Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving to you---2006

Mary [my wife] has written a post on our 2partners blog [you can link to it from this blog by clicking on Vital Truth Ministries and then 2partners] where she mentions how much a passage of scripture [1 Corinthians 3:21-23] has come to mean to me personally.

In context, [1 Corinthians 3:21-23] Paul is dealing with a problem in the Corinthian church where some believers were divided over who had had the best ministry among them as pastor. [Paul, Peter, and Apollos had all been there at one time or another.] Paul showed the foolishness of that kind of quarrel since, whatever one does in ministry, only God gives any increase. [1 Corinthians 3:6] The Apostle also reminds the congregation that it's going to take the Bema [1 Corinth. 4:5] to reveal the heart of the issue anyway. So much for our knowing who is the best in any thing, preaching, pastoring, convictions, holiness or whatever else it might be about which we make personal judgements.

Another point Paul made in the 3rd chapter, among other things, is that each man had been a gift from God to them in a unique way. [3:21] When Paul says that, it is as if he gets caught up in a moment of inspiration and goes on to say EVERYTHING is a gift from God. Look at his list of things that are gifts. Paul, Peter, Apollos,[anyone who has been or now is your pastor] life, [whatever circumstances constitute life for you] death, [when it takes place] the world, [not the evil system but the natural realm of life not just spiritual things] things present, [whatever is happening at the moment, good or bad] things to come, [whatever will happen next, good or bad] Am I correct in assuming there is nothing left out? All are gifts from God to the Corinthians and to us.

What this means is I can "give thanks for all things for this is the will of God for you." That thanksgiving is NOT because of the pleasure or pain, comfort or discomfort, mystery or knowledge of "why" things happen, or even the natural or spiritual nature of things. But my thanks is because of the Love, Grace, and character of the Giver of everything that comes to me.. He is the one who is the "blessed controller of every event." All of life is a gift. All things are mine to enjoy, experience, whether they are comfortable or not. I can learn, be stretched, can even grow because of all things whether good or bad.

My word, maybe this is that contentment that doesn't have to be propped up by circumstances happening the way I want them to happen. Maybe this is that joy that cannot be destroyed by difficulty. Maybe this gives me a little insight to the incredible peace Jesus had "in spite" of "things" and that peace is now mine since He is my life.

Maybe I do have reason to be thankful this season. Maybe every day of my life there is reason for thanksgiving. So...HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU. [From all the Burlesons]

Paul Burleson

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.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Webster's Dictionary defines "worship" as " an expression of the worthiness of a Being." That's biblical in my estimation.

I'm going to write about another thing of which I'm sure. [That never means I don't have things to learn in this area.] My sureness comes from what I confidently see in scripture and from my experience as a pastor. That is corporate worship.

Let me say from the beginning that worship is more than a service. It is an obedient life. That's why, when ready to obey in what he thought would be the killing of his son, Abraham said, "the lad and I will go yonder and worship." There is no real worship corporately apart from a life of obedience individually. But there can be both.

So my frame of reference for this article is a corporate body gathered to experience worship as a group.

Another thing. I doubt the veracity of the statement that, in corporate worship, God is the audience and we're the participants. He's watching how we perform so let's do it right. We want to be sure and please Him. It seems to me that's the philosophy that drives paganism. In their mind, if they do it right, the gods [who are far off and watching] will be happy and bless them. But if they mess it up, the gods will be angry and crops will die, and cattle and wives will be barren. So you can see the reason for establishing an elite group [ministers/witch doctors] who are trained to do it right. They can do the rituals and we will watch and all will be well. At least in their minds. I don't think so.

Worship is more of a family gathering with the joy, excitement, anticipation, and even struggles of relating to each other, and the Father, who is the one significant presence that we all want to share in a very real way. Worship is that time when we, corporately, experience, hear from, and even crawl up into the lap of, our Heavenly Father, who is real in our midst as He's real in our lives daily.

Finally, why is corporate worship so important? No one doubts that we can worship/obey God individually, but why is the group thing so important? I'm glad you asked that question. :)

It is essential because God doesn't have any "only kids". We're part of a kingdom/family and we are to experience each other as gifted, growing, members of the Body. You count the "one another" statements in scripture and you'll find we can't really life out christianity effectively apart from "one another". Add to that reality, the only time the whole local body [assuming the people come] is together is that one time a week, generally on a Sunday morning, called a Worship service, and you see why we need to think seriously about corporate worship experiences. It can't/shouldn't be just an after thought.

