Thursday, December 31, 2009

Perception is Reality: The Continued Slide of the SBC toward Independent, Landmark, Fundamentalism

I couldn't help but chuckle as I saw the picture to the left on MSN. Nick Ayrom, a former high school teacher, is being interviewed for technology-related jobs at the Verdugo Job Center in Glendale, California. I don't think Nick has read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People--at least the chapters on countenance, posture, and giving off the perception you are a positive individual. Nick may be a great guy, but he's got to understand the perception of others becomes your reality.

For four years I have been writing that the Southern Baptist Convention is sliding into a brand of independent, Landmark, fundamentalist Baptist theology that will destroy the fabric of missions and evangelism cooperation.

One of the major historical tenets of our identity as Southern Baptists has been our rejection of creedalism. Confessionalism has been part of our history from the beginning, but creedalism is different. A creed is an official statement of beliefs that a person must subscribe to in order to be a part of the church or evangelical movement. The Westminster, Heidelberg Cathecism, Lutheran Formula of Concord, 39 Articles of the Church of England, are all creeds--even though Westminster carries the title "Confession." Why? Because if you refuse to sign, you CANNOT be identified with the group. The Baptist Faith and Message, like the New Hampshire Confession,, are descriptive summaries of what a majority of Southern Baptists in convention have believed at a particular time, but they are not statements, nor have they ever been statements, to which one must formally subscribe to remain Southern Baptist. Southern Baptists have historically possessed freedom of conscience; there is freedom to dissent from official confessions. But, the BFM 2000 has now become a creed. You either sign it or you are out.

Truett-McConnell College President Emir Caner, and Liberty Baptist Seminary's President Ergun Caner (who seems to personally receive seminary registration fees paid by his friends), are both proteges of Dr. Paige Patterson. These three SBC brothers-in-Christ epitomize the new direction of the SBC. We have become a Convention who demands absolutely conformity on all tertiary matters of the faith, or you are out--fired if an employee, or outcast if not. The continued ridiculous emphasis on "signing" the BFM 2000 is getting out of hand.

I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible, word of God, and because it is "God-breathed" it is 'living and powerful.' One simply has to listen to my expositional messages to know that the TEXT drives the message. I believe in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. Apart from God's grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus the Christ, there is no deliverance from the righteous punishment of a holy God in hell. This is the gospel. I also believe that the mark of genuine Christianity is the display of agape love toward one's fellow man, the same kind of love God gave us in Christ. Jesus said, "By your love for one another will all know that you are my disciples" (John 13:35).

I propose it is not loving to fire people who disagree with the BFM. I propose it was not loving to fire Dr. Sheri Klouda. Ironically, Sheri Kluoda "signed" the BFM 2000, but President Patterson's interpretation of the BFM is that a woman cannot teach men (i.e. "Senior Pastors") theology. We are now in the absurd position of people interpreting the BFM instead of the Bible. I disagree with the removal SBC missionaries from the field for refusing to sign the BFM. At the time, I trusted our SBC "leaders" and assumed these missionaries were "liberal." Far from it; they saw coming what has now arrived. These conservative Baptists were not creedal Baptists and lived (and were fired) for their convictions. I disagree with the removal of Dr. Sharon Bullock, the refusal to promote Wendy Norvell, the continued authoritarianism of SBC mega-pastors, the nepotism of SBC leaders and high profile pastors, and the constant alleged battles against "liberals" within the SBC, and the move toward independence--instead of cooperation--of our missionary efforts. These are all tell-tale signs of a move toward the independent, Landmark, Fundamentalist brand of Baptist theology.

I agree with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message on the major doctrines of the faith (salvation by grace, etc...), but there are several places where I disagree with the 2000 BFM, including its advocacy of "closed" communion, its semi-pelagian view of original sin, and its direct contradiction of the Scripture regarding the Holy Spirit's work in Article IIC. (see Example 3 here).

Granted, these are minor areas of disagreement, and there are more. It is interesting to me that my disagreements on minor points of the BFM are MAJOR TENETS of Landmark, independent, Fundamental Baptists (closed communion, arminian, cessationist, etc... theology). I have often stated that there are many people I consider friends who hold to such theology. We have people in our church who come from the Landmark, independent, Fundamentalist brand of Baptist church. I have no problem with them or what they believe when it comes to our mutual cooperation. They love me and I love them.

But for some reason, the fighting independent, Fundamental Baptists in the Convention don't seem to like people like me. They want to rid the SBC of anyone who would dare question their authoritarian edicts. "What I believe," they say, "is gospel."

Not so fast.

We are Baptists, and we have never been creedal. Tell me what you believe, but don't make me sign it. I'll tell you where you may be wrong. You show me where I may be wrong. But let's not separate over human differences. Let's cooperate around our mutual love for Christ.

There are some who may say, "But the SBC is doing great!" I remind you of Nick Ayrom above. The perception becomes the reality. We are narrowing the parameter of cooperation to the point that doctrinal conformity in the form of creedalism is the condition upon which you can be known as a Southern Baptist. Well, I'm here to stay, and until Jesus comes I will continue to speak out of the growing slide toward independent, Landmark, Fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist Convention.

In His Grace,


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Look Back at 2009

On January 1, 2009, I made Ten Predictions for 2009. It's time for the day of reckoning. Good thing we live in the age of grace (the New Covenant), or I'd be stoned. Smile. How well did I do? Well, you can be your own judge, but let me just say I was startled by the uncanny accuracy of #'s 3, 4 and 9. The others? Well, let's just say I'm out of the prediction business for 2010.

Happy New Year All,


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Revivals Accompanied by Proclaiming the Truth in Unusual Places and By Unusual Means

"It would be very easy to prove that revivals of religion have usually been accompanied, if not caused, by a considerable amount of preaching out of doors, or in unusual places." C.H. Spurgeon

There is rising within my soul a sense of true revival in the people and ministries of Emmanuel. Exhibitions of real, agape love; spiritual unity, a hunger and desire for Christ to be preeminent in all things; brokenness over sins and corresponding recovery by God's grace are all signs of what I am seeing God do in our lives. The above quote by Spurgeon has caused me to think a little about the history of revivals and the uniqueness of preaching in them.

Peter Waldo was a wealthy businessman in Lyons, France during the 1300's. When Waldo came under conviction of the Holy Spirit, he sought the way of salvation and was told that he should "sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Christ." Waldo literally did this and gave away all of his personal wealth. He and others with the same passion began to travel two by two through the countryside, preaching in the streets, reading passages of Latin Scriptures which they translated into the street French spoken by the common man. Foxe's Book of Martyrs declares that The Inquisition originally began with the Roman Catholic Church seeking to stop the "Waldensians" (slang for Waldo's men) from preaching the Scriptures in the common language. Many Baptists see their spiritual heritage in the Waldensians.

John Wycliffe (1330-1384) is called "the morningstar of the Reformation." Wycliffe is the man credited with translated the Latin Vulgate into English. Those who were discipled by Wycliffe were called Lollards. The Lollards went throughout England proclaiming Christ in the streets and places of business. Again, Foxe's Book of Martyrs speaks of a great revival arising from the bold proclamation of Christ from of the Lollards.

During what we call the Protestant Reformation, many of the great evangelistic meetings were held outdoors because, as Spurgeon writes, all the churches were controlled by Rome. William Farel (1489-1565), the man who cleared the way for John Calvin to enter Switzerland, and the one has been called "the pioneer of Protestantism in Western Switzerland," was himself a street preacher. It was said of Farel, "He turned every stump and stone into a pulpit, every house, every street,and market-place into a church."

