Saturday, September 30, 2006

Can Joshua go to Memphis? A Call for Peace

In may of this year, over 30 Southern Baptists drafted a statement known as "The Memphis Declaration." Last week, another Southern Baptist group, quite large in number, met in Florida and unveiled principles of affirmation at an event called "The Joshua Convergence." Since that unveiling, the vitriol between what appear to be two factions within the SBC has grown exponentially. Yet when I read these two documents, I cannot for the life of me perceive differences so great between these groups as to merit the kind of war that so many seem ready to fight.

For weeks preceeding the Joshua Convergence, implicit salvos have been tossed toward "the Memphis group," and those who signed the document. It has even been suggested that those who were a part of this group are politically-correct, closet moderates who want to turn back the progress that has been made since the 25-year-old Conservative resurgence began. Calls have been issued for signers of the Memphis Declaration to "come out of the closet." While I certainly cannot speak for every signer, I will speak for myself. The following are "for the record," and I invite any and all to ask any question they desire regarding anything they read here. As soon as time permits (I do have a day job) I promise to answer every one of them to the best of my ability. Please know that each word is prayerfully written in a spirit that desires reconcilliation among brothers. My hear breaks to see the kind of division that has risen as a result of the events of the past several months.

1. I am a signer of the Memphis Declaration. Though I did not attend the Tennessee meeting, I agreed to have my name placed on the list of supporters. I did not do this because I wanted to attack any individual, nor did I want to make any overtly political statement,and I do not believe this declaration makes any effort to do either of these things. I do however, believe there is a move afoot in our Convention to narrow the parameters of cooperation among conservatives. I believe that many who fully affirm the BFM 2000 are marginalized, and in the case of the International Mission Board, now barred from service because they hold to minority Biblical interpretations that are NOT outside the bounds of our common confession.

The Declaration, as best as I understand it, makes no accusations toward any person. In fact, it is a very introspective document, and my support was added only after much introspection on my own part. (See http://joelrainey.blogspot.com/2006/05/spiritual-authority-and-memphis.html)

Since the release of this document, I have heard many make accusations toward certain signers, but I have yet to hear anyone pose a Biblical argument against the document itself. If anyone can point me to ANY part of this document that is clearly unBiblical, I will contact Marty Duren immediately and ask for my name to be removed. If you cannot find anything unBiblical in the document itself, I ask you not to mallign those of us who signed it simply because we signed it.

2. I am in basic agreement with the principles of affirmation released at the Joshua Convergence, and find no contradictions between these principles and the Memphis Delcaration. The one article with which I take issue is that which deals with holiness, and suggests that abstention from alcohol is one mark of holiness. #3 below will elaborate this point.

3. Regarding alcohol, I am a tee-totaller by conviction and practice. I wrote the policy in my association that forbids funded church planters from consuming alcohol as a beverage, and I preach that the wisest thing to do is to abstain. These are my deeply-held beliefs. At the same time, I see no Scriptural evidence for claiming that one ascends to a higher level of holiness because they give up this particular liberty. Though I believe abstention is the best prevention against alcoholism, I have no basis in the Word of God for judging my brother who chooses to drink in moderation. This is NOT an advocation of drinking, as I do not personally condone the practice. It IS however, an advocation of Romans 14:13-23.

4. I thank God for the Conservative Resurgence. Because of men like Adrian Rogers, Paige Patterson, W.A. Criswell and others, I am a two-time graduate of an SBC seminary I would have NEVER attended 25 years ago! I have NO desire to return to the days when our Convention sent an "unclear sound" regarding our understanding of the nature and authority of Scripture. Many men like those named above worked hard to reform our denomination, and as a result, I was able to attend a seminary where the Scriptures were honored. As a result, I received a quality evangelical education that most of these men only dreamed about. I will never forget what their service provided me!

5. I am an inerrantist, who fully affirms the BFM 2000, as well as The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I do not, however, believe the BFM 2000 is inerrant. Are there statements that could have been better worded? I believe so. Are there statements which could be interpreted differently by two individuals? Of course. The BFM 2000 was written by our best theologians, but even our best are not perfect, and even our best are unable to draft a confession of faith that perfectly combines the specificity a theologian desires with the ambiguity that is sometimes necesary when trying to accomodate various points of view on non-essential issues.

