Saturday, February 18, 2006

To my Southern Baptist Friends

After reading the posts from Jim West and the news about Wade Burleson and the Southern Baptist IMB , I felt it time to offer an alternative opinion on the issue. But let me preface my comments:

1. I have many Southern Baptist Convention friends and know fellow bloggers such as Jim Hamilton (Antiphon) and Alan Bandy (Cafe Apocalypsis) and this is not an attack on them.

2. My first theological mentor was a Southern Baptist, who died tragically in a car accident and I remember him fondly. He gave me a great gift - a love for God's sovereignty.

3. As a Baptist, I have much more in common with SBC Baptists than many other Baptist Groups of liberal persuasion.

4. I do like to clap my hands in worship, I have been known to raise my hands in prayer, my German probably sounds more like xenolalia than German, and I do own albums by Carmen - but I'm not charismatic (either in theology or personality).

5. On whether or not Burleson broke confidentiality through his blog is another matter. It was irresponsible or careless, but not necessarily grounds for expulsion. I am more concerned with the theological issue at hand concerning the bonds of Christian fellowship, the priority of the gospel, and the importance of the kingdom.

With that in mind I would like to voice my concern over what I observe to be a slide towards sectarianism in the SBC. I get the feeling that every year that the IMB meets their agenda is to exclude and disqualify another sub-group from mission in the SBC - egalitarians and now the charismatics. There are some groups in the SBC who are more excited about excluding others than proclaiming the gospel and extending the kingdom.

Now denominations are both a blessing and a bane. On the one hand they are a testimony to the continuing division of Christians which goes against Jesus' prayer in John 17. At the same time, denominations are formed because Christians believe that truth matters and we should order our worship, our church government, and our minitry according to our biblical and theological convictions. Denominations allow us to meet with other Christians who share common convictions.

But I am alarmed at the rate that some persons within the SBC want to purge their denomination of certain groups. Here's my response:

1. I am an evangelical which means that the basis of unity is the evangel - nothing more and nothing less - not women in ministry, not views of spiritual gifts, not one's doctrine of election, and not one's political preferences. Let me say that the difference between a Fundamentalist and an Evangelical is that a Fundamentalist is more excited about what he's against, whereas an Evangelical is more excited about what he's for - the gospel. So when I hear someone explain, preach, teach, pray, theologicize and practice the gospel then I know that I have found a brother or sister in Christ, and for that reason I know I will enjoy ministering beside them for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom.

2. There was a real diversity in the early church (alas, I learned long ago that not everyone was a red-head reformed Baptist), and the definition of a Christian in Rom 10,9-10 is quite broad. If you don't believe me go read Acts 6, 15 and Romans 14-15. We should expect that our churches will have a theological diversity as people arrive at theological convictions different to our own. I also believe that there are limits to the diversity that which we should tolerate so don't acuse me of being soft on doctrine.

3. Carl Henry got it right years ago when he said that Liberals minor on the majors and Fundamentalists major on the minors (re: doctrines). I think that there are 3 levels of doctrinal beliefs:

A. Essentials necessary for fellowship (e.g. Trinity, Biblical Authority, Resurrection, etc).
B. Major issues, but not necessarily divisive (e.g. church govt., baptism)
C. Adiaphora, matters of conviction (e.g. eschatology, alcohol).

I won't say that charismatic issues are insignificant - but it is clearly of second order importance in terms of faith and fellowship. In the case of Burleson we are not talking about the role of tongues in public worship - which could well be a theological distinctive for a denomination - but private prayer. If some guy wants to pray in tongues in private (like "untie-my-bowtie-who-stole-my-hondha") I don't have a problem. What a guy does on his knees at 11.00 p.m. is between him and his Lord.

4. Even worse, there is only one commandment about tongues in the NT and it is do not forbid it (1 Cor 14.39)! It sounds like Paul couldn't be an SBC missionary since he spoke in tongues (1 Cor 14.18).

5. I have a friend who is a Calvinist-Charismatic who teaches in a seminary in a predominantly Muslim country somewhere in the middle-east, and he has spoken in tongues in private prayer. I get the impression that the IMB would rather have no-one at all there training the pastors in the churches if it meant having a tongues-speaker. I retort that, the kingdom of God is bigger than the SBC. Evangelicalism is broader than the perspectivess that some in the SBC are advocating. I think everyone involved in the conflict needs to get a big dose of perspective - kingdom perspective. Let us not conspire to protect the doctrinal purity of our denomination, but let us endeavour, through toil and prayer, to extend the boundaries of the kingdom and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

6. Here is a quote from my friend Jim West about charismatics:

The claim of the Charismatics that the grace of salvation is insufficient and requires the second grace of "baptism in the Holy Spirit" (as though that were an operation of God separate from salvation) is unscriptural. Indeed, it is anti-scriptural ... As I've mentioned before, I have no problem with Pentecostals. If a person wishes to be a Pentacostal or a Charismatic, they are more than free to do so. But persons who occupy Southern Baptist pulpits and lecterns and positions of authority on boards and committees should not be "Pentabaptilists". (Jim West).