John Knox (1513-1572), founded the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, but he started out as a bodyguard for a street preacher named George Wishart. John Knox accompanied him on his preaching tours, sword in hand, to protect him from violence. All the preaching occurred in fields because Wishart was barred from preaching in the churches. After Wishart was murdered for his gospel preaching in 1546, Knox became the leader of the Scottish reformation.

George Whitefield once stated: "I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach those hearers in the open fields... I now preach to ten times more people than I should, if had been confined to the Churches."

The Methodist John Wesley once began a great evangelistic meeting by preaching on top of his father's tomb out in an open field. He said of that meeting, "I am well assured that I did far more good tomy Lincolnshire parishioners by preaching three days on my father's tomb than I did by preaching three years in his pulpit."

I know the world has changed a great deal, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is being shared in new, creative ways by evangelicals who seem to be experiencing real revival. From all night prayer and worship meetings in a business warehouse districts, to Internet worship services being held via the web, to iPod messages being listened to as people run on the treadmill, to small groups involving recovery from both chemical and non-chemical addictions, to other creative ways--Christ is being proclaimed in unusual places and by unusual means. We may well be on the cusp of genuine revival in this world. It is also to be observed that every move of God has also brought with it a new style of worship and a new repertoire of songs.


In His Grace,


Friday, December 25, 2009

A Pastor Tells the Poor in His Congregation Its All Right To Steal for Food

MSN is reporting that a priest in York, England is telling the poor in his congregation that it is proper, as a last resort, to shoplift food in time of need. Father Tim Jones is quoted by his hometown paper as saying, "With a heavy heart a I tell you that it’s okay to shoplift from big chain stores -- but only if you have no other choice. It’s the least worst option and is preferable to robbery or prostitution. I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither. I would ask that you do not steal from small, family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices. I would ask you not to take any more than you need, for any longer than you need.

The uproar over the pastor's remarks is enormous. I just have one question. What's the difference between the poor in England being encouraged to steal food in their time of need and the good citizens of Nebraska being led by their Democratic Senator to steal their payments for medicare medicaid bills from the pockets of people in other states?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas 2009 at Pecan Manor and Southwestern Theological Seminary

This video from Pecan Manor gives you a peek into the Presidential Home of Drs. Paige and Dorothy Patterson for Christmas 2009. It's a very interesting video for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the opportunity to see the incredibly beautiful Christmas trees throughout the Presidential mansion and the tasteful, seasonal decorations throughout the home. While narrating the video, Dorothy Patterson mentions the need for prayer for Southwestern during these days of "national crises" and for the students, trustees, and professors who are having to bear burdens that are not of their own making. I join with the Pattersons in praying for the Lord's blessings at Southwestern Theological Seminary.

However, according to the Christmas edition of the alumni magazine, sent to all SWBTS alumni by the Seminary public relations department, not all the news coming out of SWBTS is cause for concern. One of the reasons for "celebration" is the growth of The Horner Homemaking House. Students enrolled in the "homemaking" degree program at SWBTS were housed for the first time in Horner this fall. I quote from the alumni magazine the reasons given for celebrating what God is doing at SWBTS:

"What excitement is found in the Meal Preparation classes working out of a pristine culinary center! (What excitement is found) in the Clothing Construction classes taught in a large room with sewing machines for every student and all other necessary accoutrements for learning this important craft! Bountiful "showers" are being hosted to help us add needed equipment and resources.

Without a doubt, the training needed to host parties at Christmas time, parties similar to those being hosted at Pecan Manor in 2009, is second to none at SWBTS. The Horner Homemaking House sure seems to make happy those housewives headed for homemaking. One trusts Southern Baptists in seminary are being as well prepared to help those headed to hell. One also can't help but wonder what Benajah Harvey Carroll, L. R. Scarborough, E. D. Head and Robert E. Naylor might be thinking about these days.

In His Grace,


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Veil of Moses Hides a Fading Glory

"Moses used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away" (II Corinthians 3:13).

The other day Rachelle and I were eating at our favorite Italian breakfast eatery when the owner of the restaurant pulled up a chair and chatted with us. He loves the people of Emmanuel and all we do for the community and missions worldwide. He attends a small church that "celebrates the Old Covenant feasts" and worships "on the Sabbath (Saturday)." He explained that it would be impossible for his family to worship at Emmanuel until we offered a worship service consistent "with the law of God" (i.e. "Sabbath keeping"). We really enjoyed the fellowship with this local Christian businessman, and we respected his convictions, but his words got me to thinking about the common place legalism in churches that emphasize differing aspects of of the Old Covenant (i.e. "Sabbath keeping," "tithing," "patriarchy," "quiverfull theology," "kosher eating," etc...). It seems to me that the emphasis on "law keeping" by many Christians is akin to Moses hiding God's glory by the imposition of a veil. The Apostle Paul tells us that Moses "didn't wish the people to see that the glory was fading."

Initially, Moses placed the veil on his face to "help" the people. Exodus 34:30 tells us that the people "were afraid" of Moses' shining face because he had been with the Lord. The presence of God in our midst often brings discomfort, not comfort. To comfort the people, Moses put a "veil" (garment) over his face to "hide the glory." But Paul tells us that the veil ended up hiding the fact that "the glory was fading."

So it is with religious laws, traditions and rituals. They may have been instituted for benevolent, good reasons. But that which initially comforts God's people winds up hiding the fact that God's glory is gone. The only way to be sensitive to the presence of God is to resist the temptation to build a mechanism (tradition, ritual or law) intended to hide the fact that God is not present. In other words, we Christian leaders ought to do everything in our power to facilitate freedom and liberty among God's people. When people are free--truly free (i.e. the veil or the law is removed)--it's easy to see the evidence of the Spirit's power and presence.

But many of us--instead of celebrating, facilitating and enjoying this freedom that Christ brings--try to hide the absence of the glory of Christ's presence in our midst by imposing religious laws. II Corinthians 3:14 directly compares the veil of Moses to religious people attempting to impose Old Testament "laws" on Christ's people. Christian people, like Israel, often seem afraid of the power and liberty that comes from experiencing the presence of God. It scares us. We need to keep control of God's people by imposing religious laws. We need to maintain authority over our religious environment by spiritualizing our comfortable traditions, exaliting our static rituals, and demanding conformity to our personal picadillys rather than depending on God's people to simply spend time with Jesus to hear God themselves. We want all our people to give the same, dress the same, talk the same, look the same, act the same, be the same. We feel more comfortable with the law than we do the Spirit. The veil diminishes the glory of God in the individual's life.
"But where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty" (II Cor. 3:17). II Corinthians 3 forms the foundation for Christians never needing to fear what it means for all God's people to experience the real, meaningful and full freedom that comes through abiding in Christ's presence. New Covenant believers will resist any imposition of religious laws on God's people. We will view all religious "laws" as a veil used to hide the brilliance of Christ's glory in our lives.

When a person, a family, a Christian group or a church begins to experience the surpassing glory of Christ, things begin to happen that can only be explained by the power of His presence. I hope to share a few narratives in the month of January that illustrate the glory of New Covenant living as compared to Old Covenant Christianity.

