Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Absurd Notion that a Church Must Affirm the 2000 BFM to Be Considered Southern Baptist

There are some Southern Baptists who are now saying that the BFM 2000 should be a tool of "doctrinal accountability." These idealogues believe that any Southern Baptist who expresses any disagreement with any portion of the BFM 2000 shouldn't be considered a true Southern Baptist. Likewise, they posit that if a church doesn't "affirm" the 2000 BFM, then that church shouldn't be considered a "Southern Baptist Church." I will show in this post the bizarre and inconsistent nature of this un-baptistic kind of thinking.

Those who wish to use the BFM 2000 as a "tool" of accountablity to keep others "in line," use it as a "club" (their favorite kind of tool) to create conformity. Rather than autonomous churches cooperating in missions and evangelism, and rather than competent, Bible-believing Southern Baptists being granted the freedom to voice dissent on tertiary matters of the faith, these faux Baptists who advocate uniformity and conformity have no qualms of publicly humiliating Southern Baptists who disagree with them. They have now chosen to use their club against First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia, accusing that church of not being a true "Southern Baptist" church. They are moving to "disfellowship" from FBC Decatur for the church's refusal to abide by the BFM 2000 in just one single tenet. FBC Decatur is not being accused of denying the gospel. FBC Decatur is not being accused of denying the deity of Christ. FBC Decatur is not being accused of refusing denying believers baptism by immersion. FBC Decatur is being hammered for calling a pastor who is female.

This kind of "clubbing" (disfellowship) is absolutely absurd. It violates every major Baptist principle, not to mention the Word of Christ Himself who said, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another." Where is our love for FBC Decatur? Where is our love for Julie Penninton-Russell. What, in heaven's name, is being done to our brothers and sisters in Christ at FBC Decatur?

I propose that if this act of "disfellowship" is allowed to occur, it will be very dangerous to the health of the Southern Baptist Convention. Why? If a Southern Baptist church is not granted the freedom to point out that she believes the BFM 2000 is in contradiction with Scripture, then all of us who claim to be Southern Baptists will have prostituted our heritage as Baptists. If our churches are not free to express their biblical dissent to the BFM 2000, we have ceased being a legitimate Baptist Convention. As Baptists, we have historically confessed our affirmation of Scripture alone. But think about what is happening in the Southern Baptist Convention in 2009 - The "clubbers" are calling other Southern Baptists "liberal" because their consciences are bound to the Word of God and not to the BFM 2000! Let me repeat the preceding incredulous fact using different words. Those who are using the BFM 2000 as a "club" have elevated a creed above the Bible! Who would ever thought this is where we Southern Baptists would end up as a Convention? I sure didn't.

The FORCED acceptance of the BFM 2000, by threatening to "disfellowship" from those churches who don't agree with every single one of its tenets, is patently absurd. Those who push "disfellowship" from churches that disagree with a portion of the BFM 2000 will destroy our convention if they are allowed to succeed. The SBC will have to eventually disfellowship from over 25,000 Southern Baptist churches. That is the number of SBC churches, at least according to one seminary professor, that have expressed disagreement with the BFM 2000 in either church practice or church doctrine in areas other than women pastors. Let me give three examples of such church disagreements with the BFM 2000, all of which have nothing to do with women pastors.

(Example 1). Dr. Nathan Finn, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes on his blog that most Southern Baptist churches and pastors disagree with the BFM 2000 and the doctrine of "closed communion." He writes:

"Over the course of the last generation a closed membership coupled with an open communion has become increasingly popular in the SBC. I suspect it is even the majority practice in many areas. It seems at least possible that communion is one doctrine where the Baptist Faith and Message takes a position that is not affirmed by many—maybe even most—of our churches. What this means for the Convention’s future remains to be seen" (Baptist, The Lord's Supper and Southern Baptists, p.5,6).

Well, Dr. Finn, if some would have their way, it means that those churches who do not affirm closed communion ought to be "disfellowshipped." Let them try. My church, the Emmanuel Baptist Church of Enid, Oklahoma has given over one million dollars to the Cooperative Program since 2000, and we practice open communion. We strongly DO NOT affirm the BFM 2000 in this area of closed communion, and I have made my objections to closed communion known verbally and in writing - but I remain a fully cooperating Southern Baptist. Let the closed communionist try to disfellowship us.

(Example 2) I have previously pointed out that the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message takes the semi-Pelagian view of original sin in Article III by teaching humans come under God's judgment "as soon as they are capable of moral action . . ." and asserts that only when there is personal and actual sin do sinners "become transgressors and are (placed) under condemnation." This peculiar doctrinal error, though not fatal to the Christian faith, is absolutely contrary to clear teaching of Scripture that "all" are condemned for the sin of Adam. In fact, the 2000 BFM's position on original sin is an altered version of what Southern Baptists have historically confessed we believe about this doctrine. I cannot, and will not, affirm the 2000 BFM in this doctrinal tenet, and have made my opposition known to it at every possible turn, verbally and in writing - but I remain a fully cooperating Southern Baptist.

(Example 3) Theologian Sam Storms has pointed out that the writers of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message have made a theological error, based upon their interpretation of a poor English translation of the Greek text, when in Article II C, on God the Holy Spirit, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states, "At the moment of regeneration He [i.e., the Holy Spirit] baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.

Southern Baptist Dr. Storms writes about this error quite forcefully:

This BFM statement asserts that the Holy Spirit baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. The problem is that there isn't a single, solitary biblical text which says that the Spirit baptizes anyone into anything. It is always and in every text Jesus Christ who baptizes believers in the Holy Spirit, the result of which is that we are incorporated into the Body of Christ . . . (Again), in no text is the Holy Spirit ever said to be the agent by which one is baptized. Jesus is the baptizer. The Holy Spirit is he in whom we are engulfed or the "element" with which we are saturated and deluged, resulting in our participation in the spiritual organism of the church, the body of Christ. I can only conclude that those responsible for writing the BFM 2000 were misled by a mistranslation of 1 Cor. 12:13. I encourage all to read again the prophecy of John the Baptist that Jesus "will baptize you with [lit., "in", the Gk. Preposition en] the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16).

I could go on with other contradictions with Scripture in the BFM 2000, including the Landmark emphasis of the local church to the neglect of the biblical empahsis on the universal church (the bride of Christ), but the three above examples should suffice. You can't go disfellowshipping churches who disagree with the BFM 2000 or we will no longer be a true Baptist Convention.

The Point That We Southern Baptists Must Never Forget

Why is it that First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia, is now being "disfellowshipped" from the Georgia Baptist Convention? Why is it that the same people in Georgia who are pushing this ungodly action may very well try something similar at the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, Kentucky? What is it that is being said by such actions? Are they really exalting the BFM 2000 above the Bible and the soul's conscience to adhere to the Scriptures?

It is evident that some wish First Baptist Church, Decatur to be disfellowshipped because the church has called a pastor who is female, in violation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. So what. There are thousands of churches that violate the BFM 2000, including mine, in other areas. Why are you singling out FBC, Decatur?

Why don't these alleged SBC leaders disfellowship from someone who is not afraid to call them out?

There are thousands of SBC churches that don't practice closed communion. Is the Southern Baptist Convention going to disfellowship each church? There are dozens and dozens of professors, hundreds of pastors and churches, who do not believe in the semi-pelagian view of original sin. Is the SBC going to disfellowship all of them? There are several who understand that the 2000 BFM is outright contradicts the Bible itself when it says that the "Holy Spirit" baptizes us. Is the SBC going to disfellowship those of us who believe the Bible over the BFM?

No, those leaders will not even begin to attempt to disfellowship us. They can't because the people would be in an uproar.

But the Georgia Baptist Convention, and possibly people in the SBC, may very well be planning to disfellowship from First Baptist Church, Decatur. I wonder if they are proceeding because they think Southern Baptsits won't object. Those pushing "disfellowship" from FBC Decatur claim "doctrinal accountability," but Southern Baptists better wisen up. There are thousands upon thousands of Bible believing, Christ-loving, evangelical men and women who believe the Bible teaches women are gifted in all areas of ministry, including pastoring and teaching. Some may not like that interpretation of the Bible, but the SBC is a cooperating Convention, not a creedalistic club of conforming churches that club dissenters. Just because the BFM 2000 prohibits "women" Senior Pastors, does not mean that a church who disagrees with the BFM 2000 and calls a woman pastor cannot be considered a cooperating Southern Baptist Church. Again, thousands and thousands of SBC churches disagree with the BFM 2000. Why pick on FBC Decatur?

