Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Important Question: "Who Shall Lead Us?"

Todd Lamb, Senate Majority Leader for the Oklahoma Senate, has been a long time friend. Senator Lamb, a former Secret Service agent and the former chief of staff for both Governor Keating and U.S. Senator Don Nickles, is an up and coming political leader in Oklahoma. Senator Lamb and Senator Patrick Anderson, a member of Emmanuel and 6th grade boys Sunday School teacher, are two of the finest Christian men I have the privilege of knowing. This past Monday, at Senator Lamb's request, I opened an abbreviated Senate session with a devotion and prayer, printed in full below:

"Richard Dawkins, the biologist, Oxford professor and outspoken atheist who wrote The God Delusion, was recently invited to speak at Oklahoma University in celebration of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. My good friend, Dr. John Blanchard, a resident of London, England and author of the award winning book Does God Believe in Atheists? has publicly debated Dr. Dawkins on several occasions.

One particular radio debate between Dr. Blanchard and the atheist Dr. Dawkins was titled Believer vs. Unbeliever. John Blanchard began the debate by challenging the title of the program, saying, “There is no such thing as an unbeliever in this world; everyone has a belief system.” When Dr. Dawkins insisted that no, he truly was an unbeliever in God, my friend John Blanchard then brilliantly challenged Dr. Dawkins to give to the radio listeners five reasons for his belief in the non-existence of God, which Dr. Dawkins managed to do in record time.

The issue we face as citizens of the great state of Oklahoma and the United States of America is not whether or not people should be granted the freedom to believe, speak or write according to the dictates of their conscience. Those freedoms are guaranteed by our Constitution, upheld by our courts, and cherished by all freedom loving citizens. The issue we face is far more serious and complex. Who shall lead us? That question throughout history has been posed and answered by politicians with either the word Federalist, or Whig, or Democrat, or Republican. May I suggest that the true answer to the question "Who shall lead us?" transcends all political parties, all government ideologies and all denominational loyalties?

Only those with a belief in the Creator God, the moral ruler of this universe, from whom all life springs and all life will return have the proper moral foundation and ability to lead citizens of this great state and our United States of America. Others, those with secular or atheistic belief systems are free to seek election, but it is incumbent upon freedom loving people to elect those of you who live by the principles which spring forth from a fountain of faith in God. Let the secular humanists lead the socialists, let the atheists lead the totalitarian governmental regimes, but may only believers in God lead our democracy.

My brief prayer this morning is from the closing paragraph of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, believed by many to be the greatest political speech delivered in this modern age. I offer this prayer with my eyes open, directed at you our beloved Oklahoma Senators, with an encouragement to unashamedly live out your faith as you lead us:

'With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all peoples. Amen.'"

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The At-One-Ment of Jesus the Anointed One

William Tyndale himself coined the English word atonement to help get over translation difficulties of the Hebrew word kipper and the Greek word hilasterion. Tyndale's understanding of the words kipper and hilasterion was that they pointed to a full and entire work of the triune God in making a total satisfaction for sin by providing a complete substitution, which was a once-and-for-all act procuring everlasting salvation for His people. This "moment" of becoming "at one" with sinners He chose to redeem Tyndale called an "at- one- moment."

My friend George Ella writes about why Tyndale intentionally coined the word "atonement" in order to translate the Bible into English:

The Roman Catholic Church, in the days of Tyndale, viewed the atonement as reconciliation being made to God for man’s guilt or original sin but not for the penalty of sin which had to be worked off by works of special merit and penance. This left the reconciled without true union with Christ and with Christ’s work only half done. This error led Tyndale to realise that the entire Biblical teaching was concerned with man becoming fully accepted in the Beloved, and thus becoming one with God. Christ’s reconciling death, he therefore saw, was an at-one-ment with God and promptly used the word to express both the Old and New Testament words to do with a sinner becoming right with God through an expiatory sacrifice at God’s initiative.
I agree with Tyndale's view of the atonement. At Calvary, the blood of Christ became an at-one-moment when God united Himself with His people -at His initiative - through the blood of Jesus Christ. The holy, righteous and just anger of our Creator against our sins was propitiated (i.e. "satisfied and poured out") through His Son, Jesus the Anointed One.

This is the Good News. It is the gospel. Proclaimers of the gospel simply broadcast what God has done. The atonement is so powerful, so efficacious, so accomplished that every one for whom the blood of Christ was shed is at one with God. Were it not for the teaching of Scripture that Christ died for a particular people (i.e. "the church," "the elect," "the sheep," "the bride of Christ," "believers"), then one would have to be a Christian universalist; for that which covers sin and propitiates the wrath of God for sinners is Christ's at-one-ment.

Interestingly, some Baptist Identity writers have taken me to task for asking William Paul Young speak at our church. They say that Paul Young has a faulty view of the atonement. They say he denies the substitutionary, penal death of Jesus. It will be a privilege to discuss with Paul issues surrounding the atonement, and I may find there is disagreement between us - but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be allowed to speak at Emmanuel. For heaven's sake, many of my Baptist Identity friends are just as shaky in their understanding of the atonement. They actually believe that union with God requires something more than Christ's at-one-ment! Ironically, I would let them preach at Emmanuel too, though their view of the at-one-ment is as powerless as that which they claim Paul Young holds.

Jesus saves. Our faulty understanding of the atonement is not a hindrance to what Christ actually accomplished.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Abuse of Authority: It Must Not Be Ignored

For the nearly four years of posting on Grace and Truth to You, it has been my intent to never say anything publicly that has not already been said personally and privately to the people involved. Everything I write has my signature attached, and other than minor grammatical errors that have been caught after posting, there has never been one post materially altered or removed out of the 750 posts that are in the archives. It's easy to stand by what you write when you know that your name is attached to it.

However, it has been my experience that some of my questions, including those that pertain to SBC trustee fidicuary responsiblities, the rationale behind SBC leadership decisions (i.e. the firing of Sheri Klouda, the censorship of Dwight McKissic's SWBTS chapel message, the pushing of doctrinal policies that exceed the BFM, etc . . .), and the demands by some SBC leaders that all conform to their tertiary ideological beliefs, have often gone unanswered privately. This has not kept me from then asking those same questions publicly. Asking questions for all Southern Baptists to read, important queries from my perspective, is not a practice that is liked by some SBC leaders. In my opinion, the hard ball tactics used against me by IMB trustee leaders is evidence that some don't take kindly to questioning "those in authority."

