Sunday, December 31, 2006

Application of Grudem's Article to the Current Situation in the SBC (Part 2)

The second section of Wayne Grudem’s article Why, When, and For What, Should We Draw New Boundaries? is entitled “Why Should Christian Organizations Draw New Boundaries?” In this section, Grudem defends, I believe successfully, the idea that there are times when doctrinal statements of Christian organizations must be updated, not to reflect changes in truth (which stays the same down through the centuries), but rather to reflect changes in our understanding of Scripture, and especially in our application of Scripture to new situations and contexts that perhaps did not exist when the original doctrinal statement was written.

Grudem’s first point in this section is: False teaching changes, so old boundaries do not protect against new problems. Just as there are questions that were hotly debated in New Testament times (such as, whether Gentile converts to Christianity should be obligated to be circumcised) and in the Early Church (such as the divine-human nature of Christ), and are now pretty much non-issues, regarded by all orthodox believers to have already been resolved, there are new questions that arise that are just as relevant, and that require further reflection and definition in order to come to a God-honoring resolution. This is the crux of the phrase the Reformers used to describe the true church: semper reformanda.

I believe that Grudem has correctly identified several issues that have cropped up in recent history for which it has proven necessary for orthodox Christians in various organizations to make some sort of a pronouncement. These include such things as: annihilationism, universalist inclusivism, and homosexuality. During the last century, the whole question of the inerrancy of Scripture (though not previously uncommented) came to the forefront. During a period of time, it seemed as if inerrancy was a good “measuring stick” to determine who were, as Grudem describes them, “genuine evangelicals,” and who were not. However, the development of the concept of “open theism” among some who also claim to embrace inerrancy, has left many questioning the adequacy of inerrancy in this regard.

At this point, I will throw in my own agreement that inerrancy, in and of itself, is not a sufficient benchmark of doctrinal orthodoxy within Southern Baptist life. It is a very important, “watershed” issue. However, it is possible to assent to inerrancy, and at the same time, be woefully heretical, as the existence of groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses amply demonstrates. To say the Bible, in and of itself, is our sufficient guide is all well and good. But, if, by way of your interpretation and application of the Bible, you completely “butcher” its message, we suddenly find ourselves in need of some other standard of orthodoxy beyond just inerrancy.

Grudem’s next point is phrased by means of a question: Why does God in His sovereignty allow these various false teachings to come into the church in different ages? The answers Grudem proposes also seem to me to be relevant for us today as Southern Baptists.

First, Grudem states that God allows false teaching for the purification of the church. Although throughout history there have been periods of deep spiritual darkness and regression in understanding of the Bible and obedience to its message, I am in agreement with Grudem, when he states:

“The long-term pattern has not been 19 centuries of decline in the purity and doctrinal and ethical understanding of the Church, but rather a pattern of gradual and sometimes explosive increase in understanding and purity.”

I think it is especially significant for us what Grudem says next:

“But all of these advances have come through controversy. As the church struggled to define its own beliefs clearly in distinction from false doctrine, it grew in its understanding of the teachings of Scripture. So God has used controversy to purify his church.”

This is encouraging to me. It is true that we seem to be embroiled in a good deal of controversy at the present. And, by no means, is it a good thing to treat others poorly or have a combative spirit. However, if Grudem is right (and I believe he is), controversy, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It may well be a sign we are on the brink of one of the “explosive increases in understanding and purity” Grudem mentions earlier.

Grudem brings this right to home, when he says:

“Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity came to be understood much more fully and clearly through the doctrinal controversies of the fourth century. Similarly, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy came to be understood much more fully through the inerrancy controversies of the last part of the twentieth century. In our present time, controversies over the nature of spiritual gifts and over appropriate roles for men and women in the home and in the church are also resulting in much deeper understanding of the teachings of God’s Word on those subjects.”

It is because of this that I believe we should not shrink back from discussing controversial topics such as these. It is only as we have the courage to delve deep into what the Word of God teaches, and the openness and objectivity to consider the viewpoints of those with whom we may have traditionally disagreed, that God can lead us more and more into the discovery of his eternal, unchanging Truth.

