Friday, June 30, 2006



It's interesting to me that in 1 Corinthians where the people were so divided over who had been their best pastor, [Paul, Peter, Apollos] and were so divided that they couldn't settle personal issues except in the courts of law, that Paul reminded them that it was only Christ and Him crucified, buried, and raised from the dead that was their ground of unity.

So unity begins with a common ground and then continues with a right attitude toward those things we don't have in common. That common ground, for them and for us, was the gospel of Christ. Who had been their best pastor, or as in our day, what are the lesser held beliefs, are not divisive with a correct attitude in place toward such things.

The reason this is so important is because Paul recognized that what unites you will ultimately divide you. So be careful about that which you unite around. An illustration that is silly but sound, if I form a "baldheaded men's club" some of you could be charter members. But some of you don't have a chance of fellowshipping with me, IF my fellowship is around said club with no respect for those who are differently weird ie those who have a full head of hair. How weird that person is and may not even know it. Sad sad that some have hair. And if I develop a mantra such as "oh the blessedness of baldheadedness" and even worse, a belief, " baldheadedness is spirituality" we're in trouble. [It is of course.] :)

But if my unity with people is based on the gospel, I can start such a club, membership would be restricted by the very nature of the club, but the spirit of unity is not lost. I'd love and respect and even relate to others while all the time enjoying that special club. I think that's the way Southern Baptist life use to be. It is only when our attitude over such things becomes one that is less than respectful and "our's is the ONLY true interpretation" mentality that control becomes a real problem. [Which is what happened to the Corinthians.]

The list of differences could become long. Whether to have a Sunday School or not, whether to have a seeker service or not, whether to have a contemporary AND a traditional service or not, whether to use choruses or a hymnal, whether a prayer language is real or not, whether to home school or not, and the beat goes on. Our debate should be vigorous and lively but unity will NOT be lost for two reasons...One, our ground of unity is the gospel. Two, our attitude is respectful toward all concerning other issues. Absent those two things unity will not be maintained.

We can then group together with various people as Baptists, Bible Fellowship, Assemblies of God, etc., or around differing positions on Landmarkism, Home Schooling, Tongues or other Gifts, Reformed Faith, Elders, Women Deacons, and a host of other issues hammered out and not loose unity because our common ground is the gospel. We could even form a denomination around a mission program and have differing positions on those minor theological points without loosing unity. But our ground of unity must be clear and our attitude must be in check.

Finally, it seems to me that the battle for the nature of the Scriptures is essential to come to a true understanding of the gospel. "They are they which speak of me." And the nature of scripture is best described, it seems to me again, by several needed words. Words such as inspired, infallible, inerrant, all of these refering to the original manuscripts, are needed in order to maintain our confidence in the integrity of those words that tell us of the Word and His Gospel.

Our interpretation of lesser Truths [compared to the gospel] will grow and enlarge under the unction of the Holy Spirit. And, if we can maintain a right attitude, unity will not be lost over these.

Maybe I'm too idealistic or maybe I'm just being foolish to think we can. Or maybe I just have a confidence in the God who has loved us with an everlasting love and is working things to our good and His Glory.

Paul Burleson

Friday, June 23, 2006


I want to attempt to give some very personal and fallible thoughts on unity. Having been married for 47 years, having been a parent for 45 years, and having pastored churches for nearly 50 years, I have ample reason for struggling with this very messy issue.

There isn't a lot of difference between a family, a church, or a denomination in terms of working with people. We are different from one another but people are just people at any level of association and unity will always be a work in progress.

Families often choose to struggle behind closed doors for whatever reason, but John Powell may be right when he said that a family is unhealthy to the level of it's secrets. A church tends to be a little more upfront with problems perhaps, or maybe not, but they have them. The denomination that pretends that only positive things are going on and refuses to deal with the real problems that everyone knows are there is as unhealthy as that family behind closed doors.

It is a rare person or group that can face their own weaknesses and openly deal with issues. But for unity to be maintained as a reality, a lot needs to be thought through and talked about sensibly, as well as openly, whether it's two people or thousands of people in the group.

How can people so different maintain unity? What are effective guidelines for building a united group...whichever group is being refered to? How do you agree on those guidelines? How do you hold people accountable who've agreed to those guidelines? You can see the questions are manifold. Answers are fewer. But some may be available for people willing to look for those answers.

We need to begin with a clear statement of scripture. In Eph. 4:7 Paul said we are to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit, the idea being He has already created us one in Christ. No need to create unity. He's done that. And notice there is no talk of a local church here. It's that One Body of verse 4 being refered to. We are one with all true believers and we know that group is made up of all who name Jesus as Lord. So, we must be able to maintain unity of some kind with differing churches, denominations, or away with the groups because unity IS to be maintained. Simple fact of scripture.

