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.]

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