A second reason Grudem points out for God allowing false teachings to have influence in the church is in order to test the faithfulness of His people. I think Grudem makes an important point when he says that not everyone who teaches false doctrine in a church or Christian organization is necessarily the equivalent of a “false prophet” in the Old Testament, or an unbeliever. There are definitely degrees of false teaching. That is the whole point behind the recent discussion on “theological triage.” This does not mean, though, that we should be careless in our approach to doctrine. Correct doctrine, even in matters of apparent detail, has its significance.

It matters whether or not we are completely faithful to our understanding of God’s Word. It is a question of integrity. It is a question of the state of our heart. If we are easily led to compromise and downplay the teaching of God’s Word, then our loyalty and devotion to the absolute Lordship of Christ can also be legitimately called into question.

Grudem states:

“Believing the Bible is not always the easiest or most popular thing to defend. There are many things that God asks us to believe that are not really logical contradictions but are mysteries or paradoxes, matters that we cannot fully explain.”

In the current discussions in Southern Baptist life, I am encouraged by what I perceive as a sincere desire on the part of most of the participants to be faithful to biblical truth. Although I do think there are times all of us let our personal experiences and traditions blind us to what the Bible really says, I, for one, am not yet so cynical as to believe that very many at all in the current discussion are intentionally distorting the Word of God in the positions they defend.

And, I think this is especially helpful to keep in mind, as we come to Grudem’s last reason why God sometimes allows false teaching in the church: in order to test our attitude toward false teachers. This does not refer to compromising the truth, but rather to the disposition of our heart. As Grudem asks: “Will we act in love and gentleness toward those with whom we disagree?”

Grudem’s quote of Francis Schaeffer, commenting on divisions within the Presbyterian denomination in the 1920’s and 30’s, is especially relevant for us today as Baptists:

“At the same time, however, we must show forth the love of God to those with whom we differ. Thirty-five years ago in the Presbyterian crisis in the United States, we forgot that. We did not speak with love about those with whom we differed, and we have been paying a high price for it ever since…we did not talk of the need to show love as we stood against liberalism, and, as the Presbyterian Church was lost, that lack has cost us dearly.”

I personally think it is a good thing we are discussing the issues we are discussing over the blogs, and through other media. I am learning a lot from fellow bloggers, and coming to understand several doctrinal issues better than I had before. At the same time, though, I am concerned that we may be failing the test of our attitude toward false teachers.

George Verwer, in the book The Revolution of Love, sums it up as follows:

“There is no more biblical teaching than love, and apart from love there is no biblical teaching. Love is the foundation of all other biblical teaching, and you cannot build the builiding of biblical truth without that foundation.”

May we all take to heart, as we continue to seek the truth of God’s Word together, Paul’s admonition to Timothy:

“And the Lord’s servant much not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2.24-25a).

Friday, December 29, 2006

"Heads Up" on a Good Discussion on PPL

On various different occasions on this blog, I have made reference to the question of so-called “Private Prayer Languages.” However, I have never yet taken the time to present a systematic biblical argument for the view I hold on this matter. Recently, I was made aware of a series of posts by Geoff Baggett on the subject of PPL. I do not know Geoff personally, but through my interaction with him on various blog-posts, he seems to be a nice enough guy. Also, the fact that he grew up in the Memphis area is a point in his favor in my book. :^)

On this particular question of PPL, Geoff takes a different view than I do. Geoff’s comments, however, have provided a good platform for me, in my comments to his posts, to explain in a fair amount of detail the rationale behind the view I take in my biblical understanding of this topic. Especially relevant in this discussion is our different interpretation of several key verses in 1 Corinthians 14.

I believe the comment string on a blog-post can be an effective way of discussing theological questions such as this one. Although it does not have the formal precision of some other channels of communication, the “give and take” of the discussion provides a means to clarify doubts regarding what the other participants are saying, as well as to challenge points on which one believes other participants may not be presenting a totally viable argument. It also gives you the opportunity to hold your own point of view up against the critique of other participants, in order to see where you yourself may have some possible “blind spots” in need of reevaluation and possible revision.

Through the comment string on Geoff’s series of posts, I believe I have found a good means to present the biblical argument for the view I hold and defend it against possible objections. I invite any of you who may be interested in this topic to check out the following posts, and especially the comment string of each one, where I add in my contribution to the discussion.

"Private Prayer Languages" - Part I
"Private Prayer Languages" - Part II
"Private Prayer Languages" - Part III
"Private Prayer Languages" - Part IV
"Private Prayer Languages" - Part V
"Private Prayer Languages" - Part VI
"Private Prayer Languages" - The Final Chapter

And I’m sure Geoff wouldn’t mind me saying… Feel free to add in your own comments, wherever you think you have something interesting to contribute to the discussion.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Application of Grudem's Article to the Current Situation in the SBC (Part 1)

In the first section (Why Should Christian Organizations Draw Boundaries at All?) of Wayne Grudem’s article Why, When, and For What, Should We Draw New Boundaries? (see previous post), there is much common ground from which those expressing different views regarding new policies at the IMB and other SBC entities can find a good starting point for the discussion related to these questions.

Although some “liberal” Baptists may perhaps voice disagreement with the initial thesis that there are indeed times when Christian organizations (including local churches, denominations, mission organizations, specialized ministries, educational institutions, and professional groups) should set doctrinal boundaries, it is my impression that nearly everyone involved in the current discussion would be in agreement with Grudem at this point. If doctrinal boundaries are left completely up in the air, the door is indeed opened for false teaching that harms the church.

Moreover, as Grudem argues, “if false teaching is not stopped, it spreads and does more and more damage.” The history of Christendom is rife with examples that show this to be the case. Grudem states: “In practical terms, once a church or Christian organization allows some vocal advocates of a false teaching (or even one) to have a position of influence in an organization, then those people become precedents by which others can be allowed in.” I think that as Southern Baptists today, we would almost all be in agreement with this idea as well.

On Grudem’s third point, “If false teaching is not stopped, we will waste time and energy in endless controversies rather than doing valuable kingdom work,” I think it is very important the distinction he makes, when he says: “I do not think that he (Paul) meant they (his readers) should avoid profitable doctrinal discussions or even useful debate…when Paul urged his readers to avoid controversies, he did not mean all controversies, but rather the fruitless, endless controversies that disrupt the peace of the church, that hinder us from doing more productive ministry, and that show no indication of moving toward resolution.”

It is my opinion that the discussion on the controversies of the past year have been, for the most part (with a few exceptions), fruitful thus far. Blogging has opened a door for many who would not otherwise have such an opportunity to communicate their thoughts. I personally have learned a lot about why people hold the views they hold, and been able to evaluate the Scriptural basis for these views more thoroughly, as a result of the written opinions of many bloggers.

At the same time, though, I think we do well to remember that blogging also opens the door more widely than ever before for “fruitless, endless controversies.” I think we all would do well to seriously take into account, before we post anything, whether or not what we have to say is really constructive, and will help work towards the edification of the Body of Christ, and the advance of Kingdom of God.

I also believe that there is general agreement on Grudem’s fourth point: “Jesus and the New Testament authors hold church leaders responsible for silencing false teaching within the church.” We may have some nuances of disagreement over just what is “false teaching” and what is not, as well as over exactly how church (and other Christian organization) leaders should go about enforcing this accountability. But, on this basic point, I believe we are in essential agreement.

As to the fifth point, a refutation of the objection that “doctrinal boundaries don’t do any good, because they cannot be enforced,” I also believe there is general agreement. It is true that there will always be the possibility of those who are not totally honest regarding their agreement or lack thereof with established doctrinal boundaries. I do not believe those who express any caveat they may have in relation to doctrinal boundaries (such as the BFM) are necessarily being dishonest, however. It is rather those who secretly maintain discrepancies with these boundaries, and say nothing about it, or intentionally try to twist their language to make it sound as if they are in agreement, who show true dishonesty. I believe it is generally incumbent on those leaders with the authority to enforce doctrinal accountability to determine whether or not expressed caveats fall outside the realm of acceptabilty.

