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Cooperative Program Definition Reducing Cooperation?

As I sat in the convention hall that Tuesday in San Antonio, and as I listened to the discussion between the messengers and the Executive Committee over the adoption of a new articulation of an "old" definition for the Cooperative Program, I wondered what difference all of this would make. I wondered why the Executive Committee found it so difficult to give a clear answer. I remember one messenger asking for a simple yes or no answer. Instead of a yes or no, he got referred to some obscure text. Maybe there was a misunderstanding. Maybe it wasn't clear. Either way, I couldn't help but think that there was something that was at stake. Something was taking place. What was it?

My guess? I think that the the leadership hoped that this definition would create greater cooperation amongst Southern Baptist. After all, with about a quarter out of every dollar making it past the state conventions and onto Nashville, the IMB, and the seminaries, there is a temptation amongst many pastors to lead their churches to designate a much higher percentage for Nashville, IMB, seminaries, etc. This designation is seen by some to reduce the level of cooperation that is taking place on the state level. And, therefore, a reduction in cooperation means a reduction in the purpose of the cooperative program. This is where the definition comes in. If there is a definition of cooperative giving that necessarily includes giving through the state without designation of any kind, and churches want credit for cooperative giving (which they rightly do), then this potential fragmentation can be avoided! So, by pushing this definition through, the Executive Committee is protecting the unity of the Cooperative Program.

Unfortunately, it looks like the opposite is taking place. A recent article looking at Southern Baptists in California shows that there is a movement underway to create a competing state convention, a state convention that will give 50 percent of all that it receives to Nashville and keep 50 percent in the state. You can read the article here.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about what's taking place here. On the one hand, I understand the desire to see more money go towards Nashville, IMB, seminaries, etc. (In fact, I'd rather see 70 percent go out of state and 30 percent stay in. But 50-50 is a step in the right direction.) When the money makes it to the missionaries, we'll have greater excitement about the Cooperative Program. But, on the other hand, I don't want to see the fragmentation of the state conventions. It has been done before, but if it can be avoided, I'd avoid it.

The Executive Committee is thinking about the importance of cooperation and they are taking action. I think that we should follow them in their concern for the CP and we too should take action in seeking to perfect a system that is simply the best thing going. May God give us wisdom, as we seek faithfulness to Christ and his kingdom.

Ethics and the SBC (Part 4)

In this final post of the series, I hope to outline a different approach to teaching ethics in the church, especially as we train our children in the area of moral theology. This method is not revolutionary in the sense that the idea has been around for centuries (and I would argue is ultimately the biblical model). It is revolutionary in the sense that Southern Baptists have little grasp of this concept from my perspective. Thankfully, there are professors at two or more of our SBC seminaries teaching this approach to ethics to the future pastors, teachers, counselors, and educators in their classes. The catchphrase is "Ethics as Worship." The technical description is a deontological-virtue ethic.

Taking what we have already discussed regarding deontology and virtue ethics, we can put these together to give a definition to this approach to ethics. At the end, we will see how this works itself out in worship. As previously stated, virtue ethics focuses on the character of the person rather than the act. It emphasizes a life of excellence in light of the character of the person. Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas have given definition to the virtues, and the latter two have placed them within a Christian context. The key to virtue ethics is the development of the character of the person. This teleological (looking toward the end) approach looks past the minutiae of everyday life and seeks the end product. Virtue ethics provides a good foundation because it shows us that there is more to life than just the basic decisions we make each day. Virtue ethicists are not so blinded by the forest so as not to see the trees—they recognize that the trees make up the forest. However, the downfall of virtue ethics is that it often gives little direction on how to "build the forest." How does one build the character of a man without knowing the basic steps of how to get there? This is where deontology comes in.

Deontological ethics focuses on the act and the duty, or obligation, fulfilled by performing (or not performing) that act. In contrast to virtue ethics, deontology focuses on the here and now—what do I do in this situation. There are some forward-looking elements of deontology, but the focus is certainly on rule-keeping. Deontology falls short in its reliance upon human reason and its inability to address the necessity of supererogatory acts. Deontology greatly assists virtue in the way of putting some concrete steps to aid the journey to the virtues. It’s easy to say, "Be a wise person." But the steps of getting there are difficult. Deontology shows us the way by putting rules, duties, and obligations before us whose end is wisdom. Virtue gives deontology a forward-looking aspect by making one look to the character that is being built.

Let’s take a biblical example and show how this works. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) is probably the best example of how this works. Jesus begins with statements such as these: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God….Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God….You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world." That is all well and good, but how does one become poor in spirit or pure in heart or the salt and light of the earth? Well, Jesus then moves to address some of the Old Testament commandments. In some senses, he places greater restrictions upon those who seek to follow the commandments. However, I would argue that Jesus is showing his listeners that there is more to the commandments than a simple duty to keep. He is showing that a true understanding (and keeping) of the commandments leads to a virtuous life—one that is poor in spirit, pure in heart, and the salt and light of the world. Thus, the commandments give us specific duties to uphold but also point us to a virtuous life.

Now let’s consider how this relates to worship. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas develops an intriguing theme for all of theology and life. This theme has been called "exitus et reditus." This is a Latin phrase that basically means "coming out and returning to." For Aquinas, this meant all things come from God and, in their proper response, return to God. For us, it means that the actions we take are leading us to God if they are performed with the proper focus. We can look at it as being properly aligned with our compasses pointing due north (toward God) when we act. Otherwise, our actions are merely splendid vices. Thus, every action is an act of worship when it is properly aligned toward God.

