Monday, December 20, 2010

The Message of Christmas: Then Neither Do I Condemn You

(I originally wrote this for TBC's Baptist Reflections series and published it on December 23, 2008.)

Jesus’ words seemed to accuse the accusers. If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7). So the Pharisees, standing convicted, slunk away, one by one.

But just a minute. Why didn’t Jesus finish what the Pharisees left undone? Why didn’t Jesus carry out the execution of the woman? He would have been fully justified, both by the law and by the standard He had just stated – If any of you is without sin . . . After all, Jesus was the one person on the scene who had no sin of His own.

But He didn’t do it. Then neither do I condemn you, he says. Go now and leave your life of sin.

That may well be the essence of the Christmas message: Then neither do I condemn you.

Did Jesus deny the woman’s sinfulness? No. Did He excuse her sin? No. Did He affirm her sinful lifestyle? No. Quite the contrary. He recognized her sin and challenged her to turn away from it. What do we call that? Redemption.

Jesus chose redemption over condemnation. Earlier in the same gospel, we read, For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:17).

Some have said that we Baptists – and evangelical Christians in general – have, in recent years, become better-known for what we are against than what we are for. To me, though, it seems not so much a matter of “against” vs. “for” as a matter of condemnation vs. redemption.

Sometimes we Christians seem to be more comfortable with the law than with grace. We give the impression that we think we keep the law pretty well and that we like to keep the law handy to “lord it over” those who don’t. That probably sounds harsh, but think about it. If this event happened today, in our own community, would we side with Jesus or the Pharisees? I can’t answer for you, and I’m pretty uncomfortable answering for myself. Frankly, I’m afraid I might wind up on the wrong side of this story.

“Hot-button” Christian leaders denounce selected groups of “sinners” and use them to advance a political agenda. And many Christians have fallen right in line behind them. The result has been a spewing of condemnation and hatred in the holy name of Christ . . . the one who was without sin yet refused to condemn sinners.

Have we forgotten the parable that Jesus told about the Pharisee and the tax collector? (Luke 18: 9-14) The Pharisee prayed in the temple, thanking God that he was so much better than other men – like this tax collector. The tax collector, standing at a distance, prayed a much different prayer – God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Jesus tells us that it was the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Condemnation seeks to destroy and manipulate while puffing oneself up. Redemption seeks to love and restore while confessing one’s own unworthiness.

We Christians like to talk about “hating the sin and loving the sinner,” but this phrase has turned the word “love” upside-down. Christ’s life and example, more than anything else, define “love” for us, and our way of “loving the sinner” often has nothing in common with the love that Christ lived out and exemplified for us.

The message of Christmas is that the holy and righteous God could have condemned us but chose instead to redeem us by sending His Son. Jesus’ first concern was not the sin but the person. His first concern was not to make an example of the sinner but to be an example for the person. His first concern was not the sinner’s past but the person’s future. He saw a humanity struggling to overcome its sinful nature and offered redemption. He saw people who needed His love.

How do we see the people in our community? In our church? In our world? Do we see them in terms of their sin? Or do we see them as people . . . people who Jesus loves enough to redeem? In our everyday interactions with people, do we seek to be redemptive . . . in whatever way that person needs redemption?

Maybe it’s food or shelter for those Jesus described as the “least of these” (Matthew 25: 31-46). Maybe it’s an encouraging word in difficult times. Maybe it’s a listening ear. Or maybe it’s simply acceptance for one whom everyone else has rejected.

This applies to our family relationships, too. Are we so focused on being right or winning an argument that we lose sight of our loved ones and their needs? Might they, too, need a redemptive spirit from us?

So how do we live redemptively? Well, Jesus showed us that redemption must start with a refusal to condemn. Jesus always begins by not condemning and then offers redemption . . . restoration.

Then neither do I condemn you. That, I believe, is the message of Christmas. May it be our message throughout the year, as we share the grace and redemption that only Christ can give.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Texas Baptists Committed - It's You!

The 2010 annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas was historic - as messengers moved from their usual venues to meet in McAllen, in the Rio Grande Valley. Messengers elected three new officers: Victor Rodriguez, president; Jerry Carlisle, first vice president; and Sylvia DeLoach, second vice president. All three will serve our convention well and faithfully.

TBC again did not officially endorse any candidates for BGCT office. Not endorsing, however, does NOT mean that we don't care. Though we didn't endorse, we did provide information about the four officer candidates to enable messengers to make informed decisions.

In the Southern Baptist Convention elections during the 1980s, we learned that elections have consequences. Convention officers - whether national or state - possess appointment authority that can affect the operations of a convention for generations to come. In the SBC, appointments that were made in the 1980s by a succession of Fundamentalist presidents forever changed the SBC landscape and left many of us looking for a new place to send our mission dollars.

Today, the BGCT faces many challenges, some of which were addressed in motions brought before the messengers this week. For instance, the BGCT is challenged to make these annual meetings once again matter to people and churches, as well as to make the convention itself relevant to new generations that don't relate to denominations and conventions in the ways that my generation - and my parents' generation - once did.

But our convention isn't intimidated by these challenges. Randel Everett, BGCT executive director, is boldly leading the convention to actively share the hope of Christ around the world. He has followed TexasHope 2010 with Hope 1:8, which challenges churches and individuals to be personally and actively involved in mission trips.

A few weeks ago, Michael Bell wrote a blog post here in which he said, "Naysayers, critics, negaholics, and detractors, you will have with you always." Amen! The BGCT has them, and TBC has its share as well.

Well, the BGCT isn't going away! Its leaders are working hard to find new ways of meeting the needs of a new day. And God will bless those efforts. What shape will those blessings take? Who knows but God? But God still has a purpose and mission for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

By the same token, TBC isn't going away, either. It's obvious that God still has a purpose and mission for Texas Baptists Committed. We serve a different role than the BGCT - a role of the "lookout" or "watchdog."

Those who stole Baptists' freedom in the SBC - ultimately using extremely narrow and dogmatic interpretations of Scriptures to dictate whom Southern Baptist churches could and could not call as pastor; who could and could not serve as Southern Baptist missionaries; and how members of Southern Baptist churches could and could not interpret certain Scriptures - haven't gone away, either. Nor will they.

In the 1980s, we moderate Baptists were ostriches who lost the Southern Baptist Convention by refusing to pull our heads out of the sand and look around at the irretrievable changes being wrought on the Baptist landscape. In the 1990s, Texas Baptists pulled our heads out of the sand and fought hard to save our state convention from meeting the same fate as the SBC.

Only ostriches would deny the key role that Texas Baptists Committed played in preserving the freedom of the BGCT. Led by David Currie, TBC woke up Texas Baptists, unflaggingly held meetings across the state to inform the members of our churches of what was at stake and encourage them to go to the annual meetings as messengers and vote to preserve our freedom.

But TBC wasn't just David Currie. TBC was people - it was the people that David, his staff, and his Board encouraged to actively engage in Baptist life. To deny the work of TBC is to deny the work of thousands of people who lived out the courage of their convictions in a perilous time for Texas Baptists.

By the time 2000 rolled around, Fundamentalists had largely given up their fight to control the BGCT and had begun their own convention - the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. And many freedom-loving, battle-weary Texas Baptists breathed a sigh of relief and headed back to ostrich country, wanting to believe the battle was over.

