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."

19 comments:

Alan Cross said...

David,

His whole article was full of straw man arguments. He is trying to rile the masses into thinking that there is some great danger from those who are trying to lead us down the path to ecumenalism. It's funny, but as they try and redefine and narrow, and others of us just want things to stay the way they are, they are recasting all of those who do not follow them lock-step as something other than what they are.

I think that the Bible calls this "bearing false witness." Isn't that one of the 10 Commandments? That's what seems to be happening more and more.

How about if we just deal with the issues on the table instead of impugning the motives and future direction of those who do not agree with you? I'll gladly take that pledge.

Alan Knox said...

David,
Thank you for continuing this discussion. Your arguments are always clear and scriptural, and they always cause me to think carefully about both sides of the issues. The church must protect itself from heresy, but it must also live in the unity that we have in Christ.
- Alan

Gary Ledbetter said...

David,

I'm flattered to have become fodder for your blog. Thanks also for the high tone of your comments. I'm less sure about David Cross's ability to know that I was just trying "to rile up the masses," but that's not you.

Let me just address two or three things.

First, I do consider baptism by immersion a matter of denominationalism as well as doctrine. Denominationalism is sometimes miscast (speaking of straw man) as loyalty to institutions and clueless men in suits. I view it as an ongoing reformation movement whereby we try to walk as closely as possible according to biblical revelation. Obviously, what's closest becomes a matter of lively discussion. But give some room for a little sincerity and understanding on the part of those of us who see denominations as having some value to the kingdom.

A key difference between Baptists and most other post Reformation fellowships is this very doctrine of baptism, by the way. Not all Christian diversity is mere division.

Second, both the Southern Baptist Convention and the BMAT have moved some way away from Landmarkism over the past hundred years. The three or four Landmarkers I know would admit this. The thought that SBTC is moving toward Landmarkism because we are finding some common ministry with the BMAT is classic straw man. There is no basis for this belief. The ways in which some of us have expressed a high view of the local church might not meet with universal acclaim in the blogosphere but no self respecting Landmarker would take great comfort from those statements. We do not embrace officially or unofficially the Trail of Blood theory or the notion that only Baptist churches are legitimate churches, for example. We do not, then widely practice close communion or consider all non Baptist baptisms invalid. These are obviously local church decisions but these doctrine have not been promoted or widely practiced in the scores of churches in which I've worshipped.

Finally, on the general matter of my motives or use of straw men. My audience is Southern Baptists, mostly in Texas. Many of our churches have slid toward a more casual attitude toward the teaching of doctrine, not false doctrine so much as too little doctrine. Some of our folks cannot explain why infant baptism is not acceptable biblically. And yes, some Baptist churches have made too vague statements regarding this doctrine.

The examples I used were offered to hopefully underscore the idea that Christian unity is promoted better by a greater understanding and clarity of doctrine rather than by a more casual or seeker driven approach. That style is not rare enough among the most conservate if evangelical Christian churches.

Thanks for the chance to join the dialog regarding my statements and motives.

Gary

Alan Cross said...

Gary,

I apologize for assigning motives to you regarding your comments. That was wrong. I have read many of these types of articles from denominational leaders, state leaders, or pastors over the past several months and they all seem to be similar in tone: "If we don't clarify and draw back the lines, we will drift down the slippery slope toward (fill in the blank). I confess that I read your article through that filter.

I do apologize and am so grateful for your comments here to further clarify your intent, even though I do not fully agree with your conclusions. If we could have more of that type of dialogue, all of us would learn to trust a great deal more, and not slip into judgmentalism. Again, sorry and thank you. I cannot judge your motives or your heart. I can only judge the content of what you write, and I did that with a strong bias. My growing cynicism regarding these issues has been exposed and I am grateful for the clarity. I'll be more careful in the future.

David Rogers said...

Gary,

Thank you very much for stopping by, and for your comments. I had intended to e-mail you directly to give you a "heads up", but see you made it over here first on your own. I am pleased and honored.

Since you and Alan Cross (not David) are already dialoguing between yourselves, and seem to be making positive progress, I will leave that up to you two.

Regarding the other points on which you comment, first, I think it would do us well to reach a common understanding of what we mean by "denominationalism." For me, as a Baptist, for instance, I regard my participation in the Southern Baptist Convention a bit differently from what I understand some in other denominations to regard their participation in their denominations. In addition to the biblical doctrine of believers' baptism, we, as Baptists take seriously the autonomy of the local church. Thus, our denominational participation is entirely voluntary. We join together, as autonomous congregations, to work towards common interests and goals with other autonomous congregations. We do not view ourselves, as a denomination, as a microcosm of the Body of Christ. We are just as much fellow members of the Body of Christ with congregations of other denominations, or with independent congregations, as we are with fellow Baptist congregations. We join together with other Baptist congregations as the SBC, in order to work together, in more efficient stewardship of the "talents" God gives us, in order to see the Great Commission fulfilled. Whenever we see it judicious to do so, there is nothing that keeps us, as autonomous congregations, from also working together with non-Baptist congregations as well. For certain ministry projects, the common understanding of Scriptural interpretation on certain points of doctrine make it easier and more productive to work together with other Baptist churches, though.

Regarding the BMAT, if they have indeed backed off of some of their Landmarkist positions of their past history, perhaps there is no reason to not work more closely with them. The only problem I see would be if our closer collaboration with BMAT churches obliged us at the same time to cut off cooperative relationships with other churches, who do not see eye to eye with ecclesiological ideas influenced by Landmarkism.

Finally, as to the attitude of some churches in relation to teaching sound doctrine, I am completely in agreement with the need to more thoroughly ground our members in the foundations of the faith. Where I have a bit of a problem is when we make "Baptist distinctives" such an important item in the curriculum that they practically eclipse in emphasis other even more foundational doctrines, such as those on which all conservative evangelicals are in basic agreement. In other words, yes, let's teach believers' baptism, eternal security, local church autonomy, etc., but only in their appropriate place in the hierarchy of doctrinal fundamentals. Let's always be Christian first, Evangelical next, and Baptist last.

Bart Barber said...

David,

Happy Thanksgiving, brother!

If you don't mind, I would like to differ with a few points in your article.

First, there's this series of sentences: "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." In this paragraph you draw a contrast between Christian unity, which you characterize as a "clear teaching" and other, unnamed "dubious teachings" regarding ecclesiology.

I point you to 1 Corinthians 11:18-19, where we read, "...when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you." Also, in instructions for managing a congregation, Titus 1:9-11, "...holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain."

I submit to you that the New Testament teaching on unity is not as clear as you suggest. Christ's desire is that we be unified. Christ's desire is also that we be doctrinally sound. Christ's desire is also that we be holy. Your argument seems to suggest that the Bible clearly elevates the quest for unity over the quest for doctrinal soundness or holiness or the other issues that have led to denominational fragmentation. I suggest that this ranking of things is supplied by the reader and not by the text.

To make application of these scriptures specifically to our present day: I ask you, why is it right for Paul to demand the censure and silencing of those who would make circumcision prerequisite to salvation, yet it is somehow a violation of Christian unity to part company with those who would make baptism prerequisite to salvation? What, in your opinion, constitutes the difference?

Second, you state that Landmarkism was the cause of separation between the BMA and Southern Baptists. I point you to the latest research by Dr. Joseph E. Early demonstrating that the BMA schism was not substantially about Landmarkism, but was the outgrowth of internal tensions in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. My own research in this period has demonstrated that both "Associational" Baptists and "Convention" Baptists from a century ago were equally committed to Landmarkism. Thus, the tentative negotiations between the BMA and the SBTC represent the potential mending of a rift that was more personal and institutional than theological. I think you will have trouble supporting your claim from primary historical sources.