I learned a long time ago that bullies on the playground must be confronted, or they will keep bullying. This move toward creedalism in the SBC must stop. It ain't Baptist. Not even close. It's time we Southern Baptists realized the absolute absurdity of "disfellowshipping" a church for not "affirming" the 2000 BFM. By God's grace the Georgia Baptist Convention will come to her senses and see the stupidity of her actions before the Southern Baptist Convention pulls a similar ungodly, unbaptistic and ridiculous action.

In His Grace,


P.S. If some object to this post by saying, "But if we have no doctrinal basis of agreement, then we can have no fellowship!" I respond, "You are absolutely correct! That is why nearly two and one half years ago I offered A Southern Baptist Statement of Cooperation that focuses solely on the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ and leaves out all those tertiary issues that evangelical, Bible-believing Christians disagree over.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Tragic Love Story of Vivia Thomas: The First Female to Enlist in the United States Army

Females have made incredible progress in terms of their collective advancement in numbers and rank within the United States armed forces, particularly since World War II. However, one of the little known episodes in United States military history is the enlistment and death of Private Vivia Thomas (1840-1870), U.S. 6th Infantry, Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. Her life, one that Hollywood would have a hard time imagining and some call legend, is currently being researched for a book I am writing. She could very well be the first woman ever to enlist in the United States Army, albeit under false pretenses. The photograph to the left is Vivia's tombstone, on the southern end of the Officer's Circle at the center of Fort Gibson National Cemetery, Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. The fact that Vivia is buried in the Officer's Circle, the only enlisted soldier given that honor, gives creedence to her remarkable story.

Vivia's Death

Nearly 140 years ago, on a bitterly cold morning in January of 1870, a lone sentry patrolled the grounds around the U.S. army military outpost called called Fort Gibson, Indian Territory (present day eastern Oklahoma), and discovered the body of one of the fort's soldiers, a young private the soldiers called "Thomas," lying across a grave in the cemetery just north of the fort. The body was taken to Fort Gibson's infirmary, and as the doctor began to perform his examination to determine cause of death, a shocking discovery was made: the soldier was actually a woman..

The doctor immediately reported the strange discovery to the Fort Gibson's commanding officer, and an inquiry began to determine how female soldier had managed to pass herself off as a man and get into the United States Army. It was known that "Thomas" had enlisted in the U.S. 6th Infantry, stationed at Fort Gibson, just a few weeks earlier, but nobody knew the background of young Thomas. Eventually, a minister who assisted the soldiers at Fort Gibson's came forward with one of the strangest stories in American military history. It seems that just a few days before "Thomas" had told the pastor her secret. As the commanding officer and chief medical officer listened minister tell the story of a the young woman named "Vivia Thomas," events were being set in motion that would eventually lead to her burial in the Officer's Circle of Fort Gibson's Military Cemetery.

Vivia's Life as a Boston Brahmin

Vivia Thomas was born into a wealthy family from Boston. From a child, she received all the special privileges of the Boston Brahmin, including the finest education and invitations to all events involving Boston's upper society. It was during one of Boston's elegant parties at the conclusion of the Civil War that Vivia met and fell in love with a handsome Union Army officer.

Boston, Massachussets in the 1860's

The courtship continued and deepened for several months until one day Vivia's family excitedly announced that Vivia was engaged to be married. Wedding plans were announced to the Boston elite, and Vivia's dreams of marriage and family seemed to be on the verge of fruition. Those were happy days for Vivia Thomas.

Sadly, just prior to the wedding day, the young United States Army officer disappeared. He left Vivia a lengthy, apologetic note and explained that though he loved Vivia, he was unsure married life was for him. He wrote that he felt his heart was pulled toward the western frontier and that he had made arrangements with the U.S. Army go west. He wanted adventure. Though he would not specify his post, the letter detailed that he would be stationed at one of the many frontier army outposts of the United State. He did not feel it would be fair to force his wife to leave the comforts of Boston to endure the wilds of the frontier. For this reason, he was breaking the engagement and going west alone.

Broken hearted, and deeply embarrassed for the humiliation she had brought to her own family, young Vivia Thomas determined to leave Boston and go west in search of her lover. Through offical inquiries Vivia learned that her fiance was being stationed at Fort Gibson in the Indian Territory, and one day she suddenly and secretly left her home and family to go find her lover. Her journey west began.

Vivia's Journey West

During the several months it took for Vivia to reach Indian Territory, which included river rafts down the Ohio and Missisippi, and up the Arkansas River, Vivia cut off all of her long, flowing hair and started dressing in men's clothing. She rarely spoke, and would avert anyone's gaze, and would often roughen her face with dirt and coal. At first, her motive had simply been to disguise herself for protection while traveling through rough country as she headed to the frontier to find her lover. The disguise, however, proved successful. Vivia soon became known as "Thomas" and upon arrival at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory via the Arkansas River, she determined to get close to the young officer who had jilted her by enlisting in the 6th U.S. Infantry stationed at Fort Gibson. In those days, when the Army would often receive substitute solders, it was not uncommon for enlisted men to join the ranks of Army Infantry with little knowledge of the soldier's background.

In the weeks that followed, as "Thomas" went about doing various jobs at the fort, including patrolling for Indians, cooking, cleaning and sundry other tasks assigned enlisted men, she was able to hide her identity well. She carefully stayed away from her former lover; but she would watch him closely. Vivia would often find herself vacillating between thoughts of revenge for her hurt and a reunion that would end in an embrace of long lost love.

Vivia's Discovery

One night Vivia decided to secretly follow her former lover as he left the fort. The young officer travelled a short distance from Fort Gibson where Vivia observed him greet with a hug and a kiss a young Indian woman. It seems that the officer had begun a courtship with an Indian woman who lived a short distance from the fort. Vivia would soon discover that her fiance had been making regular evening trips to visit his Indian lover. Vivia followed him through the darkness on many occasions, each time growing more and more bitter.

How could he leave Boston, Massachussets and let her face the humiliation of family and peers? How could he move west and fall in love with an Indian! How could he? The more she thought about what he had done to her, the more the cloud of bitterness descended over her soul.

On a cold winter evening in December 1869, Vivia followed her former lover on his nightly rendezvous with his Indian girlfriend. She waited for him behind an outcropping of stone, debating whether or not to confront him. The longer she waited the more her bitterness motivated her to not reveal herself, but to extract revenge by simply ending his life in payment for how he had ended hers. When the officer finally headed back to Fort Gibson that evening, he rode by on his horse, and Vivia shot him. She never said a word. She never revealed herself to him. She simply shot him, hitting him in the chest and knocking him off his horse. Immediately, she was overcome with overwhelming remorse. She went to where her former lover lie on the ground, only to discover she had shot him dead. With tears streaming down her face, she quickly made her way back to Fort Gibson, where she slipped into her bunk, quietly grieving over the murder.

The next morning, the body of the officer was discovered by a passerby and brought to the fort. The soldiers at the fort assumed that he had been killed by Indians. A small cavalry from the fort went out to search for clues, but in a few days the case was closed. The Indians had ambushed an officer of the United States military.

Vivia's Guilt

The guilt over what she had done overwhelmed Vivia. She continued to leave her quarters every night, but this time she would make her way to Fort Gibson's cemetery. She would go to the young man's grave and weep uncontrollably, praying for forgiveness. Within a couple of weeks, she broke down and told her story to the minister of the fort. She knew he would be honor bound to not divulge her confession. But a couple of nights later, with temperatures below zero degrees, on January 6, 1870, Vivia went to her former lover's grave. This time she stayed for hours, well into the early morning of January 7th. At reveille, a soldier walking the grounds of the cemetery found the body of the soldier he knew as "Thomas" lying prone across a recent grave. Vivia Thomas had frozen to death.

