as long as you can respect those who hold the same view as me, and work together with us. Another purpose is I would like to see as many people as possible read Alan Cross's posts.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Immigration and the Church

In the past 5-10 years, immigrants from many parts of the world have begun to stream into Spain, especially from Latin America, Eastern Europe and North Africa. As a result, the majority of evangelical churches have seen a great influx of new attendees, many of which come from countries with a much higher percent of evangelical Christians than Spain. It is unusual to find a growing congregation in Spain today that does not have at least 20-30% foreign attendance, and in many cases, well over 50%. This has been a cause of revitalization in many churches, as well as a new opportunity for social ministry. It has also brought with it many challenges, as the socio-cultural makeup of many churches has been dramatically altered in a short period of time.

In a special conference held in 2003 at the Baptist Seminary in Madrid on "The Churches and Immigration," various Spanish and Latin American evangelical leaders weighed in on the implications of this new situation for the Church in Spain. I believe that much of what was shared holds true for evangelicals in the USA as well. Especially poignant, in my opinion, are the following words (which I have translated from Spanish) by Spanish Pastor and Seminary Professor Emmanuel Buch Cami, from his discourse entitled "A Pastoral Perspective on Immigration":

It is necessary to continue to warn against the creation of immigrant ghettos within the churches and against every substitute for true Christian fellowship. In the New Testament, the local church is a "space for fellowship," a place of meeting and integration established by Jesus Christ in order to embody God’s purpose of inviting all mankind to become one people in Christ, excluding no one, without exception. Immigrants are the perfect test case for measuring the faithfulness of each church to the New Testament model, free of nationalistic, linguistic, or class-bound ties. Immigrants are a challenge in the face of the temptation to lock ourselves up in "towers of Babel" that isolate us from one another; rather, they
encourage us to seek more of the Spirit of Pentecost that unites us, the Spirit of Christ Jesus, Lord of the church.

In the church, the community of the Spirit, no one is a foreigner. Every Christian, no matter what may be his/her place of origin or condition, has a place at the Father’s table, and no one should be banished to remain in the entryway of the house. This "anthropology of brotherhood" is based on the fatherhood of God. All of us are invited, nothing more, nothing less, to the table. The table does not belong to anyone but the Father who calls us each as equals. That is one of the images that the celebration of the Lord’s Table conveys. The sentiment that "outsiders are going to end up kicking us insiders out" is foreign to the church of Christ, who only knows of community under the shadow of the cross. If the church does not learn to give forth an effort at extending a welcome, "lengthening [its] cords" and "strengthening [its] stakes" (Isaiah 54.2), if the church limits itself to "renting out" its premises, but not sharing them, then it becomes irrelevant in its incarnation and proclamation of the Kingdom.

I wonder if there is anything more urgent today, for Christ’s honor and for the extension of the Gospel, than for the Church to be what it ought to be, and that it be seen as such, as what it already is by God’s purpose and Christ’s work: one united and new humanity, a model of human community, a family of reconciled brothers and sisters that love their Father and love one another, the visible dwelling place of God by way of His Spirit. Only then will the world believe that Jesus is the peacemaker. Only then will God receive the glory due to His name.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Multiculturalism, Immigration and the Bible

I earnestly invite Bill Harrell, and anyone else who might be tempted to see multiculturalism as a Major Deterrent to Revival, to do an open-minded study of the Bible to see what it has to say to us on this topic, and then decide if you still think this view is tenable. And even if you are already convinced you don’t agree with Harrell, I believe it would still do you good to take the time to look up each of the passages cited below, and review and meditate on what God’s authoritative Word teaches us as His Kingdom people on this important subject.

God called Abraham, the "father of faith," to be an immigrant in a land He would "show him" (Gen. 12.1).

It was God’s plan that led his people to Egypt, where they would spend 430 years, as underprivileged immigrants, a minority population group among an established culture. It is in this context that they developed their consciousness as the "people of God" (Gen. 50.20, Deut. 26.5, Ps. 39.12).

Upon returning to Canaan, God’s people once again found themselves as newcomers in a foreign country. They were not commanded by God to "blend in" with the culture of their host country, but rather to "come apart" and "be separate" (Deut. 7).

It was made expressly clear, however, that God’s people were not to be an exclusive, xenophobic people. The law commanded kindness and hospitality to immigrants on numerous occasions. (Ex. 22.21, 23.9, Lev. 19.10, 33-34, Deut. 10.17-19; 24.17, 19-22; 26.12; 27.19, Jer. 7.5-7).

