Saturday, January 06, 2007

Private Prayer Language, the Cooperative Program, and Missions

Over the past week or so there have been some intense discussions regarding the issue of cooperation within the Southern Baptist Convention. At the heart of many of these discussions has been the issue of speaking in tongues, especially the practice commonly known as private prayer language (PPL). As most of you are well aware, in late 2005 the trustees of the International Mission Board established a controversial policy disqualifying anyone who practices a PPL from serving as a missionary with the IMB. Complicating the matter is the fact that for years IMB president Jerry Rankin has openly acknowledged that he has a PPL. Further complicating the matter is the fact that many Southern Baptists believe that there is a biblical basis for PPL, even if they do not practice PPL themselves.

I believe that this controversy over the issue of PPL poses a significant danger to the Cooperative Program, and thus to the effectiveness of Southern Baptist missions work. As increasing numbers of Southern Baptists are rejected as missionary candidates because they have a PPL, there is a strong possibility that their churches may choose to redirect some or even all of their financial support for missions either to support these candidates directly or to support another entity that welcomes these candidates. It is also possible that Southern Baptist churches in which the church leaders or a significant number of members believe in or have a PPL may see the IMB policies as a message saying, "If you have a PPL, you are not welcome to participate in the one thing that most defines what the SBC is all about." Even if no one from these churches applies to serve with the IMB, it is entirely plausible that these churches may decide that if the IMB doesn't want people like them to serve as missionaries then it doesn't make a lot of sense to send money to the IMB through the CP.

There is another way that this whole matter of PPL could negatively affect the CP. To be honest, I had never considered this possibility, but it was mentioned in some comments on Wade Burleson's blog. In one comment Geoff Baggett said, "The moment that someone makes the decision to send SBC missionary representatives to the field, knowing that they are active practitioners of glossolalia (even in private), there will be an instantaneous disappearance of CP dollars. The big “sucking” sound. The money will be cut off." (To be fair to Geoff, he made it clear that his church would likely not react in such a way.) In a later comment Peter Lumpkins added, "I have a hunch that, should such views become widespread, our Baptist family would likewise exercise their autonomous right, and unfortunately, the CP would probably be transformed almost overnight into a lamentable, empty hull, gutted of any real likeness to its former missionary glory." (Again, Peter said nothing to indicate that his church would curtail its support for the CP in such a case.)

So if prohibiting people with a PPL from serving with the IMB threatens the CP, and if allowing people with a PPL to serve with the IMB threatens the CP, what should the SBC do? The pragmatic solution would be to do an analysis to determine which option will be less damaging to the CP and pursue it, but somehow I get the feeling that God doesn't want us to make such a decision on the basis of how it affects the bottom line. My personal opinion is that the IMB should rescind its policy and allow otherwise qualified candidates who have a PPL to serve, just as they did for all the years preceding the adoption of the 2005 policy. Of course, a cynic might say that I support such a position because I believe that the biblical support for PPL is stronger than the arguments against it. I would surmise that those who believe that the Bible makes no allowance for PPL would prefer for the policy to remain in force. Thus, we are at an impasse, one that could divide the SBC, result in significant reductions in CP giving, and seriously undermine SBC missions work if it is not resolved. The $64,000 question, or I guess in this case the $200 million question, is how can we resolve this impasse and prevent the CP and our missions work from being irreparably harmed?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Say It Ain't So!

After 15 very successful years, Bill Cowher has officially resigned as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. While most of the experts, and even his own players, expected this to happen, I still held out hope that this moment would not come at this time. In his press conference, Cowher said he was leaving to spend more time with his family. For someone who displayed great emotion throughout his coaching career, Cowher didn't display a whole lot of emotion during his press conference.

Bill Cowher is one of the great coaches in NFL history. Overall his record was 161-99-1, for a .619 winning percentage (higher than Tom Landry, Paul Brown, Bill Walsh, and his predecessor Chuck Noll). In 15 years his teams made the playoffs 10 times, won 8 division titles, appeared in 6 AFC championship games, played in 2 Super Bowls, and won Super Bowl XL. During his tenure Cowher averaged 10 regular season wins per season; since 1992, the Steelers have more regular season wins (149) than any other NFL team.

