Friday, September 30, 2005

Wasn't the Pacific Southwest Board Wrong to Vote to Withdraw from the ABCUSA?

An opinion piece
By Dennis E. McFadden

Since the vote earlier this month by the PSW board to begin the process of withdrawing from the ABCUSA, a number of criticisms against the action have been voiced. Rather than addressing "straw men," the following five points were taken from an actual letter sent to a rather wide distribution of persons. The quotes from the letter appear in italics.

First of all, our denomination, the ABCUSA, has not changed its position about homosexuality and, therefore, I do not see a need for separation. The statement adopted in 1992 declaring the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching is still standing and has not been changed.

While the statement is formally true, it certainly is not materially true. The ABCUSA does have a 1992 resolution on the subject which Rich Schramm of the ABC News Service loves to quote, particularly when deflecting the criticism of people such as Dr. Dobson of Focus on the Family. But, the real value of the resolution can be judged by how widely ignored it has been during the years since its adoption. Not only do the advocates for the more inclusive view sit in positions of power in the General Board of the ABCUSA but in many of the staff positions at Valley Forge as well. Dr. Medley’s own spouse is on record before her denomination’s ruling board (ELCA) lamenting the limited choices of heterosexual marriage or celibacy and advocating for church approval of some kind for gay unions.

I . . . do not agree with the idea of requiring uniformity in the matter of interpretation of Scripture, in this case, in the area of human sexuality. If there is one principle that drew [many of us] to become American Baptist[s], was the belief that each person can read the Bible and form his or her own conclusions without any imposition from others.

There is truth in the claim that Baptists have cherished and celebrated what we like to call “soul competency.” However, up until the last century, that value was always seen as subordinate to biblical authority. Only with E.Y. Mullins’ attempt to combine Schliermacher’s theological view of Christian experience with the philosophical strands of personalism and pragmatism did Baptists begin to treat “soul competency” as an individualized exercise of autonomy.

That we live in a “free country” and that a person may believe anything is not the same as saying that one can join a particular group and believe anything. As an American I am free to be a theist or an atheist, a believer in Christianity or Islam, a neo-con or a Marxist. However, each group has the right to set its own standards for acceptable diversity. As a Baptist, for example, I am not free to practice infant baptism, to teach transubstantiation, or to adopt an episcopal form of church polity. So, my American freedom to be an atheist may (and should) prevent me from joining the local Baptist congregation as a member and prevent me from becoming its pastor. Even the Rotary Club has specific rules and expectations for membership. While I am free to believe whatever I want; my convictions and commitments may preclude me from being accepted by any number of voluntary associations.

Among American Baptists, every congregation, institution, organization, and region enjoy complete freedom to act and govern itself, according to its own rules. No institution can impose itself upon another. Therefore, the decisions of the General Board or the Regional Board, for instance, are not necessarily binding upon the local churches or other organizations.

It interests me that those who maintain that American Baptists really do “have” a firm position on the subject of homosexuality are often the first to profess that in the ABCUSA “every congregation, institution, organization, and region enjoy complete freedom to act and govern itself.” One cannot “have” something if it does not mean anything. If we are made up of covenanting bodies that freely enter into agreements with one another for the purpose of united ministry and joint witness, than we certainly have the right to expect those bodies to profess what has been agreed upon by the body. For example, if a region no longer accepted believer’s baptism, they would be denying a fundamental tenet of Baptist life and identity in a way that would not be the case if they were merely disagreeing over eschatology or a particular strategy for achieving justice. At some point the exercise of one's "soul competency" will exceed the boundaries of belief and practice for every group.

The accusation that the ABCUSA has not implemented the resolution on homosexuality and that has allowed practicing homosexuals and lesbians in positions of leadership is not totally fair. This is asking for the ABCUSA leaders to do police work in checking out the private life of each individual. Besides, we need to be reminded once again of our belief in the autonomy of local churches and organizations.

If the matter were one of closeted gays or silent “advocates,” there might be some force to this critique. However, in the ABCUSA the voices for the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists are hardly closeted or quiet about their positions. One man served in virtually every significant denominational post, even after publicly “coming out” in August of 2000. He was a member of the General Board, the Executive Committee of the General Board, the Nominating Committee of the ABCUSA, the Biennial Planning Committee in both 2003 and this year, and even participated as a member in the General Secretary Search Committee! His coming out was a public event and was reported in both the secular and religious press. He was also a member of the AWAB Council with a bio posted on that official Web site. It spoke of his spouse, Dan, and candidly placed him as more than a mere supporter of the AWAB cause. MMBB similarly has a representative who has been part of the AWAB Council and also open about her sexuality in a bio summary on the AWAB Web site. On the General Board, the voices supporting AWAB include at least one GB representative who openly identifies herself as a lesbian and has written about her lesbianism, posting it on the Internet.

One hardly needs “police work” to be aware that the ABCUSA freely accepts such advocacy and presence despite the fact that the position we “have” affirms that such practice is “incompatible” with Christian teaching. It does not say that homosexual behavior is inconvenient, awkward, embarrassing, or problematic. The words of the resolution boldly proclaim such practice as fundamentally opposed and incompatible with Christianity, not just among Baptists but among believers of all stripes and denominational affiliations.

If, indeed, our denomination means what it meant when it crafted the words of the 1992 resolution, then how can we allow even a cherished value such as “soul competency” to trump what we believe to be incompatible with our common faith? People of good will may certainly disagree on questions of biblical interpretation. Many who oppose homosexual practice may even demur from the strong language of the 1992 resolution which virtually declared homosexual practice to be anathema for Christians. However, from the beginning of the Christian movement, principles of catholicity and apostolicity have been central to our definition of the church. We hold in common with our sisters and brothers in all Christian communions the one faith which has been delivered by the Apostles and which has been confessed by the faithful. One should be very careful about abandoning the unanimous teaching position of the church in virtually all of its official manifestations for the past two thousand years.

I do not want to believe in conspiracy theories but it seems to me that there has been an agenda behind the accusation that our denomination is not implementing its resolution on homosexuality. Since the early nineties, an organization was formed in order to “bring renewal” to the ABCUSA. The name of this organization was American Baptist Evangelicals or ABE. The renewal its leaders were talking about was mainly their desire for the denomination to expel those who believe differently in the area of homosexuality, and especially those who practice it. They wanted the ABCUSA to adopt a more firm stand on homosexuality . . . Now that our Region has taken this position and a few other regions are doing the same, ABE has decided to “phase out” and has called those like-minded leaders and pastors to meet in order to decide about their future, perhaps to form a new denomination. So, it seems to me that, from the beginning, there was another agenda behind the issue of homosexuality.

The purpose of ABE, as I saw it as a rank-and-file member, had to do with advocating for biblical authority in the ABCUSA. The issue of homosexuality has always been viewed as a symptom or merely a “presenting issue” (the description by Scott Gibson, ABE President). Indeed, many of the strongest ABE voices regretted that “the” issue quickly became the 1992 resolution. We are pastors, leaders, and lay people who care deeply for our sisters and brothers who are gay. Most of our ABE pastors have held gay men dying of AIDS in our arms as they were in the hospitals and hospices. However, the sharp point of the spear of secularism and the attack on God’s Word in this generation has fallen on this practice. Perhaps no debate among churches and denominations so typifies the conflict between competing worldviews as starkly as this one.

