Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Time to Despair?

I find myself hoping that the blogosphere does not represent the spiritual temperature of our denomination. If so, we are in big trouble. I hope our denomination is better than the level of spiritual maturity and compassion demonstrated there.

There seem to be two "demons" in the blogosphere. First, there is Dr. Paige Patterson. In post after post at SBC Outpost, in comment after comment on Wade Burleson's site and in other places, Paige Patterson is demonized as a man of overweening pride and arrogance, a man who is only out to build his own kingdom. One lady on another site said that, because he fired Sherri Klouda, he is not a good man. HE IS NOT A GOOD MAN! We cannot see him as a good man who perhaps has made some mistakes. No, he is the focus of evil in the SBC world.

Second, there is Wade Burleson. To those who support Dr. Patterson, Wade Burleson is the focus of all evil in the modern world. Every word he says is ascribed an evil intent. Every action taken against him by the IMB Board of Trustees is justified because he is an arrogant, self-important schemer. They cannot see him as a man who, even with his flaws, may have made a good point or two about the SBC. No, he is only evil all the time.

When I confront Patterson bashers about their Patterson-bashing, they justify it because he has done so much wrong that needs to be dealt with. When I talk to Wade-haters, they can only spread rumors about Wade doing this or that - which, of course, justifies their Wade-hating. Besides, they both say, the other side did it first, or worse.

I read a post today by one of the chief Wade-haters, who has left many mean-spirited comments on Wade's site. His post decries the mean-spiritedness in the blogosphere. Of course, he only means those who are mean to Dr. Patterson. Being mean to Wade, or Ben Cole, or others, that is okay. They are evil. Ben Cole intimated that he had every good reason for his hatred of Paige. Evil people do evil things and they need to be treated this way.

When did God say that "love your enemies" no longer applied to the Southern Baptist Convenion? When did "bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse" pass into oblivion?

Honestly, I am fed up. Does my frustration come through? Why won't those of us who believe the Bible do what it says?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Is Turn About Fair Play?

I am at the point of despair about the inability of good Baptist preachers and others to maintain civil discourse according to biblical standards. Yes, I have gone over the edge a time or two myself, and have said something unkind. I work hard to state my beliefs directly without slander or insult, but sometimes, I fail. We all do.

But I am seeing one tactic over and over again that bothers me. It is a basic principle of Christian ethics that I am responsible for my own behavior regardless of what someone else does. Another's sin does not justify my own.

But that does not seem to be the ethic driving bloggers. When confronted with the practice of using innuendo or slander to belittle their enemies, they respond, "Well, that's what Wade does." Whether that is true or not is not at issue. Let's say Wade did that; that the accusation is true. Does Wade's sin justify my sinful response?

Both sides in this current dispute are using this tactic, justifying their own rhetoric because others "did it first."

Show me one place in scripture where one person's sin justfiies mine.

Show me where the "return good for evil" and "bless those who persecute you" principles were abrogated.

Does "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" not apply to the blogosphere?

It is time for this nonsense to end.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Bad Taste

I sucked my thumb. There, I said it. My deep, dark secret is now out. I loved that thumb. It gave me security and pleasure. But my mother had a different opinion. She knew that my thumb-sucking needed to stop. So, she put “Thum” on my thumb. Thum tasted bad. Really bad. It wasn’t poison, but it tasted like it. Every time that thumb went into my mouth, the bitter taste of Thum ruined the experience for me. The pleasure gone, I stopped sucking my thumb.

“Do not love the world, or anything in the world.” John, in his first epistle, gave us this command. We are not to love this world, or the things this world offers. Jesus said we could only have one master, and we must choose between God and Money. We are to love God with all our heart and not devote ourselves to the things of this world.

But, to be honest, I like this world. Sure, turmoil and evil abound; hardships come. But I have a wonderful family, a great job, a nice house; I have a great life. I have never had to miss a meal (it shows). I am healthy. For someone like me, like most Americans, it is hard not to love the world.

But then, trouble arises. Years ago I was going through some very dark times. I was discouraged, even depressed. Some Saturdays I would read the local paper trying to figure out what I could do to feed my family if I gave up this whole preaching gig. The world was much less appealing. The fun was gone.

