Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #18 (Part III)

Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love and the Limits of Fellowship, Part III, by Malcolm Yarnell

III. Testing the Limits of Church Fellowship

David, I have focused upon the New Testament church as the place for living faithfully the Christian faith because that is what is currently not well remembered. By focusing on the theological fiction of the invisible church, many Christians have turned a primary concern in the Bible, the local church, into a secondary or tertiary issue. The acceptable language of "theological triage" has been misused in order to further this worrisome trend. The evangelical ecumenism that is so popular among some younger Southern Baptists is a cause for concern, because it may compromise the faithfulness of our churches.

Before proceeding, notice the distinction between the recognition of others as Christian and the need to maintain the integrity of covenantal fellowship. Defining true Christian faith is integral to but only one part of the Christian desire to live out the faith in a faithful manner. Orthodox doctrine is insufficient on its own. An isolated effort to define the irreducible faith is ultimately a lowest-common denominator approach to Christianity, and represents an opposing outlook to the call of Jesus Christ for men to follow Him by taking up their crosses daily (Mark 8:34-38).

Southern Baptists have reached a crisis decision, for there is a fork in the road ahead of us. There are two directions before us: either we will continue reducing our church standards in order to "build bridges" to other Christians and even other religions, or we will maintain the ordinances that Christ instituted in obedience to Him. The evangelical ecumenist is committed to the former in the name of Christian unity and the fictional invisible church; the free churchman is committed to the latter in the name of love for Christ and His will for the local church. I personally believe that the best way to love other men is by loving Christ and His church, and that is why I am a free churchman rather than an evangelical ecumenist.

This belief is not a movement away from evangelistic witness, but a reclaiming of it. Evangelism is best done as the church separates itself from an unholy world (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1). How will they know Who Christ is? They will know Christ by the love of Christians for one another (John 13:34-35), and by the bride’s submissive devotion to the bridegroom (Ephesians 5:22, 32). Our Baptist forefathers understood this truth, for they maintained high walls in their ecclesiology at the same time that they were zealous to proclaim the Gospel to a lost and dying world.

Biblical missiology is a function of biblical ecclesiology. Our mission, taken in obedience to Christ, stands or falls with our obedience to Christ. This is so intuitive, that stating it seems redundant. To put it another way, surrendering the New Testament pattern of the church ultimately results in the forsaking of the Great Commission. It is no coincidence that Baptists were the first in the Modern Missions Movement, and that they continued in it long after many mainline denominations lost their zeal. Ecclesiology and missiology are inseparably related, for the Great Commission was given to the churches.

Testing the Limits of the Christian Faith. David, it seems to surprise many to learn that I truly believe in pursuing the prayer of Christ made in John 17:21, 23. I do wish to make visible the prayer that Christ made to His Father. However, I am also enough of a Biblicist to recognize that the fulfillment of that desire for visible unity must be according to God’s way and not my own. We will achieve true Christian unity only insofar as we are faithful to God’s Word. He has already revealed to us how we will achieve unity, and that is through faith in His Son and obedience to His commands. The genius of the believers’ churches is that they have taken seriously both faith in Christ and faithfulness to His will.

This does not mean that Baptists are the only true Christians, nor that Baptists are by and large better Christians. We Baptists have our severe problems just as much as other Christian communions do. Those who personally and congregationally claim the faith outlined in the first part of this letter deserve to be classified by us as Christians. And notice that I advocated a fairly broad Triune statement of true Christian faith that encompasses evangelicals and other Christians. Indeed, it would include all of those who have personally received by grace the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

While I am willing to recognize many Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as Christians, at least from a classical sense, I am even more comfortable with recognizing Lutherans, Presbyterians, Charismatics, Methodists, and others as Christians. The doctrine of justification that the more sacramental churches hold is simply not palatable. However, it is not doctrine that saves, but faith. Even those who have a faulty doctrine of justification may be justified by faith. That may sound rather broad-minded for somebody who has been falsely accused of being a Landmarkist, but it is what I have believed for a long time, and I doubt I will change that view.

Testing the Limits of the Faithfulness of Christians. In spite of our faults, one aspect of Baptist theology is far and away superior to that of other Christian denominations, our theology of the church. And, this is where you and I seem to have so much difficulty with one another. From our limited conversation, it is apparent that I consider Scripture as containing a holistic and plain ecclesiology, while you consider Scripture’s doctrine of the church as somewhat difficult to discern and subject to variable interpretations. If it makes you comfortable, you hold the typical view of most evangelicals. Unfortunately, it is also recognized by many scholars that evangelicalism lacks any substantive ecclesiology anyways.

Now, while I am more comfortable with the churches that proceeded from the Reformation, I am still unhappy with broader evangelicalism’s willful or ignorant disobedience of Christ’s will as recorded in the New Testament. Again, this unhappiness is not a claim that Baptists are better Christians, nor even that we are better theologians. This unhappiness with the other Reformation churches recognizes that our theology of the church looks more like the New Testament than the others. Notice that I said, "our theology of the church." Unfortunately, the worldview of an over-tolerant modernity has affected Baptists, even conservative Southern Baptists, just like it has other churches in Europe and America.

But the solution to reclaiming our churches’ faithfulness to the New Testament lies not in the direction of ecumenism, evangelical or mainline. This is why I opposed Tom Ascol’s resolution on regenerate church membership at the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio. As I discussed with him beforehand, Tom’s resolution was an adequate resolution on church discipline alone, but it was inadequate for what it purported to address: regenerate church membership. The way back to faithfulness in our churches is not through a resolution that a good Presbyterian or even a good Roman Catholic could support. The way back to faithfulness in our churches is through a widespread local resolve to obey Jesus Christ as commanded in the New Testament, which reveals highly integrated doctrines of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

This is why I also have opposed the theology of open communion, modified or otherwise, in the Southern Baptist Convention. As a young pastor, I had to face the issues of alien immersion and open communion. The sentimental side of my character wanted to make it easy for Presbyterians and Methodists to become members of my church. But my conscience just would not allow it. I knew that the Word of God and the confession of my church demanded that Presbyterians who become Christians must be properly baptized in order to join with our New Testament church.

It was difficult to tell that first couple that they must be properly baptized, for I did not doubt their very real and long-held faith. What was in question was whether they had received New Testament baptism. Fortunately, they became convicted about the will of Christ, and I had the privilege of properly baptizing this fine and dignified couple according to His commandment. Unfortunately, it seems that there are some Baptists today who are as theologically challenged in this regard as are the paedobaptists. Infant baptism is not New Testament baptism, and the popular identification of the sprinkling of a baby as "baptism" is a reckless innovation.

If I have addressed the Presbyterians here, it is not out of any special animus towards them, for I actually find the Reformed to be very close, more often than not, to Baptists when I am involved in ecumenical conversations. The Presbyterian churches deserve rebuke no more than any other non-New Testament churches, except insofar as some of our more naïve Baptist ministers have become unduly attracted to their unbiblical ways in recent years. We could turn this critique upon the Methodists for their Arminianism and their infant baptizing, or upon the charismatic free churches for their unbiblical innovations with regard to the charismata.

At this point, perhaps we can answer your third set of questions, "At what point do we cross the line from evangelistic and disciple-making ministry into ‘church planting’ ministry? … [A]nd what are the reasons for drawing the line of cooperation at that particular point?" David, there is no biblical precedent for separating evangelism from disciple making, nor for separating disciple making from church planting. These activities are distinguishable conceptually, but they are not separable biblically. Evangelism is the beginning of the process of making disciples, but the making of disciples always entails the planting of churches.

