Friday, October 24, 2008

Another Rite of Passage in the Family

Well, October 24th has arrived which means that our youngest turns 16 today. Just about every warm-blooded U.S. citizen knows what that means—driver’s license time. After dutifully practicing parallel parking yesterday and reviewing all the necessary instructions about turn signal indicators, which direction to turn the wheels when asked to park on a hill, etc., Jonathan went today and took his driving test which he passed with flying colors. Yep, it’s official. The fourth Snowden boy is a legally licensed driver. Hopefully in the not too distant future when we work out some additional transportation issues, it will reduce my chauffeuring responsibilities. With all of his extracurricular activities, that is going to be a joyous day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Spotlight

I'm sharing in today's post my article for our senior adults' monthly newsletter, the Joyful Tidings. My column for the newsletter appears under the heading "Snowden's Senior Spotlight."

As I toyed with the idea of what to write about in this month’s edition of the Joyful Tidings, my mind wandered to the title of my monthly column that was selected 5 years ago from suggestions given to Virginia Rygaard, the editor of this newsletter. At that time Virginia offered to the person with the winning submission a free year’s subscription to the Joyful Tidings. [That's a joke of course as they are all free anyway.] I don’t know who the grand prize winner was that suggested “Snowden’s Senior Spotlight” as the name for the column, but I trust you’ve enjoyed reading my random thoughts each month, published under your prize-winning name.

A spotlight is generally associated with a performance on a stage, and its primary function is to draw attention to a featured performer—be it a singer, dancer, musician, speaker, or other gifted entertainer. Quite often the stage may be filled with other individuals performing supporting roles, each one carrying out their assigned tasks, while the person in the spotlight is the focus of attention. Imagine with me that the spotlighted individual is a singer being accompanied by a philharmonic orchestra. The crowd certainly will watch and listen to the soloist singing, but what would the performance be minus all of the component members of the orchestra? The rich, full-bodied tones of the cellos, the haunting melody of the oboes, the deep reverberations of the kettle drums, and every other instrument present adds its voice to the music that enriches the experience of the concert-goers as they listen to the soloist.

Not everyone can sing like the Italian tenor Pavarotti and occupy center stage where the spotlight shines brightest. In life, most of us will have to learn to be content with playing our role in the shadows, out of the spotlight. Let us never forget, however, that when we serve others, we are doing so as unto the Lord Himself. And to Him who notices even the smallest sparrow that falls to earth, and who numbers the hairs of our head, even the smallest deed of kindness matters greatly. Three times in Matthew 6, Jesus assures us that the Father who sees what is done in secret will reward us. May our only concern be that the spotlight of God will reveal work done heartily as unto the Lord and not for the praise of men.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Legacy of a Father

I had mentioned in a post last Tuesday that I had decided to participate this past weekend in an Inside-Out Weekend at my mom’s church, Acton Baptist Church, located near Granbury, TX. In case you don’t know where Granbury is, it’s about 20 miles southwest of Ft. Worth. It was a wonderful weekend in every respect. I had a good time being able to visit with Mom as she continues to recover from a fractured pelvis suffered in a fall. The Inside-Out Weekend, facilitated by Karen Hatley of the WorldconneX staff, was also a great experience. I’ll probably post some about it later in the week, but in this post, I wanted to share what impacted me most about the time at Acton Baptist Church.

My folks moved from South Texas where we had lived my entire life to Granbury in 1992 when we were home on our first furlough from the mission field. As was their custom, they jumped in with both feet into the life of the Acton Baptist Church where they joined soon after moving. They both sang in the choir and Mom has been active in WMU and helps count the Sunday offerings on Monday mornings. Dad was an active deacon, a Sunday School teacher, and participated faithfully in the FAITH outreach ministry of the church. He also went on several missions trips with the church to work along the Mexican border.

After I was introduced this weekend as Bob Snowden’s son (though I knew several folks in the church already from previous visits), I had multiple members approach me during break times on Friday and Saturday or after the worship service on Sunday to express to me how much my Dad had meant to them. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself choking back tears of gratitude and appreciation for their kind words and tributes to Dad.

