Friday, June 30, 2006

A Reminder of the Need for Civility

I want to take this opportunity to thank a reader for reminding all of us of the need for civility ("Food for thought"). Yesterday I elected to cite obliquely an email being circulated about me among members of the REMC/GEC as part of my typical disclaimer in a message board posting. Another blogger chose to print the text of the e-mail in full yesterday afternoon in my defense, replete with all of the angry recriminations and name calling against my blogging/posting efforts (as was his right, no complaints here, just a little red-faced embarrassment; who wants the entire blogosphere to know that the top echelon of the denomination thinks you're an idiot?).

Obviously these are trying times for our Valley Forge staff. Feeling attacked, criticized, and/or critiqued by people in the hustings is never pleasant for those who mean well and who have devoted themselves to being servants of Christ and of the churches. Just think about how much you enjoy being slammed by members of your church and/or board.

My heart goes out to the top VF staff, almost ALL of whom I have known, respected, and shared both meetings and meals with over the years. Watching the denomination teeter cannot be a pleasant task. Having people like us in the message boards and blogs informing the "folks" about the progress being made in their deliberations must be disconcerting at least.

We are, however, in a new phase of the information revolution. Gone forever are monopolistic channels of communication. Anyone with a keyboard and internet access can participate in national discussions, regardless of their location or station in life. The new situation, however, does imply a heightened level of responsibility about the stewardship of this information revolution.

One of my readers chided me last night, suggesting that I should read the "Ethics of Blogging" on the Ministers Council website. Actually, he evidently does not know that when the article first appeared on the Roger Williams Fellowship site many months ago, I reprinted it in full and with some kind words of commendation of my own. Precisely BECAUSE the issues dividing us in the ABC are so heart-felt, we must continue to exercise civility even as we disagree passionately.

The nature of this medium has proven conducive to harsh and intemperate rhetoric in part because of the peculiarly disembodied nature of it (cf. a similar problem with e-mail). If I have failed to affirm often enough my honest affection and respect for our national ABC leadership, please accept my apologies. As Matt Labash writes about bloggers, "Take away their narcissism, their lust for attention, and their ravenous appetite or self-congratulation . . . and they're a meek lot." Heaven forbid that we should imitate the worst of the world's style of blogging!

Nevertheless, it is precisely because we are in the state we are in that it becomes all the more important for information to be disseminated as widely as possible. The ABNS has always tended to specialize in a very one-sided "official" version of events (cf. the report on the Michigan proposal in the ABNS report during last year's biennial).

Since much uncertainty exists, rapid dissemination of news will continue, despite the disapproval from official channels. My hope is that we can disagree without expressing the anger, rancor, and bitterness so often characteristic of some of the other "Baptist" message boards. And, when proven wrong, we must be quick to correct any factual inaccuracies in our reports.

Bottom line: many of us believe passionately in our cause. We are convinced that the issue at hand is not one of an inept organization to be remedied with a little structural tweaking. Nor are we merely facing an intramural difference of opinion over a relatively unimportant issue on which Jesus never spoke. Those of us on the right see this as a matter of the authority of Jesus Christ and of his word. So, let's be civil but unmovable; charitable to those with whom we disagree but standing fast; always holding out an olive branch of fellowship, but never yielding an inch on the authority of Christ or of his word.

[Still claiming to speak for only myself, and I don't always even agree with me either; please don't confuse me with any of the "official" sources of information in the ABC]

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal -- At Least in ABC Circles

Earlier this week I reported on first impressions from the recent round of ABC meetings. Now more of the news has come in and the picture is much more "optimistic" for Dr. Medley's position than I had understood it to be when writing the first report.

In a round of e-mails circulating between members of the General Executive Council, industrial strength wordsmithing has been applied to the upcoming press release describing actions of the GEC. At this point, the participants are intent on finding a way to work the word "transformational" into the statement in place of the more pedestrian "helpful," "progressive," or "positive." They want to be seen as advocating truly radical and transformational, rather than merely incremental, changes in the organization supporting ABC life.

One person suggested that the public release should simply say that "we engaged in discussion about controversial issues that have paralyzed us. And that we think we have a starting place for meaningfully addressing issues that divide us."

Others have seen an analogue to the controversy over WCC/NCC participation a couple of decades ago. Conservatives who were bothered by the affiliation were given the option to go on record as non-supporting of the WCC/NCC. An additional advantage is that conservatives seemed placated by that earlier solution.

In preparation for a September meeting of the GEC, about a half dozen structural change scenarios (complete with the advantages and disadvantages of each) are being discussed and evaluated. Several who have been part of the nay-saying crowd are reportedly speaking more optimistically of the prospects for finding a structural solution to the current impasse. At least they want to (as one participant put it) "give it one more try for the Gipper."

I am dubious of the strategy to find our salvation in structural changes. The core problem relates to deeply held theological differences in core beliefs. Papering over such divides with the arcane argot of bylaws will hardly satisfy anyone.

Unfortunately reporting on ABC life can be hazardous. I am not sure how much longer these reports will be continued. However, as long as there is information to be had, you will hear what can be known.

[His Barking Dog pretends to no power, authority, or insider status anywhere. These are merely the grunts of an old dog gnawing on a few bones out back of the house.]

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Word Picture for Our ABC Life

Yesterday, one of my readers observed what he decided was an air of giddiness in my relating of horrible news. Then, he observed that I just cannot bear the thought of the ABC surviving without me. In response, I proffered the following word picture which captures better than extended argument my current attitude.

"I fear that we are falling from a burning plane, tangled up in the parachute cords with our liberal friends and fellow passengers. Unless we push away from each other soon, neither of us will survive the fall."

