“That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.”
FORNEY?These words are the fourth stanza of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” written by Martin Luther almost 500 years ago. It has been called “the greatest hymn of the greatest man in the greatest part of German history” and “the battle hymn of the Reformation.” But to a group of 10 missionaries from First Baptist Church of Forney, east of Dallas, it became something else entirely, FBC Forney’s pastor, Jimmy Pritchard, told his flock during his first sermon since arriving back.
At 9:30 a.m. on a Friday?July 7?10 people who have been dubbed by their pastor as the “Texas Ten” left for the airport for Lebanon, the ancient country known for its cedar trees in the Old Testament.
The group, led by Pritchard, was heading out on a 10-day journey where they would get the chance to speak in churches, distribute Arabic New Testaments and deliver a check to the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. Their plans would change drastically.
Everything seemed to come off smoothly at first.
Pritchard said he had a strange sense about this trip from the very beginning. He said he wasn’t sure where it came from, but his prayer the entire first few days was that he would be able to get his flock back home safely.
The first Sunday in Lebanon, the group ministered in churches around Beirut, where Muslims and Christians have peacefully co-existed for more than a decade. A couple from the group visited the Bekaa Valley east of Beirut in the afternoon. The World Cup soccer finals were taking place and excitement was everywhere on the Beirut streets.
Monday after arriving, the Texas Ten began their work distributing Arabic New Testaments. Everything seemed normal. In previous trips Texas Southern Baptists had mingled with Muslims in apartments, occasionally sharing the gospel when given the opportunity and always showing courtesy that was nearly always reciprocated.
On that Wednesday, the cultural climate shifted.
Israeli armed forces began firing missiles into the city of Tyre. Pritchard was on his way to the seminary for meeting
The voices of Southern Baptists who journal their opinions via Internet Weblogs have wielded notable influence lately within the world’s largest evangelical denomination and have attracted attention without.
After SBC President Frank Page’s resounding election at the 2006 annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., news of the bloggers’ clout graced the pages of the Washington Post and Time magazine, The Guardian of London and other notable journals. But even prior to Greensboro Baptist bloggers were making noise within the family.
With the 2004 national elections, blogging was cast into the media limelight, with political blogs gaining mention from mainstream media sources. Dictionary producer Merriam-Webster declared “blog” the 2004 word of the year.
Within the SBC, International Mission Board trustee Wade Burleson, an Enid, Okla., pastor, has been restricted from committee assignments until he issues public apologies for allegedly blogging inaccurately about fellow board members on his blog? kerussocharis.blogspot.com. His blogging also prompted an early 2006 board vote to restrict trustees from publicly criticizing board actions.
In late 2005 Burleson began citing his disagreement on his blog about new IMB qualifications for missionary candidates, and to allege that fellow board members violated board rules by misusing pre-meeting social conversations to strategize about board business.
At the SBC annual meeting, messengers asked the IMB to do a thorough internal investigation and to present its findings during the 2007 SBC annual meeting.
Referencing the Burleson matter, fellow IMB trustee Lonnie Wascom told the TEXAN that the newness of Internet communications and blogging are somewhat threatening and strange to the older generation of trustees who think of communication in terms of face to face, telephone or letters.
The newness, the lack of accountability, the ability to post anonymous responses on blogs, and the tendency to forego the “old rules of attribution” are some of the challenges that IMB trustees have experienced in the blogging world, Wascom said.
While Burleson sticks by the accuracy of the information he has posted and has offered to retract anything that can be proved inaccurate, Wascom said Christian bloggers should be held to an even higher standard of not only accuracy but also wise judgment.
The Louisiana trustee cautioned bloggers, “Always honor confidentiality. So many items we deal with at the IMB involve personnel in sensitive areas of the world. Indiscriminate posting of materials can potentially put lives at risk.”
Wascom continued, “It wouldn’t hurt for a blogger to ask someone in administration, for example, about the appropriateness of posting an item involving actual missions personnel before putting it out for anyone with a Google search engine to know about. If I say something and a blogger wishes to quote me, he should make certain it is quoted accurately and follows all rules of attribution. Then, because we are supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ and always looking out for the good of others, go to a higher level and double check with me (or any other trustee or other person) before posting.”
Some benefits of blogging noted by Wascom include the ability to root out confusion and disperse information quickly to large numbers. “Information is power,” he said.