Upon hearing the story of Vivia Thomas from the minister, the commander and military officers made a decision about the burial for this young lady. They had never liked her fiance in the first place because of his various attachments with the local Indians, and they all felt deep admiration for Vivia because of the courage it took for her to traverse the United States - alone - to find her lover. In their own small way of acknowledging that never in the history of the United States military had a woman ever been enlisted in the infantry, and in appreciation of her dogged determism and heroic courage, they gave to Vivia Thomas a plot in the prestigious officer's ring of the Fort Gibson National Cemetery.

Next time you are near Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, take time to find her tombstone. Every grave holds a story, and Vivia's is one of the more remarkable ones.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Personal Testimony About My Journey

Yesterday I received an email from a friend and denominational leader asking me a few questions about my views on "women in ministry." I took the time to respond to his questions with the following email. The person, who shall remain unnamed, had three questions in his email. (1). Could you give me your views on "women" pastors? (2). What are the reasons you are troubled by the proposed "disfellowship" of a church that has called a woman pastor? (3). Where can I learn more about this issue? My response, in full, is below.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dear ________,

I hope you are staying warm and safe in this horrid cold and icy weather. I had every intention of driving to OKC to attend the Evangelism Conference Monday, but made the decision to stay in Enid and drive my wife to OKC Monday afternoon for her Master’s classes at the University of Oklahoma Nursing School. She is about a year away from graduating with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Nursing, and I did not want her to drive on the icy roads. I’m glad I made the decision to stay in Enid because it must have become really icy in OKC because OU called off school at noon and we ended up not coming down at all. I have not heard about the Evangelism Conference, but I do hope that things were able to be rescheduled.

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed my post on Union Mission. My research on Epaphras Chapman (1788-1825) and the first mission team to the Osage Indians gives me a deeper appreciation for the Osage tribe in Oklahoma. There is some great history among the people, even a great Christian history, and their story is not well known. Thanks for your prayers for the young man I mention in the blog post who is sick. So far it seems that doctors are optimistic about a full recovery.

I realize that Dr. Bob White (Executive Director of the Georgia Baptist Convention) may be a friend of yours, and I do apologize if my post has been an inconvenience to you in any way. Frankly, the last three years have tempered me. I no longer can remain silent when I see people, churches or missionaries publicly humiliated, as I believe FBC Decatur is now being shamed in the press. I well remember the vote in the Capital Association long ago over "disfellowshipping" a church because the church ordained a few "women" deacons. At the time, I was opposed to the Associaton's motion to "disfellowship" First Baptist Church, but since I was not a member of the Capital Association, I did not make my opposition to the motion known. I do appreciate the fact that you voted against excluding the church from fellowship, and I even more appreciate your reason for doing so – you did not see forbidding women serving as deacons as a “clear” truth. I would concur. In fact, when I read of deaconess Phoebe and other women who “served” the church in Scripture, I find it hard to wriggle out of the New Testament concept of women deacons.

I also appreciate that the issue of women pastors is not as “foggy” for you. Frankly, up until about five years ago, I would have said the same thing about women pastors. I was quite dogmatic myself. I felt that “liberals” and those who denied the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word were the only ones advocating women pastors. I have since learned that there are many solid conservative evangelicals who believe that the Bible, under no circumstances, prohibits a female from pastoring a church, and there are even a growing number of solid, conservative evangelical theologians who believe the sacred text advocates women are gifted to serve in all capacities within the church, even pastors. Some of these conservative Christians who believe women can serve as pastors, and who also hold to the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God, are men like John Zens (Are the Sisters Free to Function), theologian Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian (Beyond Sex Roles), and the ongoing ministry of Christians for Biblical Equality. CBE’s statement of faith on their website states the following about their belief in the Word of God:

We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, is reliable, and is the final authority for faith and practice.

You observe about me in your email, “I sense an openness to a woman senior pastor in your comments.” I think that what you may be actually observing in my writing is an openness to listen to Christian people who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but who also argue, from the Scripture, that women can be serve the church as pastors. I personally hold to the complementarian approach at this time, but I am seeking to demonstrate, as you did years ago, that Christian people can disagree on issues that may not be as clear as some suggest.

More pointedly, I would like to make a prediction. History will one day look back on this issue of “women” pastors in the SBC as we now look back on slavery within our Convention. The equality of gender in terms of the pastorate is something that I believe can be competently argued for from Scripture, just it was argued by some Southern Baptists in the 1845’s that the Bible teaches racial equality, even though most Southern Baptists at the time believed slavery was condoned, even advocated in the Bible. There are many verses that speak of gender and racial equality within the New Covenant, and for some to argue that the pastor’s office should be barred from women, just as some Southern Baptists once argued that blacks should be barred from citizenship, church membership and church offices, seems to me to be a denial of the overall spirit of the New Covenant. Though I would not personally lead my church to call a woman senior pastor for cultural reasons, I do not see it as a “moral” issue, or a “liberal” issue as I once did. Thus, there should be no “disfellowship” from churches who choose to call a female pastor.

Let me be clear though. I am not advocating that a church should call a woman as pastor. Nor am I advocating that a church should always and only call a male pastor. I am simply open to the arguments on both sides. I see my brothers and sisters in Christ on the opposite spectrum of this issue being both Bible-believing followers of Christ who have simply reached different conclusions on this issue. Could I change my mind about women pastors? Yes. Will I change my mind about women pastors? I don’t now. Maybe. Maybe not. But what I am advocating is that we don’t automatically assume that people are “liberal” simply because they believe the Bible places no prohibition on women pastors are liberal. I will also pointedly oppose any action by any of our Southern Baptist state conventions or the national convention, to disfellowship from a church that has chosen to call a woman as a pastor.

Frankly, I want my name on the books on this one. I will not stand by and be silent. A few years ago I might have been silent because I was unaware of the biblical arguments from the other side. In fact, I thought that some were “denying” the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, and the end result was “women” pastors. I no longer think that way. I haven’t changed my mind on the issue, I just simply see evangelical, conservative Christians who disagree, and do not believe we should separate. There are good, godly men and women are on both sides of this issue. And I think that we should learn to cooperate.

The middle ground is to let churches be autonomous. Let those churches who wish to have a female as their pastor call one, and don’t make a move to disfellowship from them. Let those churches that wish to believe that the “office” of pastor is reserved for the male only, call only male pastors. But let’s learn how to cooperate as a Convention because we believe in the same Christ, the same gospel, the same Bible. I really think if we focused on evangelism and missions and all the things we had in common, we would have very little time to point our fingers at others and accuse them of “liberalism” or “heresy.”

Finally, you mention in your email -

“I realize your point is not so much the fact that Julie Pennington-Russell is the woman pastor but that if they [the Georgia Baptist Convention] are going to disfellowship the church then integrity for you would be to separate period.”

You are absolutely correct. Disfellowship is to undo the “koinonia.” It is to say, “We have nothing in common.” Yet, Dr. White privately told Pennington-Russell that he would come to her church and help them when the Holy Spirit moved on the church and people were being “saved.” If you are going to say that FBC has nothing in common with the Georgia Baptist Convention, then the leader of the Georgia Baptist Convention had better make no such private, personal promise unless he intends to stand by it – which means then that he should FIGHT against the disfellowship because he believes he has something in common with FBC Decatur.

Bottom line, Southern Baptists too often pronounce judgment and condemnation before we dialogue, reflect and consider the consequences of our anathemas. I am simply asking for dialogue, patience and Christian grace. Let’s cooperate, not separate. We unite because of Christ and the glorious gospel, and we fund our kingdom work through the Cooperative Program. If we keep moving down the line toward of disfellowshipping from churches that interpret the Bible different than we do, then we ought to change the Cooperative Program’s name to the Conformity Program. If we don’t stop the nonsense of narrower and narrower parameters of fellowship and cooperation, then pretty soon the SBC will be the size of a mega church and not the largest Protestant denomination in the western world.

