Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Florida Baptist Witness Interview with Frank Page

In the most recent edition of the Florida Baptist Witness, there is a series of brief articles based on a July 12 interview of SBC president Frank Page by Witness editor James Smith, along with an introductory editorial by Smith. In the editorial, Smith strongly urges all Southern Baptists to give Frank Page the respect and support he deserves as SBC president. The interview itself covers a broad range of subjects---the Cooperative Program, some of the theological issues that are being hotly debated in the SBC, Page's change of position since 1980 on the role of women in ministry, his election as SBC president, and some of the things he wants to emphasize as SBC president. To no surprise, Page is candid and forthcoming throughout the interview. The interview, along with Smith's editorial, can be found at the following links:

In both the editorial and the interview, Smith is balanced and fair. This piece is neither an effort to smear Page nor a pro-Page propaganda piece. Smith raises some difficult issues, but he allows Page the freedom to explain his position. Basically, Smith believes that Southern Baptists need to get to know Frank Page and see how he leads the SBC before deciding that he is unfit for the position. Thus, he expresses his disapproval with the maneuvering by some within the SBC to run a candidate against Page next year in San Antonio:
One of the tangible ways that those who supported a different candidate in Greensboro can demonstrate their support of Page today is stand down now from any political organizing and seeking to run an opponent to Page at next year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in San Antonio. Shouldn’t he at least have a chance to prove himself before folks attempt to deny him a second term, a tradition granted to most Southern Baptist Convention presidents even during most of the heated years of the conservative resurgence (with some exceptions)?
The interview gives us a clearer picture of where Page stands on certain issues and some of the things he would like to see happen within the SBC. As is to be expected, not everyone in the SBC will be pleased with what Page says in this interview. For that matter, even though I supported Page during the election, I am disappointed by some of his responses in this interview. Does this mean I no longer support Page? Absolutely not. If I had known then what I now know about some of Page's positions, I still would have supported and voted for him. I may disagree with him on some specific issues, but on the broad themes that defined the election---the Cooperative Program, broadening the base of participation in SBC leadership, openness and transparency---I believe we share a similar perspective.

The most troubling thing in the interview is Page's discussion of the IMB issues regarding the policies on tongues/private prayer language and baptism. My disagreement with him on this matter is at the most fundamental level: he believes that "it is proper for the IMB to set theological policies which are not explicitly addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message," while I believe that this makes the BFM irrelevant and basically allows our trustee boards to redefine our doctrinal positions without us as a convention having any say. This also opens the door to the potential embarrassment of having entities that officially adopt doctrinal positions which are diametrically opposed to those of another entity. In such a case, which position would be the Southern Baptist position? That is why we have the BFM---to declare what our common doctrinal positions are---and no SBC entity should be allowed to redefine these positions.

I also find Page's position on the tongues/prayer language issue to be somewhat inconsistent. On one hand, Page states his concerns with the policy on prayer language: “'I just think in that one area there is a possible interpretation of a private prayer language [in Scripture] that we need to be very careful about saying, no. If there is some scriptural possibility there, [a policy forbidding it for missionaries] makes me nervous.' Page cited 1 Corinthians 14 as a passage which may be interpreted to permit a private prayer language, while noting that he does not personally have a private prayer language.” Just a few lines later, however, Page is quoted as supporting the exclusion of persons from missionary service who advocate and practice tongues. While I agree that 1 Corinthians 14 may be interpreted to permit a private prayer language, there is no doubt that this same chapter clearly says not to forbid speaking in tongues. In the same way that there is not agreement about whether this chapter allows for private prayer language, there is not agreement over whether tongues refers to a known human language or a completely unknown language. So how can a person say that we should be careful about prohibiting a private prayer language because Scripture may allow for it while at the same time prohibiting the use of tongues even though Scripture clearly says not to make such a prohibition?

On the baptism policy I also find myself in disagreement with Page. According to the Witness, "As to the IMB’s baptism guideline, while Page said he was not familiar with the details, he affirmed that he believes re-baptism is necessary in the case of a person who was baptized by immersion following salvation in a church with 'incorrect theology,' including one which rejected eternal security of the believer — which is the requirement of the IMB baptism guideline." I have discussed my opposition to this policy in depth (also in the comments here), so I will not go into detail about why I disagree with Page on this point. Let me just say that on this issue I see a bit of inconsistency in Page's position as well. In the interview he says, "We just need to be careful in our trustees that we hold to guidelines that are explicitly biblical and do not go beyond that," but this policy that he supports does not rest on one single explicit biblical statement or principle.

The interview reminds us that Page was a member of the Resolutions Committee in Greensboro that presented the surprisingly controversial resolution against the use of alcohol. To his credit, in the interview Page does not try to make an argument that it is wrong in and of itself for a Christian to drink alcohol in moderation. He describes his support of the resolution in terms of trying to preserve our witness. In many areas of the Bible Belt the use of alcohol, even in moderation, would seriously damage a Christian's witness (at least a Baptist's witness). However, there are other parts of the country and the world where drinking in moderation would have no negative effect on a Christian's witness. Why should a Christian have to abstain in these places? Why support a universal resolution in response to a regional matter? Why not simply pass a resolution encouraging us to set aside our freedom in certain situations if the exercise of our freedom would hurt our witness?

