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Halloween

Halloween: What a strange time for Christians…especially since the 31st falls on a Wednesday this year. I know that some churches have actually cancelled church for today in light of the event. I also know that some parents will not take their children trick-or-treating. Some parents see no harm in it. Some parents use the night for evangelistic opportunities. I’m curious as to what you do on Halloween. Thoughts?

Also, check out the poll below.

What should we do with Halloween?

Chuck Lawless on his Love and Concern for Southern Baptists

Chuck Lawless is the dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a former pastor and has authored a number of books, including Membership Matters, Discipled Warriors, Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry, and Eating the Elephant. Today Baptist Press has published an outstanding "First Person" by Dr. Lawless titled "Why I Love Southern Baptists … and Why I am Concerned." I think he is spot on. My prayer is that the SBC would enjoy a "gospel resurgence" in the next few years, which I am convinced will result in a renewed commitment to the Great Commission, a rediscovered biblical Baptist identity, an increase in the number of new converts we are baptizing, and a recovery of a disciplined regenerate church membership. 

Grudem Endorses Romney

On a related note, Dr. Wayne Grudem has gone on record as endorsing Mitt Romney for president in 2008. He has written a cogent and concise argument of why he believes that Romney is the best choice for Christians.

Press Here

Obama and Romney: A Peculiar Decision

Over the past few weeks several Evangelical leaders, as well as some prominent Southern Baptist Convention pastors, have publicly endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for president in the 2008 election. Mitt Romney is Mormon. Mormons tend to have many of the same ‘values’ as Southern Baptists in that they are strong on family values, anti-homosexual marriage, prolife, etc, and is aligned with the Republican party, which so many Evangelicals and Southern Baptists are aligned with.

However, there is something about our leaders publicly endorsing a non-Christian that leaves me feeling queasy. I understand that we are electing a president and not a pastor but I do not feel comfortable publicly endorsing a candidate who, despite what he says, cannot have my morals because he does not have the true Christ…but he is Republican, which if one does not realize, is not the official political party of Christianity. 

Now let me turn for a minute to the other side of the coin. Last month at my church, the First Baptist Church of Columbia, SC, Illinois Senator Barack Obama dropped by for a worship service. Our pastor publicly acknowledged him and he received an ovation. All the pastors on staff thought it was rather strange that he would ask to come to the service since we are a traditional, conservative, BFM 2000 Southern Baptist Church. Nevertheless, he was welcome in our church…but Obama is a Democrat. 

However, Obama claims to be have a salvation experience. You can find the article here. (Oops, I lost the link….trust me, it exists) He was asked if he was an Evangelical. By asking this question, he was being asked also, if he were somewhat of a Republican, because all Republicans are Evangelicals and all Evangelicals are Republicans, right? Here was his answer:

“Gosh, I'm not sure if labels are helpful here because the definition of an evangelical is so loose and subject to so many different interpretations. I came to Christianity through the black church tradition where the line between evangelical and non-evangelical is completely blurred. Nobody knows exactly what it means. "Does it mean that you feel you've got a personal relationship with Christ the savior? Then that's directly part of the black church experience. Does it mean you're born-again in a classic sense, with all the accoutrements that go along with that, as it's understood by some other tradition? I'm not sure."  

Now, I will admit that is a confusing answer. Has he accepted Christ via the “black church experience?” He seems to be very postmodern in his answer. He continues,

 “My faith is complicated by the fact that I didn't grow up in a particular religious tradition. And so what that means is when you come at it as an adult, your brain mediates a lot, and you ask a lot of questions. "There are aspects of Christian tradition that I'm comfortable with and aspects that I'm not. There are passages of the Bible that make perfect sense to me and others that I go, 'Ya know, I'm not sure about that,'" he said, shrugging and stammering slightly.”

There is Obama in a nutshell. A man who grew up with a pluralist background but a man who claims to have found Jesus. If Obama is indeed regenerate, which only he and God knows, then it would make sense that he would be struggling with moral and biblical issues being that some of his stances are against God’s plan. However, it seems he is a work in progress, which all Christians are.

What am I saying? If somehow Obama and Romney both won their primaries would it be wise/smart/sstupid to vote for a nunbelieving Republican over a Democrat believer who seems more honest and candid and less dogmatic then Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist? 

Should we vote for a person who has our morals but not our faith? Is it possible to truly have Christian morals if one is unregenerate? (Romney) 

Should we vote for a person who is more liberal on moral issues yet seems to have a clear born-again experience and is someone who admittedly struggles with knowing right from wrong? (Obama)

Should pastors publicly endorse anyone? Isn't that illegal?

I don’t know the answer to these questions but maybe you all can shed some light on it for me.

Evan Lenow and John Piper — BFF?

As you may have seen, our own ethicist-in-chief Evan Lenow advocated the Betrothal view of divorce, which generated an interesting discussion between Evan, yours truly, and Charlie (Go Tigers!) Wallace. Well, Evan apparently has called out the big guns and persuaded his BFF, John Piper, to make the same argument. Read Piper's article (a response to David Instone-Brewer's controversial article in Christianity Today). I have to admit I'm impressed. I am putting in a phone call to my home boy John Stott tomorrow to get him to back me up on the exception clause …

Divorce and Remarriage: The Betrothal View

I had one of those moments in my class last week that every professor dreams of having (or was that a nightmare—I’m not really sure). There was a moment in my lecture that I clearly communicated something to my students about which most of them had probably never thought. We were studying the issue of divorce and remarriage, and I had been pontificating on the various Christian views on the subject. I saved the two best for last: the Erasmian (or majority) view and the betrothal view.