One fellow was a deacon whom Dad had mentored in the deacon ministry after this man’s ordination at Acton Baptist Church. Another had been a partner with him on one of the FAITH teams as they went out regularly to visit newcomers and share their faith in Christ with prospects. Still another had sat by him in choir and commented on Dad’s faithfulness and encouragement to him on multiple occasions. I can’t begin to express how much I was blessed by their words of affirmation regarding the positive impact that Dad had made on their individual lives.

I came away from the weekend experience with an even greater love and respect for my Dad who passed away on January 8, 2004. He passed away in his sleep during the night, having been at prayer meeting and choir practice that evening. His death was totally unexpected, as he was in good health and played golf regularly during his retirement years. I missed the opportunity of getting to tell him goodbye, but shared with my family that it was such a blessing that he went into the presence of his Lord without suffering from any illness or pain and having been exactly where he always was on Wednesday evening—praying and studying the Bible with fellow church members and practicing with the choir in preparation for Sunday worship.

The other lasting impression that the weekend drove home to me as I thought about Dad’s legacy was how important it is for me to live in such a way that my own four boys and my two grandchildren will hopefully one day be able to look back on my life and be thankful for a positive influence and guidance that I’ve had in their lives as well. I have some big shoes to fill.

Monday, October 13, 2008

SHAPED for Ministry

I saw this picture last week on CNN’s website and it caught my attention. It appeared in the photos of the week contest and was by far the largest vote-getter. The bride, still wearing her wedding gown, is casting her line into the surf as she fished at a New Jersey beach.

I have the strange suspicion that a lot of women wouldn’t find that to be very romantic or appropriate on one’s wedding day. You’ve probably heard the old expression, “it takes all kinds to make the world go round.” A new bride, surf fishing in her wedding gown, constitutes ample proof of that statement. At the same time however, isn’t it a bit refreshing and encouraging that we all aren’t exactly alike? Life would be pretty dull and boring if everyone looked alike, had exactly the same interests, and engaged in identical activities.

When as a church we journeyed together through the 40 Days of Purpose Campaign a few years back, we looked at how God has uniquely “shaped” us for ministry. To serve God and others most effectively, we need to look at our own SHAPE: Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experience. Our unique shape perhaps won’t prompt us to go surf fishing on our wedding day, but it just might encourage us to be fishers of men every day.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Why We Resigned from the IMB

There has been an interesting discussion going on at Wade Burleson's blog in his post entitled "Fundamentalism's Fury Needs One Who Needles." In the comment string, one writer suggests as many have before that those missionaries who refused to sign the BF&M 2000 were somehow guilty of holding false doctrine and thus didn't deserve to serve as IMB missionaries. I'd like to take exception to that viewpoint. That writer states that all of the BF&M 2000 is based upon clear biblical teaching. I'd suggest that there are many conservative Southern Baptists who would reject that assertion, offering as evidence the fact that several Baptist state conventions have refused to adopt the latest version of the BF&M because of objections with some of the changes that were introduced in it. I would like to share with you the letter I wrote to Phil Templin, regional leader of the IMB over Central America, explaining the reasons why I in good faith and conscience could not sign the document. I hope that it will offer some insight into the struggles that many of us wrestled with as we made the decision to leave an organization that we had felt called to serve with when the encroaching spread of fundamentalism drowned out any possibility of peaceful dissent and cooperation around the essentials of the faith.

April 3, 2002
Mexico City

Dear Phil:

Please allow me to begin this note by expressing my gratitude to you for the approval of our transfer to Mexico City from Buenos Aires. I have thoroughly enjoyed the teaching at the seminary here and have established excellent relationships with the other faculty, the students, and the members of the staff and administration. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be in the classroom four days a week and to have a part in the formation of future pastors and leaders here in Mexico. We have also been extremely impressed with the fellowship of the missionary family here in Mexico City. They have welcomed us warmly and shared the love of Christ with us in their words and actions. We are members of the Mexico City Middle Class Strategy Group and on a church planting team that is working in the area of Benito Juarez. We are excited about the prospects for beginning a new work in that colonia. We have established several excellent contacts there already and will be showing the Jesus film this coming Saturday evening on a basketball court in the neighborhood.

