Thursday, January 17, 2008

Interpretations of the Inerrant Word Change in Time

-- Pastor Wade and Rachelle are overseas and will be returning to the States by next Monday. All comments are being moderated in his absence at our discretion. -- (Blog Administrator)

I was recently reading The Records of the General Conference of the Protestant Missionaries of ______, May 10-24, 1877 and came across this interesting anecdote. The infamous female SBC missionary, Martha Crawford, wife of T.P. Crawford, prepared a paper for the conference entitled "Woman's Work for Woman." She was one of four women missionaries who had been invited to prepare and present papers on various issues related to missions at the General Conference. Interestingly, in all four cases of the presentations prepared by women, a male read or presented the ladies' papers, an action that would be deemed very odd in modern SBC circles. However, it seems that in the 1870's the common belief was that the Bible prohibited women even speaking in church (I Tim. 2:11-12). The Records of the General Conference reveal that Hudson Taylor rose and said, "I wish that some of our sisters here could be induced to speak of their own work . . . " and it seems that shortly thereafter a Miss A.M. Fielde of the American Baptist Missionary Union did actually rise and present her own paper. This anecdote reveals four things to me:

(1). Interpretations of the sacred text will often change in time - as evidence by the fact that nobody in SBC circles would demand today women keep silent and not be allowed to speak in the presence of males while in church - an injunction universally agreed upon in the 1870's.

(2). It sometimes requires well-known and highly respected leaders of a convention to cause Southern Baptists to reevaluate interpretations that are possibly in error.

(3). To be dogmatic on tertiary doctrinal issues leaves a convention open for possible future embarrassment, and therefore, all Southern Baptists should embrace humility - and the possibility of being wrong - when articulating beliefs that are of a tertiary nature in regard to the gospel of Jesus Christ (eschatology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, etc . . .).

(4). History is the greatest anecdote against poor decisions in the future.

Lest we think the above anecdote has no relevancy to the modern SBC, I am reminded of a training conference not long ago when a young, immature recent seminary graduate refused to listen to a woman missionary teach him anything. He demanded her husband addresss him in the classroom setting.

Oh, that the SBC had her Hudson Taylors.

In His Grace,



Steve said...

That "immature recent seminary graduate" inadvertently gave a clue to how incomplete his seminary education appeared to be. I shudder to think of his visiting house churches in communist- or Muslim-dominated nations, where most members and leaders seem to be women.

Anonymous said...

History has a way of keeping us humble. Unfortunantly, too many of our people--layfolk and ministers alike--either have no interest in history, are content to accept pop-history for the real thing, or seem to be hearing only a carefully scrutinized and sanitized version. It reminds me of reading primary source materials (such as what Wade has quoted) then reading something like Hassell's Church History (the exact title of which is "History of the Church of God from the Creation to A.D. 1885: Including Especially the History of the Kehukee Primitive Baptist Association") or even his supposed quotations from Burkitt and Read's work on the Kehukee Association a mere 35 years earlier verses what they actually wrote. But then you have to be aware of what lens you are reading it through, and some folks seem not to like that.

Lin said...

"Records of the General Conference reveal that Hudson Taylor rose and said, "I wish that some of our sisters here could be induced to speak of their own work . . . "

this is gloriously astonishing!

Anonymous said...

Amen! Just today Elisabeth Eliot's daily email talked about women on the mission field. It was fantastic.

Here are just two paragraphs from her eloquent writing:

God's call frequently brings surprise and dismay, and a protest that one is not qualified. Jeremiah hoped he might get out of it by reminding Almighty God (in case Almighty God had not noticed) that he was too young. Gladys Aylward did not strike me as timid, but she might have called God's attention to her limitations: she too was young; she was poor; she had no education: she was no good at anything but dusting; and she was a woman. In the case of both prophet and parlor maid, however, the issue at stake was identical. The issue was obedience. Questions of intellect and experience, of age and sex, were quite beside the point. God said do this and they did it.

What is the place of women in world missions? Jesus said, ''You (and the word means all of you, male and female) are my witnesses. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world." And there have been countless thousands who, without reference to where they came from or what they knew or who they were, have believed that Jesus meant what he said and have set themselves to follow.

Anonymous said...

Modern life and church history, both the well known and the obscurant, is filled with absurd interpretations and cultural traditions that should be avoided.

I am sure that after this meeting, some or many of these Christians returned to their homes where they had either former slaves (whom they fought to keep in slavery) or servants who were treated no better than slaves.

I have always found it very easy to criticize my elders, whether my parents or distant ancestors, or previous church leaders, for their errors.

Our challenge today is to proclaim the Gospel and disciple people according to the clear teaching of the scripture. On occasion this may require us to shun both church tradition or cultural trends or norms.

The SBC has made a clear statement regarding gender issues in the BF&M 2000.

At our own church, we have elders. The pastor is one of our elders. The congregation affirms all persons who become elders. We have deacons, whom we call servant team members. Participation in the life of the church, except for the office of elder (or pastor) is not restricted by gender. We have women servant team members, teachers, staff members, worship team leaders etc.

We hope and pray that this arrangement honors what we believe to be the biblical direction regarding gender issues and the commitment of our own denomination, without unnecessarily adding divisive traditions.

The IMB has a good gender policy, also.

Dave Miller said...

I would make one point. Often, interpretations do change over time. But it does not follow that all those changes are improvements.

It is unquestioned that interpretations of scriptures evolve over time. It is my belief that many of those changes take us farther from biblical truth than closer to it.

My comment is not specific to the issue your post referenced, but is more philosophical to the spirit of the post.

Chris Johnson said...


Excellent word....

"When Southern Baptist leaders spend more time on the mission field with our missionaries, I believe the emphasis on 'numbers' will diminish and our appreciation for steadfast faithfulness in terms of ministry will increase."

This blog reminds me of the sufficiency of Gods Word and the faithfulness of a Heavenly Father. God is going about the earth adopting His children to worship and glorify Him. That is a wonderful picture....and He is bringing it to pass!


Anonymous said...

You please and have Ben Cole; please take a look at my blog on Mohler and the Memphis Declaration.
Hoping to have a serious debate there on among other things how your SBC Reform Movement can shape our evolving national character.

Stephen Fox

Rex Ray said...

You said, “Oh, that the SBC had her Hudson Taylors.”

In my opinion, they were lost when they had the backbone to not ‘go with the flow’ and they refused to sign the BFM 2000. Just for starters check out Gary Snowden.

Unknown said...

If we were to look at the history of the SBC, or of many related organisations, we see a subtle shift away from the Truth of Scripture, passing through a phase with the "truths" of Scripture, to a "position" of defending the "inerrancy" of that Book on the shelf that "says what we say it does." Meanwhile, the Book seems to have less to say, and the committees, boards, and conferences define truth to suit their own predispositions. Do we presume that Sound Doctrine somehow was discovered for the first time in the 19th Century? Or that John Darby was the 13th apostle after 1800 years of God abandoning His Church? Let's all get back in that Book, and let the Spirit teach us what the internal agreement of the whole Book has to say to us, and be ready to let God do some surprising!