Although the date is past for people to register to vote, it is always important for God’s people to be good citizens. For those of us who are registered to vote that means taking the trouble to learn about the candidates and then to vote our convictions. Those who have purely personal or selfish reasons for voting are highly motivated to show up. Those of us who are called to guard and guide our communities must also be motivated by this high calling.
Here are a few links to guidelines for church involvement in political races and to a site that offers information regarding who your representatives are at the national and state level as well as a non-partisan voter’s guide.
AUSTIN — Twelve-time Dove Award winner Wayne Watson will perform a concert during the Monday afternoon session of the SBTC Pastors’ Conference Nov. 13 at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin.
Known for Christian pop hits such as “Friend of a Wounded Heart” and “Another Time, Another Place,” Watson has had 23 No. 1 singles on Christian radio. His “For Such a Time as This” became a centerpiece theme on CBS’ hit television series “Touched By An Angel.”
According to his website, waynewatson.com, the Louisiana native has restarted his recording career after several years of directing music at a church. His latest album is called “Signatures.”
“Someone asked me in an interview lately if my songs were pearls from deep within or diamonds dug from the soil of life it was a great question that really got me thinking,” Watson said on his website. “In the past I didn’t dig deep enough to find some of those gems that might be there from a lifetime of experience, and years of walking with God through seasons when he’s seemed sometimes near, sometimes far away. I’m just now at this season in life beginning to tap into some of the real potential depth of my writing and that’s very encouraging to me.”
David Kuo served as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives until he resigned in 2003. He has been critical of the office’s effectiveness since that time but his opinions really made a splash in his recent book, “Tempting Faith.” The book airs some specific criticisms regarding the implementation of the administration’s faith-based initiatives. Anecdotes also highlight the apparent contempt some White House staffers have for evangelicals. He closes by suggesting that Christians should go on a “fast from politics,” in favor of compassionate works.
In an “October surprise” way, the media have made Mr. Kuo their darling in apparent hopes that Christians might be discouraged from voting this November. I have no reason to doubt the sincere intent of the book but many who are praising the work have a highly politicized agenda.
I might add that David Kuo says that he does not mean that Christians should not vote. He also claims to have had no control over the release date of the book. OK, we still find that many who are quoting joyfully from the book are skipping over his Christian testimony and his firm pro-life, conservative assertions, adding instead his “fast from politics” terminology to the chorus of people who have expressed horror at the influence, let’s face it, the existence of biblical Christianity.
His ideas, based on some disillusionment with the nuts and bolts of political influence, are being used by those who will repeat nothing else he says in service of their goal of defeating a political/moral direction they consider dangerous. Maybe this is a misinterpretation of “Tempting Faith,” but the functional difference between a pundit who equates biblical Christianity with the Taliban and an author who suggests that the process of public policy is beneath Christians is uncomfortably slim.
My question is simple. Why should we take David Kuo’s advice?
I don’t think we can step aside. We are citizens and Christians. Our Christian identity defines our citizenship. We are not free to “sit this one out” to make a point or because our feelings are hurt.
Christians are also called to affect our communities. In our culture, political engagement is one way that we can do that. Our freedom to vote is a rare freedom in the history of the world. God has used our freedom for his glory on countless occasions. One day, the only way we can impact our culture might be by disobeying the law and suffering the consequences. Here and now, we can support or oppose a cause, vote for or against a leader, and make it stick. We should do that as long as we are able.
I don’t think we should step aside. It is not ours to determine effectiveness. Some people quit when they lose the first or third or 30th time. That doesn’t change the right and wrong of an effort. If we believe God wants us to do a thing, we’re wrong to quit just because it doesn’t turn out as we wished. We don’t serve ourselves, a political party, or a candidate.
Compassion is expressed by the climate we help create for all Americans, not just the food we put in their pantry. Some stands we take, including those often-ridiculed stands for life and family, are stands of mercy for the helpless. So are stands against gambling, pornography, and expanded alcohol consumption. Hate the truth of it if you must but being for people means you must be against some things that destroy people.
The thought that we support or withhold support from a cause based on whether the other people involved respect us adequately is repugnant to me. Certainly many in government do not get Christianity. Some in our churches don’t get it either. That’s a petty reason to give up.
I don’t think we need to step aside. As indicated above, compassion and citizenship are not contradictory ideas. Mr. Kuo seems to believe that evangelical Christians typically give to and do more for political causes than they do for people. I reject the dichotomy but even so he is wrong. Those who tithe and make special offerings are far more invested in world evangelism (the greatest compassion, and one David Kuo admires) and hunger relief than we are in political campaigns. Those of us who actually participate in our churches give more time to serving people in a month than we give to assisting a political campaign in a year.
