Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Missionary Call

Lately, I have been giving a bit of thought into the whole subject of the “missionary call.”

On the IMB web-site, it says that applicants for career, missionary apprentice, and missionary associate positions should be called and gifted by God, with a high sense of God’s leading to use their gifts in missionary service in cross-cultural situations.”

When it comes to Masters, ISC and Journeyman workers, however, the wording for this requirement is reduced to “a sense of God’s leadership.”

As far as potential members of mission volunteer teams are concerned, the advice they are given is: "Search our projects to find the overseas project that fits best with how God is calling you."

Several missionary colleagues, on their blogs, have had some insightful comments regarding “missionary call” in the past several weeks. Ken Sorrell, in a post entitled “As the Father has sent me…” Part One made the following statement:

To interpret Scripture in such a way to arrive at the position that every Christian is to fulfill the apostolic calling seems to me to be somewhat of a stretch. While agreeing that every Christian should be involved in activities that are normally associated with missionaries, this is not the same as the call to the apostolic task as seen and described in the New Testament. In fact, in this verse written by John, the word for “sent” is apostello, “as the Father has sent me, and the word for “send”, pempo, so send I you are two very different words and images. However, while meditating on this verse and seeking to understand those who are just as confident in their interpretation as I am in mine, I found myself asking the question, if Jesus is sending us out as God sent Him, as is stated in John’s Gospel, how did God send Jesus out? If everyone is a missionary, what does this really mean for all believers? And, are all believers prepared to embrace the implications of such a position?

In the comment string of the same post, Tim Patterson (a.k.a. “mr. t”), made the following observation:


I agree there are those with a specific apostolic gift... set apart and sent by the Holy Spirit through the church for the work He has called them to do.

However, all believers are commanded to be salt and light in the world. I still believe the Great Commission is for all, not just for the professionals. All can be a part of making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey. What we tend to forget is that God does not call us to do the apostolic task alone. It takes all kinds in the body of Christ to carry out His commission. As apostles we need to take the church along with us, the mission is for the whole church. We run ahead and hope they will catch up later... when we should be going together. True, not all will go, not all will have the same degree of sacrifice and commitment... but Christ will use them just the same. We all have to take baby steps before we can take longer strides.

Not to be outdone, IMB colleague “Strider,” on his post entitled On Being Apostolic, had this to say:

An apostle is a ‘sent one.’ He is given a specific task for breaking down barriers and he carries a ministry across the barricades that the enemy has erected to spread the light of the Kingdom in a previously dark place. The key difference for the apostle from the other ministries is the concept of barriers. Paul was sent to the Gentiles. This was cross cultural ministry. He went (physically) from where he was to a different place and culture with the Good News. Peter was an Apostle to the Jews. He was a Jew. He did not in one sense cross a barrier in that he was who he was sent to reach. But in another sense he crossed an important barrier. The Jews had rejected Jesus. Peter was ethnically a Jew but he became a citizen of the Kingdom and then was sent back to the Jews. He was in a sense re-crossing the barrier he had come across. Crossing barriers is important to apostles.

Another characteristic is the ministry. A preacher can preach anywhere. An evangelist evangelizes everywhere he goes. But they are not apostles. An apostle brings a ministry with him. He is not just a team leader. He is a team empowerer. Because he is called to cross the barrier he is given the authority to do the job that the King has called him to. As with all gifts in the Kingdom it only has meaning as it is given away. An apostle gives his authority to others that they may expand the ministry.

In recent reading, I have also come across the following thoughts that have stimulated my thinking regarding “missionary call” and, to some extent, challenged my ideas:

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, February 2, “The Compelling Force of the Call”

“Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Beware of refusing to hear the call of God. Everyone who is saved is called to testify to the fact of his salvation. That, however, is not the same as the call to preach, but is merely an illustration which can be used in preaching. In this verse, Paul was referring to the stinging pains produced in him by the compelling force of the call to preach the gospel. Never try to apply what Paul said regarding the call to preach to those souls who are being called to God for salvation...

To be “separated to the gospel” means being able to hear the call of God (Romans 1:1). Once someone begins to hear that call, a suffering worthy of the name of Christ is produced. Suddenly, every ambition, every desire of life, and every outlook is completely blotted out and extinguished. Only one thing remains—“…separated to the gospel...” Woe be to the soul who tries to head in any other direction once that call has come to him. The Bible Training College exists so that each of you may know whether or not God has a man or woman here who truly cares about proclaiming His gospel and to see if God grips you for this purpose. Beware of competing calls once the call of God grips you.

