Friday, August 26, 2011


Another summer 2011 rerun. First run in 2006.

Someone said to me recently, in commenting/complimenting me on the position I've come to with 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 of the Bush administration.] 

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 might be 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. 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 Baptist 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 from those who insist on a particular interpretation of lesser significant doctrines [non-salvific] because it's the "Baptist way," is the same danger 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." 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.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Summer is the time for reruns on not blog posts? This was first posted some five years ago. I think it bears repeating with slight adaptation of language for clarification.

It's clear that all [men and women] are given gifts to be used for the good of the Body of Christ. It is also apparent that some women did this exceptionally well in the New Testament. [See Romans 16:1-2 as only one example of many Paul gives.] Add to that the fact that you have good people on both sides of the women being able to be deacons or pastors issue and you see the problem.

I've also personally come to appreciate the emphasis on the "laying on of hands" [Hebrews 6:2] which seems to have indicated the blessings of a fellowship on a person and their ministry. It may well be that this is the ONLY kind/form of ordination that you will find in the scriptures for anyone in ministry. 

Be that as it may, I don't believe you will find the system of ordination that we have put together the modern church in scripture at all, especially the idea of licensing prior to ordination. Which, by the way, has caused us to wind up with many men having a license to preach but no evidence of a call that qualifies them for ordination.

I do recognize and sympathize with the need for a church to say something that allows a potential pastor/preacher college student a reduction of cost when entering a Baptist school. But I wonder if something other than a license would not be better. Remember the Government recognizes the license to be equal with an ordination for tax purposes, in fact, for all purposes.

I'm not saying what we're doing is evil. In fact, it could be argued that it is needed. Ordination/licensing is demanded by government officials for those who marry the living and bury the dead.[Certainly if this is done with regularity or in the name of a church.] At the very least, one or the other, it doesn't matter which, ordination or license, is necessary when you start talking tax exemptions and government regulations.

So...I was faced, as were our seven Elders, in my last pastorate some ten years ago, [fifteen now] with how to recognize women in ministry and fit it into the "laying on of hands" and the "ordination" required by the government. Do we "ordain" them to the gospel ministry? [That would make them pastors in the eyes of the government.] Do we make the "laying on of hands" a meaningless gesture? What do we do?

We devised a system. Notice I call it "frail" in the title so I readily admit it's fallibility. We dropped licensing and designed two tiers [yes, tiers] of ordination. One tier was for the ordination of Pastors and Deacons. [Tier one] The other was for all other ministers [men and women]to such ministries as youth, children, counseling, and a myriad of other things that are legitimate and needed in the Body of Christ.  [We used tier one to include Elders/Bishops/Pastors since we view all three terms referring to the same person.]

The second tier was specifically for a ministry named, such as counseling or youth, and did not go beyond that specified call/ministry. We laid hands on them as well and gave to them an appropriate certificate of ordination [tier two] that reflected their being set aside for that specified work of ministry for as long as that ministry continued.

The first tier was reserved for men, though, as mentioned, some did not believe that was the clear scriptural position, but it was a major step in the right direction for our local felloship. [By this I mean some didn't see [myself included] scripture forbidding the ministry of deacon or pastor to women when passages that seem to say that are properly interpreted in context.]

But we were only a part of a body of seven elders and the elders were only seven of a whole congregation the majority of which disagreed with the view of having women pastors at the time. So we accepted the majority position [since it wasn't a issue of salvation] and lived by it while a part of that group. This, while at the same time some having, as I said, a bit of a different opinion including myself.

It worked well and there are at present people [men and women] working under that ordination method. One couple on the East coast ministers in a church counseling ministry, tier two, where both are ordained, and are able to operate in ministry with the blessings of both their local fellowship and their government.

This was an attempt to handle a local congregation's desire to create an effective way of recognizing women as a legitimate part of the Body of Christ and for them to be qualified to minister in the eyes of our culture.

 Perfect? Absolutely not. In violation of scripture? Show me where. A tool for working effectively in our culture. I think so. The final answer on the complex issue of ordination and need for rethinking it? Hardly. One church's effort to meet a need? Yes.

