Starting this afternoon, I am taking 3 days of well-needed vacation. I've been on staff at Edgewater Baptist Church since March, working with volunteers to gut out houses. Since March, we've had over 600 volunteers and have gutted over 90 houses. In addition, I have spoken with most every one of the home owners we have helped, along with many others we were not able to help. Hearing their stories of loss and uncertainty has worn on me and I'm ready for some time off.
I'm taking a spiritual retreat to a Benedictine monastery called St. Joseph Abbey (True story: when I told my mom that I was going to a monastery, she laughed at me, accused me of lying to her, and asked where I was really going. I told her again and she laughed again and still didn't believe me. It took me three times of telling her before she took me seriously). I will be afforded 3 days of rest, reading, and prayer. One of the things I've noticed about ministry is how easy it is to become spiritually side-tracked. My goal this week, among other things, is to reconnect with the spiritual aspect of Christianity. I am grateful for my education, which has provided me with a greater understanding of the doctrinal aspects of Christian orthodoxy. However, often I have succumbed to relying on my knowledge of Christ instead of my faith in Christ. This should be a much-needed corrective for me.
I am pleased to leave all forms of communication at home. I'm leaving behind my laptop, internet, cell phone, and iPod. It will be God, me, and books (and lots of trees!).
If you feel compelled, pray for a restful few days for me. I leave this afternoon and will return Saturday afternoon. Also, pray for my friend Bart. He leaves this week for a mission trip to Romania. He will be preaching (and is in need of a translator) and ministering to a community.
Blessings and I'll "see" all of you in a few days.
Either my FEMA trailer has been condemned by the mayor of New Orleans or I was vandalized. Based on today's post by Kevin Bussey, I'm guessing the answer is the latter. Kevin, pastor of Durham Memorial Baptist Church in Charolette, NC, brought a team of 9 men down to New Orleans this week to help in our community. Yesterday he and his guys rolled my trailer with toilet paper; today they vandalized my home with "Caution" tape and put a sign in my front yard!
They have been a great group, in spite of the constant school-boy pranks :). They originally came down to gut out houses in our community. On the first day, they were blown away by the tremedous devestation. At lunch that day, one guy said it was so difficult he couldn't discuss it amongst us or he would start crying. That afternoon the group came to our church to help us finish hanging sheetrock. I guess they spent a lot of time thinking up pranks to pull because it's taken them 3.5 days to finish sheetrocking the church! What a bunch of slow-pokes!
Tonight we are going to celebrate their flexibility. We are going out to eat at one of the great New Orleans resteraunts, New Orleans Food and Spirits. It's close to the lake and they have the best crawfish and corn soup I've ever eaten! Thanks so much to the NC group for all of your efforts.
[Update: we went to dinner before I could finish the post. I'm back from the restaraunt and I only have one thing to say. The flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina messed up most of New Orleans, but the crawfish and corn soup at Food and Spirits tastes as great as ever!!!]
On a side note, let me say something about my thoughts on blogging and the SBC. Some have cautioned me about the contents of my blog, warning me that what I put in print might cost me later. There is much wisdom in such advice. There is much about blogging for which I am still very naive. I didn't even know what a blog was until November. Nevertheless, I recklessly entered the blogosphere in November and have met some very wonderful men and women over these last seven months. Let me make something very clear: As a direct result of my blogging, there are at least 3 churches that have made commitments to come serve in New Orleans this summer, specifically through Edgewater Baptist Church. If those three churches are impacted by what they see in our neighborhoods and go back to recruit other churches, then I will be more than pleased with the impact of this blog. The SBC is responding to the need in New Orleans but it is still not enough. We need more help to meet the needs of our community. Won't you inquire about bringing a group to New Orleans?
I had a phone conversation with a lady tonight who is about to turn 76. I had met her long ago through a mutual friend and she emailed me today asking to speak about Memphis. I called her and we exchanged pleasantries. I asked her how she got my email address. Her answer: "I read your blog every day." I almost lost it.
Apparently blogs are no respecter of age. She has served on boards in her state convention in the past and has been an active member of Southern Baptist churches for more than 50 years. She's been around the block a time or two when it comes to polical maneuvering; she worked at a Baptist entity for more than 30 years (that's my educated guess). She told me the last national convention she attended was in 1990 when it was in New Orleans. She asked if I remembered that one. I didn't have the heart to tell her I was only 14 at the time, though I'm sure she'll read this and find out :)
Baptists from all parts of the country, all walks of life, and all ages are surfing the internet to read the stories of the SBC. In my conversation with this lady, she told me she reads everything she can find, from both sides, because she's an intelligent woman who can make up her own mind. It was a good conversation and encouraging to me to know that there are many unknown, unnamed people who honestly care about the status and future of our convention.
Thoughts on Theological Disagreement from a "Young Leader"
I was conversing with a friend the other day about the term "Young Leader". I'm reluctant to use that term self-referentially because I don't feel 'young' when I get out of bed and, more importantly, 'leader' should not be a self-bestowed title. I'm just not comfortable with the phrase, but I know what others mean by it. Nevertheless, tonight I was reading essays from a book as I sat at a table at Cafe Du Monde (no intention of starting another reformation in the convention; I just needed out of Gentilly and wanted some beignets). I ran across a statement from one worthy of the moniker "Young Leader".
In the book Why I Am A Baptist, coeditor Russell D. Moore contributed the concluding essay entitled "Baptist After All: Resergent Conservatives Face the Future". Moore writes:
Baptist confessionalism is not a political movement. Still, if we bear the responsibility for carrying Baptist identity into a new century, we must recognize that we face a similar quandary. During the inerrancy controversy, conservatives could see easily how necessary it was for us to coalesce common commitment to biblical authority and confessional fidelity. As the Baptist left isolates itself further from denominational life, conservatives must avoid organizing ourselves into narrowly defined special interest groups of competing theological emphases.
There will be complete doctrinal unanimity among Baptist conservatives, but it will not be achieved until the millennial reign of Christ. Until then, we may never even agree on where it there will be such a millennial reign. On the foundational doctrines we must stand united and constantly work for even greater doctrinal consensus. But, contrary to the spin control of our critics, confessionalism does not mean lockstep groupthink. My coeditor and I understand differently what the Bible teaches about the relationship between Israel and the church, about the appropriate method of public invitation, and about various other second-order issues. We differ on these things, however, in the unity of a common submission to a larger framework of biblical truth.
The statements that seem most apropos at this juncture are Moore's comments about avoiding narrow factious groups and how confessionalism does not mean lockstep groupthink. His writing/editing relationship with the coeditor, Tom Nettles, demonstrates that cooperation can occur among Baptists of differing beliefs.
In the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, we have adopted three confessions to identify and proclaim our beliefs. These are the Baptist Faith and Message 1925, 1963, and 2000. I don't have the time to provide a detailed description of the history, content, and differences among these confessions. Such is not the purpose for this article. A confession, by nature, is descriptive. It describes the beliefs of its writers and adopters. It is not prescriptive. The purpose of a confession is not to coerce churches into believing certain doctrines but to identify some, or many, areas of agreement for cooperation among various churches or other organizations.
When the BFM2000 was crafted and brought before the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City, the messengers representing Southern Baptist churches voted to adopt the BFM2000 as the convention's confession. Major entity employees, seminary professors, and missionaries, among others, were required to sign in affirmation of this confession. It became the standard for cooperation among Southern Baptists in denominational life.
Then came November 2005.
At the end of a two-year study committee comprised of certain IMB Trustees, two changes in policy were presented to the full IMB Trustee Board. In simple terms, the new policies redefined acceptable baptism for missionary candidates and rejected the practice of private prayer language for incoming candidates. When a new trustee questioned the biblical foundation and practical implications for these policies, he was immediately ostracized and a request was made for his removal from the Board of Trustees.
The new polices passed and went immediately into effect. This means that since November 2005 no missionary candidate who fails to meet these two new theological criteria qualifies for service through the International Mission Board. Some have already been rejected and countless more will be disqualified upon application.
What do the BFM2000 and the IMB policies have to do with each other? Like the old saying goes, "You don't swap horses in mid-stream." But that's exactly what the trustees did. They restricted the theological guidelines for missionary candidates and discriminated against numerous Southern Baptists who are (or will be) called to missions. Although they have been instructed to abide by the BFM2000, IMB Trustees have switched their mount. Picture it this way:
The Southern Baptist Convention, which adopted the BFM2000, declared that the doorway into SBC denominational service is seven feet tall and three feet wide. There are many who can fit through such a door. The IMB Trustees, however, restricted the entrance to service in their entity by putting up various barriers. Now, for the IMB, the door measures four feet tall and one foot wide.
But don't trustees have the right and responsibility to set policies for their entity, you might ask? The answer is most certainly, "Yes". There are many qualifications and restrictions when one applies for NAMB or IMB service. You must be in good health. You cannot be strapped with financial debt. You must be able to affirm the contents of the BFM2000. There are others, but you get the idea. However, trustees have neither the right nor the responsibility to narrow the theological parameters for service beyond what the BFM2000 already states. Why? The IMB represents the entire constituency of the Southern Baptist Convention. IMB trustees do not have the privilege of restricting doctrinal parameters outside of those already set by the entire convention. If the messengers of the convention wish to redefine their understanding of private prayer languages and what constitutes acceptable baptism, then so be it. Until that point, the IMB trustees have overstepped their authority.
Some might argue that these restrictive measures are a clear reading and interpretation of the BFM2000. Those opposed to these policies, however, refute such an assertion. There is absolutely no mention of a restriction of private prayer language within the BFM2000. Others will say, "Well, most Baptists don't believe in private prayer." The problem with such a statement is that we aren't taking a straw poll to find the pulse of the convention on this. The fact of the matter is that some within the SBC do believe in and practice private prayer languages. Does that make them non-SBC? The emphatic answer is "No". There is absolutely no statement concerning the rejection of private prayer languages in the BFM2000. Private prayer language is a non-essential that must not be allowed to restrict missionary candidates from qualifying for appointment. The IMB already had sufficient policies in place for the practice of public charismatic behaviors (for an overview of the sufficiency of the old policies as compared to the new ones, see here). Private prayer language is different and was acceptable under the old IMB policies as well as the current SBC confession.
Concerning the restrictions on baptism, the NT nowhere ties the belief of eternal security to proper baptism. The BFM2000 does state that Christian baptism symbolizes the identification of a believer with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and that baptism is a person's "testimony to the faith in the final resurrection of the dead." However, this does not apply to the new IMB policy. They specifically make reference that the BAPTIZING CHURCH must affirm eternal security. Even if one wanted to interpret the article on baptism as symbolizing a belief in eternal security, there is no mention of requiring the baptizing church to believe such. Baptisms from evangelical churches that do not believe in eternal security would be invalid. I suspect we should revise our Bibles to read "one faith, one Lord, one SBC-baptism".
What is the significance of these two policies? They restrict the boundaries of fellowship and cooperation within our own convention, and they affect our own people. "You speak in a private prayer language? You're not one of us and unqualified to be our missionary." "Your baptizing church didn't affirm eternal security? Then you don't meet our doctrinal standards, which are different from the SBC."
In the end, Southern Baptists have two choices. Choice #1 is that we can allow these policies to stand, placing an undue burden on a missionary force that is already weighed down by spiritual warfare. Choice #2 is that we can recommend the trustees to reconsider the scope and gravity of their restrictiveness. They are godly men and women who have made a theological declaration that our convention has never endorsed. The 'battle for the Bible' is over. When will it be time to enjoy the peace, to prosper and grow, and to remain faithful to our heritage and confession while refusing to exclude many of our own?