One of the reasons I have not commented on blog sites like FBC Jacksonville Watchdog or New BBC Open Forum is because these SBC brothers and sisters in Christ do not sign their names to what they write. It has been proven by others, in my mind quite definitively, that anonymous writing is at times necessary and beneficial. One can't help, however, to admire Southern Baptists Tiffany Croft, who signs her name to everything she writes, in her attempt to get a Southern Baptist sexual predator, a former SBC leader, behind bars. Tiffany has been critical of the unwillingness of certain SBC leaders to deal with the Darrel Gilyard crimes, but she signs her name to every post.

Having been clear about my preferences that Southern Baptists write what needs to be said and sign one's name to what is written, it is still quite disturbing to me to read the unfolding saga at FBC Jacksonville, Florida. Local Jacksonville law enforcement officers, former Florida circuit court judges, and other members of FBC, all friends of the pastor, seemed to have used secular Florida authorities to unethically and possibly illegally obtain subpoenas to reveal the identity and other private information of the owners of the FBC Jacksonville Watchdog and New BBC Open Forum and Tiffany Croft's blogs.

A local Jacksonville reporter is doing some background for a story that the newspaper will be running about this in the near future. It seems that someone in the Jacksonville Police department suggested to the reporter that the subpoenas were issued because there may be some kind of ongoing federal investigation into these blogs. I was asked yesterday what I thought of such a statement from the local Jacksonville police officer. I responded with two words.

"That's bull."

I've seen this kind of thing happen time and time again. Stupid decisions are made by certain leaders to try to "shut down" the person who is asking questions. Then, those same leaders go behind closed doors and allege the person asking questions is of corrupt character and if people really knew the whole story, then they would never doubt why "leadership" did what they did. In short, when leaders get "caught" using hard ball tactics to shut down dissent, they act as if things are really worse than they are - in order to cover themselves. I can assure you federal officials are more interested in terrorists seeking to destroy the United States than they are church members, annymous or not, who are asking questions that pertain to their pastor.

The sad part about the saga at FBC Jacksonville is that secular authorities have now been sucked into church politics. It seems to me that some people in the Jacksonville police department or court system could, at best, lose their jobs. At worst, there is the making of an enormous lawsuit for public officials abusing their authority to help friends. If you think public officials, particularly court judges and law enforcement officials, are beyond corruption, then you obviously haven't been following the the horrid story of the Pennsylvania judge who used his position for personal gain.

Whatever the case may be, and setting aside any problems within an SBC church that may be real or imagined, it is a sad day in America when the police and courts can be manipulated and used by a powerful church in the manner they seem to have been used in Jacksonville, Florida.

In His Grace,


Thursday, March 26, 2009

An SBC Pastor Who Confesses to Getting It

Contrary to what some may believe, I have written Hardball Religion to focus on some important issues we face as a Convention and not to denigrate any individual Southern Baptist. I consider all Southern Baptists my friends, and believe it an honor to cooperate with everyone. Some have falsely believed that there are hard feelings in me against those who tried to involve me in an orchestrated attempt to remove Jerry Rankin, or angst against Dr. Paige Patterson who worked hard to have SBC boards composed of like-minded ideologues, or ill-will towards those IMB trustees who took radical measures to remove me from the board.

There are no such feelings in me at all.

On the contrary, there is a love for all my fellow Southern Baptists, but there remains in me a deep and abiding concern that unless Southern Baptists speak out against a loss of church autonomy, a growing centralized authority within our Convention, and a demand for ideological conformity, then the Southern Baptist Convention we know and love will continue to decline in numbers and effectiveness. We will only thrive as a Convention when we celebrate our differences, love one another enough to cooperate for bigger causes, and refuse to make our ideological differences personal.

A Reviewer of Hard Ball Religion Who Changed His Mind

Scott Bradley sent me an email yesterday and told me I could quote from it if I desired. Scott is a 43 year old Southern Baptist pastor in Missouri. He was a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from '93 to '96. Scott and his wife Christy had three young kids during Seminary, and so Scott worked full time. He painted at Danny Akin's house a few times and believes Dr. Aiken is one of the greatest men in the SBC. He believes Dr. Paige Patterson has "skin like a rhino and a heart as big as Texas." Scott particularly loved Dr. Patterson's class on the church and got a kick out of his remarks concerning Richard Land's signing of the ECT document. Scott knows just a little about Dr. Keith Eitel, but what he knows of Dr. Eitel is impressive to him.. In short, Scott loved Southeastern and everything that it stood for under Dr. Patterson's leadership and continues to stand for today under the leadership of Dr. Akin, and he has fond feelings for Conservative Resurgence leadership.

Bill Curp, is a man that Scott admires as a hard working impartial, conservative Director of Mission and long-time former Missionary to Africa. Bill Curp, Scott's DOM, was an IMB trustee during my tenure, and Scott wrote and told me that he saw Bill the other day and told him that he was beginning to read Hardball Religion and "Wade Burleson would probably would not be happy with my review."

Scott wrote me yesterday and said that after reading the book he would be announcing his public reversal of his initial thoughts concerning Hard Ball Religion. Scott said that he understood the principles I was advocating, and "stood completely behind them." What is even more interesting is what Scott said next:

If I remain a Southern Baptist I can no longer remain silent. If I run from the SBC I am abandoning the greatest association of local churches that has ever existed, along with many of the most faithful rightly baptized believers in the world. Because you are reading this letter you should have no question about which option I chose. Though we are comparatively a small Southern Baptist church, the money that we give to the cooperative program gives us as loud a voice as the giants in our land. The question of church autonomy, limiting standards to the 2000 BFM, and a disclosure of all things SBC, should be vigorously debated and settled.
Scott went on to write that he had predicted the day would come when "the SBC would struggle with which conservative view is the correct one."

He closes his email to me with an encouraging paragraph, words that confirm to me that at least one Southern Baptist has gotten the message after reading Hard Ball Religion:

One way or another these issues will be settled by the SBC, but (your book) has not discouraged me to leave or quit giving to the CP. To the contrary, it has ignited a fire in me to autonomously cooperate with other gospel preaching Southern Baptist Churches by giving more to the CP and challenging our people to see the world as God’s field that is ripe unto harvest.