I don't like the idea of a second blessing, it entails spiritual-have's and have-not's. But not all charismatics are like that - think of Wayne Grudem to name one. So in many ways Jim's remarks are unrepresentative of all charismatics and could perhaps be called a "staw man" argument (no offence Jim!). I hope Jim's fear of Pentabaptilists does not stem from a charismaphobia.

7. Let me offer up some words of warning with a paraphrase from Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the egalitarians
and I did not speak out
because I was not an egalitarian.
Then they came for the charismatics
and I did not speak out
because I was not a charismatic.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me

To be honest, I would rather work beside an Dispensational-Arminian-Egalitarian-Charismatic who loves the Lord and the Gospel than some of the doctrine-police who want to run bonafide Christians out of town over second-order theological issues. I still consider those guys who have a vendetta against charismatics as brothers in the Lord - but with brothers like them who the heck needs enemies!!!

8. To summarize, let me say this:

a. The gospel and only the gospel is basis for partnership in ministry.

b. Let us think beyond our own denominations and ask what will give the most glory to God and what will extend the kingdom of God.

c. Our greatest need is not to anathematize controversial figures (like Tom Wright) or to exclude those with different theological convictions (like egalitarians, charismatic); but our greatest need is for prayerful, spirit-led, gospel-announcing, Christ-centered, God-glorifying, justice-seeking, Bible-saturated Churches to get on with the business of the kingdom until the day when God is all in all.

And in the words of the great American philosopher, Forrest Gump, "that's all I have to say about that".



Brandon Wason said...

Carmen, Michael? Carmen?! What are you thinking?

Andy Rowell said...

Thanks for again articulating something well with graciousness. I say, "Major on the majors, Amen."

Anonymous said...


You have carefully addressed one of the most controversial issues in SBC. Let us all speak the truth in love.

Praise the Lord!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kyle said...

This is well said, and I wonder regarding West's statement,

"The claim of the Charismatics that the grace of salvation is insufficient and requires the second grace of "baptism in the Holy Spirit" (as though that were an operation of God separate from salvation) is unscriptural. Indeed, it is anti-scriptural."

Do all the missionaries who speak in a "private prayer language" believe this? I wouldn't expect that to be the case.

Alan S. Bandy said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I have choosen not to get involved with the lastest SBC controversy. Sadly, Southern Baptists are famous for infighting. This fighting, however, does not represent the majority of the SBC. All familys have squabbles, but I am confident it will be resolved without any further damage done to the name of Christ. I hope that this has not soiled your image of all conservative Southern Baptists.

As for me, I just want to study and teach the scriptures.

Michael F. Bird said...

No, it hasn't ruined my opinion of SB's. Like I said, I have more in common with them than with many others. But I am perplexed and annoyed by some in the SBC who seem bent on following down a fundamentalist trajectory. Evangelicalism means that we major on the majors and not on the minors.

eddie said...

Unity, Paul majored on unity! and so should we

NWMihelis said...

The sine quo non for fellowship is the Gospel and nothing else. Amen and AMEN! I could not agree more emphatically! Furthermore, based on what I know about the SBC, I'm not sure exactly where there would be a violation with a non-cessationist (I commented so much on Jim's web page and am hoping gain some clarity to my thinking on that). However, you said:

"Let us not conspire to protect the doctrinal purity of our denomination, but let us endeavour, through toil and prayer, to extend the boundaries of the kingdom and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Since you called out Jim for a straw man argument, in the same spirit (a jovial one that is), this sounds to me like a false dilemma. I admit, this may be because of my vestiges of fundamentalism (it takes a long time to get rid of that baggage you know), but does it have to be either or?


Mowens said...

Very well said, Michael. Unfortunately, I think there is more going on here than disciplining a vocal committee member. But, that's an entirely different issue.


dacroteau said...

I don't think the issue with the SBC is "fellowship," but financially supporting those who hold views that are against 'historic' Baptist, and the majority of SBCers', beliefs. I don't have a problem having fellowship with charismatics; now, do I want my money supporting them on the mission field? Maybe, maybe not. The SBC is evangelical, but they are not driven only by an evangelical principles; the SBC is 'baptist.'
That said, I'm not necessarily agreeing with the decision they made and it DEFINITELY makes me scared of who they will 'go after' next. I know that I hold certain beliefs that the SBC (generally) despises! Will I be their next enemy?

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

"The claim of the Charismatics that the grace of salvation is insufficient and requires the second grace of "baptism in the Holy Spirit" (as though that were an operation of God separate from salvation) is unscriptural. Indeed, it is anti-scriptural."

It sounds as though Jim West is lumping all Charismatics and Neo-Pentecostals into exactly the same doctrinal position as "Classic Pentecostals." This is a mis-characterization if I ever heard one.