The decision by ABE to “phase out” was made following the Biennial, as a response to several decisions and directions articulated there, not in reaction to the vote by PSW which came much later. Many of the evangelicals present at the Biennial realized that the battle for the renewal of the ABCUSA had been lost and that it would be foolish to continue expending efforts to change such a hidebound organization with such an entrenched bureaucracy. This kind of fighting is not only unseemly, but probably a waste of time. After more than thirteen years of standing for renewal, the ABE leadership finally concluded following the Denver Biennial that such efforts were quixotic at best, and probably a misuse of time and resources.

Spiritual unity in the church of Jesus Christ must be maintained as a pre-eminent value. This is not the same as the organizational oneness of administrative units. Some of the same people using our Lord’s High Priestly prayer in John 17 to argue against institutional separation are the ones shouting the loudest that we must lift high our “Baptist” principles. If the holding of views certain to keep us separated from organizational unity with our sisters and brothers in the PCUSA, ELCA, UMC, etc. are not a violation of the spirit of our Lord’s prayer, then how can a strategic decision to go our separate ways be any more a breach of that same spiritual unity?

The arguments for separation are predicated on an honest evaluation of the clash of worldviews dividing us in the ABCUSA. The time invested in wrangling over these issues has proven distracting at least and sinful at most. Have we not reached a point where, as Pastor Glenn Gunderson puts it, “We need to bless each other and move on with our own ministries for Jesus Christ.” Well said, Pastor Glenn!

[This opinion piece represents my own position and is not in any way intended to be taken as an official statement of policy by any organization, institution, or entity in the ABCPSW]

Thursday, September 29, 2005

First Three-Person Civil Union in The Netherlands -- As Predicted, Polygamy Follows Same-Sex Unions

News Analysis
by Dennis E. McFadden

Last year Dr. Albert Mohler took a popular law professor (Jonathan Turley of George Washington University) to task for his argument in favor of the legalization of polygamy. Turley had linked the redefinition of marriage for same-sex unions and polygamy. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly has also weighed in against same-sex marriage arguing that the redefinition of marriage would lead logically and politically to polygamy. Many thought that Mohler was merely chasing shadows, pursuing a hypothetical that could never happen in the real world.

Brussels Journal is reporting the formalization of the first three-person civil union in The Netherlands. According to Mohler’s blog today Victor de Bruijn of Roosendaal (a 46-year old man) "married" two women, Bianca (31) and Mirjam (35).

The report: "I love both Bianca and Mirjam, so I am marrying them both," Victor said. He had previously been married to Bianca. Two and a half years ago they met Mirjam Geven through an internet chatbox. Eight weeks later Mirjam deserted her husband and came to live with Victor and Bianca. After Mirjam's divorce the threesome decided to marry.

Victor: "A marriage between three persons is not possible in the Netherlands, but a civil union is. We went to the notary in our marriage costume and exchanged rings. We consider this to be just an ordinary marriage."

Asked by journalists to tell the secret of their peculiar relationship, Victor explained that there is no jealousy between them. "But this is because Mirjam and Bianca are bisexual. I think that with two heterosexual women it would be more difficult." Victor stressed, however, that he is "a one hundred per cent heterosexual" and that a fourth person will not be allowed into the "marriage." They want to take their marriage obligations seriously: "to be honest and open with each other and not philander."


Already Stanley Kurtz (a writer for National Review and the Weekly Standard) has built a rather impressive case against same-sex marriages based on his analysis of the data coming out of the Netherlands. He reasons that same-sex marriage has undermined traditional marriage for the following reasons:
· The legalization of Same-Sex Marriage has weakened the moral and historical link between marriage and parenthood.
· Due to same-sex marriage, out-of-wedlock births in the Netherlands have soared to 31% (almost doubling since the 1990s).
· Living together has replaced marriage for more and more Dutch parents.
· Living together represents a further negative consequence for children since "cohabiting parents are 2-3 times more likely to break up than married parents."

Mohler’s citation of the Brussels Journal dramatically shows how prescient the defenders of the traditional view of marriage were in predicting exactly this line of attack on marriage by the innovators. Bottom line: we should not believe the dismissive flick of the hand by the proponents of same-sex marriage. Not only do legal scholars increasingly take the logic of the argument seriously for other social “innovations,” but the social test case for same-sex marriage, the Netherlands, gives us a frightening preview of coming attractions if we continue following this road.

An untranslated report from a Dutch newspaper can be found here: "Een Man Met Twee Bruiden," at

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A modest proposal for the post-Lombard future of the evangelical movement in the ABCUSA.

A trial balloon,
By Dennis E. McFadden

ABCUSA membership numbers represent a variety of realities. They include the nearly 6,000 people attending the High Desert Church in Victorville and the 35 folks in the rural Iowa farming community. But they also count the federated church that devotes most of its denominational interest to the UCC, the mega church dually aligned with the National Baptists which has never spent any time cultivating its ABC connection, and the church in Los Angeles pastored by a man who told me today that he has never made much of being American Baptist in his congregation. In other words, we are a mixed multitude, full of the involved and the indifferent, the active and the apathetic.

What does this have to do with post-Lombard evangelicalism? Just this. Many of our most “progressive” congregations have two identities. The AWAB church in MA pastored by the Rev. Cynthia Maybeck, a lesbian who married her lover last year and precipitated the Pacific Southwest by-laws change proposal in the Ministers Senate, affiliates with both the ABCUSA and the UCC. The historic congregation, The Riverside Church of New York City, proudly boasts of its interdenominational character as an ABC/UCC fellowship. Many of our most important predominantly African American congregations partner with another denomination besides the ABC.

Evangelicals could follow the example of our progressive friends and claim dual membership: remaining ABC, even if it means little more than lip service, while devoting most of their cooperative and associative energies to the new and vital fellowship birthed out of the Lombard experience. For congregations currently divided in their loyalties, for the church struggling with the attachment bonds of tradition, for the isolated marginal church uncertain of its very survival, joining the new evangelical fellowship might be easier to implement if it did not involve an ugly fight over the ABCUSA at the same time.

This would afford church members the opportunity to "road test" the new evangelical organization without losing anything. They could see how the evangelicals resource their network, how annual or biennial gatherings address worship and fellowship needs, and whether the new group has the staying power to be there into the years to come. Tackling the identity issue head on may result in more heat than light in some places. Dual alignment would avoid much of the immediate pressure and provide a living laboratory for observing (and tasting) the fruits of the new evangelical group.

This little proposal does not pretend to be a complete, systematic, or final position. Regions and/or congregations able to withdraw from the ABCUSA might be better served by that course of action. However, for those caught in the middle of the muddle, this suggestion may have some limited merit.

