Carefully Controlled "Christianity"?
I have been wrestling with writing what's in my mind, about what's referred to the "Great Commission Resurgence", ever since I put up my last post. Frankly, there are so many undisciplined ideas running around in there, that it's hard to make them come out in any logical order. But a couple days back, Peg and I were talking about her Baptism, and some other things, and it sparked an idea. Let's see where it goes.
Peg was a Baptist when I met her. She'd gotten saved at a Revival, had gone forward in response, and had subsequently been baptized at age 13. And something occurred to me, about that, that lent additional meaning to baptism .. at least for me.
Peg has a real fear of water. She has great difficulty, to this day, simply letting a shower hit her in the face. And wading around in the shallow end of the pool, doing water aerobics, might be OK for her, but she could never put her face in the water and look around beneath the surface.
She's quite the opposite of me, in that respect. I used to spend summers at the Riviera Club in Indianapolis, at the pool all day. Jumping off the high board and getting water all over the Lifeguard in the chair over to the side, was my specialty. But not Peg.
So .. when Peg was Baptized, it was more than just a matter of obedience. She was placing herself completely in the hands of the pastor, who was going to lower her into the baptismal water, on her back (which would feel the most out-of- control). It was a real act of faith and trust, on her part.
When I was baptized .. in 1981 .. it was merely a necessity to join the church that I knew .. beyond any doubt .. God wanted us to attend. So Brother Mike lowered me into the waters, my feet slipped out from under me, but I just reached down with a hand and kept myself oriented and nobody was the wiser for it. For Peg, that would have been a moment of abject terror, and I know how traumatic that possibility was, for her.
We'd spent the previous years .. 1960 to 1981 .. in various Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, always studying what we believed. That wasn't much in the Methodist churches, but I'd gotten the Methodist Discipline .. the book which states a lot of things including their beliefs .. but in the Presbyterian Church, they took discipleship very seriously. And Peg and I both enjoyed that.
Then, one Sunday at Covenant Presbyterian .. where we'd been one of the 50 or so founding couples, Peg and I both got the message we ought to be worshiping in Pelham. So, we went back the next week, told them bye-bye, and started looking for a church home here.
The third week, we stumbled into FBC Pelham and I knew right then .. call it a witness of the Spirit .. that we ought to be there. So I told Peg my thoughts and we discussed it some.
That was the first Sunday in May, 1981. It took until the middle of September for her to be convinced to join First Baptist Church of Pelham (or for that matter, any Baptist Church). In the end, it was an urgent need for a 5-year-old-class teacher, at FBC Pelham, combined with a closing of some other doors, that convinced her God wanted us there. So we joined.
Her problem? She was never taught, in the church where she'd originally been baptized.. She was never discipled. She'd never heard about personal growth, not did she hear about what she should be doing as a Christian.
It was like they baptized her and then just "washed their hands" (her words).
But, eventually, she realized that God was ordering our lives so we could be where He wanted us to be, doing what He wanted us to do, and "Baptist" was all that was standing between Peg & I, and doing what God wanted. So, we joined and I was baptized by immersion.
Pretty much ever since we joined, in late 1981, she's been involved in teaching. She taught pre-schoolers and 5-year-olds most of that time, and has had small group studies, mostly for younger women (which is, itself, a real passion of hers).
Peg and I have been more "disciples" in FBC Pelham, than any other church we've been in. In the Presbyterian Churches (1971-1981), discipleship was a result of their orientation toward teaching, including preparing leaders for evangelistic outreach programs. In FBC Pelham, it's been less that, than it has been our involvement in the teaching itself. And I surely see God's hand in how that has played out. What I don't see, however, is zeal among the majority for personal growth. And, isn't a desire for personal growth .. regardless of the cost .. what discipleship is about? Placing yourself totally in God's hands, and going where those hands lead you?
Frankly, I don't see any sort of express expectation, from church staff, that people grow Spiritually, get involved in the work, or even gather together for the purpose of prompting one another to love and good works. Why else would the majority of Southern Baptists disappear from view, with no effort to require any conformance to the expectations that folks will attend, get involved, and grow spiritually. Well, except for the occasional beating up of the Sunday School leaders, telling them to do more of what it was (apparently) that produced this situation in the first place.
The Baptist Faith and Message is the consensus statement of faith, in the SBC. Yet I find precious few who have any idea what it says. When I question people, generally speaking their knowledge about salvation, church, the Holy Spirit and the other facets of "Baptist Belief" seem mostly limited to what they saw enroute to where they are. And it seems that, as long as folks attend and turn in their tithes, it's OK that they don't know anything else.
It's a bit analogous to someone knowing what street they took to get here, but know nothing at all about the map, or the city.
When I reflect back on the knowledge level, the Spiritual maturity, of the majority of the FBC folks I know, I have to think that yes, the SBC does, indeed, need a Great Commission Resurgence. So the question is: Where is that to come from?
It seems to me that the command to make disciples would be followed .. to be brought to fruition .. in the local churches, in the lives of the members of the Body of Christ, and by Missionaries wherever stationed. Doesn't have a lot to do with anybody's bureaucracy, or its efficiency. So if the local bodies aren't making disciples as they should, or the missionaries aren't making disciples as they should, then it's their responsibility to change. And that has precious little to do with whether money is sent to the CP or the seminary directly, how many people are on the States' payrolls, or what the entry requirements are for even being an SBC church.
And, from where I sit, nothing at all to do with the name of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Because of the autonomous nature of the local assembly, in the SBC, it'd be hard for the SBC to mandate any sort of performance levels from the local churches. So, if the SBC is to have any say in a resurgence, it seems to me they're going to have to first look at the source of the leadership in the SBC, and the only (mostly) common thread is the seminaries. I've heard wonderful things about them, but I have to ask if they are ingraining into the students there, a heart to insist on people, who join their churches, actually being disciples.
Strange thing: every aspect of this is under the scrutiny and control of somebody, somewhere. Boards of Trustees of the institutions, including seminaries, and Pastors and Deacon (or Elder) bodies in the local churches. Add to that, those folks who oversee State and local associations, and there are enough people around looking at the stats to have fixed it long ago, without a National Task Force and a year's study.
Unless perchance we've all been looking in the rear view mirror, without a lot of attention paid to the direction we're traveling.
I don't have any answers. The only thing I can think of is that our seminaries might start teaching students how to Pastor a church .. how to lead .. how to disciple .. how to project an attitude of expectancy, that members will take their faith seriously, and will begin becoming the disciples we should have been all along.
It will be interesting to watch. Building a great institution would be. But watching GM self-destruct has been interesting too.
As would have been, the Titanic.