Watchman Nee, in The Normal Christian Church Life:

The first principle to note in the work of God is that all His workers are sent ones. If there is no divine commission, there can be no divine work...

Scripture has a special name for a sent one, namely, an apostle...

Who then are apostles? Apostles are God’s workmen, sent out by the Holy Spirit to do the work to which He has called them. The responsibility of the work is in their hands. Broadly speaking, all believers are responsible for the work of God, but apostles are a group of people specially set apart and bear a peculiar responsibility for its conduct...

The apostles were gifted men, but their apostleship was not based upon their gifts; it was based upon their commission. Of course, God will not send anyone who is unequipped, but equipment does not constitute apostleship. It is futile for anyone to assume the office of an apostle simply because he thinks he has the needed gifts or ability. It takes more than mere gift and ability to constitute men apostles; it takes God Himself, His will and His call. No man can attain to apostleship through natural or other qualifications: God must make him an apostle if he is ever to be one. “A man sent from God” should be the main characteristic of our entering upon His service and of all our subsequent movements...

Today those who have been sent out by the Lord to preach the Gospel and to establish churches call themselves missionaries, not apostles, but the word “missionary” means the very same thing as “apostle,” i.e. “the sent one.” It is the Latin form of the Greek equivalent, “apostolos.” Since the meaning of the two words is exactly the same, I fail to see the reason why the true sent ones of today prefer to call themselves “missionaries” rather than “apostles”...

If God has called a man to be an apostle, it will be manifest in the fruit of his labours. Wherever you have the commission of God, there you have the authority of God; wherever your have the authority of God, there you have the power of God; and wherever you have the power of God, there you have spiritual fruits. The fruit of our labours proves the validity of our commission. And yet it must be noted that Paul’s thought is not that apostleship implies numerous converts but that it represents spiritual values for the Lord, for He could never send anyone for a lesser purpose...

There was abundant evidence of Paul’s apostolic commission and the signs of an apostle will never be lacking where there is truly an apostolic call … Endurance is the greatest proof of spiritual power, and it is one of the signs of an apostle. It is the ability to endure steadfastly under continuous pressure that tests the reality of an apostolic call… But the reality of Paul’s apostleship was not only attested by his patient endurance under intense and prolonged pressure, it was evidenced also by the miraculous power he possessed. Miraculous power to change situations in the physical world is a necessary manifestation of our knowledge of God in the spiritual realm, and this applies not to heathen lands only but to every land. To profess to be sent ones of the omnipotent God, and yet stand helpless before situations that challenge His power, is a sad contradiction. Not all who can work wonders are apostles, for the gifts of healing and of miracle-working are given to members of the body (1 Cor. 12:28) who have no special commission, but miraculous as well as spiritual power is part of the equipment of all who have a true apostolic commission...

I, personally, tend to think that all of us, as believers, are “called” to participate, to the best of our ability, in the fulfilment of the Great Commission. The specific way in which each one participates will depend on various factors. I do not deny that God sometimes causes people to have a strong sense of His leading in regard to specific types of ministry, in particular places, and particular circumstances. I believe, however, that God’s “call” in our lives is perceived both through the “left side” of our brain and the “right side” of our brain. I believe that many have made out the “missionary call” and the “call to ministry” in general to be essentially a “mystical” experience. I do not deny the reality of this type of “call” experience in many people’s lives. I myself, on various occasions, have had a deep sense that God was “pricking my heart” in a special way, whenever the topic of world missions was discussed. On various occasions, I have not been able to hold back my tears, as I sensed God speaking to my heart about the need of the world, and His plan to reconcile to Himself those He was calling out from among all the nations and people groups of the world. Upon responding positively to that sense of “call,” I felt a peace inside, or a sense of “oughtness,” that I was doing the right thing.

At the same time, though, I have seen what I believe to be some dangers in over-subjectivity and dogmatism related to a “missionary call.” I have seen some very zealous workers arrive on the mission field, convinced that God had called them to a specific place and ministry, when, at the same time, the majority of their colleagues and national ministry partners could not affirm their effectiveness in the particular ministry to which they were supposedly “called.” I have seen this type of situation end up bringing quite a bit of anguish and heartache to various people, including, but not limited to, the family members of the supposedly “called” workers.