With regard to your claim that Ledbetter's "Open Theism" example is a "straw man," I point you to recent controversy within ETS over this very issue. Ledbetter did not claim that this was particularly a Southern Baptist problem, but that it was a problem named among those who affirm inerrancy, as do all within ETS. Indeed, the controversy within ETS was whether Open Theism is compatible with an affirmation of inerrancy. By definition, there was a controversy because some argued that the two were compatible while others argued the opposite. If Ledbetter's point is that an affirmation of inerrancy is not a doctrinal panacea—that we'd better be prepared to stake out some additional theological ground other than just our view of the nature of scripture, as important and foundational as that is—then I think his case is anything but a "straw man" argument. I think he makes a cogent point.

gary ledbetter said...

Alan,

Sorry to mangle your name. I had a dislexic moment. Thanks for your gracious words.

David,

I'd guess I'd say Christian first, the Baptist. I don't value Evangelical so much because of the wandering that term has done. To be Baptist is to be evangelistic but evangelical takes in too much for my comfort zone.

On the BMAT, the idea of obligation or moving either their fellowship or ours off our convictions is foreign to any discussion we've had--certainly to our intent. The nature of our partnership maintains the identity of both groups; we're still Southern Baptists, they're still Missionary Baptists.

I think Presbyterians, Bible churches, Independent Baptists, and Methodists have had far more impact on Southern Baptists than classic Missionary Baptist distinctives ever will. I guess that's why I don't understand the reaction our relationship with BMAT has prompted.

I'm guessing it has to do with the suppositions of another blogger that the IMB discussions have their rooting in Landmarkism. I know one SBTC pastor/IMB trustee has been named by some as an admitted Landmarker. If that's it, this supposition skips a logical step or two. I'm here, I'm not a Landmarker and I don't see the threat.

I certainly agree that autonomy must be carefully guarded in the midst of any denominational involvement. In any political body, though, some viewpoints are viewed by the participating majority as being more constructive than others. Those viewpoints will be the predominate ones among the body's leadership. It's always changing but it will always be that way. This process is no violation of autonomy, merely a reflection of congregationalism. I'm a big fan of congregational polity also.

Anyway, I'm going longer than I meant to. Thanks for the forum.

Gary

David Rogers said...

Bart,

I did not mean to imply that unity should take precedence over doctrinal soundness in general, or over holiness of life. I would be in agreement with you, I imagine, that false doctrine and open unrepentant sin in a congregation, as well as in a denomination, provide a major impediment to true, biblical unity.

When I talk about "dubious teachings on ecclesiological specifics," I am referring to finer points of doctrine on which truly born-again believers who take equally seriously the authority of Christ and of His Word have sincere differences of interpretation. On the specific issue of baptismal regeneration, I personally regard this as a "tier one" issue, since it is a violation of justification by grace through faith alone, on which our salvation depends. At the same time, I recognize there are likely many Church of Christ members who, in their heart, are trusting in Christ to save them and not their baptism.

Regarding the BMA and Landmarkism, I do not claim to be anything close to an expert. Obviously you have done more research than me on this topic, so I will defer to your expertise. I only know that when I "Google" the BMA, lots of references to Landmarkism come up. I also realize that, as you mention, 100 years ago, Southern Baptists were much more given to Landmarkist tendencies in higher percentages than in subsequent years. Although, once again, I still do not claim any expertise whatsoever on this matter, I would re-pose the question: if not necessarily at the very beginning, would it not be accurate to say that different understandings of issues loosely identified with the Landmark movement have proved to be barriers to closer fellowship and cooperation between Southern Baptists and Missionary Baptists at various periods over the last century? I also wonder what were the specific beliefs Ledbetter mentions on significant matters of faith that the SBC has clarified in recent years that have answered a lot of questions for Baptists of other bodies (i.e. BMAT)?

Regarding Open Theology and inerrancy, I will concede the point that inerrancy in and of itself is not a guarantee of evangelical orthodoxy. However, in the context of the dialogue in recent months among Southern Baptists, I can't remember of anyone who is arguing that it necessarily is. If there are those who feel that, I am in agreement with you and Bro. Gary on this one.

