15 September 2021

Some Questions for Those Protecting Ed Litton

I and many others around the Southern Baptist Convention continued to be perplexed, grieved, and frustrated with the ongoing situation with our current SBC president, Ed Litton. The lack of pressure from our higher-profile SBC leaders for Litton to resign from his role as president has been nothing short of astounding. Why?  Because for too many no-name pastors and Southern Baptist church members, Litton's offense is obvious and serious. Yet, those who have the greater stewardship of leadership around our convention continue to stay on a path of inaction. Some have downplayed the significance of the offense or communicated that it's not their place to call for his resignation.

I have been patient with this ongoing problem.  I wrote personal letters to a few individuals around the SBC, including one to Ed Litton dated July 6. I do believe the letter was gentle but direct. I explained how his leadership is now bereft of trust and that he needed to resign for the good of our convention. I warned that if he were to press on in the position, he would be a constant distraction from our cooperative work and a continual point of contention. He alone had the ability to avoid that by stepping down. Unfortunately, he has not resigned, and he is continuing to be a point of division around our convention. If you count him as a personal friend or acquaintance, you may not think that fair, but it is the reality. And, Litton has not responded to my letter. He has chosen to ignore it. I can only speculate as to how many other letters he has ignored.

There are some around our convention that point the finger at those who are calling Ed Litton out for his dishonesty as the problem. Litton himself considers those people to be examples of the new fundamentalism. According to Litton, this is the greatest threat currently to the SBC. 

I have been amazed at social media comments by those who shift blame to those who continue to point out the offense. Sure, there are some who have been relentless and snarky about this. So what? That is irrelevant to the facts. And even if you think those guys are disqualified for their quarrelsomeness, that has nothing to do with the questions about Ed Litton. These folks need to stop with the fallacious misdirecting. It is not honest.  

I believe Litton needs to be called out for what he has done. His actions have exposed a lack of integrity in his leadership as a pastor. He has become a reproach to many within the SBC. He is not biblically "above reproach." He has become a scandal and is hurting the very group of believers he is claiming to serve (1 Tim. 3:2).

I want to tell you why continuing to call out Ed Litton's sin and to call for his resignation is right. I have done this quietly in letters and personal conversations, but with the inaction of the last three months, it is time to turn up the volume. Those of us whom he represents cannot in good conscience simply let this go. He continues to speak publicly about it. I should not feel that it is inappropriate for me to speak to it as well. It is our business.  

Ed Litton is an elder who has been given the stewardship of leading our convention as well as his local church. Two weeks after his election he was caught in a serious sin regarding his leadership for which he is unrepentant. And simply because he says he has repented does not mean that he has repented. He may say that he is adopting new practices regarding his sermon preparation, but he still has not repented. Each time he has had the opportunity truly to repent of the actual offense, he has offered only obfuscation. Anyone who is listening with an ounce of discernment can clearly perceive this reality. 

Scripture is clear about this situation. And with each speaking engagement or interview, our convention continues into deeper disobedience to God's Word. 

"Brothers, if anyone is caught in a transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourselves, lest you too be tempted" (Gal. 6:1).

Litton was caught in a transgression. And the goal of rebuke and holding a brother accountable is for restoration. However, we know restoration must be preceded by genuine repentance, which has not happened, at least not publicly within the SBC. And his dishonesty in preaching should be a sober warning to other preachers who are currently committing the same sin. Maybe the reason so many want to give him a pass on this is because they make sermon plagiarism their habit as well. 

"As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so the rest may stand in fear" (1Tim. 5:20). 

Ed Litton is persisting in sin. He certainly is not passing off J.D. Greear sermons as his own anymore, but he is persisting in sin with a proud heart. This pride is on display whenever he speaks. He evidences no real repentance of the actual offense, and he shifts blame onto those who continue to raise the issue, as if he is under some kind of unfair attack. 

There is no joy in the biblical responsibility of rebuking, yet to shirk the responsibility when the occasion clearly calls for it is to disobey God. The reason rebuke doesn't feel right to so many Christians is because it is so rarely done in our churches, local associations, or conventions. It's much easier to avoid awkward situations or to rationalize away the severity of the offense for the sake of unity for mission or even the gospel itself.

The right response here takes courage from those who are tempted to circle the wagons and self-protect. It's easy for some to virtue signal when they know they will receive accolades from their constituents with little risk of criticism. However, when it's time to call for what is right when it applies negatively to one of your own fellow elites or personal friends, courage often evaporates.

Even if Litton were genuinely to repent of the true offense, a pertinent issue still remains. A leader will at moments have to measure the effectiveness of his leadership. He must have the self-awareness to know that he may be more of a liability to the health of the whole organization rather than an asset. At this point, it isn't a matter of whether this condition was caused by others or self-inflicted. The reality is that removing oneself from leadership is what will best benefit the group. The fact is the vast majority of Southern Baptists pastors and church members don't personally know Ed Litton. They wanted to trust him and support him, but because of what he has done, they cannot have confidence in his leadership. He is a leader that has a reproach on him, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not. This is not on the Southern Baptists who are offended; this is on Ed Litton who have given the offense.  

I have some questions for those who continue to provide a safe cover for Ed Litton right now - those who continue to invite him to speak in their churches or on their campuses, pretending that there is no significant offense. I have questions for those who do ministry on behalf of Southern Baptists in high-profile positions who have refused to hold a fellow brother accountable for his sermon dishonesty. 

Do you believe by your silence, inaction, and tacit approval of Ed Litton's documented lack of integrity regarding his preaching that you are helping or hurting the SBC?

Do you believe that if Ed Litton remains in his position that disunity in our convention will increase or decrease?

Do you believe Ed Litton will be an effective leader when he presides over the annual meeting in 2022, or will he be a distraction?

Do you believe the Bible gives us a clear course of action regarding the situation with Ed Litton?

Traditionally an SBC president receives a second term unopposed if still willing to serve. Do you think if he chooses to run again that will cause division? 

I'm afraid we have some short-sighted leadership around our convention right now who refuse to ask such questions and supply honest answers. 

The secular world appears to understand the seriousness of Ed Litton's sermon dishonesty more than many of those within our own convention. They seem to understand the disqualifying nature of such acts, more than we do. And with each passing day that he remains in the office, our convention loses more and more credibility from without and from within. This year a major university president resigned because of plagiarism in a speech (see article here). Here in the SBC, we have a serial plagiarizer who has the responsibility of handling the Word of God, and we are treating it as hardly any offense at all. 

Ed Litton participated in an interview with Dr. Adam Greenway yesterday before seminary students at SWBTS. I would encourage you to watch it in its entirety, if you have not. You can judge whether my take on it is reasonable (watch here)

Again, he had an opportunity to confess genuinely his dishonesty. Instead, he offered convoluted statements that essentially framed the discussion as him as a victim of others' vicious criticism and slanders. He spoke of his predicament as a test of faith, not as a consequence of his dishonesty. He said that he repented before his congregation for not giving credit to J.D. Greear, but he has never clearly and publicly repented of his intentional and repeated deception in his preaching. He continues to frame his sin as a mistake, an oversight, or as unwise practice, not as something he willfully did, knowing it was wrong.

I have the greatest respect for Dr. Greenway, someone with whom I am personally acquainted. I certainly do not fault him for having the president of the SBC as a featured speaker in chapel. However, he did not press Litton on the obvious ethical questions. He allowed Litton's convoluted answers that skirted the heart of the matter to go unchallenged.