I also reject the notion that working for stronger families and a cultural respect for human life is “merely political.” Politics is the way we accomplish things in relationship with other people. Like anything else (even hunger relief), it becomes wrong and soul-less when our motivation is mercenary.
My paternal grandparents and my dad were Southern Baptists. My mother was saved at a Southern Baptist church when she was nine years old. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. My name was on the church roll about 10 years before I truly accepted Christ. I went to a Baptist college, a Baptist seminary, pastored Southern Baptists, served as a director of missions for an association and now I am employed by a denominational entity. This sort of sounds like Paul when he said he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. These experiences do not necessarily qualify me to speak about Baptist life, but I wanted you to know where I am coming from.
When I was a child and youth in the 1950s and ’60s, Southern Baptists were monolithic. Although the two strains of Charleston and Sandy Creek were evident in my upbringing, I received basic Baptist doctrine in Sunday School and Training Union. Literature virtually codified doctrinal positions and even interpretations for millions of Southern Baptists. We knew what we believed and there was little deviation.
Mom and Pop Baptist were shocked when they found out there were leaders in SBC life who did not believe the Bible to be totally true and trustworthy. Especially that some leaders did not believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve, a literal flood, a parting of the Red Sea and other biblical accounts in both the Old and New Testaments. Since Mom and Pop Baptist had a strong belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, it became necessary to make a course correction. Today, all SBC ministries hold to a high view of Scripture.
In the later part of the 20th century, Southern Baptists began to get out a little more. Spreading across America and around the world, new ideas broke through the parochialism and provincialism of Southern Baptist culture. With many positive developments came some negative ones. We are struggling with some interpretations and practices that were not even discussed a generation ago.
Alcohol as a beverage and private prayer languages are two hot buttons. Other controversies are waiting in the wings. Southern Baptists have always been a diverse people. The Baptist Faith and Message is broad enough to include all of the above and more as practices of local church members. Churches may hold widely differing views and remain in fellowship with the broader Body of Baptists.
There is a difference between fellowship and leadership, however. While churches and individuals may hold to tongue speaking or the acceptance of beverage alcohol, the broader Body of Baptists expects their institutions, agencies and ministries to reflect the traditional position of Southern Baptists. It is traditional in the sense of biblical interpretation and practice for over 160 years. Have Southern Baptists been wrong on generally accepted interpretations? Yes, particularly on social issues. However, until the preponderance of the broader Body of Baptists change their views the ministries of Southern Baptists should reflect the historically accepted version. Within the BF&M everyone is welcome on the Old Gospel Train but everyone cannot drive. That’s the difference between fellowship and leadership.
The SBTC staff will treat each church with respect, as a partner in the work of Acts 1:8. Your staff reflects the generally accepted interpretations and practices of our Baptist heritage.
Pray for a great annual meeting in Austin. Pray that our attention will be on celebrating the commonality and accepting the challenge of carrying out Acts 1:8 together.
It promised to be a lively debate–a topic of widespread interest across the Southern Baptist Convention, a venue filled with hundreds of students and four highly educated men passionate about their theology.
Online buzz swelled as various weblogs carried hundreds of posts rehearsing arguments regarding Baptists and Calvinism.
The auditorium of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., was to be the Oct. 16 setting for a three-hour debate featuring brothers Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Seminary in Lynchburg and a former Criswell College professor, and Emir Caner, dean of the College at Southwestern in Fort Worth, versus Tom Ascol, executive director of Founders Ministries, which represents a Calvinist segment within Southern Baptist life, and James White, director of Alpha & Omega Ministries, which focuses on Christian apologetics and theology.
Ascol is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., and White, formerly a Southern Baptist, is an elder at Phoenix (Ariz.) Reformed Baptist Church.
The debate, however, was canceled due to unresolved disputes among the four men over various ground rules for the event.
Had the debate taken place as scheduled, the give and take might have followed the pattern of their discourse on the Founders blog earlier this year. Among the points of contention that likely would have surfaced are views of historic Baptist roots and such theological constructs as predestination, election, human responsibility and God’s omnibenevolence, which describes his character as perfectly or absolutely good.
Ascol and White hold to a Calvinistic view expressed in the “doctrines of grace” espoused by Reformed theology. A recent study by LifeWay Research found that approximately 10 percent of Southern Baptist pastors call themselves five-point Calvinists.