Well stated Scott. I look forward to cooperating with you for the Kingdom's sake. The fields are ripe for harvest.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bob Cleveland's Review of Hard Ball Religion

Bob Cleveland, SBC layman extraordinaire, retired businessman, and an active participant in the SBC blog world and Convention affairs, has posted his review of the now released book Hard Ball Religion. Bob was a participant in a few events detailed in the book, as he shares in his review, and his conclusions about what is needed to bring about change in the SBC are spot on. If for no other blessing than to know Southern Baptist laymen like Bob Cleveland are now actively involved in SBC affairs, the last four years have been worth it all to me. Go give Bro. Bob a visit at his blog Eagles' Rest.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let's Put Our Money Up to Show Our Support

I served for three years as a trustee of the International Mission Board (2005-2008) and our church has several members who are currently serving through the IMB on mission fields around the world. I continue to have a desire to do everything possible to improve our Southern Baptist cooperative mission efforts. I read with interest the following report of the most recent International Mission Board Meeting, March 17-18, in Greenville, South Carolina, and one of the ways we can become a better missions agency seemed to leap off the page at me as I read the report. Reporter Shawn Hendricks wrote:

Trustees appointed 89 new missionaries for a total missionary count of 5,569. Fourteen more missionaries are delayed being appointed to field service because their houses in the States have not sold yet. The March appointment service would have been the IMB’s fourth largest group of appointees had the 14 missionaries been able to participate.
The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has millions upon millions of dollars in a capital reserve account. It would seem wise to me for a portion of those funds to be pulled out of traditional investments (the stock market, C.D.'s, etc . . .) in order to purchase the homes owned by missionaries who have been vetted and approved by the International Mission Board, but are having trouble selling their homes. Some may not know that IMB policy requires missionaries to be mortgage free before going on the mission field. It would be easy for trustees to draw up a simple policy requiring impartial appraisals and the use of an agreed upon formula to determine the fair market price that the IMB would pay the missionary for his/her home. Then, when the missionary is on the field, the IMB would sell the house, pocketing either the profit or absorbing the loss. The IMB is well equipped to handle the additional real estate transactions, closing on hundreds of real estate properties around the world every year. Adding a few additional transactions during the course of a year, properties located in the United States, would not be difficult - and it would allow our missionaries to get to field in an expeditious manner.

In my opinion it is the best possible investment for IMB capital funds.

In His Grace,


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Which Is More Important - Character or Doctrine?

Hard Ball Religion has arrived in the warehouses and will begin being distributed shortly. One of the major premises in the book is that a person should be known as a Christian by how he behaves as much as what he believes. The follower of Jesus should be known by his love for others. These past four years have been an eye opener for me in that I have met some Southern Baptists who seem to display more of a concern that others believe their doctrine than they do that others experience their love. There even seems to be some in ministry that think they are special because of their "office" and lord their sense of authority over others rather than desiring to be a servant to all. What is most surprising to me is how some Southern Baptists consider disagreement an attack on their character, and as a result, respond with vociferous personal attacks. I long for the day when Southern Baptist Christians can disagree with charity.

Borrowing from Presidential speech writer Peggy Noonan, I adapt what she said about the office of President of the United States and apply it to those of us who serve as pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention.

"In a pastor, character is everything. A pastor doesn't have to be brilliant. He doesn't have to be clever. He doesn't necessarily have to be a good communicator. But he must have courage and decency. A pastor must possess those things in him. He may have a vision of the future regarding his ministry, but a vision is worth little if the pastor doesn't have the character, the grace and the love needed to minister to the people he serves."

I would propose that confession of Jesus Christ as Lord is essential to being a Christian, not to mention a Southern Baptist pastor. However, I would further propose that the character of the confessor is much more important than any other secondary or tertiary doctrine of the Christian faith, even among those of us who lead through pastoral ministry.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Friday, March 20, 2009

The High Cost of Stifling Criticism and Dissent

Most Americans know George Washington was the first President of the United States (1789-1797). Few Americans know that John Adams was the second President of the United States (1797-1801). Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in the 1800 Presidential election and served two terms (1801-1809) as our third President, and Founding Fathers James Madison and James Monroe served as our fourth and fifth Presidents respectively (1809-1817; 1817-1825). The first five Presidents of the United States (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe) are all considered some of the finest Presidents among the 44 men who have served in that capacity during the 220 years since Washington's initial inauguration. All five Founding Father Presidents, save one, served two terms.

President John Adams is the one President among the first five Presidents to serve only one term (1797-1801). The Executive Mansion (now known as The White House) had just been built in the city of Washington (1800) and President Adams had moved into the Mansion with his family only a couple of months before he lost the 1800 Presidential election to Thomas Jefferson. Adams really desired to serve another four year term and was very bitter that he lost. Instead of welcoming incoming President Jefferson on the day of his inauguration as is the custom of departing Presidents, Adams left the Executive Mansion and the city under the cover of darkness the night before.

Why would a man with John Adams background, qualifications and strong desire to serve as President lose his bid for a second term? Why did those who had the power to elect Adams not allow him to occupy the office of President for another four years, particularly since it would be customary in the elections to follow for Presidents to be granted two terms?

Most historians say that Adams was not elected President for a second term because he pushed Congress to pass The Alien and Sedition Acts. President Adams was very sensitive to criticism, and though he claimed the Acts were designed to protect the United States, most citizens attacked the acts as unconstitutional and believed they were designed to stifle criticism of President Adam's and his administration. Newspaper editors, political pundits and even some ministers were arrested for speaking out against the government and President Adams. The Sedition Act (officially call An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States) made it a federal crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials. Most historians agree that the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts was the low point of President Adam's administration and believe it directly contributed to his removal from office. Thomas Jefferson denounced the Sedition Act as invalid and a violation of the First Amendment, and he was elected President in 1800, ending John Adam's term as President after only four years.

One of these days men and women with power, whether it be ecclesiastical, political or corporate will learn that attempts to stifle dissent and criticism will only ultimately result in the people you lead turning against you. It was true in 1798 and it's true 210 years later.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Your Honor, Please Help Us Understand

Sometimes I shudder when I think about the hard ball tactics used by some Southern Baptists to silence dissent. For the majority of my twenty five years of ministry, there has been a belief in me that most Southern Baptist leaders understand humility, servant leadership, and the grace that is needed to endure dissent. However, after reading the comments on FBC Jacksonville Watchdog's Blog, and specifically those comments that reveal how subpoenas were issued to discover the identity of the owner of the Watchdog blog - as well as reading all the relevant public documents myself - there have arisen in my mind a few questions. These questions relate to whether or not FBC church leaders used church members involved in law enforcement and the courts to illegally obtained the private information of a United States citizen who wished to remain anonymous, including the identity of a blogger going by the pseudonym Watchdog. Further, there are legitimate questions that should be asked to discern whether or not FBC church leadership used that information they possibly gleaned through law enforcement to in any way intimidate, threaten, or coerce the Watchdog into silence. I do not have the answers to the following questions, I am simply asking. These questions were to be asked personally and privately of FBC leadership, but phone calls have been unreturned for three weeks now, so it is entirely appropriate to ask them publicly.

