Saturday, January 28, 2006

What If I'm Not Exactly Certain What the Bible Means About. . .?

Over at SBC Outpost there is a rather lengthy and detailed discussion of a "white paper" that is basically a critique of the direction and vision of the IMB under the leadership of Dr. Jerry Rankin. I'm not addressing the "white paper" itself in this post, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to at least skim over it before reading the quote below. One of the comments, posted by Stephen Pruett, just blew me away. His comment vividly reminds us that there are some things in the Bible that we cannot reach a definitive conclusion upon. With his permission, I am quoting the entire comment here for you to read and comment on.

It seems to me that Dr. Eitel's analysis and arguments often used by Drs. Mohler and Patterson assume that people with whom they disagree have certain pre-suppositions that invalidate their opinion. Dr. Eitel ascribes Barthian influence to Keith Parks, and Mohler and Patterson acuse those who would suggest that some issues are not absolutely clear in scripture of being influenced by post-modernism. They apparently believe that people with whom they disagree do not accept the concept of absolute or objective truth. I would like to suggest that refusal to take a dogmatic position on some theological matters is not a reflection of Barthian or post-modernist influence but is a proper interpretation of the Bible and of history. Paul stated that he "saw through a glass darkly". Paul had a direct audible revelation from Christ Himself, he knew Christ's disciples, he was an Old Testament scholar, and he believed that there were things he did not understand clearly. Would it be too much for us to be uncertain about some issues without being accused of being post-modernists? The Calvinist/Arminian debate has been going on for hundreds of years, and parts of it are still raging in the SBC. Let's consider this carefully. Thousands of brilliant, passionate theologians on both sides have written scholaraly and detached as well as spiritually and emotionally engaging defenses of every aspect on both sides, and still no complete consensus has emerged. Could it possibly be time to accept the idea that God does not require us to understand everything and that He did not give us in the Bible enough information to establish a definitively "correct" position on every issue? I believe there is enough information in the Bible to definitively establish all the essentials, but people who insist they have the "correct" veiw on each issue as it becomes a source of controvery have caused and will continue to cause great harm. If you doubt that, just read the diaries of John Adams (2nd President of the US, http://www.masshist.org/DIGITALADAMS/AEA/diary/). Adams shunned Christianity because of rancorous encounters he observed between Calvinists and Arminians.

The issue of women as pastors is an interesting example of a non-essential that has been codified in the B F & M 2000, even though there is reason to think that the scriptures may not permit definitive conclusions on this issue. First, even books that present a case for prohibition of women pastors (like "Restoring Biblical Manhood and Womanhood") list a series of scriptures that support the opposite position and which are never effectively refuted. In the end, the writer concludes that the balance of the evidence supports prohibition, but there is some subjectivity involved. To me, the key is that we interpret 1Corinthians 11 as being "culturally influenced" and not literal with regard to hair length and head covering. Yet, we have codified a literal interpretation of 1Tim. 2, even though the same eternal-historical-theological justification is given by Paul in both passages. So we interpret 1 Corinthians 11 as being eternally applicable with regard to the spiritual truth embodied in the command but not the literal specifics of the command. The spiritual truth is usually stated as something like, "men and women should not have a personal apprearance that would discredit the church to those it is trying to reach". No one has provided me with a convincing reason that the same interpretation could not legitimately be applied to 1Tim. 2. The eternal truth in this passage would be that women should not be in positions that would discredit the church in a culture that does not accept women as leaders. Of course, this is no longer the case in our culture, so one could reasonably suggest that the Bible indicates that women should be allowed to be pastors. Certainly a number of very conservative evangelicals such as James Dobson accept this view, and I do not recall anyone accusing him of being a post-modernist. My point here is not to convince anyone that the SBC should mandate that women can be pastors. The point is that this is not the slam-dunk, easily and definitively determined interpretation that many seem to believe. This matter was placed into the B F & M not because it is the only possible interpretation for an inerrantist who interprets the Bible just as literally as we do (in 1Corinthans 11, at least), but because it provided an opportunity to push back against feminists and other enemies in the culture wars. I agree that we should oppose feminist positions that are unambiguously unbiblical. However, I cannot forget that the SBC previously pushed back against our culture on the issue of segregation, and guess what? That bad old secular, liberal culture was right, and the SBC was wrong. Worse, the SBC had used "certain" interpretations of the Bible to support its position on race.

One of my hobbies is writing letters to the editor of my local paper opposing the nonsensical tenets of post-modernism and atheism. However, I believe that some SBC leaders have vastly overestimated the influence of post-modernism on Southern Baptists. At least some of us resist dogmatic positions on some non-essential matters because we believe the scriptures do not allow definitive conclusions and that the Bible itself indicates that faith and not knowledge saves us. Paul instructed churches on a variety of issues, but I only recall that he suggested excluding people because of persistent unrepented sinful behavior or heresy. Even when Paul could not personally work with someone, he did not suggest that they should be excluded from the church or from service. Maybe we should start trying to actually emulate scriptural examples?

