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The Inerrancy & Authority of the Bible

13 May

It seems like the issues just keep coming. In 2015 the issue was marriage; now in 2016 the issue is bathrooms. I shutter to even think of what the 2017 issue could be.  There is pressure to compromise on every side.  Increasingly, leaders in many areas of our culture insist that all must get on board with the new moral revolution even if “sincerely held religious beliefs” are in conflict with it. We are basically being told, “If your religion goes against the program, then you need to change your religion and get with the program – or else.” As usual, there are churches and denominations surrendering on these issues by the droves. As usual, there are voices even within evangelicalism who advocate “moderating” positions in order to be more acceptable. All of this leads to two very logical questions…

Why have many “Christian” churches and denominations already surrendered to the new moral revolution? 

Why is our church/denomination so strongly insisting it will never surrender on these issues?

The answer to these questions is really surprisingly simple and straightforward: the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. We either believe the Bible or we don’t. We either live by what the Bible says or we don’t.  Here is what the church I serve and our denomination (Southern Baptist Convention) believe about the Bible…

I. The Scriptures

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.

We believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God to mankind. Therefore the Bible is authoritative for all issues of living and believing in this world. The inerrancy and authority of the Bible are intertwined.  If we do not believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, the logical conclusion is that it is not authoritative and we can make it mean whatever we wish to make it mean in order to “fit with the times.”  However, if we do believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then the logical conclusion is that it is authoritative and we live by what it teaches – no matter if it’s cultural acceptable or not.

It is no coincidence that the churches/denominations who have (or soon will) surrender to the new moral revolution long ago surrendered on the issue of inerrancy. Their seminaries trained generations of pastors in the “modern” approaches to the Bible. The result was increasing numbers of pastors in the pulpit who really didn’t believe the Bible; soon we had churches filled with people who didn’t believe it either. Once the Bible wasn’t viewed as the inerrant Word of God, it was no longer really authoritative.  The resulting state of so much of mainline Protestantism is the direct result of the long ago loss of Biblical inerrancy and Biblical authority. Once that is gone, surrender to the new moral revolution is really the only option.

There is also another line of attack we are seeing today: the Bible doesn’t really say what it plainly says.  Knowing that many evangelicals hold to Biblical inerrancy as a core belief, some very smart voices have arisen to argue that we have misunderstood the Bible. For instance, they argue that Romans 1:26-27 isn’t referring to homosexual relationships as we know them today.  This enables people to say, “I believe the Bible is the Word of God and I support same-sex marriage.”  Arguments such as these do not hold up to serious theological scrutiny. These arguments undermine the authority of scripture just as much as saying the Bible isn’t true. They are simply attempts to find a way around what the Bible says so that one does not have to live according to what the Bible says.

Here is the absolute bottom line…

and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15–17, NASB95)

Why is our church/denomination so insistent that we will NEVER compromise to the new moral revolution?   The innerancy and authority of the Bible. We believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. We believe that it means what it plainly says. We believe that Christians are obligated to believe what it says and live as it says.

The inerrancy and authority of scripture is at the core of what we believe as Christians. It isn’t something that we can just discard because everyone says we should. It isn’t something that we can change because we are made to pay a price for our beliefs. This is what the cultural elites do not understand. They look at Bible believing Christians and believe that we will inevitably cave in when enough pressure is brought to bear. They do not understand that the inerrancy and authority of the Bible is the very core of who we are.

We either believe the Bible or we don’t. We either live by what the Bible says or we don’t. We are quickly finding out who does.

Good reasons to be Southern Baptist

6 May

Particularly in the last decade, new models of “doing church” and churches working together (networks rather than denominations) have arisen.  This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many of these churches and networks are preaching the gospel of Christ, seeing people come to faith, and taking the gospel to the world. Much has been written about the rise and fall of denominations – often couched in terms of “older vs. young.”  There is no question that the rise of the Millennials into young adulthood and church leadership has helped to drive the popularity and publicity of these new paradigm ministries. Established churches and established denominations are struggling to adapt to the new paradigms. The denomination the church I serve is part of – the Southern Baptist Convention – was started in 1845.  As a result, the other day a fellow pastor told me that Southern Baptists would continue to struggle because “younger people don’t want to be associated with us” and then he listed the reasons why.

