Sunday, November 11, 2007

THE HOUSE DIVIDED

You be the judge.

I've not been involved in much of the SBC, beyond the local church we belong to, other than the past two years. But I've seen a number of things during that time which give me cause to wonder if the SBC is doomed to fall. And, in case you wonder where I'm coming from as a local church member, and how I get along with my Pastor, I posted about that a while back, here.

The first thing of which I became aware was the issue of the Board of Trustees voting, over minority objection of Wade Burleson and others, to reject IMB missionary candidates to whom God had sovereignly given the gift of speaking in an unknown tongue. That decision efficiently and swiftly established an "us and them" mentality. Folks now faced an additional and totally unnecessary division, over whether you did or did not believe in that gift's modern-day credibility. Lifeway's survey unearthed the fact that a majority of SBC'ers believed it to be valid, but we were told quite the opposite, and told it as established fact.

There is no room in God's work for that sort of misrepresentation. Period. And if you wonder if it was intentional, just ask yourself ... where's the apology for that gross misrepresentation? All I recall seeing is complaints about Lifeway's survey. In my opinion, that is the height of arrogance and self-centeredness. And it is unthinkable for people in leadership roles.

AND THEN ... Rev. Dwight McKissic preached a sermon in the Southwestern Chapel, widely publicized for its removal from the seminary archives for its potentially damaging effect. So, people could not go to the website and view the sermon, but in a masterstroke of hypocrisy (according to reports I heard), you could send them some money and buy it. Apparently it was only misleading and injurious if it was free. Or, better yet, perhaps Southwestern Seminary had adopted the ancient Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences.

Continuing the spread of division, SWBTS trustees then reacted by saying that, if a professor merely believes that gift is valid today, then that professor cannot teach at the seminary. If the sermon wasn't their motivation for the change, then I presume they discovered they'd cranked out a class or two of pentecostal preachers, and couldn't live with THAT any longer.

Then there was the matter of baptisms. The rules for that were made so restrictive that, were a candidate not baptized in an SBC church, they'd likely have to be re-baptized in order to serve. That said to me that a person could have been baptized in obedience to Jesus command, by immersion, and still not be "good enough" in that respect to serve. More "us and them" thinking in the Body of Christ, even among valid members of SBC churches now made ineligible for service by that decision. That, despite the fact that Jesus commands us to seek unity.

Apparently we cannot have unity with anyone who doesn't look just like us. I cannot imagine Jesus approving of that, in light of the fact that the early church came from a widely varying background, and I doubt seriously that specific rules had been formulated and disseminated to all the areas in which the church was found.

Is there any evidence that the churches in Galatia and Ephesus and Rome were familiar with, and teaching, the doctrine of eternal security? They were already a church when the New Testament epistles were sent to them, weren't they? Weren't they already baptized believers?

I was blessed to stumble into an exemplary case of the "us & them" matter. Shortly after Wade Burleson's first encounter with those issues, The Alabama Baptist ran an article about the resultant uproar, and the IMB BoT's motion to remove him from their midst. I read that and then wrote a letter to the Paper, telling them of my personal experience with that gift, and stating my displeasure with their action. A few days after the letter was published, I got a call from an SBC pastor not far from me. He told me his wife had read the article about Wade and the BoT and had been tremendously discouraged. He said she had a private prayer language, and had felt disenfranchised, and even alienated. But then, she read my letter and realized she was not alone, and the pastor looked me up in the phone book, called me, and thanked me for helping his wife to realize that.

I can only speculate as to how many other stories there are, out there, just like that. Only without any such resolution. And they would all have come about as a result of action taken by the IMB, through the BoT, NOT in response to any unresolved problems on the mission field (according to reports I have seen).

Let me give the IMB/BoT the benefit of the doubt and say they may have done it to "protect the work". If that is the case, if the decision was not to resolve an unresolved problem, then I believe that to be evidence that they did not trust God to protect the work. That is tragic; all the more so because those folks are supposed to be leaders, and examples, of the faith.