In debating various facets of Calvinism on the Founders weblog, Ergun Caner declared, “I am neither Arminian nor Calvinist–I am Baptist.” He called himself “a radical reformer in the Anabaptist heritage.” Both Caners uphold what is described as the Sandy Creek tradition where “elders meant preachers,” as Ergun Caner put it, and aggressive evangelism and church planting were embraced along with contemporary worship and a call for decisions.
“I have never suggested that the Sandy Creek tradition did not significantly influence Southern Baptist origins,” Ascol wrote in response. “What I have objected to is the assumptions and historical misrepresentations of that tradition as somehow being anti-Calvinistic.”
In tracing Southern Baptist roots, Ascol points to the Abstracts of Principles used at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as the convention’s first recognized confession of faith. Adopted in 1858, election is described as “God’s eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life–not because of foreseen merit in them, but of his mere mercy in Christ–in consequence of which choice they are called, justified and glorified.”
Emir Caner quoted from a sermon Danny Akin delivered at Southern Seminary while Akin was academic dean there in which he claimed the Abstract of Principles calls for adherence to only three of the five points of Calvinism–total depravity, unconditional election and perseverance of the saints. Akin said the document allows for effectual calling and particular redemption, but does not require it.
“How do I resist the irresistible and how can I resist something that shouldn’t have been offered to me in the first place?” Ergun Caner asked, in reference to effectual calling and particular redemption, respectively.
Had the debate proceeded, the frequent accusation by the Caners equating so-called Reformed Baptists with hyper-Calvinists likely would have surfaced. White referred on his blog to a sermon in which Caner asked who might fill the shoes of Adrian Rogers to stand against “those hyper-Calvinists who have ceased to give biblical invitations and embraced Protestant Scholasticism.”
“I have to think twice before I call someone Pelagian,” White stated in his Oct. 10 “Dividing Line” radio interview with Ascol, referring to the fifth-century Pelagian heresy that denied original sin. White said terms like hyper-Calvinism are used as a club to beat an opponent. Whit features on his site a link to a message Caner delivered at the Lynchburg church last spring explaining why he could never be a hyper-Calvinist.
Ascol said the extremes of hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism have the same philosophical foundation but go in opposite directions from a faulty presupposition.
“Calvinists say both [hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism] are wrong. We have no spiritual ability, but that does not lessen our responsibility and we must live that biblical tension,” Ascol said.
In the interview, Ascol appealed to Caner to stop what Ascol described as an intentional mischaracterization of Reformed Baptists as hyper-Calvinists.
White restated his rejection of hyper-Calvinism, emphasizing that he distributes gospel tracts in many settings.
“W affirm God’s common grace and are commanded to proclaim the gospel that all men everywhere are commanded by God to repent. I don’t know who the elect are,” White said on the Dividing Line program. “There is no power in heaven and earth that can stop the Holy Spirit from drawing men to Himself so we’ll proclaim the gospel to Moonies, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. You can’t assume those people have ever heard the true gospel and so we go to them.”
Emir Caner defines a hyper-Calvinist as one who goes beyond Calvin, arguing that the French reformer would have rejected limited (or particular) atonement.
Ergun Caner recently blogged on his own site that a person who holds to reprobation, a belief that God has created and predestined souls to hell, would be “a poster child” for hyper-Calvinism. He further accused White of being unclear on the issue of whether infants who die go to heaven.
Emir Caner also cited the Romans 9 account of God loving Jacob while hating Esau, rejecting the argument he claimed Calvinists make that God can hate man because of divine sovereignty, Instead of believing that God created man with no intention other than that of damning him, Caner said God hated Esau because he deserved it.
Sprinkled throughout the stream of remarks on the Founders site are quips by Ergun Caner referring to “Piper-Calvinists”—a reference to John Piper, a Minnesota pastor who is a leader to many reformed theology adherents—along with the accusation that Reformed Baptists open themselves up to a defense of infant baptism, a charge Ascoh disputed.
Piper is pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, which came under fire in 2005 for a motion passed by its elders (but rejected by the church body) to, in some circumstances, accept as members those who had been sprinkled or poured on rather than immersed.
Ergun Caner accused Calvinists of giving elders too much authority, but granted that many deacon boards overextend their control of pastors. He accepted Ascol’s accusation that he leaned toward a Landmark theology regarding closed versus open communion (a closed communion excludes non-members of the local church and is associated with the Landmark tradition).
“I stand in the line of the Dissenters throughout history who wanted a free church—not a Roman theocracy and certainly not a Geneva theocracy,” Caner wrote, referencing John Calvin, who is known as the Reformer of Geneva.
While the Caners warn of the decline of churches pastored by so-called Reformed Baptists, Ascol said faithfulness to the practice of biblical Christianity through church discipline and sound preaching sometimes results in a loss of membership.