This has been the disheartening pattern as Litton continues to travel, speak and do interviews. He continues to offer insufficient answers, and those asking the questions won't press into the meat of the issue. No one will ask, "Did you not know you were deceiving your congregation when you preached verbatim large chunks of J.D. Greear's sermons?"  Or, "How do you explain using a personal illustration from one of Greer's sermon as if it happened to you?  Did you actually have the same exact experience?" Or, "Can you understand that people perceive an integrity issue with your leadership because of your plagiarizing sermons?" Or, "You keep saying you didn't plagiarize, but you did repeatedly present others work as your own? Isn't that being intentionally dishonest?" Or, "If you don't consider what you did as sermon plagiarism, what would you call it?" I could go on, but these are the kinds of questions those doing interviews won't ask.

I am absolutely sure that Ed Litton has many remarkable qualities as a believer and as a pastor. I believe he has been a pastor at his church for many years because overall he has demonstrated competency and character. Yet, even that record does not excuse what we now know. 

Whether or not this offense disqualifies him from pastoring his church is not my business. That is up to the prayerful discernment of his elders and congregation. However, his offense is my business because of his role as my convention president who represents the church I pastor. I am confident that people could testify all day long to his positive qualities, and I would take each at his or her word. Nevertheless, he has perpetrated dishonesty in the pulpit repeatedly, demonstrating a lack of integrity, for which he has not repented. And even if he did, I believe he has still disqualified himself from serving as our convention president.

The United States Air Force has three core values.  The first one is "Integrity First."  Without this you cannot lead well. No one expects perfection in a leader. Every reasonable person concedes that leaders will make mistakes. The biblical qualification for pastors certainly doesn't require perfection, but it does demand a confidence regarding integrity. 

The lack of action from our convention leaders who have influence is telling. We often give the appearance of being more concerned with self promotion than we really are with biblical faithfulness. We talk a good spiritual talk most of the time, but our actions (or inactions) truly reveal our hearts. 

I pray that God will break our hearts for obedience, not success. I pray God will grant us boldness in the application of his Word, not adherence to tribes or politics. I pray God will bring us to a broken place of real repentance that leads to trusting him, and not in ourselves. I pray God will grant us faith and courage, even at the cost of position, power, and influence.

God help us. 

08 September 2021

The Scale is Beginning to Tip on Roe v. Wade

 

My whole adult life has been partly defined by the abortion debate. I had turned six years old just days before the Roe v. Wade decision came down from the high court on January 22, 1973. For nearly the past fifty years our country has been divided politically and religiously into two camps regarding abortion. One camp calls itself Pro-Choice and insists that women ought to be able legally to terminate their unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. The other camp calls itself Pro-Life and asserts that the unborn should enjoy the full protections of the law as recognized human life. 

Much has changed since states were told by SCOTUS that they could not create laws prohibiting a woman from obtaining an abortion. Mainly, what has changed over the last fifty years is technology. Our ability to listen and to see into the womb has radically strengthened the Pro-Life cause, making it impossible for abortion rights advocates to deny the humanity of an in utero child.

The recent law in Texas, the so-called heartbeat law, represents how the use of technology has been the game changer for Pro-Life legislators. Although states still, because of Roe v. Wade, cannot directly prohibit abortion, they have been able effectively to restrict it to the point of practically eliminating it within their borders. Texas' law has now become the most restrictive, allowing anyone to litigate anyone who performs or assists a woman to get an abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, the mark at which a heartbeat can be detected.

However, the real big news was that SCOTUS, with its new conservative majority, chose not to place an injunction on the Texas law, allowing the law to go into effect on September 1.

As I step back and view the political landscape. it is no surprise to me that there is a growing polarization on abortion in our country from state to state. We have states like Texas, that have practically regulated abortion providers out of business. We have sates like New York, that will essentially allow abortions up to the time of birth with no restrictions whatsoever (see here). I believe this growing polarization is beginning to tip the scale of justice toward a revisit of Roe v. Wade.

The reason I believe this is inevitable is because of what is happening. SCOTUS has enjoyed the role of judicial review for a long time, so when laws among states or state and federal laws begin to conflict and contradict, it is inevitable that SCOTUS will eventually step in. This is what happened in Roe v. Wade. Different states had different laws regarding abortion. In Roe v. Wade a plaintiff charged Texas law that prohibited her from obtaining an abortion as unconstitutional. Roe v. Wade supported that idea.

Furthermore, I believe even the most ardent abortion rights supporters, who understand Roe v. Wade, know that the legal argumentation was rather flimsy. To rule something unconstitutional, it's incumbent on the court to show where a law making abortion illegal actually violates our written constitution. Of course, one has to get quite imaginative to do this. Applying the Fourteenth Amendment, the majority argued that the spirit of the due process clause implied a woman's right to privacy in the specific application of abortion. This kind of arguing essentially allowed SCOTUS to create law, which is not their role under the Constitution

Additionally, the whole abortion debate ignored the Tenth Amendment, which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States [federal government] by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." The bottom line is that the Constitution doesn't address the topic of abortion. It does not say whether the states or the federal government can make abortion legal or illegal. Therefore, according to the Constitution, each state and the people in each state can and should be free to create their own laws in regard to abortion. Ultimately, the issue can only be settled on the national level with an amendment to the Constitution, which would be an act of Congress. 

If a new conservative-majority SCOTUS revisits Roe v. Wade, it is likely to be overturned as bad decision, and the abortion issue will resume its pre-1973 status. It will be in the hands of state legislators again. However, such polarization will certainly push both the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice camps to begin aggressively lobbying for a constitutional amendment to support its view on the issue.

The church must stand on the side of the unborn. For far too long now, SCOTUS has given legal coverage for the killing of millions of unborn human beings. The argument when I was young was that an unborn baby wasn't really human. Technology will not allow that to be a credible argument anymore. Today, abortion right advocates just circumvent that obvious issue and focus on the so-called woman's right to choose. I have read some callous people now argue that the choice of the mother trumps the life of the baby, even though it is undeniable that the baby is a human life. This is where we are now.

With a conservative court, it is my hope that SCOTUS will revisit Roe v. Wade and overturn it. With the medical technology we have now, I hope that reasonable people will see how immoral it is to kill unborn children simply because they are unplanned and inconvenient. However, we should be ready for the coming battle. When Roe v. Wade is eventually thrown into the legal trash heap of bad law, the new war will start in state legislatures and likely in Congress. This is where the battle with the most lasting impact will be fought. I don't know how many more years it will take to get there, but I am hopeful it will be soon. May God be merciful to our country and give us another chance to get this right.

21 August 2021

It's Always a Matter of Trust

Cooperation in Baptist life runs on trust in leadership. Trustworthy leadership comes from healthy one-on-one relationships and a trustworthy reputation among the broader constituencies.  This trust is built upon and maintained through certain positive qualities.

Someone once told me that churches were fragile things. The same can be said for an association of churches as well, such as a local association, a state convention, or a national convention.

Typically when things go sideways, the root of the problem is broken trust. Tensions continue and division widens as this breach of trust is denied, ignored, and not addressed by leaders. The specifics of the issues can be numerous, but behind each point of tension is an erosion of trust. 

When trust is present, any problem or challenge can be addressed constructively and parties can arrive at the right solutions, guided by the Word of God. When trust has evaporated, problems typically spiral down and deeper division results in an inevitable parting of the ways. We see this happen in church splits and splinters, within denominations that fracture, and among personal relationships. 

In my opinion, the burden of building and maintaining trust rest squarely on the shoulders of leaders. And the greater and broader stewardship a leader has, the more responsibility he has for being a trust builder.

A leader cannot control, appease, or persuade all the people in a given context that may behave badly. Of course, there will be people who will always do harmful, deceitful, and subversive things. These, in my experience, are not numerous, but they do exist. However, the leader, whether a local church pastor, denominational leader, or the head of an institution or agency, must be the one who engenders trust, not one who exacerbates distrust. Here are a few ways that such spiritual leaders build and maintain trust. I believe each of these are built on biblical principles.

