Thursday, November 15, 2007
Gay is enjoying her new job as Minister to Children at First Baptist Church of High Point. I am interning there as well. I am teaching the young adult class on Sunday mornings, and we had 35 in class two weeks ago! There is a lot of energy in the class even though we have been discussing stewardship! I have also taught on Wednesday nights and preached at a service held by the Vietnamese mission at the church. We are both learning a lot and have enjoyed getting to know a new congregation and a new staff.
Perhaps the most exciting news is my upcoming trip to Egypt. I will be spending nearly two weeks in Egypt after Christmas with a class from the Divinity School. The trip is a part of the Cultural Immersion program at the divinity school at Wake. Egypt is a very unique place because of the large role it played in the development of early Christianity, and the existence of the Coptic Orthodox church alongside a population that is predominantly Muslim. Of course, we will also have the opportunity to see the pyramids and other historic sites as well. There is little doubt that one of the biggest issues the world will face in the 21st century is the relationship between Christians and Muslims, and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to study this relationship first hand, even if it is only for a couple weeks.
I have registered for my classes for next semester, and my schedule looks like this:
Gender and Family in Early Christianity
Introduction to Pastoral Counseling
Formational and Transformational Practices in Christian Education
Multicultural Contexts for Ministry: Egypt
Topics: New Baptist Covenant (attending the event in Atlanta)
Art of Ministry III (Internship)
I am also beginning my job search, so if any readers know of a church looking for someone like me, let me know and I will send a resume.
Friday, August 24, 2007
The following article was posted on Associated Baptist Press:
North Carolina WMU decides to leave convention’s control
By ABP staff
Published: August 22, 2007
CARY, N.C. (ABP) -- The Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina has voted to remove itself from the North Carolina Baptist Building -- and the state convention executive director’s attempt to assert authority over its staff.
The dramatic move culminates 16 months of tension between WMU and the rightward-shifting Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Conflict between the missions-promotion group and BSCNC has simmered since April 2006, when the WMU leadership voted to change the term that described its relationship with the convention from “auxiliary” to “cooperative partner.”
At that time it also assumed final authority in its own personnel matters, although it committed to stay aligned with Baptist State Convention personnel policies. At issue was who could make the final call on potential new hires, a responsibility claimed by the BSCNC executive director-treasurer because each state WMU staff member is a BSCNC employee.
However, the WMU staff positions are mainly funded through a state missions offering that WMU members promote.
Several meetings took place between WMU-NC and BSCNC leadership to resolve the issues, but they reached an impasse when neither side would budge from their position on ultimate authority in hiring WMU-NC staff.
WMU-NC board members approved the move via conference call Aug. 16 and communicated results to BSCNC executive leadership Aug. 21. WMU-NC reported that 25 of the WMU-NC executive board’s 30 members were on the call and 23 voted in favor of the move, with one voting to oppose it and one abstention. The board’s executive committee had earlier recommended the change.
The decision to relocate offices “should not be interpreted as a departure from the organization’s commitment to supporting and promoting missions through the BSCNC, nor as a lack of appreciation for the mutual partnership the organizations have enjoyed in the past,” Ruby Fulbright, WMU-NC executive director, said in a written statement.
After meeting with BSCNC Executive Director Milton Hollifield to inform him of WMU-NC’s decision, she said, “For the integrity of the organization and our history and for what God wants us to do, this is what we had to do.”
Hollifield, who was elected in April 2006, said in a prepared statement that he was “grieved that the longstanding relationship between the BSCNC [and] WMU of NC has moved to this level of consequential uncertainty.”
“We have participated in more than 16 months of dialogue, and it was my hope that this process had helped move us forward together,” Hollifield said. “However, BSCNC leadership was not given the opportunity to discuss this surprise vote by WMU-NC. Anytime we are faced with the desire of an entity to separate from BSCNC it is a terribly unsettling circumstance. I am saddened to see that our long standing relationship of trust and accountability has eroded.”
Fulbright noted that Hollifield has taken a more active role in hiring matters. She said that in previous BSCNC administrations, WMU-NC was wholly responsible for hiring and managing its staff and that the BSCNC executive director merely signed paperwork to enter new WMU-NC employees into the payroll system.
Hollifield was elected to his position in 2006. Conservatives supportive of recent decades’ rightward shift in the national Southern Baptist Convention solidified their control of the North Carolina convention -- long a moderate bastion -- in the years just prior to Hollifield’s appointment.
SBC conservatives at the national level as well as in other state conventions have similarly tried to rein in WMU leadership, with little success. The organization was founded in the late 1800s as an auxiliary to the SBC, and has governed itself since. National WMU receives no funds from the SBC, but promotes the denomination’s missionary work and offerings.
Fulbright said churches that rely on WMU-NC for assistance should see no change. “We intend to continue working with the churches. We intend to keep praying for, promoting, and supporting the offerings, as well as providing missions education resources and training.”
WMU-NC wants to resource other Baptist entities in mission education and involvement, Fulbright said. That includes assistance to churches that affiliate with other denominations and with bodies such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. The SBC’s conservative leaders have been highly critical of both groups.
Hollifield said such an intention was “a clear departure from the historic focus of the mission and ministry of WMU-NC of NC.”
WMU-NC has asked the BSCNC for a nine-month financial transition to deal with insurance and payroll issues, although it might move out of the Baptist Building sooner. Fulbright said the WMU-NC staff will all resign employment from BSCNC and remain with WMU-NC.
WMU-NC has nine employees at the BSCNC central office in Cary, N.C., near Raleigh and Durham. WMU-NC also employs two part-time workers and the facilities manager at Camp Mundo Vista, near Asheboro, N.C.
WMU-NC also wants to continue receiving funds through the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO), an annual state-wide offering that provides funds for WMU-NC, North Carolina Baptist Men, church planting, and a variety of other projects.
Hollifield said the 2007 NCMO distribution must follow the allocation percentages already approved by messengers to the last convention annual meeting. But he also said he would not speculate about either the BSCNC Executive Committee’s willingness to continue transition funding or about future NCMO allocations.
“I am hopeful that some level of continued cooperation might be salvaged, but rest assured there will be missions education ministries and women’s ministries provided through BSCNC with or without WMU of NC’s cooperation,” Hollifield said.
The 2007 NCMO goal is $2.53 million. If fully funded, WMU-NC would receive $867,437, or 33.6 percent, of the total. That represents their program budget, including salaries. Benefits, insurance, automobiles, office space and technology are provided through the state convention’s general budget. According to BSCNC officials, the annual value of the benefits provided directly by the convention exceeds $400,000.
Fulbright said WMU-NC has received a preliminary offer of alternative office space in the Raleigh area at a reasonable cost.
-- Robert Marus contributed to this story.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
May 8 - Last Day of Exams
May 17 - Hooding Ceremony (Saturday)
May 18 - I am hoping to preach. (Sunday)
May 19 - Graduation with a party to follow. (Monday)
If you have any questions about the above schedule, please let me know.
I added a countdown to the column on the right!