My goal is to to attempt to assist us in maintaining spite of differences whether personalities, gifts, preferences, denominations, or any other unique thing that is part of our makeup individually or as a group.

You can already tell I do not believe unity is equated with uniformity. It is really a spirit, heart, or attitude regardless of differences. It is that unique relationship where people, as strong as garlic and as opinionated as politicians, can walk away from encounters loving each other, respecting each other, and without giving up their uniqueness in an unhealthy way.This, whether those involved are strong, weak, outgoing, shy and reserved, or, as said before, strong as garlic. It is not a personality thing, it is a principle thing.

Unity doesn't eliminate struggles. In fact, true unity maintained necessitates struggles whether in a marriage, family, church or denomination. What follows in the weeks ahead will be one person's small attempt to give some handles that, perhaps, will help in the ongoing struggle of staying in unity.

Next time...four attitudes to be cultivated in any relationship.

Paul Burleson

Monday, June 19, 2006


Some good questions and comments have been written about essentials/non-essentials, one of which took to task my previous post for leaving out a strategic point needed in the opinion of the author of the comment posted on Wade's blog. That point being that essentials/non-essentials should refer to all strata of associations, fellowships, etc. I wish to respond to that idea plus a few other things.

First let me say, I appreciate the good spirit with which the comments were made. [With that one caveat I put in comment form on Wade's blog.] The young man is very articulate and obviously intellegent. That said, however, I wish to address some thoughts to the concepts involved. I do this because it is fun and it causes me to think, both of which, I believe, are good motives for doing so.

Now my thoughts...I think it might be wise to use essentials/non-essentials in a theological arena alone for the sake of clarity. Essentials being those things related to salvation which include obvious truths. Non-essentials being all those other no less important biblical truths just not related to salvation.

For other levels of relationships it might be best to use something like "mutual agreements." [This would be policies for an entity governed by trustees.] An example...The staff in my previous post checked to see if the church covenant [mutual agreement of the whole Body] had included any standard of the use of alcoholic beverages. If it had, that mutual agreement would be honored by the staff no matter the free and open discussions as to the scriptural validity of the covenant position.

That's why we wrote our church covenant using guidelines for our relationships based on clear biblical principles rather than personal preference or personal conviction issues. But to use essentials/non-essentials for that church covenant seems a bit over the top to me. This illustrates why I believe it is best to leave those words to the broad theological realm.

The above can be applied, in my judgement, to all associations/fellowships, etc. The Baptist Faith and Message is a theological agreement hence mutual agreement would be appropriate.

We can still be cooperating SB churches because of the cooperative program if a church doesn't agree with every point. Mine doesn't. But that's okay because we rethink it sometimes. That's good too. Our SBC entities have then a mutually agreed theological foundation to work from.

However, when an SBC entity requires an employee to sign and abide by the BF@M as a minimum theological agreement, which it can and has done,[Some disagree with having to sign but the prevailing view is that if a salary is paid by the convention then theological accountability is appropriate.] then to enlarge that by adding private prayer language or baptism by a group that holds to eternal security, would be the same as the staff in an earlier illustration doing their own thing regardless of the church covenant. They don't have the authority to do that. Neither does an SBC entity in my judgement.

There must be, it seems to me, proper consideration by the whole group involved in the original mutual agreement which is the entire convention. This is what Jerry Sutton was evidently saying when he suggested recently we might need to rethink the BF@M in regards to those points of theology. Who knows where we would fall as a convention but let her speak.

If the IMB BOT was doing what it did out of fear of charismatic teachings Baptist missionaries might be doing on the field, simply say so. Though I personally believe that is properly addressed with the policies in place and by the leadership of the IMB doing their job, which they are. But to add those two elements on a theological basis is a bit of a problem with many Baptists, including me, precisely because our mutually agreed theological position [the BF@M] would need to reflect that. Remember we are NOT addressing policies of weight, age, etc., but a signed theological agreement. To change THAT without full and open debate of all concerned is over the line in my opinion.

If there are already theological requirements in place that exceed the BF@M we may need to rethink those while we're at it. The policy part of the requirements that are not theological in nature needed for appointment fall under the trustees sole responsibility.

I'm wondering if the whole problem in the West Africa conflict may have been leadership imposing [with good intentions I'm sure] a new theological standard not addressed by the BF@M, and the missionaries involved believed they were abiding by agreed policy previously signed. You would then have leadership saying "you're not submitting" and Missionaries saying "yes we are submitting to our mutually agreed theological position originally signed". My opinion only, but this illustrates why we must not narrow Or enlarge our mutually agreed parameters namely the BF@M, since there is a required signing, without full and open discussion and convention approval. I would have to submissively say no to leadership were I the one involve in that conflict.