When Paul and Barnabas were involved in planting churches during their first missionary journey, they started by evangelizing the people. Such evangelism resulted in the making of disciples, who were simultaneously gathered into churches (Acts 14:21-23). One evangelizes the world in order to transfer lost people out of the world and into the church through personal salvation. The making of a disciple entails baptism and baptism is a church-administered ordinance. There is no drawing of lines between the activities; there is only the continuous activity of making disciples, which starts with evangelism and results in churches. Rather, the drawing of the line is between the church and the world.

Really, the second question is yours to answer, for I do not separate disciple making from church planting. If a missionary’s disciples are not planted in a church through baptism, can they truly be considered followers (i.e. disciples) of Christ? A follower of Christ will follow His commands, and Christ has commanded baptism (Matthew 28:19) and intentional gathering with the local church (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is what the apostles practiced from the beginning of their ministry (Acts 2:37-47). Who are we to improve upon the authoritative commands of Christ and the inspired example of the apostles?

Testing the Limits of Faithfulness in the Southern Baptist Convention. With this explanation in the background, perhaps now I can address your first two sets of questions. You asked, "Do you believe there is a place for people like me in Southern Baptist life?" David, I most certainly do believe that you and people like you have a place in Southern Baptist life. Fidelity to the entire confession of Southern Baptist Convention has never been a prerequisite for church membership in the SBC, and I am loath to see the Baptist Faith and Message take on such a role.

I do hope that more churches will examine the 2000 confession and adopt it as their own, but I think the convention should be wary about requiring ecclesiastical subscription as a basis for denominational cooperation. The Sandy Creek tradition did not believe the Philadelphia Confession should exercise particular authority over particular churches. There is wisdom in distinguishing the particular and direct authority of divine Scripture from the general and derivative authority of a human confession. Moreover, because Baptist confessions typically change as our theology improves, the effort it would take to require uniform subscription might unduly ensconce a confession requiring amendment.

However, the second part of your first question does create some concern. You asked me, "Do you believe that any of the views I take should disqualify someone like me from service as a Southern Baptist missionary or denominational employee? Why or why not?" David, because you have expressed public disagreement with Article VII, you know you have disqualified yourself from service with at least some of our denominational entities. But notice how this response is qualified. Our denominational entities are overseen by boards of trustees, who have been tasked by the convention of our churches to answer such questions. Because I do not sit on any board, I do not have any authority to answer such a question with anything beyond personal opinion. Moreover, even if I were a trustee, remember that a single trustee also lacks authority, for authority is vested in the board, not the individual.

With that qualification, my personal opinion will doubtless disappoint you. David, if I were your supervisor at the International Mission Board, I would be constrained by a conscience informed primarily by Scripture, and secondarily by the beliefs of the churches expressed in their votes at the Southern Baptist Convention. Theological integrity would constrain me to call you in for a visit, specifically about your disagreements with our common Baptist profession. You will remember that your father chaired the committee that stated that Baptists have "adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability" (Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Preface). I believe he and his committee intentionally inserted these words to address the very issue that we are discussing.

Because our confession was adopted as an instrument of "doctrinal accountability," it carries more than mere preferential authority. Your father argued once, in a press conference, that our denominational employees have the religious liberty to teach whatever they wish, but this does not require us to employ them if they do not teach what the churches believe. If a number of private and confidential attempts over a good period of time failed to persuade you, I would be compelled, again by conscience, to take the matter to my superiors in the entity or to the trustees, if directly responsible to them.

As a result of our denominational polity, the resolution of such a matter would rest upon the trustees. Of course, if they would choose to listen to my voice, I would recommend they act with the utmost of grace and mercy shown to you and your family. Every Christian supervisor and every trustee board should act in such a difficult situation with the greatest sense of personal pain, just as Boyce felt with regard to Crawford Toy, and never with any flippancy. The answer to your second full question is thus dependent upon the outcome of a disciplinary process, which parallels Matthew 18, and which depends on the decisions of a group of Christian leaders. However, even if your supervisors and/or your board chose the course of institutional discipline, we must agree that only a local church carries the spiritual authority of a church.

The Theological Spectrum in the Southern Baptist Convention. Please allow me to close with an illustration from the history of our convention. Charles Fuller, venerable pastor emeritus of Virginia, was the chairman of the convention-created Peace Committee that issued its famous report. The committee met for two years of intense meetings prior to the issuance of that 1987 report. Dr. Fuller shared with me a metaphor that may be helpful to us at this time of intense concern regarding interchurch cooperation. He noticed the Peace Committee was composed of a theological spectrum stretching from one end of the convention to the other. The problem in the committee was that some could not cooperate with others in the committee, because the theological differences were too deep. Specifically, it was not possible for Adrian Rogers on the right and Cecil Sherman on the left to bridge their differences.

In the last few years, we have discovered that a theological spectrum still exists in the Southern Baptist Convention. Hopefully, however, the tensions in today’s spectrum will not result in the denominational departure that Cecil Sherman felt compelled to undertake. I believe that I can hold hands with you, David, as a faithful Southern Baptist, even though I believe our confession is correct in one important area that you do not. I can also hold hands with Mark Dever and Reformed Baptists, and with Dwight McKissic and those who advocate private prayer languages, and with Timothy George and those who are more enthusiastic than I am about theological ecumenism.

The difficulty will come, however, if I am asked to hold hands with others with whom these beloved colleagues enjoy extra-denominational cooperation. My church now cooperates with many churches through the Southern Baptist Convention. Although my church speaks only for herself, I believe she would find it difficult to cooperate with the Presbyterians, the Charismatics, or the Ecumenists in any ecclesiastical sense, such as in disciple making or church planting. We want to be a faithful New Testament church, in spite of our failures, and we want to plant faithful New Testament churches that will seek to implement Christ’s will in its entirety.

I want to cooperate with Baptists like Mark Dever and his church, but until Ligon Duncan is properly baptized and properly baptizes, I will refuse ecclesiastical cooperation with this Presbyterian due to a Christ-submitted conscience. I want to cooperate with Baptists like Dwight McKissic and his church, but until Richard Hogue repents of TBN’s unbiblical views of the Spirit, I will refuse ecclesiastical cooperation with this Pentecostal due to the Spirit-inspired text. I want to cooperate with Baptists like Timothy George and his church, but until Avery Dulles repents of his extra-biblical views of the church, I will refuse ecclesiastical cooperation with this Roman Catholic due to New Testament congregationalism. While I recognize the faith of these non-Baptists and appreciate many of their profound contributions, I reject their understanding of faithfulness.

This outlook does not issue forth from any type of Baptist superiority to these non-Baptists, for we are not their Lord. As far as I know, these men affirm the true Christian faith, and I accept their witness. The problem is that they are not living out the Christian faith in churches that are seeking faithfully to emulate the New Testament pattern for the church. We have no way to judge their Christian faith, other than by their words and their works. And the primary way we possess to judge their Christian faithfulness is in the context of their churches. For at this place, the local church, the Christian life is lived.

Since discipleship to Christ is the key to being a Great Commission church, proper ecclesiology is too important to ignore. Unity must be sought only on the basis of the true Christian faith and upon sincere faithfulness to Christ. Therefore, I invite other Christians to join Southern Baptists and the other believers’ churches in our efforts to fulfill the Savior’s mandate faithfully. This is the only type of ecumenism that I currently see as tenable: sitting down together, listening to one another, and constantly witnessing to the faith given by and the faithfulness required by our Lord. Faithfully pointing to and following Christ’s cross is a great expression of love by one disciple to another. Let us return to the text and exalt the cross of Christ while carrying the cross that He commands, and leave behind the innovations of men.


