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!