Month: May 2008

Thanks, Southern Baptists

My first Southern Baptist Convention was in New Orleans in 1982. This year makes 26 years in a row. The record is no doubt held by Dr. Robert Naylor, who attended 63 Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings. What an incredible commitment to the SBC!

My early days of ministry were spent as an outsider in Southern Baptist circles. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would serve in various areas of Southern Baptist life. Last year the messengers elected me as first vice president. I am deeply appreciative to those who spoke well of my nomination and voted for me. It has been a blessed experience to hold the honorific position.

Serving as vice president may well be my swan song in elective service among Southern Baptists. That’s what happened to James Nance Garner in our nation’s government.

Mr. Garner was a Texan who wielded an incredible amount of power in Washington. Franklin Roosevelt asked him to resign his seat in Congress and to run as vice president on his ticket. Garner did and was elected. However, he disagreed with Roosevelt on some very major issues. When Roosevelt ran for another term, Garner was not asked to be the VP. Cactus Jack, as Garner was called, retired to Uvalde.

In 1960 Lyndon Johnson, another powerful Texan in Washington, was asked to run for vice president with John Kennedy. Johnson sought out counsel from the venerable but crusty Garner. When asked what he should do, Garner told Johnson that the vice presidency was not worth a pitcher of warm spit. Rumor had it that Garner actually was a little saltier in his word selection but that is what the press put in print. Johnson didn’t take Garner’s advice and through tragedy became president.

I don’t share Garner’s cynicism about the position. It is a privilege and blessing to have been vice president. Also, I praise God for President Frank Page. I respect Dr. Page as a Godly man who is exemplary in conduct and warm in spirit. He is a personal soul-winner. He sets a high standard for all of us to follow as he follows Christ.

We have a number of choices in this upcoming SBC presidential race. I do not know all of the nominees personally. I do know how I will determine my vote. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission urged us four years ago in the U.S. presidential election to be a “Values Voter.” My values will determine who gets my vote.

Southern Baptists do not have official parties and tickets. However, if I were to run as a VP on someone’s ticket there would have to be some shared values with my running mate.

We need a president who supports the continuation of the course set by the Conservative Resurgence. The battle for the Bible will never be over. A second value is to have a president who is committed to appoint people with strong convictions about what it means to be a Baptist. This means the Baptist Faith and Message must be the minimal basis for service on boards and committees.

There are issues not in the BF&M that must be addressed for Southern Baptist service. This is not narrowing the parameters; it is driving down long-held stakes. Alcohol use as a beverage and promotion of the modern-day tongues movement are hot buttons. If we broaden our parameters on these issues, we do it to our peril. We must maintain our distinctiveness or lose our identity.

Finally, let me say that support of SBC missions and ministry through the Cooperative Program is important. To have a litmus test of a certain percentage is counterproductive. To support a candidate who has not demonstrated an appreciation for the Cooperative Program is like electing a chairman of the board at Ford who drives a Chevrolet. Doctrine trumps the CP, but CP distinguishes us from other types of doctrinally sound Baptists. A president must show good faith progress in the area of Cooperative Program giving.

Thank you, Southern Baptists, for allowing me to serve as first vice president. It has been one of the most affirming experiences in our Lord’s service. My prayer is that God will raise up leaders who will take us forward as a convention to greater accomplishments for the glory of God.

Saved church members?what an idea!

Our annual SBC meeting next week (June 9-11) will feature some notable items of business. Somewhat interesting is the fact that we have six candidates for president. It’s been a while since there was that much interest in the office but the election will actually be a small part of the week. Resolutions usually capture all the media attention because that’s where we speak to issues they understand.

Three resolutions on regenerate church membership have been submitted to the Resolutions Committee this year. Again, that is a sharper focus on this subject than we usually see. The consolidated and edited resolution from the committee, and its discussion, will be more interesting to Southern Baptists than to those watching. The idea behind the resolution is pretty important to all of our churches, though. Just having the discussion has already brought some of us under conviction. The likely passage of some resolution on the subject could be an encouragement to others as they seek to build healthy churches.

For years, we’ve joked awkwardly about the vast disparity between our membership rolls and the number of people we actually know. It’s a little embarrassing and points to years of neglect in basic matters of discipleship. This neglect is vital to our churches and may be even more important to those people we know only as numbers.

A focus on regenerate church membership will impact a large part of what churches do. Churches must more thoughtfully approach the process of receiving and assimilating members. Members who show no sign of regeneration as the months pass offer a huge discipleship challenge. Those who fall away or who fall into sin require attention aimed at discipline and reconciliation to the body; often they need to be won to Christ.

The results of such a rethinking of membership would be far-reaching as well. Church fights would be less rancorous and less frequent. The number of workers available for priority church ministries would grow. Giving would increase as more of our members understand the call to follow Jesus. Our evangelistic fervor would increase, including that of church stalwarts and staff members?lost and immature church members are especially exhausting and discouraging to those who serve the church faithfully.

Hear me clearly. I’m not suggesting that we purge rolls willy nilly. Some of the missing need a pastoral touch, others need evangelism, and a large group are just gone. Sorting the groups requires a lot of time after it becomes a priority.

Neither am I suggesting that we should go to this effort so that the Southern Baptist Convention won’t be embarrassed by our overblown 16-million member statistic. The SBC has that number because most of our churches operate with overblown statistics. The SBC can’t fix their number until we fix our own in detail. The greatest outcome of this effort would be to report that we actually have 16 million redeemed and growing Christians in Southern Baptist churches. Love it or not, the world would sure notice the impact of those people whether they knew our stats or not. Public relations is not part of this priority, it is just a nice by-product.

I believe it is just the best stewardship of the people God has entrusted to our congregations. Redeeming and reconciling people on our membership rolls could also be a part of revival for our congregations. Our lack of priority in this work looks like apathy.

Look at my church, for example. We regularly see about a fifth of our members. It’s been years since we’ve had a nasty business meeting, we struggle some with funding our ministry, and we’re often short of trained volunteers for our ministries. Still, we’re baptizing folks and there is vitality among those who participate.

A church with a good news present could be surprised by its future, though. The collapsing churches of today were vital at some point in their ministries. How’d this happen?

In many cases they didn’t minister to their own members. Workers and givers became increasingly weary; the staff may have been overwhelmed with the strange priorities of well-meaning but lost church members; and maybe the church missed the strength and giftedness of scores of their members they could not restore to a vital Christian walk. Are the desperate churches of today the merely careless churches of earlier decades?

A church like mine or yours might work hard and only close the gap between members and players by 10 or 20 percent. Having done that, we’ll look across our congregation and see the faces of newly baptized but long-time church members. I think we’ll see a family or two that was rescued from wreckage by the ministry of a church they’d nearly forgotten. These victories will encourage all of us and whet our appetite for more.