1. Being Above Reproach

In 1 Timothy 3 we read that pastors are to be above reproach, which means they are not to be a scandal to anyone. This doesn't mean a pastor or any ministerial leader is perfect. Everyone will make mistakes. It does mean that there should be no legitimate reason that his character is questionable. To have a questionable character based on facts is to poison one's own ability to lead. If a leader has become a reproach, then people will not trust him. If he is known to be dishonest, temperamental, greedy, authoritarian, abusive, or a number of other things, then how can he be trusted? And if he has demonstrated such behavior with no repentance, then how can he lead? Being above reproach with one's congregation or denomination is the starting place. It is the irreducible minimum. 

2. Listening to Wise Counsel

A trustworthy person builds trust by listening to others. This is not to say that a leader should listen equally to everyone. Obviously, some counsel is more spiritual and wiser than some other. However, a leader who won't listen doesn't build trust. In reality, he sends the message that he doesn't trust anyone's opinions or ideas but his own. We learn in the Proverbs repeatedly of this wisdom. "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice"(Prov. 12:15). And, "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed"(Prov. 15:22).

3. Admitting Mistakes (or Sin)

Pride is the universal nemesis of every person and the arch-enemy of the leader. The inability of a pastoral leader to admit mistake is the surest sign of pride that will lower trust in him among those close enough to see it. A good leader will own mistakes and take whatever steps necessary to bring correction. If a leader sins in a public manner, then he must have the humility to repent publicly. Some sin certainly becomes disqualifying for pastoral leadership, but some does not. Even when leaders make mistakes or sin publicly, if they exhibit humility and learn from such, it can be times where trust is built. However, if the pattern becomes denial of mistakes made or sin committed, then trust is always lost and leadership becomes ineffective and ultimately damaging to the church or organization.   

4. Being Teachable

No one respects a know-it-all who won't listen to others. Seeking and listening to wise counsel and admitting mistakes are empowered by the trait of humility. Additionally, a trustworthy leader is someone who can listen to unsolicited advice from others. A trustworthy pastor has cultivated an environment in which others feel safe in bringing their opinions, ideas, or even necessary rebukes. This takes time to develop, but can only happen when the messaging of an "open door" is present, and people learn from experience that if they come with concerns or ideas, that the leader actually listens, thoughtfully and respectfully engages the conversation, and appropriately responds. Proverbs 9:9 states, "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning." A respected leader is a constant learner, who demonstrates the ability to learn from others. 

5. Graciously Suffering Injustice

Sometimes people do behave badly, jump to wrong conclusions, misrepresent events, and even lie. How pastoral leaders respond to such incidents matter. Christ and his Word steer the leader under these circumstances to long-suffering. Jesus told us, "...if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also"(Matt.5:39). In 1 Thess. 5:15 we read, "See that no one repays evil with evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone." A pastoral leader who is seen demonstrating the Holy Spirit fruit of patience with others earns respect and trust from those who know.   

6. Giving Forgiveness

When a pastoral leader has the opportunity to forgive another, he must. Forgiveness is not a matter of how one feels; it is a matter of obedience to God and His Word. "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive"(Col. 3:12,13). Jesus' instructions are clear. He said, "Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him"(Luke 17:3,4) Such forgiveness builds relationship with the truly repentant. Notice, Jesus implies one can't forgive another unless the offender repents. If someone does a leader wrong and refuses to repent, then no forgiveness is possible. However, the pastoral leader can choose not to become bitter and cynical. God tells us, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you"(Eph. 4:31,32). 

7. Trust God to Fight the Battles

A pastoral leader cannot be passive. He must respond appropriately to problems or challenges, but he must resist the temptation to retaliate. There used to be a saying that people put on t-shirts - "I don't get mad. I get even." There has never been a more antithetical statement made for pastoral leadership! A spiritual leader nurtures a heart of humility and of non-retribution. A trustworthy leader demonstrates above all a trust in God to be his defender. The pastor must declare with the Psalmist, "But you, O LORD are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head"(Ps. 3:3). Furthermore, God commands us all, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'"(Rom. 12:19).

In Baptist life our voluntary, cooperative work runs on trust. Without a strong trust in those who lead, our cooperation becomes strained and vulnerable to becoming severed. This is true in each of our local churches, in our local associations, state conventions and in our national mission boards, seminaries and agencies. Every leader, regardless of the scope of his stewardship, must recognize the importance of trust. Leaders must know what kind of behaviors builds that trust and what harms it. Currently, we have issues that are straining trust at every level. People in our communities are skeptical of the church because of broken trust time and time again. Within our SBC cooperation folks have become disheartened with real issues, which seem to go unaddressed by key leaders. We can and must do better.

Today, Southern Baptists and all faithful, biblical Christians have a sobering stewardship of our faith before us. Our American culture is more hostile to biblical Christianity than any other time that any of us can remember. Issues that originate from without do threaten to creep in and find some accommodation within. And the seduction of success is an existential threat to our confessional identity and biblical fidelity. 

We have proven to be good at branding and creating clever mottos to promote our cooperation, but let's not forget what we need the most. Those who put their dollars in the offering plate need confidently to trust their pastor, their Associational Mission Strategist, their state executive, their SBC president, and the leaders of their agencies and institutions. Leaders can never make everyone happy because there are always a few that are unreasonable. But leaders should always be looking to build trust where they can for the vast majority of reasonable and faithful people connected to their stewardship.

03 August 2021

Being Baptist Matters

An interaction on Twitter recently (a good one), got me thinking about Baptist identity again. The context of the Twitter discussion regarded anger about certain issues in churches and around the SBC being driven by the secular news cycles, rather than our concern with issues of Scripture and our confessional identity. You can link to Bart Barber's video from July 18 here.

The gist of the Twitter video post was that we often get worked up about CRT and open borders, but not so much about matters of Baptist distinctiveness. We rarely hear as much as a peep about matters like churches with weak or non-existent congregational polity, failing properly to fence the table at the Lord's Supper, or not defending religious liberty for all people.

I agree with Bart Barber. Something has been going on under the radar in Baptist life for some time. My last blog post attempted to argue that the real cause at the heart of so much that is ill in the SBC has been caused by a prolonged devotion to pragmatism. I'm convinced that our lack of concern with matters of ecclesiology (how we do church) is just another area that has succumbed to this drift into pragmatism during my ministerial experience over the last thirty years. Here are some things related to church that have and should continue to matter to Baptists.

1. The Name Matters

The story I believe starts something like this: Once upon a time the notion became popular that Baptists could no longer attract unchurched people to their churches, if they continued to use the label Baptist. Baptists who chose to hide their identity reasoned that the people that they wanted to reach for Jesus were hostile to denominational labels because they were put off with traditional Christianity. Therefore, it made sense to get rid of this barrier to the gospel. The thought was that we could keep our doctrinal distinctiveness while obscuring it from those we wanted to reach. We convinced ourselves that this was an acceptable means to get to the greater good. Now for over thirty years this has been the trend, particularly with church plants and replants. Of course, there are still churches a plenty with the label Baptist in their name, but the trend away from the name is undeniable.

In my life, I can certainly point to the massive influence of Rick Warren (SWBTS graduate) and Saddleback Church. The church he planted in the Saddleback Valley of California in 1980 grew to 10,000 in worship in fifteen years. But when he put down in print his secrets to his success in The Purpose Driven Church (1995), the seminarians of my generation devoured it. This became the seeker sensitive approach handbook, and Warren's success with his methods was irrefutable. I was in my final year of my MDiv studies at SBTS, and I remember vividly its impact around our convention of churches. In the first four pages there are 41 endorsements for the book - a who's who among evangelicals in 1995, including SBC notables, Jim Henry, Ken Hemphill, Thom Rainer, Jack Graham, Adrian Rogers, Ronnie Floyd, O.S. Hawkins, Jerry Stutton, James Merritt, and Ed Young Jr. 

