Friday, October 27, 2006


[Sub-titled---A Kind But Personal Rebuttal To A Post On Tents

I'm continuing this little trek of mine down memory lane and trying to show some of my theological changes and why. The "not so sure" part is because, since I've come to see the text of scriptures differently in some areas, the assumption can obviously be made, with some degree of certainty, that I've still a ways to go in correctly understanding some things. The text hasn't changed, just my understanding hopefully led of the Spirit, if not, hopefully He'll correct me. I think I'm in capable hands there.

This post also will address an assumption stated by another blogger as to "being under the Tent" when certain beliefs are/are not held by Baptists. My opinions only. No animosity. Just another person's view of an issue which, in Kingdom stuff, is permissible I would think.

There have always been two extreme views within Christendom about the Church. One has been to view the Church "only" in terms of Universal, or including all true believers everywhere. The other has been to view the church as "only" a local group, and the universal will not be a reality until heaven. This is because to be a church there has to be some structure such as a pastor to preach and lead in the ordinances. Where this structure is not in place, there is no church. I was, for several years in the latter belief system. The "Trail of Blood" was as important to me as my Bible in understanding the church. This period lasted from the late fifties to the mid- sixties. It was not because of what I was taught by my original Pastor and church, it was because of my association with Fundamentalists who seemed to know what they believed and defended it with fervor, if not scripture. But during that same time frame I began to read some of the foundational men of the Reformed category. A problem arose. They were not saying the same thing as my friends about the Church. By the late sixties, as I graduated from Seminary, I had come to a new understanding. Permit me to state it simply.

I now hold to both the "organism" idea, meaning the universal concept of all believers forming the Body of Christ, and a "local" group concept, meaning the forming of an organization that might vary in structure adapting to the context of culture. You can see I do not now believe there is an "absolute" that makes it when you leave one Baptist church to go to "another, you have to find the "other" to be exactly like the one you just left, as, say, would be true of a Roman Catholic or a Landmark Baptist. We're free to adapt our structure of things. Why? Here's where the scriptures began to be my guide instead of books written my men I admired. There is no model in the NT for an institutional local body called the "church". There is, in fact, no incident of any individual being examined and "joining" a local church, much less how that group looks and functions structurally.

Thus, I came to see that there is the Body, indwelt by His Spirit, and the groups in Corinth, Thessalonica, and Rome, but with no descriptive form related to us in scripture. This did not alter my believe as to the importance of the local group. [church] It did, however, show me how that group looks may vary out of practical necessity. The mission field and SBC Missionaries find the reality of this all the time in their work. Which is why for a BOT of the IMB of the Southern Baptist Convention operating in America to tell them how a group in Portugal is to look is odd if not detrimental, it seems to me. [ But that's another post at another time. Back to the point.]

What I'm saying is, I came to recognize that the Body is to live by biblical principles certainly. And He has gifted people with spiritual gifts for the good of the whole Body. But the structure or form of a local body, as to organization and function, is not the sacred thing. The life in us as the Body of Christ AND in us as a local group is the sacred thing.

The Body may see things differently. My agreements theologiclly are more in line with Baptist theology, as evidenced by holding to eternal security, baptism by immersion as a testimony of union with Christ, the ordinances being testimonial by nature, and a myriad of other things and that's why I'm Baptist. There are certainly differences in lesser things among Baptists, but agreement in the essentials, and importantly to me, a sharing of a missions endeavor second to none, is what makes me a Southern Baptist by choice.

I've also moved from a single pastor idea to a multiple pastor idea because of the scriptures using "Elders" in the plural with a rare exception as in say, the Revelation section. I guess the reason Southern Baptist stopped using the "Elder" concept, since we held to it originally, seeing The first President Of the SBC in 1845, Dr. W.B. Johnson, was an Elder with other Elders in his church, was because of the Cambellite controversy where they started using Elders and Southern Baptists started using "Pastor" as the preferable term. This in spite of the fact that the word "Elder" is used multiple times and "pastor only once in scripture. We tend to overreact sometimes don't we.

