Two prominent SBC bloggers have recently addressed the issues plaguing the Missouri Baptist Convention. Wade Burleson and Art Rogers have each weighed in on certain aspects of the current controversies in Missouri. I commented on Art's blog that I would likely post on my own blog about these concerns, given that I have a certain vested interest in them as a Baptist residing in Missouri. I chose the preceding words carefully, and they do in fact reveal that our church is not associated currently with the Missouri Baptist Convention. Ours was one of 19 churches recently dismissed by the MBC for violating their single alignment clause. It is the issue of single alignment that I wish to address briefly in this post, for it is part and parcel of the trend that many have observed of the narrowing of parameters of cooperation.
I've only spoken up one time at a meeting of the MBC. I did so in November 2004 when the convention was proposing the language for single alignment. Word & Way picked up a portion of my objection to the language that the committee had employed in an earlier letter in the Pathway entitled "Debunking Myths about Single Alignment." I found the opening paragraph to contain a number of not-so-veiled attacks on moderate Baptists. The references to the "duty to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit," to "count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed," and the allusion to brand knockoffs and cheap imitations," as "those who have come among us who trumpet to the world that they are Southern and/or Missouri Baptists when in reality they are Baptist in name only" were deeply offensive and I drew the attention of the messengers to the inflammatory language of this document. The other phrase in the document that raised my hackles was the purported justification of the single alignment procedure in that it "allows the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention to avoid having their doctrinal positions compromised by the heretical actions of a corrupt few." Calling fellow Baptists heretics certainly goes beyond the pale of Christian love and grace. To his credit, following my objections to the tone of the document, James Freeman issued a public apology, but the ongoing attacks on moderate Missouri Baptists by the MBC, especially in the Pathway, certainly raise the question as to whether or not moderate Baptists are still deemed to be heretics.
As one who taught Baptist and church history for many years, I always associated the charge of heresy with denial of the basic tenets of the Christian faith, not with questioning some of the cultural issues addressed in the BF&M 2000. Evidently the term heresy is a bit looser in its application in our day. I well remember the experience of reading Dr. Rankin's letter in January 2002, asking IMB missionaries to sign their agreement with the BF&M 2000. It arrived via email late one night after we had recently moved from Argentina to Mexico City and I awakened my wife to share the disturbing news. One of the justifications he gave for this action was the need to protect us from accusations of heresy behind our backs. It wasn't clear at that time exactly who was making said accusations, but I felt then as I do now that the term heresy was a misnomer to describe the objections to the changes that were being introduced into the statement of faith.
The MBC's actions reflect a witch-hunt mentality, and amazingly, there is almost a rather perverse sense of pride in that mindset. The latest issue of Pathway also contains an article that states the convention has now named an ad hoc committee to study the theological soundness of all non-political para-church organizations with whom the MBC relates. The quest to exclude other Christian groups who cooperate but who might not cross their t's and dot their i's the same way as Missouri Baptists reflects an inordinate amount of arrogance rather than a desire for purity and holiness from my perspective. The same issue of Pathway also contains an article entitled "Single Alignment proceeding toward '07." Let me quote just one line from it near the end of the piece. It states, "Missouri is unique in its approach to single alignment in that no other state convention in the SBC has passed such a definite statement articulating the ever-strengthening ties between the MBC and SBC." This statement oozes with self-righteousness and pride--despite the fact that it means that fellow Christians and Baptists will be cut off from fellowship because of the desire to control how autonomous Baptist churches spend their missions dollars and with whom they choose to cooperate in missions efforts. May God have mercy on us all.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I just returned late last night from a 3-day trip to Big D (that's Dallas for you non-Texans). The staff of the BGCM (all 7 of us) piled into a 12-passenger van early Monday morning for the 8 hour or so drive to Dallas from near Springfield, MO where we all met up and spent Sunday night. We had some great fellowship along the way as our staff typically tends to do. We spent Monday evening, all day Tuesday, and Wednesday morning meeting with the leadership teams of the BGCT and the BGAV at the BGCT's beautiful facility. In addition to some general sessions where we spoke of common concerns, challenges, and some victories along the way, we also broke up into small groups with our counterparts from the other state conventions. We had some fruitful sharing times in the group I was privileged to meet with of those who are giving leadership to the Texas and Virginia state conventions in the area of missions. I truly believe that such networking is a key ingredient to future effectiveness in ministry. We were able to share with one another some helpful resources that we have discovered along the way as well as to encourage one another in the struggles we all face. Spending quality time with brothers and sisters in Christ who are committed to reaching their states and the world with the gospel was a tremendous blessing for our staff. Six of the seven of us are part-time with the BGCM, so our situation is unique as compared to the size of both Texas and Virginia. Nevertheless, we weren't treated as inferiors or stepchildren, but as peers in the work. My prayer is that this type of cooperation and the fruitful interchange of ideas and information might proliferate to other groups as well.