[These are my own observations and opinions. I did not discuss this posting with any employee from PSW, nor should anyone interpret my opinions as representing the PSW or any other entity]

Celebrating the Givenness of It All

On June 26, 2005, Dr. James A. Forbes, senior minister of The Riverside Church in the City of New York, gave a sermon, “When the Liberated Become the Liberators,” a sermon delivered on Gay Pride Sunday. Thanks to the posting by the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, we have some excerpts of his message.

"I want to say thank you to the Gay Pride movement ... somewhere, you got the courage to say, 'We know that we are God's children. We will stand up and thank God.' Now when you march, you are marching a march that says, 'Once we were paralyzed, but no more.’

The goal of every human being must be to say 'amen' to the givenness of the uniqueness of their own personalities. ... I want the whole world to be able to do that, no matter whether you are gay or straight, black or white, male or female, traditional or untraditional; to be able to look genuinely at the givenness of who you are, and to be able to say, 'Thank you God, for the gift of a person like me!’

God is so infinite that there are many different ways for people to look, to speak, to think, to love. ... Whether one is heterosexual or homosexual, whether one is transgender, whether one is bisexual. ... And yet all of us are called to be faithful and to live with integrity and with responsibility within the framework of what God has made us.

The worldview animating Dr. Forbes’ message overflows with tolerance, affirmation, inclusion, and acceptance. One thing it lacks, however, is the sense of a normative value to the Christian Scriptures. If the Bible “means” what it meant to the original authors, then Forbes’ comments would be incomprehensible. However, if we view the Christian Scriptures and tradition through the lenses of 20th Century theological liberalism or employ some of the “reader response” hermeneutics emerging during the past few decades, then it sounds perfectly sensible. This dually aligned UCC/ABCUSA congregation has been at the forefront of advocacy in a number of social and political arenas for decades.

One of the major differences separating the left and right on the issue of homosexuality has to do with hermeneutics. Those of us hailing from the traditional side have no problem with a loving message involving an incarnational ministry to all people. However, the formal principle of the Reformation tradition, "sola scriptura" (Scripture alone), does not easily permit the types of revisionistic interpretations popular in the past three decades vis a vis the issue of homosexuality. To "affirm" or celebrate the "givenness" of what the Bible declares to be sinful behavior as Dr. Forbes does, represents an impossible feat of hermeneutical gymnastics for the evangelical.

One of the reasons why Dr. Medley has such a difficult task constructing a bridge over our troubled ABC waters is that on one side we have a theological tradition emphasizing sola scriptura and "biblical authority" and on the other side we have an emphasis upon Christian experience and individualistic views of "soul competency." As can be seen in Dr. Forbes' comments, this will remain an intractable dispute precisely because it is not rooted in political expediency, but in deeply held moral principles on both sides. This issue does not lend itself to compromises and back-room deals. Neither side has any significant maneuvering room.

[These are my own observations and opinions. I did not discuss this posting with any employee from PSW, nor should anyone interpret my opinions as representing the PSW or any other entity]

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What Does the Lombard “Summons to Lead” Mean?

News Analysis
By Dennis E. McFadden

Now that dust has begun to settle following the unprecedented gathering of 350 ABC pastoral and lay leaders at Northern Baptist Seminary this past Friday and Saturday, questions arise as to its meaning.

On one level, no one should expect a two day event to solve all of the problems of an organization or movement. And, in this sense, Lombard did not disappoint. At almost every turn questions posed by conferees were met with honest expressions of uncertainty. “I don’t know.” “We need to work on that.” “That remains to be seen.” These kinds of expressions were frequent as the lexicon of studied ambiguity was pressed into service repeatedly during the two days.

But on the larger scale of downstream consequences, the “Summons to Lead” appears to have accomplished a great deal. It brought together an amazing collection of leaders from the ranks of pastors, regional executives, parachurch executives, and laypeople. The one concrete result of the meeting was what many had come to Lombard hoping to hear: We pulled the trigger. A new organization/movement was birthed. Yes, the organizational details remain tantalizingly disorganized; the questions of credentialing, endorsement of chaplains, and specific form of governance must wait for another day; even the specifics of the sub-committee to flesh out the details were left untidy and unexplained.

What did happen is that an agreement by acclamation was given to the rough draft of a vision statement. The participants affirmed the call to be “A group of Baptist congregations committed together to an orthodox, biblical and theological foundation that will result in the growth of the church of Jesus Christ as demonstrated by healthy congregations.”

The tentative shape and direction of the new organization, albeit still in the most embryonic of stages, appears fairly clear. It will provide a rallying point and national identification for regions that leave the ABCUSA (e.g., the proposed departure of PSW), it will offer a home for those regions in the process of deciding whether or not to leave (e.g., IN/KY still waiting for the second reading of their motion in November’s General Board meeting), and it will become a concrete fellowship group of affinity for congregations feeling isolated within more progressive regions. As such, the network/movement will have a “one size fits all” flexibility to it. Able to provide national identification for the newly unaffiliated regions and still capable of providing fellowship for congregations unwilling or unable to disaffiliate with the ABCUSA, the emerging reality promises to meet needs with a minimum of bureaucracy.

One of the tactical advantages of this new organization is the ability to learn from what modern denominations have done wrong or just poorly. Consigned to the mixed blessing of no necessary organizational tradition, what comes up from the grass roots will be able to take advantage of contemporary trends in non-hierarchical management and renewed biblical study about the church.

Myriads of potential pitfalls await the committee working on structure, the existing core of ABE, the emerging leadership of the new reality, and those attempting to live within both the ABCUSA context and that of this new entity. With so many uncertainties remaining regarding how the ABCUSA meltdown will proceed (e.g., the final vote on the IN/KY proposal and the resulting reaction by that region, whether Dr. Medley will sit for another term as General Secretary, and how successful implementation will be of the proposed restructuring recommendations from the McConkey-Johnston consulting firm), only a fool would predict a certain success to the efforts of Lombard.

One factor augurs well for future prospects. Unlike so many renewal/separatist movements in the history of the church, this one was not birthed in mean-spirited anger. The Lombard gathering was remarkably harmonious and united. Rather than being "against" something, the tone was upbeat, positive, and hopeful.

At the ABE meetings at Lombard, I sat next to one of my oldest friends who happened to turn 75 this past Sunday. He has been a leader among American Baptists for more than four decades. First as a pastor of small, medium, and large churches, then as a member of our General Board, on the executive committee of our GB in both of his terms, as President of BIM, as a World Mission Support person for one of our regions, as the chairman of the Board for one of our premier institutions (Atherton Baptist Homes), and as an interim executive minister of the PSW.

As a young teen, he was privy to the counsels of those contemplating the CBA split from the ABC. On several occasions he was allowed to sit in the corner and eavesdrop on the plans and plots of the secessionists. After watching two days of meetings in Lombard, almost with tears in his eyes, he said to me: "Do you know the difference between then and now? Then, the conversations were personality driven, full of anger and recriminations, and taken up with jealousy and conflicts between the various leaders. It was an angry anti-ABC spirit and they brought that temperament into their new movement. I don't see ANY of that here today in Lombard. This is a new day and a new thing. God is on the move."

