Monday, April 30, 2007


I was first exposed to the great spiritual need of Europe in a very real way through my participation in several Operation Mobilization summer campaigns back in 1979, ‘80, and ’84 in the countries of Austria, Italy, and England. As I began to sense God leading me into career foreign missionary service, I began to think and pray about where I might be able to make the most strategic impact towards the fulfilment of the Great Commission.

In the January 1983 edition of Evangelical Missions Quarterly, J. Robertson McQuilkin published an article entitled “Looking at the Task Six Ways” (available with an on-line subscription here) in which he analyzed various ways that missionary strategists have evaluated the comparative priority of missions involvement in different parts of the world. Among the factors that he mentions are: the total number of lost people in a particular country; the responsiveness, or rate of growth of the evangelical church; the unreached compared with the proportion of evangelicals; North American missionary force as a proportion of the population; accessibility to missionaries or freedom to evangelize; and a focus on “hidden peoples” or “unreached people groups.”

McQuilkin’s point is that it is very hard to mathematically calculate with any sort of precision the question of missionary priority. However, he does suggest that, when you combine the various factors together in an attempt to reach a composite ranking of priority, there are often surprises. One of the countries he included in his sample composite evaluations of various countries and corresponding priority for sending of missionaries was the country of Spain. Spain, while not very high on the scale of responsiveness, ranks comparatively high in factors such as low percentage of evangelicals in comparison to total population (less than 1%), and accessibility to foreign missionaries. Out of 8,109 different cities and towns, approximately 7,450 still do not have any on-going evangelical witness.

McQuilkin even makes a few statements in his article alluding specifically to Spain, such as:

“Young people, stirred to complete the task, should not have a hesitancy about going to Spain or Mexico City, even though there are viable, witnessing churches in both areas. We are talking about millions and millions of people who have not heard the gospel. If reinforcements do not come, they will never have the opportunity to hear the gospel,” and, “Spain appears as a prime need, even though it is not so rated by some strategists.”

While I was on Operation Mobilization’s missionary ship M.V. Doulos from 1984-86, I had the opportunity to spend six months of that time in various cities of Spain. By this time, I was well on my way towards being fluent in Spanish, and I began to sense a certain bond towards the culture and people of Spain. By the time I finished my two years on the ship, which included visits in more than 20 countries of Europe and West Africa, I came to sense a conviction that God was leading me back to Spain as a career missionary. When I met my future wife, Kelly, shortly thereafter, she, already seeking God’s will for her life regarding possible missionary service, “signed on” together with me in the vision for Spain.

Since that time, a “lot of water has gone under the bridge.” In 17 years of missionary service in Spain, we have seen our share of frustration, and a few victories along the way as well. We have served with 2 different mission boards. We have lived in 5 different cities. We have worked with 5 or 6 different missionary teams. We have seen many, many different workers come and go. We have seen a few folks accept Christ and continue on as disciples. We have seen others grow cold, and “fall away.” We have seen one church planted that is continuing on under national leadership. We have played a role in the “spiritual watering” of several other churches and church plants that are continuing on as well. We have been able to play a role in encouraging and training several Christian workers who are going on and remaining faithful to the Lord. I have preached many sermons. We both have taught many Bible studies and led many one-on-one and small group discipleship sessions. We have hosted our share of volunteer teams. We have led and participated in prayer walks. We have organized conferences and retreats. We have served on assorted committees and work-teams. We have poured our lives into the lives of needy people, counseling, handing out food and clothing, giving rides, visiting the sick, comforting the bereaved…

However, when we look back at what has been accomplished, in comparison to other areas of the world where there have been bona fide Church Planting Movements, and multitudes of people coming to Christ, baptized, and discipled, it is easy to get discouraged. We really, for the amount of time, energy, and prayers that we have poured into our ministry in Spain, do not feel we have all that much fruit to show for our labors. But, then again, neither do the great majority of missionary workers in Spain. The truth is Spain, and Western Europe in general, from a missionary perspective, has been a “very hard nut to crack.”

Since the time we came to Spain 17 years ago, a lot of advances and changes have taken place in the missionary movement around the world as well. The whole emphasis on Church Planting Movements, as opposed to one-by-one church planting, has emerged. Vast areas of the world that were previously “closed,” for all practical purposes, to missionary service, have opened up, and new creative strategies have been developed for placing workers in those countries. At the same time, missionary workers from other parts of the world, such as Latin America, South Korea, and other places, have begun to join the worldwide missionary force at an ever increasing rate. Interesting new avenues of missionary service, such as mobilizing, training, and developing strategic alliances in order to increase the effectiveness of these workers are opening up.

