Thursday, July 26, 2007

It Says It, We Do It, And I Was. But.........

I've been so bemused, yet baffled, at all the hoopla about baptism that I sent someone whose opinions I trust, an email venting about it this morning. He responded by saying he agreed and that I ought to blog about it. So OK.

Let's start with the premise that God had The Holy Spirit write the bible, and various people interpret it, so you and I could read it. I doubt He did it just so folks with degrees could tell us what we should believe. So I'm going to talk about what I see in scripture, as a guy in the pew.

"...For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13, NIV)

Thanks to Ken Hemphill's Spiritual Gifts Study Course, I was awakened to the fact that the Holy Spirit Himself baptizes us into the body of Christ. Grasping the reality of THAT, I have to say I'm not real shot up about what man wants to do to me to take part in this or that. Nothing can hold a candle to God baptizing me Himself!

That does, however, give rise to a question: does He only do that when some "authorized person" baptizes me? I rather think not, and I have to conclude that water baptism is about the local church and its requirements, and not about the Body of Christ.

***And let me add this: Paul said we were all baptized into one Body, by the Holy Spirit. That canNOT be a local church, but can ONLY apply to the "universal", or ______ (insert your own non-offensive word) Body. Paul made that remark to the people in the church in Corinth, but Paul was baptized in Syria! I doubt that Corinth was into multi-campus churches.***

Some folks apparently like to major on minors.

On another front, we are told:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV)

I assumed from reading those verses, that making disciples has (at least) two parts. Baptizing and teaching. So merely baptizing does not a disciple make. And if that's the case, then it's an indictment of CHURCHES because there's such dismal discipleship going on in MOST cases. FBC Pelham has done a marvelous job beefing up Discipleship Training Hour .. we've gone from 30-40 to 200-300 folks there on Sunday afternoons. But that's out of 900 SS attendance and 2500+ members. So the CHURCH is doing a poor job of the "and" part of the commission.

Look at the typical happenings in an SBC church (at least I've experienced this many times, personally): someone walks the aisle and wants to join the church. Say they are already a Christian and we ask about baptism; they say they have not been immersed. We tell them they'll need to be immersed, so we schedule it, and we then consent to their becoming members upon their baptism. Or, say they are convicted of their sin and want to be saved. We pray with them, and then get around to the necessity of baptism to become a member.

Is it any wonder we have generations of people who equate baptism with joining A baptist church? We couch it in language about "following the Lord in believer's baptism" but omit any real education about the meaning of being baptized, and certainly about what it does NOT mean.

I had a discussion not long ago, with a deacon and his wife. They'd been Baptists forever and they've both been teaching for many years, but neither had ever studied the BF&M. Wouldn't good discipleship include teaching folks what it is we believe, and what it is we're supposed to have freedom in believing, but should certainly have our own position on? All most seem to know is "what our church does"! How "disciple-y"is THAT?

NOW .. if I go somewhere and lead someone to the Lord, and I baptize them (which I think I could do as I AM part of that "church" to whom the command was given), I'd be a moron to drop it there and not follow through to see that discipleship followed, too! (I would see to it, by hooking them up with the best local body of believers I could find). But lack of discipleship is what happens in far too many baptist churches, and is the reason why Peg refused to join FBC for the first 4 months we went there. She'd been saved and baptized in FBC of Lebanon, IN, and she described it as a "love'em and leave'em" experience. IN FACT, the ONLY reason she joined was that they asked her to teach a pre-school SS class (one of her 2 lifelong passions), and we had to be a member to teach.

Third, and I need some help on this ... where does it say baptism is our "identification" with Christ? As we all died with Adam, so we all came to (spiritual) life in Jesus. And His death, burial and resurrection are imputed to us via His righteousness and His sacrifice, just as death was via Adam. Those are spiritual transactions, and not contingent on some ritual to become true.

Also, if our water baptism is "identifying with" Him, it's only true for the onlookers. How does the next person visiting my SS class know I was baptized? Does the Bible even say that baptism "identifies me" with Christ? I don't recall it.

Peter said to the folks in Acts, upon the occasion of the first sermon under the current plan (sacrificial death, bodily resurrection, salvation by faith, infilling of the Holy Ghost), in response to the question as to how they might be saved "Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins". That's a pretty direct command and seems to me an argument for baptism being salvic in nature. I don't believe that, but even if I did, I'd think it was the Baptism done by the Holy Spirit, not by some guy in a robe. And that IS essential for salvation. For me, a refusal to be scripturally immersed, when the Bible says to "repent and be baptized", and when we know what that word means in the original and why it was transliterated rather than being translated as "immersed", hints at something that ought to get more attention than the mere fact of immersion, or the lack thereof.