Although we received your letter almost 2 months ago regarding the signing of the BF&M 2000, to this point I have put off responding to the note. In all honesty, I guess that I was hoping that Dr. Rankin would backtrack from his decision to require missionaries to sign the document, especially given the fact that just a year ago he had said that this would not be required of missionaries already under appointment. As one who has been teaching Baptist history in various capacities since the time of my doctoral studies at Southwestern Seminary in the early 1980s, I have also been keenly interested in the latest revisions to the Baptist Faith & Message. I find certain aspects of these revisions troublesome and after much prayerful consideration, I do not feel that I in good conscience can sign the document as it stands.

One of my greatest objections, which I’m certain at this point you’ve heard expressed by other missionaries, is the departure of both the 1998 and 2000 documents from being a consensus of generally held Baptist beliefs to an instrument of doctrinal accountability. Both the language of the 1925 and 1963 BF&M statements are clear regarding the roles of Baptist confessions of faith.

(1) That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
(2)That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.
(3)That any group of Baptists, large or small have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.
(4)That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.
(5)That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.

The very tentative nature with which these confessions are written—-claiming no authority over the conscience of individual believers and as “guidelines in interpretation”—-is a far cry from an “instrument of doctrinal accountability” in the language of the 2000 document. Baptists have historically resisted any creed apart from the Bible itself. Now, despite all the disclaimers to the contrary, that is exactly what the framers of the 2000 document have put in place. One can deny with all vehemence that the current BF&M is a creed, but its use as an instrument of doctrinal accountability clearly testifies to the fact that it has become such. While the preceding five numbered paragraphs do appear in the 2000 document, the following 2 paragraphs effectively strip away those tentative affirmations of the role of confessions of faith.

Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.

Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability. We are not embarrassed to state before the world that these are doctrines we hold precious and as essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice.

By omitting individuals and including only churches and bodies of churches as those who require protection from secular or religious bodies who might seek to impose a confession of faith on them, the 2000 document leaves the door open to exactly what has occurred in Southern Baptist life since the adoption of this latest BF&M. Individuals have no freedom or protection to exercise their freedom of conscience and express their differences in interpretation of scriptural passages from that set forth as authoritative and binding for all SBC employees in any agency whatsoever without risking loss of employment, or in the words of Rankin’s letter, being accused of heresy. As one who has studied and taught church history for many years, the reference to being accused of heresy in Rankin’s letter struck me as a very unfortunate and ill-chosen word. Charges of heresy historically have been applied to those who denied the deity of Christ or the inspiration of the Scriptures or some equally fundamental Christian doctrine. The changes that are reflected in the 1998 and 2000 BF&M that I have problems with do not even remotely approach those kind of basic beliefs.

A second serious objection I have to the document are the changes it has introduced with regard to that historic Baptist principle of the priesthood of the believer. It is common knowledge that the phrase that was added to supposedly ensure respect for this historic principle was begrudgingly included just an hour before the committee responsible for drafting the newest BF&M presented its report to the convention floor. That in itself should suggest something about the lack of importance of this historic Baptist principle in the minds of the framers of the document. Coupled with this near omission of reference to the principle is the rewording of the principle to now affirm belief in the “priesthood of believers” (plural) instead of priesthood of the believer (singular). I suggest that this change is in keeping with the Reformed (Calvinist) theology of the framers of the document, but is not consistent with our Baptist, free church heritage which we inherited from the English separatists with influence from such Anabaptist thinkers and writers as Menno Simons and Balthasar Hubmaier. Later Baptist writers who championed religious liberty and the separation of church and state based their arguments principally upon the uncoerced nature of religious faith. They argued persuasively and biblically that a faith that is imposed from without by a religious society or church is not a genuine faith at all. For faith to be genuine, it must express itself voluntarily. The use of the BF&M 2000 to enforce doctrinal uniformity and conformity with a particular line of interpretation of selected passages which equally committed and conservative Biblical scholars from other faith traditions have chosen to interpret in other ways is a sad testimony to a departure from this valued historic Baptist principle of the priesthood of the believer.