I further believe this statement should serve as an instrument of accountability for those who are employed by SBC entities because our churches, on a national level, have stated that these are their deeply held and cherished beliefs. But when we spend the kind of time exegeting the BFM that we do exegeting Scripture, we have crossed the line into creedalism. One must also remember, that the SBC does not only exist at national, but also at state and local levels. Again, it is the CHURCHES at those levels who should decide which statements should be employed as accountability instruments for their denominational employees. As an associational servant, I wish that all of our churches fully affirmed the BFM 2000. Still, it is my responsibility to serve ALL of our churches, regardless of whether they affirm this document.

6. I consider myself to be a straightforward, grab-the-bull-by-the-horns, Bible-centered, expositional, no-holds-barred, hell-fire, Jesus-is-the-only-way, unconcerned-about-popularity, evangelical Baptist preacher. As the first "post-Mohler" graduate of Southern Seminary to pastor one particular and historic Kentucky church, I was malligned, misrepresented, mischaracterized, and unduly judged by several fellow pastors who saw me as only a "narrow-minded fundamentalist." When God's Word speaks, by His grace I will speak, loudly at times, and without apology. Conversely, if the Bible doesn't address an issue, I try my best to shut up about it in the pulpit.

7. I consider it not only sinful, but also a complete waste of time to address personalities, and therefore have done my very best to speak only of positions and actions. I believe it is wrong for someone to automatically assume the worst about our SBC leaders. I also believe it is wrong for someone to imply that one is "liberal" or "against our leaders" or "seeking power" simply because they take issue with something one of our leaders has said or done.

8. I believe that all of the following are godly men who have served their churches and/or denomination well: Paige Patterson, Adrian Rogers, Marty Duren, Jerry Vines, Frank Page, Johnny Hunt, Bobby Welch, Wade Burleson, James Merritt, Tom Ascol, and Jerry Rankin. This list of faithful men is certainly not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it meant to suggests any sort of category or hierarchy of godliness. I also believe that all of the above-named men, in addition to myself, the Apostle Paul, and the rest of humanity all the way back to Adam, are fallen sinners who are constantly in need of God's sustaining and sanctifying grace. This means that all of us will, from time to time, say and do things that are displeasing to Jesus Christ.

9. Having thoroughly read both the Memphis Declaration and the Joshua Convergence statement, I believe that to divide into warring factions behind these two banners is tantamount to Burger King seeking to put a Home Depot out of business. These statements address two different issues, and I would venture a guess that if all would stop beating their plowshares into swords for a moment and read both documents, the Joshua faction would find agreement with the repentant spirit, and the Memphis faction would find agreement with the need to continue standing for truth.

10. I fear that if we continue the current and very foolish exchange of words between each other, many of us will violate the standards of 1 Timothy 3, which insist, among other things, that we be "uncontentious" (v.3) and as a result render ourselves unfit for the office to which we have been called.

11. Finally, I do believe there is still a "battle for the Bible." I just don't believe that with regard to the SBC, it is an "internal" battle. There is, as there always has been, a spiritual war for the truth of the Gospel. Unfortunately, we seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time shooting at each other.

Many years ago, the British Navy arrived on the Atlantic coast near what is now Quebec. They were told to wait until reinforcements arrived and then begin attacking the city. Growing bored with the wait, the commander of the British fleet decided to do a bit of target practice, and so he ordered his gunmen to fire the ships cannons with the goal of destroying all the statues of the saints, which sat on top of a nearby cathedral. By the time reinforcements arrived, most of the ammunition was used up, and there were insufficient military resources for the British to soundly defeat the French. Two hundred years later, Quebec is still a french city, because the British decided to "fire on the saints" instead of the enemy.

Cooperative Program giving has slipped in a very noticeable way, 85% of our churches are plateued or declining, over 3500 churches close their doors for good every year in our nation, and North America is the only continent on the planet where the Kingdom is not advancing. We can't keep fighting each other. We MUST place these petty differences aside (and YES, I do believe our differences are largely petty) and work together to see the Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ.