After six months of hosting a blog about IMB issues, California IMB trustee Jerry Corbaley called it quits a few weeks ago, preferring to offer articles and discussion about other issues at www.missionsconnexion.com.
“I still think all SBC organizations must adopt procedures to rapidly address rumors, regardless of what type of media are involved,” Corbaley wrote. “There comes a time when groups polarize to an extent that rationality is a casualty. Our prejudices blind us to the meaning of one another’s words.”
While believing thousands of Christian blogs address relevant issues in positive ways, Corbaley expressed frustration that the reputation of blogging is being formed by what he claims is the most radical element.
“The polarization between this tiny fraction of Southern Baptists and the vast majority of Southern Baptists over IMB issues is too far advanced for me to have any positive effect through participating in the public discussion of issues,” he wrote.
Corbaley cautioned against missionaries sharing concerns in an open online forum, believing such an approach spreads doubt.
“Shouldn’t the blogging of concerns only follow a patient and effective attempt to resolve differences within the ‘system’?” Corbaley asked.
In a press conference following his election to the SBC presidency, Frank Page referenced the role of bloggers, noting that though bloggers are few in number, a growing number of decision makers who do not participate in blogs are reading them.
“Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention do read those blogs to try to get a barometer of what certain subgroups are thinking or saying.”
Uncertain of the role they played in the election of an SBC president, Page said the amount of media attention given to bloggers gave them “perhaps an inordinate amount of influence” that he labeled “a growing force in denominational life.”
Jerry Sutton, who ran against Frank Page and Ronnie Floyd in the three-way SBC presidential election, cited bloggers as one of many factors in the election results. He stated, “Their ability to provide unfiltered interpretation to the SBC world no doubt influenced some,” Sutton said.
Floyd, an Arkansas pastor, used his blog at www.betweensundays.com to relate his vision for the SBC and answer questions raised about his nomination during the months before the election. His communications director offered pre-election reports from Greensboro.
A June 14 article on Time’s Web site that credited bloggers with electing Page describes the writers of Southern Baptist blogs as “a group of younger (under 40) Baptists frustrated at the inaccessibility of the levers of power.”
The subtitle read, “The upset victory of a non-anointed candidate to lead America’s largest Protestant denomination signals the growing power of online activists, even in old-line churches.”
A Religion News Service article posted at WashingtonPost.com thrust bloggers like 27-year-old St. Joseph, Mo., pastor Micah Fries, who blogs at friesville.com, into the limelight.
Perhaps nothing created more buzz on the Baptist blogs than the casual question asked by outgoing SBC President Bobby Welch during his presidential address at the annual meeting in Greensboro. Welch wondered if more souls would be won if bloggers spent more time on gospel sharing and less time blogging. In the same breath, as “amens” wer heard, Welch chided older pastors for treating their cell phones like pacifiers.
Baptist bloggers are also using blogs as a forum for discussion on issues concerning their churches, communities and the SBC.
Jeremy Green, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Waco, said he began blogging to add a voice to younger leaders in the convention.
“I believe that my generation (I’m 29 years old) as a whole is being misrepresented by some who are thought to be speaking for younger pastors in the SBC,” Green noted on his blog at sbcpastor.blogspot.com. “And it appears to me that the vast majority of the blogs that I have read are in large part only representative of a very small group within the SBC. Thus, I think it might be helpful to provide a different perspective—a biblical one.”
Despite beginning his blog only a few months ago, the perspectives Green tackles include infant baptism and regeneration before faith, alcohol abstinence and biblical illiteracy.
Similarly, Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersvile, offers long polemics on the development of the church at his blog, including a look at the biblical basis for church validity.
“It is quie possible to construct a New Testament ideal for what individual Christians and Christian churches are supposed to be. How much deviation from that ideal is possible before a church ceases to be a church?” Barber asks on his blog, praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com.
In an e-mail interview, Barber noted that his purposes in blogging are not primarily to shape SBC culture.
“Sometime in my blog, I’m not the one initiating the conversation; I’m the one responding to someone else’s initiation, either to object or to agree. Either way, I’m setting down my ideas about topics I believe to be important.” The process of articulating his ideas helps him to refine or reinforce them.
But regarding SBC life, Barber stated, “If there ever was an information oligarchy in Southern Baptist life, it is much weaker today as a result of blogs.” He said he sees that as a positive effect of blogs, and believes that blogs are “an extremely democratic form of expression.” He calls it the present-day equivalent of the religious pamphlet in the 1600s.