What do you think of Stephen's statements? Are there some things in Scripture that we simply cannot figure out conclusively, or does a lack of certainty on some issues indicate spiritual immaturity or heresy? What should our approach be with other Christians whose views on the kinds of issues mentioned by Stephen differ from ours?

32 comments:

Tossie said...

Amen to Setphen's statements.

Wes Kenney said...

I once served with a pastor who had everything figured out, and it was the most frustrating experience of my life. He was obsessed with eschatology, and he truly believed that anyone who didn't hold to every point of his pre-mil, pre-trib, human-history-as-a-week-of-thousand-year-days dispensationalism was teaching another gospel. There was no question to which he did not have a clear answer, and the effect of this was that the people in the church scarcely opened their bibles. It seemed there was no need, when you could just go to the pastor for any answer you needed.

It was a difficult experience, but I learned a great deal through it. He was wonderful when it came to pastoral care, and had a genuine concern for the lost. But I think he lived with a great deal of personal insecurity which caused his need to have everything figured out and to act the part of the intimidator when questioned. I could tell some stories...

Anyway, hope these thoughts contribute.

Tad Thompson said...

I think that some of his statements are too broad and simplistic. Do the Non-essentials include every doctrine that have alternative views that are in some way defended by Scripture. Those who uphold baptismal regeneration defend this on the basis of Scripture, yet this would be essentially unscriptural for us as Southern Baptists and we have the grounds to agree on this.

The convention has also agreed that women as pastos is not Scriptural. This does not mean that we are simply fighting a culture war. It means that the majority of the the convention agrees that this is the scriptural position.

It is a straw man to say that any position with viable alternatives is a non-essential.

Also - the statements concerning Dr. Mohler are not accurate at all. If you are going to write such accusations, there better be some examples to back them up.

Dr. Mohler and Dr. Patterson do not see eye to eye on many issues, such as Calvinism.

This post was not very well stated or backed up in my opinion

Tim Sweatman said...

Tad,

I don't think Stpehen was implying that Mohler and Patterson see eye to eye on everything. I took his point to be that they each tend to come across as being absolutely certain that their views are right and that those who disagree with them either reject absolute truth or have been influenced by some sort of liberal theology. I don't know that I would necessarily agree that Mohler and Patterson think in this way, but I do know that there are people in the SBC who do appear to think in such a way.

I also don't know for sure that Stephen is in favor of women serving as pastors. He simply points out that we interpret one passage regarding women literally while we see another very similar passage as being "culturally influenced." He has a legitimate point on that one.

I believe that Stephen's main point, and one that I agree with, is that the Bible does not give clear-cut answers on every single doctrinal issue, and that we should not draw lines of fellowship or cooperation around these issues. And if that's not what he meant, it is my belief.

art rogers said...

Wes, the last pastor I served with was the same way - a little different on the particulars, but just as convinced.

Which, of course, makes the point, doesn't it. Both men would be considered conservative, Bible believing theologians and they disagree on eschatology.

Wes Kenney said...

What?!? Your last pastor doesn't believe the fig tree budded in 1948? I'll be praying for his soul...;-)

Yeah, we can disagree about non-essentials, but I don't think cooperation is required with those with whom we have profound disagreement. The BF&M shouldn't be limited to essentials, or it would be so broad as to be useless. That women are not called to the pastorate is something about which the vast majority of Southern Baptists are in agreement, so it is properly codified in a statement of what Southern Baptists believe.

I pray that the Kingdom is advanced through the Methodist church (and all the churches) in my town, but the woman who serves as the pastor, and with whom I can work on community benevolence issues, will not be preaching from my pulpit.

Tim Sweatman said...

Wes,

In response to your statement that, since most Southern Baptists agree that women should not be pastors, it is proper to codify that in the BF&M, would you agree with codifying dispensational pretrib premillenialism in the BF&M since that seems to be what most Southern Baptists believe?

Wes Kenney said...

No, because while that is probably the majority position, eschatology is open to and the subject of vigorous debate. Even the very conservative statement of faith at Luther Rice Seminary only requires students to assent to a generic belief in a Second Coming.

When I said a vast majority are in agreement, I should have italicized "vast." It is overwhelming, and those whose conscience leads them to waver significantly from that view must have the integrity to recognize that they have left the mainstream (I hate that word) of Southern Baptist thinking on this issue.

Eschatology is nowhere near as unifying, and only things that are so clearly held should be codified.

art rogers said...

Wes,

This is interesting at two levels. First, the SBC vastly agrees on the women pastor issue... now. 20 years ago, before the big split, there were a lot of people in the SBC with whom you would probably cooperate now except the women in ministry issue. Which still doesn't change your statement. As of 2000, it is true that the vast number of members now agree with no women as pastors.

The other thing is that the BF&M, at any time, is a confession. Specifically, it is a theological photograph of people gathered at specific place and time. It has never been meant to be used as a creed - binding all subsequent thought, although it is now being used that way in several arenas. My concern with that is not that the BF&M doesn't reflect me, but that we may be selling priesthood of the believer down the river.

This will affect me greatly when Landmark theology makes its way into the BF&M in a future revision and I disagree. If the BF&M is no longer a simple confession, but has become binding, then I will be forced out of the SBC.

When we allow majority and minority parties control our theology on, and here's the buzzword, "non-essentials," then we give up what has always been a hallmark definition of being baptist - the ability of a individual to disagree, but still cooperate, or priesthood of the believer.

Remember, too, that the autonomy of the local church is the extension of the priesthood of the believer, and we are seeing churches removed from the SBC for not "toeing the line." Granted, we should part fellowship with those who sanction gay marriage, but the argument for gay marriage is much more clear cut than the argument for a woman as pastor.

All I am saying, is that it is a slippery slope and we had better be very cautious how we treat the BF&M.

As I told a prof. once, it is not that we are holding on to the BF&M, it is holding us. When it no longer reflects us, and differences are not tolerated, we will be gone and so will the SBC.

Wes Kenney said...

Art,

I appreciate what you have written; there is a lot to consider there.

I guess it leaves me wondering specifically how you see the BF&M as 'binding'. I know of churches who have the letters 'SBC' on their sign who accept the baptisms of the Church of Christ and do many other things that would place them outside the paramaters of the BF&M, yet they are not being removed. You said, "we are seeing churches removed from the SBC for not 'toeing the line.'" Do you have any examples? I've never heard of this being done. I've seen associations withdraw fellowship, but there are plenty of unassociated churches in my state that still give to the CP and consider themselves SBC.

art rogers said...

Good questions, Wes, and very fair.

Let me address the latter first. When I said that we were withdrawing fellowship, I did not distinguish between Associations and the SBC, and maybe I should. I don't know that the SBC has ever removed anyone as a national entity and if I said that, then I retract it. The withdrawing of fellowship, however, is a BF&M based move, though, wouldn't you agree?

As to how the BF&M is "binding," I think that it is binding as long as we agree to hold to it. In other words, as it reflects us, then we commonly adhere to it. If it no longer reflects us, then we are either dissenters who need a discussion with other baptists on the points over which we disagree so that we may come back togehter under a confession that we can all agree upon or the group might choose to remove us, or we need to remove ourselves from fellowship.

This is one of the classic arguements for broad strokes when painting the canvas of our common confession. We need to be as inclusive as we are able, but not at the expense of allowing everyhting in.

It is a balance hinged on the fulcrum of tolerance. Not blind tolerance of all things, but loving tolerance of things that we should be willing to allow disagreement over. This is why the Landmarkish policies concerning baptism are so dangerous. They narrow the parameters to an exclusive set of beliefs to which, frankly, alot of conservative baptists do not conform, including myself.

Specifically, if someone was baptized in another denomination (or non-denomination, as the COC claims to be) upon the profession of their faith, I would take them. Qualifiers would be that they understood salvation clearly and were otherwise sound in their faith.

I sense you may disagree - though I make no assumptions here. My statement here is that if you disagree, we are still under the same tent of the BF&M. If the policies mentioned before are added to our confession, they would no longer represent me, and it would cease to be my confession.

At this point, either the SBC needs to throw me out as a heretic, reconsider its position, or I need to remove myself on principle.

It is as binding as the wind, but it still holds us together.

If we make it a creed, that is to say that we must all affirm it point by point, we take a new road in Baptist history. Many say that we have already done that by calling for some to sign the document that says it should not be signed. They may be right. If that is so, then I am definately outside the tent.

I hold as authoritative the Word of God. The BF&M is the confession of my understanding of God's Word.

Clear as mud?

Wes Kenney said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wes Kenney said...

As to your specific, if you would not require someone who was baptized in the C of C to be baptized for membership, then we would disagree on that point. The BF&M describes baptism as HOLD EVERYTHING!!! I went to the text itself to get the exact wording describing baptism as non-regenerative, and IT'S NOT IN THERE! Guess I've been reading too fast. No matter, I stand by my preconceived notion, which I will now complete. If a person was baptized with the understanding that that baptism was necessary to their ultimate salvation, that was no baptism at all to my way of thinking. When that person subsequently comes to a more correct understanding of salvation, they should desire rebaptism as a symbol, and only a symbol, of their faith, which is how the BF&M describes it.

Please understand that I myself desire to continually come to a more correct understanding of salvation, and my participation in these conversations is part of my attempt to be sharpened in my thinking.

As to those who decry credalism and point to those forced to sign, I would point out that no one is forced to sign to remain a Southern Baptist in good standing. Only those who desire to have their living expenses paid by Southern Baptists, while teaching or evangelizing on behalf of Southern Baptists, are required to sign an acknowledgment that they will avoid contradicting this statement of faith approved by Southern Baptists in convention. Enough with this nonsense about violated consciences.

Sorry, I got a little tense just now, didn't I?

Thanks for the sharpening....

Tim Sweatman said...

Where I differ from a number of fellow Southern Baptists is on the idea that if a majority of Southern Baptists (even a vast majority) believe in a particular doctrinal view then it is OK for that doctrine to be codified in the BF&M. To me, the criteria shouldn't be what the majority of Baptists believe, it should be whether the Bible clearly and definitively teaches that particular doctrinal view. Like Art, I believe that we should draw broad lines of cooperation around only those issues that are essentials and which are clearly and unambiguously taught by the Bible.