Although the concept of ethics as worship is an enticing approach to the study of ethics, it is not without its own problems. First, this approach must define worship. While the Christian ethicist may certainly have in mind a biblical approach to worship wherein God is glorified in all things (1 Cor 10:31), worship could also be defined in numerous other ways. In essence, any approach to honoring a person, being, or object above all others would be a form of worship. Contemporary culture could be accused of worshiping man or material possessions. As a result, the ethical standards of a society may reflect such worship "practices." For a rightly ordered concept of ethics as worship, one should first look to the Shema of Deut 6:4–5, which reads, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Thus, the primary expression of worship is the complete love for the Lord from every part of the person. This is expressed in speech, behavior, and ethical mores; however, there is more to the concept of worship than mere behavior. Above all, it is an attitude of the heart and mind toward God that is expressed in ethical behavior. This attitude is also expressed in Rom 12:1, as Paul writes, "Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." Again, the emphasis is not on a particular set of behaviors for worship; instead, the focus comes on the attitude of the worshiper. Admittedly, worship is a difficult term to define, but one’s attitude of response toward God for who he is and what he has done is the foundation of worship for the Christian.

The next issue that needs to be addressed by the proponent of ethics as worship is to determine whether worship or ethics comes first. Some believe that ethics is the primary expression of worship, thus leading to the idea that ethical standards come before worship. Others argue that ethics is just one part of the expression of worship. Part of the difficulty stems from a false bifurcation of the two concepts. For a biblically aligned system of ethics, one must have both worship and ethical standards—one cannot separate the two and speak of one as if the other did not exist. Thus, proponents of the concept of ethics as worship are partially at fault for presenting a possible division between the two ideas. Even if a bifurcation of these two ideas is a false concept, one must still address the issue of which one comes first. In John 14:15, Jesus says, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." In John 14:21, Jesus repeats this concept in a different fashion, saying, "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." So, which one actually takes place first, love and worship or obedience? These verses do not offer a distinct division between the two, which should be noted for any discussion of ethics and worship. However, one can look to another biblical passage for further insight on the difference between ethics and worship. In Exodus 32, Moses had been on the mountain speaking with the Lord for an extended period of time. The people became impatient for Moses to return, so they asked Aaron to make them an idol to worship. In verse 8, the Lord informed Moses that the people had fashioned a golden calf and had worshiped and sacrificed to the idol. The people had not received a set of ethical standards from the false god and had no way to determine right and wrong based upon the "reality" of this new god; therefore, it would be difficult to say that ethics preceded worship in this circumstance. As a result, I believe that worship actually precedes ethics and that ethics is a response of worship to the one that we worship.

I believe this pattern of worship to ethics is also affirmed in the New Testament in 1 Peter 2. In verses 9–10, Peter encourages his readers, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." Following this proclamation of being the people of God and the response of proclaiming God’s excellencies, Peter urges his readers to live morally upright lives "so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation" (v. 12). Regarding this passage, David Horner writes, "This picture, rich in ethical content, is grounded in worship from beginning to end. We are called to be a worshiping people, to glorify God, and to point to His worth. And we do that in many ways, in fact, in all that we are and do. How we live ethically is actually an expression of worship. And the result, according to Peter, is not only so that other people will want to live ethically, but also that they will worship and come to glorify God themselves" (David A. Horner, "Speaking Freely: Dr. David Horner on Ethics and Worship," With All Your Mind 8 (2003), 4). Thus, an ethical lifestyle is a part of worship, but does not comprise the entirety of worship.

With a properly defined concept of worship and a forward-looking gaze to the character of the ones we are trying to teach, we can effectively instruct those in our church with how to live in this world. We receive from God and return our actions to God in love and worship, seeking to be virtuous people for his glory, not our own. When we teach our people about ethics, we show the end as well as the means, and the focus is on loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. It is in the last two (mind and strength) that I believe we find our ethical actions, but they are informed by the former (heart and soul).

One-On-One with Dr. Frank Page (Part 2)

In part two of SBC Witness' interview with Dr. Frank Page, Dr. Page discussed various issues dealing with the convention.

 

SBW: What do you think was the most important issue/resolution to come out of San Antonio?

FP: I think the most important part of the convention to come out was Ed Stetzer’s sermon, in which he challenged us to become missionaries of the twenty-first century, to become culturally relevant in our day and time, and he is so right. We train our missionaries throughout the world to be culturally relevant. Why can’t we do that here? So, that to me was the most important thing. Yes, there were many other important things that happened but I would say Ed Stetzer’s sermon was one of the most important words spoken and I believe and hope the people heard and listened.

 

SBW: Can you tell us your view on the resolution that was passed about re-affirming the BFM? There seem to be at least two different views on what exactly transpired.

FP: That’s a great question. The truth is that the BFM is somewhat like the United States Constitution. It’s interpreted by everyone according to their particular perspective. The resolution is being interpreted according to everyone’s own perspective, which is understandable. I think what happened, and yes, I was very much in favor of that motion – I think what the people were simply saying was this, “We do not need to become a legalistic denomination. We are definitely conservative, inerrantist people.” And the Baptist Faith and Message, that by the way, ten years ago was seen as a fundamentalist document and people were wondering how anybody could sign such a thing, and now it’s almost seen as a Moderate document. It’s amazing at the switch that has occurred.

My point is, I think the Baptists were simply saying, “We’ve gone far enough." We don’t need to put more strict parameters on everybody. We can’t agree on everything and to constantly amend the Baptist Faith and Message will lead us into an absolute anarchy. If you’re going to put in there something about speaking in tongues, are we also going to clarify whether we are a Calvinist or non-Calvinist denomination? Where does it end? It doesn’t.

