Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Censorship at SWBTS

I haven't delved too deeply into SBC politics on my blog, though I do occasionally comment on such issues on the blogs of others. I do find it disconcerting when Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson makes the decision to restrict free access to a message delivered in chapel because he has determined that it might harm the churches. I can't imagine such censorship and restriction of information having taken place in my years at the seminary under the presidencies of Drs. Naylor and Dilday. When dissent is silenced and access to opposing viewpoints is restricted, the nature of theological education as inquiry and investigation is supplanted by indoctrination in the "official party line," and woe be to those who would dare criticize their interpretations.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Disaster Relief Chainsaw Crew

I met today with a task force of interested individuals that is helping the BGCM to outfit a trailer with chainsaws and safety equipment necessary to respond to disasters both here in Missouri and beyond. We're still in the planning stages of this endeavor, but the Lord has blessed us with some folks who have previous experience in this type of disaster response and their input has been invaluable. One of the real blessings is that this type of willingness to cooperate and offer assistance is taking place in spite of some "Baptist political differences" that might have otherwise sabotaged our efforts. I've discovered that those who are committed to working in disaster relief efforts are far more concerned about the needs of the individuals that they will be helping than about the religious labels someone else might wear. Far that, I'm extremely grateful to God and pray that their tribe may increase.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Blog Name Explanation

It's not my intent to insult the intelligence of any theological students or church history buffs who might wander by and read this post, but as my blog was recently referenced by a coworker in a monthly email newsletter distributed by the BGCM, I felt that some might visit my site for the first time and wonder about the significance of the title "Radical Reformation Fan."

The Radical Reformation refers to a smaller movement within the greater Reformation movement that has traditionally been identified most with the work of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and others in either the Lutheran or Reformed traditions. The Radical Reformers (also known more popularly as the Anabaptists) went beyond the Magisterial Reformers (as the above men are labelled) by insisting on the need for a separation of the church from the state. Both Luther and Calvin tied the success of their reforming movements to the support of the German and Swiss states respectively. The Anabaptists contended that the state had no right to impose a system of beliefs on anyone and insisted that only an uncoerced faith was a legitimate expression of belief in Christ.

The Anabaptists also took the daring step of initiating believers' baptism in January of 1525, less than 8 years after Luther had tacked his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church. They argued that only true believers could understand the significance of the ordinance and demonstrate their commitment to the lordship of Christ by submitting to baptism. Many of the other basic beliefs that we maintain today as Baptists can be traced back to the Anabaptists.

My love for Anabaptist history was whetted by a church history professor I was privileged to study under at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary--Dr. William Estep. His book, The Anabaptist Story, contains many moving accounts of the sacrifices that these radical reformers paid for their beliefs--many of them having suffered martyrdom. The sad fact is that they were persecuted not only by the Roman Catholic Church, but also by Lutherans and Calvinists. My wife and I took a Reformation study tour to Europe with Dr. Estep when we were still in seminary and it was one of those unforgettable experiences in life. While his book is out of print, it is still possible to find a copy of it in seminary libraries and even some church libraries. I would commend its reading if you can find it.

Dying Well

The story is told of a man who approached John Wesley one day, seemingly at random, and asked the famous evangelist how he might come to faith in Christ. Wesley explained to the man the way to become a Christian and the man trusted in the Lord for salvation. Wesley then asked the man why he had sought him out specifically to ask him how to be saved. The man replied, "Because I have observed that your people die well." I've often thought about that response in the years since I first heard that story. It has come to my mind repeatedly in these past three years as I have been privileged to serve as associate pastor to a large group of senior adults. I have witnessed repeatedly the same phenomenon that this unnamed man saw in the followers of John Wesley: Christians know how to die well.

I performed a funeral service this afternoon for a lady I had only known a few months. Wilma had been struggling with cancer for several years, but she faced it with undaunting courage and faith. We spoke several times in recent weeks about her approaching death, and she always responded cheerfully that she was ready to go home whenever the Lord called her.