God used exile and forced immigration in Babylon as a tool to work a sincere repentance in the hearts of His people, and prepare the way for restoration and revival (Jer. 29.4-14).

Jesus, God’s only Son, came to earth, in a very real sense, as an immigrant from heaven (Phil. 2.5-8).

When He was on the earth, Jesus lived a part of His childhood, together with His family, as an immigrant in Egypt (Matt. 2.13-15).

Jesus, in His earthly ministry and teaching, showed special compassion to foreigners (Matt. 8.5-13; 25.35; Mk. 7.24-30, Lk. 9.51-56; 10.25-37; 17.15-16, Jn. 4.1-42).

One of the most notable facets of the Day of Pentecost, when the first Holy Spirit inspired revival came to God’s New Testament people, the Church, was the distinct multicultural dynamic that permeated the atmosphere (Acts 2.5-11).

An important part of God’s plan for fulfilling the Great Commission, and the spread of the Gospel message throughout the known world of that time, was the forced immigration of believers throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8.1, 4), the visit of foreigners such as those present at Pentecost (Acts 2.5-11) and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8.26-39), and the calling of immigrants such as Saul of Tarsus (Acts 26.4) and Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18.1-3) into missionary service and "lay" church planting ministry.

One of the main themes of the entire book of Acts is the development of Christianity from a monocultural sect of Judaism into a multicultural universal faith spanning the entire Roman empire.

The foundational teaching of the Apostle Paul, in several key passages (Gal. 2.11-16; 3.26-29; Eph. 2.11-22) leaves absolutely no room for monocultural ethnocentrism in the Body of Christ.

The vision presented by the Apostle John in the book of Revelation (ch. 5 & 7) is that of a diverse group of believers from every tribe, language, people and nation, who find their unity, not in similar cultural mores or linguistic patterns, but rather in their worship of the one and only King of kings and Lord of lords, the Lamb upon the throne, Jesus.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bits and Pieces

The last few days it has been hard for me to find the time to post. But, in the meantime, I have come across a few items that seem to me to be significant enough to pass on to you.

It is ironic that, shortly after writing in my last post, with no idea of what was about to come out, that "back a few years ago, the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals made headlines in Spain, even though no one in Spain had ever even heard of them before the stories broke," the story on Ted Haggard began to surface. Now, sure enough, there are also stories in the major Spanish newspapers about Ted Haggard as well. If you read many blogs, you are already aware that there are a plethora of different viewpoints and thoughts on this tragedy available for reading on the blogosphere. Of what I have read, the post that resonates most with me is what Tim Challies has written here. I believe it will be well worth your while to read carefully through what Tim has to say in this excellent post, and take into consideration the implications for your own life.

Next, although of a complete different nature than the Haggard story, the name Bill Harrell has been making quite a splash among Southern Baptist blogs as of late. Harrell is currently Chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, considered by some to be "the most important position in Southern Baptist life." The most widely circulated stories are related to recent comments he made regarding the supposed "two most important issues" of problems of Calvinism and contemporary worship styles in our churches. Even more disturbing to me, though, is what Harrell writes on his church’s website concerning what he considers to be "A Major Deterrent to Revival," which he identifies as multiculturalism in our society. Upon reading this, I could not believe my eyes. This, in my opinion, is totally anti-biblical, and yes, I will venture to say, bigoted.

I hope to put up some more substantive thoughts of my own in the next couple of days regarding how I believe God uses immigration and cultural diversity in a special way to accomplish his purposes in the world (just the opposite of what Harrell seems to be saying). In the meantime, I strongly recommend that you read the insightful comments of Nick Kennicott, Alan Cross, and Les Puryear on this important issue for Southern Baptists.

Last of all, my friend and mentor, George Verwer, has just posted an article on Denominations and Denominationalism that I think is worthy of reflection as well.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

American Politics and World Missions

Do the way we as Evangelicals engage in the political process in the United States, and our efforts to preach the Gospel and make disciples throughout the world, have anything to do with each other? Many times, we like to think that, metaphorically, our "left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing." But, at least from the corner of the world in which the Lord has me working right now (Madrid, Spain), I am observing this to be less and less the case.

Consider, for example, the following article I translated from the Oct. 24 edition of El Mundo, which, with a center-right political orientation, is the second-most widely read newspaper in Spain, just behind El País, which has more left-wing leanings…

You get to the vote through the church

CINCINNATI. – The Democrats may have the labor unions and the environmentalists. But the Republicans have the churches. American churches have become propaganda centers for conservative political ideas, especially in the South and the West.