As to why we as Southern Baptist came to a single pastor idea, I would think it was because of the westward expansion where one Elder would go west, leaving the others behind of course, and wind up in a town, be recogized as the "parson" [person of standing as they thought of it] and serve a small group of people as a church. The rise of the Landmark movement with it's emphasis on structure and a single pastor, who, by the way, was the only one qualified to minister the ordinances, had it's influence also. [We faced several controversies as a convention over this movement, but would not give in.]

But my journey and change have been presented. Local body important? you bet. How it is to look set in stone, ie, a pastor, deacons, only the pastor can baptize, only the authorities can administer the ordinances? no way. The structure is not given in scripture.

Now, here's the rub. I've held this view for the past thirty-five years, long before the resurgence, and there has been no problem with me being a Southern Baptist. I've had the privilage [and with due respect to some, there is no arrogance intended here at all, but the Lord will be my judge on that] of preaching in Adrian Rogers deacons retreat where I taught the "Tabernacle in the Wilderness" to them as a favor to Adrian whom I greatly appreciated. I've pastored Jack Taylor, Bill Gillham, Rick Warren. I was pastor to people like Oscar and Carolyn Thompson, TW and Lavern Hunt, John and Virginia Seelig, all of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and my stated views on the Church as Body/local church body have never been a problem...UNTIL NOW.

It appears I can no longer hold to the views I have of the relationship of the whole Body and operate in a local group with flexability in forms and be truly SBC if...what was recently said in a post by a blogger is, in fact, true. This is a new thing for me after 35 years and I find it very uncomfortable. One can see why I am thinking something has changed in the SBC beyond the battle for the Bible for inerrancy. My freedom to interrupt the scriptures in regards to the Body/Local fellowship and remain a Southern Baptist is now being challenged if what was said in that post is true.

For those of you unfamiliar to the post, permit me to give a brief explanation.

Someone [our son Wade, but this is not personal with me] was challenged because he holds to the same views I've stated here. [With, I'm sure, some variations.] This comment was made in a blog post, and I quote, "Frankly, I believe that the problem is not that the tent is not big enough, [SBC is the tent] but that Wade has discovered that, on these issues of controversy, [The church as I've been describing] he is NOT UNDER THE TENT at all, and he wishes to be."

This statement, if accurate as to it's assessement of the SBC in regards to this issue, says I'm no longer a Southern Baptist. Well, my history with the SBC has been one where it's tent was able to handle the views that I've presented in this post, which views I and others hold...I hope it never will not.

More later...

Paul Burleson

A Saturday morning update...

I've had an exchange of comments with the author of the blog refered to in my post. The "tent" as he called it, that I took to mean the SBC, he now says was intended to refer to the "Baptist Faith and Message." In other words, the BF@M is what Wade is "outside of", in the opinion of the author, because the BF@M refers to closed communion NOT open communion.. I then ask him how the phrase "AND WISHES TO BE" made any sense. Does he mean Wade wishes he really could be a closed communion believer? The author said that statement in his article WENT TOO FAR.

I have read/do read the author regularly and believe him to be a stand-up guy. He has evidenced that here, in my opinion. I thank him for the dialogue.

My bottomline principle presented in my post stands for me personally.

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...


God put the folks here and gave some really, really general instructions. It worked pretty well until the numbers got so big that it needed some .. well I don't know the term .. perhaps administrative guidelines. So they whipped them up and then did the Pharisee thing with them and turned them into pages and pages of rules and regs.

The rules and regs have now become the paradigm. Even at the expense of the wonder of the Church in Acts.

If we comprise the local church as believers to whom Paul refers as "saints", then we comprise the greater (invisible) invisible church, too. And vice versa.

Reminds me of the story about the hunting dog. If I haven't told it here, ask and I will.

Kevin Bussey said...