Now another point in question. I think principled dissent is far removed from talking about personalities/clothing styles/etc. Those things are a matter of personal preference only. I'm talking about theological mutual agreements being changed with no free discussion involved. That demands, it seems to me, dissent and discussion. For the most part, the bloggers I have read have tried to keep the discussion on the issues, with rare exceptions. This was always healthy in churches I pastored and in the denomination I've been a part of for 50 years.

NOTICE--This post was basically written prior to the convention in Greensboro and saved as a draft until now. So I realize context may be lost for some. But I posted it anyway.

I am now going to return to my original purpose for this blog namely practical issues of pastoring and ministry with the next post.

Paul Burleson

Friday, June 16, 2006

Final Reflections On Greensboro

What the convention was about for me will be difficult to say. Permit me to break it down if you will.

The Events--I was able to attend a debate referenced in an earlier post concerning the doctrines of Grace. The participants fairly well represented in a gracious way the two sides of a theological spectrum that must live together in the SBC because both sides have many followers sharing their respective views.

The business sessions were respectful and fair for the most part. Some of my desires won out and some did not. I do believe I saw a new day dawn in the realm of debate from the floor where opposing views were shared with passion on both sides of almost every issue. That's healthy in my opinion. Bobby Welch presided and was for the most part gracious and respectful. I do believe he may have interjected his own view of some issues a little more often and strongly than a moderator usually should. But that's easy for me to say. He carried a big responsibility well.

I attended the Founder's breakfast and it was superb, both food and speaker. In the course of the week I met twice late at night with a room full of blogers the second of which was with the newly elected president Frank Page. I can tell you it was totally non-political and one of the best times of prayer I have experienced at a convention in some time. I came away with a clear understanding Dr. Page was beholden to no one and will represent all Southern Baptists this next year [good for him] and that the bloggers have no agenda. They do have a strong desire for openness and fairness and I believe both will be promoted by our new president. Morris Chapman and others dropped by and the same can be said about their visit, totally non-political. A desire for representing all, openness and fairness, and a love for the Lord and the SBC were things expressed by everyone. Refreshing.

The People--How fun it was to reconnect with people. A meal with Rick Shepherd serving the Florida Baptist Convention and Dave Clippard Ex. Director of the Missouri Bapt. Convention, both of whom were on my staff when I pastored Southcliff Bapt. in Ft. Worth, was a highlight for me. To talk with Mike Carlisle of NAMB another former staff person and to see Al Gilbert, Gary Cardwell, Bill Melton, Duane Floro, Steve and Ann Harris, Bill and Retta Haynes, Al Phillips, to name a few, all of whom I've pastored and are now pastoring or serving churches or the denomination, was outstanding. What a choice group of people we have in Baptist life.

The Bloggers-- Meeting this group of young men and women was a highlight to me personally also. They are sharp, articulate, passionate, and transparent. They have no desire for image or the creation of false perceptions, but long for genuiness and reality. Their biblical knowledge astounded me. The recapturing of the authority of God's Word as our only rule of faith is very meaningful to them. So to argue using traditions or opinions as authoritative will not pass muster. They are open to all having personal traditions or opinions, but to make those the basis of beliefs or standards for behavior that are binding on all baptists, will not do. They do take seriously the authority of God's Word and agree on essentials but even disagree with each other on non-essentials and are still struggling to know what belongs where in those categories. They are to me, a stirring breeze of revival in our day.

The Future--I've been in the forefront of a lot of battles and sat on the sidelines of others that perhaps I should'nt have. I've had my times of running hot and also cold spiritually. There have been occasions in my 66 years when I've seen a touch of real revival both personally, in churches, and in a small way, denominationally. I'm grateful for being a Southern Baptist still after 50 years in the ministry so far. I do not believe the SBC is the best organization going in God's Kingdom work. I will have to wait until that day when all hidden motives and purposes are revealed [1Corth. 4] to know things like that. It is just one tool of many in God's Vineyard. But it is my tool of choice and I'm renewed in my own conviction that we may be seeing a fresh wind, ever so light but nonetheless real, of the Holy Spirit. The struggle for the truth of the doctrines of Grace, while being commited to fulfilling the Great Commission is a sign of healthiness to me. Young men and women bloggers are leading the way, along with a host of young pastors and others. Far from hindering our work, they may be a unique gift from God to bring healing much as the Brass Serpent did to Israel. We are to remember that the gift is never to be the focus, but the Giver of the gift is to be honored and obeyed. So this old [er] heart of mine has been stirred, renewed and encouraged by Greensboro. May God use us all in greater ways than we ever dreamed in His Kingdom's work and in SBC life.