You may be thinking by now, "Why does this guy support Frank Page? On some of these controversial issues they are in total disagreement!" That's true, but on these issues the president of the SBC has little direct influence. On the broad themes that I mentioned earlier, however, the president's role is pivotal. It is in these areas that I believe Frank Page can make a significant change for the better within the SBC:
  1. The Cooperative Program---Before the election there was a great deal of discussion about the Cooperative Program, with close attention being given to the CP giving of the candidates' churches. Page won in no small part because his church gives much more to CP on a percentage basis than his opponents' churches. Page's church demonstrates that a church can give sacrificially to CP while simultaneously engaging in missions work. Hopefully this is a model that other churches will emulate. Unlike those whose churches give low percentages to CP, Page has the moral authority to challenge SBC churches to renew their commitment to CP. He realizes that for this to happen, people and churches must believe that their CP dollars are going toward worthwhile ministries that are making a real difference.
  2. Broadening the base of participation in SBC leadership---Describing recent SBC elections, Page remarked, "We’ve not had elections; we’ve had coronations." Page's election marks a new day in the SBC, at least temporarily, when a small group of leaders no longer decides who will serve as president. In the interview, Page announces his intention to "intentionally seek out pastors of every size church, including small and medium-size churches, young pastors and older pastors who are godly, conservative men who need to be involved." Since Page is not connected with the "Good Ol' Boy" system that many believe has tightly controlled the SBC for 25 years, expectations are high that he will appoint new faces to those committees chosen by the president.
  3. Openness and transparency---This is seen most clearly in Page's response to the recent revelation that in his doctoral dissertation he strongly advocated the view that women can serve in any position in the church, including that of pastor. Rather than avoiding the issue, Page acknowledges that questions about the matter are appropriate. He admits that in his dissertation he tried "to conform biblical passages to some cultural preferences of the time." He now refers to his former position as "extreme" and admits to being embarrassed that at one time he held to this position. It would have been easy for Page to say as little as possible about this issue, but he seems to believe that it is best to be candid and open about the truth, even when it is a bit embarrassing. In this he has set an example for all of us to follow, especially if we are leaders.
This interview gives us a good idea of who Frank Page is and what he brings to the presidency of the SBC. I have only touched on parts of the interview; be sure to read it in its entirety (use the links at the beginning of this post). What will Frank Page's presidency mean for the SBC? Only God knows, but in the interview Page explores the possibilities:
Speculating on what his election means about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention, Page offered two scenarios — a “blip on the screen” which would not result in meaningful change or a “true heart change” in which “the Cooperative Program is going to be strengthened and that we’re going to truly involve a larger number of godly, conservative men and women in the convention. And, instead of a tightly controlled convention, that it’s going to be more open for, I believe, healthy dialogue and debate.”
I am hopeful that we will see a "true heart change" in the SBC as a result of Frank Page's election.

5 comments:

Baptist Theologue said...

Tim, there has been a lot of criticism of the IMB trustees by bloggers because of the private prayer language issue. I'm wondering why the bloggers have not also criticized NAMB. NAMB also prohibits private prayer language:

“No person who actively participates in or promotes glossolalia shall be employed by NAMB in an exempt staff position. This includes having a private prayer language. A representative of NAMB shall counsel any exempt staff member who becomes involved in glossolalia. Continued participation will result in termination.”

http://www.namb.net/site/c.9qKILUOzEpH/b.574615/k.7598/Employment_Guidelines.htm

I'm just curious. Maybe you know the answer.

Baptist Theologue said...

Oops! The link didn't make it. Here it is again:

http://www.namb.net/site/c.9qKILUOzEpH/
b.574615/k.7598/Employment_Guidelines.htm

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear (cough) Brother Tim (choke),

I'm sorry, (wheeze) Tim. I liked your (ah-choo) article, but Dr. Page's use of the term "rebaptized" (scratch, scratch) set off my allergies again. I am allergic to that non-word. Every time a Baptist uses it, (cough), I cough, choke, sneeze, wheeze, and hyperventilate.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Tim Sweatman said...

BT,

I think there are a couple of reasons for this:

1. The IMB policy was only passed last November, while the NAMB policy has been in place a while. So the NAMB policy wasn't in the news.

2. The IMB passed its policy even though the president of the IMB has openly acknowledged having a private prayer language. Some have speculated that this was done to embarrass Dr. Rankin or force his resignation. I don't know about that, but it does seem rather strange that the president of the IMB is no longer qualified to serve as a missionary.

To be blunt, most Southern Baptists are not as interested in NAMB as in the IMB. In a discussion on Marty's blog about consolidating our missions boards, there seems to be a strong sentiment among some that we should just get rid of NAMB. I suspect this attitude or lack of interest contributes to the lack of scrutiny on NAMB regarding this issue.

That being said, I believe NAMB needs to eliminate this policy for the same reasons that I have been calling for the IMB to do the same thing.

**********

Jeff,

Get some Benadryl. I'm glad you're only allergic to that word. Just think what would happen if that word made you sick!

I agree that you can't rebaptize someone who has never been baptized in the first place. You can baptize someone who has had water sprinkled or poured on him or her, you can baptize someone who got dunked before they were saved, but if a person has been baptized according to the biblical pattern we should accept that baptism.

Baptist Theologue said...

Tim, thanks for answering my question.
BT out.