For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Where is the MBC Going?

Next week, messengers from Southern Baptist churches all over Missouri will gather at Tan-Tar-A for the Missouri Baptist Convention's annual meeting. What in recent years has been a pleasant experience to look forward to has me a bit apprehensive this year.

The primary reason is the appearance of the so-called "Save Our Convention" folks (read here for my previous comments on that whole thing). One of their agenda items is to propose an opposition slate of candidates to serve as our convention leadership. As my earlier comments made clear, this is not only unnecessary, but plainly points out the fact that this group of "concerned" individuals is merely interested in power and politics.

David Krueger has recently posted a series of "interviews" with the slate of candidates offered by current leadership and I think these are well worth your time to read. (Click here to go to David's site and erad those interviews). Of special interest is the interview with Roger Moran, nominee for 2nd Vice President. Roger is the much-maligned research director of the Missouri Baptist Laymen's Association, a group responsible in large part for the conservative swing in our state's leadership; reaffirming our stand on the inerrant Word of God. While we should be patting him on the back (along with Kerry Messer and others), the SOC folks have set out to villify him.

The reason I point out his interview in particular though centers on this. Roger points out clearly that the decision before Missouri Baptists is one of cultural conservatism to go along with our theological conservatism vs. cultural liberalism. The SOC folks and many others would have us believe that the Emergent Church movement is harmless when it is clearly not (cf. my comments on lack of discernment). No matter what anyone says, using worldly means to "draw crowds" is never right, never biblical, regardless of how orthodox the theology might be once folks "come in."

Missouri Baptists have some decisions to make. Where are we going? Where do we want to be in ten years? Do we want to maintain the course of theological and cultural distinctiveness, or do we want to head down the road of trying to become so "culturally relevant" that we cease to be biblically reliant? I for one pray that saner and more spiritually minded heads prevail, that we see this move by the SOC for the politically motivated thing it is, and that we stay the course, confirming that we not only believe the Bible to be true, but that we intend to live by it.

What Is Success?

Years ago, before going to North Dakota to serve with the then Home Mission Board, I had the chance to visit with a high ranking officer of that entity (very high ranking). I had done some research and wanted his opinion.

Here was the question:
“In Texas, there is one SBC church for every 3,000 people in the state, and we have over 400 HMB missionaries. In North Dakota, we have only one SBC church or mission for every 30,000 people; yet we have less than a dozen people receiving HMB support. Why is that?”

Here was the answer:
“We get a better return on our investment in Texas.”

Fast forward a few years. The Sioux church we served was holding its own, so to speak. A new church plant 60 miles away we worked with only had about 4 families. In both cases we were told by outside sources that these works were not “viable.” In fact, when we left ND, no one was sent to replace us at the new church plant, and it died. (Of course we still brag about the number of “new church starts” but that’s another story).

Once again, I’m finally getting to the point. A dear friend of ours is currently struggling in a “frontier” ministry. Response is very slow, but there are those in whom God is stirring a hunger. Yet his financial backers in another state, who by the way have never set foot on his church field, are telling him it’s time to move on because this is not a “viable” work. I guess they think they’re not getting a good enough “return on their investment.”

How do we measure success? Is it based on the numbers we draw (like a popularity contest)? Is it in terms of how much that work begins to give back financially (like a stock market investment)? Or is there more to it in God’s church.

Mark Dever, in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, gives one of the best answers I’ve read. This is a lengthy quote, but it’s worth the reading:
We need a new model for the church. Simply put, we need churches that are self-consciously distinct from the culture. We need churches in which the key indicator of success is not evident results but persevering biblical faithfulness. We need churches that help us to recover those aspects of Christianity that are distinct from the world, and that unite us,

In a society where Christianity is being widely and rapidly disowned, where evangelism is often considered inherently intolerant or even officially classified as a hate crime, we find our world changed. The culture to which we would conform in order to be relevant becomes so inextricably entwined with antagonism to the Gospel that to conform to it must mean a loss of the Gospel itself. In such a day, we must re-hear the Bible and re-imagine the concept of successful ministry not as necessarily immediately fruitful but as demonstrably faithful to God’s Word.