For Southern Baptists, I think this can now only begin in one way. Joshua needs to take a trip to Memphis . . . .and Memphis needs to welcome him with open arms!

Further resources:

www.joshuaconvergence.com

http://www.sbcoutpost.com/the-memphis-declaration/

21 comments:

Spencer Haygood said...

Ahhh! A voice of Scriptural sanity in the wilderness! Thanks, Joel!

Bob Cleveland said...

I may well have had my head in the sand for some years, but it seems to me the reasons why CP giving is down, and churches are plateaued or declining ... along with the reasons for a largely unfindable membership, small percentage of tithers, a majority the membership not witnessing, etc ... go back for many years. If concerted effort took years to build an aggresive growing organization, it'd take that long or longer for apathy and pride and politics and posturing to reverse the trend.

That would certainly eliminate blogs as a source of much of anything other than attention.

Mario Murillo preached a sermon a dozen years or so ago, that really impacted me. It was titled "We're Living On The Blood Of Our Forefathers".

Amen, IMO.

Kevin Bussey said...

Joel,

U da man! Great words! You are the first person to explain to me why there is any need for a battle and you are right who the battle should be with.

Micah said...

Joel, thank you very much. This is most sound, well thought out explanation of events surrounding both documents that I have seen yet. I will encourage others to read your words and consider them to mirror mine in almost miunte detail. This is a wonderful statement!

Bryan Riley said...

I agree with what you have written. Good post.

I do wonder something about the alcohol issue. Generally speaking, even those who don't agree with tying alcohol with holiness feel compelled to say loudly and clearly that they are teetotalers. Should the fact that such a statement of personal conviction is compelled be a signal of a problem? I don't mean with you or any individual who has made such a statement; rather, is there a problem within the culture of the SBC when those kinds of qualifications must be made publicly?

John Stickley said...

Good word, Joel... immensely appreciated!

Joel Rainey said...

To all,
Thanks for your affirming words. It was my hope that, whether well-received or not, they would at least be understood. Your affirmation indicates that I have done that, and for this I am grateful to God.

Bryan,
You ask a good question with regard to the alcohol issue. Again, I can't speak for everyone, but can tell you why I personally find it neccesary to make my personal position clearly known. Largely, it has to do with the assumption voiced in Greensboro that those who opposed the recent resolution did so because they want to drink. Therefore, when I speak on this issue, I do feel it neccesary to make my own feelings known so that the same cannot be fairly assumed about me. I have no desire to drink, but I do want to be true to the Scriptures.

Alan Cross said...

Joel,

Good words! I agree with you 100%!

I went to the Joshua Convergence website and all they have is the video. No articles. No posts. How much of a convergence was it?

Stephen said...

Excellent thoughts Joel! I appreciate your wisdom.

Stephen

John Fariss said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the tenor and spirit I heard within your comments. In those most important issues, I agree with you 100%, and believe you are right on target.

You maker a few comments--secondary to what I percieve as the emphasis of your post--with which I either disagree or am unclear about. But since they are secondary to your point, I see no need to interject them and distract you, me or anyone else from the MAIN THING. We have to make the MAIN THING the MAIN THING again. Blessings from John Fariss not John Faris at BCMD but John Fariss at Trinity in Waldorf.

Tim Sweatman said...

Joel,

I wish that the spirit conveyed in this post guided all of the debates we are having within the SBC.

I believe that your statement in #11 is the best description of the real battle for the Bible that I have come across. Unfortunately, many of us still act like the enemy is the liberal/moderate/conservative/fundamentalist (take your pick) who probably doesn't even fit the label we have given him or her anyway.

Kevin Holmes (and still baptist by conviction) said...

Man! I wish I'd said that.

Kevin

Joel Rainey said...

John Fariss,
Thanks for your kind words, and for making the distinction between yourself and the "other" John! :) Of course, if you are anything like him, then I already think much of you.

Blessings on your ministry in Waldorf. You and I have the distinct advantage of being in a VERY non-Baptist, non-evangelical area. that being the case, I think it is easier, given our contexts, to keep our eyes on the ball so to speak. Tell Reynold Carr hello for me the next time you see him.

Bart Barber said...

Joel,

Bart Barber here. I was in Orlando at the Joshua Convergence meeting. Whatever disagreements I might have with your post would be minor. I didn't perceive the Joshua Convergence to be a group organized to carpet bomb the Memphis Declaration folks out of existence. Rather, observing that subsequent interpretation of the Memphis Declaration seemed to assume that this document and the people associated with it somehow spoke for every Southern Baptist younger than 50, a few people came together to make it clear to the world that no group of "younger leaders" speaks for all younger Southern Baptists—that indeed very many may differ with such people at many points. I think it was needed. I'm proud to have been a part of it.

Joel Rainey said...

Bart,
You have my complete agreement that neither the Joshua Convergence or the Memphis meeting are speaking, in total, for all Southern Baptists under 50. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure I see the Memphis Declaration as being a "young leader" thing. The Memphis Declaration was for the purpose of addressing the issue of unity in particular when it comes to tertiary doctrinal issues.

That said, I think you make an important statement: no "group" speaks for all younger Southern Baptists. This to me only underscores the importance of respecting each other, even though we may disagree strongly about certain issues (like alcohol, for instance.) And respect here means not "carpet-bombing" any individual, or seeking the removal of any individual simply because he doesn't conform to my understanding of an issue not addressed in our common confession.

It seems to me that we have now moved from full affirmation of the BFM, to full affirmation of certain interpretations of the BFM.

For example, Wade Burleson fully affirms the 2000 BFM, but personally believes that a couple of articles included therein should not be "essential" in Baptist life. I for one disagree with him on this point, but would nevertheless cooperate with him, support his continued service as a trustee, etc. because he himself affirms the BFM 2000 and has promised to enforce this at the IMB. Yet I have heard others say that because he thinks certain issues shouldn't be "essential" that this means he does not affirm the BFM 2000. In short, not only must you agree with this document, but you must also force it on the conscience of others.

This, in my observation, is the problem. If you tell me that the JC was not for the purpose of "carpet bombing" those of us who might have a different understanding of issues not addressed in the BFM, then I believe you . . .for now. But calls have been made by others who associate themselves with this gathering for people to be removed from denominational service if they don't conform to specific understanding of issues not found in our common confession.

I hope this helps bring understanding to my intentions here. I just think its time to put down the swords.

Perry McCall said...

Great post!! I have heroes who were apart of both documents (Phil Newton and Jim Shaddix) and I affirm both.

Bart Barber said...

Joel,

I would agree that there is room within the SBC for those who disagree with the essentiality of portions of the BF&M. I would even go beyond that to say that there is room in the SBC for people who disagree with the BF&M. And indeed, since in nearly thirty years of controversy the SBC has not excluded the numerous churches who are on record precisely as having disagreed with the BF&M, it is evident to me that convention policy is directly in line with this concept of Baptist freedom.

On the other hand, I believe that the convention has a right to expect that those chosen to execute duties on her behalf will do so in accordance with the clearly expressed intentions of the messengers. It is not a question of whether Wade Burleson has the right to differ with the content of the BF&M; it is a question of whether his selection as a trustee accords to him carte blanche authority to disregard what the convention has enacted. If he has such authority, then it is upon the consciences of the messengers of the SBC that he is forcing something.

As for those matters that go beyond the BF&M, Burleson like everyone else serving in such a position has the right to articulate his opinion and the obligation to acknowledge the right of the majority to set policy whether he agrees with their decisions or not. He does not have the obligation to agree, but he has the obligation to acknowledge that the authority of the majority trumps his opinion.

At least, that's my opinion.

Joel Rainey said...

Bart,
I think we are in agreement here. But as i understand it, Wade has agreed to execute his duties in accordance with the BFM 2000, and also in accordance with IMB guidelines and policy, EVEN those with which he strongly disagrees. So I'm still failing to see why some are calling for his removal/resignation.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Matt Snowden said...

Good post. Thanks for your clear and irenic words.

Anonymous said...

Joel,

My biggest issue with the Memphis Declaration and your part in it is that you were in Memphis and didn't give me a call to hang out!

Rusty Wheelington

Joel Rainey said...
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