It was during that time that I found myself longing for heaven. It is not that I was considering ending my life, but when all the joy was gone from this world I found myself longing to see Jesus and rest from my troubles. Scripture sets out so many purposes that suffering and hardships have in our lives. Could it be that suffering acts as God’s “Thum” to break us of our love of this world and the things that are in the world?

Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” The redeemed have a glorious future awaiting, so glorious that it makes the worst of our suffering seem inconsequential. It is when our suffering on earth magnifies that we begin to contemplate the glories that await us.

God gains no pleasure from inflicting pain on his children, but is willing to allow suffering in our lives to accomplish his sovereign redemptive purpose. We seldom know for certain why God allows any particular trial to come our way. But maybe, sometimes, the pain comes so that we will remember the words of the old song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.”

Jesus went to cross to “prepare a place” for us in heaven. One day he will come to glorify us and bring us to our eternal rest. Here and now, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God and Ambassadors of Christ in this world.

Don’t let the good life you enjoy by God’s grace seduce you into forgetting your real home.

An Issue of Authority

There was an entry on another blog chastising the SBC reformers for not submitting to the authority of the SBC leaders and the boards of trustees.

I agree that the problem in the SBC may be rooted in rebellion and the refusal to yield to authority. I just think a lot of people do not understand lines of authority in our convention and in Baptist polity.

The final authority in the SBC is the convention in annual session. Last year, the convention adopted a motion which identified the Baptist Faith and Message as our common doctrinal statement. This motion was offered to counter the policies of the IMB Board of Trustees and other actions.

After the motion, several key leaders in the convention stood to say they would refuse to follow the intent of the motion. The IMB BoT has not submitted to the authority of the SBC. The rebellion I see is among the leaders of the SBC. They seem to believe they are not accountable to the convention or anyone in it.

But, the convention is not under the authority of Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, John Floyd or Tom Hatley. I have been told my many folks who know them that Patterson, Mohler and Floyd are fine men of God who deserve to be honored for their fidelity to the gospel. But that does not change my opinion that they have displayed hubris in dealing with the authority of the SBC over them.

There has been plenty of inflated rhetoric and sinful behavior on all sides of the issues of the SBC. But the key issue to me is authority. Will the leaders we have put in power be accountable to the SBC, or will they refuse to submit to the established authority of the convention in session.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Battle Not Worth Fighting

I wish I had written down the details, and if there is someone more an expert on WWII history than I, I would love to hear the details. I was watching a program on the War on the History Channel. It described the ground war after D-Day as the Allies pushed the Nazi army back across Europe. The show focused for a few minutes on a battle that took place in a forest, I think it was in France. An Allied general determined that the Nazis had to be chased from this forest on the path to Berlin. A fierce battle ensued that cost many troops their lives.

The problem was, the battle did not need to be fought. The Allies could have just gone around the forest, let the Germans have it and pushed on. They could have just posted some troops to guard the forest and pushed on. The expenditure of time and lives wasted in that forest was a great blunder by that general.

Here's my point. Some battles need to be fought and others are a waste of time and resources. The Nazis needed to be dealt with. That war was just. But that particular forest battle did not need to be fought. It was a mistake.

I think the battle for the SBC conservative resurgence needed to be waged. There were mistakes in the campaign and some folks got their hands bloody, but it was something that needed to be done for the kingdom of God. We could not allow the SBC to continue its drift toward liberalism.

But now, I think we are waging some wars for forests that don't need to be won. The so-called "Baptist Identity" movement is an example of that. They have waged war to win the Private Prayer Language, and decent Baptists have been excluded from service as SBC missionaries. Why? I have no idea. Who cares how a person prays privately? Why would anyone care if in my quiet moments of prayer, I speak English, French, Hebrew or spiritual gibberish.

We waged war to prevent people who were baptized by churches that don't believe exactly as we do from serving as missionaries? Why? I don't know. As long as someone was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit by a church that believes the Gospel of grace, who cares if they have all their doctrinal ducks in a row?