Bart Barber said...

David,

I'm very much in danger here of giving the thirty-minute answer to the thirty-second question.

In the aftermath of the Haydenite and Bogardite schisms, everyone accused everyone else of betraying Landmarkism. Hayden and Bogard were Landmarkers. B. H. Carroll was a Landmarker. James P. Eagle was a Landmarker.

All of that is true if you define Landmarkism as a belief that Baptist churches were the only true churches.

Toward the middle of the twentieth century a theory was advanced of "Later Landmarkism" suggesting that Landmarkism changed from an insistence that Baptist churches were the only true churches to an insistence that Baptist churches have equal representation in cooperative bodies, follow something more closely akin to T. P. Crawford's "Gospel Mission" plan, etc. Basically, Landmarkism was redefined to match the points of conflict in the Bogard and Hayden controversies.

So, if by Landmarkism you mean arguments over how churches are represented in cooperative bodies, etc., then Landmarkism has divided "Associational" Baptists from 'Convention" Baptists. If, however, you mean the whole "alien immersion" and "true church" fracas, then it would be very difficult to show from primary sources that these issues ever played a factor in dividing these two groups.

I think Gary correctly characterizes things when he suggests that both groups were pretty committed to Landmarkism in the 1900s, and that both groups have moved away from Landmarkism in the period since then. I imagine that Southern Baptists have moved more quickly than "Associational" Baptists in the past three or four decades, but both groups are moving in the same direction.

With regard to the question as to what has been clarified in recent years, I can give this testimony. My own research put me frequently into the Baptist Missionary Seminary in Little Rock, AR (an ABA institution). Members of the administration there expressed their outright giddiness about the conservative resurgence. They had feared for a long time that the Southern Baptist Convention was going to plunge headlong into rank modernism. The resurgence quelled those fears among at least some of them.

David Rogers said...

Gary,

When I say Christian first, Evangelical next, and Baptist last, by "Evangelical" doctrines I am referring to items such as "justification by grace through faith," "the authority of Scripture," etc., in general, the Fundamentals as defined by the original early 20th century movement. The actual term "Evangelical" may become less and less useful as time goes by, and new schools of thought muddy the waters. But the original doctrines defining the movement remain constant, at least in my understanding.

Once again, regarding the BMAT and Landmarkism, I must, (as in my comment above to Bart) confess my lack of expertise. I do, however, make a distinction between pure "Landmarkism" and "Landmark-ínfluenced tendencies." Just because someone is not a "dyed-in-the-wool" Landmarkist does not, in my mind, invalidate the usefulness of the term "Landmarkist tendencies," which would seem to describe certain schools of ecclesiology that appear to be influencing decisions such as recent ones taken at the IMB. At the same time, I realize "pure Landmarkists" opposed the idea of the IMB (or FMB) appointing and being responsible for the doctrinal accountability of missionaries at all.

Apparently, we both have similar views regarding local church autonomy and congregational polity. I still think, though, it may be useful to pursue a bit more how we understand the concept of "denominationalism" and its relationship to Christian unity. I'll have to leave that for later, though.

David Rogers said...

Bart,

Thanks for the info! I see I have a lot of homework to do to get "up to speed" on some of these issues.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother David,

Speaking of homework, I will need to join you. I do pray that Brother Bart does not give too hard of a test.:>)

I do have a couple of questions for clarification. You say; "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." You then move on to say; "With other interpretative differences, it is easier to work together. I believe, for instance, that "private prayer language" is one of these." I do not understand how you can pull this out and say it is just interpretive differences. While I agree that the BF&M defines the role of women as pastors according to scripture, I must confess IMO one is better able to defend women as pastors from scripture than PPL.