In the time we have left on earth, we want to be the best stewards possible of the gifts, talents and experiences that God has given us, for the advance of His Kingdom, and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It is not always all that easy to tell exactly where and how that may be.

Wherever it may be, however, it is for sure that Spain will always have a very special place in our hearts and lives. It is here that we have spent the vast majority of our married years together. We have raised our children here. Many of our best friendships have been with Spanish nationals, and others who have come to serve the Lord in Spain just like us. We have become almost totally bilingual and bicultural. We have dreamed, schemed, rejoiced and wept for the evangelization of Spain.

This summer, Lord willing, we will be going on Stateside Assignment. Our oldest son, who is set to graduate from high school in June, will be enrolling this Fall at college in the States. We are looking forward to some quality time visiting with family and prayer partners. We hope to also share with churches and other groups our missionary burden for the people of Spain and the peoples of the world, as opportunities open up to do so. At the same time, we will also be praying and seeking God’s guidance for the next stage in our life. Would you join us in praying that we would make the right decisions, as well as for God’s provision and protection in our lives in the days ahead?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

CPM in the First World?

Of the various reports of Church Planting Movements around the world, very few have occurred in what we might term the “First World” (North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia & New Zealand). Significant exceptions have been among immigrant groups, or marginalized minorities, such as the gypsies of Spain and France. Neil Cole, in his Organic Church Planters’ Greenhouse, points out that, for the most part, the wealthy, the intellectual and highly educated, and self-professed “good people” make potentially “bad soil” for the seed of the gospel to take root and grow. Jesus himself, in Luke 18:24-25, said: "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

All of this poses a problem for those of us who have felt God’s leading to work in those areas of the world where the comparatively wealthy and highly educated make up a significant majority of the population. There is some consolation in that Jesus, after saying what he did about the spiritual difficulty of working with the rich, adds: “what is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Among the various ministries and efforts working towards Church Planting Movements in a “First World” context, one of the most well thought out plans that I have discovered is the Next 1000 initiative in Australia fueled by the visionary leadership of missional strategist Steve Addison. If you are interested in CPM strategy for a “First World” context, I would strongly recommend downloading and working through the Next 1000 e-book, which has as its stated purpose to show “why Australia needs 1000 new churches and how it can be done.”

On the Next 1000 blog, there are two posts entitled respectively A church planting movement stalls and A church planting movement stalls—why?, in which Addison comments on the observations of British missiologist and author Martin Robinson on “the rise and decline of the British church planting movement in the late 80s and 90s.”

Among the six reasons given by Robinson analyzing the “stalling” of the originally “promising” Church Planting Movement in Great Britain, two stand out in my mind, especially in relation to topics I have been addressing recently on this blog:

2. Those who were setting the goals usually had little or no capacity for committing their denomination to action. These individuals were often enthusiasts for church planting rather than representatives of their denominations.

3. The issue of the contextualization of the DAWN Strategy had not been faced. A strategy birthed in the Philippines needed to be adapted for Britain.

First off, my comments on reason #3: In my opinion, DAWN strategy, in and of itself, is a very good thing. Some have pointed out a bit of a difference between DAWN strategy and CPM strategy, as voiced by David Garrison, et al (see especially Neill Mims’s and mr. t’s insightful comments on this post). However, any strategy that was birthed in a place like the Philippines is necessarily going to have to be adapted and contextualized quite a bit for a place like Britain, Spain, or other "first world" settings. Some have made the mistake of assuming, for instance, that, since both the Philippines and Spain are countries with a Roman Catholic heritage, what worked in the Philippines should work in Spain as well. Nothing could be further from the truth. The culture of modern-day Spain doesn’t have anything at all to do with the culture of the Philippines.

Many of the prime models for CPMs have taken place in places like China, India and Cambodia. I, after 17 years of missionary experience in Spain, think that any Church Planting Movement that might happen to take place here is not likely to look very similar to those in these other parts of the world.