So now here we are in another new decade. Will we again wait until it's too late?

Last year, Georgia's state convention disfellowshipped a church in Decatur, Georgia, for calling a woman as pastor. Rest in Peace, local church autonomy!

This fall, the North Carolina CBF (yes, CBF!) is debating whether it should scrap its insistence on the freedom of each individual to interpret Scripture and instead adopt a "Bapto-Catholic" model that stresses creeds (such as The Apostles' Creed) and Scriptural interpretation by the community rather than by the individual. RIP, priesthood of the believer!

And in our own state, it has become apparent that the primary purpose for which the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was formed was to misrepresent the doctrinal positions of the BGCT and lead churches to forsake it for the Fundamentalist state convention. Tragically, they have experienced some success at that, pulling the wool over some churches' eyes and persuading them to leave the BGCT. Tell a lie enough, and people start believing it.

That's where TBC comes in. Rather than burying its head in the sand, TBC keeps an ear to the ground. We make ourselves available to members worried about their churches to contact us and let us know (anonymously, if necessary) what's going on at their churches so that we can provide them with the information and tools needed to protect themselves before it's too late. We stay informed about available pastors, their qualifications, and their integrity, and then provide that information to pastorless churches who request it.

Now is not the time for ostriches; it's the time for lookouts. Remember, Texas Baptists Committed isn't us - it's you!

Friday, October 29, 2010


I appreciate the leadership that President David Lowrie has provided for Texas Baptists over the past two years. As president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), David has been a pleasant surprise to some and a disappointment to others. I’m in the former group. David has been fair and thoughtful in his dealings. Unfortunately, there are those who wanted him to do their bidding and trumpet their displeasure with all things BGCT. But David sought to serve all Texas Baptists, and he deserves our commendation.

I remember at least a couple of private conversations I had with our outgoing president; as always, he was gracious and considerate. David is an unabashed Jesus follower, and I’m glad I’ve gotten the opportunity to know him.

David will preside one more time in McAllen, in just a few days. Of course, we will elect a new president in McAllen. Victor Rodriguez is the only announced candidate for BGCT president. A humble, principled man, Victor pastors a growing congregation in San Antonio, South San Filadelfia Baptist Church. There’s a line in South San Filadelfia’s statement of practice that reveals Victor’s heart. It reads: “As a church, we practice giving to and praying for missions around the world.”

If you made it to San Antonio during the week of June 28-30, you got the opportunity to see Victor lead Convención Hispana de Texas Bautista as president. There were over 3,000 in attendance, and the spirit was one of celebration and genuine fellowship. What a joy it would be to have Victor serve our convention as president.

Like Victor, Jerry Carlisle is a person of integrity. Anybody who has met Jerry knows how caring and attentive he is. A faithful member of the Executive Board of the BGCT, he chairs the Institutional Relations Committee and serves on the Executive Committee. He is also a General Council member of the Baptist World Alliance and a Global Impact Pastor. According to the Baptist Standard, “Under Carlisle’s leadership, First Baptist Church in Plano has helped launch Hispanic, Anglo and western-heritage congregations, and it has been host to Korean and Chin congregations. The church shares its campus with Mission to Unreached Peoples, Plano Children’s Medical Clinic, Chin Baptist Church, and Texas Baptist Church Weekday Education Association.” It’s a good thing for the BGCT that Jerry is willing to serve as first vice president.

Ed Jackson is no stranger to Texas Baptists Committed. We fully appreciate his past financial support of TBC. After his retirement in 1997, Ed served as special assistant to the BGCT executive director. And, for the past year, he has served as first vice president of the BGCT. Now Ed has decided to run for BGCT second vice president.

Sylvia DeLoach has also agreed to be nominated to serve as second vice president. I’ve talked with Ed on occasion, but I’m not personally acquainted with Sylvia. However, there are people in whom I place great trust who know Sylvia and tell me that her commitment to missions is outstanding and will be a valuable asset to the BGCT.

Joy Fenner, former BGCT president and Texas WMU executive director emeritus, says this about Sylvia: “Many of you know Sylvia from her ministry as consultant with national WMU, while others know her as a Missions Innovator who assisted Texas WMU. (A few may even remember her as one of the 'singing Jones girls’ when her father served many Texas churches as music-education director.) Sylvia is a member of First Baptist Church, Richardson, where she is currently involved in multiple facets of missions and ministry; she also serves as chair of the WMU Foundation Board of Trustees. Indeed, she is a capable leader whose skills have been developed through study and experience with both women and men as well as Anglo and multi-cultural congregations large and small.”

Sylvia’s experience and heart for missions are in sync with Texas Baptists’ Hope 1:8 emphasis. I’m convinced that Sylvia’s broad experience in missions – in Texas, nationally, and around the world – is exactly what our convention needs in its leadership right now.

In closing, I’m fully aware that there are those who, without due consideration, presume to delineate parameters for others to abide by, while at the same time violating their own rubric. And I learned long ago that those who routinely miss the beauty of roses because of an overweening obsession with thorns will always have a bone to pick, an axe to grind, or someone to disparage. That’s too bad, but that’s life.

I’m excited about the BGCT McAllen convention, November 8-10. Hope (there goes that word again) to see you there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Another Reason Why We Need TBC

I just received my copy of the Georgia Baptist Heritage Council's final newsletter.  The Baptist Heritage Council was the Mainstream Baptist organization in Georgia.  I'm sorry to see the organization come to an end, but all good things do come to an end in this world.

One-by-one formal Mainstream Baptist organizations have been shutting down as historic Baptist distinctives have lost their appeal to most Baptists in the South.

Principles that were forged while Baptists were an oppressed minority hold little attraction to Baptists who have never known a time when they were not the dominant cultural force within their region of the country.

Ever since the era of civil rights, unrelenting technological advances, shifting demographics and mounting religious and cultural diversity helped attune increasingly disoriented and insecure Southern Baptist ears to the siren song of authoritarian leadership.

Authoritarian Southern Baptists reacted aggressively to counteract an onslaught of what, to them, were unwelcome changes.

Prominent pastors concluded they could redirect social change if they could control their denomination. Evangelists shifted their message from saving souls to saving the culture. Revivals restructured from being spiritual movements and became political movements. Some pastors began assuming responsibility for leading their congregations to exercise dominion over all the civic and political life of their community and nation.

Other Southern Baptists noticed the dramatic changes taking place in their denomination and resisted it. The people in the Baptist Heritage Council of Georgia were among them. They organized to remind Baptists in the South of their historic commitment to liberty of conscience, the priesthood of all believers, congregational autonomy, and the separation of church and state. The more they talked about these historic Baptist principles, however, the more many Southern Baptist pastors felt the need to consolidate their authority. They asserted their control by making both Jesus and the Holy Spirit subordinate to a dogma of biblical inerrancy and by elevating the dogma of pastoral authority above all other doctrines.

Today, ten years after Southern Baptists traded their birthright for an authoritarian creed, a Baptist in the South who remembers what it is like to be a Baptist who is free-in-Christ is a dying breed.

Our children have never known a time when they had reason to be proud of the Baptist name. 

The churches of mainline denominations are full of Baptists recovering from abusive fundamentalist pastors. 

Oblivious to the impact on their congregations that the influence of the new politicized Southern Baptist Convention has wrought on American domestic, foreign, and economic policy since 1979, African-American Baptists have been disinterested bystanders.