There is also the reality that words are often interpreted differently by different people, no matter how specific we intend them to be. I, for instance, was not aware of the great significance certain people attach to the phrase “church ordinance,” as it appears in the Baptist Faith and Message, until reading views expressed on blogs this past year. Several have argued, for instance, that this implies that baptism is always to be administered under the supervision of a duly established local church. While that may have well been the intention of the original drafters of that phrase, I am almost certain that many who have signed the Baptist Faith and Message did not grasp the full implications of what they were signing regarding this point. I am likewise convinced that a significant amount of people who voted to approve the BFM were unaware of the supposed implications of this phrase.

In spite of these almost unavoidable weaknesses, however, I think we all (or almost all) would be in agreement that it is much better to have clear doctrinal boundaries than to have none at all.

Although, at this point, we still haven’t gotten to the “meat” of the issues involved in the current discussion, I think we do well to point out the essential agreement that exists here, with the intention of preempting possible “straw man” arguments that might crop up, as well as unfair labeling of others and accusations that don’t really square with the truth.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas from Spain

Dear Friend,

Greetings from Madrid, Spain! We send our love and thank the Lord for each of you and your prayers for our family and ministry here in Spain.

At our ministry team meeting this week, we reflected on the idea that Christmas is not about us. It is not about traditions that make us feel good. It is about our Savior, who left behind everything that might have "made Him feel good," and sacrificed Himself, putting the welfare and comfort of others above His own. Although it is not the most "traditional" Christmas passage, I think the following summarizes well what Christmas is really all about:

"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! "

Philippians 2.1-8

As you reflect on the "true meaning of Christmas," let me encourage you to take 60 seconds right now to turn the volume up on your computer speakers, click here, and view an impacting video that I hope will stimulate you, as you look for ways to put into practice this Christmas the example that Jesus gave for us. (Hint: if you click on the little box in the bottom right-hand corner, you can see the video in full-screen mode).(HT: Guy Muse)

The Rogers Family wishes that you may truly have a Christ-filled Christmas, and that as God blesses you, you will let Him use you to bless others as well.


David, Kelly, Jonathan & Stephen

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why, When, and For What, Should We Draw New Boundaries?

I just came across the article Why, When, and For What, Should We Draw New Boundaries?, by Wayne Grudem, published in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, edited by John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Helseth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), pp. 339-370.

As the title of the book indicates, the original context of the article is the discussion within the Evangelical Theological Society over Open Theism, and its compatibility or incompatibility with membership in the society. However, the scope of the issues dealt with in the article is much broader than just ETS and Open Theism. I, personally, believe that it provides a very helpful framework for continued discussion on the questions of "narrowing parameters of cooperation" in the IMB and Southern Baptist life in general that have been frequently discussed on blogs and other media over the last year.

In his article, Grudem deals specifically with four questions:

A. Why should Christian organizations draw boundaries at all?
B. Why should Christian organizations draw new boundaries?
C. When should Christian organizations draw new boundaries?
D. For what doctrinal and ethical matters should Christian organizations draw new boundaries?

Since the article is 28 pages long, it is not practical to copy it here. However, I would strongly recommend anyone who is interested in these questions to give an attentive read to what Grudem has to say. Although Grudem is a well-known advocate of "continuationalism" (the view that all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible are still in effect today), nothing he says in this article comes down clearly on any side of the issues currently being debated among Southern Baptists. He does, at one point, mention the Baptist Faith & Message 2,000, and the process involved in bringing about the revision of the earlier statement. But, the current issues being discussed were evidently not specifically in mind when Grudem wrote this article.

Having said that, however, I think that Grudem's article is highly relevant to the discussion at hand, and has much potential to guide us through the process of looking for a workable solution on the questions that threaten to divide us. I would be interested in what any of you have to say after reading this article, and possibly "parking" here awhile, for a more in-depth analysis of implications of specific parts of it, in future posts.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The church, "pillar and foundation of the truth"

A lot of the issues being discussed lately in Southern Baptist life (as well as in Evangelical life at large) revolve around our understanding of the “church” (or the “Church”). It seems to me that various participants in the discussion are coming from widely different perspectives.

