Saturday, May 20, 2017

Was Jesus nothing more than just a good example?
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Earlier this week, Baptist News Global published a column by CHUCK QUEEN, entitled, "Jesus is the gate. But are there others?"

I always find Chuck Queen's columns thought-provoking and enlightening, and this one was no different in that regard. Yet I also felt there was something lacking.

For example, he proclaims that "there is nothing magical about the name of Jesus, or about his words, deeds, death and resurrection." No, there is nothing "magical," but there IS something uniquely powerful and profound about that name. Queen tosses the "name" of Jesus out of his way, in deference to ". . . the virtues he embodied, the values he incarnated, the life he lived full of grace and truth . . . what his life, teachings, works, death and resurrection represents."

But what exactly IS the "name" of Jesus? Emmanuel, the scriptures tell us, meaning "God with us." This is not just another good man, a good example. He is God come to live among us. Jesus didn't just come to give us a good example of a "godly" life; He came so that we might know the Father in the intimate way in which He did. Bringing us into relationship with the Father was the purpose, as well, of His death and resurrection. Those were profoundly purposeful events.

There is much to like, for me anyway, about Queen's column. Personally, I believe that God's grace is much greater than ours. I don't think any of us is qualified to say who's "in" and who's "out" - that's all up to God. Do I believe that long-held orthodox church teachings have interpreted scripture much too narrowly? Most definitely. Can people who have never accepted Christ as God's son be in relationship with God nevertheless? That's God's call, not mine.

I agree with Queen's contention that "Too many Christians have turned their belief system into an idol by which they seek to manage and control God by keeping God in a box." Yet it seems to me that Queen then turns around and does the very same - when he talks of God as love, to the neglect of any other qualities, such as holiness, justice, and righteousness. Has he not confined God within a box of his own making?

What bothers me most is that Queen neglects - in this column, anyway - to mention either relationship with God or dependence on God. I agree with him that how we treat people, especially those in need and those who have been marginalized by others, is critical. I guess you could say I'm a Matthew 25 (verses 31-46) Christian. That's where Christ makes it very clear just what He expects of His followers.

However, if we stop there, we neglect what seems, to me, to be the most important part of Christ's life: His relationship with the Father. Christ's love can never be separated from that relationship. He spent hour upon hour in prayer. His love - and every area of His life - flowed from His relationship with the Father.

That may well be the most important example Christ set for us. Our love - as with our holiness, our justice, and our righteousness - is to flow from our relationship with the Father. Without that relationship, our love will be a profoundly poor reflection of Christ's love. Christ was dependent on the Father working through Him, and so are we.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

SBC power-brokers' problem isn't Russell Moore; it's Jesus!
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Wouldn't you know it? The one SBC national leader I trust, and they want to get rid of him!

After Russell Moore succeeded Richard Land as president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), it didn't take long for me to notice the difference:

  • Russell Moore didn't demonize those who disagreed with him.
  • Russell Moore reached out to those of different faiths.
  • Russell Moore talked about ethical issues other than abortion and homosexuality; oh, he talked about those, but he recognized that Jesus focused most of his ministry on a lot of other things, what Jesus called "weightier matters," such as our treatment of the poor and the stranger.

Then I spoke with Joe Trull, and it began to make sense. Joe - who earned his doctorate in Christian Ethics under T. B. Maston at Southwestern Seminary, and now serves with me on the trustee board of the T. B. Maston Foundation - shared with me that Russell had studied Christian Ethics under Joe's teaching at New Orleans Seminary and asked me to send Russell a copy of Both-And: A Maston Reader.

So I sent Russell a copy, accompanied by a letter explaining my connection to Joe Trull and that I chaired the T. B. Maston Foundation. Shortly afterward, I received a most gracious reply from Russell, thanking me for the book and telling me that T. B. Maston and Joe Trull had been "formative" for him.

In the fall of 2015, I met Russell in person, when I attended - at the gracious invitation of my friend Lloyd Harsch, director of New Orleans Seminary's Institute for Faith and the Public Square - the Institute's symposium on "Baptist Voices on Religious Liberty - Left, Right, and Center."

Russell was among the speakers, in addition to my dear friends Suzii Paynter (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) and Brent Walker (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty).

Russell Moore's perspective on "religious liberty" was different than I was used to hearing from SBC leaders; for example, he spoke of religious liberty applying to ALL people, not just Christians. He even criticized American Christians who complain of "religious persecution," saying flatly that Christians in America are NOT persecuted for their faith, that being made to comply with laws prohibiting businesses from discriminating on the basis of religious views does NOT constitute persecution.

Afterwards, I told Russell, "You made me real uncomfortable today, because I'm not used to agreeing so much with a Southern Baptist!" He laughed.