While I believe some of this brother’s criticism to be valid, such as the fact that Southern Baptists have been defined more in terms of what we oppose rather than the good that we do, I also believe that there are great reasons to continue to be Southern Baptists for the foreseeable future. Unless something drastically changes, I intend to make the Southern Baptist Convention my home for the rest of my life. Please allow me to list some good reasons why you and your church should be Southern Baptist.

1.  MISSIONS.  It isn’t even close. No other denomination is involved in sharing the gospel, planting churches, and meeting needs in as many places in as many ways as Southern Baptists are. The International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, state conventions, and local associations all provide “boots on the ground” for the front lines of gospel advance. Southern Baptists are “doing missions” in our community and all over the world.

2.  Training pastors and missionaries. Southern Baptists operate six theological seminaries. Each one of them unapologetically teaches the Bible as God’s inerrant word, personal faith in Christ, the great doctrines of the Christian faith, etc. Thousands of students are being trained right now to serve our Lord in the future. Through the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist Convention underwrites the education of every student at one of these seminaries – allowing our young men and women to attend at far less cost than would otherwise be the case. While I do have a couple of “favorites” among our seminaries that I personally identify with in a greater way, I believe that all of our seminaries are led by men who love Christ, have integrity, and desire to take the gospel to the nations.

3.   Disaster relief. In recent years I have heard this over and over again: “After the Red Cross, the next people we saw coming were the Southern Baptists.”  Because we are such a large denomination (16 million members in all 50 states) and because we are organized down to a local level (state conventions and associations), Southern Baptists are able to mobilize and respond quickly in a great way. Southern Baptists help EVERYONE when a disaster happens – showing love in tangible ways. God has used our disaster relief efforts to open doors for the gospel in profound ways.  What Southern Baptists do in disaster relief is nothing short of incredible.

4.  Investment in people. Here in Alabama, we have three wonderful Baptist universities – Samford, Mobile, and Judson. Out of these three schools, Christian leaders have emerged in every vocational discipline.  Furthermore, Alabama Baptists also operate the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home, which provides care for abused and neglected children from all over our state.  This ministry has multiple locations and services it provides to these children. In addition,  the Children’s Home offers professional counseling at a reduced rate to hurting individuals and families from locations throughout Alabama. Every single day, church leaders contact the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions for help with issues ranging from a pastor search to best practices.  So much of our missions dollars go to a tangible investment in people. This is true in many other states where Southern Baptists have a strong presence as well.

5.   Increasing diversity and a national presence.  Even though our name is Southern Baptists, the reality is that we have churches in all fifty states. We are a national denomination. In addition, the fastest growing area of our work involves predominantly ethnic churches. Each year that I attend the Southern Baptist Convention, I am encouraged to see more diversity in age, ethnicity, and geography.  We have churches in the major cities, and we have churches in the small town. Slowly but surely, our denomination is beginning to look more like our country, and that is a great thing.

6.  Biblical convictions. Southern Baptists have determined to be a people who have firm convictions based on the Word of God.  To be Southern Baptist is to believe some things. We will not bend to the cultural pressure to conform to the new morality. We will not bow to those who wish to portray us as ignorant, hateful, or worse. The Lord has called us to His cross and told us to stand there until He comes. Here we will stand until we draw our last breath. Southern Baptists have made our convictions clear.

 

 

Leading the people of God

22 Apr

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—” (Titus 1:5, NKJV)

Titus was a Gentile who had come to faith in Christ – possibly even led to Christ by the Apostle Paul himself.  For a time, he had worked with Paul in ministry on the island of Crete.  Paul had now moved on and left Titus to lead the people of God in Crete. The New Testament book of Titus is Paul’s instructions to this pastor.  From this one verse, I want to make several observations….

1)  The people of God are to be led.  This doesn’t mean domineering, “my way or the highway” attitudes, but it does mean strong leadership.  Organizations (churches included) do not fix themselves. The tendency is always “status quo.”  The dictionary defines it this way…status quo: the existing condition or state of affairs. The only way out of the status quo in any organization is leadership.

2)  We must define what is lacking. In his great book Good to Great, Jim Collins says that every organization needs to face the cold hard facts, no matter how cold and how hard they are.  We cannot deal with an issue until we talk about it and define it. In a church, there is one thing that often keeps us from seeing what is lacking: FAMILIARITY.  Over the years in church life, I have found that familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt but it does almost always breed apathy.  A church that stays only with what is familiar and comfortable for an extended period of time will be a peaceful church but it won’t likely be a very effective one.

3)   We must get a vision of a more effective day.  It is not enough to simply define problems. Nothing can be “set in order” until there is a clear picture of what “in order” looks like. That is the point of vision.

4)   We must lead the people of God toward a better future. The Apostle Paul told Titus “for this reason I left you in Crete…”   The reason Titus was there was to lead the people of God.  Some churches change quickly and some churches change slowly.  Some churches process leadership and make decisions faster than others. Every church is different and must be led differently.  Yet, every church must be led.  If we aren’t leading the people of God, then we aren’t being obedient.

Leadership isn’t for the faith of heart.  Not everyone wants to be led.  Change is hard. No matter how clearly and how often you communicate, someone will be confused.  No matter what you do, someone will be unhappy.  Criticism will come.  Pastors and church leaders, please be assured of this one fact:  people will be upset, criticism will come, and someone will be unhappy EVEN IF YOU DO NOTHING AND TRY TO PLEASE EVERYONE.   It comes with the territory for anyone in a leadership position.  Make sure you are spending your life enduring the pain of leadership while you are leading the people of God to a better future.

A Prayer for the Future

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.

Sir Frances Drake Quoted in OC Missionary Prayer Letter of Jeanie Curryer, September, 1997

 

 

Why I have a picture of Spurgeon in my office

15 Mar

spurgeon_chair

Not long ago, a pastor friend of mine was surprised to see a portrait of the great English pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon on the wall of my office near my desk. “You’re not a Calvinist, why do you have a picture of Spurgeon?”  It was a good question. It was also my joy to explain to him why I have his picture in my office even though I am not a Calvinist. Spurgeon was a famous pastor in London who died in 1892. His sermons and books are still in print today and influencing hundreds of thousands of people around the world. While pursuing my doctoral studies, I was required to do an academic paper on an evangelism and revival leader. The professor distributed a list of famous names like Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, W.A. Criswell, and Bill Bright – urging us to choose one.  I chose Spurgeon because he was the one on the list I knew the least about even though I saw him quoted constantly.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I read five biographies of Spurgeon and wrote a thirty page paper on his life and ministry. To say that was transformative in my life and ministry would be an understatement. Every time I look at the picture of Spurgeon in my office, I am reminded of the reasons why I so admire him and why he has impacted my life and ministry so greatly.

1.  Spurgeon is a great example of love for Christ and exalting Christ in preaching. That is the one characteristic that stands out most to me about Spurgeon; if anyone has ever loved Christ, it was Charles Spurgeon. His love for Christ bleeds through in every sermon. I don’t believe I have read a Spurgeon sermon that did not explicitly and clearly call people to place their faith in Christ.  He once described his preaching style as “starting at any text and running to the cross.”

2.  Spurgeon is a great example of faithful Bible preaching. Week after week from the pulpit of his church, Spurgeon opened his Bible and preached. As he grew older, his sermons grew in Biblical and theological depth.

3.  Spurgeon is a great example of soul winning and evangelism. He literally wept for souls and was not satisfied if people weren’t coming to Christ. He was willing to lead his church to change in order to reach people. For instance, when the original facility of his church became inadequate, he lead the church to move its services to a theater – a very controversial decision at that time.

4.  Spurgeon is a great example of pastoral leadership and hard work. He visited his flock. He organized ministries. He met needs. He led the leaders. He answered inquirers. He traveled and preached extensively. He invested in young preachers. He lead his church to send out missionaries. He read six books per week. Yet, he never neglected the pulpit ministry at his church.

5.  Spurgeon is a great example of love for people and encouragement. He loved his church. He loved the people in the city of London. He loved fellow Christians and pastors even if they didn’t agree on every issue.

6.  Spurgeon is a great example of being willing to stand for truth at great personal cost. In his early years, Spurgeon was a phenomenon. In his latter years, he was an outcast among many.  His warnings of theological drift during what became known as the Downgrade Controversy proved prophetic, but they largely fell on deaf ears and earned him the scorn of many. When it came to his convictions, Spurgeon would not bend.