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Let's first consider the question of leadership. Where does the power in both of these systems really lie?
Historically, Baptists have always practiced congregational polity. This means that the congregation, not the pastor or deacons (the misunderstood role of deacons will be the topic of another post), should be the final authority on ALL matters. In my experience, the constitutions of most Baptist churches have a clause that says exactly that. However, it has also been my experience that many Baptist churches fail miserably at putting this into practice. There seems to be a feeling that if the pastor and/or deacons decide something, the church must follow it. Interestingly, even if the decision violates the church constitution, it is often allowed to stand. Sadly and more importantly, even if the decision violates the teachings of the Bible, it is often allowed to stand. The pastor acts more like a CEO than the shepherd of his congregation and the congregation put their faith in him (or her), rather than in the Lord. Congregations like these often place "congregational health" above the truth. I prefer to side with Martin Luther who said, "Peace if possible, truth at all costs." Secrecy and lies only poison a congregation; they do not, and cannot, heal.
Congregational polity does have a weakness, however. It requires a very educated congregation. It requires a congregation that knows the Bible -- a congregation that is willing and able to listen to its leaders with a critical ear. Christianity is not as simple as some would like for us to believe. For most questions, there is not "an answer," rather there are multiple answers. This makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. They want to come to church and be told what the answers are -- they don't have the time or desire to study themselves - that's what pastors and Sunday School teachers are for. This is why congregations follow leaders who are not following the Bible: they simply do not know better.
In the next post, we'll move from local churches to the national government.
Monday, July 09, 2007
There are two ways that the problem can be fixed. First, Christian ministers and laity can learn how to talk and, more importantly, disagree with each other without resorting to name calling. I was talking to a deacon in another church recently who told me that one of the board of deacons stood up, pointed his finger at people and started calling them liberals, post-moderns, etc. While these labels may have some useful academic purposes of identifying different theologies, I do not believe they have a place in church meetings when they are being used to degrade others. (Also, I think most people only have "stereotype" understandings of these terms, and have no idea what they really mean.) None of us has all the answers, and we have to be able to admit that.
For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.The above quote is from 1 Corinthians 13 commonly known as the love chapter and it is familiar to most Christians. However, many Christians do not realize is its context. It immediately follows Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts. When considered in that context, the message becomes apparent. Even if I am the most spiritually gifted person in a deacon's meeting, if I do not have love for my fellow Christians, I have nothing. I think it is also a pretty strong condemnation of Christians acting like Children. How do Children act? Well, when children disagree, sometimes you hear them say they are going to take their toys and go home because they don't agree with something that is going on. Ever hear a Christian say he or she is going to take his tithe to another church that will appreciate it? Or a pastor say if you don't do it his way, he won't do it at all? We have to remember who we serve. We are not serving ourselves or even our pastor; we are serving our Lord.
Don't get me wrong. There are times when Christians can and should disagree, but there is a right way to do it. For instance, one should always stand up for the truth (something that seems to happen all too seldom), but he can do it in a way that does not demean others.
The second way this will be fixed is very simple. People will simply stop coming to church. Whether it is fair or not, people hold their church leaders, whether they are ministers, deacons or other leaders, to a higher standard. This is especially true of non-Christians. Many are just looking for a reason to ignore Christianity or support their conception that we are all just a bunch of hypocrites.
Churches have to realize that this childlike behavior is not only driving away church members, it is also discouraging people from going into full time Christian service in the local church.
Friday, July 06, 2007
It's a little dangerous for the preacher to get political, I know.
It's risky to speak truth to power, but the fact of the matter is, while government needs to keep itself out of institutional religion, our faith informs who we are as citizens of this country and of the world. If our faith doesn't compel us to speak out, what will?
The commuting of Scooter Libby's sentence this week was the last straw for me. Today, on the birthday of our country, I thought I'd write a letter to our leader to let him know what I think.
Opinions expressed here are solely my own, as you know.
Dear Mr. Bush:
Happy birthday to us, and all that.
Truthfully, I’m rather wary of this holiday, as it seems more and more to me that we’re celebrating a distant dream rather than a hopeful reality. You know what I mean?
I didn’t think so.
I have to tell you, I know being a leader is not the easiest task, especially when effective leadership means bucking the status quo, challenging current systems and ushering in new hope for the future.
I feel for you, really I do.
I know it’s not easy, but I must ask: is there really a need to up-end democracy in such a flagrant manner as you have repeatedly, consistently done during your time in office?
We must take responsibility, I know, for putting you there (twice). Although I myself did not contribute to that effort either time, I’m wondering if I didn’t sit by too idle and uninvolved while others did?
This most recent decision of yours, to make sure Scooter Libby escapes a prison term, while not surprising, seems to be the last straw for me. I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines while you destroy our country’s international reputation, alienate our neighbors, and slowly chip away at the freedoms that have made our country great.
Maybe you feel you’re protected enough to behave in whatever manner you want, to leave democracy and the American people in the dust while you keep your friends happy, but I want you to know I’m tired of it all. For the first time in my adult life I am genuinely alarmed about the kind of country I will be handing off to my kids.
I’m not hoping, of course, that you will see the light, change your ways, fix the damage you’ve done . . . it’s, frankly, far too extensive by now. I just wanted to say: I am disappointed in you . . . disappointed that you don’t have the courage to be a visionary leader to a country with such promise. You missed the boat, but I, for one, will not stand by anymore while you leave democracy in the dust.
Happy birthday, America. May the world remember the promise of this country and stand by us as we try to pick up the dream, dust it off, and reinvent it for the future.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Does 'Old Glory' Belong in Church?By Cary McMullen
Some time back, after church one day, I was talking with some visitors. One gentleman, who was clearly a military veteran, asked - or rather demanded to know - why the American flag was standing off to the side at floor level rather than up front on the elevated chancel.
I knew the answer because at the time I was serving on the church's governing board, and we had to make a decision where to put the flag in our newly built sanctuary. I explained that the board had decided the chancel was reserved for the holy sacraments and the preaching of God's word. But rather than leave the flag out of the sanctuary altogether, it was placed, along with the Christian flag, beside an entrance visible to most of the congregation.
The gentleman went on to complain that the American flag was on the left when it should be on the right, but I declined to argue further. I didn't tell him that in my opinion the flag shouldn't be in the sanctuary at all.
I know that many, like the gentleman visitor, don't agree with me. On Sunday, in anticipation of Independence Day, I'm sure that in many churches the American flag will be paraded down the aisles and placed front and center in celebration of God and country. I certainly am not ashamed of the American flag, but I'm uneasy about putting the symbol of the nation so prominently in a church, or any place of worship. I think it encourages a dangerous idea: that the causes of America are also the causes of God, or worse, that America can be worshiped just like God. Putting the flag in the sanctuary flirts with idolatry.
We hear a lot about American exceptionalism, which holds that we have a special place - even a sacred place - in history, that we are God's chosen people. What we don't realize is how many other nations, in other times and places, have said the same thing before us. I'm afraid Christians have been particularly susceptible to this temptation. For some reason, patriotism and Christian belief are easily fused.
Early 20th-century Europe was chockablock with nationalistic fervor, and every nation competed with the other to claim God was on its side. In Anglican churches, there were cries of "God save the king." In Lutheran churches, it was "God save the Kaiser." In Orthodox churches, it was "God save the Tsar and holy mother Russia."
Even after World War I put an end to most of those monarchies - and millions of lives to boot - this patriotic Christianity didn't go away. I have read that the Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, was married in a church with a Nazi flag draped over the altar.
We rightly recoil at that, but there were plenty of Germans who saw no difficulty with putting the national symbol prominently in the church. "Why can't we worship God and honor our country?" they might have asked.
Ah, but America is different, we say. What about the Pilgrims? Didn't they found Massachusetts as a Christian colony? Somehow I think that those men and women who suffered under the state-sponsored Church of England wouldn't take much comfort from seeing an American flag in a church. They might say we have simply traded one flag for another.
Well, it's not my intention to offend. In general, I can live with those who disagree with me on this. I've never walked out of a church because it had the American flag standing next to the pulpit, although I could imagine doing so if it were draped around the cross.
Like most of you, I am thankful for the blessings of our country, and I pray they might continue. But I also try to remember that God is not nearly as impressed with us as we are with ourselves.
Have a safe Independence Day.
Cary McMullen is religion editor for The Ledger. Read his blog, The Scriptorium, at religion.theledger.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7509.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Every now and then I look at the log of people who have visited my blog. While I cannot tell for sure who is visiting, I can usually tell where they are coming from and how they got here. I was intrigued tonight when I saw the a referral from AOL News. So, I visited the referring link. The news story was about a resignation at Southwestern Seminary and there was a button at the bottom to click on to list related blogs and articles. Well, guess who was on that list? Me! The post before this one talks about Southeastern and I guess the search at AOL picked up on that. I just thought it was really cool! And, it goes to show the power of blogging and how it is possible for a single blogger to have a pretty large voice on the internet. You can click on the link above to see a picture of the page.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
That started to change this week when First Baptist Church of Decatur. Georgia voted to call Julie Pennington-Russell as their senior pastor. Here is the story from Associated Baptist Press:
DECATUR, Ga. (ABP) -- First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., has become the largest church associated with the Southern Baptist Convention or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to hire a woman as senior pastor.
In a closed business session after Sunday morning worship June 17, nearly 400 members voted to call Julie Pennington-Russell as minister. The proposal, approved by a show of hands, went unchallenged in a discussion session.
Pennington-Russell, 46, is currently senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, a post she has held since 1998. She had previously worked as a pastor at Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco. She will begin her new job Aug. 19, succeeding Gary Parker, who resigned.
The church, with 2,700 members, is one of several historic congregations in Decatur, which is now surrounded by metropolitan Atlanta.
“The thought of coming alongside this remarkable congregation in this world-class city at this moment in history fills me with a huge joy,” Pennington-Russell said in a press statement. “Our family is eager to hoist our sail with this great community of Christ-followers.”
In a statement to the church about Pennington-Russell, search committee members said they spent 800 hours considering 64 candidates for the position. The committee also consulted an outside panel of six people “knowledgeable in Baptist life today.”
“At the end of the process, however, our selection was unanimous. Every member of the committee expressed the conviction that the Holy Spirit has indeed led us to our final selection,” the statement said. “We truly believe that [Pennington-Russell] embodies all of the qualities you asked us to find in a pastor, and we are convinced that, like us, you will learn to love her and admire her for her depth, her joyous Christian spirit, and her dedication to the gospel message.”
Pennington-Russell will undoubtedly become a prominent figure in moderate Baptist life. While the SBC's doctrinal statement, the "Baptist Faith and Message," states that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” a recent study by Baptist Women in Ministry identified female senior pastors in 117 congregations currently or previously affiliated with the SBC. More than 1,800 women have been ordained to serve in various ministry roles, the study reported.
Pennington-Russell graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif. She is completing a doctor of ministry degree at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Pennington-Russell and her husband, Tim, have two children.
First Baptist Church of Decatur, with a history reaching back to the Civil War, was founded as a Southern Baptist church. According to the church’s website, however, 80 percent of its members now designate their denominational support to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and roughly 20 percent support the SBC. In 2006, the church reported an average Sunday school attendance of roughly 450 people.
Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an opponent of women as pastors, agreed Pennington-Russell's selection precedent-setting. For a church with the history and prominence of First Baptist Decatur to call a woman as senior minister is “undeniably historic,” he said in a June 5 post on www.conventionalthinking.net.
“Julie Pennington-Russell will quickly become one of the most prominent leaders among moderate and liberal Baptists,” he wrote. “One additional development is just as certain. This move increases the visible distance between the Southern Baptist Convention and the constellation of moderate Baptist organizations disaffected from the denomination. The distance is theological, cultural, ideological -- and growing.”
So what is the right role for women? Consider this article from EthicsDaily.com:
Baptist Seminary Offers Degree in Homemaking for Pastors' Wives
Starting this fall Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will offer a program in Christian homemaking, the seminary's president said Tuesday. "We are moving against the tide in order to establish family and gender roles as described in God's word for the home and the family," seminary President Paige Patterson said in his prepared report to the Southern Baptist Convention this week in San Antonio, Texas.
According to the seminary Web site, the bachelor-of-arts in humanities degree, with a concentration in homemaking, will be offered through the seminary's undergraduate college program.
" The College at Southwestern endeavors to prepare women to model the characteristics of the godly woman as outlined in Scripture," a description of the program reads. "This is accomplished through instruction in homemaking skills, developing insights into home and family while continuing to equip women to understand and engage the culture of today."
Course work includes three hours of "general homemaking," three hours on "the value of a child," seven hours of "d esign and apparel"--including a four-hour "clothing construction with lab"--seven hours of nutrition and meal preparation and a three-hour course on the "Biblical Model for the Home and Family."
Responding to a question at the SBC annual meeting about the program, Patterson said many wives of future preachers have said, "We need to know in a day when homemaking is no longer honored whether or not it would be possible for us to have a course of study that would lead to a degree in homemaking."
"It is homemaking for the sake of the church and the ministry and homemaking for the sake of our society," Patterson said. "If we do not do something to salvage the future of the home, both our denomination and our nation will be destroyed."
The seminary's trustees were told about the new program last fall. It wasn't mentioned in news stories or the seminary's press release, but a Baptist blogger critical of Patterson's administration reported he "nearly shot Diet Coke out of my nose" when he heard the recommendation. Trying to imagine how such a degree falls under the umbrella of the institutional mission of a theological seminary, blogger Benjamin Cole dismissed the idea as "quite silly."
"A seminary degree in cookie-baking is about as useful as an M.Div. in automotive repair, if you ask me," Cole said. After the fall trustee meeting, Cole proceeded to parody what he nicknamed the "Mrs. Degree" in 10 blogs between Oct. 30 and Nov. 21.
The new undergraduate degree is in addition to an existing 13-hour program of seminary studies for student wives and women's ministries concentrations in both the master-of-divinity and master-of-arts-in-Christian
Dorothy Patterson, wife of the seminary president and professor of theology in women's studies, is the only woman faculty member currently teaching in Southwestern's School of Theology.
Another, former Old Testament languages professor Sheri Klouda, sued the seminary in March, claiming she was dismissed from her job simply because she is a woman. The chairman of the seminary's board of trustees was quoted as saying Klouda's unanimous election by trustees five years earlier, under leadership of Patterson's predecessor, was a " momentary lax of parameters."
Located in Fort Worth, Texas, Southwestern isn't the only Southern Baptist seminary encouraging ministers' wives to serve in traditional roles. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., offers a 13-hour certificate of ministry studies through its Seminary Wives Institute that includes "essentials" like "God's plan for marriage," child-rearing and shopping on a budget.
"At Southern Seminary, we recognize the need for God-called ministers' wives to be prepared for ministry," says a program description. "We believe that a minister's wife needs to be educated and equipped as she and her husband prepare for service in the churches and beyond."
An accompanying Women's Ministry Institute at Southern Seminary prepares women to minister to other women in the local church. Both programs are offered through Southern Seminary's Boyce College and headed up by Mary Mohler, wife of Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler.
Mary Mohler and Dorothy Patterson were the only two women serving on a seven-member committee that drafted a family amendment added to the Baptist Faith & Message in 1998. That article proscribed the proper role for a wife as "to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ."
The family article made headlines nationwide. The New York Times quoted Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics as commenting: ''They hope to make June Cleaver the biblical model for motherhood, despite numerous biblical references to women who worked outside the home.''
Two years later Southern Baptists updated the Baptist Faith & Message again to specify, " While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."
Southwestern Seminary's online catalogue says the seminary introduces women "to the marketplace of ideas, including both complementarian and egalitarian positions" so they are "thoroughly equipped to give an articulate and well-reasoned evangelical response to the feministic ideology of the age."
In addition to its programs for women, Southern Seminary in Louisville also houses The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The Council exists to counter "feminist egalitarianism"--the view that men and women are equal in the church and home--with "the noble Biblical vision of sexual complementarity," which holds that men and women are of equal worth, but God ordained for males to be the head of both the home and the church.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com .
Monday, June 11, 2007
One of my prayers for this year was for God to give me some clarity about my future. Where should I focus my attention? Should I pursue a Ph.D. and teach, or work in the local church? I feel like God has sent me the message loud and clear: “I need you in the local church. That's where you belong.” As I think back over the events of the past year, I cannot help but think about a trip my wife and I made to Mepkin Abbey outside of Charleston, SC. During the visit, I began to envy the time the monks had to study. Wouldn't it be great to live a life that is fully devoted to the study of God and obtaining a deeper relationship with him. The monks did not have to worry about pleasing a board of deacons, interviewing with search committees, or keeping a congregation happy. What a life! As I sit here writing this letter, I can hear that still, small voice telling me, “That's not the life I have chosen for you. I need you to be out with my people, caring for them, loving them, and sharing what you have learned.” Like the old hymn says, “Wherever he leads, I'll go,” so the focus of my third year will be preparing for work in the local church and then looking for the place where God wants me to serve.
Those of you who know me well know what a hard decision this has been. My own experiences and the experiences of other Wake students help explain why there are so few students who plan to work full time in the local church. The church is broken. We have to do better. We have to do MUCH better. How do we do that? I think the best place to start is with a statement made by Dr. Frank Campbell, former pastor at FBC Statesville and former president of Gardner-Webb University, at the funeral of one of FBC Statesville's christian educators Leath Johnson. Campbell said that he gave all seminary students that there are 3 things they have to do if they want to be successful in church work. First, they have to work hard. While this is great advice for church work, it equally applies to secular jobs as well. Perhaps the biggest difference, however, between secular and church work is the amount of work and number of skills required of minister. The senior pastor is expected to be the CEO, the preacher, a counselor, and a chaplain just to name a few. It is nearly impossible for one person to do all of these things well, but we are expected to try.
Secondly, a minister has to love his congregation. This advice obviously mirror's Jesus' commandment that we love one another. Let's face it, there are some people who are pretty unlovable, but, as a minister or even just as a Christian, we are called to love them. This is why I believe this year's resolution by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is wrong. I believe that removing congregations that allow homosexuals to become members is ignoring Jesus' commandment that we love one another. There are plenty of people who will probably disagree with me on that statement, but I believe they fail to take into account the second part of John 13:34. Jesus continues by saying, "as I have loved you." Jesus loved his disciples unconditionally. Jesus loved the adulterous woman in John 8 unconditionally. Notice there is nothing in that text that says the woman confessed her sin or stopped sinning, but Jesus showed compassion for her anyway. By not allowing homosexuals to become members of our churches are we not making them second class people? Are we not loving them a little bit (or maybe even a lot) less than we are loving everyone else? Is this what Jesus had in mind when he told us to love one another? He loved us so much he died for us? How many of us can say we love the unlovable that way?
Finally, Dr. Campbell said that a minister should always tell the truth. This is where the church can and should be very different from the secular world. The church is not all about the bottom line. The church is not about manipulating the data in such a way that it hides or distorts the truth. The truth is often not pretty, but that does not remove our obligation to tell the truth. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, "Peace if possible, but truth at all costs." When we make a decision, as a minister of the church, we should be able to stand up at the pulpit or in a business meeting and explain how and why we made the decision we did. If we have to hide behind lies, distortion, or secrecy, the wrong decision was probably made. Church health or church healing or protecting our jobs are not reasons to stray from the truth. "Peace if possible, but truth at all costs."
I believe the church is broken, but I also believe in a God that is more than able to transform brokenness into wholeness. But, He is only able to do that if his leaders are willing to follow him. That is what I hope to do in my ministry. It is my hope that a new generation of church leaders will be able to fix what is broken and help bring the church closer to what God wants it to be.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
In the beginning God created, that's where our story will begin.
From darkness and chaos came light and form and a short time later us.
In the creator's image we were made, all women and even men.
We lived in paradise, had all we needed, there was no need to fuss.
But we wanted more, to be like God. And so we learned to sin.
Before we fell walking and talking with God was possible every day.
It must have been like heaven on earth – the existence God intended.
We had it all but did not know we were blessed in every way.
God let us choose, and choose we did. And paradise was ended.
All that was new began to age, and away from God we began to stray.
Years, centuries and millenea have passed, creation is no longer new.
Many do not have the basic needs: food and a roof over their head.
We destroy the world the Lord created and pollute the skies of blue.
We don't protect the helpless the innocent or mourn them when they're dead.
Even though we don't deserve it, God still says I have not forgotten you.
We have talked about the beginning of the story and so we move to its end.
Everything that we have made old, God will make new once again.
A new Jerusalem free of destruction and sorrow from heaven will descend.
And, as in the beginning, God will once again dwell among women and men.
Suffering, pain and death will all pass away. On this we can depend.
Friday, April 20, 2007
The Associated Baptist Press has an article on the responses of well known Baptist figures to the tragedy at Virginia Tech this week.
I think Jim Wallis hit the nail on the head:
"This is not a time to seek easy answers or to assign blame," he said. "It is, rather, a time to pray, mourn, and reflect. It's time to let sorrow do its reflective and redemptive work, to hold the hands that need to be held, to let our tears open our hearts to change those things that lead to such tragedy, and to trust our pain to the loving arms of God."There were a lot of good responses in the article, but there are several that are so bad they deserve attention.
American Family Radio has raised a similar battle cry, claiming in a video that events leading to recent years' school shootings in places like Jonesboro, Ark., Springfield, Ore., Littleton Colo., and Blacksburg, Va., "started when Madalyn Murray O'Hair complained she didn't want any prayer in our schools, and we said 'O.K.'" That is an apparent reference to Supreme Court decisions that have outlawed government-sanctioned prayer and devotional Bible reading in public schools.I have quoted this scripture before but I think it deserves repeating here:
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’ (Luke 13.1-5, NRSV)Another response came from Dr. Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:
So, Patterson's response is to call the male students at Virgina Tech cowards and blame them for the deaths? What message does that send to the families?
Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told students in an April 19 chapel sermon that if a shooter attacked the Fort Worth, Texas, school, students should "rush him."
Patterson told the male students in the crowd to raise their hands and told the men, "I'm counting on you."
"See, all you had to do was have six or eight rush him right at that time, and 32 people wouldn't have died," Patterson said. "Now folks, let's make up our minds. I know we live in America where nobody gets involved in anybody else's situation. That shall not be the rule here. Does everybody understand? You say, 'Well, I may be shot.' Well, yeah, you may. Are you saved? You're going to heaven. You know, it's better than earth."
The final response comes from a Pastor that repeatedly ignores Jesus' commandment that we love one another:
And an anti-gay group infamous for protesting at the funerals of U.S. soldiers has announced plans to picket the funerals of the Virginia victims.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., said the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, was doing God's will by punishing non-Christians, CBS News reported. A church news release added: "God is punishing America for her sodomite sins. The 33 massacred at Virginia Tech died for America’s sins against [Westboro Baptist Church]."
The tiny church, whose paster if Fred Phelps, is not affiliated with any national Baptist convention. The CBS News report said police are expected to break up any such protest. Funerals and memorial services are included in Virginia's disorderly conduct statute.
The Center for Baptist Studies - The Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University sponsors and encourages the scholarly study of Baptists through instruction, emphasizes Baptists’ ecumenical relationships to the entire Body of Christ, and interprets issues and trends in contemporary Baptist life and American culture. This site has something for everyone: sermon ideas for pastors, ideas for Sunday school and Wednesday nights, news on issues facing Baptists, and even a certificate program in Baptist studies!
Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant - I am really excited about this effort to provide a new Baptist voice in America that is authentically Baptist. I am hoping that Gay and I can put the funding together to attend the meeting in January 2008. The speakers will include Jimmy Carter and Bill Moyers!
The New Baptist Covenant traces its roots to April 10, 2006, when former U.S. President and prominent Baptist layman Jimmy Carter and Mercer University President Bill Underwood convened at The Carter Center in Atlanta a group of 18 Baptist leaders representing more than 20 million Baptists across North America.
The leaders were unanimous in their desire to transcend their differences -- including such factors as race, culture, geography and convention affiliation -- and seek common purpose.
Baptist Leaders at Jan. 9, 2007, news conference at Carter Center in Atlanta.The outcome of the meeting was a document called A North American Baptist Covenant and preliminary plans to hold a major gathering of Baptists from throughout North America in 2008. The leaders of these organizations affirmed their desire to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times. They reaffirmed their commitment to traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality. They specifically committed themselves to their obligation as Christians to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, welcome the strangers among us, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.
A followup meeting attended by 80 representatives of more than 30 Baptist organizations was held on January 9, 2007, at The Carter Center. The core group of those who gathered were representatives of organizations that are members of the North American Baptist Fellowship (NABF), a regional affiliate of the Baptist World Alliance. . At the conclusion of the meeting, the representatives announced plans to hold a convocation in Atlanta on January 30-February 1, 2008.
The theme of this historic gathering will be Unity in Christ. The Biblical basis for the meeting is Jesus’ reading of scripture in the Synagogue as recorded in Luke 4: 18-19. In these verses, Jesus reads from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim the release of the captives, and the recovering of sight of the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” This call by Jesus to pursue both evangelism and ministry to “the least of these” is the Biblical foundation for the New Baptist Covenant.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
John 13:34 reads:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.After watching this video, do you think we are doing a good job of following Jesus' commandment? Are we focused on loving one another? The focus of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina last rear was the adoption of a resolution that allows the state convention to remove churches that:
“... knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior. The Board of Directors shall apply this provision. A church has a right to appeal any adverse action taken by the Board of Directors.”Keep in mind that this had been interpreted to mean that any Baptist church that allows homosexuals to join or remain a member of the church meets this criteria. Is this how Baptists should be "loving one another?" Is this were our focus should be? Even worse, over the past year, the SBC has fired missionaries who admit to using a "private prayer language" (speaking in tongues.)
We live in a world where the majority of the people are hurting and hungry. Telling people they are not welcome is not the answer to the hurt and the hunger. Firing the people who are trying to help the hurting and the hungry is not the answer. Love is the answer, and this video reminds us that our world needs love more than ever.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
If you would like to view the video with the option of watching full screen, click here. To download a Quicktime version, click right click here and choose save target as.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Monday, March 12, 2007
Yesterday morning, my wife Gay and I spent a lovely morning at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. For those of you who do not know, Maranatha Baptist Church is President Carter's home congregation. Whenever he is in Plains, he teaches Sunday School at this small country church.
President Carter's lesson, which came from Smith and Helwys' Uniforms Series, was on 1 John Chapter 3. What follows the scripture is my response to his lesson:
11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you.
14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him
20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
This lesson was particularly relevant to the issues facing the church and our country today. Many of us seem to be perfectly content to focus entirely on the welfare of an ever shrinking "us," while ignoring, in the best case, or exploiting the welfare of others. The reason we do this are obvious. We may be jealous of what others have that we do not. We may be afraid of others; even if we do not know exactly what it is we are afraid of. Or, we have adopted the foolish notion that we must agree on everything in order to live in friendship or work together. We have forgotten that we are all human beings and, therefore, all equal and all equally flawed. Instead, we do what we have always done throughout history: we try to minimize the humanity of "them." We don't go to war with the Germans and the Japanese; we go to war with the Krauts and the Japs.
All of us are guilty of labeling those who are not like us. Christians are equally guilty: we do it to others and we even do it to ourselves. We define ourselves with terms like Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians. We define others as liberals, fundies, or heritics. The problem with any of these "labels" whether they are positive or negative is meaning. How many of you who are Baptist actually know what it means to be Baptist? How many of you who have called someone a liberal or a fundamentalist actually know either of those terms mean? While they may have a useful, academic, and definable meaning, for many people, for many Christians, they are slurs; they are words of hate. "All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them." We should all think about this the next time we label someone.