[These are my own observations based on the Lombard gathering and my own independent conversations. I did not discuss this posting with any employee from PSW, nor should anyone interpret my opinions as representing the PSW or any other entity]

What Does the Parchment Valley Agreement Mean?

A News Analysis
by Dennis E. McFadden

What does the Parchment Valley Agreement really mean? In the days since it was announced last week, much ink has been spilled discussing the implications of the covenant between eight ABCUSA regions (with two more likely in the next few days). Representing more than 40% of the ABCUSA (more than 50% when the other two regions sign onto the accord), the press release (9/22/05) announces the intention as follows: “We are an association of Executive Ministers committed to authentic covenantal relationships with one another in order that our regions can cooperate in mission.” Proclaiming core values of Biblical Authority, Associational Integrity & Accountability among Regions, Leadership Development, and Equipping our churches to impact the world for Christ, leaves unsaid some of the relational dynamics and the broader downstream implications. In the main, this concord emphasizes a movement toward congregational focus, ministry resourcing, and con-joint efforts among regions representing at least half of the membership of the ABCUSA. The thrust was positive, cordial, and familial.

In last week’s “Summons to Lead” gathering in Lombard, two of the principals spoke publicly about the meaning of the agreement. Both Al Fletcher (Maine) and Larry Swain (Ohio) addressed the assembly of more than 350 ABC pastors and lay leaders. They spoke movingly of their satisfaction with the agreement among like-minded executives to do ministry, focus on the local congregations, and include the soon-to-be withdrawing Dale Salico (Pacific Southwest) in their covenant relationship. As Fletcher put it: “What did the congregations of Maine do to you to make you want to break covenant with us?” Fletcher expressed a desire to see shared ministry and fellowship continue regardless of PSW’s official relationship to Valley Forge, or to the Office of the General Secretary. When asked if this might possibly provide a context for the PSW to return to the “fold” of ABCUSA, Swain made it very clear that Dr. Salico said, “no.” PSW is not thinking about re-examining that commitment, according to Swain.

By way of analysis, both relational and organizational dynamics should be considered. Relationally, Executive Ministers all appear to have a warm and cordial relationship with Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary of the ABCUSA. He is both an engaging and gracious man, profoundly decent, and markedly spiritual. His passion for unity is genuine and often spoken in every venue. Unlike some of his predecessors, Dr. Medley speaks in his “own voice” and with the same emphasis regardless of whether he meets with those on the left or the right. But, the Executive Ministers meeting in Parchment Valley also have very warm fellowship with each other. As essentially like-minded, they represent the center-right coalition within the ABCUSA. In contrast to some progressive voices on the left, the PV leaders seek to maintain an essentially evangelical presence within the ABCUSA.

Contrary to some previously published reports, the meeting was regularly scheduled and openly held. The agreement, on one level, simply recognizes the desire to continue in covenantal relationship and to lift up certain core values for ministry regardless of what happens in the broader ABCUSA context.

One should not, however, miss the larger organizational and political realities. When asked what PV meant, one EM told me that it was an incremental step taken which recognizes a gradual “pulling away” from the ABCUSA. Two other principals have openly voiced that Dr. Medley was most unhappy with the agreement. Reportedly he objected to a subgroup forming their own ad hoc fellowship rather than working things out in the context of a full General Executive Council gathering. Further, he took the covenant to include PSW as negative insofar as it allows PSW to remain in covenant with ABC regions once it ceases to be in fellowship with ABCUSA.

But, finally the agreement does apparently represent (at least according to a couple of the EMs) an intention to say "we aren't going to keep doing things this way any longer." The refusal to enforce the '92 resolution is viewed as tearing up the denomination. As one EM put it, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different outcome. We can't go along with this program any longer. We need to stand up and say 'no!'"

Downstream realities often move well beyond anticipated outcomes. Ask a participant of the PV meeting what happened and you will likely hear a story of fellowship, friendship, and renewed commitment to shared mission. In the context of the ABCUSA conflict, however, this observer sees potential for a radical re-alignment within the ABCUSA. Center right voices are now moving into position to work more closely together, perhaps presaging a new denominational reality once the General Board rejects (?) the IN/KY proposal in its second reading this fall.

[These are my own observations based on the Lombard gathering and my own independent conversations with EMs present in Parchment Valley. I did not discuss this with any employee from PSW, nor should anyone interpret my opinions as representing the PSW or any other entity]

Monday, September 26, 2005

ABCUSA leaders call for unity; conservative leader fears

Sep 26, 2005
By Gregory Tomlin Baptist Press
VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (BP)--The General Board Executive Committee of the American Baptist Churches USA expressed grief and sadness Sept. 19 at the planned departure from the denomination of 300 conservative churches in its Pacific Southwest Region.

In a statement issued following a two-day meeting in Atlanta, the denomination’s Executive Committee called for unity and said a decision by the California-based Pacific Southwest Region will “separate the region from the American Baptist family and our mission if the region completes its action.”

The region voted Sept. 8 to recommend its churches stop sending money to the denomination’s national headquarters by Dec. 31 and sever fellowship over of the refusal of the General Board to address the issue of homosexuality and the development of several gay-friendly associations in the ABCUSA. The General Board claims that it is powerless to effect changes in the “theological interpretations” of its member churches.

“The General Board ... does not set policy for local congregations on theological or other issues. We are not hierarchical or Episcopal because we are a denominational family related by a series of voluntary covenantal relationships among autonomous congregations to partner together in mission,” the statement said. The board also cited its respect for the “autonomy and primacy of the local church.”

But not all leaders in American Baptist life agree that the issue is one of local church autonomy. The Pacific Southwest Region said in a statement Sept. 14 that, while the failure of the ABCUSA to implement its resolution on homosexuality was the catalyst for conflict, deeper problems exist in the denomination over the issues of “biblical authority and accountability.”

Bill Nicoson, executive director of American Baptist Evangelicals (ABE), a California-based conservative group, said the denomination’s leadership should disavow unbiblical theology “as soon as it knows about it.” He cited the leadership’s unwillingness to yield to biblical authority on the issue of homosexuality and a long track record of ignoring sin.

“They are living in a paradox; they call it a paradox. A prime example of that is Tony Campolo, one of the best-known American Baptists, who said at our biennial convention in Denver that he and his wife disagree over the manner in which the church should deal with this issue, but that their disagreement was no reason to get divorced. There is nothing mentioned as to the unbiblical nature of it; there is only a pragmatic response to it,” Nicoson said.

Nicoson said poor leadership in the denomination and a church hierarchy that expects to be served by the churches has rendered the ABCUSA useless. “I really see a bureaucratic system that cannot move and cannot make decisions,” he said. But he and other conservatives in the denomination are quick to point out that they have tried to move the denomination’s leadership to action.

“Our goal has always been to reform our denomination, to influence it and change it. We have always called our leadership to adhere to biblical standards and to lead. We have always wanted to persuade them,” Nicoson said.