Don't get me wrong. There are still plenty of things Russell Moore has said with which I disagree. But, as I wrote him in that letter, even when I disagree with him, I respect the thoughtfulness he has given to the issue and the thought process that led to his conclusion. I believe his intent is always the one so often voiced by T. B. Maston: "to walk as Jesus walked."

One complaint I've read about Russell is that his views don't "represent" the majority of the SBC. This tells us a lot about the "new SBC" of the past 30 years. The role of the ERLC's predecessor, the old SBC Christian Life Commission, was to speak TO Baptists, not FOR them. It was never to "represent the majority" but to speak a prophetic word, as the Old Testament prophets had, prodding God's people toward faithfulness. In the 1960s, racial equality was far from the majority view in the SBC, but the CLC beat that drum loudly and persistently.

Today's SBC wants mouthpieces, not prophets.

Russell Moore has rubbed some SBCers the wrong way from the beginning. As I noted earlier, his demeanor is different than Land's, and his issues are broader than Land's, more Jesus than SBC-friendly. There were rumblings against Russell well before 2016 came along; the knives were already being sharpened.

Then last year, many in the Southern Baptist Convention - including leading pastors - fell all over themselves in support of, praise of, laying on hands of, etc., a U.S. presidential candidate who is a serial adulterer . . . is thrice-married . . . brags about sexually assaulting women . . . has mused publicly about dating his own daughter . . . has spent his life serving his own lusts for money, women, and power . . . has spent his life destroying those in need rather than lifting them up (racial discrimination in housing; refusal to pay contractors) . . . has stated that he has NEVER asked God's forgiveness, because he doesn't believe he needs it . . . and demonstrates not even a novice's familiarity with scripture (and even less familiarity with Jesus). And the list could go on ad infinitum.

If you were to start out to build the perfect example of a person doing everything possible to avoid the Way of Christ, I doubt that you would even come close to the man living in the White House today, because it would just seem too far-fetched. But there he is.

This is the man who way too many in the SBC - and evangelicals in general - embraced last year. Russell Moore is one of the few who had the Christian integrity and courage to take them to task for it. And they have had the gall to ask HIM to apologize? For what?

Russell did not endorse a candidate for president; in fact, he has stated that no candidate was acceptable to him, so he didn't vote. What Russell Moore has asked Christians to do is to follow Jesus - and not reject Jesus by supporting everything that He is not.

But SBC leaders - and many of their leading pastors and churches - forsook Jesus long ago. They have forsaken the one who refused Satan's temptations of money and worldly power, and they have made their own deal with the devil.

They now brag of their proximity to power. Jesus refused political power. The church loses its prophetic voice, speaking spiritual truth to power, when it seeks such power itself. It ceases to be the church.

That's why Russell Moore is in trouble - he asked Christians to follow Jesus, so now some of the most powerful SBC churches are using their power to crucify him.

Russell Moore is a godly man, he's a faithful Jesus follower.

I pray for those who want Russell Moore gone. It pains me, as a Christ-follower, to see the destruction they're inflicting on our witness of Christ to the world.

I pray for them to return to the Way of Christ. I pray for God's mercy on their souls.

And I pray God's richest blessings on the ministry of Russell Moore.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When family doesn't want you anymore
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

As I write this, I'm sitting at the back of the room, observing the deliberations of the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

In November, my home church, Wilshire Baptist of Dallas, voted to recognize only one class of members. There would no longer be a second class, members who were automatically deemed unfit for ordination, service, or marriage on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

First Baptist, Austin, had adopted a similar policy two years earlier.

The day after the result of Wilshire's vote was announced, messengers to the BGCT annual meeting voted to consider such churches "outside of harmonious cooperation" and to give responsibility to its Executive Board for applying that label to specific churches.

In a few minutes, the Executive Board will vote to remove Wilshire, First Austin, and Lake Shore Baptist of Waco, which - shortly after the Annual Meeting - adopted a policy similar to that voted by Wilshire.

Some have said this is no big deal, that these churches will easily find new affiliations.

Arriving yesterday for the Ethics and Christian Life Committee meeting - at the gracious invitation of Gus Reyes, Christian Life Commission director - I was greeted as a friend. Later, as I attended the dinner and then entered the Executive Board meeting, I was greeted by friends. We brought each other up-to-date on our families, recent activities, etc., as friends do.

I have a lot of treasured relationships with BGCT staff, Texas Baptist pastors, and involved laypersons, Executive Board members, and so forth. 

My church has relationships with the BGCT and churches throughout the state, relationships that have been nurtured since Wilshire's founding on June 14, 1951 (coincidentally, I was "founded" 3 months earlier to the day, on March 14).

The BGCT isn't just another "affiliation" for Wilshire. It's family.

When I attend a BGCT function, I come representing Texas Baptists Committed, because it's part of my job responsibility to stay informed about what's going on with the BGCT and to network with BGCT staff, pastors, and so forth.

But frankly, it's never felt like work to me. It feels more like fellowshipping with family.

This morning, our family - Wilshire's and mine - will tell us they don't want us in the family anymore. This IS a big deal.

Last night, the chair of the Executive Board - in setting the stage for this morning's vote - made what I thought was an inappropriate endorsement of a contentious motion prior to a vote. He said, "tomorrow we will vote to call sin sin, to refuse to affirm sinful behavior."

No, what you're voting is to place your theology and your church polity above those of other family members. You're saying that our minor theological differences are more important than our partnership in mission efforts throughout the years, more important than the unity of our shared love for, and commitment to, Jesus Christ.

Well, they just had the discussion and vote. Two Executive Board members spoke against the motion. Another asked for clarification of the ramifications for the churches, particularly whether there would be an exception to allow them to give to the annual Hunger Offering. The answer, regrettably, was a resounding NO.

The vote was 63-6 in favor of the motion.

Our family has told us they don't want us anymore.

Wilshire and I love our Texas Baptist universities and seminaries, but we will no longer be able to support them through the BGCT, which now refuses to accept our money.

We love Buckner International, but we will no longer be able to support Buckner through the BGCT, which now refuses to accept our money.

We love the Hunger Offering, which began at Wilshire in the 1990s, originated by the late Phil Strickland, CLC director. Annually, Wilshire is among the largest givers to this offering. But we can no longer give to it, because the BGCT refuses to accept our money.

We love the Christian Life Commission, but we can no longer give to support it, because the BGCT refuses to accept our money.

And I could go on.

We have been sent packing. We will be "adopted" by another family, but we will grieve over lost relationships through the BGCT, and the BGCT will find that it has lost dearly in the immense contributions made by these three churches, and the leadership provided by them.

Family, we love you, and we will miss you. Goodbye.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thankful for Jerry Barnes, who invested himself in my life
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Jerry Barnes passed away this morning.
Jerry was pastor of University Baptist Church in Shawnee when I was a student at Oklahoma Baptist University. He was key in giving me guidance and support during the faith struggle I experienced, which began early in my sophomore year (1970-'71) and lasted well beyond my OBU years.
It was my dear friend Ron Russey, who lived in the room adjoining that of my roommate Cary Wood and me in Brotherhood Dorm, who suggested I go see Jerry. Ron had grown up in Jerry's previous church in Hobart, OK. I'm forever in Ron's debt. Tragically, Ron was killed in the fall of 1979, when his car went off the highway and overturned. One of the greatest losses I've ever experienced. Ron was only 31.
In the spring of 1971, when I went to Jerry Barnes and told him that I no longer believed in God, much less that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, Jerry said, "come join our church."

Can you imagine a pastor welcoming a person who no longer believed but was searching? That's unconditional grace, something far too rare in our churches. That was Jerry Barnes.

Jerry knew that church was exactly where I needed to be. For the remainder of my time at OBU, Jerry met with me once a semester in his office, where I would update him on the progress of my faith struggle/search, and he would help me with the next steps along the way.
I regard Jerry Barnes as second only to my Daddy, Jase Jones, in helping me find my way back to Christ. Jerry's sermons were like nothing I had heard before - they made me dig deep for spiritual truth.
At University Baptist Church, I also had the benefit of a Sunday School class taught by Jim Hurley, the legendary natural science professor at OBU. Under Hurley in that Sunday School class, we studied books such as Vahanian's The Death of God - not your garden-variety Sunday School class - from which I still have some of Hurley's cut-and-paste handouts (back when cut-and-paste meant a pair of scissors, a sheet of paper, and a bottle of Elmer's).

Can you imagine the courage of a pastor who would encourage a teacher like Jim Hurley to help students confront their deepest questions and doubts in such a way? That was Jerry Barnes. 
Jerry's sermons were truly formative - transformative, if truth be told - for me, as were his friendship and wise counsel. A few months ago, at my request, Jerry's wife, Bobby, sent me 20 of Jerry's sermons. I'm currently working on putting those sermons online for a new generation to read. It won't be the same as seeing Jerry deliver them, but I pray that God can use Jerry's printed word to impact lives today, just as He used Jerry's spoken word in my life some 45 years ago.
On September 4 of this past year, our 40th anniversary, my wife Joanna and I drove up to Shawnee and worshipped at University Baptist Church, where we were married 40 years earlier to the day. In our wedding, Daddy performed the ceremony, and our dear friend Jerry Barnes read scripture. Joanna and I stood on the chancel where we had said "I do" 40 years earlier and recalled the events of that day.
I'll be driving up to Miami, Oklahoma, on Monday for Jerry's funeral at the First Presbyterian Church at 2 p.m., paying my respects to Jerry's wonderful family and thanking God that He brought people like Ron Russey, Cary Wood (Ron and Cary, in late-night bull sessions, challenged me to think for myself), and Jerry Barnes into my life when I needed them most.
Thanks be to God for Jerry Barnes.