In general, I would go so far as to say that missionary work in the so-called “First World” countries is about as far removed from missionary work in the “Third World” as it is from church planting ministry in the States, if not more so. Churches in the States and new missionary appointees often make the mistake of grouping all “foreign mission” work together in their minds. There may be some general principles that cross-over, but, by and large, I believe those who come to Europe with the idea that it is going to be like a previous experience they may have had in Asia or Latin America are going to need to unlearn a lot of things before beginning to learn how to do missions here.

Next, my comments on reason #2: As I have been contending in recent posts here, national believers and church leaders, though potentially having a few blind spots of their own, are going to be able to evaluate the cultural nuances of their own people, and the best ways to reach them with the gospel, than we, as foreign missions “experts” will ever be able to do. This does not mean that we will not be able to expose them to some good resources, and help them to think more impartially on certain things, adding insights that outsiders might happen to see a little better.

I cannot comment on those in other countries, but my personal impression of Spanish denominational and inter-denominational leaders, by in large, is that they are good students of their own culture, and are not so far grounded in evangelical “sub-culture” as they are sometimes made out to be. They are many times just as missiologically savvy as many missionaries, and just as spiritually mature and sensitive as well. My suspicion is the same thing may well be true in many other countries also.

David Garrison, in the “Church Planting Movements” booklet, writes the following:

2. What is the place of Baptist unions and conventions?

Baptist unions and conventions hold great potential as partners in fulfilling the Great Commission. Sharing a common commitment to Christ, they should be natural allies. However, commitment to initiating and nurturing a Church Planting Movement requires vision. When union leaders have a vision for church multiplication that exceeds their need for control, they can greatly facilitate the movement. Missionaries can help to impart this vision through dialogue, education and modeling.

It is also important for missionaries to recognize that their role is different than that of denominational leaders. The unique role of the missionary is to continually push to the edge of lostness, to the unreached, and introduce them to the gospel. Denominational leaders have a much broader responsibility, which the missionaries can bless and encourage, but should not try to duplicate or control.

I do not disagree with anything Garrison says here. In addition, I recognize that some union leaders may indeed have a “need for control” that exceeds their “vision for church multiplication.” However, I am firmly convinced that, among the majority of the Baptist unions around the world, as well as in many other national denominations and “GCC groups,” God has his choice servants, whom we cannot afford to bypass, as we dream and strategize about how to reach their people with the gospel.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007



  1. Encuentro fallido o que no ha respondido a las expectativas.

Translation: A failed encounter, or one that has not measured up to expectations.

  1. Discrepancia, no coincidencia de opiniones.

Translation: Discrepancy, divergence of opinions.

One of the main concerns I have related to church planting ministry on the part of foreign missionaries in
Western Europe, both within my own organization (IMB) and others, in recent years, has been a tendency to work in isolation from the larger Body of Christ. At a recent gathering of national church leaders and missionaries in Spain, held in conjunction with the COMIBAM international missionary congress, Mariano Blázquez, Executive Secretary of FEREDE (The Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain) and one of the most widely recognized leaders among Spanish evangelicals, expressed concern about a general across-the-board lack of cooperation and camaraderie (“desencuentro” in Spanish) between missionaries and local churches in Spain.

I am not exactly sure of the real causes behind this. Some may be tempted to blame it on closed-mindedness, elitism, and lack of missionary vision on the part of local leaders. Others may blame it more on cultural insensitivity and an independent mindset on the part of foreign missionaries. In the case of some missionaries, lack of fluency in the local language, and lack of intentional efforts to provide established channels of meaningful interchange and communication have left them in a virtual default mode of either working alone, or almost exclusively with other foreigners. There have been other factors, such as the withdrawal of the SBC from the Baptist World Alliance, in the specific case of us as Baptists, that have led to misunderstanding and even some degree of disillusionment and distrust on the part of some. Even the war in Iraq has been an excuse, no doubt, on the part of some, to distance themselves a little more from us as Americans, who are not always the most popular nationality on the scale of receptivity in many countries.

When “New Directions” was first introduced to us on the mission field back about eight years ago, one of the main concepts presented was the idea that reaching a “people group” for Christ was a “God-sized task,” requiring both miraculous divine intervention, as well as the unified cooperation of the entire Body of Christ, both in the area in which one is working, as well as around the world. I personally believe this idea was and is 100% on target. However, for some reason, in the ensuing application of this ideal, perhaps in the interest of breaking out of the box in which our traditional working agreement with our national partners had limited us, perhaps in the interest of exploring new horizons and new ways of doing things, in many cases, our relationships with national churches and leaders have languished.