In the Oct. 10 radio interview, Ascol viewed the impasse over the debate as reflective of “the real mess” in broader evangelicalism and particularly Southern Baptist life. “We don’t know what it means to be Christian anymore,” he said. “That’s not just true doctrinally, but ecclesiologically and ethically.”
White added that 1 Corinthians 1:17 warns against “wisdom words” that empty the cross of Christ of its power. “So many of our seminarians are taught to use all these unbiblical, ungodly methodologies to make up for where evidently the Holy Spirit is falling down and not doing his job.”
White asked, “Is there any shock our churches are filled with people who have no concern for godliness? The idea of it impacting their thoughts and relationships is foreign.”
Most likely, the ill-fated debate would have found some points of agreement between the three Southern Baptist participants (the Caners and Ascol).
Ascol noted, for example, that there are areas of agreement with Reformed Baptists in working for the spiritual health of the convention, including:
>the high rate of false conversions produced by Southern Baptists evangelism.
>the lack of discipline in Southern Baptist churches.
>the cultural captivity of the church.
>a desire to see the gospel preached in power here and around the world.
>the genuine conversion of innumerable sinners.
On many of those points the Caners readily agreed. “Even though we vigorously disagree on virtually every soteriological, anthropological and ecclesiastical doctrine (eternal security excepted), we are similar in that we both love a spirited discourse.” Ergun Caner wrote. “Emir and I willingly and happily agree with your views on church discipline, horrible manipulation, manicured metro boys in the pulpits, stolen sermons, wannabe Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks, and historical myopia.”
Similarly, Emir Caner lamented, “We are raising up pastors in our denomination that are seeker-sensitive, programmatic, postmodern, emergent and weak, We need men of God to stand up and preach the Word faithfully and guard the church from wolves.”
Ascol offered, “Let’s hold our respective convictions fearlessly and be willing to be ruthlessly biblical with each other as we seek to address them and call for renewed spiritual vitality as the Lord gives us light and power.”
FORT WORTH–The lone opponent of a statement clarifying how Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees expect faculty to approach teaching the practice of a private prayer language found a silver lining to the cloud he sees over the Texas school following the Oct. 17 vote.
Arlington pastor Dwight McKissic Sr. said he is grateful for the “honesty and straightforwardness” with which the view of private prayer language was set forth, believing it will help prospective students and interested churches that hold to the practice evaluate whether they’re welcome at the nearly century-old school.
“Now students know the school has shifted from the openness of the era of Hemphill, Garrett and MacGorman,” McKissic told the TEXAN, referring to the former seminary president and two faculty members whose views he described as contradictory to the new statement.
“Southwestern Seminary does not believe in the legitimacy of private prayer language,” he stated, adding that the “philosophical shift” causes him to question the school’s belief about biblical inerrancy.
The Texas pastor makes that accusation based on a reference to the apostle Paul’s instruction that the exercise of the spiritual gift of tongues should not be forbidden.
“I’m just surprised when the Bible says do not forbid that this institution is going on record clearly disobeying what the Word of God says on this. It clearly excludes anybody who endorses a private prayer life,” McKissic said, contending that Billy Graham, Jack Taylor and Frank Page would be in that camp.
“I know a lot of people who go before God with a groan, a moan, a sound you cannot translate into English. [The seminary] has said to all those people, you’re not welcome here. If there’s anything I feel good about, it is that it brought this to a point of going on the record.”
Had he known the seminary was in the process of drafting such a statement, McKissic would not have accepted the assignment as a trustee, he said. “I don’t need any more meetings,” he added.
While discouraged to the point of at times considering resigning as a trustee after his first meeting, McKissic said, “I’m not gonna let my flesh do that. It’s not about what I want.” He found encouragement from the many Southern Baptists who called or e-mailed praising his stand.
“For those people I will continue to act.”
McKissic believes Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page was placed in office “for such a time as this,” describing the author of “The Trouble with TULIP” as having endorsed a private prayer life despite not practicing such a devotion himself.
“He wouldn’t be qualified to be a professor” in light of the statement, McKissic contended. “The fact that he’s open on this question is the principal reason that I remain.”
McKissic found it ironic that Southwestern Seminary is the place where he first spoke in tongues in private to God.
“The policy speaks loud and clear to me that such a person would not be welcome. I feel like Martin Luther when he stood alone against the Catholic church.”
Having called on Page and the SBC Executive Committee to consider revisiting the Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement revised in 2000 to clarify the view toward private prayer language, McKissic said he would await their decision.