Letter #1, Two Requirements for a Universal Fulfillment of the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #2, A Steward must be Found Faithful, by David Rogers

Letter #3, Centripetal and Centrifugal, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #4, To Whom is the Great Commission Given?, by David Rogers

Letter #5, The Great Commission is Given to the Gathered Church, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #6, The End-Vision of the Great Commission, by David Rogers

Letter #7, Both the End and the Means are Established by the Lord, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #8, A Matter of Emphasis?, by David Rogers

Letter #9, Complete Obedience versus Hesitant Discipleship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #10, The Universal Scope of the Great Commission, by David Rogers

Letter #11, Freedom, Power and Authority in the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #12, Enduring Submission to the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #13, Obeying the Commands of Jesus, by David Rogers

Letter #14, John Gill on Romans 14 and 15:1-7, by David Rogers

Letter #15, The Illustration of the Hypothetical "Common Loaf Denomination", by David Rogers

Letter #16, A Condensed Response to Your Last Three Letters, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #17, Further Discussion on Cooperation and Obedience, by David Rogers

Letter #18 (Part I), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #18 (Part II), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #18 (Part III), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #19, A Deep Division?, by David Rogers

Friday, December 28, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #18 (Part II)

Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love and the Limits of Fellowship, Part II, by Malcolm Yarnell

II. The New Testament Churches

The church was founded by Jesus Christ and exists for His purpose, a purpose spelled out in an orderly manner in His Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Let it be clearly affirmed by every true believer that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, which is His body, and all things exist by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:18). Thus, as our forefathers recognized, the only lawgiver for the church is Jesus Christ. He recorded His will for her in the Bible, encapsulated in the Great Commission and worked out in the New Testament. Every Christian church today must look to the New Testament church as the normative model and realize she suffers significant deficiencies when she departs from the New Testament pattern established by Christ and revealed by the Holy Spirit.

Taking up their crosses, the apostles fulfilled the Great Commission of Jesus Christ through planting local churches. Those who wish to claim that the making of disciples is divorced from regenerate church membership typically refer to the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Then, without any textual support whatsoever, they assume the Ethiopian was baptized into the universal church apart from a local church. They neglect the scriptural facts, that Philip was commissioned to act by a local church (Acts 6:5-6), and that there was only one local church mentioned as being in existence at that time, the Jerusalem church. The only church that the Ethiopian could have been baptized into was the Jerusalem church, which was being scattered at the time due to a horrible persecution by the state religion. The gathering (church) at Jerusalem was scattered and created a number of new churches as a result.

Rather than reading one’s preferred theology into a singular text, it is better to read the Bible contextually and canonically. In Acts 2:40ff, the leading proof for the correlation of baptism with church membership, we read that the baptism of the converted masses coincided with their membership in the first local church. However, this is not the only canonical support for baptism and regenerate church membership. In Acts 9:18-19, we read that the baptism of Saul resulted in his fellowship with the disciples in Damascus. In Acts 10:44-11:4, Peter defended his baptism of and subsequent fellowship with the Caesarean Gentiles who converted to Christ. In Acts 16:15 and 16:33-34, Lydia and the Philippian jailer understood that baptism compelled continuing fellowship with other believers. In Acts 18:8-11, Paul and his companions planted the first church of Corinth with numerous baptisms, and continued meeting regularly for worship and teaching.

With the Christological basis and baptismal entrance of the New Testament churches summarized, it may be helpful to discuss more regarding what a New Testament church looks like. In what follows, please note that we are not considering some of the crisis issues facing local churches, today. I have not participated in the so-called worship wars, primarily because most of the issues under debate, in spite of their emotive qualities, do not concern the fundamental nature of the churches. How then do we recognize a New Testament church?

Following a biblical paradigm, Roman Catholic, Reformation, and Baptist theologians have often discussed the work of Christ under the rubric of triplex munus Christi, the threefold office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king. As our Supreme Prophet, Jesus Christ established the message that His churches must proclaim, and it is the Word of God. As our High Priest, Jesus Christ established the worship that His churches must practice, and it must center upon His ordinances. As our King of Kings, Jesus Christ established the discipline that His churches must maintain, and it is covenantal, congregational, and accountable.

The Church’s Message Is the Word He Inspired. Scripture has a threefold definition of "the Word of God." The Word of God is incarnated, inscripurated, and intoned. The Word of God incarnated is Jesus Christ, and His life and work are the essence of the church’s message. The Word of God inscripturated is the Bible, and its words are the only reliable epistemological basis for the church’s message. The Word of God intoned is the Gospel that we preach, and this Gospel must be proclaimed directly from the Bible with Christ as the interpretive key; otherwise, the church’s message will be distorted.

When Christians fail to preach Christ, they have forsaken the message that Christ entrusted to the church. When Christians fail to preach Christ from the Bible alone, they have forsaken the source of the message that Christ entrusted to the church. When Christians fail to preach Christ as the unique and perfect Savior who has come to save all who will repent and believe, they have forsaken the Gospel that alone saves. These convictions explain why the believers’ churches have typically been hermeneutically Christocentric, relentlessly Biblicist, and tirelessly evangelistic.

Fidelity to the Word of God Christ appointed for the church as its only message explains why Baptists generally reject theology that detracts from Christ, rebuke preachers who depart from the biblical text, and defend religious freedom as helpful for evangelism. Two verses from Paul’s first letter to the gathering at Corinth summarize the free church outlook with regard to their message: we will proclaim nothing beyond Christ and His cross (1 Corinthians 2:2) and approve nothing beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6).

The Church’s Worship Practices Are the Ordinances He Established. Christ’s will for His church is explicitly laid out in Scripture. Christian exegetes over the centuries have, through much controversy with the unapproved (1 Corinthians 11:19), settled upon two worship practices as specifically ordained by Christ for His churches. They have also settled upon the Great Commission as the primary mission of the churches while they are in this world.

In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus Christ mandated that the church should make disciples. Going, baptizing, and teaching are all activities that help the church make disciples. None of these activities are dispensable, for the making of disciples is the ordained function of the churches. The making of disciples is more than a vocal presentation of the Gospel, although it begins there. Moreover, baptizing churches have recognized that there is a revealed time order that may not be violated: first, we must go to the world to proclaim the Gospel; second, we must make disciples of those to whom we have preached the Gospel; third, the church must baptize the new disciple; finally, the disciple must be taught all things that Christ commanded.

Baptism, reserved only for professed believers, is fundamental for the church committed to obeying the Great Commission. The Triune baptism of believers into a local church is neither secondary nor tertiary but primary for New Testament churches. In addition to the direct mandate of the Great Commission with regard to the baptism of believers alone, there is also the witness of the apostles’ practice. The New Testament knows nothing of the baptism of infants. The so-called household baptism passages, to which paedobaptists often appeal inappropriately, are explicit that the household as an entirety was baptized because the household as an entirety had believed (Acts 16:34).

New Testament churches composed of Great Commission Christians will not baptize unregenerate people. If the International Mission Board’s definition of a Great Commission Christian, to which you referred, is misinterpreted as allowing for collaboration with infant-baptizers, then that institution would be wise to make it clear that they mean nothing such. Otherwise, there remains equivocation regarding the New Testament witness and the historic Baptist witness as to what defines properly ordered churches. We must not allow the will of Christ to be subverted by the innovative traditions of so-called Great Commission Christians who reject or change the Lord’s commands.

That last statement may strike you as intemperate, but it is not intended as such. Rather, take it as an unremitting call to church integrity. Historically, the believers’ churches have been adamant that Christ must be obeyed. Obedience to His ordinances may not be downplayed simply because they have been subjected to diverse interpretations by other Christians (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21). The commands of our Lord—He Who created us, Who died to atone for our sins, and Who established His church—may not be treated as if they were merely debating points or less-than-primary.