Paul Burleson

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


It's an accomplished fact. Frank Page was elected President of the SBC on a first ballot vote between Ronnie Floyd, Frank Page, and Jerry Sutton. The significance was not the amount of the vote difference which was only by a 50.49% for Frank Page and the other two splitting the rest between them. That is not a large vote victory, just a simple majority. But when you consider it is the first time in 25 or so years multiple candidates were nominated and the favorites of the powers that be both lost, it is an astounding vote for progress and change in the way things are done in SBC life. It is also, to me personally, a satisfying statement about the effectiveness of the bloggers and many others who want things done in openness and fairness without fear of having differing opinions. Wade Burleson has led the way and tons of others are leading the way too. I'm an old guy who is enjoying the workings of this denomination for the first time in a long time.

This is not to say it is over, as motions and resolutions will be debated tonight, one of which Wade presented asking the Ex. Com. to investigate and report findings of 5 areas of concern with the IMB Board of Trustees.
That will be debated tonight as I said and plenty of bloggers will be reporting. Maybe even I will write something. Maybe.

Paul Burleson

Monday, June 12, 2006

My Perspective on Monday at the Convention

First of all, I'm just glad to have been able to come at all. After the water damage to our house I wasn't sure. It was repaired in record time and two days early. But the trip itself was long, tiring and not without it's moments. A van immediately in front of me lost control and rolled about 6 times winding up almost upside down in the bar ditch. I was the first one to the van, turned off the ignition, and helped 6 people including two babies out. All were bloodied, none seriously hurt, all had on seat belts and, after the ambulance came, I left to drive more slowly and carefully the rest of the way. Add to that a detour of 1-40 east bound out of Knoxville and a longer trip on the Appalachian Trail highway which was winding, slow, and difficult, but absolutely BEAUTIFUL, and I arrived.

The first night of the pastors conference was alright...I just wish preachers would quit using preaching time to denounce and ridicule Calvinism. I don't mind folks disagreeing obviously but to shame a different view than yours is unnecessary and unproductive. Let's forget the denunciation and preach the word.

This morning I heard a debate about the doctrine of election and it's relationship for good or bad to evangelism. Both men were cordial and respectful toward each other which made for both sides getting good points from the crowd. My guy won. Does that surprise you? Seriously, the reformed position stole the day from my perspective. I remind you this post is entitled that. I warned you from the begining. But, again, the other guy had to, it seems to me, get in his remarks about issues over which we disagree as baptists, yet had no relevance to the moment at all except to slam a different view than his. The slams were concerning the issues of alcohol and spiritual gifts. What does that have to do with the topic of Election and Evangelism pray tell? You notice I've used no need to...if you know who debated you already have them and if you don't know who debated my point is made sufficiently without the names. On second thought, I'll list the men I've heard today in no particular order...Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Page Patterson, Tony Evans, Jimmy Draper, Jeff Iorg and Dick Lincoln. Another thought, when might we hear from a woman at one of these pastor's conferences? Someone says, "Bro. Paul, there you go. I knew you believed in women preachers." Well, you don't know what I believe on that issue because I haven't said, but, most of the pastors are women...maybe they have a significant perspective. You know I better quit this thinking it could get me in trouble. Just having fun with you... and the convention. More later.

But before I go let me say what fun I have had meeting THE bloggers. Marty Duren, Art Rogers, Micah Fries, Tim Sweatman, Tad Thompson, Clif Cummings, Ben Cole,David Rogers, Gene Bridges, Kevin Bussey, and others, along with Bob Cleveland who comments frequently with great insights. My week will be complete when I meet Dorcas. My favorite is Marty Duren because he could not believe I was Wade's dad, "far too young looking " he said. Keen perception that guy has and his wife Sonja said she reads my blog. That's one sharp couple.

Remember this is my personal perspective only, the political issues and news can be picked up on other more significant blogs. You know the ones. They're all great. Be sure and read them as you can.

Paul Burleson

Thursday, June 08, 2006


My apologies for a long delay in posting. [I'm sure not too many have noticed.] But we've suffered a major flood of three rooms of our house where I work and the thingamajig that enables me to operate my wireless laptop AND my PC is down. Several days of cleaning and repair are necessary so even my trip to Greensboro is canceled. I'm sitting at a wireless capable cafe, feeling very modern, and will get back to posting in a few days. Until then I, like many of you, will depend on many bloggers to keep us informed as to the goings on of the convention. I'm looking for some great things from Greensboro.

Paul Burleson