The Erasmian view of divorce and remarriage holds that divorce is allowable in situations where adultery has taken place (according to the exception clause of Matt 5:32 and 19:9) or when an unbelieving spouse leaves (the so-called Pauline privilege of 1 Cor 7:15). Proponents of the Erasmian view also hold that remarriage is allowed in these cases as well. This is by far the most widely held view of divorce and remarriage in evangelical circles.

The betrothal view also allows for divorce when an unbelieving spouse leaves. However, the betrothal view interprets the exception clause in Matt 5:32 and 19:9 as referring to sexual immorality discovered during the typical one-year betrothal period customary in first century Jewish culture. Thus, the betrothal view does not allow for divorce in cases of adultery after marriage (Note: A slight exception to this stance may allow for divorce in such cases where the guilty party is unrepentant and abandons the innocent spouse and files for divorce. In this situation, the guilty party is exhibiting the behavior of an unbeliever and may be treated as such). The betrothal view never allows for a believer to seek a divorce and does not allow for remarriage in any circumstance unless one of the spouses dies.

When I expressed that I hold the betrothal view and that it does not allow for remarriage unless a spouse dies, there was a collective gasp in the room. Now I know that there are a number of students in my class who agree with me. At the same time, I know that there are a number who disagree. Then there are certainly some who do not know where they stand.

We can certainly discuss this issue in the comments, but let me explain why it is important. The divorce rate in the United States for 2005 (the most recent statistics to come from the US Census Bureau—2006 stats will be available in December) was 48%. In 2001, 21% of all adult American men and 23.1% of all adult American women had been divorced at least once. According to the Barna group, the divorce rate in the church is the same as that among non-believers. This issue is serious, and I believe one reason that so many people just accept the world’s view of divorce is that our churches do not discuss it. Certainly, we have divorce recovery groups and discipleship classes for blended/step-families, but do we confront the issue of divorce on the front end?

Before you go to calling me a legalist and insensitive, let me inform you that divorce has impacted my family in several ways. Thankfully, my parents will be celebrating their 36th anniversary next week; however, so many people in the rest of our family have been impacted by divorce. I am aware of its pain. I am aware of its struggles. But I am also aware of how seriously God takes marriage. Jesus himself said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matt 19:4-6). When it comes down to it, I would rather my view of divorce and remarriage be shaped by Scripture than by experience (actually, that is how I do theology and ethics as a whole).

For those of you who are not familiar with the betrothal view, I would like for you to consider two pieces available online for a fuller treatment (my summary is entirely too short to get the full understanding). A pastoral viewpoint of the betrothal view is available from John Piper here. An academic viewpoint is available in audio format from David W. Jones (Assoc. Professor of Christian Ethics at SEBTS) here.

In the end, I always tell my students that you must hold your view of divorce and remarriage humbly because you will always make someone mad no matter what view you hold. There are also sincere, Bible-believing Christians and scholars who disagree with me. What I ask is that you give me and the betrothal view a fair hearing.

One Sacred Effort

According to our banner, SBC Witness exists for the purpose of "encouraging Southern Baptist cooperation and faithfulness." Each of our contributors, though we serve in diverse ministry positions, live in different states, and disagree on any number of secondary matters, are committed to the SBC and are hopeful for the future of the convention. And we all like SEC football.

One way that we can encourage Southern Baptist cooperation and faithfulness is by educating Southern Baptists about our Cooperative Program (CP), the unified giving plan at the heart of the convention. As Jon Akin and Jedidiah Coppenger so helpfully demonstrated this summer, the CP is not without its faults. Jon, Jedidiah, and many, many others (including me) are convinced that the CP has room for improvement, and that it is critical for Southern Baptists to be willing to revisit and tweak the CP to make it a more effective means of funding our cooperative endeavors.

Despite its weaknesses, the CP is still the best thing going. Unfortunately, many–perhaps most–Southern Baptists have no clue what the CP is. Not a few SBC pastors are virtually unfamiliar with the Cooperative Program. But there is a remedy.

In 2005, B&H published an important work titled One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists. The book is co-authored by Southern Seminary theology professor Chad Owen Brand and Louisiana Baptist Convention executive director (and former SBC Executive Committee vice president) David E. Hankins. It is a very good book.

All of our seminaries make educating students about the CP a component of our respective curricula. For example, at Southeastern all students are required to take what amounts to an independent study course on the CP. Students read One Sacred Effort (which B&H graciously provides free of charge) and take a number of quizzes on the content of the book, administered online. Of course the CP is also emphasized in Baptist History and Identity classes at both the college and seminary levels, though the book is not required in those classes because of the aforementioned independent study course. No student goes through our seminary–or our sister seminaries–without being introduced to the CP and the Southern Baptist "way" to do cooperative missions.

But One Sacred Effort was not written for the sole purpose of being used as a textbook in college and seminary classes. Brand and Hankins wrote the book to educate all Southern Baptists, especially pastors and other church staff. To that end, let me highly encourage those of you engaged in local church work to purchase a copy of One Sacred Effort. It is the best short treatment of general SBC history, Baptist identity, and the in's and out's of how the SBC works and how we fund the many things we do.