Monday, August 21, 2006

Reflections...(Part 4)

This post is a continuation in my series of posts on my reflections on my first year in divinity school.

As many of you know, Wake Forest is an ecumenical seminary. About half of the students are Baptist, but the other half come from a wide variety of Christian denominations. I have long stated that I believe this is a positive, not a negative and I plan to expand a little bit on my reasons for this in this post. Much of this post will discuss the "Baptist Wars" but I believe my conclusion equally applies to the relationship between Baptists and other denominations.

First, I think it is important for churches to forget the idea that we are in competition with one another. I believe that God has a unique mission for every church. He does not call every church to be a Saddleback, Willow Creek, or Lakewood church. So, it worries me when I see so many churches trying to emulate what these churches are doing so that they can be more "successful." Before any church embarks on a campaign to become "Purpose Driven" or "Seeker Sensitive" or even "Emergent" for that matter, they need to seek God's will for their church. Every church needs to measure their success the way God measures success, not the way men do. Is it possible for a small church in the same neighborhood as a mega-church to actually be more successful than the mega-church? Absolutely! If that small church is carrying out the great commission in its own unique way and acting in accordance with God's will for that church, it is successful and I believe God will bless it. Does that mean it will ever be even a tenth the size of mega-church? Maybe not. But isn't that using our measure of success rather than God's? Isn't it more of a blessing to have a church where God's word is taught, Christians fellowship with each other and support each other on the Christian journey? Is a big fancy building, a large budget, and thousands of members worth more than that? Of course not! It is also important to understand that I am not implying that the mega-church is not doing God's will, God could be blessing the mega-church in much the same way. My point is that we need to be very careful how we measure success.

If you believe the above is true, then it becomes obvious what every church needs to do. Every church needs to prayerfully consider what God is calling that church to be. Once you decide what that is, Go for it! Don't worry about what another church is doing. Don't worry about what style of worship they have, what literature they are using, etc. In other words, if you are different, don't worry about it. I am well aware that this is not as easy as it sounds. Church members are always more than willing to point out what they think other churches are doing better than you are. But always remember, the church is the body of Christ, and a body is made up of very different parts that function the best when they are doing what they are intended to do. If you go to First Baptist Church, be the best First Baptist Church you can be. I guarantee you will be a better church than you will be if you try to be the next Willow Creek.

So, how does this apply to the so-called "Baptist Wars?" I think that both sides need to acknowledge that it is not only possible, but it also the most desirable outcome, for God to bless both the SBC and the CBF. So, how do we get there? I believe that Paul identifies the root of the problem for us:

1 Timothy 1 (Paul's warning against false teachers)
4 ...These promote controversies rather than God's work which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

Titus 3:9-11
9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

I firmly believe that the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC promoted controversies rather than God's work. Consequently, I believe that those who formed the CBF did the right thing when they left. I believe it would have been unbiblical for them to stay and continue to "promote the controversy." I believe that by leaving, they made it possible, although I do not yet believe this is the reality, for the SBC to re-focus themselves entirely on the work of God.

The two recent articles published by Baptist Press show that the SBC has still not reached the point where they are able to get above "promoting the controversy." The passage I quoted from Titus, however, has given me a new respect for the way CBF responded, or rather did not respond. They could have continued to "promote the controversy" but instead they followed the advice that Paul gave to Titus and had "nothing to do with them."

I also have a greater appreciation for the way the CBF is organized. There is no method in the CBF of bringing a motion to the floor to do something like organize a boycott of Disney. It is my believe that this was done with the intention of following Pauls advice not to promote controversy and instead focus on God's work. CBF is simply a group of Baptists who have decided to network and help each other do God's work. That's what I love about it. Is it a perfect organization? Of course not. But it feels like home to me. Gay and I are hopefully going to be a part of a new generation of CBF leadership that is able to put the controversy behind us. CBF needs to concentrate on its own calling, and let the SBC concentrate on theirs. And yet, the SBC doesn't seem to want to let us do that. They continue to promote controversy by publishing articles that criticize CBF in one way or another. CBF appears to be trying to move beyond the controversy, and I hope the SBC will let us do that. While it may be hard for those hurt by the leadership of the SBC to pray that God will bless the SBC, that is certainly the Biblical thing to do.

I wrote in an earlier post that I am Christian first and a Baptist only a distant second. I believe that many of the above arguments apply equally to other denominations. As Christians, we should pray for the success of the church as a whole. As Baptists, we should pray for the Methodists and Presbyterians, the Moravians and the Quakers. I think that is what Jesus would want.

1 comment:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

" As Baptists, we should pray for the Methodists and Presbyterians, the Moravians and the Quakers. I think that is what Jesus would want."

That is SOO right. There are people who will only be reached for the gospel in Methodist form--so I am worried when Methodists lose members for the 38th year in a row! I worry that Quakers feel pressured to give up their peace testimony in order to survive (as what?). I worry that divisions over "homosexuality" are threatening to break apart American Baptists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians.

They have to thrive. They have to grow. Their success at reaching folk is no threat to us. Their losses hurt the WHOLE Body of Christ.

You are absolutely right, Gil.