Not everyone agrees that conservative leaders are merely persuading the General Board to lead. Critics such as Susan Johnson, pastor of Chicago’s Hyde Park Union Church and a former member of the ABCUSA General Board, have charged that ABE and other conservative groups are attempting to take over the denomination.

But Nicoson and the 560 conservative American Baptist churches voluntarily affiliated with ABE reject the charge. “Who would want to take over the Titanic?” he asked. “Our denomination is not healthy and I just don’t see a future for it.”

The national leadership of the ABCUSA, however, disagrees with that assessment, and with the charge that it has failed to address the issue of homosexuality and its compatibility with the Christian life. In the statement issued by the General Board Executive Committee, the ABCUSA explained its position:

“Contrary to published reports, ABCUSA does have policy statements and resolutions related to homosexuality. Our Family Life Policy Statement (1984) states, ‘We affirm that God intends marriage to be a monogamous, life-long, one-flesh union of a woman and a man. ... We affirm God's blessing and active presence in marriage relationships....’ In 1992 the General Board adopted this statement: ‘We affirm that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.’ In 1993 the General Board called for continuing dialogue on issues of human sexuality. In June 1998 the General Board reaffirmed the prior actions and rewrote the ‘We are American Baptists’ statement to more strongly affirm the importance of biblical authority. All of these policy statements and resolutions remain in effect.”

The statement, however, did not reference the Evergreen Association, a gay-friendly group of American Baptist churches, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB) or the transference of gay-friendly church affiliations from conservative regions to regions where homosexuality in the church is not opposed, such as the Rochester/Genesee Region of New York. The regional transfers were conducted with the blessing and approval of the General Board.

Nicoson said the statement proves the denomination has lost touch with its laity, and as a result he feels it best to break with the denomination’s headquarters. And so he supports the action of the Pacific Southwest Region. “I don’t want to spend any more time and any more dollars trying to reform something that is irreparable,” he said.

Jay Wolfe, chairman of West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth, anticipates the departure from the ABCUSA of his state’s conservative churches in the near future. He told Baptist Press that the denomination’s leadership continues “to spin a very confusing and tangled web in trying to explain their position as it relates to those who profess Christianity while living a sinful lifestyle of homosexuality.”

Wolfe said the General Board’s opinion on its role in leadership is contradicted by the group’s standing rules. “On one hand they say, ‘We are not and do not seek to be a legislative body,” while on the other hand their own standing rules (definition define the General Board’s function as the ‘legislative body of the ABCUSA.’

“The fact is that even a clown club has rules. To take their logic to a laughable extreme, then a local church could be promoting temple prostitution and still be allowed to remain a part of the ABC,” Wolfe said. “We believe it is time to stand on God’s Word and not on man’s rules.”

Wolfe said that ABCUSA leaders appear to be adopting the position of liberal regions that favor the acceptance of homosexuality as a practice approved in the Christian life. He cited as an example a June 2005 letter from New York Baptists to the General Board that said, “... in a broken and contentious world, Jesus calls us to be one not in doctrine but in Spirit.”

A plan for conservatives assuming leadership in the denomination would take up to 10 years, Nicoson said. He pointed to the example of the Southern Baptist Convention, saying that American Baptist leaders will not stand on biblical authority as had SBC leaders.

“Our leadership won’t lead. Yours will,” Nicoson told Baptist Press. “Southern Baptist leaders will write letters, encourage changes and take on initiatives. If you are a true leader, an evangelical leader, you can call up pastors and say, ‘You guys really ought to do something about this.’”

ABE, according to Nicoson, stands ready to assist American Baptist churches that wish to withdraw from the denomination but may face financial hardships and legal battles in doing so. The national headquarters owns some of the church properties, he said.

Should the ABCUSA lose a significant portion of its churches over the issue of homosexuality, Nicoson said he could not predict how the denomination will survive. But he expressed some concern that the ABCUSA might find a ready alliance with moderate Baptists.

“My biggest fear is that the ABCUSA will align with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The survival of the denomination may only happen by their merger with it. There are so many similarities with them, down the road I believe they may come together,” Nicoson said.

CBF national coordinator Daniel Vestal would not comment to Baptist Press on the relationship of the ABCUSA and the CBF.

Several points are noteworthy in this Southern Baptist perspective on the ABCUSA conflict. Note the bolded lines.

1. Early in the article there is a clear statement of THE issue: an Englightenment emphasis upon Christian experience (aka "soul competency" or "congregational autonomy") vs. the Reformation tradition of "sola scriptura" ("biblical authority"). The Southern Baptists accurately capture the heart of the conflict: a clash of worldviews rooted in deeply differing approaches to hermeneutics and core values.

2. The report reveals the stark contrast in mindset between the ABE reformers and the ABCUSA loyalists. Bill Nicoson cited ABE’s long-standing desire to reform the ABCUSA and bring “change” to it (now abandoned in favor of the creation of alternative structures) vs. the suspicion that ABE was “attempting to take over the denomination.” Despite the fact of the often cited “Titanic” imagery, representatives of the left continue insisting that ABE really intends to “take over” the ABC and seize its assets.

3. When looking at the ABCUSA conflict, SBC oriented observers cannot help but describe it in terms familiar to its own readers, particularly the Patterson-Pressler engineered decade long campaign for control of the denominational structures. In my own experience with leaders of ABE, there has been no interest in an SBC-style takeover. Part of this relates to differences in corporate culture between the ABCUSA and SBC, some of it owes to differences in institutional rules making such a strategy virtually impossible in the ABC. I have never heard ABE leaders plot, plan, or pursue any takeover notions.

4. An SBC oriented interpretation of ABCUSA conflicts cannot help but see the result in terms of a merger with their own left wing, CBF. While Bill Nicoson doubtless expressed the statements attributed to him, they add up to a composite picture different in tone from that which I have of Mr. Nicoson in my many encounters with him. Nicoson does not often devote time to considering what the ABC should or will become. His focus falls upon spurring a movement of evangelical Baptists to realize their potential, not to predicting possible mergers with the CBF.

Reading an SBC report on the ABC raises various interesting questions. Still, despite some differences in tone and selection of trends to highlight, it is fascinating to see how other groups report the ABC mess. We await the discussions by non-Baptists at The Christian Century and Christianity Today of the Lombard "Summons to Lead."

Schramm to Leave Position as ABCUSA Communication Director

American Baptist News Service (Valley Forge, Pa. 9/26/05)--Richard W. Schramm, deputy general secretary for Communication and director of the Office of Communication of American Baptist Churches USA, will leave those positions Oct. 31.

Schramm will continue to relate as a consultant in communication as the Office of the General Secretary begins a reorganization focused on mission development. "The restructuring comes as the result of the recommendations of the consulting firm McConkey-Johnston, which has produced a new ministry configuration to be called Mission and Resource Development,” said American Baptist Churches USA General Secretary the Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley. “In the new configuration, World Mission Support and Communication are being combined into one unit for maximum synergy and reinforcement of each other's efforts. This has resulted in a change of positions to maximize the use of electronic media/web as our primary communications tool.”