I, too, am sad about having to report on the sad state of a sister Southern Baptist Church. However, it is necessary. Nobody would ever grasp the inconsistencies of a Convention disfellowshipping from a church over who is called as their pastor unless I was specific. A Baptist convention can’t “disfellowship” churches for calling a pastor who doesn’t meet one of our interpretative qualifications for pastors (male) without “disfellowshipping” from other churches who call pastors who don’t meet even clearer biblical qualifications for pastors (gentleness, self-discipline, etc . . . ), or we display an extraordinary inconsistency. Of course, the answer to the dilemma is to be consistent in letting autonomous churches practice their autonomy and quit interfering. That’s the Baptist way.

I hope this email clarifies what I am thinking. I am hopeful that you will see the value of not ending up on the wrong side of this issue of women pastors. The wrong side is not complementarian or egalitarian. The wrong side is demanding that churches, of which you and I are not members, be either one or the other.

In His Grace,


Monday, January 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Churches and Their Leadership

A recent post on Baptist Life caught my attention. It seems that Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia, wrote in the January 23, 2009 FBC newsletter about a meeting she had with denominational leadership of the Georgia Baptist Convention. It seems that the Southern Baptists of Georgia passed a motion at last year's convention that the Convention would not receive money from First Baptist Church, Decatur because Julie is a woman, and she is the lead pastor. The good people of the Georgia Baptist Convention did not deem it worthy to communicate with the pastor or people of FBC, Decatur their intentions before taking last year's action. Possibly having learned their lesson, three Georgia Baptist Convention denominational officials met with Julie Pennington-Russell last week to inform her and the leadership of FBC Decatur that more than likely the church would be "disfellowshipped" from the Georgia Baptist Convention at next year's annual meeting. The denominational leaders present at this meeting were Robert White, Executive Director of the Georgia Baptist Convention; Danny Watters from the GBC Church-Minister Relations office; Gerald Harris, Editor of the Georgia Baptist Index; I will let Julie's words in her newsletter article describe her reaction to this information that she received from the three Georgia Baptist Convention leaders:

(I posed a question to them) that’s been puzzling me since November. “What’s the difference,” I asked, “between the GBC’s decision not to receive our money and a formal ‘withdrawal of fellowship’ from our church?” The response was a watershed moment for me. They replied: “As it stands now, even though we won’t accept your money, FBC Decatur is eligible to receive help from the Georgia Baptist Convention. We can still provide materials and services for your church such as the training of Sunday School or Vacation Bible School leaders, or help with evangelism and things like that. If we withdraw fellowship then you wouldn’t be eligible to receive those services.”

Not sure I’d heard correctly, I pressed a little. “Do you mean that if I called you up one day and said – ‘The Spirit is doing something amazing at First Baptist Decatur! Waves of men, women and teenagers are responding to God and are being baptized and we could use some additional help in giving them a good foundation. Could you send a team over to meet with our folks?” – are you telling me that the GBC wouldn’t want to help us with that?” To his credit, Robert rushed to assure me that he would be willing to come over and help us “personally – just not as a representative of the GBC.”

When I read Julie's article two quick things came to my mind:

(1). Robert White, the Executive Director of the GBC, ought to at least consider resigning if the Georgia Baptist Convention, the Convention that he leads, votes to disfellowship from FBC, Decatur. Why should he consider resigning if this happens? Simply because his own conscience would be violated. Any Executive Director of who lives by principle, and would personally assist a Southern Baptist Church in need would, for principles sake, seek to stop, speak out against, or work to prevent a motion to disfellowship from that self-same church. Dr. White's admission that he himself would personally assist FBC Decatur in their time of need is commendable. If he doesn't live out his personal principles as he leads the Georgia Baptist Convention then he is drawing a salary for convenience's sake and not one based on integrity. Since I am sure Dr. White is a person of integrity, his resignation if this motion to disfellowship is passed would cause Southern Baptists to admire his courage of conviction and might possibly knock some sense in all of us.

(2). Denominational leaders expressing "concern" over what some in the Convention think about sister Southern Baptist churches, to the point of allowing a motion to "disfellowship" from those sister churches, is a very dangerous precedent that leads to an even more slippery slope. Where will it stop? What if some of us are "concerned" about other churches in the Southern Baptist Convention that have "male" leadership? Do our denominational leaders bear a responsiblity to step in to help churches facing financial issues, problems that may force banks to foreclose on those churches? What if those problems are due to "poor" leadership of the male lead pastor? Do our Baptist Conventions have the duty to "disfellowship" or "discipline" those churches that allow autocratic, authoritarian male pastors to run amock, causing all kinds of problems in the church? Are we genuinely concerned about our churches, or are we playing gender games?

The Bizarre Nature of SBC Disfellowship

I do not know Julie Pennington-Russell. I have never met her. But, before I wrote this post I spent a couple of hours getting to know her. I read this Atlanta Magazine Article about her. I listened to two of her sermons. I read where one conservative pastor said Julie handled "the attention and displeasure with grace and aplomb. I scanned the last six newsletters of First Baptist Church, Decatur, and learned several things about FBC under Julie's leadership.

(1). Many are coming to faith in Christ at FBC Decatur, even choosing to write their testimonies of faith in Christ on the church's website for all to see. The testimonies of those whose lives have been delivered from various addictions are quite gripping.

(2). First Baptist Church, Decatur's financial giving increased by three percent in 2008 over 2007, even though the last quarter of 2008 was one of the worst economic quarters in last 70 years.

(3). I read where a member of FBC Decatur, a man who has been a part of FBC for over five decades, said, "I have never been more excited about being involved in a congregation. More than 60 members joined last year. While most churches inside the Atlanta perimeter are struggling, new converts are being baptized and people are giving generously to support innovative ministries to reach out into this diverse community at FBC Decatur."

(4). The two sermons I listened to by Julie Pennington-Russell were expositional in nature, illustrative in narrative, and delivered succinctly, warmly and with a genuine desire for listeners to be transformed by Jesus. It was as conservative a message doctrinally as I have heard, and frankly, far less serendipitous and shallow as I have heard from some of her male Southern Baptist counterparts. It was refreshing to actually hear the Bible being taught.

(5). By all measures, missional, evangelical, financial, and biblical, FBC Decatur is a church worthy of our fellowship. Regardless of your feelings on the "lead" pastor being a female, you and I are not members of the church, and nobody is forcing us to be members. We are simply called to fellowship.

The idea that the Executive Director of Georgia could personally be involved with FBC Decatur in terms of fellowship, but NOT as a representative of the Georgia Baptist Convention, makes me wonder if somehow, someway, we Southern Baptists have forgotten that the Convention is composed of PERSONS, the root word of personally, personhood, etc . . . I would like to know one reason why, though we may disagree with a church calling a woman "lead" pastor, we should formally disfellowship from such a church? I may be concerned for that a church, but why disfellowship? What if I have concerns for a church pastored by a male who may be exhibiting decisions or character that don't reflect "the biblical qualifications" for a pastor? Will the Convention listen to my concerns and go warn that pastor that "some" in the Convention might make a formal motion we disfellowship from the church he pastors? What if that church is being run into the ground financially, will the Convention see fit to "disfellowship" from that church?

Let me illustrate the inconsistencies that arise when Georgia Southern Baptists make it known they wish to "disfellowship" from FBC Decatur.

(Update: Edited, January 29, 2009). In the original post I gave an illustration of a Southern Baptist Church that is pastored by a man that has displayed to me personally, and to others that have served on his staff, character qualities that are opposite of those qualities that qualify a man to be pastor. For example, anger instead of gentleness (patience), selfishishness instead of self-control, finanicial chaos instead of managing financial affairs well, etc . . . My reason for comparing this pastor with Julie Pennington-Russell was simple: Why would the Southern Baptist Convention move to disfellowship a church who called a pastor that didn't meet one of the qualifications of pastor as some interpret it (maleness), while we do nothing about disfellowshipping from a church that has called a pastor that doesn't meet other much clearer qualities of a pastor as listed in I Timothy 3:1-9? Let's not be so inconsistent. Let's either meddle in the affairs of EVERY church that has a pastor that is not qualified (in our minds) and "disfellowship" every church that calls a pastor unqualified (biblically) to pastor, or let's not meddle AT ALL as a Convention. My argument is the latter. Our Southern Baptist Convention should let autonomous churches call whom they desire as pastor, to refrain from making "moral" judgments as to the worthiness of the pastor, and to help churches and pastors in their time of need. The Georgia Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention should NOT disfellowship from First Baptist Church, Decatur.