7.  Spurgeon is a great example of perseverance during great personal stress. At the height of his popularity, his ministry endured a great tragedy that Spurgeon never completely got over. After the birth of their twin sons, his wife was largely homebound and was never well again. Yet, by all accounts Spurgeon remained a faithful husband and father. Spurgeon developed health problems himself and suffered greatly during the last two decades of his life. The only thing worse than his physical suffering was his emotional suffering. Spurgeon struggled with depression for many years and spent many days in the depths of despair even though he had an undeniably strong faith in Christ.

On June 7, 1891 the mighty preacher took to the pulpit for the last time. Wracked with physical pain and the weakest he had ever been, Spurgeon ended his last sermon with these words. These are the last words Spurgeon spoke from a pulpit. They capture his heart….

Those who have no master are slaves to themselves. Depend upon it, you will either serve Satan or Christ, either self or the Saviour. You will find sin, self, Satan, and the world to be hard masters; but if you wear the livery of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains.

“There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in him. These 40 years and more have I served him, blessed be his name! and I have had nothing but love from him. I would be glad to continue yet another 40 years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus even this day! Amen.”

For more information about Spurgeon visit http://www.spurgeoncenter.com

It’s well worth your time to watch this great film about his life…http://www.throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com/

 

One pastor’s thoughts on the International Mission Board situation

23 Sep

In recent days, I have had a number of people both inside and outside the church I serve who asked me my thoughts on the well-publicized financial issues at the International Mission Board. I decided to share them here in hopes that it will encourage people to become more informed and prayerful.

First of all, the International Mission Board must balance its books, and new IMB President David Platt is to be commended for dealing with the situation. Like just about every other Southern Baptist, it was news to me when Platt announced that IMB had run an operating deficit in excess of $200 million over the last several years. This deficit had been covered through reserves and the sale of overseas assets.  To be honest, I was floored to learn of this situation.  As a senior pastor of a church that gives very generously to SBC missions, our local church would never operate in this manner. Certainly, every church from time to time dips into reserves due to lean years in giving or unexpected expenses.  That is why you have reserves in the first place. However, living off of reserves cannot be a continual way of life for a church or any organization. Eventually what comes in must match what goes out.

The IMB is dealing with hard realities and it is not easy. For years, we have heard that we have more people willing to go than we have money to send. The reality is that we do not have the money for those we have already sent. It pains me greatly to write these words, but that is the truth. In excess of 80% of the IMB budget is personnel; no surprise given that it is an organization that sends missionaries.  My understanding is that IMB is going through the process of offering buyouts and early retirement to a substantial number of field missionaries and staff at IMB headquarters in Richmond, Virginia all in an effort to get to a financially sustainable level of personnel.  I personally know IMB missionaries who are making agonizing choices about their futures. It is extremely painful for all involved.

Furthermore, David Platt has made clear that he intends to change much of the way IMB operates and its missions philosophy. The specifics of exactly what that looks like are still unclear to me as an outside observer. Some have questioned his election to the position, his missions philosophy, and support of the Cooperative Program. No one questions Platt’s passion for taking the gospel to the nations. Personally, I believe it is past time to stop rehashing those issues. David Platt is the leader of IMB regardless of how anyone feels about how he got there. Count me as one pastor who is willing to support him and give him a chance. I am praying that he leads IMB and Southern Baptists to our greatest days of missions and gospel advance.

I am a strong believer in and supporter of the SBC Cooperative Program.  Hopefully, what will eventually come out of all of this is a leaner, healthier, stronger IMB and a renewed vision for funding missions in our churches. Now is not the time to cut back. Uncertainty and a little controversy is not the time to withdraw. It is the time to set our hands to the plow and stay faithful in the work. I will attempt to lead the church I serve to give more to the Cooperative Program and more to the special missions offerings (Lottie & Annie) in 2016 than we have this year.

 

PRAY – more than a message series

24 Aug

In 20+ years as a pastor, I have preached many message series. I have no illusions that everyone remembers everything I say. Instead, I pray that something I say in every message speaks to every person who hears the message. However, over the last two Sundays I have begun a message series that has shaken my own soul:  PRAY.  The first two message focus on how to pray. Here is where you can watch both messages if you have missed them…http://lakesidebaptist.com/pages/media.htm

Upcoming messages in the series include….