Two philosophies have prevailed historically for those services. One has been adopted generally by Southern Baptists and is, in my judgement, incorrect. It is a performance style. [God is watching remember.] The other is a relational style. [One cell/person relating to other cells in the Body, and relating to the Head, who is NOT, by the way, the Pastor.]

It is noteworthy to remember that either of these can be the driving force of a traditional, progressive, or even emerging brand of worship. It is that driving force behind ANY style of worship program I'm addressing. Do you want to wager [pardon the expression] which I believe to be the best and the biblical one? Of course, the first relates to that previously mentioned pagan philosophy. The second will be the basis for what I'm going to share in the next couple of posts on this blog. Until then...enjoy/experience your corporate worship this coming Lord's day. The Father will be there in a special way at your family reunion.

Paul B.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I'm continuing to look at some things I'm pretty sure about and some things with which I'm struggling and I hope, growing. Today I follow up on what was said last post about the Church, only this time, where I see women in leadership. I have to say this is one of my weakest areas of theological certainty. This, along with my views on the Second Coming, is going through a major review as I attempt to understand the text of Scripture unencumbered with my particular history and tradition. I'm grateful for both, just attempting to not build my theology on either as, I'm sure, is true of all of you.

Having said that, I need to really begin with a view I now hold, with great conviction, concerning the New Covenant. I have been caught up in past years in building A lifestyle based primarily on performance or the keeping of rules, including the Ten Commandments, that I now see was confusing the Old and the New covenants.

There is a basic difference between the covenant God had with Israel which was founded upon the Law of Moses as the standard of behavior and the New Covenant. Jesus has established the New, ratifying it with His blood, setting aside the Old or really fulfilling it since it was Christocentric in it's ultimate purpose anyway.

The New is, by definition, a Christ centered rather than Law [read rules here] centered covenant. Some people try to make the ten commandments applicable to the New Covenant by dividing the Law of Moses into three parts. Thus you wind up with the ceremonial, the civil, and the moral law. [the ten commandments] With the moral law extending to the New Covenant [in their way of thinking] since it is descriptive of the character of God. The problem is the Jews would not recognize such a division. The law was "one Body" of law and could not be broken into parts. Whatever happened to the Law of Moses happened to all of it. It was, as I said, fulfilled in Christ.

That is not to say the New Covenant is antinomian. [without law] We are "in-lawed" to Christ as I Corthians 9 says. We are to "hear ye Him" as admonished by the Father at the baptism of Jesus. And, by the way, nine of the ten commandments are repeated in the New covenant, with only the "Sabbath" commandment not. In my understanding now, the "sabbath' was a unique sign given to Israel in their covenant with God. We are, as New Covenant people, in an "eternal sabbath" according to Hebrews and rest every day of our lives in the Grace of God.

This is not to say I hold to a two covenant concept as do some Premillennialists, a covenant of works and a covenant of Grace. Nor do I hold to the one covenant of Grace with different administrations as do reformed folks. I'm convinced there were several covenants that prepared the way for the New covenant. I say this because when past covenants are talked about by Paul the Apostle, it is always in the plural as in Eph.2:12 and Rom. 9:4.

All of this to say, Jesus is now our Prophet, Priest, King, and Lawgiver. So we look to Him for instructions for living and the New covenant is the declared guide for behavior. If asked, "how do you read the Old Testament now?" My answer is, Christocentricially. Through the lens of Christ and His work on the Cross. All of the Old was getting us ready for the New. I take everything said in the Old "to the Cross".

Now, this New covenant is different than the old ones in several ways. Let's take an example. The source of authority and power lay with men in the Old. The lifestyle that grew out of the covenant of the Law of Moses was gender based to say the least. The identifying of the wife as part of a man's property as were his slaves, oxen, and asses, in the 10th commandment, certainly shows that.

We are all aware it was based on race as well. God's covenant with ISRAEL made stipulations for foreigners, but they were stipulations, not the norm. Then age was a factor in authority. So that, as one man said, "If you were an 'old Jewish guy' you had it made in that day.