At some point we have to say, “these are primary issues.” I think that is what the Southern Baptist Convention said in San Antonio: “This is our guiding document. Please be careful.” I think it was a plea. It was not a requirement. That’s why everybody can interpret it the way they want. Please, let’s not become a legalistic, narrow-minded denomination that expects everybody to agree on every primary, secondary, and tertiary point of doctrine.

 

SBW: What, in your opinion, is the most exciting thing happening in the SBC right now?

FP: The currently-being-developed 10-Year Strategy for Evangelism. I am very very excited about that. The details will be announced next year in Indianapolis, but, that to me, is the absolute most important thing that I could ever get on the table. The strategy is to have a multi-faceted, flexible, 10-year strategy for evangelism. Bobby Welch did a wonderful job of telling us what we need to do, but, at the same time, our churches need better to know “how.” It’s kind of a two-fold thing: seeking the revival that I believe God wants us to have and begging for that and at the same time to have a plan and a place to put some feet to the prayers, so, I’m excited about that.

 

SBW: What do you feel is the biggest threat to the SBC right now?

FP: People with personally-driven agendas that would rather see their agendas accomplished rather then joining together to do missions and evangelism.

 

SBW: Many have said that the SBC is in a period of transition or flux. Do you think this statement is true, and if so, what do you hope the convention will look like on the other side of the transition?

FP: I definitely do think that it is in a period of transition, or else I would not be president. Obviously, there are many people who are looking for a different style of leadership. There are people who are looking for some change and some involvement of people who have not been involved. There is some rejection of some more tightly-held control by a few people, so I think in the future it is going to be a far more democratic convention.

I believe that there are going to be multiple people running for multiple offices in the future which I think is very positive and very encouraging. I think we are going to continue to see our people rise up and make some decisions. So, it (the convention) is in transition. Some of those transitions may be very difficult but I think it’s going to be a far more democratic convention and I’m encouraging lots of people to consider running for president: young, old, black, white, Hispanic, Asian; I’m just considering a lot of different people to run for different offices as well.

My hope is that it will be a far more democratic convention then it has been, but it is in transition. How much in transition we will see. If my election was a blip on the screen and it goes back to one-candidate chosen months ahead by a certain number of people, then obviously the transition was short and will not have a lasting or long influence.

 

SBW: You have been a vocal defender of the Cooperative Program. Could you briefly share why you think it is so important for local churches to heartily support the CP?

FP: It is important for churches to adopt the lifestyle of Christ, which is a lifestyle of selflessness, which says that which happens beyond us is more important, and I think it is a tremendous opportunity to be involved in something bigger then ourselves, to cooperate in a team effort, and I just think that is following the lifestyle of Jesus.

We know, I know, everybody knows that our churches these days, because of information accessibility, etc., we don’t need a denomination like once we did. My point is we need to be needed. The CP is the greatest way to cooperate. There are some tremendous things happening out in our foreign mission field right now. Being a part of the CP is a way to be a part of that. There are some great things happening in our seminaries. Being a part of the CP is a way to be a part of that. There’s just so much going on that the CP enables a church to be a part of, and again, exemplifying selflessness, and just a spirit of saying, “We can work together and do a lot more together then we can separate.”

 

SBW: There has been a lot of discussion recently about the Cooperative Program and the complicated formula that decides where money is allocated. Because of this, some churches elect to bypass the system because they do not want their money going to certain entities. Do you think the CP needs to be overhauled, or do you think it’s fine the way it is?

FP: I would encourage a major study of the Cooperative Program. I think the states (state conventions) need to take a serious look at how much stays in the state, how much goes on to international missions and other ministries such as seminaries. I have for a long time in this state (South Carolina) been a strong proponent of taking a serious look at where the money is spent and how much goes where. I think it’s time to do some serious re-studying of all of those issues. I think it all ought to be out on the table.

 

12. When historians look back in a couple of decades, what do you hope they will say about your time as SBC president?

FP: I’m already hearing some people say that what they think, and if this were said it would be fine, that Frank Page was the people’s president. That my election was absolutely unexpected by Him and everyone else and that it was a rising up of the people to say, “We want something different.” I would think that looking back on it, it will be seen as a people’s movement.

 

14. The issue of barbeque sauce is one of intense conversation. Do you prefer mustard-based, ketchup-based, vinegar-based, or "no comment?" We understand your potential avoidance to this complicated and potentially explosive question.

 

FP: Vinegar, vinegar, vinegar. Vinegar-based barbeque, eastern North Carolina. I love it all. I had enough barbeque beef brisket to float a battleship last week. I like tomato-based, I like mustard-based, but I love vinegar-based. It’s very different and I hate vinegar, but vinegar-based barbeque: I like it.

 

Make sure to check back in a few weeks for the next interview in our One-on-One series.

One-On-One with Dr. Frank Page

 One of the visions of SBC Witness is to interview a personality of the convention ever so often in order to receive insight on his or her views on the goings-on of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. Frank Page, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently took some time to enlighten us on some issues.

This interview will be divided into two parts. In this first part, Dr. Page speaks of how being president of the convention has changed him as a man and pastor and also gives some advice to young pastors who are just entering minsitry.

The second part of the interview will be posted tomorrow. Make sure you read all about what Dr. Page thinks of the future of the SBC, the Baptist Faith and Message, and the Cooperative Program in tomorrow's post.

 

SBW: What is the most important thing that you have learned in the past year while serving as SBC president?

FP: The most important thing that I have learned in this past year is that God’s people are tired of fussing and fighting amongst Baptists and ready to do some serious work for the Lord. They are ready to be led in a unified way. I think the most important thing that I’ve learned is there is a grass-roots group of people that are just yearning for a new day with much more emphasis on missions and evangelism; I really believe that.