Nor should our Southern Baptist Convention or the Arkansas Baptist Convention "disfellowship" from the other Southern Baptist Church I specifically mentioned as well. In fact, we should help. I had called the pastor of the struggling SBC church before I posted the original post and left a detailed message of what I would be writing about his leadership and church troubles. He returned my call today. He said that my assessment of his ministry was judgmental. I countered that I, too, had personal experiences with him under his leadership, which only confirmed what his former staff members told me about his biblical pastoral qualifications, or lack thereof, so I wrote with firsthand knowledge, not second hand. But my point was not to emphasis his unworthiness as a pastor (though I stand by my assessment of his lack of biblical qualifications in at least three areas), but to reveal the fallacy of people (including me) attempting from "disfellowshipping" from churches by making "judgments" about the worthiness of that autonomous church's pastor. The pastor was quiet, and he seemed to genuinely reflect on my words. He expressed that times were tough, and the factors involved in his church being in financial shambles had more to do with the economic environment and the broken promises of people who owed the church money more than it did his lack of qualifications to pastor the church. I told him that I accepted his explanation, but the point of my post stands. I am trying to get Conventions to "stop" judging churches about they call as pastor. If you open the door of "disfellowship" on so-called "biblical qualifications" of a pastor, then you better be prepared to disfellowship a ton of churches in the SBC. The better solution is to let each autonomous church determine if the church's pastor is qualified. That is Baptist autonomy.

We also should do all we can to help our sister Southern Baptist churches instead of publicly humiliating them. Our church currently has a fiscal year surplus. We have received more dollars in receipts than what we have budgeted. I told the pastor of the church that I wrote about that if his church was about to be in default on their bank loan this month, to let me know, and I would take the need of his church before our Finance Commitee and church body to see what we could do to help them make one of the church's $33,000 payments. I don't have the authority to pass such a motion, but I would do my part to help our church see the importance of helping our sister church who is struggling.

In the coming months, you will hear how our church will be helping FBC Decatur and Pastor Julie Pennington-Russell as well.

I refuse to be silent while the Southern Baptist ship is sinking, and for heaven's sake, I need others in the SBC to help right it.

In His Grace and Truth,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Say Among the Heathen that the Lord Reigneth

This past week one of our church families faced the traumatic news that their 11 year old son has Guillaine Barre Syndrome. Without immediate treatment, according to the doctors, the GBS would eventually shut down the boy's vital organs. As mom and dad checked their son into Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City, the family knew that the road ahead of them would be tough and at times dark. It is one thing to be confronted with a life-threatening disease personally, but even more difficult emotionally when it is a young child. I decided to travel to Oklahoma City and visit the boy and his family Saturday, but I determined to first make a side trip in order to obtain a memento that could possibly help the young man face some tough, even painful days ahead.

Two and a half hours east of Enid on Highway 412, between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Fayetteville, Arkansas, is a little community called Chouteau, Oklahoma. The Neosho River, also called the Grand River, runs north to south just a couple of miles east of Chouteau. Highway 69 runs parallel (north south) to the Neosho River, and I turned off of Highway 412 at Chouteau and headed south on Highway 69. Five miles down the highway I turned back to the east on a dirt road leading to the Neosho River. After a few twists and turns, I eventually arrived at my destination, deep in the woods of Mayes County, about a half mile from the western bank of the Neosho River. It was at this precise spot that one of the greatest missionaries in the history of Christianity, a Connecticut man named Epraphas Chapman, established Union Mission on November 15, 1820. Chapman desired to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Osage Indians. Not many Christians have ever heard of Epaphras Chapman, but his story is extraordinary.

During the Second Great Awakening of the 1790's and early 1800's, a revival swept the eastern coast of the United States resulting in an increase of missionary spirit. In 1817 in New York City, the United Foreign Missionary Society (UFMS), a cooperative missions sending agency representing several evangelical denominations, began sending ministers to preach the gospel to American Indian tribes living beyond the western frontier. At the time, the Mississippi River was considered to be the edge of civlization by the United States, but after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase President Thomas Jefferson led the government to explore the new lands acquired by the United States, including all of present day Oklahoma. Other than a few French traders in what we now call the midwest, and some Spanish traders in the southwest, the lands west of the Mississippi were inhabited by plainsmen Indians, including the large Osage tribe of Missouri.

The Osage Indians

Explorers Lewis and Clarke reported to President Thomas Jefferson in 1805 that the Osage Indians had split into two tribes, the southern tribe leaving the Missouri River area and settling south near what Lewis and Clarke called "the three forks area." This was a reference to the place in Oklahoma where three rivers converged, the Neosho, the Verdigris, and the Arkansas. At three rivers, the mouth of the Neosho and the mouth of Verdigris opened into the Arkansas River. President Thomas Jefferson spoke of these southern Osage Indians at "three forks" in his 1806 speech to Congress. This is believed to be the first time the United States government officially recognized a place in what we now call Oklahoma. The three forks river area, just east of present day Muskogee, Oklahoma would eventually become a major trading post and the United States would build a fort called Fort Gibson (est. 1824) there. But before any U.S. soldiers, any English traders or anyone else ever entered Oklahoma to permanently settle, Epaphras Chapman made the journey to "three forks" to share the gospel with the Osage Indians and established the first white settlement in present day Oklahoma.

The United Foreign Missionary Society had sent Chapman and Job Vinall in 1819 to find a place to build a mission station for the Osage. Although Vinall died on this initial journey, Chapman succeeded in finding a potential location on the west bank of the Neosha River, about 25 miles north of "the three forks." The spot was about half a mile from the river, escaping the spring floods, near both a natural spring and a salt spring. Chapman then returned to the East to assemble a "mission family." Those who joined this "mission family" included Chapman's wife, Rev. William F. Vaill and his wife and four children, Rev. Abraham Redfield, Dr. Marcus Palmer, six men to serve as teachers, farmers, and mechanics, and six single women who would serve as school teachers. A total of 21 people set off from New York on April 20, 1820 to make their way to present day Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Historical Society narrates what happened next:

They left New York April 20, 1820 and took the accustomed route via Pittsburgh and down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and then up the Arkansas.

The mission family stopped for several days here and there in the first part of their journey. These delays were generally profitable in that a great deal of money was collected for the enterprise. This was not solicited but freely contributed by churches, individuals and various cities where sympathy with the missonary movement was in evidence . . .

(The narrative then briefly describes the journey down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River, and then down the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Arkansas River in the southeastern portion of modern day Arkansas, where the mission family turned upstream in their canoes, sometimes called rafts, to follow the Arkansas River into Indian Territory).

As the party made its way up the Arkansas River the members began to sicken and by July 25, 1820 two of the women had died. Upon reaching Little Rock they made a temporary camp and lived in tents and log houses while some of the men proceeded to the proposed mission site to prepare lodging for the winter (arriving November 15, 1820). Here on the west bank of the Neosho River about twenty-five miles above its confluence with the Arkansas they began Union Mission.

When the remainder of the party at Little Rock was able to go on, the river having risen making it possible to use boats, men were employed to help move to the station. Through the late winter and early spring months the long journey was finally completed. A happy entry is found in the journal which to the missionaries meant both an end and a beginning. The following was written: "Union Lord's day February 18th. about ten oclock this morning reached the long look(ed) for Station after a journey of nearly ten months attended with many delays, and disappointments. It has been a day of joy and gladness to us all."

