Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Integration or Isolation: Where's the Balance?

In recent days there has been a good deal of discussion over issues such as "single-alignment" and "missions partnerships." The underlying question seems to ask to what degree it is possible for Southern Baptists to work with other agencies or groups without compromising Scripture or our missions mandate. Indeed these are difficult, yet crucial issues to ponder.

Just reflecting back over the past few decades it is easy to see how we have arrived at such a dilemma. With all of the theological struggles facing Southern Baptists throughout our six seminaries in the 60's through the 80's, it was necessary to define essentially who we were as Southern Baptists and what exactly did it meant to be "on mission." Are we, in fact, evangelizing if we are perpetuating a teaching which is contradictory to the Scriptures we hold so fundamentally essential to salvation? Certainly we could not imagine ourselves "partnering" with a group of Mormon "missionaries" to further the cause of Christ because the theological rift is too vast. Neither would we dream of "associating" with the work of the "Moonies" because their views are not even remotely Scriptural. So it becomes easy to see that there exists a need, even yet today, among Southern Baptists to clearly identify just exactly who we can and should "partner" or "associate" with.

The obvious answer would seem to be that we could and would partner or associate with any organization that affirms our statement of faith as outlined in the latest revision of our Baptist Faith and Message. This has served as the statement of agreement among Southern Baptists throughout history and has even led some to the realization that they are not/no longer in agreement with basic Southern Baptist beliefs. Shortly after its 2000 revision, missionaries serving at home and abroad were called upon to affirm the BF&M 2000 or to at least state any objections and provide clarification. Those who were unwilling to affirm it were removed from their positions of service, and the work of Southern Baptists continued having once again shown that, while we may agree to disagree on certain issues, there are some doctrines which we hold to be fundamental to the faith and work of Southern Baptists.

However, in more recent days, there seems to be a strong push to move the convention beyond the accepted statement of faith ratified by the SBC toward an unofficial statement of faith held by those in positions of leadership. Issues which have not been addressed in the BF&M 2000 because they have never been considered "essential" Southern Baptist doctrines, have now been pulled to the forefront. Consequently, it is entirely possible, in fact it is entirely actual, that there are those who have faithfully served the Southern Baptist Convention under the umbrella of the BF&M 2000 only to find now that their service is no longer desired because of what are indeed secondary and tertiary issues. But the problem doesn't stop there, this slippery slope gets even more steep.

Most recently, new church starts that have shown themselves to be effective at reaching a lost world (something that at one time would have impressed most Southern Baptists) with the uncompromised and unadulterated Gospel message have come under fire because of their missiological views and/or their association with other organizations. Now, keep in mind that the churches of which I speak unwaveringly affirm the BF&M 2000 and are singally aligned with a state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. These are CP giving churches that hold to the infallibility of Scripture and even, in most instances, practice the Scriptural teaching of church discipline, something that few traditional SBC churches actively do. Yet because these churches either do not do church the way it has always been done, or because they are part of an organization of which we as Southern Baptists have no authority, they are being questioned and often times maligned. And this to such a degree that for the most casual of observers to admit a modest admiration for the accomplishments of such churches or groups instantly places them in a position of suspicion by those who hold to a far more traditional approach to missions.

And why? Are these groups teaching contrary to Scripture? No. Are they opposing the BF&M 2000? No, again. Are they competing with the Cooperative Program? Still, no. So what is the problem? I fear that it is much more subtle yet heinous. I believe it is the fear of the uncontrollable. What produces the greatest difficulty with anger management? A sense of being out of control. Those who throw the largest stones at these works quite often come from settings in which they are not getting it done in the area of missions/evangelism. Too often they pat themselves on the back stating what a great job they are doing in discipleship and teaching about holy living to their congregations, yet the only growth their church has seen has been through birth, adoption or the occasional church-hopper. Rather than addressing the problem in their own setting it becomes much easier to throw stones at those who are accomplishing a great deal.

It's not unlike the new guy at the factory who hasn't been around long enough to know that he needs to pace himself. Instead, excitedly, he comes into the place and works up a storm. He turns out more material in a day than some of the seasoned veterans turn out in a week. Why? He just doesn't know any better. I mean, if he actually realized the stress he was putting everyone else under, he would slow up. So, instead of picking up the pace, these old timers begin casting aspersions. "He's a ladder climber! He's just doing it for show! He'll learn!" They spend more time criticizing this new employee for the work he is doing than they do accomplishing the work which they've been hired to do.

Somehow, we have got to get past this mentality of control and suspicion for the sake of the Kingdom and for the future of Southern Baptists. I long for the day when we can say to one another, "Great job! Hey, I like that! Keep it up!" We don't need to compromise to reach this world, we just need to get to work!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

What Do You Do With A General?

"I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas . . ."

I know, I know . . . you're probably thinking, "You're Nuts! I want Spring!!" Well, I'm actually ready for some green myself, but all of this white has reminded me of the holidays. Every year around Christmas time, our family gathers around the living room to watch some old classics. Invariably these will include Little Lord Fauntleroy, Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life, and, of course, White Christmas. I could quote most of these movies by heart because I have seen them so often. In White Christmas, Bing Crosby sings a song on a television program in an effort to rally the former members of his platoon together to honor their one-time general. The song asks the question, "what do you do with a general when he stops being a general?" That's actually a really good question.
It seems that often those who have served as generals during times of war make poor peacetime commanders. Douglas MacArthur once said, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." That didn't prove true for Patton, whose untimely death is still surrounded by controversy today. More recently, some newly retired generals have seized opportunity to criticize the leadership of their Commander-in-Chief with regard to military strategy in Iraq. Ironically enough, according to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, these generals never made mention of their concerns while they were serving their country in the military. It seems that opportunity was not at its peek in those moments.
"I'm in the Lord's Army . . ."
What does this have to do with our denominational situation? Sometimes those who have served faithfully as commanders have a hard time readjusting to "civilian" life. In fact, I don't believe that the struggle is always because of wrong motives or evil intentions. Sometimes, having lived their lives in a constant state of war, these generals are trained to take charge and to expect compliance with their decisions. However, when we are talking about the body of Christ, even pure motives can be used by the enemy to divide the body. Instead of utilizing whatever influence they have achieved to build up the body, they seem more interested in utilizing such influences to bring about their own perceived best plans.
Even parents have to learn this lesson. When their children grow older, the role of the parent changes. Yes, they are to always be an influence, but the desire to command or control the life of the child must come to an end in order for the child to stand on his/her own. This, undoubtedly, is the hardest lesson I have ever had to learn.
I sat across the table the other day from a seventy-something year old father who, with tears in his eyes, explained to me that he is currently seeking to rebuild bridges with a daughter because he never learned that lesson. Praise the Lord he is learning it now.
So what do you do with these types of generals? First, we should pray for them. Let's face it, change is tough even in the best of circumstances. Second, maybe they need to be reminded that it is God Who guides and God Who gives the victory and that it is okay to trust Him to fight our battles. After all, history has shown that He does a much better job than we do.