 

SBW: How have you grown spiritually in your fellowship with Christ by serving as SBC president?

FP: It has driven me to my knees virtually every day. It has drawn me closer to Christ then ever in my life because I have become more and more aware of my inadequacies as well as His adequacy. I have definitely gained a deep, deep appreciation of His power in my life. I also have to say this, that it has made me deeply dependent on and appreciative of God’s people praying for me. That has stood as the source through which the power of God has come and I am humbly aware of that.

 

SBW: How do you think serving as SBC president will make you a better pastor in the future?

FP: It’s made me aware of what I think is important and what is not important. It’s going to make me far wiser and discerning on matters that we really need to emphasize and that which we do not need to emphasize. So I think it’s going to make me a better pastor in several ways and that’s certainly one of them.

 

SBW: What have been you favorite, as well as worst, experience while serving as SBC president?

FP: Probably my favorite experience while serving as president was probably spending two hours with Rudy Giuliani and being able to share Christ with him. That was absolutely profound. I mean, to the point that at the end of the time of two hours I was able to ask him to pray and to receive Jesus with me, which he refused. But that was a wonderful witnessing experience.

The worst experience while serving as president is that there was a time not too far into the experience where I realized that there were people intentionally trying to hurt me. There were some people trying to spread some not true things about me and I had to be very confrontational in those situations. I won’t go into any specifics, but that obviously – you know, there are people that think that I must love conflict. I don’t love conflict.

 

SBW: Has it been difficult to find the necessary balance required to pastor a large church while serving as convention president?

FP: No, it has not. And that my sound a little bit odd, but it hasn’t, because I made a promise early on that I would not hurt the two primary callings of my life, and those are my family and my church. And so, while it may not have been easy, it has not been difficult because I quickly decided if there was a conflict, the SBC presidency would not be a primary calling and it would have to suffer. So, honestly, that’s not been tough. I’ve had to make some hard decisions but I knew what was right to do.

 

SBC: Many of our readers are seminarians and young ministers who are right out of seminary. What advice would you offer to a future pastor or a beginning pastor?

FP: Good question: multi-faceted of course. I would say, “Keep your focus on the Lord and His calling for your life. Do not be distracted by ambition of where always you need to be but concentrate on where God has you right now and serve Him with all your heart. Be a Kingdom-minded person. Be careful to stay away from distractions that will pull you away from missions and evangelism – and there are multiple distractions out there. Stay focused, stay clean, stay deep in prayer and ask for God to guide you every day. Pray every day the prayer of Jabez, that God would expand your boundaries and make sure you are praying for that to be done in ministry and evangelism and that God would give you somebody to witness to everyday.” Those are some of the things I would share with a young minister.

And as a far as convention stuff, “Don’t give up on us yet.” I intentionally involve large numbers of young people. I just got a letter yesterday from a 27-year old that served on one of our most important committees this year, thanking me for the tremendous opportunity for that, so I am attempting strongly to involve younger pastors in the process. And again, there are some guys out there that are screaming and demanding a place at the table. Because one demands it does not mean that one deserves it. At the same time I am intentionally trying to involve our younger generations in the process because, if you look statistically, our youngest generation is our least evangelized in the nation. And I have deep concern about that.

Make sure to catch Part 2 of the interview tomorrow.

 

DEFINING, DEFENDING, OR DE-FUNDING THE CP?

Counting MoneyI recently went to breakfast with a pastor friend. As we were eating we started talking about SBC politics, and so he told me about a couple who had been visiting his church for several weeks. This couple seemed really interested in joining the church. Yet, they told the pastor, "we really love your church and would like to join, but we just can't in good conscience be involved in a church that isn't missions minded." My friend was puzzled because his church is heavily involved in missions. They send out dozens of teams on short term trips, give lots of money to mission causes, and are involved in church plants and mission projects at the local, state, national, and international levels. How in the world could someone charge this church with not being missions-minded? By "missions-minded," this couple had a very specific idea in mind. They held in their hands a report of the state's churches and the amounts they gave to the Cooperative Program (CP). The report said that this church doesn't give any money to the CP.
      My friend was confused. His church does give money to the CP. His church gives money through the state convention. When he began to try and piece together exactly what was going on, this is what he discovered: because his church designates their CP gifts, they don't get credit for "CP" giving. 
      This church was concerned about a particular state Baptist college that doesn't have inerrantists teaching on the faculty, so when they give to the CP they simply ask that none of their money be given to this state college. Because they designate, even what might be considered the smallest of amounts, they don't get credit for giving through the CP (disclaimer: state conventions are autonomous and each determines how they treat CP and other funds). This church does get credit for giving to "Southern Baptist causes," but they don't get credit for giving to the CP. Therefore, in the mind of at least one couple, they are not missions-minded!

 This story is one illustration of a growing debate in the SBC. How should we count CP giving? The Executive Committee (EC) of the SBC was asked by the convention to define CP giving at the 2006 meeting in Greensboro and came back this year with Recommendation #12 which states:

The Cooperative Program (CP) is Southern Baptists' unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries.

    This recommendation did pass, but there was much debate surrounding it. According to this definition, it is only when a church gives a percentage of their undesignated receipts through their state convention that their money is considered part of the CP. Those churches who do not give through the state convention for whatever reason, be it doctrinal or practical, are not considered  churches that support the CP (interestingly, if they give the amount required to "SBC causes" they can still send messengers).