It is almost impossible for the modern American to fathom the ten month journey of Epaphras Chapman's mission family from New York to present day Oklahoma. These men, women and children drifted downstream on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to where the Arkansas River enters the Mississippi in southern Arkansas. Then they had to paddle upstream on the Arkansas for several hundred miles to the "three forks area." Then they paddled 25 miles further upstream on the Neosha River to the place Epaphras had chosen to establish a mission a year earlier. During the journey the mission team slept on the banks of the river under the open skies. They faced the fierce heat of a southern summer, the frigid cold of an Arkansas winter, the constant threat of Indian attack, flies, mosquitos, and other pests, not to mention the danger of wild game that included bears and mountain lions. The men, women and children were entering a land with no roads, no conveniences, no towns or settlements, no people other than Indians and a handful of French traders like Chouteau and Pryor. Often stricken with fever and other illnesses, the entire team, less the two women who died en route, would eventually arrive at their intended destination.

The Union Mission, the first Protestant mission west of the Mississippi, would eventually establish the first school and church in what we now call Oklahoma. Epaphras Chapman and other men (and women) at the mission would learn the Osage language and preach the gospel to the Indians. The accomplishments of these first settlers in Oklahoma are too numerous to mention, but their reputation would spread throughout the land due to the Union Mission's location on what would eventually become known as the Texas Road. People who stayed at the Union Mission for weeks, sometimes months, included Washington Irving, Isaac McCoy, Sam Houston, Samuel Worcester, and other important American politicians and missionaries.

The story of Epaphras Chapman is as powerful and colorful as David Brainard's. The only difference is there has not been a Jonathan Edwards who has written about the life of Chapman as their has been in the case of Brainard. What little we know of Epaphras Chapman comes from "The Journal of the Union Mission," Chapman's hand written journal sold to the Oklahoma Historical Society by the grandaughter of one of the original Union Mission family members in 1920. Epaphras Chapman is ripe for a modern scholar to write a biography of his life. Chapman died of typhoid fever just five years after arriving in Oklahoma. His wife placed a tombstone at his grave, located on a hill just to the west of the Mission, with these words at the base.

Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth

This quotation from Psalm 96:10 is one of my favorites. As I sat beside the Union Mission grave of Epaphras Chapman, a missionary who died almost 200 years ago, I couldn't help but consider how his life should put all our lives in perspective. We live in an age when people are fearful about the future. There are unknowns out there for all of us. We don't know if we are secure in our jobs. We don't know if we have enough for retirement. We don't know if the world will be at peace or at war. There are a great deal of dark places around the next bend for all of us. But nothing we face could be as difficult as what Epaphras Chapman confronted as he fulfilled his calling of taking the gospel to the Osage Indians.

As I stood near the western bank of the Neosha River last Saturday, reflecting on the life and ministry of Epaphras Chapman, I picked up a small rock near his tombstone which was in the shape of a mountain. I cleaned it of its dirt and took a permanent marker and wrote Psalm 96:10 on the rock. I then drove back west to Oklahoma City and went to visit our eleven year old church member who is fighting the neurological disease that has the potential to paralyze his limbs and shut down his vital organs if not arrested. I told the young man about Epaphras Chapman and then gave him the stone from the Union Mission site and told him the following:

The next time you find yourself afraid of what may be around the bend; the next time you feel a twinge of anxiety over the unknown that is just ahead; I want you to remember Epaphras Chapman. He, like you, had a great deal of obstacles to overcome. He, like you, faced a number of unknowns. He, like you, found himself needing to completely trust in His God. In the end, the life of Epaphras Chapman influenced an untold number of people in the state we now call Oklahoma for Christ. His sole purpose in life, as well as in death, was to say among the nations that the Lord reigns. My prayer for you is that your life may reflect the same truth - our God reigns.

I don't know how much of an impact my words may have had on an eleven year old boy, but as I left, I turned back to see a few tears and the young boy's hand clutching the Union Mission rock. I left the hospital thanking my God for men like Epaphras Chapman who can inspire Christian people nearly 200 years after his death.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kudos to Dr. Chuck Kelley, President of NOBTS

Grace and Truth to You is not afraid to point out what we believe to be decisions that negatively affect the SBC mission efforts or reflect poorly on our desire to expand the kingdom of Christ. On the other hand, Grace and Truth to You desires to give credit to those SBC leaders who either by example or decision making set the standard for Christian leadership in the SBC. Southern Baptist agencies, particularly our seminaries, have recently announced budget cuts for 2009 in order to keep expenses in line with falling revenues. We have criticized some for sending the wrong message with the the wrong kind of budgetary cuts, cuts that affect morale and display no administrative leadership, but today we wish to congragulate a Southern Baptist seminary president for excellent decision making.

Baptist Press reports that New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary must cut over $1,000,000 dollars from the budget next year. Dr. Chuck Kelley, President of NOBTS responded to the financial crisis at the seminary, according to BP, in the following manner:

Kelley's plan calls for a 5 percent salary reduction for all faculty and staff members except those who lose medical coverage. The salaries of senior administrators will be reduced by 7 percent. Kelley will receive a 10 percent reduction in salary.

Well done Dr. Kelley. Since your President's salary is the highest salary (as it ought to be), had you simply taken a 7 percent cut, which would have been in line with the cuts of other administrative salaries, you would have received the largest salary reduction in terms of dollar amount. But, you went further. You cut your salary by 3 percentage points more than any other person's salary on the payroll. Your dollar amount reduction will be quite large - significantly larger than anyone else at NOBTS.

We Southern Baptists commend you, Dr. Kelley, for the leadership you have exhibited and the character you have displayed in making such a tough decision.

Well done.

Here's hoping everyone's salaries at NOBTS are fully restored shortly. Were your kind of leadership to be displayed our Convention, our SBC churches would find it very hard to withhold any Cooperative Program funds during tough economic times.

May it be so.

In His Grace,


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reflections on the President and the Inauguration

As I watched the Inauguration Day proceedings on television yesterday, my mind was flooded with thoughts about history, race and our future as a nation. I did some quick searches on the Internet to see what others were saying about Inauguration and came across one particular blog that succinctly said what I was feeling. Dr. Mike Kear (pronounced Kerr), writes eloquently at The Moderate Calvinist. Mike is a new member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma, a biblical scholar and a soon to be Sunday School teacher at our church. Regardless of one's politics, one cannot help but understand that something significant has happened in our nation yesterday, but it would not have happened were it not for people like Dr. Mike Kear's father, to whom Mike gives tribute in yesterday's post when he writes:

In 1968 my father took his white family to an African-American church to worship together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was only a few days after Martin Luther King's assassination. As an 8 year-old kid, I didn't think anything about it. We repeated these visits throughout 1968 and beyond. In 1973, Ms. Minnie King brought her African-American family to our white church. And she stayed. Little did I know back then what a revolutionary man my father was, or what an amazing woman Minnie King was. In the midst of turbulent times, they chose to do something awesome: worship Jesus Christ with their blood-bought brothers and sisters without regard to the color of a person's skin.

I am thankful for a nation where people are now being judged on things other than the color of their skin. I am also grateful for men like Mike's father. A man who, in a time when it was unpopular to do so, took a stand for the oppressed. I also wonder who in the body of Christ today will take a stand to correct injustices in our churches and our world. It may be unpopular today, but the next generation will benefit.

In His Grace,


Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Ideology of Death: The End Game of Radical Islam and What We Can Do About It

During the 2006 Israeli and Hezbollah war the Washington D.C. based Heritage Foundation sponsored a symposium with special guest Brigitte Gabriel, head of the American Congress for Truth, and author of the bestselling book Because They Hate. Brigitte is uniquely qualified to speak on the subject of radical Islam, having grown up in the 1970's as a Christian Lebanese living in southern Lebanon. Her journey from near death at the hands of Hezbollah terrorists to becoming anchor of the World Wide News middle eastern news program, is explained in a gripping one hour video that can be seen here. It takes an hour to watch, but it is well worth every minute of your time. You will never again think of Islam the same.

In the last five minutes her talk, as she answers questions from the audience, Brigitte Gabriel gives as clear of an explanation as to why Iran will bomb Israel with nuclear warheads as I have ever heard. Brigitte points out that it is not a question of "if" Iran will nuke Israel; it is not that Iran "might" nuke Israel; but Iran's own radical Islamic leaders speak of "when we bomb Israel." Brigitte gives the explanation as to why Islamic radicals think this way about destroying Israel. In their theology, Moslems believes the twelfth Imam - the messiah for Arabs - arises out of chaos and conflict in the world. They believe that by destroying Israel and creating world chaos, they are pushing forward the time table for their Imam's return. To nuke Israel is a good thing in their minds.