Regarding the propriety of requiring missionaries and employees of SBC entities to affirm the BF&M, like Wes I believe that it is entirely reasonable and proper to require those who are funded by CP dollars to be in agreement with our official confession. This is one of the reasons why I oppose the new IMB policies on prayer language and baptism, because they require missionaries to subscribe to doctrinal views that go beyond the BF&M.

BTW, if I misrepresented either of your views, feel free to correct me.

Wes Kenney said...

Tim,

As to your first paragraph, if we only codified those things that the Bible "clearly and definitively" teaches, we wouldn't have a statement, we would have a Bible. The Branch Davidians had a Bible. The BF&M should reflect what we as Southern Baptists believe. Can you think of another good reason to have it?

On the second paragraph, perhaps the solution is for the convention to require that no board or agency can apply any standard of faith & practice that has not been approved by the convention. But I'm afraid that would have unintended consequences, as the BF&M is not a very good standard, being by itself, to qualify someone for service. The boards must have some leeway, and if they transgress the conscience of enough people in the convention, the convention will take corrective action.

Anyway, that's what I think. I didn't mean that first paragraph to sound as caustic as it does, but I can't think of any other phrasings. Please know that I appreciate the debate and the debators.

God bless.

GeneMBridges said...

It has never been meant to be used as a creed - binding all subsequent thought, although it is now being used that way in several arenas. My concern with that is not that the BF&M doesn't reflect me, but that we may be selling priesthood of the believer down the river.

This, unfortunately, doesn't ring true in Baptist history itself. Baptists have historically rejected creeds when they are given authority over Scripture, but they have not historically disagreed over confessions when those confessions are viewed as derivative, fallible documents. The only creeds by name are the ecumenical creeds of the Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene periods. All others have been referred to as confessions. Within Protestantism, our confessions are very clear, they are derivative documents.

It's true in NC some folks objected to confessions for a time because they were believed to take the place over Scripture, but that was primarily in Neuse Association, not Sandy Creek, and Sandy Creek, our mother association as a Convention, adopted her own confession modeled on her own mother church's covenant. The reason the Sandy Creek Association did not use the Philadelphia Confession is because they thought it was too restrictive with respect to the directory of worship in particular, not its doctrines. In fact, Philadephia and Charleston Associations both offered union with Sandy Creek on the basis that they agreed on doctrine, though they differed in worship practice and certain eccentric practices relating to the way the mother church was ordered within her own discipline. However , take a look at the Sandy Creek Confession, and then look at the confessions that their daughter associations adopted and the way they used them. They all adopted the Philadelphia Confession, even those associations which united with churches from differing strands of the Separates. I'm sorry, but confessionalism has a long history among Baptists. The rejection of confessions is a 20th century phenomenon that has been projected onto our earlier history by certain historians. The reason that there was no BFM until 1925 is quite simple. At the time the Convention was founded, most of the churches were using the Philadelphia Confession, which is a mirror of the 2nd LCBF.

In urging the adoption of doctrinal standards at SBTS, Dr. Boyce wrote "His agreement with the standard should be exact. His declaration of it should be based upon no mental reservation, upon no private understanding with those who immediately invest him into office." Boyce understood that there were those who felt that such a policy of strict subscription was a violation of academic freedom and liberty of conscience. However, he continued and said, " You will infringe the rights of no man, and you will secure the rights of those who have established here an instrumentality for the production of a sound ministry. It is no hardship to those who teach here, to be called upon to sign the declaration of their principles, for there are fields of usefulness open elsewhere to every man, and none need accept your call who cannot conscientiously sign your formulary."

Confessions compel believers to search the Scriptures to see if the things taught in them are true. They are to be taught and explained and examined, not merely posted on the door. Some say they cause division. On the contrary, they promote unity and discussion of the Scriptures. Churches are free to adopt their own church covenants that include a confession to which they should adhere. Members that depart from that confession should be encouraged to make their objections known, but, if they differ radically, they may certainly depart in good faith if they are not differing over a cardinal doctrine such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, or Sola Fide. Confessions serve apologetic uses, for we can appeal to them as markers to remind us of points we want to discuss in defense of the faith as we answer critics. They help settle disputes. If a member has an issue with something in the church, s/he and the elders can look to the confession of the church. My church uses the 1st LCBF. We do so because it is more forgiving in some areas than the 2LCBF, yet we are a Reformed church, and we believe the BFM is too forgiving in some areas.

With respect to the BFM 2000, its primary weakness, in my opinion, is that it does not begin with a statement about the proper use of confessions, so that is why folks approach it asking how "binding" it should be considered.

Yes, it quotes from the 1925 preamble to the BFM in its own preamble. That's a start. However, the 1925 BFM was written in a different time and situation. In 2000, we were coming out of a period of great turmoil. The Convention would have done well to have adopted a strong position paper from one of her major historians, like Tom Nettles, that discussed the proper use of confessions and the intended role of the BFM to which folks could point to have this question answered. Instead, we had a long debate on Article 1 and one question on Article 7 and that was it. Bad move...very bad move, and it has resulted in confusion ever since.



