Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wacky World of NPR

In a recent NPR program (I was actually listening...don't ask), the host was interviewing a Christian missionary of some sort about her travels in hostile Muslim countries.

While discussing a closed Muslim country and its leader's refusal to permit Christian missions, they both referred to Franklin Graham's reputation -- in the U.S. and the world -- as "extreme."


"Thankful' or Frugal?

When the typical Christian sees the poor conditions endured by those in 'missions areas' -- usually parts of the world less wealthy than his -- he speaks of how seeing the desperate conditions should make us 'thankful' that we don't have the same need.

Instead, seeing the needs of others, and how much many of our fellow men live without, should make us realize how little we actually need.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reformed vs Southern Baptist: SBC Entities

[This is the seventh article interacting with a series by Les Puryear -- www.lesliepuryear.blogspot.com -- regarding whether Southern Baptists can be Reformed]

Many in the SBC view unqualified support of the Cooperative Program -- typically meaning that each church give "10% of undesignated gifts" to it -- as a litmus test for discerning true (SBC) believers. Because the perception is that those who hold a Reformed Baptist perspective reject such support, the conclusion is that it is impossible for one to be both Reformed and Southern Baptist.

Critics complain that Reformed Baptists aren't exclusive to Cooperative Program giving: that they also support non-SBC entities and agencies, most notably the Acts 29 network, which 'plants reformed churches.'

But the idea that Southern Baptists must only support official SBC agencies and entities means much more than support for the Cooperative Program. The SBC maintains a publishing arm, LifeWay, which prints a plethora of literature and runs retail outlets to sell it. If the criticism is to be consistent, then Southern Baptists should not purchase non-LifeWay literature or books from a non-SBC press. I remember one local education minister who tried to force all teachers to use only literature from the then "Sunday School Board" -- it was, in fact, as absurd as it sounds.

And what about non-SBC charity? Samaritan's Purse is not an SBC organization, but plenty of SBC congregations fall over themselves to participate in Operation Christmas Child. (I'm not criticizing the enthusiasm; I like OCC...I'm just sayin') To be consistent, pastors who hold to the same SBC-only mentality would have to tell their congregants not to give money or time or service to anyone but the local SBC church, local SBC association, state SBC agency, or the SBC itself. How likely is that?

Shibboleths are useful to detect outsiders. But even SBC shibboleths are due to be abandoned -- that is, the sacred cows tipped and processed for boots and burgers -- when they either don't reflect the essence of the group or actually serve to keep outsiders out.

In the case of the Reformed vs Southern Baptist debate, shibboleths used to characterize Reformed Baptists as outsiders fail on both counts.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Reformed vs Southern Baptist: Altar calls

[This is the sixth article interacting with a series by Les Puryear -- www.lesliepuryear.blogspot.com -- regarding whether Southern Baptists can be Reformed]

Those who maintain that Southern Baptists cannot be Reformed utilize the latter's caution about the use of "invitations", "altar calls", and the "sinner's prayer" as proof positive. Good Southern Baptists, it is asserted, will do all of these, and more, in "leading a person to Christ."

It is certainly true that we "persuade" men with the gospel, we "urge" men to be reconciled to God, and we make clear the urgency of the situation for those who hear the gospel, understand it, yet put off repentance and belief.

But this is not the same thing as concluding that the only way to persuade and urge men is to utilize the altar call. Nor is there any foundation for the assertion that a necessary and distinguishing feature of Southern Baptist practice is the invitation.

Reformed Baptists believe that the proclamation of the gospel IS the invitation, the expression of the good news IS the urgency: a preacher need not tack on to the end of his sermon non-biblical devices to CREATE them.

An additional problem with that view of Puryear and others is demonstrated in the description of the "sinner's prayer": 'The use of a "sinner's prayer" is a means to help guide the sinner to say what he wants to say to Jesus but doesn't know how.' Reformed Baptists would say to this that if a person does not know how to express repentance and belief, the gospel might not have been presented, and it might not be a good idea to admit to membership one who cannot express this basic work of Christ in his heart. Scripture tells us that when we "confess with our mouth" we will be saved, not that we will be saved when someone else confesses for us.

The worst example of straw-man argumentation and ad hominem attack, however, is this gem from Puryear:

'If your church doesn't want to invite people to Christ during a worship service then go ahead and call a reformed pastor to your church. But if you want for everyone to have an opportunity to come to Christ during all worship services, call a traditional Southern Baptist pastor.'