Many of the services I do are for folks I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the course of the entire time I have been with this congregation. Such will be the case on Wednesday as I do the eulogy for another of God's dear saints--a man named Nathan. Nathan was 94 years old and was a faithful member of our church until the end. He attended prayer meeting on Wednesday evening before passing away on Saturday afternoon. Nathan kept up with several missionaries around the world, composing handwritten letters to them to encourage them in their work. He took a personal interest in my family, cutting out newspaper clippings of our sons' awards and accomplishments and passing them along to us with his congratulations. When I lost my father, Nathan wrote letters of encouragement to my mother, and never failed to ask how she was doing when we were together.

Nathan was an adopted grandfather to a lot of the children of the workers who serve at John Knox Village, the retirement community where he lived for many years. He spent time telling them stories, loving them, and sharing his wisdom. Nathan also was in charge of securing entertainment and speakers for our monthly senior adult gatherings of the Joy Club, and already had folks lined up for the next several months when he passed away.

Heaven's gain is earth's loss this week as our church bids farewell to two distinguished followers of the Lord. They would both decry any such attempts to praise them, as a hallmark of both Wilma and Nathan's life was their humility. But the Scripture admonishes us to give praise to whom it is due, and these two choice servants of the Lord deserve our respect and commendation for a life lived well. They surely have already heard the voice of their Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Outstanding Trip

I arrived safely home from Guatemala yesterday afternoon after spending 8 days in a very beautiful country--both in terms of natural beauty and the people who live there. It was my privilege to teach 33 students, the great majority of them who serve as pastors, during a weeklong course on Theology, Culture, and Mission. We focused together on some areas in which the churches need to address the overwhelming needs they confront in society as they are carrying out the Great Commission. I was very encouraged by the enthusiastic response with which the course was received and by the high level of participation and interaction present.

In meeting with Guatemalan Baptist Convention leaders to discuss the partnership agreement with the BGCM, they shared with us a proposed plan for working in some of the westernmost regions of Guatemala that have received less outside assistance in terms of volunteers teams than other areas. They invited us to offer a centralized 2-day training event for pastors in that area every 6 months during the next 3 years, as well as seeking to match up individual Missouri churches with Guatemalan churches to carry out some hands-on projects. It was a very positive experience.

On Sunday, we were able to participate in the 60th anniversary celebration of the work of the Guatemalan Baptist Convention. Some 800 or 900 were present from many of the 50+ Baptist churches of the capital, and the theme was built around the faithfulness of God in the past, present, and future. Three different messages of 10 minutes each (is that possible for a Baptist preacher?) dealt with this theme. I had the opportunity of bringing the final reflection about God's faithfulness in the future and basically said we could trust God to be faithful in the future because of His faithfulness in the past, because the Bible assures us that He is faithful, and that He promises to be with us in the future (Jer. 29:11-14a).

We got to do some sightseeing as well and thoroughly enjoyed the ancient city of Antigua and the beautiful Lake Atitlan with its 3 volcanoes. I had mixed emotions as we left--glad to be heading home on the one hand, but sorry to bid farewell to some outstanding brothers and sisters in Christ whom I have grown to love and appreciate in these days.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Guatemala Bound

Sunday will find me on an airplane winging its way toward my destination of Guatemala City. I begin teaching a week-long intensive course at the Baptist Theological Seminary there on Monday morning. The course focuses on the need to engage in wholistic ministry as we seek to reach others with the gospel. I've previously taught this material on 2 different occasions at the Mexican Baptist Theological Seminary in Mexico City. I'll be joined on Wednesday by the executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri to meet with leaders of the Guatemala Baptist Convention as we further explore and flesh out plans for missions projects as a part of a three year partnership agreement between our respective conventions. We'll be traveling to the southwestern part of Guatemala to the city of Quetzaltenango over the weekend before returning for a worship service in Guatemala City on Sunday evening that will celebrate the convention's anniversary and focus on God's faithfulness in the past, present, and future.

If you happen to stumble across this blog in the coming week, please say a prayer for the Lord to bless the time spent ministering in Guatemala. Thanks.