There's little room for prophets in Baptist life any more.  Outside of Texas, Pharisees, Saducees, and Herodians own the brand.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Phil Strickland: Where Have All the Prophets Gone? (part 4 of 4)

(Phil Strickland, director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission, wrote this speech for presentation to the TBC Breakfast at the BGCT meeting in Austin, November 14, 2005. Unable to attend because of illness, he asked his friend and pastor George Mason, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, to deliver the speech. Phil passed away on February 11, 2006.)

I was amazed yesterday to meet one of our church’s first-time messengers in the hallway outside the meeting. She was running to and fro, trying to find a way to resolve her anger. She is Iranian by birth and has been in this country only seven years. She is a Christian convert from Islam and is now in seminary. She asked me breathlessly, “Did you see it? Did you see that flag processional? Can you believe they brought the American flag in ahead of the Christian flag and all the other flags of nations after that? And the American flag was higher than the Christian flag. That is idolatry!” She is right, and I am embarrassed that it took someone so new to the faith and to our country and to us Baptists to even notice. She didn’t know whether she needed to bring a resolution or a motion, but since a motion calls for action, I hope we move that that never happen again in a Baptist meeting.
We need more laypeople like that. Mercy, is there any possibility that this prophecy notion might even apply to them? What’s happened to those laity with a prophetic word? What is trumping the laity’s ability to discern the differences between the present culture and the Kingdom of God? Could it be that we are so consumed by consumerism that we have little power to believe or to act? Do we live in this cultural imagination rather than a Kingdom imagination?
Consumerism, the thing that tells us to go shopping to solve all our problems, must be addressed in our churches. The barnacles of consumerism grow on us day after day until our hope of hearing Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God,”  is slim indeed.
Now here I need to start with confession time. The boat is used and the motorcycle is several years old, but I do not lack for toys. This applies to all of us.
And we need to remember that, for many of our Baptist brothers and sisters, consumerism is not the issue. For them, the issue is survival. Like the fellow we met outside the Dixie House where we had just had dinner with our friends Bob and Judy Coleman. He was asking in his wheelchair how to find the nearest homeless shelter. People like these are often invisible to us. We have to intentionally put ourselves in places where we can see them. Prophets have that kind of vision. They see things and people we otherwise do not see, and they tell us about them.
We desperately need a “theology of enough.” We are stewards, not owners, of what we have, at least in Christian teaching. So do we have any walls around what we will spend on ourselves? Do we have any sense of enough for ourselves? That’s where the prophets will emerge.
Ah, but what about one more—denominations. Should they take risks and speak prophetically? Or should they declare that the only real role of the denomination is meeting the needs of the churches who are members of the BGCT? To me, the answer is easy. Meeting the will of churches, vital as it is, comes in behind one other: listening for and meeting the will of God.
What trumps the prophetic role in denominations is fear of financial loss, and the lack of understanding what crosses they are willing to die on, if any. What is so compelling that a denomination will stand there and ignore the consequences? Do we know the answer to that question? The question must be asked of laypeople and pastors and churches.
A half-century ago in this very city some of the brightest lights of Baptists shone in church pulpits. One of the brightest was Blake Smith, pastor of University Baptist Church. One Sunday morning, he stood tall in that pulpit and declared that it was past time that the University of Texas open its doors to all Texas citizens. The time for integration had come. What’s more, he said to his all-white church, the time had come for University Baptist Church to open its doors to all for whom Christ died.
Well, right after the benediction, the predictable took place. An emergency deacons meeting was called for that afternoon. For hours, those men grumbled on about what the preacher had said that morning, about whether he had the right to say those things, about the autonomy of the local church to decide who would and who would not be its members, about whether Blake Smith ought to be their pastor at all. After a long while, the moderator looked to the back of the room, where an old respected judge was sitting quietly. The man said, “Judge, we haven’t heard from you on this matter. What do you think?” The judge rose to his feet and said solemnly, “Well, boys, you know I don’t like what our pastor said this morning any more than any of the rest of you. But I think Jesus liked it a lot.” Motion to adjourn.
Where have all the prophets gone?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jim Denison: Answering God's Call Is Risky

Email in-boxes, just as postal mailboxes, tend to get cluttered with a lot of junk mail. But now and again, a real gem arrives among the clutter. I'm blessed to receive such a treasure in my email every day, Monday through Friday. It's the God Issues daily devotional message, published by Jim Denison, theologian in residence for Texas Baptists and founding president of the Center for Informed Faith.

Jim's Web site describes God Issues as providing "spiritual perspective on life's ultimate questions." Through the years, I've found it to be thought-provoking, insightful, and inspiring. If you're not yet receiving God Issues, I urge you to click here and subscribe.

In my years of active involvement in Texas Baptist life, I've had a lot of encouragers. But Janet and Jim Denison were the first of those encouragers a little over 10 years ago. They are special people in God's Kingdom work - and dear friends in my own life.

During the past week, I've been posting Phil Strickland's 2005 speech, Where Have All the Prophets Gone? As I prepare to post the fourth and final installment of Phil's speech, I find encouragement once again in a familiar voice - that of Jim Denison. In today's God Issues email (also published on his site's home page), Jim writes, "I can't think of a time when God called someone in Scripture to do what was safe." He concludes, "Risk is the price we pay for opportunity. What risk will you take for Jesus today?"

Phil Strickland would agree. God hasn't called us to play it safe; rather, He's called us to be faithful. Prophets are in short supply these days, but there are a few who have answered that call. Phil Strickland was one. George Mason, his pastor who delivered that speech on Phil's behalf, is one, too. And so is Jim Denison. These are people who have dared to speak the truth and challenge God's people, no matter how inconvenient, no matter how much it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, and no matter how much it costs them. Prophethood is risky.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of Phil's speech and his challenge to us.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Phil Strickland: Where Have All the Prophets Gone? (part 3 of 4)

(Phil Strickland, director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission, wrote this speech for presentation to the TBC Breakfast at the BGCT meeting in Austin, November 14, 2005. Unable to attend because of illness, he asked his friend and pastor George Mason, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, to deliver the speech. Phil passed away on February 11, 2006.)

So what is happening to prophetic voices?

What is the juggler that trumps the pastoral voice? Is it lack of courage? Or ambition? Courage and ambition seldom hang out together. Or is it just the desire not to rock any boats?

When John F. Kennedy was in Berlin in 1963 for the birth of the German Peace Corps, he cited a passage from Dante’s Inferno in his speech: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintained their neutrality.” It was actually a liberal paraphrase. What Dante actually singled out were “those disembodied wretches who were loath, when living, to be either blamed or praised.” He said that Heaven cast them out for fear of losing its beauty; and Hell didn’t want them either, lest the wicked should glory over them. (Canto 3.)

Prophecy requires the capacity to grieve about injustice, to quit pretending that things are all right, to imagine that things could be different, and to courageously say so to the people, risking the consequences. It requires confronting the principalities and powers.

For compassion to move to action requires an alliance of love, power, and justice. As Paul Tillich said: “In both interpersonal and political relationships, love, power and justice are inseparable. Without love, power becomes tyrannical and justice is only a name for the rule of the strong. Without power, love is reduced to sentimentality and justice to an impotent ideal. Without justice, love is a perverse dance of domination and submission.”

