Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Joshua Convergence

Earlier this week in Winter Park, Florida, a group of 40 Southern Baptist pastors and seminary professors held a two-day meeting called the Joshua Convergence. The stated purpose of the Joshua Convergence is an admirable one:

The purpose of the Joshua Convergence is to give a voice to younger leaders across the Southern Baptist Convention who are strongly committed to biblical inerrancy, who support the goals and leadership of the conservative resurgence, and who unashamedly embrace biblical standards of separation and morality, in order that the Southern Baptist Convention might continue to hold to the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture in the future and the nations might be transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These stated objectives are ones that I can embrace. I am part of that group known as younger leaders, and I welcome another outlet for younger leaders to voice their ideas. I am strongly committed to biblical inerrancy, but I am equally committed to biblical authority and sufficiency. I am supportive of the stated goals of the conservative resurgence, and I have great respect for those who led the resurgence. That being said, if I believe that any of the leaders of the resurgence are doing something that is wrong, unwise, or detrimental to the SBC and/or the Kingdom I am going to oppose their actions. I unashamedly embrace biblical standards of separation and morality, but I resist efforts to cloak standards based on tradition, culture, or history with the mantle of biblical authority. My desire is that the Southern Baptist Convention would "continue to hold to the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture in the future" and that God would continue to use us in His work of transforming the nations by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There has been some speculation that the Joshua Convergence was organized as a reaction to the May 2006 meeting in Memphis that led to the Memphis Declaration. Since I was not part of the group that organized or participated in the Joshua Convergence, I cannot say whether or not such speculation is accurate. What I can say is that, like the meeting in Memphis, the Joshua Convergence issued a statement, the Principles of Affirmation. A different speaker expounded upon each point of the Principles of Affirmation; the Florida Baptist Witness summarizes what each speaker said. There is much in the Principles of Affirmation that I would readily affirm, but there are a few elements that I cannot subscribe to. I have listed the seven statements of the Principles of Affirmation below, with my commentary following each section. The original statements are in blue text, while my comments are in bold italic letters.
1. Truth — ‘This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night .…’ Joshua 1:8

We affirm the inerrancy of Scripture and the need for Southern Baptists to continue ‘to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3). We maintain that any departure from the sufficiency of Scripture in preaching, evangelism, counseling, missions, ministry, or ecclesiology strikes against the very truth and authority of God's Word. Pride and human sinfulness will draw believers away from biblical truth if they are not eternally watchful. The battle for the Bible must be renewed in every generation. We take our stand to continue in that battle.

I fully agree with everything except the last two sentences. To say that "the battle for the Bible must be renewed in every generation" suggests an offensive mindset that is looking for a fight. I prefer to say that we should remain constantly vigilant against the devil's schemes to undermine our commitment to the Bible as the Word of God.

2. Gratitude — ‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.’ Joshua 1:5

We affirm our deep thankfulness for those who have taken our Convention back to its theological and spiritual moorings. Because of the prayers and personal sacrifice of these godly men and women, we are the beneficiaries of seminaries that champion God's Word, evangelistic mission agencies, and a Convention committed to the Great Commission. We are deeply disheartened by anyone who would malign the motives of these godly leaders. Instead, we seek to continue in the direction they have established, joining them in service to the Lord Jesus Christ with the prayer that God's hand of guidance would be with us.

Again, I agree with this statement. I am grateful for those who led our convention back to a solid biblical foundation. I am also disheartened by those who malign the motives of their brothers and sisters in Christ. I do take issue with a couple of statements made by Jeff Crook in his address on the subject of gratitude. At one point he said, “Those who throw spears at our heroes are not just displaying their arrogance but also their ignorance.” Perhaps I am overreacting, but this statement seems to come dangerously close to hero worship. Crook also got in a potshot at bloggers: “They [the leaders of the resurgence] didn’t win the victory by blogging, nor were they armchair quarterbacks. They were in the game and on the field.” The majority of the bloggers that I know were on the field in Greensboro, are planning to be on the field in San Antonio, are on the front lines at this time, and most importantly are on the field in our own communities. He then went on to say, “There’s some young preachers tonight that need to put their hand over their mouth.” Excuse me, but who is being arrogant? The gist of Crook's remarks seems to be that anyone who disagrees with anything done by any of the leaders of the conservative resurgence is making a personal attack, is ignorant and arrogant, and needs to shut up. Unfortunately there have been too many instances when disagreement has escalated into personal attacks, but disagreement itself is not an attack or a sign of ingratitude or dishonor. I do want to applaud Crook for honoring the small church pastors who sacrificed greatly to attend conventions and vote during the resurgence.

