Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spurgeon Weighs In

By way of addendum to my last post, I would like to call attention to a quote of Charles H. Spurgeon, posted by Joe Stewart in the comment string of Wade Burleson's blog the other day. It seems to me that Spurgeon was arguing for exactly the same thing in his day that I am arguing for here.
“It now becomes a serious question how far those who abide by the faith once delivered to the saints should fraternize with those who have turned aside to another gospel. Christian love has its claims, and divisions are to be shunned as grievous evils; but how far are we justified in being in confederacy with those who are departing from the truth? It is a difficult question to answer so as to keep the balance of the duties. For the present it behooves believers to be cautious, lest they lend their support and countenance to the betrayers of the Lord. It is one thing to overleap all boundaries of denominational restriction for the truth's sake: this we hope all godly men will do more and more. It is quite another policy which would urge us to subordinate the maintenance of truth to denominational prosperity and unity. Numbers of easy-minded people wink at error so long as it is committed by a clever man and a good-natured brother, who has so many fine points about him. Let each believer judge for himself; but, for our part, we have put on a few fresh bolts to our door, and we have given orders to keep the chain up; for, under colour of begging the friendship of the servant, there are those about who aim at robbing the Master.”
"Another Word Concerning the Down-Grade," The Sword and the Trowel (August 1887), 400.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant" and "The Gospel Coalition"

I have read with interest recent blog-posts and news stories related to the upcoming “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.” Although, at this stage, these stories are already old news, I have not commented up till now, because I have not had the time to do adequate research in order to respond with what I considered to be a reasonable amount of responsibility.

In the meantime, I have also read several posts and stories related to the recent “Gospel Coalition” Conference (see also here), and it occurred to me that pointing out several comparisons and contrasts between the two might help to illustrate some points I have been trying to make through this blog.

The announced “overall theme” of the “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant” is “Unity in Christ.” I, as you will be well aware, if you have read this blog for any length of time at all, have no problem at all with this theme, in and of itself. It is an issue in which I believe strongly, and about which I have dedicated a major portion of my writing. However, it seems a bit contradictory to me to convoke this meeting with this theme under the name “New Baptist Covenant.”

On the “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant” web-site, it states, in reference to the organizers of the gathering: “The leaders of these organizations affirmed their desire to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times,” and “they reaffirmed their commitment to traditional Baptist values.” At the same time, it adds: “They specifically committed themselves to their obligation as Christians to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, welcome the strangers among us, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.”

I have no problem at all with Christians belonging to any collection of churches or organizations coming together in order to cooperate for the furtherance of such causes as “promoting peace with justice, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick and marginalized, welcoming the strangers among us, and promoting religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.” If working together with other believers helps to better further these very worthy causes, then, by all means, let’s do that.

I do have a problem, however, with the apparent “mixing the metaphors” of “cooperating for worthy causes,” “unity in Christ,” and “traditional Baptist values.” As I understand it, what unites us in Christ is not our common membership in specifically Baptist churches, unions, conventions, fellowships or alliances. Neither is it our cooperation for the furtherance of worthy causes, nor our acceptance of “traditional Baptist values,” but rather our common relationship with Christ by grace through faith in the substitutionary atonement, by way of His death on the cross, as well as submission to the lordship of Christ and His Word.

I am also concerned, along with others, about the vagueness of the stated understanding of what the gospel really is, as well as questionable views regarding essential first-tier doctrines apparently held on the part of several leading representatives of the “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.” I resonate, as well, with the concerns voiced by Geoff Baggett on this post regarding the implications of the use of the term “covenant.”

At the same time, I am much more encouraged by the stated aims of the “Gospel Coalition.” In a “foundational document” issued by the “Gospel Coalition” entitled “The Gospel for All of Life: Preamble,” it reads: “We want to generate a unified effort among all peoples—an effort that is zealous to honor Christ and multiply his disciples, joining in a true coalition for Jesus. Such a biblically grounded and united mission is the only enduring future for the church. This reality compels us to stand with others who are stirred by the conviction that the mercy of God in Jesus Christ is our only hope of eternal salvation. We desire to champion this gospel with clarity, compassion, courage, and joy—gladly linking hearts with fellow believers across denominational, ethnic, and class lines.”

The Gospel Coalition’s “Confessional Statement” and “Theological Vision for Ministry” statement go on to articulate a hearty description of the essentials of the gospel on which it would seem to me all Bible-believing, blood bought, born again, committed disciples of Jesus ought to be able to agree. As is the case with all Confessions of Faith, there is, of course, room for minor discrepancies and differences of interpretation. It is by no means infallible. In the words of the Baptist Faith & Message, Holy Scripture itself is “the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.”

All in all, though, I am much happier with the potential contribution towards true “unity in Christ” offered by the “Gospel Coalition” than I am by the doctrinally “loosey goosey” yet, at the same time, denominationally-based “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.”

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A "Prophetic" Post on American Politics and the Evangelical Church

I do not often use this blog to write about politics. The issues that interest me more than anything else are missions, evangelism, and the church. However, Paul Grabill has written a post having to do with "politics" that I think is so important for the evangelical church in America that I believe it should receive the widest distribution possible. It is not a "comfortable" read. Upon reading it, the word "prophetic" came to my mind. According to Grabill, the very soul of the American church is at stake. I agree with him.

I thus urge you to prayerfully and carefully read:

The Jig is Up: American Evangelicals and Fascist Seduction

Friday, May 18, 2007

Chinese Church DNA

I continue to reflect upon the amazing growth of the church in China over the last half century. I believe that our ecclesiology has significant implications for our missiology. It seems, from what I can observe, that somewhere along the line, someone in China got something right in regards to church “DNA” that might prove to be effective in reproducing and multiplying true, authentic disciples of Jesus Christ all around the world. As far as recent work specifically related to the IMB is concerned, David Garrison, in the Church Planting Movements booklet, points to factors such as what he calls “POUCH” church methodology, and “MAWL” leadership training:


stands for participative Bible study/worship groups, describing the type of cell group meetings through which seekers are led to faith and new believers continue as church afterwards. O refers to obedience to God’s Word as the sole measure of an individual’s or church’s success. U refers to unpaid and multiple lay or bi-vocational church leaders. C stands for cell churches rarely exceeding 15 members before reproducing into new groups. H indicates homes or storefronts as the primary meeting places for these cell churches.


Model, 2) Assist, 3) Watch and 4) Leave. Modeling referred to the act of doing church with the new (or soon to be) believers using the POUCH approach described above. Assisting referred to the act of helping the newly formed church to plant a daughter church. Watching was an important and conscious effort to see to it that a third-generation church was started without the assistance or direct involvement of the missionary. Leaving was the final crucial step of ensuring that the movement was truly indigenous and self-propagating.

No doubt, both POUCH church models, and MAWL leadership training are positive factors related to church growth and reproduction. Also, most assuredly the great groundswell of prayer on behalf of the evangelization of China has played a major role in the gospel harvest there. But, I can’t keep from thinking that, beyond all that, there is something special about the spiritual DNA of the church in China that goes back before all that. As subsequent history, and the discussion on the previous post point out, there are some thorny issues related to Nee’s ecclesiology that I believe we would do well not to ignore. However, I, at the same time, tend to believe there may well be a “baby” for us, both as Baptists, and as Evangelicals in general, lying in the “bathwater.”

How do we as Baptists (sorry to all you non-Baptist readers) respond to this? I think the following words of advice from David Garrison in the Church Planting Movements booklet give us a good clue:

The nondenominational context of churches in China meant that there was no denominational tradition that the churches adopted. It remains to be seen whether heretical expressions will emerge within the movement. However, the highly decentralized nature of the Yanyin Church Planting Movement is not conducive to a single individual gaining control over the whole. At the doctrinal heart of each cell church is a commitment to obey the Bible. Since church worship consists of participative Bible study with multiple leaders, there is a natural corrective from within the group itself to misinterpretation or extremes of interpretation.

When asked about the movement’s lack of denominational identity, the strategy coordinator commented that, even though the government forbids denominational expressions in China, the Yanyin churches are more Baptist than most Baptist churches he has known. He further predicts that their pattern of allegiance to the Bible and commitment to the priesthood of the laity will keep the movement on track.

As further evidence of the positive effects of Chinese Church DNA for the fulfillment of the Great Commission, I invite you to open up the following link and view this amazing 7-minute video on the Chinese “Back to Jerusalem” vision for reaching the unreached peoples of the 10-40 window with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You can also link to the “Back to Jerusalem” website here.

When all is done and said, I wonder if the believers in China have more to teach and offer us as believers in the West than we have to teach and offer them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Watchman Nee, China, & Church Planting

Disclaimer: I have been meditating on this post for sometime now, and have hesitated posting it for fear that it may be misinterpreted. I want to make clear that I am not necessarily advocating the ideas proposed by Watchman Nee that I reference here. I am interested in thinking through the implications of the issues he raises, and reacting, from a standpoint of contemporary evangelical missions and a biblical concern for the unity of the Body of Christ. I am aware that some of the following quotes may be quite controversial. I am also aware that Witness Lee, and others, have taken the ideas of Nee on some of these points and put them into practice in a manner that many have considered sectarian.

If the following quotes from Watchman Nee's The Normal Christian Church Life (full text available on-line) are really reflective of God’s plan for the church and missions (or as Nee calls it, the “work”), there are some important consequences for the way we go about our work. I post this, more than anything, because I am interested in the reactions of the readers of Love Each Stone to these ideas. I would like to know specifically, as you read these quotes:

  1. Do you think Nee has a legitimate argument, from a strictly biblical perspective, for the things he says here?
  2. Do you think, independently of whether or not there is a solid biblical justification for what Nee has to say, that it is reflective of good missiology?
  3. If we were to take into account the guidelines that Nee records here, how would it change the way we do missions and church planting?

When a servant of God reaches a new place his first business must be to found a local church, unless there is already one in existence, in which case his one concern must be to help the church. The one aim of the work in any place is the building up of the church in that place. All the fruit of a worker’s labours must go to the increase of the church. The work in any place exists for the church alone, not for itself. The apostle’s goal is to build up the church, not to build up his work or any group of people that may have sent him out.

Wherein lies the failure of missions today? They keep the results of their work in their own hands. In other words, they have reckoned their converts as members of their mission or of their mission-church instead of building them into or handing them over to the local churches.

An apostle should go and work in a certain place if the local church invites him, or if he himself has received a revelation from the Lord to work there. In the latter case, if there is a church in the place he can write notifying them of his coming, just as Paul notified the churches in Corinth and in Rome. These are the two lines which regulate the work of an apostle – he must either have a direct revelation of God’s will, or an indirect revelation through the invitation of a church.

When an apostle comes to a place where a local church already exists, he must never forget that no church authority rests with him. Should he desire to work in a place where the local church does not wish to have him, then all he can do is to pass on to some other part. The church has full authority either to receive or reject a worker.

Should he know unmistakably that God has led him to work in that place, yet the local church refuse to welcome him, if they persist in their attitude, then he must obey the command of God and go and work there despite them. But he must not gather believers around him, nor must he on any account form a separate church.

All the various God-given ministries have one aim, the establishing of local churches. In the thought of God only one company of people exists, and all His designs of grace center in that one company – His Church. The work is not a goal in itself, it is only a means to an end. If we regard our work as an end, then our purpose is at variance with God’s, for His end is the Church.

In addition to the quotes from Nee, I also include the following information, which I think gives some important additional background information in relation to the questions I ask at the beginning of this post.

From the: Report of the Consultation on World Evangelization, Mini-Consultation on Reaching Chinese, held at Pattaya, Thailand from 16-27 June 1980, Sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization

(iii) Should any effort be made to re-establish former denominational programs?

Since most Christians in China today have discarded the former denominational structures and are now united on the local level, the reintroduction of denominations would only be divisive and a hindrance to evangelization. Nothing should be done to disturb the peace of our brethren.

From Watchman Nee and the House Church Movement in China,” May, 1986, by Dennis H. McCallum

It is hard to tell how large the Little Flock movement was in China at the time of the revolution. One reason for this is the fact that Nee felt it was fleshly to consider numbers. Therefore there was no systematic effort made by Little Flock themselves to count their people. There was no formal membership in the group, since Nee believed membership in the body of Christ was determined by God, and there was no good reason for the church to try to draw up a list.

According to Cliff, in 1949 the Little Flock had over 70,000 members in 500 assemblies. However, according to the Ecumenical Press Service the "Little Flock" had at this time 362 places of worship and 39,000 members in the one
province of Chekiang. These figures were interpreted as indicating that members of the "Little Flock" made up 15-20 per cent of the whole Protestant church in China, and that they may have been the largest single denomination. In other words, this estimate would show anywhere from 150,000 to 300,000 members for the Little Flock. Cheung affirms that there were "thousands" of assemblies by 1956, and that the Little Flock was the largest Christian group in China.

Nobody has even hazarded a guess as to how many of the millions of Christians meeting in house churches today may be the outgrowth of Little Flock groups. Two things are clear: There are many house churches that are directly derived from Little Flock churches, and there are many other groups that owe a substantial debt to Little Flock doctrine and practice for their survival.

From the Wikipedia article on “house churches”:

Chinese house church - be aware that Chinese house churches typically have a leadership structure (including a pastor) that resembles "underground traditionally structured churches" (or "cell churches") in contrast to what is generally considered to be a "house church" in other areas.

A comment from an anonymous IMB “M” on Wade Burleson’s Grace and Truth to You blog:

This past year, a SB pastor from a traditional FBC "Small-town, SC" came to China on a vision trip. The M who coordinated the trip, took the visiting pastor and team to a Buddhist temple on part of a prayer walk. They encountered a woman and her pre-teen daughter praying and burning incense to Buddha. The women noticed the group praying and approached them and asked if they would pray for her daughter who had been mute since birth.

Before the group prayed for the daughter they told the women that they were not praying to Buddha and that they would like to share some good news with her. The women responded positively to the gospel message and then they all laid hands on the young girl and prayed that her mouth would be opened and that she would be miraculously healed and speak.

Initially nothing happened. The group was still excited that the women said that she wanted to believe in Jesus and arranged to put her in touch with local Christians and they left the temple.

Before they could get down to the bottom of the hill, the young girl came running out of the temple and for the first time in her life was yelling "Thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus" in her native tongue.

This cessationalist pastor was completely taken back and returned home with his dispensationalist, cessationist theology completely challenged. He said that if he had not seen and experienced this, he never would have believed it. He has only cautiously shared this story with certain people in his congregation for fear of retribution.

Before coming to the field as an IMB missionary eleven years ago, I came out of a dogmatic-cessationist, dispensationist church. Even after I graduated from a SBC seminary, my views were still firmly planted in that same theological position.

But soon after arriving in China and started hearing testimonies from many different Chinese believers from all over China, the foundation of my theological position began to crack. I found that I could no longer contain God to my tightly-formed theological box.

SB's have had a long love affair with China and we all love to marvel at what God has been doing in this country, even during the 40+ years that it was closed to the west. In my conservative estimate, I would say that 90% of all Christians in China would hold to the Continuationist view.

If dogmatic cessationists hold to their view consistently, then most of what has happened in China is NOT from God, but from the devil himself and the world's most populist country is more lost than ever imagined! 80 million people are being deceived and are in desperate need of theological correction! (said with a bit of sarcasm in my voice).

My colleagues and I have MANY MANY stories to share just like this one, but when we return to the states, we find ourselves toning down our stories for fear that the people will think that we are no longer Baptist missionaries.

Cautious-Continuationist, Bapist to the core, IMB M

Friday, May 11, 2007

Israel Quero Espí

Yesterday, at approximately 8.00 am Spanish time, Israel Quero Espí, 18-year-old son of Spanish Baptist pastor Juan Manuel Quero, and his wife Araceli, died suddenly and unexpectedly. All the symptoms at this time point to bacterial meningitis. The night before, he had decided not to participate in a soccer game with some friends, complaining of a headache. In the morning, he woke up with a high fever, covered with dark splotches all over his body. Within an hour, before they could get him to the hospital, he was already dead.

Juan Manuel is pastor of Buen Pastor Baptist Church in Madrid, where my family and I are currently members. He is a warm-hearted pastor, dynamic leader, and godly man. He is also currently Vice President of the Spanish Baptist Union. Araceli is a quiet, unassuming helpmeet, who loyally supports her husband in the ministry, and serves behind the scenes in many different capacities. Israel was a good friend of our teenage son, Jonathan. He had recently moved out of his home, and was living in the student dormitory that belongs to the church. He had recently made a decision to follow the Lord in baptism, and was planning to do so in the next baptismal service scheduled for this coming month. He had recently passed his driving test, and had just obtained his first car. He was making preparations to enter the Spanish Police Academy, and was excited about his future.

What explanation can be given for a tragedy like this? Humanly speaking, I can think of none. My natural tendency is to want to look for the “silver lining” behind this “dark cloud.” But, at this time, reality makes that very hard to do. Our faith leads us to cling to the hope that we will one day see Israel again. But why did he have to die so young? And why did something like this have to happen to people like Juan Manuel and Araceli, who already have given up so much, and who give so sacrificially of themselves, day in and day out, to minister to others?

I have read the hypothesis that the various religions of the world are all attempts to make sense, one way or another, of human suffering. I think there is more to it than that, but, at the same time, believe there is an element of truth here. All of us as humans--Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, or Atheists--have to deal with suffering, at one time or another, and there are many things that don’t appear to make much sense. Yet, I believe that true biblical Christianity offers the only rational and coherent hope in the midst of this grim reality. Because of an all-powerful and all-knowing God, who loves us more than we are able to comprehend, and because of the death of His only Son, Jesus, on the cross of Calvary, we have hope that one day He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and we will know, just as we are already known.

But that still doesn’t take away the pain that I am feeling right now, and that I know Juan Manuel, Araceli, and Elías, Israel’s 12-year-old brother, must be feeling a good bit more acutely yet.

What can we learn from this? First of all, we never know what a day may bring forth. We never know when tragedy may strike in our own lives. It could have just as easily happened to you, or me, or any one of us. I pray God may teach me, and all of us, to number our days, and to use, with a greater sense of stewardship, the gifts, time, and resources He has placed in our hands.

Also, this reminds me there are those around us all the time, who are going through great suffering. Many times, we are oblivious to this, until it strikes so close to home. I pray God would make me a more sensitive person to the needs of others, and allow me to show the love of Christ to those in need, in order that they may find hope in the midst of situations that otherwise give no reason for doing so.

If God lays it on your heart, please pray for Juan Manuel, Araceli, and Elías, and for the Buen Pastor Baptist Church in Madrid, Spain. They are going to need it in the days ahead.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ad Hoc Committee Report

I suppose, if you have read this blog enough to know how I feel about the IMB policy (now “guideline”) on “private prayer language” and guideline on baptism, you will be expecting some sort of a response from me to the content of the recently released reports of the ad hoc committee. (If you have not yet seen the text of the report, you can do so here.)

So, okay, here goes…

1. First off, I am sad. I was sincerely hoping this would end up differently. I guess, from all that I have read in the past year and a half since the original policy and guideline were passed, given the dynamics of the situation, I should not be surprised. However, I was still holding out hope that, as the committee members began to really study and analyze the situation, the reasonableness of the argument against the policy and guideline would be recognized. But, such was apparently not the case.

2. I, like others who have already commented on this, am confused. I do not understand the intent behind the change of wording from “policy” to “guideline.” I am not sure what, if anything, this changes in actual practice.

3. Upon saying, “The New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia that generally is considered to be a legitimate language,” I am unclear what is meant by the term “legitimate.” It seems to me that the intent was to define glossolalia, as others have done, as always a known (although not previous learned by the speaker) human language, and not a so-called “angelic” or “heavenly” or other type of language. But, the choice of words here leaves a small margin for doubt on this.

4. Upon saying, “New Testament teaching is that prayer is to be made with understanding,” it would be helpful if the report would include the specific passage or passages underlying this assumption. My guess is that the most direct reference is to 1 Cor. 14:15 (So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind). But, if such is the case, I believe (along with others) that I can make a pretty strong case hermeneutically for the possible interpretation that legitimate prayer is sometimes “with the spirit” and “with the mind” at the same time, and sometimes “with the spirit” but with the “mind unfruitful” as v. 14 infers (For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful). When you add in v. 17 (You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified), the context seems to make perfectly clear to me that it is possible to pray “with the spirit,” with the “mind… unfruitful,” and at the same time “be giving thanks well enough.” Such an understanding would seem to me to directly contradict the affirmation that “prayer is [always] to be made with understanding.”

5. I think the choice of the term “ecstatic utterance” to describe “private prayer language” is both unfortunate and unhelpful. According to Wikipedia, “ecstasy” is defined as “a trance or trancelike state in which an individual transcends normal consciousness.” "Religious ecstasy" is defined a bit more specifically as “an altered state of consciousness characterized by greatly reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness which is frequently accompanied by visions and emotional/intuitive (and sometimes physical) euphoria.” I am aware that some commentators have used the term “ecstatic utterance” in their description of supposed “private prayer language.” However, I am convinced that this term is not at all accurate in its description of the phenomenon as testified by many people, and is actually misleading, if objectivity is what is intended in the report.

6. As far as other points in the original policy and guideline with which I am not in agreement, I have already written amply on that on various other occasions, so I will not rehash all of that here.

7. How should I, as an IMB missionary, and a self-professed “continuationist,” respond to this new development? Up to now, I have been holding out hope that perhaps this policy and guideline would be retracted, or at least amended more significantly than has been the case. It would appear that the new guidelines, as approved this week, will remain “on the books” for some time to come.

I am appreciative that the “private prayer language” guideline is not “retroactive.” Also, since I do not personally have a “private prayer language,” I understand it is not directly applicable to me. However, consistency with my personal beliefs and what I understand to be the intent of the guideline leaves me with a bit of cognitive dissonance at this stage of the journey. I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are sovereignly distributed according to God’s choosing. As such, the reason I do not have a “private prayer language,” in my understanding, is not due to my own doctrinal or ethical rejection of that possibility, but rather to divine sovereignty alone. If God had sovereignly chosen to give me the gift of tongues, as I understand it, I could quite easily be in the same boat as others who are currently being eliminated from service with the IMB because of their practice and belief.

In actuality, I am out of step convictionally with the defined position of the organization with which I serve. I realize that it is unrealistic to expect personnel of any Christian organization to be in 100% conformity with that organization on all doctrinal and philosophical issues. We all have minor discrepancies about this or that with everyone.

For me, my views on “private prayer language” and the importance of the administrator of baptism are not necessarily major issues. I have no problem at all working with others who don’t agree completely with me on these matters. However, the thought that these views, if circumstances in my life had been a bit different, might have eliminated me from service with the IMB, is, to say the least, a bit disconcerting. It leaves me wondering, even though, as far as I am aware, nobody is threatening to kick me out, if I am doing the right thing by remaining in an organization in which my personal convictions are de facto taboo.

At the same time, a counterbalancing factor for me in all this is my commitment to put the gifts God has given me to the best use possible towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Up to now, the IMB, thanks to the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists, has given my wife and me some fantastic opportunities to do just that. I love the current administration of the IMB. I love my missionary colleagues on the field. I love the overall strategy and vision of the IMB of facilitating church planting movements among the various people groups of the world. I love being an IMB missionary.

One thing I have pretty clear, though, is that I cannot be dishonest about my beliefs on these issues. I remember how, during the beginning days of the Conservative Resurgence, it was stated that there were “closet liberals” in various positions in the SBC, who were not totally up front with their beliefs. It was stated, at that time, that it was not ethical for these liberals, in the instances where this charge may have been accurate, to continue to receive their salary from a Convention that did not support the views they were espousing. I am in agreement. At the same time, neither do I believe it would be ethical for me to try to hide my convictions on these particular issues.

That is one reason I have chosen to be as open as I have on this blog about my beliefs. So far, no one has officially communicated that my views are out of line with my continued service with the IMB. In the eventuality that day were ever to come, I would be sad, but, at the same time, feel obligated to fulfill whatever were asked of me in that regard. I would probably also want to have the assurance that what was communicated was indeed in accordance with the collective will of the believers and churches that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention, and not merely the opinion of a minority who wished to impose their preferences on the rest.

In the days ahead, I will continue to reflect and pray about how I might be able to be the best steward possible of the gifts and circumstances God has placed in my life. Wherever and however that may be, I hope to always be someone used by God to edify the Body of Christ, as represented both within the confines of the Southern Baptist Convention and without.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Beginning of the End of the Religious Right?

Check out this insightful article by Cal Thomas, with which I am in complete agreement. May we as believers be more and more about truly proclaiming and working towards the advance of the Kingdom of God, by means of evangelism, discipleship, and world missions, and not so much our human political substitutes for it. (HT: Paul Grabill)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Priori Skepticism

This week, the IMB Board of Trustees will receive and consider the report of the Ad Hoc Committees named earlier this year to study the new policies on “private prayer language” and baptism of missionary candidates. I, along with many others, am anxiously and prayerfully awaiting the soon to be announced outcome.

The other day, on Bart Barber’s blog, in a discussion related to this topic, I posed the following question: Why, from the point of view of those who favor the new policy, is the issue of PPL so important as to exclude people who agree on other points of doctrine from missionary service and leadership in the convention? The answer that was given to me (in the words of Bart Barber) was as follows: “I suspect that the IMB has enacted the PPL restrictions as a part of an ongoing effort to protect Baptist missions against Pentecostal/Charismatic encroachment around the world;” and “a rather large, rather diverse board of trustees has enacted this policy. I am not privy to all of their reasons for doing so…We have the trustees' word that these policies were needed. For now and until I have good reason to do otherwise, I believe them.”

It is not my intention to pick on Bart in this post. Actually, I have a great deal of respect for Bart and for his opinions in general. That is not to say that I am convinced of the validity of Bart’s answer to my question here, and I let him know as much in my answer to him on the same post. But I write all of this now rather because it serves as background information for another point I wish to make, which is the inverse of what I asked on Bart’s blog: Why do I think it is so important that we not exclude people who agree on other points of doctrine from missionary service and leadership in the convention, merely because they admit to having a PPL?

Actually, to tell you the truth, I am not all that concerned whether or not my future teammates in the IMB have a PPL or not. If none of my future teammates ever has a PPL, I am perfectly fine with that. What concerns me most of all, as a logical consequence of this new policy, is the possibility that we might evolve into a mission force around the world rife with what I call “a priori skepticism.”

By the term “a priori skepticism,” I am referring to the same thing I called “default-mode skepticism” on the comment string on this other post on Bart Barber’s blog. In order to make a point, I am also holding the position of “a priori skepticism” up alongside that of “a posteriori cessationism,” which is the position Bart defended on an earlier post on his blog, and, from what I understand, in the recent Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit in Arlington, Texas. The idea behind “a posteriori cessationism,” as I understand it, is that, although God is still able to use people in supernatural ways today like He did in the New Testament, the circumstantial evidence doesn’t seem to authenticate the claims of those who say God is doing so, and, as a result, these claims should not be accepted as legitimate.

What I am calling “a priori skepticism,” however, is a bit different. It is the position that anything that “smacks” of supposed Pentecostal or Charismatic practices, and is often associated (whether mistakenly or not) with the Pentecostal/Charismatic world or with the modern-day practice of the so-called “sign gifts,” is automatically suspect, more than likely fraudulent and/or heretical, and should be rejected on the front end, without the need of further investigation to see if it is legitimate or not.

I want to make very clear here that I am not saying that all those without a PPL are necessarily “a priori skeptics.” Nor, as I understand it, are all “a posteriori cessationists” necessarily “a priori skeptics.” But, in my opinion, the de facto import of the new policy at the IMB, and a natural consequence thereof, is a move towards a general organizational stance of “a priori skepticism.”

I have been in situations, in which it was assumed that I was in agreement with what was being said, in which Pentecostals and Charismatics were made fun of, and claims of supernatural manifestations routinely ridiculed. If you are from a Southern Baptist background, I imagine you have, at one time or another, been in these situations as well. I have even seen this on the mission field among colleagues, in response to what they have observed among national believers and people from other Great Commission Christian groups.

I do not believe personally that everything that purports to be the supernatural working or gifting of the Holy Spirit is necessarily legitimate or authentic. The Word of God clearly states: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24). Whenever I hear, therefore, of some supposed miracle or supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit, I normally seek to hold it up to the light of the following considerations:

  1. Does the doctrine of the person claiming to perform the miracle or exhibit the supernatural manifestation square with sound biblical teaching? On this point, I do not demand 100% conformity to my own understanding and interpretation. I recognize there are others who may deviate on minor doctrinal issues whose ministry in other areas I do not necessarily reject as a result. But, when the doctrine of someone claiming to do miracles is significantly heretical, I view with corresponding skepticism the spiritual legitimacy of those supernatural manifestations they are claiming as well, whether they be regarded as fraudulent, demonic, or inspired by the “latent power of the soul.”
  2. Does the lifestyle and moral character of the person claiming to perform the miracle or exhibit the supernatural manifestation meet up to the standards that one might expect from someone making such a claim? On this point, I am not looking for moral perfection. There is none perfect but the Lord. But I am looking for someone who is not a hypocrite, purporting to be something in public that doesn’t square with what they really are in private. I am looking for fruit of the Spirit to correspond with their supposed gifts of the Spirit.
  3. Does the ministry of the person claiming to perform the miracle or exhibit the supernatural manifestation take advantage of innocent people in order to exercise some sort of psychological power over their lives, or for dishonest financial gain? It causes me great sorrow to see innocent people taken advantage of through the practice of so-called “faith ministries” or “prosperity gospel” hucksters. Our Lord had no qualms in driving the money-changers out of the temple, and I believe some of His harshest judgment and eventual eternal condemnation is reserved for those who make merchandise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Does the ministry of the person claiming to perform the miracle or exhibit the supernatural manifestation tend towards the manipulation of gullible, easily-led people? I have been in meetings where the atmosphere was so emotionally charged and laden with human manipulation that I have compared it to Elijah, in his contest with the prophets of Baal, dowsing the altar with gasoline instead of with water. If God wants to work miracles and show His mighty power in an awe-inspiring way, He doesn’t need our help in setting the stage beforehand, working the audience into an emotional frenzy, in order for Him to do what He chooses to do in the way He chooses to do it.

However, whenever I find no convincing reason to conclude that the supposed miracle or claim of a supernatural manifestation fails the test on any of the above accounts, my first response is to accept as legitimate the testimony of the one who makes the claim, praising God for His mighty deeds in the lives of men. I make as my goal, in regards to claims of the supernatural, to be as much as possible like 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). It is not enough, however, just to “examine the Scriptures” to see if what people are saying is true, if you do so out of an attitude of “a priori skepticism.” A balanced view, as I understand it, is one of both openness and expectation in regard to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, coupled with caution and discernment in order to confirm that what is going on is truly in conformance to the revelation of God’s will in Scripture.

As I have heard reports of miracles and supernatural manifestations, I have sought to evaluate them in light of these considerations. Some of them, to the best of my ability to discern, have not passed the test. However, others, in the light of my admittedly limited skills of observation and spiritual discernment, have not failed the test.

Actually, from my perspective, many of the most effective and godly spiritual workers I have observed on the mission field, among both national believers and foreign missionaries, as well as among Baptists and those of other denominations, have been those who would admit to having a “private prayer language,” and/or to being used of God through other supernatural workings of the Holy Spirit. In those places around the world in which spiritual revival is taking place, multitudes are coming to Christ, and church planting movements are sprouting forth, the norm, from what I understand, are frequent reports of supernatural manifestations and the free-flowing operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I do not believe this gives us warrant to let down our guard in regard to evaluating and discerning spiritual manifestations on the basis of considerations like those I reference above. I believe it is God’s will that we “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). At the same time, though, I believe we must enter into the kingdom of heaven with faith like that of a little child (Matthew 18:3-4). And, as I understand it, child-like faith precludes “a priori skepticism.”

I am concerned that the natural tendency of a missionary force that has been intentionally “weeded” of those with a “private prayer language” may well be one of “a priori skepticism.” I am also concerned about a corresponding backlash of distancing ourselves as Southern Baptists from other believers and movements of God around the world in which He is manifesting Himself through signs and wonders, and supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus did not do many miracles in His hometown of Nazareth because of the lack of faith of the people who lived there (Matthew 13:58). I personally don’t want to miss out on what God is doing around the world due to being an “a priori skeptic.” Neither do I want us as Southern Baptists to miss out on our part of what God is doing around the world due to a de facto position of “a priori skepticism.”

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Quo Vadis Europe?

Back a little more than a year ago, I wrote a post that asked “does the Bible really give us solid footing for continuing to have hope for Europe?” I am still searching for answers to that question.

In the meantime, here are some links to a scattered collection of very thought-provoking articles on the spiritual condition of, and possible eschatological hope for Europe

Europe: the Prodigal Continent by Jeff Fountain

Europe: God’s Experiment? by Wim Rietkerk

Turn Out the Lights as You Leave? Germany’s Church Crisis by Albert Mohler

Holland’s Post-Secular Future by Joshua Livestro (HT: Jim Hamilton)

Important Article “The Power of Faith” by Derek Webster

Portuguese Evangelicals United in a Vision to Transform the Nation by Paulo Pascoal (HT: Andrew Jones)