Instead of focusing on what divides us, it is time to focus on what unites us as Christians. What is that? President Carter answered that question and had the class repeat it after him at the end of the lesson:
"We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ."
That is what makes us a Christian, and everything else pales in comparison: "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us."
Thursday, February 15, 2007
"If you died today, do you know you would go to heaven?"
"Ok, when you get to heaven, if God asks you why he should let you in, what would you say?"
I would tell him that I surrendered my life to him, accepted him as the lord of my life and as a reflection of that commitment I tried to live my example according to the example set by Jesus."
"Well, I've got good news for you. Nothing you can do can get you into heaven. Salvation is a free gift that you must accept. As a divinity student I would expect you to know that."
Yes, I know that.
"Well you said that you would tell God that you tried to live a good life and that is why you should get into heaven. That's works righteousness and..."
You weren't listening, what about the first part of what I said?
"What first part?"
The Lord of my life part.
"Well, what does that mean?"
Well, it means that I accepted Jesus as my savior and surrendered my life to him.
"Well salvation is a gift that you must explicitly accept, have you ever done that?"
All of this was prompted by the fact that I am leading a small group discussion of Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian on Wednesday nights. This person, who had not read the book, did not think it was an appropriate book for our congregation to study. But that is not the point of this post.
The point is that this kind of ambush evangelism that reduces sharing the gospel to a script and a formula that one must follow; this kind of evangelism that seeks to convert and move on to the next person, this kind of evangelism that seems to emphasize speed and efficiency over relationships is not going to work in the post-modern world. (If it has ever really worked at all.)
In seeking to share the Gospel, we need to remember Jesus' commandment that we love one another. That's what evangelism should be all about, love. Evangelism is not about keeping a record of how many people we have converted in the inside cover of a Bible. Loving means caring about them enough to want to establish a relationship with non-Christians. Without love, there is no relationship. Without a relationship, the new Christian may not have someone to turn to when he experiences doubt.
Disagree with me? Consider what Paul has to say:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
There was no love in my encounter. It is difficult for me to express what I am trying to say because I am so frustrated. I am frustrated that there are so many church leaders (both pastors and lay leadership) who seem to forget that our call as Christians is to love God and love others.
Friday, February 09, 2007
On the eve of the American Revolution, Anglican Parson Charles Woodmason described the carryings on among the people called Baptists in the "Carolina backcountry". He wrote:
They don't all agree in one Tune. For one sings this Doctrine, and the next something different---So that people’s brains are turn'd and bewildered. And then again to see them Divide and Sub divide, split into parties---Rail at and excommunicate one another---Turn (members) out of one meeting and receive (them back) into another. And a Gang of them getting together and gabbling one after the other (and sometimes disputing against each other) on abstruse Theological Questions. . .such as the greatest Metaph[ys]icians and Learned Scholars never yet could define, or agree on--To hear Ignorant Wretches, who cannot write . . .discussing such Knotty Points for the Edification of their Auditors. . .must give High offence to all Intelligent and rational Minds.1
Woodmason was as correct as he was condescending. Indeed, many 21st century observers would concur that contemporary Baptists still give “high offense” in the church and the public square. When a Virginia congressman calls Americans to tighten immigration laws in order to keep out Muslims who MIGHT be elected to high office and take the oath of office on the Koran, didn’t he just have to be a Baptist? When members of a stem family church in Kansas show up at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, and shout that such deaths are the result of God’s judgment on the nation, don’t they just have to be Baptists? And then there are all those internecine “Baptist battles” fought incessantly in the pew and the press. Take Southern Baptists, at 14 million the largest sub denomination of the 30 million Baptists in the U. S. For almost three decades Southern Baptists have attacked each other over the bible, ordaining women, control of Baptist related schools, public schools, private school vouchers, trips to Disneyworld, glossolalia, praise choruses, baptizing homosexuals, rebaptizing Presbyterians, salvation for Jews and Muslims, the “rapture,” drinking wine at communion or at dinner, and the gospel benefits of “Christian heavy metal” music. When 21st century Baptists “divide and sub divide, split into parties, rail at and excommunicate each other,” not just in the “Carolina back-country,” but on CNN, wouldn’t any self respecting national university want to distance itself from its Baptist origins as quickly as possible?
Indeed, Baptists then and now seem a community of unending dissent, declaring themselves as divisively and at times disgustingly as did their frontier forebears. Publicly and privately, Baptists remain an unruly lot, given to unceasing pontification on assorted theological, ethical and political issues. Truth is, being Baptist was never all that respectable. As their earliest critics saw it, Baptists demonstrated bad theology, bad citizenship, and bad manners every time they opened their mouths. They were heretical, underclass peasants who held erroneous religious opinions and lacked the educational sophistication to articulate them appropriately.
Even the purportedly “progressive” Baptists, who founded Wake Forest College in 1834, reflected various ideas and practices no longer acceptable in the university. Almost en mass, they accepted slavery as a social given, insisting that it was sanctioned in the infallible text of Holy Scripture. In 1822, little more than a decade before Wake Forest began, Richard Furman, pastor of First Baptist Church, Charleston, declared before the South Carolina legislature: “Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed, that the inspired Apostles, who feared not the faces of men, and were ready to lay down their lives in the case of their God, would have tolerated it, for a moment, in the Christian Church.” Furman concluded: “In proving this subject justifiable by Scriptural authority, its morality is also proved; for the Divine Law never sanctions immoral actions.”2 Likewise, women were refused admission to Wake Forest for over a century; and African Americans were kept out until 1962. The 19th century founders would never have imagined a Wake Forest without required chapel, and preferred a campus at least 50 miles from the nearest sin.
So here we sit “in the year of our Lord,” no, the Common Era 2007, asking why in the world would Wake Forest University want to reference, even privilege, a questionable, often embarrassing, past on the way to an enlightened future. Given Baptist behavior past and present, should the university bother to own its Baptist origins henceforth and forever? After all, Wake Forest University is not Baptist any more. In 1986, the university trustees cancelled the school’s Baptist affiliation, insightfully reading the signs of the times, saving Wake Forest from a far-right takeover that continues to haunt Baptist-owned undergraduate institutions in North Carolina. It was a profound and essential action, the final break in a love/hate relationship that existed almost from the beginning.
While 19th century Baptists desperately wanted their children to receive the intellectual and economic benefits of higher education, many feared that it would somehow “steal their faith” and after 4 years at Wake Forest they’d never go to prayer meetin’ again. Preachers were particularly in danger. As one old Baptist preacher allegedly fretted: “We don’t really favor an educated ministry, we saw what it did to the Presbyterians.” The teaching of evolution, hard fought in the early twentieth century by the likes of President and scientist William Louis Poteat, illustrated the distance that readily developed between Wake Forest and its Baptist constituents. Given those disconnects, as we now engage in strategic planning with a new administration—the first to begin without a formal connection to any Baptist organization—perhaps it is important to ask one more time what we want to do with our Baptist parents—own them, warts and all, on the way to a new academic and religious future, or lock them away like mad men and women in the attic, arcane anachronisms as embarrassing in the present as in the past.
As a historian who happens to be a Baptist, I would suggest that aspects of the Baptist past are worth considering whether we use the infamous “B” word in our public statements or not. The thesis goes like this: Wake Forest University was founded by North Carolina Baptists in a relationship that lasted from 1834 to 1986. It is not now nor will it ever again be Baptist-related. Rather than excise or exorcise all remnants of Baptistness from its past, however, are there segments of that heritage worth acknowledging that continue inform the future at Wake Forest? To own the best contributions does not require claiming the entirety of Baptist history, nor does it mean scrambling to find something worth retaining in order to be historically correct. Rather, we could be intentional about revisiting the university’s past with appropriate research before we jettison uncritically the movement that birthed the college that became a nationally ranked university. What in the Baptist vision offers insight toward the future whether we reference these embarrassing forebears or not?
My own reading of Baptist history compels me to encourage a reexamination of what seems to me the heart of Baptist identity in the modern/postmodern world: the importance of uncoerced faith grounded in the power of conscience and the inevitability of dissent. My arguments today are all too brief, but are documented in two recent books: Baptist Ways: A History (Judson Press, 2003) and Baptists in America (Columbia University Press, 2005). The latter volume is the reason for my participation in the New Horizons in Religion series sponsored by the Religion and Divinity faculties. The people listed in your programs will, throughout the semester, provide lectures from recently published monographs. We hope you will join us for the series.
Early Baptist identity was characterized by emphasis on biblical authority, regenerate church membership, believers’ baptism by immersion, congregational church polity, religious liberty, and the priesthood of all believers. Amid those essentially sectarian characteristics, an enduring legacy, worth claiming I believe, involves (to repeat) the importance of uncoerced faith grounded in the power of conscience and the inevitability of dissent. Make no mistake about it; those who founded the first Baptist church in Amsterdam in 1609 began as an unashamed Christian sect, born of the idea that the church should be composed only of believers, those who could testify to a work of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Baptists understood conscience and dissent in light of the need for sinners to be “regenerated” made new through conversion to Christ. Yet in their assertion that conscience could not be compelled by either state-based or faith-based establishments, they flung the door wide for religious liberty and pluralism in ways that even they may not have fully understood. By regeneration, they meant, in the words of a 1679 confession (the Orthodox Creed): “those who are united unto Christ by effectual faith, are regenerated, and have a new heart and spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ his death, resurrection, and intercession, and by the efficacy of the holy spirit, received by faith.”3 Conscience and religious liberty were not based on secular theories (although they would impact them) but on the necessity of uncoerced faith mediated through a congregation of Christian believers. A commitment to freedom of conscience led Baptists to oppose religious establishments and develop principles of religious liberty that anticipated modern pluralism.
Baptists began as a community of dissent. They challenged political and religious establishments in a variety of ways. First, they were non-conformists who often refused to abide by the rules of religious uniformity demanded by the state-based churches of their day. Second, they rejected any laws of church or state that compelled financial or devotional support for a religious communion in which they had no VOICE. Third, they defied any church that legislated belief by virtue of birth, economic status, or culture privilege; and sought to separate from it.
Anglican priest Daniel Featley’s description of seventeenth century Baptists illustrates the basis of their radical non-conformity. His list of Baptist teachings is clearly an establishmentarian nightmare. It also provides insight into how seventeenth century dissenters were perceived by their religio-political enemies. Featley described Baptists’ beliefs as follows:
First, that none are rightly baptized but those who are dipt. [They rejected the socially mandated mode of baptism.]
Secondly, that no children ought to be baptized. [They cast aside the link between baptism and citizenship—i.e. to be born into a “Christian” state required immediate baptism into the Christian Church.]
Thirdly, that there ought to be no set form of Liturgy or prayer by the Book, but onely by the Spirit. [They demanded the freedom to determine their own spirituality apart from government enforced prayer.]
Fourthly, that there ought to be no distinction by the Word of God between the Clergy and the Laity but that all who are gifted may preach the Word, and administer the Sacraments. [They challenged the status of a privileged religious class that controlled theology and admission to the sacraments.]
Fifthly, that it is not lawful to take an oath at all, no, not though it be demanded by the magistrate. [The oath reflected the loyalty of citizenship. Baptists would swear only to God, not governments.]
Sixthly, that no Christian may with good conscience execute the office of civil magistrate.4 [They knew, didn’t they?]
Every article in this fascinating list reflects degrees of both political and religious non-conformity among Baptists theologically, liturgically and politically. Their dissent had clear political and religious implications.
Such dissent was soon evident in New England in conflicts between Baptists and the Puritan establishment. Roger Williams, the brilliant proto-Baptist, was exiled into the “howling wilderness” of the New England in 1636 for preaching “the same course of rigid separation and anabaptistry” as the Baptists in “Amsterdam had done.”5 He made it worse by insisting that the Native Americans were the owners of the American land and should be justly compensated for it. In exile, Williams purchased land from the Narragansetts, writing: “I having made covenant of peaceable neighborhood with all the sachems and natives round about us, and having, in a sense of God’s merciful providence unto me in my distress, called the place Providence, I desired it might be for a shelter for persons distressed of conscience…. I communicated my said purchase unto my loving friends … who then desired to take shelter here with me. . . . .”6
Williams anticipated pluralism, suggesting that non-Christians were effective citizens of the new world. He asked “whether or no such as may hold forth other worships or religions, Jews, Turks, or anti-christians, may not be peaceable and quiet subjects, loving and helpful neighbours, fair and just dealers, true and loyal to the civil government.” He concluded that, “It is clear they may, from reason and experience in many flourishing cities and kingdoms of the world.”7
Dr. John Clarke, Williams’ contemporary and the founder of the Newport colony, was also an outspoken proponent of freedom of conscience and its implications for religious liberty. In a treatise known as Ill Newes from New England; or, a Narrative of New-Englands Persecution, Clarke declared: “No such believer, or Servant of Christ Jesus hath any liberty, much less Authority, from his Lord, to smite his fellow servant, nor yet with outward force, or arme of flesh, to constrain, or restrain his Conscience, no nor yet his outward man for Conscience sake.”8
Baptists in England and America insisted that God alone was judge of conscience, and therefore no religious or political establishment could judge the non-conformist, the heretic or even the atheist. The Baptist-authored charter of Rhode Island declared:
No person within said Colony, at any time hereafter, shall be in any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any differences of opinion in matters of religion, . . . but that all and any persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences in matters of religious concernments throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned.9
Conscience and religious liberty did not mean silence or a nebulous syncretism, however. Baptists argued unashamedly with their opponents (and each other). They spoke their views freely and passionately, but asserted the right of others to do the same. They insisted that it was only through religious liberty was such debate possible, since there was a thin line between disagreeing with persons and silencing them in the name of God or government. For these early Baptists, dissent was grounded in the freedom of conscience, individual and communal. Indeed, references to conscience as a foundation of dissent abound in 17th century Baptist documents. Baptist leader Leonard Busher wrote 1614 (Religions Peace: or, A Plea for Liberty of Conscience): “And as kings and bishops cannot command the wind, so they cannot command faith; You may force men to church against their consciences, but they will believe as they did afore, when they come there; for God giveth a blessing only to his own ordinance, and abhorreth antichrist’s.”10 “Bishops,” he said, “should know that error and heresy cannot be killed by the fire and sword, but by the word and Spirit of God.”11 Baptist literature provides a fascinating commentary on the role of conscience as enlivened by an individual’s faith commitments.12
Thomas Helwys’ classic work, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (ca. 1612) was perhaps the earliest Baptist document to articulate issues of conscience directly. One of its most widely quoted passage begins: “Let the King judge, is it not most equal that men should choose their religion themselves, seeing they only must stand themselves before the judgment seat of god to answer for themselves, when it shall be no excuse for them to say, we were commanded or compelled to be of this religion by the king or by them that had authority from him.”13 True faith was grounded in freedom to choose or reject God’s gift of grace.