The interesting thing I have observed, however, as alluded to above, is that this phenomenon has not been limited to us as IMB workers, but seems to have permeated, at the same time, the general ethos of many foreign workers of an assortment of different missionary organizations. Of course, there are some notable exceptions, both within the IMB as well as other groups. I cannot speak with any degree of authority regarding the situation in other parts of the world. Even as far as Western Europe is concerned, I am much more familiar with the evangelical context in Spain than that of other countries. However, as I have had opportunity to discuss these issues with various colleagues in other parts of the world, I have been alarmed to hear reports that lead me to think these trends are perhaps not quite as locally-based as I had once imagined.

I have observed, with interest, the news that Bobby Welch has recently been named as “Strategist for Global Evangelical Relations with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.” Morris Chapman said that Welch is to be “Southern Baptists’ ambassador to those leaders in other countries who are interested in building relationships as likeminded brothers and sisters in the Lord.”

I wish Dr. Welch all the success in the world in this new endeavour. However, I hope both he and those who have entrusted him with this responsibility realize how much he really has his work cut out for him. Also, that if the aim for which this position was created is really going to be accomplished, it will not just be due to the efforts of one man alone. I am convinced that, if we are really going to move forward, in terms of evangelizing the world, and church planting movements, we are all, as representatives of the SBC and of the Lord Jesus Christ, going to have to make some significant progress in our ability to work more closely with national churches and believers in the various countries in which we live and work.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Structure and Strategy

Highly recommended...

David L. Watson has written a very perceptive article entitled Structure and Strategy that I believe ties in closely to what I was trying to say on my last post.

Guy Muse, on his comments on my last post, also pointed me to a great post by Tim Patterson (a.k.a. mr. t) in which he reflects on Watson's article.

I was originally made aware of Watson's article by way of this post on the blog of Australian church planting strategist Steve Addison, who also has some other interesting thoughts on various related topics on which I hope to add in a few thoughts of my own soon.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Wolfgang Simson, the City Church, and the IMB

In recent years, the name of Wolfgang Simson has come to be identified with one stream of the “house church movement” around the world, with a special focus on church planting multiplication through “house church networks.” Sharing many common values with David Garrison’s “church planting movement” emphasis, Simson’s writings have influenced many within the IMB. His magnum opus, Houses that Change the World, has become required reading for new missionaries in several regions of the IMB.

I, personally, am in no way opposed to “house churches” or to “church planting movements,” in and of themselves, as a strategy directive. There is also much I have learned from and admire about Simson’s ideas and the missionary approach he advocates. I hesitate to point out my discrepancies, lest anyone use them as a pretext to censure many of the excellent contributions that Simson and “house church” ecclesiology have made to the work of the IMB. I am somewhat concerned, however, with the particular way “house church” ecclesiology and missiology have been implemented and are being implemented by many missionaries around the world, both within the IMB and otherwise.

My particular concerns have to do primarily with another topic on which I have written extensively here on this blog: the unity of the Body of Christ. In order to understand the context of my concerns, the following quotes from Houses that Change the World will prove helpful:

From Simson’s Fifteen Theses towards a Re-incarnation of Church

13. From Denominations to city-wide celebrations

Jesus called a universal movement, and what came was a series of religious corporations with global chains marketing their special brands of Christianity and competing with each other. Through this branding of Christianity most of Protestantism has lost its voice in the world and become politically insignificant and often more concerned with traditional specialties and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus simply never asked people to organize themselves into factions and denominations, and Paul spoke of it as ‘worldly’, a sign of baby Christians.

In the
early days of the Church, Christians had a dual identity: they were truly His church and vertically converted to God, and they organized themselves according to geography, that is, converting also horizontally to each other on earth. This means not only Christian neighbours organizing themselves into neighbourhood or house churches, where they share their lives locally, but Christians coming together as a collective identity as much as they can for city-wide or regional celebrations expressing the corporateness of the church of the city or region. Authenticity in the neighbourhoods connected with a regional or city-wide corporate identity will make the church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but will allow a return to the biblical model of the city church, the sum total of all born-again Christians of a city or an area.

From The Reinvention of Church: Advantages of house churches over traditional churches

12. It resurrects the city church

I see the present church organized into 4 levels:

a. the house (where organic fellowship is possible, irrespective of what we call it);

b. the congregational church (the traditional meeting-oriented denominational church);

c. the city or region;

d. the denomination (the network, conference or organisation of denominational churches of an area).

While the traditional church is typically focused on two levels (b and d), the cell church would be focused on a and b. The house church, however, allows us to regain a focus on a and c. The church in the New Testament was named according to its geographical location, not denomination. With a new wave of house churches, this also opens up a way back to the ‘city church’, literally the church of the city – all Christians of a city or region together, meeting regularly or irregularly in city-wide celebrations, where the city’s most gifted Christians and humble servants of the Lamb forget all titles and politics and, in a new maturity, sacrifice their own name, denominationalism, reputation and single-handed success to the single advancement of the Kingdom of only one King, the Lamb of God.

Imagine the public tumult when this collective, city-based and authentic leadership regularly provides prophetic vision, teaches apostolic standards, stands united, blesses each other and speaks to the world with one voice. What the devil has tried hard to prevent at any cost will again come true: ‘the Romans’, ‘the Ephesians’, ‘the Corinthians’, ‘the church of Jerusalem’, Vienna, Singapore, Baghdad, KhartouÙm or Montevideo will reconnect with each other, each forming itself into a supernatural corporate identity and movement under one single Lord and Master, and speaking with a collective and powerful voice to its city and nation.

What happens at the small level of house churches will eventually spill over on a larger, city scale, where the church will ‘excel at the small and therefore excel at the large’. Instead of Christians being regularly excited top-down through imported motivators and speakers at artificial conferences based on names and topics, the healthy, authentic and infectious joy and excitement at the house level will bubble up and express itself city-wide, where no one can miss it any more, and people will repeat the statement first made in Jerusalem: ‘You have filled our city with your teaching!’ And if God should choose to repeat instances as at Pentecost, where 120 upper-room Christians suddenly face the challenge of accommodating 3000 converts in one day, they would be prepared, because the flexible structure of multiplying house churches would already be in place.

In many areas of the world, local and regional pastoral fellowships and prayer networks are emerging. I believe this can be the beginning of a regional process, a Spirit-led, intuitive and slow convergence of people with like-minded spirits, which creates healthy relationships first, which leads to the formation of a collective spiritual identity, a vessel of unity, into which, at a special kairos-point in history, a greater challenge can be placed: collectively to take on the challenge of discipling our city or region – together!

From House Church or Cell Church?: Thirteen reasons why house churches are the natural solution

10. The role of celebrations

“…The celebrations of cell churches often have a denominational character – it is our brand of cell groups that meet in our celebration – whereas the house churches favour and support more the regional or city-wide celebrations, where the whole local church comes together as the sum total of all Christians in an area. One builds a new denominationalism; the other builds the Kingdom. Which is more biblical?” (p. 150)

What specifically are my concerns?

Anyone who has read this blog to any extent knows that I am not against the concept of the “city church.” However, I am concerned about a supposed “city church” unity built on the ground of “house church” ecclesiology. The Body of Christ is broader than the “house church movement.” It includes true born-again believers in traditional and cell-church structures as well. It also includes those who belong to denominations and networks of various sorts.

There has been a tendency on the part of some, both within the IMB, as well as elsewhere, in the name of “house church” ecclesiology, to isolate themselves from the larger Body of Christ in the community in which they are working. Specifically, in the case of some IMB workers, this has included isolation from the denominational structures, congregations, and national leaders, with which we as representatives of the SBC have traditionally worked.

Simson himself acknowledges that isolated house churches, out of the context of the “city church,” or larger networks of churches, will oftentimes be lacking in necessary leadership and gifts to function fully as Christ meant them to.

My suggestion, in the light of this, is to continue to study and remain open to the contributions of “house church” ecclesiology and missiology, but not at the expense of fellowship and close working relationships with national churches and leaders. In the cases where national churches and leaders are not quick to “jump on the bandwagon” of the “house church movement” and the IMB’s CPM emphasis, I believe we must take the time to build trust, developing our relationships with our national brethren, and learning mutually one from another about how God is working, and what a “church planting movement” might look like in the particular cultural context in which God has placed each one of us.

