Wednesday, November 02, 2005

New England Executive Minister Feels Pentecostal Fire in ABC Meeting When "The Baptists Finally Showed Up"

Yesterday and today, Dr. Glenn Layne blogged about the state of evangelical life in the American Baptist Churches in New England ( Some of his report dealt with the position of the regional executive minister from Vermont and New Hampshire, Dr. Z. Allen Abbott. As to the questions about Dr. Abbott’s view of the Denver experience, he virtually gushed over it in his report on the event, "The Baptists Finally Showed Up." Dr. Abbott said:

It is a great time to be an American Baptist. I am more excited about our Baptist movement today than I have been in years. Let me tell you why. Amidst a flurry of worry and misinformation, American Baptists gathered in Denver for our regularly scheduled meetings in hopes of avoiding a schism. After years of posturing, threats,money games and growing polarization, it seemed that the fomenting reached an eruption point.

Formal action was being taken to force an end game. Yet those who came expecting fireworks went home disappointed; there were some sparklers and firecrackers, but no big explosions. Instead, God showed up.

Dr. Abbott compares the current situation in the ABCUSA to a local church conflict. He observes:

Have you ever been in a nasty local church fight? It starts with whispered accusations, phone calls, coalition building, and distrust. Then things go public—name calling, pounding each other with the Bible, communication breakdowns, and even attempts to force others out of the church. If that fails, the warring parties threaten to leave if they are not pacified. All the while the church moves farther and farther away from the Holy Spirit, sweet koinonia, evangelism, agape, openminded Bible study, generosity and mission support. Funds are withheld to force leverage against the church—which of course hurts most of all the missionaries and the people to whom they minister. Escalating demands are made: “Everyone has to agree to my views, or else I’m gone!” Being good Christians, we are concerned about bringing (and keeping) everyone to Christ’s communion table, not ejecting folks. But after so long, we grow tired of contorting the entire organization in a useless attempt to satisfy someone who keeps coming up with new demands. Things finally reach a point when the congregation says, “Enough is enough!” And either they capitulate and become dysfunctional, or they return to their foundational mission and ministry. The antagonists, if they won, inherit a sadly injured church largely devoid of the presence of God. If the antagonists leave, the congregation regroups. They may be smaller, but they are more focused and know God will help them recover.

Dr. Abbott also compares the behavior of groups such as American Baptist Evangelicals to that of schismatics in the local congregation. Pastors who have been victimized by the worst of lay abuses suddenly turn around and embrace such tactics of "naming, blaming, and shaming" opponents. Coming to Denver, ready to play our roles in a Shakespearean like tragedy, "we were poised to either implode or explode. But God showed up."

In his characterization of the Denver Biennial, Dr. Abbott was quick to see the conflict in terms of an overreaching by so-called "reformers."

In frustration and drastic final attempts, the “reformers” overreached repeatedly. A ridiculous attempt to disconnect International Ministries was exposed; our missionaries and staff were not even aware of what was going on. The Baptists responded with disgust and outrage. A seemingly endless line of folks stormed the Baptist fortress demanding fundamental redefining of our Baptist distinctives. “Make the General Board a legislative body with authority to set policy for the whole family including the local church!” “Create an enforcement arm to coerce compliance or else!” “Throw out dissenters!” “More regulation!” “Our group is the only group with the absolute truth! God is on our side!” “You folks just don’t believe the Bible!” In the saber-rattling cacophony, the Baptists finally showed up.

Opining that God was present in Denver in an almost pentecostal way, Dr. Abbott interpreted the Biennial as an avoidance of disaster by being centered in Christ and united in mission. As he said so clearly:

No longer will we allow our American Baptist mission and ministry to be held hostage by those whose allegiance is primarily to themselves. It doesn’t take King Solomon to recognize the baby’s real mother. I fully expect a splintering of our ABC fellowship over the next year, but not a catastrophic split. I regret that many who choose to leave will have been misinformed. But by and large, those of us gathered in Denver seemed to recognize if God can use us with all our differences, then let’s go forward together. God will help us figure it out as we go. That’s the American Baptist way.

Despite his deep background working with men’s ministries throughout the ABCUSA, any thought that Dr. Abbott has much respect for the evangelical wing of the ABCUSA should be quickly dismissed. His triumphalist rhetoric, so strange among EMs who are typically obsessively careful and "balanced," betrays a level of partisanship that I had heard only pertained to those of us on the right. Dr. Layne blogged that Dr. Abbott claimed he was “willing to die for” his core beliefs. Having read his article, we can easily see what principle he is "willing to die for." Radical individualized autonomy, not biblical authority, excites his pious passions, inflames his sense of mission, and reminds him of God's pentecostal presence.

Dennis E. McFadden

[Just my opinion as a private citizen in the PSW; not connected to any board, office, or officialdom]

No comments: