IMB Trustee Reflections…

Tuesday morning I flew from DFW to Kansas City to attend the last meeting of the IMB Boart of Trustees before the SBC Annual Meeting in San Antonio next month. I arrived in Kansas City shortly before noon, then met trustees Rick Thompson and Wade Burleson in the lobby of the Hilton Airport Hotel for lunch.

While Wade and I were waiting for Rick Thompson to get out of his committee meeting, we had the privilege to visit with a few new career missionary appointees, a few of whom have been following blogs and were interested to pull us aside and talk about the tongues/baptism policies or their thoughts on the convention in general. A few of them shared their concerns about Southwestern Seminary and the direction the school has taken under Paige Patterson’s administration.

We also had the time to meet former IMB Chairman Tom Hatley’s wife, who was both pleasant and courteous, and I showed her the picture I snapped of her husband’s Criswell College graduation photo while wandering the halls of the Dallas school during a recent power outage.

“You need to get a life,” she said with a chuckle.

“You ain’t lyin,” I responded. “But what else are you supposed to do when the power goes out?”

I also showed her a picture I snapped of a darkened stairwell in the Criswell College chapel where Mrs. Betty Criswell’s portrait sat on the floor, face to the wall. I turned the picture around, and captured an interesting piece of memorabilia: Betty Criswell’s picture tucked in a dark corner, on the floor, and turned around in the school founded and named for her husband, the late W.A. Criswell.

After lunch at Mimi’s Cafe near the Kansas City Airport, Wade and I travelled to the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to pay an impromptu visit to the school’s president, Phil Roberts. A young, attractive receptionist walked to the president’s office to announce our presence, and returned shortly thereafter to inform us that President Roberts was “all booked up” for the day and would be unable to greet us personally.

Wade and I walked out, and laughed to ourselves about the possible scenarios that played out the moment our names were mentioned somewhere in the back office of the administration building. We drove around campus, then made our way to the old president’s home and visited briefly with a groundskeeper, who provided us with helpful information and direction.

From there, we travelled to the Eastern side of Kansas City to visit the birthplace and presidential library and museum for President Harry S. Truman, whose birthday we discovered was the same day as our visit. Being the president’s birthday, there was a lovely spray of flowers placed at the foot of Truman’s grave that caught Wade’s attention, and we stopped briefly to take a picture of Wade Burleson with President Truman.

While walking through the Truman Museum, I thought about the parallel between the presidency of Harry Truman and that of Frank Page. Truman was left with the unenviable task of transforming a wartime machine that had been developed of necessity to get the country through the Second World War. When VJ day came, the nation had to quickly divert its attention from foreign battles to rebuilding the country’s economy. Munitions plants needed to be converted for other industrial purposes, and the nation’s morale needed to be channeled to more productive ends than victory celebrations.

The country needed ticker-tape parades, but the parades had to end and the people had to go back to work else the country lose its founding vision. Along the way, Truman saw his popularity plummet for the termination of General Douglas MacArthur, who wanted to keep fighting the war into China, and he had to implement the Marshall Plan for European recovery.

The Southern Baptist Convention needs to convert its war machine. The resurgence is over. The generals of the denominational Holy War who try to lead our convention into fruitless battles over doctrinal adiaphora must be relieved of their command, as painful as it may be.

Frank Page has arisen at a felicitous moment in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. When his presidency has concluded, he may not be the most popular president of the post-resurgence convention, but history will vindicate him just as it has Truman. Plain speech, moral courage, and resolve will be the keys to Frank Page’s success as convention president. If he fails to seize this moment to refocus our convention, we will all have to deal with the fallout.

During our visit to Independence, MO, Wade and I paid a visit to the giant nautilus-shaped temple of the Reorganized Latter Day Saints, also known as the Community of Christ. I had previously toured the temple during the 2002 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, but Wade had not seen the place so we asked for an abbreviated tour, which was provided by a delightfully kind gentleman named Ray Huggett, who serves as a High-Priest and an Evangelist for the Community.

Evangelist Huggett talked openly with us about the areas of agreement and disagreement between the Reorganized Latter Day Saints and the Mormons of Utah. He also parsed for us the differences he perceived between the RLDS and Southern Baptists.

After we got back to Wade’s car, I came up with the idea to give a copy of the IMB baptism policy to Evangelist Ray Huggett and ask for his interpretation. Wade and I bounded back into the temple, policy in hand, and shared it with Evangelist Huggett, who after careful consideration determined that it perfectly modeled the policy regarding baptism that the Reorganized Latter Day Saints impose upon their missionary candidates.

In other words, they do not accept “alien immersion,” and require the “re-baptism” of all persons wishing to identify with them.

During the debate on the baptism policy, interestingly enough, Chairman Paul Chitwood explained that the committee found a link between baptismal authority and eternal security in Article VII of the Baptist Faith and Message, which reads, in part that baptism “is a testimony to . . . faith in the final resurrection of the dead.”

Chitwood concluded that it was unlikely for a person to be able to testify concerning the “final resurrection of the dead” if they did not believe in eternal security. As he explained his rationale, I had to laugh. Not only do most Arminians believe in the final resurrection of the dead, but Jacobius Arminius himself was quite clear about the doctrine.  Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Pentecostals will all readily affirm the Apostle’s Creed, though each allows for some degree of “falling from grace.”  The final paragraph of the creed states:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
 the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

I’m guessing Rev. Chitwood forgot that itty bitty bit of church history.

The possibility that one can lose his salvation has nothing to do with his belief in the final resurrection. They are apples and oranges, Rev. Chitwood. The belief of a missionary candidate that his salvation is eternally secure has nothing to do with the doctrinal statement of the church baptizing him as it regards eternal security.

In other words, nobody is suggesting we should send Sadducees as Southern Baptist missionaries. To locate in Article VII an argument for the IMB baptism policy is about as possible as locating a similar rationale in the Book of Mormon. In fact, you’d have better luck finding it there, according to Evangelist Ray Huggett of Independence, MO.

Nevertheless, the policies were reduced to guidelines, and we all regroup to head to San Antonio.

I hope John Floyd is getting his thoughts together for the IMB report to convention messengers. I might have a few questions that I’d like to ask him. Either that, or I’ll get Bill Dodson to ask them. :)

Roman Baptist Convention???

Continuing the train of thought from our previous post

One of the most illuminating histories of the High Middle Ages is the work by the famed Churchill biographer William Manchester, whose book, A World Lit Only By Fire, chronicles the magisterial excesses and abuses that first ignited the reforming passions in Germany and Eastern Europe. In his book, Manchester explores the toll that papal immorality, opulence, graft, and nepotism exacted on the confidence the people had in the Church.

A survey of the Medieval Church is worthwhile in its own rite, not only because it provides an incredible context for understanding the need for the Reformation, but because it provides compelling reasons to guard against moral, ethical, doctrinal, and fiscal carelessness in those responsible for church governance today. History, as they say, has a terrible way of repeating itself in each generation. A reflective critique of today’s religious institutions will always utilize the perspective gained from historical narrative. Such reflection is essential if we would escape the fate that befell our forebears.

In enumerating the following concerns, I wish to capture the essence of my thought without providing the full argument for it. I am reading history with a mind for contemporary parallels, some of which are clearer than others. Nevertheless, here we go:

1. Hierarchial resistance to grassroots reform — The Catholic Church under the papal rule of Leo X was quite unwilling to concede any validity to the concerns raised by Martin Luther and others. In fact, the full force of the hierarchy was summoned to assault the reformers. Meanwhile, papal loyalists were awarded choice posts and prominent pulpits.

The anti-blogger sentiment that foments among some Southern Baptist elites is grounded not in a quasi-Luddite opposition to the blog phenomenon per se, but rather that the Internet has been used by these “wild boars” who have been loosed in the denominational vineyard with greater effect than anticipated.

2. The necessity for an authoritative teaching office – Increasingly, Southern Baptist institutions and their executives feel the need to define the parameters of acceptable doctrine for all Baptists. For years, we were told that the Conservative Resurgence was about the nature of Scripture, not about its interpretation. Yet, resurgent fundamentalists seem discontent to let inerrancy alone characterize the heart of Baptist epistemology. Inerrancy gave way to revising the confession of faith, not once but twice within two years. The new Baptist Faith & Message was affirmed by every trustee board of the Southern Baptist Convention. But today, the BFM2000 is not sufficient, except for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Lifeway Christian Resources, Guidestone, and the Executive Committee.

For some reason a priesthood has developed in Southern Baptist life whereby a group of seminary presidents and their loyalists on other boards of trustees feel the need to define our confession as Baptists for us. Whether it’s Paige Patterson and Southwestern Seminary adopting guidelines for the hiring of professors, or IMB Chairman Hatley’s efforts to articulate a rationale for the IMB policies on tongues and baptism, or the endless stream of white and pink papers issued from Malcolm Yarnell’s office, Southern Baptists are beholding the unthinkable. Seminaries that were originally charged by the convention to train future ministers now seek to instruct the churches concerning the “proper interpretation” of the sacred text of Scripture.

In other words, while the convention expects the seminaries to train their pastors in theology, church history, exegesis, biblical studies, and the original languages of Scripture, the seminaries have taken that responsibility and assumed a prerogative not assigned to them by the convention: to teach the churches of the convention. Or put another way, in 1979, Paige Patterson needed the churches and their messengers to steer the seminaries toward inerrancy. Today, he’s using the seminaries to steer the convention churches toward doctrinal eccentricity, fundamentalist isolation, and cultural detente.

3. Nepotism as a trend in religious appointments – Just before the Reformation, the bastard children of popes and bishops were commonly given orders and offices, thus ensuring that the magisterial succession of power remained uninterrupted. Injecting loyalists with family ties into the ecclesial hierarchy corrupted the confidence that the churches had in their appointed leadership, believing that men of lesser competency were elevated not on account of their meeting biblical criterion, but because they had the right family.

I don’t need to belabor this point, but would ask you how else you explain Paige Patterson’s brother-in-law getting appointed during Patterson’s presidency to the IMB trustee board while he was under federal indictment? Or his sister-in-law appointed last year to the same board? Or his father-in-law appointed to Midwestern’s board. Or his brother-in-law to a seminary presidency? Or his son-in-law to key committees? But you can read for yourself just how deep the rabbit hole goes if you click here and read my post from last year.

That will suffice for tonight. More coming tomorrow…