My contention is that BOTH the left and the right will do MUCH better in separate organizations, freed from the enervating effects of all of this wrangling over secondary issues. The past decades have been a distraction from mission rather than a pursuit of it. Some have written "Valley Forge delenda est." I have NOT joined that chorus. My concern is to see an amicable separation where, as Dr. Medley says, we purpose to "do each other no harm."

[His Barking Dog opines as a lone voice, without giddiness or delight in the failures of the denomination and without any connection to any group, persons, or authorities in the southwest]

Monday, June 26, 2006

Re Cap of ABC General Executive Council Meetings

Today the upper management of the ABC, known as the General Executive Council (GEC) gathered for their normal sessions following the General Board meetings of the last five days. What did they accomplish? Early reports are sketchy, but here are a couple of bullets worth thinking about (drawn from both the GB and GEC) that you probably will not read in the American Baptist News Service . . .

* The General Board heard a report from the Budget Review Officer, Lloyd Hamblin, who gave them a very dark picture of the finances of the ABC. After receiving the report, the body moved on to the next agenda item as if they had just heard news of a room change for the next session. One participant commented that either the level of denial was too seductive or they just do not care any longer. (I vote for denial. My experience is that most GB and GEC members care passionately about the ABC).

* The GEC members spent a good bit of their time discussing the various alternatives for restructuring of the denomination. With the assistance of consultant Trisha Jones, a list was constructed with all of the advantages and disadvantages of the varying proposals.

Again, you will probably find leaders who speak positively of the experience. However, one member of the GEC told me: "Nothing was accomplished of any substance other than there are more of the execs beginning to think that structure will not fix anything. Some are losing any hope of a magic fix that will save the ABC, more and more talk about how to separate peacefully."

Doubtless there will be more information flowing from the meetings in the coming days. These are early reports which are based upon a very partial sampling of those in attendance.

[His Barking Dog keeps his ear to the rails as a lone listener trying to hear the news of importance without getting run over by the passing train. Please do not misinterpret my writings as speaking for ANY group, body, or clique of official engineers or conductors. I'm just the guy who puts the penny on the tracks.]

Sunday, June 25, 2006

General Board Sends Message to PSW Baptists

I have always thought that the ABNS had a unique gift for understatement. Notice how the June 25 press release, "AMERICAN BAPTISTS RESPOND TO REGION’S WITHDRAWAL," perfects that tendency by leaving some of the important points unsaid.

ABCUSA General Secretary A. Roy Medley told General Board members that discussions with the region’s leaders as recently as two weeks ago have been conducted “in a spirit of not wanting to do each other any harm, in seeking to bless one another even in separation.” National and regional officers are engaged in working out details of the separation, including such matters as disposition of property and status of pastors, he said.

Dr. Medley wants to work out an amicable separation without rancor or ugliness. Praise God! What a spirit of generosity. At least this will not be a repeat of the tragic anger and recriminations of the GARB and CBA splits in the 30's and 40's respectively. I have been saying for years that we should "bless one another, even in separation." But, wait, better check the rest of the press release.

Set the 2009 Biennial convention for June 25-29, 2009, in Pasadena, Calif.

Pasadena? Isn't that located in the heart of the former Pacific Southwest? Won't that be interpreted as an "in your face" slap from the denomination? Isn't Pasadena First Baptist one of the handful of congregations voting to remain with the ABCUSA? Maybe this was "in the works" for years. Who knows if Dr. Salico was consulted. Perhaps he signed off on this as a gesture of cordiality? But, whether he did or not, the reality of the event will be a direct assault on the new Transformation Ministries.

In view of the changing situation vis a vis PSW, would it not have been a better idea to reward the stalwart loyalty of Dr. Chetti and move the biennial to L.A.? Having attended the 100th Gala of his region, I can testify that it was the MOST IMPRESSIVE denominational event I had ever attended (albeit a bit long). With Sam handling the local arrangements, you could almost guarantee a FANTASTIC program with (or without) Valley Forge assistance. And, with nearly 1,000 people in attendance at the gala, that would speak well of a built in constituency for the biennial. Imagine having a thousand locals to bolster your numbers! [Editorial note: a knowlegeable source tells me that Sam pushed pretty hard for the Biennial in L.A. and that the event will be hosted by ABCLA).

As it stands, announcing Pasadena as the venue is a little bit like insisting on holding a family reunion at the home of the daughter-in-law who just divorced your son because that was the plan developed at the reunion last year when they were still married. Now, the biennial becomes an "in your face" to Transformation Ministries and stands to be a very low attendance event due to lack of local support and promotion. Sheesh! Only a group like ours would be able to send two wrong messages in a single act.

Very, very, interesting. So much for blessing one another, even in separation.

[His Barking Dog has never had an unuttered thought in his life. So don't expect me to mimic the sublety of the American Baptist News Service OR to pretend to speak for any organization or authority anywhere. My rants are strictly personal and unrelated to any official position or office.]

“Brave New World” Wasn’t Scary Enough!

Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, penned a terrifying report on a recent Stanford Law School sponsored conference for The Weekly Standard (June 26, 2006, pp. 20-24). The conference, “Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights,” held last month was a gathering of transhumanists.

Transhumanism, Smith explains, “is a radical movement emanating from the universities that seeks to enhance human capacities via technology. The ultimate goal is a utopian world of ‘post-humans,’ such as human/robot hybrids and human consciousness downloaded into computers that will live for thousands of years.”

Transhumanists advocate dispensing with “human racism” and other quaint ideas that people possess unique “moral status flowing from their humanity.” In place of a doctrine of the imago dei, transhumanists substitute “personhood,” a status available to all “self-aware entities—whether human, post-human, machine, chimera, or robot.”

In the future, in addition to sexism, racism, and homophobism, we will be confronted with the sin of “substratism,” a belief that discrimination based upon the kind of stuff of which you are made (whether organic, silicon, or other) is equally morally repugnant. Whether born, assembled, or hatched, we should all have equal rights we are told. Perhaps people will be prosecuted for abuse of their computers in the brave new world of the transhumanists.