In His Grace,


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Restoration: David Brymer and Misty Edwards

It has been Rachelle's and my privilege to become friends with worship leaders Daniel and Gwen Brymer of Kansas City. One of their very talented sons is David Brymer, now living in California. The embedded video is a song entitled Restoration sung by David Brymer and my favorite female worship leader, Misty Edwards. Three weeks ago we were in Kansas City and heard Misty lead worship for about 2,000 college students who had gathered for an all-night worship and prayer event. I realize that some of my generation (and older) have trouble believing that God is moving in the hearts and lives of the younger generations. I can assure you, He is. Enjoy.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Paul Proctor Pulls No Punches: "Our Churches Are Dead"

In the December 16, 2009 NewsWithViews column by Paul Proctor, Southern Baptists are taken to task for our churches being "dead." Paul is a resident of Tennessee and seasoned veteran of the country music industry. He retired from show business in the late 1990's and has dedicated himself to addressing important social issues from a distinctly biblical perspective. Paul builds his article around a statement made this past week by Franklin Graham, "Our churches are dead." I'm not sure I agree with the basic premise of Graham's declaration or Paul Proctor editorialization (see article below). Paul places Franklin Graham and Rick Warren as polar opposites in the article and suggests that Warren's theology is the antitheses of the Franklin's. I know both men, and I'm not sure I agree. Further, Paul criticizes both Rick Warren and Franklin Graham in the article for the methods of ministry they use without recognizing the enormous good that comes from both ministries. Yet, in spite of Paul criticizing these men by name, as well as all SBC churches, I think there are some points he makes that are worthy of our discussion. I also happen to not agree with Paul that all SBC churches are dead (he obviously hasn't visited our church), but again, I do think he makes some arguments that should at least get our attention as Southern Baptists. Mr. Proctor begins his article by mentioning the interview he read involving Franklin Graham.

(Beginning of Article)

"I read an interesting article/interview with Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist, Billy Graham, in a publication called The Gathering where he not only expressed the importance of sharing the gospel, but also some less than flattering comments about today’s churches and pastors “going directions Jesus never told us to go into,” referencing the new “liberal” evangelical emphasis on “social justice” and “Christianizing” the culture.

Of course, I can’t speak for Franklin Graham, but it sure sounded like a slap in the face of Rick Warren with his Global Peace Plan. Certainly, there are many who have made the social gospel job one, but none more notable than the Purpose Driven pastor from Saddleback Church.

Unfortunately, Graham didn’t name names, an all too common practice among clergy today, which leaves many vulnerable to “Christian” celebrities who put people-pleasing programs and global agendas over and above the Word of God and the call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. If Mr. Graham believes certain pastors are out there leading others astray with a false gospel, he has a duty to warn them, not just make vague references that will go in one ear and out the other as if who’s doing it doesn’t really matter. Souls are at stake here.

But, in spite of this, he made some important points in the Q&A session that need to be mentioned:

TG: The next generation of believers seems to be making social justice issues such as poverty, disease, orphans, clean water, etc. a real priority. What do you think about that?

Graham: None of that is our mandate. Jesus never said, "I want you to go out and alleviate the poor in the world." ...So many churches and so many pastors today are going directions Jesus never told us to go into. He said, "you'll always have the poor with you."

TG: Do you see those works as a door to sharing the gospel and making disciples?

Graham: That's the if. If they do it, sure. My grandparents were missionaries to China. They took modern medicine to China. Why? Because the Chinese people had no medicine. My grandfather, a surgeon, saved people's lives so that he could preach the gospel. If the social program comes first and then if you can, you try to work the gospel wedge into it, that won't work. It has to be the gospel first. You go, why? Because Christ died on the cross. He shed His blood on the cross, and that's why I'm going. And by the way, if I see somebody hungry, I'm going to try to feed them. If I see somebody that needs some medicine, I'm going to give them that. If I meet somebody who just needs an arm around them, I'll hug them and tell them God loves them. But I'm going because Christ told me to go into the world and make disciples. He never told me to go feed people. He never told me to go try to make people feel better. He told me to preach the gospel.

TG: To what extent do you think Christians should be involved in helping to usher in the kingdom of Heaven now, on Earth? Should we be trying to redeem our culture?

Graham: First of all, the Bible didn't tell me to do that. I can't Christianize this culture. The god of this world is Satan - this is his culture. He is the god of this age. I'm to preach the gospel. .... God is calling a people for Himself. I don't know whom He's calling, I just have to be faithful and preach.

Later in the article, Graham stated, point blank: “We need revival. Our churches are dead.” I think most Christians who regularly read this column already know that, but it was important to hear him say it.

After having visited many such churches in and around the very home of the Southern Baptist Convention here in Nashville, Tennessee over the last ten years, I couldn’t agree more. And, I don’t say that with any presumed piety, personal innocence or lofty, Mr. Know-it-all kind of attitude. I say it with a deep sadness, frustration and desire to wake up sleepy, jaded and distracted Christians and their pastors who apparently don’t recognize the seriousness of the situation or the urgency of the hour.

One evangelical tactic addressed in the article that I vigorously disagree with concerning both the Billy Graham Association and Franklin Graham, is the blatant use of popular music styles (and celebrities, I might add) in their crusades to help draw crowds. Samaritan’s Purse also hands out church-donated toys at Christmas to appeal to children and their parents on the mission field as a way to gain their favor and make them more receptive to the gospel.

Jesus never did either of these things and neither should we. Although He fed the masses on more than one occasion to demonstrate God’s love and power, there’s no biblical record of the Lord using food or anything else of a carnal nature to lure people in to hear Him preach. In my view, these pragmatic and people-pleasing practices are just another form of religious bribery that has now become the modus operandi of most churches today, which I believe, in no small part, set the stage for the whole seeker-sensitive church growth movement that has successfully undermined the gospel and steered the Church at large toward evangetainment as its thrust instead of God’s Word and, in the process, shipwrecked the fragile, unfed and undisciplined faith of many by teaching them to do the same.

My wife and I visited a typical SBC church not long ago where the orchestra kicked off the Sunday morning service with something that sounded more like a television talk show theme than a call to worship. I’m sorry – I don’t care what your tastes in music are – that can’t be justified. Whether Christians realize it or not, synthesizing the sacred with the secular promotes confusion and a compromised worship atmosphere.

In all fairness though, the music minister is a very nice young man with a wonderful voice who usually leads a blended mix of traditional and contemporary selections in an attempt to offer a little something for everyone in attendance – a common practice among Southern Baptists and others which, in my view, only leaves the congregation divided, with everyone impatiently waiting for their music to be played so they can get in their three minutes of worship and praise before the next genre is covered that appeals to someone else’s palate and turns our stomach.

How anyone stays focused on God and His Word jumping from traditional hymns to funky blues tunes to rock guitar solos to jazzy Jesus numbers is beyond me. But, this is the kind of conflict being created by well-meaning church leaders today acting on group consensus rather than godly conviction. If we don’t do that with our theology, why are we doing it with our music?

We then went to an adult Sunday school class where the Word of God was set aside for the entire hour in order to fill out a lengthy church survey on personal preferences followed by a touchy discussion on the same – this after a half-hour or more of pre-class chitchat, pastries and coffee which concluded with an array of suggested entertainment-oriented social activities and restaurants to meet at for informal class get-togethers and what-evers during the week, which was apparently difficult for many due to all of the other regularly scheduled activities already committed to with family.

Friends, this is what the Church in America has become in the 21st century: Christians trying to figure out where to go and what to do with themselves in this great big amusement park we call America!

But, all of this, I sincerely believe is going to change dramatically – and very soon. And, though there will be a lot of suffering and hardship in the coming years, and especially in the Church, I am convinced that when people eventually lose everything worldly and superficial that has, up to now, seemed so important to them, the faith of some will come alive as never before while others will continue to seek the flesh in one form or another, following whoever offers the most gratification for the least amount of suffering and sacrifice.

If you want to properly prepare for dire days ahead, prepare for this. When fear, violence, suffering and uncertainty become the order of the day, there may be no better time in our nation’s history to share the good news of Jesus Christ and be the kind of witness for Him that we should have been all along."

“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” – Mark 16:15

(End of Article)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Baptism of General Sam Houston by Rufus C. Burleson

This authentic photograph from the 1850's portrays the pool near Little Rocky Creek in Washington County, Texas, where one of my ancestors, Dr. Rufus Columbus Burleson, baptized General Sam Houston (1793-1863), on 19 November 1854. General Houston, the man for whom the city of Houston is named, was the only person in U.S. history to serve as Governor of two different states--Tennessee (1827-1828) and Texas (1859-1861). He was a very good friend of Rufus Burleson, pastor of the Baptist Church in Independence, Texas, who later served as President of Baylor University. Houston was also a close friend of Burleson's predecessor, the Reverend George Washington Baines, the maternal great-grandfather of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson. George Washington Baines would also later serve as President of Baylor University.

This little pond where General Houston was baptized was on the Little Rocky Creek which runs just south of College Station, Texas and the Texas A & M University. There is a ton of Burleson history in that area of the world. After baptizing Sam Houston, Rufus Burleson declared to the General “Your sins are washed away”, to which Houston is said to have replied, “God save the fishes!" My baptismal views are not quite as regenerative in nature as my ancestor's, but I can't help but laugh at the wit and humor of the patriarch of Texas. For more on General Houston, see a short biography of his life. For more on Rufus C. Burleson see here.

In His Grace,


Monday, December 14, 2009

Watch LIVE: Emmanuel's 2009 Annual Christmas Pageant, 7:30 P.M. Central Time

Tonight, Tuesday, December 15, 2009, the 2009 Annual Christmas Pageant will be broadcast live via the Internet at 7:30 p.m. Central Time. For all you grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends who have family in the choir, orchestra, cast and crew of over 300, tune in to watch your loved one on stage from Enid, Oklahoma. A one time registration of name and email address for our copyright purposes is required, but you will not be placed on any mailing list. Hope you enjoy. Sign-in here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Senator Blanche Lincoln's Biggest Re-Election Hurdle is David Sanders, Not Her Vote on Health Care Reform

This past Saturday the New York Times ran a sympathetic article about Arkansas Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln and the vicious radio and print attacks against her in her home state of Arkansas. The ads "take Lincoln to task for voting to allow the Senate debate on health care legislation to proceed and voting 'against our values' on abortion." The New York Times postulates that Senator Lincoln is in for a rough political fight as she attempts to be re-elected in 2010. Some are calling this Senatorial race in Arkansas the most important election in the United States in 2010.

However, the largest hurdle for Lincoln's re-election to the Senate in 2010, at least in my opinion, is not her fateful vote on health care. Her greatest obstacle comes in the form of a politically astute, well connected, former prizewinning columnist--a Southern Baptist named David Sanders. David Sanders? Yep. He agreed last week to become the campaign manager for Stanley Reed in Reed's attempt to obtain Lincoln's Senate seat. In my estimation, Stanley Reed, a man with character, financial means, and genuine conservative intellectualism will defeat the other seven Republican candidates in the May primary and will then face Lincoln in the general election in November 2010. But it will be David Sanders who will make it happen. I've seen him at work. From his office in Little Rock, David will run Reed's campaign with the spirit of a dove but the wisdom of a serpent--that's a compliment for those of you who don't know it comes from Jesus' words to His disciples (Matthew 10:16).

A couple of columnists have questioned David's integrity for leaving his job with Stephens Media after writing columns that questioned Lincoln's ability to represent the Arkansas people, and then closing out his column extolling the exciting possibilities of newcomer Stanley Reed. Those of us who know David Sanders personally laugh at such questions regarding his integrity. David's the kind of person who tells you what he thinks, regardless of how it affects him personally, and what he thinks resonates with intellectual conservatives like Reed and the Republicans of Arkansas. I am friends with Southern Baptists who make their living in the political world--men and women from both sides of the aisle. David Sanders is a man who is making a difference. As soon as the kids are grown, I look forward to David and Becca being in the Governor's Mansion themselves in Arkansas. Until then, the recepient of his political acumen is Stanley Reed.

The 2010 Senate race in Arkansas is going to be a humdinger.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Only Time the Bible Uses the Word "Authority" (exousia) in the Context of Marriage Should Lead Couples to Cherish Unity

One of the words that is often heard in our evangelical, conservative circles is the English word "authority." Christians are told they must be under the covering of their authority, wives are to be submissive to the authority of their husbands, churches are to obey the authority of their elders, etc... Without doubt, believers are under the headship of Christ as their authority, but is the standard, conservative teaching of male authority over females, or a husband's authority over his wife actually biblical? Most evangelical conservatives claim the husband "has the authority" and the wife is to submit to it. Again, is that biblical?

The often quoted book complementarian book Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanwood (1991), devotes entire chapters to passages like Ephesians 5:21-33, 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. Colossians 3:18-18, and 1 Peter 3:1-7. But the ONLY text in the Bible that actually uses the word "authority" in the context of marriage, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, is given no consideration. Likewise, in John Piper's book What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined by the Bible (2001) there are two lists of verses dealing with marriage provided, but 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 is not even included (see pages 21,66).

Jon Zens, the author who pointed out to me the above facts, has also written me an email with some interesting insight into I Corinthians 7:1-5 and the Bible's use of the word "authority" (Gr. exousia) in connection to marriage. His conclusions, based on the sacred text itself, may surprise you, but if you truly cherish the teaching of the Bible over man's opinions, they may also change the way you teach on the subject of "authority" within marriage.

First, 1 Cor.7:1-5 is the only place in the NT where the word “authority” (Greek, exousia) is used with reference to marriage. But it is not the authority of the husband over the wife, or vice versa, that is in view, but rather a mutual authority over each other’s body. 1 Corinthians 7:4 states that the wife has authority over her husband’s body. One would think that this would be a hard pill to swallow for those who see “authority” as resting only in the husband’s headship.

Second, Paul states that a couple cannot separate from one another physically unless there is mutual consent (Greek, symphonou). Both parties must agree to the separation or it doesn’t happen. The husband cannot override the wife’s differing viewpoint.

John Piper suggests that “mature masculinity accepts the burden of the final say in disagreements between husband and wife, but does not presume to use it in every instance” (p.32). The problem with a dogmatic statement like this is that it will allow for no exceptions. But 1 Corinthians 7:5 contradicts Piper’s maxim. If the wife disagrees with a physical separation, the husband cannot overrule his wife with the “final choice” (p.33). Such separation can occur only if both husband and wife are in “symphony” (unity) about such an action.

Now if mutual consent applies in an important issue like physical separation from one another for a period of time, wouldn’t it seem proper that coming to one-mindedness would be the broad model for decision-making in a healthy marriage? Piper feels that “in a good marriage decision-making is focused on the husband, but is not unilateral” (p.32). In light of 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 I would suggest that decision-making should focus on finding the Lord’s mind together. Over the years the good ideas, solutions to problems and answers to dilemmas will flow from both husband and the wife as they seek the Lord as a couple for “symphony.”

1 Corinthians 7:5 throws a wrench into the works for those who would include the husband’s “final say” in male headship. Paul teaches that unless the couple can agree on a course of action, it cannot be executed. I suggest that this revelation invites us to re-examine what the husband’s headship really entails (cf. Gordon D. Fee, “1 Corinthians 7:1-7 Revisited,” Paul & the Corinthians: Studies On A Community in Conflict, Trevor J. Burke/J. Keith Elliott, eds., Brill, 2003, pp.197-213).

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"Christmas" Is Becoming Extinct in the Public Schools of America

My sister-in-law is a bright, professional high school teacher in a large, metropolitan public school in Texas. Her school is not in the inner city; it is the epitome of upper class suburbia in middle America. She emailed my wife and me this week and recounted a shocking event that occurred in her teenage daughter's classroom. Her daughter, our niece, is a student in the same high school where her mother teaches. The names of my relatives and the school district will remain anonymous, but I hope the story spreads.

