Thursday, November 16, 2006

Can I believe that and be a Baptist?

Someone said to me recently, in commenting/complimenting me on the position I've come to in regards to women in ministry, "even our culture understands the value of women in leadership as evidenced by those now in political positions of authority and power. I'm glad to see you've come there too." [They were obviously referencing Condoleeza Rice and others.] My thought about that is two-fold. First, I'm glad educated, qualified, and competent women are not being held back in our culture as has been the unfortunate practice in the past. I even believe in equal pay for those women doing a job that would be given to a man doing the same job. But the second part of my thought is that, were the scriptures to say differently than what our culture says on any subject, [where it is clear to me what the scripture says on that subject] I would opt for obedience to scripture regardless of what our culture says or thinks.

An example of this is seen in what our culture says about any sincere religious belief system being as good for people in the long run as any other religious belief system is. So, Muslim, Christian, Shinto, it doesn't matter. Being sincere matters. I'm sorry, but the scriptures speak clearly here. Jesus said, " I am the way, the Truth, the light, no man comes to the Father but by me." [John 14] I believe that... and my culture cannot/will not be able to set my standard there.

On the other side of the coin, someone said in a comment section I read, "We must not allow culture to set our view of women in ministry. We must be true to what Baptists have historically held to and our BF@M affirms as our Baptist identity." [The BF@M says only men shall pastor and Baptists have historically held that women could not be pastors or deacons and some Baptists won't allow a women to teach men in any capacity.] My thoughts about that are two-fold also. First, I'm grateful for our Baptist history and distinctives that are grounded on the text of scripture. But the second part of my thought is, were I to see the text of scripture differently than our history and tradition have said, I would have to opt for obedience to my understanding of the text regardless of history OR tradition. An example of this is the gifts of the Spirit. Historically, Baptist have been what would be termed "cessationists," by and large, in regards to many of the lesser gifts. I do not now [I once held that view] see the scriptures forbidding those gifts or them ceasing. I do see a regulation and warning about their use/misuse in First Corinthians but the validity for them is there IMHO. Since I see that textually, Baptist history/tradition cannot/ will not set my standard there.

So what I see in the current debate in Southern Baptist life is the same danger from those who insist on a particular interpretation of lesser significant doctrines [non-salvific] because it's the "Baptist way" as I see from those in our culture that would insist that we be "culturally correct" to be acceptable. Both cultures, whether secular [world] or sacred [Baptist] must give way to our being able to "search the scriptures to see if those things be so." That...is the Baptist way for me.

So how do we get along under the Baptist tent [regardless of its size] when we see some lesser doctrines differently? [Especially when you see good men/women on both sides.] Let me make a few suggestions for us all.

#1--BE OPEN--to people who think differently than do we about these minor/lesser issues. I love this quote..."Since no one of us, affected as we are by original sin, is perfectly pure in our desire for truth, no one of us is exempt from some degree of closed-mindedness." [Searching Together Winter 1985] "I think this means we must be open to at least "listen" to multiple sources in the Body of Christ if we are really going to have the thoughts of Christ on lesser issues." [Same Publication] No better statement can be found in my judgement.

#2--BE READY--to change if the evidence from the text begins to be seen in a new/different light. Things can/do escape our attention and, for us to grow, we must be ready to admit that fact. This means it is not a crime to continue to examine the text with new light and understanding. And if a person sees that new light and is helped by it, that is not weakness on his/her part but humility. This change because of new light does not rob one of being Southern Baptist, but rather, it verifies the uniqueness that is Baptist, namely, we're free to grow in our knowledge of the Word.

#3--BE WILLING--to grow in truth when presented with new light regardless of the source. If it comes from one who is insignificant in the Body, so be it. [There is no such person as insignificant where the Body is concerned anyway is there.] In fact, to a proud individual others are insignificant and that one doesn't take what anyone else says seriously. To an humble person, because he/she loves people AND the truth, an ear will be given to insignificant voices in the Body. [Dare I say even blogging voices...]

What I've said here, were I willing to practice what I write, will not, in my opinion, ruin my confidence in the integrity/nature of the scriptures or make me a "liberal". It will not diminish my joy and appreciation for the privilage of being a Baptist. It will simply enable me to be truly Christian and relate to others in the Body with deep respect. I don't have to get angry at someone who sees a lesser point of theology differently than do I and I don't have to be closed to what they are saying about it. I don't have to agree, but I certainly don't have to believe they/I are/am no longer truly Southern Baptist BECAUSE WE DISAGREE.

Paul B.

12 comments:

Cheryl Schatz said...

"#3--BE WILLING--to grow in truth when presented with new light regardless of the source. If it comes from one who is insignificant in the Body, so be it. [There is no such person as insignificant where the Body is concerned anyway is there.] In fact, to a proud individual others are insignificant and that one doesn't take what anyone else says seriously. To a humble person, because he/she loves people AND the truth, an ear will be given to insignificant voices in the Body."

This is very well said. So many educated men will not listen to what another person has to say unless that person holds a doctorate degree. This is so sad. This attitude places education above spiritual gifts and I believe grieves the Holy Spirit who distributes the gifts. What you have said about paying attention to even the insignificant ones in the body of Christ is so profound. To those of us who love truth, this resonates as true humility.

I have found so few truth lovers. It seems that long-held traditions that are comfortable are more valuable than truth because taking the time to test things by scripture and finding and holding fast to the truth can bring a measure of discomfort because it can challenge the way one has thought for so many years. I wish I saw this level of humility in every true follower of Christ. You are to be commended for your complete openness to truth and to the word of God.