Much of the transhumanist agenda sounds so weird and sci-fi that we are tempted to dismiss it out of hand. However, the conference also dealt with some of the more attainable goals. Women freed from “unnecessary” menstruation through new technology birth control pills that inhibit menses for months at a time, a near-absolute right to be “enhanced” (even if it is physically harmful such as lopping off limbs and other body parts), and a moral imperative to “uplift” animals to human levels of intelligence were presented as attainable goals. Conferees seriously discussed all mammalian life becoming post-biological in order to eliminate suffering and the brute side of “nature.”

In the final analysis, the transhumanist agenda represents a quest for extending life forever. When Aubrey De Grey speaks of “Our Right to Life,” he means our “putative right never to die.”

In the near term the impact of such tinkering with human nature will be seen in a continuation of the abortion of 90% of Down’s syndrome babies in the U.S., the late term abortion of babies with correctable defects such as cleft palates and clubfeet in Great Britain, and the redirection of medical technology to “enhancements” rather than therapeutic treatments.

For creatures possessing the “breath of life” and created in the image of God, these trends sound more like the hubris of the Tower of Babel than the fulfillment of our call to have dominion and to subdue the earth.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Safeguarding the "Stewardship of Our Common Life"???

VALLEY FORGE, PA. (ABNS)-American Baptists were called to safeguard "the stewardship of our common life," in an address by General Secretary A. Roy Medley to the denomination's General Board meeting here this week.

Medley spoke at a time of concern, when one region, the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest (now called Transformation Ministries), has decided to withdraw from the denomination, and local-church contributions to the fund that supports its national structure have been declining.

He noted that "discord and controversy are not new to us," but that American Baptists have surmounted many similar difficulties since the denomination's founding in 1907 as the Northern Baptist Convention.

A March meeting of regional executive ministers, he said, displayed "a deep love for this family and a desire for God to continue to work through ABC in a powerful way." All were agreed, he said, on the power of the focus statement that American Baptist churches should "nurture devoted disciples of Jesus Christ who live their lives in mission and ministry for the healing of the world through the love of God."

Medley also pointed to agreement on the key ministry areas of radical discipleship, healthy missional churches, leadership, youth, church planting, stewardship, and mutual faithfulness.

Baptists, he noted, have always faced "the issue of the proper balance between autonomy and interdependence, between the I and the we, which is under consideration in our discussions of organization. What ought to be evident to everyone is that neither pole of that continuum can be collapsed. Autonomy and interdependence must always be in play with one another for there to be authentic Baptist expression of the larger body of Christ."

Speaking at the opening plenary session of the General Board's five-day meeting, Medley told board members that "to you and to the elected leaders of the various partners in the denomination has been entrusted the stewardship of our common life. That is a precious trust."

Andrew C. Jayne American Baptist Churches, USA Mission Resource Development

Let's deconstruct the statement made by Dr. Medley regarding areas of agreement across regions. Yes, it is true that we can all embrace the buzz words of the Seek It! process. But, do we mean the same things by them?

Radical Discipleship: in the traditional regions this begins with a call to personal decision, responding to the gift of salvation made possible by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. It extends to a kingdom commitment to living for Jesus Christ in all areas of life. In progressive areas, this sometimes entails the embrace of social ideologies such as radical feminism, the advocacy of same sex unions, the promotion of a GLBT agenda, etc. In some cases, the idea of evangelism has been interpreted in structural rather than personal categories. "Speaking truth to power" is the way our friends on the left often characterize their discipleship rather than a pilgrimage of faith beginning with personal conversion.

While few, if any, conservatives would want to see salvation from sin’s penalty as the terminus ad quem of radical discipleship, it must certainly count as the terminus a quo. Yet, within the “diversity” celebrated within the ABC, some may focus on a “salvation” viewed socially and structurally rather than involving any kind of personal application of Christ’s atoning work.

Healthy Missional Churches: traditional regions commonly promote ideas of congregational health including expectations of numerical expansion of the Christian movement. Christianity has been flourishing in Africa, Asia, and South America while remaining essentially static in North America. Traditionalists cannot conceive of “healthy missional churches” that are not baptizing significant numbers of people each year.

Yet, the "remnant theology" of the progressive party defines health almost exclusively in qualitative terms. Dr. Medley, for example, has been able even to spin the loss of the PSW as something that need not be viewed as a set back for the denomination! Continued hemorrhaging of members only serves to vindicate the rectitude of the left rather than to chasten them.

Leadership: Traditionalists hold that biblical mandates establish the parameters for godly leadership. The criteria for service in the church established in the Pastoral Epistles speaks of living a life “above reproach,” one that strives to live in repentance and with Godly morality. For the progressives in our fellowship, “leadership” may appropriate currently popular biblical themes such as “servanthood.” However, with no clear sense of boundaries to the faith, one has few stipulations as to who may aspire to lead Christ’s church. The litany of slogans common to the GLBT movement often dominates the rhetoric, or at least militates against firm moral and biblical expectations.

Youth: Traditionalists believe in youth ministry and in continually calling young people to Christ and to his service. In several decades of attending a week of jr. high and another week of senior high camps, I witnessed dozens of young people (including two of my own children) commit to full time vocational Christian service. Believing that youth need to hear God’s call, be firmly grounded in their faith, and taught to embrace Kingdom values, evangelical youth ministry is, frankly, evangelistic. Some of more progressive expressions of ABC life are happy to use the platform of youth ministry to promote a social agenda and ideas anathema to the sensibilities of the traditionalists.

Church planting: Traditionalists take seriously the call to plant new churches. Research shows conclusively that the fastest growing congregations are new ones. For this reason conservative regions such as Transformation Ministries (aka ABCPSW) have been aggressive in planting new fellowships. However, even here, the refusal by the left to distinguish between churches with a GLBT agenda significantly differentiates the mission and goal of “church planting” efforts.