Couple all that with the fact that Jesus INSISTED on being immersed, and I think obedience demands we be baptized similarly.

AND .. the baptist faith has been described as a fellowship of believers who feel that the proper response to salvation is being baptized by immersion. If someone does that, why aren't they as baptist as anyone else? And why would someone want to be baptist who didn't believe that?

This whole thing smells of "respecter of persons", to me. And that doesn't smell good.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Usefulness of Barns. And People.

When we went to Indiana for the reunion I wrote about previously, we went to our favorite "Hoosier Performing Arts Center", which is sort of a tradition with us. I decided to post about it, as it showed how a fresh owner can bring out purpose and function that prior owners didn't. But then the post sort of took off, and God showed me some parallels that I had to write about, too. And just now He pointed out one of my favorite scriptures:

Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)

The word translated "acknowledge" there is interesting; my Strong's says it is: "yada ... to know (properly, to ascertain by seeing) ...;". That tells me (and I may be wrong) that we ought to be able to recognize God's working in all our ways. In all that we do. And even in things that others have done, like the Red Barn. I know for myself, that if I cannot, then I'm missing the mark.

After I got to typing, here's what all came out.


This picture is of the Red Barn Summer Theatre, in the farmland near Frankfort, Indiana. As the name suggests, it was a barn which was originally used as such, but then came under new ownership; the new owners had a different use in mind.

In about 1968, a group of civic-minded folks came into control of the old barn building, which had served its owner-farmer for years. As such, it had certain uses and purposes, and served them well. But, when the new owners took over, they had different ideas. Certain structural changes and additions were made, its appearance was re-done, and the barn assumed its new purpose and was put to work.

Its new purpose is to entertain people, but in various forms. We've been there a number of times .. we go there whenever we visit relatives in the area (usually every year) .. and we've seen many different types of plays. I recall mysteries, love stories, comedies; just about every sort of play you can think of. And they were all good, no variety actually being better than the others. Sure, I like some forms better than others, but different people prefer different varieties.

I checked out their website this morning. In addition to explaining its purpose, it also sets out forms of support, for folks interested in helping them continue the tradition there. They have what they term Contributors, Sustaining Patrons, Benefactors, and Angels (I find it interesting that the highest form of involvement is Angels). And all are appreciated and each of the classes gets the same benefit ... two season tickets, and the expressed gratitude of the owners in their printed program each week.

The best reflection of how Peg and I feel about The Red Barn is that we go there, with some of Peg's family, every time we're in Indiana.

A couple of things are notable about the Red Barn. One is that the barn had no say in what its use became. The owners determined that. And, neither did the original builders have a say. For that matter, the previous owners didn't, either. It was all up to the new owner to determine that.

Another thing is that the new owners might, some day, think up a new purpose for it, and the barn would have no say in that. Changes might have to be made to the barn, and the owners would be responsible for that; both planning, designing, constructing, and paying.

So let's think about people. We're born into families who have certain ideas about us, our future, and our reason for being here. We grow up with certain ideas about where we're going and why we're going there. We use our heads and our hearts to make our plans, and we get on with it all. Just like the barn's original builders and owners. And we may go on with that for many years.

Ahhh .. but then we meet Jesus. And we find ourselves with new owners.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (NIV)

Now there's a change in ownership, and in purpose! I don't think it took that old barn long to notice the changes that came when it was bought with a price, and it shouldn't take us long, either.

Now, the new owners might have just let it sit, and if the barn was able to see things for itself, it might never have noticed. But the new owners didn't take over just to leave it the way it was, and neither did Jesus purchase us to leave us the way we used to be. And we know that, whatever variety of plan He has for us, He will make the changes necessary in us, and provide us with the things needed to accomplish those plans. If the owners of the Red Barn wouldn't leave out the stage, or the seats, or the lights, neither will our Owner leave out what we need, either.

**EDIT** I have to add this. Other people may have ideas what the barn's purpose is, or ought to be, or what ought or ought not go on in there, but it's ultimately up the owner to decide that. And it's up to the barn to comply, in purpose and in practice. While we may admire the structure itself, or enjoy what goes on there, all the credit goes to the owner. And I'd remind you that, while the Red Barn's owners may profit from advice and counsel, God Almighty doesn't need anyone to counsel HIM. HE speaks for Himself.**END EDIT**

My goodness, I could go on and on about this, so I'll close with this: You were bought with a price. You were created, Spiritually, to be about some tasks which your Heavenly Father set in motion before you were ever born. And, like the barn, they'll require some structural changes and some changes in direction, plus there may be one, or more, of many different varieties of service involved.