A focus on the true spiritual nature of our membership will affect our numbers, maybe negatively and later positively. The point for me is that these digits represent souls. A good number of them don’t understand something we can explain to them. All of them were brought to our doors by the Lord so that we might edify one another. Taking that stewardship more seriously will edge us toward so many of the priority results we desire but which have eluded us for a generation. I think it will please God and he will prosper such efforts.

Small town church sees 86 salvations in four-day meeting

NIXON?The week of April 13, God poured out his treasure chest on the First Baptist Church of Nixon, a town of 2,186 people about 45 miles east of San Antonio.

During a revival led by Stan Coffey, pastor of The Church at Quail Creek in Amarillo, 84 people registered professions of faith between April 13 and April 16.

“Small churches serve a big God; it is time for our small Texas churches to be revived,” said Kenny Rawls, pastor of FBC Nixon.

But revival did not happen spontaneously, Rawls noted.

“In the last two-and-a-half years First Baptist Church has seen 286 people come to salvation,” Rawls said. “Of those 286 decisions we have had 94 baptisms” in a church that averages 125-150 people on Sunday mornings.

Rawls said the move of God was preceded by months of preparation. In January, Rawls started to make prayer a focus of revival.

“The church began to move in a direction of prayer,” Rawls said.

The church members gathered for three months in home Bible studies. The church members wrote down names of friends and acquaintances they knew who needed Christ and then as a group prayed for them, Rawls explained. Seven days before the revival was to begin the church began praying round the clock.

“We wrote up a schedule and people were in the church praying for the revival 24 hours a day for seven days,” Rawls said. “We are still seeing people coming to Christ because of these prayer meetings.”

“We love the church and the people and we show them the love of Jesus,” Rawls said in response to a question about the success of the revival meeting. “My philosophy of ministry is, ‘shoe leather and concrete will win people to the Lord.’

“We started to pray that Jesus would destroy the ‘I can’t help it attitude.'”

Rawls said many small churches adopt the attitude that they cannot do big things for God because they are so small.

“But if a church is doing the Lord’s work, it is a mega-church,” Rawls said.

Rawls also said that Vacation Bible School has opened doors for FBC Nixon, and he suggested that every church make an effort to use VBS as an evangelistic tool.

“If churches are not doing VBS they are really hurting themselves,” Rawls said. “We average 250 children the week we do VBS and it opens doors.”

Rawls said youth minister Josh Graff was instrumental in helping draw more than 100 students to the services each night.

Another blessing has been that the church members were transformed preparing for the revival, Rawls said.

“One of my deacons said to me, ‘One salvation would be great, but we want 100.’ I really want to encourage the small churches in Texas to realize that they can do big things.”

Also, “Small churches need to realize that the SBTC offers great support,” Rawls said. “The SBTC advised and helped FBC Nixon with our revival” through SBTC Evangelism Director Don Cass.

“I just hope that our story will inspire the small churches of Texas to realize that they can do big things. When the church comes alive this is what happens.”

New Orleans back in some ways, but road home is long and hard

NEW ORLEANS  In many ways, New Orleans is back. The economy, fueled by rebuilding efforts and open ports at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, is robust, with unemployment at 3.8 percent. More than 400,000 people attended the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival last month.

But vital statistics don’t tell the whole story.

On the residential streets that Don Snipes drives every day, the rot on most homes from the flooding of Hurricane Katrina nearly three years ago is still evident.

For every freshly painted, spick-and-span rebuild, there are three, maybe four, that look dilapidated. A few have weeds growing waist high and the letters TFW (toxic flood water) still spray-painted on the front of the houses in the aftermath of the 2005 disaster.

Not everyone will return and some houses will be demolished, yet the task that remains seems overwhelming, said Snipes, the SBTC’s on-site coordinator for Southern Baptists’ Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Hope) Rebuild effort.

Snipes, who came to the job from a pastorate in Big Spring and experience in the construction industry, said Southern Baptists could continue NOAH another decade and still have work to do here.

The New Orleans population in March was estimated at 71.8 percent of its pre-Katrina level, according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. Homeowners have the option of rebuilding, selling their property to the federal “Road Home” program, or relocating with government assistance to another Louisiana city.

“Some people have been on waiting lists [for rebuild assistance] for two years,” Snipes explained.

A pressing need is skilled-labor volunteers such as electricians and plumbers, as well as continued help from non-skilled church members willing to grab a hammer or a paintbrush, Snipes said.

“We are in great need of electricians and plumbers all the time,” Snipes said. “There’s not a week that goes by that we can’t use plumbers and electricians. We can’t get a home inspected until we get it plumbed and wired.”

One elderly woman, a member of Christian Light Missionary Baptist Church, whose building the SBTC has helped refurbish, struggled in finding help for her home on the same block as the church, Snipes said.

On the day the TEXAN visited, she was powering her appliances using extension cords running from her neighbor’s house. Blue tarps draped the ceiling to reduce rain leakage.

Most houses have electricity, but many are waiting for repair from Operation NOAH volunteers. They include several hundred in the NOAH database in the area of central New Orleans where the SBTC is working alongside other relief groups and independent contractors. First Baptist Church of New Orleans, for example, has their “Crossroads” ministry. The United Methodists have a “Lean On Me” rebuild ministry.

The Salvation Army is now coordinating its assistance through NOAH, Snipes said.

On his morning commute into New Orleans from his home in nearby La Place, Snipes took a phone call from a woman named Lillie who wanted to know when her duplex would be ready.

“Yes, as soon as I can get some more plumbers, we’ll get you taken care of,” Snipes told her.

Of those homes in the NOAH database, Snipes closed the books on about 45 in 2007 and more than 50 already this year.

“Some of those houses have been demolished; some were sold to the Road Home program and others we were able to renovate or the homeowners got their grant money and hired contractors themselves,” he explained.

In 2008, only three or four SBTC church teams have worked in New Orleans under Snipes’ supervision, though some have worked in other parts of the city on their own initiative.

As Snipes drove down an inner-city street, he pointed to a peach-colored home rebuilt by Texas volunteers.

The first week of May, a team from Candlewyck Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., was working at two homes in the SBTC’s zone. The group included a pharmacist, a college student, an insurance agent, a minister and two tradesmen.

“We are quite an eclectic group,” said David Reese, a Candlewyck member. The group traveled from North Carolina, Reese said, because without a steady stream of Baptist volunteers the work “wouldn’t get done. It’s that simple.”

“It also helps people in our church see that we are involved with North American missions as well,” Reese added.

Over spring break, 300-400 volunteers worked across the city through NOAH. Snipes said.

