Friday, June 23, 2006

Alcohol and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Now that the alcohol question has come to the forefront of the issues Southern Baptists are talking about, I feel compelled to enter the conversation. Before I continue, let me say that I am approaching this subject as a person who has NEVER, to my knowledge, tasted of any alcoholic beverage, nor have I ever desired to do so. I have never found any good reason for people to partake of alcoholic beverages (with the possible exceptions of medicinal purposes and the Lord's Supper), and I personally encourage people to abstain. However, my views on alcohol are a matter of personal conviction. I do not try to use the Bible to support my advocacy of total abstinence, because a biblical case for total abstinence cannot be made.

In the Florida Baptist Witness there is an opinion piece by Dr. John Sullivan, Executive Director of the Florida Baptist Convention, regarding the resolution on alcohol that was adopted by the SBC in Greensboro. Let me say that I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Sullivan. I heard him preach the Sunday before the SBC Annual Meeting at the church I visited in Greensboro. His testimony of how he came to faith in Christ clearly demonstrates the sovereign working of God in bringing us to salvation. But as I read the following, I wondered to myself, "Did he really say that?"

Now to be sure, we are free in Christ, but we are free to do right by living a godly lifestyle. One even suggested Jesus drank wine and even turned water into wine. Bring me the wine bottle you are drinking from and if it says, “fermented by the Holy Spirit,” I’ll agree it is okay! Jesus also walked or rode a donkey wherever he went; slept mostly outside — you know the list. He then died on a tree. Don’t pull out one thing Jesus did to justify an action. We are not in the same league!
The reason someone suggested that Jesus drank wine and even turned water into wine is because the Bible tells us that Jesus did these things! I'm not kidding, it really does! Just look at John 2:1-11 and Luke 7:33-34. Sullivan's reference to Jesus walking, riding a donkey, sleeping outside, or dying on a tree is irrelevant to this discussion because no one is passing resolutions against doing these things or is calling such things ungodly. If it is ungodly to drink alcoholic beverages, then Jesus was ungodly. No amount of verbal or historical gymnastics can get around this. And the idea that it is acceptable to drink wine only if it is "fermented by the Holy Spirit" is one of the strangest concepts I have ever seen. Are we to assume that every time Jesus drank wine that He made it Himself? Where does the Bible imply or say that?

Alcohol is the issue that is being talked about, but alcohol is not really the true subject of this discussion. The alcohol issue in Southern Baptist life deals more with the sufficiency of Scripture than with the use of alcohol. The question that we must answer is, "Are we going to base our doctrine solely on the Bible, or are we also going to use tradition, history, and culture?" I believe it is obvious that a position requiring total abstinence from alcohol is based on tradition, history, and culture rather than on Scripture. All one has to do is look at the rest of the world to see that the question of whether or not a Christian should drink alcohol is by and large an American question. French and Italian Christians have no moral reservations about drinking a glass of wine; English and German Christians have no qualms about drinking a mug of beer. Now, either Christians in other nations are not as holy as Southern Baptists or the views of many Southern Baptists on alcohol are shaped by our history and culture. Somebody made a point that the views of most Southern Baptists on alcohol are more in line with those of Mormons and Muslims than with those of evangelical Christians in the rest of the world.

In all of this discussion, I have yet to see anyone cite one single verse of Scripture that forbids God's people from partaking of alcohol. Many people cite Proverbs 20:1 to support such a position, but what about Psalm 104:15, or what about the example of Jesus? Again, I personally believe there are many good reasons to abstain from alcohol, but in the end it has to be a personal decision, and a decision that is NOT based on any idea that drinking alcohol is ungodly. To require or expect all Christians to abstain, or to affirm that drinking alcohol is ungodly, is incompatible with the sufficiency of Scripture. If the Bible does not require abstinence, then how can we? If the Bible tells us that Jesus drank and made wine, then how can we say it is ungodly or morally wrong for a follower of Jesus, to do what Jesus did?

If we as Southern Baptists are honest, we have to admit that we have a history of elevating our traditions and personal convictions to the level of biblical mandates. We did it with dancing, card playing, musical styles, and how to dress for church. Many of us (but certainly not all) have moved away from imposing extrabiblical requirements or expectations in these areas. If we truly believe in biblical sufficiency, we'll have to stop imposing requirements or expectations to abstain from alcohol as well.

Friday, June 16, 2006

You Can Quote Me on That

This morning when my wife called to wake me up (yes, I slept late---between averaging 4 hours of sleep a night all week and driving more than 500 miles yesterday, I deserved it) she told me that I had been quoted in an article about the SBC in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Art Rogers had already linked to this article (he is also quoted), so I didn't have to look for it. Basically, the article talks about how the recently concluded annual meeting in Greensboro might be the beginning of a more open SBC, not on matters of core doctrine, but in regards to cooperation among those who share similar views on core doctrine.

This is a strange world. On one hand, I have been unsuccessful in leading a tiny church to be effective for the Kingdom. At the same time, I am the opening quote in an article in the largest newspaper in the state in which Art Rogers, Al Mohler, and Hershael York are also quoted. That in itself is a sign that the times are changing, that ideas matter more than personalities, that faithfulness is more important than success. We're not there yet, and there will be some setbacks along the way, but that's where we are heading.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Not Too Promising So Far

The IMB report has just concluded. At the end of the report two messengers asked questions of new IMB Board Chairman John Floyd. The first question was related to the Wade Burleson issues, especially the policy passed in March prohibiting trustees from publicly expressing disagreement with policies approved by the board. Floyd's response was basically that he is not aware of any suppression of the rights of any trustee. So, does this mean that the board did NOT pass such a policy in March? Apparently not. So prohibiting trustees from expressing principled dissent to their greater SBC constituency is NOT suppressing their rights? Apparently that's what Floyd thinks. Hmmm, something is not registering here. I wonder how the Conservative Resurgence would have fared if our entity boards had such policies in the 1970s and 1980s.

As amazing as Floyd's response to the first question was, his answer to the second question simply floored me! The second question asked how the board could be really accountable to the SBC if executive sessions are used so frequently. Floyd's response was that the board DOES NOT use executive sessions on a regular basis. I wonder if he was at the last few board meetings; he said he hasn't missed any, but how could he be unaware of all of the executive sessions that took place. And then, despite all the controversy surrounding the board over the past few months, he basically suggested that we should just trust the board. The context seemed to indicate that he meant a blind trust.

It appears that John Floyd is as blind to what's going on as his predecessor was. Looks like 2006-07 may be a busy year for the blogs as we try to hold the IMB accountable to the convention.

Wade Burleson's Motion Going to the IMB Board

Last night's business session regarding the Wade Burleson motion went nothing like I expected. I had already been thinking about what I was going to say in opposition to the recommendation to refer the motion to the IMB Board of Trustees when Wade approached the microphone to speak regarding the recommendation. To my absolute surprise, Wade voiced his support for referring his motion to the board for action. Even though the board has had more than 6 months to deal with these issues but has failed to reach a solution, and even though there is a potential conflict of interest whenever there is an internal investigation, Wade expressed support for this course of action. I was not thrilled, but since Wade supported it I thought it would be awkward to voice my opposition.

Having thought about the issue and discussed it with others, including Wade, I believe this may have been the wisest course to follow. First of all, there is a possibility that the motion would have been defeated if it had come up for a floor vote. Secondly, this forces the IMB Board to report on these issues to the convention itself next year. There are two possible results: 1) The IMB Board will resolve these issues to the convention's satisfaction, and the matter will be ended in San Antonio, or 2) The IMB Board will not reach a satisfactory resolution, and these issues will automatically be brought back before the convention next year. What this referral means is that for the next year there will be continued intense scrutiny of the IMB Board. While this investigation will undoubtedly be conducted behind closed doors (which in a case like this is proper, provided that there is full disclosure following the investigation), we will be watching for any signs of reconcilitation or of continued hostility toward Wade. These could provide clues as to how the process is working itself out.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Frank Page Press Conference

Frank Page's post-election press conference just ended a few minutes ago. I don't have time to provide a full summary, but I want to hit a few highlights.