“I pray the SBC makes a decision that continualists, semi-cessationists and cessationists can co-exist in SBC life and through all our agencies. That will determine my future in Southern Baptist life.”
After preaching a chapel sermon Aug. 29 in which he criticized a new International Mission Board policy refusing missionary candidates who practice a private prayer language, McKissic apologized for “failing to get the memo” that forbids criticism of a sister entity. “The memo came out today.”
FORT WORTH?Southwestern Seminary’s theology dean, David Allen, doesn’t expect any surprises from faculty when he sends them a memo soon about a new trustee statement regarding the neo-charismatic practice of private prayer language.
Prospective faculty members have been quizzed on the subject for years, Allen said.
If a current faculty member practices “a private prayer language” as one trustee alleges five of them do, then the pertinent question becomes whether that view is advocated in the classroom.
“I would not bring that professor in and say, ‘You cannot say that outside of class.’ I’m not going to restrict anyone in that way.”
“The statement said we will not knowingly endorse private prayer language,” Allen explained, taking that to mean advocating that practice.
The newly passed statement reads: “As it concerns private practices of devotion, these practices, if genuinely private, remain unknown to the general public and are, therefore, beyond the purview of Southwestern Seminary. Southwestern will not knowingly endorse in any way, advertise, or commend the conclusions of the contemporary charismatic movement including ‘private prayer language.’ Neither will Southwestern knowingly employ professors or administrators who promote such practices.”
Allen draws a distinction between the statement by which a seminary operates and the freedom of an individual pastor.
“A pastor at a local church is not an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention. They are by definition autonomous, as is their pastor. However, a seminary is a different animal,” he said, because of the responsibility it has to its churches through elected trustees.
Prior to his election to the faculty and administration, Allen served as a trustee throughout the previous seminary president’s administration and takes issue with McKissic’s characterization that the newly passed statement represents a theological and philosophical shift that will exclude many practitioners of tongues.
“During the entire Hemphill time, as a board member, if a person articulated to me that they had charismatic leanings and inclusive of that was a private prayer language, it would be very unlikely I would have been supportive of faculty status.”
But a faculty member who privately discloses a sympathetic view toward the practice of a private prayer language won’t be hauled into the dean’s office.
“I would not bring that professor in and say you cannot say that outside of class. It’s not going to restrict in that way. If we have people who do that here we’re certainly not going to try to move for their dismissal,” Allen said.
Nor should the statement pose a problem for any of the students, he added.
“We have lots of students who aren’t Southern Baptists and some are charismatic. We do not expect our students to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Under no conditions would any such student be unwelcome here,” Allen stated.
“On the other side of the coin, we can be careful in whom we do hire. We will not hire anyone knowingly who affirms that which the vast majority of Southern Baptists disavow.”
“As long as it remains private, it’s not problematic to me because I don’t know,” agreed Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson. “If it does become known to some people, but is not a matter that is advocated or advertised and the reputation of the school is not harmed thereby, then it’s not a problem.”
CANTON?God told Moses to reach the Hebrews, Paul to reach the Gentiles, and the people of Lakeside Baptist Church to reach the skateboarders, the church’s student minister says. They did not have to go very far to do it.
In the middle of the church’s parking lot in Canton, on any afternoon, several young teenagers can be seen doing tricks and riding slopes on boards. What cannot be seen is the beginning of a movement among them?God is transforming their lives, church members say.
“God brought it to us,” said Drew Erickson, Lakeside Baptist student minister. About a year ago, on a Wednesday evening, two or three teenagers began skateboarding on the parking lot. The kids had been chased off of every parking lot in town, eventually landing on the doorstep of Lakeside Baptist Church, Erickson recalled.
The newly paved lot is an exceptional place for skateboarding, and the sloping terrain attracts teens wishing to sharpen their skills. After realizing they were welcome on the property, the group began to show up every day after school.
Sean Little, an adult leader for the junior high boys small group, began spending time with the teens on the parking lot and developing friendships.
“My job was to get there early and hang out with them and meet their friends,” he said. “It started out as a friendship.”
Later, Erickson enacted a rule that would bring them inside the church doors. On Wednesday nights, which is youth outreach night, kids are allowed to skateboard on the lot, but at 6:15 they are required to come in for worship and Bible study.
An evangelistic message was presented in the small groups, and the ministry started seeing big results. Little began leading at least one new student to Christ every week. After several weeks, he began to see an average of 20 seventh and eighth grade boys in his group.
“They are not shy to tell their friends about Jesus,” Little said. “They were not afraid to tell their friends that they couldn’t go out and skate until they talked to someone about getting their lives right with God.”