“Powerful Prayer”                                               August 30

“Praying for Your Church”    Part 1                 September 6

“Praying for Your Church”    Part 2                 September 13

My own prayer life has been greatly changed as I have studied to prepare these messages. However, the PRAY series is much more than a message series. It has revitalized my own prayer life, and I believe that it is the beginning of a prayer movement in our church.

Make sure you are praying daily – preferably praying multiple times daily. Pray with your family.  Pray with your church family. Study the Lord’s Prayer and Bible passages on prayer. Stay in the Word daily. Watch the messages on prayer. Finally, join me in praying at two specific times on Thursday – 6:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon.  I will be praying at those times on Thursday.  I will be praying through the Lord’s Prayer. I will be praying for our hurting country to experience a mighty revival.  I will be praying for needs in my own family and church family. I will be praying for Lakeside as we look toward the future. I will be praying for friends going through difficult times. No matter if you can pray for five minutes or fifty minutes. Join me in praying.  Pick the time that fits your schedule and join me. If you can, pray with me at both times.  Just do it.  Make it a priority!

God is calling the church back to true dependence on Him and back to relying on His power rather than our own efforts. PRAY folks. PRAY. PRAY. PRAY.

Challenging trends in the same-sex marriage debate

1 May

As a pastor, I use words every week in my speaking and writing. I am also an observer of the words people use, the arguments people make, and how they make their arguments. In recent months, I have seen a definite shift in terms of the debate regarding same-sex marriage in our culture. As a Christian pastor who believes the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God, I stand solidly and publicly with those who believe that marriage should be defined only as the marriage of one man and one woman for life. This post isn’t arguing that point. This post is about the trends that I have seen develop in how this debate over marriage is playing out in our culture – even here in Alabama. I will not link to any specific articles or blogs. Suffice it to say that I have seen multiple examples of each of these trends. Again, my focus is on the shift of how the argument is being made.

1)  The argument has shifted from the legitimacy of same-sex marriage to calls for opponents to cease opposition.  It wasn’t that long ago that the most common argument in an article supporting same-sex marriage was that same-sex couples deserved the same rights as heterosexual couples. Now that same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states (with Alabama briefly becoming #37), those of us who advocate for the Biblical definition of marriage are told to accept the inevitable, get on the right side of history, or “get over it.”  Increasingly, we are told all three of those things in the same column.

2)  The argument is made that opposition to same-sex marriage can only come from bigotry.  I have seen several columns and blog posts recently who leave no room for any sincere opposition to gay marriage. In their worldview, the only possible explanation for opposing it is a deep seated bigotry.  In their worldview, it is not possible to love homosexuals and yet oppose same-sex marriage.

3)  Using Old Testament passages as a club to shame and silence.  Increasingly, I see advocates for same-sex marriage pull a verse from the Old Testament law and say something like, “This is in the Bible too. If you want to take the Bible literally then what do you say about this verse?”  There is no understanding or at least no explanation of Biblical theology, progressive revelation, historical context, scriptural context, etc.  The end result is confusion and silence for many Christians who might not understand the theological issues involved and how the narrative of scripture unfolds.  The clear implication that is intended is that those of us who believe in the Biblical definition of marriage should not be taken seriously because we hold views that are dangerous.

4) Ridicule and disdain in place of a coherent answer.   The scenario is the same over and over again.  A person makes a logical, thoughtful, gracious argument in favor of the traditional definition of marriage, and their arguments aren’t really answered. They are simply mocked and dismissed as being “on the wrong side of history” or “out of touch with civilization.”

These trends and others like them mean that those of us who advocate for Biblical marriage face increasing difficulty in even having our position heard in the broader culture.  Furthermore, when it is heard, our position is often misrepresented, distorted, and twisted beyond recognition.  On one hand, there is nothing we can do to control what is happening, but on the other hand it is helpful to understand what is going on and seek to be as wise as possible. These are challenging times indeed. None of us know where all of this will end.  However, our response to these issues must be guided by a principle that we do know for sure…

We are not called to be popular, but rather we are called to be faithful.