    The EC insisted that this has always been the definition of the CP. In fact, they stated this on at least 3 occasions during the debate. I will paraphrase Dr. Chapman's comments which clarified the definition:

The CP has always been considered a process, a delivery system through the state to the SBC and that is what it is today with or without this definition. It is the responsibility of the SBC as a body in annual meeting to change that process if it deems necessary. Because you have not instructed us to do otherwise we promote giving through the state convention and some on to the SBC…(emphasis mine). Only what comes through the state to the EC is considered CP. There are churches that insist on giving directly to Southern Baptist missions, the CP, when a church insists it is the authority in Southern Baptist life and we are there to serve. We do receive the funding, but it is recorded at the EC as "SBC Causes." It still goes through the CP but doesn't count as CP per se on the books of the EC.

    I want to briefly analyze Dr. Chapman's statements and make a few observations:
   
1) This has always been the definition of the CP, but is just now being affirmed. As Dr. Chapman and Michael Lewis made clear, this recommendation simply codifies what has always been the standard practice. The only thing that has changed as a result of this definition is perhaps people understand the process better (I know I do). What is new with this definition is that the Executive Committee and the SBC as a body have endorsed this definition which has traditionally been driven by the state conventions.

2) I am afraid that too many state conventions take literally his words when he says that churches are to give through the state convention and give "some" on to the SBC. That is exactly why this has become a problem because the "some" is being defined as less and less. The average percentage in recent years that all state conventions have passed on to the CP is between 36 and 37%!
   
3) It sounds like Dr. Chapman is saying "if your church does not want to support the state convention for whatever reason (liberal colleges, keeping too much money in state and not sending enough to our Southern Baptist entities, etc.) we as the EC will take the money, cash the check, use the money in support of the CP but you won't receive any CP credit for it." In other words, your church will be a contributor to "SBC Causes," but not a supporter of the CP!

    It is true that this has always been the definition of CP giving and does not really change anything per se. However, there do seem to be some scary trends and possibilities emerging:
   
     First, the convention is being led to a standard of giving for convention service. Last year at the 2006 meeting in Greensboro a messenger attempted to amend an EC recommendation that urged faithful support of the CP to make 10% a benchmark necessary for convention service. There was an ad hoc committee made up of state directors and EC leaders who originally had this language in the recommendation, but 10% was not in the recommendation when it actually was brought before the floor. The SBC voted down the amendment and voted for Recommendation #7 in the form brought to the floor. This year the EC has taken a smaller bite, but is working their way toward a standard of giving.
   
    It seems that one possible reason for such a recommendation is leverage when one wants to use a church's CP giving as a criterion for nominating officers, committee members, and trustees. It appears the leadership of the EC wants to disqualify for service those who belong to churches whose CP giving is below the nominal standard and motivate all churches to come up to that standard. What this means is: if a church chooses not to give through their state convention or opts to designate their gifts for any reason, then they are painted as not supporting the CP and not being traditionally Southern Baptist. The church's members will not get to participate on boards. If a church's member wants to run for president of the convention, he will be criticized in stump speeches that say you can't spell SBC without the C and the P. This means that solidly conservative churches who are giving large amounts to support cooperation among Southern Baptists will not be able to have their members serve in leadership capacities in the SBC, even though their churches may give liberally to the convention. Many churches choose to bypass giving through their state conventions because they want more money in the hands of our missionaries, seminaries, etc. These churches want less money in the hands of state conventions that fund professors who are wolves in sheep's clothing, leading college students away from the faith. They want less money going towards the "fat" that characterizes how many state conventions operate. They want their money going toward missions, not toward supporting state convention bureaucracies and ambiguously Christian colleges. This trend will mean that members of churches with these kinds of convictions will not be able to serve, even though these churches might actually give to the CP and their money be used by the EC.

      Second, it could mean more state conventions being formed. Bart Barber has already pointed this out on his blog. See here. 
      
      Third, it could mean some SBC churches de-funding the CP! This would happen in some because they want to support SBC causes without supporting their particular state conventions. This is obviously not something that the EC intended with the definition, but it could be a real effect of its definition of the CP. Also, while the EC thought (or hoped) this recommendation would deter the trend toward designated giving, it might backfire with churches seeking other avenues of missionary participation apart from the SBC, rather than going against their conscience.
     
      Finally, this recommendation is pushing our convention further down the road of defining cooperation in terms of money and not doctrine. The biggest problem with this trend and how we currently define cooperative giving is it threatens greatly the return to orthodoxy in our entities! The conservative resurgence fought for unity around doctrine, not program.
     
 This is the bottom line: we need to have a discussion about how we fund Southern Baptist causes. We are not connectional. State Baptist conventions are autonomous from the Southern Baptist Convention. We need to be clear that Cooperative Program giving, which by definition includes monetarily supporting a state convention, may rightly be necessary for one to serve in one's state, but it is not a prerequisite to serving in a leadership position in the SBC. All that should matter for one to serve the SBC, at least from a financial standpoint, is that a church give generously to support Southern Baptist causes. And a church can most assuredly do that without giving through the CP. If we do not settle this issue in the near future, it could potentially lead to some disastrous results in the SBC. Obviously a trend towards more designated giving threatens to undo the CP, so there is little doubt the Executive Committee thought it was defining and defending the CP when it proposed Recommendation 12. It would be a shame if the EC, in their zeal to protect the CP, has led us down a path that ultimately undermines the freedom and ability of Southern Baptist churches to financially support the many wonderful ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.