Neither is this call to true discipleship a threat to an orthodox doctrine of justification, for those who are truly justified will desire to follow Christ. Let us not appeal distractively to a pristine but incomplete doctrine of salvation. Only those who wish to continue in disobedience to the Lord Who redeemed them by His blood will treat His will as somehow optional, interpret it away into irrelevance, or view His will as a threat to His grace.

Contained in the Great Commission is the command to teach all that Christ commanded. In the Matthean version, this hearkens back to the practices established by Christ for His church in chapters 18 and 26. In Matthew 18, the Lord established discipline as necessary for the integrity of the church. Church discipline is not optional, nor is it subject to diverse interpretations, nor is it trivial. Church discipline must be established. We will speak of this more below.

In Matthew 26:26-30, Jesus Christ led His disciples in the last supper prior to His crucifixion. When coupled with the parallels in Mark 14:22-26, Luke 22:14-23, and 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 and 11:17-34, we learn that the Lord’s Supper is a memorial of the superior covenant inaugurated with the broken body and spilt blood of Jesus. We also learn that this practice is to continue until we celebrate it with him at the great gathering of the universal church (Revelation 19:6-9). And we learn that the community is symbolized in the loaf of bread from which communion is dispensed, and that it is the place at which church discipline is reached.

Too often in the believers’ churches of this day and age, we have not paid enough attention to the ordinances of Christ. We rightly decry the existence of theologies that turn the ordinances into sacraments, make the ordinances somehow ex opere operato dispensers of graces, or transform these spiritual symbols into fleshly exercises that force consciences through infant baptism or teach communicants they chew the flesh of God. However, the errors that have attached to baptism and the Lord’s Supper must never serve as an excuse to remove them from the center of Christian worship. Neglecting the ordinances is just as reprehensible as misrepresenting or incorrectly implementing them.

Whatever one’s position in the worship wars, if the New Testament practices of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not central in a church’s worship, it is visibly dishonoring the Lordship of the Savior. Jesus thought the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which teach the Trinity and symbolize Christ’s death and resurrection on behalf of His church, were important enough to command their perpetual observance. Just as the New Testament churches must be careful to proclaim His Word, His ordinances must be practiced according to His commands and not according to our druthers nor fallen man’s endlessly variable ideas of what is deemed culturally relevant.

The Church’s Discipline Is Covenantal, Congregational, and Accountable. As we noted, first, because Jesus Christ is prophet, He establishes the message that His church is to preach. Second, we also noted that because Jesus Christ is priest, He establishes the worship that His church is to practice. Finally, we must now consider the truth that because Jesus Christ is king, He alone establishes the polity by which His church functions. The polity of the church is established quite clearly in Matthew 18:15-20, and it is covenantal, congregational, and accountable.

First, in Matthew 18:19-20, we read that the gathering in agreement of two or more constitutes an authority before the throne of God in heaven. When these verses are read today, they are usually taken casually, as if Jesus were referring to an impromptu prayer meeting. And yet, the disciplinary context of the previous verses and the specific wording point to something more substantial and formative. The agreement (Greek, symphoneo) to which Jesus refers is indicative of a formal contract or covenant. As the early English Baptists recognized, this passage is the theological basis for the gathering of a church. Indeed, it freed the early free churches from dependence upon the state for their authority and returned them to Jesus Christ as their foundation. It is a serious matter to realize that a human agreement has divine approbation. A church begins on the basis of a covenant between earnest Christians desiring to follow their Lord in His commands.

Second, in Matthew 18:17-18, we learn that the gathered congregation, for that is what an ekklesia is, has the final authority under heaven to determine the status of its membership. Again, the decision of the church constitutes a spiritual authority that no other institution may claim. The decisions of the congregation regarding communion and excommunication of members have some measure of eternal consequence. It matters to God what His church decides and He gives His stamp of approval to her spiritual actions. No other group of men, unbelieving or believing or some admixture, receives such authority. The state has no such spiritual authority; extra-congregational gatherings of Christians have no such spiritual authority; and cliques within a congregation have no such spiritual authority. By divine mandate, the congregation is congregationally governed. Elders, priests, and bishops who undermine congregationalism are countermanding a divine ordinance, and they lack any such authority to do so.

Third, in Matthew 18:15-16, we learn that that which ends in the final authority under heaven being granted to the covenantal gathered congregation is a disciplinary process. The local church, established by Christ and to which every Christian will seek to belong, is the locus where the Christian seeks to live faithfully the Christian faith. The congregation of disciples practices church discipline because it knows that regenerate membership is commanded by Christ. According to Scripture, regenerate church membership begins with believers-only baptism by immersion (Mark 16:15-16); regularly demonstrates itself in the entire regenerate membership’s participation in the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:17-18, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13); and is strengthened by congregational judgment regarding the integrity of its membership (Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 11:31-32).


Letter #1, Two Requirements for a Universal Fulfillment of the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #2, A Steward must be Found Faithful, by David Rogers

Letter #3, Centripetal and Centrifugal, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #4, To Whom is the Great Commission Given?, by David Rogers

Letter #5, The Great Commission is Given to the Gathered Church, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #6, The End-Vision of the Great Commission, by David Rogers

Letter #7, Both the End and the Means are Established by the Lord, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #8, A Matter of Emphasis?, by David Rogers

Letter #9, Complete Obedience versus Hesitant Discipleship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #10, The Universal Scope of the Great Commission, by David Rogers

Letter #11, Freedom, Power and Authority in the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #12, Enduring Submission to the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #13, Obeying the Commands of Jesus, by David Rogers

Letter #14, John Gill on Romans 14 and 15:1-7, by David Rogers

Letter #15, The Illustration of the Hypothetical "Common Loaf Denomination", by David Rogers

Letter #16, A Condensed Response to Your Last Three Letters, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #17, Further Discussion on Cooperation and Obedience, by David Rogers

Letter #18 (Part I), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #18 (Part II), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #18 (Part III), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #19, A Deep Division?, by David Rogers

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #18 (Part I)

Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love and the Limits of Fellowship, Part I, by Malcolm Yarnell

Dearest David,

Please accept my apologies for not answering you sooner than this. As you know from our private correspondence, the concussion from the automobile accident set me back. The effects of the concussion have now significantly improved, though they still linger, and the semester here at Southwestern is now at an end. More than the pressures of body and work, however, I have been reticent to answer your question, for our discussion has revealed an apparently deep division in how we view the Christian faith and faithfulness to Christ. I pray the division is more apparent than real.

Today, I re-read your last letter. Rather than rehearsing your many questions in that letter and seeking to clarify the numerous misunderstandings that exist between us, I thought it best to address your three pointed closing questions:
  1. "Do you believe there is a place for people like me in Southern Baptist life? Do you believe that any of the views I take should disqualify someone like me from service as a Southern Baptist missionary or denominational employee? Why or why not?"
  2. "If I do not change my views concerning the matters we have been discussing here, do you believe it would be better for me to serve with some group other than the IMB? Why or why not?"
  3. "At what point do we cross the line from evangelistic and disciple-making ministry into ‘church planting’ ministry? … [A]nd what are the reasons for drawing the line of cooperation at that particular point?"

In order to answer these questions, please allow me to discourse a bit on the Christian faith and faithfulness to Christ. Out of such a discussion, perhaps we can perceive the limits of proper Christian fellowship. The following can be divided into three sections: the true Christian faith, the New Testament churches as the locus for faithfully living out the faith, and the limits of Christian fellowship. This letter is longer than what we originally agreed upon, but I have noticed that your letters have become progressively longer, as the pressure of expressing yourself clearly and passionately rose. Please forgive the length of my letter, as I have now discerned the same pressure.