Today's Millennials may not be as familiar with Rick Warren's work, but they are undoubtedly impacted with the mindset that he popularized in regard to doing church. From the beginning he downplayed confession and Baptist distinctiveness and emphasized market research, seeker sensitive worship, and preaching as communication rather than exposition. Much can be said or argued about the pros and cons of Warren's approach to doing church and preaching, but the massive impact he has had is beyond dispute. I used to tell my seminary students that The Purpose Driven Church was the most impactful book on the evangelical church in the 20th century. I would add that it has been for first decades of the 21st century as well on the next generation of celebrity megachurch pastors, even if more indirectly.

It is probably debatable how significant it either is or is not to have the name Baptist attached to the congregation. Something of this nature is certainly difficult to measure. Yet, it seems to my observation for many years that "Baptist" church plants that choose to ditch the label while using the cooperative funding, also have a tendency toward a less defined, historic and confessional Baptist ecclesiology. It makes sense that a first step on this trajectory begins by running away from your own name.

I'm obviously not a fan of this practice because I think that the name Baptist matters. I believe that the name communicates key biblical commitments, theological understanding and a historic faith that matters. Denominational labels have come into existence for significant reasons. For Baptists those reasons are all about ecclesiology. These are not direct gospel issues (message of personal salvation), but of importance on significant issues that have doctrinally and historically marked us off from other groups. These have been matters of great conviction. These are the issues that make Baptists, Baptist.

One will inevitably argue that a post-Christian, post-denominational culture doesn't know and doesn't care what it means to be Baptist. That may well be generally true. But does that fact necessitate a de-emphasis on distinctiveness or does it evidence a greater need for clarity on issues that matter?

I believe that our Baptist distinctives do matter and that axiomatically more clarity is always better that less clarity, particularly when articulating biblical principles. Therefore, if we believe that the particulars of Baptist ecclesiology matter, in contrast to other groups, then a more consistent and clear messaging is in order, not one that is less clear. Again, I qualify this whole discussion with the question - if we believe Baptist ecclesiology matters? Therein, may lie the rub.

The next step after moving away from the name Baptist is to make little of our doctrinal affinity in our confession of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message, 2000. Many churches may link to it on their website without living out the confession's articulations regarding ecclesiology. Three areas that ought to matter more that have been pushed into the category of optional or even unimportant have been congregationalism, the office of pastor and the Lord's Supper. And by consequence the compromise on the Lord's Supper has revealed a lack of commitment to baptism.

2. Congregationalism Matters

The BFM2K defines the church as, "an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through a democratic process. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord."

Baptists have always held that a congregational governed church best reflects the New Testament example. Baptists have always insisted the Bible does not evidence any form of hierarchy or any kind of consolidation of authority and power outside a local congregation that can dictate to that local congregation. Congregationalism is a principle more than an exact blueprint for a church's organization. The BFM2K emphasizes that the congregation is "autonomous", which precludes any form of outside governing board or network of any kind. Congregationalism is communicated with the sentence, "Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through a democratic process." Congregations have the liberty to fashion the details of how, how often, and about what matters they will apply this principle, but the principle itself is clear. The authority and responsibility of important decisions in the life of the congregation belong ultimately in the hands of the congregation under the Lordship of Christ. As many new and replanted churches have moved away from the name Baptist, they have also had a tendency to adopt a more pragmatic business model that has often diminished or did away with congregational polity. Certainly, nightmarish memories of unhealthy congregationalism helped to justify the move. Today, many of the trend-setting churches in SBC life operate with little to no functioning congregationalism.

3. The Office of Pastor Matters

The intersection of the office of the pastor and women has been an area of ecclesiology garnering more attention in the SBC these days. The BFM2K reads, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." As of late, many are nuancing this sentence beyond its intent. This sentence was added in the 2000 revision as a means of making explicit what was assumed in the original 1925 and 1963 BFM.

Part of the ecclesiological confusion these days has been propelled by the sloppy manner in which we have thrown around the title pastor. We have devalued it by using it synonymously with minister and director. The original 1925 BFM reads, "Its Scriptural officers are bishops, or elders, and deacons." Here, we can see that when we go farther back in history the common verbiage for a pastor tended to be elder in Baptist life. However, pastor is also a biblical term, and Baptists eventually moved to its usage, presumably to distinguish themselves from Presbyterians. The point is that overseer (bishop), elder and pastor are all biblical terms that Baptists have always seen an interchangeable for the same office, each describing a various function of the role. The bigger point here is that we have conflated non-pastoral roles in the church with the role of pastor, or at least with the title, which causes confusion. 

The intent of the BFM is to describe a man that the church recognizes as a pastor (elder, overseer). He is one who is shepherding and teaching the flock entrusted to him. In a larger church, multiple pastors will have a specific ministry areas of focus. There is no reason to think that from the authorial intent of the confession that the drafters in 1925 were only referring to what we now call a Senior Pastor or Lead Pastor. The 2000 revision of the BFM simply made explicit that a pastor by biblical definition is a male. 

So, the first question to ask about a position in a church is this: Is this a pastoral position? A pastoral position would be one in which the biblical qualifications and expectations of a pastor are present. Is this person going to bear responsibility for preaching/teaching the Bible to the whole congregation and helping to shepherd and lead, even if it is within a plurality of pastors with various primary responsibilities? If the answer to these questions is yes, then confessionally we must affirm it is a position for a male. If the answer is no, then we need to use a different label than pastor. It's really not that hard. The label should be commensurate with the position. However, our lack of attention to this detail has led us to a squishy complementarianism in church polity regarding the office of pastor.

4. The Ordinances Matter

Lastly, the relaxing of Baptist identity has led to a neglect of the ordinances, particularly regarding the Lord's Supper. According to our shared confession, we define baptism as "the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." We also declare that, "Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper."

In other words, we have a specifically defined understanding of baptism, and that a person should be baptized before participating in the Lord's Supper. We definitely find unanimity that only believers should take the Lord's Supper. However, we often fail to make clear that only scripturally baptized believers should take the Lord's Supper. Why? 

Some of this neglect may simply be due to presumptions which lead to a lack of precision. A pastor may emphasize that the supper is for baptized believers, but assume everyone hears what he means. I know I have done this. 

Some may purposefully be vague due to risk aversion. Although one is not mandated to be a member of a local congregation (closed communion) by the BFM2K, some attenders in congregations come from traditions that practice infant baptism. It is difficult to make clear that Christians who have not yet or who will not submit to believer's baptism, will be fenced off from participation in the Lord's Supper. One can feel a certain amount of trepidation knowing that good people, who sit regularly in the worship you lead, may be offended by a clear articulation of close communion practice. Their feelings may be hurt. They may not understand. They may get mad at you. They may leave the church over it. Additionally, those who are scripturally baptized may get offended on their behalf. That's a risk some pastors will not take.

When we neglect properly to fence the supper from infant baptism, we are automatically devaluing our understanding of baptism as Baptists. Our biblical and historic confession is that the New Testament only evidences explicitly those who professed faith in Jesus as the proper recipients of Christian baptism. Furthermore, the content of Scripture and the Greek word itself teaches us that the manner of this baptism is by the immersion of the whole person into water. The word baptizo means "to immerse." With this understanding, we have always insisted that infant baptism is not truly baptism. This in no way implies that a Christian who received infant baptism before she became a Christian is less of a Christian. However, the Baptist position is that this person simply has not taken the first step of discipleship after conversion and been properly baptized. Consequently, if that person cannot be a church member because he has not followed Christ in baptism, then it follows he should not take the supper until after being baptized. 

According to the BFM2K, we clearly confess that a person who can take the Lord's Supper is a baptized believer. And a baptized believer is one who has had believer's baptism by immersion. 