Stewardship: Obviously both the left and right believe in stewardship. We are called to be faithful with time, talents, and treasures. But, since the two polarities of our fellowship define the ideal of radical discipleship so differently, we will necessarily struggle with this point as well. Traditionalists want to fund ministries that provide both presence and proclamation, not only offering a cup of cold water in Jesus' name but leading lost people to the transforming Christ of the Gospel. They do not want to promote the GLBT agenda, to see money go to speakers who undermine traditional Christianity, or to fund an organization that seems congenitally incapable of saying no to the heterodox and the heretical.

Mutual Faithfulness: If this descriptor is interpreted in terms of the historic Baptist principle of associationalism, traditionalists will quickly agree with the emphasis. The New Testament and our four centuries of Baptist shared experience testify to the need for congregations to join together in covenantal relationships marked by mutual faithfulness. However, if we define our interdependence in terms of radical images of individualistic soul liberty, then traditionalists will strongly object. Without the association having the ability to refuse to associate with churches they do not believe to be within the bounds, mutual faithfulness becomes little more than a slogan evacuated of its biblical and Baptist meaning. The travesty of four congregations placed under discipline by the ABCW being encouraged to find new lodging within other geographically distant regions made a mockery of Baptist polity and notions of “mutual faithfulness.”

[His Barking Dog claims no special ken for "radical discipleship" let alone connection to any organization, group, authority, or policy makers in California.]

What is the Relationship Between the ABC and the Alliance Anyway?

Last month a denominational official suggested that there are virtually no ties between the ABCUSA and the Alliance of Baptists. Not only do they not engage in joint projects, but there are no conversations between the leaders of the two groups. Readers may wonder how I could have missed the point so dramatically. Well, read some selections from Dr. Stan Hastey's "State of the Alliance" address a couple of months ago and you will see the basis for my conclusions that our ABC leadership and that of the Alliance may be closer than some suggest. This is not to argue that Valley Forge staff do not attempt to live within the constraints of the '92 Resolution on human sexuality. However, the ties linking the two groups are probably much closer than advertised.

Stan Hastey’s “State of the Alliance” Address An Annual Report to the Alliance of Baptists, By Stan Hastey, Executive Director, Birmingham, Alabama, April 22, 2006 (my boldings and selections from a much longer document).

Perhaps it will surprise you to hear how American Baptist the Alliance is becoming. Of 117 congregations currently affiliated with the Alliance, 51 are ABC/USA churches as well. Most of the new churches in the Alliance over the past three or four years have ties, historic and present, to ABC/USA. . . .

Later this morning in the report of our Nominating Committee, you will be presented with dramatic new evidence of the increasingly vital role American Baptists are playing in the Alliance. Both Jim Hopkins of Oakland, California, and Kristy Pullen of Reston, Virginia (but until recently of Pennsylvania), have spent their entire careers in ministry in the context of American Baptist life. Their nominations as president and vice president, respectively, speak to the evolution of the Alliance from a predominantly regional movement across the Bible belt into a truly national body of Baptists. This is not meant to sound grandiose, because we all know that within the vast sea of Baptists in this country our ship is small. But it is a seaworthy vessel nonetheless, one that has navigated some tricky and even treacherous waters but is now moving out toward horizons yet unknown to us

. . . On the vessel known as Alliance, we are traveling companions as well of lesbians and gays and bisexual and transgender persons. Some say of us that we doomed ourselves to perpetual smallness the day in 1995 we received and affirmed our ground-breaking statement on sexual orientation. It is true that we delimited our numerical growth by becoming a movement that welcomes and affirms those of same-sex orientation. But I sense we’ve about gotten over worrying about it. I’ll even go so far as to say that we’re beginning to ride a rising tide of acceptance of those of minority sexual orientations that some day will take us to the higher ground of genuine equality. This doesn’t mean there aren’t yet storms to weather out there, especially by those victimized for doing nothing more than reflecting openly the image of God stamped on them. To you, the Alliance says, “We are on the journey with you, all the day long and all the way through.”

. . . As for our friends of the American Baptist Churches in the USA . . . we continue to maintain open lines of communication and engage in mutually beneficial joint projects. Among these is Baptist Builders, an on-the-ground effort based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for relief to African American churches devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This effort is being co-sponsored by PNBC, ABC/USA, CBF, the District of Columbia Baptist Convention, and the Alliance. All these other bodies are putting significant amounts of money into the project, yet have insisted the Alliance be included at the table. They recognize that many of our churches are affiliated with one or more of them as well and want us to be part of this specifically targeted effort to make a difference in south Louisiana.

In addition, I must mention the special affection toward the Alliance demonstrated by Roy Medley, the still-new General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches in the USA, who made a point of inviting me to his installation three years ago and repeatedly has expressed his appreciation for the Alliance.

[His Barking Dog continues an independent course of commentary and editorial observations unfettered by connections to any organization, entity, gang, or jazzercize class anywhere in California. ]

Monday, June 19, 2006

Episcopalians and Presbyterians Lurch Toward Schism; What Shall We Call the Trinity Next: "Rock, Paper, Scissors"???

Episcopalians and Presbyterians lurched toward schism in their meetings this past week.

Showing a strong preference for provocative symbolism, the ECUSA selected an oceanographer (Ph.D.) turned priest (M.Div.), Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, bishop of Nevada, from a slate of seven nominees, on the fifth ballot June 18, as the 26th Presiding Bishop. Her term of office will run for the next nine years.

Jefferts Schori has not only shown strong support for a progressive agenda, but she was also one of those casting her vote in favor of the elevation of gay priest, Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Since her election, she has been quoted by the press as fuzzy on the idea of an afterlife and certain that God creates some of his children for opposite gender relationships and some for same-sex love.