(special thanks to Dr. Greg Wills at SBTS and Nathan Finn at SEBTS for their insight into the workings of the CP)

 Jon Akin

Ethics and the SBC (Part 3)

In my last post, I discussed what I believe to be the basic approach to moral instruction/moral theology/ethics in the typical, conservative SBC church. I described it as the historical theory of deontological ethics, and then I brought out some of the critiques of deontology. In this post, I will discuss where I believe some SBC churches and many mainline denominations are heading in moral theology. These directions, I believe, are directly influenced by the culture in which we live.

The first direction I see is the path of utilitarianism. In my opinion, utilitarianism serves as the guiding principle for how ethics is done in the Western world. Utilitarianism seeks to provide the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people. Initially introduced by Epicurus, utilitarianism found its greatest exponents in Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Bentham describes the principle of utility as follows: "By the Principle of Utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question." (Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, chap. 1, par. 2). Utilitarianism is employed through the use of "moral calculus" which requires the decision-maker to determine which action will bring the greatest amount of utility to the greatest number. Since there is no uniform way to quantify utility, the decision-maker is faced with a subjective choice between two or more options. Utilitarianism, though a system of ethics in itself, is little more than another form of deontology. The difference is that there is only one rule—do the most good for the most people.

Utilitarianism is how our government works. What program will give the most support to the most number? Legislate that one. Now, of course, I am not naïve enough to believe that politicians do not have their own personal agendas and that their end goal is not to look out for ol’ number 1. Yet, utilitarianism is typically our expectation of the government, and now it is infiltrating our churches. Church members expect the pastor to "meet the needs" of the most number of people in his sermons. They expect the music minister to increase the pleasure of the majority by picking songs, hymns, or styles of music that meet the personal preferences of the majority. They expect the programs of the church to reach the needs of the most number of people (i.e., let’s sacrifice the needs of the elderly for the needs of the young adults because there aren’t many elderly left—of course this example could be just as easily reversed; or let’s neglect the minority communities in our area because we are mostly a "white" church). Gone are the concepts of sacrifice and service—slaughtered on the altar of utilitarianism. I am not suggesting that utilitarianism is being taught in the SS classroom or from the pulpit. I am saying that it is the dominant system of ethics by which many act in the church.

Another movement of ethics that has infiltrated our churches is much more subtle, but perhaps much more dangerous. This one is the communitarian ethics movement. This system of ethics is much less defined than deontology, virtue, natural law, or utilitarianism. It is amorphous because it is attached, in part, to postmodernism. Communitarian ethics asserts that the ethical mores of a group are established by the community. What constitutes a community? At this stage it appears any group of two or more people could be deemed a community. This system takes into account that various cultural groups could have different moral standards that they have developed through their own rational (or irrational) worldviews. This accounts for how cannibalism could be an accepted practice in the remote jungles of South America, but the Western world sees it as an atrocity.

From a Christian perspective, communitarian ethics has found it greatest proponents in Stanley Hauerwas and the late Stanley Grenz. It rears its head not so much in the poor ethical standards of those in the church, but instead in the response of the Christian to the culture when morality is out of whack. Take for example the homosexual marriage debate. The communitarian in the church is the one who says, "I would never support homosexual marriage personally, but who am I to tell another group of people what they should and should not do?" In making such a statement, this person is validating the idea that (at least) two separate moralities coexist in his world without opposition or contradiction. The subjectivity of this approach is debilitating to the Christian message, and completely shreds any sense of cultural impact for the church and the gospel.

Where do we go from here? What do we teach our children in the home and in the church? What can our SBC churches do to stem the tide of these movements? Those items will be the content of part 4 in this series.

Dispelling a Rumor

As many of you are aware, a booklet titled Building Bridges was distributed to all the messengers at the SBC Annual Meeting. Drs. David Dockery and Timothy George were the authors of the booklet, which included their recent addresses from Union University's Baptist Identity II Conference. A rumor has begun to circulate in the SBC blogosphere that Dr. Richard Land verbally accosted Drs. Dockery and George in San Antonio because of the former's alleged disagreement with Building Bridges. According to Dr. Dockery, it did not happen. The rumor is not true. If you have posted this rumor on your blog, please be advised that it is false and kindly remove it from your blog or print a retraction.

This is another example of why it is incumbent upon bloggers to make sure they have their facts straight before they post their thoughts where the whole world can read them. Southern Baptist bloggers who claim the name of Christ should especially be known for the integrity with which they blog. No doubt we will all make mistakes from time to time. But we must be diligent to stick with the facts, especially during this period of our convention's history when information is so often used as a weapon and where internet rumors and innuendos damage the reputations of godly men, local churches, and the entire Southern Baptist Convention.

A Belated Father’s Day Charge

 As Dr. Al Mohler so aptly put it, “Father's Day is fast becoming America's most socially awkward holiday.” Indeed, the absence of many fathers in so many children’s lives make celebrating Father’s Day an awkward time – even in the church. Yesterday morning, I struggled to teach a children’s message that the kids would understand since many of them either (a) don’t have a father, or (b) hardly ever see their father. Kids are having a hard time relating to a simple biblical and social concept such as fatherhood.

