on dissent
6/29/2006 11:32:00 PM
If anyone has been paying attention to the latest happenings in the SBC, it is no secret that there is a growing movement of dissent, particularly among younger pastors and leaders on the SBC. Without going into much detail, these leaders feel that the SBC is not fulfilling it's purpose to the fullest. It you want to know more, check out the "Memphis Declaration" and blogs linked to that site.

Before I delve off into dissent, I like to start with a working definition and a framework of what qualifies dissent. The word has a pretty specific in meaning - it means to disagree with the majority or establishment in existence, and in the case of church, it generally is with the doctrines and practices. We talked about doctrine and practice in the last post, so there is no need to really discuss that at great lengths. Instead, there are three observations I'd like to make about dissent. First, dissent isn't dissent unless it is made known. I may disagree in my mind with a doctrine, but I do nothing to change it or present my case, then I am assenting by omission. This is altogether to common, and most people don't like to rock the boat for fear of rejection, chastisement, or whatever reason. Second, although dissent does rock the boat, it doesn't have to be vociferocious. A dissenter doesn't have to be a big mouth, but can disagree in a quiet, and even humble spirit. This kind of dissent is generally accepted more than those who shout on the corners and the streets. People can disagree in good spirit. Third, dissent is not always the opposite opinion, and may be in partial favor and disagree on some of the particulars. Fundamentalism generally has two options: agree wholly or don't. All those who don't agree are the "liberals" and seen as the "enemy" of the church. Such polarity is dangerous, and leads to isolationism and other things.

A good read is the proposed resolution to the SBC written by Ben Cole. Although the resolution never went before a vote, it was sent to the resolution committee and at a high level addresses historically how Baptists in particular have dissented.

To me, the value of dissent gives it purpose, so I will address the two simultaneously. The main contention of the following is that the majority isn't always right. Often the voice of one who is willing to dissent is all it takes for those who are not saying anything to dissent, such as in Martin Luther's case. Off of this stems three observations. First, Denominationalism or "towing the denominational line" for the sake of the denomination is dangerous. Just because the denomination says something doesn't make it right. It is often more politically or socially expedient to tow the line than it is to speak one's mind, but this will lead to further entrenchment of denominations and will bolster the power of those who control the denomination. The Anglican Church was one such denomination, and the Baptists were an outgrowth of it. Second, a purpose and value of dissent is to keep the church and denomination from becoming authoritarian. We hold to the Word of God as the source of authority. If man is allowed to keep on, the word of God will become subjugated to this. The Bible is the Word of God, but left to one or a few men's interpretation, can be twisted to say things it doesn't say. Third, dissent keeps the church from slipping into liberalism or fundamentalism. We have to disagree in order to maintain the delicate balance between the two.

When expressing dissent, the dissenter should first dissent publicly. Disagreeing privately, as established earlier isn't dissent. Publicly doesn't necessarily mean out in the open for everyone to know. I personally have dissented with some actions my church was taking, but I first went to the leadership of the church and spoke with them about it. After discussing things with them, they helped me understand why they were doing things. I gained their respect and they had mine, although I may have stilled disagreed with them. Second, dissenters should disagree in writing. Writing things down gives a record of the thoughts, and forces the dissenter to think through his reasons for dissent, and it gives the opposing party something to go from to build a rebuttal. This helps maintain integrity on both sides. Third, the dissenter should disagree with congeniality. Lambasting the opposing party with slanderous words or foul languages polarizes the factions even more the dissenter becomes more than a dissenter at that point. Congeniality gives the opposing party to say everything against the dissenter's arguments, but nothing about how they presented themselves. The establishment should respond in much the same way as the dissenter. They should address the issue personally, in writing, and with congeniality.

One thing that both parties should avoid is coming to the table with a closed mind. The purpose of disagreement and discussion is to seek a win-win situation or understanding if no consensus can be reached. This last year, I attended the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, and one thing that kind of rubbed me wrong was how some of the people who presented questions to Dembski and Ruse asked the questions. Many would ask the questions with preconceived notions about their opponents and would ask questions as such. If their mind is already made up, then are they really asking a question? It seems to me that they want to tell somebody they are wrong rather than seek understanding. This is contrary to the point of the forum, which is to educate and seek understanding, not to tear down those who disagree with us.

If dissent is squelched, then soul conscience will be diminished and would undermine one of the things that the SBC has upheld for 162 years.
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lean on me
6/24/2006 06:37:00 PM
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a synthesis of thoughts
6/15/2006 04:00:00 PM
I've been thinking a lot on this subject for the last few months, particularly with the issues surrounding the IMB, the SBC, the SBC Younger Leaders Group, and other who blog or comment on the matters surrounding the SBC. I hope that through this post, I will be to synthesize what I have thought on over the last view months into a single stream of thoughts so it will be more user-friendly.

Typically, Christian groups that unite themselves call themselves denominations. The word denomination usually is a cuss word for most people because of the perceived trappings of denominations which I will discuss later, but the reality is that a denomination, whether explicitly stated or implicit without using the word, is any group of churches that unite together for a common purpose. The union may be highly defined such as in the United Methodist denomination or a loose association such as Willow Creek, but both could be called "denominations." The definition I like to use is from the American Heritage Dictionary , Fourth Edition, which says a denomination is, "A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy." As already stated that groups define themselves based on practice and doctrine. The definition I have tends to lean toward that in terms of "common faith" which would be doctrine, and organization, which would be practice. Groups may put more emphasis on one or the other, but generally all denominations have these two characteristics. I will speak primarily on doctrine from here forth, but I think that same analysis can be applied to practice.

There are basically two extremes that denominations end up at, and those are ecumenism that leads to universalism, and fundamentalism that leads to total isolation. Typically, groups that move toward ecumenism start with a doctrinal statement and will loosen the doctrine over time to allow more and more churches to cooperate with them. Eventually, doctrine dies and the only thing left is a group of churches that have no doctrinal statement. In that case, anything goes. It doesn't matter if a person believes in the Trinity or not. Jesus to them may or may not be the only way to salvation. This is universalism.

The other extreme aforementioned is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism in the sense I am speaking of here are groups that so narrowly define their doctrine such that nobody can cooperate with them. This causes denominations and churches to split repetitively until there is a nothing left but single church or maybe a handful. Fundamentalism though is an ambiguous term at best. Often times, Southern Baptist are called fundamentalists because we have a doctrinal statement and we don't allow churches that don't agree with the doctrinal statement to cooperate in the convention. I think this is a poor assessment, so I will offer another.

I have some general groupings for types of fundamentalism. Groups that define themselves based on first doctrine, then doctrine and practice, and lastly doctrine, practice and militancy. The first group I have already described concerning the SBC. In that sense, the SBC is a fundamentalist denomination, but I don't think that is what true fundamentalism is. The next group is those who define themselves on doctrine and practice. Unlike the SBC, these groups will say unless you agree with the doctrine and live, do missions, and do church like us, then you can't be a part. The churches then are pretty much homogenous. The SBC doesn't fit this description because a traditional, white clapboard church in the country and a storefront contemporary church are both Southern Baptist, but really are nothing alike in practice. They both, however, would agree on the doctrine of the SBC. Chuck Swindoll said this of fundamentalism:
Believe as I believe no more, no less; That I am right (and no one else) confess. Feel as I feel, think only as I think; Eat what I eat, and drink what I drink Look as I look, do always as I do; And then and only then I'll fellowship with you.
The last group are those who are not only exclusive in doctrine and practice, and are militant against anyone who does not agree with them. Unfortunately, there are groups like this in the world such as Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas that run many militant websites, picket funerals, and raise all sorts of clamor when it comes to practice. This is how the media paints all the fundamentalist groups I've mentioned, but in reality they are a very small minority.

Here is an illustration of what I am talking about. The stricter a group gets, the closer they are to the center of the circle. The size of their circle would be those who are allowed to cooperate with them. The smaller the circle, the more "fundamentalist" they are. I originally thought 3 concentric circles would be the way to go, but there is some gray here. Some of the separatist groups are not as strict as others for instance.

With these things said, I think I will attempt to address the question asked. First, as I've discussed is that there great danger in Ecumenism, because it will end up killing doctrine. Seemingly, a group that defines themselves on practice alone, not on doctrine, will end up universalisms, Doctrine is essential to maintaining the integrity of the gospel, which has the power to save lives. If Jesus isn't the only way to God, then there is no reason to evangelize, and missions are pointless.