The mention of these controversial passages brings me to my third and fourth objections to the BF&M 2000. The third deals with the family article and its interpretation of wifely submission as the only appropriate and possible interpretation of Ephesians 5. Such an interpretation is not the only possible one that can be given to this passage. Ephesians 5:21, which serves as an introduction to the entire section which follows on the relationship of husband and wife, clearly enjoins the principle of mutual submission. “Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ,” Eph. 5:21.

Many conservative Biblical scholars would question that the Ephesians passage teaches one-sided submission on the part of the wife to the husband’s authority. Paul’s admonition to the husband to love his wife even as Christ loved the church certainly suggests a selfless, giving love that puts the interests of his wife ahead of his own. This teaching in no way contradicts the idea of mutual submission, but rather is an illustration of the practical application of this principle in action.

The fourth area of disagreement I have with the BF&M 2000 is with regard to its article on the church in which it affirms that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. While my own conservative upbringing certainly predisposes me to feel more comfortable with a man as pastor, my feelings at this point are secondary to the biblical testimony. Once again, there is no clear-cut consensus among conservative, evangelical scholars that the New Testament unequivocally teaches that the office of pastor is limited to men. The requirements that elders and bishops (which I do take as synonymous with the office of pastor) be the husbands of one wife could well be interpreted as a requirement that they be living in a monogamous relationship rather than in bigamy or polygamy. The essential teaching then would be that of marital fidelity and not a strict gender requirement for fulfilling the conditions of the office. The fact that there are many references in the New Testament to women in positions of influence and leadership in the churches (e.g. Lydia, Priscilla, the four daughters of Phillip who were prophetesses, Euodia and Syntyche who contended at Paul’s side in the cause of the gospel, and the extensive list of women that Paul recognizes in Romans 16 as hard workers and co-laborers in the gospel) suggests strongly that these women were exercising leadership roles, possibly even serving as pastors, in the New Testament churches.

My final objection to the wording of the new BF&M 2000 has to do with the deletion of the reference to Jesus Christ as the criterion by which the scripture is to be interpreted. That change, coupled with the deletion of the reference to the Bible itself as the “record of” God’s revelation of Himself to man in order to now read simply that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man, is troublesome. These subtle changes in wording have the combined effect of minimizing the importance of the Christ-event and His incarnation while at the same time exalting the written record of God’s revelation above the person of Christ Himself. John writes in his gospel in 1:14 that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that we beheld His glory, the glory of the One and Only, full of grace and truth. He later adds in verse 18 that while no one has seen God, He (Christ) has made him known. The writer of Hebrews in his introduction to the letter also clearly states that God, after having spoken at many times and in many ways through the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us a definitive word in the person of His Son—the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His likeness. The supreme revelation of God has been given to us and that revelation is in the person of His Son. The Scriptures certainly are a testimony to Christ as the BF&M 2000 affirms, but they are not to be a substitute for a personal relationship with Christ and a living experience with Him. The pietists of the 17th and 18th centuries were correct in their insistence that the formalism of the dogmatic theologians among both the Lutherans and the Calvinists had produced a generation of Christians who knew the intellectual contents of the creeds and doctrines of the church and could recite them, but who were bereft of spiritual vitality and of a living faith in Christ.

In conclusion, let me say that I was born and raised a Southern Baptist and have a deep appreciation for our denominational heritage. I consider myself to be thoroughly Southern Baptist in every sense of the term. It is out of this sense of commitment to our historic Baptist principles that I have come to the decision to not sign the BF&M 2000. I feel that in the areas I have mentioned above, this document represents a significant departure from those principles which our Baptist forefathers so capably defended, many at the cost of their very lives.

