I can't tell how pleasantly and wonderfully surprised I was at the spirit of the men and women in Memphis. I had personally met only about ten of the thirty people prior to the meeting, but I can honestly say all thirty made a deep impact on me. I went thinking the discussion would be on concrete motions and resolutions to change the direction of our convention, but I left having experienced a movement of the Spirit of God. God took control of the meeting, and those in the meeting room, and as a result, the refreshingly open and honest dialogue and discussion is something I will never forget. It was evident that everyone desired God to first move in our hearts and to do a work within us.
Which leads me to answer a question that has been posed to me. The Memphis Declaration speaks of repentance. The document speaks of repenting. Who is repenting?
Had you heard the prayers offered, the testimonies given, the ideas exchanged there would be no misunderstanding about the answer to that question. The people around the table were repenting themselves, and for nobody else. Since I will not even presume to speak on behalf of my brothers and sisters who were in the meeting, much less Southern Baptists who were not at the meeting, I will briefly give you those things for which I am repenting.
1. We publicly repent of triumphalism about Southern Baptist causes and narcissism about Southern Baptist ministries which have corrupted our integrity in assessing our denomination bureaucracy, our churches, and our personal witness in light of the sobering exhortations of Scripture.
I repent of speaking of our Southern Baptist Convention as if it were God's gift to the evangelical world. I was confronted full force with the reality that too often I speak in glowing terms of the work of Southern Baptists as if God Himself were unable to save His people if were it not for our missionaries, our seminaries, and our work. Frankly, the Southern Baptist Convention may have triumphed over "liberalism," and yes I played a role in the battle for the Bible of the 80's, but instead of continuing to brag about how Southern Baptists are the only mainline denomination to turn back the tide of "liberalism," I committed myself to speak plainly about our current need of reform. In a moment I will express my repentance over calling people "liberals" who were not "liberals," but my repentance in this area is one of thinking more highly of our convention work than I ought. If the Southern Baptist Convention dies, the Kingdom of God will continue to advance.
I don't want our convention to die, and frankly, I believe some outstanding, new things are being done to make the SBC even better, but until I am prepared to say I am a builder of the Kingdom of Christ, and only secondarily a builder of our denomination, then I am dishonoring Christ and His Kingdom. The Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of the SBC are not always synonymous.
I also repented of being concerned about how my church compares in numbers and statistics with other churches. I desire my church to reach people, but concern over how we compare to others is a sign of my pride. I desire to be totally transparent in reporting, and I want our missionaries to be so free of the pressure of numbers as they build the Kingdom of Christ that they enjoy their ministry and don't dread their reporting. God saves sinners, and I am ashamed that I help breed a spirit of arrogance by emphasing how we compare as a denomination with other denominations in winning people to Christ. May our missionaries never feel the pressure from trustees or staff to "produce numbers" in order that we might brag how effective we are. May our missionaries experience our encouragement to remain faithful during times of spiritual drought and barrenness. But I ask myself, how can our missionaries experience that freedom from the pressure to "produce numbers" until I lay down my own desire to be praised of man, and simply minister to people with my eye toward God's glory and not my own?
2. We publicly repent of an arrogant spirit that has infected our partnership with fellow Christians in the advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, without the hearing of which men are incapable of conversion.
I repented of my arrogant feelings that some people are not as "theological astute" as I am. I sometimes say I don't understand how people can claim they base their beliefs on Scripture, because I don't understand their beliefs and arrogantly believe I understand all of Scripture. I repented of my "know it all pride."
Wiley Drake helped me. I had never met Wiley Drake before this meeting. Someone once told me Wiley was crazy. If that man is crazy, I ask God to make me crazy too. This sixty year old man works with pimps, drug addicts, prostitutes, hoodlums, drunks and other down and outers on the West Coast. Wiley shared with us all that his heart broadened to other evangelicals when a Pentecostal pastor partnered with him to reach the needy for Christ in California. Every day Wiley and the Pentecostal would pray together. Wiley would pray in English and the Pentecostal would pray in tongues. God is saving people by the droves through the joint ministries of these two men.
Wiley doesn't speak in tongues, but he didn't let his cessationist beliefs overturn his desire for cooperation in reaching California for Christ. Further, he didn't act as if someone who spoke in tongues was of the devil. Wiley loved his pastor friend, has not and will not become tongues speaker himself, but partnered with that other pastor, setting aside petty differences, to reach the lost.