You also respond in your comment stream to Brother Gary Ledbetter that you adhere to the Evangelical doctrines as defined in the earlier 20th century. Would those doctrines be the ones that ETS uses? Also, Dr. Clark Pinnock has signed off on that statement as a member of ETS and he clearly argued for Open Theism. While I do not know where he stands in denominational affiliation, I believe it would be safe to say he is "baptistic" in his beliefs.

These concerns are what, I believe, are causing the need for further defining who we are as SB.

Blessings,
Tim

Strider said...

This whole discussion kind of hurts my soul. All this weighing and measuring of each other based on the things we say we believe about the Word is not of Jesus. I think that denominations and other human organizations are great for accomplishing tasks together. But Unity is about relationship. We need much much more humility in order to love each other better. As all the scripture gets tossed around how about Philipians 2? Are we esteeming each other more highly than ourselves? I don't see it. I know your replies already. But what about those who believe.... If we don't have policies against them then.... Yeah, I know. But I challenge you to believe that this is all about control.
I think we should state what we believe about Jesus and His Word and invite those around us to join us in doing Kingdom work together. Some will come, some will do other useful things in obedience to the Father, some will wander off in stubborn disobedience.
Here in Middle Earth I have done this. I am currently working with Americans, Swiss, South Africans, Australians, Koreans, and many locals. I learn from them but you know what? They all asked to work with me because they saw what our King was doing through the ministries that we have. We Southern Baptists do not need to act like the weaker brother. When we turn inward we lose our opportunity to influence and enlighten. If we place Jesus firmly in control of our lives and the life of our church do we need a miriad of rules and regulations? The Word says no. All these rules and regulations are for the immature and immoral.
In faith we should stop trying to define the 'tent' that we are comfortable with. We need to stand for Jesus and let him build His Church. I am weary of all the slippery slope arguments which are used to keep us in fear. Our King is great, our denomination is not weak, and His Kingdom is growing in size and strength everyday. Let us celebrate that.

Ben Stratton said...

Bro. Rogers,

I notice that you continue to quote John 17:21 while ignoring John 17:17 - "Sanctify them through they truth: thy word is truth." True Biblical unity is only based on doctrinal truth. Over and over the Bible teaches this principle - Amos 3:3, Romans 16:17, II Thess. 3:6, II John 1:10, etc.

I understand the problems comes down to which doctrines are we going to set aside for the sake of unity. I agree with Bro. Ledbetter that infant baptism, sprinkling, and eternal security are doctrines worth dividing over and as a Baptist I can not have church fellowship with someone who has departed from the faith on these doctrines. They are too important.

Let me add a small word about the BMA and the SBTC and Landmarkism. While it is true that neither group is as Landmark as they were 100 years ago, both groups still have strong elements of Landmarkism within them. This goes without saying in the BMA. Probably the majority of SBTC churches reject alien immersion and you would be surprised at the number of preachers that still believe in the Trail of Blood. One BMA pastor who is a strong Landmarker told me that east Texas had more Landmark Southern Baptists than west Texas.

I will add more later on

blampp@juno.com said...

David,
Great chain of discussion, I do want to remind all that to "de-nominate" is to "name" and I haven't heard of any groups that were recognizable that had not done just that.... I've mentioned in other discussions at other times/places that I find it sad Broadman Press several years ago decided not to publish a manuscript by the late Fred Fisher entitled "the Church" which though many thought it supported a biased conclusion that Dr. Fisher's intent was to argue for Landmark's position ecclessiologically. Rather, (IMO) it did a credible job of researching the use of "exlesia" as common useage in years leading up to the formation of the N.T. manuscripts and actually strengthened our position of "messengers" from cooperating entities
(local churches) in the SBC context! I think it's invigorating to read this kind of dialogue.... while still on GLOBAL MISSION!
Blessings as you serve....

David Rogers said...

Tim,

If, from your point of view, one is able to defend women pastors from Scripture easier than PPL, I am open to hearing your reasoning (realizing we have already dialogued quite a bit about this in other places earlier). But, frankly, it is hard for me to follow your reasoning. To me, a normal, natural reading of Scripture would lead to acceptance of PPL and rejection of women pastors. Maybe I have blinders on. But that's how I see it. It is only accomodation to culture that would lead you to see it the other way around. I'm not claiming my interpretation is infallible. Just that the more natural reading, without any complicated explanations, would seem to favor my interpretation.