After four months of outreach, the skateboarding ministry started to explode. Erickson and Little started visiting the new students during their lunch hour at school. The skateboarders were unsure and standoffish towards the youth leaders at first, but Erickson and Little pursued a relationship with them. They invited them to church and challenged them to bring their friends also.
The students within the youth ministry have also been instrumental in reaching out to this group of teens. “I began privately challenging my kids to reach out to these skater kids,” Erickson said.
The students began inviting the skateboarders into their homes, and in turn, the skateboarders began inviting their own friends to come. Two student leaders from the youth group took the initiative to hold a skateboarding demonstration on the church parking lot one Saturday afternoon. The leaders wanted to reach out to the kids that had not been to church in a while, and as a result, 30 teens showed up for the demonstration, Erickson said.
Currently, an average of 40 skateboarders come to Lakeside for skating and Bible study on Wednesday nights, Erickson noted. Little’s group, the eighth grade boys, consists entirely of skateboarders. At church, they receive a love and acceptance that many have never experienced before, Erickson said.
HOUSTON?Striving to be a great leader in God’s kingdom is not at odds with the Christian virtues of humility and service, said Reggie McNeal, the director of leadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, during the second of three Church Leadership Conference regional events hosted by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
McNeal was the keynote speaker during the Sept. 23 conference at Houston-area Spring Baptist Church.
With the church desperately needing great leaders and the world starved for God’s blessings, McNeal said making the decision to become great is crucial to serving the world, connecting to God’s agenda, and becoming kingdom-minded.
“A lot of times when I teach Christian leaders, they get nervous when I start throwing around the word ‘great’ as if that is something we aren’t supposed to be fooling with,” said McNeal, the author of multiple church leadership books, including “Practicing Greatness: Seven Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders,” published last year by Jossey-Bass.
Using the illustration of the disciples quarreling over who would be the greatest in God’s kingdom in Mark 9:33-37, McNeal directed attention to Jesus’ response.
“It is interesting [Jesus] does not say, ‘you guys ought not talk about greatness.’ Jesus doesn’t put them down for wanting to be great in the kingdom, but what he does is re-content what greatness is about. Jesus assumes if you are a leader in the kingdom, you want to be a great one.”
Serving the world
While Jesus does not dismiss the importance of being great, his actions give believers parameters for greatness, McNeal said, adding that two qualifications for greatness are humility and a servant spirit.
“There are plenty of platform people who have humility. It has no correlation with whether you are up front on Sundays. And there are plenty of people who work in the shadows who are incredibly ambitious and have no humility at all. Humility is not about your position, it’s about your attitude.”
The idea of Christian service should also be re-examined, McNeal said, indicating that the church has “reduced service into a too-narrow bandwidth.” By looking at Jesus, McNeal said it is obvious that he served people in many different ways.
“We only think of service with a towel and a basin or doing something with cleaning feet. But Jesus served people when he challenged the rich young ruler with his lifestyle, when he drove the religious people out of the temple, and when he healed people. Those are all examples of service.”
Greatness begins with service, and the most practical application of serving others, McNeal said, is blessing others.
The distinguishing factor between good leaders and great leaders, McNeal said, is “great leaders bless people.”
“And I’m here to plead with you, go for great because our world is desperate for leaders who will bless people,” said McNeal, pointing out that the media is replete with images of people “who are running around with demagoguery, cursing, tearing people down.”
Connecting to God’s agenda
A service strategy of blessing is mandatory to effectively serve modern culture, he said, noting that service must occur outside the church. When believers interact with unchurched people, they become connected to God’s agenda for the church by participating in his redemptive mission for the world.
“Most churched people in North America don’t kno
FORT WORTH–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will not knowingly endorse contemporary charismatic practices such as a private prayer language nor hire professors who advocate the practice, according to a statement issued by trustees Oct. 17 during their regularly scheduled meeting on the Fort Worth campus.
In what was described as a “trajectory for the future,” the statement said the school would fix “its focus on historic New Testament and Baptist doctrine to guide students in the tasks of world missions and evangelism.”
The statement was a response to controversy stemming from a chapel sermon Aug. 29 in which trustee and Arlington pastor Dwight McKissic Sr. noted his practice of a private prayer language. In the sermon McKissic said that tongues “is a valid [spiritual] gift for today” and took issue with the International Mission Board policy refusing missionary candidates who engage in the contemporary neo-charismatic practice.
Amid what he told the Southern Baptist TEXAN would be a report on “exciting evidence of the blessings of the hand of God” on the school, SWBTS President Paige Patterson expressed as “unfortunate” the need to address an action that was “ill-timed, inappropriate, unhelpful, unnecessarily divisive, and contrary to the generally accepted understandings and practices of Southern Baptists.”
