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.