Again, if the proof of whether a church invites people to Christ is the use of an altar call, invitation, decision card or sinner's prayer, then something is terribly wrong with the preaching and teaching ministry of that church. And equating 'opportunity to come to Christ' with man-made devices and 'traditional' services is an almost perfect example of the man-centered, gospel-weak, Spirit-impotent approach to evangelism that Reformed Baptists prefer to avoid.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Proposition 8, federalism, and freedom

I once discussed with a couple of law school buddies the episode of then Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Federal Judge Myron Thompson's brouhaha over Moore's Ten Commandments display in the Alabama courthouse.

They were giddy that Thompson had judicially thumped Moore by ordering the display removed on the threat of huge fines and, ostensibly, military action if Moore did not comply.

When I suggested (only partially tongue-in-cheek) that Moore resist the order and compel Thompson to send in the Green Berets to storm the courthouse and take the Ten Commandments by force, they looked at me as if I had just performed an alien mutilation on a local cow.

They had no concept that significant issues of state sovereignty, federalism, and religious freedom were at stake. They were only impressed with the power of the federal judiciary.

We are again impressed with the power of the federal judiciary, but not in an altogether favorable sense. A single federal judge, Vaughan R. Walker, struck down the will of the California populace to find a "right" to homosexual marriage in the U.S. Constitution.

As Albert Mohler expressed it: "Judge Walker’s decision is sweeping and comprehensive, basically affirming every argument and claim put forth by those demanding that California’s Proposition 8 be declared unconstitutional. That proposition, affirmed by a clear majority of California voters, amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In one brazen act of judicial energy, California’s voters were told that they had no right to define marriage, and thousands of years of human wisdom were discarded as irrational."

This should come as no surprise, because all of government has come to signify the interest of a few, supposing that they are the brightest and wisest of the bunch, in controlling the lives of everyone else. From using Google Earth to find swimming pool criminals, to ordering every American to purchase health insurance, to requiring every religious objector to accept homosexual marriage, the trend is disturbingly definite.

Homosexual marriage, however, is a sort of piece de resistance: should its proponents succeed in making this the law of the land, it will have codified the underlying aim of homsexuality in general, which is to flout openly the Lordship of God in the world he created, and to revel in rebellion.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Reformed vs Southern Baptist: Elders & Congregational

[This is the fifth article interacting with a series by Les Puryear -- www.lesliepuryear.blogspot.com -- regarding whether Southern Baptists can be Reformed]

On this point, the criticism of Reformed Baptists is that they prefer an elder-led polity to one traditionally characterized as "congregational." At least on this point the criticism correctly cites the predominant fact: Reformed Baptists do favor an elder-led structure.

Yet clarification -- as seems to be the consistent need -- is in order.

Reformed Baptists do not favor single-elder, autocratic rule that overrides the will and voice of the congregation. In fact, this type of wayward leadership is more possible in "congregational" churches than in the elder-led form favored by Reformed Baptists. The Reformed concept of spiritual leadership is that each church be led by a team of elders, consisting of both staff and lay elders. In this structure, the preacher becomes the "teaching elder" and member of the elder team. Although he is the point man, no one elder overrides or vetoes the others. And the congregation remains the final authority, approving significant elder action, and approving or removing elders as appropriate.

Furthermore, elder-led and "congregational" are not mutually exclusive. An "elder-led, congregational" form is, after all, the example found in Scripture. Elders tend to the ministry of the word and prayer, deacons handle service matters, and the congregation remains the final authority in issues related to affirming elders' handling of doctrinal disputes and the discipline or expulsion of members.

The conflict between and elder-led structure and "congregational" form comes when the church is informed by U.S. style political notions of one-man-one-vote (pure democracy), rather than being conformed to the teaching of Scripture.

Additionally, the "priesthood of the believer" does not mean that every member has an equally valid opinion on every subject. If it did, teachers and preachers would be superfluous, and spiritual leaders an oxymoron. Scripture plainly teaches that there are differing roles for believers in each local body; to suggest that every member is equally able to lead ignores this truth.

Finally, it is unfortunately true that many Southern Baptist churches are neutralized by the presence of unbelievers with voting privileges. There are, as it were, tares among the wheat. To ignore this is naive. Our membership practices encourage little discernment in this regard, and granting a vote to every 'member' and granting members votes on every issue is inviting spiritual disaster, or at least virtual inaction. While an elder-led congregational polity does not completely eliminate this problem, it does a much better job at reducing the potential for having the foxes guard the henhouse.

There is no example in Scripture for a "congregational" form in which votes on every issue are put to the membership in monthly business meetings. God could certainly, if he desired, sanctify such a method, but the teaching of Scripture and the observation of experience suggest that he has not.