Tragically, even in homes where fathers are present in body, these fathers are often absent in mind. Most of the time, even in Christian homes, fathers are either passive pansies or ultra aggressive cavemen. Thankfully, the Bible gives us many patterns of how to be fathers to our children. In our morally-inverted world, we would do well to look at what it says. I know that many of the readers of this site are spiritual leaders among their communities, but let's remember that being a spiritual leader starts first in the home. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says,

"4Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6"These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7"You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8"You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.9"You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (NASB)

This charge is given to all of Israel. However, fathers would do especially well to heed this command since they are called to pastor the home. It’s interesting to note that before we can be good fathers and leaders of our homes we have to first understand that the Father (YHWH) is God and that He is part of a Triune Godhead (v.4). In order to be a God-honoring father we must first honor God. Out of this command flows three others. We are to:

1. Love God (v.5) – We are to love God with all of our heart (our intellect, or mind), with all of our soul, (our will, our essential person), and with all of our might (or strength, literally with intense physicality). In summation, we are to love God with all of our being all the time, fully and completely. We will not be a God-honoring father until we love God entirely. Second, we are called to:

2. Live God (v.6-7) – Looking at verse seven, there are three main ways that we can live our faith to our children. First, by teaching our children the Bible. It is never too early to read Scripture to your children. Won't it be wonderful if your children never have a memory of you, their father, not daily reading them the Scriptures? Some fathers catechize their children, which is a good practice, but it should not be a substitute for Scripture-reading and studying.

The second way we can live God is by talking your children the Bible. Verse 7 states that you “shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” We should constantly be immersing ourselves and our family with Scripture so that we may practically live out a Christ-honoring life.

A third way we can live God is by showing your children the Bible. How do we talk to our children? Do we yell at them? Do we get visibly frustrated with them? Do we discipline them out of anger? Do we ignore them? If we claim to be Christ-followers and are consistently teaching and talking the Bible to our children we must show our children that we can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. It is not true that it’s better to see a sermon and not just hear one. Our children need both.

Finally, we are to:

3. Keep God (v.8-9) – Scripture tells us to bind these words as a sign on our hands and as frontals on our forehead and that we should write them on the doorposts of our house and on our gates. We must keep God around the house and present everywhere. Yes, it would be beneficial to have reminders of God in the house but let’s beware of how we do this. Jesus rebuked the Jews who took this command literally (Matt. 23:5) because they were doing this practice to glorify themselves.

Let’s be careful as we put fish symbols on our cars, wear Christian t-shirts and WWJD bracelets. When we wear these symbols we bear great responsibility to Christ. If we are going to speed, cut people off on the interstate, and be a reckless driver, let’s take the fish off the back of our car.

I believe the principle in these verses is to celebrate and confess God consistently and diligently.

Love God. Live God. Keep God. If we can even make an attempt to heed these words we will be better fathers, our children will have better mentors, and our churches will have better shepherds.

San Antonio and the Future of the SBC

I was not in San Antonio this year. I wanted to be there, and as recently as March I still had a room reserved. But other responsibilities took priority and I needed to stay home. But like perhaps many of you, I did follow the convention via the live feed on the internet. I read the pertinent blogs that discussed all the issues. I had friends in Texas who were emailing, calling, and text-messaging updates back to me. So I am very familiar with much of what happened, though I admit my insights are limited. Still, I want to offer my thoughts about the San Antonio convention and the future of the SBC. 

First, the much-discussed resolution on the BF&M is not very important. I listened to the debate. I read the blogs. I spoke with eye-witnesses. I read the statement for myself. There is absolutely, positively more than one way to interpret the resolution. Some people voted for it because they thought they were simply reaffirming the importance of the BF&M. Some people voted for it because they thought they were sending a message to the trustees at IMB and Southwestern. Some people did not vote for it because they thought it was a step toward making the confession a “creed.” Others did not vote for it because Dwight McKissic spoke in favor of it. Confusion reigns because the resolution was worded in such a way that both Bart Barber and Wade Burleson could read it and claim victory. So it is not very important, whatever any given individual may think happened when the messengers cast their votes. 

Second, for the second year in a row the convention rejected Tom Ascol’s proposed resolution on integrity in church membership. In other words, for the second year in a row Southern Baptists publicly genuflected to the Religious Right but refused to go on record as Baptists. It is amazing to me that this resolution continues to be stifled every year. Last year it was stifled because the chair of the resolutions committee claimed that inactive church members make some of our best prospects for evangelism. This year the committee claimed that the resolution is a threat to local church autonomy, which is absurd because none of the scads of other resolutions that encourage churches about what to do are perceived as such a threat. Malcolm Yarnell argued against the resolution because it did not mention the importance of believer's baptism by immersion alone, which is a reasonably concern to be sure. At the same time one must wonder if such an affirmation is necessary in a resolution put before a body that is already 100% pre-committed to believer’s baptism by immersion. 

I have another theory about this resolution. It is not a nice theory. Some readers may be perturbed that I even suggest it. But I think it is a legitimate possibility. I think this resolution got no traction because Tom Ascol is the one proposing it. I think, just maybe, the hesitancy to deal with this resolution is at least in part a reflection of an anti-Calvinist (or at least anti-Founders) bias among many Southern Baptists. If I am right, it is a shame that we would rather go on record as being sub-Baptist than affirm a good resolution just because many disagree with the personal soteriological convictions of the man proposing the resolution. Serious question, asked in good faith: would this resolution have been killed if it had been proposed by Johnny Hunt or Steve Gaines? 

Third, it seems clear to me that there is a division among members of the Great Commission Council and other SBC leaders over the future vision of the convention. I know that some of you will be irked that I am posting that publicly on this blog, but I think it is self-evident and others have already alluded to it. For the record, I do not think this is a great divide; our agency heads and leading pastors and theologians agree on much more than they disagree. But I think there is a difference in priorities, or at least nuance. I do not think that the “dissenters” have created this difference of opinion among SBC leaders, but I do think that the blogosphere has created an atmosphere of debate in the convention that has allowed previously held differences in perspective among the “status quo” to become more public. Perhaps the SBC is not a two-party system after all. 