The restructuring also will necessitate the departure on Oct. 31 of David Chandler, associate director of the Office of Communication, and Christopher Kearns, media assistant . . .

In announcing that Schramm would be leaving his communication positions, Medley said: “"Rich has had a long and wonderful ministry with the denomination for which we are extremely grateful. Furthermore, he has exemplified on our staff the highest ideals of Christian discipleship and service to Christ's church. It is but one sign of that Christ-like character that as we strategized the new configuration he advocated for an alignment that eliminated his own position. We will miss Rich's contributions to our common life as a full-time staff, but we will continue to enjoy his working with us as a consultant on key writing and other projects.”

American Baptist News Service, September 26, 2005

The departure of long time director of the Office of Communication represents a unique opportunity for greater openness by the denomination in representing itself to the public. During Richard Schramm’s tenure, press relations were tightly controlled and information was metered so that actual news was sometimes buried amid the words when it did not agree with the prevailing position of the denomination. Unlike some other Christian bodies which openly discuss differing points of view, ABCUSA has often presented itself to the world in monolithic ways without many dissenting voices.

When the Michigan region board voted nearly unanimously to recommend the abolition of the Office of the General Secretary and the General Board of the ABCUSA, the ABC News Service reported:

“The General Board also received messages of concern from . . . the region board of the ABC of Michigan, which, among other concerns, calls for “the establishment of a task force to (a) examine the nature of our present cultures and the impact of postmodernism and (b) assess implications for potential organizational change for the ABCUSA . . .”

While the Michigan board did call for “potential organizational change for the ABCUSA,” the rather colorless report did more to obscure the truth than to report accurately to readers the burden of the actual action.

As Dr. Medley proceeds with some of the restructuring recommendations by the consulting firm McConkey-Johnston, including the creation of a new ministry configuration to be called Mission and Resource Development, we can only hope that the future will include a renewed commitment to openness and full disclosure.

"What It Will Take to Become a Missional Movement"

More than 350 people gathered at Northern Seminary for "A Summons to Lead: Uniting for Prayer, Discernment and Decision." The purpose of the conferece, sponsored by ABE, was to help determine the future of ABE as a movement

Dr. Charles Revis, September 22, 2005

I would bet that there’s not one of us who caught a plane or car to this event that hasn’t pondered long and hard about the question, “Where do we go from here?” “What are we to become?” “Can it really make a difference for our future together?”

There has been much discussion on message boards and in telephone conversations about this very subject. And, more has taken place today. We have our work cut out for us. Yet, I am encouraged.

I believe the most important place to start is to be clear about mission. Without clarity of purpose and calling we will drift aimlessly, and there will be little energy for starting this new work.

We must be birthed in mission, remain focused on mission, and guard the integrity of this mission, or else we have no reason to start a new organization.

Now, having said that, such a mission must be defined by the clear directives of scripture. It must be biblical, concise and compelling. It should be like a “song in the heart” that calls us to mutual action. All for the sake of the Gospel.

In fact, more than important than anything else, this mission should result in a mighty advance of the Gospel, first and foremost. So, before we go any further we must talk about that, the Gospel.

1. To become the missional movement that God desires we must be clear about the nature of the Gospel.

To comprehend the true essence of the Gospel we must turn to the Scriptures. Apart from the guidance of Scripture we can confuse the nature of the Gospel, replacing it with many well-intentioned, human-centered works that are powerless to save. As one person has said, “The world has many religions, but only one Gospel.”The scriptures taken on face value leave no doubt about the true nature of the Gospel.

First of all the Gospel is rooted in our Savior’s own declaration, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:16-18

The Gospel informs us that sin has separated each of us from a holy God leaving our souls in a precarious position.

The fact that our sins have condemned us is underscored by Paul when he wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23) and again when he wrote,
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

This Gospel found in the Scriptures reveals that we have a Father in heaven who loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for each of us.

This Gospel of the Scriptures declares that in His death Jesus took upon Himself your sin, my sin, and the judgment of a Holy God against our sin.

This Gospel announces that this Savior was resurrected in victory demonstrating His power over sin and its consequences: death and the judgment of a holy God. Jesus is the Victor over Satan. In that resurrection there is proof of His authority to declare, “Your sins are forgiven.” He has bought us with a price, and that gives Him authority to command, “Go and sin no more.”
This is a Gospel that not only convicts of sin, but offers incredible hope in this life, and for the life to come.

When I personally fell under conviction as an eight year old child, I cried out to Jesus for forgiveness, invited Him into my heart to be my Savior, then that same Jesus, the resurrected Christ, washed me and cleansed me, and adopted me as His child forever.

My Holy Father and my Savior Jesus Christ seated me in the heavenlies, baptized me with the Holy Spirit and set my feet on a path of discipleship and service that would never end until I am transferred from this life into the realm of the new heaven and new earth upon the return of Jesus Christ in Glory.

This is the Gospel, the Good News revealed in the Bible and passed down from generation to generation of believers. It is this Gospel that brings new life to each person who calls on the name of the Lord.

T.S. To be the missional movement that God desires we must be clear about the nature of the Gospel, and that Gospel is revealed to us in the Scriptures.

2. To Become the Missional Movement God Desires We Must Believe this Gospel Has the Power to Change the World.

This is the Gospel that transforms people into new creations. These new creations reproduce themselves as they proclaim the Gospel to others. The Holy Spirit forms these new creations into a new community, and God compels this new community to turn the world upside down through the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.

There are several reasons American Baptists evangelicals have balked at accepting homosexual practice as normative. Besides the obvious teaches of scripture, to affirm homosexual practice is to deny the life-transforming power of the Gospel. Jesus is in the life-changing business, and we should be too.

A great American Baptist theologian once pointed out that life-changing power is an essential evangelical conviction in his book The Evangelical Heritage. Bernard Ramm wrote:
“The evangelical believes that the real touchstone of a theology is its spiritual power not necessarily its intellectual shrewdness, or sophistication, or learning.”

Ramm proceeds to point out that this power is first the power of the message to make true converts to Jesus Christ. The message preached must have the power to cause people to be born anew.

The second meaning of this power is that it must result in the creation of a genuine new life in Christ. New creations live lives distinct from their former old creation lives. These new creations give birth to a new community, and this new community attracts people to the Savior like moths to a bright porch light shining on a dark summer night.

An evangelical Gospel expects these new converts to make spiritual progress that becomes visible through a demonstrable righteousness. As Paul wrote, “we who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:17

Dr. Ramm summarizes his advocacy for “transformational power” as a key component in an evangelical theology with these words:
“Evangelical theology attempts to be a theology of power. It does want the Word, but it also wants the Spirit. It wants exposition, but it also wants application. It wants understanding, but it also wants transformation. It wants academic excellence, but it also wants spiritual excellence.”

This Gospel of radical conversion and transformation is the Gospel that has been lost at the center of our life together as American Baptists. It is the Gospel that once drove Baptists to Burma, to Thailand, to Central America and to the Congo. For our forbearers believed there were people in those lands who were lost, and would remain lost, unless someone brought them the glorious message of salvation in Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel that propelled the Home Mission Society to send out home missionaries to California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho and Utah.

