Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Is The Curtain Rising?

It's an exciting time when the curtain starts rising in the theater. You know the show's about to start, the plot's about to be revealed, and you're going to be transported into another kind of reality for a while. Well, I get that impression these days, with reference to the Southern Baptist Convention, and particular reference to the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). Especially when I compare it to the 1963 version.

I smell a plot. An agenda. An objective. And not just to solve problems, either. And I can't wait for the plot to unfold all the way. I have a feeling it won't be long.

Let's start with a basic premise: that the fundamental Baptist Distinctive is the competency of the soul in religious matters. The Priesthood of the Believer. That's what's always been told to me, and that's also what Herschel Hobbs said in his book, "The Baptist Faith And Message". That hints at a kind of relationship to God, Priesthood, which would seem to refer back to the time when the Temple had priests, and the only intermediary between the Priest and God, was the High Priest. Well, in the Christian church, we have only one High Priest, and that's Jesus, Who wants a personal relationship with us. With you. With me.

When He mentioned that some folks who said "Lord, Lord" weren't going to see heaven, His rebuttal to their self-proclamations of worthy works was "I never knew you". Thus, I think it's important that we know Jesus, and that He know us. And, since He seems to want that, I don't want to settle for any less of knowing Him, than the maximum available.

There's an old axiom that "the minimum requirement often becomes the maximum obligation". I don't think that's supposed to apply to being a Christian, and I really feel the obligations of Christianity are more privileges than obligations, anyway.

Let's pile on another premise: Somewhere, sometime, someone wants to diminish local church autonomy, and priesthood of the believer, and move toward "top-down denominationalism". Authority figures. Directives. Requirements. Stuff like you see in other denominations, including those who determine which preacher will pastor which church. And if you want to become like them, the first thing you'd have to demolish is the Priesthood of the Believer. See, Priesthood of the Believer mandates, to me, autonomy of the local church! Autonomy in pastoral selection. Autonomy in local church polity, and in local church governance.

My dad always told me when I looked at a puzzling situation, to examine the facts, look at the possible explanations, and then pick the one that made the most sense. So, let's do that.

FIRST CHANGE: there was a subtle difference in the BFM2000, over the 1963 version. The first blatant one was in the Preamble; the 1963 version contains a statement that " ... Baptists bodies, both large and small, have issued statements which comprise a consensus of their beliefs." The 2000 version deleted that and included a new sentence "Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability."

WOW. I didn't see anything like that in the 1963 version, nor in the 1925. Doctrinal accountability? By whom. To whom?

It doesn't say. But I suspect that, if you check with First Baptist Church of Decatur (GA) and their pastor Julie Pennington-Russell, she might have an illustration.

NEXT CHANGE: 1963 Version says "Therefore, the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ, Whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures". The 2000 version said, referring back to the 1963 version and certain doctrines determined by that committee, "Our living faith is established on eternal truths."

WOW again. The foundation of my faith is no longer to be the Living Lord Jesus Christ (with Whom I need a personal relationship, remember?), but rather some "eternal truths." This one scares me, since if I have an authentic relationship with Jesus, the Living Man (and God), then your words cannot change it. If my faith is based on "truths", then you can slip in some new words and make some new truth; I'm sure some will go along with it and thus change their faith. And, let me hasten to add, my personal relationship is with the Man, the Savior, and is in line with what the Bible says.

ONE SMALL, BUT OBVIOUS CHANGE: The 1963 version said (referring to statements of faith) that "Such statements have never been regarded as complete, infallible statements of faith, nor as official creeds carrying mandatory authority". That statement was deleted from the BF&M 2000!

WOW! WOW! Why would that statement be deleted, other than as a part of a long-term plan to change the nature and the purpose of the document?

Which would, coincidentally, change the nature of the SBC, and the purpose of the hierarchical structure set up to (up until now, anyway) assist the local church in the carrying out of the Great Commission.

YET ANOTHER CHANGE: This one's a little subtle, but I think it's cute anyway. The 1963 version states the Bible is "The record of God's revelation of Himself to man". The 2000 version says the Bible "..is God's revelation of Himself to man".

This is important, to me, because God revealed Himself to man in His actions ... in what He did ... in the birth of Jesus ... in Jesus' substitutionary death on the cross ...in His disappearance from the tomb ... in His interaction with mankind on earth. The new version shifts the revelation to the words of the book, which I realize do reveal God and do reveal Jesus and do reveal the Holy Ghost. But, linking to the words rather than the deeds removes all hint of personal interaction of God ... of Jesus ... with you and I today.

Frankly, that's happened to me too many times, for me to accept any sort of hiding of God's desire to reveal Himself to man, today.

To you. To me.