In the early times of the church, we see instructions like "Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins". That seems to have worked; I don't recall a lot of other rules. Perhaps it is, then, that the ONLY thing we're to unify around is the Lord Jesus. And in that context, Benjamin Cole's action at Parkview was remarkably consistent with one seeking true unity, the unity of the Cross.

He took down the American flag in the sanctuary.

I don't suppose there's anything wrong with uniting together as American Christians, but there's something outstandingly RIGHT about uniting as Christians, and just as Christians. And I think that's what we're supposed to be doing when we assemble ourselves together, isn't it? We do, of course, understand that some sub-sets want to emphasize this or that, or worship this way or that way, so we form other groups like Baptists or Presbyterians or Methodists, and that's really OK with me. But then the "Nose Doctor Syndrome" sets in.

Oh. Haven't heard of that? Two guys were talking one day about how specialized medicine has become. One said they even had doctors now who dealt only with the nose .. not ENT guys .. but REAL specialists. The other guy didn't believe him and was challenged to see for himself; just call a hospital and ask to speak with the doctor in charge of noses. So the guy grabs a phone, looks up a hospital, calls it, and asks the operator if he might speak to the doctor in charge of noses. Her response:

"Left nostril or right nostril?"

As to the current controversy: what's up with THAT? What is someone trying to accomplish?

If it's Wade Burleson, it seems that he's trying to keep the right to dissent, courteously, open and allow cooperating Southern Baptists to continue what I've noticed to be the strongest characteristic of SBC life ... the competency of the soul. Are we to assume that we're only competent to agree with those in power? That implies we are otherwise incompetent.

Are we to believe that's only in the eternal sense? That we're competent to stand before God, but not before men? I refuse to believe that.

Now, some people question Rev. Burleson's motives. Those people, in my knowledge, are those who do not know him. So, without dominant and persuasive evidence, I will believe his motives are what he says they are.

Now as to the BoT: it seems they are trying to keep anyone who disagrees with them, from the inside, from saying so. Perhaps they believe that is the best thing for the work, although I'd surely disagree with them over that. And history is filled with instances, both in things church and in things governmental, indicating that is as unwise as unwise can be to stifle dissent. Our COUNTRY was founded on freedom of speech. Should the SBC adhere to less than that (except in matters of National Security in the one case, and Personal Safety in the other)?

Courteous, loyal dissent has always been a welcomed fact in SBC affairs. Ironically, until (apparently) the conservative resurgence.

Yet the self-evident intent of the 2006 rules change is to stifle dissent. To keep people from speaking what they see to be the truth ... just look at the 2006 rules change. That's explicit. And that is the highest and most noble motivation I can attach to it! The other one is rooted in power and its corrupting influence.

It was human nature that produced the Inquisition, and that same human nature is at work today.

If you want my personal take of how all these differences in Baptist viewpoints come about, and how we can still all be SBCer's, you might check this out.

The folks in various corporate capacities are supposed to be "Spirit-led". All of them. Even the simplest look at the IMB/BoT-Burleson matter indicates to one and all that they cannot BOTH be right. I simply CANNOT attach pure undefiled motives to BOTH sides of the debate, or that the Holy Spirit is on both sides of this division.

Look at the facts. Discount the personalities. Hear what they've said. THEN decide who's dividing the house. Who's listening to the Holy Spirit.

ALL the changes above seem to have been instigated by the Board of Trustees of the IMB, or by the leadership at SWBTS. And I have to ask myself why the changes were made. Why? It wasn't because of problems that weren't being resolved in individual cases, and the only thing I can discern is that they were made to bring the beliefs of others in SBC life into line with what "leadership" wanted them to believe. And that, in matters inconsequential to what it has meant, for more years than I've been alive, to be a Southern Baptist. The only thing I can think of is that marching to every drum of the leader soldifies that leader's power. Or, that the only way those leaders can be comfortable and assured in their positions is to assure themselves that everyone "under them" agrees with them in all things.

Either is scary.

People like Wade Burleson or (insert your favorite controversial blogger name here) haven't been dividing the house. They can be ignored and left to their opinions. But those in power, in the SBC institutions, cannot. And they're the ones doing the dividing.

Wow. A good friend just said to me: "Where Christ is the Head of the Church, there are no divisions."