(1). Is the Sheriff's Deputy (Det. Hinson) who filled out the Field Incident Report on the current payroll of the church? Has he ever been employed by the church?
(2). When the subpoenas were authorized by the Florida State's Attorneys office demanding Google and Comcast identify the owner of the Watchdog Blog, did anyone from church leadership, including retired Circuit Judge A.C. Soud, use their influence to obtain the warrant signatures from the State's Attorneys Office?
(3). On what basis did the Sheriff's Deputy request the subpoenas for Comcast and Google from the State's Attorneys Office? In other words, what stated criminal allegations, if any, were used to obtain the warrant to discover the identity of the Watchdog's blog?
(4). Once the identity of the blogger was obtained through the private records of Comcast and Google, did law enforcement officials inform the aggrieved party (i.e. church leaders of FBC Jacksonville) of the identity of the owner of the Watchdog blog? Was Watchdog ever personally made aware that his private records had been obtained by law enforcement?
(5). When the Sheriff's Deputy closed his Field Incident Report after six weeks of "investigation" with the words "this investigation was closed after no criminal activity was discovered on this reported incident," did he then participate in any form or fashion in helping church leadership at FBC Jacksonville issue, through the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the "trespass warning" against the now known blogger and his family?
(6). Will the actions of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Department, the Florida State's Attorneys Office and the church administrative leadership of FBC Jacksonville stand up under the scrutiny of public questions?
(7). Finally, and from a pastor's perspective, this is my most important question: If, after church leadership discovered the "identity" of the Watchdog blog, did leadership make any attempt to contact the blogger, following the principles of Matthew 18, in order to seek to answer his questions and reconcile relationship, or did church leadership immediately issue a "trespass warning" through the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and then go behind closed doors with others and disparage the character and conduct of the Watchdog owner?

I ask these questions because this incident at FBC Jacksonville reminds me of two events of a similar nature. First, Pastor Rick Godwin has recently lost a court case where he was sued for publicly defaming a church member for asking questions about how the church was spending money. The church is appealing the case, but it should be a chilling reminder that when questions are asked of a non-profit, the best way to respond is by giving answers rather than attacking the questioner.

Seoond, for those who think a Sheriff's Office would never do anything questionable or illegal, one only has to look at Jacksonville's neighboring county, Nassau County, where former Sheriff Laurie Ellis and a couple of deputies were sent to prison for selling confiscated drugs and pocketing the cash.

It is an axiom of human nature that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. One of the blessings and beauty of the Information Age is that people in power can no longer do things and stifle questions. The questions I ask above are legitimate. I am more than happy for anyone to answer them and will listen. If there are good, solid answers to the above questions, then the events at FBC Jacksonville will be a non-issue.

However, until someone does provide answers, I believe they should continue to be asked. Without answers it seems someone in authority may have crossed a line. I made a vow three years ago that no longer would this Southern Baptist sit idly by while other Southern Baptists were abused by men in powerful positions. It is my intention to fulfill my promise until the above questions are answered. Christianity is not the practice of Hard Ball religion, and those who use their power to intimidate should at least be called to account.

In His Grace,


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Parable of the United States in Ten Pictures

Church members will often send me emails with some amazing pictures. I do not know who took the pictures below, but the allegory that came in the email with the photographs was too good to pass up. Nature has its own way of teaching us. Double click on the photographs for a larger image. Enjoy!

The fellow sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck never realized the show he was missing.

The little duck watches as the Eagle speeds straight at him at about 40 mph.

With perfect timing, the duck always dove and escaped with as mighty splash! Then he'd pop to the surface as soon as the Eagle flew past. This was repeated over and over for several minutes. I worried the poor duck would tire and that would be the end of him.

A second Eagle joins the attack! The duck kept diving "just in time", so the Eagles began to dive into the water after him!

After several minutes the Eagles got frustrated and began to attack each other. They soon began to dive vertically, level out, and attack head-on in a good old-fashioned game of high-speed "Chicken". Sometimes they banked away from each other at the last possible second. Other times they'd climb vertically and tear into each other while falling back toward the water. (The duck catches his breath at the right side of this picture.)

A terrible miscalculation! The luckiest shot of my life catches this 100 mph head-on collision between two Bald Eagles.

One Eagle stayed aloft and flew away, but the other lies motionless in a crumpled heap. The lucky duck survived to live another day.

It's sad to watch an Eagle drown. He wiggled, flapped and struggled mostly underwater. He finally got his head above water and with great difficulty managed to get airborne. To my astonishment, he flew straight toward me, and it was the most wretched and unstable bird flight I've ever seen!

The bedraggled Eagle circled me once - then lit atop a nearby fir tree. He had a six-foot wingspread and looked mighty angry. I was concerned that I might be his next target, but he was so exhausted he just stared at me. Then I wondered if he would topple to the ground. As he tried to dry his feathers, it seemed to me that this beleaguered Eagle symbolized America in its current trials.

My half-hour wait was rewarded with this marvelous sight. He flew away, almost good as new.

May America recover as well.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Theological Debate Without Finger Pointing

The comment stream yesterday was very interesting, with several perceptive comments by the readers of this blog. One of the things that struck me as I read through the comments is how many Southern Baptists can debate theological issues with a spirit of grace, never demeaning those who disagree, while displaying a humility that conveys they don't feel they always have all the right answers. Some Southern Baptists, however, seem to display a spirit of arrogance, pointing fingers at those who disagree, and act as if their words are the words of God. I am hopeful that the latter group can learn from the former. I really think that one of the good things that might come from disagreements over The Shack could be learning how to disagree with grace.

Two of my favorite comments were not actually posted, but were sent to me via email. The first, written by a Bob Cleveland, one of the wisest SBC layman you'll ever want to meet, wrote the following:

"Unless I'm mistaken, a non-believer reading The Shack would get the idea that God is approachable, redeeming, and loving. I also don't think the church does nearly as good a job of getting THAT message out as many seem to think.