As I wrote this blog post over the last couple of weeks, my local context as a pastor has made it all the more evident why this is a time for better clarity on matters of Baptist ecclesiology. In my community there have been two major causes that has led to a modest influx of folks of Presbyterian and Methodist backgrounds into our congregation. First, Covid-19 sequestering has led many to go online and view other churches. During that time, some found our streaming worship service and decided to make an in-person visit. We were meeting when many other churches of these denominations were not. Second, the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist denominations have been on a theologically liberal drift for some time. For many in the pews of these churches, the LGBTQ+ affirmation, coupled with the distance that Covid-19 created temporarily, has given them the space and courage to leave. Many are leaving these groups after decades or practically a lifetime in them. 

These folks are showing up in our services to worship and to hear the Word of God, and I am deeply grateful for this. These folks know the gospel and love Christ. They want to hear the Bible preached. They are tired of the compromise they had seen creep into their faith tribe. They are people of deep conviction, and I respect each one of them.

As I have interacted with them, I have attempted to be crystal clear about Baptist distinctiveness, particularly about what I have discussed in this blog. What I am discovering is that they respect a direct, clear understanding of what Baptists believe and what it would mean for them to become Baptist. Sometimes they stay and sometimes they do not. I just recently had an outstanding young man who had been visiting make the decision to leave based on the fact that he could not participate in the Lord's Supper. He was new in the area and had a Presbyterian background. He was attracted to our church because of the congregation's warmth and the expositional style of preaching. However, as I clarified our confession about the Lord's Supper, he hit a wall. We discussed believer's baptism, and I gave him some reading on it. He took a few weeks to read and consider it, but ultimately decided his infant baptism was valid. We had the most respectful and loving conversation as he said goodbye after a service a couple of weeks ago. I recommended a couple of PCA churches in our area. I have no doubt that I will see him again, but just not in the context of the fellowship of our congregation. I'm okay with this, and so was he. But I have also baptized this year two former Presbyterians who themselves were already believers, but who were convinced from Scripture of the practice of believer's baptism.  

Being Baptist matters. This is true, but not because it's a Baptist kingdom or because Southern Baptists are the only ones doing good ministry or missions. That attitude would be absurd. Being Baptist matters because there are good reasons we identify as Baptists. These are the reasons that brought about our very existence and confessionally what we believe to be faithful to the Bible. Our insistence on believer's baptism, and refusal to conform is what got our forebears martyred and persecuted by state churches. I think that matters too. 

My heart's desire is to lead a congregation who boldly proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ and the whole counsel of His Word. I want to observe a people who loves all people in their community and participates in advancing the gospel around the world. And, I desire for them to be a people who are faithful to abide in Christ and humbly, gratefully and accurately know who they are as Baptists.  

17 July 2021

A Diagnosis of Our SBC Ills


The Southern Baptist Convention is not completely well. We are not in the critical care unit, but we're not exactly in good health. The symptoms are evident, but the root cause certainly lacks consensus. One interprets the signs symptomatic of a theological drift leftward. A second opinion counters that indeed the sickness is 
being caused by a new fundamentalism with a touch of power grabbing. Others point to symptoms that would indicate that corrupt practices and a system that lacks accountability is our disease. The self-appointed experts on Twitter (myself included sometimes) debate this diagnosis vigorously every day.

Let's review our current symptoms:

Controversy was sparked by the adoption of Resolution 9 at the 2019 annual meeting, which left many puzzled and scrambling to educate themselves on the fundamentals of Critical Race Theory. During the last two years, we have been locking horns over certain aspects of CRT ideology, with certain black pastors threatening to exit the convention while seminary presidents seemed unsure what to do, but ultimately issuing a joint statement to declare CRT incompatible with the BFM2K. Southern Baptists, like the broader American society, are wresting with the tenets of CRT. We are divided over whether we see the academic discipline, its ideology, and its activism as complimentary to or incompatible with biblical Christianity. 

Questions arose about the 2020 Pastors Conference that didn't happen, but had scheduled a couple of eyebrow raisers on the speaker lineup - a women whose church identified her as a pastor, and a pastor who leads his church in the most bizarre, worldly seeker sensitive worship style and practice. Here is an example. 

Randy Adams, Executive Director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, raised issues of concern with NAMB and essentially campaigned for president on them. Although this strategy didn't work for him, it doesn't mean his complaints are necessarily baseless. We've been observing NAMB sponsored church plants with women designated as pastors on their websites. We recently saw evidence of the conflation of the gospel with social issues in NAMB training of church planters.  There have been questions regarding financial matters and a calling for greater accountability and transparency, allowing churches to see more clearly and simply how money is being stewarded.   

The issue that blew up right before the annual meeting was that of alleged mishandling of sexual abuse reports by the immediate past Executive Committee chaired by Mike Stone. Leaked letters by former ELRC president Russell Moore were thrown into the room like hand grenades just days before the annual meeting, forcing Ronnie Floyd's hand, and an understandable action by messengers to employ an outside group to launch a formal investigation. 

The 2021 Committee on Resolutions chose to disregard proposed resolutions on CRT submitted by messengers - one which was submitted by 1,300 different Southern Baptists. The committee chair, James Merritt, shamed and demeaned anyone who dared challenge the insufficiency of Resolution 2,  not that there was really much discussion allowed. I and others stood at the mic at the very moment discussion on the item started only to be ignored while the question was called rather quickly.

We saw a seminary president, Danny Akin, and his circle publicly endorse Ed Litton when the election went into a run off. We also witnessed a last minute Twitter rage against Mike Stone, which certainly smelled of a well-timed smear campaign (maybe a coincidence).

And now, our newly-elected convention president, Ed Litton, has been discovered to be a serial sermon plagiarizer. He did not merely make a mistake, but intentionally passed off as his own several of J.D. Greear sermons and deceived his congregation, allowing them to think these sermons were the fruit of his own labor in the Word. He and his elders removed some 140 sermons from their church website immediately. In an interview with Jonathan Howe on SBC This Week podcast on July 2, Litton made a predictable, "sorry, not sorry" apology, but not for his dishonesty.  Howe, just as predictably, didn't press him on the ethics. It was telling that only about two minutes into the podcast Howe had referred to the their discussion of the matter to be about "sermon similarities."

And now, three weeks after this revelation, Ed Litton has not resigned, but only downplayed his deception. And the silence from SBC elites, who normally speak into such issues, have been uncomfortably silent. In the meantime, even the mainstream media have picked up on the fact that this is a pretty big deal. The story appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Last week Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman on the podcast Pastors Talk did a superb job of bringing conviction and clarity to the topic of sermon plagiarism. 

These (and possibly others I've missed) are what I would call symptoms of our current SBC sickness. But I'm not sure we have put our finger on the cause of our ailment. 

I was the beneficiary of those who fought for the Bible during the Conservative Resurgence. I came to Southern Seminary in the early 90's when Dr. Mohler arrived and the remaining remnant of true theological liberalism was shown the door. Since then, I have operated in ministry with high confidence in our mission boards, seminaries, agencies, and fellow pastors and sister churches. But in the last couple of years something has changed. And it is not just that we find ourselves divided, that we are coming off of one of the most contentious annual meetings I can personally remember, or that there is a constant dumpster fire on SBC Twitter. Those are symptoms, not the cause.

I do feel that something that has been gnawing at me for years. It's been like just a nagging sniffle that you just grab a tissue and wipe occasionally, but you neither pay much attention to it, nor stop your activity. But now it's like we are undeniably sick wondering what hit us. We can't ignore this anymore. We can't deny that something is wrong in the culture in some churches and in aspects of our cooperative work. It's hard to measure how extensive it is, but the fact that the ailment exists is self-evident. But what is it?