3. Service — ‘Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth ... as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ Joshua 24:14-15

We affirm a God-given stewardship of service in our Convention in order to bring about His kingdom purposes. Our Lord has said, ‘Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant’ (Matthew 20:26). We are aware that - as with any human organization - the mechanisms of the Southern Baptist Convention can be manipulated. We commit to refrain from such practices. Instead, we will serve through any avenue God provides, not with the expectation of being elevated or honored, but only to please Jesus Christ. We seek a spirit of humility wherever we might serve.

I agree completely. Again, however, some of the remarks of the speaker, Jim Shaddix, detract from the impact of this statement. Shaddix wisely reminded us in pastoral ministry to "avoid the pursuit of vocational 'security' at the expense of serving God." He also acknowledged that even our "heroes" err and make mistakes. But then for some reason Shaddix decided to take a shot at bloggers: "When do these guys pastor their churches? When do they prepare? When do they do the seat time and the diligent study to prepare God’s Word, to interpret it rightly and to present it to their people in the preaching [event]? When do they go soul winning and share the Lord Jesus Christ. And maybe most importantly, when do they give themselves the fervent sacrificial prayer crying out to God for His anointing upon their lives and upon their ministries?" He went on to say that there could be good answers to these questions, but the accusation had already been implied. I wonder if the same questions could be asked of pastors who spend so much time going to conferences or various board meetings.

4. Holiness— ‘And Joshua said to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’ Joshua 3:5

We affirm personal purity and separation from worldliness. Convinced that a redeemed life produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24), we abhor compromise of biblical holiness, modesty, and temperance in the name of Christian liberty (Romans 6:15). Though we do not endorse pharisaical legalism, we resist attempts to accommodate standards of holiness to vacillating cultural norms. To this end, we oppose the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Throughout its history, our Convention has stood against the evils of alcohol. The present generation can in good conscience do no other. Further, we are unequivocally opposed to the antinomian attitude in some Christian circles concerning unwholesome and immoral language, cynicism, and profanity. We feel strongly that the Bible condemns such actions.

I agree with the first two sentences and the last two sentences. It's the part in between that I cannot agree with. I do not intend to have another discussion of the alcohol issue, but I can see no reason for the alcohol issue to have been brought up except as a reaction to the recent discussion of the matter. If you wish to provide an example of behavior that is unholy, at least pick one that is actually prohibited by Scripture and that Jesus did not engage in.

5. Unity — ‘Now the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of meeting there. And the land was subdued before them.’ Joshua 18:1

We are fully committed to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a summary of our common beliefs, and we desire full cooperation with all who share this commitment. Within our number are those with diverse positions on the doctrines of grace, aspects of eschatology, approaches to worship, and missions and evangelism strategy. While we cherish opportunities to discuss these differences, we reject all attitudes of mean-spiritedness, personal attacks, or intellectual and spiritual arrogance in these debates. Instead, we pledge to maintain a peaceable spirit and to work together in our common goal of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I agree and would love to see this be the norm in the SBC. I would also like to see a greater desire for unity with our other brothers and sisters in Christ.

6. Identity — ‘That this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?”’ Joshua 4:6

“We are wholehearted in our dedication to Baptist ecclesiology as expressed in Scripture for our understanding of what constitutes a local church. We are Baptists by conviction not by tradition alone, believing the fundamental principles which constitute a Baptist church are the very ones which made up a New Testament church. Such essential tenets of a believer's church, founded upon the sole authority and sufficiency of Scripture, include regenerate church membership, believer's baptism by immersion, believer's Lord Supper as a memorial, church discipline, local church autonomy, congregational polity, confessional fidelity, priesthood of the believer, separation of church and state, religious liberty, and an unwavering passion to carry out the Great Commission. We should never be prideful in being Baptist, but we should always be thankful in being Baptist.