My sister-in-law's email to Rachelle and me

December 7, 2009

Dear Wade and Rachelle,

I would like for you to write about the direction we seem to be going in the public schools in regards to "Christmas" (see attached emails). We may have stopped it in our school district this year, but the scary thing is that it was not as easy to stop in the school district from which our daughter's teacher came. Is it possible that this is the trend throughout the US? Absolutely, I believe we are just at the forefront of this issue. It wasn't too long ago we were able to pray before football games and school board meetings. Soon, nobody will be able to use the word "Christmas" without being punished--unless we do something about it. Please make sure my name, school and school district are not used on the blog.

Love you guys...
Within her note to us my sister-in-law attached a couple of emails between herself and her daughter's teacher. The emails explain the events that occurred last week within my nieces' classroom. I commend my sister-in-law for the proactive steps she took to correct a problem that, if others choose to ignore, could become a universal problem within public schools in America.

The email from my sister-in-law to her daughter's teacher

December 2, 2009

Dear ___________,

My husband and I are greatly concerned about a situation that occurred yesterday in your classroom and we were hoping you could let us know if our daughter, _______, was relating the information correctly.

Our daughter told us last night that during class she had been talking about Christmas break and at that time you told her that it was not appropriate to say "Christmas Break" but to refer to it as "Holiday Break". Later during the same class, she said it again. You again informed her that it wasn't appropriate and if she said "Christmas Break" once more she would be sent to the office. ______ was upset but she tells us that she made the correct choice by not being disrespectful when you told her you would send her to the office if she said the word “Christmas” again.

We are Christians and in our home we have always referred to the break as “Christmas” vacation. Our daughter's perception from you was that she was using an “inappropriate” word. We certainly understand why the school disctrict uses the "Holiday" or "Winter Break" terminology as we have a multitude of students from different cultures that celebrate many different religions. However we believe our daughter has every right to refer to this break as her “Christmas” break as we would expect her to respect a Jewish student referring to this break as a “Holiday” break.

Our daughter was very upset and confused with your warning and why this would be something worthy of being sent to the office.

We would really like to understand what happened yesterday in your classroom so please email or call at your earliest convenience.

Signed, __________________
The teacher's response to my sister-in-law's email.

December 2, 2009

I apologize for your daughter being upset. I should have explained to her more in class the policy of why the school district uses Holiday and not Christmas. I had asked her a few times to not refer to it as Christmas in class and would have done the same if it was a different religion. I have not been with the district long enough to know how serious they are with the use of Christmas in the class but I came from a school district where I was reprimanded for students mentioning anything religious in the classroom and I didn’t want that to happen again. At the time when I said I would send her to the office that was the quickest way I could think of to stop the behavior which is a tactic I had used before with other students for different situations. Again I am sorry that this situation happened.


My sister-in-law's second email to her daughter's teacher

December 2, 2009

Thank you for responding so quickly to my email. As a teacher for this district for the past nine years, I can tell you that this school district is very conscious of respecting all of our students and their beliefs. However, it has never been a policy that I am aware of that tells students they are not allowed to mention anything related to their religion in class. It is my experience that we celebrate our students' differences and find many teachable moments by talking about them.

I am not completely clear from your email if my daughter will still get reprimanded if she says the word "Christmas" in your classroom. Please clarify


The teacher's final, three word email in response to my sister-in-law's second email

December 2, 2009

No she won't.
In light of my last post, I confess neither surprise nor fear over the secularization of America. My identity in Christ supercedes my identity as an American. I confess, however, that the problems faced by my niece last week in her classroom makes me want to say "Merry Christmas" to whomever I meet and do all I can to ensure the continued freedom of all to say "Merry Christmas" whenever and wherever they please.

In His Grace,


Monday, December 07, 2009

The Diluted Church: Why America's "Christian" History Matters Not

Many small groups in our church have used Focus on the Family's The Truth Project as the basis for study this past year. The retelling of America's history in Lesson 10 of The Truth Project has inspired many of our church members to political action in order to "reclaim America" for Christ. I commend the idea of a "biblical worldview" as advocated by The Truth Project, but there has been something nagging me in the back of my mind about the current penchant of conservative, evangelical Christians, even those within our church, to "take back America" through social, political and cultural activism. I wasn't quite sure what it was that was bothering me until I read a book yesterday entitled The Diluted Church, written by Timothy Price. Tim writes:

Many think that America's founding was "Christian" in the best sense of the meaning. However, if being Christian is having a personal relationship with God, it becomes impossible collectively speaking, for a nation to have that kind of relationship with God. Therefore, America at best could only be influenced by Christian thought, it cannot be an institutional example set up by God such as Israel. This then debunks the concept of America attaining covenant nation status as some teachers have tried to espouse, in trying to buttress the need to go out and re-take what is ours, according to their estimation.
Tim goes on to explain the problems American Christians run into when they try to advocate a particular "Christian" view of American history. Though the following quotations from the book run long, it is well worth your time to read them. They should help entice you to purchase Tim's book and read the rest of the cogent, biblically supported 275 pages that helps us understand our Christian identity is never to be wrapped up in the rise or fall of any nation, including the United States.

The Secular View of America's History

Conservatives judge the public school's rendition of American history to be revisionistic. This word describes the purposed removal of certain bits of information that do not support a presupposed theory or philosophy employed to analyze any certain era. In plain words, Christians accuse secularists in the education system of systematically eliminating all references to God or Christianity which naturally occurred in American History. Since many of the educational elite do not believe in God, they don't want others to see His hand in any historical affair and be tempted to believe in Him. In an effort to carry out their agenda, they simply delete historical accounts referencing God or Christianity's influence in the events of this country. Christian conservatives are reasonably accurate in their concerns and analysis of what is happening in the public education system.

Now, can we learn from this rendition (the secularists') of history? Not really; this view is inaccurate. It has been purposely twisted and is therefore unreliable.

The Providential View of America's History

Now that we have perspective on the secular view of American History, let's look at conservative Christians themselves to see how they fare at an accurate telling of America's founding. A small group within the conservative Christian populace reacted to the public school system squelching God out of the picture in the historical accounts of this country's founding. In turn, they have gathered a telling of their own about this period to reassert "the truth." Their rendition of America's origin is termed providential; meaning that events of the founding were controlled and/or orchestrated for God's divine purpose.

In the 1970's there was one book published which sparked unprecedented interest in this perspective, entilted "The Light and the Glory." This book is a fanciful reinterpretation of many real historical events. It is devoid of many facts that would otherwise deflate the theoretic position that America was ever a Christian-Nation. "The Light and the Glory" is not an accurate telling of history, just a very partial one. We cannot divorce all the realities while recounting an era of history and still call it correct. What is godly about rebellion, slavery, the (mis)treatment of Indians, Freemasonry, Unitarianism, Deism and Enlightenment thinking, which are all intrinsically part of the fabric of this country's founding? Where in the Bible do you find the ideas of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?" Why was this country in such need of the Second Great Awakening if this country was a Christian-Nation, as the authors suggest?
The authors blatantly gloss over many other facts to arrive at their conclusion that America was a special nation of destiny in God's economy, a "convenant nation" as some term it.

Can we really learn from this view of history? Not really.

Politically conservative believers that allow themselves to subscribe to this particular retelling of history are nothing more than pots calling the kettle black. Without realizing it, they have become just as revisionistic as their archnemesis, "the liberal education system."

The Conspiratorial View of America's History

To add confusion to the mix, there is yet a third perspective with a different approach to history than the first two. The "conspiratorial" view contends that history is being engineered or purposely designed by certain entities or power groups rather than being accidental or providential as the other two pwerspectives espouse. Conspiratorialists believe that there are "dark forces" at work behind the scenes at all levels of government to subject the world and its population to a one-world government. They have support to look at history in this fashion and they have published reams of facts and documentation over the years.

So, can we really learn from this view of history?