The priesthood of the believer is a misnomer of a term. This is an Enlightenment concept that highlights individualism and uses it to cover for theological minimalism. Priesthood of all believers is an appropriate term. It simply means each person has unfettered, direct access to God without a mediating priesthood and is a corollary of the doctrine of a regenerate church membership AND it means that believers come to God on behalf of the world and each other. Individualism is not in mind here; and neither is the interpretation of Scripture. Community is in mind. It does not refer to the ability to define and interpret Scripture independently of the ecclesiastical body to which one belongs; it refers to personal responsibility in individual sin and salvation and the service and intercession of the believer rendered on behalf of the unregenerate and of ones brothers and sisters. In Scripture, where was the Levitical priesthood ever entitled to interpret Scripture to suit whatever he thought apart from some sort of rule of faith? It wasn't. Now, did the Sanhedrin come to be a magisterial authority? Yes, but what did Jesus do? He pointed them back to old ways, to Scripture itself, and, if you cross reference certain of his saying with Jewish rabbinical literature, he even reminded them of things other rabbis had said that contradicted them. In short, he used Sola Scriptura in a classical sense, but not necessarily SOLO Scriptura.

The priesthood of believers is rooted in the NT's take on the Levitical priesthood, with each believer, not an ecclesiastical caste, functioning in that position on an individual basis within the covenant community itself. Does this mean we have a magisterial authority to which we appeal? No. It does, however, mean that we exegete Scripture via the GHM and its corollary methods and we do so in a responsible and informed manner. In no wise does it mean we interpret Scripture apart from the rule of faith history has set in our confessions. It also means we test our confessions by Scripture, use them as derivative documents, and, yes, we have the right of private judgment. However, in all fairness, that should also lead us to separate if we find ourselves intractable in our private judgment and the confession of the community is non-forgiving in the matter. Instead, what we have often had in recent history are those who would hang on and hang on and hang on and claim "priesthood of the believer" to justify themselves.

C. Eastwood, a Methodist, put it this way: The common error that the phrase "Priesthood of Believers" is synonymous with "private judgment" is most unfortunate and is certainly a misrepresentation . . . . Of course, the Reformers emphasized "private judgment," but it was always "informed" judgment, and it was always controlled, checked, and corroborated by the corporate testimony of the congregation. Indeed Calvin himself fully realized that uncontrolled private judgment means subjectivism, eccentricity, anarchy, and chaos.

In 1965, R. Aldwinkle said to the BWA: "Yet in our claims to freedom . . . Baptists need to be on guard against a serious misunderstanding of the priesthood of all believers as this was understood by the Protestant Reformers. When Peter applies the phrase 'an holy priesthood' (I Pet. 2:5) to the whole body of believing Christians, he reminds us that we are priests only as members of the Christian fellowship. The priesthood of all believers does not mean only the right to private judgment and intellectual freedom, which Socrates and Bertrand Russell would also stoutly maintain, but the freedom within the community of believers to be, as Luther said, Christ to our neighbor, to show forth the special kind of love and compassion which flows from Christ and works in those who are members of His body, the church. When we assert freedom from priestly dominance in a sacramental sense, we are not claiming freedom of thought necessarily in a general sense, though this may be important even to Christians. We are claiming freedom to love, as Christ loved, all those for whom He died, and claiming this freedom as members of His fellowship of believers. In repudiating a certain understanding of the church, we are not repudiating entirely the importance of the church as the redeemed community through which God works."

Tim Sweatman said...

Wes,

If we as Southern Baptists claim to believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative Word of God and that it is sufficient to guide our faith and practice, why would we want our confession of faith to include any doctrinal items that are not clearly taught in the Bible? The need to have a doctrinal statement with items that are not clearly taught in the Bible would indicate that we don't really believe the Bible is sufficient to guide our faith and practice. I seriously doubt that this is what you meant to say, but I believe that it can be inferred from your first statement.

I have been quite vocal in my belief that SBC entities should not be allowed to impose doctrinal requirements that go beyond the BF&M. I agree that adherence to the BF&M does not guarantee that one is qualified for a position within the SBC and that entities should be allowed to impose certain requirements on applicants (such as education, church experience, evidence of calling and competency, etc.). But on matters of doctrine, if adherence to the BF&M is not adequate then the BF&M needs to be revisited.

Wes Kenney said...

I visited recently with a family who had lost a daughter in an automobile accident. I knew the family, but had never met the girl's grandmother. I introduced myself by giving my name ("I'm Wes Kenney"), to which she responded, "I'm Pentecostal. We believe the Bible. We baptize in the name of Jesus; there is one God, not three. How do you baptize?" As this was not the time for a debate, I gently deflected her question. And I tell you this to answer your question: why would we want our confession of faith to include any doctrinal items that are not clearly taught in the Bible?