I. The True Christian Faith

When the New Testament speaks of faith, two aspects are assumed: the personal and the propositional. The personal activity of faith assumes a cognitive reality, and the cognitive reality demands a personal response. Orthodox Christians do not consider faith as lacking substance, but as full of content; alternatively, pious Christians do not consider faith as inactive, but as a vital trust in the message of the faith. The difficulty we face in discussing the faith is that we tend either toward a living faith that can easily become detached from orthodox content or toward an orthodox faith that is satisfied with mere cognitive speculation. Both tendencies result in error: the former ends in a mindless liberalism, the latter in a heartless scholasticism. As we discuss the content of the faith, let us never forget that true faith is a dynamic faith lived personally and communally.

God the Father. The classical creeds begin with a personal and communal confession. "We believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." The Father is the beginning of the eternal Trinity. One cannot claim to be Christian unless one is willing to affirm the Scripture’s witness to God as being eternally one and yet three. The Father is distinct from the Son and the Spirit, the Son is eternally generated from the Father, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father through the Son. This profound mystery of the Trinity is what separates Christians from the false religions of paganism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, the Arian sects, and so on.

While a Christian church must affirm the Trinity in order to be considered Christian, our faith is not only about who God is, but what He does. He is the Creator of all that is, and as Creator, He is distinct from His creation. Humanity is humbled by its knowledge that it is not the highest reality, yet exalted in that it is made in the very image of the Creator.

God the Son. The classical creeds, reflecting their origin in the baptismal formula of the Great Commission, are typically threefold in form. "We believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord." The Son of God is fully God, though distinct from God the Father. The Son is God and from God, eternally begotten from the Father. Some two thousand years ago, at the fullness of time, the second person of the eternal Trinity also became a human being. As the formula of Chalcedon affirms, Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, without the separation, conflation or diminution of His deity and His humanity.

Following the apostolic kerygma, the classical creeds typically devote an extended section to the work of the Son: His incarnation, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and impending return receive especial treatment. Most Christian preaching focuses here on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for our salvation is utterly dependent upon His cross and His empty tomb. On the cross, Christ died for the sins of the whole world; from the grave, He arose to offer redemption to all that will repent and believe in Him. Until this truth becomes one’s own, one should not consider oneself a Christian.

God the Holy Spirit. The final section of the classical creeds concerns the third person of the Holy Trinity. The Nicene Creed, as modified at Constantinople, declares truthfully that the Holy Spirit is "Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], Who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and glorified." Unless a church affirms that the Holy Spirit is fully divine and is to be worshipped alongside the Father and the Son, it may not be considered a Christian church.

Indeed, one cannot become a Christian apart from the sovereign work of regeneration (being born again) by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles to speak the Word of God, and to record the Word of God in the Bible. Today, He continues to convince people that the Bible is God’s Word, and that they must believe in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, or face eternal judgment. The Spirit continues to lead the church into all truth by pointing her to the inspired text. He also empowers the churches to fulfill the Great Commission given by the Son of God.

While the Christian faith primarily concerns God, Who He is, and What He does, especially in relation to humanity, it assumes a number of doctrines commonly affirmed by orthodox Christians. Among them are divine providence, human constituency, the pervasiveness of sin, the righteous but unmeetable demands of the law, the eternal consequences of disobedience and disbelief, and the gracious nature of the Gospel. And yet, it will be remembered that faith is not only a list of true doctrines, it is a living reality. Just as the Christian faith is to be personally and communally affirmed, the Christian life is to be lived faithfully in fellowship with the local church.

(Reader, due to its length, this letter by Dr. Yarnell has been broken into three parts. The next two parts will be posted in coming days.)


Letter #1, Two Requirements for a Universal Fulfillment of the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #2, A Steward must be Found Faithful, by David Rogers

Letter #3, Centripetal and Centrifugal, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #4, To Whom is the Great Commission Given?, by David Rogers

Letter #5, The Great Commission is Given to the Gathered Church, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #6, The End-Vision of the Great Commission, by David Rogers

Letter #7, Both the End and the Means are Established by the Lord, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #8, A Matter of Emphasis?, by David Rogers

Letter #9, Complete Obedience versus Hesitant Discipleship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #10, The Universal Scope of the Great Commission, by David Rogers

Letter #11, Freedom, Power and Authority in the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #12, Enduring Submission to the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #13, Obeying the Commands of Jesus, by David Rogers

Letter #14, John Gill on Romans 14 and 15:1-7, by David Rogers

Letter #15, The Illustration of the Hypothetical "Common Loaf Denomination", by David Rogers

Letter #16, A Condensed Response to Your Last Three Letters, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #17, Further Discussion on Cooperation and Obedience, by David Rogers

Letter #18 (Part I), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #18 (Part II), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #18 (Part III), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #19, A Deep Division?, by David Rogers

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us. Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross. Then God gave Christ the highest place and honored his name above all others. So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, "Jesus Christ is Lord!"

Philippians 2:6-11 (Contemporary English Version)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Poppy Joy

Yesterday, my niece and her husband, Angie & Nathan Luce, buried Poppy Joy, their second daughter. Actually, she only lived 3 1/2 hours on this earth. Back about 4 months ago, they learned that the precious life Angie was carrying in her womb was a trisomy 18 baby. According to the Trisomy 18 Foundation:

Trisomy 18 is also called Edwards syndrome (or Edward's syndrome) and occurs in about 1:3000 live births. Unlike Down syndrome, Trisomy 18 is usually fatal, with most of the babies dying before birth and those who do make it to birth typically living only a few days. However, a small number of babies (<10%) live up to one year.

With such a prognosis, many parents choose to not carry their pregnancy to term. Angie and Nathan, though, believing all human life is sacred, and that God had a special purpose in allowing this to happen, decided to go ahead with the process. Knowing full well that dark days lay ahead for them, they opted to cling to our Heavenly Father's loving hand, and walk through this journey together with Him.

On August 14, 2007, they opened up their blog, Poppy Joy. Along the way, they have shared openly and poignantly about the struggles, doubts, and comfort from the Lord they have found in the midst of this trial. This testimony of God's faithfulness toward Angie & Nathan forged through the crucible of real-life suffering is permeated with authenticity.

If you are interested in reading something that will build your faith in God, and help you to reflect on his tender mercies towards us in the midst of suffering, I invite you to read through the 46 posts so far of Poppy Joy, starting with the opening post on August 14, 2007. I can promise you, it will be well worth the time invested. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rocks on the Path to Unity

My last post on "Unity with Other Religions Too?" has got me thinking more about the whole matter of our essential unity with other Christians, and how hard it is, at times, to make it work. A very interesting conversation, in which I was involved, ensued on this topic in the comment string over at Paul Grabill’s blog. Also, I had a conversation yesterday with some family members, including my Mom, in which I mentioned this post, and the various issues involved.

In the midst of this conversation, my Mom shared about how my Dad, early on in his ministry, when he was pastor of a church at Fort Pierce, Florida, decided to drop out of the local Ministerial Alliance, because they voted to include the Mormons. In the latter part of his ministry, here in the Memphis area, I know he was a regular participant in pastors’ meetings in relation to the local Baptist Association. I know he also met together on a regular basis, and actively pursued fellowship, with several other area pastors from other denominations, including Methodists, Presbyterians, and Assemblies of God.

I am proud of my father, and the example he set for me in this area. I believe that biblically, there is a legitimate tension between the injunctions, on the one hand, to not be "yoked together with unbelievers" and "come out from them and be separate" (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), and, on the other hand, to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).