In general, even though I would grant that the more natural reading is not ALWAYS the best interpretation, I tend to be sympathetic to someone who errs in their interpretation of Scripture out of a sincere desire (albeit a bit misguided) to fully submit to God's authority and to His Word. I do not have quite so much sympathy to views which try to accomodate Scripture to cultural norms and values. If I have to err one way or another, I would rather err on the side of taking Scripture too literally, than on the side of explaining it away.

Once again, though, maybe I have blinders on here. I am open to being shown how I am wrong.

Regarding the ETS and Clark Pinnock, I would concede that, in a general sense, these are things that should concern us as Southern Baptists. I was perhaps reading into Bro. Gary's editorial, as being directed towards those of us in the SBC blogging community (or others with similar views). For the ones I am familiar with, I don't see Open Theology as being a viable option. I just hope the implication was not that people such as, for example, any of the ones on my "blogroll" list would ever even entertain the idea of Open Theology. I've been wrong on other things before, though.

Anyway, thanks for your comments. Let's keep up the dialogue.

David

David Rogers said...

Strider & Barrett Lampp,

Thanks for the insightful comments.

Ben,

Just wondering. Do you agree (without defining which are which) in the basic concept of distiguishing between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd tier doctrines on issues of fellowship?

Also, how do you define the term "church fellowship"? How is it different from "Christian fellowship"? What do you see as the biblical basis for dividing between the two, if indeed you see a biblical basis for doing so?

Also, it is interesting to me that, while people like Gary and Bart seem to be seeking to downplay Landmarkist influence in SBC and BMA life, you seem to be doing the opposite. Not that it doesn't make sense. I would be interested to see some interchange of opinion and thought between you and someone like Bart Barber, for instance, though, on this specific question.

Blessings,

David

Alan Cross said...

Tim, you said,

"While I agree that the BF&M defines the role of women as pastors according to scripture, I must confess IMO one is better able to defend women as pastors from scripture than PPL."

I'm not trying to start another PPL debate here, but I know that you read my posts on this issue. I have no idea how you could come to that conclusion. It is hard for me to understand what basis we even have for hermeneutics as Baptists if we cannot start with a clear reading of the text. How can anything be proven? How do we not just drift into postmodern relativism based on a psuedo-gnosticism of knowledge, power, and perspective? I'm not saying that you are doing that and you know that I hold you in the highest regard, but I am extremely confused by your statement and it causes me to wonder if there is any hope at all for meaningful dialogue when we are this far apart. But, maybe I misread the intent of your statement.

I see the clear reading of Scripture as withholding the office of pastor from women. I also see it as allowing for a PPL. I use the same hermenuetic for both teachings and feel like this is appropriate, becuase they are in the same passage. Where am I going wrong, in your opinion? I am speaking specifically in regard to interpretive principles, not the actual teaching of PPL or women in ministry. We've pretty much covered that.

mr. t said...

Thanks David for the great discussion.

Jesus' prayer for unity was for the sake of expanding God's kingdom (and thus - His Glory). Unity for the sake of doctrinal purity was promoted by people like the pharisees. Doctrinal purity follows obedience to Christ' commands. We can have all of our dots and tittles in the right place and miss the whole purpose. The great commission commands us to make disciples as we are going, baptizing and teaching to obey. Not just teaching for the sake of doctrinal purity, but teaching to obey.

Let's admit it, our denomination is a man-made organization. Although, I am sure God will bless it, if it continues to expand His kingdom. If it serves His purpose, then it is worth something. If not, well... maybe we should find a more excellent way. I think it is still valid... for how much longer, remains to be seen.

If we can agree with a fellow GCC enough to work together to expand God's kingdom, then that is the right kind of unity.