Thomas Helwys extended liberty of conscience to non-Christians and atheists alike. He wrote: “Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”14 Baptist founders insisted that religious liberty was essential as a means of freeing individuals to follow their own consciences even when they chose not to be Christians.
Similar phrases are utilized in the so-called Orthodox Creed of General Baptists in 1679.15 It states:
And the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute blind obedience, destroys liberty of conscience, and reason also, it being repugnant to both …16
The call to uncoerced faith produced the necessity of dissent.
As Baptists moved South in the Revolutionary era, they continued to press their radical understanding of conscience. Baptists in Virginia challenged the Anglican religious establishment and were fined or imprisoned for refusing to secure preaching licenses from the state. John Leland, friend of Madison and Jefferson, rejected any suggestion that America was a “Christian nation,” writing: “The liberty I contend for, is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration, is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest, to grant indulgence; whereas, all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians. Test oaths, and established creeds should be avoided as the worst of evils.”17 Leland wrote: “Whether, therefore, the Christian religion be true or false, it is not an article of legislation. In this case, Bible Christians, and Deists, have an equal plea against self-named Christians, who . . . tyrannize over the consciences of others, under the specious garb of religion and good order.”18
Later Baptists were not always so decisive. As Baptists gained numerical strength, many joined the de facto Protestant majority and its religio-cultural hegemony, especially in the South. Like other Protestants, many 19th Baptist leaders viewed the immigration of Jews and Catholics American political and moral stability. Baptist reassertion of religious liberty and the “separation of church and state” paralleled their concerns that Catholic parochial schools were after government funding in some form or another. As religious pluralism has expanded with the immigration of non-Judeo- Christian communions and the rise of a variety of so-called “New Age” religions—Wiccans, Scientology, Transcendental Meditation and the like—and as secularism has gained prominence in the culture, many Baptists and other Protestants are deeply divided over the meaning of religious liberty and the influence of the church in political and public society.
Given these historical and contemporary realities, how might Baptist progressivism on matters of conscience and dissent inform the future of this or any “no-longer-Baptist-university?
First, in what ways might a university become, in the words of Roger Williams and John Clarke, “a shelter for persons distressed of conscience” AND an academic community that would itself distress the consciences of faculty and student alike in response to the great issues, ideas and injustices of our times? How might we determine to nurture a safe environment where consciences are enlivened even as they collide? Second, in a university environment where pluralism and uncoerced faith are taken for granted, how do we speak about faith, sectarian or secular? In a religiously volatile world, is it still important to discern, if not challenge, those implicit or explicit religio-political establishments that seek privilege and entitlement through sectarian or secular hegemony over politics, religion, educational institutions and economics, economics, economics? Third, might their radical understanding of conscience encourage us to an equally radical concern for VOICE—an environment in which everyone can speak even when the differences are vast and irreconcilable? (Roger Williams, for example, not only called for fair payment to Natives for their land, but wrote the first native language lexicon, giving them voice to their new invaders.) Finally, with the Baptists might we explore more explicitly the nature and boundaries of dissent in the face of such issues as mass culture, media religion, and the struggle for global resources. Such dissent might compel US to take a chance—stake our lives—on ideas that inform and overpower, even when we know they will never secure majoritarian approval.
As a historian, I am impressed by the early Baptist courage and dissent in behalf of uncoerced faith, freedom of conscience, and religio-political dissent, and I hope that Wake Forest University will find ways to own its Baptist roots, even if they bear witness to only a tiny spark of progressivism. We owe it to ourselves to reference the identity of those 16th and 17th century dissenters obsessed with conscience and voice for heretic and atheist alike and their successors in 1834 who hoped against hope that the little “normal school” in that little North Carolina town would impact a region and ultimately a nation. Amid historic and contemporary embarrassments, their monumental commitments and sacrifices should not be forgotten. Indeed, a university hesitant to own its past may have difficulty articulating its future.
As a Baptist, however, I think it might be just as well to strike the Baptist references from the university’s mission statement all together. As a religious community, Baptists have never done well with privilege, whatever form it takes. Parson Woodmason was right then and now, we don’t all “agree in one tune,” you see, it's a matter of conscience.
- 1Richard J. Hooker, ed. The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution: The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953), 109. See also John G. Crowley, Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South 1815 to the Present (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1998), 8.
- 2Richard Furman, "An Exposition," (1822) in Bill J. Leonard, Early American Christianity (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1983), 382-383.
- 3William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 316.
- 4Daniel Featley, The Dippers Dip, or, the Anabaptists Duck'd and Plung'd over Head and Eares, at a Disputation at Southward, 36.
- 5Isaac Backus, Church History of New England, from 1620 to 1804 (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1844), 43.
- 6Isaac Backus, A History of New England, with Particular Reference to the Baptists, 2nd ed. (1871; reprint, 2 vols. In 1, New York: Arno Press, 1969), 1:75.
- 7Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for the Cause of Conscience Discussed e. A. C. Underhill (1644; reprint, London: Hanserd Knollys Society, 1848), 112-113.
- 8Ibid, 1:168.
- 9O. K. Armstrong and Marjorie Armstrong, The Baptists in America (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1979), 71.
- 10Ibid, 17-18.
- 11Ibid, 22.
- 12Ibid, 30; see also Bill J. Leonard, Baptist Ways: A History 26-27; and B. R. White, "Early Baptist Arguments for Religious Freedom: Their Overlooked Agenda," Baptist History and Heritage 24 (October 1989): 6-7.
- 13Thomas Helwys, The Mystery of Iniquity, cited in W. T. Whitley, A History of British Baptists, rev. ed. (London: Kings gate Press, 1932), 33.
- 14Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of The Mystery of Iniquity, edited by Richard Groves (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998), xxxii.
- 15Ibid, 296.
- 16Ibid, 331-332.
- 17John Leland, The Writings of John Leland, L. F. Greene, editor 1845; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1969) 118; and Bill Leonard, Baptist Ways, 130-131.
- 18Ibid, 294.