I'm just sayin'"

Emmanuel Baptist Church will baptize new converts during each of our five Sunday services on Easter Sunday. I am personally aware of two individuals who will be baptized on that day who credit the Holy Spirit using The Shack to cause them to begin asking questions that led them to become followers of Jesus. I am confident that all Southern Baptists can rejoice in that fact.

The second email I received is from distinguished Baptist scholar Dr. Curtis Freeman. Dr. Freeman wrote:

"You really struck a nerve with your blog on The Shack. Our church recently formed a reading group. The first book they read was The Shack. Everyone loved it. Last week was Marilynne Robinson's wonderful book Gilead, which in my view is a far superior book, both in a literary and theological sense. But many of the group found it tedious, while they related to The Shack.

My wife teaches our Sunday School class. One of the members has an adult son whose life has taken a very tragic turn. The man told me, with tears in his eyes that after reading The Shack he realized that God really does care about him. While I have some reservations about the theology of The Shack, I find it speaks to people about the love of God in a remarkable way. It has also started a discussion about the Trinity which is far more than many sermons, books, and articles have done. So perhaps we should first say “thanks” before we voice our concerns."

This Baptist scholar makes several great points. All of us would be hard pressed to find anyone that would agree with every theological tenet to which we hold, but theological discussions that begin because> of a book can be a very good thing.

For example, one of the charges that is made about The Shack is that it does a very poor job portraying the Trinity. I would agree simply becaue the book, a work of fiction, was never designed to present a doctrinal view of the Trinity. However, if The Shack causes others to begin to discuss theological issues like the Trinity, that's a good thing.

Finally, for those who want a really sound theological paper that refutes the eternal subordination of the Son as the basis for the eternal subordination of women to men (a very hotly debated theological issue today), then I invite you to read my father's most recent post entitled "Is Jesus Eternally Subordinate to the Father? - My Two Cents"

I think you'll see an example there of how to present a position with both grace and humility.

In His Grace,


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Warning: Read This Post With Discernment !!!

William Paul Young's Book The Shack is available for sale through LifeWay's website LifeWay has posted a Read With Discernment tag on the book. Discernment? The book is a work of fiction. It is an allegory. It is not a theological textbook, nor is it confessional statement like the Baptist Faith and Message. Again, The Shack is Christian FICTION.

What seems humorous to me is the feeling by some that it is necessary to place a Read With Discernment tag on the book. Sometimes I feel we Southern Baptists are the equivalent of second graders spiritually. Here you have a book that is Christian fiction. There is no illicit sex, no foul language, and no promotion of immorality in the book. For heaven's sake, it was written for the author's own CHILDREN. But we stamp a Read With Discernment tag on it.

But before we get all over LifeWay for the silly little tag, we must remember that it was placed on the book after a few Texas Southern Baptists went on a campaign to get the book removed as "harmful and dangerous" to the body of Christ. In other words, LifeWay resisted the book banning Baptists and compromised with a discernment tag. Thank the Lord. If we allow Baptist Identity adherents to have their way we will wind up as Southern Baptists having an elite group of all knowing leaders who will tell everyone else what is acceptable to read.

The desire of some to guard the eyes of all Baptists reminds me of what I read on a Jehovah Witness website about the dangers of anybody in the Jehovah's Witness movement thinking independently for himself or herself. The leaders wrote:

"Avoid independent thinking...questioning the counsel that is provided by God's visible organization." (Watchtower, Jan. 15, 1983 pg. 22)

"Fight against independent thinking." (Watchtower, Jan. 15, 1983 pg. 27 )

"Let us face the fact that no matter how much Bible reading we have done, we would never have learned the truth on our own." (Watchtower; Dec. 1, 1990; p. 19)

"Stay away from deep Bible study to determine meanings of the scriptures."" (JW Leader Karl Klein, Address to WT, April, 30, 1980)

William Paul Young, author of The Shack, will be at Emmanuel, Enid to speak on Saturday and Sunday, April 4-5, 2009. Our people are mature enough to read for themselves this work of fiction, and they will receive no "warning" that reading it may be harmful. Those present Saturday night will also have the opportunity to ask the author questions about the book and then on Sunday night we will listen to William Paul young recount his own spiritual journey and what led him to write the book. We may end up disovering that the author's theology doesn't line up with our own in all places. It will make us no difference. We are not a cult. We enjoy the feedom of debate. We appreciate differing views. We aren't threatened.

The Holy Spirit does a pretty good job of taking care of us.

So much so, we even don't mind people in our church reading the much more dangerous and bizarre Left Behind Books, which by the way, merit no discernment tag from LifeWay.


Wade Burleson

Friday, March 13, 2009

Should a Minister of the Gospel Have a Blog?

There is a former Southern Baptist pastor who operates a blog that often has yours truly as the subject matter. For some reason my writing, including blog posts and comments, seems to infuriate him. The publisher of my new book, Smith & Helwys, contacted me today and told me this former pastor had requested that they send to him a free digital copy of my new book Hardball Religion so that he could "review" it before publication. They obliged his request and apologized to me today for not letting me know what they had done. As far as my thinking goes, the publisher has a right to do whatever they please to increase sales of the book. It is normal policy to send out pre-publication copies to multiple people for review. My only regret expressed to Smyth & Helwys was that this particular pastor didn't have to pay for the privilege of slamming me. Grin.

Today, this former Southern Baptist pastor wrote a comment about current Southern Baptist pastors, and if the comment is read in context, it is most certainly a comment directed at me personally and my writing in particular. The comment reads:

This wretched, condemning chatter which floods the internet--unfortunately many time by pastors bored because there's no one to minister to, no one to lead, no one to mentor, no one to pray for, no one to see in the hospital, no programs to plan, no vision to dream, no sermon to prepare, no book to read, so they obsessively blog--in the form of "engagement" must come to a close.

It's obvious that this former pastor wants me to feel shame for my writing. I'm interested in your opinion. What say you?

In His Grace,


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Just What Does a Trillion Dollars Look Like?

All this talk about "stimulus packages" and "bailouts"...

A billion dollars...


A hundred billion dollars...

Eight hundred billion dollars...

One TRILLION dollars...

What does one trillion dollars look like? A church member of mine, David Stone, sent me an email which helped me visualize the amount of money at stake when the government spends one trillion dollars in a stimilus package, a bailout, or a budget deficit.

We'll start with a $100 dollar bill pictured above. Currently the $100 dollar bill is the largest U.S. denomination in general circulation. Most everyone has seen them, slighty fewer have owned them. Guaranteed to make friends wherever they go.