I believe that there is one primary cause that explains all these symptoms. I believe there has been one main issue that has caused us to drift, not in sound doctrine officially, but in commitment, practice and ethics. We have verbally championed the authority and sufficiency of Scripture for over thirty years, while allowing a creep of pragmatism, which is now bearing its fruit in more widespread and obvious ways. This is how we are losing our way. This is our corporate sin. This is why we are unhealthy. 

We have been suffering from an increasing lack of clarity and conviction about social issues for the sake of good optics and unity. Why? It would seem that we care more about the perception of a watching world that may judge us too harshly or unfriendly, if we spoke too plainly. Therefore, many choose to equivocate on certain issues or just not address them at all. 

We know that the unbelieving world, as well as much of the broader evangelical world, is saying loudly and forcefully that if we are not antiracist, feminists, and LGBTQ+ affirming, then we are on the wrong side of history and blinded by our own privileged, white, male-dominated, traditional, cisgendered, racist past and present. Pragmatism leads us to soft-peddle truth at times when we don't want to offend, and we justify such by appealing to compassion, reconciliation, or even the gospel itself.

We have not sufficiently handled instances of sexual abuse or misconduct in our churches. Why? It would seem, whether in a local church or at an institutional level, the greater concern has often been damage control, than for the truth and for victims.   

We have been holding on to sound doctrine on paper but evidencing that we have a problem with applying it faithfully to our practice. Why? It would seem that the more we actually have to apply biblical teaching to actual practice the harder we find it to appeal to the Millennial and Gen-Z generations. At least, this is an idea of which many have apparently become convinced. 

Those in the SBC who want to continue the narrative that there is nothing wrong in the SBC other than a discontent, power-grabbing, Twitter-rude loud minority, are not giving serious attention to the symptoms. And I'm not talking about declining membership, baptisms and Cooperative Program giving. Again, these are more of the symptoms.

When we finally let go of our trust in the gimmicks, slick marketing, production quality, and institution protecting and grip more tightly to faithful application of what we say we believe, then we may see our disease more clearly and find our road to recovery. I am a pastor in my mid-50s. I've been in ministry for over thirty years in the SBC. I was there when theological liberalism was driven out, and  since then, I've watched our trust in the sufficiency of God's Word erode. We've replaced it with the idol of pragmatism. 

We hear people keep saying, "there is no drift." I would agree that an overt, theological drift hasn't been evidence yet. However, the foundation is being laid for it. We are increasingly vague on important issues. We are increasingly silent on ethical issues that matter. We are increasingly worried about looking too extreme to an unbelieving world. We increasingly have appropriated worldly means to achieve what is only truly accomplished by the Word and the Spirit. But we believe the Bible? Right?

I realize that the nature of what I've said here is debatable. It certainly could be nuanced to death. And I may well be wrong about some things, either because of my insufficient knowledge of matters or my own flawed reasoning. Yet, here is where I stand on matters in the SBC. We can keep declaring that we are not theologically liberal. And I don't think we are. We can keep insisting that a new fundamentalism is the problem causing contention among us. But I don't think that either is a fair assessment. 

There are real issues of disunity and dissension among us that are primarily about our practice - our application of what we say we believe. My diagnosis of our SBC ills is a pervasive infection of pragmatism that has been in our system for years. The remedy will only come with a thorough application of a devotion to the sufficiency of Scripture, a steady demonstration of humility, a healthy injection of integrity, and heavy doses of penitent prayer and trust in God. 

Yes, we are sick. But there is hope. We know the Great Physician. He has given us the healing prescription - His Word and His Spirit. Let's take the medicine and allow Him to make us whole.    

18 June 2021

SBC 2021: The State of Our Cooperation

If you know me, you know that I am an optimist and by default give people the benefit of the doubt. I prefer to assume people who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior intend well and act with conviction, even if I might disagree with their ideas or opinions. I attempt to trust people at their word until they prove to be untrustworthy. I want to trust those with whom I cooperate. I want to be confident that the dollars our congregation sends to do this cooperation is well stewarded and tethered securely to sound doctrine and practice.

A lack of trust has been the big problem in our SBC for the last two years. Situations have arisen and the relentless Twitter wars have steadily eroded trust, particularly with immediate past Executive Committee (EC) and the alleged improper handling of sexual abuse cases, with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's (ERLC) leadership and focus, with a couple of our seminaries on the issue of Critical Race Theory (CRT), with the operations of North American Mission Board (NAMB), and with the issue of women pastors/preachers.  

I suppose the convention could have turned out to be worse. But to say that over 15,000 messengers left Nashville united would only be an aspiration, not the reality. In the highly anticipated presidential election, with four candidates, the eventual winner of the run off only won by a 52% to 48% margin, only 556 votes.  And leading up to that was an apparent smear campaign aimed at Mike Stone, the eventual runner up. Meanwhile, high-profile, CP salaried individuals made public endorsements for the eventual winner. In my opinion, many who wanted to vote for Mike Stone were dissuaded at the eleventh hour due to the negative cloud put on him by some so obviously, publicly and loudly opposed to him. 

Why is the presidential election so important for Southern Baptists? It's because the president has a certain power of appointment.  He appoints the members of the Committee on Committees, which in turn serves to nominate many other positions on boards and agencies of the convention. It matters and makes a difference.

Here are some of the bigger issues we had as Southern Baptists going into the convention and what transpired during our meeting in Nashville.

1. The Executive Committee and allegations of mishandling reports of sexual abuse issues.

This must have been the most confusing issue for the average Southern Baptist. Allegations by survivors that their reports of sexual abuse not being heard and dealt with appropriately, denial of wrongdoing by the EC, and leaked letters and recordings have combined to add up to one thing - total confusion of issues and happenings for most. Of the 15,726 messengers present, only a handful of people know the truth, the rest of us would like to know so problems can be remedied and people be exonerated or held accountable. It's sad that this situation could not be remedied in house. But by the time Southern Baptists convened in Nashville, there was no choice but a third party investigation.  Certainly, this is to our shame (1 Cor. 6).

The end result was the beginning process of an outside organization being hired to investigate the immediate past EC, which will be handled by a special task force group, hand picked and appointed by the new convention president, Ed Litton.  

PRAY that as a task force is appointed by our new convention president that the right people will serve without partiality. This task force will be the liaison with Guidepost Solutions who will conduct the review.

2. The Ethic and Religious Liberty Commission

The ERLC drama has been extensive and going on since 2016. Russell Moore, who had led as president of this agency for the past eight years, resigned just prior to the meeting in Nashville. He had been under increasing criticism from many for matters to which he had spoken out about, and for matters that he had remained curiously silent about. His story intersects with the controversy surrounding the immediately past EC on matters of the handling of reports of sexual abuse. Most likely, he is the one who leaked letters criticizing the EC, which ultimately made the final push for a third party investigation.

PRAY that the board of trustees for NAMB will find that right man to lead the ERLC - one who will be a bridge builder and restore confidence in the work of the ERLC.

3. Critical Race Theory

Certainly CRT was a concern to many since the passing of Resolution 9 in 2019.  Messengers submitted several resolutions on CRT for the Committee on Resolutions to consider. I submitted one such - here. Another was submitted by over 1,300 different people (a strategic move by a newly formed network of Southern Baptists called the Conservative Baptist Network) - here. And there were others. However, the Committee on Resolutions, chaired by James Merritt, chose not explicitly to address CRT. Instead, the committee brought to the messengers a good, but vague resolution to avoid the controversy of addressing CRT explicitly. When messengers went to the mic, James Merritt regrettably used tactics to shame and demean anyone who had an issue with the weakness of the resolution or wished to propose an amendment. It was obvious that he had no intention of listening to the messengers that he represented. I was standing at a mic myself, but was never called on. This was not one of the good moments of this year's convention. 