 

Being a friend to your pastor (or a staff member)

20 Apr

As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17, NKJV)

Recently Becky and I went out to dinner with a couple from our church with whom we have become friends.  It was a couple of hours filled with laughter, stories, and great food.  It wasn’t a sermon or a Sunday School class; it was just two couples having dinner like all of the other people in the restaurant.  Like everyone else, pastors and church staff members really need those times. Over the years, I have been blessed to have very good friends in every church I have served. It doesn’t threaten me when I see our staff members developing friendships with church members either. Many readers of this blog do not attend the church I serve. Please let me share a few thoughts about being a friend to your pastor (or a staff member).

(1)  Be faithful to pray. Some of the most treasured friends are those we know pray for us on a regular basis. There have been times the Lord has used the encouragement of a praying friend in a great way.

(2) Feel free to have fun & talk about “normal” stuff. Sometimes people think since they are talking with a pastor the conversation must be about spiritual things or the church. Those things are certainly important – eternally important – and we are glad to talk about them.  However, the truth is that we “do church” all the time, but we enjoy far more than just the church. We enjoy talking about college football, favorite vacation spots, hobbies, or a host of other things. We enjoy laughing, hearing your stories, and telling our stories!

(3) Be a “safe place.”    As I write these words I am thinking of a family in a previous church who had us over to their home on several occasions. The very first time we went to their home, the wife told us as soon as we arrived: “Here you are just our friends, Greg & Becky.”  That was her way of saying that they intended for their home to be a safe place for our family, and it was. There was never an agenda and never an expectation of anything other than friendship. Those were times filled with love, laughter, and generosity that I will never forget.

(4) Disagree but remain a friend. In one church I served I could always count on one phone call when the proposed budget for the next year was distributed: a call from one of my best friends. Every year he was bent out of shape about something in the budget and he would give me an earful.  Then it was over. He disagreed, but he remained my close friend. Our friendship meant far more to him than a line item in a budget or an item on the agenda of a business meeting.

(5) Understand when we can’t share.  One time we were having dinner with close friends and a particularly sensitive issue in the church were we serving at that time came up in the conversation. Realizing the position she had put me in, the wife looked at me and said, “I’m sorry; I know you can’t go there.”  Every pastor and staff member has things they cannot share with even their closest friends due to confidentiality, etc. A good friend respects that even if it means we can’t tell them.

Every pastor and staff member needs friends. I am so very grateful for the gift of friends for life.

 

 

A needed lesson on Baptist polity

20 Mar

This week the Madison Baptist Association in Huntsville has made the news because of the action they took on Tuesday to remove Weatherly Heights Baptist Church from fellowship in the association. This action stemmed from the support of and participation in gay weddings by some ministers from the church.  As I watched & read the media reports of this story, I was reminded again that the news media struggles to understand Southern Baptist polity – that is how our denomination is governed.  In addition, over the years I have found that many Southern Baptists do not understand our polity.  On a number of occasions, I have had church members who had heard about actions taken by another Southern Baptist church and came to my office saying, “Our denomination is going liberal. Someone should have stopped that church from ordaining that person or calling that pastor.”  So, please keep reading for a brief but much needed lesson on Baptist polity. One point before I go further: I am writing here about my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches. There are other “varieties” of Baptists that I am not addressing in this post.

(1)   Every Southern Baptist church is fully independent & autonomous.   Each of 45,000+ Southern Baptist churches owns its own property, calls it own pastors, and makes its own decisions. The national Southern Baptist Convention and the Alabama Baptist State Convention have no authority to tell a local church to do (or not do) anything.  This is much different than how other denominations are governed. For instance, in the United Methodist Church, the denominational leadership appoints the pastors of the local churches, and it is my understanding that the denomination owns the property of each local congregation.

(2)   Southern Baptists have organized to cooperate for missions & ministry on three levels.   Local Baptist associations are groups of churches that cooperate together for ministry in a local geographic area.  In the South, local associations are often organized by county since there tend to be a large number of SBC churches in each county, while associations in other parts of the country might comprise several counties.  State Conventions were also formed to provide avenues for ministry & missions on a statewide level.  Many state conventions have entities that no church or local association could support by themselves, such as colleges, children’s homes, conference centers, etc.  Finally, the national Southern Baptist Convention is where the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, and our six SBC seminaries are governed.  As a result, the church I serve is a cooperating member of the Birmingham Baptist Association, the Alabama Baptist State Convention, and the national Southern Baptist Convention.

