Reprinted from American Baptist Evangelicals' "An eConnections Update: Lombard and Beyond"
The hour was 3:00 a.m. November 23, 1982, and I was sleeping deeply after preparing lecture notes until well after midnight. The next morning would be an open house at the Bible college where I taught, so I wanted to be at my best.
“John!” exclaimed my otherwise thoughtful and patient wife, “I think my water just broke. We have to get moving NOW.” My firstborn had decided to show up three weeks early and has had a mind of his own ever since. There was no stopping him or even slowing him down. The only question at that point was whether the responsible grownups involved would make sure that he got off to a healthy start. There’s something about new life that captures our imagination and compels us to reorder our plans. It is not always convenient, pain-free or cheap. But we know that the result is worthy of the labor. How else could siblings be explained? (You can fool me once ....)
A new organization for Baptist congregations of evangelical conviction is being birthed, and at this point there is no stopping it. There was an early contraction in 1992 when the ABC was barely capable of declaring homosexual conduct “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Another contraction came in 1996 when the ABCW removed four congregations for proudly promoting that conduct, and the ABC responded with measured accommodation toward both sides. At the 2003 Biennial, labor was induced by divergent speakers, each of whom provoked separate constituencies to walk out, and AWAB demonstrated within the auditorium to celebrate ten years of advocating for the gay rights agenda within the ABC.
Contractions came faster in 2004 as National Ministries and the Office of General Secretary failed to support the largely evangelical Board of International Missions at a critical juncture, and an outside consultant warned Valley Forge about the imminent consequences of glossing over moral issues.
The water finally broke this year, 2005: Calls to implement the 1992 policy were deftly sidelined by Valley Forge at the Biennial in Denver, with the result that disenfranchised pastors and executives may have spent more time in side meetings than official sessions. PSW subsequently initiated withdrawal from (not breaking of) covenant with Valley Forge. Scores of West Virginia churches are pressing their region to follow suit. Ten evangelical Executive Ministers have pledged mutual support and relationship to each other (eight who gathered at Parchment Valley plus two others who had pledged their support prior). Most significantly, the Summons to Lead gathering of 350 leaders at Northern Seminary in September was virtually unanimous in its call to see a new organization formed for Baptist congregations holding to traditional biblical morality and authority, regardless of their status with the ABC.
While there is no question that a baby is on the way, there is a big question about what she is going to be when she grows up. If the new organization were to be dominated by protest against the failures of Valley Forge, it would have an essentially negative sense of mission. In other words, it would be defined primarily by what it is against. While it is good to be against everything “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and sometimes good to form protest organizations, the mission of the church is distinctly positive. Jesus first words to his disciples were, “Come follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.” His last words to them were a commencement address at the completion of this training program: “Go, make disciples of all nations.”
Think of what a new national network of congregations and like-minded mission organizations can accomplish in evangelism if it does the following:
· Puts more resources into making more disciples than into anything else
· Helps healthy growing congregations to reproduce others
· Resources healthy congregations that are already growing and reproducing
· Transforms other congregations that are not growing and reproducing
· Takes an unequivocal stand on biblical orthodoxy and morality
· Majors on the major issues and minors on the minor ones
· Leaves old political battles behind to redirect energy into evangelism
How often do we get a chance to be part of new life? My wife and I have two children who are now in their early twenties. Each of them is precious to us and was a privilege to help shape in early formative years.
How often do you get a chance to be part of a new movement of congregations on a national scale? And how often do you get to be in at the beginning to help shape it? And how accountable would you be to God for making the most of that opportunity to increase the population of heaven?
One thing that makes church planting so much fun is the opportunity to start painting on a blank canvas. No blobs, cracks, or faded strokes to distract you from designing and executing a new ministry masterpiece. It’s a fresh beginning, a chance to revisit the bedrock truths of God’s Word and build on them a solid, functional and attractive superstructure. I had the privilege of planting two successful churches and leading them to grow. For the last five or six years I have had the privilege of serving as a consultant and church planting director in a region so effective in mission that denominational groups from all over the English-speaking world come every year to the ABCW to learn what we are doing.
Now I hope to see this new national organization springing forth from the Summons to Lead at Northern Seminary receive the right DNA and grow to maturity as a fellowship of Baptist congregations which we will be proud to say is making more new disciples together than we could ever do by ourselves. I don’t know how much the new baby will weigh at birth, maybe 300 congregations, maybe many times that figure, but wherever it begins, I pray and expect it to grow, to be fruitful and to multiply. The water has broken. We have to get moving NOW!
Editorial note: Dr. Kaiser captures the mood of the Summit to Lead conferees with his well-spoken overview of how we got where we are today. Avoiding the negative vision and affirming a positive sense of mission cannot be emphasized strongly enough.