Meanwhile Presbyterians showed a cautious willingness to embrace gender neutral formulations of the Trinity. In place of the traditional "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," delegates "received" a report suggesting "Mother, Child and Womb" and "Rock, Redeemer, Friend." In Presbyterian polity to "receive" a report falls just short of total endorsement. It allows church officials to propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the Trinity.

Among some of the other proposed phrases, include:
• "Lover, Beloved, Love"
• "Creator, Savior, Sanctifier"
• "King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love."

Gee, with such creativity and liberty in expression, can "Rock, Paper, Scissors" be far behind? Tomorrow the Presbyterians decide on a "local' option allowing for some measure of latitude in the ordination of gay clergy and lay officers in committed same sex relationships.

Both the Episcopalians and Presbyterians seemed certain to alienate significant portions of their constituencies with these recent moves. If not actual schism, one might expect a continuation of the downward trend of membership as these once venerable mainline bodies continue to hemorrhage members.

[His Barking Dog eschews the novelties of post-modernity. While the mainliners play "Rock, Paper, Scissors" with the Holy Trinity, I continue to speak out as an individual voice unconnected to any organization or denominational authority.]

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Larry King Interviews Panel on Homosexuality and the Church; Tone Sounds Just Like ABC Conversations

Larry King feted an impressive panel of experts tonight. Dealing with homosexuality in the church, Episcopal Bishops Frank Griswold and Gene Robinson, Rev. Jo Hudson of The Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, and Time columnist Andrew Sullivan held forth in favor of acceptance of gay sex while Canon David Anderson, Roman Catholic Father Michael Manning, and Southern Baptist Al Mohler all defended the traditional view.

Rev. Griswold, Presiding Bishop, ECUSA, answered Larry’s question about where do “you stand,” with the answer: “Gays have a privileged place in our church and are integral to our ministry.” He cited that a “diverse center” is the overwhelming reality of the ECUSA and that “mission is what galvanizes Episcopalians.” Citing Jesus’ Upper Room discourse, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13), he averred that it is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit to continue leading us into all truth, even that which is new and “beyond” the previous revelation. Griswold cited science and its relentless march of progress as an example of this principle in the secular arena.

Mohler kept returning to the theme of grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ and the necessity of holding to biblical authority. “The Gospel is about repenting of sin not celebrating it . . . A church that worships diversity is destined to accept a death knell.”

Erie echoes of ABC point-counterpoint rhetoric reverberated chillingly during the hour long program. The pro gay-sex proponents stuck with themes of love, acceptance, and an evolving understanding of God’s will progressively revealed to us since New Testament times. Presiding Bishop Griswold even used some of the same vocabulary as Dr. Medley in defending the “large center,” “great diversity of understandings of the Bible,” and sense that “mission is what galvanizes” most Episcopalians.

Similarly, Al Mohler’s emphasis upon “biblical authority” and transformation of sinners by grace, balanced by somber warnings of a worship of diversity leading to denominational demise sounded strangely reminiscent of people on the right in the ABC such as Durable Data and your humble blogger.

[His Barking Dog not only reads but watches television now and then. But, my comments on televised shows are NO more than my own ramblings and rumblings while sitting in a hotel room in humid southern Indiana.]

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The FOURTH Reformation???

Yesterday, Durable Data's Glenn Layne posted a provocative piece on the nature of the church today. I am reprinting it in full for the edification of my readers.


Where are we now? I would suggest that the convulsions in the ABCUSA over the last few years are part of a larger pattern that is indicative of the fact that we are in the Fourth Reformation. Each Reformation was part of a rediscovery of Bibical truth, each overturned the established order and each was associated with a change in technology.

The First Reformation was the one that we came to revere in seminary--the Reformation of Luther and Calvin, the overturning of the oppressive rule and unbiblical teaching of the Roman church. The technological innovation that helped carry this Reformation forward was the printing press. The First Reformation was Eurocentric.THE

The Second Reformation was one of piety and missions. The Pietist movement and its parallels (such as Puritanism) reformed personal devotion while at the same time this era saw the dawn of the world missions movement. The great advance in technology that accompanied this Reformation was long-distance ship travel--especially as the New World (the Western Hemisphere) moved to the center of action. Both Europe and the new European settlements in North America participated in the Second Reformation.

The Third Reformation occurred in the early and mid-20th century. It consisted of two key developments: the rise of Pentecostalism and the resurgance of essential reformational theological developments (the "solas": only faith, only the Bible, only Christ, etc.). That resurgance can be broadly called Evangelicalism. Both brought the supernatural elements of the faith to the fore. Both added fuel to the world missions movement. The technologies association with the Third Reformation were rapid travel (steamship, rail and auto) as well as the rise of radio and the dawn of television. The Third Reformation was centered in North America, but because of its close connections to world mission has had international impact. For example, in many developing nations varieties of Pentecostal churches dominate at least the Protestant side of church.

Now we entered the Fourth Reformation. Historians will probably pin its beginnings to the 1990s. The First Reformation was primarily doctrinal; the Second, devotional; the Third was combined the two with a strong emphasis on missions and evangelism. The Fourth Reformation is building on the first three with an emerging and transforming approach to structure and relationships.

The shape of a new era is always the hardest to see in its earlier stages. This much is clear: the technology of the Fourth Reformation is the Internet. The platform of the Fourth Reformation is both worldwide and in cyberspace. At this stage, it is easier to apply adjectives to the Fourth Reformation than nouns: missional, relational, international, post-modern, and post-denominational.

As at the other Reformations, we can expect some organizations (such as denominations) to be swept away and some new ones to rise, but the new ones will be small, focused and nimble. The era of the big bureaucratic church organization is lurching to an end. We can expect that this will dominate the landscape for the rest of most of our lifetimes.

Your comments on the Fourth Reformation concept are encouraged will form the basis for at least one future posting.

His Barking Dog will be interacting with Glenn's thesis in future postings.

[Again, neither Glenn Layne nor His Barking Dog pretend to speak for anyone, any entity, any organization. We produce our postings for our own therapy and your amusement.]

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Reflections on the "Babylonian Captivity" Post; Didn't "His Barking Dog" Go Too Far?

Several readers have reacted to my last post on the Babylonian Captivity of Evangelicals in the ABC. One of my dialogue partners raised several important points that deserve a response in a wider context. (His words appear in blue).

I have understood you as not wanting to call names and trying to speak the truth in love. That's part of the reason that I thought the passage in quotes wasn't from you!

I have consistently tried to affirm the integrity and the personal character of those with whom I disagree. In other words, some measure of civility is called for, even when taking strong stands. These are really, really, really, sincere and committed sisters and brothers! However, the image of the Babylonian Captivity (NOT the Antichrist aspect) does seem useful for several reasons.

* Luther sought to reform the church from the abuses imposed upon it by Roman leadership. While the material principle of the Reformation was sola fide, the formal principle was sola scriptura. And, my evaluation of Valley Forge's approach to heterodoxy under the protection of "Baptist principles" is just about the most significant attack on sola scriptura as I can imagine from within a "Baptist" organization.

Further, my contention is that bibliology relates to Christology; attacks on sola scriptura are in reality diminutions of the authority of Christ, the Lord of the Church, who endorses the authority of the Word.

* Luther only "left" the church when he felt that the establishment would not accept necessary reforms. Valley Forge has made it abundantly clear (cf. the opening words of Dr. Medley's biennial address last summer) that we will NOT deviate from our present untenable course.

* You are correct that Luther wanted reform, not revolution. However, before the publication of the papal bull excommunicating him, Decet Romanum Pontificum on January 3, 1521, (not the more famous Exsurge Domine, where Leo X called Luther a "wild boar" in the Lord's "vineyard"), Luther had already symbolically excommunicated Leo by burning Exsurge Domine and a book of canon law in December of 1520. So, under the weight of a bureaucracy both unyielding and unlikely to accept reform, Luther said enough is enough even BEFORE the Roman authorities excommunicated him formally.

* My use of the term "Babylonian Captivity" was evocative not allegorical. No, there are some significant differences between Leo X and Roy Medley. For example, Leo was corrupt; Roy is a good and Godly man who impresses everyone as sincerely well-meaning.

In allowing Tetzel to peddle his indulgences for the capital campaign to build St. Peter's, Leo "tolerated" an assault on truth. Roy's desire to remain "personally traditional" while "holding on to" sisters and brothers who sincerely disagree with him sounds magnanimous. However, deconstruct the statement and you find that Roy is willing to allow heterodoxy to grow, even to flourish under the protection and patronage of VF leaders who keep using far left spokespersons for conferences, committees, task forces, and national gatherings. What Dr. Medley "tolerates" undermines the force of his claim to personally hold to orthodox views.

In my estimation, permitting and providing for (actually "catering to") the promulgation of de facto assaults on the authority of Christ warrants the evocative use of the Babylonian Captivity imagery, even though it would not form a tight allegorical or analogical correspondence at all points of detail.

In addition, where the heck does the idea that evangelicals are about freedom come from? That completely looks like rhetoric from the left! Then again, I tend to fall more on the whole "slave to sin or slave to righteousness" thing. Or, as Bob Dylan put it: "you gotta serve someone."

My read on much criticism of the right by the left often relates to issues of freedom. "We 'progressives' believe in embracing human potentialities and possibilities, in liberating people from the shackles of spiritual and emotional restrictions. You 'fundamentalists' are all about rules, not relationships. You are just like the Pharisees" (notice how closely the infamous Roger Williams Fellowship address at last year's biennial mirrors these points).

Since I was lifting up the image of Luther, it seemed good to admit that some on the left might say that Luther better fits them rather than those on the right. My respone was to say, "OK, Luther was attempting to free people from the shackles of the papal system. We need to free evangelicals from the shackles of the VF system." Rhetorical overkill? Perhaps. But that was my reasoning in using the idea.

IOW: the whole analogy is flawed.2)in what way is the ABC like other mainline denoms? I see the distinctives at work even at the most liberal churches in my regions. I might not consider them Christian, but I would still consider them Baptist -- if that makes any sense....

OK, the analogy is flawed. But, I would still defend the use of the imagery in the context and for the purposes described above. The seven mainline denominations ALL are fighting over this same issue of human sexuality. On the continuum, we have Episcopalians with gay bishops and UCC policies affirming same sex unions on one side and a generally more conservative position (although not practice) by the ABC on the other side.

The unique feature of ABC thinking and polity (at least since 1905-1908) has been a split between those who see sola scriptura as the "norming norm" drawing together all of our distinctives and those affirming (following E.Y. Mullins) Christian "experience" as the sine qua non of all Baptist distinctives. When experience substitutes for the regulatory role of scripture, we are forced to accept just about anything as long as one claims to have had an experience with Jesus (cf. some of the wild views on some of the other "Baptist" message boards). In principle, then, how would one challenge a "Buddhist Baptist" or even an "Atheist Baptist"? Cut adrift from the nearly universal teaching of the church over two millennia, "experience" becomes a very dangerous criterion as the norm of Baptist life.

Clarification on this would help at least me understand what you're trying to do here.

Quite simply, after receiving some communications recently (one from a denominational official who signed off with a somber: "May God have mercy on your soul"), I have decided that cautious dialog will no longer do (even though civility is still called for!). There are many good reasons for evangelicals to find a new home. I am trying to build my case for that move (cf. Transformation Ministries nee ABCPSW). That is my present purpose. Enough is enough.

