Friday, December 30, 2005

Nashville, We Have A Problem

Nashville: (def.) That nebulous, mysterious, and often far away place that embodies, at least in our minds, the seat of power in the SBC. Now we know that's not entirely true but yet it's true enough for us to almost use the Nashville name as a synonym for the SBC.

Well imagine down in the deep dark bowels of Nashville headquarters - a control room, not unlike its military counterpart somewhere deep in the Rocky Mountains. At the radar screens and computer monitors are the young technicians, constantly scanning and always alert for intruders and threats both real and imagined.

All at once a young technician leaps to his feet and shouts for his boss to hurry to his side. "Sir, we have a problem, there are hundreds of them, maybe thousands of them! I've never seen anything like this before!"

"Alert, Alert! This is no drill. I repeat, this is no drill! We have multiple incoming threats! Man your battle stations! Man your battle stations!

"What are they son?" calmly asks the greyheaded manager.

"They're Baptist blogs sir!" replies the young techie.

"Baptist blogs? What's that?" the manager asks in alarm.

"Sir, they're the writings of all kinds of Southern Baptists. Pastors, laypeople, seminary students, professors, trustees of our organizations and (gasp) even women!"

"What do you mean they're the writings of Southern Baptists? Who would publish them without our knowledge? And furthermore, who authorized this?" asks the manager with his voice rising on each question.

"Sir nobody authorized it. Anybody can do it from their home or office if they have a computer. They just write whatever they want to write and post it on the internet for the whole world to read and comment," the technician explained.

"Well, what are they writing about?" the manager asks.

"All sorts of things. Calvinism, the Cooperative Program, Church Planting, the Emerging Church, Drinking, Trustee action at the IMB and Sir, they're even questioning you and your friends!"

"Ok, OK, I've got it young man. Sit back down and keep monitoring the situation. I've got to call a meeting. This could obviously get out of hand!"

Yes, Nashville it could get out of YOUR hand. In fact it may already be beginning.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Attending the Guilt-O-Rama this Winter?

In conversations with several of my friends I have discovered a growing lack of enthusiasm among pastors for the annual pilgrimage to Baptist State Evangelism Conferences. It seems that an increasing number of pastors including almost all of us “tulip-types” have a growing aversion to what is being promoted as “real evangelism” within the SBC.

Let me tell you about the best evangelism conference I ever attended and the worst.

The best I ever attended was in Kansas City, Missouri in 1983. Dr. Frederick Sampson of Detroit, Michigan and Dr. Peter Lord of Titusville, Florida were the main speakers. Dr. Sampson’s eloquence and Dr. Lord’s accent were overshadowed only by the content of their uplifting and magnificent sermons on the Holiness of God. I left the conference pumped and excited about sharing to a lost and dying world the God I had heard described for the last two days.

The worst I ever attended was in a western state that shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. A local pastor of some renown took all of the less than 200 attendees on a long trip to “Guiltsville.” He ‘rassled our spirits down to about shoe top level and then he beat them black and blue, all for the sin of not visiting and witnessing enough on our collective church fields. After almost inducing a catatonic state on all within the sound of his discouraging words he capped off the sermon by laying all the blame for the numeric gains in hell during the previous year, at least from our state, squarely in our lazy and obviously non-evangelistic laps. I vowed silently after that experience to spend more time in the halls and in conversation with friends during those kinds of future meetings.

And here’s the bottom line with all this. We all know that the majority of churches in the SBC are plateaued and not growing. We’re all concerned about this. But the answer for the problem just may not be to have every SBC Church simply duplicate what Dr. Billy Blowhard has done in Houston or Tampa. Hasn’t the good Dr. and his type been blowing hard at these conferences for at least 20 years now?

INSIGHT ALERT! The problem hasn’t gone away, has it?

Could it be that in the annual evangelism conferences we need to hear more about God and less about men and their evangelistic programs? I could care less if the featured speaker’s church is growing numerically or not. The question is - Does he have a word from God for the hour and can he direct our attention toward Him?

But wait, we’ll never know for sure because the only way to get on the program is to have a lot of baptisms which “proves” that you’re a great evangelistic preacher. Don’t expect for this to change anytime soon for the Baptist state leaders are convinced they’re right about this.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Baptist Flip Flop on Christmas

I can't believe my ears this Christmas. A lot of my Baptist friends are upset at Walmart, Kmart and Target for allegedly taking Christmas out of their marketing plans this year because of political correctness. Unbelievable!

I can remember when Baptists were upset at the crass commercialization of Christmas! Now we want to encourage it?

What gives here? Didn't early Baptists downplay Christmas altogether as an adaptation of pagan customs and Roman Catholic tradition? It was Christ mass - remember? And Baptists never did think much of a mass. So how did we get into this mess over Christmas?

Enter Bro. Don Wildmon from Tupelo, Mississippi. Visor down, shield up, and lance pointed, he has instructed us this year "to let them know we are offended by their anti-Christian and anti-Christmas bias." Let's see if I've got this straight. We Baptists and Christians at large are to let the secular retailers know that we don't appreciate them not emphasizing our Savior's birth this year. Since when did secularists ever honor Christ? Just yesteryear we were complaining because they were commercializing Christmas too much and now we're complaning that they're not commercializing it enough!

Ho HO HO - we must really not have much to do if we're supposed to be upset over this.

Anyway when I first heard of this I started thinking about the Christmases of my childhood and how retailers honored Christ then. Here's what I wrote to my two sisters.

My World is Changing and I don't like It.

In the 1950's and 60's on mainstreet USA there was no Walmart, No Target and No Kmart.

You went to the shoestore to buy your shoes, the clothing store to buy your clothes, and JC Penney's if you wanted some bed sheets.

An interesting thing about our small town was that we had at least three stores owned and operated by local Jewish families. They put up Christmas trees in their storefront windows and wished us "Merry Christmas" as they rang up our holiday purchases. We went to school with their children and no one ever mentioned Hanukkah which was fine because none of us Gentile kids would have known what it was anyway.

The Jews minded their own business, mingled socially and educationally with us Gentiles and used our religious holidays to their economic advantage.

And the Baptists in my hometown thought nothing of it.

But it's a different world now.

The Pakastanis and the Indians (the Hindu kind) own and operate the local motels.
The Mexicans own and operate the most popular restaurants.
The Secularists own and operate the big chains.

Muslims have finished fasting for Ramadan.
Afro-Americans are preparing for Kwanza.
There's actually a Star of David hanging over one of the streets.

And I can't get anybody to wish me a "Merry Christmas" anymore at least in a language I can understand. If I don't get some relief soon, I'm gonna boycott somebody!

My oldest sister wrote back.
"In case you haven't noticed Toto, we're not in Kansas any more."

I don't think we're in Baptistland anymore either.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Lasering Lemke - Conclusion

I have no reason to doubt Dr. Lemke's deep concern about the future of the SBC and our churches, because I share many of his concerns. Where I differ is with his analysis and observations of the current problems in the SBC and the implied and traditional solutions he offers along with his predictions and warnings.

That Southern Baptists are divided over certain theological issues is no secret. That the majority of Southern Baptist Churches are plateaued is no secret. That baptisms in the SBC have flatlined in the last four decades is a sobering reality. That Cooperative Program giving percentages are in a downward trend is a seldom publicized fact. That we have serious problems in the SBC is obvious to all who are serious students of Southern Baptist life and history.

Here are the Three Major Areas of Concern in the SBC as I see it.

Distrust of Leadership - As long as the same little group of men (SBC megachurch pastors) cycles through the office of President of the SBC with no possible chance of an 'outsider' ever being elected, we have a problem that is insurmountable by mere rhetoric and more pulpit pounding. Wouldn't you love to attend an SBC annual convention not knowing in advance who was going to be elected president? Haven't we reached that stage of resurgency yet? Furthermore, if these men continue to aggressively attack Calvinism within the SBC it will only breed more distrust and further division.

Decline of Doctrine - Doctrine has been minimized in the churches. So much so that many young SBC Pastors think nothing at all of receiving new members from Pentecostal and other non Baptist denominations without any consideration of re-Baptism. The effect is a watering down of our Baptist distinctives to the point where many members of SBC Churches cannot give a theological reason why they are Southern Baptists. And that's just one tip of this multi-tipped theological iceberg. Don't even ask the average SBC Church member whether he or she thinks christians can lose their salvation. "Once Saved, Always Saved," has become at least a question mark in the minds of many Southern Baptists.

Disappearance of Discipline - Statistically speaking, there is almost no church discipline in the SBC. In our rush to baptize we have neglected the accountability of the congregation to the point where only 40% of all our members ever show up on Sunday. There is no accountability and no discipline and little help from our seminaries and denomination on how to recapture this essential Biblical practice. Instead we compound the problem by insisting that four years olds are 'accountable' enough to be baptized.

Two Observations from the frontlines and the trenches of Southern Baptist life.

1. No longer can the leadership and employees of the SBC expect their comments, decrees and opinions to go unchallenged. The people of the convention have the means by which to respond and responding they are. No longer does it take a week for a letter to reach a state paper or a convention office - email is almost like lightning and is having a electrifying effect on some who are used to hiding behind layers of bureaucracy.

And don't forget blogging. Blogging makes a 'journalist' out of every Southern Baptist with a desire to be heard. Now the question remains, will the leadership respond to or react against this insurgency of the "nobodies" within the SBC? Will it be seen as an important revolution or will it be seen as a threat to the status quo?

2. Lemke is right about Calvinism being a divisive issue. But there's not a Calvinist I know in the SBC who is not concerned about correcting the three major areas of concern I have highlighted above. We are not the Big Bad Wolf who is secretly plotting the demise of the SBC. We have no budget. We have no organization. We have no agenda. And "surprise, surprise," we'd love to see Baptisms increase in the SBC.

The elected and hired leaders of the SBC, the president of Lifeway, and the six presidents of our six theological seminaries and all the State Convention Execs hold the key to the future of this debate within Southern Baptist life. They cannot ignore it because it will not go away. They must engage the issue of Calvinism on a "Let's talk" level or this thing will turn into regional "firefights" and occasional "snipings" which will lead to a widespread conflagration making the disagreement over the CBF look like a kindergarten picnic.

Final thought: Dr. Lemke had an opportunity to be like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike and be a 'fixer' rather than an agitator. If he had just left out the part about the "study of the Founder's Churches" we could all have applauded his efforts.

As it is the "Lemke Paper" may someday be forever enshrined in the "War Museum" of the SBC.