Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Christ or Christophe?

I enjoyed the movie, "The Truman Show" which featured Jim Carrey. It involved an unwanted baby who was taken to a hidden lot on a faraway island and given a make-believe family. His life was turned into a TV show. Everyone watched as the producer controlled his life. One day, Truman began to realize that something was up. He realized what was going on and began to struggle to break free of his chains.

Fighting him every step of the way was Christophe, the producer. Finally, we cheer as Truman finds the end of the set and escapes to a life of freedom.

Cool movie. But was there a point? I believe there was. Notice the name of the producer who usurped control over Truman's life. CHRISTophe. Coincidence? I believe that there is a moral behind the movie. God (or at least religion) tries to usurp control over our lives. We need to break free of contraints of the church and of the concept of god so we can all be free.

When you try to evangelize today, people will respond as if you are unfairly asking for control over their lives. "Who are you to tell me how to live?" "How do you know your way is the right way?" "Why can't you just live by your truth and let me live by mine?"

Here's the question: do we have the right to share the gospel? Do we have the right to tell people that Jesus is "the Way, the Truth and the Life?" Do we have the right to tell them that Jesus is the "only name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved?" Or are we like Christophe, trying to control the lives of others unfairly.

The Bible makes it clear. God created us. Because we are his creation, he has the rights of the Creator to govern creation. God redeemed us, sending Jesus to the Cross to die for our sins and to rise again. God exalted him to the highest place and declared him Lord over all. Because he created us and redeemed us, he has the right to control us. He has the right to demand that he be Lord of all.

The Great Commission begins with these words, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go..."

When someone commits a crime, the government issues a warrant for his arrest. The authorities take this document, which gives them the right to detain, arrest and incarcerate, and serve it to the offender.

That is what evangelism is. "The government will be upon his shoulders." He is the rightful Lord and ruler of all. Written on the parchment of his Lordship in the blood shed on the cross, he has issued warrants.

We are the divine process servers. Our job as Christians is simply to deliver the warrants. We have every right, regardless of what people think, to issue warrants to every man or woman on earth. Jesus is their rightful Lord, whether they believe it or not.

Our authority to evangelize rests in Christ's authority over all the world. Go out and arrest someone for Christ today. (Don't detain them - that's the Spirit's job!)

An OId (Dumb) Joke - That Makes a Point

St. Peter was showing a newcomer around heaven. They came to a big building with closed doors. Peter held his finger to his mouth and whispered, "Shhhh..."

When they had passed the building, Peter looked over at him. "Sorry, that's the Baptists in there. They think they are the only ones here, and we try to humor them."

Reading recent comments on Baptism makes me believe the spirit of that dumb joke is still alive in the SBC.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The SBC is in Decline

Predicting the future is always a difficult thing. But there seems to be ample evidence that the SBC is in decline. We have been essentially plateaued now for more than a decade. This last yearly report actually showed a decline in overall membership in the SBC.

A couple of observations:

1) Numbers cannot show the whole picture. This could be a one year thing, and there could be many reasons for the decline. If we are faithful to the gospel and people want to gather around themselves teachers who tell them what their "itching ears" want to hear, maybe we could point to the decrease as a sign of faithfulness. I suspect the reason is not so noble.

2) Everyone will blame the "other side" in the current fracas. The belligerent conservatives will blame Wade, Ben et al. They will probably blame those who don't support women in ministry. I am sure Ben will put the blame on Dr. Patterson. The CBF-types will blame the conservative resurgence. We will all be quick to pin the blame on someone else.

What we need to do is take a hard look at ourselves. True, numbers are easy to interpret any way you want, but this one is serious. We need to ask ourselves what is wrong.

There is a biblical principle that can be pretty easily demonstrated both in the OT (with Israel) and in the NT (with the church). When a people walk in obedience, they are blessed. When they are blessed, there is growth. The people of God under the blessing of God grow. Numerically. Read Acts. 3000. 5000. "The Lord added daily to their numbers those who were being saved."

Factor this in. We have been constant for about 10 to 15 years. Compare that to population growth and we have been in decline for 2 decades.

Why? I have a few observations - which may make a few of my friends angry. But, they are my observations.