“Printing technology enabled people with strongly held religious views to distribute their ideas with relatively little expense. Through these pamphlets, Baptists and other Christians allowed competing ideas about God, church, salvation, etc., to slug it out with one another in the marketplace of ideas. These became important tools as Baptists refined the nuances of their theology.”
He also believes that although many of the messengers to the SBC annual meeting do not read blogs, blogs shaped much of the discussion and many of the motions offered at this year’s meeting. “Leaders have always emerged or receded in the SBC based upon their communication with other Southern Baptists. That isn’t likely to change—blogs are just becoming one of the media through which they do that.”
On the downside, Barber lists a concern that many have voiced—the lack of safeguards and accountability.
For example, traditional journalism standards call for rigorous fact checking and objectivity in reporting—fairly representing multiple sides of a story and steering clear of inserting the writer’s opinions on the topic.
Blogs, by definition are “personal journals,” and prone to do just the opposite, to present and defend the blogger’s own views. Bloggers are often accused of not verifying their sources and of misrepresenting facts—an accusation from which traditional journalism is also not exempt.
Also, professional journalists’ articles typically undergo scrutiny from an editor prior to publication, whereas bloggers ar typically their own editors. Barber said that without an editor, he is “much more prone to escalate tone beyond what he would in person,” which he deems a negative.
Despite those weaknesses, blogs have become primary sources for breaking news. Blogs provide news publications with eyewitness testimony and commentary that they might not locate otherwise.
Some Christian news publications, such as Christianity Today and World magazine, maintain blogs. A 2003 article on Christianity Today’s www.ctlibrary.com, “A Theoblogical Revolution,” states, “With our Weblog, we’re able to cover more news from more places than ever before, and to hear from more voices than ever before.”
SBCOutpost.com, the blog of Buford, Ga., pastor Marty Duren, is one such source of alternative Southern Baptist views. Duren attended the SABC annual meeting and blogged immediate updates on convention business.
DallasNews.com the Web site of the Dallas Morning News, interviewed him and quoted from his site in its June 10 article, “New-time religion.”
On his site, Duren provides links to many other Southern Baptist bloggers who have provided influential commentary on SBC activities, as well as linking to Southern Baptist entities, Southern Baptist media sites, and IMB region sites.
A recent entry to the so-called “blogosphere” is available at sbcwitness.com where contributions are often pulled from the blogs of various Southern Baptist seminary professors at Southeastern, Southern and Southwestern.
Dedicated to “encouraging Southern Baptist cooperation and faithfulness, informing Southern Baptists about God’s great workings in our midst, and commenting on the most pressing issues facing our churches today,” the blog administrator related “a great love, gratefulness, and respect for the Southern Baptists who went before us.”
Writing in a column submitted to the TEXAN, First Baptist Church of Katy pastor Randy White warned of relying too much on bloggers’ opinions to shape SBC work.
“In years past,” White wrote, “Southern Baptists found leadership in men who built great churches through powerful biblical preaching and passionate personal evangelism. A young pastor or layman would have years of work to “prove his stuff” before ever entering the public world of SBC leadership.”
“Now anyone with an Internet connection and a lot of time on his hands can sway the hearts and minds of Southern Baptists,” White said, adding that this could be positive if Southern Baptist “never fail to take the final cue from the great church builders and soul winners of the day.”
Blogging, whether many Baptists know it or not, is proving to be a powerful venue for the new generation of SBC leaders to influence their denomination’s course. Former LifeWay president Jimmy Draper exhorted a group of young pastors in Greensboro during the SBC annual meeting to, “Keep blogging. Be nice. Don’t judge motives, and celebrate the diversity we have.”
Then Draper quipped, “If you’re not careful, you’ll be as narrow-minded as you think some of us are.”
Many of you will think this is a silly question. However, shortly after returning from the Southern Baptist Convention I read in the Dallas Morning News that a fellow Southern Baptist said “blanket opposition to drinking” was a “denial of the inerrant Word of God.” I will try to show that as a biblical inerrantist I am opposed to the use of alcohol as a beverage.
There is no easy way to get our arms around the subject. I hope to present my position in a kind and spiritual manner. I am no linguist, theologian or expert on the subject of alcohol as a beverage. I am simply a born-again believer, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, seeking to live for Jesus and encouraging other believers to do the same.