I can like Roy, even love him, and thoroughly enjoy his company, but his way is not faithful to my sense of "radical discipleship" regardless of the rhetoric. I firmly believe that unless evangelicals are willing to "change" VF (a most unlikely possibility), they should leave it. Allow the progressive vision to have its day and let the Lord bless as he will. Both "sides" will be better off and the mission of Christ will flourish better without these enervating distractions.

We rightly affirm that the obligations of the biblical imperatives are rooted in the overflow of the biblical indicatives of God's grace. In the covenantal pattern of Scripture, the "law" was not given to "save" people, but to "saved" people. Nevertheless, with Jesus affirming "Your word is truth," we cannot easily squirm out from under the press of the imperatives in God's word without demonstrating that we not only reject the indicatives of God's grace but the gracious One who stands behind them all as well!

On Saturday a former dean of one of our ABC seminaries (after which he became dean of one of our premier progressive evangelical schools) and father of one of our most successful ABC pastors asked me, "How can anyone seriously pretend to believe that the New Testament teaches anything other than the traditional view of human sexuality?" Lamenting the direction some of his friends and former colleagues around the ABC have taken on this subject, this man who once sat as a graduate student under Reicke, Cullmann and Barth in Basel, seemed frankly perplexed and puzzled at the twists and turns taken by some of our contemporary exegetes who attempt to evade the clear teaching of the Bible. This same man has written in support of PSW's withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships.

The time for polite dialogue has past; the day for decision has come. Evangelicals should rightly perceive the futility of remaining in the "family" and find a new family to belong to now.

[Obviously these personal responses are just that; they do not pretend to speak for any group, organization, or conspiracy anywhere. His Barking Dog yelps alone in his own living room]

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Is It Time to End the "Babylonian Captivity" of Evangelicals in the Mainline Denominations?

Today, I read some fairly strong criticisms of an evangelical Baptist. This stimulated some thinking on my part. The following is offered tentatively, fearfully, and provisionally. I solicit the feedback of those sisters and brothers more astute than me who may be willing to add or subtract from these thoughts.

Early on in the Reformation, Martin Luther’s friend Spalatin asked him to write about the sacraments. Luther did not tentatively embark upon his mission but quickly attacked the papacy for its system of sacramental observance (or wrong headed misunderstanding of it as Luther saw it).

The title of his work, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), refers to the time the Jews spent under Babylonian rule in the sixth century B.C. Similarly, Luther argued that Christians had been carried away from the Word of God and made subject to the papal system. Luther opined that because of this abuse Rome was "identical with the kingdom of Babylon and the Antichrist itself.”

Luther’s impulse was away from slavery to freedom. In his mind the Roman church had subjugated the people of God with a system both unbiblical and onerous. How can anyone compare this to the current controversy in the ABC? How can an evangelical revolt against Valley Forge be construed as liberating? Should we not associate the trajectory of freedom with the left and its embrace of human rights, civil rights, and the courage to recast traditional sexual roles in more humane and humanistic directions?

As Paul would say, "Me genoito" (“May it NEVER be!”)! The fault line separating evangelical Baptists from the Valley Forge establishment concerns more than interpretation and hermeneutics. It relates to the very authority of Jesus Christ, himself. The mainline impulse in the past few decades has pointed toward an inclusive vision bordering on syncretism and a revisionist program partaking of denial of essential Christian tenets held virtually universally in the church for nearly two thousand years. That the American Baptists are perhaps the most traditional of the seven mainline sisters does not deny the significant drift from historic orthodoxy in our ranks as well.

Our commitment to Jesus Christ and to shared mission cannot be reconciled with radical revisionism of the church’s sexual ethics without doing violence to the Bible and to the authority of Jesus Christ in the process. Paul, the great pioneer charged with fleshing out the meaning of “radical discipleship” began his greatest epistle declaring that homosexual practice was not only “incompatible” with Christian teaching (as the ’92 ABC resolution would have it), but that it stands under the eschatological wrath and enduring judgment of God.

Unless we are willing to strip the kernel from the husk and remove the “trappings” from what we take to be the central meaning of the Bible, we cannot dismiss Paul as a raving culture-bound homophobe of the first century. And, if Paul stands as an accurate communicator of the Word of God, we cannot easily parse the unanimous teaching of the New Testament on human sexuality in any other way without denying the authority of Jesus Christ who clearly believed “Your Word is truth.” That difference, for example, separates this issue from questions of slavery and women in ministry where the witness of scripture shows some ambiguity of precedent and teaching.

Freedom is an intoxicating construct, particularly in our present day world. But, just as being “liberated” from oxygen results in asphyxiation and “freedom” from food leads to starvation, the open-minded revisionism of the left will result in alienation from God and standing under his eternal judgment, not the promised utopia.

Insofar as the leadership of the ABCUSA has repeatedly declared itself willing to live in the tension and cognitive dissonance of being personally “traditional” while simultaneously “holding on” to those who reject the Word of the Church’s Christ, perhaps the time has come to identify the “freedom” of the revisionists for what it is. This is not the “soul liberty” of our early forbearers. It represents a deadly “liberty” or separation from truth, from life, and from Christ. As Paul told the Galatians: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

At this point, evangelicals in the ABC have more in common with traditional Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and Congregationalists than they do with their own denomination. The issue cannot be reduced to narrow mindedness or the ultimate shibboleth, "fundamentalism." With no realistic prospect of changing the culture or policies of Valley Forge, maybe the time has come to end the “Babylonian captivity” of evangelicals willing to submit to the freedom of truth who have been suffering at the hands of those embracing the spirit of this age.

[Editorial Note: My affection for EVERY one of the leaders in Valley Forge (having met and shared meals with all of them) should preclude the assumption that one reader made that my reference to the Babylonian Captivity implies that I think VF people are the "antichrist"!!!]