Consequently, at the president’s encouragement in the Oct. 16 forum, trustees adopted a statement unanimously recommended by the board’s executive committee clarifying the school’s perspective on private prayer language by a vote of 36-1, McKissic being the only trustee voting in opposition.
The statement referenced the school’s affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention for the sole purpose of “training men and women to understand the Bible in all its ramifications in order to facilitate the assignment of Christ as provided in the Great Commission,” citing Matthew 28:18-20.
“We wish to remain faithful to the biblical witness and its emphases, taking into careful account the historic positions of Baptists in general and Southern Baptists in particular,” he insisted.
The statement reads: “As it concerns private practices of devotion, these practices, if genuinely private, remain unknown to the general public and are, therefore, beyond the purview of Southwestern Seminary. Southwestern will not knowingly endorse in any way, advertise, or commend the conclusions of the contemporary charismatic movement including ‘private prayer language.’ Neither will Southwestern knowingly employ professors or administrators who promote such practices.”
Southwestern’s board expressed a resolve to devote the school’s energies to “the twin tasks of world missions and evangelism,” emphases which “were characteristic of our founders, B. H. Carroll, L. R. Scarborough, and George W. Truett.”
Patterson told the TEXAN he expressed in the trustee’s closed session forum Oct. 16 a desire to be “true to biblical instruction as understood by our best efforts to interpret the message of the Bible, while taking into account the positions of Baptists from the past.”
Most Southern Baptists both acknowledge and advocate the practice of spiritual gifts as described in the New Testament, he explained. However, faithfulness to the entirety of the New Testament requires the need to “test the spirits” to see if they are of God, he insisted.
Patterson said “sincere misunderstandings and misreadings of Scripture, excesses, and sometimes apparent deliberate deception” sometimes occur. He pledged that the school would resist such errors in an effort to be both a lighthouse for the gospel and a stronghold for biblical theology.
“Southern Baptists have always recognized true brothers and sisters in Christ within various charismatic groups and denominations,” Patterson told the TEXAN. “In keeping with our historic Baptist convictions, we affirm the right of all to believe and to promote the convictions of their hearts.” Based on “best efforts” to interpret Scripture, Patterson added, “Neither in the past nor in the present have many Baptists believed that the Pentecostal or charismatic movements represented an accurate representation of New Testament doctrine and practice.”
Patterson said he told trustees the issue is not about the president of Southwestern Seminary nor “a much esteemed and greatly loved pastor and newly elected trustee,” an allusion to McKissic.
Instead, it concerns “Southwestern’s trajectory for the future—whether we shall be clearly identified as Baptist or only baptistic.” He described the choice as “whether we will remain distinctive in our convictions or whether we will succumb to the neo-ecumenism of the time, embracing as it certainly does, many of the doctrines and emphases of charismatic theology.”
For example, while statements of faith from Assemblies of God reveal they are “baptistic” based on their advocacy of believer’s baptism by immersion, Patterson insisted they are not Baptist.
“We can favor the unity of God’s born-again saints, which does not involve compromise, but we connot countenance any ecumenical movement, whether it be the National Council of Churches or the pressure of the contemporary neo-charismatic perspectives.”
Trustee chairman Van McClain indicated no further statement would be made regarding the subject. “I believe the board has addressed the issue of the Aug. 29 chapel service by this statement. I believe Dr. Patterson handled the matter in an appropriate manner and there is no need for the board to make any other statement at this time.”
McKissis appeals to Baptist theologians
The trustee statement followed a series of letters and e-mail exchanges that began with McKissic’s explanation of his Aug. 29 chapel sermon in a Sept. 7 e-mail he sent. Two other trustee officers weighed in on the comments, then McKissic wrote a Sept. 12 letter to all three, answering their questions, then posting the 11-page response on his church’s website.
McKissic explained that his continualist viewpoint differs from a classical Pentecostal view—he doesn’t believe tongues is a sign of Holy Spirit baptism or that tongues is for everyone—turning to Southern Baptist professors and scholars to assert that those with his conviction should not be excluded in Southern Baptist life even if a majority of Southern Baptists are cessationist or semi-cessationist regarding the charismatic gifts.
He quotes at length the writings of SWBTS New Testament professor Siegfried Schatzmann, and emeritus theology professor James Leo Garrett as being among those who seem to argue for the possibility of tongues in a modern context. From Schatzmann’s book, “A Pauline Theology of Charismata,” the professor wrote, “There exists no reasonable exegetical warrant for denying that the same gifts which equipped the church for service then should fulfill the same purpose today.”