Without discounting the validity of all “right-brain,” subjective, and/or mystical type of “call” experiences, I believe that every one of us, as believers, need to honestly ask ourselves on a regular basis the following question:

Given the particular personality, talents, spiritual gifts, experiences, and life situations that God has placed in my life right now, exactly where and doing what do I believe I can make the most strategic contribution towards the fulfilment of the Great Commission?
Of course, that is a very deep question, which will no doubt require some serious reflection and soul-searching.

*Rick Warren, in The Purpose-Driven Life, has an interesting section about more or less this same basic concept, that he calls “God-given S.H.A.P.E.” (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences).

For some, this may mean one thing at one stage in our life, and something totally different, at another stage in our life. A change of ministry focus does not necessarily mean one has abandoned God’s “call” on his/her life, though. What is not an option, for any true disciple of Jesus, is looking for the “easy way out” or completely “throwing in the towel.”

I would be interested to hear what any of you have to say regarding the “missionary call.” I myself am very open to any new insights God may have to give me on this important subject.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Southern Baptist Zion?

Do a Google search on the term “Southern Baptist Zion.” You will find diverse people with diverse convictions using this term in diverse contexts. I do not wish to stoop to such a degree of pickiness here as to call into question the beliefs and motivations of all who have used this term, at whatever time, for whatever purpose. But I do want to point out an underlying belief system that may well, on occasions, accompany the use of this term, that I believe goes against God’s will and purpose for us as Christians.

The name of this blog, “Love Each Stone,” comes from the Contemporary English Version’s rendering of Psalm 102.14:

We, your servants, love each stone in the city, and we are sad to see them lying in the dirt.

According to Commentator Adam Clarke, “this Psalm has been attributed to Daniel, to Jeremiah, to Nehemiah, or to some of the other prophets who flourished during the time of the captivity.” The reference here is to the city of Zion, almost certainly, in the mind of the original author, the physical city of Jerusalem. The writer of Hebrews, however, takes verses 25 to 27 of this same Psalm, and applies them to our Lord Jesus (Hebrews 1.8-12). Further on, God inspired the same author to write the following words, clarifying the spiritual meaning of Zion for us, who have become part of God’s people by grace through faith in the redemption bought for us by the blood of Jesus on the cross of Calvary:

You have now come to Mount Zion and to the heavenly Jerusalem. This is the city of the living God, where thousands and thousands of angels have come to celebrate. Here you will find all of God's dearest children, whose names are written in heaven. And you will find God himself, who judges everyone. Here also are the spirits of those good people who have been made perfect. And Jesus is here! He is the one who makes God's new agreement with us, and his sprinkled blood says much better things than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12.22-24 (Contemporary English Version)

Although some may see the metaphor of “Zion” as a useful term to describe the particular historical heritage, common beliefs, and spiritual fellowship we share as Southern Baptists, I believe this is an unfortunate choice of imagery, as God’s Word tells us that the true spiritual “Zion” is made up of “all of God’s dearest children;” and its membership is comprised of all those “whose names are written in heaven.”

You may well ask why is this particular issue such a big deal to me? Is it just a pet doctrine or personal soapbox of mine? The truth is that, as I have studied Scripture, the concept of God’s spiritual Zion, embracing all of us as born-again believers, and members of the Church Universal, has come to be a key part of my understanding of biblical ecclesiology, missiology, and eschatology. In short, I believe a biblically instructed worldview leads us to be vitally concerned with a correct understanding of, and corresponding emphasis on, the practical unity of God’s people throughout the world, down through the ages, as manifested through the many different ecclesiological expressions and currents that come together to form the true spiritual Zion.

I leave you to meditate on the following words from the New International Reader’s Version’s translation of Psalm 102.12-22, which, for me, have great missiological and eschatological significance:

But Lord, you are seated on your throne forever.
Your fame will continue for all time to come.

You will rise up and show deep concern for Zion.
The time has come for you to show favor to it.

The stones of your destroyed city are priceless to us.
Even its dust brings deep concern to us.

The nations will worship the Lord.
All of the kings on earth will respect his glorious power.

The Lord will build
Zion again.
He will appear in his glory.

He will answer the prayer of those who don't have anything.
He won't say no to their cry for help.