At one time, the majority of Southern Baptists appear to have embraced a very narrow view of church, encapsuled in the Landmarkist movment of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The main points of this movement, according to the Wikipedia article on Landmarkism (of which our brother and fellow blogger, Bart Barber, confesses to being a primary contributor), are: 1) The exclusive validity of Baptist churches; and 2) The invalidity of non-Baptist churchly acts. Although the influence of Landmarkism has waned a good bit since that time, many believe it is making a comeback in Southern Baptist life in recent years.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, a group of people, affiliated in great part with the Emerging Church movement, have adopted a much more loosely defined understanding of church. At a recent conference entitled “You say you want a Revolution!,” researcher and author, George Barna, gave nine reasons why he “left the conventional church for a house church.” In his book, Revolution, Barna makes it quite clear that he no longer believes that it is necessary for Christians to be members of and participate in a “local church.” When I first heard about Barna’s book, I thought some people might be over-reacting. Surely it was just a question of semantics. But, upon reading the book, I was confronted with quotes such as the following:

“Whether you become a Revolutionary immersed in, minimally involved in, or completely disassociated from a local church is irrevelevant to me (and, within boundaries, to God). What matters is not whom you associate with (i.e., a local church), but who you are.” (p.29)

“If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope.” (p. 36)

“There is nothing inherently wrong with being involved in a local church. But realize that being part of a group that calls itself a ‘church’ does not make you saved, holy, righteous, or godly any more than being in Yankee Stadium makes you a professional baseball player.” (p. 36)

“Ultimately, we expect to see believers choosing from a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal ‘church’ of the individual.” (p. 66).

“The major concern about the Revolution is that millions of its adherents are not affiliated with a local church. As described in earlier chapters, Revolutionaries’ distancing themselves from formal congregations does not reflect a willingness to ignore God as much as a passion to deepen their connection to Him. In my experience, Revolutionaries do not try to draw other people away from the local church. Theirs is a personal choice based on a genuine desire to be holy and obedient, but finding that need better served outside the framework of congregational structures.” (pp. 112-13)

“In fact, there is no verse in Scripture that links the concepts of worshipping God and a ‘church meeting.’” (p. 114)

“It seems that God really doesn’t care how we honor and serve Him, as long as He is number one in our lives and our practices are consistent with His parameters. If a local church facilitates that kind of life, then it is good. And if a person is able to live a godly life outside of a congregation-based faith, then that, too, is good.” (p. 116)

“I am not called to attend or join a church. I am called to be the Church.” (p. 129)
From what I understand, Barna, and many others espousing similar views, are well-motivated. They really are interested in glorifying God, advancing His Kingdom, and honoring His Word. I consider him to be a brother in Christ, as well as a treasured co-laborer in the work of the gospel. I myself have been greatly blessed and helped by Barna’s book The Power of Vision. But, on this particular issue, I believe He is wrong. If he were just anybody, what he is saying might not merit that much attention. But, according to the publicity for the Revolution conference, Barna is "the most quoted person in the Church today."

From what I can make out, there is indeed something called the “local church” that is commended to us in the Bible as an important part of God’s plan for this age. It is not enough to say that we are all a part of the “Universal Church,” and that all that really matters is that, in one way or another, we are fulfilling the functions we are meant to fulfill as believers in Christ.

Paul, in 1 Timothy 3.15, tells us that the “church” is the “pillar and ground of the truth.” Some, such as Roman Catholics, have taken this verse, and inferred that the authority of the Roman hierarchy takes precedence even over that of the Bible. I do not at all agree with this interpretation. But, I do see, that in the context in which this verse is placed (right between vv. 1-13, that talk about qualifications of elders, deacons, and either wives or women in ministry, according to the translation you prefer; and v. 16, that talks about the essence of the gospel) seems to indicate a significant role for the local church, with local church offices, and accountability structures, as a key part of His plan to bring the gospel message to the world.