The resolution adopted will do nothing to settle the issue. I was very encouraged; however, during the seminary presidents reports. I was deeply pleased with the overall resolve of the presidents, but mostly with Dr. Adam Greenway of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. Time will only tell if CRT rhetoric that was coming out of Southern Seminary and Southeastern Seminary will cease or be embolden from the inaction taken in Nashville.

PRAY for our seminary leaders as they choose and oversee faculty. Their responsibility is great. Pray that they will indeed steer a clear and bold course that will not begin to embrace, teach, or speak the rhetoric of the ideology that underpins CRT.  

4. The North American Mission Board

NAMB has been under fire for sometime now for a couple of significant issues that still have not been resolved. I believe that these will still be points of contention as we move forward. There have been concerns over an apparent lack of clarity and practice in church plants regarding women pastors. There has also been tension regarding NAMB's church planting cooperation with state conventions and the use of resources. There have been questions regarding the fiscal responsibility of NAMB. Randy Adams, Executive Director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, who also ran for convention president, campaigned on these alleged issues with NAMB. 

As NAMB continues to have a singular focus on church planting in large urban areas, the line between contextualizing and compromise may continue to be blurry. Many Southern Baptists are increasingly growing uncomfortable with what they are observing in some instances. And I don't expect the calls to cease for better accountability and transparency regarding how CP money is being used by NAMB. Just as the EC is having to undergo an investigation to rebuild trust in our convention system, NAMB needs to be more forthright with monetary spending, if it too wants to strengthen its trust with many Southern Baptists. 

PRAY for Kevin Ezell, President of NAMB. Pray that he will have wisdom and discernment concerning how proactively to build trust with many Southern Baptists. Pray that NAMB's church planting work in large cities will be distinguished by a solid commitment to biblical doctrine and practice.   

5. Women pastors/preachers

The topic of women pastors and women preaching was subject of interest in the last couple of years around our convention. Why? Beth Moore, who has now officially exited SBC life, was the focal point. Why? Because she was increasingly preaching to whole congregations on the Lord's Day in Southern Baptist churches. Some argued that she was a guest and not the pastor, which is true, of course. However, one has to ask the following question: Even so, is she not still picking up the task of the pastor? Her ministry was morphing into something that many felt was beginning to blur the line between a pastor's role and function. 

Additionally, as mentioned above, women began to be observed on websites of NAMB sponsored church plants with the title of "pastor." In the 2020 Pastor's Conference, which did not happen because of the pandemic, a woman, who was listed as a pastor in her church, was scheduled to speak. This issue has been simmering for some time, yet it was not a subject picked up by the messengers during the convention.

PRAY that our seminaries and institutions will continue to be faithful to biblical teachings regarding gender roles and that we will be clear and consistent in our message and practice.

Major Negative Takeaways

We are not united, even if the voices on the stage claim that we are. There are important convictions and matters that are pulling us in different directions. Issues related to CRT and women pastors are not going away. And there is much trust to be rebuilt. 

A significant dissatisfaction with NAMB is not going away and the call for more accountability and transparency will persist.

The problem of dealing with sexual abuse and misconduct claims will continue to be a matter that Southern Baptists are going to have to solve. There is much confusion regarding what constitutes abuse and who is to be held responsible. In reality, it is the local church or institution that must deal appropriately with any knowledge of sexual misconduct or abuse within their own congregation or organization. Ultimately, it's not the responsibility of the EC. This year our EC, on behalf of the churches, did vote that two churches who had not handled matters related to sexual misconduct/abuse not to be in friendly cooperation. (i.e. removed them as Southern Baptist churches) - see New York Times article. This is really all the EC can do on behalf of all of us who elect them to this position of responsibility. 

Major Positive Takeaways

A lot of messengers showed up in the room! Over 15,000 of them.  The most in 25 years. More participation is always better. It was encouraging to see many, many adults younger than myself.

The International Mission Board under the leadership of Dr. Paul Chitwood has been reinvigorated and revitalized. We celebrated the sending of 64 new missionaries during the Send Conference. Every Southern Baptist should be encouraged! This is what has been at the core of being Southern Baptist for 175 years - sending missionaries together to the nations.

God has blessed Southern Baptists. As major mainline denominations have continued to drift significantly into biblical infidelity and an embracing of worldly ideologies, the SBC continues strongly to protect our shared commitment to the Bible. Even the fact that we are having some tensions about CRT and women pastors is evidence of that commitment. Only God knows how these matters will ultimately play out in the next few years. But one thing is obvious to me after leaving Nashville. If many Southern Baptists at large had fallen asleep below deck on our journey together, they're wide awake now and on the deck asking important questions about our course ahead. Those steering are now having to answer. This is a good thing. Be encouraged. 

13 May 2021

Your Biblical Fragility May be Showing

The inertia of the critical social justice movement is undeniable. It has moved from obscure legal essays written by academicians to academicians to permeate practically every aspect of public life. 

Everywhere it seems that everyone has been falling over each other in a mad rush to make sure that they are perceived as being on the "right side of history." Professional sports are all in, the NCAA is all in, Netflix is all in, higher education is all in (actually has been for some time), most big retail businesses are all in, and your local public school counselors are probably all in. It's now become a liability to stay quiet. You need a hashtag, slogan, seal, or bumper sticker to make sure everyone knows you are antiracist, pro-feminists, and pro-LGBTQ.

The high-profile, Christian leaders are not exempt from this pressure. In my little corner of evangelicalism (Southern Baptist) the ideology behind the critical social justice movement didn't come to the forefront for most of us until we began paying attention to the fallout after the passing of Resolution 9 at the 2019 annul Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham, AL. However, the rumblings over this so-called "social justice" that was beginning to impact evangelicalism was expressed in the earlier 2018 "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" (a.k.a Dallas Statement). Many well-known American evangelicals were curiously quiet and refused to sign (even in my own SBC), leaving John MacArthur and and handful of other notables to the fate of their self-inflicted poor optics on matters of race.

But after the highly emotional George Floyd incident, white evangelicals scrambled to make sure they were counted present on the front lines of the social justice movement by making apologies for their "whiteness" and "white privilege" and participating in public laments. And as Black Lives Matter appeared on signs among protestors and painted on city streets, white evangelicals did the dance to embrace loudly the words while quietly equivocating on the actual organization's full vision. Many white evangelicals were mostly concerned that they be not accused of displaying their "white fragility" which they had learned is just a coping mechanism for their own racist subconscious and their unwitting complicity in racist structures. They dare not ask any questions or raise any issues that could be interpreted as racist, proving their inability to talk about race in the right way.

Now, here we are. It seems that we have now drawn up our lines. There are those who are attempting to embrace the critical social movement and its rhetoric in one hand and hold their Bibles in the other hand. And, there are those who are holding on to their Bibles with both hands and saying no thank you to the critical social justice movement and its increasingly popular ideology called Critical Race Theory. CRT defenders see it has a helpful analytical tool from the social sciences to lay beside their Bibles to help facilitate the right conversations to move us more rapidly to racial equality in our society. CRT critics see it as a pernicious ideology with tenets that undermine and contest biblically informed views about humanity, sin and the gospel.

I've been exploring this subject, reading the founding proponents of CRT, evangelicals who are embracing its tenets, and evangelicals who are resisting it. I've concluded that our differences come down to something simple - the Bible. For those of my white and black brothers who have fallen in step with the surge of social justice scholarship, rhetoric, virtue signaling, and ideology, I want to give you a warning. Your biblical fragility may be showing.

I'm not saying those given to the critical social justice movement think the Bible is unimportant. Those among conservative evangelicals certainly hold the Bible in high esteem, and at least in theory, as the place of prominence. Yet every time Bible-believing people push back on the notion that CRT challenges biblical sufficiency, I believe their biblical fragility is showing.