In Ohio alone, the Patriotic Pastors association has 1,000 members. Each one of them is committed to seeing to it that at least 300 of their church members are registered to vote, which would mean adding some 300,000 conservatives, or, as the organizers of the initiative prefer to call them, "values voters," to the electoral census.

The message of these religious leaders is clear: any candidate who opposes abortion and homosexual marriage has their support. In addition to these, there are other issues, like cutting public spending, or the allocation of social programs to the oversight of religious groups, the right to bear firearms, and tax cuts.

Although these groups are not officially Republican, they totally identify with the ideals of that party. Their influence is not limited to mobilizing voters.

In the Ohio governor’s campaign, Ken Blackwell, has received about $27,000, that is, 25 times more than his opponent, Strickland.

However, the power of these groups is excessive, even in the opinion of many Republicans. Since their influence within the party is so great that, if a candidate wants to win the primaries, he/she must lean so much towards the conservative side that he/she frequently ends up losing the backing of the centrists, who, in the end, are the ones that decide the outcome of the majority of elections.

Such is the case for Blackwell. «During the Republican primaries, there was a race between the candidates to see who was the most conservative. Blackwell won. And now he’s stuck in a dead-end street," Burke explains. On the 14th, after a Republican rally in Kentucky, just south of Ohio, a member of the Republican machinery didn’t hide his distaste for the evangelical Christians (ultra-conservative Protestants) who were leaving the building. "These people are going to cost us the elections," he said.

Evidently, it is possible that they will cost the election for some candidates. But the temptation to court this influential sector is very great. In Ohio, 25% of voters define themselves as "evangelical," and three out of every four members of that group voted for Bush in 2004.

Among those that go to their religious events (to call their ceremonies "masses", which are more like TV shows than religious functions, would be an exaggeration), 97% voted for the President.

Up against this religious wall, the Democrats haven’t had any choice but to organize the labor unions, and introduce initiatives such as a referendum to raise the minimum wage in Ohio, with the object of mobilizing their voter bases. So, in the end, the war between the churches and the labor unions is going to be one of the keys in Ohio on November 7.

The majority of Spaniards are not supportive of American right-wing conservative politics. Up until recently, Evangelicals, in general (not to speak of Baptists as an even smaller subset), due to their miniscule representation among the Spanish population (0.4%), have been a pretty much unknown element in Spanish life and public opinion. For some reason, though, whenever Evangelicals do make the national news in Spain, it usually has something to do with our "less seemly side."

For example, back a few years ago, the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals made headlines in Spain, even though no one in Spain had ever even heard of them before the stories broke. When Pat Robertson declared that the US ought to "take out" Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, that also made the news in Spain. But, more than anything else, since George W. Bush’s election as President, and especially since the war in Iraq, the majority of the times Evangelicals are mentioned in the news seem to be related to Evangelical political activity, and their support for President Bush and his policies.

I consider myself to be generally conservative in my personal political views. I am especially interested in defending the rights of the unborn, and of traditional families. At the same time, I am deeply concerned about poverty and injustice, both in the United States and around the world, especially in places like Darfur. I am in basic agreement that, as Christians, we should not silence our prophetic voice on these crucial issues.

However, I think it is important that, as people who give lip-service to the "core value" of world evangelization, we are aware of the effect our political activity in the States has, at times, upon our efforts to preach the Gospel in other parts of the world. These things are very hard to measure with any degree of objectivity. But, I myself have sensed a decreasing a priori openness to me as an American in Spain ever since the Iraq war. Yes, by being humble, sincere, friendly, non-judgmental and demonstrating a servant attitude, some of these attitudes can be overcome with time. Nonetheless, there are real barriers for us as American missionaries that were not quite as hard to get past before all of this happened as they are now.

Even worse, at times, the non-believing Spaniard who is confronted for the first time with the claims of Christ, must evaluate whether identifying him/herself with the evangelical community will also involve identifying him/herself with American conservative politics.

How do we deal with this dilemma? I do not believe the answer is easy. I do believe, however, that whenever we choose to openly link ourselves as Evangelicals with certain political views, we must be fairly confident that the views we take are really a result of an authentically biblical worldview, and not merely a reflection of certain provincial cultural values. What are our true core values? Does world evangelization really rank as high on our list as we say it does?

Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

Matthew 18.7 (NASB)