As I have observed other pastors and Christian leaders in various contexts down through the years, it seems to me that one of the major causes that keep them from more actively pursuing practical unity with believers and churches from other backgrounds is the fear of being "yoked together with unbelievers." I personally find it hard to find fault with someone, whenever their decisions are truly based on a desire to be as faithful as they possibly can to the teaching of the Word of God. However, I am convinced there is still a "more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Back in Extremadura, Spain, where I learned and experienced many of the things that have molded my current thinking regarding Christian unity, at one time, the Seventh-Day Adventists applied for membership in the regional Evangelical Council. The vote among all the participating churches, which included Baptists, Pentecostals, Plymouth Brethren, Charismatics, Presbyterians, and Independents, was unanimous to not admit them.

Personally, I have known several brothers and sisters in Christ, who are now solid, committed evangelicals, who shared with me that they first came to a saving knowledge of Christ while they were still with the Seventh-Day Adventists. So, I am not saying that you cannot be Seventh-Day Adventist and saved at the same time. I would say that pretty much the same thing holds for Roman Catholics. However, the official doctrine of both of these groups, as I understand it, if rightly understood and embraced, would preclude salvation, because it is, at its root, a doctrine of "grace plus works."

Because of this, my personal position has always been to pursue fellowship and unity on a personal level with all those who give evidence in their personal life and testimony of being truly born again; and on an organizational level with all those whose official doctrinal position, if truly understood and embraced, would lead to being born again.

What if the Extremaduran Evangelical Council had voted to include the Seventh-Day Adventists? What if they had voted to include the Catholics, or the Mormons, or the Muslims? I freely admit, that, in such a case, things would have gotten a lot more complicated for me. But, I still would have felt a compulsion to do my best to work towards practical unity with those I understood to be true believers, even if I disagreed with them about admitting others who were not.

Within the family of faith, there are plenty of things we can discuss and disagree about amongst ourselves. But, they are, at the root, "in-house arguments." They do not affect our basic unity one with another.

There are also certain individual believers, as well as certain groups of believers, with whom God joins our hearts in a special way, and with whom we have particularly close fellowship. There are also some who, for more pragmatic reasons, turn out to be more conducive partners than others in certain ministry projects.

But the fact that there are difficulties and complications involved in putting into practice our unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ should never lead us to put the topic of unity on the back-burner, or to treat a fellow believer as if he/she were not a true, full-fledged member of the family.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Unity with Other Religions Too?

Paul Grabill has posted a link on his blog to a story in the Austin American-Statesman about Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin choosing to not allow Austin Area Interreligious Ministries to use its property for an inter-faith Thanksgiving service, which encouraged the joint worship of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Bahais, and was to include Muslim Maghrib prayer.

I hope it is clear, when I write about the practice of Christian unity, that I am NOT talking about events like this. I think that Hyde Park Church made the right decision. In the world in which we live, this type of decision can be very unpopular, and expose us to accusations of intolerance. See, for example, the editorials in the Austin American-Statesman here, here, here and here.

Among those accustomed to narrow denominationalism, efforts toward promoting biblical unity can also be unpopular. Sometimes, seeking to be faithful to our Lord's commands leads one to walk a pretty tight rope.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thoughts from Philippians on the City Church

I was just reading through Philippians in the New Living Translation, and, with the post from yesterday on the City Church on my mind, the following verses stood out to me:
v. 1. This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons.

vv. 4-5. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.

v. 27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.
Would it not be something truly wonderful to be able to say that "all of God's holy people" in Memphis, or Dallas, or Tulsa, or Hot Springs, or Madrid, or wherever, were "standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News"?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The City Church Revisited

One of the posts that has attracted the most comments on Love Each Stone was a guest post, entitled The City Church, by Paul Grabill. There are many misconceptions about the City Church, including the idea that it eliminates the need for individual congregations, and denominations. Grabill, who blogs at Beside the Point, is pastor of the State College Assembly of God in State College, Pennsylvania. As such, he obviously believes in the value of the local congregation, as well as in denominational cooperation.

Christian Unity: Local Movements & Congregational Implications is a paper Grabill wrote fleshing out the concept of the City Church, and proposing some practical steps for putting it into practice. As a conservative Baptist, I, evidently, have a few doctrinal differences with Grabill. Frankly, there are a few things he says in this article that make me a bit nervous, especially when he uses terms like ecumenism and liberalism, and talks about building bridges to Catholics.

Don’t worry. I’m not on the verge of selling out on such matters as the inerrancy of Scripture, justification by grace through faith alone, or believers baptism. It’s just that, in addition to these, I also have a conviction that we, as Southern Baptists, are not doing all we could and should to work towards the unity of Christ’s Body for which he prayed in John 17. And it doesn’t necessarily mean compromising our convictions on other key doctrines.

In the interest of seeking to be as obedient as we can to Christ’s commands, and making "every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3), I urge you to carefully read what Grabill has to say, and prayerfully consider whether it is line with what Christ would want of us as his children.

Another article along the same lines I highly recommend is Shopping for the Right Church, by Nathan Pitchford. It is well worth the read. Please take the time to read the whole thing and take to heart what it says as well.

For some more practical examples where some interesting progress is being made along these lines, see also:

Mission Houston
The Katy Church
Why a "City Church?"
Church Planting Manifesto

Friday, November 16, 2007

Additional Thoughts

For those of you who, for whatever strange reason, may not have already had more than your fill of my thoughts and reflections on assorted topics, here are a few links...

1. Back in the Spring, Ryan Rice, over at did a pod-cast interview with me, on the topic of church planting in Spain, which he now has on-line here. We did it in a crowded restaurant, so there is a bit of background noise. But, if you turn the volume up, you can follow it pretty well.

2. I still am posting, once every 8 or 9 days or so, at sbc IMPACT! My posts over there, which, for the most part, are different from what I post here, include:

The Role of the American Church in World Missions
The World is a Waffle
The Illustration of the Hypothetical "Common Loaf Denomination" (with a separate comment string from the one here at Love Each Stone)
World Evangelism is a "Team Sport"
Why Did God Destroy Sodom?
The "Harvest Cycle" and Short-Term Missions

While you're at it, don't forget to check out the daily articles by the entire excellent team of writers at sbc IMPACT!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Landmarkism and the Arkansas Baptist Convention

During the past couple of years, there has been a good bit of debate regarding the influence of Landmarkism within the SBC. Although I am a pretty far cry from being a political pundit, I believe the recent vote at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention may well have been a pretty good referendum on this question (read about it here). I was not there, but here are a few of my observations based on what I have read on the internet:

1. The proposed amendment was to strike from the ABSC constitution the statement: “The Baptist Faith and Message shall not be interpreted as to permit open communion and/or alien immersion.”

While, as I understand it, state conventions are officially autonomous, and are free to make the doctrinal statements they wish, it is interesting to me that, in addition to approving the Baptist Faith and Message, the ABSC has officially gone on record as interpreting it. The problem is that the terms “open communion” and “alien immersion” are open to interpretation themselves. I had always assumed that the phrase “Being a church ordinance, [baptism] is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper” precluded the option of “open communion.” Inasmuch as, strictly speaking, my personal view is not that of “open communion,” but what some (such as Nathan Finn) have called “modified open communion,” I may not have needed to sign the Baptist Faith and Message with a caveat after all. At least not, according to the way many Arkansas Baptists apparently interpret it.

I don’t have a clue where they get that the BF & M says anything one way or another about “alien immersion,” though.

2. The vote total in favor of the amendment was 383 votes (63%) to 225 votes (37%) against. However, that was not enough, since the constitution requires a 2/3 majority (67%) in two consecutive conventions in order to pass.