It is obvious to the casual reader of the Bible that wine was a common drink of people of faith. From Noah to Paul, Bible heroes used wine. Strong drink is mentioned in the Bible as well. There is little doubt that many godly biblical figures drank alcohol as a beverage. Various Scripture verses indicate the blessing of God on the people of Israel in the Old Testament through wine (Psalm 104:15). Some worship incorporated the use of wine (Exodus 29:40). To deny the use of wine in the Bible is not a defensible position.
There were other practices in Bible times that we do not accept today. Multiple wives, concubines, even slave ownership were acceptable practices, regulated and not directly forbidden in the Scriptures. We understand that a higher standard is set from the Word of God that these practices are, not only not best, but unacceptable.
A biblical inerrantist sees difficult passages in the Bible, even paradoxes, but no contradictions. To believe in biblical inerrancy one must have a high view of the nature of Scripture. However interpretation within the bounds of inerrancy is very wide.
I have no doubt a Church of Christ minister who believes in baptismal regeneration is a biblical inerrantist, but he does not hold to my interpretation that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
With all of the perceived endorsement of wine in the Bible, some could see a conflict arising in certain texts. There are many places the Scripture warns about the use of wine and strong drink.
Proverbs 23:31 makes perhaps the strongest case for a command to not use alcoholic wine. While some Hebrew scholars point to the difficulty of the translation to English, there is little dispute that the verse gives a prohibition to even look on fermented wine in this context.
An interpretation tool known as the “law of first mention” would lead us to believe that the use of wine as a beverage is not a good practice. Genesis 9:20-25 tells of the sad account of Noah drinking wine, becoming intoxicated and bringing a curse upon his own grandson.
Drunkenness is universally condemned in the Scripture (Ephesians 5:18). Those who refrained from the use of alcoholic drink were commended and used in a great way. Numbers 6 tells of the Nazarite vow that even went to the extreme beyond abstinence from alcohol to forbid the use of grapes and raisins. The Rechabites were commended by the Lord for abstaining from wine (Jeremiah 35:14). John the Baptist was great in the sight of the Lord and did not drink wine or strong drink (Luke 1:15).
Civil and spiritual leaders are told to abstain from alcohol as a beverage (Proverbs 31:4; 1 Timothy 3:3). Daniel refused to drink wine and God blessed his conviction (Daniel 1:8).
Evidence abounds that God is pleased when people avoid alcohol as a beverage. His blessing can and will fall upon those who refrain from imbibing.
Without too much appeal to history or extra-biblical material, I would point out that evidence exists that shows the ancients used a very different beverage than today’s wine coolers.
Several techniques were practiced to prevent or delay the fermentation process. Storage in a cool place extended the life of grape juice. This could have been done in caves and wells. Boiling prevented the fermentation of grape juice.
Wine was diluted for consumption. Scholars say that it varied from 1 part wine/4 parts water, to 1 part wine/20 parts water. The latter was more water purification than cutting the strength of the alcohol.
The hills of home
Tammi and I like to travel. Since early June, we’ve been in 12 states, other than Texas. We drove and got a good look at the South as well as peek into the Midwest. Driving across Madison County, Arkansas (between Wesley and Tuttle if that helps) I was struck by how my home region looked and felt to me. It’s not a preference I’ve been encouraged to embrace.
As a family, we’ve traveled light for most of our 30 years. We didn’t even buy a house until about five years ago. I think it made us available, maybe too available, for new ministry opportunities.
I also take seriously Peter’s comment about being aliens and strangers on the earth. We are strangers here and embracing a place too tightly seems contrary to that idea. But the Ozarks region just seems special to me. Maybe that’s OK?this might be a godly instinct after all.
Most people treasure the place where they grew up. There are some good reasons for that. First, it’s comforting to go someplace where things are familiar. We’re not startled to find that the barbecue sauce is mostly vinegar or the meat is pork. We know five or six ways to get from one end of town to another. We know where our ancestors used to live. We can unclench a bit when the sights, smells, and memories seem right.
Secondly, we all value a place where we are known and loved. I can plop down in my folks house on the 40 year-old bench Dad made for the breakfast bar and pick up the same conversations we had when they were new. No one there needs me to earn my spurs every week or year. I belong. It’s comforting.