Not really. This view is known to be questionable in its assumptions and is therefore unreliable. The conspiracy theories create a paranoia and build an unnatural suspicion in its readership. Conspiratorialism questions the scriptural teaching that Christ has overcome the world. Believers should not be afraid and always suspicious. Most conspiracies are not as pervasive as many conspiratorialists would like to make it appear. Certainly, there is conspiracy within the human realm. Yet it is no stretch biblically speaking to say that conspiracy is also a device of the enemy of our souls. It is just as plausible to believe that the enemy and his minions orchestrate much of what the conspiratorialists interpret to be a strictly humanly devised affair on the physical level.


The subject of the importance of American history and the lack of validity of an emass political push to "reclaim America" over the past 40 years could be quickly resolved if we went back to scripture as our source of objectivity and truth. The significance, or more correctly the insignificance of recent historical events to the follower of Christ, such as the founding of America, could also be addressed. We could see that our identity as Christians is not established in the ethnicity or nationality we acquired through entering this world. As followers of Christ we would not be divided against the rest of the Body of Christ around the world by allowing ourselves to maintain an identity with America after conversion, through any telling of history. Finally, we could also see that we would have a better worldview if we didn't cloud it by giving ourselves signficance through accepting American History as being anything other than the rise and expected fall of another human empire, even as extraordinary as it has been.

As a lover of history, and a conservative, evangelical Christian who believes in the supremacy of God's word, I don't think I have ever read a more appropriate sentence on the subject of a believer's identity in Christ--particularly the believer who happens to live in the United States of America--than the one highlighted in bold print above.

That little nag in the back of my mind caused by Lesson 10 of The Truth Project has been satisfactorily scratched. Thanks Tim.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Knowing When to Chase the Dream and When to Ignore It.

Pictured here is our great dane named Gracie. In her mouth is the shoe of our nephew Reed who was visiting us over the Thanksgiving holiday. Gracie likes to play, but she has a hard time understanding the kind of things that are appropriate toys. The more we shout at Gracie, the more we chase Gracie, the more Gracie thinks keeping the shoe from us is actually a game. The only way we can convince Gracie to let go of this shoe is to grab another toy and play with it, ignoring the shoe and Gracie. I realize we are using reverse psychology on a dog--acting as if something other than the shoe is more important to us--but for some reason, it works! Gracie let go of this shoe when we presented a rope and played with it as if we had no interest in the shoe. Out comes the shoe from Gracie's mouth, and here she comes after the rope! There's a moral to this story:

Sometimes we get those things we really want by representing indifference.

Wisdom is knowing when to go after the shoe and when to ignore it. Just a thought gleaned from the relationship we have with my daughter's dog.

In His Grace,


Friday, December 04, 2009

Kudos to Dr. Timothy Paul Jones and The Southern Seminary

MSNBC is reporting that Andy Schlafly (pictured here), the founder of, is now investing in a new project. He is developing a new "conservative" translation of the Bible. This translation of the sacret text will be develped online, using amateur conservative readers as the translation committee, and their goal is to counter what Andrew Schlafly calls a "liberal bias." Dr. Schlafly's mother, Phyllis Schlafly, is a longtime conservative activist, known for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, and her friendship with many high-profile Southern Baptist leaders. Andy Schlafly tells of his motivation behind the new, conservative translation,
"Professors are the most liberal group of people in the world, and it's professors who are doing the popular modern translations of the Bible..."
Evidence of this "liberal bias," says Andy, is seen in Jesus calling his disciples to be "fishers of people" rather than "fishers of men," and words like "comrade" and "laborer" being used more often than the conservative-friendly word "volunteer." The translators have already decided to leave out controversial passages in Luke, and that Jesus words, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" represent a liberal, social gospel of the translators and not the words that Jesus actually spoke.

Enter Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, Associate Professor of Leadership and Church Ministry and the Editor of The Journal of Family Ministry and Family Ministry Coordinator for Southern. Dr. Jones says of this new translation project ...

"It is not making scripture understandable to people today, it's reworking scripture to support a particular political or social agenda. Ironically, there's a long tradition of the liberal twisting of scripture. Scholars have rightly deemed those translations illegitimate, and this conservative Bible is every bit as illegitimate."
Kudos, Dr. Jones.

My prayer is that we Southern Baptists would remain true to the text and ignore attempts at distorting the Scriptures from both the far left and the far right. Maybe Dr. Jones' words represent the dawning of the day when we as a Southern Baptist Convention move away from the Schlafly philosophy that has dominated our leadership for the past 20 years.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Is the International Mission Board a Potemkin Village or a Lean, Efficient Missionary Sending Organization?

After my post this week questioning the wisdom of the IMB in not reimbursing ISC'ers, Journeymen and Masters missionaries for utilities like dryers, air conditioning and phones, I received a flood of emails and phone calls from missionaries on the field who agreed with my assessment. All of the field missionaries expressed loyalty to the IMB, but to a person, there was the belief that morale among missionaries on the front lines is the lowest it has been in decades. One of the missionaries, an intelligent and articulate team leader who has been employed by the IMB for nearly two decades, asked me if I had ever heard of a Potemkin Village. A Potemkin Village, he said, represents an organization with a hollow or false construct, physical or figurative, hiding an undesirable or potentially damaging reality. Potemkin Villages are built to look impressive to friends and strangers from a distance, but the buildings' shells and facades hide the fact there is little or no work actually being done within the village. This field missionary on the front lines, and others, suggested to me that the IMB has much in common with a Potemkin Village. The following represents their reasoning:

(1). Missionaries who are actually on the field planting churches and sharing Christ have little or no resources to do ministry.

According to several field missionaries who emailed me or phoned me, money for Bibles, special mission projects, and materials needed to help witness and evangelize has not been received from the IMB for months. Churches that make their way overseas to participate in prayer walks, street evangelism, or church planting efforts must bring their own money for materials like Bibles, books and other resources for native converts and pastors. IMB field missionaries are often asked by Southern Baptists from the States, "You mean we have to buy the Bibles we use in evangelism? What about Lottie Moon funds going for special projects?"

What's worse, say these field missionaries, is that those on the front lines of the mission field have now been told that money normally given for expense reimbursement is being withheld. This support money, used to reimburse missionaries for gas in making trips to new church plants or Bible studies, or other expenses associated with the ongoing mission of establishing new churches, is being withheld due to the budgetary crises. One field missionary with a wife and kids has over $2,500 in unreimbursed ministry expenses. The question before IMB field missionaries at this time is simply, "Do we continue funding our ministry ourselves, or do we buy our kids Christmas presents?"

Field office budgets are being slashed by 50% for 2010. Field missionaries are discouraged because there is a feeling among many that Lottie Moon funds are being used to support an ever-increasing overhead budget and an ill-timed reorganization causing little or no money to reach the front lines for ministry projects and field missionary support. In short, the IMB presents itself as a large, beautiful, and impressive missions sending agency--but there are no funds to actually work the mission of the organization.

(2). The current reorganization of the International Mission Board, intended to make the organization flat and lean, has in reality made the IMB fat and deep.

Rather than IMB having "regional offices," the IMB is restucturing the organization to have eight Affinity Offices among eight affinity people groups, nine if you include the deaf people of the world. Each people group has an identifiable office in Richmond and an overseas office that works closely with the staff at the Office of Global Strategy, all headed by Dr. Gordon Fort, VP of the IMB in Richmond, Virginia. There are an additional four IMB Support Offices overseas, offices that "support" the eight Affinity Offices. These four overseas Support Offices work closely with the home offices in Richmond that carry the same names. The offices in Richmond and those overseas include the aforementioned Office of Global Strategy, the Office(s) of Global Personnel, the Office(s) of Financial Services, the Office(s) of Global Logistics, and the Office(s) of Personnel Support and Mobilization Support. For example, the "Support Office" for the European Peoples Affinity Group is located in London. Twenty missionary personnel work in that particular office of Financial Services. That's just one of four offices in the London Support Office (one of four "Support Offices" worldwide) that report to both their respective "Affinity Offices" (one of eight worldwide) and then to corresponding offices in Richmond. You will have a hard time finding any of these offices on the official IMB website

Let me simplify it.