Let this be written down for those born after us.
Then people who are not yet born can praise the Lord.

Here is what should be written.

"The Lord looked down from his temple in heaven.
From heaven he viewed the earth.
He heard the groans of the prisoners.
He set free those who were sentenced to death."

So people will talk about him in
They will praise him in
Nations and kingdoms
will gather there to worship the Lord.

Friday, March 16, 2007

SBC: Denomination or Convention?

I believe the comment originally made by Paul Burleson, and referenced by Wade Burleson on this post, is extremely relevant, not only in light of the discussion over the new policies at the IMB, but also in reference to many other questions being discussed throughout the SBC today.

In order to facilitate more discussion, I am reproducing here a comment I just left on Wade's post. It also ties in, to some degree, I believe, with the fruitful conversation we have been having here at Love Each Stone on the City church...

I agree that this is a key issue that underlies many of the discussions within the SBC. As such, this question lies at the root of many of the posts on my own blog.

I believe that biblical teaching on unity is at the level of the Universal Church (or the Body of Christ), the City church, and the local congregation (or New Testament "house church"), but never at the level of "denomination." An overstated emphasis on denominational unity and uniformity can also become an impediment to true biblical unity at the Universal Church, City church, and local congregation levels.

This is not to say that the SBC, in and of itself, is a bad thing, or has to necessarily be counter-productive in regards to biblical unity. It does mean, however, that the SBC should never be viewed as more than a tool, in the hands of local congregations, in unity with the various City churches, and the Body of Christ around the world, for effective work towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. In order to be a more effective tool, agreement on doctrinal statements such as the BFM, can be helpful.

But whenever the SBC, in and of itself, is seen as representative of the Body of Christ as a whole, or as competing with our legitimate loyalty towards the entire Body of Christ, it becomes, in my opinion, not only a "denomination," but also a sect, and as such, contrary to the will of God for us as believers.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The City Church, a guest post by Paul Grabill

About a week and a half ago, I posted an entry entitled The Universal Church, Landmarkism, and John Dagg. One of the people who commented was Paul Grabill. I was so interested in what he had to share regarding the concept of the "City Church," which I believe relates in some very practical ways to the general theme of this blog, unity in the Body of Christ, that I invited Paul to write a guest post elaborating a bit more on this very important concept. What follows is Paul's post, which I have just received. I invite you to consider carefully what Paul is saying here, and to leave whatever comments you see fit...

Dear David:

I'm sorry that I have not gotten back to you sooner. I wanted to share something that was both well thought through and succinct. I'm not sure that I achieved that.:)

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share with you more about what is dear to my heart--and I believe the heart of the Lord--visible unity (not uniformity) among born-again believers.

As I briefly shared before, I believe the optimal and most biblical manifestation of that unity is what I will call the "City Church."

Let me lay out why:

First, here are my theological assumptions:

1. Our ultimate authority is Scripture--adding nothing and taking nothing away. Therefore, we must draw our ecclesiology from the New Testament, taking relevant passages at face value (as literal as possible). One cannot exegete from tradition or experience. Tradition (no matter how long the span of time) and experience (no matter how broadly shared) must submit to the clear meaning of the Word of God.

2. The Lordship of Jesus Christ as Head of His Church. What He wants is what we should want; nothing more, nothing less.

3. A commitment to the fundamentals of the faith, but latitude in interpretation on non-essentials.

4. One biblical truth cannot be sacrificed for another. For instance, we don't believe in the resurrection of our Lord less because we believe in the virgin birth. Some have established unity vs. truth as a false dichotomy. Both must be embraced. In fact, a commitment to biblical unity actually forces us to decide what are the core essentials of the faith. However, if seemingly everything is an essential/fundamental, then nothing is. When the list of fundamentals gets longer and longer, at some point the meaning of the word 'fundamental' is logically obliterated.

5. The Church Universal is called by Christ to be missional by definitiion. We should all think like missionaries. (I am a missionary to Central Pennsylvania. The fact that I was physically born in this area is irrelevant. Since I've been born-again, I've become a citizen of Heaven, and am therefore an "Ambassador of Christ.")

I think these are assumptions broadly shared in the evangelical community. However, our practice often does not match up with our declared assumptions.

To illustrate, let me address two key passages.