Several people associated with NOAH said the spiritual climate, formerly dominated by Roman Catholicism and pagan spirituality and sometimes a mix of both, is one of openness and appreciation.

“We have made Baptists a presence here,” Snipes remarked. “We are known by people and they respect our ministry, whereas that wasn’t the case before. Previously, we were pretty much snubbed and ignored. Now, people want to talk to us; they are receptive.”

Typically, as one church group leaves, another comes in to finish the work on a given home with no continuity of labor, save for Snipes himself, who from necessity has wired a house or two while there.
Often, the task of rebuilding old homes from the inside out is akin to “building an airplane while you’re flying it,” one volunteer said, explaining that unforeseen problems often arise.

Ron Kouf, who came to New Orleans from Arizona to manage the warehouse for Operation NOAH, said the work will continue for a long while.

“We’re not here only to rebuild homes; we’re here to rebuild lives,” he said. “Katrina has made spiritual conversations possible,” with 387 professions of faith recorded though the ministry of Southern Baptists. “And that is incredible. That is really neat. I’ve seen some awesome things happen here.”

Kouf told of one homeowner who invited the men who were rebuilding her house to stay for dinner while apologizing for her well-worn pots and pans.

“The guys went out and got her a new set of steel pots. She burst into tears. And there was this big ‘ol boy who had to walk over to the corner of the room because he was crying as hard as she was.”

Kouf said once church groups arrive and see how “devastated the area still is, they’re shocked. There is a whole different look on their faces after the first day. They realize, ‘Wow, this place is a mess.'”

Kouf said many groups are repeat visitors, but more church groups are needed over the summer and next fall.

“We need skilled help badly,” Kouf remarked.

Snipes added: “If we just rebuild homes without seeing people’s lives changed, then the city will continue to be themurder capital of the U.S. That is why we need to be able to do evangelism and plant churches in the window of opportunity that we have.”

To contact Snipes about volunteer opportunities, e-mail him at don@bagnola.org or call him at 985-817-0050. The NOAH office phone number is 504-362-4604.

Preachers scheduled for Sunday before SBC meeting

INDIANAPOLIS?Southern Baptists attending the annual meeting will travel to the Hoosier state where the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Having grown from 111 churches to more than 384 churches and 41 missions, visitors can choose from the 76 local churches that make up the Crossroads Baptist Association to find a congregation in central Indiana.

Visitors trying to find a church close to the hotel where they are staying may go to sbc.net and use the church search feature to enter an address to find the nearest Southern Baptist congregation. A directory of SBC churches in the Indianapolis area is available at indybaptists.org or by calling Crossroads Association in advance at 317-636-6728.

For visiting Southern Baptists interested in hearing a guest preacher, many of those are listed below:

Danny Akin at 10:15 at Grace Baptist Church, 740 W. County Line Road, Indianapolis, IN 46217, 317-881-4652.

Dave Clippard at 10 a.m. at First Baptist Church, 680 North Indiana Street, Mooresville, IN 46158, 317-831-0209.

Joe Dillon at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. at Hope Community Church, 3350 N SR 267, Brownsburg, IN 46112, 317-852-2616.

Tom Elliff at 10:45 a.m. at Southwood Baptist Church, 501 S. 4th Ave., Beech Grove, IN 46107, 317-786-2719.

Gordon Fort at 10:30 a.m. at Friendship Baptist Church, 1600 Westview Dr, Franklin, IN 46131, 317-738-9822.

Geoff Hammond at 8:15 and 10:45 at Calvary Baptist Church, 200 Sunset Blvd., Greenwood, IN 46142, 317-881-5743.

Ken Hemphill at 10:30 a.m. at Plainfield Baptist church, 1575 Reeves Rd., Plainfield, IN 46168, 317-839-6815.

Jeff Iorg at 9:30 a.m. St. Joe Community Church, 3930 E. Dupont Rd., Fort Wayne, IN 46825, 260-471-4704.

Chuck Kelley at 10:30 a.m. at Parkside Baptist Church, 1780 Rocky Ford Rd.,
Columbus, IN 47203, 812-372-5889.

Tim Mann at 10:30 a.m. at Calvary Baptist Church, 1450 W. Main St., Greenfield, IN 46140, 317-462-6015.

Scott Mescher at 8 a.m., Jerry Rankin at 9:30 a.m., and Frank Cox at 11 a.m. at Northside Baptist Church, 3021 E. 71st St., Indianapolis, IN 46220 317-255-6692.

Frank Page at 10:15 a.m. at Chapelwood Baptist Church, 201 North Girls School Road, Indianapolis IN 46214, 317-244-6136.

John Sullivan will be preaching at 10:30 a.m. at Fall Creek Baptist, 8901 Fall Creek Road, Indianapolis, IN 46256, 317-841-9770.

Bobby Welch will preach under a tent downtown at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, 952 N Pennsylvania St, Indianapolis IN 46204, 317-687-0075.

CHURCH CIVILITY: SBC consensus, renewal proposed

Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from David Dockery’s newest book, “Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal: a Biblical, Historical, and Theological Proposal,” released last month by B&H Publishing. It is printed here with permission.

Now that the “conservative resurgence” is complete, there is a need to reestablish the identity of Southern Baptists to point toward a helpful and hopeful future. What is needed, in light of the complex challenges in Southern Baptist life today, is a fresh look at the teaching of the apostle Paul. In Ephesians 4 we find not only an appeal to biblical unity, which Southern Baptists need to hear, but also the necessary virtues and guidelines that can help bring about this kind of authentic unity.

When we turn to Ephesians 4, we are struck by Paul’s repetition of the word “one,” which occurs seven times. Further observation reveals that the seven “ones” are grounded in the three members of the Holy Trinity (“one Spirit,” 4:4; “one Lord,” 4:5; and “one god and Father of all,” 4:6).

Believers who have been reconciled to Christ (Eph. 2) have new standards and expectations. Paul urged his readers, “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1 NIV). Five virtues are presented in Ephesians 4:2 that characterize and exemplify life worthy of the Christian calling. “Humility” points to our ultimate dependence on God and is an absolute necessity to unity, because pride often stands behind discord. We need humility before God, but also in our relationships with others, thinking of others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:1-4).

“Gentleness” suggests strength under control. Gentleness should not be associated with weakness; rather it is a work of divine grace that produces patience, quiet restraint, and submission to God. The third virtue is “patience.” Patient people demonstrate long-suffering in dealing with insulting and aggravating people, seeking to follow the example of how God in Christ has acted toward us (Rom. 2:4).

The next quality, “forebearance,” further explains patience. Forebearance expresses a mutual tolerance without which no group of people can live together in peace. “Love” is the final quality that embraces the previous four. Paul grounded the four characteristics “in love.” If Southern Baptists are to demonstrate unity before a watching world, love?as the embracing virtue and crown of all virtues?must characterize God’s people. Jesus said that love is the mark of His followers (John 13:34-35). Southern Baptists will have genuine unity only when these Christian virtues characterize our lives individually and corporately.”

Believers are to make it their business to pursue unity in the body of Christ. We are not to take a wait-and-see attitude, but we are to be eager to do what we can “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). God’s Spirit energizes the church to exemplify unity to an observing world. When believers cultivate and practice the virtues described in Ephesians 4:2, they display and preserve the unity of the Spirit. Paul’s stirring challenge in verse 3 often falls on deaf ears. God is the Author of peace, and stirring up dissension among His people is detestable to Him (see Prov. 6:16-19). From his admonition to unity, Paul moved to the basis of this unity.

In Ephesians 4:4, “one body” refers to the church, the body of Christ (Eph. 1:23; 2:16). This “one body” is comprised of diverse people (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28). Cohesion of the “body” comes from the Holy Spirit who indwells, seals, and energizes it (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). As the body is one though its members are many, so the Spirit is one though His gifts and His operations are many (Eph. 4:7-12).
Paul continues in verses 4 and 5 of this chapter by claiming that “one hope,” “one faith,” and “one baptism exist because there is only one Lord. The “one hope” of our calling is the hope of sharing Christ’s glory. The “one hope” is the calling for all believers; the believing community has no favored members for whom better things are reserved.

The “one faith” refers to the sum and substance of the church’s belief. No Christian unity is possible unless believers share a common commitment to Christian doctrine, the “faith that was delivered to the saints once for all” (Jude 3). The “one faith” of Ephesians 4:5 also points to the common experience of faith in Christ and the same access to Him shared by all believers.

“One baptism” pictures the outward expression of believers exercising faith in the one Lord. Baptism is the visible sign in water by which persons who believe the gospel and repent of their sins publicly acknowledge Jesus as Lord and identify themselves with the body of Christ (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27).
The final emphasis of Ephesians 4:1-6 concerning the new humanity is that all believers belong to the “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (NIV). Unity is the calling that twenty-first-century Southern Baptists need to hear because we proclaim one Christian faith, share one hope, experience one baptism, and participate in one body. The infighting and discord that sometimes have characterized the church indicate how far we have fallen short of God’s expectations.

Genuine commitment to the truthfulness and authority of Holy Scripture calls for us to live as the Scriptures instruct us to do. We need once again to recognize the high priority that Scripture places on true unity among God’s people (Ps. 133:1), John 17:21; 1 Cor. 12:4-13; Eph. 4:1-5). We must confess our sins of disunity and ask God to bring renewal by His spirit to Southern Baptist churches and entities. The larger context of Ephesians 4 indicates that true Christian unity is expressed through variety (Eph. 4:7-12), bringing about maturity (Eph. 4:13-16) and purity (Eph. 4:17-32) in the Body of Christ.

If Southern Baptists truly are to be the people of God before a watching world, we must visibly exhibit an attitude of unity. God’s oneness defines the oneness of the body of Christ. As God is one in three, so the believing community is made up of different parts with a variety of expressions; yet the body is one. We need to hear afresh that visible unity grounded in truth is God’s expectation for us. Let us pray and work for renewal and unity in our theological commitments, in our worship, in our fellowship, in our educational efforts, in our shared service and social engagement, and ultimately in our gospel proclamation. Let us petition our Lord to renew the people, the churches, and the entities of the Southern Baptist convention to serve and adore the one true God. We trust that our Lord will grant us grace to move us forward together toward a new consensus. Let us all pray for Southern Baptists to be renewed so that the Gospel can be proclaimed to al the world, even as we hear afresh the prayer of Jesus, Himself: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21 NIV).

CHURCH CIVILITY: Christian civility guards churches and denomination, leaders say

Disagreement among Christians is nothing new, but Southern Baptist congregations as well as denominational entities are seeing their conflicts move beyond the walls of the church or institution, spilling over into secular newspaper coverage and Internet distribution. The shift to publicly debated battles often endangers the health and witness of those churches and their extended ministries.

In the Southern Baptist Convention at large, “a level of unprecedented attack upon some of our own leaders” prompted members of the Great Commission Council of SBC entity leaders to gather publicly for prayer and verbal support, challenging what was described by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler as “innuendo, smear, caricature and character assassinations.”

At Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., dissenting church members expressed concern about the removal of a trustee from membership and the leadership of their pastor and other church officials, airing their views on a website, in the media and through a lawsuit. Recently, those bringing the complaint were removed from church rolls by a majority vote of the members.

Pastor Jerry Sutton told the TEXAN that taking the conflict public caused unnecessary strain in the church and distracted staff members from their ministry assignments.

“It’s almost as though we’ve been in a Nehemiah syndrome,” he said. “You’ve got a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. We spend half the time building the church and half the time defending against the attacks of the enemy. Our whole demeanor has been divided. Half my time is spent trying to ask the question, ‘How do we need to respond to this crisis?'”

Two Rivers is not the only Southern Baptist church to experience a conflict that expanded to the media. When a staff member of a Missouri church was accused of immoral conduct, church members who disagreed with the way that and other matters were handled set up shop online to provide court documents, minutes from particular deacon meetings, a mediation report, the transcript of the reconciliation committee’s report, and draft motions to be offered in business meetings.

At another Tennessee church, some members accused their pastor of autocratic decision-making though websites and local media, while a Texas church experienced a publicly aired dispute over plans to relocate.

Because very few church members are actually following the Matthew 18 principle, they revert to “worldly ways to resolve conflict,” said Texan Mike Smith, director of missions for Dogwood Trails Baptist Association.

When he first began serving as a DOM some 20 years ago he dealt with one conflict case a month.

“Now it is a rare day I don’t receive a call concerning a conflict,” he told the TEXAN, noting that the number of cases in which he sought to help individuals or churches resolve their differences jumped from 56 in 2006 to 91 in 2007.

They range from a pastor asking for advice to Smith serving as an official mediator.

Without a knowledge of the scriptures, conflict quickly escalates he said, moving from a problem to solve, then a disagreement, and on to a contest of wills, said Smith, using the theory of levels of conflict developed by consultant Speed Leas. After that, the choice is “fight or flight” and finally, an intractable situation that cannot be resolved.

While Smith said he believes strongly the pastor should be respected and protected, citing Paul’s advice to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:17-25, he added that Paul also stresses that pastors are to rule well.
A person who has an accusation against a pastor must go to him privately, he stated. He said it is right to address the pastor first when moral failure or doctrinal error has occurred.

“I believe it’s a moral failure when pastors do not lead and care for their church,” Smith said. “Laziness is a moral failure.” Until there are two or three in agreement, “don’t go to the church. Resolution should always be the preferred path” before calling for a pastor’s resignation, he added.

Sutton said a church conflict should always be resolved within the church without lawsuits or contacting the media. He plans to recommend that the church revise its bylaws to clarify what constitutes unacceptable behavior by members during a conflict–a step he recommended other congregations take preemptively.

One reality that makes resolving church conflict particularly difficult is the presence of immature and even unregenerate members in the body, Sutton said. When unregenerate church members will not preserve the purity of the church, godly leaders must take charge and guide the congregation to follow biblical norms, he said.

“I do believe in congregational polity, but I also believe there are a lot of immature believers, a lot of hard-hearted or carnal believers or tares among the wheat,” he said. “There are no pure churches. If the leadership doesn’t step up and take the lead from the spiritual perspective, what’s going to happen is you’re going to get an imposition of the world in the church, which is what’s happened with us.”

Some of the most helpful steps Two Rivers took during the controversy, Sutton said, were reviewing every allegation in a four-hour leadership meeting, holding an extended question-and-answer session for members and seeking legal council. Dealing with distorted allegations in the media, however, was very difficult, he added.

All church conflict, including public conflict, must be handled with a Christ-like temperament and a desire to preserve the purity of the church, Sutton said.

“I’m basically a merciful guy,” he said. “On the other hand, I’ve had to learn how to be tough and strong and stand up against attacks.”

James Guenther, an attorney who represents the SBC, told the TEXAN that churches must keep issues of legal liability in mind when handling conflict. Particularly in cases of church discipline, congregations must be careful not to commit slander, he said.

Slander, which is the assertion of an untruth that harms someone’s reputation, can result in lawsuits, Guenther said. To avoid slander, churches should publicly discuss accusations against a member only in a meeting closed to all people except church members. Such a meeting qualifies as a “privileged forum” by law, and the rules of defamation are suspended unless “malice exists” when one person accuses another, he said.

If any church member repeats accusations from a closed business meeting outside the meeting, the church could be liable to a lawsuit, Guenther said, but the law does not permit anyone to sue for statements made in a “qualified privileged forum.” He added that a church can be sued if it slanders a non-member at anytime–even in a business meeting.

In dealing with the media, a church should never lie, Guenther said, although it does not have to reveal every detail about a situation.

“The very worst thing the church can do is to lie about anything, in my judgment,” he said. “They just must not tell an untruth. Now that doesn’t mean they have to tell all the truth, but they ought not to misrepresent anything.”

In recent years, public conflict has also erupted at SBC entities. The International Mission Board censured a trustee after he violated the trustee board’s code of conduct by publicly disagreeing with board actions. He resigned from the board in January after concluding reconciliation was not possible.

A Southwestern Seminary trustee resigned after a prolonged public disagreement over the school’s stance on speaking in tongues and private prayer language.

Former IMB trustee Bob Pearle told the TEXAN that there is “room for dissent” on SBC trustee boards, but the proper forum for that dissent is in trustee meetings rather than on blogs or other public forums.

“As a trustee, you have a responsibility to that institution,” said Pearle, pastor of Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth. “And you stand up for your position. And when you vote, when it all comes down to vote, then you cast your vote. Then if you lose, then you support the majority. That’s the way it works.

“Then if not, and you just can’t handle that, then I think the honorable thing to do is to resign. Then after you resign, if you want to publicly state something, then I think you can do that. But I think as a trustee of an institution, you work from within.”

When trustees air their disagreements publicly, facts tend to be distorted and only partial truths are told in the interest of pushing a personal agenda, said Pearle, who rotated off the IMB trustee board in 2006.

Civil debate among Southern Baptists is possible and even desirable when done with the correct heart, he said. Pearle cited as an example the discussion of Calvinism by seminary presidents Paige Patterson and R. Albert Mohler Jr. at a breakout session of the 2006 SBC Pastor’s Conference.

“Where there can be true discourse and differing opinions is where there is mutual respect and … the data is not skewed and in that there are not snide remarks,” he said.

Eric C. Redmond, a trustee at Southwestern Seminary, said trustees should view themselves as servants rather than individuals who have a right to express every opinion publicly.

“I would suggest that complaints against the denomination aired in public are often an attempt to bring about justice by means of rousing a public outcry,” said Redmond, second vice president of the SBC and pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Md. “Where is Jesus’ ethic in this approach?

“I understand that we are stewards for the entire convention, and that we have a responsibility before the messengers to the annual meeting and all of the member churches. But we are not simply individual stewards. We are trustees, not just an individual trustee. It might be the glory of trustees to search out a matter, but it does not flow from this truth that it is also the glory of an individual trustee to take on the role of public grievance-filer or whistle-blower.”

Redmond also suggested that each trustee’s local church should hold him accountable for conducting himself according to Scripture during trustee business.

In his remarks to the SBC Executive Committee last year, Mohler told those gathered, “There is no room in Baptist life for teasing, for taunting. There is no room for cowardly attacks upon character. There is a right way to raise concerns about those in leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mohler added, describing respectful dialogue with trustees as the correct method.

In an effort to avoid public conflict like that at the IMB and Southwestern, the board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention adopted a statement of “Principles and Practices of Board Members of SBTC.”

“A board member accepts and supports decisions,” the statement says. “Once a decision has been made, the board should speak with one voice. The authoritative spokesperson for the board is the Chair of the Board. While individual members should avoid Internet blogs or media comments, any public comments must state the board’s decision accurately.

“If a board member believes a decision of the board is contrary to the Mission Statement and Doctrinal Statement of the Convention, the member is free to express that opposition, but must fully explain how and why the decision is contrary to the Mission Statement and Doctrinal Statement of the Convention.”

A similar statement was developed at Southwestern months earlier in dealing with controversy and the IMB board refined their code of conduct years earlier to clarify how trustees should handle disagreement within the body.

James T. Draper, former president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and a leader the denomination’s Conservative Resurgence, said Southern Baptists should be slow to air criticisms of the denomination publicly but admitted public statements were one tool used by conservative leaders seeking to turn the denomination around in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The public forum should only be a last resort when private meetings yield nothing, he told the TEXAN.

“The first thing we always tried to do was to have dialogue. The thing that made the resurgence so visible was the fact that we couldn’t get anything done privately. In fact, as we really got into it, we couldn’t get anybody to even discuss it with us,” Draper said of Conservative Resurgence leaders, adding, “The public forum is always the last.”

Though going public with controversy is always wrong in a local church setting, some publicity seems unavoidable in the SBC at large, Draper said. He cited blogging as an appropriate forum for discussing denominational controversy, provided the blogging is done civilly and with accountability for what is said.