Finally, SBC politics in general and San Antonio in particular seems to be creating a shift in the blogosphere. Bart Barber became much more political in the weeks leading up to the convention, to the delight of some and the chagrin of others. Timmy Brister blogged about the convention much less, though admittedly he was already moving in that direction, just as Steve McCoy, Joe Thorn, and Kevin Bussey did earlier in the year. Wes Kenney seemed to move closer to the positions held by those considered to be status quo. Les Puryear seemed to move closer to the positions held by those considered to be dissenters. Just this morning Marty Duren announced he was disbanding SBC Outpost, arguably the most influential blog in the SBC. Art Rogers announced that he was changing the emphasis on his blog and would be blogging less about the convention. Wade Burleson and Ben Cole appear to be staying on their earlier course, though it remains to be seen what they have planned for the coming days. Jeremy Green and Robin Foster haven’t budged either. It will be interesting to see what happens on SBC blogs in the coming year. 

I think it is apparent that the SBC is at something of a crossroads. There are burning questions about ecclesiology, confessionalism, miraculous gifts, and Calvinism. All of these are important issues. But finding agreement (or peace) on any of the above issues will not bring renewal to the SBC. Neither will overhauling the bureaucracy, live-blogging conventions, holding more conferences, or reigning in allegedly rogue trustee boards. Many of these things are helpful, but none of them are the solution to our biggest problem. 

If the SBC is to have a viable future in God’s economy, then we must recover the gospel in our local churches. We must repent of our programmatic idolatry and recommit to being a gospel presence in our communities and to the uttermost parts of the earth. We must be willing to hold forth the words of life to our culture and not just condemn it for its moral ills. We must be willing to be self-critical. We must be willing to admit that we do have problems that more baptisms will not solve. We must be willing to quit labeling those with whom we disagree as “fundamentalists” or “liberals,” no matter how much it helps to further our personal agendas. In fact, we must be willing to jettison our personal agendas. Our only agenda should be the gospel, presented with what I call a “Baptist twist,” by which I mean our Baptist understanding that the gospel is best lived out in the context of local bodies of regenerate, baptized believers sold out to the lordship of Christ and committed to the Great Commission. 

Brothers and sisters, the only hope the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have for real revival is a gospel revolution. Some will say we do not need it because we are not liberals or because we still baptize 350,000 toddlers, previously immersed believers with tender consciences, and transferring Methodists and Presbyterians every year. Some will oppose it because we may have to change the way we do some things. Some will think I am blowing smoke and that the real problem(s) in the SBC is one of the above-mentioned skirmishes. But I’m not buying it, and neither should you. I hope you will join me in praying that God will bring real revival to the SBC.   

Dockery, George Book to be Distributed at the SBC Annual Meeting

From the official press release at Union University:

JACKSON, Tenn. – June 6, 2007 – A booklet by Union University President David S. Dockery and Beeson Divinity School Dean Timothy George will be available to all messengers at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13.

“Building Bridges” is a compilation of the addresses by Dockery and George at the second Baptist Identity Conference, held at Union University in February. In those addresses, Dockery and George called for a renewed emphasis on Baptist history to foster a greater sense of cooperation among Southern Baptists today.

Published by Convention Press in Nashville, Tenn., the 64-page booklet includes a forward by Charles Colson and a preface by Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. Convention Press printed 14,000 copies of the booklet for distribution at the SBC’s annual meeting.

“David S. Dockery and Timothy George have charted a wise and faithful course for Southern Baptists for the 21st Century,” writes Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, on the book’s back cover. “Their invitation to renewal is one worthy of following. I am extremely pleased and thankful for this consensus building project.”

In Dockery’s chapter, “A Call for Renewal, Consensus, and Cooperation,” the Union president asserts that Southern Baptists are in danger of losing the gospel itself if they continue the infighting that has characterized the denomination in recent years.

“It is time to move from controversy and confusion to a new consensus and renewed commitment to cooperation,” Dockery writes. “We need to take a step back not just to commit ourselves afresh to missions and evangelism as important as that is. We need to commit ourselves foremost to the Gospel, the message of missions and evangelism, the message that is found only in Jesus Christ and His atoning death for sinners.”

Dockery traces the history of Southern Baptists to show that they have never been a doctrinally uniform group – but rather one committed to the authority of Scripture and cooperation in reaching a world with the gospel.

The ultimate danger to the gospel doesn’t lie in the nuances of differences of opinion on secondary matters, Dockery writes, but in the rising tides of liberalism, neo-paganism and postmodernism that threaten to swamp Southern Baptist identity in cultural accommodation.

George’s chapter, “Is Jesus a Baptist,” addresses similar concerns. He advocates a retrieval of Baptist heritage as a means of renewal for the convention today. “We will not meet tomorrow’s challenge by forgetting yesterday’s dilemma, but neither will we win tomorrow’s struggles by fighting yesterday’s battles.”

George argues that a return to Baptist teachings and beliefs of the past will help Southern Baptists deal constructively with the issues and controversies they face today. “Yes, by all means, let us maintain, undergird, and strengthen our precious Baptist distinctives – our commitment to a regenerate church membership, believers’ baptism by immersion in the name of the Triune God, our stand for unfettered religious liberty, and all the rest,” George writes. “But let us do this not so that people will say how great the Baptists are, but rather what a great Savior the Baptists have, what a great God they serve!”

From Nathan:

I think this is very good news. I was unable to attend the recent Baptist Identity Conference at Union, but like perhaps many of you I have listened to the conference papers via Union's website. On the whole, I was very impressed with the what the speakers had to say. And I was particularly pleased with what I heard from Drs. Dockery and George. It will be of great benefit for SBC messengers to have this book made available to them. I hope it will help provide a clear and balanced voice during this time of great confusion in our convention.