Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rogers Family Prayer Letter

Dear Praying Friends,

During the past 14 months since returning from Spain for our Stateside Assignment, we have been diligently seeking God’s will for the next step in our lives. Actually, several months ago, we had pretty much made up our minds that it was time to go back to Spain, and were making plans to do so not long thereafter. In the meantime, some situations related to our family’s health have surfaced that have caused us to put these plans on hold. After much prayer and soul-searching, we have come to the conclusion that we should remain in the States for the time being, as we continue to seek God’s direction for our future.

This has not been an easy decision. From a wider perspective, we remain as convinced as ever that God has called us and wants to continue to use us for His glory and the advance of His kingdom in the world missions enterprise. The great spiritual need of Spain and the rest of the world still remain as deeply etched upon our hearts as ever. However, we are aware that God has His time and His place for each of us, and that it is in our best interest to submit to His sovereign plan for our lives.

What this means for us at the present is that we will be staying in the Memphis area until at least the end of the current school year. Our normally allotted Stateside Assignment time has run out; so, effective, Nov. 1, we will go on Leave of Absence status with the International Mission Board. This means us going off of salary and benefits, while at the same time being allowed to remain as officially appointed missionaries, and return to the field without need of re-appointment and going through the application process all over again.

This also means that for now we will need alternative sources of income in order to make ends meet. We are grateful to God for doors He is already opening up to provide for us in this area. A temporary position has come open for me (David) with the Adrian Rogers Pastor Training Institute as an editor of training materials in Spanish and English. I am excited to partner with my brother, Steve, in helping to make it possible for the wisdom and anointing that God poured into my father’s life and ministry to continue to bless and prepare others around the world for the task to which He has called them. I am also thrilled to be able to use my Spanish language abilities as PTI looks, in the near future, to make its training materials available to the Spanish-speaking world.

Kelly will be helping to supplement our family income as a representative with Premier Designs, selling jewelry through home shows. We are thankful for this opportunity that will allow for great flexibility as she also home-schools Stephen. Please pray for her as she launches this new home business, that the Lord would provide for our needs and give wisdom in decisions.

In the meantime, Jonathan has moved into his own apartment, and is working as a research assistant at the University of Memphis. He plans to enroll as a student at the U of M in January. We are very grateful for your prayers for him over the past months, as he has dealt with a series of health-related concerns, and has been seeking to find the place God has for him. At present, we are encouraged about Jonathan’s progress and God’s on-going work in his life. Please continue to lift him up in prayer as God lays him on your heart.

Stephen, who will turn 12 in November, is adapting as well as can be expected to all of the last minute changes. In addition to his studies at home, he is going to supplementary classes one day a week at a local home-school support program. He is also signed up for basketball at our church, Faith Baptist. Please pray for his continued adaptation to our new circumstances and the Lord’s provision for good friends and spiritual growth.

In addition to all of the above, we are excited to be involved in the Spanish-language ministry at Faith. It has been encouraging to see this new group take off and the Lord use His people to raise up an ESL ministry, soccer outreach, women’s Bible studies, and discipleship classes in a short time. I (David) have also officially begun work (tons of reading and writing assignments) on my Ph.D. studies in Missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and plan to be there on campus in Wake Forest, NC for three weeks in January for the initial seminars. I also continue to write about missions and ministry on my Internet blog at loveeachstone.blogspot.com, as well as together with several other Southern Baptist bloggers at www.sbcimpact.net.

Thank you for your prayers and support down through the years, as well as for us now in this time of transition in our lives. We are truly blessed to have so many who pray so faithfully for us. We look forward to the days ahead as God continues to reveal His plan for our lives and strategic involvement in the advance of His kingdom around the world.

Your Co-laborers in the Harvest,

David & Kelly Rogers

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Non-U.S. Christians Identify Problems in American Missions

Check out the following article from The Christian Post:

Non-U.S. Christians Identify Problems in American Missions

As we seek to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted into our hands, I believe we must pay close attention to voices like those cited in this article.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ray Ortlund: "The Emotional Tilt of your Heart"

The following quote from Ray Ortlund is making its way around the blogosphere the last couple of days (for example, here, here, and here). I really love the balance and incisiveness with which Ortlund addresses the subject of Christian unity.

I especially like the following phrase, which I believe captures the essence of what Christian unity is all about:

"...can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart – toward them or away from them?"

Here is the longer quote. I have taken the liberty to change the wording, substituting the words "Conservative Southern Baptist" for the word "Reformed" wherever it occurs in the original, in order to bring home the point being made for the majority of the readers here at Love Each Stone.

Whatever divides us emotionally from other Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians is a "plus" we’re adding to the gospel. It is the Galatian impulse of self-exaltation. It can even become a club with which we bash other Christians, at least in our thoughts, to punish, to exclude and to force into line with us.

What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love (Galatians 5:13).

My Conservative Southern Baptist friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart – toward them or away from them? If your Conservative Southern Baptist theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Conservative Southern Baptist theology. The remedy is to take your Conservative Southern Baptist theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Conservative Southern Baptists will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Conservative Southern Baptists. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one – in Christ alone.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Keep Away from Rome

I sometimes find myself bewildered at the naivete some Evangelicals hold in their views toward Roman Catholicism. I have even seen this attitude in some who come to Spain, both short and long-term, to do missionary work. With this in mind, I present the following article, published on Protestante Digital, a leading Evangelical web-site based out of Spain...

Keep Away from Rome

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Value of Kingdom Collaboration

When I attended COMIBAM 2006, the 3rd Latin American – Iberian World Missionary Conference, in Granada, Spain, one of the main topics dealt with was that of Strategic Partnerships. I believe that the whole question of how we can most effectively join together with different groups of believers from around the world to make a more strategic impact for the completion of the Great Commission is one of the most important issues for the future of world missions.

It is my hope that we, as Southern Baptists, can continue to stay "in the thick" of what God is doing today around the world. The following downloadable PowerPoint presentation put together by Strategic Partnership expert and author Phill Butler is well worth the 5 minutes or so it takes to view it. As we think through how we can be the best stewards possible with the Great Commission resources God has commended into our hands, I think a careful consideration of the ideas presented here should be HIGH PRIORITY.

Download: The Value of Kingdom Collaboration

If you are interested in world missions, whether from the perspective of career missionary, local church pastor, or just as a committed member of the Body of Christ, I also recommend you take the time to peruse the entire collection of resources on the Power of Connecting website. It is chock-full of helpful advice on how to put the "talents" God has placed in your hands to the best use for the advance of his Kingdom, and to avoid some significant pitfalls along the way.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The True Church


By Bishop J. C. Ryle
(1816-1900) Liverpool, England

I want you to belong to the one true Church: to the Church outside of which there is no salvation. I do not ask where you go on a Sunday; I only ask, "Do you belong to the one true Church?" Where is this one true Church? What is this one true Church like? What are the marks by which this one true Church may be known? You may well ask such questions. Give me your attention, and I will provide you with some answers.

1. The one true Church IS COMPOSED OF ALL BELIEVERS IN THE LORD JESUS. It is made up of all God's elect — of all converted men and women — of all true Christians. In whomsoever we can discern the election of God the Father, the sprinkling of the blood of God the Son, the sanctifying work of God the Spirit, in that person we see a member of Christ's true Church.

2. It is a Church OF WHICH ALL THE MEMBERS HAVE THE SAME MARKS. They are all born again of the Spirit; they all possess "repentance towards God, faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ," and holiness of life and conversation. They all hate sin, and they all love Christ. (They worship differently, and after various fashions; some worship with a form of prayer, and some with none; some worship kneeling, and some standing; but they all worship with one heart.) They are all led by one Spirit; they all build upon one foundation; they all draw their religion from one single book — that is the Bible. They are all joined to one great center — that is Jesus Christ. They all even now can say with one heart, "Hallelujah;" and they can all respond with one heart and voice, Amen and Amen.

3. It is a Church WHICH IS DEPENDENT UPON NO MINISTERS UPON EARTH, however much it values those who preach the gospel to its members. The life of its members does not hang upon Church-membership, or baptism, or the Lord's Supper — although they highly value these things when they are to be had. But it has only one Great Head — one Shepherd, one chief Bishop — and that is Jesus Christ. He alone, By His Spirit, admits the members of this Church, though ministers may show the door. Till He opens the door no man on earth can open it — neither bishops, nor presbyters, nor convocations, nor synods. Once let a man repent and believe the gospel, and that moment he becomes a member of this Church. Like the penitent thief, he may have no opportunity of being baptized; but he has that which is far better than any water-baptism — the baptism of the Spirit. He may not be able to receive the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper;but he eats Christ's body and drinks Christ's blood by faith every day he lives, and no minister on earth can prevent him. He may be ex-communicated by ordained men, and cut off from the outward ordinances of the professing Church; but all the ordained men in the world cannot shut him out of the true Church. It is a Church whose existence does not depend on forms, ceremonies, cathedrals, churches, chapels, pulpits, fonts, vestments, organs, endowments, money, kings, governments, magistrates or any act of favor whatsoever from the hand of man. It has often lived on and continued when all these things have been taken from it. It has often been driven into the wilderness, or into dens and caves of the earth, by those who ought to have been its friends. Its existence depends on nothing but the presence of Christ and His Spirit; and they being ever with it, the Church cannot die.

4. This is the Church TO WHICH THE SCRIPTURAL TITLES OF PRESENT HONOR AND PRIVILEGE, AND THE PROMISES OF FUTURE GLORY ESPECIALLY BELONG; this is the Body of Christ; this is the flock of Christ; this is the household of faith and the family of God; this is God's building, God's foundation, and the temple of the Holy Ghost. This is the Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven; this is the royal priesthood, the chosen generation, the peculiar people, the purchased possession, the habitation of God, the light of the world, the salt and the wheat of the earth; this is the "Holy Catholic Church" of the Apostles' Creed; this is the "One Catholic and Apostolic Church" of the Nicene Creed; this is that Church to which the Lord Jesus promises "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," and to which He says, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world"(Matt.16:18; 28:2).

5. This is the only Church WHICH POSSESSES TRUE UNITY. Its members are entirely agreed on all the weightier matters of religion, for they are all taught by one Spirit. About God, and Christ, and the Spirit, and sin, and their own hearts, and faith, and repentance, and necessity of holiness, and the value of the Bible, and the importance of prayer, and the resurrection, and judgment to come — about all these points they are of one mind. Take three or four of them, strangers to one another, from the remotest corners of the earth; examine them separately on these points: you will find them all one judgment.

6. This is the only Church WHICH POSSESSES TRUE SANCTITY. Its members are all holy. They are not merely holy by profession, holy in name, and holy in the judgment of charity; they are all holy in act, and deed, and reality, and life, and truth. They are all more or less conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. No unholy man belongs to this Church.

7. This is the only Church WHICH IS TRULY CATHOLIC. It is not the Church of any one nation or people; its members are to be found in every part of the world where the gospel is received and believed. It is not confined within the limits of any one country, or pent up within the pale of any particular forms of outward government. In it there is no difference between Jew and Greek, black man and white, Episcopalian and Presbyterian - but faith in Christ is all. Its members will be gathered from north, and south, and east, and west, and will be of every name and tongue — but all one in Jesus Christ.

8. This is the only Church WHICH IS TRULY APOSTOLIC. It is built on the foundation laid by the Apostles, and holds the doctrines which they preached. The two grand objects at which its members aim are apostolic faith and apostolic practice; and they consider the man who talks of following the Apostles without possessing these two things to be no better than sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.

9. This is the only Church WHICH IS CERTAIN TO ENDURE UNTO THE END. Nothing can altogether overthrow and destroy it. Its members may be persecuted, oppressed, imprisoned, beaten, beheaded, burned; but the true Chruch is never altogether extinguished; it rises again from its afflictions; it lives on through fire and water. When crushed in one land it springs up in another. The Pharaohs, the Herods, the Neros, the Bloody Marys, have labored in vain to put down this Church; they slay their thousands, and then pass away and go to their own place. The true Church outlives them all, and sees them buried each in his turn. It is an anvil that has broken many a hammer in this world, and will break many a hammer still; it is a bush which is often burning, and yet it's not consumed.

10. This is the only Church OF WHICH NO ONE MEMBER CAN PERISH. Once enrolled in the lists of this Church, sinners are safe for eternity; they are never cast away. The election of God the Father, the continual intercession of God the Son, the daily renewing and sanctifying power of God the Holy Ghost, surround and fence them in like a garden enclosed. Not one bone of Christ's mystical Body shall ever be broken; not one lamb of Christ's flock shall ever be plucked out of His hand.

11. This is the Church WHICH DOES THE WORK OF CHRIST UPON EARTH. Its members are a little flock, and few in numbers, compared with the children of the world; one or two here, and two or three there — a few in this place and few in that. But these are they who shake the universe; these are they who change the fortunes of kingdoms by their prayers; these are they who are the active workers for spreading the knowledge of pure religion and undefiled; these are the life-blood of a country, the shield, the defence, the stay, and the support of any nation to which they belong.

12. This is the Church WHICH SHALL BE TRULY GLORIOUS AT THE END. When all earthly glory is passsed away then shall this Church be presented without spot before God the Father's throne. Thrones, principalities, and powers upon earth shall come to nothing; dignities, and offices, and endowments shall all pass away; but the Church of the first-born shall shine as the stars at the last, and be presented with joy before the Father's throne, in the day of Christ's appearing. When the Lord's jewels are made up, and manifestation of the sons of God takes place, Episcopacy, and Presbyterianism, and Congregationalism will not be mentioned; one Church only will be named, and that is the Church of the elect.

13. Reader, THIS IS THE TRUE CHURCH TO WHICH A MAN MUST BELONG, IF HE WOULD BE SAVED. Till you belong to this, you are nothing better than a lost soul. You may have the form, the husk, the skin, and the shell of religion, but you have not got the substance and the life. Yes, you may have countless outward privileges; you may enjoy great light, and knowledge — but if you do not belong to the Body of Christ, your light and knowledge and privileges will not save your soul. Alas, for the ignorance that prevails on this point! Men fancy if they join this church or that church, and become communicants, and go through certain forms, that all must be right in their souls. It is an utter delusion, it is a gross mistake. All were not Israel who were called Israel, and all are not members of Christ's Body who profess themselves Christian. TAKE NOTICE; you may be a staunch Episcopalian, or Presbyterian, or Independent, or Baptist, or Wesleyan, or Plymouth Brother — and yet not belong to the true Church. And if you do not, it will be better at last if you had never been born.

J.C. Ryle

(HT: Wayne Smith)

The Journey

This morning, I had the privilege of worshipping together with the family of brothers and sisters in Christ at Messiah Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where I am currently taking Biblical Hebrew in the summer session at Southeastern Seminary. My friend and fellow blogger Alan Knox spoke to us from Matthew 7:13-14, where Jesus talks about the need to enter through the narrow gate, and to walk along the narrow path. It was a great message, and both a challenge and a blessing to me.

Listening to the message, I was reminded of the lyrics to a song I wrote back when I was in college about 25 years ago. Back then, I used to write more poetry and songs. As of late, I have kind of settled more into essays, prose, and blog comments. Since I am not all that gifted of a musical performer, there are a lot of songs I have written that I have not shared with all that many people. And I probably won't make it a regular practice to post poetry or song lyrics here. But, since it's my blog, and I can post what I want, I thought I would post the lyrics to The Journey, just in case it might in some way be a challenge or a blessing to someone else.

The Journey (words and music by David Rogers)

I’ve been many people in the few short years I’ve lived my life;
I’ve lied, I’ve tried to cover up the weakness and the hurt inside.
I’ve played the game so long, I’m sick and tired of hanging on
to the gilded expectations of my peers.

I’m leaving on a journey, and I’m never coming back again;
I don’t know where I’m going, but it’s nowhere where I’ve ever been before.
And I will give my all, and I’m taking nothing with me
but some memories of how it used to be.

For many are the snares of youth,
And age just binds the blindness
Of the wrong paths taken once
When we were free into our minds.

And narrow is the path of truth,
And few are those who find the way,
While there’s a chance,
I’ll leave the show behind.

Now I’ve made up my mind to go, there’s nothing you could do to change it;
And I don’t want to leave alone, but I will anyway,
Unless you feel the way I do, and if you really wanted to,
we could take this journey travelling together.

For many are the snares of youth,
And age just binds the blindness
Of the wrong paths taken once
When we were free into our minds.

And narrow is the path of truth,
And few are those who find the way,
While there’s a chance,
Let’s leave the show behind.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Revival: True or False?

News of the recent revival in Jena, Louisiana has been covered by Baptist Press and other media outlets. I am excited about what God has done, and continues to do, in this most unlikely of places. Infamous for the Jena 6 controversy of late 2006 and 2007, and the ensuing racial tensions, this apparently genuine move of God has transcended racial barriers and brought hope and reconciliation to a very divided town. The citywide revival meetings began at Midway Baptist Church, but later spread throughout the entire community, embracing Christians of all races, and crossing denominational lines.

As Craig Franklin, worship leader at Midway, and associate editor of the Jena Times, states:

"God broke down many of the walls we had erected in our personal lives — walls of unforgiveness, walls of bitterness, walls of prejudices, walls of jealousy and walls of religion. It was not a "Baptist" revival or any other denomination, but it was truly a revival of the body of Christ."

I invite you to click here, and watch the video clips from various individuals who have played a role in the Jena revival, sharing about their experiences and insights. It will take a while to watch through all of them, though each individual clip is only between 1 to 4 minutes in length. But I can assure you that, if you are interested in revival, and have a hunger and a thirst to hear of what God is doing in the world today, it will be HUGE BLESSING, and well worth your time.

It is interesting to me that God sovereignly chose to channel his blessings in this small Louisiana town through a local Southern Baptist church. It gives me hope that God has not yet given up on us as Southern Baptists. At the same time, I believe we must be careful to never "put God in a box" or to close our hearts to what God is doing through other parts of the Body of Christ.

This does not preclude the use of spiritual discernment, and a love for sound biblical doctrine. There have also been recent reports of "revival" in Lakeland, Florida connected with the ministry of evangelist-faith healer Todd Bentley. However, as I look through the reports of what is happening in Lakeland, it doesn’t leave me with the same feelings I get when I read about the revival in Jena.

Is this perhaps due to my own denominational prejudice, by which I am quick to embrace something with roots coming out of my own background, and reject that coming out of someone else’s? I think that is a legitimate question, which we would all do well to honestly ask ourselves whenever we hear about things like this. However, I think the bottom line in all of this is a commitment to the authority of the Word of God, the preaching of the gospel, and a heart that is open and hungry to receive whatever God, in his sovereignty and grace, chooses to send our way.

In this same general vein, I was blessed to watch this video clip of Assemblies of God General Superintendent George Wood speaking on the topic of revival (HT: Paul Grabill). I believe that an open hearing of what Wood has to say will go a long way, both toward guiding us in our use of biblical discernment, as well as debunking some of our false stereotypes about what brothers and sisters in Christ from other backgrounds and denominations really believe and teach.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Personal Update & "Between the Times"

At present, I am in Wake Forest, North Carolina, on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I am taking six weeks of intensive Biblical Hebrew in the summer session. I am doing this to make up necessary prerequisite credits for admission into the new PhD Missions Cohort that is being offered as a joint project between Southeastern and the IMB. I am really enjoying the beautiful campus, some new friends I am making, and even the opportunity to learn a bit of Hebrew, which I opted out of 20 years ago when I was working on my M. Div. at Mid-America and Southwestern. I am also enjoying spending some good time with Alan Knox and his family (who I first met by way of the blogosphere, and has since come to be a good friend), as well as the church fellowship at Messiah Baptist Church. At the same time, I am really missing my wife and two sons, who are back in the Memphis area spending time with family while I get this Hebrew requirement out of the way.

Also, I would have loved to be able to go to the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis. But it coincides with my class schedule, so here I am in North Carolina writing this relatively personal blog post. Sorry I will not be able to say hello to many of you I would have loved to spend some time with otherwise.

On another front, Kelly, the boys, and I are getting ready to return to Spain, Lord willing, sometime in mid to late July. That will make one year since we have been on Stateside Assignment. A few months before leaving Spain, I had posted expressing some uncertainty regarding our future. Over the course of the year, though, God has confirmed to us that we are to return to Spain, and we are really looking forward to what lies ahead. In the coming months, we will need to look for a new home, as well as to define a little more our specific ministry description for the upcoming term. There are some exciting possibilities, about which I look forward to keeping you posted. We would very much appreciate your prayers for us during this time.

Some of you may be thinking, "...and what about the PhD?" Well, that's the awesome thing about it! The Missions Cohort PhD is structured in such a way that we will be able to remain on the field as active missionaries at the same time I am working on my studies. Also, the group of fellow cohort members will all be fellow career IMB missionaries. And, the main topic of study will be missions. I believe this will be a strategic opportunity to bring the world of Southern Baptist missions together with that of Southern Baptist academia, allowing for greater "cross-pollinization" between these two fields of ministry that have many times operated in relative isolation from each other. And I am really excited and count it a great privilege to be included in this cutting edge pilot project!

Which brings me to one more bit of news. I was just made aware by Nathan Finn of a new collaborative blog called Between the Times. Even though there will be no comment section, this promises to be a significant and positive addition to the Baptist blogosphere, with an all-star roster of contributors, all of them hailing from the faculty of Southeastern Seminary: Danny Akin, Bruce Ashford, Nathan Finn, Kenneth Keathley, and David Nelson.

The first post, Toward a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention: Part One, is authored by Bruce Ashford, who, by the way, has graciously agreed to be my major professor for my upcoming PhD project. I strongly recommend you to check it out, and to closely follow Between the Times in the days ahead.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Press Coverage of "Time to Change"

I find it interesting that Baptist Press has apparently not yet found the Time to Change Statement issued on June 2 newsworthy enough to release an article about it.

In the meantime, The Christian Post has picked up on the story, as well as the North Carolina Biblical Recorder (here and here).

Also, James A. Smith, Jr., of the Florida Baptist Witness, though intentionally deciding not to publish either the recent letter from former IMB Central and Eastern Europe Regional Leader, Rodney Hammer, announcing the motives for his recent resignation, nor the Time to Change Statement, has published an editorial that is highly critical of both Hammer and the drafters of "Time to Change."

Maybe Baptist Press will pick up on this soon. But then again, maybe not.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Statement Issued by Former IMB Trustees

I just added my name to the list of signatories to the statement issued today by a number of former IMB trustees expressing their opposition to the recent guideline changes related to baptism and private prayer language for potential appointees.

You can read the statement for yourself here.

I wish to make it clear, as the statement itself explains, that I "desire to express (my) unwavering support for the work of the IMB, its staff, and administration." I would also like to make clear that I consider myself to be under the authority of the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole, by way of the trustee system that has been set up to represent the will of the majority. As such, I recognize that I have a responsibility to abide by the guidelines and policies that have been established by the Board of Trustees.

I am also thankful for the opportunity to voice my loyal opposition to policies like this. I am not calling on anyone to rebel, in any way, against the lines of authority that have been set up, or to lessen, in any way, their support for the IMB.

I realize that, as an employee of the IMB, this is a bit awkward. Others who may feel the same way I do may not feel the same liberty to add their name to the statement as I have. That is completely understandable. I should make clear as well that I was not asked to add my name. I have done so on my own initiative. Also, I have already, close to the time I began this blog more than two years ago, been open about my personal opinions related to the new guidelines (see here).

I also want to add that I think it is signficant that this amount of former IMB trustees have come forward with this statement, among them two (this is a correction, as someone informed me it is not just one) former chairmen of the board. No doubt, there are others who are sympathetic with it, but who, for one reason or another, have not felt the liberty to add their names. I am confident there are also current trustees who are sympathetic with the statement. However, I understand that it would most likely be a conflict of interest for them to sign.

Of all the things that could help bring reconciliation and increased unity among the various factions of conservative Southern Baptists that have arisen in the past couple of years, I believe that a reversal of the IMB guidelines on baptism and private prayer language ranks right near the top. I am hopeful Southern Baptists "of all stripes and colors" will read this statement, and prayerfully consider the earnest plea that those who signed it are making.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Roadblocks on the Path to City Church

This post is part of a “chain blog” begun by Alan Knox here.

Charlie Wallace chipped in with the second contribution here.

This post is the third in the chain.

I have previously posted on this topic, or others related to it, on various occasions. I will attempt to avoid repeating what I have said on those other posts here.

The Practice of Unity on the Mission Field
The City Church, a guest post by Paul Grabill
Ministerial Ethics and the City Church
Ministerial Ethics and the City Church (part 2)
Baptist Associations and the City Church
Wolfgang Simson, the City Church, and the IMB
The City Church Revisited
Thoughts from Philippians on the City Church
The One True Church

In my thinking regarding the “city church,” I have been influenced by four or five different things. First, and most important, my study of Scripture. Next, my experience growing up in the United States in the context of several different Southern Baptist congregations, and the general ecclesiological milieu of the United States that has been significantly shaped by denominationalism, local church autonomy, and individualism in general. After this, I would point to 10 years of missionary experience in the region of Extremadura in southwest Spain, in which I observed and participated first-hand in a region-wide fleshing out of much of what I understand the New Testament “city church” to embody. Then, other experiences in other parts of Spain in which the particular dynamics of the collective Body of Christ have not been quite as conducive to the same sort of dynamics I experienced during my time in Extremadura. Finally, I have been influenced by reading from fellow believers, both in books (most notably, That None Should Perish, and Prayer Evangelism, by Ed Silvoso; and Houses that Change the World, by Wolfgang Simson), and in interaction through blogs (most notably, with Paul Grabill).

All of this has led me to conclude that a more biblical practice in regard to the “city church” is not only possible, but something towards which we, as members of the Body of Christ, ought to give diligent effort in promoting. At the same time, I am painfully aware that there are very significant roadblocks that stand in the way of seeing this come to place in any meaningful fashion.

1. One obvious and major roadblock is that of doctrinal differences between individual believers and separate congregations of believers. As I see it, at least at a certain level, there are certain beliefs and practices that, although within the realm of generally agreed upon evangelical orthodoxy, are incompatible with each other with respect to certain aspects of church life. One of these is the practice of believers baptism. Another is the role of women in ministry.

If, for example, one group of believers is convinced that only adult believers should be baptized, it would be a violation of their conscience to be involved, in one way or another, in the sponsorship or advocacy of infant baptism. It would also, for example, be difficult for those who are convinced that Scripture does not allow for women to function as elders in the church to participate fully in a “church” that recognizes women as elders.

My experience, however, has been that it is possible to maintain fellowship at a deep and meaningful level with other believers on a local basis, without, at the same time, necessarily having to compromise on issues like this. This requires that “local churches” or “congregations,” as we traditionally know them, continue to exist and faithfully carry out the doctrinal distinctives each one feels Scripture demands of them. It involves, at the same time, though, “agreeing to disagree” with believers from other groups, or who interpret Scripture differently, in order to accomplish other objectives.

In this sense, I should clarify that the “city church” I am talking about here does not entail the dissolution or organizational merger of existing “autonomous” congregations, nor necessarily of denominational groupings. It is not so much of an “either-or” thing as it is a “both-and” thing. I also believe that the doctrinal basis of fellowship within the “city church” should be generally recognized evangelical orthodoxy. Basically, all those groups whose teaching would lead its adherents to be truly “born again” would be included. Those that teach a “works-based” salvation, or who are defective on basic evangelical essentials, would not.

2. Another roadblock to a successful “city church” dynamic is the overall size of the believing community in a given area. In Extremadura, for example, the total number of evangelical believers is around 1,500 people (of which approximately 1,000 belong to the gypsy ethnic minority), among a total population of about 1,100,000. The size of this group, and the extreme minority status of evangelicals at large in the community, in my opinion, helps to create a favorable atmosphere for the development of a successful “city church” (or actually, in this case, “regional church”) dynamic.

In Madrid, however, where the evangelical community and overall population are both much larger, it is much less practical and more difficult to maintain the same dynamic as in Extremadura. I am aware of several different initiatives in Madrid to bring believers of different congregations and denominations together for fellowship and cooperation in ministry. But it has proven much more difficult to gain the active participation of such a wide representation of the Body of Christ in these activities as it was (and continues to be) in Extremadura. Although there are other factors involved, I believe a primary reason for this has to do with the physical size of the group.

In order to get around this roadblock, I believe it is helpful to break down “city church” functional units into smaller geographical and/or numerical groupings. Actually, I have been involved in a joint monthly prayer meeting with believers from various backgrounds and affiliations in a one specific quadrant of the northeast part of the Madrid province that, while not yet functioning as a full-blown “city church,” does seem to be doing a great job of incorporating some of these same dynamics.

In the States, the complexities involved with this are multiplied many times over, with the huge amount of evangelical believers and congregations present. In spite of this, I am aware of several initiatives within the States that seem to be making some real good headway in relation to this.

3. Another significant roadblock is that of ethnic and racial divisions. Even in Extremadura, as I alluded to earlier, there is a significant divide between gypsy and non-gypsy evangelicals. The gypsy culture has some very specific idiosyncrasies that make it difficult for them to participate in something like a “city church” with non-gypsy believers. Some of this has to do with matters of taste and cultural preference, such as styles of music. But some has to do with deeply embedded social mores, involving things like gender roles, and leadership dynamics. There are also several important doctrinal issues that complicate things even more.

More and more, though, throughout Spain, with the arrival of many believing immigrants, and the subsequent establishment of many predominantly immigrant congregations, the ethnic and racial barriers to a meaningful practice of “city church” continue to grow, and are delineated less specifically along the gypsy/non-gypsy divide.

In the United States, race and ethnicity is one of the most blatant factors inhibiting a greater practical unity among the Body of Christ. If we are honest, though, we must come to grips with the fact that it is not quite as simple as Rodney King saying “We can all get along” or everybody joining hands and singing Kum Ba Yah. There are serious issues that must be broached, and forgiveness and reconciliation that needs to happen at a very deep level.

In spite of these very real and challenging difficulties, though, we were able to experience some wonderful times of joint fellowship between gypsy and non-gypsy believers in Extremadura, including occasional joint worship services, and joint participation in the March for Jesus. In the United States, there are many efforts at racial and ethnic reconciliation that could be cited as examples. Recently, I am especially encouraged by the reports coming out of Jena, Louisiana, and the city-wide revival that appears to be taking place there. All in all, though, to talk about the “city church” and greater unity in the Body of Christ, and neglect to work diligently towards greater unity along racial and ethnic lines is, in my opinion, sheer hypocrisy. I see this as very much a priority issue.

4. A final roadblock toward a positive practice of the “city church” that I would like to point out here is one that may come as a surprise to many of my readers. This roadblock has to do with certain expressions of the “simple,” “organic” or “house church” movements.

Among Southern Baptist International Mission Board workers, undoubtedly many have first been exposed to the whole idea of the “city church” through the writings of Wolfgang Simson. Simson is a leading advocate for “house churches” and proponent for the “city church.” Personally, I am intrigued and attracted by much of what Simson and others with similar ideas have to say. However, I have picked up on a certain tendency by many to disenfranchise, as it were, the “traditional” church as an important part of what God is doing in the world today.

I am firmly convinced of the extreme value of small communities of believers for the practice of solid discipleship and the various aspects of “one another” ministry reflected in Scripture, which is such an integral part of what church is all about. I also agree with a good deal of the thesis of Frank Viola and George Barna regarding the intrusion of pagan practices down through history into institutional Christianity.

However, if we take seriously what Jesus, and the Bible in general, teach about the unity of the Body, I don’t think we can just “write off” 2,000 years of Christian faith communities that have represented, in many times and many places, the vast majority of born-again believers with whom we will one day gather together around the throne of the Lamb. Although I think that “institutional Christianity” in general could benefit much from taking to heart the majority of the values and ideas being proclaimed by the “simple church movement,” I am convinced that a true, Christ-honoring practice of “city church” will necessarily embrace more than just the collective “house churches” of the city. And, it will not be primarily a “house church” thing; at least not in the initial stages.

This is quite simply because the “city church,” by definition, embraces the entire Body of Christ in a given locality. And, at present, in most places around the world, the entire Body of Christ is made up primarily of fellow believers who are part of so-called “institutional churches.” In order for the “city church” to function in the way I believe Jesus intends it to function, I believe that those on all sides of this issue must mutually embrace each other, and accept each other as full-fledged members and equal participants. This may be a challenge to some who are more radical in their convictions. But, I believe, in the long run, it will bring more honor to the name of Christ, and bring us further along in the advance of the Kingdom of God on Earth.

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1. If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.

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Alan Knox, City Church - A Chain Blog
Charlie Wallace, City Church: Meeting
David Rogers, Roadblocks on the Path to City Church
Steve Sensenig, The Major Roadblock to a City Church
Paul Grabill, The Resurrection of the City Church: Who Will Move the Stone?
Jon Amos, A City Church Thought Experiment
James Goetz, The Restoration of the City or Locality Church and Apostolic Leadership
Alan Knox, Unity and the Church in a City

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Spaniards Read Their Bibles Less than Anyone Else

"The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD, "when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD." Amos 8:11

A new study carried out by the Catholic Bible Federation shows that Spain ranks at the bottom of a list of 9 countries both in Bible reading and Bible knowledge. Especially striking is the comparison between the number of people in Spain who say they have read the Bible in the last 12 months (20%) and those in the United States (75%).

I believe this study demonstrates quite poignantly the great spiritual need of a place like Spain, which, in spite of long being considered as a "Christian" country, is practically void of the knowledge of God's Word. As the old saying goes, though, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Pray God would awaken a thirst for his Word among the Spanish people, and that He would also give those of us who are called to minister among them wisdom on how to best help them see their need of Him.

Read about the study here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I'm On Board

I have now read over and signed the newly released Evangelical Manifesto. I think that it verbalizes very well what a lot of us have been thinking for a long time. I ask you to prayerfully and carefully read what it says, and to think through how to consistently put into practice, in attitudes, words, and actions, the propositions contained therein.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Highly Recommended: 9Marks eJournal

Most of my original writing, as of late, has been over at sbc IMPACT! I do hope, in due time, to get back to posting here more often.

In the meantime, I want to direct you to an important resource that I just got through reading for myself, the March/April 2008 edition of the 9Marks eJournal. The theme of this edition is "Christian Cooperation" and "Christian Separation." I am very impressed with the thoughtful insights and balanced approach the various writers give to these consequential and relevant topics.

Here are the introductory remarks of 9Marks editor, Jonathan Leeman:

The gospel unites and the gospel divides. Some walls it levels and others it erects. Some temples it destroys and others it builds.

But doesn’t it seem like Christians often talk of just one or the other? When they do, imbalances follow. Too much talk about separation leads to strife in the church. Too much talk about unity leads to the compromise of the church. How hard it seems to talk of both gospel unity and gospel separation, each in their proper places! How much wisdom is needed!

Gearing up for Together For The Gospel in April of this year, all the writers in this issue of the 9Marks eJournal make their attempt at striking the balance between the gospel’s call to unity and its call to separation, in terms of the individual's conscience before God. If you’re quick to talk about unity, maybe start with the articles on separation. If you’re quick to talk about separation, maybe start with the articles on cooperation. Just a thought.

May the One who came with a sword of division but who came to break down the dividing wall of partition give wisdom to us all!
I recommend you download the pdf file here to your hard disk, and read it all.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Chain of Blessings

One of the people who has impacted my life for the glory of God more than anyone else has been George Verwer, Founder and former International Director of Operation Mobilization. Back when I was single, I had the privilege of participating in 3 different OM summer campaigns, and spending 2 years on the OM missionary ship, M.V. Doulos. During one of my summers with OM, I was asked by George to be his interim "go-fer," while his regular "go-fer" at the time was off on vacation.

That was truly a life-changing experience. I still remember very vividly knocking on George's door in Bromley, England, at 5 am each morning to go jogging with him. As we jogged together, he shared with me how, in his mind, he imagined his route to be a giant map of the world, and, how, all along the itinerary, he would remember to pray for spiritual needs and ministries in different countries, as he passed from place to place. And then, at the half-way point, we would stop, and pray together for each other, the world, and the challenges of the new day.

Although my ministry path has taken me in different directions since that time, the passion, commitment, and spiritual authenticity that so distinctively mark George's life have stayed with me down through the years. Still today, from time to time, George will send me an encouraging note, and several books he is currently pushing, just as he so faithfully does with hundreds, if not thousands, of others who have had the privilege of knowing him.

It would be hard to calculate the number of individuals around the world who are serving God in world missions today as a result of the ministry of George Verwer. But George himself was first impacted for God by the ministry of Billy Graham. As a teenage boy, growing up in New Jersey, he was invited to a meeting in which Dr. Graham spoke at Madison Square Garden in New York. It was there that he first surrendered his life to the Lord.

It was a big blessing for me to watch the following 2 1/2 minute video-clip in which George was recently able to visit with Dr. Graham at The Cove in North Carolina. It is also a blessing to see how Dr. Graham's ministry, by way of The Billy Graham Training Center, continues to bless many others, under the leadership of his grandson, Will Graham.

Watch: George Verwer meets Billy Graham

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Piper on "Contradictory Compassion"

For quite a while now, I have found it increasingly difficult to identify a political candidate I could really get excited about.

John Piper gives a brilliant and amazingly brief defense of my position, explaining why this is the case, and focusing in on the same issues that I, as a follower of Jesus, consider to be the most important within the current political milieu of the United States.

Read: Overcome Contradictory Compassion

Monday, March 10, 2008


I have been very busy lately, and have not had the time to post much here at Love Each Stone. This week I am at Iglesia "Luz para las Naciones" in Pensacola, Florida, preaching a "campaign of evangelism and revival." So far, it has been a wonderful time. The church here reminds me a lot of churches we have been associated with or planted in Spain. I would appreciate your prayers for me as, after preaching twice on Sunday, I will also be preaching Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night.

I also wanted to share the great news, for those who may not read all the same blogs that I do and have not already gotten the word, that God has answered prayer, and little Caelan Cross does NOT have cancer!!! Read Alan's reports here and here, and praise God together with the Cross family.

Although I haven't posted much here lately at Love Each Stone, I continue to contribute regularly at sbc IMPACT! Here is a list of some of my recent posts over there:

Best Unity Practices
I Was a Stranger and You Invited Me In
You Help Us By Your Prayers
Missions and Family
"I Know...Let's Blame Willow Creek..."
Stumbling Blocks
Missions & the "Traditional" Church in the SBC
The Missionary: "A Breed Apart"?
Questions on Wealth and Response to the Gospel

In the meantime, I am using just about every spare moment I have studying for my upcoming entrance exam for the new Missions Cohort Ph.D. at Southeastern Seminary. This pioneer project being carried out in collaboration with the IMB will allow career missionaries to work on a Ph.D. while continuing to remain on the field, and fulfill their other ministry responsibilities. I am really excited about this opportunity.

Here is my reading list for the upcoming exam. This is a good part of what has been keeping me so busy lately. I imagine that once I am done, and have taken the exam, I will have a whole lot of food for thought, and a bit more time to post here at Love Each Stone.

Carson, Donald and John Woodbridge, eds. Scripture and Truth. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.

Greidanus, Sidney. The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988.

McGrath, Alister. Christian Theology, 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper, 1975 paper.

Osborne, Grant. The Hermeneutical Spiral. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991.

Corduan, Winfried. Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions. Downers Grove: IVP, 1998.

Hammett, John S. Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005.

Hesselgrave, David and Edward Rommen. Contextualization: Meaning, Methods, and Models. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1989.

Hiebert, Paul G. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985.

Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. 2d. ed. Vol. 6 of The Penguin History of the Church. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Tucker, Ruth A. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers
Grove: IVP, 2006.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pray for Caelan Cross

Alan Cross is a young pastor at Gateway Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. I first had the opportunity to meet Alan several years ago at the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina. Since then, I have corresponded with Alan on the blogs, and come to greatly respect his balanced, Christ-honoring point of view, and graceful eloquence in communicating it. Just a few weeks ago, I had the blessing of spending an afternoon of fellowship together with Alan during a visit to Montgomery. Alan is one of the nicest, humblest, godliest men of God you could ever hope to meet. My time with him was a great encouragement to me, and I greatly appreciated the heartfelt prayer he lifted up to the Father on my behalf as we parted ways.

During my time with Alan, I asked him briefly about his 2 1/2-year-old son, Caelan, who, after being detected with cancer at 8 months old, had gone through several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy treatment. Together with many others on the blogosphere, I had rejoiced with Alan several months ago, when the scans showed that Caelan's cancer had disappeared. Alan told me then that he and his wife, Erika, were praising God for answers to prayer, and were so thankful that Caelan had apparently come through to the other side of this trial.

Yesterday, Alan and Erika got word that Caelan's cancer has possibly returned. The diagnosis is not yet 100% certain. But it is serious enough for the doctors to be very concerned. I can't imagine how devastated Alan and Erika must be at this time. They need our prayers. They need our support.

Go to Alan's blog, Downshore Drift, right now, read what Alan has written about Caelan, and lift them up before the Father. If God leads you to do so, leave them a note of encouragement as well. They need all they can get at this time.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Paul Littleton: "The Church - A Diverse Body"

Paul Littleton has just finished posting a 3-part series entitled "The Church - A Diverse Body" that dovetails nicely with what I have been writing about here, as of late, at Love Each Stone. I think the issues Paul addresses are not of minor importance for us who take seriously the Word of God and the call of Jesus to radical, obedient discipleship. And, I think Paul does a first-rate job of reflecting responsibly and practically on these matters. I thus recommend you to read and think with an open mind and heart about what Paul has to say...

The Church - A Diverse Body
The Church - A Diverse Body 2
The Church - A Diverse Body 3

Update: Ed Stetzer has also posted some good thoughts on the same basic subject (with a good discussion on the comment string here and here).

While I am at it, Paul links to a document on this issue that is so important and central to what we are to be about in world missions, that I want to post the entire text of the key section here, in the hope that more people will read it, and take to heart what it says.

It is section #5 from Lausanne Occasional Paper 1: The Pasadena Consultation - The Homogeneous Unit Principle...

5. The Church, the Churches and the Homogeneous Unit Principle

We are all agreed that, as there is one God and Father, one Lord Jesus and one Holy Spirit, so he has only one church. The unity of the church is a given fact (Ephesians 4:4-6). At the same time, we have the responsibility to maintain this unity (v. 3), to make it visible, and to grow up into the fullness of unity in Christ (vv. 13-16).

How then can the unity of the church (to which we are committed) and the diversity of cultures (to which we are also committed) be reconciled with one another? More particularly, how can separate HU churches express the unity of the Body of Christ?

We are all agreed that the dividing wall, which Jesus Christ abolished by his death, was echthra, "enmity" or "hostility." All forms of hatred, scorn, and disrespect between Christians of different backgrounds are forbidden, being totally incompatible with Christ's reconciling work. But we must go further than this. The wall dividing Jew from Gentile was not only their active reciprocal hatred; it was also their racial and religious alienation symbolized by "the law of commandments and ordinances." This, too, Jesus abolished, in order to "create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace" (Eph. 2:15).

This did not mean that Jews ceased to be Jews, or Gentiles to be Gentiles. It did mean, however, that their racial differences were no barrier to their fellowship, for through their union with Jesus Christ both groups were now "joint heirs, joint members of the same body and joint partakers of the promise" (Eph. 3:6 literally). The union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ was the "mystery" which was revealed to Paul and which he proclaimed to all (Ephesians 3:3-6, 9, 10). Thus the church as the single new humanity or God's new society is central to the gospel. Our responsibility is both to preach it and to exhibit it before the watching world.

What did this mean in practice in the early church? It seems probable that, although there were mixed Jewish-Gentile congregations, there were also homogeneous Jewish congregations (who still observed Jewish customs) and homogeneous Gentile congregations (who observed no Jewish customs). Nevertheless, Paul clearly taught them that they belonged to each other in Christ, that they must welcome one another as Christ had welcomed them (compare Romans 15:7), and that they must respect one another's consciences, and not offend one another. He publicly rebuked Peter in Antioch for withdrawing from table fellowship with Gentile believers, and argued that his action was a denial of the truth of the gospel, that is, of the justification of all believers (whether Jews or Gentiles) by grace through faith (compare Galatians 2:11-16). This incident and teaching should be taken as a warning to all of us of the seriousness of permitting any kind of apartheid in the Christian fellowship. And it should go without saying that no one visiting a church or requesting membership in it should ever be turned away on merely cultural grounds. On the contrary, visitors and members should be welcomed from all cultures.

All of us are agreed that in many situations a homogeneous unit church can be a legitimate and authentic church. Yet we are also agreed that it can never be complete in itself. Indeed, if it remains in isolation, it cannot reflect the universality and diversity of the Body of Christ. Nor can it grow into maturity. Therefore, every HU church must take active steps to broaden its fellowship in order to demonstrate visibly the unity and the variety of Christ's church. This will mean forging with other and different churches creative relationships which express the reality of Christian love, brotherhood, and interdependence.

During our consultation we have shared several possible ways of developing such relationships. They will range from occasional united evangelistic crusades, Christian concerts, conferences, conventions and annual festivals through a variety of voluntary associations and interchurch federations to the regular enjoying of intercultural fellowship. One model of this we have looked at is the large city church (or congregation) with several HU subchurches (or subcongregations) which normally worship separately but sometimes together. On these occasions their common celebration is enriched by the dress, music, and liturgy of different traditions. Another model a multicultural Sunday congregation which divides into mid-week HU house churches, while a third and more radical way is to work towards integration, although without cultural assimilation.

In our commitment to evangelism, we all understand the reasons why homogeneous unit churches usually grow faster than heterogeneous or multicultural ones. Some of us, however, do not agree that the rapidity with which churches grow is the only or even always the most important Christian priority. We know that an alien culture is a barrier to faith. But we also know that segregation and strife in the church are barriers to faith. If, then, we have to choose between apparent acquiescence in segregation for the sake of numerical church growth and the struggle for reconciliation at the expense of numerical church growth, we find ourselves in a painful dilemma. Some of us have had personal experience of the evils of tribalism in Africa, racism in America, caste in India, and economic injustice in Latin America and elsewhere, and all of us are opposed to these things. In such situations none of us could with a good conscience continue to develop HU churches which seem to ignore the social problems and even tolerate them in the church, while some of us believe that the development of HU churches can often contribute to their solution.

We recognize that both positions can be defended in terms of obedience—obedience to Christ's commission to evangelize on the one hand, and obedience to the commands to live in love and justice on the other. The synthesis between these two still eludes us, although we all accept our Lord's own words that it is through the brotherly love and unity of Christians that the world will come to believe in him (John 13:35; 17:21, 23).

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Washington Post Article on Southern Baptists

In light of what I wrote on my last post, here is a very interesting article from the Washington Post on racial diversification in the SBC:

Southern Baptists Diversifying to Survive

(HT: Eric Redmond)

Christian Unity and Racial Reconciliation

I believe that denominationalism (not denominations in and of themselves) is one significant way in which the Body of Christ is unbiblically divided, and I have written about it quite extensively here at Love Each Stone. However, if we look at all of the reasons the Body of Christ is unbiblically divided, especially in the United States, there is at least one other motive staring us squarely in the face that may be even more significant: racial differences.

Walking into the congregational meeting of any one of a great majority of local churches in the United States, it is immediately obvious to the perceptive observer that the make-up of the group, when compared to that of the surrounding community, is pretty well defined along racial lines. Martin Luther King, Jr. frequently cited the well-known quote originally attributed to Billy Graham: "Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America." You have to wonder, in light of passages like Ephesians 2:11-18, if this is really what Jesus desires for his church. From a missionary perspective, I am convinced, as well, that racially based divisions in the American church have contributed to the raising of some pretty significant stumbling blocks for world evangelization.

Yet, the solution to this problem is not quite so simple. History has created different cultures that, in many cases, are closely linked to racial and/or ethnic classifications. These cultures, in turn, tend to produce certain patterns of taste and preference among the individual members of the groups identified with them. As a result of this, when people are given a choice, they tend to gravitate towards regular association with groups that share their own cultural tastes and preferences. This is an aspect of human nature that no amount of wishful thinking or good intentions is likely to wipe away anytime soon. Renowned missiologist Donald McGavran referred to it as the "homogeneous unit principle."

Personally, whenever we can blend cultures and races within a local congregation, I think that, in and of itself, it is a good idea. However, the reality is that the "worship style" of any one congregation will almost inevitably tend to attract certain types of people and alienate others. Even if a church opts to dress its activities in a culture-neutral or culturally blended style, some people, who prefer more culture-specific styles, will feel their tastes are not sufficiently valued and taken into consideration.

Although actual racial and cultural discrimination should never be tolerated in the life of the local church, it is probably best to come to grips with the reality of the "homogeneous unit principle," at least at some level, and learn to live with it. It is actually a factor that, properly understood, can help us to "become all things to all men so that by all possible means [we] might save some." That should never be an excuse, however, for total segregation in the Body of Christ. As brothers and sisters in Christ from different races and cultures, I believe, as we grow in Christian maturity, we should naturally give diligent effort to know, understand, and fellowship with each other.

In a recent visit to Montgomery, Alabama, I was made aware of a wonderful effort on the part of Christians there to bridge racial barriers, and present a united testimony for Christ on a city-wide level. Under the banner of the ONE Movement, various churches of different racial make-up have taken on the goal of "building bridges of racial reconciliation that will facilitate a great spiritual awakening" in Montgomery.

In a Jan. 16, 2006 article in Baptist Press, Pastor Jay Wolf, of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, made the following insightful observation on his congregation’s involvement in the ONE Movement: "Eating together, praying together and praising the Lord together dissolves misconceptions and provides a powerful bonding cement to build bridges of relationships."

In the country of Spain, where I have served as a missionary for the past 18 years, it is evident that, in recent years, God is up to something special there as well. About 10 years ago, many evangelical churches were half-empty, and the make-up of most was quite racially and ethnically homogeneous. In recent years, though, largely through a massive influx of immigration from Latin America, many of these same churches are "busting at the seams." It is not uncommon for some of these congregations to be comprised of 50% or even 75% immigrants, most frequently from a variety of different countries and cultural backgrounds.

As one might imagine, in many cases, this transition has not come without its share of tension and misunderstandings. However, in my opinion, the blessings have far outweighed the problems. On the one hand, I believe that God has sent many of the immigrants as a response to the prayers of his people to "send out workers into his harvest field." On the other hand, I believe God is at work, breaking down walls of separation, reconciling us all, in one body, through the cross, to Him, "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

New Lausanne Movement Blog

Doug Birdsall, current Chairman of the Lausanne Movement, has launched a new blog looking forward to the The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, Oct. 16-25, 2010.

The name of the blog is Towards 2010 - The Lausanne Movement Weblog. This looks like an exciting new place to keep track of some of the marvellous things God is doing around the world, through believers of many different backgrounds, in obedience to the Great Commission.

Here is a quote from the current post entitled Gathering the Global Church. Good stuff...

We pray that at Cape Town 2010 the 4000 participants will provide a wonderful model of what it means to be part of the global body of Christ where every member of the body works in a coordinated and respectful manner with every other part of the body. As we come together to work on the issues that are before us with respect to world evangelization, we pray that there will be a sharing of gifts and experiences that result in greater strength and unity in the body of Christ and which finds expression in an “exchange of joy.”

Monday, February 04, 2008

Mark Dever on the Role of the SBC

Many claim that a consistent biblical practice of Christian unity precludes participation in groups like the Southern Baptist Convention. I, however, do not think that such is necessarily the case.

The following quotes, taken from Mark Dever, in a recent interview with Timmy Brister, as transcribed on the Strange BaptistFire blog, are very much in line with my own views on church unity and the role of denominations. I also think it aligns quite well with what John Woodhouse says on the same topics in the articles I posted here a couple of weeks ago.

Just remember, the SBC’s not a church. I mean, [saying, ‘Leaving the SBC’ is] like saying, ‘Leaving Wycliffe Bible Translators.’ Y’know, it’s like, I’m a pastor, and we have $4000 a year that goes to support this person who works with Wycliffe, and if I stop sending that $4000, then I’m ‘leaving Wycliffe Bible Translators.’ So, it’s not a church issue for us in that way. The Southern Baptist Convention is one means by which- certainly our congregation of Christians at Capitol Hill Baptist Church- we cooperate with other Christians through the Southern Baptist Convention and are delighted to do it. But we feel no obligation to do that; we cooperate through other groups too. We give money to the Conservative Baptists, we’ve given money to groups even associated with other non-baptistic denominations, just to encourage them in gospel work, and we certainly have given to multi or interdenominational groups- like InterVarsity or Campus Crusade- that do work. So we identify ourselves as Christians, and we certainly believe in believers’ baptism, but we would not say that our fundamental identity is Southern Baptist. We’re Christians, and we think the Bible teaches believers’ baptism and we the Southern Baptist Convention is a really good way to cooperate for international missions and can be pretty helpful in the education of ministers…

I don’t think we have the freedom under God to organize our churches in such a way that we begin to think of ourselves as one visible church. So that, let’s say we have a case of church discipline here [at Capitol Hill Baptist Church] and our congregation deals with it, and then some pastor sitting some place- y’know- in Richmond can actually say, ‘No, I reverse it, you’ve gotta put Tom back in the membership of the church. I mean, even if we obey that- let’s say we’re an Episcopalian church, which would obey that- I think we’re in sin for obeying; we’re not following what Jesus said in
Matthew 18. We’re taking an unbiblical structure (because a bishop claims some authority) and we are acknowledging it. Well, I think the Lord will still hold us accountable for what we in our congregation do in obeying the words of Christ…

There may be some other church out there that calls itself Southern Baptist that’s preaching wacko stuff; well, that’s not at all in the same sense [as in my local congregation] my responsibility. Now, you can lay out a specific situation with another congregation- we may have more or less responsibility for it, and even with the non-church entities- the parachurch entities, like the Southern Baptist Convention, which is- y’know- it’s like a Christian publishing company, a Christian network of colleges or something- it’s not the same thing as a Christian church. So, let’s say I go to the SBC and somebody has a resolution saying, ‘Hey, we should have only regenerate members in our churches!’ or that’s what we should strive for, well, I go, ‘Of course, that’s what it means to be a Baptist.’ And let’s say the thing gets voted down. That doesn’t cause me to despair. I mean, I understand pastors aren’t all confused. I don’t think the SBC as a Convention has any kind of authority- it doesn’t pretend to. I think all that says is, ‘Yeah, we gotta go back to the books, and we gotta keep talking to pastors, and we gotta do a better job raising up this next generation of pastors’…

If you get your real jollies from what’s going on in the denominational press and the Convention and not what’s happening- y’know- in Mrs. Jones’ life in your congregation or Bob coming to Christ or that Sunday school class you’re teaching or that sermon from last Sunday, then you’ve just got a spiritual problem…

(HT: Tony Kummer)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Plymouth Brethren, William MacDonald, and Christian Unity

My impression is that among Southern Baptists there is relatively little knowledge of the Plymouth Brethren movement. In the country of Spain, where my wife and I are missionaries, though, they are one of the main evangelical groups. I would say "denominations," except for the fact that many "brethren" profess to be opposed to denominations, and do not recognize the denominational character of the movement with which they identify.

For the most part, Plymouth Brethren are conservative evangelicals, even more conservative on several points than most Southern Baptists. I have had the privilege of sharing some wonderful, warm fellowship in the Lord with various individuals and congregations associated with the Plymouth Brethren movement.

Like various other Christian groups, the Plymouth Brethren started by and large as an attempt by sincerely motivated believers to work towards Christian unity, and overcome the barriers of denominationalism. Sadly, though, in many cases, the practical outworking of the application of the principles behind the movement has led to increased sectarianism, similar, in some aspects, to the Campbellite/Church of Christ movement, and the Witness Lee "local church" movement.

In any case, I think there are many things we can learn from the Brethren, including both lessons from their achievements and shortcomings as a movement, as well as some excellent biblical reflection and spiritual exhortation. Several names associated with the Plymouth Brethren who have made an impact on evangelicalism at large include George Müller, J. N. Darby, Harry Ironside, Jim Elliot, F. F. Bruce, and Luis Palau.

This past Christmas, Dec. 25, 2007, William MacDonald, one of the most beloved and respected Bible teachers associated with the Brethren movement, went to be with the Lord at the age of 90. Like so many other godly leaders down through history, MacDonald wrestled with the practical implications of biblical teaching on Christian unity. Although, in the context of what he writes, MacDonald specifically addresses some of the quirks and idiosyncrasies within the Brethren movement, I think the following article contains some very rich food for thought all of us as Bible-believing Christians, and specifically, as Southern Baptists.

Read To What Should We Be Loyal, by William MacDonald

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Spiritual Landscape in Spain

For those who may be interested, the following article posted on Protestante Digital gives what I consider to be an objective and succinct summary of the current religious make-up of the country in which my family and I have dedicated the last 17 years of our life and ministry.

Immigrants changing religious map of Spain

LA CORUÑA, (Source: La Voz de Galicia / ACPress.net)

One of the effects of the large numbers of immigrants entering Spain is the rapid increase in the number of religious groups. Most of the 14,000 registered religious organisations are Catholic, but those representing minority faiths are growing fast.

Spain is Roman Catholic by history and tradition, at least over the past five hundred years, but is becoming less so. Not just because the number of atheists is growing, up to 4.9% of the population at the latest count, nor yet that of agnostics, now at 11.7%, but because there is a proliferation of non-Catholic religious groups. In 2005, according to government figures, there were 12,453 Catholic organisations (today up to 12,585), while non-Catholic groups totalled 1,388 in 2005, but are up to 1,895 today.

Most of these non-Catholic groups are Protestant or Evangelical, but there are also Muslim, Jewish, Orthodox, Hindu, Buddhist, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormon groups. And the figure is set to rise, not least because of the recent government decision to recognise the Scientology 'Church' as a legal entity, with the same rights as all other recognised groups.

Despite all the growth, it is somewhat amusing to discover that if one adds up the number of followers claimed by each group, it comes to a figure higher than the total population of Spain, although there may be people who claim to practice more than one religion. In round numbers, the Spanish population is 44 million, of whom 34 million are officially Catholic. However, it is impossible to know how many of them are actually still in the Catholic Church in any meaningful way, given that the Catholic Church doesn't recognise apostates. Government figures suggest about half of all Catholics are non-practising.

Behind the Catholics come the Muslims, who number over a million in Spain at present, and the Protestants, who represent a community of about 400,000 people, which has increased considerably in recent years with the huge wave of immigration from Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe. The Federation of Evangelical Organisations calculates that there are a further 800,000 foreign Protestants who live in Spain for at least six months a year, most of them from northern Europe. This would put Protestants in second place, with a total of around 1.2 million.

There are about 40,000 Jews in Spain, and 9,000 practising Buddhists, as well as all those people who follow other minority faiths. The Scientology group claim to have around 10,000 followers in Spain.

Monday, January 07, 2008

John Woodhouse on Christian Unity, Ecclesiology, and Denominations

I do not know how to recommend strongly enough that you take the time to carefully read through the following three articles by John Woodhouse on Christian unity, ecclesiology, and denominations.

1. When to unite and when to divide
2. The unity of the church
3. Christian unity and denominations

John Woodhouse is Principal of Moore College in Sydney, Australia, and a well-known "Sydney Anglican." According to Wikipedia, "The Diocese of Sydney, in the Anglican Church of Australia, is unusual in Western Anglicanism in that the majority of the diocese is Evangelical and low church in tradition and committed to Reformed and Calvinist theology."

As an Anglican, there are undoubtedly several doctrinal issues on which I, as a Baptist, differ with Woodhouse. However, I believe he has much to say that is very relevant for us as Southern Baptists. As a matter of fact, upon reading these articles, I was surprised by the degree of agreement I found with him on the particular issues discussed therein. I believe a serious consideration of the ideas proposed by Woodhouse in these articles will help to clear up some crucial misunderstandings, as well as open up avenues for fruitful dialogue, on many of the issues currently being discussed on this blog, and in Southern Baptist life in general. Especially important, from the standpoint of context, is what Woodhouse says in the second article on ecclesiology and a biblical definition of "church."

In order to get a true understanding of what he is saying, it is very important that you read all three articles in their entirety and in order. However, in order to whet your appetite so you will want to read more, I include here the following quotes from the third article on Christian unity and denominations. (HT: Justin Taylor, Andy Naselli)

"What is a denomination? Here is a working definition: A denomination is an association of some churches which does not include all churches."

"Denominationalism, in this sense, is a deliberate rejection of sectarianism. Sectarianism is the view that a particular group is the only legitimate expression of the church."

"Denominations can be an expression of the unity of the Spirit. However when the nature of the denomination is misunderstood and inappropriate policies and actions developed, denominations can oppose the unity of the Spirit."

"One of the chief benefits of denominationalism is the freedom of conscience it allows. The unity of the Spirit cannot be coerced against conscience."

"Once a denomination has developed institutional structures that people come to think are ‘the church’, the trouble has begun. Instead of being an expression of the unity of the Spirit, an outworking of the fellowship of those who in different places call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the denomination can then impede the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. History suggests that over time this temptation is close to irresistible."

"With centralism comes control and interference. Whereas in spiritual reality the local gathering of believers is assembled by Christ, ruled by his Spirit through his Word as the members serve one another, the denomination is tempted to rule the congregation from a distance, and according to its own interests."

"There is an urgent, necessary and grave duty to see that the control of the denomination over the life and ministry of the local congregations must be broken."

"A denomination, once it has developed, appears typically to demand the loyalty of the individual churches and their members to the association itself. The denomination very easily loses sight of its proper role of encouraging faithfulness to Christ and to all who belong to him. Instead of being a means to this end, the denomination becomes an end in itself."

"Loyalty is not a Christian virtue. Indeed it can be sinful. The Christian virtue is faithfulness, and faithfulness is exercised towards persons, not institutions. Faithfulness to Christ is our first duty, as he has been faithful to us. Faithfulness to our brothers and sisters into whose company God has drawn us is a second. Faithfulness to brothers and sisters beyond our circles is a third."

"Loyalty to a denomination is often expected in exclusive terms. Relations with believers of the same denomination are seen to take precedence over relations with other believers. It may be regarded as disloyal (or improper in some other way) when a person moves to a different town if he/she joins a church of a different denomination. But this is an improper expression of denominationalism."

"The scandal of denominationalism (which is neither inherent in the concept, nor necessary in practice) is the creation of barriers to fellowship with those who do not belong to that denomination, based on the traditions of men. The denomination exists to foster the Christian fellowship of member churches, not to create barriers to fellowship with other churches!"

"Once the distinctives of your denomination become part of your religion, your denomination has become a sect. Once the distinctives (of dress, liturgy, polity, or other practice) become hindrances to relating to believers who do not share these distinctives, then the distinctives must be challenged."

"There may be circumstances where change is not possible or desirable. But we ought not to be among those who resist changes because of denominational identity. Uniformity of distinctive practices between churches of a denomination is of no spiritual value. It establishes a false unity, which all too easily substitutes for the unity of the Spirit, and has often done so. It is Babylonian unity."

"We will be more concerned for the prospering of believing churches than for the prospering of the denomination. It is in the churches and from the churches (not from the denominational ‘centre’) that we expect the gospel to grow."

"In our denominational activities we must resist the temptation to be people-pleasers. All too frequently evangelicals who get involved in the denominational structures are tempted to dissociate themselves from other evangelicals who are less committed to the denomination. That is unfaithfulness. Our unity with those who agree in the gospel is too important for that game to be played."

"Denominational unity is Babylonian unity, and typically an alternative, a rival, to the unity of the Spirit. If you are for one, you will be against the other."

"We ought to take up opportunities given by our denominational association for believing churches to relate to other faithful churches. However, it is also important that we express our unity with gospel people and churches across recognised denominational boundaries. Evangelicals working together, fellowshipping across denominational limits for the sake of gospel churches and gospel proclamation will, at some point, encounter denominational opposition."

"Evangelicals must repudiate the idea that our Christian identity is associated with our denominational label. The folly of denominational loyalty expresses walking by sight, not by faith. Our agenda with respect to our denomination must be the good of churches and the spread of the gospel. When the denomination loses its usefulness for those ends, it has lost its usefulness for anything."