AND FOR A REALLY BIG CHANGE: The Preamble of the 1963 version states "Baptists emphasize the soul's competency before God, freedom in religion, and the priesthood of the believer". The 2000 version amends that to "We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the word of God.".

First, there seems a "de-personalizing" of "the soul's competency before God", to "the principle(s) of soul competency...". Second, the obvious change from "the priesthood of the believer", to "the principle(s) of ... the priesthood of believers". Is the desire to move the priesthood to the church .. the ekklesia .. rather than you as a believer? Or me? If not, why the change?

ONE FINAL CHANGE: The Baptist Faith and Message 1963 said "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ". The 2000 version deletes that sentence and states "All scripture is a testimony to Christ, Who is Himself the focus of divine revelation". That's a big difference. It hints at a system of belief in which you and I can't go to Jesus for guidance, explicitly not for the interpretation of scripture, and presumably not for other matters, either.

SO, WHERE AM I GOING? Simple. Every one of these changes seems to de-emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus; both the availability, and the importance, thereof. Ironically, that's the one thing Jesus, Himself, said we must have to see heaven.

I don't know what all to make of this, but I do know one thing: IF I'm right, and the curtain is going up (as I surmised above) ... in the exposure of what seems to be going on ... then the curtain is surely descending on the Southern Baptist Convention.

22 Comments:

At 3:40 PM, February 04, 2009, Blogger Dr. Mike Kear said...

Great article! Well said, Bro. Bob!

 
At 7:24 PM, February 04, 2009, Blogger Aussie John said...

Bob,

Hmmmn! It seems to me that all SBC now needs is an infallible "Baptist Pope."

We've seen the Baptist popes, bishops, enclaves, etc. in this part of the world.

 
At 2:11 PM, February 05, 2009, Blogger Steve said...

Very well written, Bob.

Aussie, I'd like to autoclave some of those enclaves!

 
At 10:48 AM, February 07, 2009, Blogger Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

I absolutely love your blog....

 
At 11:00 AM, February 07, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Thanks for the kind words, folks. I appreciate them, and although I write because I enjoy it, your kind words give me all the more reason to continue.

 
At 11:05 AM, February 07, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

AND the thought that, in light of what I've seen a bunch of PASTORS (apparently)do at SBC Today emphasizes bigtime, to me, we need ordinary slogs in the pew to speak up and be involved and, occasionally, yell HEY .... STOP THAT!

 
At 1:32 PM, February 07, 2009, Anonymous Jerald said...

After retiring from an SBC church I've been working at a non-demon. church and your blog (and others) have done a really good job of keeping me up to date on what's going on in Baptist circles.

Also, I understand a little about where you are medically because I've been there too.

Blessings Bob. Keep up the good work (and word).

 
At 2:45 PM, February 09, 2009, Blogger Monte Erwin said...

Bob,

I think the curtain has slowly been lifting for years. In 1992, Janet and I suspected that the day was coming when missionaries would be forced to sign on the dotted line. On an Island in the Caribbean, we realized that the day lingered out there when we might have to say, "No." Then, in 2000, a new BF&M was adopted, and a red flag went up, and we knew immediately where this was headed. That same year there was already talk that missionaries both in the IMB and NAMB should be made to sign it. We were promised by the IMB president at Ridgecrest, while attending our Stateside Assignment conference, that his word on making missionaries sign would be an emphatic no. We left feeling very reassured. Then, on a January evening in 2001, Janet called me from an upstairs room in our home in Latvia, saying that I needed to come up to the computer and read what had come in on our e-mail. There it was--a message declaring it mandatory for us to not only sign in affirmation to the Baptist Faith and Message, but to sign, stating that we would teach in adherence to it, and that it would be implemented in and through our ministry overseas. In other words, it would be imposed upon the nationals of other countries.

We were deeply troubled. At first we decided to lay low and say or do nothing, but pray. For 6 months we prayed. Daily Janet and I would take walks. On one day one of us would say, "Oh, we should just sign it and move on." The other would argue against it. The next day we would take opposite sides of that argument. Finally, one day we found ourselves on the same page. We knew that we could not sign it with integrity (and we had grown up in a day and time when your signature on a piece of paper still meant something), we also knew that we could not impose this statement upon the lives of those we served in Latvia. We also knew that we did not want to be part of a precedent that might ultimately end up in the laps of Southern Baptist Churches, deciding on whether or not they would sign just to remain part of the SBC. But, we also knew that if we were going to teach our boys to stand with integrity in the face of wrong, we could not sign.

I will never forget the evening we sat with our boys around the dinner table and I tried to explain to them that we would be leaving Latvia and why. We all sat and cried. It broke our hearts. We loved this place, and these people. Latvia was our home, and Latvians had become our dearest of friends, and were like family to us. We left with heavy, heavy hearts.