Well stated as usual. That is my concern too. I'm afraid that others are determining what a Southern Baptist is and I am not one if I don't agree with their definition. It really makes me wonder where I fit in.

Anonymous said...


Well said. I believe God knew what He was doing when He chose not to lay out a rigid organizational structure for the church. He knew that the gospel would expand across a variety of times, places, and cultures, and thus the structure---NOT the doctrine, but the structure---would have to be tailored to the particular context of that local church. The structure that works in Lubbock doesn't work so well in Manhattan or Boston, let alone in Beijing, Nairobi, or Kabul.

Paul Burleson said...

Bob, Kevin, Tim,

Thanks guys. I've got some real questions about a shift that's taken place in the last twenty some years that far exceeds the concern we all have that the nature of scripture be guarded. I think it's going to have to be addressed eventually, one way or another.

Bob, any story you tell is worth a second hearing, although I don't think I have heard it at all. Tell it, please. :)

Bob Cleveland said...

OK, Paul.

Guy goes hunting and rents dog #12 from the lodge. They charge $5 a day and the dog is incredible.

Next year the guy asks for dog #12 and they say "Oh .. you must mean "Salesman". He's $10 a day". More money, but he has to have him so he pays.

Next year he asks for "Salesman" and the owner says "Oh .. you mean SuperSalesman ... he's $15 a day now." He's so good the guy pays it.

Next year, he asks for Supersalesman. The owner says "I'm sorry ... you can't have him" The guy says he must have him ... he's the best hunting dog he's ever seen. The owner says, "I'm sorry, but we've ruined him .. it's all our fault". The guy asks how they did that and the owner says..

"We re-named him "Sales Manager" and now all he does is sit on his rump and howl."

I'm guessing the SBC has a lot of management.

Paul Burleson said...


:) :) :) :)

Paul B.

Anonymous said...

Paul B,
You have just described the Body of Christ that I have been a member of since I was Born Again. I’m a member of a Church (Cell, Small Group, etc), which happens to be Baptist. The reasons I’m Baptist is because of my Believe in God’s Holy Word and the Baptist Church was in line with my View of what God’s Word Says. You and Bob Cleveland are so wise and I sure appreciate Both of You and your Wisdom. Thanks for this post.
In His Name
Wayne Smith

Bob Cleveland said...

And another thing:

The plain fact is that the SBC, and the local church, are places you're called to serve. "Baptist" thus describes your place of service, not what you are.

Proof? Your allegiance is to your Savior, and not to any organization. You and I both know you'd go to another denomination in a heartbeat if God told you to.

That's already happened to me twice, so I know whereof I speak.

Paul Burleson said...


I agree. I'm wondering if that's part of the sloppiness theologically and denominationally that allowed the "Church, the Sunday night place to be" campaign a few years ago to happen. It falsely identified the location as the "church" so that "Baptist/Southern Baptist/Trinity baptist becomes the "identity" of each person instead of "Disciple of Jesus Christ".

I'm certainly not saying, nor are you, that these are wrong, they are just not our real identity.

Oh well, it looks like you and I are the only ones who know anything but no one is listening to us are they. :)

Wes Kenney said...


Thanks for the update. As I wrote my way-too-long post, I'm afraid I might have become a little too focused on the illustration (Wade) and lost sight of my main point of concern, which is how I can continue to call on fixed-income widows to generously support Lottie Moon when all those supported by it are free to write their own caveats of disagreement with our common confession. I just don't know how the phrase "instrument of doctrinal accountability" can have any real meaning in that environment.

I haven't arrived at a solution yet, but I'll keep asking the questions and offering answers to others in the meantime. I certainly hope you'll continue to do the same.

Bob Cleveland said...

You and I know we're just guys, but what's two opinions against the whole world? Maybe we intimidate them. ;)

It just occurred to me that there may be an insidiously simple thought lodged in the mind of church leadership: that what we do, by our actions, rules and pronouncements, determines what God will do. Or worse, what He CAN do!

That's Adam speaking up if I ever heard it!

God's going to do what He's going to do. The question He asks me is do I want to be part of it? How much do I want to? How much of IT do I want? Paul laid down the road map of how he got where he was, and we can see the results. I dare say not many people here have the same desire for all of what God has, and are willing to pay the price.

I hasten to add that serving Him isn't a matter of selfish desire to be in on something, but in my case, I just want to be obedient. There are also a lot of personality characteristics that contribute to it, too lengthy to include in this.

Probably all denominations are on a tightrope, between budgets and attendance and publicity and all. It's no wonder falls are frequent.

Despite Paul's protestations, the only account I can see where he could be viewed as going to the flesh, after his field trip to Damascus, was his appeal to Rome when he was being hounded by Festus. Why he appealed to a secular government for preservation and justice, I don't know. I think God had already told him he was to go to Rome, so maybe that was it; I do know that appealing to secular government ... and then disobeying their edict .. cost Judge Roy Moore his career as our Chief Justice.

Oh well. Such is life in service of the King of Kings.

Paul Burleson said...


Will I ever tire of saying to you,"well said, again"? I don't think so.


Talk about a "far too long a post", consider the one you're commenting on. :)

You have some legitimate concerns that deserve investigation in my opinion. We may come down on different sides once in a while, perhaps even on the issue of accoutability and caveats, But you and I don't take sides as to being brothers. We are. It's as simple as that. And for that, I'm extremely grateful.

Paul B.

Paul Burleson said...

By the way, I do think I know how to spell "accoutibility" it's really "accotibility" or is it "acountibility" or, wait, I'll get it...:)


Bob Cleveland said...

Paul and Wes: Forgive my interloping.

Wes, you used the term "support Lottie Moon". I understand. But I've protested for years that I doubt a 100-year-dead missionary woman has much use for my money.

I'm not kidding when I say I hear more about Lottie in our church than I do about the good work of the IMB.

It's more accurate to say they're giving to missions, to carry out the great commission. But even that's not accurate.

They're giving to GOD.

If I go to the place where I examine where "my money" is going, then I'm sunk. Even the heathens do that. I consider when I turn loose of the bucks, it belongs to God. The real rub comes in when I do not think that recipient is acting on behalf of God. If that's the case, I cannot be part of the denomination.

We tithe. We give offerings from time to time. The tithe all goes to FBC Pelham. I'm blessed. The enemy can't bless me the way I'm blessed.

Conclusion: I'm still ok giving money to FBC, CP ... IMB ... NAMB and all. If God wants to clean up THEIR act, He can. Goodness knows it'll probably take that..... said...


Really good insight on these posts.

Also, I must have gotten my 'logical' gene from you.

Thanks for showing the unintentional end of those who demand conformity on non-essentials of the faith (some of which are now included in the BFM 2000 -- i.e. 'closed communion') is a narrowing of the 'tent' we call the Southern Baptist Convention --- a narrowing that historical has not been a part of the fabric of our tent.

Again, it's not that closed communion may or may not have been a part of our Baptist confessions (depending on how far back you go the answer would differ), but that the DEMAND that everyone CONFORM is radically different than where we have been.


Paul Burleson said...


I have to be honest, I had a couple of other comments written in response to a couple of commeters (?) but, upon reflection, decided I wouldn't post what would have, for sure, identified the obvious presence of my flesh, over the "arrogant" discussion.

I also had your gracious spirit and willingness to overlook others who.......ought to be overlooked... I guess, as an example. Probably best I didn't post those comments.


Anonymous said...

Paul and Bob, you too Wade,

Two of , IMHO Senior Wisdom guys and a Younger one.