Always, the prophet must be imaginative. One does not prophesy about what is but about what ought to be. Which usually makes prophecy sound absurd to the common ear.

Let me give you an example. A pastor mentioned to me that he did not like the beginning of our CLC flyer, that it could cause controversy in his church. Here are the words, aptly authored by Joe Haag, so I’ll brag about his work:

“To follow Christ means that we allow his life to gain leverage against our lives. Against our lust for power, he endures the cross. Against our pride and arrogance, he washes the disciples’ feet. Against our upward mobility, he preaches good news to the poor. Against our self-absorption, he has compassion on the multitudes. Against our tight circles of family and friends, he reaches out to strangers. Against our safe noninvolvement, he confronts the powers. Against our violence and hatred, he demands that we love our enemies. Against our self-righteousness, he welcomes sinners. Against our bigotry, he tells us about a Good Samaritan. Against our frenzy, he invites us to trust God. Against all the lies which enslave us, he tells the truth which sets us free. How can we be transformed into the image of Christ? One answer is that as we surrender our lives to God’s purposes, God changes us.”
That pastor did not like the words “our pride and arrogance” or “against our self-absorption.” He said, “I’m not going to say either one of those about America.” Which means what? That he accepts the Lordship of America? Then who will be left to speak a word for the Lordship of Christ?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Phil Strickland: Where Have All the Prophets Gone? (part 2 of 4)

(Phil Strickland, director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission, wrote this speech for presentation to the TBC Breakfast at the BGCT meeting in Austin, November 14, 2005. Unable to attend because of illness, he asked his friend and pastor George Mason, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, to deliver the speech. Phil passed away on February 11, 2006.)
Where have all the prophets gone?
Have they all disappeared? Or is it possible that some of them are around but aren’t doing their job? Is it possible that God is still appointing them, but not many of us want the job? I mean, we know what happened to Jonah, and the belly of a whale doesn’t sound like fun, does it?
Walter Brueggemann is one of our best Old Testament scholars. In books like his wonderful work, The Prophetic Imagination (and Finally Comes the Poet), he doesn’t let us relegate prophecy to biblical times. Prophets are not obsolete, although they seem rather rare these days, despite the great need for them in our churches and in our world.
I want to suggest that pretty much all of us are called to have an element of the prophet in us. Yes, I understand that is not the primary role for many of us, but I’m thinking that being overcrowded with prophets is not our problem right now.
I’m suggesting that for pastors, for example, as we call them to the role of pastor/preacher, we might also want to add the word prophet: pastor/preacher/prophet. Such pastors will value our values and will fight for them. The title of prophet might even apply to laymen or, God forbid, a denomination! These groups, with a little prophetic imagination, could become the cutting edge of the prophetic in our society, rather than the six to eight so-called “prophets” we hear on TV, whose prophetic imagination is limited to Armageddon. The genuine prophets of whom I speak would be ready and willing to confront the principalities and powers, whether they be school boards, city councils, the legislature, Congress, or even our own Baptist institutions.
But seldom do I go to churches and hear preaching that is prophetic or that proclaims a strong sense of biblical ethics. And the brave pastors who want me to preach for them often say a word to me before I go. It goes something like this: “Now, Phil, our church is not really in a place where it can deal with anything controversial.” Which tells me that they don’t want to do anything that involves risk. Which tells me that no prophecy is happening there since prophecy always contains an element of risk!
Back to our $70 billion tax cut currently being considered, funded partially, as I said, with $50 billion being cut from programs that are used for poor children. If the pastor as prophet wanted to point out the injustice of that, how would that go over with some of the members of the church?
Well, I think I can answer that for Phil. They would cry “Politics!” They would suddenly become strict church-state separationists. Of course, what they really are saying is that they don’t want God and government to go together if it’s not their brand of politics. I’ll also tell you that there’s a widespread feeling in many church pews that has to be challenged. People think government is by nature always bad and needs constraining. They think government is lousy at caring for the poor and that that’s really the church’s business. But I can tell you that I have never once seen a line of those folks forming at my door begging for ways to give the church more money to care for the poor or eager to start new ministries that would do it better than the government.
So what is happening to prophetic voices?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A New Low in Texas Baptist Life

Denominational politics among Texas Baptists has reached a new low this year.  In times past, it has not been unusual for innuendoes, distortions, and sometimes vicious rumors to circulate about the character and theology of the candidates who were running for offices in the convention.  This year, however, a candidate for office is openly circulating vile rumors and malicious hearsay  with the clear intention of sullying the reputation of a layperson outside of Texas and not running for office.  

Ed Jackson, a layman from Garland, Texas, and a candidate for second vice-president of the BGCT, has slandered Bob Stephenson, a layman from Norman, Oklahoma, in a comment posted on Ken Coffee’s weblog.  Other persons share equal culpability for re-posting and circulating his slanderous rumor throughout the blogosphere.
Jackson has accused Mr. Stephenson of receiving an illegal kickback from donations he made to First Baptist Church of Norman, OK.  In reality, funds that Stephenson donated to the church were transferred from the church to Oklahoma Baptist University to be used for scholarships.  Jackson’s statements about FBC Norman, therefore, are inaccurate and totally irrelevant in regard to the work of Texas Baptists.
Jackson also alleges that Stephenson is “the MAJOR contributor to TBC.”  Mr. Stephenson’s generosity to Texas Baptists Committed (TBC) has never been a secret, though it is highly unlikely that his donations to TBC amount to more than those of other contributors.  In reality, his contributions to TBC have been miniscule in comparison with his generosity toward numerous other Baptist causes – including the financial safety net that TBC and other mainstream Baptists collected to help transition the SBC missionaries  who refused to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message Statement.
Stephenson takes great pride in whatever small role he has been able to play in assisting TBC to assure that the institutions and agencies of BGCT have held fast to historic Baptist principles and remained free from the domination and control of fundamentalism.  He encourages other free and faithful Baptists to demonstrate their gratitude for the efforts of TBC by donating to support its ongoing work.

Phil Strickland: Where Have All the Prophets Gone? (part 1 of 4)

(Phil Strickland, director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission, wrote this speech for presentation to the TBC Breakfast at the BGCT meeting in Austin, November 14, 2005. Unable to attend because of illness, he asked his friend and pastor George Mason, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, to deliver the speech. Phil passed away on February 11, 2006.)
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various tongues…” (1 Cor. 12:27-29).
Prophets! I thought we got rid of them a long time ago. Actually, I haven’t seen many around lately. Where have all the prophets gone?
You may remember the Pete Seeger song made popular by Peter, Paul, and MaryWhere Have All the Flowers Gone? Well, I think we need new words to that tune. On any given Sunday morning in a Baptist church, there are plenty of flowers in front of the pulpit, but not a prophet to be found behind it.
Where have all the prophets gone?
Lord knows we need them. Consider:
  • One-half of the world is living on $2 a day. But that’s the other half, right? They are used to that.
  • Twenty-five percent of our Texas children are living in poverty. But that’s other people’s children, right? Figure that’s the way God thinks of them?
  • Religious liberty is being lost without our seeming to notice. It’s oozing away through our fingers like a fist full of sand until we open it all too late to discover there is not much of it left in our grasp.
  • And then there’s the dramatic and continuing shift of the world’s wealth away from the poor and the middle class to the largest corporations and the wealthiest people. But not to worry, we can trust them to do the right thing with all that money, right? After all, the marketplace evens everything out in the end. Isn’t that where we can depend upon the “invisible hand” of God to work? Or was that just Adam Smith’s hand?
  • Environmental regulations are disappearing every day. But we are given by God the right to have dominion over all the earth, aren’t we? Well, something like that.
  • And what about another tax cut of $70 billion that will be funded by $50 billion of cuts to children? That proposal will probably be passed by the House this week and is supported by the administration. There will be 300,000 people who will lose food stamps, and another 300,000 will lose access to daycare. The bill cuts Medicaid by $45 billion when we already have 45 million people who have no health insurance. Something tells me that’s not what Jesus meant by “Suffer the little children ….”
Where have all the prophets gone?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dialogue: Just a Pipe Dream?

A blog can be either a monologue or a dialogue. “Monologgers” use their blogs as nothing more than a personal soapbox, just big enough for them – and no one else – to stand on.
Our TBC bloggers are “dialoggers.” Yes, we intend to vigorously promote the historic principles upon which John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, and others based the Baptist movement from its beginning. But even Smyth and Helwys ultimately disagreed on some of the details and wound up going their separate ways. Even in unity, Baptists have dissented – whether directing that dissent at society, the state, or each other. But healthy dissent is based in dialogue. “Dialoggers” spend as much time listening – and hearing – as talking.
We intend this blog to be a dialogue . . . a conversation. We intend our posts to be conversation-starters . . . invitations to genuine, serious-minded dialogue on serious issues . . . issues relating to how our churches and our people can, by staying true to historic Baptist principles, better serve Christ in our communities and our world – a world that is struggling to find hope these days.
DIALOGUE . . . Is it possible in a communications environment that is loaded with information and charged with emotion? There's a lot of shouting on the Web, but serious discussion is hard to come by. Too many people view anyone having differing views as opponents and enemies, and go to any ends necessary to discredit them. Yes, dialogue is difficult. But we must try.
DIALOGUE . . . Is it possible in a Baptist environment that seeks to protect rather than challenge? Many of us have used our faith to build walls around us, and we call it “security.” Difficult questions threaten, like the trumpets at Jericho, to cause the walls to come tumblin’ down. Such questions threaten our relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. Difficult questions threaten the funding of our institutions. But how secure is a faith that is afraid to face those questions? And how faithful are institutions that, for the sake of survival, refuse to face them? And can we ever fully be the presence of Christ if we run from them?
DIALOGUE . . . Christ often made those who followed Him uncomfortable by challenging their security. He also challenged the religious leaders and institutions of His day. How? By asking them difficult questions that required them to reconsider their theology, their ethics, and even their politics. But Christ’s aim was always redemption, not condemnation or destruction. Asking questions to challenge believers and institutions should be aimed at strengthening them and drawing them back to their purpose, NOT at destroying them.
DIALOGUE . . . We seem to shrink from it these days. We either shout at each other or avoid each other. What’s missing is the willingness to honestly challenge each other with mutual respect and understanding . . . to listen to the other person’s perspective and try to understand it (whether or not you're persuaded to agree with it) – just as we expect others to try to understand ours. Jesus said it best: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV)
It takes courage – the courage of Christ – to grow our faith by challenging our own notions and by listening to what others are thinking. It takes courage and integrity to wrestle with difficult questions rather than simply consider all questions settled . . . to challenge ourselves, our friends, and our churches to wrestle with the question of all that is implied in truly being the presence of Christ in our world. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV)
Five years ago, shortly before he passed away, Phil Strickland – director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission – wrote a speech to be presented at the TBC Breakfast at the BGCT annual meeting in Austin. Too ill to attend, Phil asked his dear friend and pastor, George Mason, to deliver the speech on his behalf. In his address, titled "Where Have All the Prophets Gone?," Phil wrote that he believed that "pretty much all of us are called to have the element of the prophet in us." But he told of times that he was asked to preach in churches around the state, and pastors too often warning him to avoid controversy in his sermon. We've heard the same warning – avoid controversy – plenty often at TBC, and we're hearing it now regarding this blog.
During the next week, I'll be posting Phil's speech, "Where Have All the Prophets Gone?," on this blog. It will be broken into parts, to give you an opportunity to digest a little of this rich spiritual food at a time. Please read it prayerfully, and ponder Phil's challenge to us. Then let's talk about it. We at TBC don't think that dialogue is just a pipe dream.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

For the Record

Some wise somebody has said that the formula for steering clear of criticism is to “believe nothing, do nothing, dream nothing, expect nothing, plan nothing, say nothing, support nothing, and think nothing.” If you want to make a redemptive difference, prepare yourself for criticism. Naysayers, critics, negaholics, and detractors, you will have with you always. My high school football coach used to tell us that “anyone who is in the game must be big enough to take the boos as well as the accolades.” There will always be someone nearby who will find something to vilify. And this certainty played a role in our continuing to embrace the Texas Baptists Committed brand.

I invite those who are confused about the “why” of TBC to read the thoughtful posts We Are Texas Baptists Committed and part 4 of Why It’s Good to Be a Baptist These Days. You will immediately note that there is no disparaging of anyone who holds a contrary perspective. TBC is intently about kingdom business. There are too many lost people in the Lone Star State walking about without the hope of Christ for us to get caught up in petty squabbling and infantile quibbling. Getting the word out to those who need to hear that God loves them and wants what is best for them trumps inane bickering and pointless mudslinging 100 percent of the time.

Texas Baptists Committed is going to continue to encourage leadership in the BGCT. No, we have no official slate of candidates. Yes, we do encourage leaders to share their giftedness with the larger body of traditional Baptists. This is nothing new. We all do it in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Texas Baptists Committed is going to continue to be supportive of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and its leadership. TBC has a life wish for the BGCT! Randel Everett and every last one of those outstanding people who work in the Baptist Building deserve our prayers and reassurance! Yes, the BGCT is going through a rough patch right now. But, truth be told, so are other conventions, denominations, churches, and institutions. A pastor friend told me just the other day that he has had to take a 15 percent cut in pay. Does that mean that he is a bad guy? Does that suggest that his church is doing something wrong? Of course not!

Texas Baptists Committed is NOT against pastors and churches that choose to financially support the Southern Baptist Convention. Too many of those who are valued friends of TBC are pastors and leaders of churches that give significant dollars to the SBC. It’s common knowledge that most BGCT churches route financial support to the SBC. TBC is defined by what we are for, not by what we are against.

Several days ago, Bill Jones penned a post titled “Which beliefs are Baptist ‘dealbreakers’?It is obvious that the purpose of the post was to promote meaningful dialogue about those issues that divide or unite us. The writing was so unambiguous that even the most imaginative reader couldn’t misconstrue the intent of the entry. When did frank and candid dialogue become something to be discouraged?

A few years ago, I stood before the BGCT Executive Board and read from Acts 5, where Peter and the other “sent ones” were rounded up and brought before the Sanhedrin, the council of religious leaders in Jerusalem, to be threatened and bullied into silence. And the Record states that Gamaliel stood up in the midst of this tumult and suggested to the council that they not act in haste and risk making martyrs of this band of ragamuffins. He suggested a pragmatic yardstick: Are these men caught up in anything redemptive or is this movement barely a blip on the radar screen? If God is not in it, it will collapse under its own weight. But if God is in it, let’s not be found opposing God Himself.