On Jan. 25, 2005, the IMB issued the following statement:

The definition of a local church is given in the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message:

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scriptures.


We believe that every local church is autonomous under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of His inerrant word. This is as true overseas as it is in the United States. Some churches to which we relate overseas may make decisions in doctrine and practice which we would not choose. Nevertheless, we are accountable to God and to Southern Baptists for the foundation that we lay when we plant churches, for the teaching that we give when we train church leaders, and for the criteria that we use when we count churches. In our church planting and teaching ministries, we will seek to lay a foundation of beliefs and practices that are consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, although local churches overseas may express those beliefs and practices in different ways according to the needs of their cultural settings. Flowing from the definition of a church given above and from the Scriptures from which this definition is derived, we will observe the following guidelines in church planting, leadership training and statistical reporting.

1. A church is intentional about being a church. Members think of themselves as a church. They are committed to one another and to God (associated by covenant) in pursuing all that Scripture requires of a church.

2. A church has an identifiable membership of baptized believers in Jesus Christ.

3. A church practices the baptism of believers only by immersing them in water.

4. A church observes the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis.

5. Under the authority of the local church and its leadership, members may be assigned to carry out the ordinances.

6. A church submits to the inerrant word of God as the ultimate authority for all that it believes and does.

7. A church meets regularly for worship, prayer, the study of God’s word, and fellowship. Members of the church minister to one another’s needs, hold each other accountable, and exercise church discipline as needed. Members encourage one another and build each other up in holiness, maturity in Christ, and love.

8. A church embraces its responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission, both locally and globally, from the beginning of its existence as a church.

9. A church is autonomous and self-governing under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of His Word.

10. A church has identifiable leaders, who are scrutinized and set apart according to the qualifications set forth in Scripture. A church recognizes two Biblical offices of church leadership: pastors/elders/overseers and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
I am in essential agreement with this statement. My only possible caveat would be, if, someone, on the basis of this statement, were to try to argue (a la the Landmarkists) that “non-Baptist” churches were not authentic churches. I am also happy to use these guidelines as an IMB worker as we are specifically involved in “church planting” work.

It is true that many of the cultural expressions of church may vary from context to context. For instance, in many contexts around the world, IMB missionaries are finding that several different types of “house church” or “cell church” models seem to be helpful in penetrating their local culture with the gospel. I see no inherent incompatibility with this and the guidelines given above.

I do, however, see some potential incompatibility with what I read from people like Barna and these guidelines. And, when faced with such a dilemma, I am inclined to side with the IMB guidelines (not just out of a sense of duty or organizational loyalty, but out of scriptural interpretation and conviction). I would hope that IMB colleagues, as well as other fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard (whether in SBC circles or otherwise), would use some serious discernment when reading things well-intentioned people like Barna are writing about “the church.” If, as Paul says to Timothy, the church really is “the pillar and ground of the truth,” we do need to be careful with how we deal with it.

*Other thoughtful perspectives on related issues to this topic (all somewhere in between the extremes of the Landmarkist position on the "right", and Barna's position on the "left"), can be found from:

Bart Barber (expressing a view somewhat to the "right" of my own), at Praisegod Barebones, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and other assorted posts.

Alan Knox (expressing a view somewhat to the "left" of my own), on various assorted posts at The Assembling of the Church.

John Reisinger (expressing a view somewhat closer to my own), here. here, here, here, here and here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Contagious Christianity

In the historic city of Toledo, Spain (pop. 76,000), Spanish "church planters" José and Jenny Portillo have been working several years to get a Baptist church established in this town that for centuries, up until 1560, was the capital of Spain, and is still today the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of all of Spain. The small group of believers that meets together answers to the same description given by the Apostle Paul of the New Testament church in Corinth: "Not many...wise by human standards; not many,,,influential; not many...of noble birth" (1 Cor. 1.26). About half of the congregation are immigrants from Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia & Brazil.