1) One obvious reason for some part of this decline is, in fact, the conservative resurgence, which I supported. Quite a few churches left our denomination. That's a percentage of the numbers. Frankly, I'm okay with that. If we lose people and churches who want our denomination not to believe in and enforce inerrancy, I think that's a good thing. If we go the other way, I will be a former Southern Baptist myself.

It is also possible that the conservative resurgence, which I believe was a good thing, is not producing fruit because it has lost its way and gone in the wrong direction.

2) There is a cultural aspect to this. In the cities I have lived in the last 17 years, the "big" churches have been of two kinds. First, there are the charismatic churches. Second, there are the seeker churches. They build big churches, but I do not want to follow their model. They grow big churches, not great Christians (in my humble but correct opinion.)

Unfortunately, Southern Baptists have followed these trends and many of our churches are just like those churches (usually without the tongues). that is a mistake.

But there are other, less noble reasons.

3) An emphasis on Baptist traditions over scripture. My son, now a student at Liberty and a dynamic, growing Christian, went through a time of deep doubt. One of the reasons is that he began to study his Bible and realized that a lot of the rules he had grown up with were not based on the scriptures but on Baptist tradition and legalism. He began to wonder if all of it was the same.

Young people today want something more than legalistic rules and Baptist tradition. If they are going to be won, it will be by genuine Christianity in action. Biblical Christianity, not Baptist Tradition, will win people to Christ.

4) Virulent Calvinism. Caveat: I am calvinistic and I think it is important to have a correct theology that honors the sovereignty of God. I believe in God's sovereignty in salvation and that belief informs my practices and preaching. I reject much of the "reformed" system (eschatology, some of their sanctification teachings, etc) But I believe that salvation starts in the heart of God not the will of man. But the promises of the more passionate Calvinists have largely fallen flat in reality - at least in my experience. There is a virulent form of Calvinism that has been often in evidence in my state. Dr. Mohler once said that he knew of men who would "walk across the state to discuss one of the 5 points of Calvinism, but will not walk across the street to tell someone about Jesus." There are calvinists in Iowa doing a good job, but some have had what I think is a wrong emphasis.

I have seen a number of men come to Iowa whose goal seems to be more to proclaim Calvinist doctrine and reformed practice than it is to proclaim the gospel or obey the Great Commission.

I have also seen their churches dwindle and die - every time (so far). I know of no "virulent Calvinist" who has built a church in Iowa (I know, I know - through whom the Sovereign Lord has built a church.) I have seen them often use the doctrines of calvinism as a screen to hide behind when their churches fail. I suspect though that the failure has been the servant, not the sovereign Lord.

When the Calvinist movement started in the SBC, I was excited. I listened to the promises of the Calvinists that restoring sound doctrine would bring the blessing of God. They told me how much better things would be as Calvinism surged back to prominence. My experience has been the opposite. I have yet to see a church here that focused on Calvinism grow. Some have died completely. Others have dwindled. Others have struggled.

I don't think the problem is the doctrine of God's sovereignty in salvation, but the way it is preached, the unbalanced presentation, and the over-emphasis on the doctrines.

Track the nationwide spread of virulent Calvinism, and it coincides pretty neatly with the plateauing of growth.

5) Dr. Stetzer, in his article sharing this research, theorized that one of the reasons for the problem was the bickering and conflict in the SBC, especially among bloggers.

Read the SBC blogs. You will see an almost generic inability to discuss a disagreement with someone in a decent, collegial manner. There are exceptions to the rule, and we all get cranky and say something over the top sometimes. But many bloggers seem to rejoice in calling names and declaring the other side as wrong.

As you can read in my previous posts, and some of my comments on other blogs, I despair of the future of the SBC if the current crop of bloggers represent us. There is a deep disdain for Baptist distinctives among some and an enthusiasm for condemnation among others.

A lost world reading the SBC blogosphere would wonder, why on earth would I want to be a part of that mess?