From Garrett’s Systematic Theology he quotes, “[Non-tongue speakers] should refrain from efforts to exclude or disfellowship those who exercise tongues-speaking with the Pauline parameters.”
After trustees discussed whether to adopt a statement on private prayer language during the informal, closed-door forum, Oct. 16, McKissic released another open letter to trustees and the SBC, concerned that the statement makes the seminary a “de facto cessationist school.”
McKissic also took issue with the seminary president’s statement that private prayer language, if truly private, would not be a point of discussion.
“I fail to understand this logic. Many practices of a believer occur in private, but are discussed in public. Whether a man is praying in a known language, or in words or sounds that cannot be translated into another language, we all discuss what happens in times of private prayer. Jesus went deep into the Garden of Gethsemane alone. When he was there, he prayed. While he prayed, he groaned,” McKissic wrote, a point made in support of private prayer language.
In a chapel sermon last April, Patterson said that groanings such as Paul described in Romans 8:26 are not examples of private prayer language.
In his letter, McKissic contended: “The souce of division in Southern Baptist life is not from those of us who want more of God’s empowering presence in our lives, and are willing to seek his power earnestly. The source of division seems to come from those who wish to silence and deny us the freedom to serve in a convention that has never in its history spoken definitively on this matter.”
Whether he continues to feel welcome in the Southern Baptist Convention depends, McKissic said, on the response of SBC President Frank Page or the Executive Committee to McKissic’s challenge that the SBC formally adopt a position on spiritual gifts, private prayer language and speaking in tongues.
Line in sand for black churches?
Southwestern Seminary trustee Eric Redmond, who pastors the predominantly African-American Hillcrest Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Md., does not believe the issue of private prayer language will be “the lin the the sand” for black churches in the SBC.
“I think my friend Dr. McKissic’s statements about the majority of African-American evangelicals being open to private prayer language are statements of conjecture or speculation.”
From his own experience as a minister, Bible college professor and theology editor, Redmond has known “a great majority of African-American evangelicals who hold to a cessationist position.” While he said he finds a neo-Pentecostal perspective represented in African-American churches identified as Baptist, evangelical or the broader Christian faith, Redmond said it is not well represented in Southern Baptist pulpits.
Furthermore, Redmond said, “African –Americans have not necessarily considered sighing, groaning and moaning as part of a private prayer language,” responding to McKissic’s inclusion of those experiences in the same category.
Redmond said he sees no reason for McKissic to feel unwelcome at the trustee table following their statement that disagrees with the Texas pastor’s viewpoint.
“His trusteeship is larger than this one issue,” Redmond said. “We’re here to help make the best school for training men and women to preach the gospel throughout the earth and make disciples strong and healthy in their churches. Private prayer language many only be one small part of that and so if Reverend McKissic can agree to disagree, yet be agreeable in the practice with all the other issues pertaining to the seminary, then there is still a great place for him at the table.”
In his first year as a trustee, Redmond fielded questions from minority students about the sensitivity of professors in the classroom, participation of minorities in chapel and support for ethnic fellowships.
“Being the lone African-American trustee until this year I’ve worked with administration, student services, admissions and even at the level of the president’s office to positively affect those areas.”
Redmond added, “Those are the sorts of things I hope Reverend McKissic in his tenure here would want to affect on campus for the good of the seminary, for the convention as a whole and for the kingdom.”
McKissic stated in the letter that he intends to maintain his friendship with Patterson, expressing ongoing appreciation for the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative resurgence of which Patterson was a part.
But, he asserted, the stance recommended by Patterson and the trustees’ executive committee would tell “potential faculty, administrators, students, donors, and the entire Southern Baptist family—that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is not a place where a diversity of views about the work of the Holy Spirit within the history and theology of Baptists is tolerated.”
McKissic’s Oct. 16 letter followed a 10-page letter he wrote Oct. 13 to the trustee chairman, Van McClain of New York, and to two other trustees, with copies sent to the entire trustee board, answering various questions they had raised.
“I have been told that because the majority of Southern Baptists hold to the cessasionist or semi-cessasionist viewpoint, my [chapel] message was out of line with the majority of Southern Baptists,” McKissis wrote in the Oct. 13 letter. “Since when did majority opinion dictate theological interpretation in SBC life beyond the Baptist Faith and Message?”
McKissic noted that a majority of Southern Baptists once upheld slavery and segregation and that the SBC was on record as affirming the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade abortion decision during the 970s. “To put it simply, popular opinion doesn’t always validate a theological position,” McKissic wrote.