We waged war to prevent a woman from teaching Hebrew to men. In the process, her family has suffered and that seminary is facing a lawsuit that could cost our Cooperative Program a lot of bucks. Why? I don't know. I don't believe women should pastor, or even teach adult men, but where does the Bible restrict women from teaching in an academic setting.

I think the Conservative Resurgence was a just war (with a few war crimes on both sides). I think some of our current battles are just bloody fights for forests that do not need to be conquered.

That's my opinion.

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Undivided Heart

As I grow older, I understand more clearly what nostalgia is all about. I remember days when life was simpler, when I had “free time” and hobbies; when I read books for fun; when I shot hoops in the driveway and took naps on Sunday afternoons.

Life today is complex. There are bills to pay, yards to landscape, jobs to do, pressures to endure. I hope that doesn’t sound like whining. I consider myself normal in this, not unique. We live in an all-out, pedal to the metal, fast-charging world.

I don’t know what it was like to be king of Israel, but I imagine it had its moments of stress. Pastoring 500 people is one thing. Ruling a nation – that would take some doing. I think David found the same struggle I have. He prayed, in Psalm 86:11, “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

This prayer came from a man the scriptures describe as a “man after God’s own heart.” He loved God and wanted to serve him, but he found it easy to get distracted, to allow things of this world to creep in and divide his heart.

Church is my life. My friends are church people. My work is church work. It is odd that I still find it so easy to lose focus and involve myself in passions other than the kingdom. I can only imagine how hard it is for people working in a secular world to keep their minds and hearts steadfast on Christ.

David longed for a heart with one passion. He wanted to strip away all worldly distractions, all the impure passions, all the lesser loves, and be a man whose heart beat with God’s, a single-minded, focused-passion, all-consuming lover of God.

I want that too. Sometimes I think it would be nice to live on a desert island with a Bible for a year or two. But that is not God’s will for us. He places us in this rat-race society and tells us to invest our lives in Jesus’ work. We cannot escape the maelstrom. We have to live in the middle of the muddle with undivided hearts.

How do we do that? How do we keep our focus in a maddening world? Permit me to make some random observations and suggestions.

1) We must recognize a divided heart for what it is – spiritual adultery. The Bride of Christ must have a passion for Christ that is not shared with others. Because we are so used to living with divided hearts, we often delude ourselves into thinking it is no big deal. God desires that we love him with all our heart. He will not accept less.

2) The issue is time. There is nothing more equal than time. We have different talents, gifts, and backgrounds. All of us get 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. The difference is in how we use our time. Your real priorities are not what you say, but what you invest your time in. There is no substitute for time in God’s word, prayer, meditation, reflection, time spent listening to God and giving him the sacrifice of praise.

3) It takes tough choices to change. If you recognize that your heart is divided, you must make some tough choices that will change your life. Some things may have to go, others have to begin. Henry Blackaby says “you cannot stay where you are and go with God.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Pure gold has no alloys, nothing that dilutes the gold. Jesus blesses the “unalloyed” heart – in other words, undivided.

I pray like David for an undivided heart. What a blessing that would be.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What Is SBC Identity?

For several years, there has been a growing controversy among SBC conservatives over the identity and direction of the convention. It has come to be described in many ways. Some have argued that the SBC leaders are now trying to narrow the parameters of fellowship too far and are trying to bring "reform." But others have affirmed the leaders of the conservative movement in their attempt to narrow those parameters and define the SBC more carefully. Their movement is often called the "Baptist Identity" movement.

The issues that sparked this debate were the policies the IMB enacted a couple of years ago. In spite of the fact that the current IMB president has a private prayer language, the Board of Trustees adopted a policy preventing any missionaries who have a private prayer language from serving. They also defined acceptable baptism more narrowly - requiring that candidates be baptized in churches that believe as we do, especially on issues like baptismal regeneration (I happen to agree on that one) and eternal security. Someone baptized in an Arminian church would need to be rebaptized.

Wade Burleson's dissent from these policies caused a two-year firestorm that reached a climax with his censure and eventual resignation last month from the IMB. It is my opinion that too much of the focus of this discussion has been on Wade, pro or con. We need to focus on the issues.