The results will be glorious, just as what goes on at the Red Barn Summer Theatre is a wonderful tribute to its new owners. IF .. you're willing to let your new owners make some changes, and then use you for His new purpose.

If.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

And Just WHY Isn't It a Creed?

The generally accepted view of the Baptist Faith & Message (pick a version) is that it's a consensus statement of faith, and not a creed. I think most folks would "Amen" that.

Now, I'm familiar with creeds, as I've been a member of Evangelical United Brethren, Methodist, United Methodist, United Presbyterian, Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod, Presbyterian Church in America, and Southern Baptist Convention churches. And I've, for 40 years, been one to pursue what we believe, so I've read lots of creeds. So I do understand what they are.

It never occurred to me that the BF&M was really different from that until the recent controversies arose. That got me to studying the BF&M, with particular attention paid to what it doesn't say ... and lately, a curiosity WHY it doesn't say it.

I'm no historian, but I'd guess that the 1925, 1963 and 2000 publications were all written after the Westminster Confession of Faith was published. If that's so, then I'm also guessing that the men who drew up our statements of faith knew what a comprehensive, sort of "all inclusive" creed looked like. I'm also assuming they were rational, and if they didn't write such a creed, it was because they did not intend to. So if the BF&M is loose in certain areas, they apparently meant it to be.

I doubt that we're such geniuses now, that we think we've noticed a bunch of stuff in the Bible that those writers didn't. And the Word of God is unchangeable, so I doubt we need to change our belief system because of what the devil's wreaking on earth.

I hear a lot about preserving Baptist traditions. How about the guys who were trusted enough by their contemporaries, that they were asked to formulate our statement of faith? And how about the fact that, when it came time to publish it, they included a preamble which you (should) have to read before you even get to the statements about beliefs?

The BF&M covers enough detail that I'm led to believe the writers included all the traditions within the BF&M, that they thought worthy of inclusion. Modes of baptism, meaning of communion, salvation by faith, these were all things (along with many others) that I'm sure were settled within the churches at the time, but they were spelled out nonetheless. And there were other traditions, I'm sure, that the writers purposely omitted. Worship styles, speaking in tongues, and who has to baptize you had all been dealt with, I'm sure.

Churches had settled on what they believed, likely with variations, and the writers of the BF&M were silent on them. So why are we raising traditions now, which may not even exist, to the level of the BF&M? And, as if to solve problems which don't exist either?

The Preamble says the BF&M is not binding on the conscience; I'm thinking that refers to the individual. So I'm free to disagree with it, I suppose, if it interferes with my conscientious application of scripture to my own life.

It also says that any group of Baptists is free to get together and publish their own statement of faith; the context indicates, to me, it's meant that groups can do that and remain Baptists. You don't need to give permission to folks, for them to disagree and leave.

We've heard a lot about upholding Southern Baptist traditions. But how about the tradition of steadfastly and repeatedly refusing to publish a creed .. a widespread description of our beliefs, to which members and bodies must adhere .. and repeatedly publishing a consensus statement of faith which explicitly gives believers, assembled and scattered, the liberty to listen to God with the counsel, but without the filter, of denominational hierarchy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How Not To Judge Not


Huh?

OK , let me explain. Everybody knows we're not supposed to judge others. Something about God holding us to the same standard as we're dishing out. But I've come to view that a little differently, lately, and I thought I'd share that.

If you drive much at all, you're going to see folks doing stupid stuff, like clipping a red light, cutting in and out, boulevard stopping, tailgating, driving with their fog lights on when there's no fog just because it looks cool (which would be my absolute PET PEEVE if I thought it was even OK to have a pet peeve), and on and on. When I got serious about Jesus, I started hearing from Him about the thoughts I was having toward all them malefactors.

Eventually, God has evolved that in my spirit to a real understanding that I really, really HAVE done all those things, and God has forgiven me. He's protected me from what could have been unpleasant, or even fatal, consequences of my actions. So when others do the things in my sight, that God convicts me of, and nothing happens (no cops around, for example), the thought in my mind is now one of gratitude for what He's done in me, not one of obedient (and gritted-teeth) forbearance.