Great missionaries who have gone to non-Christian cultures have had to know this. When they have gone to places where there were no obvious “fields white unto harvest” but only years andeven decades of rejection, they must have had some other motivation to keep them going. If William Carey would be faithful in India or Adoniram Judson in Burma, it could not be because their immediate success showed them that that they were being obviously relevant. It could only be because the Spirit of God in them encouraged them to obedience and trust. Rural pastors labor in churches amid declining populations, and they do so at the call of God. We today, in the secular West, must recover a sense of satisfaction in such biblical faithful ness. And we must recover it particularly in our lives together as Christians, in our churches.

My prayer is that we will find satisfaction and success in this way. And Brother Gary, if you’re out there, stay faithful, brother. As I told you, it’s all about the calling of God. He’s concerned with your faithfulness not the world’s idea of success. May we all learn that simple truth.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Go, Go, Gordon!

This just in. Jeff Gordon comes roaring back from 34th to 1st, to win at Talladega. This marks the 5th win of the season, 80th of his career, and 12th restrictor plate win (surpassing the late Dale Earnhardt’s 11). Gordon moves back to first place in NASCAR’s “Chase” for the championship, the place he held the majority of the season. The Talladega fans even showed improvement. (see here for my take on their childish/drunken behavior after Jeff’s last win here) All is right with the racing world. Now back to regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Serious Lack of Discernment

“Don’t you realize those are the Sacred Hoops?” That was the response to my wearing what I thought was simply a beautifully beaded bolo tie. What I thought of as simple artistic design, the Sioux people saw as a symbol for the Indian “life-way,” bringing to mind images of the Ghost Dance, etc. The same was true for the intricately beaded watchband I picked up. What I saw as merely artwork, the Sioux saw as a representation of the water-bird, complete with all the religiously charged symbolism it contained.

For three years my wife and I lived on a Sioux Indian Reservation, pastoring a little church there. It didn’t take long for us to see that not everything is as innocent and benign as we might think. We soon learned that images and symbols run all through the Sioux worldview, and very little can truly be described as being religiously neutral. Everything had spiritual meaning.

At one point, confused over the line between culture and religion, I consulted an older Cherokee brother while at Indian Youth Camp. His response was this: “Hunting buffalo and living in teepees is culture; all the rest is religion.” What I came to realize is that I needed to be very careful about the things I bought, wore, etc. because to me they may be benign, but to the people I was ministering to it had spiritual significance. For me to ignore that showed a serious lack of discernment.

Here’s the point (aren’t you glad there is one?!) The Missouri Baptist Pathway newspaper recently carried a piece about the expansion of Hindu influence in our nation, seen especially in the fact that a Hindu prayer was offered in opening the US Senate this summer.

An addition to that article discussed the offering of Yoga classes at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO. “Yoga with Sarah” is seen as just another exercise class; but is it really so innocent?

That Pathway article even included a quote from a Hindu professor who explained that each of the postures in Yoga was designed to represent a spiritual truth. In his words, to separate the posture from the Hindu meaning “must be challenged because it runs counter to the fundamental principles upon which yoga itself is premised.”

I’m having flashbacks of watchbands and bolo ties. Things are not always as spiritually neutral as we might think. We show a serious lack of discernment if we don’t realize this.

This is but the latest example of Christian people thinking that we can do what the world does with no consequence. This same issue of Pathway included articles on the Emergent Church with its use of alcohol, gambling, R-rated movies and religious inclusiveness all being used as “tools” to “reach people.”

It seems the modern church is suffering from a severe case of lack of discernment. I only pray that God will open our eyes to the truth and remind us that Jesus is the way, the only way, and that we truly need to reconsider what it means to “go out from their midst, and be separate from them” (2 Corinthians 6:17, ESV)