We also love a place that seems perfect. Don’t we idealize places and people no longer part of our “present tense?” It’s harder to remember the dull summer days and wondering how to fill the hours without helping with the yard work. Now I remember only the simplicity and peace of those days. The cranky aunt who baby-sat us is long forgiven and a nice part of the home county now. Yes, it is obviously not perfect but home seems more perfect than anyplace we can go, for now.
Even though part of the ongoing conversation back home has to do with how things are changing, home also seems relatively stable. Familiarity extends to the point that we can get far enough away from new development to find those places that are still the same. Last trip, I found out that I can still find Great Grandma’s house and that it still stands. So does the old barn. At home we can find places that affirm our desire for something unchanging.
Here’s why I’ve decided that this is all OK. These characteristics are true of our heavenly home and give us an analog for what’s still to come. It’s the same way that our earthly fathers should, and mostly do, prepare us to understand our relationship with our heavenly father. The image is not perfect but it whets our appetite for what is to come. That has value. All places should not be the same to us because of the meaning we attach to them?particularly the relationships they represent.
Most places I go, even in our current home town, there is a strangeness to the place in my eyes. Sometimes there is even risk or threat in the strangeness. The thought that this will give way to something more familiar, and I know it because my earthly home town is a snapshot of it, is part of the hope we get from our relationship with God through Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. We know a little of what our perfect home will feel like because we’ve experienced the second-best thing.
On the other hand, the center of God’s will is your sweet spot for now. The fact that another place on earth is special to you should not justify resentment of that different place you currently serve. We should go easy on the “boy, is this place backward” or “boy, is this place crowded” stuff. Remember that you are talking about someone else’s favorite place on the planet. They might miss the good things you say in the midst of the self-indulgent nonsense.
It is a great benefit to our ministries when we explore and value the unique charms of everyplace God plants us. Learning the peculiar history, dialect, and customs of our present tense location is part of submission to God’s will in putting us there. Maybe you’ll be an outsider to some for the next thirty years, but the effort will be winsome to most. It will change your heart as well as your accent.
Northwest Arkansas becomes a little less like home as things change and as people pass on. In a couple of years we’ll have children in three places where Tammi and I don’t live. This will change what I value “back home.” George Carlin used to say that home is where
HOUSTON?Four years ago, 15 couples met at Ryan’s restaurant in Houston to launch a new experiment. “I took the biggest gut check in my life,” said Sammy Lopez, Pastor of Fellowship Church of Houston, “and just followed the Lord.”
Hispanic culture is one of the fastest-growing cultures in the United States.
“It is very important that we reach them,” said Mike Gonzales, director of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention’s Hispanic Initiative. “They can be one of the most challenging people groups for Caucasians to reach.”
There are over 9 million Hispanics in Texas, and most are nominally Catholic.
Third- and fourth-generation Hispanics often run into one huge problem?language.
While the first generation speaks fluent Spanish, each generation progressively understands less and less of its cultural language, Gonzales said.
“We tend to lose most of the second- and third-generation Hispanics in our churches to large mega-churches.” Gonzales explained. “They go where the programs are.”
Fellowship Church of Houston exists to evangelize the third-and fourth-generation Hispanics in Houston. “We wanted to develop a church to hold our (Hispanic) culture but to function in English,” Lopez said. “Education has changed our culture. Young Hispanics have masters and doctorates and we are reaching them.”
It is the vision of Fellowship Church to provide a church community that is family oriented and maintains the culture with the appropriate communication.
“We speak English but we still know what a ‘chalupa’ is,” Lopez said.
Already a pastor of a church in Houston, Lopez wasn’t looking for a new calling. It was the discussion at Ryan’s that planted the vision for Fellowship Church in his mind.
“I had to ask myself, ‘Do I stay here and fight for the Spirit of God to work or do I go with the Spirit of God?'” Lopez said, “God told me, ‘Write down what the perfect church would be.’ I did, then God said, ‘Go and do it.'”
Four years later Fellowship Church is still strong.
“God is the builder of Fellowship,” Lopez said. “I don’t mean to sound clichéd but Fellowship Church is completely God’s.”
“Everyone knows that the Hispanic population in Texas is exploding,” said Terry Coy, SBTC senior church planting strategist and a fluent Spanish speaker. “What many people are not aware of is that the young, English speaking, later-generation Hispanic population is the fastest-growing segment of Hispanic-Americans. That is, Texas is not only becoming more and more Hispanic, it is becoming more and more English-speaking Hispanic.