A packet of one hundred $100 bills, pictured below, is less than 1/2" thick and contains $10,000. Fits in your pocket easily and is more than than the average American makes in three months of hard work.

Believe it or not, the next little pile of money below is $1 million dollars (100 packets of $10,000). You could stuff that into a grocery bag and walk around with it if you wanted.

While a measly $1 million looked a little unimpressive, $100 million is a little more respectable. It fits neatly on a standard pallet, and would take you a few minutes to move from one room to another.

And $1 BILLION dollars... now we're really getting somewhere. It is ten pallets of $100 bills, pictured below, and it would take a great deal of effort to move from one location to another.

Next we'll look at ONE TRILLION dollars. This is that number we've been hearing about so much. What is a trillion dollars? Well, it's a million million. It's a thousand billion. It's a one followed by 12 zeros.

You ready for this?

It's pretty surprising.

Go ahead...

Scroll down...

Ladies and gentlemen... I give you $1 trillion dollars...

Notice those pallets are double stacked. Do you see the little man in the red shirt to the far left? He kind of disappears doesn't he? Look close. Double click on the image to enlarge it if you desire. This picture illustrates just how massive the number one trillion really is.

You might ask, "Why post about this on your blog?"

Well, I heard a story this morning about President Obama.

It seems the Department of Defense briefed the President yesterday and told Obama that two Brazilian soldiers were killed in Iraq. To everyone's surprise in the briefing room, all the color drained from Obama's face. Then he collapsed onto his desk, head in his hands, visibly shaken, almost in tears.

Finally, he composed himself and asked, "Just how many is a brazilian?"

It seems the President has just as hard time of a time understanding a brazillion, as he does a billion and a trillion, so I thought I'd help him out.



Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Shepherd Laying Down His Life for His Sheep

This morning I heard from a man who was best friends with the late Fred Winters. As you by now have heard, Pastor Fred Winters was shot and killed this past Sunday during the early worship service of First Baptist Church of Maryville, Illinois. Reports are circulating around the Internet about what allegedly happened, but Fred's good friend shared with me of his conversations with the people involved, including the person who wrestled with the gunman and was wounded himself by a knife attack. Some of what is being circulated by news sources, according to Fred's friend, is completely untrue, including that Fred was running from the gunman and he cried out "help me" as if in panic.

In speaking on Tuesday with the man that wrestled with the gunman, Fred's close friend discovered the man considers Pastor Fred a true hero. According to this church member, Pastor Fred, instead of running away from the gunamn after the first shot shredded his Bible, he actually went toward the gunman. It was in the ensuing struggle that Pastor Fred was shot through the heart.

If one were to look at the stage and FBC Maryville, it is easily seen that the steps are at the sides of the big stage. Pastor Fred could have retreated backwards, and he may have saved his own life. But Fred went to the side of the stage toward the steps and then down toward the gunmen who concurrently moved toward Fred. The church member who sought to intervene and was wounded himself, had the best view of what was occurring. According to this churchman, as he ran forward to help subdue the shoooter, he saw Pastor Fred had already come off the stage and had himself grabbed the gunman's hands and was locked in a battle for the gun. Fred is reported to have yelled "somebody help me," but it was not a plea for his life as some are reporting, but rather "somebody help me get this guy under control."

The man that came to Fred's aid thinks that because Fred's hands were already on the gun, the shell of the shot that killed Fred did not dislodgle cleanly. Whatever the case, the gunman turned to shoot this other man after Fred went down. That is when the gun jammed and many lives were saved. The guy had enough rounds to kill alot of people. After attempting to fire the gun at least twice, the gunman drew a knife and began to attack the man who had come to assist the Pastor. Others eventually arrived to help wrestle the gunman to the ground. Contrary to media reports, the eyewitnesses give an accounting that gives evidence of a Shepherd willing to lay his life down for his sheep. His actions should give us all pause as we consider what we would do on behalf of our church family if found in a similar situation.

At the age of 45 Fred accomplished more in his life for the kingdom then most men do in a lifetime. He was a man of discipline, devotion, and focused determination. Fred was intentional about pouring his life into other people's lives. We pray that God will use Fred Winter's story to spur his fellow servants on to more of a fervency in fulfilling their call to ministry.

We encourage all to continue to remember Cindy and the girls. According to Fred's close friend, Fred's family is doing amazingly well. Their strength is a testimony of God's grace. Info about Fred and the funeral tomorrow can be found at the website of First Baptist Church, Maryville, Illinois.

Our prayers are with Cindy, the girls, and all the people of FBC Maryville.

In His Grace,


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Southern Baptist Pastor Encouraged by Two Roman Catholic Women

This past week God used two incredible Roman Catholic women to encourage me. I would like to identify both women and how it was that God used each of them in my life. If you have a problem with either believing a Southern Baptist can learn from a Roman Catholic, or if you struggle with a pastor learing from a woman, then I would suggest that you skip this post. As for me, these two women epitomize the thrill of believing the church of Jesus Christ extends far beyond the walls of the Southern Baptist Convention.

A Woman Named L's

The first woman who is one has commented often on this blog. I know her as L's or Christiane, her blog name. Last Friday a Nashville Southern Baptist named Robert, a man who often takes L's to task, asked L's a question about why she, a Roman Catholic, read and commented on Grace and Truth to You. Robert asked L's:

L's, an honest question to you. Why do you as a Roman Catholic remain around here? It just seems odd to me. Like me hanging around the Vatican.

L's answered Robert with the following comment, one of the finest this blog has received in nearly three and one half million hits and tens of thousands of comments:


It's me, L's.

There is a saying in the Hebrew tradition:

'God is in this place
and I did not know it.'

Have you ever heard that?

Long ago, my grandmother read the Bible to me and played the old hymns of her faith on her piano. So long ago, and I was so little, yet I remember, I remember . .

And one day, I turn on the TV and I see a Baptist Church protesting a soldier's funeral, screaming at the dead hero's family.

It was the Westboro Baptist Church.

I was horrified.

I knew that wasn't my Grandmother's faith. I knew it. But I was worried. So I called a cousin who is Protestant and she said that Grandmother had been a Southern Baptist. So I came looking to find out the truth.And here, I found that Westboro Baptist Church is NOT the same as my Grandmother's faith, thank God.

As for staying, as I said,

'God is in this place,
and I did not know it.'

I like your question. It makes me think.

I answer this: I care what becomes of my Grandmother's church. Some very bad things have happened and innocent people have been hurt. I hope that things will get better and people will stop harming others and that they will return to the Lord. So there is much to care about, much to pray for. Much to hope for. As Wade said in this post, "Nothing evil in God's world survives forever."