It is difficult to know for sure how many of the people who voted in favor of the amendment actually believe in and/or practice “open communion” and the admission of “alien immersion.” However, it seems significant to me that a pretty clear majority appear to at least be open to this possibility. This is in Arkansas, a state that is generally considered to be a stronghold of Landmarkism within the SBC. It is also significant to me, at the same time, that 37% appear to favor an interpretation more in line with Landmarkist views. This is evidence that what Timothy George once called “the ghost of Landmarkism” is still with us, and is something to be taken into account.

From what I read into these statistics, there is a very real possibility, or even probability, that the majority of rank and file Southern Baptists do not expect SBC denominational employees and missionaries to hold to “closed communion” or reject “alien immersion.” At the same time, it is evident there is a real division within the SBC (if the ABSC is representative of the rest) over these issues. That would not be so much of a problem if Landmarkism did not carry along with it the tendency to exclude those who do not give assent to its tenets.

I doubt the authors of the ABSC constitution contemplated this particular situation when they came up with the 2/3-majority, 2-convention clause. However, I think it is ironic, and somewhat ominous, for the SBC at large, that a Landmarkist-leaning minority was able to hold sway in this particular situation.

3. By in large, the people who voted in favor of this amendment were, no doubt, solid conservative Southern Baptists who are supportive of the Conservative Resurgence in general.

Greg Addison, chairman of the committee that presented the amendment, is a personal friend, who grew up with me in the youth department of Bellevue Baptist Church, under the pastoral leadership of my father, Adrian Rogers. He was a staff member of Bellevue for several years, a frequent preacher in the Bellevue pulpit, and someone of whom I know, beyond a shadow of any doubt, my father thought very highly.

It is significant to me, as well, that Ronnie Floyd, Senior Pastor of FBC Springdale & the Church at Pinnacle Hills, as well as candidate for the presidency of the SBC in 2006, publicly supported the amendment. According to his blog, his church practices “open communion,” and handles cases of “alien immersion” on an individual basis.

Pretty good evidence to me that this is not, as some would have us believe, a matter of compromising with the authority of the Word of God. As Floyd says, “Yes, our commitment is to doctrinal purity. We hold the line tight, even to the point of losing possible members to our church. However, we are to be a biblically grounded, Christ-centered people of God. We cannot negotiate away the precious doctrine of salvation as well as other doctrines.”

At the same time, I think it is significant that Floyd defends the right of his church to dissent with decisions they feel are not biblically correct: “Please understand that while we do associate with the Arkansas Baptist Convention, we are an autonomous body of Christ. No convention office dictates to our church how to practice our faith. As a local body of Christ, we have the liberty to interpret Scripture as we believe is right and prayerfully historically accurate.”

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Praying for the Sick

One of the most significant memories that will stick with me from my visit to India is the several occasions on which I was asked to pray, one by one, for sick people after several of the meetings in which we participated. Although, as I have previously indicated on various occasions on this blog, I am a continuationist, and believe in the current operation of the so-called "sign gifts," I have not, in the past, been quite so intensely involved in praying for sick people as I was on this trip to India.

This was not something that I sought out on my own. I was asked, on several occasions, if I would be willing to pray for the sick. Believing that, in some way or another, God might be able to use me, I agreed to do so. After the meetings, the people lined up, and one by one, I asked them what was their particular prayer request, laid my hands on them, and lifted them before the Father. Some of them brought with them a small vial of oil, and handed it to me. In those cases, I poured a little bit on my hands, and rubbed it on their head, as I prayed for them.

While I was in India, I was told that pretty much across the board, throughout all the Christian groups and denominations that are seeing any significant response to the Gospel, a good part of this response is linked to praying for the sick and miraculous healing. From what I have read, in books such as The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins, this is true as well for most areas of the world that are experiencing significant church growth, especially among the so-called "two-thirds world."

I cannot say for sure whether anyone I prayed for was healed as a result of my prayers. I did not ask them directly. However, this experience in my life gave me cause to reflect on the whole issue of praying for the sick. The following are some of my observations:

*God still miraculously heals people today. From my study of Scripture, I see no reason to conclude this is not the case. I have also heard too many credible testimonies of miraculous healing to discard them as mere emotionalism or exaggeration.

*The term "the gift of healing" is a red herring in the whole discussion on continuationism. The biblical text, in the original Greek, says literally, "gifts of healings" (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28). As such, the argument that, if someone had "the gift of healing," they ought to be able to go into hospitals and heal people indiscriminately, is unfounded. I believe that God, in his sovereignty, has distributed the gift of being able to pray for people, and see God heal them as a response, in differing degrees, to different people, in different circumstances, at different times.

*I also believe that physical healing is included in the atonement. A thorough examination of the biblical context of the phrase "by his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24) makes it hard to relegate it to the strictly spiritual sphere. However, the full effects of Jesus’ death on the cross, especially in the physical realm, are not extended to us completely until "the redemption of our bodies" at the last day (Romans 8:18-25; Revelation 21:4). This does not preclude the possibility of God, on occasion, sovereignly bringing forward, into the present day, some of the blessings reserved for us, as his children, in eternity. In the biblical records of miraculous healing (both O.T and N.T.), I believe this is precisely what happened. Whenever God miraculously heals, whether physically, psychologically, or spiritually, He does so on the basis of the blessings won for us by Jesus on the cross of Calvary (see also Exodus 15:22-26).

*I believe that many who purport to have "the gift of healing" are spiritual charlatans. Whenever people use supposed spiritual gifts, accompanied by manipulative techniques and a motivation of personal aggrandizement, there is no way that God can be pleased. Therefore, as believers, we need to use a healthy dose of spiritual discernment in our evaluation and support of such ministries. However, I believe we need to be careful, at the same time, to not "throw the baby out with the bath water."

*I also believe that the degree of our faith does play a role in the efficacy of our prayers for healing. There are too many verses in the Bible that say this too clearly to deny that it is so. However, I believe that, at the same time, it is a travesty to lay the blame for people not being healed on the supposed lack of faith of those being prayed for. Biblically, there is evidence of God responding to the faith of the sick person him/herself, the faith of the one praying for the sick person, and the faith of the one bringing a sick person to someone else so that they might pray for them. I also believe that it is blatant Scripture-twisting, not to mention extreme irresponsibility, to suggest that going to the doctor and taking medicine manifests a lack of faith.

*One of the main motivations for healing in the Bible is compassion towards those who are suffering. As a result, whenever we pray for someone who is sick, we need to be very careful to do so in such a way as to not add to their suffering by either laying the burden of the responsibility for their healing on their faith or lack thereof, or raising their expectations for miraculous healing, only to send them crashing down to the ground afterwards.

*Although it is certain that not all sickness comes as the result of individual sin (John 9:1-3), it is also true that many ailments, whether spiritual, psychological, or physical, have their root in unconfessed sin in our lives. I believe the context of the passage in James on calling for the elders to pray for the sick (James 5:13-16) implies taking this possibility into consideration ("if he has sinned, he will be forgiven"). As ministers of God’s grace, though, we need to be very careful, compassionate, and spiritually discerning, in the way we deal with this.

*I do not believe all sickness comes as a result of demonic activity. However, there does appear to be a clear link, in many instances recorded in the Bible, to certain physical conditions and spiritual bondage. I believe that some people are more spiritually gifted than others at discerning when this is the case. I also believe that our authority, as believers, over the power of the enemy and the spiritual bondage he inflicts, is more direct and complete in this present age, than any authority God may happen to give us over purely physical phenomena. As a result, I believe it is generally a good thing, whenever we sense that demonic activity or spiritual bondage may be at the root of physical sickness, to appropriate in faith the authority God gives us as his children over "all the power of the enemy" (Luke 10:19).

*For some reason, God’s miraculous power in healing seems to be more active in certain areas of the world, and in certain periods of history, than others. We therefore need to be careful not to judge what God may be doing in a certain place, at a certain time, on the basis of what we may have observed at another place and another time.

*At the present time, from all evidence, God appears to be working in unusual ways in many places around the world to raise spiritual awareness and prepare a great harvest of souls. Much of this seems to be tied in with miraculous healing. I believe that we, as God’s servants, and particularly as those associated with Southern Baptist missionary efforts, need to be "in tune" to what God is doing, and join him where He is at work around the world. While we do need to use discernment and not be too quick to jump on the bandwagon of the latest spiritual fads, we, at the same time, need to be just as careful to not cast a scornful eye, and miss out on some of the mighty works of God, as a result of our spiritual skepticism and cultural presuppositions.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

IMB in South Asia

During my recent trip to India, I had the privilege of spending some quality time with several members of the IMB South Asia Region’s leadership team. In the same spirit as my last post, I would like to dedicate this one to the tremendous things God is doing through our Southern Baptist IMB workers in a different region of the world than the one in which I normally work, Western Europe.

I must say I was totally blown away by the vast spiritual needs and ministry opportunities in this significant region of the world that comprises the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives. In my time with the South Asia regional leaders, I learned that, among the various ministries in which they could invest their efforts, our IMB workers have chosen to focus their energies on reaching the most unreached of the unreached. They are strategically working to train national believers in discipleship and church planting methods that have proven to yield the greatest fruit in terms of spiritual multiplication. Inasmuch as IMB work in much of the region is comparatively new, I was especially pleased to learn of plans to give priority consideration toward building stronger relationships with the various Baptist unions and other Great Commission Christian groups scattered across the region, helping to mobilize them towards greater effectiveness in reaching the unreached in their midst.

The South Asia region has a very informative and extensive web-site, which I strongly recommend you to check out for yourself. A good place to begin would be the Fast Facts page, and the Frequently Asked Questions page. But for those of you who don’t go there for yourselves, here are a few of the more noteworthy statistics:
  • More people live in India than in all of North America, Central America and South America – combined!

  • The seven countries of South Asia are home to about one out of five people in the world. Most have never heard the Gospel even once!

  • South Asia has 51% of the world’s Unreached People Groups (UPGs), nearly 3/4ths of the world’s Unengaged Unreached People Groups (UUPGs) and one out of every four lost persons on the planet!

  • South Asia is home to more unreached people groups and more unengaged unreached people groups than all the rest of the world combined!

  • As an IMB region, South Asia still has one of the lowest numbers of personnel compared to other regions!

I am extremely grateful that God allowed me to have a first-hand glimpse at what He is doing in this part of the world. I also have a deep admiration for those who have made the decision to actually move to South Asia, and pour their lives into helping to reach the unreached and minister to the needy in this very challenging place to live and work. And, while not neglecting other areas, including Western Europe, I have been inspired to be more faithful in praying for the needs of South Asia, as well as becoming an advocate, whenever I have the opportunity, for the work of the IMB in this high-priority arena of God’s redemptive work around the world today.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

RIMI - Mission India

Back in 1984-86, when I served as a missionary volunteer on board Operation Mobilization’s ministry ship, MV Doulos, there were several things that deeply impacted my life. One of them was the weekly Thursday nights of prayer, in which we would pray for the needs of countries and ministries around the world. In addition to the blessing of praying so intensely and regularly, I was very impressed by the fact that, on so many occasions, the prayer requests were not just centered on the ministry of Operation Mobilization, but rather, as well, on those of many other sister organizations and ministry efforts.

During my time on the ship, one story was relayed to us that brought home in a very poignant way this significant principle of unselfish cooperation and solidarity in the Body of Christ. Back in the late 60’s, the leaders of both Operation Mobilization (OM) and Youth With A Mission (YWAM) were praying and seeking God’s provision for their first ship to launch in ministry around the world. YWAM had received significant donations, had their eyes on a particular ship, and were involved in initial negotiations to purchase it. When the deal fell through, though, the leaders of YWAM felt led by the Lord to transfer the money they had received to OM, enabling them to buy the MV Logos, the ship that would end up becoming the pioneer vessel of world missions ship ministry. Now, years later, as many of you are aware, both OM and YWAM have several different ministry ships.

As a missionary of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, some might question why I am writing to plug the ministry of another mission organization. However, it is in the spirit of what I learned years ago during my time with OM that I want to share about the strategic ministry of a wonderful organization with which I had the opportunity to partner on my recent trip to India: Reaching Indians Ministries International (RIMI), or Mission India (as it is known within India).

According to RIMI’s web-site:

RIMI is an international, interdenominational, evangelical Christian missions agency, established in 1993, with the compelling vision of glorifying Christ by training national (indigenous) leaders who plant reproducing churches in India and beyond. This is implemented by the PARTNERSHIP of God's people everywhere.

RIMI's India based ministry is called Mission India which is located in Nagpur, Central India. Today we have over 980 church planters with over 4,000 house churches, a leading theological seminary in Nagpur with 22 satellite training centers and many compassion projects including 20 Mercy Homes, which serve over 500 children. This year about 850 students will be trained to become tomorrow's influential leaders for Christ's Kingdom.

Mercy Home Kids

During my time in India, I was able to observe first-hand how RIMI/Mission India is doing everything they say here and more. Many times, it is difficult to know, when dealing with national indigenous ministries, whether the money donated is really being used wisely or not. I am happy to say, though, I was extremely impressed by the servant heart, responsible stewardship, and personal integrity I saw exhibited by the various members of the Mission India leadership team with whom we were privileged to work during our time there. I was able to see first-hand the magnificent seminary and ministry center in Nagpur, as well as the satellite training centers in Warangal and Goa. I was able to fellowship, work, and pray together with a good many of the Mission India national leaders on a close, personal level.

Mission India Leadership Team, Nagpur

The scope of the vision of RIMI Founder and President Saji Lukos, and the rest of the Mission India leadership team, is enormous. They are very close to fulfilling their goal of having a Ministry Training Center in each of India’s 28 states. They are providing valuable training for national pastors and church planters, and preparing them to reach out in obedience and faith to the unreached millions scattered throughout India. They are doing a fantastic job of ministering the love of Christ to the needy by way of their Mercy Homes and many other compassion projects.

I absolutely love RIMI/Mission India’s Core Values Statement, which I found, by experience, to be more than just mere words, and which reads as follows:
  1. Christ before Career: We have absolute trust and faith in the Word of God, and we are committed to honor Christ by obeying everything that He commands us to do, and living humbly and sacrificially.
  2. Character before Ministry: We are committed to develop Christ-like leaders through various innovative programs so that the people will see Christ and want to follow him personally.
  3. Unity before Growth: We are committed to being truly evangelical, inter-denominational and multi-cultural.
  4. People before Program: We are committed to build people on the basis of their specific call and gifts in order to develop various ministries to meet the needs of people in the community. Disciple making is the number one priority of RIMI churches (Faith Gospel Church).
  5. Ownership before Organization: We are committed to establish autonomous and self-supporting churches and church-based projects. This is ownership, and avoids long-term dependency.
  6. Unreached before Reached: We are committed to reach the unreached strategically, region by region with the help of local trained leadership.
  7. Integrity before Popularity: We are committed to practice absolute integrity and accountability.
I could say more, but I will leave you to visit the RIMI web-site yourself, and learn more about what they are doing, and how you could play a part in helping to support the vision of this wonderful, God-honoring ministry that I whole-heartedly recommend.

Seminary Class

Mission India, Warangal