Perhaps indeed God is doing something new in the world that involves both “house churches” and the “city church.” However, I do not believe a movement that is truly born of God will move ahead with His blessing on the basis of separation and isolation from other groups of true born-again believers, even if they are a bit “contaminated” with traditional-church DNA.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sam Storms on Jimmy Draper on "The Bible & Tongues"

Jimmy Draper is currently writing a week-long series of columns on biblical doctrine that are being posted on the Baptist Press web-site to coincide with "Baptist Doctrine Study" week within the Southern Baptist Convention. Draper is a good friend of my family, and a man I deeply respect. I very much appreciate his leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention and in the Body of Christ at large. As such, I hesitate to voice disagreement with what he has written.

Draper's first article is on "The Baptism of the Holy Spirit." I agree with the view Draper presents on this matter, and was actually considering posting a link to this article stating that the view presented therein is a view on which the vast majority of people on both sides of the "private prayer language" discussion can unite. However, just as I was getting ready to do so, I noticed Draper's next article on "The Bible & Tongues" was up. Upon reading this article, I realized the view being presented, at least in regards to this particular aspect, was not quite so representative of the view I, and others like me, take.

Although Draper does not come directly to the point of defending "cessationism" or arguing against "private prayer language," he does say a few things in this second article that would point towards a more "narrow" view on these issues.

A few years back, sensing the significance of the issues related to spiritual gifts and the "charismatic movement" for the ministry of the church in general, I decided to do an exhaustive study of the various texts in the Bible possibly related in any way to these topics. There seems to be an assumption on the part of many that those who defend a more "open" stance on spiritual gifts tend to do so as a result of an emotional experience they may have had sometime somewhere that has led them to eisegete, or read into the text of Scripture interpretations that back up their experience. I can assure you, however, that such was not the case for me. My intention, at that time, was to free my mind, to the best of my abilities, from denominational prejudices, and try to determine, on my study of Scripture alone, just what the text was actually saying. The conclusions I reached based on my study of Scripture have led me to be more open in regard to certain experiences, and degrees of fellowship with certain groups of believers. But it was not primarily my experience and contact with other groups of believers that led me to reach my conclusions on the teaching of Scripture.

I say all this to point out that some of the conclusions drawn in Draper's article on "The Bible & Tongues" do not square up with some of the conclusions I reached in my personal study on this issue. That is okay with me. I do not make the pretension to be a more accomplished exegete of Scripture than Dr. Draper.

However, this morning, upon checking my Bloglines feed-checker, I noticed that Sam Storms, on his newly inaugurated blog Enjoying God, had commented on Draper's article, pointing out a few points of discrepancy in interpretation. It just so happens that the points that Storms makes are pretty much to the tee the same points that I had noticed on reading Draper's article myself.

In the light of the discussion over "private prayer language" and the IMB, and also the upcoming Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit (in which Storms is a headline speaker), I hope that all of us who have an interest in these issues will do our best to objectively analyze and exegete the biblical text on these matters. In keeping with this, I recommend you read Draper's article, and I recommend you read Storms's article as well. Most of all, I recommend that, as you read, you take on the attitude of the Bereans, who "received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17.11).

Friday, April 06, 2007

Baptist Associations and the City Church

I believe in Baptist associations. Currently, I am an elected officer of the Madrid Baptist Association, holding the position of Director of Evangelism. This position also makes me, in a sense, the equivalent of a trustee for the Spanish Baptist “Home Mission Board.” Last night, I attended the association-wide Maunday Thursday service, in which we all, representing the various churches of the association, worshipped the Lord, listened to the preaching of the Word of God, and shared together in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
My bottom-line loyalty, as far as my fellowship with other believers is concerned, however, is not toward the Baptist association. It is toward the Body of Christ at large. If, by virtue of participating actively in the local Baptist association, I feel compelled at the same time to neglect my fellowship with the broader Body of Christ in my locality, then, I believe, the Baptist association becomes a detriment and not a blessing.
Bart Barber, in a recent post on his blog Praisegod Barebones, makes what I consider to be a very insightful and correct observation:
The SBC is not (or ought not to be) a "structure" in any ecclesiological sense. It is a voluntary partnership. Christian Unity and inter-congregational cooperation are not entirely unrelated subjects, but I do not believe that they are identical subjects.