Time will tell about the future of the SBC. But, my solution is simple. Let's accept our orders and lay all the other stuff aside. Let's proclaim the gospel and teach everyone to obey everything God commanded them. The Great Commission - what an innovative concept.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Crude, Lifesaving Station

My Adaptation of “A Crude Lifesaving Station”by Theodore Wedel

Along a dangerous seacoast, shipwrecks often occurred. Grieved by the tragedies, a small group of people gathered together to establish a lifesaving station. They built a little hut, bought one small boat, and set out to save lives. They kept a constant watch over their coastline, and went out selflessly, day and night, to rescue those in need. This little lifesaving station became famous because they saved so many lives. Those whose lives were saved joined in the work, and folks came from all around the area to be a part of this noble project. They donated their money joyfully, gave of their time and effort willingly, and grew dramatically. They were able to purchase new boats and train new crews, so more people were saved than ever before.

Over time, though, some of the members of the lifesaving station became concerned that the hut was so crude and the equipment was so basic. They believed that a larger, better-equipped station would help them to accomplish their work more effectively. They built a large new station, replaced the emergency cots with comfortable beds, and filled their new station with functional furniture. In fact, the lifesaving station was now so nice and so comfortable that it became a popular gathering place for the members. They decorated and furnished the station exquisitely. They met and discussed the importance of lifesaving; they developed programs to teach their children about lifesaving. And they grieved together at how many ships were running aground.

But the members found that the maintenance and upkeep of the lifesaving station left them too busy and tired to go out on the boats. So, they hired crews to man the boats. Because the members still cared deeply about lifesaving, they held classes on lifesaving, sang songs about life saving, and gave demonstrations. All of the decorations in the station supported the lifesaving theme. They even had a large lifeboat at the front of the station as a constant reminder. Comfortable in their modern lifesaving station, and encouraged by the results of the professional lifesaving teams, the people felt good about themselves and more people continued to become a part of their lifesaving club. Every now and again a dispute would arise about which brand of boats was better for lifesaving, or about certain techniques and methods for the crews, but the lifesaving club continued to promote the concept of lifesaving.

Then, one day, a crisis came. A large ship foundered off the coast, and the hired crews made an heroic rescue. They brought boatloads of cold, wet, dirty, half-drowned folks into the lifesaving station. As you can imagine, the beautiful new lifesaving station was thrown into chaos. The rescued people made an absolute mess of the place. They dripped mud and water everywhere, soiled the sheets of the beds, and left the place smelling like dead fish. There were children who did not behave well and a few young people who did not show proper respect for the beautiful lifesaving club. Most of those rescued were foreigners, not of the same social standing as those in the lifesaving club. A few members were offended and vowed never to return.

So, the life-saving club did the only thing it could. They set up a shower-house outside the station. They mandated that rescued people must wash up and put on clean, proper clothes before they were allowed to enter the clubhouse. At the next club meeting, a sharp division occurred. Some members felt as if the lifesaving should be stopped, as it was so unsavory, disruptive to the club, and destructive to the station. Some of the original members and a few that had been rescued in the early days argued that they could not abandon their lifesaving purpose. Eventually, the majority won out and the lifesaving operations were suspended for the good of the club.

A few folks still believed in lifesaving, so they went down the beach and established a new lifesaving station. They did not have the money for a fancy clubhouse, so they erected a tiny, crude lifesaving station with one old boat. But many lives were saved. Soon, people began to join with them, excited about saving lives. They trained volunteer crews to save lives off the coast. The task quickly grew beyond their ability, and they hired the crews from the old lifesaving station and put them back to work. Some of the members began to wonder why the old lifesaving club had such nice accommodations, while theirs were so sparse. So, they erected a new lifesaving station. Eventually, like the first, they suspended lifesaving operations for the good of the club. A small group split from them and started a new lifesaving station, small and humble, farther down the beach.

Over and over again, the process repeated itself. Today, if you go to that place, you will find the coastline populated with large, ornate, beautiful lifesaving stations but the shore is littered with the bodies of those who have drowned.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Dissent, the Holy Spirit, and the SBC

The flash point for the current debate in the SBC was Wade Burleson's refusal to support the actions of the IMB Board of Trustees as they imposed guidelines about private prayer language and baptism on the selection process.