So, the first issue is the one that the SBC needs to decide. What is the true SBC identity. Some have wanted to widen the tent and include more people. Others have been concerned that the wide tent will include the moderates and liberals who left during the conservative resurgence.

I would like to take my crack at Baptist Identity. I am a lifelong Southern Baptist, a 26 year pastor, a state convention president and a follower of several of the blogs that have carried his conflict. This gives me a perspective. It does not make my perspective any better than anyone else's. But I think it gives me the right, at least, to air my opinion.

So, as best I can define it, here are the non-negotiables of SBC Identity.

1) A belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and its authority as our guide. Everything else derives from this. People disagree about the meaning and importance of inerrancy, but what did we fight for during the 80's and 90's if not to demonstrate that inerrancy was germaine to SBC identity.

2) Belief in fundamental doctrines of the faith. We cannot brook disagreement on the fundamental doctrines related to salvation - depravity, blood atonement, salvation by grace through faith alone, etc. We have differences over some issues in this area (Calvinist controversy) but on the essentials, there can be no debate.

3) Baptism of believers by immersion. We do not say that pedobaptists are unsaved, but we do believe they are in serious biblical error. We value and prize baptism enough to require it of everyone who wants to be a member. Some churches recently have downplayed this. That is their right. But if you are an SBC church, you baptize believers only, and by immersion. If you compromise this doctrine, you may still love Jesus, but you are not really SBC.

4) The free church. We do not believe in denominational hierarchy. We are a voluntary association of free churches. But part of a free church is the ability to leave a voluntary association if my beliefs change. So, a church may embrace

5) Soul Competancy and Priesthood of believers. The problem with this is that these doctrines were so twisted by the moderates that they have become almost nonsensical. But we believe that each person has direct access to God through Christ and does not need a human intermediary. This does not give us the right to do as we please or believe as we please. But under the Lordship of Christ, each of us is given access to God.

6) Common beliefs and practices. We do not have a creed, but that does not mean that we have no common dogma. We have adopted the Baptist Faith and Message as our doctrinal statement and our catalog of common beliefs and practices. The BFM is our statement of commonality. If someone rejects the BFM, they might still be a solid, Bible-loving, God-honoring Christian. But if that rejection is serious or systemic, that person or church is not SBC. Again, disagreeing with the BFM doesn't make you evil, but it may define you as other than Southern Baptist.

7) The Cooperative program. In reality, this is the essence of the SBC. We cooperate to do missions. We pool our money to support seminaries and missionaries. We do not require everyone to give a set amount, but if you aren't into Cooperative Missions, why be a part of the SBC?

This is a rudimentary list. I will probably add more later. But, to me, this is a fairly complete list.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

This Tent's Just Right!

I am opening a third blog to discuss issues related to my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. For a couple of years, I have been reading and commenting on other blogs. I realized I was always responding to other people's ideas. I thought it was time for me to start putting out my own ideas.

Comments will be open. I will not moderate, but anonymous postings of a critical nature will be deleted.

Remember Goldilocks? She snuck into the home of the Three Bears. Papa Bear's bed was too hard. Momma Bear's was too soft. Baby Bear's was JUST RIGHT.

That's kind of how I feel about the SBC right now. The big question has been how big our tent should be. In the 70's and 80's, we narrowed the tent dramatically, saying that we wanted people who believed in the inerrancy of scripture and only those as a part of our denomination. In recent years, some started trying to narrow this further - excluding people with a private prayer language, or who were baptized in arminian churches. The question of the influence of Calvinism has been a big one as well as issues like Elder-led churches. We are in the middle of a re-examination of the Baptist Identity. Who are we and who do we want to be?

I believe that many of our most powerful leaders have gone too far. They have narrowed the tent too far. They have excluded people I don't think need to be excluded. Their tent is too small.

Others, who want to reform the SBC, seem to be going too far - wanting to reengage with moderates and folks like those promoting the so-called New Baptist Covenant. I think their tent is too big.

So, I am looking to establish the parameters of Baptist fellowship that are just right - at least by my standards. I will broach subjects for discussion that I hope will help people think through what Baptist Identity really is.