After nearly two years of reading, listening, reflecting, and seeking to understand the issues embedded in our current tension about these matters, I have reached some conclusions that I want to share with my fellow Southern Baptist brothers and sisters. This is not exhaustive, just some of my current reflections on these matters at this time. My attempt to dial in a biblically faithful and reasonable view on these issues, I admit freely, is a work in progress. But, here goes.

If you actually feel guilty for systemic racism and feel the personal need to be apologetic or lament, then your biblical fragility is showing.

Having an awareness of the past injustices, violence, and racism of our American history is important. History neither should be whitewashed clean by national hubris, nor should the present generation be pronounced guilty for the sins of the fathers.

This question is answered clearly in Ezekiel 18:20. The Lord declares, "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself."

We find in Exodus 20, and echoed in other places, content that would at first appear contradictory. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me" (Ex. 20:4-5). 

Traditionally, these have been interpreted as pointing us to two biblical truths. The sins of our fathers do have consequences that reach into subsequent generations. This is part of our shared humanity and corporate reality. What I do in the present, can affect others to lesser or greater degrees now and into the future. However, I am not personally guilty of my forbears' sins. I can regret the sins committed in the past and understand the corporate need to make apology (e.g. 1995 SBC resolution). For example, Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel repented of personal sin, but also acknowledged the sins of their people, which had led to God's judgment of their nation. But personally to apologize for a current, shocking incident simply because it has become viral due to the news media and social media is another thing altogether. We should feel sorrow for such incidents, but we should not feel compelled to internalize and express guilt simply because we feel the pressure to be apologetic for all white people. And, we see people doing this in a knee-jerk fashion. Before the details are verified, before an investigation is done, before all the facts are known, we are pushed to jump to conclusions, most of all that such a tragedy was motivated by racial hostility. How absurd. How unbiblical. This takes me to the next sign.

If you find your first instinct is to virtue signal on Twitter whenever social justice rhetoric is hot, then your biblical fragility is showing.

For me, this has been the most telling evidence of biblical fragility among some of my brothers and sisters. To suggest that we wait for due process has become tantamount to being racist. Many have succumbed to the pressure to say something to affirm the narrative that pivots on race, before anyone really knows all the facts. This is foolish.

The Bible compels us to patience and prudence, while the social justice warriors are screaming for justice for (insert name) immediately and rioting, what they are truly after is vengeance. How can I say this? Because they have already made up their mind as to what has happened, why it happened, and who needs to be punished and how. They are not willing to wait for justice. And even when the process of justice has been administered and the result is something other than their pre-determined, desired outcome, then it's only more evidence of their claim of ongoing systemic racism.

But the Bible gives us this wisdom, "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him"(Prov. 18:17). Our biblical concern for justice rests on process, not outcomes. Scripture tells us that God's plumb line of justice is about adequate attestation to the offense and a balanced scale of justice that shows no partiality.

If you find yourself supporting or promoting Black Lives Matters, then your biblical fragility is showing.

BLM started in 2013 as a reaction to the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, but really gained traction with the reaction to the death of Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter took off and quickly becoming a mantra and movement that has now brought in millions of dollars in donations for the cause of fighting systemic racism in America. Many Christians have uncritically adopted the hashtag and the ideology of BLM.

Any Christian who endorses or refuses to be critical of BLM is either ignorant of just scared to do so. You can go to their own website here, and read for yourself. What you will not find is any concern for black on black crime. The truth of the matter is that most homicides are intraracial. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, in 2019, 88% of whites were killed by other whites and 80% of blacks were killed by other blacks, with the per-capita offending rate six times higher for blacks than whites. BLM pretends that this reality doesn't exist, and instead continues to perpetrate that there is an epidemic of white violence against blacks in our country. That simply doesn't square with the facts. Additionally, BLM supports "Black queer and trans folks" and "all Blacks that live along the gender spectrum."

If you have uncritically embraced the social science (CRT), or give a pass to those who do, then your biblical fragility is showing.

CRT is now the proverbial tail wagging the dog for many evangelicals. We have a problem for the self-professed biblically-driven Christian who is speaking the rhetoric of CRT and moving social justice to the seat of prominence.

Supporters will argue that CRT is just a tool, not an overarching worldview. I would agree. I don't think CRT is what we would technically view as a worldview. Its view is limited to the American experience. However, it has driving presuppositions, and tenets from which it operates that constitute a fixed ideology that is comparable to a worldview. Therefore, CRT is not merely a tool, as some would lead you to believe.

If your church's ministry has now become focused on being antiracist or providing safe spaces for blacks, then the gospel itself is being downgraded. The modern critical social justice movement, like the old social gospel movement and liberation theology movements displace the gospel of Jesus with activism. It takes the focus off the call to personal repentance and faith and puts it on social transformation through activism. Sin is now in society and systems, not individuals. Salvation is now is overturning perceived oppression (whatever that means), not the transformation of the human heart through repentance of personal sin and faith in Christ.

Now, I know what your thinking. Can't the church and individual Christians be concerned with both? And the answer is absolutely yes! However, its a matter of priority. For those who have drunk deeply from liberation theology and CRT, the gospel in all practically has become activism itself. Jesus was the model revolutionary and that is what Christians are called to do. Everything is about power, race and white hegemony. The Christian is called to tear down the white supremacy, not to proclaim a crucified, buried and resurrected Christ who, when we repent and believe, makes us a new creature, and he tears down the walls of hostility. "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility"(Eph. 2:14). Racial harmony is what the gospel can accomplish, it is neither the gospel itself or the main goal of the gospel.

However, the congregations who have the biblical gospel of Christ, must also be concerned with trying to reach all people in their community. And churches should be concerned where true inequity in opportunity or treatment is found. Christians have done this is the past, and we must continue to do so. Our society will always be flawed, and Christians should be concerned with needed reforms that address racial inequity, attempting to get at the true causes and offer appropriate solutions.

These are confusing and contentious times among evangelicals. I work at trying to understand competing views, and I admit that the learning never really ends. There is always something else to peel back and consider. Matters are always more complex than we tend to think. But at the same time, the more I look into these matters of social justice, the more clarity I am getting about the key differences. And it really isn't that complicated.

The Christian faith is about the good news of Jesus crucified, buried and resurrected to provide forgiveness of sin and to make spiritually dead people alive. This transformation causes us to be salt and light in our culture so that others can be pointed to the truth of the gospel. We know that God commands us to love him and to love our neighbors without qualification. We know that God desires impartiality and equal balances in matters of justice.

But I can't know any of the above with clarity and certainty without the Bible. Without it, I am left to the opinions of mere men. If I don't firmly believe the Bible to be inerrant and sufficient, then I'm ripe to have my faith hijacked by ideologies that shift my focus from a thoroughly working biblical Christianity to a biblical cherry-picking, culturally-driven, issue-oriented expression of my Christian faith. This can happen with a heart sincerely motivated by compassion and for a sense of justice, but a mind that loosens itself from a commitment to the Bible's sufficiency.

I want to prepare my heart for the annual meeting of the SBC next month. I will be praying for a spirit-filled time that brings clarity to these issues with charity. But I do not want my convention of churches to compromise truth for a facade of unity. For the last two years pressing issues have been simmering among us and there needs to be a reckoning in Nashville. Those who find themselves in leadership at this time need courage and compassion. They need to seek to please God and not men. They need to count the cost of biblical fidelity. They need to listen to the churches' messengers. They need to be prayerful and Holy Spirit led. I am praying for those who are leading and for those of us attending. My hope is that when I depart on June 16, that my heart will be soaring with joy and confidence that our churches showed biblical integrity in our decisions and resolutions and no hint of biblical fragility was to be found.