Paul B.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Read carefully and ponder well this classic article about the nature of the New Testament Church by John Reisinger.

"We reject the notion that there is a 'true, New Testament, institutional role model church.' No one can find such a system anywhere in the New Testament Scriptures! We would argue the same as the Anabaptist argued with the Lutheran when discussing baptism. The Lutheran chided the Anabaptist by saying, "Surely, sir, you believe there was at least one small infant in the Philippian jailer's household." The Anabaptist replied, "No, sir. The youngest person in that household was a sixteen-year-old boy." The Lutheran opened his Bible to Chapter 16 of Acts and said, "Where, sir, do you find your sixteen year old boy in these words?" The Anabaptist replied, "In the same verse that you find your infant child!"

I am not obligated to prove that something could not possibly be in the Bible. It is your duty to prove it IS clearly there if you claim Biblical authority for it. I can say that no single 'institutional' view of the church is biblical and therefore not mandatory, not only because there are so many different views, but also because no one view can be established with specific texts of Scripture. However, in this case I can go further and prove that the basic concept of church that is essential to ANY institutional system is itself contrary to Scripture. That fact in itself is enough to convince me that the black cat does not exist. Let us consider the following facts:

(1) An institutional role model church simply cannot be found in Scripture by clear exegesis of texts. It must first be assumed to exist and then discovered by a whole series of logical (?) deductions. One must first make the assumption and then look for the evidence to prove it. This is backwards. The truth should come directly from texts of Scriptures. It takes a pretty thick book to prove any system of church order. You have to have a lot of therefores, and we can assumes, when you have no texts of Scripture. If the Bible was one-tenth as clear about church polity as the institutionalist claims, his book on church order would be very thin and made up mostly with Scripture. He could make his statement and give a text of Scripture to prove it. It is the 'sound reasoning' part that takes up so much space.

(2) We could not have such a true New Testament church today without someone having the same authority as that possessed by the Apostles. Some Baptists, especially some Reformed Baptists, have actually come very close to practicing this in their view of eldership but none (that I know of) have claimed Apostleship. One Reformed Baptist preacher has convinced himself, and some immature zealots, that he is the 'modern day Nehemiah' raised up by God to purify the twentieth century church.

(3) We could not have a true New Testament church without having the Apostolic gifts of the Spirit in operation since it was these gifts that created and operated the early church. Do we have prophets giving us special messages from God today? I agree that some zealots make this claim, but we all know better.

(4) We could not have a true New Testament church unless all of the true believers in our area were part of it and there were no other kinds of churches around. If Paul wrote a letter to the "Church in Any Town," I verily believe that some deluded souls actually believe the mailman would bring the letter directly to their pastor. They literally believe they are the only 'duly authorized' church in town. Is a Bible-believing Presbyterian church just as duly authorized by God as a Reformed Baptist Church? Can we accept them as a 'church' when most of their members have not obeyed Christ in biblical baptism? The moment you say "yes," to either of these questions then you must either admit that there is no clear role model for the institutional church or else God has 'duly authorized' some people to disobey God and practice error.

(5) We could not have a true New Testament church today because the New Testament Scriptures not only do not give us details for such a church, they give us evidence of more than one view of church polity among the early believers themselves. One of the difficult struggles in both Acts and Paul's epistles is resolving the problems that arose simply because they did not have a uniform polity in the various churches. This was glaringly evident in the Jew/Gentile struggles. The church at Jerusalem, under James, would never have agreed to operate that congregation like the Gentile congregations that Paul established.

(6) We should not even WANT churches like some of those described in the New Testament Scriptures! How would you like to be an elder in the Corinthian church? Who in his right mind would accept a call to pastor the Galatians? This last question assumes that local congregations in the New Testament times followed the modern practice of extending a 'call' to an ordained (?) clergyman to come and 'pastor' them. Is this practice (a) Biblical, (b) against Scripture, or (c) legitimate expediency? Are we denying the sufficiency of Scripture when we frankly admit we have no clear biblical proof for such a practice? Just because Paul would never have been willing to accept a call to pastor a church already established by someone else (Romans 15:20), does that make it wrong for me to do it today? If so, then I have sinned in this manner at least five times.