But then another thought swept over me about judging others. I know the original word in the passage about that means to declare guilty. But how can we avoid doing that if we're going to make any sort of judgments about the behavior of others? When I start assessing the actions of someone else, I really see only two possible verdicts: innocent, or guilty. If I want to avoid declaring them guilty, I have to stop it before it starts. More about that in a minute.

This latest round of soul-searching started at the convention in San Antonio. In one of the workshops, I saw a mixed-race couple walk in, hand-in-hand. My old nature popped up and some thoughts ran through my mind, which I immediately cast out and reflected that they were a result of having been raised in an all-white-community in the North. For the record, let me state I have no problem with mixed-race couples. That's their business, not mine, in every respect I can think of. More about THAT in a minute, too.

A while later, I was talking to a reporter. He asked my opinion of the Resolution about the Dred Scott case, and we talked a while. I told him, among other things, I was less concerned about a 150-year-old Supreme Court case, than I was about a person's reaction to their waitress in a restaurant varying by race, or how we reacted to the mixed race couple in the workshop. He asked what I thought of that couple, and my answer was simply "judge not".

Here's where the light went on in my mind (doesn't make any difference to me if anyone else sees it, I did). If I do not have the right to "judge" others, that is, to declare them guilty, then neither do I have the right to judge them innocent!

I do not have the right to say it's not OK how you dress, nor do I have the right to say it's OK with me. Nor can I say it's OK or not OK for you to have a glass of wine with dinner. And I resolved, when I saw this little (perhaps invisible) light, that I would simply give it up. No more judgments, even if what I'm looking at is OK.

Let me add one more thought. If I am in a position of spiritual responsibility, as is the case with my family, I will be held accountable for certain things, before God. So I must judge certain things. And I will be responsible for my judgments. That may not be comfortable for me, but I must, nonetheless. And where God has given me any sort of format which carries responsibility, such as SBC activities, I must set aside personal preferences for non-involvement, and follow His leading. But you and I know that 99.9% of life, and 99.9% of the problems brought about by my judging others, don't happen on the convention floor, or while standing in front of my Sunday School class.

And, in the event that you struggle with this judgment thing, I dare say yours don't, either.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sunday's Snapshot: Old Friend, New Friendship

His name is Gene Pfaffenberger (or, as he remarked the moment I met him, Eneg Regrebneffafp spelled backwards). He was my roommate, sovereignly assigned by the Powers Who Were at Purdue in 1956, during a year in which my accomplishment were limited to: A) Learning to play, and love, euchre; B) Learning that I didn't really like beer, and; C) Flunking out rather spectacularly.

We went our separate ways after that .. I was from the northside of Indy and he was from the eastside. After I'd met Peg and we were engaged, Gene's and I were discussing going out together, and He didn't have a steady girlfriend at the time. Peg and I thought he might appreciate meeting someone else, and through a somewhat tortured series of events, we wound up indirectly fixing him up with Judy Shaw, a classmate of Peg's. They hit it off well enough that they've now been married about 47 years.

Most of this I mentioned in my previous post.

Gene and I had a lot of fun in 1956-7 at Purdue, and kind of enjoyed each others' company. But Gene went on to get his engineering degree, while I went to work as a mailboy for an insurance company. Gene eventually retired a couple years ago after a long career highlighted by, among other things, several patents in his name.

What makes it really interesting, now, is that we weren't Christians in college. I left Purdue .. permanently .. in the spring of 1957 and knocked around a few jobs before going to work for an insurance company, meeting Peg, getting engaged, and then playing a part in Gene and Judy getting together. Then, in about 1964, I got back into church and later in the 60's, got serious about Jesus. That culminated in our going on a mission trip to Haiti in the summer of 1970, after which I ran into Gene at a Men For Missions (the mission trip sponsor) Breakfast.

I asked Gene if he was there for the same reason I was, as I was just leaving with the friend I'd ridden with. He said he guessed so and I left after saying we'd have to get together sometime. What I didn't know was that Judy had been going to White Harvest Methodist Church, and had some guys praying for Gene. One of them had asked him to go to breakfast, and he'd agreed.

Gene got saved not too long after that, and we chatted now and then. Eventually, in about 1973, I'd heard a mutual friend, Dick Green, had moved to New Orleans, and I was going to be there on vacation. When I got to New Orleans, I called Gene from a phone booth and asked him for Dick Green's number. During the call, I said Men For Missions was having another mission trip to Haiti the following summer and I suggested he go; he said "We'll go if you will".. I said "Deal". Some months later, then, we signed up for the trip, and I called Gene and told him. Sure enough, Gene and his family signed up also.