A field missionary (either career, ISC, Masters or Journeymen) is one who is on the front lines sharing the gospel and planting churches. These field missionaries report to a team leader who is also a field missionary. Again, all these field missionaries are what we would call the front lines. They are the ones who need the money, the supplies, the support of the Southern Baptist Convention. But these are the missionaries who seem to be receiving the financial cuts. Ironically, if the average Southern Baptist were to call the International Mission Board and ask " Can you tell me the number of SBC field missionaries on the field who are actually responsible for sharing Christ and planting churches?" you would not be given a direct answer. Why? The standard response is "All our personnel are missionaries!" That's true, but when we give to Lottie Moon, we are thinking about the person on the field sharing Christ and planting churches. Sure, we need the support personnel. Nobody is suggesting any differently. But the question is: Does this current reorganization of the IMB make it leaner and more efficient so that more funds, not less, reach the front lines of the mission field?
The field missionaries are telling me "no" in response to this question. They say that their team leaders must now report to supervisory "Cluster Leaders" who are in charge of missionary teams in a handful of countries. These "Cluster Leaders" then report to their respective Affinity Leaders, who then report to the Office of Global Strategy. All the other IMB personnel in the overseas Affinity Offices, overseas Support Offices, Richmond home offices, etc are technically there for the "support" of the field missionaries. Yet, the field missionaries feel like nobody is listening to them for the following reasons:

(1). When "tours" are made of regions, it is the upper echelon IMB management and IMB supervisors who lead the SBC dignitaries (i.e. SBC President, trustees, etc...) on those tours.
(2). When the last two reorganizations occured at the IMB (i.e. New Directions and Affinity People Groups), the instructions for reorganization came from the top down. Field missionaries were not asked for their input. (Edit: David Rogers, former IMB field missionary to Spain points out in the comment section that he received an email about possible impending changes in 2008, asking for input. The field missionaries who have contacted me did not mention the email, just their belief that the changes were being implemented with or without direction from the field missionaries. I do not believe it is accurate to represent that all field missionaries were not asked for their input. Some, including David Rogers, obviously were).
(3). The cuts to ministry, expense accounts, and salaries are being felt by the field missionaries--frustrating them in their efforts to share Christ and plant churches.
(4). There is a feeling that any complaining about the situation will cause someone to be labeled a "malcontent." Rather than feeling empowered to speak up and to offer helpful suggestions, many field missionaries are either quitting, retiring, or contemplating getting out.

If top level management of the IMB wants to prevent a wholesale collapse of missions as Southern Baptists know it, then there should be a long-term hiring freeze and reserves should be tapped to get MORE MONEY ON THE FRONT lines--not less. It would be better for Southern Baptists to do the work we are now doing well, than to continue to build a huge organization to try to reach every people group in the world and do it all very poorly.

(3). The statistics on the Annual Statistical Report cause IMB missionaries on the field to question the wisdom of their superiors.

There has been a healthy amount of skepticism related to the numbers of baptisms and church plants reported by the International Mission Board in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Field missionaries report constant pressure to "get the numbers up." The International Mission Board's Office of Global Strategy reports that field missionaries in the IMB had a direct hand in starting over 50,000 Baptist churches in 2007 and 2008. If you counted every single missionary that is employed by the IMB, including support personnel, every IMB employee would have had to singlehandedly begun 10 churches in the past 24 monhts.

The IMB has reported over 1.1 million baptisms through the work of our missionaries these past two years. The field missionaries believe that organizational management has succombed to the temptation of inflating or fudging numbers to justify the extraordinary expansion and expense of reaching more and more people groups. Unfortunately, when money is spent on public relations and slick presentations--in order to raise more money--all the while using numbers that the field missionaries raise their eyebrows over, we have constructed a Potemkin Village. We build to impress, but we neglect the actual things required to do the real work.

It's time we stopped trying to impress everybody and simply gave our missionaries in the deserts of the Middle East, the islands of the Pacific, the far reaches of China and other remote areas around the world those things they actually need to do the work.

It's not too late for the IMB to respond. Word has it that a secular company has been hired to implement the new reorganziation of the IMB around the world. I have been unable to confirm whether or not this is true, but I've confirmed enough to make a prophetic statement.

If we Southern Baptists don't stop trying to impress people as to how big we are, and if we don't start taking care of our missionaries on the front lines by meeting their requests for ministry funds, reimbursing their expense needs, and helping them accomplish the tasks to which they were called, we will find our beloved missions organization eventually collapsing like a house of cards.

Our missionaries are great people--both those on the front lines and those in the offices of support. It's not their fault there is no money reaching the front. It's the fault of leadership--both trustees and upper management. We've been so focused on silly tertiery things, so enraptured by telling people "We are the largest missions sending agency in the world!" and so consumed with personal agendas that we have lost sight of our mission to care for those who have gone to the front lines.

It's time to buckle up and get them money. I suggest the IMB tap into the millions of dollars in reserves and pay our missionaries what we promised them. And I would also put a clamp on any consideration of future appointments until the morale of those missionaries already on the field is what it should be.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Two-Edge Sword of Gender Equality: A Lesson from the Tiger Woods Fiasco

Those readers familiar with me and this blog know that I advocate the full equality of males and females. I believe that Jesus Christ demonstrated His belief in gender equality throughout His ministry and that the New Covenant explicitly declares this equality throughout the sacred Scripture. In creation and in redemption, God makes man, both male and female, in His image. Sin gives both males and females the desire to dominate the opposite sex. God's grace gives both males and females the desire to serve one another. A female can have a position of authority over a man just like a male can have a position of authority over a female. A female can teach a man just like a male can teach a female. A female can be either Prime Minister, or President, or a stay at home mom; just like a male can be Prime Minister, or President, or a home-maker or a stay at home dad. This isn't feminism. It's Christian normality.

Some have lauded the fact that a Southern Baptist pastor is unafraid to speak his belief in the equality of men and women. Others have taken me to task for such talk. I stand comfortably, however, on the Word of God and believe that future generations will vindicate what I am saying the Bible teaches. There is a long way to go, however, for both males and females within evangelical Christianity--and within our culture at large--to understand the full implications of real equality between men and women. Let me illustrate from the recent troubles in the marriage of Elin and Tiger Woods (pictured here).

The Florida Highway Patrol official accident report tells how Tiger Wood's got in his 2009 Cadillac and backed out of his Windemere, Florida driveway in a meandering, reckless manner, eventually hitting a fire hydrant and then a neighbor's tree. Tiger Woods sustained numerous facial injuries and was in and out of consciousness at the scene. The report does not give details as to why Tiger Woods was leaving his house at 2:30 a.m., nor does it explain why Tiger was out of control in his driveway. The explanation for the shattered back windows was that Elin, Tiger's wife, tried to rescue him.

Of course, we now know that Tiger Woods has had numerous "transgressions" (his word) with women. On the day of the accident, Tiger had called one of his girlfriends and asked her to cover for him. Major media outlets have reported that Tiger Woods was confronted about the sexual infidelities by his wife, Elin, and that she possibily went after him with a golf club and physically assaulted him.

There is no proof that Elin attacked Tiger or that she was the direct cause for his weaving recklessly out of the driveway in a possible attempt to escape. Tiger himself denies she attacked him. The issue is not whether she did or didn't; the issue is whether or not the Florida police should launch an official investigation into more than a traffic accident. Should the police launch an investigation into possible assault and battery?