The first thing Page said was that he "did not expect to be here at all." He then went on to say that he believed his election sent a statement that the SBC "belongs to the Lord and His people" and that we can do more together than we can separately. The floor was then opened up for questions from the professional media. The following are some statements Page made in response to various questions:

  1. The parameters of cooperation he requires are a "sweet spirit, evangelistic heart, and a belief in the integrity of the Word of God." He emphasized that he will appoint only inerrantists. He later added generously supporting CP to this list.
  2. Blogs played a role in the election beyond their number. There are a small number of blogs, but many SBC leaders read them. Blogs are a growing force and phenomenon in denominational life.
  3. Page has no animosity toward any of the entity heads who endorsed other candidates. He thinks it best that entity heads refrain from endorsing candidates, but people can do what they wish.
  4. This election is a defining moment and turning point in the SBC. There will be a different tone in denominational life.
  5. Regarding the issues with the IMB and NAMB, the president has a limited role. He primarily can serve an an encourager and adviser. Anything he does will be through the trustee boards.
  6. We need to be careful about narrowing doctrinal parameters beyond the BFM 2000.
  7. He will emphasize church transformation in addition to addition and missions. He also agrees with Ronnie Floyd's emphasis on spiritual renewal.
  8. "The reason I'm sitting here today is because people have said the Cooperative Program is important."
  9. This election is not about launching a revolution or cleaning house.

It's Page!!!

The results of the presidential election have just been announced. They are as follows:

  • Ronnie Floyd --- 2247 votes (24.95%)
  • Jerry Sutton --- 2168 votes (24.08%)
  • Frank Page --- 4546 votes (50.48%)

Could this be the beginning of a new era in the SBC?


The tellers just walked into the room to count the ballots from the presidential vote. The results will be announced as soon as the ballots are counted, with the runoff election to follow immediately, if necessary.

This is not a scientific survey, but it's looking like it might break Frank Page's way. Nearly all of the ballots in my row were for page. Also, Forrest Pollock's nomination speech for Page garnered the most applause. Pollock focused strongly on Page's CP support, saying that when it comes to CP Page "leads by example." Alone among the candidates, Page has the credibility to challenge us toward greater CP giving. Pollock also strongly refuted allegations that Page is not conservative enough, pointing out that Page spearheaded the effort in Georgia for the state convention to adopt the BFM 2000.

I'll post the official results as soon as they come in.

In other news, the Committee on Order of Business is recommending that Wade's motion be referred to the IMB Board of Trustees. Discussion and a vote on this recommendation will occur at 7:40 tonight. If this recommendation passes, I have no confidence that the issues Wade brings up will be dealt with.

SBC in Greensboro--Tuesday Morning

The first session of the SBC Annual Meeting had its share of contention, but overall there were no major problems. The first significant matter of business was the introduction of a motion by Wade Burleson requesting the Executive Committee to appoint an ad hoc committee to look into a number of matters related to the recent IMB controversies. For a full text of the original motion (the version that was submitted was altered to delete the reference to By-law 26B) you can go here. Several other motions, a few of which were obviously in response to the IMB issues, were offered. During the afternoon session the Committee on Order of Business will report on how these motions will be addressed.

The most contention point of the morning session occurred when a messenger from Georgia introduced an amendment to the Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee report that would have reinstated the references to a goal of 10% for churches to strive for. Debate was cut off when Jerry Vines, after speaking in opposition to the amendment, moved the question. I was irritated because I was in line to speak for the amendment. A point of order was raised declaring that at the 2005 convention a rule was adopted prohibiting a messenger from speaking to an issue then moving the question, but the chair disallowed the point of order. The amendment was defeated.