It seems transparently clear to me that John 17:23 speaks (1) of visible unity, i.e., "...that the world may know..." and (2) clearly expresses the heartfelt prayer and desire of the one we call Lord. I don't see any way that we can call Jesus "Lord" and ignore what is in his only extended canonical prayer. What do I mean by that? Well, Jesus must have prayed thousands of prayers, and a few of His brief ones are recorded, but this is the *only* extended prayer in our canon. Why? Because we are supposed to read what He wants. If this is not a priority for us, how can we call ourselves followers of Christ, let alone Biblical Christians?

It also seems transparently clear to me that 1 Corinthians 1 and 3 speak precisely against the denominational paradigm in which we presently minister. Of course, we have expanded the categories far beyond "Paul, Cephas, Apollos, and Christ." We have Luther, Wesley, all manner of Calvinists, et. al. And it's not just in one city that we have such divisions--it's in virtually every city. In fact, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of denominational (literally, using a name) networks that form part of the Body of Christ, but often believe themselves to have all or most of the Truth. Well, there are only two mathematical possibilities of how many denominations "have it all together." It's either one or none. And, I believe I know the answer: it's none. We all have part, but not the whole.

Now, it probably should be said that denominations (a phenomenon largely created by church/state separation in America and then exported to the world) are better than the religious wars of old Europe. But I think we must also admit that they aren't biblical. I don't know how anyone could argue that they are.

Some get around this by arguing that they are *the one* that has it all together. Landmark Baptists aren't the only ones that make that claim, as sincere a claim as it may be. Roman Catholics and others do the same.

So, how we move off of dead center and establish some semblance of visible unity as our Lord desires?

Here are some proposed pathways to Christian unity:

1. Institutional mergers.

2. Councils of Churches/denominations on national or international scales.

3. Local unity guided by the Holy Spirit.

As you have guessed, I believe the third is the only workable and biblical solution.

Remember that one of my assumptions is that the Church should always be missional. I believe common mission unites. We see that in the military, don't we? Paul and his ministry partners may have had disagreements and each may have had more in common with someone in Jerusalem who was not part of their missionary enterprise, but their common goal united them (I won't take the space to elaborate on Paul/Barnabas, hoping the point is accepted).

Therefore, it seems to me, that I have more in common with born-again pastors who wish to see State College, PA reached for Jesus than I do with, say, a pastor of my own denomination in Southern California. That perspective has led me and others to commit considerable time to not only praying, working and worshipping together, but to begin to knit hearts and to hold each other accountable in deeper ways than denominations are able (because of geographical distance). At the same time, we don't believe in uniformity, so we believe each congregation should have freedom to express their own way of worship and teaching on secondary and tertiary matters.

So, why am I still part of a denomination if I think that they aren't biblical? Because I don't believe in non-accountability. So, until a new wineskin (such as the "City Church") emerges, I remain connected with my ecclesiastical family of origin.

One other matter of note: I have mentioned in an earlier comment that, Biblically, the preeminent use of the word "Church" implied only one "Church" in each city--the Church of Ephesus, Philippi, Rome, et. al. The word 'Church' is used 3 ways in the NT--The Universal Church, the City Church and the House Church. The single mention of the House Church (I'd say all congregations today are just overgrown house churches) has been conflated by many with the preeminent use of the City Church. Hence the confusion. Each local congregation acts like they are the "Church of the City," when in reality, they are only a part of the whole.

So, as you can see, I have no interest in national/international ecumenical organizations, in sacrificing biblical essentials for false unity or in denominational mergers. What I am interested in is simply this: Pleasing the Lord. I am committed to an incremental, Spirit-led approach that does not seek to deconstruct what we already have until something better emerges (no, this is not part of the Emergent movement:)).

If you have any questions, David, I'll be happy to take my best shot at them.

Blessings on you and yours!

Paul Grabill

State College, PA

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Application of Grudem's Article to the Current Situation in the SBC (Part 11)

We now come to the last of the eight questions that Wayne Grudem, in his article, Why, When, and For What, Should We Draw New Boundaries?, says we should ask when trying to determine “for what doctrinal and ethical matters should Christian organizations draw new boundaries”:

8. METHODS OF ADVOCATES: Do the advocates of this teaching frequently manifest arrogance, deception, unrighteous anger, slander, and falsehood rather than humility, openness to correction and reason, kindness, and absolute truthfulness?