So, here's to finding a tent that is JUST RIGHT

In case anyone ever shows up here, let me establish what I consider to be the rules:

1) This blog is for debate, not attack. It is okay to disagree (dissent?) but deal with ideas, not character.

2) Anonymouse (I like Wade's word) posts will be be deleted, unless there is a good reason. I have no respect for the opinions of people who are unwilling to stand behind what they believe.

3) Try to understand the person you are disagreeing with. As I have observed comment streams, most of the problems come because people do not listen to what the other says, but make assumptions about what they believe, put words into their mouths then assign motives to those words.

4) I will put out an idea, engage in debate, and try to keep people on task.

Of course, that is if anyone every reads what I say and responds. Who knows?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Modern Moral Myth

I was watching a movie tonight with my family. It was, as movies go today, an inoffensive movie. There are a couple of scenes that are objectionable, but I imagine that most today would not consider it a dirty movie. (That's not really the point of this post anyway.) The movie was called, "What Women Want" starring Mel Gibson.

Here's the storyline. Mel is a bigwig at an ad agency - a typical male-chauvinist playboy. He has no morals or character, having grown up at a strip club where his mother worked. Through an accident, he gains the ability to hear what women think (so many jokes here, but I best move on.) While using this gift to undermine his new female boss (Helen Hunt), he falls in love with her and becomes a new, honest, monogamous man.

And that's the part that bothers me. It is one of the most pernicious myths of the modern world. It goes something like this: Man (or woman) grows up enjoying the promiscuous lifestyle, sleeping with as many women (or men - the myth goes both ways, but I am stopping these parentheses) as he possibly can. Then, one day, he meets a pretty young thing who completely changes his life. Suddenly, her love makes a new man of him. He settles down and devotes himself to her forever, giving up the playboy lifestyle, transformed by the overwhelming power of her love.

It makes for great fiction, but we must remember that it is fiction -make believe. Falling in love does not magically change a man or woman's character. The book of Proverbs, which I have devoted much of my life to tells us that life's choices have consequences. "You will reap what you sow."

From the earliest moment a boy realizes that girls are not yucky, he begins to sow the seeds that will develop into his character. The man he is when he is 35 is being developed when he is 15. If a young man treats women as sexual objects, if he is predatory and unfaithful in his relationships with women, if he makes foolish and sinful choices as a man, that produces a character flaw that will follow him into adulthood.

Years later, he meets a woman and falls in love. He wants to be a different man and live monogamously. But there is a problem. When he enters that relationship, he brings some baggage with him. He brings his own character - the fruit of the seeds he planted in his teenage or college years.

I heard a statistic today (unverified) that 80% of American husbands have cheated. What do we expect? We spend our teens and 20's sowing seeds of licentiousness, lust, immorality and waywardness. Do we expect we can then reap a harvest of monogamous, faithful men? A playboy does not magically change when he walks an aisle.

If you want to be a good husband when you are 30, start when you are 15 by rejecting pornography that objectifies women. Treat women with respect and moral uprightness. Walk in moral purity during those tumultuous, tempestuous teens and twenties. Then, when you walk down the aisle, you will reap the harvest of the seeds of honor and fidelity.

In the month we celebrate Valentine's day, we will be inundated with silly, sappy love stories. Watch how many perpetrate the myth of the man "changed by love." As you wade through the honey and syrup, remember a few things:

1) The person you will be tomorrow is shaped by the choices you make today. Choose wisely the seed you sow.

2) Women, your love will not change the man permanently. He may reform for a while, but character will out. Unless God changes him, he will be what he was. Disavow the foolish notions of the power of your love to whip him into shape. You can't change him. You will have to live with the character he has built (again, these truths are just as true for men as for women).

3) People CAN change - but only by the power of God and His Word. It is HIS love that will change hearts, not yours. By the power of the Holy Spirit and the consistent application of the Word of God, character can be changed over time. But it will not magically happen just because you walk the aisle.

I usually craft these essays a little more carefully than I did this one. This was just me venting a little, after I got upset watching that movie (in between fits of laughter).

I hope as you enjoy the love stories of Valentine's Day, you will have the wisdom to separate myth from reality.