The other significant thing about the morning session was Morris Chapman's report. Chapman urged Southern Baptists not to allow the issue of Calvinism to divide us or distract us from missions and evangelism. But Chapman's strongest warning came against "political posturing" by those in the SBC; this comment was especially aimed at those who had led the Conservative Resurgence.

I'll report later today on the afternoon session. The highlight of this session will be the presidential election. Apparently Jerry Sutton has made some troubling remarks to the effect that an amendment to the BFM 2000 regarding the issue of private prayer language is necessary.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Caught in the Middle

Well, it seems that the Phelps family is going to set up shop outside of the SBC Annual Meeting next week. Apparently God hates Southern Baptists because we don't hate homosexuals; at least that seems to be the gist of the Phelps family's protest. Ironically, if past conventions are any indication, there will be activists from the gay community protesting against the SBC because of our hatred toward homosexuals. So basically we're getting slammed because we don't hate homosexuals and because we do hate homosexuals. Does this make sense to anyone out there?

It's easy to understand why the gay community isn't very fond of the SBC. We affirm the Bible's teaching that homosexuality is a sin. But that is hardly the same thing as hating someone. True, some of us act like jerks when we address this issue, but for the most part we try to speak the truth in love (or at least I hope that we do). Even when we do speak the truth in love, however, we should not be surprised when the world opposes us.

It's also not too hard to see why the Phelps group opposes the SBC. The SBC proclaims the biblical message of grace through faith and of God's love for sinners. From what I've seen of the Phelps group, they view the gospel as being all about wrath and judgment and God's hatred toward sinners. Yes, the Bible makes it clear that those who refuse to repent of their sins and follow Christ by faith are under God's wrath, but wrath is not a product of God's hatred but of His holiness.

It is not our place to judge and condemn sinners, but to love them with the love of Christ. His attitude toward sinners was, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin." The Phelps crowd would be critical of that first statement. The world, including the gay community, is critical of the second. Because of our stand for the Word of God, we find ourselves caught in the middle.

Not only will things be interesting inside the convention hall, it looks like it will be an interesting journey just to get inside.

Temporarily Disconnected

Tomorrow morning I will be leaving for Greensboro. I am looking forward to the upcoming SBC Annual Meeting, and I am eager to meet a number of you in person. Unfortunately, I will not have Internet access while I am gone. This means that I will not be posting anything about the convention until late Thursday evening. So if anyone has a comment or message for me, be sure to leave it by 10:00 Central Time tonight.

For those of you who will be in Greensboro, if I am jumpy and irritable there's no need to worry. That's just the withdrawal from my computer. Of course, if you would like to make a fully taxable contribution to Laptops for the Needy, you can make your check out to me. Then I won't have this problem next year! And for just a little extra, you can help a needy pastor go Wi-Fi as well. ;)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Greensboro, Here We Come

The time is rapidly approaching for us to pack our bags and hit the road (or fly off into the wild blue yonder) for Greensboro. Next week promises to be a busy time for those of us who are Younger Leaders and/or SBC bloggers. They like to start these things early in the morning and keep going until late in the evening. For some of you, the late evenings could be an issue (especially Monday night); personally, I've always had problems with the early starts. If you need a full 8 hours of sleep every night, you may be in trouble. They also don't believe in giving you enough time for meals. In addition, we've got to squeeze in time for executing our coup d'etat against the leadership of the SBC. (NOTE: If anyone from the SBC leadership establishment is reading this, that last statement was a JOKE. If we were planning a coup, do you think we would be announcing it ahead of time?)

In the midst of all of the official activity, many of us have expressed an interest in getting together for fellowship, prayer, and networking. Those of you who are attending as part of a group may have greater difficulty arranging such times than those of us traveling solo, so some sort of strategic planning may be necessary. Of course, there is the official time provided after the Younger Leaders' Meeting (or whatever they're calling it now) on Monday night. Or if you would like to make some advance plans for when/where to meet, you can post a comment to that effect. You can also send me an email with your cell phone number, and I'll do the same. I'm supposed to have a mini-suite out near the airport, so if anyone would be interested in getting together after hours for fellowship and/or prayer, I'm willing to open up my room.