What happened to that spirit? That missionary spirit which would not rest until it pressed forward into new harvest fields? It was lost because we lost the essence of the Gospel. We lost the conviction that Christ has come into this dark world to save and transform all people. We lost our passion for the Gospel as grounded in the unchanging truths of the Bible, and the historical fact of our Savior’s death on the cross and His subsequent bodily resurrection.

Today if you traverse the environs of Salt Lake City, Utah you will find only seven American Baptist Churches. Only one of these is healthy. One of our Utah pastors told me a few months ago that he remembers the day when there were 28 to 35 ABC related preaching stations and churches in the Salt Lake area.

T.S. To become the missional movement God desires we must recover our passion for the Gospel, the Good News that has power to change the world.

3. To Be the Missional Movement God Desires We Must Believe that Sharing this Gospel Is Job Number One.

The proclamation and dissemination of this life-changing Gospel is Job Number One. When we are giving ourselves away in the service of this Gospel it breathes life into believers, and churches. When the proclamation of the Gospel slips to second place, or third, or worse yet, is relegated to a job on a committee job description, then the church begins to die.

Yes, I know there are several important, non-negotiable purposes of the church. Worship. Community. Discipleship. Teaching. Leadership development. Service. I’ve read Rick Warren, and I applaud him, and others, who help us recover the church’s God-given purpose.

But, I submit to you that winning the world for Christ, one person at a time, is Job Number One. What other purpose--even the top ones I’ve identified--was commanded by our Lord just hours before His ascension into Heaven?

Last words are important words, that’s why they are noted, even if sometimes they are rather ludicrous. For example:

* As he lay dying in a drab Paris bedroom, Oscar Wilde’s last words were, "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
* Just before he died Douglas Fairbanks said, "I've never felt better.”
* These last words were pronounced by a man who was executed by electric chair in New York in 1928, "Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.” His name was George Appel.*
* And, then there was W.C. Fields who said during his last illness, "I have spent a lot of time searching through the Bible for loopholes.”
* “You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone dances with the Grim Reaper." — Robert Alton Harris, executed in California's gas chamber, 1992.

Actually, final instructions carry a lot of weight, especially when they are the words spoken by the second person of the Trinity. That’s why we pay special attention to them.
Remember Jesus’ last words:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”(Acts 1:8)

These essential, fundamental directives coupled with the expulsive power of the Holy Spirit given on the Day of Pentecost formed the followers of Jesus Christ into a MISSIONAL PEOPLE, and continue to do so today when we seek to obey them.

The church can only be a healthy and obedient church as it yields to the Spirit’s lead in continuing the work and mission of Jesus Christ. The head of the church, Jesus Christ, came declaring His life’s purpose: “I have come to seek and to save the lost.”

In Pentecost we have confirmation that Christ Jesus, as head of the church, directs His body to continue fulfilling His life’s purpose. The church, then, is an incarnational presence of Christ continuing the mission and ministry of God in Christ.

When the church is out of sync with the Head, it declines, fades away into non-existence, primarily because it has abandoned the mission of its Head. As someone has said, “A church that isn’t a missionary church will soon be a missing church.”

So we could say that Mission both precedes and creates the church.

Or, as Ray Anderson has written: “[It is] mission, rather than missions, [that] constitutes the ground of the church itself.” ~ Ray Anderson

Which calls to mind the words of Emil Brunner who said, “The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.”

David Bosch explains it like this, “Mission was understood as being derived from the very nature of God….Father, Son and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world…a movement from God to the world:…There is a church because there is a mission, not vice versa.”

The church as a missional people obeying Jesus’ marching orders will not rest until the world is won. This missional imperative is the driving force of a healthy church. And, it must be the driving force of any new movement that God raises up.

In most cases when a church is missional at heart and in purpose it will find ways to join forces with other missionally centered churches. At one time we understood that we were a people “on mission together.” ABC interdependence was birthed in part to expand the mission of the local church beyond its own Jerusalem.

A solitary missional church will have a great impact on the world. Yet, that impact will pale as compared to a whole tribe of missional churches linking arms together in Christ with the intention to radically turn the world upside down for the cause of Christ.

Can you imagine the spiritual impact on this nation if hundreds of churches across the nation closed ranks and launched a cooperative missional movement to win the world for Christ? I’m calling on us to become this missional movement.

4. To Be the Missional Movement God Desires We Must Embrace New Testament Practices that Sustain the Movement.

So, if we find ourselves excited about the possibilities of a new missional movement composed of ABC-related folks, what guidelines for birthing the new movement should guide our trajectory?

What will sustain this movement towards full bloom?

I would suggest there are three streams that will inform us:
1) Recent new forms of connectionalism.
2) Historic Baptist patterns of associationalism.
3) Embracing the practices of the early church.

I don’t have time to delineate these to a sufficient level of detail. But, let me sketch out how each may inform how we organize this new movement.

1. New forms of connectionalism.
There is no doubt that we are living in a “post-denominational” age even though new denominations are birthing all the time. Most of us in this room are quite aware of the emergence of networks.

These are sleek (as in efficient), simple (as in flat structure), responsive (as in little bureaucratic red tape) and pragmatic (providing resources that emerge from hands-on ministries that meet specific needs). Whatever we craft together should operate more like a network than a denomination.

Lyle Schaller in his book, From Geography to Affinity, points out that churches are already in the habit of using the services of affinity networks. How many in this room have attended a conference hosted by the Willow Creek Association; launched a 40-Days of Purpose emphasis through Saddleback; conducted stewardship training through Dave Ramsey; grabbed your sermons off Sermon Central; downloaded a graphics worship piece off Sermon Spice, set your people free through the deliverance methods taught by Freedom in Christ; organized your small group ministry through one of the G-12 Cell Group ministries; learned conflict resolution through Peacemakers Ministry, and trained your leaders through CCN?

This is to say that we are already accustomed to identifying with multiple networks at the same time. The challenge for us is to launch a movement that will provide something fundamental that these others fail to provide. And, do it in the simpler, sleeker methods of a network, rather than in the form of a denomination.

T.S. So, what might this new missional network provide? One clue may be found in the original Baptist associations.

2. Historic patterns of Baptist Associationalism.
The Philadelphia Baptist Association was formed in 1707 and was an influential model for the next hundred years of Baptist life. Prior to the emergence of the over-emphasis on local church autonomy that arose in the 19th century the association was considered a fundamental expression of the Baptist concept of the church. There were two primary reasons for this.
First: our Baptist forbearers knew that an individual church in and of itself is an incomplete expression of the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is always larger than any one local congregation. Individual churches in association gave visibility to this “invisible” reality.
Second, Baptist churches discovered that as they associated together they could accomplish more for the Kingdom of God. In fact, they were healthier in association, than as separate, isolated, stand alone congregations

Howard Stewart and Leon McBeth both inform us as to the power and function of the Association. Here’s a summary:

1. The provision of a duly qualified ministry for the churches. This association developed regulations and procedures for the recruitment, education, ordination, and placement of ministers.