[His Barking Dog reminds readers that these howls against the revisionists are my own opinions only. I do not pretend to speak for ANY organization or entity or structure or modality or sodality or coffee club or coven or investors' club or gang or prayer group.]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Cracked Foundation? Coming Apart at the Seams? Veteran Reporter Characterizes PSW Split

Veteran religion reporter Edward Plowman, writing in World Magazine, spares no rhetoric in characterizing the recent vote by the PSW board to withdraw from the ABCUSA Covenant of Relationships. Read some of his unsparing commentary . . .

The nation's oldest mainline Baptist denomination is coming apart at the seams. Already struggling under severe financial strains and widespread apathy at the local level, the 1.4-million-member American Baptist Churches U.S.A. took it on the chin again last month. The governing board of one of its largest and most thriving regional units, the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest, voted unanimously to withdraw from the ABCUSA . . .

At issue: matters of doctrine and church discipline—especially, the unwillingness of ABCUSA leaders to enforce the denomination's position that gay sex is incompatible with Christian teaching. The leaders say they cannot take action against gay-friendly churches because Baptist churches are autonomous and creedless and have the right to interpret the Bible as they wish . . .

The southwestern unit's new name is Transformation Ministries. Its leaders indicated that emphasis will be on faithfulness to Scripture, strong churches, and evangelism. It is expected to attract other disaffected evangelical-led ABCUSA churches from other regions across the country.

The loyalty of other regions is in question. West Virginia, with nearly 10 percent of the ABCUSA's 5,400 congregations, narrowly rejected a proposal to withdraw last year, and may vote again. The Indiana-Kentucky region is pushing for a change in by-laws that would enforce discipline on gay-friendly churches. Michigan will consider withdrawal next year if there is no disciplinary action by the national denomination.

The American Baptist Churches of the West, representing 215 congregations in northern California and Nevada, has a track record of expelling gay-friendly congregations. Led at the top by evangelicals, it recently changed its name to Growing Healthy Churches, in part to avoid bad connotations of American Baptist identity.

The American Baptist Evangelicals renewal group, reportedly representing some 500 churches, recently announced that there is no hope left for Bible-based renewal of the ABCUSA; leaders disbanded it and reorganized under a new name, Cornerstone Church Network. [emphasis mine]

Plowman has been a reliable observer of American Christianity for several decades. As a seasoned and carefuly nuanced professional, his track record for accuracy has been enviable among reporters handling the "religion beat." It will be fascinating to follow this story over the next few years.

[His Barking Dog claims none of Plowman's prescience nor connection to anybody or anything important, official, or balanced. My barking is absolutely unaffiliated and unplugged.]

Marriage Protection Amendment Pandering to the Base? No, Say Some Minority Leaders

One of the most prevalent complaints about the upcoming vote on a Marriage Protection Amendment by the U.S. Senate relates to the charge that it represents a Republican ploy to pander to their base. Among ABC voices, more than a few have offered this explanation already. Nothing could be further from the truth say a number of leading Christian leaders from minority communities.

Bishop Gerald Glen, of the five million member predominately African-American Pentecostal Church of God, expressed that his group was “strongly opposed” to letting courts redefine marriage. Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition, believes legalizing homosexual marriage would undermine traditional marriage and family life.

And, in an Agape Press piece today, Bishop Harry Jackson, who chairs the High Impact Leadership Coalition, was quoted from his American Family Radio News and Associated Press interviews. , Bishop Jackson says while he believes strongly that same-sex marriage is unbiblical, the Senate vote on the amendment is more about politics.

"There are those among us who consider this marriage amendment as nothing more than a Republican scam, if you will; a matter of pandering to their base and kind of throwing a bone to conservative Christians," he offers. "I happen to be a registered Democrat, and I want to say that nothing could be further from the truth."

"Same-sex marriage is not directly addressed in any affirming way by the words of Christ," Jackson continues, "and it is simply spoken against in the Old Testament. And so we need to be true to the sacred scriptures that we hold as the guiding light for our faith."

The Bible, he notes, only blesses sex between a husband and wife. "It's a matter of whether you're a biblical conservative or a biblical liberal," the pastor explains. "By and large, biblical conservatives say that although we accept all people, there seems to be [a biblical] admonition against same-sex unions, especially the concept of [homosexual] marriage."

The force of the comments from those in minority communities is strengthened by the fact that they often look at social problems from more than a typically evangelical lens of biblical teachings. Rather than casting the issue in terms of what the Bible enjoins Christians to do, they examine the sociological and secular implications of the policy, framing the debate in terms that even a secularist could support.

Jackson, for example, contends there are other reasons for opposing same-sex unions. "Gay" marriage, he says, would be immoral and unhealthy for society. "We've got, I think, both a biblical lens in which I'm viewing this problem, and a sociological lens," he says. "Something that devalues the institution [of marriage] would take us to an even further level."

One of the frequent charges leveled against evangelicals in the ABC has been their perceived insensitivity to the analogs to the civil rights struggle. Some on the left have suggested that opposing same-sex marriage only repeats the errors made by many conservatives in the 60’s who were not quick to promote civil rights.

But, Jackson takes on this point as well when he says, "Gay rights is not an extension of the civil rights movement simply because there's no choice involved in our blackness." Jackson asserts, "I think there is an amazingly militant group of gays who have made it their point to say, 'We're going to be out; we're going to be visible' -- that's their choice."

Supporters of the amendment, to be considered in the next couple of weeks, express little optimism of it passing. However, the voices of some African-American and Hispanic voices adds nuance to the debate.


[His Barking Dog is about as welcome and authoritative as Martin Luther in the Council of Trent. My howling at the moon does not speak for any organization, entity, or group foreign or domestic, known or unknown, existing or imaginary]