(3)  Participation in & contribution to these three levels is determined by each local church. Since every church is autonomous and makes its own decisions, each church decides its level of missions giving. Cooperation is voluntary – never forced. If a church reduces or stops giving its money, they are not sent a “bill” or otherwise pressured to restore the funding. This is why I have heard the Southern Baptist Convention described as “a rope of sand” because there is no top down authority for funding and participation.

(4) Baptist cooperation goes both ways.  Like the situation up in Huntsville shows, Baptist polity also means that local associations, state conventions, and the national SBC have the right to determine who they are cooperating with.  That local association decided that Weatherly Heights Baptist Church no longer was in agreement with the beliefs & practices of the association, so they voted to withdraw fellowship from them.  This action does not violate principle # 1 above because no one is questioning that local church’s right to believe and practice their faith as they see fit.  The autonomy of the local church is still very much alive and well. No one is saying that Weatherly Heights must remove the word “Baptist” from its name, etc. Weatherly Heights still owns its own buildings, calls its own pastors, and makes its own decisions, but so does the Madison Baptist Association.  Cooperation goes both ways.  If the Madison Baptist Association had chosen to do nothing or to endorse the church’s position, then every other church would have autonomously decided if they wished to continue participating in the association.

Finally, there is no perfect model for church or denominational government. There are “pros & cons” to each of the different models. It is not the intent of this post to discuss those, but rather to help us understand in a more clear way how the denomination I am part of operates. The Southern Baptist Convention is not perfect, but it is my home and the home of the church I serve.

 

A Powerful Word in a Changing World

16 Mar

It’s so wonderful when the Word of God speaks to us in a new and fresh way. Over the weekend in my personal Bible reading Psalm 12 jumped off the page for me. As many times as I have read it, it is more meaningful to me today than ever before. First please allow me to share a little background.

To be perfectly honest, every Biblically faithful pastor and every serious Christian in the United States is wrestling with some difficult questions: How do we live as Christians in a culture that is increasingly hostile to what we believe?  How do we have a Biblically faithful church going forward in the cultural realities of today’s world?  How do we reach people for Christ in our culture?  Those are just three examples of many questions that I (and many others) am asking.  While I have not been in despair over them, I am burdened by these questions.  Every single day these questions are on my heart. Now you can understand why Psalm 12 spoke to me in such a profound way. Here it is…

For the choir director: according to Sheminith. A Davidic psalm. Help, Lord, for no faithful one remains; the loyal have disappeared from the human race. They lie to one another; they speak with flattering lips and deceptive hearts. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips and the tongue that speaks boastfully. They say, “Through our tongues we have power; our lips are our own—who can be our master?” “Because of the oppression of the afflicted and the groaning of the poor, I will now rise up,” says the Lord. “I will put the one who longs for it in a safe place.” The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in an earthen furnace, purified seven times. You, Lord, will guard us; You will protect us from this generation forever. The wicked wander everywhere, and what is worthless is exalted by the human race.” (Psalm 12, HCSB)

Verse 1 is clear that David went through a time when he felt as if the faithful had largely disappeared. Then in the verses that follow, David tells us why he felt that way.  Many committed Christians feel this way in our day.  The parallels between our culture and what David describes here are uncanny.  For instance, look at verse 4. We live in a day when politicians, media icons, entertainers, and other influential people use the power of words to shape the culture – in the wrong direction!  Like those described in verse 4, they steadfastly believe they are their own master and determine their own destiny. While there have always been people like this in America, it seems that now they are almost totally in control of every lever of influence in our culture. Yes, times are changing quickly. Like David, we see it. We feel it. It’s easy to begin to feel despair and doubt.

Did you notice where David went when confronted with these realities?  He went back to the pure words of the Lord and His protection. The cultural realities that David faced drove him back to the Lord and the Word.  That is where the answers to his struggle were found.  In the same way, as we wrestle with very real questions today, it is my prayer that we too are driven back to where the answers to our struggle are found.

HE is faithful!