2. The assoc. provided printed materials for the churches. Included in the standard publications were such items as a Confession of Faith, the Treatise of Discipline, a catechism, and a hymnal.

3. Home Missions, benevolent work, and struggle for religious liberty. The Philadelphia Assoc. began by sending missionaries into Virginia as early as 1745. They also gave funds to destitute churches and financed the relief of widows.

4. Provided models for preaching. “Preaching was always a major feature of association meetings, and churches put forward their best preachers. The younger ministers, and the less capable, heard Baptist preaching at its best and learned thereby.” (McBeth)

5. The assoc. afforded the churches an opportunity to 'upbuild one another in love”. That is, the association provided fellowship for “lonely Baptists.” “In areas sparsely settled, with Baptists at best unpopular and at worst severely persecuted, the opportunity to share with others like-minded was important.” (McBeth)

6. Theological stability. When a church deviated from the accepted Confession of Faith, the Association stepped in to give a ruling. For example, in 1748 the Minutes of the Philadelphia Association indicate a censure was requested for those who denied the foreknowledge of God. In 1784, a church admitting unbaptized persons to the Lord's Table was the recipient of letters from sister churches exhorting a discontinuance of the practice.

7. The Association assisted local churches in solving various types of problems that they could not work out for themselves. They also spoke out on political and social issues. The Associations also provided Baptists a means of speaking and acting in unity on such matters as religious liberty, separation of church and state, slavery, and the use of intoxicating beverages.

These early associational practices provide clues for working together. Couple that with the practices of the early church, and the picture comes into focus.

3. Embracing the Practices of the Early Church As one observes the early church in Acts, and read Paul’s epistles, it becomes evident that those first churches were connected together, even though miles, cultures and nations separated them. Imagine doing Paul’s ministry without a computer, email, fax machine, cell phone, web site, Honda Accord, or Southwest Airlines. Give me a break! If any group of people had excuses for not connecting together they did. Yet, throughout Acts and the epistles there evidence that the churches were “together” in spite of the miles that separated them.

I wish to identify at least five ways they managed to connect together The last two chapters of Romans will be my main source, but these chapters are certainly not exhaustive.

1. They joined together for MUTUAL ENCOURAGEMENT and ACCOUNTABILITY. Romans 15:14, 15; 32, 33

Paul went from church to church encouraging them, bringing greetings from their sister churches, and addressing issues in the churches. Here is an example.
14I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again,… 32so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. 33The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Paul gives the Roman church high marks. Look at his encouraging words! The letter does not seek to redress errors. Yet, Paul has written bold points to remind them again of certain essential truths of the faith that must not recede in their appreciation.

Yet, this is not a one-way street. Paul looks forward to his visit with the Romans and he describes it like a commercial for a soft drink (maybe Pepsi or Coke), only better: “together with you [we will] be refreshed.”

There are a few of us who have such internal fortitude and drive that we can press on without encouragement. These are the energizer bunny leaders who just keep on keeping on. For the rest of us more mortal men and women, we’re more like nickel metal hydrides. We need to be regularly plugged in and charged up.

Paul was always sending a Timothy or a Tychicus or a Barnabas to encourage the church. No wonder he commands:
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” I Thess 5:11

2. They joined together in SHARING RESOURCES. Romans 15:23-27
25Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.

Paul was keenly intent on the Gentile churches sharing financial resources with the poorer believers in Jerusalem. Just as the Jerusalem church had shared their spiritual blessing with others, the Gentile churches return the favor by sharing their financial blessings. The churches shared resources with one another.3. They joined together in DEVELOPING and SUPPORTING LEADERS. Romans 16

Have you paid attention this list in Romans 16? I find it fascinating. Here is a long list of workers, apostles, and ministers that Paul recognizes as partners in the Gospel. Have you ever wondered where they came from? He, and others, developed them. Paul, and the other apostles, were devoted to the multiplication of leadership. Other evidence in scripture include these passages:
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Acts 14:23
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. Titus 1:5

4. They joined together in MISSION (primarily in the form of church planting). Romans 15:18-20
18I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—19by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known,

Paul’s all consuming passion is to “lead the Gentiles to obey God.” Through preaching, service, displays of signs and miracles, and the power of the Holy Spirit; he has “fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.”

If you were to join Paul at Starbuck’s for a Grande Triple-Shot Caramel Macciatto he would direct the conversation to this grand venture. Paul wouldn’t be interested in sport, news or weather. He would talk about sharing the Gospel! 23But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, 24I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.

Now Paul sets his sights on Spain, the next mission field. He could have made his plans to go directly to Spain and by-pass the church in Rome. His mission theology, however, includes the church as strategic and instrumental for this mission. He writes to the Roman church to solicit their investment in this mission. If the Roman church joins him in this endeavor they will become his base of operation.

We would be wise to re-embrace this principle, that is, “go to Spain via the ‘nearest church!’” Go to New England and plant evangelical churches through the missional cooperation of this new movement we are birthing. Come to the Northwest and plant churches where more unchurched people live than any other place in America.

5. They joined together in PRAYER. Romans 15:30-31
30I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. 31Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there,
There is no record of any revival in the world that was not birthed out of a concert of prayer.

What would happen if we truly focused on prayer? Baptists have historically been people of prayer. What if we renewed our heart for being a missional movement through a renewed commitment to prayer? What might God do through us?

What if our prayers primarily focused on reaching the lost, on churches attempting a transition, on new churches that were being birthed?So, here you have it. A short list of how New Testament practices that missional people do together:
• Mutual encouragement and accountability
• Sharing resources
• Developing leaders
• Joining together in mission efforts
• Prayer

Story of Tim Brown and Clovis FBC. We have been so blessed by the help we received from our Region that we want to share that blessing with others. (Ministers Conference, Tools for the Trade, Ministered in two of our churches, and Intermountain Area coming up.)

Story of Vida, MT…Dan Purchase looking for partners, resources, prayer warriors, and co-workers to plant churches where there is no evangelical witness. We don’t have limited resources for helping him. Do any of you want to join him; I’ll help you make the connection!

These are the kingdom endeavors we can do together IF we are willing to join together and become a missional movement. It will require that:
• we agree on the nature of the Gospel
• believe the Gospel is nothing less than life-changing
• we demonstrate that sharing the Gospel is Job Number One
• we follow connectional, historical and scriptural practices for sustaining the movement as we launch it.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"His Barking Dog" Open for Business

In our age of varied and persistent challenges to the authority of the Word of God, “His Barking Dog” is but one more voice offering news, commentary, and opinion. My orientation is that of an Evangelical Baptist. For the immediate future, most of my blogs will deal with controversies within the American Baptist Churches, USA.

“His Barking Dog” is open for business!

Dennis E. McFadden

[For purists, the Calvin quote about the barking dog, "Un chien abaye, sil voyt quon assaille son maistre; ie serois bien lasche, si en voyant la verite de dieu ainsi assallye, ie faisois du muet sans sonner mot," can be found in Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1997). History of the Christian church.]