Maybe Gamaliel was on to something. So I have no response for those who choose to defame, denigrate, or cast stones. They have every right to do what they do best. We at Texas Baptists Committed, however, choose to intently be about kingdom business. I invite you to join us.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why It's Good to Be a Baptist These Days (Part 4 of 4)

The recent renewal of Texas Baptists Committed seems to have caused a bit of angst among some Texas Baptists. Some fear that TBC is back in business in order to establish an oligarchy that will control Texas Baptist life. In my opinion, this angst is unnecessary. In fact, the work of TBC ought to have the opposite effect.

The work of Texas Baptists Committed is to constantly remind Texas Baptists that we are a network of autonomous cooperating churches and not a denomination governed by a powerful few. Texas Baptists Committed helps local churches by providing information and support for Pastor Search Committees who are fearful of being deceived by an authoritarian pastor who would drag their church into Fundamentalist conformity. TBC supports the work of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, because it is through that network that we are able to participate with one another in a variety of ministries without the fear of being under a denominational thumb.

On the other hand, all institutions, including the BGCT, can devolve into a self-preserving bureaucracy that feeds on its constituents and can tend to control rather than serve. Therefore, TBC must be a watchdog, even of the BGCT, to keep us free from denominational control, constantly reminding our institutions of our networking nature as opposed to a denominational structure.

This is not an irrelevant preacher fuss carried on for our political enjoyment. It is a struggle that goes to the heart of how we are going to win our culture to Christ. It is an evangelistic necessity. If we are going to have the ability to speak to a post-denominational world, we must fiercely resist the temptation toward denominationalism. It is not a matter of irrelevant politics. It is a matter of effective evangelism in a changing world. Texas Baptists Committed is needed to continue to remind all Texas Baptists that we are a network of autonomous churches and not a denomination.

The times are indeed a changin’. While in one sense that is disconcerting, in another sense it is very encouraging. Baptists OUGHT to be primed and ready to speak to this changing culture about the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. Well, we will be primed and ready if we can resist the temptation to devolve into a denomination.

Texas Baptists Committed has an evangelistic mission, as it reminds us of who we really are. We are Baptists. Let’s act like it and then change the world.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Why It's Good to Be a Baptist These Days (Part 3 of 4)

As I said in my last post, the networking model of Baptist cooperation should be attractive to a post-modern culture. The problem, however, is that many Baptists have either forgotten or abandoned the model of networking and are trying to mold us into a denomination at the exact moment when denominations are waning. This is the practical problem of Southern Baptist Fundamentalism. I refer to Southern Baptist Fundamentalism as distinct from the old Independent Baptist Fundamentalists, because at least the Independent Fundamentalists tenaciously held onto the autonomy of the local church, even to the extent of often resisting the notion of working with one another at all. Southern Baptist Fundamentalists, on the other hand, want churches to cooperate but only under the condition of denominational conformity. The only way they can enforce conformity is through creeds and councils that draw lines to determine who is qualified to be a member of the denomination.

Therefore, Southern Baptists now have a statement of faith that is no longer an unbinding confession but a creed for doctrinal accountability. Scripture is interpreted for the masses by approved leaders, leaving no room for the Spirit to work differently in the lives of individuals. Members of institutional trustee boards act as a college of cardinals, delving into the personal and private prayer lives of missionaries. Declarations have come from the Southern Baptist hierarchy, concerning everything from the role of women to birth control and to how many children ought to fill the proverbial family quiver. Now power is in the hands of a privileged few, with the result that fewer and fewer are able to fit inside the approved Southern Baptist box.

The point is this: Southern Baptist Fundamentalism is insisting that we are a denomination in what appears to be a post-denominational culture.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Can We Have a Conversation?

A few days ago Bill Jones tried to launch a discussion about issues that are "dealbreakers" in Baptist life.  He got three comments -- one negative, but respectful -- and a disrespectful blog lashing from a blogger more enamored with the Samurai side of his personality than with the spiritual side.

It's apparent that dialogue, conversation and discussion regarding homosexuality is still a "dealbreaker" for some of the fundamentalists among us.

In my humble opinion, if even Al Mohler can acknowledge that science has something to say about this issue and begin to wrestle with it, so can Texas Baptists.

Those with passions too strong to engage in  respectful, civil and mature dialogue about this subject are encouraged to focus their attention on issues they can discuss with a more Christ-like demeanor.

Why It's Good to Be a Baptist These Days (Part 2 of 4)

In part 1 I mentioned that we may be entering a post-denominational age. Well, that ought to be good news for Baptists! Baptists are not a denomination. We are a movement of believers who are suspicious of ecclesiastical authority and creedal fiat. We were post-moderns before anyone knew what that was! Our leader is Jesus, our creed is the Bible, and our community of faith is the local church.

The rest of the world may not understand our polity, insisting that we are indeed a denomination, but real Baptists know better. Baptists have long been suspicious of denominationalism, even to the extent that early Baptists in America were quite reluctant to cooperate even with one another, fearful of diluting the autonomy of the local church.

But many of us, though by no means all of us, eventually put aside our fears so that we could begin cooperating with one another for the sake of missions. Cooperation was based not on creed or council, but on a burning desire to do more together than we could do separately. We designed networks of local churches who would work together, but we emphatically resisted denominationalism and tenaciously held onto the autonomy of the local church.

It seems to me that the networking model of Baptist cooperation is a model that fits post-modern culture. Though we may mourn the possibility that denominationalism is gasping its last breath, Baptists should be well-positioned for our age. After all, we are not a denomination. We who cooperate with one another are a network.

Unfortunately, some Baptists are not comfortable with a network model. I will talk about this in part 3.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why It's Good to Be a Baptist These Days (Part 1 of 4)

“The times they are a changin’.” Maybe you recognize those prophetic words from folk music legend Bob Dylan. He first sang them years ago in the midst of social upheaval, but they are no less true today than they were back in 1964. The times are indeed a changin’.
Now I don’t like that very much. I like things to be stable and secure; I need something to hold onto that will not shift around with every puff of sociological wind. But, as one anonymous wit has quipped, “Other things may come and go, but change is here to stay.”

Change is especially true in the ecclesiastical world. Every time I turn around, some blogger or church life pundit is reminding me that I can’t do church the way we used to. We can’t sing hymns anymore; we have to sing “praise and worship” songs, which is what I thought we were doing when we used to sing Holy, Holy, Holy and To God Be the Glory, Great Things He Hath Done. We can’t have Sunday School; instead, we have to have “Cell Groups.” I am old enough to remember Training Union, but that went out of style a long time ago.

I remember when I was proud to be a Southern Baptist. Now that was something you could count on! I was a regular at Glorieta and Ridgecrest, and I was absolutely convinced that Bold Mission Thrust would indeed bring in the millennium by sharing the Gospel with every person in every country by the year 2000. As far as I knew, there were no Christians other than Southern Baptists and, if the Kingdom was going to prosper, it was up to us.

But alas, as they always do, things changed. Looking back on it now, I see that perhaps there is a silver lining to all of that change. For many of us, the SBC had become something of an idol. Now that we are in exile, it occurs to me that God may have raised up new Babylonians for the purpose of saving some of us from our idolatry.