I will never forget the first Baptist ordination service I attended. The chairman kept saying, "We Baptists go by the Book" as he waved the Bible. However, all he did was wave it. He never opened it. I was waiting for him to read about how the early church 'called an ordination council,' how they interviewed the candidate on 'his (1) conversion, (2) call to the ministry, (and (3) his doctrinal statement.' I was really waiting for the verses that justified women being on the ordination council (actually there were more women than men but only the men 'laid on hands'). I guess every one was familiar with the verses 'in the Book' on that subject so they did not bother to quote them. I really learned a lot about 'Baptists going by the Book' that day.

(7) The Scriptures themselves give us no encouragement even to look for a role-model church with each detail laid out. It gives us principles and exhorts us to apply them in wisdom and love to the existing situation. We are to create a church order that is consistent with biblical principles and which also enables us to serve God in unity and efficiency with other congregations that differ with us in church order but preach the same gospel of grace."

John Reisinger

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


Back in the late seventies and early eighties I pastored Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort worth Texas for a number of years. Among the blessings of that time was the fact that several couples were in our fellowship while they were students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. They were part of an early move of God in all of our lives at that time in that church that can only be described as profound for us all. 

In the ensuing years they've married, raised children, had careers, been missionaries, built businesses, pastored churches, and generally ministered in the grace of God in times and circumstances that would take a myriad of adjectives to describe. Some of those adjectives would be joyful, exciting, growing, successful, unbelievable, anointed, incredible, and any other positive word you can imagine.

But those same couples, for the sake of reality and honesty, would have to and did, in fact, use other words to describe their journey in the grace of God together. Words like struggle, failure, weakness, depression, control, manipulation, and self-pity were also necessary to describe the journey of life they've experienced.

Where did this kind of sharing happen? Well, a retreat just finished at the Billy Graham Training Center called "The Cove" in Asheville North Carolina involved a number of those couples. Some of them Mary and I had not seen in the intervening thirty years. But with brutal honesty we all shared our  journey of grace. 

It was called a reunion retreat for obvious reasons. It was put together by a few of those couples, with others invited to come. Our purpose was so Mary and I could tell them how we are different now as opposed to those Southcliff days and why we're different. Then, generally, to fill them in on our view of God and His grace as we see and experience Him now compared to then. We did just that.

What transpired was greater than anything I could have conceived. In fact, I was a bit apprehensive honestly, as Mary and I are SO different in our understanding of grace and even the meaning of much of the text of scripture. 

My views about so many things have changed not because the scriptures have changed, but because my understanding about what they said was so lacking back then. 

My views back then, I'm sad to say, were so steeped in tradition and Baptist culture, if not American culture, it was incredible. This is not to say there wasn't grace and a move of God then. There was in His Providence.  It is to say, however, that life is a journey of growth and grace with greater understanding.

I have subsequently under gone an extensive, even exhaustive study, for myself, [as has Mary] about so many texts and truths and have come away REALLY different in my belief system, that I now wondered if they would be able to handle that! 

Would you like for me to tell you whether they were able to handle it? They were different too. They had learned about grace in a deeper fashion too. Their journey had, in fact, brought some of them to a place they wondered if Mary and I would be able to handle where they had come to in their lives.  Some of them had as many misgivings as we did. So here is how we wound up as a group together. 

We laughed, cried, hugged, shared, confessed, revealed, forgave, rejoiced, debated, disagreed, loved, embraced, reveled, and celebrated one another the entire four days. 

Then we talked as people who honestly admitted having failed and succeeded, grown and diminished, changed and all too often remained the same, understood and misunderstood, just like all the other paradoxical Kingdom people who are on a journey and adventure of discovering the grace of God in ways never before seen. 

The difference was we had found a safe place to be honest about it all. That place was with each other with all our differences and stories. The safety was because our unity was not our belief system, but our Lord and an expression of grace that we had found in Him.

I will conclude this post by simply saying it this way...we experienced Kingdom living. We experienced CHURCH. More later.

Paul B.