"So what if Israel bombs us back," say these Iranian radicals, "if we die in a nuclear holocaust we go straight to the right hand of Allah for we have killed the infidels." And, the Imam will take over the destroyed world to usher in the golden age of complete Islamic rule in a world dominated by allegience to Allah. Brigitte's new book, They Must Be Stopped details how the average westerner can be involved in stemming the tide of radical Islam, which claims over 300 million adherants, the same number of people that populate the United States. After watching the video tape, reading through some of her materials, and listening to her gripping first hand account of how her country (Lebanon) became overtaken by Islam, it made me think three things.

(1). Our Christian and Jewish friends, no matter our differences, are just that - friends. Instead of getting too worked up over our minor differences, maybe we need to take a deep breath and refocus on what lies at our doorstep.

(2). Though it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that changes hearts, as illustrated by the conversion to Christ of Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of the founder of Hamas, the United States and Israeli military are needed to stop the barbaric deeds of the radical Islamic terrorists in those lands where missionaries would be butchered before they would be allowed to share the gospel. I am grateful for all our men and women who are on the front lines of this war on terror, bringing freedom and democracy to a world in bondage to tyranny.

(3). Europe is now Eurabia, and unless we stop being so concerned about "political correctness" our Judeo-Christian heritage and culture in the United States will be neutered in the next decade as well. As Brigitte so eloquently declares, it's time for alleged "moderate" Moslems in the United States to speak out against radical Islamic tactics or consider yourself to be a part of the guilty party.

In His Grace and Truth,

Wade Burleson

Friday, January 16, 2009

Keeping in Touch With the World's Newspapers

One of the most fascinating web tools I've come across is Newseum.

Just put your mouse on a city anywhere in the world and the newspaper headlines pop up. Double click and the page gets larger... then you can either read the online pdf version of the newspaper or click the upper right corner and go to the paper's website. Also, if you look at the European papers, the far left side of Germany will pop up as The Stars & Stripes (European edition, of course). The site changes everyday with the publication of new editions of the papers.

With this type of modern technology I really do wonder how traditional subscription newspapers who are not adapting to the information age will survive. Hope you enjoy this...

In His Grace,


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Problem of Authoritarianism in the Conservative Pulpits of America

Last week the New York Times ran a profile on the hip, conservative evangelical Seattle pastor of Mars Hill Church, a man named Mark Driscoll. The article was sent to me by one of our church members, and I enjoyed reading it. Before I criticize something the New York Times attributes Pastor Mark Driscoll saying, let me make it known that I appreciate what Mark has done in the Seattle area, and I am probably very similar to Mark in terms of theology and philosophy of church ministry. In my opinion, Mark has some great ideas, and I know that the people hear the gospel from Mark's mouth.

Yet, Mark is quoted in the article as saying something that I find quite disturbing. After the New York Times makes it known Driscoll has little patience for dissent, the newspaper writes that in 2007, two church elders protested a plan to reorganize Mars Hill Church. The elders, according to the newspaper, felt the reorganization consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides, giving to the pastor too much authority and control. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill.

“His answer was brilliant," reported the pastor. “He said, ‘I break their nose.'"

The New York Times goes on to report that when one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. Pastor Mark Driscoll then gives to the New York Times the money quote that ought to send a shiver up the spine of every member of an evangelical, conservative church in America. Pastor Driscoll said:

“They are sinning through questioning."


The Bible tells us that true leadership is found through men who are courageous enough to be questioned. Jesus said that real leaders are servants, not masters. The incredible notion that a member of a church should be shunned, persecuted or disciplined for simply asking questions of the pastor has more in common than the cultic practices of Jim Jones than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me be clear. Those kind of pastors - pastors that advocate an authoritianism inherent in the pulpit, that stifle any and all dissent from the members of their congregations, that humiliate and denigrate the members who for the sake of conscience ask questions - could very well be considered great expositors of the Word of God and doctrinally orthodox. Yet those pastors display a character that is the antithesis of the character of Christ, an ironhandedness that is the opposite of genuine grace, and a disposition that should cause their congregations to realize that their pastors are but one step away from falling over the precipice of moral failure in terms of their church ministries or personal lives.

The problem in conservative pulpits of America is not a denial of the Word of God, the problem in conservative pulipits of America is the preacher acts as if his words are the Word of God.

In His Grace,


Monday, January 12, 2009

Release Your Women: Fast Growing Churches

Sojourners, a blog on faith, politics and culture, recently posted a guest article by Mimi Haddad. The article is printed below. I have two questions: What fault, if any, do you find in Mimi's biblical reasoning? Has Beth Moore been released within the Southern Baptist Convention?


"When we think of megachurches, very often we imagine large evangelical congregations—numbering in the thousands, located in the United States. But, do you realize that five of the 10 largest megachurches are located in South Korea? According to last year’s research by the Economist, the Yoido Full Gospel Church claims 830,000 members, and continues to grow by 3,000 members each month! Astonishing, isn’t it? But, what if I told you that this church, pastored by Dr. Cho, is also egalitarian?!

According to Why Not Women, Dr. Cho was initially unsure whether gifted women teachers should have access to the pulpit because of cultural, rather than biblical, concerns. Yet, under the encouragement of Loren Cunningham — cofounder of Youth With a Mission — Dr. Cho began to open ministry opportunities for women, including positions as ministers and cell group leaders. Several years later, Cho visited another country and was shocked at the small size of their churches. What was his recommendation? Dr. Cho said (Why Not Women, p. 69):

I told them to release their women, but they insist that’s not the problem. They ask me “What’s the key to your church?” I tell them again, “release your women…”

Friends, if, as Scripture suggests, God gives spiritual gifts to all Christians (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:7 ff, and Ephesians 4:11-13) regardless of gender, education, class, or ethnicity, then one would expect to find healthy, vibrant, growing churches where the spiritual gifts are given their fullest breadth of service. And, who can but admire a leader like Dr. Cho for courageously giving women opportunities for leadership despite cultural prejudice to women leaders. And, we can only wish that all pastors might learn from Dr. Cho’s example. Let us pray for churches around the world to release women’s gifts in order that we might “all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13)."

Mimi Haddad

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Lost Shepherd: Lessons from Ted Haggard

Newsweek magazine has a revealing profile of Ted Haggard, the former pastor of New Life Church, Colorado Springs, who lost his pastorate and the presidency of The National Association of Evangelicals after confessing to a relationship with a homosexual prostitute. Included within the article is a set of four videos, creatively packaged by Newsweek to disclose the hypocrisy of Pastor Haggard. Newsweek also profiles twelve Christian leaders who have fallen morally. It is almost as if Newsweek believes the Christian faith is discredited by the lives of her pastors and leaders.

Newsweek is mistaken.

Anyone who actually reads the article will realize that Christianity offers the only hope for any individual, like Pastor Haggard (and every human being), who struggles with inner demons. Haggard, who lost his leadership positions but not his faith in Christ, said this about his struggles with sexual sins.

"I no longer struggle with homosexual compulsions. I still have thoughts from time to time, but they're not powerful thoughts. I still have temptations from time to time, but they're not powerful temptations. They're not compelling."

The honesty of Haggard is refreshing. He knows he is a sinner. He knows he struggles. He understands the damage of acting out on his temptations and he knows that Christ has died to forgive Him of his sins. In other words, Pastor Haggard is living out the gospel.

Let's compare his former life as a famous pastor and his current life as a life insurance salesman.

During Pastor Haggard's pastoral leadership at New Covenant, Pastor Haggard pretended to not struggle inwardly, and his people followed him. By all accounts, Pastor Haggard's ministry was successful. Many came to faith in Christ. Many joined the church. The Pastor had his picture taken with Presidents. Yet, it was while pastoring the church, Pastor Haggard was meeting regularly with a gay prostitute.