It has been my privilege, together with my wife Kelly, to visit and encourage the believers in Toledo on a fairly regular basis for the last year. A couple of weeks ago, I had the joy of leading the group pictured above through a 2-day seminar entitled "Becoming a Contagious Christian." Based on materials produced by Willow Creek Association, this seminar, in my opinion, is one of the most strategic tools we have for helping to see reproducing, growing congregations of New Testament Christians in places like Spain.

The seminar is based on the thesis that God wants all believers to be "contagious Christians," but He has gifted us all with a unique personality and a different evangelistic style that is natural for each one. Some of us are naturally gifted at confronting people directly with the claims of Christ. Others are more naturally adept at answering difficult questions and objections. Others feel most at home sharing their testimony of how Christ changed their life. Others are great at making their lost friends feel understood, and that they really care for them. Others find their niche inviting their lost friends to special events and activities, where they know they will be exposed to the gospel. And, others bloom evangelistically in a context of doing acts of kindness and service for those in need.

The point is, there is no "cookie-cutter," "one-size-fits-all" approach to evangelism that works for everyone. There are certain tools that are good for everyone to be familiar with, such as being able to share your personal testimony in 3 to 4 minutes, and knowing how to share the key points of the gospel through something such as the "Bridge Illustration." But, just because you or I are not gifted in one certain approach doesn't mean we don't have an important role to play in sharing the gospel with those around us.

I personally think that training people like those in the picture above in these concepts is one of the most important things I can do as a missionary in Spain. In other places of the world, things like "chronological storying," "the Camel Method," or the "Alpha Course" seem to be showing good results. In the end, though, if we are going to see true spiritual reproduction and multiplication, we are going to have to help the local believers learn how to share Christ in a natural way, that fits the context in which they live.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Entrepreneurial Spirit

As Americans, one of our typical cultural characteristics, in comparison with those of other backgrounds is our entrepreneurial spirit. This can be a very good thing. I lifted the following off of the Wikipedia article on Entrepreneur...
John G. Burch [Business Horizons, September 1986] lists traits typical of entrepreneurs:

* A desire to achieve: The push to conquer problems, and give birth to a successful venture.
* Hard work: It is often suggested that many entrepreneurs are workaholics.
* Desire to work for themselves: Entrepreneurs like to work for themselves rather than working for an organization or any other individual. They may work for someone to gain the knowledge of product or service that they may want to produce.
* Nurturing quality: Willing to take charge of, and watch over a venture until it can stand alone.
* Acceptance of responsibility: Are morally, legally, and mentally accountable for their ventures. Some entrepreneurs may be driven more by altruism than by self-interest.
* Reward orientation: Desire to achieve, work hard, and take responsibility, but also with a commensurate desire to be rewarded handsomely for their efforts; rewards can be in forms other than money, such as recognition and respect.
* Optimism: Live by the philosophy that this is the best of times, and that anything is possible.
* Orientation to excellence: Often desire to achieve something outstanding that they can be proud of.
* Organization: Are good at bringing together the components (including people) of a venture.
* Profit orientation: Want to make a profit; but the profit serves primarily as a meter to gauge their success and achievement.
As international missionaries, one of the things we most frequently "bring to the table" as Americans, is our "entrepreneurial spirit." The truth is, however, when we are guests in someone else's country, and working under someone else's cultural norms, our "entrepreneurial spirit" is not always greatly appreciated. Many nationals in other countries, including some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and ministry partners, have seen more than their share of American missionary "entrepreneurial spirit."
I am more and more convinced that, after 16 years of full-time missionary service in Spain, our "entrepreneurial spirit" as American missionaries needs to be tempered by an at least as healthy dose of "servant spirit" and "cooperative spirit." We must come as learners, both from the national believers and churches, as well as those foreign workers who have come before us. We must earn our right for our opinions to be heard and taken into account. This, especially for us as Americans, is not easy to do. I have learned this the hard way on more than one occasion. And I'm sure I will have occasion to learn this again in the future as well.