But my point is this--what we are seeing today we have seen coming for years. If we will not be unified in our differences, then we will be torn apart by our indifference towards one another. Unfortunately, that's where we find ourselves. And all the while, what should be our priority in purpose is being diminished in the face of controversy. How saddened God's heart must be.

 
At 4:20 PM, February 09, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Monte,

I appreciate your putting this out there. Thanks.

 
At 7:49 PM, February 09, 2009, Blogger Alan Paul said...

Great comment on Wade's blog about Judas... you shed a whole new light on the discussion (silly in my view) of open vs. closed communion!

 
At 3:13 PM, February 10, 2009, Anonymous Johnny D said...

Bob

Ordinarily I think the only proper response to a conspiracy theorist is to chuckle at them and then move along to something important.
But you seem like an intelligent person who can at least be reasoned with, so I’ll give it a shot.

The purpose of the BFM 2000 was to answer the question “how do we know who Jesus is?” The BFM 1963 didn’t answer the question, so you had every Tom, Dick, and Harry out there teaching every crazy thing under the sun, call it theology, and then when they got called on it they used the “Jesus defense” so that they could ignore the Bible.

The BFM 2000 however made it clear, we know who Jesus is through the Bible.

I was a college student in 2000, while all this was going on. So our BSU held a debate over the issue. On one hand they brought in an old liberal (his definition of himself, so it’s all right to use here), who worked for the state convention. And on the other hand they brought in one of the state’s conservative leaders.

Not surprisingly, the old liberal used the “Jesus defense”, saying that the BFM 2000 took Jesus out of his place of glory and put the Bible there instead.

From there, the debate took an interesting turn. The two started laying out who Jesus was to them. The old liberal said that Jesus didn’t think homosexuality was wrong – that was just an OT thing, that Jesus was just one way to heaven – not the only way, and that Jesus would ultimately save everyone because Jesus was love, and a loving God would not send anyone to hell.
The CR guy did a masterful job of shooting all that down with scripture. The two argued back and forth for a few minutes, and then the CR guy asked what was the most insightful question of the night. He asked “why is it that your Jesus looks and thinks so much like you, and not the Bible?”

Boom.

When we divorce Jesus from God’s word people create idols in their own image and call them Jesus. But when our understanding of Jesus comes from God’s own word, then we know that we have found the one true and living God. Some may not always like what the Bible says, but I have found that the God we have is greater than the god we want.

The BFM 2000 reminds us of that fact.

 
At 4:44 PM, February 10, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Johnny D,

Thanks for weighing in.

The Bible is the standard for truth, and anytime someone teaches, tells, preaches, believes, something that's not scriptural, they're wrong.

It would have been a simple matter to address that without, in effect, "cutting the legs out from under" someone who genuinely knows Jesus.

And when I look at the SBC, today, through realistic glasses, I conclude the train is off the tracks somewhere. I mean .. Dr. Patterson refers to including in our membership numbers those who no longer have a connection with the church, as "lying to ourselves and to the public" ... and 40% of the messengers ... I'm presuming mostly pastors, vote AGAINST the repentance clause in that motion last year, I conclude that something is drastically wrong.

Knowing Jesus is the only thing I see that can re-unite what was once such a grand institution as the SBC.

Thanks for reading and commenting. Do come back.

 
At 11:05 AM, February 11, 2009, Anonymous Johnny D said...

WOW

Reading your comments on other blogs made me think that you were a fairly level headed guy, but the legalistic arrogance of your last comment just leaves me stunned.

So you’re really going to say that people who disagree with you on the BFM & the membership vote don’t know Jesus? If they did then they would agree with you?

I really am just stunned. I mean given ole Monte’s stand on the BFM (above), I doubt that we’re going to agree on much. But I’m not about say his problem is that he doesn’t know Jesus.

People disagreed with him, and he lost his job - and I'm sure you think that's a tragedy. But here you are disagreeing with others, and you're questioning their salvation!

That’s a charge that would even make our IBF brothers blush.

 
At 11:26 AM, February 11, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

I apologize for that last remark. I do not mean that those who disagree with me don't know Jesus.

I sent somebody a note the other day and said that we're a long way from the kind of unity I see in the church in Acts, and they didn't have the New Testament to guide them in all the learned theology we have now, which comes from the Old and New Testaments. But they had a much closer (time-wise) connection to the Person of Jesus, and to those who had been with Him, and to the Apostles, than we do. On a personal basis. And until the church (not the "local church") sees Jesus as the common bond of unity, we'll always find more things to divide over than to unite over.

That's what I meant and I'm sorry if it comes off as different. I'll leave it up as said, though, and your comment too; not trying to hide anything.