Blogging has become a particularly controversial means of discussing SBC conflict in recent years, with a blog being the main forum on which an IMB trustee was accused of violating the board’s code of conduct. One Southern Baptist pastor laid aside his blog in order to avoid the “bitterness, character assault and false accusations” that medium tends to produce, he said in a final post last year.

Steve Hunter, professor of psychology and counseling at Criswell College in Dallas, agreed that blogs can be unhelpful during church and denominational controversy.

“It’s bad enough talking face to face with our offenders,” Hunter said in an e-mail to the TEXAN. “There is the potential of misunderstanding and miscommunication. With blogs, it is inevitable. Attempting to communicate matters of the heart via the Internet, blogs and e-mails is an accident waiting to happen. I would have a no-blog policy regarding conflict.”

Both in churches and the denomination, occasions for taking a concern public are very rare, he said.

“’Going public’ is the exact opposite of what Scripture teaches when there is a conflict among Christians (Matthew 5:22-26; 18:15-17),” Hunter wrote. “The first step is to do what it takes to work things out with our offender face to face. Yet, ‘going public’ is usually the first thing we do.”

Draper suggested that to maintain Christian civility, Southern Baptists should work together and take a kind tone during conflict rather than an adversarial tone. Following the New Testament pattern for conflict resolution protects us from becoming combative, he said.

“Convictions don’t have to be brutal,” Draper said. “You can disagree with someone, and you can disagree extremely. …I think when you have differences, you ought to sit down and work together rather than being adversarial.”

CHURCH CIVILITY: Gossip can kill a church

Christian civility is often defeated through the age-old problem of gossip. Author Diana Davis asks these questions to help all Christian evaluate whether they are part of the problem, drawing from material she prepared for an upcoming book for deacons’ wives published by Broadman & Holman. Southern Seminary’s Robbie Sagers offers questions more specific to Internet posts.

Am I a gossip?
* When there is a problem in church, do people run to you to get the “scoop”?
* Do you ever begin a sentence with “Don’t tell anyone, but?”?
* If every word you mutter was printed on the local newspaper’s front page or broadcast on radio, would it honor God?

Tips to Avoid Malicious Gossip:
* It takes two to gossip. If you’re listening, that makes you #2.
* Don’t whisper in public.
* Watch your nonverbal responses. A raised eyebrow can equal gossip.
* Be polite, but don’t participate.
* Your best friend shouldn’t be the church gossip.
* Don’t disguise gossip as prayer.
* Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to verbalize.
* If you say it to a friend, it’s still gossip.
* Never allow a person’s character to be degraded.
* Correct misinformation.
* Sharing a prayer request? Don’t give too much information. God knows the details.
* Never speak negatively about the church down the street.
* Stop, drop & pray. At the first hint of gossip, immediately interrupt and pray aloud for the situation.
* Guard what you put in print. Written words may appear harsher than intended, and email may be forwarded to hundreds!

Avoiding Misunderstanding on the Internet:
* Is what I am about to say honoring to the Lord Jesus?
* What is my intention in putting these words up on the Internet for the whole world to see?
* Would I be willing to speak what I am about to write to another person’s face, or only to him indirectly through the Internet?

Pastor promoting foster care for state

GARLAND–The Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) agency is looking to the religious community to open their hearts and homes to the thousands of children under state care, and one Southern Baptist pastor has enthusiastically accepted the call to trumpet the cause.

Since 2007 Russell Rogers, pastor of Trinity Life Baptist Church in Garland, has spoken on behalf of CPS to inform and encourage church families to become foster and adoptive families.

The partnership is the result of Texas Senate Bill 1489, passed in 2003. The legislation directed CPS to target the faith community in its efforts to recruit and license families for foster care. With 33,615 children in the Texas foster care system (fiscal year 2007), the number of children in need of homes far outpaces the number of families willing to take them in.

Felicia Mason-Edwards, faith-based program specialist for the Congregations Helping in Love and Dedication (CHILD), said it is not unusual for the state to recruit from congregations because religious people serve as the majority of foster families within Texas. Calling on local churches to consider the issue of displaced children is only drawing from the well that has already served the state.

“One of the reasons we started with people of faith [is] they had a call to do what they were doing,” Mason-Edwards said in a telephone interview from her office in Austin.

But, she admitted, it was difficult for her state agency to get a foot in the door of churches in order to make their plea.

Rogers said there is a healthy suspicion of the state within some congregations and, therefore, an insider could more easily take the state’s request before the churches.

Mason-Edwards was introduced to Rogers through an associate with the Dallas Baptist Association. Rogers’ congregation hosts an annual celebration of foster and adoptive families and one visit from the CPS representative made it clear that Rogers’ passion for the subject and he and his wife’s experience as foster parents qualified him to speak on behalf of CHILD.

CPS needed to get into churches, Rogers said, and he was a pastor speaking on the very issue the agency needed publicized. So, he was asked to be a spokesman for the 12,000-20,000 children in the state of Texas who needed a place to call home.

Accepting the role for the CHILD program was a no-brainer for the gregarious pastor. Even before they were married, Rogers and his wife, Shelly, had planned to adopt children.

After marriage, that plan was expedited by the news that they could not have children of their own. In 1996 the couple was licensed by the state as foster parents and over the course of 11 years they fostered about 18 children (Rogers admitted losing count) and adopted three. In the course of that time, the Rogers were surprised with two biological children as well.

“We got to the point where our quiver was full,” Rogers quipped.

But, he added, just because there was no more physical room for additional children in their home, there was plenty of room in their hearts.

“The burden didn’t go away,” he said.

That was when Rogers and the families of Trinity Life Baptist began celebrating the lives of adoptive and foster families. After all, Rogers said, it was a family from his own church who introduced him to the idea of foster care and adoption from the state. Before then, the Rogers had inquired about adoption through private agencies. The $26,000 price tag–on a pastor’s salary–put adoption out of reach. That was until they began speaking with a couple at their church who arrived one Sunday with a baby in their arms–a baby put in their care by the state of Texas.

Rogers now hopes he can be “that person from church” who introduces others to the idea of state foster care and adoption. His purpose for the Minister-to-Minister Faith-Based Initiative is to present the need and allow the Holy Spirit to lead.

Rogers said there are people who have a calling to this ministry but do not know where or how to begin the process. From the 23 informational meetings he hosted last year, more than 35 families indicated an interest in becoming foster families. Mason-Edwards said she is still receiving calls with regard to those meetings.

She and Rogers said they are aware not all people can be foster parents. But, Mason-Edwards added, everybody can do something. As a body, she said, congregations can act to support adoptive and foster care parents in a variety of ways.