Monday, December 04, 2006

This Post is not about Alcohol

When I first came to Europe about 27 years ago on a summer missions campaign with Operation Mobilization, I was surprised to learn that committed evangelical believers from other denominations, countries, and cultural backgrounds were not all “teetotalers.” Since that time, especially after 16 years in Spain, I have pretty much come to terms with the fact that we as North Americans, and especially as Southern Baptists, are pretty much a minority among the world’s evangelicals on our stance regarding alcohol. In Spain, for instance, at the annual Baptist Pastors’ Retreat, you would typically see wine served and consumed at every table, both at lunch and supper.

In spite of all of this, I myself have maintained a position of total abstinence. I see with great conviction the untold harm the alcohol industry has caused, in terms of broken homes, highway mortality, and ruined lives. I see the risk involved of not being able to control oneself, and, unintentionally winding up an alcoholic. I also see the issue of respect for the convictions of others, primarily believers in the States, who voluntarily contribute of their tithes and offerings in order to keep missionaries like myself on the mission field. I also see the need to submit to the authority of the organization with which I serve, which has a policy that enjoins me, as a field worker, to not partake of beverage alcohol.

However, I do not see quite as clearly that the Bible necessarily commands total abstinence. Injunctions against drunkenness? Yes, indeed. Warnings against the dangers associated with the abuse of alcohol? Without a doubt. But, across the board, no exceptions, total abstinence? A little harder to make the case biblically.

In any case (remember, this post is not about alcohol), in the majority of the evangelical churches (both Baptist, as well as others) in Spain, at the Lord’s Supper, they serve wine, and not grape juice. It just so happens at the church where my family regularly attends that they serve a combination of small cups, some (on the outside of the serving tray) with wine, and others (on the inside) with grape juice. The reason for this? First off, I imagine, out of love for those with an alcoholic background, in order to not be a motive for “stumbling.” Next, out of deference, for those, like myself, who have convictions against the consumption of alcohol. All in all, a posture for which I have great respect, and which, for me, represents a high level of spiritual maturity, being willing to sacrifice cultural values out of love and deference for those with other convictions and values.

Normally, when the plate comes around, I always choose from among the glasses of grape juice on the inside of the plate. One Sunday, however, by the time the plate got to me, the only glasses left were those on the outside, the ones with “real wine.” What to do? And, now we are finally getting to the point of this post…

How do our core values determine the decisions we take? For me, one of my main core values is a commitment to the authority of the Word of God. If I were totally convinced that the Bible mandated total abstinence on every occasion, this would be a “no-brainer” for me. However, I cannot honestly say that.

Another one of my core values is the unity of the Body of Christ. And, here we are, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, in which we commemorate the Lord’s death, but also show symbolically our communion one with another, as brothers and sisters in Christ, from different races, backgrounds, and cultures. Since I do not believe in hiding the truth from others in order to make things less awkward, I will come out and let you know now that, on this occasion, I went ahead and drank the wine from the outside cups. And I don’t feel guilty about it. As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure I would have felt bad if I had not been able to join together in unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ to commemorate His death, just as He commanded, on that particular Sunday morning.

Several other bloggers, among them, Art Rogers, have written recently about a suggestion given at the recent Florida State Baptist Convention to eliminate from consideration from denominational leadership anyone who either partakes of alcohol in moderation, or (if I have understood correctly) who advocates the legitimacy of moderation. I am not sure, based on what I have just shared, whether I myself would be included among those eliminated from possible leadership. I am more confident that the majority of Baptist pastors in Spain, and in many other countries in the world, would be.

Which brings me back to the point of this post. Another one of my core values is a commitment to working, with the best stewardship possible of the resources with which God entrusts us, towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I believe this implies working together with believers from other cultures and denominations. I am concerned that there is a certain disposition in the air to move us as Southern Baptists to more and more of a narrow and isolationist approach towards our work together with other believers for the advance of the Kingdom of God.

This, in my opinion, goes far beyond attitudes towards cooperation with those who take a different view on the use of alcohol in moderation. I will not be able to be in attendance at the Sandy Creek-Charlestonian Roundtable this Tuesday in Fort Worth, to talk about some of these issues, and consider what should be done in response. I do pray, however, that God would give an unusual amount of wisdom, insight, vision and charity to those of you who will be there.