First, let me make it clear - I have no firsthand knowledge of what happened. Wade maintains that he always behaved respectfully and openly, while dissenting from, disagreeing with and opposing the actions of the BoT. Certain members of the BoT are just as clear that he was undermining the work of the IMB with his incessant criticisms. Since I wasn't there, any opinion I give about what happened would be an uneducated opinion, probably informed more by my disagreement with the BoT than any knowledge of the facts.

But in response to Wade's criticisms, the Board enacted a strong anti-dissent policy. If you don't tow the party line and support the decisions of the Board, they will punish you.

I don't know exactly how far dissent should be carried in a Christian organization. It is not the purpose of this blog to explore that issue.

My point is this: the stifling of dissent and disagreement is an unfortunate tendency born out of fear and a failure to understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church. Christian leaders who use their power to stifle dissent have an inadequate faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Those who stifle dissent are more concerned with enacting their own will than the will of God. If they were seeking God's will, dissent would be permitted, even encouraged.

When my church is trying to make a decision, I go to great lengths to give every member the chance to express their convictions and their sense of God's will. I encourage people to disagree. It is amazing how often in scripture that the one is right and the many are wrong.

As we discuss, study, pray and seek the mind of Christ, God will usually lead us to a place of consensus about His will and the direction we should go. It sometimes is in line with my will, sometimes not. We do it by listening to each believer and allowing them to express their point of view.

If I believe that the church should do something, I put it out there for discussion and prayer, either in the leadership group or the body as a whole. There are two possibilities. First, what I am thinking might not be God's will (or the timing might be wrong). In that case, do I really want to get my will done if it is not the Father's?

There is another possibility. Maybe I am really acting in accord with the will of God. That is where the Holy Spirit comes in. If I am right, then the Holy Spirit will convince the Body of Christ. I don't have to pressure, or cajol, or strong-arm people. Nor do I have to limit dissent. I just have to seek the will of God and let the Spirit do the convincing.

It works. In my last church, I brought something up that was weighing strongly on my heart. It got shot down in a chorus of negativity. I could have probably pushed it through by demanding that people submit to my leadership as pastor, but I had learned this principle. So, I waited. About 5 or 6 months later, I brought it up again. The church supported it unanimously and enthusiastically. What changed in 6 months? The Spirit had done his work.

Those who stifle debate do not understand the Holy Spirit. If what we are doing is right, God is our ally and will convince, convict and motivate. If I have to pressure people, stifle dissent and enforce pastoral authority to get something done, am I really doing God's will?

When I came to my current church, it was recovering from a horrible split that happened because strong-willed people (on both sides) tried to conform others to their will - a power struggle. In my first year, we faced a terribly difficult decision on which the church was divided and passions were strong (should we continue AWANA or change to another children's ministry.)

I had my opinions, but I never tried to enfore them. I just tried to help the people figure out how to find God's will without fighting. We had a forceful discussion. We prayed, sought God, taught the Word about resolving disputes and finally, took a vote.

Two amazing things happened. First, the church decided to do what I thought was right and best. But I did not have to fight or force people to conform to my opinions. God did it. Second, after we made the decision, with all the passion and emotion attached, people stood around and fellowshiped - people who had just forcefully argued and disagreed. Everyone had their say and when the church voted, they consented to the decision even if they did not agree.

In all of that, we did not lose a family and no relationships in the church were broken. The key was this: we sought to practice the Lordship of Christ and leading of the Spirit over decisions of the church. It worked! The people who lost the vote at least knew that the church had listened to them and considered their view. They were not made to feel like they were wicked because they did not agree with the direction of the majority. I saw more true Christian behavior after that decision than I have ever seen in church business. Win or lose, they behaved like Christians.

The Bible makes it clear. Jesus is the head of the church - not the pastor, the deacons, the elders or even the people. Jesus is the Boss. The church that seeks to practice the Lordship of Christ will prosper, even through disagreement.

And when that process takes place, there is no need to stifle dissent.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Art of Misdirection

Several bloggers recently have taken to attacking the so-called reform movement by using misdirection, even dishonesty. One, a blogger used the "duck" argument. If it quacks like a duck it must be a duck. Anyone who did not see the world through his dark (and distorted) lens must be a liberal.

Another man made this statement at the beginning of a series about the SBC. He began it by saying, "I will begin posting a series on how the SBC can move forward now that the reform movement has proven that it is nothing more than an new approach to old liberal ideas."

Rather than dealing with the issues involved in the reform movement, he takes the easy way out. He cries "liberal." It is a dishonest statement. He knows it is not true, yet he says it anyway. Many of us who want reform have interacted with him. Yet he stills says our opinions are "nothing more" than an attempt to reintroduce liberal ideas into the SBC.

The reform movment in the SBC is really not even a movement. It is a number of people like myself who think that a few leaders in the SBC have too much personal power and think some of the restrictive policies being implemented by the IMB were a mistake. There are some in the movement who have grown angry and bitter (often because of the attacks of men like those two I mentioned above who have relentlessly called them liberal and other untrue names). Ben Cole has leveled a despicable series of personal character attacks on Dr. Patterson that I believe please our enemy more than our Lord. Several moderate, CBF-types have blogged on Outpost and Wade Burleson's site. And those sites have been pretty one-sided in their attacks on the SBC and its leaders.

I get the impression that Wade, Ben, et al are probably willing to open the doors of fellowship a little farther than I want to open them. Wade certainly has taken on a crusade for women in ministry. But to call them liberal is ridiculous and inaccurate.

But there is a large group of people who have made it very clear that we support the SBC, the conservative resurgance in the SBC and are solid, inerrantist, evangelist, flag-waving, hymn-singing, CP-giving, hand-over-our-hearts conservative Southern Baptists. We just think that Tom Hatley was wrong and that Paige Patterson has made some mistakes. We don't want to undo the CR. We just think it needs some tweaking.

But to this blogger, we are all secret servants of liberalism - wolves in sheeps clothing. He writes a series trying to spur discussion on the future of the SBC. Yet he begins the series with dishonest slander.

If you love the SBC, you need to engage in discussion, not caricature and derogation.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Little Connie sat in my office, wanting to “ask Jesus into her heart.” I explained the entire story to her: God’s holiness, our sin, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and her need to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord. Then, I questioned her to see if she understood. “Connie, have you ever sinned?” “No.” I was a little shocked. I tried to explain sin to her again, thinking she must not be understanding me clearly. She stuck to her story. Little Connie wanted a Savior, but did not want to admit she needed one. She was blinded to her own sin.

Connie and I faced the amazing paradox of Christianity. Joy comes in the morning. We can only see the morning joys of salvation after the dark night of repentance. To be forgiven of sin, one must come face to face with the dark depravity of the soul.

And no one wants that. We like to rationalize our sinful attitudes and actions, justify them in the light of the actions of others or our circumstances, and enlist others to support us in our ungodliness. The last thing we ever want to do is turn on the light and see the filth.

That is a work of the Spirit in our hearts. He shines the light and makes us see ourselves for what we are. When Isaiah saw himself he cried, “Woe is me, I am undone.” It is never pleasant to see our human hearts as they really are. Not much fun.

In Psalm 130, the Psalmist says, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” He cried to God “out of the depths” of sin. He did not boast before God, he cried out for mercy. Each of us must come to that point of spiritual bankruptcy before we can experience the riches of God’s grace.

But here is the paradox: when I see my sin for all it is, when I am dismayed at my own wickedness, without excuse or justification, I receive the most amazing gift any human can receive – complete, wonderful, full, amazing forgiveness.

The Psalmist admitted that no one could stand before God’s record of sins, but then he realizes, “with you there is forgiveness.” In verse 7 he states that with God there is “unfailing love” and “full redemption.” When I took my sin to the Cross of Christ and laid it before him, I received grace. GRACE. God does not treat me on the basis of my sin. He relates to me “in Christ.”

It is hard to accept that. Human relationships are conditional, often temporary. It is hard to understand the awesome forgiveness of God. I still sin. I still fail my Savior, and I do it every day. But, GRACE! Amazing Grace! God’s forgiveness is more powerful than my own sin. He convicts me, restores me, renews me, and establishes me in his righteousness. Like the Psalmist, I have not only been redeemed, I have experienced “full redemption.”

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

Don’t be afraid to face yourself and your sin. In Christ, there is forgiveness and full redemption. That is why they call it Amazing Grace. .