She applauded the efforts of churches to minister to people in foreign lands but added, “Those children are in your community. Here, in Texas, you have your own mission field.”

Rogers said the church should be the first to “step up” and take on the ministry of foster care and adoption. Last year, according to the Texas CPS overview for fiscal year 2007, there were 71,344 confirmed cases of child abuse and/or neglect and 33,615 children under 17 years old were placed in foster care. About one-third of those were eventually reunited with their families but the others remained in state supervision in homes with foster families, group homes, the homes of relatives, treatment facilities, or other care facilities and 4,158 children were adopted.

Because these children have been removed from their homes due to neglect and/or abuse, they need the love and care that a Christian home can offer, Rogers said.

“Imagine how awesome it would be if the church would rise up and Christian homes could be a place of healing. There are kids who will go to bed tonight in Texas thinking no one wants them.”

True religion, Rogers said, is defined in James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

“I believe God calls and equips specific people, in strategic places, for significant purposes.”

The state has asked him to speak to congregations throughout a large swath of Texas, and he is asking pastors in the following regions/counties to contact him if they are willing to host an informational meeting:
>Region 3 (Greater D/FW Metroplex): Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Hunt, Johnson, Kaufman, Rockwall, Tarrant.
>Region 4 (East Texas): Delta, Gregg, Henderson, Hopkins, Lamar, Rains, Smith, Van Zandt, Wood.
>Region 7 (Central Texas): Bell, Brazos, Freestone, Hill, Leon, Limestone, McLennan, Travis, Williamson.
>Region 6 (Greater Houston): Harris, Montgomery, Brazoria, Galveston, Walker, Liberty, Chambers, Waller.

Rogers said he hopes to hold 70 informational meetings at churches in these areas by the end of August. He admits this is a tall order, but believes God will speak to the hearts of pastors and spur them to host the one-hour meeting at their churches.

Rogers is devoting his summer to this cause, traveling each week to hold these meetings at any time except for Sunday mornings, when he will be at his home church. Rogers can be reached at 214-693-1366 or by e-mail at pastor.russell@verizon.net.

“Children were important to Christ and therefore should be a priority to us,” Rogers stated.

More information can be obtained through regional faith-based recruiters and contacting Felicia Mason-Edwards in Austin at 512-438-4516.

Foster families are paid a stipend for each foster child they take in and some adoptive families are provided an allowance as well. The cost to adopt a child from the state is hundreds of dollars as opposed to thousands from a private agency. And in some cases, that money is reimbursable, Mason-Edwards explained.

“Adopting from the state is so inexpensive, it’s almost a non-issue,” Rogers said.

For Christians, Rogers concluded, the matter of adoption should be significant.

“If it weren’t for adoption, I wouldn’t be saved,” he said. “We’re children of God because Jesus paid the price on the cross for each of us to be adopted into his family.”

More information on Texas foster care is available online at www.dfps.state.tx.us.

Two SBTC-affiliated ministries provide adoption and foster care services—Texas Baptist Home of Waxahachie (tbhc.org) and East Texas Baptist Family Ministry in Timpson (etbfm.org).

TBH provides adoption services, offering training and on-going support. Call Director Jamie Hogan at 972-937-1321. ETBFM has set a target date of next fall to assist with foster care and adoptive services through Azleway Children’s Services, Inc. of Tyler. Contact Gerald Edwards at 903-822-3474.

CHURCH CIVILITY: Course correction urged about how we disagree

Ugly, vicious wars of words are nothing new in Baptist life, but the ease with which such comments race around the world to anyone with Internet access has prompted new calls for an end to hostilities. Few would suggest a retreat from strongly held convictions–just a reminder to focus on issues rather than people.

“I began to see what I considered assassination of a person’s character that was not indicative of what it means to be a believer in Jesus,” explained West Texas pastor Joe Stewart of First Baptist Church of Littlefield.

As the mainstream media began quoting from sarcastic comments posted to web logs and used those to represent debate within the Southern Baptist Convention, Stewart found the denomination being portrayed in a bad light.

Particularly offensive to Stewart was the ridicule of the new homemaking degree offered by the College at Southwestern, an undergraduate program of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“My wife is a homemaker and it was almost as if they satirized her as a person without any value. I took that to heart personally,” he said, explaining his decision to write a resolution appealing for Christian civility.

The statement was recommended by the Resolutions Committee of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention last fall and gained the unanimous approval of messengers to the Nov. 12-13 annual meeting. Those who were gathered committed to “follow biblical mandates and Christian convictions while treating others with Christian civility and kindness,” thus demonstrating the fruit produced in Christians by the Holy Spirit.

“One of the things that impresses the world and authenticates the message of the gospel and the efforts of our missionaries is the way Christians love each other and serve together in harmony,” stated David Dockery, president of Union University, in his new book “Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal.”
“If the world sees constant fighting, bickering, and discord, they likely will misunderstand and reject the gospel message. If the world sees Christ’s followers exemplifying love and unity, they will be open to believe the good news,” he reminded, citing John 3:16.

Another appeal for Christians to demonstrate evidence of spiritual fruit in their lives comes from Russell Dilday in his recent book “Higher Ground: A Call for Christian Civility.”

“One antidote to the poison of rancorous incivility in our country and in our churches and denominations is a rebirth of a thoroughgoing Christian civility,” Dilday wrote.

There’s no misunderstanding the purpose of the former Southwestern Seminary president in writing that “fundamentalists organized a political effort to gain control of the Convention in order to reshape it according to their perspectives.” Dilday blames these “alien” Baptists for opening the door “for a mean-spirited mindset of caustic polarization.” Still, the 145-page book draws some conclusions that are similar to the appeals within the SBC for an end to rancor between believers and his extensive bibliography of articles and books on civility supports his plea for tempered behavior.

“If followers of the Lord Jesus Christ would exhibit these nine facets of spiritual fruit [Galatians 5:22-23] in the national arena and in our ecclesial debates, it would not be long before the rude grandstanding and finger-pointing would give way to a kinder, gentler environment,” Dilday wrote.

In the years of Southern Baptist controversy between 1979 and 1993, Baptist historian Bill Leonard noted that “ridicule and sarcasm know no boundaries left or right.”

Writing in a publication of the SBC Historical Commission, he concluded: “All of us have said too much, been too shrill in our response to one another, during the last decade and a half. I suspect that a lot of faith has been undermined from the left and the right. We all stand judged.”

Publicly shared disputes are nothing new, added Thomas White, vice president for student services and communications at Southwestern Seminary.

“The sinfulness of man has always reared its ugly head in the way that we deal with other people. From the very beginning with Adam blaming Eve, to the gossiping from house to house in the New Testament, to the public battles in the Baptist papers of the 1800s, to the attack blogs of today, people have acted in very ungodly ways.”