As I see it, both Baptist associations, and Baptist unions or conventions, are “voluntary partnerships” for the purpose of “inter-congregational cooperation.” The “city church,” though, and not Baptist associations, is the most ideal forum for putting into practice “Christian unity.”
By no means am I saying we should not practice unity with other Baptist churches. They are part of the “city church” just as much as anyone else. Neither am I saying that the Extremaduran Evangelical Council (see previous posts here and here) is the official representation of the “city church” in Extremadura. I believe it is a helpful organization for channelling and furthering the initiatives of the “city church.” But it is not, in and of itself, the actual “city church.” The “city church,” as I understand it, is made up of all the born-again believers in a particular locality, as well as all the individual congregations that preach a gospel that “really is the gospel,” whether they choose to officially affiliate with a particular organization or not.
Nathan Finn, who has recently posted a series of interesting articles on Baptist Associations on his blog (here, here, here, and here), cites the following three rationales for associations among early American Baptists, as identified by Walter Shurden:
1. The Biblical Rationale - esp. the “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15; most early Baptists did not believe that Acts 15 was equivalent to an association, but felt that an association was a faithful adaptation of the biblical precedent;
2. The Theological Rationale - a way to balance local church independence with the interdependence of the churches; most early Baptists believed that the NT taught both local church autonomy and inter-church accountability, and associations were considered a way to facilitate this balance;
3. The Practical Rationale - to promote fellowship among churches, maintain uniformity in both faith and practice, provide counsel and assistance to local churches, establish a structure to facilitate inter-church cooperation in ministries of shared interest.

As I understand it, the “city church,” and not the Baptist association, is the most appropriate forum for carrying out the concerns voiced in Rationale #1 and #2. Also, although I am in no way opposed to “promoting fellowship” among Baptist churches, provided this does not become an excuse for neglecting our fellowship with other believers, I think the primary purpose and most legitimate rationale for Baptist associations are the last two items under Rationale #3: to “provide counsel and assistance to local churches” and “establish a structure to facilitate inter-church cooperation in ministries of shared interest.”
Understood in this way, I see an appropriate application for “tier two” of the much-discussed three tiers of “theological triage,” as proposed by Al Mohler. I do not see that “tier two” issues should put up a barrier for our fellowship with other believers. But I do see how certain discrimination on “tier two” issues can facilitate useful “inter-church cooperation in ministries of shared interest.”
In other words, there are certain ministry projects that can be more effectively carried out in cooperation with those believers and churches who share certain values and convictions that may not necessarily be accepted across the board within the “city church.” I believe that these particular projects should be the legitimate “domain” of Baptist associations, unions, and conventions.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ministerial Ethics and the City Church (part 2)

I believe that the ethical guidelines included on my last post are valid and worthy of recommendation for any evangelical church or church leader around the world. They are not infallible. But, as far as I can tell, I see no reason why they should not be put into practice in any and every context.

At the same time, though, I do not see any need to put these guidelines into practice with respect to the Catholic parish down the street or with the local bishop or parish priest. Neither do I see any need to put these guidelines into practice with the local leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses or with the Mormons.

Why? Because all of these groups, as I understand it, in their official position, teach a “gospel” that, in the words of Paul in Galatians 1:7 “is really no gospel at all.” That is, if you followed what their official doctrine teaches, it would not lead you to having your sins forgiven, a reconciled relationship with your Heavenly Father, or an eternity in heaven.

Where for me the rubber really meets the road on this is how do I regard other true born-again believers, and Christian groups that teach a gospel that leads to salvation, but do not dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ just like I do. Do I, for instance, treat the Presbyterian pastor on the other side of town in essentially the same way I treat the parish priest down the street? Do I treat the Pentecostal pastor in the next neighborhood over essentially the same way I treat the leaders at the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

I believe I should be friendly and kind to everyone. I believe I should treat everyone with dignity and respect. I also believe there are certain ethical principles that govern my relationship with all my fellow human beings. But I have a special relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. The priest may be a wonderful human being, and I may enjoy his company and friendship. I may even get together with him for a weekly golf game. And, the Pentecostal pastor may be a real jerk, with some off-the-wall “looney tune” ideas.

But, the bottom line, as I understand it, is which one is really and truly a member of my spiritual family. Those are the people I have an inherent commitment towards mutually putting into practice the various guidelines included in the list on my last post.

Having said this, I need to make a small caveat. I recognize there is a possibility that the priest may actually be a sincere born-again believer. Though, due to my understanding of Catholic theology, I would consider his position to be somewhat of an anomaly, if I have reason to believe he really is regenerate, then, on a personal basis, I must treat him in accordance with the special relationship he shares with me as a brother in Christ. As far as his position as a so-called “church leader” is concerned, though, since he is not, as I understand it, a representative of a biblically legitimate Christian body, I do not think I have the obligation to keep to all the guidelines outlined in the list in my dealings with him, or with the “parish” in which he officiates.

I am aware that some might point out the similarities of my position here to that of the Landmark position. And I would concede that, to a certain extent, they would be correct. The big difference, as I see it, is that I accept as authentic churches, and as authentic church leaders, more than solely Baptist churches and Baptist church leaders. Doctrinally, where I draw the line, is where I understand Jesus Himself to draw the line. If I expect to spend eternity in heaven with someone, I must treat him/her as my brother or sister in Christ here on earth, with all of the implications that come along with that. If a purported Christian congregation is preaching a gospel that, when all is said and done, comes down on the side of being the true gospel, and not a “gospel” that is “really no gospel at all,” then I must treat this congregation as a sister congregation as well, with all of the implications that come along with that.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ministerial Ethics and the City Church

I have previously written about my missionary experience in the region of Extremadura in southwest Spain, and about the special relationship of fellowship and unity we enjoyed with other evangelicals in the region by way of the Council of Evangelical Churches of Extremadura. The following document, which I have translated from the original Spanish, and that we accepted as a guideline for our fellowship and work together for the Lord in the region of Extremadura, is, I believe, an excellent starting point for putting into practice, in the context of the “City Church” (or “Regional Church” in areas in which there are fewer churches and believers), the unity that Christ desires for us as His followers.

There are several implications and other issues related to this that I would like to discuss and investigate further, and I hope to do so in upcoming posts. But for now, in order to get the ball rolling, and to not bog this post down with too much information all at once, I leave you with the following:

Recommended Behavioral Guidelines for Pastors, Leaders and Missionaries

  1. Pastors, leaders and missionaries working in the same city or region owe each other mutual recognition and respect. In the same way, they ought to recognize and respect the Church and the Work through which they are serving others.
  2. Cooperation in the areas of prayer, evangelism and testimony in society at large and through the communication media should be sought after and promoted.
  3. Mutual agreement in conflictive matters should be sought after, particularly in the case of brothers and sisters in Christ who go from one church to another.

We believe that, acting decently and in order, each member has the right to belong to and collaborate with the church he/she prefers.

-In cases of doctrinal disagreement, or incompatibility in personal matters or forms of worship, brothers or sisters in Christ ought to join themselves to whatever church they wish, with the agreement of the respective pastors, leaders or missionaries.

-Whenever a person or group of people leave a church, whether they are under discipline or not, they should not be received into fellowship without hearing beforehand the report of the church from which they are coming. No one should be received into fellowship without the previous consent of his/her leaders, or without having come to a point of reconciliation and restitution of any moral or material damage that may have been caused. A peaceful exit from one’s former church is of utmost importance.

-In cases of immorality, serious offenses or a persistent lack of discipline on the part of the brothers and/or sisters leaving one church for another, the leaders of the new church, upon confirming the facts, ought to take on the discipline that had been applied in the former church, provided it is deemed to be proportionate.

-Teaching should not be given nor visits made to members of churches other than one’s own without the consent of their respective leaders.

-Members of other churches, upon consulting pastors, leaders or missionaries other than those of their own church on matters of church polity, worship, doctrine or morality, should be referred to the leaders of their own church.

  1. Whenever a pastor, leader, missionary or church falls into adversity, misfortune, conflicts or crisis, it is recommended that he/she receive the joint support and proper covering of other pastors, leaders, missionaries and churches in their city or region. Criticism of others behind their backs or by third parties should not be admitted, and even less so, condemnatory judgment or discrediting of a church or individuals with a recognized ministry.
  2. Whenever an offense is observed in the life of a leader, or any brother or sister in Christ, Kingdom rules of order should be respected: with discretion and prayer, and without sharing the matter with anyone else, the brother or sister in question should be approached first, dealing with the matter at hand directly, and without the involvement of third parties.
  3. Whenever a serious offense on the part of a pastor, leader, missionary or church is confirmed, it should be resolved among the most immediate local or regional leaders, seeking the mediation of competent brothers and/or sisters in Christ.
  4. Churches, pastors, leaders and missionaries that have not yet entered into fellowship with the Council of Evangelical Churches of Extremadura should be treated with respect, while at the same time being encouraged to join in the fellowship, inasmuch as it is the desire of God that we all come together to form one family that may serve as a testimony to those who do not yet know the Kingdom of God.