The Wall Street Journal describes The Canterbury Tales as:
. . . a human drama, in which the more than two-dozen pilgrims bicker and challenge each other. The redneck, self-employed Miller annoys the Reeve, a farm-manager who makes his living by pleasing the gentry; the aristocratic Knight cuts the Monk off in mid-story for being too damn gloomy; the celibate academic Clerk from Oxford clashes with the worldly and much-married Wife of Bath, who has no time for book-learning but insists that she should be made a professor anyway (of Love Studies, which she understands in depth).
What motivates all these pilgrims to journey to Canterbury is their desire to pay respects to the beloved Archbishop Becket who had been murdered by King Henry's soldiers. In the medieval ages, the king governed the church. King Henry did not take too well with Becket questioning various actions of the king, and it is said that days before the Archbishop's murder, King Henry raised his head off of his sickbed and queried, "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?"
Four knights heard their king and took his question as a command. They journeyed to Canterbury and murdered the Archbishop as he prepared for vespers. The knights killed Thomas Becket because he dared to question the authority, actions, and leadership of the king.
A Modern Parallel to the SBC
In many respects Southern Baptists have become as hierarchial as Roman Catholics and Anglicans. Though we have no pope, it could be argued that there is a College of Cardinals within the SBC. Most dramatically, a separatist Landmark element within the SBC seems to desire to remove from our Convention anyone who disagrees with them, or simply questions them. These separatists prop up the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message as a tool that helps them propel from fellowship anybody who disagrees or happens to question the authority or actions of a fellow Southern Baptist conservative resurgence leader.
The most recent and bizarrre example of this tactic comes from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Malcolm Yarnell. Southern Baptist pastor and theologian Dr. Tom Ascol recently questioned, in writing, the wisdom of other Southern Baptist professors and pastors who seem to want to make Calvinism a dividing issue within the SBC. Dr. Yarnell responds to Dr. Ascol's criticism of the John 3:16 Conference by alleging that Dr. Ascol shares communion with a Presbyterian (gasp) and should not be considered an orthodox Southern Baptist. Dr. Yarnell writes:
Dr. Ascol is not willing to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message in its entirety. Let it be clearly noted that communion with Presbyterians is certainly within the prerogative of Dr. Ascol's local church as a free church. However, communion with Presbyterians is outside Southern Baptist orthodoxy, at least according to the common confession of the Southern Baptist Convention. A reading of articles 6-7, especially the first paragraph of article 7, of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 will demonstrate how communion with Presbyterians is outside the confessional mainstream of Southern Baptist life.
Unlike the medieval ages when knights simply took out bishops who questioned the authority of the always orthodox king, foot soldiers of the Landmark and separatist leaders of the Conservative Resurgence will only rest when pastors, churches and people who do not agree with them are removed from the Southern Baptist Convention. The weapon of choice is the accusation that those who disagree with Landmark, separatist theology lack "Southern Baptist orthodoxy." The 'liberals' are gone, so we have to create new liberals. There is nobody left to slay in the SBC but those who are busy about doing the work of Christ - within and through - the SBC. So now, to continue the fight, some must make their fellow conservative evangelicals in the SBC - people who have chosen to cooperate with the SBC - as the enemy of "orthodox" SBC'ers. The idea that closed communion is THE "orthodox" and only proper view of communion in the SBC ought to send chills up the spine of every Southern Baptist who cherishes missions cooperation. Dr. Yarnell writes about Dr. Ascol and his church's view of fellowship with a Presbyterian:
The Southern Baptist Convention may be facing a similar problem to that which it faced with Liberalism.
If something doesn't change in the Southern Baptist Convention, and soon, a modern day Chaucer will arise to write The Nashville Tales - a collection of stories of those who have been pushed out of SBC cooperative ministry by "Christians" who have never become confident enough in their faith to be able to handle questions. If that happens then evanglicals will be talking of the SBC using the past tense.
In His Grace,