We KNOW what happens to divided houses, and let's face facts.

We're living in one.

8 Comments:

At 10:25 PM, November 12, 2007, Anonymous Lee said...

I've had the privilege of meeting Wade Burleson just twice, and from both of those meetings, I can honestly say, he's not the problem.

I was 21, just graduated from college and headed into my first ministry position as a youth pastor when the "conservative resurgence" began its move to gain control over the SBC, and in that phrase is the entire reason why we are experiencing what we are now seeing. When men try to control something that has a mission and purpose dedicated to serving the Lord, problems develop.

I believe that everything we do in ministry is the result of the moving and direction of the Holy Spirit. When we answer the call and find ourselves in the place that God wants us to be, the Spirit fills us, gifts us, and enables us to do the work of the ministry. We do not get the same results when we try to do that same work on our own. That's the daily struggle I have with my service in the church. I realize that, on my own, I am neither worthy nor capable of what I have been called to do. The Spirit must be with me, so I must be in God's will to have the ability to serve. I can certainly tell the difference when he is not there.

The Spirit is certainly working in both Wade's congregation, and in that of Dwight McKissic, as was quite obvious. Compare them to the SBC in terms of vitality and vibrance.

And I think that answers your question.

 
At 10:51 PM, November 12, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Lee,

Yes, it does.

 
At 5:04 PM, November 13, 2007, Blogger Paul Burleson said...

Bob,

Asking questions...drawing historical parallels...applying biblical principles... assessing decisions made...presenting personal observations...all these are essential for us to be truly followers of Christ. The pages of the New Testment ARE a testament to such things.

Struggles with personalities...ideas...directions...decisions...confrontations... and hiding none of the blood, sweat and tears in doing so is what the New Testament testifies to also.

All this so we don't become people of a dead religious system of belief and behavior that causes us to settle down to becoming a permanent resident in the Kingdom of the self-deluded. THIS is what the New Testament IS NOT about.

Your words help in the journey of becoming real and New Testament as Southern Baptists.

THANKS

 
At 5:34 PM, November 13, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Paul,

Thanks. Some day you and I have got to sit down and hash over why we do what we do. I think it's time for people with gray hair to show that we're not all old people, and that there's a reason why the Bible seems to equate wisdom with age.

 
At 7:41 PM, November 13, 2007, Blogger Scotte Hodel said...

Scripture passages I've committed/am committing to memory that seem appropriate:

"Do not forbid speaking in tongues." (I Cor)

"When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned."

Sounds to me like (a) the IMB tongues policy is flawed, and (b) public dissent has some history to it.

My 2 cents worth.

 
At 10:26 PM, November 13, 2007, Blogger Wayne Smith said...

Bob,

This is one of the best Posts on our (SBC) behavior pattern since the CR.
Paul warns us about this in 1Th 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit and 1Th 5:20 Do not despise prophecies,

I posted this on Another Blog and will share it here.

I have come to realize what it is that has Bothered me for the last year and a half. I started reading Blogs after my Pastor mentioned what was happening within the IMB of the SBC. The Lord laid Missions on my Heart when I truly accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. My youngest son spent 5 years in the mission’s field in Kyrgyzstan as a Lone Pioneer in mid to the late 90’s. You can read about Kyrgyzstan below.

Paul said that Believers are marked by they way they treat outsiders. The Christian church should have no barriers of nationality, race, education, social standing, wealth, gender, religion, or power. Christ breaks down all barriers and accepts all people who come to him. Nothing should keep us from telling others about Christ or accepting into our fellowship any and all believers (Ephesians 2:14-15). Christians should be building bridges, not walls.
What about fellow Brothers and Sisters in Christ?
Have you been Building Bridges or Walls since you started Blogging??? Or have you been attaching the Bridge Builders???
http://freenet.bishkek.su/kyrgyzstan/

In His Name

 
At 10:51 PM, November 13, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Wayne,

Appropriate questions for us all.

Thanks for commenting, and for the kind words.

 
At 9:15 AM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Ken Hearn said...

Where exactly did the rules of the SBC originate from? MAN
Where exactly does speaking in tongues originate from? God

Enough said.

 

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