The SBTC resolution recognized that the “application of Christian decorum often lags behind the development of new forms of technology and communication,” prompting the call for greater attention to civility.

The ease with which unfounded rumors and spurious attacks can be broadly circulated compounds the damage.

“Beyond the legal issue of libel, there are ethical considerations,” stated Kelly Boggs, editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message. “Sadly, after several years of Internet use, I have concluded that many bloggers and e-mail gossipers simply aren’t concerned with ethics.”

After offering web links to verify the bogus nature of various urban legends passed along by e-mail, Boggs said he was surprised when the more accurate information did not faze the senders.

“More times than not, I have received a reply that amounted to ‘so what,'” adding that one person indicated he didn’t have time to check out the truthfulness of information and simply passed it along because it might be true. “Ethics? Forget about it, I’m busy,” Boggs interpreted him as saying.

He recalled comedian Jon Stewart’s characterization of the Internet as “just a world passing around notes in a classroom.” And yet, when the intent of the “note” is to defame or destroy, Boggs reminded, “It is wrong whether it takes the form of a blog or an e-mail.”

Robbie Sagers, an assistant to the senior vice president at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warned of the danger of a false sense of community that is foreign to New Testament Christianity.

“True discipleship, true community takes place not in an Internet chat room or in the comments section of a blog, but rather in person, face to face, within the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the Apostle John wrote to the churches that, though he has much more to write to them, ‘I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete,'” quoting 2 John 12 and also referring to 3 John 13-14.

Sagers recalled an insight from cultural commentator Andrew Keen as applicable to Southern Baptist bloggers and blog readers. In his book “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture,” Keen wrote of bloggers forming aggregated communities where they congregate in self-congratulatory clusters.

“They are the digital equivalent of online gated communities where all the people have identical views and the whole conversation is mirrored in a way that is reassuringly familiar. It’s a dangerous form of digital narcissism; the only conversations we want to hear are those with ourselves and those like us,” Keen observed.

“I have witnessed many a character assassination on web logs, and most of them smack of sour grapes, envy, or both,” stated Nathan Finn, an assistant professor of church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As a regular blogger on Southern Baptist issues, Finn represents a generation that regularly turns to the Internet as a primary source of news.

“I have seen politics discussed, devotions distributed, theology debated, worldviews dissected, and loads of information disseminated through Christian web logs,” he wrote in an opinion piece for Baptist Press.

He said the fact that anyone with a blog can share his opinion with whomever is interested a “very Baptist” concept. And yet like every other form of communication, Finn observed that abuse occurs, often turning a blog into a rumor mill.

“All the dirt you used to call the resident church gossiper to get is now available at the click of a button.” Futhermore, Finn wrote that slander—often posted anonymously—and outright lies are common. “Accusations are thrown around all the time on web logs, normally amounting to little more than innuendo and half-truths (and very often non-truths).”

Finn called on fellow bloggers to guard against falsehood, stating, “Bearing false witness against one’s neighbor is a s sinful as it gets, and in this age of information and globalism, everyone is your neighbor, including the denominations, leaders, and institutions you disagree with.”

Even the rush to label people as “moderate” or even “liberal” when disagreeing with a person’s views causes Finn distress.

“Stick to the facts, for the sake of your own credibility, the reputation of Southern Baptist bloggers in general, and for the glory of the living God whom we all serve.”

Joe Stewart has no problem with fact-based analysis on blogs, many of them engaging readers in give-and-take commentary.

“I’m not against criticizing decisions or having a differing opinion,” Stewart told the TEXAN, “but when you make it a personal objective to crucify one individual for personal reasons, that is out of the bounds of civility.”

And so the resolution passed by SBTC messengers restated the need for all communication and conversation to be a personal reflection of Jesus Christ, while ate the same time retaining the right to state biblical convictions without reservation and personal convictions without hesitation.

“Civility is not a call for relativism, a repudiation of inerrancy, a lack of biblical conviction, or the absence of an evangelistic strategy,” Stewart penned.

In fact, he pointed to the doctrinal integrity, missional activity, and “agreeing together in the Lord” as qualities for which the SBTC is known when writing the resolution.

Stewart and Sagers both spoke of the need to pray before posting a blog or commenting on another person’s remarks.

“Such self-reflection, I am convinced, would solve many problems and misunderstandings that arise ubiquitously on the Internet, if only because of the reality that such comments will follow one for the rest of his days through a Google cache search,” Sagers said.

He warned that a web-savvy chairman of a pastor search committee is able to pull up such comments in seconds.

“It’s good to remember that such words aren’t being spoken to a close friend at a downtown coffee shop, but rather to potentially anyone in the world, and they are words that are recorded forever.”

Dockery described the tension between living out one’s faith in truth and love, holiness and unity.

“A unity that exists without truth is mushy, misguided, and meaningless,” he wrote. “Yet, truth without a concern for love and unity is hardly consistent with scriptural truth,” recalling that Jesus prayed not only for spiritual unity but also for sanctified truth.

Dilday’s definition of civility is applied more broadly as he interprets the decision of Southern Baptists to withdraw from the broader fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance as an example of squelching differing points of view out of a fear that orthodoxy will be threatened.

Dockery puts his focus not so much on the Baptist family at large but on Southern Baptists in particular. He warns that efforts in the name of Christian unity must be balanced by “a renewed commitment to truth in an age of relativism and religious pluralism, to doctrinal fidelity, and to faithfulness to the Christ-centered message of the gospel.”

A lowering of standards for Christian behavior began at the local church level, said White, who co-edited the recently released “Restoring Inteqrity in Baptist Churches” where he and other writers make the case for the consistent practice of the Lord’s Supper and their restoration of church discipline as a part of a regenerate church membership.

As individual members are held to biblical standards of behavior, they expect more of their leaders and demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, White said.

“This might reduce some of the attacks and mean-spirited attitudes demonstrated in public.”

He point to 1 Corinthians 6 as a model that has been “completely lost” as “Christians seemingly fail to consider what public actions do to the public witness of the church. They act from selfish motives rather than just being wronged for the sake of the gospel.”

White expects many of the “mean-spirited blogs” will continued under the banner of “a lone crusader fighting against big brother.”

In his public relations role for Southwestern and as an individual believer he takes the stance of Gamaliel in Acts 5:38 toward bloggers he perceives as bad, quoting: “’Keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrown it—lest you even be found to fight against God.’”

Public opposition to negative blogs can legitimize them, White noted, keeping the fires of controversy going.

“In my opinion, we must attempt to take the high road and see whether they are of men or of God,” White said.