Things are changing in other communities of faith as well. They say we are now entering into a post-denominational age. It may well be, for all I know. The mainline denominations are losing people faster than they can count, while at the same time pollsters are telling us that people are more spiritual now than ever before. New kinds of Christians are emerging, who have little or no desire to be labeled as a Presbyterian or a Methodist or a Lutheran. They just want to be Christians who meet at the coffee shop or in someone’s home, but they have no interest in participating in a larger body like a denomination.

Denominations have a tendency to stifle individual expression. They are held together by creeds that impose a set of doctrines on members; they are governed by a hierarchy – whether it is a presbytery, a conference, or a synod. For some, decisions that are made by the authorities are perceived as too conservative, as we saw a couple of years ago in the Roman Catholic Church, with the uproar about a papal pronouncement concerning birth control and the spread of AIDS. For others, decisions made by ecclesiastical councils are perceived as too liberal; a case in point is the recent split of Episcopalians over the issue of homosexuality.

But such is the nature of denominations. In a denomination, someone has to have authority to tell the laity what to do and how to think. But we don’t live in that kind of world anymore. In a post-modern culture, people will not let a creed or council tell them what it means to be a Christian. So it may well be that we are entering a post-denominational age.

In my next post I will posit why living in a post-denominational age should be a good thing for Baptists.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Which beliefs are Baptist "dealbreakers"?

In announcing its decision to "discontinue" its relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth explained that it wants to end the distractions caused by "questions concerning the congregation's position on homosexuality." This comes not quite 4 months after the BGCT Executive Board's vote to end the convention's relationship with Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas.

At the annual meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in June, a workshop addressed how churches can be "'the presence of Christ' among persons of same-sex orientation." From the reports I've read, this workshop could well be a good starting point for a frank and constructive discussion of what is really the critical question that these issues pose to the BGCT: What are the fundamentals of our faith?

What are the convictions that we hold, as Baptists, to be critical to calling yourself a Christian and, ultimately, a Baptist? That is, those essentials over which a church cannot disagree and continue to be in "fellowship" with the larger body. Or, in today's vernacular, "dealbreakers."

For some, calling a woman as pastor is a dealbreaker. When I was growing up, "use of intoxicating beverages" was a dealbreaker, prominently featured as such in the Church Covenant at the back of the Baptist Hymnal. Now? Not so much.

But back to Broadway and Royal Lane. Even those who agree that homosexual behavior is sinful disagree over whether practicing homosexuals should be permitted to serve in leadership positions. Is our position on these issues a fundamental of our faith, a dividing line that should break our fellowship, a dealbreaker?

Broadway's decision to leave simply tables the issue until it arises in the next church, and the BGCT will again have to deal with it. Whether you agree or disagree with Broadway's position, the BGCT needs churches like Broadway and Royal Lane to challenge us to discuss the hard issues . . . instead of sweeping them and their issues under the rug, we need to sweep them into a conversation that will challenge us to grapple with scripture passages whose meaning and intent depend on historical context, the audience at which they were aimed, nuances of language, and numerous other factors.

There are a few "dealbreakers" on which I suspect there would be little, if any, disagreement among Baptists: the sinfulness of humankind; the divinity of Christ; salvation by grace through faith in Christ; and believer's baptism, to name a few. But just how long is this list? And where do the treasured Baptist principles of priesthood of the believer, soul competency, and local church autonomy take over? For that matter, as Texas Baptists, don't we consider these Baptist distinctives themselves as fundamental to the integrity of our faith . . . dealbreakers, if you will?

This conversation needs to take place beyond the few who populate the BGCT Executive Board. It needs to take place among our churches and among those of us who fill Texas Baptist pews each Sunday. So I'll put this question to you:

What are and aren't Baptist "dealbreakers"? (and why?)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Looking Out" for Texas Baptists (Part 2)

In my previous post, I stressed the importance of each Texas Baptist being a "lookout standing on the watchtower" (Isaiah 21:8). But I didn't tell you how to do that.

Well, Marv Knox, editor of the Baptist Standard, has just given us an example that's helpful and instructive. A few days ago, Marv published an interview with Kenneth Starr, whom Baylor University will inaugurate as its 14th president this Friday.

As president of a university supported, in part, by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Kenneth Starr will be accountable not only to the regents who elected him but to all Texas Baptists. Marv's first question drives this point home. After pointing out that the BGCT is still responsible for electing 25 percent of Baylor regents, Marv asks Starr for his "ideal for the relationship between Baylor and the BGCT" and about his plans for "strengthening and maintaining that relationship."
  • Starr replies that Baylor plans to "work collaboratively" with the BGCT in "areas of mutual interest and concern."
  • He also points out that "many of our students–69 percent–come from non-Baptist backgrounds" but then cites this as an "opportunity . . . to educate everyone . . . as to the vibrancy of Baptist life."
Throughout the interview, Marv asks questions that, no doubt, many Baptists have pondered since the Baylor regents announced Starr's election as president. Among others, these questions include the following issues:
  • Impact, on "the future of Baylor and . . . its religious identity," of having – for the first time – a president who has no background as a Baptist
  • Strengths, weaknesses, and "most important goals" of Baylor 2012 – the 10-year master plan implemented by Robert Sloan – and whether it is possible to integrate "faith and intellectual excellence" at Baylor
  • Relationship between Baylor's administration and the Baylor Alumni Association
  • Starr's political background and how Starr will encourage political, philosophical, and theological diversity
    • Through campus culture
    • Through administrative actions
    • Through faculty appointments
For many Texas Baptists, the most encouraging part of the interview may well be Starr's apparent understanding – and even embrace – of various aspects of Baptist heritage:
Now it is up to Texas Baptists to be lookouts . . . to see whether Starr's actions match his words.

Click here to read the full interview.

Though few have the forum that Marv Knox has at the Baptist Standard, all of us need to use whatever forum we have – whether it be that of a church member, Sunday School class member, committee member, or whatever your role(s) may be (even that of a blogger). We need to ask the key questions. We need to put pastors, university and institution presidents, convention staff, and other Baptist leaders to the test and remind them that they are representing us . . . remind them that, as Baptists, we expect their leadership to reflect our Baptist heritage and principles.

In summary, we need to hold our leaders and other fellow Baptists accountable. It's not easy. Sometimes you may feel alone. That's why Texas Baptists Committed exists – to encourage each other, to remind each other that we're not alone. We're all partners in this cause of ensuring that Texas Baptists stay free in Christ as God intended us to be. We are all lookouts standing on the watchtower.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Looking Out" for Texas Baptists (Part 1)

Texas Baptists Committed has been called a "watchdog." That’s a great metaphor; unfortunately, our critics have often turned it upside-down and portrayed TBC negatively as an attack dog. But that's not the Texas Baptists Committed I've come to know through the years.

None of the people I've met who make up Texas Baptists Committed – both leaders and supporters – have been "attack dogs"; rather, they are Baptist Christians who have committed themselves to a common cause – the cause of keeping Baptists truly Baptist . . . keeping Baptists committed to historic Baptist principles . . . keeping Baptists free in Christ as God intended.

So I prefer another metaphor – that of the "lookout." In Isaiah 21:8 (NIV), we read, "And the lookout shouted, 'Day after day, my lord, I stand on the watchtower; every night I stay at my post.'"