This woman reads the same Bible I do, and comes to vastly different conclusions. What I see as clearly taught is not so to her. So this statement is needed in order to communicate what we believe are the practical outworkings of the truth we see revealed in scripture. I see baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the clear scriptural model, and can point to that description in the BF&M as representing clearly what I believe scripture teaches. Scripture is the authority, sufficient for faith and practice, and the statement challenges me to test it's assertions in light of scripture. It crystalizes scripture's teachings for me, it doesn't replace them.

art rogers said...

Gene said:

Baptists have historically rejected creeds when they are given authority over Scripture, but they have not historically disagreed over confessions when those confessions are viewed as derivative, fallible documents. The only creeds by name are the ecumenical creeds of the Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene periods. All others have been referred to as confessions. Within Protestantism, our confessions are very clear, they are derivative documents.

I didn't think that I was cantradicting this. In fact, what I intended to say, in my mind, lined up with the fact that confessions are derivative of Scripture.

As to the Priesthood of Every Believer, I shorten it, as do many, to Priesthood of the Believer. I don't think the nuance of difference is noticed by most and certainly not by me.

I affirm that, to me it means, unfettereed access to God by every believer. The implications of that, though, are that every person is guided by the Holy Spirit as his ultimate teacher as he reads Scripture. This does not, however, preclude the interpretation of Scripture being done in community with the body shaping the interpretation. Doing so is reflected in the writings themselves as churches are asked to pass epistles between communities for mutual edification. It's a community thing.

Wes,

The COC thing actually happens to be a practical thing in my current situation as well as being a principled issue relating to the new policies enacted by the IMB BOT. We have a local COC that has a big camp and alot of the youth of our community attend it in the summer. This frustrates me and several other ministers in the area, as we see it as a way for them to recruit the youth of other churches - which has been moderately successful for them. On occaision, we will have a young person who accepts Christ at camp. This is usually something that has been coming along all the while and not necessarily a result of the service at the COC camp. Nevertheless, they will baptize said student that night in a pond at the camp. Again, I am frustrated at this action, but their parents allow them to go, despite our discouragement, and I can only stand by.

Now the teenager returns home and wants to make public their decision and we have to deal with the situation.

Here are some relevant particulars:

The child does not see baptism as regenerative - actually, probably doesn't see baptism as much at all, other than a thing you do when you accept Christ.

The COC administrator does see it as regenerative.

The COC is trying to recruit said teenager.

The COC has forewarned the teen that we baptists may say that their decision is not good enough because it was made at the COC camp, thus making us look as if we are stuck up and the COC is a victim of our arrogance.

The teen now returns, feeling good about their relationship with God, but sensitized to any negativity from us. If they sense any, they may begin to shift their allegiance to the COC - this has happened, too, so the COC is sometimes effective in their attempt to "convert" our kids.

Practically -

If I cause this child to be re-baptized, they are going to see that as a rejection of the validity of their decision, and may begin to view us with suspicion which may eventually cause them to leave.

Principle and Practical -

The teen does not doubt eternal security, nor do they think Baptism is regenerative. As far as I can tell, their beliefs fall in line with ours, as they were raised to believe, and their baptism was what I would call a "believer's baptism."

However, under the new policies of the IMB, if I do not re-baptize this teenager, they would not be able to serve as an International Missionary for us, later in life.

This is not because what they believe about their baptism, nor what I or the church believe about the baptism, but what the COC and their youth minister believe about their baptism.

As to the signing of the BFM, or a letter agreeing to its principles, I do agree that we should be on the same page if we are to participate together. Could we not, though, ascertain these things through a detailed interview where the candidate discusses the BFM point for point and is questioned by a panel qualified people? At the end, they could affirm their views as honest reflections of their heart and we could certify that.

I fear what these things can become, not necessarily what they are now.

Wes Kenney said...

I have attended COC funerals (last week, in fact). In their gospel presentation, which are part of all such funerals in my experience, they stress the requirement to "live faithful" if one is to have hope of reunion with the deceased. I have to believe that this is part of a camp presentation, and to my mind, this is "another gospel." Before any discussion about regenerative baptism, I would have to wonder if it was even "believer's baptism." If teaching truth makes us appear stuck up and arrogant, I want to be in both columns. While there can certainly be examples of those who properly understood salvation despite it's corrupted presentation, someone for whom this is the case and who desires to serve God on the mission field at the expense of Southern Baptists should have no problem doing what is required (rebaptism after a more correct understanding of salvation) to preserve a consistent witness among our missionaries, one representative of the great majority of Southern Baptists. My goodness, that was a long sentence.

As to signatures, I agree that the honest reflections of their heart should be a key factor in determining who should serve. But the signature is an instrument of accountability. I don't want them signing their agreement with doctrines; I want them to sign their promise not to contradict those doctrines in the course of their SBC-subsidized work.

Tim Sweatman said...

Wes,

IMO your example seems to support my point, that the BF&M can address only those issues where we believe the Bible clearly teaches a specific position and still demonstrate our Baptist identity. Since not everyone believes the Bible clearly teaches our views of baptism, eternal security, the nature of God & Jesus, etc., then the BF&M does show our doctrinal distinctiveness. So there is no need to include doctrines that are not clearly and unambiguously taught in the Bible just so we can show our distinctiveness.

I suppose this inevitably will raise the question of how we define "clearly and unambiguously." And I would have to concede the point that there will always be a measure of subjectivity when addressing this question. On a superficial level (since this format really does not lend itself to scholarly treatises, and since I'm not a theological scholar in an academic sense), when those who begin from a position of inerrancy apply sound exegetical and hermenutical principles are in almost unanimous agreement, then that would suggest "clear and unambiguous" teaching. But when there is considerable disagreement between the same people over certain issues (the nature of the end times, the proper role of women in the church, church governance, the relationship between predestination and free will, etc.) then that is a sign that the Bible is not "clear and unambiguous" on those subjects (even though there is only one correct interpretation, but it cannot be determined with certainty). In such cases, I believe it is unwise to adopt "official" doctrinal statements on these subjects. Of course then you could delve into the issue of what comprises "sound exegetical and hermenutical principles" and keep going ad infinitum. I wish there could be an objective standard to determine whether something is "clearly and unambiguously" taught, but since there isn't I guess we'll always be having these types of discussions. At least these discussions are usually interesting.

Wes Kenney said...

So in addition to agreement on basic doctrines, we need agreement on the methods by which we arrive at these doctrines? I can't argue with what you have laid out, but it does tend to make the head swim, does it not?

Yours is an excellent argument for a minimalist statement of faith, which is what I believe we have in the BF&M. But that minimalist statement does include a statement on the lack of biblical warrant for women in pastoral leadership, which you charactarized in your excellent argument as a matter of considerable disagreement. So I again feel obliged to point out that I disagree with this characterization. The only ones I find in vocal disagreement on this point are the ones who use language like "violation of conscience" when describing the use of the BF&M for holding accountable those we support with CP dollars.

Again, I appreciate the debate. Proverbs 27:17 and all that...

art rogers said...

Wes,

Let me say that I really appreciate your attitude within this discussion. You always seem to me to speak respectfully and from a sincere point of view that is open and honest.

In replying to me you mention that the COC always presents the Gospel with a works background and baptism as regenerative. I agree with this wholeheartedly. I have never heard them come across in any other way.

Still, the teenagers to which I was referring - we have a couple - grew up hearing the Gospel in our church. Mostly, they heard it from me. Moreover, the description of baptism was ingrained in them as symbolic. What I am saying is that when I talked with them afterward, they did not reveal belief in COC doctrine, but made a decision based on the Gospel we had presented to them and were baptized because they knew they should show everyone that Jesus had saved them.

We have now come to the practical hashing out of the IMB policies now in question. You question their faith and their baptism - but do so without really knowing who they are or what they have done, nor are you privy to the conversations they may have had with me or other leaders within our church.

When you say, "someone for whom this is the case and who desires to serve God on the mission field at the expense of Southern Baptists" you make it sound like they want our money and could care less about what we believe. I don't know any missionary who serves "for the money," and I trust that particular idea is not what you meant. Then you go on to say that rebaptism is required. It is, under the policies, but not under the BFM, and I believe, not under Scripture.

We now represent the two sides of the issue, and the question is: "Will you cooperate with me and send my missionaries to the field, trusting that I know their heart and affirming that their doctrine is sound OR will you choose to dismiss people seekingto serve because you are suspicious of their doctrine based on the doctrine of the guy who baptized them?"

I am saying that I, and their church, know them and their theology and practice. If we send them to the IMB affirming their theology, practice and character, I think the IMB should trust us on the issue.

art rogers said...

Let me throw this one in, also...

Neither signitures nor re-baptism will change what a person believes and if they are determined to "jump through hoops" although it may be dishonest, I think that they will rationize it away and the filters become irrelevant.

If you want to truly know that a person is sound, let their church affirm the BFM and them, as they have seen whether or not they live out what we need to know.

Wes Kenney said...

I appreciate what you have said about your experience with those saved and baptized in a COC setting. Of course my statements are general in nature. And I certainly want to emphasize that my reference to those who serve "at the expense of Southern Baptists" was not intended to question the motive for service, but to clearly delineate where the accountability lies. I'm not pastoring my church for the money, but I am responsible to be faithful to the doctrines held by those who are supporting the church through which God provides for me and my family. Make sense?

The heart of your argument, then, really comes down to whether all churches who call themselves Southern Baptist can be trusted to be sound in faith and practice. I believe that they cannot, as I have argued on my own blog. The SBC logo on the sign out front is not a guarantee that they are doctrinally sound, requiring additional methods of accountability, even those that might go beyond the BF&M (i.e. divorce).

Wes Kenney said...

The spiritual truth is usually stated as something like, "men and women should not have a personal apprearance that would discredit the church to those it is trying to reach"

I don't see this as a correct understanding at all, and I do think it is possible to take the passage more literally without demanding the specifics of hair length & head covering, which are the only things in the passage that I do see as cultural. The truth I take from the passage is that women should not try to pass themselves off as men and vice versa. I have known those who took this to the extreme of saying that it was a terrible sin for a teenage boy to dress as a cheerleader as a lark for a pep rally. While I certainly don't go that far, I think that someone who tries to "pass" does violence to the created order set in place by God (man as the head of the woman) to teach us how to relate to Him.