I say there should be an investigation into a possible assault and battery, and to perform such an investigation would be a sign that our culture is beginning to understand gender equality. I say this for three reasons:

(1). If the roles were reversed and it was woman driving the vehicle, I think the police would launch such an investigation. There would be too much pressure from the public not to investigate possible assault and battery charges.

(2). For those who feel Elin's "humiliation" I ask a simple question: If Elin had been unfaithful to her husband in the manner Tiger has been to her, would you feel humiliation for Tiger?" I think not. Feeling humiliation for someone portrays the person as a weak victim, not an equal partner.

(3). If an investigation were to be performed and Elin were cleared of assault and battery, then the endless jokes about Elin assaulting Tiger would end, our esteem for her would increase, and the incredible stupidity of her husband would be magnified. We do not condone domestic abuse by a husband toward his wife, even if the wife has been unfaithful. Likewise, in no form or fashion should we ever condone domestic abuse by a wife toward her husband, even if he was unfaithful to her.

Not everyone will agree with what I am writing on this subject. I've already given the jest of my thoughts in this post to some men and women that I highly respect, and there initial reaction was what I expected - confusion and hesitation. However, to a person, after a few hours of reflection, each of them responded with, "Yeah, I see it. You're right. Real equality cuts both directions." I am thankful to God that He gave to me a spouse who not only recognizes her equality, but treats me with the respect and dignity equals give equals.

My prayers are with the Woods family. Seriously. I am praying that God will give to Tiger and Elin the grace to forgive, the greater grace to trust Christ as the Lord of their marriage, their home, and their family. But more than anything, I am praying that neither Tiger nor Elin will draw their respective identities from the other person, but from their relationship with Jesus Christ.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A Recommendation to IMB Administrators and Trustees in the Midst of a Financial Shortfall

I have long been a supporter of the International Mission Board and her paid administrative leadership. We hire the best missiologists to do our work, and there has been no greater defender of our paid staff in Richmond, particularly when it comes to keeping trustees from exerting control in areas that are the sole responsibility of professional staff. Recently my fellow Oklahoman and friend, David Severson, CFO for the International Mission Board reported that there could be a reduction of 600 missionaries from the SBC missionary force in 2010 if the current 8% to 10% decline in revenues through the Lottie Moon Offering and Cooperative Program gifts continue. That's the bad news.

Here's even worse news.

The IMB administration in Richmond has informed all International Service Corp, Journeymen, and Masters missionaries that they will no longer be reimbursed by the IMB for dryers, cell phones, or air conditioning while on the field. These missionaries will be allowed to have heat in the winter, but the IMB will no longer be able to pay for air conditioning. Phones for communication (an essential in foreign countries) will now be paid for by the aforementioned missionaries themselves. Clothes will need to be dried by air or the missionaries will pay the cost for drying their own clothes. This information has not been publicized except through emails sent to the supervisors of the ISC'ers, Journeymen, and Masters affected. It is hoped by Richmond that these cost saving measures among the front-line staff will allow for more missionaries to be appointed in the short term.

As Lee Corso might say, "Not so fast, my friend!"

I and the people of Emmanuel are not unfamiliar with budgetary shortfalls during this time of year. We, too, are 8% behind budget in giving. I wrote the following article (edited for the blog) to our church family two weeks ago:

"We are rapidly coming to a close to the 2009 calendar year. As has been our custom for the past several years at this time of year, we are behind in our year-to-date budget giving. However, every December for the past eighteen years we have always financially caught up and wound up surpassing our budget needs by 1% to 5% per year. As we all know, the economy is different this year. We knew it would be and so the Finance Committee held the line on the budget during the budget planning process for this year. There was no overall budget increase, including no salary increases for the 2009 budget. However, due to rising costs , attendance and increases in the 2009 budgeted ministries of Emmanuel (Refuge, Abounding Grace, Celebrate Recovery, Missions, etc.) there is very, very little cushion (if any) in this year’s budget. For this reason, I am asking for your help. We will not promise you God’s blessings if you give to Emmanuel – you already have them in Christ. We will not try to guilt you into giving to your church – that’s between you and God. We will simply tell you of our need, and ask you to help us these last eight Sundays of the year to catch up financially. If you have been blessed by Christ and the ministries of Emmanuel, then we ask you to give. If God sees fit for us not to meet our budget this year, then we as a church will be making some very tough decisions regarding ministry, personnel and missions. Those tough meetings will begin in January if we have not met our budget, but I am hopeful that this will not have to happen ..."
I anticipate our church will again surpass our budget in terms of our giving, but if we do not because of the current economy, then the person who should receive the largest pay cut (in both percentage and dollars) for our new fiscal year (April 2010 ) is me. That's the way it should be. There is nothing worse in ministry than for the lowest paid personnel to be given cuts when the highest paid personnel go unaffected. Frankly, I believe it should be the reverse.

Likewise, in my opinion, there is nothing worse for missionary morale than for those missionaries on the front lines--the very ones getting paid the least to be there--to have their expense reimbursement or salaries cut. Those sitting around in stifling heat, having their clothes permanently saturated by sweat, and then having to carefully count their meager dollars to have enough money to pay for their ministry cell phones are not the ones who should be the first in line when it comes to financial cuts. The "cost cutting" efforts being implemented by the IMB in terms of ISC'ers, Journeymen, and Masters actually save the IMB very little money, but they do negatively affect missionary morale. I know my friends in leadership at Richmond are doing everything within their power to get more missionaries on the field, and I commend them for this, but I've got a few suggestions that might actually save them some real money for future appointments.

(1). Stop having multiple meetngs in Richmond and other parts of the US, flying all the missionary supervisors home from overseas, spending tens of thousands of dollars on travel expenses in the process. The missionaries on the field pay close attention to the fact that these meetings for supervisors often conveniently fall close to United States holidays, and with technology the way it is today, there's no reason to pay such enormous travel costs for meetings in the US. This will save real money.

(2). If there is a consensus that shutting off air conditioning payments will save funds for future appointments, then well and fine. But the air conditioning should also be shut off in Richmond as well. I imagine having no air conditioning in the former capital of the Confederacy during July will convince a few strategic people that such "cost saving" efforts are not very effective in sustaining missionary morale.

(3). From this point forward stop having trustee meetings in exotic places and luxurious hotels. Make every trustee who come to Richmond pay for his own car (if he must have one), and put him up in the cabins at the ILC (or let him pay himself for his hotel if he must have one). It should also be a requirement that every trustee attend those trustee meetings without the benefit of air conditioning. A little sauna wouldn't hurt the long term health of many anyway.

(4). Let the missionaries ON THE FIELD determine the kind of ministry that is needed. Allow for the creation and adoption of reports that count "conversions" and "church planting" in the various countries by reflecting the different cultural and demographic make-ups of those respective countries. We must resist the cookie cutter approach that forces every missionary in every country to do the same thing the same way. Resisting perpetual world-wide reorganization of the IMB (every five years) will save huge amounts of money in the long term.

(5). Any reduction in work force "on the field" should be met with a corresponding reduction of the work force in Richmond. Further, if there are to be cuts in benefits, salaries, or expense reimbursement, the people who should take those cuts FIRST should be the career missionaries and administrators--the highest paid personnel. Taking cost cutting measures amongst the lowest paid, semi/volunteer ISC, Masters and Journeymen at the IMB without first cutting either the expense reimbursement or salaries of the highest paid missionaries is unwise.

Again, I commend the IMB for their pro-active approach to these matters and urge churches to send their missionary offerings to Richomond as soon as possible. But I think the above suggestions, combined with increased missions giving by our churches, will provide the best solution for the appointment of more missionaries.

In His Grace,