Now, Pastor Haggard is an insurance salesman. He is honest about his inner struggles. He still believes the gospel. He still believes homosexuality is a sin. He is honest and transparent, and he is no longer acting out on his personal temptations. He has no church to lead. He has no requests for pictures with Presidents. Yet, Ted Haggard is now probably at a better state personally, more capable of true discipleship, and arguably more able to lead now than he was when he was labeled a "succesful pastor."

We Christians should take an honest look at what it is we think qualifies a person to lead. I sometimes wonder if one of the problems of modern Christianity is that we have created such a false sense of super-spirituality that we succomb to a certain mode of pretending that we never struggle. Christians, especially we who lead, sometimes try to act as if we are perfect. We have pastors who bully those who question them, denominational leaders who call those who oppose their decisions "liberals" and other actions that lead me to believe we have a God-complex among some of our leaders. This false sense of moral invincibility has led to a climate where transparency, honesty, and personal integrity are no longer a part of our corporate faith. Image is more important than integrity. Public perception about our perfection is sought more than presenting the power of the gospel to transform sinners. While the Apostle Paul called himself the "Chief of Sinners," we Christian leaders act as if we don't even belong on the reservation set aside for sinners.

Ted Haggard had this to say about his time as pastor:

I hadn't lied about anything except to keep quiet about what was going on inside me." His lies, which were simply statements that caused his congregation to believe he had no inner demons, eventually led him to secretly act out on his temptations. Had people known of his struggles, they could have held him accountable. Had people had the sense that their leader was fallible, they might have never given him such unbridled freedom and authority.

The problem with organized Christianity is not the gospel. The probem with organized Christianity is that too many Christians have forgotten that leaders are fallible.

Haggard's wife has stood by him. Ironically but not surprisingly, she says their marriage is now better. "As you might imagine, with greater openness the intimacy is better," says Gayle, who says she stayed with Ted for two reasons. "No. 1, he's worth it, and our children are worth it."

Haggard still opposes gay marriage, telling filmaker Alexandra Pelosi that "God's best plan for human beings is for man and woman to unite together," and he believes that homosexuality is a learned behavior "like alcoholism." Pelosi is producing a movie for HBO which will profile Haggard, and one would expect that Pelosi, the daughter of liberal Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, will use the film to denigrate Christianity.

Yet, in my mind,the true gospel is only strengthened when Christian leaders lose their public sense of absolute authority and spiritual perfection. Anybody who presumes to talk on behalf of God should remember that the treasure we possess (the gospel) is carried in fragile, clay jars.

One of these days we Southern Baptist leaders and pastors will learn to stop pretending that we are above the inner struggles experienced by sinners. The lust for power and absolute authority, the lust for fleshly gratification and paralyzing materialism, and the lust for personal recognition and praise are all inner demons that every SBC pastor and leader faces. The only way to prevent leaders from acting out on such temptations is to realize that these sins are common to fallen man, to never bestow absolute authority or unbridled freedom on any man, and to resist the idea that any Christian leader is beyond being questioned.

The SBC church, institution or agency that believes the "leader" is beyond simple accountablity will find that leader has the capability to ruin the organization. When and if that happens, the fault will reside not only with the leader, but those laymen who were unable to see that a lack of transparency is the first indication that something is wrong.

In His Grace,


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Miami BCS Bound: #1 Oklahoma vs. #2 Florida

Rachelle and I are in Miami, Florida where we will be attending the 2009 BCS National Championship Game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Florida Gators Thursday night. Some very kind church members gave me two tickets to the championship game and we are thrilled to be able to attend. Courtesy of we found some cheap tickets out of Wichita, Kansas and an excellent rate at a hotel in Miami. We are looking forward to being in the game atmosphere, and we feel it should be a great game. Most people are picking Florida to win, but Oklahoma loves Miami in January. When you see Oklahoma score a touchdown, look for me celebrating in the stands. Go Sooners!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Trouble at Southwestern Theological Seminary

In a contracting economy Southern Baptist churches and agencies must tighten the fiscal belt. Though God has promised to provide every need for His people, during recessionary periods it is prudent for Christians to place wants and desires in the back seat in order to ensure that the money provided by God to meet needs is not diverted to fulfill personal whims of those in charge. If a Southern Baptist church or institution ever makes the mistake of whittling expenses by firing staff, forcing the early retirement of older employees, and cutting salaries of low end employees while continuing to provide extravagant perks and luxuries for the pastor or president, then trouble for the church or institution looms.

There is no better illustration of this principle at work among Southern Baptists than what is now happening at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

(1). The seminary must cut more than $4 million dollars this budget year and even more for the next fiscal year.

(2). Numerous staff were laid off the week before Thanksgiving. Most of those laid off were staff who had been at SWBTS for a number of years. They were let go and less experienced, less expensive staff were kept. For example, in the financial aid office, the director who had been at SWBTS a number of years was let go and the associate director who had been at SWBTS since May 2008 was promoted to director.

(3). Professors who did not have ten students enrolled for their classes for the spring 2009 semester had those classes cut, thereby costing the professors about $2,000 per class.

(4). In a meeting on Thursday, Dec. 4th, SWBTS administration announced that there would be "significant layoffs" of more staff and additional professors in January and February. The administration is pressuring older professors to retire early so that there will be less layoffs. The number of those who voluntarily retire will determine how many are laid off. Those terminated will be dismissed at the discretion of the President of SWBTS. One of the professors asked the administrators if Dr. Patterson had the authority to lay off the professors, or was he required to obtain trustee approval? SWBTS administrators skirted around the question, but implied that the trustees would need to approve the cuts. Many professors, however, left with the impression that President Patterson could lay off professors without trustee approval since employees had been told the cuts would be made in January and February, and the next scheduled trustee meeting will not be held until March 2009. Administrators also made it known that there will also be a number of staff let go. In one school alone, five secretaries will be laid off, though those secretaries have not yet been informed.

(5). Dr. Patterson sent out an email prior to the New Year notifying faculty and career staff that starting in January 2009 the seminary would not be paying retirement, and this reduction in benefits would last at least for all of 2009 and more than likely through 2011. This will cost each professor on average $700 each month - a total of $8,400 per year.

(6). SWBTS also announced on Dec. 12th that the Naylor Children's Center will close. Naylor is a full-time daycare for students and working parents who are members of the seminary family. 41 people currently work at the center and will lose their jobs and approximately 100 parents will be forced to find other daycare facilities that will be much more expensive than what families paid at the Naylor center.

(7). While SWBTS staff and faculty are being laid off and salaries reduced, the Pattersons continue to maintain a large personal staff. Mrs. Patterson has an assistant and a research assistant. Dr. Patterson has an executive assistant, secretary, personal assistant, and four interns. The Pattersons also have a large staff at their house. They have employeed at least one chef, though it is widely believed there are at least two chefs, possibly more, on the payroll. There are a minimum of four hostesses/servers, a director for the Presidential house, two people who are paid to walk their dogs, and other staff paid to clean their cars and do other household chores and errands for the Pattersons.

(8). Dr. Patterson has also taken numerous trips the past 3 or 4 months, no doubt spending budget dollars on airfare, lodging, etc. Dr. Patterson, Mrs. Patterson and Dr. Blasing all recently flew to Germany to visit the SWBTS campus there. While Dr. Blasing only went for the weekend, the Patterson's stayed for an additional week.

(9). The seminary spent thousands of dollars on the 100th anniversary celebration last year. This included buying Dr. Patterson an "unbelievably expensive" pair of custom made boots. The SWBTS budget also bought all professors black Stetson cowboy hats, as pictured by Dr. Patterson above.

(10). Enrollment continues to decline, but the numbers being presented to the public make it appear better than it really is because the numbers no longer include only full-time students, but anyone who simply takes a course from SWBTS.

When I begin to hear from faculty, staff and students at SWBTS then it should be obvious that trouble is on the horizon at SWBTS. What really bothers staff and faculty is the fact that people are losing their jobs, losing their retirement, losing their benefits, etc . . . but the Pattersons still have high end luxuries and expensive perks. The anger, in my opinion, is justified. During tough times, the person who should take the biggest financial hit is the one in charge.

If trustees at SWBTS do not do something quickly, the future could be very dark for SWBTS.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson