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)