Lee said...

There are some who apply what I consider to be a strict interpretation of scripture on issues like women in positions of leadership, but who want to be much more "culturally relevant" and apply a less strict interpretation, sprinkled with the idea that a more modern application requires a different cultural context when the issue is something they've come to accept.

We put ourselves in an indefensible position from a scriptural perspective when we choose denominational preferences and tradition over the scriptures themselves.

Anonymous said...

Paul said "But the second part of my thought is, were I to see the text of scripture differently than our history and tradition have said, I would have to opt for obedience to my understanding of the text regardless of history OR tradition."

I say: Amen. Perfectly said. I have always found it is a great adventure searching the Scriptures for answers. I always seem to find more than I expect to. If I had found in the Scriptures the opposite of what I posted then that would have been the answer to my questions. Period.

Paul Burleson said...

One and all,

I appreciate your remarks.

I've been a Southern Baptist for 53 years and a Southern Baptist minister for 50 of those years. But I do not remember a time when so many are declaring someone isn't a true Southern Baptist because of disagreement over some small theological issue. It has even come down to the style of worship needing to be agreed upon to "keep our identity as Southern Baptist". I've always thought that what really declared our identity was our confidence in the fundamentals, like the nature of scripture, the nature of Christ and the nature of salvation and OUR MISSIONS PROGRAM.

We've always disagreed on the make-up of the church in regards to the local as it relates to the universal Body of Christ, the openness or closedness of the Lord's table,the gifts of the Spirit, and a ton of other stuff. But our ability to study for ourselves was a staple and our mission program cooperation was a given.

The one other thing we have always had in the past was a respectful attitude toward one another. [I don't mean we weren't loud, opinionated, pushy, and even a little overbearing once in a while, but when cutting to the chase, when we got together at a table, we loved people who worked with us in gossiping the gospel all over the world in spite of our diffrences. It is that loss I'm trying to speak to in this post. It is that loss that I believe is the greatest danger we face as a denomination right now. it is that loss that I think has grieved the Holy Spirit and damaged our effectiveness in this world.

I want to regain that ability to love, respect, and work with people in spite of our differences on lesser issues. You didn't know you would get another post did you... :)

Paul B.

Anonymous said...

Paul,

It is not an exaggeration for me to say that every single Southern Baptist, especially those who serve in leadership positions, needs to read this.

We have an epidemic of pride at all levels of our convention, from denominational offices to the back pew of our churches. We KNOW that we are right and those who see things differently than we do are wrong. When we are suffering from pride it is difficult for us to cooperate with people who have differing views---even on relatively minor matters. Pride also makes it difficult for us to admit that we might not be absolutely right, even when there is strong evidence for another position, as if admitting that we are not certain about an issue is a sign of weakness.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful words, Paul. Thank you for encouraging another Christian brother who happens to be southern baptist but doesn't fit all that some believe southern baptist should be. I would add "be listening." Listening to the voice of God as He speaks to us through His Holy Spirit about His truth and way and then obey with everything you've got.

Big Daddy Weave said...

If more men had your attitude of cooperation, I have a feeling that Southern Baptist life over the past 25 years would have played out quite differently. Perhaps, I would have been able to remain a Southern Baptist.

I've noticed that you regularly offer your prayers and encouragement to my cousin, Emily, who is a SBC journeyman in Botswana right now (emilyinbotswana.blogspot.com)

Her father is a Southern Baptist minister at FBC Springfield, Virginia and his brother, my dad, is a Baylor Religion Professor. Emily's sister works for the Baptist World Alliance and I'm a committed CBFer and a student at Baylor's J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. We're an interesting Baptist family who can agree to disagree over minor theological issues!

Paul/Mary Burleson said...

To my handsome feller:
Although we've been married 47 and a half years, I never cease to be amazed at your wisdom and writing/speaking abilities. Getting to experience this again through your blog posts makes me realize how much I've missed having you as my pastor. Your continued growth, openness, and humility are now visible to others, not just to me.
I'm a lucky lady, and I just wanted to tell you, the effort you put into blogging, the forethought and the hunt-and-peck time-consuming keyboarding is well worth the effort.
Keep it up!
MB

Paul Burleson said...

Tim,

Good to hear from you. Keep us informed as to where you are in your kingdom assignment.

Bryan,

The Islands are blessed with the Riley family being there.

BDW,

Emily, is doing a great work and she is one for whom I pray for regularly. And you're right, you have and interesting family. I would love to share a thanksgiving meal with that kind of group. What fun it would be.

Hey Beautiful,

I love you too. {You read that exactly as I wrote it.] :)

Paul B.

Anonymous said...

Mary B: What a great post and a great tribute from a wife to her husband. :)

Anonymous said...

Daddyweaver said: "If more men had your attitude of cooperation, I have a feeling that Southern Baptist life over the past 25 years would have played out quite differently. Perhaps, I would have been able to remain a Southern Baptist."

You know that statement makes me sad Daddyweaver. This is why my husband and I think it's worth staying Southern Baptist and praying our way through. We are fortunate to have this in our church. :) It works and it's edifying. The Burleson men are just two of many that I see feeling as Paul B has so eloquently written. Christ centered. That is where we need to be. I think we will see it happen.

Cheryl Schatz said...

Hi,

If you haven't read Stan Gundry's testimony of how he went from being a staunch complementarian to being an egalitarian, it is amazing. His testimony is listed at http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=1700

I think you will enjoy reading it.

Cheryl