I hope this makes some sense. I would look forward to a post on just this issue, as I need to be challenged in my firmness as do you in your wavering.

Thanks for the debate.

art rogers said...

Wes,

Then you are saying that you want a doctrinal watchdog posted at every door? Moreover, you are saying that your definition of "sound doctrine" is the definition that will be the standard of accountability - not mine. Whereas, I would be willing to work alongside you and yours, it sounds as though you would not be willing to work alongside me and mine.

To summerize, I think this will make the SBC weaker, and it will make me weaker, since I will be on the outside, left to cooperate with fewer people and less resources.

Wes Kenney said...

Art,

Thanks for your reply. It seems I'm in two conversations at once here, and to be honest, I don't think my brain is big enough...

I certainly don't think my definition of "sound doctrine" is the only correct one. And I think what I'm saying is that I want a doctrinal watchdog, not at every door, but certainly at the doors of service in our seminaries and missions agencies. And I want them watching for doctrines that would place someone outside the great majority of Southern Baptists. I think the BF&M is a fine instrument for this, but boards must (and do) necessarily go beyond it in certain areas in order to be effective watchdogs. We can and should debate the appropriateness of established guidelines that go beyond what is stated in the BF&M, realizing that they are not inappropriate just because they exceed what it explicitly states.

As to our theoretical cooperation, I see no obstacle to it. I'm sure our agreements far outweigh our disagreements, and those disagreements are decidedly non-essentials. So as long as you were not telling my folks I was wrong, and I wasn't telling your folks you were wrong, there'd be no problem at all.

By the way, I don't think you're wrong. I just see some of these non-essentials differently, but in spite of what my wife says, I am occasionally wrong. I enjoy the debates and participate heartily, but in the end I recognize that I am certainly imperfect in my understanding, and I try to be open to correction. I apologize for anything I said that led you to conclude that I would not want to work alongside you for the advancement of the Kingdom. I certainly did not intend to give that impression, only to vigorously debate these issues from my totally fallible viewpoint.

God bless you.

art rogers said...

Wes,

First let me say you have never offended me and have at all times spoken with humility that speaks to personal character and intergrity.

I see what you are saying about needing watchdogs at certain key places. I just worry about the people who hold the leash and what they say is allowable and not - and more importantly, what they say should be done to those in disagreement.

I, too, appreciate the debate and certainly did not mean to say that I thought you were intolerant. There is no need for you to apologize to me, but I humbly ask your apology for intimating that you might have offended me. That was certainly not what I meant to communicate.

By the way, I have no problem offending people who I feel attack me or treat what I am saying with disrespect. Not that I go looking for fights, but I am trying to say, you have never spoken to anyone with disrespect - to my knowledge - and for that, you have my respect.

and may God bless you,

Art

Wes Kenney said...

Art,

Thanks again for your reply. I appreciate your kind words.

I agree with your concern about those holding the leash. It seems to me that in our convetion, it is ultimately we as members of cooperating churches who hold it.

Our messengers elect those who serve as trustees, and they have the authority, in convention, to correct the mistakes of those trustees. In general, we should trust those elected by the messengers, but there could be cases where intervention is prudent. That is why I am glad for this debate and why I long for the other side to be more fully represented. Drs. York and Caner have weighed in in support of the baptism policy, but they are outsiders with respect to the thinking that led to the board seeking Burleson's removal, which is the more immediate issue. We need that reasoning before we arrive in Greensboro, in my opinion.

Thanks again for participating in the debate.

art rogers said...

In my last post I said:

"There is no need for you to apologize to me, but I humbly ask your apology for intimating that you might have offended me."

What I meant to say is that

"I humbly ask your forgiveness..."

-or-

"I humbly apologize..."

Sorry for mixing my cliche's.

As to our discussion, I don't know if you read Wade Burleson's blog, but today's post there speaks to the issue that we are discussing here. You can check it out at this address, if you haven't already.

http://kerussocharis.blogspot.com/2006/02/jl-dagg-and-christian-baptism.html

Wes Kenney said...

Art,

A few comments back, we were talking about kids baptized at a COC camp, and you had said you considered these baptisms valid, even though the administrator of the baptism taught salvation by works, one of those works being baptism.

While being far too lazy myself to have dug this up, I ran across a quote from J.L. Dagg that I thought especially applied to that part of our conversation. Dagg wrote, "If the administrator and candidate differ widely in their views respecting the nature and design of the ordinance, they cannot have fellowship with each other in the service." (J. L. Dagg, "A Treatise on Church Order" (Harrisonberg, VA: Gano Books, 1982), page 285. (originally published in 1858 by The Southern Baptist Publication Society)

This seems to say that such a baptism would not be valid, and while I would respect your church's right to consider it valid, I would also not fault the IMB for taking the other side in that particular case. And if the students in question are as level-headed and well taught as you have represented, I would think they would cheerfully be rebaptized should God call them to that service.