I am a Catholic and a woman of my Family. There is NO conflict in praying for the health of the Southern Baptist Church of my Grandmother, of blessed memory: that it should no longer be persecuted by those within it who seek to harm others. In truth, my faith calls me to care.

Christians must pray for one another, Robert, that's what we are called to do.

Love, L's

A Woman Named Anne Rice

One of my church members brought me a book this past week entiteld Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. The book was written by Anne Rice. Anne is the famous author of The Vampire Chronicles, including the famous book which became a major hollywood motion picture, starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, entitled Interview With the Vampire.

For years Anne Rice was an atheist. She made millions of dollars writing about vampires. But in 1998 Ann Rice came to faith in Jesus Christ. The account of her conversion, and her decision in 2002 to lay aside writing about vampires who take blood to the Creator who gave His blood is one of the most encouraging testimonies I have read in a long time. Anne's two newest bestsellers are entitled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana.

Anne's vibrant, personal and biblically faithful portrayal of Jesus Christ is the result of her determination to write for God. I personally invited Anne to come to Emmanuel and share her testimony and spiritual journey, an invitation that she regretfully declined due to her recent health issues associated with severe diabetes. Yet, my reading of her autobiography, my personal conversations with her, and the incredible and powerful manner in which she communicated to me her vibrant faith in Jesus Christ encouraged me mightily this past week.

Anne and L's represent to me the truth that the kingdom of Jesus Christ includes people from all denominations. This Southern Baptist pastor unashamedly admits he has been taught this past week through the writings and life of two Roman Catholic women.

Isn't God good?

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, March 08, 2009

True Baptist Identity Is One of Cooperation

For the past several years some in our Southern Baptist Convention have been leading us down a road of isolationism and separation from the evangelical community at large. For lack of better nomenclature, the Baptist Identity movement has become the name for isolationists and separatists among Southern Baptists. However, the official Baptist Identity movement is not truly Baptist. For centuries Baptists have been known as Christians first, followers of Jesus who would accept no creed but the Bible, and give freedom to others to disagree. The modern Baptist Identity movement, however, has a philosophy that is just the opposite of our Baptist forefathers. Modern Baptist Identity adherents are Baptists first, and if that gets in the way of being Christian, then so be it.

The best example of the identity crisis of modern Baptist Identity philosophy is seen in this comment from a Southern Baptist Baptist Identity adherent on another blog:

If one ever does come to the place were he must, for conscience sake, no longer be able to affirm the BFM, in its current rendering as approved by the SBC, he should resign from his position of service in the SBC.

In resigning he will retain his personal integrity as a believer. He does not have to be a Southern Baptist to maintain his integrity as a Christian. He does not have to affirm the BFM to have integrity as a Believer. He does have to maintain his integrity to maintain a proper fellowship with the Lord of his life, Jesus Christ. That is far more important than being an employee of the SBC.

Think about that comment for a moment. The writer (unnamed) is saying that one should follow Jesus and leave the SBC than to follow Jesus - disagreeing with the BFM in its current form - and staying in the SBC.

I trust one sees the convoluted nature in the comment above. Baptist Identity adherents put being a Southern Baptist BEFORE being a follower of Jesus. That, in essence, is how cults are formed.

The implications of this Baptist Identity philosophy are far reaching and severe. If a change in the SBC bylaws or a change in the SBC BFM occurs, then the Baptist Identity adherents say you should maintain your Christian convictions and GET OUT of service to the SBC, rather than making other Southern Baptists aware of the problem within your conscience and staying in the SBC. Do you disagree with closed communion? Leave. Do you disagree with the BFM statement on war? Leave. Do you disagree with the statement that nobody is guilty of sin until they actually sin? Leave. Do you disagree with ___________ (fill in the blank)? Leave. That, in essence, is the spirit of Baptist Identity these days.

That is also the kind of spirit we Southern Baptists must resist. We are a Convention of cooperation, not conformity.

The true Southern Baptist, confident in his identity as a Christian first, would stay in the SBC, maintain his integrity as a believer by voicing his disagreement with anything he sees as unbiblical and unchristian, and then letting those brothers and sisters in Christ who see things differently know that the disageement will neither affect his love for, service to, or cooperation with, those Southern Baptists of a different persuasion. That is the true identity we need as Southern Baptists.

In His Grace,


Friday, March 06, 2009

Spiritual Abuse Masked as Spiritual Authority

Today is part one of a seven part series on identifying the characteristics of spiritually abusive systems of religion. Future posts on the subject will be linked with this one to form a complete series when finished over the next several weeks. This subject is an important one in our day.

Spiritual abuse can be found in churches, non-profits, and denominational organizations. It is not limited to fundamentalists or liberals, Christians or cults, but may run the spectrum of theological ideologies. My friend, Jeff VanVonderen, has come up with a definition of spiritual abuse in his bestselling book, co-authored by David Johnson, entitled The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. Using the book as a guide, the following is a descriptive definition of spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse is when a leader uses his or her religious position of authority to control, intimidate or dominate another person. It also occurs when a person in need of answers, help or support is denigrated for either questioning the "Lord's anointed" or not being "spiritual" enough to submit to the decisions of the religious authority.

The First Characteristic of a Spiritually Abusive Religious System:

There is a preoccupation with the leader's authority and the constant need to remind others of that authority.

Leaders will spend a great deal of time talking about their "authority" and reminding others of it. This posturing appears most frequently in ridiculing or shaming remarks toward those in the congregation, including demanding total attention and allegience to the leaders' words.

The difference between real spiritual authority and abusive spiritual authority is that the former actually possesses it, the latter only postures it. When Jesus taught he possessed spiritual authority because his life and his character backed up what he was saying.

One of the best ways to identify abusive authority is to pay attention to how much time and effort is expended by the religious leader in reminding others of his authority and how everyone else is supposed to submit to it. Abusive leaders are eager to place people under them - under their word, under their "authority" - and it is the clearest indication that they are operating under their own authority and not the Spirit of God's authority.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

There is a Higher Aim than that of Mere Office

On March 6, 1857, exactly 152 years ago today, the United States Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, declared that all blacks, both slave and free, were not - and could never be - United States' citizens. The edict, now known as The Dred Scott Decision, declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, and permitted slavery in all western territories of the United States. Chief Justice Taney, knowing that some would challenge the ruling by pointing to the language within The Declaration of Independence that specifically declares, "all men are created equal," defended the Court's decision by writing:

"(I)t is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration. . . ."