But the New Covenant as announced by Peter was different totally. Remember he said, [after assuring them all there was no drunkeness involved in what had happened] "But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all Flesh: [think of how a Jewish person heard this. Gentiles are now included. Forget race as a problem] and your sons and your daughters [forget gender as a problem] shall prophecy, and your young men [forget age as a problem] shall see visions, and your old men will dream dreams; and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit and they shall prophesy." Acts 2:16-18

So you can now see my conviction [things I know for certain] about the New Covenant and it's unique lifestyle of freedom in Christ because of the Grace of God. And you can see I believe there is no inherent authority/power or lack thereof because of age, gender or race in the New Covenant. But having said all of that, you can see that brings me to some things I'm still growing in, and it pertains to women in ministry.

When I take this clear statement of the source of Power and Authority being the Spirit of God in the New Covenant, and, upon whom He places that power and Authority is not determined by men or systems of theology or Baptist traditions, but it is by His sovereign will and purpose, I have a problem. I must face and now think through women in ministry if I'm going to be consistent.

What compounds my problem is that I struggle with the meaning of some verses. For example in Romans 16:1-2, Phebe is called a "deacon". I know the KJV says "servant" and I know that's a fair translation of the word. But when used of men it is left "deacon" or translated "minister" most of the time. Why the difference? Add to that, in verse two she is called a [KJV] "succourer". Some translations say "helper". But when used of men in 1 Tim. it is tranlated "manage", "rule". The word literally means order, to arrange, to rule, to manage, or to help. Paul said she did this with him and his ministry. She, of course, helped, but why not translate it as... ordered, arranged, managed, as it was of the men mentioned in 1 Timothy.? I'm afraid there COULD be a bit of gender bias in the translators minds that is uncalled for in the New Covenant.

Add to this my seeing the 1 Corth.14 passage where the women are told to "be quiet" as a word given to several troublemakers in that passage. The tongues speaker who isn't waiting to see if a translator is present. [v27] The prophet who doesn't care if anyone else has a prophetic word.[v30] And the women who think they are more qualified than men because they are women.[My supposition here is based on what I'm about to say] [v34] "Be quiet" is the word to all of them. Why single out women as the group that is forever to keep silent?

This idea of women being created first and superior to men was a staple doctrine of the mystery religions of Corinth and Ephesus and many of the women of these churches in Corinth and Ephesus were new converts out of that particular belief system. It is no wonder Paul had to tell Timothy to not let a woman have "authority" over men. That word is used ONLY in the 1 Tim. verse and was, perhaps, a street word that spoke of using sexuality to take control to men.

The context of all of this is a correction of an old pagan belief system held in the past by these new converts that have now come into the New Covenant where the Spirit is the source of power and authority. So it is a good word for all and anyone who tries to be superior to others in the Body life experience. "Be quiet" and respect others annointed of the Spirit to minister. That same problem was faced in Ephesus with the same admonition. At least this may be the meaning. You see where I'm still trying to grow and learn.

The traditional hierarchical, man is the boss, women are equal in value but their roles are the, "keep quiet and recognize the authority of men because they're men," roles, don't seem to fit the New Covenant as Peter announced it. So, I've got a problem.

The other day I read a marvelous blog by Todd Littleton in which he refered to a statement made by someone who said, "the greatest danger to continued orthodoxy in the evangelical movement [that's the SBC and others] is egalitarianism. [This is evangelical feminism in his thinking] The other side is complementarianism or the same value exists between the sexes but differing roles based on their sex and are compimentary to one another. [But I'm fearful that many really see it as...the man's the boss only he's not to be mean about it.] Todd said he must be, and used a word new to me, in a "liminal" state. [That means...in between, transitional, liminal state.] That's quite a confession for any SBC pastor to make. He made it about himself. I join him in that state. I guess that creates a new catagory of men called "liminaltarianist".

Seriously, I just think there is a lot of praying, thinking, questioning, and researching of the text yet to be done on this very important issue of women and ministry. I've begun my study. It's part of my "some things I'm not so sure about" theological journey at the moment. I'll keep you informed.

Paul Burleson