It seems to me that we preach this better than we practice it (regenerate church membership, church discipline, separation of church and state). Based on this statement, I would expect all of the participants in the Joshua Convergence to openly support the Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership when it is offered again. Instead of being thankful to be Baptist (which is a choice we make), let us instead be thankful to be a child of God. I pray that all of us have the desire to make disciples of Jesus Christ rather than making good Baptists. By the way, could someone show me where the Bible describes congregational polity as as an essential tenet of a biblical church?

7. Mission—‘That all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.’ Joshua 4:24

“We affirm our desire for the nations to hear the gospel of Christ. Based on this conviction, we are committed to be personal soul-winners, to lead our churches and Convention in evangelism, and to support worldwide church planting. We commit to give sacrificially to missions and to encourage our churches continually to increase their missions giving. We are convinced that the Cooperative Program has been unusually blessed of God as a tool for training and sending God-called servants to proclaim Christ. Without hesitation, we desire for all Southern Baptists churches to grow in their giving to the Cooperative Program and encourage our state conventions to send higher percentages of Cooperative Program receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention.”

I fully agree, but would like to see a greater emphasis on making disciples instead of simply getting decisions.

What would be really great is for those of us who signed the Memphis Declaration and those who issued the Principles of Affirmation to meet together and discuss the issues that unite us as well as those which divide us. I fully believe that all of us are motivated by the same thing: to bring glory to God by carrying out the Great Commission in the spirit of the Great Commandment. I really think if we sat down together and talked to one another, prayed with and for one another, and got to know one another that we would realize that even though we may disagree on certain matters we are on the same side and need to work together for the Kingdom. If we cannot do this, then the Southern Baptist Convention is a dead man walking.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

South Carolina Bound

Tomorrow morning Maria and I are headed to the Low Country of South Carolina, about 20-30 minutes northwest of Charleston. We'll be meeting with a search committee Saturday morning at 9:00, then I will be preaching at their church on Sunday morning. My understanding is that this is not preaching in view of a call. I won't have access to a computer while I'm gone, so I hope nothing big happens over the weekend.

Please pray that God will give a safe trip there and back, and pray that both we and the church will discern and follow His will.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Crisis of the Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention is in trouble. For thirty years or so our baptismal numbers have been stagnant or even declining. Fewer than half of our members attend services on any given Sunday. The percentage given by churches to the Cooperative Program has fallen significantly over the past two decades. And even though our total membership is increasing slightly, the rate of growth is certainly not keeping with the rate of population growth. But while the statistics paint a pretty bleak picture, the crisis of the Southern Baptist Convention is not primarily one of numbers. The numbers are by and large the result of deeper problems, problems that are spiritual in nature. While these problems have plagued the SBC for decades, over the past few weeks they have been especially noticeable in the SBC blogosphere. The following are just some of the factors underlying the spiritual crisis that we as a convention are facing:

  1. The elevation of tradition to a level that makes it equal with Scripture. Now, no one in the SBC admits that he or she does this, nor do I believe that anyone in the SBC intentionally does this. However, many of the arguments in the recent debates over tongues/prayer language, baptism, alcohol, the Lord's Supper, and ecclesiology have been based on history and tradition rather than on direct biblical evidence. There is nothing wrong with history or tradition, but when we look to them for authority we are in effect denying the sufficiency of Scripture.
  2. The continuing effort to exclude people from positions of leadership and service on the basis of doctrinal views that are not clearly taught by Scripture (or even articulated in the Baptist Faith and Message). In many instances, this is a result of point #1 mentioned above. In case anyone has forgotten, in November 2005 the IMB Board of Trustees adopted policies disqualifying anyone from serving as a missionary who practices a private prayer language or was not baptized in a church that affirms the eternal security of the believer. The problem with these policies is that there in no solid, irrefutable biblical basis for them. (NOTE: I am not saying there is no solid, irrefutable evidence for eternal security; there is. I am saying that there is no solid, irrefutable biblical evidence that links the validity of baptism to a belief in eternal security.) These policies are based on a particular interpretation of Scripture. This interpretation may or may not be held by a majority of Southern Baptists, but other interpretations have just as much of a biblical basis. If we continue down this path of increasingly narrowing the parameters of cooperation beyond what the Bible clearly teaches, the SBC will lose many people who are passionate about their faith and committed to doing the work of the Kingdom.
  3. The willingness to assume the worst about those with whom we disagree. If I may indulge in a bit of hyperbole for a moment, there are some people in the SBC who seem to believe that either Paige Patterson or Wade Burleson is the devil incarnate and that every contentious issue in the SBC is the result of some conspiracy engineered by one or the other. There are those who believe that the Conservative Resurgence was nothing more than a blatant power grab by Patterson, Pressler, Rogers, etc. There are also those who believe that bloggers, led by Wade, are working to undo the Resurgence and bring theological liberalism into the SBC. Accusations of lying, character assassination, and even questioning the salvation of others are not uncommon. Allegations have been made about denominational leaders trying to undermine the leadership of other denominational leaders, even trying to dig up dirt on them. Whether such allegations are true or not, they are indicative of deep problems within the SBC. We either have leaders who are abusing their positions, or we have people who are willing to lie about these leaders. Neither option is acceptable. Some of us seem to have forgotten that we are not enemies, but brothers and sisters in Christ.
  4. A reluctance to engage in honest and open discussion with those with whom we disagree. I suspect this is related to the previous point. It is difficult to sit down and have a genuine discussion with someone you consider to be an enemy. It is much easier to try to discredit those with whom you disagree by labeling them as a liberal or a fundamentalist than it is to defend your own views. There are some who seem to fear that a genuine, open discussion of certain topics will lead people into error or confusion. Thus, efforts are made to suppress dissenting or minority viewpoints. In reality, such fears betray a lack of conviction in one's own position. If you were truly confident in your position, you would believe that it could hold its own when compared to other positions.
If we do not address these issues, the SBC will continue to slide into irrelevance and will eventually cease to be an instrument used by God to advance His Kingdom. We must reclaim a commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture, not just its inerrancy. We must repent of our pride, which manifests itself in a belief that our particular interpretations of Scripture are the only ones that can possibly be right. We must learn to differentiate between essential and non-essential doctrines, and we must be willing to cooperate for the sake of the Kingdom with those who agree with us on the essentials even if we differ on non-essentials. We must agree to disagree on those doctrines that are not clearly and unambiguously defined by Scripture. And we must love and respect one another, even if we do not agree on everything. Fortunately, there seems to be some movement in these directions within the SBC. It is too early to tell whether this movement will take hold of the SBC and bring about genuine repentance and a change of attitude, but there are many people praying that it will happen and working to help make it happen.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I'm Still Around

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting here or commenting on other blogs very much lately. (If you haven't noticed, please don't tell me!) For the last two weeks I have been working 50+ hours a week at the WKU Bookstore, so I really haven't had time to read a lot of other blogs and news sources, much less write anything. I'll probably be working there through this week, then I'm not sure about next week.

On the preaching front it looks like September will be a good month. I got a phone call yesterday from a pastor here in Bowling Green. He had lost his voice, so he asked me to preach at his church this morning. It went very well, despite the short notice. I'm scheduled to preach next Sunday at a church about half an hour from here. There is a possibility that this church may be interested in me as a pastoral candidate; I really haven't talked to them or even given them a resume, but one of their search committee members had a pretty in-depth conversation about me with my wife's brother-in-law. Then on the 24th I'm preaching at a church about half an hour from Charleston, South Carolina. I have had a couple of good conversations with one of their search committee members, and they are very interested in me. It sounds like this church and I would be a good match, but we'll know more after we go down there. Please pray that the Lord would give us a clear sense of direction and a willingness to accept His will no matter how everything turns out.