Regarding the actual convention itself, how does what you would like to see happen in Greensboro compare with what you expect will happen in Greensboro?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me!

Thirty-four years ago today I made my debut at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. I usually don't make a big deal out of birthdays, but recent events have led me to be more introspective at this time. As I look at my life, I have to say that things have not turned out the way I would have expected. Some things have turned out better than I thought, others have been worse. But either way, things are as they are.

On a personal level, life has been far more wonderful than I ever dreamed. For 12 years I have been married to the most amazing and wonderful woman. Maria complements me in nearly every way. She is incredibly compassionate, never meets a stranger, and just makes people feel at ease. But if she perceives that someone is trying to hurt me, she transforms from the image of perfect sweetness into a she-bear! She is not just my wife; she is my best friend in this world. I never knew that it was possible to love another human being as much as I love Maria. I have a hard time even remembering what life was like before I knew her.

I am personally blessed in many other ways. I am in good health, although if I remain a member of the 300-club that will probably change in the future. I still have both of my parents and all of my siblings; I have never lived more than 3 hours away from them (but that could change in the next few months). And for nearly 34 years I had a grandmother; she passed away May 19 at the age of 94. I'm so glad that for the past decade or so I was able to see her nearly every month.

On a professional level, however, my life has fallen far short of what I, or anyone who knew me when I was younger, expected. I was valedictorian of my high school class, was voted "Most Likely to Succeed," graduated from college magna cum laude, have a master's degree, and even spent 3 years in a Ph.D. program (which is where I was called to the ministry). I never would have thought that at age 34 I would be barely scraping by financially or would be a failure (from a human perspective) in my vocation. I never would have thought that my wife would be the primary breadwinner in our family. And I have no idea how I got here. When I look back over the last 10-15 years, I don't see where I made any really bad decision that led me to where I am. I sometimes feel like most of my 20s were wasted, pursuing degrees that I would use very little, but I had no idea at the time that I would be a pastor.

So here I am. Overall, I would say that I am happy. After all, I'd rather have a great personal life and a not-so-good professional life than a successful professional life and an empty personal life. To be honest, I do desire to succeed in my ministry; maybe I shouldn't, but I do. Whether or not I will ever be "successful" is beyond my ability to know, but what I do know is that God is in control and that He has brought me to this point for a reason.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Younger Leaders Meeting in Greensboro, June 12

The second annual Younger Leaders Meeting held in conjunction with the SBC Annual Meeting will take place on Monday evening, June 12, at the War Memorial Auditorium in Greensboro. Both established and younger SBC leaders will discuss various topics about sharing Christ effectively in today's world, both here and abroad, and the role of the SBC in the advancement of God's Kingdom. Toward the end of this meeting, Ed Stetzer will introduce the Missional Network, an "online and relational community of ministry leaders connecting according to their chosen ministry approach" that is sponsored by NAMB. The goal of the Missional Network is to provide a forum in which missionally minded SBC leaders can connect with each other and share ideas.

The tentative schedule for the Younger Leaders Meeting is as follows:

9:55 PM: Worship band begins (2-3 songs)

10:00 PM: Jimmy Draper: Opening prayer and welcome to young leaders

10:04 PM: Worship band plays (2-3 songs)

10:10 PM: Jerry Rankin: To the edge: Churches partnering to reach the world

10:20 PM: Christi Avant: Broadway and the Bible (Sharing Christ contextually)

10:25 PM: Jeff Iorg: Why the SBC still matters

10:40 PM: Doug and Kiki Cherry: The campus and Christ (The questions young people are asking about Christ)

10:45 PM: Ed Stetzer: Announcing The Missional Network

10:55 PM: Worship band plays

11:00 PM: Tim Sweatman: Closing prayer

11:00-11:55 PM: Snacks and conversation

I hope that those of you who are able to attend will do so. Not only will you be able to hear from speakers who are passionate about sharing Jesus with others, there will also be an opportunity for fellowship following the actual meeting. I look forward to seeing you there.