In my opinion, many of the same things I wrote in my last post concerning question # 7 apply here to question # 8 as well. If we cannot be sure of someone else’s motives, unless there is specific evidence to the contrary, I believe we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

I suppose that on both sides of the specific questions being discussed here (“PPL” and “alien immersion”), there are certain advocates who at times have fallen into patterns of “arrogance, deception, unrighteous anger, slander, and falsehood,” and others who have, for the most part, maintained an attitude of “humility, openness to correction and reason, kindness, and absolute truthfulness.”

Whether or not we perceive any tendency one way or the other on the part of the advocates of either side of the discussion will depend, undoubtedly, on the various prejudices and presuppositions each one of us bring to the table with us as fallible human beings. Although I have done my best, in my discussion of these issues, to maintain an attitude of “humility, openness to correction and reason, kindness, and absolute truthfulness,” I would have to include myself as someone who, to one degree or another, is also tainted by my own subjectivity and personal preferences.

In the end, each one of us will have to answer before God...
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work (1 Corinthians 3.11-13).
Another observation that Grudem makes at this point that seems relevant to me with respect to the current situation in the SBC is the following:
In 1923, J. Gresham Machen, in his classic book Christianity and Liberalism, wrote about liberal Presbyterian professors and pastors who believed one thing but said another just to keep their jobs and their influence. They signed the doctrinal statement even though they disagreed with it, and there was a fundamental dishonesty in what they were doing.
It is my intention, in what I write on this blog, to be forthright and honest. At the same time, I am aware that it is one thing to speak the truth boldly, without regard for the consequences, and, at times, something else to “speak the truth in love.” I also recognize there is a time for discretion, and we must “choose our battles,” asking whether or not what we are discussing is truly “a hill big enough to die on.”

In addition to my views on the issues of “PPL” and “alien immersion,” I have already indicated, on another post, a minor discrepancy I have with one statement in the Baptist Faith & Message that, as I understand it, advocates the practice of “closed communion.” If “coming clean” regarding my beliefs on these issues ends up threatening my job security, I am prepared to face the consequences. I personally do not believe my views are incompatible with faithful service as an IMB missionary. If that day were to ever come, though, I do not think it would be right to quietly continue drawing my salary on Cooperative Program dollars, merely taking care not to “make waves” or “ruffle feathers” within the organization. Neither do I believe that it would be right for me, in the meantime, to cover up my beliefs, or give the impression I believe one thing, when I really believe another.

In the end, each one of us, before God, must act according to the dictates of his or her own conscience. I am hopeful, though, that in the Southern Baptist Convention, and in the various institutions that are supported by the Cooperative Program, we don’t fall into the trap of letting job security and/or opportunities for advancement within the organization determine the views we are willing to defend publicly.

Along this same line, Grudem closes out his article referencing, in relation to “for what doctrinal and ethical matters should Christian organizations draw new boundaries,” what he believes are “SOME WRONG QUESTIONS TO ASK.” Regarding this, he says:
It is important to add that there are some questions that should not be part of our consideration in deciding which doctrinal matters to exclude with new boundaries. These are questions such as the following:

- Are the advocates my friends?
- Are they nice people?
- Will we lose money or members if we exclude them?
- Will the academic community criticize us as being too narrow-minded?
- Will someone take us to court over this?
I am in agreement with Grudem here that “such questions are all grounded in a wrongful fear of man, not in a fear of God and trust in God.” Perhaps in regard to the specific issues being discussed here, we could add the question: "Will some within the denominational community criticize us for being too open-minded?" I pray that God may indeed grant all of us who are faced with making decisions over issues like the ones we are currently facing in the SBC grace to act, not out of “wrongful fear of man,” but rather out of “fear of God and trust in God.”

Friday, March 02, 2007

Application of Grudem's Article to the Current Situation in the SBC (Part 10)

The next in Wayne Grudem’s list of eight questions we should ask when trying to determine “for what doctrinal and ethical matters should Christian organizations draw new boundaries” is:

7. Motivations of Advocates: Does it seem that the advocates of this teaching hold it because of a fundamental refusal to be subject to the authority of God’s Word, rather than because of sincerely-held differences of interpretation based on accepted hermeneutical standards?

In his explanation of this criterion, Grudem asks some rather pointed questions…

With regard to some specific type of false teaching, after some interaction with one of its responsible advocates (not just with a fringe follower of the teaching who may be ill-informed or unsanctified, or even an unbeliever, but with a responsible advocate) we might ask ourselves, for example, Deep down inside, is he (or she) just embarrassed by the offense of the cross? Or we might ask, Deep down inside, is he embarrassed by the exclusive claims of Christ to be the only way to God? Is he driven by a desire to be accepted or approved by liberal scholars? Is he craving for attention, for praise, and for being called creative and innovative? Is his case built again and again on hermeneutical novelties, special pleading, and methods of interpretation that we could not adopt elsewhere?

In order to answer these questions in regard to the advocates of “private prayer language” and so-called “alien immersion,” we must first identify, as Grudem points out, their “responsible advocates.”

In the case of “PPL,” there has been an attempt by some to discredit its “advocates” by branding them as “Charismatics” or “Pentecostals.” While undeniably, true “Charismatics” and “Pentecostals” are, almost always, “advocates” of “PPL,” the great majority of the “advocates” for freedom to practice “PPL” within the SBC, or, more specifically, for IMB missionary candidates, are neither “Charismatics” nor “Pentecostals.” Not meaning to imply that “Charismatics” or “Pentecostals” are necessarily “irresponsible advocates” of their positions, but due to the aforementioned reason, I don’t believe we should include “Charismatics” or “Pentecostals” when discussing “responsible advocates” of the freedom to practice “PPL” within Southern Baptist circles.

I think we could include in our list of “responsible advocates” such people as Jerry Rankin, Ken Hemphill (see here), and no doubt, many other SBC leaders who have not yet chosen to be vocal about their convictions on this particular issue. I believe it is self-evident that people of this caliber are neither “embarrassed by the offense of the cross” or by “the exclusive claims of Christ to be the only way to God,” nor “driven by a desire to be accepted or approved by liberal scholars,” “craving for attention, for praise, and for being called ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’,” nor is their case “built again and again on hermeneutical novelties, special pleading, and methods of interpretation that we could not adopt elsewhere.” Regarding these men, very few would dare to even suggest such a thing.

Although perhaps not quite so much in the mainstream of Southern Baptist life or directly involved in the current discussion, I believe there is good reason to include in the list of “responsible advocates” of freedom to practice “PPL” within the SBC such theologians as D. A. Carson and Grudem himself. Hardly anyone within the SBC who is a knowledgeable student of theology would be so bold as to say that these men base their theological positions, which leave room for the legitimate practice of “PPL,” on “hermeneutical novelties.”

I believe we could also include in our list of “responsible advocates” people such as Wade Burleson, Dwight McKissic, and a number of other Southern Baptist bloggers. Although I believe it would be a mistake to wed the validity of the argument in favor of freedom to practice “PPL” with the motivations and character of these individuals, it would be disingenuous to deny that, in the eyes of many, the cause in favor of repealing the new polices at the IMB has come to be coupled with their written support of it.

Of course, when talking about a category as general as “bloggers,” there is room for just about anything under the sun. Some “bloggers,” by way of their on-line behavior, are not worthy to be called “responsible advocates” of anything. However, in the case of the two gentlemen mentioned above, as well as many others I choose not to specify by name here, I think it is hard, despite the efforts of some, to make the accusation of the possible wrong motivations that Grudem mentions here “stick.”

Regarding the issue of “alien immersion,” though the list of “responsible advocates” may not be an exact carbon-copy of the list of the advocates of freedom to practice “PPL,” I believe it is just as difficult, if not even more so, to build the case that those arguing against the new policy are motivated by “a fundamental refusal to be subject to the authority of God’s Word.”

Let’s be honest with one another. With the possible exception of a small minority of those involved in this discussion, I believe we all, on both sides of these questions, want to see Jesus glorified, the Word of God honored, and lost souls among the people groups of the world won to Christ and led to become growing disciples. We may have some sincere differences regarding our interpretation of some biblical texts and minor points of doctrine, or about methodology and ministry style. But, at the core, we all want the same thing, and, for that reason, we should stop impugning each others’ motives.

I am not saying there is no such thing as a “liberal” or that there are never those who may be motivated to compromise on doctrine for less than honorable motives. But, I am firmly convinced that such is not the case for the great majority of people involved in the current discussion. And, even if it might happen be the case of a scattered few, that should not invalidate the position of those who are doing the best they can to be honest and responsible in their handling of the Word of God, and convey their heart-felt convictions regarding these issues to others.