Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Two reasons I question the Traditional Statement and attendant counter-Calvinistic reactionary movement

A niche in Southern Baptist life is now comfortably occupied by Connect 316, a group with a modest public following who seem to unite mainly as a counter-reactionary movement to the revival of Calvinism, New Calvinism, in the SBC.

The group acquired a popular website, the peripatetic SBC Today that has wandered through a number of different owners and controllers. I find some of the articles and some of the authors on SBCToday informative and helpful.

The outfit has a well-attended meeting, some 200 or so, at the SBC annual meeting, and now gives an award named for a leading SBC figure. The first "Jerry Vines Award for the Promotion of the Whosoever Will Doctrine in Southern Baptist Life" was awarded to...Jerry Vines. Nothing wrong with that other than the rather long and unwieldy name. Must be a large award to squeeze that mouthful in.

Perhaps the Calvinists will take a cue and award a "Johannes Calvinus Award for 'You're-going to Hell-and-there's-not-a-doggone-thing-you-can-do-about-it." Maybe not.

I more closely identify with the theology of the 316 folks and like many of their goals, though I haven't signed and do not intend to affix my cyber-signature to the Traditional Statement, as have about 1,000 others.

I have interacted for years with Rick Patrick who is the Executive Director of the 316 group. I have a lot of respect for him.

All that said, I have a couple of reasons to question the group and the Statement. One is serious. One is quirky. In reverse order...

1. I dislike the group's hijacking of Adrian Roger's a a foil to popularity and acceptance.

Here's how the Connect 316's website puts it:
Connect 316 is a ministry fellowship rooted in the Hobbs-Rogers theological tradition. 
Elsewhere, and incessantly by some 316 leadership, one finds "Hobbesian-Rogerian" as a descriptor or identifier of a theological strain in SBC life.

Adrian Rogers was in my view head and shoulders above all leaders of the Conservative Resurgence. No one else came close. The CR would have failed without him. He has been dead almost a decade. I'm not sure if he would approve of his name being used so casually by those who would define sub-groups in SBC life.

Maybe the 316 folks have approval from his family. I don't know. Perhaps they feel that Rogers being a leader on the Baptist Faith and Message Statement revision and adoption of 2000 is sufficient historical connection to use his name.

Maybe it just looks to me like the 316 folks are capitalizing on the name recognition and Roger's popularity to promote their orgainzation in SBC life.

2. I dislike the idea that SBC leaders and trustees may be chosen on the basis of whether or not they have signed, not the Baptist Faith and Message but the Traditional Statement.

I would object, for example, a state convention is in a mode where a new Executive Director is to be hired and the search committee and trustees agree among themselves that unless a man has signed the Traditional Statement, he will not be considered for the job. I would have the same objection for other theological sub-groups in Southern Baptist life. I am unaware of any sub-group other than the 316 group that has a formal, approved theological statement to be signed.

I can visualize this happening, not in public where we can all see it but in private among the controlling oligarchy of a certain state or among a sub-group of influential trustees of a given SBC or state entity.

If the BFM is insufficient, then state conventions, associations, and entity trustee boards that have formally adopted it as their doctrinal statement ought to adopt one they like. If they like the Traditional Statement or one of the historic confessions, then publicly say so. Don't do in secret what ought to be the most public thing we do: say what we believe.

A healthy, public exchange among us is a good thing. I like the 316 group for that. I am comfortable with differing opinions on various secondary theological issues in SBC life. We've always had them. I recognize that there is always tension among us over who's people get the top jobs and who wields power and influence at a given time. That's the SBC today and every other day.

I don't like the idea of a bright line that divides us. Connect 316 is looking more and more like a bright line group.

Whether or not that or similar groups endure or shrivel up and disappear, I doubt I will live long enough to see.

A traditionalist friend said to me last year that he thought I was on board against the strain of Calvinism that is rife in the SBC these days. Well, I am on board against rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth Calvinists that blow up churches, act more Presbyterian than Baptist, and that live as if certain Calvinistic writers are more inspired than Scripture. Other Calvinists, the most of them, I like.

It may be that a formal organization like the 316 group is a necessary route to achieving a modicum of balance and unity in the SBC. I don't see that it is necessary at this stage, maybe never. If we start to see people proposed for office and/or leadership positions in the SBC on the basis of their signing the Traditional Statement, and I already see some of this, then I think our declining denomination is in for some additional grief.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Your work, pastor, as an agent of the state

" the authority vested in me as a Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
and the laws of this state..."

Thus, thousands of Southern Baptist clergy complete a marriage ceremony by some fashion or wording invoking the authority granted them by the government, the state.

How are you feeling about that now, brethren?

I've done only a few dozen weddings and seems like I came to the place where I would leave out the business about the state. I would, nonetheless, sign the state's marriage form and duly return it to the court house.

Known to all except those holed up in a cave, sans cellphone, is the recent Supreme Court ruling that expanded, nationwide, the right of a state-recognized marriage to include same sex couples.

So, how is it that those who believe marriage has been, is, and always should be between a man and a woman would continue to serve as an agent of the government in this business of marriage? Even if the minister officiates at a wedding he deems acceptable on the basis that the couple before him is a man and a woman, should he act in the role of the state's agent in doing so?

Some ministers have separated themselves from signing the marriage forms of the state for some time. There is a movement that asks ministers to pledge to separate civil marriage from Christian marriage. Some religious traditions already maintain that separation.

Southern Baptists generally handle both in their churches and through their ordained clergy. Have the ceremony. Sign the license. Let the wedding photographer take a photo of the distinguished, berobed minister, affixing his John Henry to the paper. Boom. It's done (so long as someone gets the paper back to the proper office to be recorded).

I'm just asking a question here. Why would SBC clergy who almost universally condemn the recent SCOTUS decision, even think about participating in this system. We don't have to. The state isn't going to compel the minister to perform a ceremony or sign any state document.

So why would we?

Tradition. Convenience to those being married. Simple one-step process, a single ceremony fixes the marriage (at least for a while) both in the "eyes of God" and "according to the laws of this state."

Our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage which one can sign (up to July 3rd, so says the website) but that says nothing about being an agent of the government in marrying people.

Ed Stetzer, our statistical sage, opines that more Christians will take the route of opting out of "government-sanctioned" by which I assumes he means that clergy will opt out but couples will still obtain the necessary licenses and execute them properly without the preacher's help. Stetzer has no figures on the opt-out, the matter hasn't been surveyed I presume, but I'd guess that very few SBC clergy have such a personal policy.

I'm not sure what is the best course for the minister. I recently learned that a lay friend was asked to perform a wedding. He sent off for some online minister credentials and did it. One would have to say that (a) it isn't the state's business to judge who is an authentic minister and who is not, but also (b) wholesale credentialing devalues the whole lot of us. This makes me want to at least maintain that no sham minister can perform a wedding in my church whether or not the state recognizes the novelty ordination.

One strange thing about the ministerial marriage license opt-out is the odd group of religious traditions it brings together. Protestant and Catholic. Liberal and conservative. All find reasons that this is attractive to them.

Most SBC clergy already have a hybrid system for officiating weddings. I don't know a single pastor-colleague who doesn't have some personal policy about divorce. Some will not perform weddings involving divorced people. Some will perform any wedding regardless of divorce. Some take each divorce case and evaluate it by his personal standards after which he tells the couple 'yea' or 'nay' on officiating. The fact that the state recognized the divorce is not relevant. Makes us sound so Roman Catholic, doesn't it.

So, Where do my ministerial colleagues stand on this?  w

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Covered Dish Church Calamity

As a pastor of average-sized Southern Baptist churches, sometimes above and sometimes below, I always enjoyed the routine of fellowships, after worship finger food, Wednesday evening meals, VBS snacks, class socials and any other occasion where folks showed up and shared food.

I figure an average of twice a month for thirty years, probably more. Gazillions of calories (but I would have eaten anyway, right?), countless hours in casual conversation with church folks and their families and some guests.

This is retail pastoring, an informal setting where the pastor can get to know people, have casual conversations, and build relationships.

It is also pretty good eating.

In all these years I am aware of just once where a bad dish made a number of people sick. One homecoming recently the guest preacher and many others had a nasty intestinal sort of thing shortly after the meal.

"Oops, sorry about that brother. Glad you're better."

To this day, I don't think anyone knows what dish caused it. Maybe someone's deviled eggs. Maybe someone's potato salad. Perhaps someone's home-canned botulism ridden beans. I have no idea. We don't operate under health department rules or inspections.

It's a wonder this doesn't happen more often.

Baptist Press has an article on food safety and potluck suppers: Sickness at potluck highlights food safety.  A lady died from one such event in Ohio.

I don't argue with anything the article says about food safety. It's just that for  every potluck I've ever attended, we were at the mercy of Aunt Thelma, Miss Bertie Mae, and Billy Bob with his speshul bbq. We all understand. Shut up and eat.

While visiting in the home of a wonderful, faithful eighty-something church member, I asked how she made her biscuits so tasty. With a twinkle in her eye she pulled a big can of lard (look it up whippersnapper), opened it up and said, "Preacher, I just take my hand like this and scoop out enough 'til I think the dough looks right."

Sorry I asked. But they were mighty good.

One church made a big stew that took all day Saturday and from early morning to eatin' time on Sunday. Had a small screen structure just for the hash making. It was always very clean and the stew very good though with almost lethal cholesterol content. The hash didn't have a food label, so no one knows what was in it, how many calories, or what lipid levels or other stuff that would make nutritionists scream in terror. It was mighty good also.

You bet. Wash your hands often. I'm a true believer in hand sanitizer (especially on hospital visits). But the old covered dish supper is worth the risk. I'd advise my younger, goateed, shirttail flapping colleagues to just go and eat. And don't be asking for vegan cheese, tempeh, or chia. If you bring sushi, expect to be fired.