Joh 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Beth Moore says
Can you think of a reason why those who aren't very deceitful themselves might be easy to deceive? God doesn't want us to know we're being conned because we're master con artists ourselves. He doesn't want us to recognize deception because we know how to twist the truth. God deeply desires to develop godly integrity in each of us. He wants us to recognize the counterfeit because we're so familiar with the true article. He wants us to be smart without being suspicious - innocent without being naive. The challenge is mammoth, so take it seriously. We, too, are sheep among wolves. I've been eaten alive a few times, and I have some "scars" to prove it. What I'd give to save you some! It's dangerous out there. My best advice, dear sheep, is to stick to your Shepherd.

In His Name
Wayne Smith

Anonymous said...

I've always believed that I was a Southern Baptist because I chose to put my church membership in a congregation that supported the Cooperative Program. Each church that I have been a member of made a voluntary choice to support those ministries, but also determined their own standards for doctrine and practice of faith. The churches I've served on staff have never been identical in their doctrinal perspective, nor have they always completely agreed with everything in the BFM, but they felt that the places where they differed were not significant enough to disrupt cooperative ministry. In fact, I think most every church I've ever served on staff was pretty flexible on non-essentials, a whole lot more so than the denomination, which is supposed to be the servant of the church, has been.

Paul Burleson said...


You reminded me of the time I had a vice-president of a bank in Ft. Worth, a member of the church I was pastoring ar the time, bring me a counterfeit 20 dollar bill under plastic and tell me that "we never let our tellers see the false. We wanr them to be so familiar with the real that they can spot a counterfeit immediately. Good words Wayne.


You have just described what has always been a real baptist fellowship to me. I wonder what that means in light of the words above? Thanks for stopping by.

Paul B.

Bob Cleveland said...


Another thought strayed into my mind. We all come from different backgrounds, and God has arranged a whole panoply of experiences for us. I've never wondered why He wanted that, beyond the head-nod to sovereignty and "His purposes".

I think He wants us ALL to have differing perspectives. He WANTS us to be different; He didn't call us to respond to Him like robots, and He doesn't want us to be like that now, either. Nor is that to be a goal!

So ... it seems to me that an entity which seeks to serve God would NOT want to squelch that very thing within the body. "Tents" are our invention, not HIS.

Strider said...

I am late to be commenting here but I love Bob's last comment and had to jump in!
The Church is His body so it is 'organic' as Paul has described. Living overseas we see that more clearly as we travel and have fellowship with so many who are so different. I love SB's and I love the structure we have, even though some are saying it is ill. But I disagree with Wes and others who think that the answer is some kind of law. The word 'accountibility'(spelling again?) is just a cover up for control. Only He must be in control. He is the head. What is formost in the minds of my supervisors is not my 'doctinal stance' but whether or not I am doing what He would have me do. We have the Word for a guidline- not the BFM. Too much is said of history on these blogs- do you know what history is teaching us? He is doing something new. It is not counter the Word it is a deeper understanding of the Word. We know now much more about God than Abraham did, we have a much clearer understanding than Martin Luther had. What else through His inerrant Word does He want to teach us? We must be flexible enough to discover that or we will not finish this race. Sorry to write such a long comment, I just got excited to see such a good post.

Bob Cleveland said...

Strider: ahh if it were only so everywhere.

I'm reminded of a time about 4 years ago that 6 of us went to Jamaica on a vacation. We rented a house .. Peg and I were going there on our regular vacation and the house was fantastic and cheaper than a single hotel room, so we rented it and asked two other couples if they'd like to go.

Our week there was devoid of any rules or schedules. We fellowshipped and when we needed food, we went to town and we fought over who got to pay. When we wanted to go somewhere, I drove the van (I've been there 10 times and driven a LOT of miles there). When we wanted to go out and eat, we had to fight each other to get to pay.

We sat around and just rested and someone would mention some spiritual thing or other and off we'd go.

Sunday morning we drove to Kingston, to Red Hills Baptist church. There, the 4 who'd been there simply got lost in the praise and the worship and the 2 "newcomers", after sitting with mouths agape, fell right in.

It was an awesome display of an organism at work. I've not known a finer or more uplifting vacation in my (cough cough) years.