Southern Baptists are on both sides of the issue of private prayer languages (see the Lifeway poll). Southern Baptists could argue both sides of women teaching the languages. Southern Baptists could debate till Jesus comes whether or not Jesus drank alcohol as a beverage or whether or not someone 'sins' when they drink beer or wine without getting drunk. Southern Baptists can even argue, believe it or not, the merits or demerits of drinking tea. Yesterday I received an email from the author of a new book set to be published in January of 2008 entitled "The Truth About Caffeine, How Companies That Promote It Deceive Us and What We Can Do About It." The author also is the sponsor of the National Caffeine Awareness Month in the US - an annual event (5th year!) that is recognized in 5 states and over 21 cities.
Points can be made by people on both sides of the separate issues. But making points is not our problem. Arguing over the finer points of theology or morality, not abundantly clear in Scripture is not the issue. The issue is fundamentally much deeper and systemically much more dangerous.
We Southern Baptists are losing our identity.
We used to be known for our efforts to cooperate in taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to unreached people groups around the world. We used to be known for our stands on liberty of conscience and our firmly held belief that the Word of God was sufficient for our faith and practice. We were, in short, Christ-honoring, Bible-believing, liberty-loving, missions-minded, Southern Baptists who cooperated with each other regardless of our differences.
Dave Miller, commented on my blog yesterday and absolutely nailed the issue for Southern Baptists:
Any human organization can set its parameters for fellowship. If the SBC decides that teetotalling is necessary for employment in its organization, it can do so.
What it cannot do is imbue its parameters with divine authority. To require alcohol abstinence is fine for any human organization. To call it sin goes beyond the authority of any human being.
Only what is prohibited in scripture is sin.
The SBC can set any parameters it wants on its fellowship. The stricter the parameters, the more people will be excluded. And the SBC can limit the behavior of its employees in any way it chooses.
What it cannot do is claim these parameters are biblical mandates or that those who violate them are violating the will of God.
Too many Southern Baptists are sitting on the sidelines while some of our agencies and a select few leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention are narrowing the doctrinal parameters of cooperation within the SBC. The Bible is no longer the sufficient standard of our cooperation - and neither is the 2000 BFM - for the practice now is to change policies and guidelines at the personal whims of a few in power. This must stop. Liberty of conscience and a love for cooperation must be regained within the Southern Bapitst Convention. That is the issue for us all.
I close with the words of George W. Truett, the late pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, as he stood on the East steps to the Capitol in Washington, D.C. and spoke to 15,000 Baptists on May 16, 1920:
Baptists have one consistent record concerning liberty throughout all their long and eventful history. They have never been a party to oppression of conscience. They have forever been the unwavering champions of liberty. Their contention now, is, and has been, and, please God, must ever be, that it is the natural and fundamental and indefeasible right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience, and, as long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others, he is to be held accountable alone to God for all religious beliefs and practices. Our contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty. There is a wide difference between toleration and liberty. Toleration implies that somebody falsely claims the right to tolerate. Toleration is a concession, while liberty is a right. Toleration is a matter of expediency, while liberty is a matter of principle. Liberty is a gift from God. It is the consistent and insistent contention of our Baptist people, always and everywhere.
May we Southern Baptists regain our identity of liberty for the sake of cooperation in gospel missions and ministries.
In His Grace,