There are those who define themselves based on doctrine and practice, as I've discussed, and with that comes a whole host of problems. Narrowing Doctrine and Practice kills cooperation, which is necessary because non one church working alone can reach the world by themselves. There is synergy in cooperation -- that is the total work of churches working together is greater than the total work of each church working separately. Second, a single methodology for doing something doesn't work in all cultures. I cannot have Billy Graham crusades on China without getting arrested by the government. I can't do door to door evangelism in Central Asia without getting shot. Practice seems to be a cultural thing, while doctrine seems to be something that transcends culture. If these things are allowed to happen, then missions will die.

Baptist churches should cooperate with one another. The SBC was established with the stated purpose of cooperating to do missions. The first two agencies created by the SBC where the Home Mission Board and Foreign Mission Board, which later evolved into NAMB and the IMB. The vast majority of the resources of the SBC go to do missions in one form or another. Here is how I believe things should work for Baptists:
  1. Doctrine has to be defined and agreed upon by all those who participate. The denomination or its agencies should never more narrowly or loosely define the doctrine without the consent of the churches that cooperate in the denomination. Naturally, doctrine needs to be updated and changed based on changing culture, because new issues arise with different generations and these need to be worked out accordingly.
  2. The denomination needs a stated purpose. This purpose will be the umbrella by which all denominational entities function, nothing more and nothing less. For Baptists, this should is missions and should exclude political advocacy groups and isolationism, both which are anti-missions.
  3. Volunteer association and contribution/democratic polity must be maintained. Churches should never feel coerced into participating in a convention or denomination, and should have equal representations in the denomination. If a church decides that it no longer agrees with the doctrine, purpose, or practices of the denomination it should have the right to leave. The church should also designate at what level want to cooperate in terms of time, talent, and treasure. The level of cooperation shouldn't be used as a device for political leverage or as a requirement for membership or to hold office.
  4. Local church should always be more important than the convention, its agencies, and people. The denomination exists for the church, not the church for the denomination. If ever a denomination becomes the end rather than the means of cooperation, then it is possible for the denomination become a means of control and a political agency with all the trappings that come with it.
  5. Practice should never be prescribed, but described. Churches should share ideas with each other, but never be told how to implement strategies to reach and disciples people for Christ.
I wish denominations didn't exists, and that the churches all over the world existed as they did in the first century before denominations, but it our pluralistic society, they have to exist in order to maintain the integrity of the gospel and reach the world for Jesus. I share Charles Spurgeon?s sentiment in this quote: "I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living! I hope that the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ's name last forever."
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a step in the right direction
6/14/2006 02:02:00 PM
Morris Chapman said these word in an appeal to the SBC to "Major on the majors."
I appeal to every Southern Baptists pastor: Major on the majors in our churches. We have no time to lose, no time to be distracted from our calling -- missions and evangelism.

A continuation of the constant politicization of this convention and its churches will come at the price of turning conservative brother against conservative brother, of losing church members who love Jesus, love the Bible, love the church, love the convention, love the Kingdom of God and love world missions and at the price of losing the favor of God upon us.

Our commission for sending missionaries to the ends of the earth is to scatter the seed of the Gospel. Our compulsion to scatter the seed is the transforming power of Jesus' death on the cross.
This is what the Southern Baptist Convention was designed for, and I am thankful that a number of resolution that were propsed were not passed. One such was from Roger Moran who wants Southern Baptists to leave public school for "Christian" alternatives to public school such as homeschooling and private schools. He feels that children are being indoctrinated by the government to accept the homosexual lifestyle. While this may be true, it does nothing to solve the problem, and really leave the lost to there own vices. The SBC alternately passed a resolution enouraging the SBC to engage the culture. Thisseems to be more in line with what is at the heart of the SBC: Missions.

The election of Frank Page as president will put somebody who supports missions at the helm, demonstrated by his Cooperative Program giving, but I hope that the Cooperative Program does not become the means, but the means to the end, which is missions, as Chapman asserts.
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a fun shot...
6/09/2006 12:04:00 PM
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at a loss for words....
6/04/2006 06:13:00 PM
Okay....nothing much to say, other than I am stoked. I have spent the las six hours translating Hebrew and my brain is officially fried. This means no intelligent thoughts, no creative words, no engaging conversation. I am just here to say that I am tired and I don't want to post anything that means anything or has anything of meaning. That's redundant. yeah rah. bye.
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something to harp on
6/02/2006 06:43:00 PM
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fundamentalism intruding into nerdom
6/01/2006 01:57:00 PM
say it ain't so: http://www.leftbehindgames.com/
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