I am very grateful to be here in Mexico City. I believe that God has directed our paths to be here at this time. I gives me great joy to use what I believe are the areas in which the Lord has most gifted me (theological education) to train a new generation of pastors and church leaders here in Mexico. My calling to missions was and continues to be a clear one from the Lord. I only trust that the Southern Baptist Convention, conceived to foster and elicit the combined efforts of Baptists towards fulfilling the Great Commission, will return to that basic focus. I further hope and trust that they will affirm our historic Baptist beliefs in the priesthood of the believer and liberty of conscience in the interpretation of Biblical passages over which there is no clear consensus of belief among Baptists and other conservative evangelical scholars.

I’m grateful for the privilege to be able to serve the Lord as a missionary of the Southern Baptist Convention here in Mexico City. I appreciate very much the opportunity of expressing my convictions in these areas of concern. I pray that they will be read and heard in the spirit with which I have shared them. I pray God’s richest blessings on you and Peggy as you lead our region.

In His service,

Gary Snowden

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Vanishing Responsibility - Part 2

On September 25th, I wrote a post about a situation in Nebraska reported by CNN in which parents are taking advantage of the wording of a "safe haven" law intended to protect the lives of unwanted newborns and infants and are abusing the system by dropping off their unwanted teenaged children. The law as drafted lacks any age limitation, though when the bill was originally introduced, it has a supposed age limit of 72 hours. CNN reported in the article of September 25th that a state commission was to meet that same day to discuss options to deal with the problem.

Fast forward to today when CNN reports another incident of a teenager being dumped at a Nebraska hospital, this time a 14-year old girl from across the Missouri River (the stateline in this case) in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The part-time Nebraska Legislature is adjourned until January, but CNN reports that now two state legislative committees have scheduled a meeting for November 13th to discuss a remedy.

They had better hurry before more disgruntled parents decide to take advantage of a loophole in the safe haven law to shirk their parental responsibility and pawn off their teenagers on the state of Nebraska.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

An Inside-Out Weekend

I had been entertaining the idea for some time of attending an Inside-Out Weekend that WorldconneX is hosting at my mother’s church, Acton Baptist Church near Granbury, TX and have decided to participate in it. For those who aren’t aware of what an Inside-Out Weekend is, here’s a link to WorldconneX’s website that describes a typical I-O Weekend. One of the great things about an I-O Weekend is recognizing how God has put a local church together with unique gifts and connections to achieve a strategic missions impact both in their local community and around the world. I’ve visited and worshipped at Acton Baptist Church on several occasions and look forward to seeing friends and experiencing God at work in their congregation this weekend.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Suffering Clause

A few years back I met Steve Reed, pastor of the Daybreak Community Church in Kansas City, KS. Even though he’s just across the state line a short distance from where I live on the Missouri side, our encounter took place in Guatemala. Steve grew up on the mission field in Peru and his dad later served for many years as the Director of Missions for the Kansas City, KS Baptist Association. Steve has been involved in cowboy evangelism in Guatemala and we met at a meeting of the Guatemala Affinity Group, a networking group that WorldconneX helped bring together. At the end of our visit, Steve gave me a copy of his book, entitled The Suffering Clause.

Steve takes the title from Acts 9:15-16 where the Lord instructs Ananias to go to Saul with the message that Saul is a chosen instrument who will bear His name before the Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel. He then adds these words: “for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Steve refers to this suffering clause as the fine print in the Apostle Paul’s call to ministry.

Tonight in our Wednesday evening prayer meeting / Bible study time, we looked at Philippians 1:27-30 and focused in on verse 29 where Paul writes, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” We don’t frequently consider suffering to be a gift, but Paul certainly employs the language of gifting or permission here when he says that God has granted us the opportunity (dare I say privilege?) of suffering for Christ. The consistent message of the NT is that suffering isn’t punishment from God for sins committed but rather the school in which God forms the character of Christ in us and molds us into the image of Christ. That doesn’t make the actual experience of suffering less painful, but recognizing God’s redemptive purpose for it certainly affords us a more positive outlook on it. We might even be able to go so far as to “consider it all joy” as James counsels us to do.