Friday, June 30, 2006

Where Do We Go From Here, Part 2

This is the follow-up to Where Do We Go From Here, Part 1, I would encourage you to read Part 1 first so that this will make more sense. This is written by Chris Humphreys who is a guest contributor to Truth or Consequences. He has entitled both of these Frankenstein for reasons that will be apparent in the article.

Frankenstein, Part 2

"It is far better to divide over all the right things than to unite around all the wrong things."

Back when I was involved in "pioneer missions" in Michigan and Ohio, there was some serious talk nationally about renaming the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason being is that it had outgrown its southern roots, and one can find SBC churches in all fifty states. The word "southern" does not have a nice ring to it in places like New York or Massachussetts. In fact, the church I was a pastor of in Ohio had the name "southern" in its name: Madison Southern Baptist Church. We changed our church's name, because many people in that community got the idea that our church was just for transplanted southern folks. The truth was we had very, very few southern people in our church. As you all know, the name of our convention was not changed because they could not find a satisfactory replacement, and long-held respected traditions die hard.

Fast forward to today. It may be time for us to reconsider a name change that would adequately identify who we are. The reason for the name change has long gone past the idea that "southern" is too provincial. A pastor friend of mine and I were having fun the other day batting back and forth by email some possible new names for our convention. The one we settled on was Frankenstein Baptist Convention. FBC for short. Before one's mind runs wild, let me explain why this name was chosen.

"We've created a monster!"

For years we have drunk from the well of the seeker-sensitive, user-friendly, pragmatic-crazy, purpose-driven, contemporary worship about anything goes churchless church. We have encouraged it, promoted it, advertised it, conferenced it, preached it, modeled it, authored it to death. Somebody forgot to tell us that the well we have been drinking from was poisoned, but that was beside the point. You can't argue with results was the battle cry. Immediate gratification is ok in one realm, and apparently that is church statistics.

Now what are we discovering today?

The fundamentalist/conservatives who took over the convention back in the 1970s from the moderate/liberals have been rudely awakened to the fact that the monster they helped create has turned on them. These new fangled churches (forget the name "southern"; many of them don't want to be called "Baptist" in their names) have not become Southern Baptist Convention loyalists like the conservatives who put them together in the laboratory. They don't give to the Cooperative Program like they should; they don't use Southern Baptist literature like they should; they don't do a lot of things that would remotely suggest to anyone that they are Southern Baptist. Some of these mega-churches will even remove baptism as a necessary step for Christian obedience and a prerequisite for church membership.

We saw a bit of this revolt against this monster at the recent annual Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro North Carolina. I was not there, and I can not speak to all the issues that were discussed. I don't get too caught up in a lot of denominational politics anyway. But from everything I have read, it seems it is slowly sinking in, that we have created a monster, and now what are we going to do about it? Some denominational heads are revolting against their offspring, the monster that has been deliberately constructed in front of our modern eyes. Other denominational heads want to keep the monster alive and kicking.

Whether a church gives a certain percentage to the Cooperative Program, or whether a church uses Southern Baptist literature (I haven't myself for a very long time), or whether a church has the name "Baptist" in it, is not my chief concern. As somebody on the sideline so to speak, who doesn't have a dog in this fight, it would be hilarious, if it were not tragically sad, to see how all this is playing out. While I refuse to give up and say all is lost, I must admit that at times the future of the SBC seems downright scary, hence another reason for the name change to Frankentstein Baptist Convention.

Maybe we have come to a significant turning point; but what are we going to turn to? Are the monsters going to keep replicating themselves? What will the SBC do if the CP receipts go down and down if Southern Baptist denominational loyalty continues to wane among many of the younger pastors in these new contemporary churches? Are we going to make new monsters in the laboratory to replace the old monsters? Will we go to something far worse, far scarier than the old sci-fi Frankentstein? Are there new church models out there being promoted that will take the place of the older monsters?

Another possible direction we can turn to is the one I favor, and the one I pray for, whether I will live long enough to see it in my day remains to be seen. That is, we will like the prodigal son, after wallowing around in the pigsty of our own creation, will come to our senses and return back to the wisdom of our forefathers. In essence, we need a doctrinal conversion of massive magnitude that leads to a revival of the deepest magnitude. The only thing that will prevent our convention from going further and further down the road to who knows where, is a return to our doctrinal heritage as Southern Baptists. To put it bluntly, while I would never call anybody who does not believe in God's sovereignty in the salvation of sinners a heretic, I will say this--the only true safeguard from total denominational collapse and widespread apostasy in our churches is a passionate, life-changing commitment to the doctrines of grace. Anything else will open oneself up to a real possibility of a monster in the making over time. Just look around, and you can't miss the evidence for that.

I realize those last statements will invoke fear in the hearts of many (they will call us the Frankensteins!), who think that any discussion of these "divisive" doctrines are better left in the seminary classroom and not in the local church. That is what we heard at the recent SBC national convention. How is that different from the medieval Catholic Church's position that only the priests, bishops and pope are equipped to study and to know the Bible and not the common man on the street? Are we turning back to Rome for our model now? Ephesians 1 was not written to the scribes; Romans 9 is not to be digested only by the seminarian; John 6 is not the exclusive property of PhDs in theology; 1 Peter 1 is not reserved for the privileged few to read and understand.

The time is ripe for us to dismantle the monster laboratory and to pull the plug before the next ghastly creature comes rolling off the operating table.

"When a denomination begins to consider doctrine divisive, theology troublesome,and convictions inconvenient, consider that denomination on its way to a well-deserved death." (Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at a Southern Baptist Convention meeting in July 1995)

Chris Humphreys

P.O. Box 16424
Oklahoma City, Ok 73113

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