I don't like being around people different than me. But we in the SBC among people who fellowship within the parameters of the Word of God there will be people who are different from me --- not to mention those millions of other Christians outside the SBC who will join us in working to build the Kingdom of Christ. The Spirit of God convicted me of my arrogant spirit toward fellow Christians who believe differently than I on the non-essentials of the faith. God, make me crazy like Wiley.
3. We publicly repent of having condemned those without Christ before we have loved them, and that we have acted as judge of those for whom Christ died by failing to live with a redemptive spirit toward them.
I thought long and hard about this one. I know my heart. I really believe God has given to me a love for homosexuals, adulterers, alcoholics, drug addicts, and others who live lives without evidence of the grace of God. However, I repented of often not living "redemptively" before them. I repented of not caring for their souls as much as I should. I have an anecdote about a Memphis homeless man that I'll share with you one day that is a direct result of the Spirit of God moving in my heart in this area.
4. We publicly repent of having forsaken opportunities to reason together with those who share our commitment to gospel proclamation yet differ with us on articles of the faith that are not essential to Christian orthodoxy
I repented of an unkind spirit toward my conservative brethren who withdrew from the SBC over what they deemed "politics." I would often say that their withdrawal was "proof" of their liberalism. I asked God to forgive me, and I want continued dialogue with conservatives who feel disenfranchised from the SBC like the dear unnamed brother in Memphis who opened my eyes to his "cover to cover" belief in the Bible, his passion for missions, and his willingness to cooperate with us --- though he and his church have been unjustly called "liberal."
5. We publicly repent of having turned a blind eye to wickedness in our convention, especially when that evil has taken the form of slanderous, unsubstantiated accusations and malicious character assassination against our Christian brothers.
I repented of not believing that maliciousness toward brothers and sisters in Christ ever occurred in the SBC. I repented for turning a blind eye and a deaf ear toward people who have approached me in the past with hurt hearts and damaged reputations because of their unjust treatment by those within our SBC. I also repented of personally, and unjustly, accusing some of my former fellow Southern Baptists of being "liberal" when their ministries and their own personal confessions evidenced they were not.
6. We publicly repent of having misplaced our priorities on the building and sustaining of institutions of secondary and far inferior importance than the local church.
I repented of not helping, supporting, encouraging, praying for, and undergirding the local Southern Baptist Churches in my area.
7. We publicly repent of having disrespected the sovereign grace of our Lord Jesus Christ by falsely presuming that our strength as a people of God is found in uniformity rather than unity within the parameters of Scriptural authority.
There were some in the room to whom this statement applied, but not to me. I have been pushing for months to cooperate around unity within the parameters of Scripture and not uniformity of the interpretation of Scripture.
8. We publicly repent of our inattentiveness to convention governance by not seeking to hold trustees accountable to the body which elects them to preserve our sacred trust and direct our entities with the guidance, counsel, and correction necessary to maintain the integrity of those entities.
I repented of not noticing, caring and paying attention to multiple missionary firings, seminary closures, and the firing of agency heads. I am not saying these steps were NOT justified, nor am I saying they were justified. I am saying I repented of my inattentiveness to what was going on. I figured, "who am I?" I wasn't a trustee. Now I realize trustees must be held accountable by someone. That someone is the convention. We elect them all. I repented of my inattentiveness to convention governance as a Southern Baptist this last decade.
In closing, let me say a word about people who seem to be sniping at people who either facilitated or attended this Memphis Summit. Feel free to snipe at me all you want. I'm used to it and find God uses it like sandpaper to refine me.
However, I would like to defend the other participants.
Had you been there, your heart would be different today. Nobody can stay in a room where the Spirit of God is present and leave with a heart of pride or a caustic mouth. The Memphis Summit and the Memphis Declaration may be simply fodder for your anger or bitterness for any number of reasons. Maybe you don't like the organizer? Maybe you desire to make yourself look better by assassinating the character of others? Maybe you wish to embarrass someone for what you deem are critical words, while at the same time overlooking your own? Or maybe the very accusations you make are the very things with which you are guilty?
I don't know (I really don't). My only caution to you is this:
When you snipe at people who genuinely met the Spirit of God in Memphis, left with a greater love for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, and never once gave any evidence of desiring anything but the glory of God, then your sniping may be in actuality a complaint against God. Maybe. Maybe not. However, if it is a possibility your complaint is really with God, I would think long and hard before I criticized.
In His Grace,