Here are some interesting tidbits about Cowher's coaching career. Cowher won both his first game (defeating the Houston Oilers 29-24 on September 6, 1992) and his last game (defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 23-17 in overtime on December 31, 2006); both were road games. Cowher's first loss came on September 27, 1992, a 17-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Brett Favre's first start as the Packers' quarterback. Cowher led the Steelers to the playoffs in his first 6 season; Paul Brown is the only other coach to have done so.

In his press conference Cowher was careful to say that he was resigning rather than retiring, raising speculation that he might return to coaching after the 2007 season. After all, he is only 49 years old. I just can't bring myself to imagine Bill Cowher standing on any other sideline. He wasn't just the coach of the Steelers; he was the face (or the jaw) of the organization. Cowher is a Pittsburgh native and was a Steelers fan long before becoming a player or coach. After working for the Rooney family, I can't imagine that he would ever feel comfortable working for another owner. And throughout the long history of the NFL, few coaches who had great success with one team approached a comparable level of success with subsequent teams.

Where do the Steelers go from here? Early speculation is focused on Steeler assistants Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt, both of whom are being courted by other teams. Following the pattern of Cowher and Noll, the Steelers will probably focus on a pro assistant coach who also played in the NFL. It will be interesting, because the Rooneys don't have a lot of experience hiring head coaches; this is only the third time since 1969 that the Steelers will be hiring a head coach. Of course, that means that they do a pretty good job of hiring head coaches. While Cowher will be missed, I expect that the Steelers will end up doing just fine.

Incidentally, Cowher's departure means that the coach of my other favorite NFL team, Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans, is now the longest tenured NFL head coach with one team, having been the Titans' coach since 1994. If this season is any indication of the future, Fisher will probably surpass Cowher's 15 years with the same team. Given Titans owner Bud Adams' history with his coaches, this would be truly remarkable.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Call to Come Together

In a statement released today through Baptist Press, SBC president Frank Page issued a call for all Southern Baptists to seek reconciliation on "divisive issues" and focus on the very reason the SBC exists---cooperation in evangelism and missions:

“I believe that God’s people are more than tired of fighting among ourselves,” Page said. “I sense an overwhelming uprising of God’s people who say that it is time to get on with the issues of missions and evangelism. While we will not ignore our differences, we must pull together in a cause that is greater than any of our own agendas, opinions and interests.

“I believe that God’s people want to get on with Kingdom work.”
Southern Baptists have divergent views on a number of issues, including the sign gifts, ecclesiology, soteriology, eschatology, the role of women in the church, and the use of alcohol. This should not surprise us, as there is an old saying to the effect that whenever you get two Baptists together you end up with three different opinions on something. Because the Bible is not crystal clear to us on every single matter of doctrine, we are going to have differing views on some doctrines. This is OK. This may come as a shock to some, but we can disagree on some issues and still enjoy fellowship and work closely together within our convention as partners in carrying out the Great Commission.

Contrary to what some people seem to think, such cooperation does NOT inevitably result in a theological free-for-all where we end up including pedobaptists, sprinklers, Pentecostals, or even Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and/or universalists within the SBC. Cooperation does not mean that we establish no doctrinal boundaries. Cooperation does require, however, that we limit such boundaries to those issues that are clearly taught by Scripture and/or are core defining doctrines (not necessarily traditional historical beliefs) of Baptists. It is even possible to cooperate in the cause of evangelism and missions while debating our doctrinal differences.

As the various doctrinal differences within the SBC become more pronounced, we are going to have to make a decision as a convention. Are we going to follow the path of demanding doctrinal conformity on biblically unclear and/or relatively minor issues, or are we going to come together for the purpose of evangelism and missions and agree to disagree on such issues? There are many who would take us down each path. I stand with Frank Page in urging Southern Baptists to choose the latter path, for the sake of the Kingdom.