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!


timothy cowin said...


Good post, I am in St. Louis and as you know this issue is close to our hearts.

We will certainly lose as a convention if we keep pushing people away over issues not addressed in the BFM.

Timothy Cowin

Tom Willoughby said...


This is such a critical issue. Now it not only affects the MBC, but as of the XCom meeting yesterday it is evident that the powers that be fully intend taking this issue to the SBC as well. Unbelievable, but here we are.

Anonymous said...

Right on!!

I think one of the problems is the issue of controling power. This issue is driving 20 somethings away from our churches in droves. If you are not over the age of 50 then you have no authority to teach or lead.

The energy of young families is relevant in that they are more connected to current trends of our societies. Who better else to lead in evangelism than these? As your blog rightly states, it is the new church plants that are seeing the greatest church growth. It is because they do not know how "not" to do evangelism.

As long as a young church plant is firm in it's biblical teaching and adherring to the BFM, then who cares "how" they do church or evangelism. I am sure God smiles in approval.

Tom Willoughby said...

Thanks Bryant, I am very concerned about this issue especially in light of recent events in the Xcomm as Marty speaks about on www.sbcoutpost.com. What are you studying at Southern?