Texas Baptists Committed stands in the role of this one described by Isaiah: the lookout . . . the one who stays at the assigned post, day after day, night after night . . . the one whose role isn't to attack but to report any threats and – by so doing – enable the city to protect itself against those threats.

Texas Baptists Committed is the lookout – ever reminding Texas Baptists of the foundational principles that have undergirded the Baptist movement since its beginning in the 17th century and keeping them informed of the latest threats to the preservation of those principles.

Have we slipped into attack mode at times? Perhaps . . . after all, we're only human. But attacking has been the exception, not the rule.

TBC goes where the people are – in the local church – and equips them with the information they need to keep their churches free . . . their Baptist universities free . . . and countless other Texas Baptist ministries and institutions free.

And that's why we've begun this blog – as one more way of carrying out this mission to equip and inform Texas Baptists. But we can't do it alone. If you are committed to TBC’s mission, we need you to get involved. Please share this blog with friends in your church, with your pastor and other leaders, so that they can stay informed and equipped as well. By doing this, you could be starting a valuable conversation in your church.

We've made it easy for you. Beneath every post are buttons that enable you to share it via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. Keep informed of new posts and comments by clicking the Subscribe to buttons (up and to your right) to add TBC posts and comments to your RSS feed.

The "lookout standing on the watchtower" is of no use unless the citizens are keeping vigil, too, and are diligently passing along the news to others. Truly, we need all of you to join us as "lookouts."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Is Your Church Looking for a New Pastor?

Then help is just one phone call or click away!

Your pastor search committee's first call should be to the Pastorless Church Team of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. You can reach Karl Fickling, Director, by calling him at 214-887-5491 or by clicking here to email him. This team is anxious to provide your church with the resources you need as you approach the critical choice of the person to lead your church as pastor.

Also, you will find - on the TBC Web site - links to information that is essential to helping your committee and church navigate the process of finding and calling a new pastor.

These links are provided on two pages on our Web site:

  • Articles - in printable PDF format - contained in the Help for Pastor Search Committees packet that we have provided to pastorless churches for many years 
Your church and pastor search committee will find these articles to be helpful and informative. For links to these resources, click here.
  • Links to resources provided on the Web site of the Baptist General Convention of Texas
These include essential resources such as questions that your committee needs to ask prospective pastors, as well as sample documents related to the search process. For links to these resources, click here.
You are free to copy any of these materials (from both TBC and the BGCT) for the use of your committee. Permission is not given, however - by either Texas Baptists Committed or the BGCT - to reproduce any portion of these materials for sale.

We also recommend that you go directly to the Texas Baptist Pastorless Churches Web page for additional information and resources regarding the following:
  • Initial Assistance
    • Initial consultation
    • Referrals to supply preachers and trained traditional interim pastors
  • Intentional Interim Ministry
  • Training for Pastor Search Committees
  • Finding Candidates
    • Leader Connect résumé-matching service
  • Job Descriptions (English/Español) for a variety of ministry staff positions
Again, if your church is without a pastor, we strongly recommend that you immediately call Karl Fickling at 214-887-5491 or click here to email him. He and his Pastorless Church Team are anxious to provide you with any help that you need. All you have to do is ask.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

We Are Texas Baptists Committed

We are Texas Baptists Committed! Our purpose is to promote a Baptist vision built upon the historic Baptist principles of religious liberty, cooperative missional involvement, and biblical justice.
  • We serve as a resource for local churches by assisting them in educating their congregations concerning historical and current issues pertaining to Baptists.
  • We support pastorless churches as they search for a new pastor.
  • We work to promote the ministries of Baptist organizations through education and the denominational process.
  • We work through seminary and university networks that support the organization's stated purpose and mission.
  • We maintain an online presence that offers helpful resources:
    • Schedule of events
    • Electronic community comprising blogs and social networks
    • Articles addressing current issues
    • Regular distribution of an electronic newsletter (coming soon)
Texas Baptists Committed is leading the way in all things Baptist! We have been working with the collegiate department of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) to educate and encourage young leaders about historic Baptist principles; because of our work, new materials are being produced for collegiate ministries on campuses across Texas.

We have been supporting and helping local congregations who are without a pastor. We have produced various resources for search committees and worked with churches to help them to find pastors who will affirm and strengthen their Baptist identity.

We have updated our Web site and brought a diversity of new members onto our Board of Directors. Texas Baptists Committed is moving forward to encourage and empower all Texas Baptists.

Moved by a deep sense of biblical justice, we are helping to promote and support the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger, TexasHope 2010, and the work of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission. Texas Baptists are a missional people, and Texas Baptists Committed is working diligently to support and educate congregations concerning the mission endeavors of the BGCT.

We cannot do any of this alone. We need your prayers, your support, and your help. Together, we will ensure the continued strength of Texas Baptists for generations to come.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2010 Annual Meeting of Texas Baptists

As former presidents of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, we know well the important work that goes on each year at the Annual Meeting. This year will be no different as several key matters will come before the messengers.  The 2011 Budget as well as membership of every committee and of institutional boards will be determined by vote of messengers present in McAllen.

Because the Annual Meeting is in a place where it has never been, we decided to write to encourage traditional Baptists to be a part of “Spreading Hope” in McAllen, November 8-9.

Meeting in the Valley provides a great opportunity to meet new friends, build new bridges, and develop new partnerships for missions.

You can learn more about the Annual Meeting by going to

We encourage you to register as a messenger through your church and plan to join us in McAllen.

Moreover, we ask you to ensure that your church sends its full complement of messengers. We are concerned that there may be a lower turnout this year due to the location. We are hopeful you will take up the challenge of making this a great convention year by coming and bringing others with you.

Michael Bell
Joy Fenner
Clyde Glazener
Ken Hall
Phil Lineberger
Albert Reyes

Classic Baptists on Conscience

Louis Mauldin, in his book The Classic Baptist Heritage of Personal Truth, provides a valuable summary of the understandings of conscience among the earliest Baptists:

General and Particular Baptists disagree over the impact of sin upon the natural conscience, which is comprised of reason, the will, and communication. General Baptists see conscience as marred by sin, though operative, while Particular Baptists think it virtually destroyed. They both agree, however, that redemption brings a new conscience and with it a sanctified reason. The redeemed obtain an "inlightened conscience, carrying a more bright and lively stamp of the kingly place and power of the Lord Jesus." In an enlightened conscience, all English Baptists aver, the trinity does not set aside the norms of the "reasonable soule" by superseding the faculties thereof. On the contrary, God the Spirit approves "every truth to the understanding," moving at all times "without violence, with a rational force," respecting standards of reasonableness. God the Son, clears the truth and leaves "naked the errors." And, God the Father "would have every man fully persuaded in his owne mind."
This paragraph is but one small detail in a masterful exposition of the thoroughly trinitarian and personal understanding of truth that prevailed among early Baptists.

Mauldin's book is essential reading for anyone who cares to understand the difference between the thought of early Baptists as opposed to the theology of rationalists and presuppositionalists like Carl Henry, Al Mohler, and the numerous Baptist disciples of Francis Schaeffer.

Cross posted from the Mainstream Baptist weblog.

The Classic Baptist Heritage Of Personal Truth: The Truth As It Is In Jesus