Said all that to say this: 4 years before, we'd given a testimony at a little church in Port-au-Prince, the night we arrived in Haiti. This time, 1974, we got to sit in the same church and hear Gene and Judy give their testimony. Then it hit me:

When I looked at Gene, I could remember what I had seen in 1956 at Purdue. And that was anything but Christian. I could also see what he'd become, a strong devoted Christian who'd take his entire family to Haiti to tell folks about Jesus. And when I saw him and what had happened to him, I saw myself and what had happened to me, too.

We live 500 miles apart, now. I wish we lived closer. When I see him, I see the wonderful transforming power of God, with a strong reminder that as he once was, so once was I. And the change God had wrought in Him, I could not deny in myself.

I think it's good to see, now and then, how dramatic a change Jesus works in lives of those who will simply trust and obey. Which accounts for that being my favorite hymn, and the first one I ever could sing without the music.


"Trust and obey
For there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey"



Amen and amen.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Birthplace of a Miracle


I have no idea where this is going but I'll write it anyway.

The house in the picture is the house where Peg lived when I met her. Well, half of it is. If you look closely, you'll see two sections .. left and right, with an entrance door between them. Only the right half existed when I met her in 1958; the entrance and the left half have been added in the past couple of years.

On a side note, you know my feelings for my bride, and if you'd see how the kids at church react around her, and how she reacts when one of them gets saved, you'd know what makes her so special to so many people. Well, for most of her years, she'd lived in the original part of the house in the picture. No running water. No central heat and no heat at all in the upstairs bedroom where she and her sister slept. Most of the cooking was done on a coal-fired cookstove. But the house was so filled with love and respect, happiness and steadfastness, that perhaps there wasn't even room for most of what we think we can't live without, today.

We went, last week, to Lebanon, Indiana, for Peg's 50th Anniversary Reunion, of the 1957 Senior Class of Lebanon High School. I had more fun at this one, this year, than I ever have had at any class reunion anywhere. The entertainment was super, an Elvis-like entertainer, and I had a great time talking there to my college roommate, Gene Pfaffenberger.

One weekend in 1958 Gene needed a date, and Peg's friend Judy was available, so we double-dated with them. We were good matchmakers, apparently, as they've been married 47 years now. We've seen Gene four times I can remember since 1959, and this was the best and longest visit we've had. But I noticed something else interesting on this trip. I'll try to describe it to you.

The house in the photo is fairly typical for a Hoosier farmhouse. Most of the ones we saw this year as we drove from Lebanon to Kirklin to Frankfort, cross-country through fields of corn and soybeans, looked pretty much like this one. I'd be driving along between walls of corn on these narrow macadam roads, and I'd come across an acre or so of grass with some trees, a gravel drive, and a farmhouse. When I lived in Indiana from 1952-1975, I didn't appreciate how special they were. There's a charm and a beauty and the hint of history there, that's uncommon to me. Now that I go back, I see it.

Then I got to thinking of the times I'd walked the streets of Otterfing, Germany or Oakington, Cambridge, UK, and saw beauty and charm I didn't even know existed. The really funny thing on those trips is that the folks who lived there didn't seem to appreciate those things to the extent I did!

On this trip, this year, it dawned on me that I should try to cut through the indifference I experience toward what's around me, and try to see the beauty and charm, of that which I see every day. After all, I live in Alabama, and there's beauty everywhere you look, in most of the places I go.

But then it hit me: as well as God knows us, I don't think He ever, ever, EVER gets so accustomed to us that He fails to see the beauty. Even when I see the ugliness of my sin, He still sees the beauty of His creation, with all that ugliness swept away in the tide of the redeeming blood of Calvary. And that should make me furious at the sin of my members, for getting in the way of what Jesus gave up so much to produce in me.

And then there's you. God sees the same beauty in you, if you're saved.

So why don't we see that in others? I suppose I could make a lot of money lecturing if I could solve that one. But it starts with doing what I did, I guess. I went back to the start (in this case, of my life with my bride Peg). I think the spiritual equivalent of that is a journey to Calvary. And a reminder to look for the beauty there, too.

Like the beauty of those houses in the fields of corn and soybeans, it's been there all along.

At Least One Editor Gets It.....


The Motion at the 2007 SBC Annual Meeting in San Antonio has generated enough spin to affect the earth's rotation. But, in my opinion, one observer there, from the media, sure saw what was going on, and what the whole deal means.

Click here for details. And be sure you read all the way through the last paragraph.