I'm particularly sensitive to anything that looks to me like any attempt to distance ourselves from the Person of Jesus.

I'll also say I can't know whether anyone but me is saved so I never want to do anything to indicate that anyone else is, or is not, a real Christian.

Oh .. my stance on Monte stems largely from the fact that he and Janet live one block from me, we've had fellowship together many times, they've spoken for an hour .. and were completely captivating .. telling what they did on the field .. to my SS class. So I see the flesh and blood results of things like Guideline Changes, which I also saw first-hand in visiting with Dr. Klouda in her home last summer. I'm not arguing against the IMB's rights to do that; but I do see the flesh and blood toll it takes.

Thanks for looking back in and commenting.

 
At 11:29 AM, February 11, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

And by "real Christian", I mean as opposed to those who only express a preference for Christianity over Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam, etc.

 
At 2:21 PM, February 11, 2009, Anonymous Johnny D said...

Bob -

On the “knowing Jesus” comment – fair enough.

But I think that it is interesting that, in your letter, you would point back to the Apostolic Church in Acts as an example of unity through Jesus. This year is our “Church Emphasis Year” in our church, and we have been working our way through the book of Acts for the past several weeks. The one thing that strikes me about the early church is that they are so much like us – especially when we look at their problems.

Yes the early church had unity (Acts 4:32 – 37). But how long did that last? A day perhaps? What were some of the problems the Apostolic Church struggled with, even as they “were of one heart and one soul?”

Ananias and Sapphira with held money from the church & tried to lie about it (Acts 5)

The church cared little for missions so God sent a persecution to scatter them (Acts 5-6)

Paul and Barnabas had to separate because Paul felt that Mark was not qualified to be a missionary (Acts 15)

Peter was a duplicious leader that had to be confronted (Gal 2)

The beloved of Jesus, John, spent most of his epistles fighting heretics and encouraging separation from them (2 John 1:9-12)

Does any of that remind you of what we’re dealing with today?

The early church, separated from Jesus by one generation – still led by those who walked with Jesus, was messed up. Why? Because it housed messed up sinful people. Does the SBC have problems? Yes it does. Why? Because it houses messed up sinful people.

There always have been problems, there always will be problems, because the sanctification process is a messy, messy business. When things stop being messy, that’s when you know that there’s real trouble – because that’s when we’ve stopped impacting the lost.

In a lot of ways, I think the SBC reflects the early church more than most realize. And that gives me hope. Because the church grew, people were saved, and God was glorified in the early church. And if people will pick their head up from the gutter of SBC politics, they might just see the same thing happening now.

 
At 3:02 PM, February 11, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 3:15 PM, February 11, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Johnny,

I was thinking of that time at the end of Acts 2 when all the believers lived together, and the stuff they did in 44-46, and the fact that the unity was even recognized in the favor shown by all the people.

It seems the more we grow, the less like that we look. And maybe that's just the way it is, given the propensities of human nature, and the fact that we cannot ever totally lose it.

I will also state that there are a couple other encouraging signs.

A) We're talking (you, me, and a lot of folks) about this kind of thing, and

B) We're being civil about it.

Amen on the gutter analogy.

 
At 4:33 PM, February 11, 2009, Blogger Monte Erwin said...

Since when did the BF&M become the revelation of God, defining who Jesus is? I think that's the point of this entire debate in the SBC. I certainly don't need the BF&M to reveal to me who Christ is. I think the written Word of God is adequate, along with His Holy Spirit. But I think this is part of the problem in the SBC. Somewhere along the way, we must have thought that God wasn't doing an adequate job and decided to take over in some of those areas.

 
At 4:37 PM, February 11, 2009, Blogger Monte Erwin said...

Oh, and Johnny D,

I didn't lose my job. We left of our own volition, because we didn't wish to be fired. Thankfully, in the eyes of God, that calling is still there and as far as He is concerned--my job is still very much available. :)

 
At 4:43 PM, February 11, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Monte,

:)

Which is why I try to put flesh and blood on the "collateral damage" of war.

I don't imagine I'll ever be a place where I'd have to sign the BF&M; I'd just tell them I'd signed my Bible and I ain't settling for nothin' less.....

I'm up for breakfast or lunch whenever you are.

 
At 3:24 PM, February 13, 2009, Anonymous Johnny D said...

Monte –

Where does the BFM try to “reveal” who Jesus is to you?
Where does the BFM try to usurp the Bible?
If you think the Bible alone is sufficient to reveal Christ, then you should like the BFM 2000 – because it points us to God’s word as the only authority of faith and practice.
If you would reread it (or my original post), they both affirm exactly what you claim in your last comment.

But if you’re content to just tear down strawmen of your own design, I don’t know what else to say to you.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home