In Illinois, a local Springfield lawyer who had sworn off future involvement in poltics after serving a disappointing term as a U.S. Representative, was so disillusioned by the Dred Scott decision, he decided to run for 1858 Illinois U.S. Senate seat on an anti-slavery platform. Abraham Lincoln lost his Senate race to Stephen Douglas, but two years later he was astonishingly and unexpectedly elected President of a divided United States - running on the same anti-slavery platform. The majority of other Presidential candidates, including Stephen Douglas, were ambivolent on the issue of slavery. Lincoln, who had long admired the herculean efforts of English politician William Wilberforce to rid England of slavery, could not understand these "don't care" politicans who pretended indifference. Lincoln reminded his "do-nothing" political contemporaries:

In the Republican cause there is a higher aim than that of mere office.

Using even harsher, and possibly self-prophetic language, Lincoln wrote in a July 1858 letter that such do nothing politicians remind him of Wilberforce's opponents who "blazed," "flickered," and "died," whereas the memory of Wilberforce endured.

On this anniversary of the Dred Scott decision, we pastors, men with a cause even greater than that of the Republic, would do well to remember the words of Lincoln when we are tempted to clutch to the recognition that comes with an "office" and avoid the work necessary to see to it that those things which are good, and right, and true, and just are done through our ministries.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

P.S. The photograph is from Lincoln's swearing in ceremony at his first inauguration in 1861. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, author of the Dred Scott Decision, swore Lincoln into office. Nothing evil in God's world survives forever.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Anonymous Writing Is Not Intrinsically Evil

In light of a great deal of angst expressed over unsigned posts and comments on the blogs, the following anonymous comment, posted last Monday at 1:24 pm, clearly articulated some things for all of us to think about when it comes to anonymity.


"All of this talk about anonymity has got me thinking. The term “coward” is sure getting thrown around a lot, and that is unfortunate. I wonder if anyone here has ever read or heard about the Marprelate tracts? They were written by (anonymous) Puritans in 1588-89 criticizing the abuses of Anglican bishops and clergy. They knew the consequences if they were discovered, but they could not remain silent. In fact, two men (both ministers) died (1 executed, 1 died in prison) because they were linked to the printing of the tracts. The printer, Waldegrave, had his press confiscated and was financially ruined. It is debatable whether or not the authors were ever really discovered. When the Anglican Star Chamber issued an edict in 1586 declaring that the Anglican church had the power to license and/or forbid all printing in the country, these men knew that they must speak out, but they didn’t necessarily want to die for it. After all, when a “trouble-maker” is discovered and dealt with (i.e. ruined by those in power that he critiques), then the criticism is silenced and people remain in the dark about the issues.

Please note, there’s a stark difference between a willingness to die for the testimony of the gospel, which I would do, and a willingness to die criticizing an institution. Most of us would rather live and go on criticizing the institution, seeking to make reform than to die and have our voices for reform snuffed out. I love the SBC and want to see it reformed for instance, but I will not die for it. That’s a privilege reserved only for my sweet Savior and family.

Add to that list of contemptible cowards names like John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, men who published anonymously (OK…they used the pseudonym Publius) the Federalist Papers, called by many the most important political documents outside the Constitution and Declaration of Independence in our nation’s history. Cowards they were… discard their ideas.

Also add to the mix more contemptible cowards like Thomas Paine (Common Sense was anonymous upon publication) and the dozens and dozens of revolutionary war era and anti-slavery tracts published anonymously (see Gutenberg.org for a list). Also discredit the information of historical figures like the anonymous (until his death) “Deep-throat” who let the nation in on major political scandal and corruption in Washington D.C. Guess he was a coward too. Also there have been numerous corporate whistleblowers who have anonymously helped bring justice to out-of-control corrupt companies. Cowards each one...

Incidentally, just this morning in the latest issue of Discipleship Journal, I read a touching testimony about a man ministering to his son in the midst of a drunk-driving incident. The article was signed “Clive Wellington” with the note that this was a pseudonym for an unknown author, probably in order to protect the reputation of his son and his son’s ability to heal and move on with life. I should have been enraged by the article, questioned its truthfulness, and immediately ripped it out of DJ, calling upon them to either print the name or retract the story! Puhleeaze!

A few years ago, I attended a Voice of the Martyrs event where a former Pakistani Muslim who was now a Christian spoke against the evils of Islam. He had to travel, write, and speak under a made-up name to protect himself and his family. I guess without knowing his real name, I should be suspect about his claims. I cannot call his Imam in Pakistan and verify his claims, so he should be discredited…right?

Basically, the history of anonymity in writing is long and rich. Usually (almost always) anonymous writing is done by those NOT in power rightly criticizing those IN POWER who are in a position to shut-up and shut-down the anonymous source, thus putting an end to the public’s knowledge of the corruption. Those of you who are so quick to call others cowards can do so precisely because you support those in power or have nothing to lose (i.e. you’re not in ministry at a SB church or institution!). It’s OK to put your name on your criticism of Wade or Watchdog, because if some of the “higher-ups” look you up or run into you at the state or national convention (and believe me, they do!), they’ll thank you and pat your back! NOT take you to task or blacklist you like they have others!

I personally know a student at one of our seminaries working on his dissertation who was told (off the record) by more than one prof that he had better stay away from blogging or commenting or signing his name to anything critical that could be used later against him if he hoped to have a future at all in the SBC! At times, he has been scared of being kicked out of his program because of being critical of leaders, pastors, etc… during open discussions. Now he just sits quietly and withholds any criticism until he graduates.

Wade is in a unique situation…and I thank God for him. He has the strong support of his congregation and the knowledge that he will continue to be employed in the face of what he writes. They know and trust his character and integrity because of many years of ministry. He knows he will not lose his job by speaking out. He also knows (from experience) that he is not on anyone in the SBC’s list of “up and comers” for future leadership in SBC life. He walked those halls for a while and found out what happens when you refuse to “play the game.”

Many others are not in the same position, and thus, remain anonymous. In itself, that is no reason to discard what they write. Staffers at a mega-church led by a superstar are powerless. Speak out and lose your job, plain and simple. Lose your benefits, pack your bags, and plan to relocate…IF you can find anyone else to employ you after being fired by one of “the boys.” Likewise with seminary employees, agency employees, etc… SBC life is a very small, tight-knit community with lots of nepotism and inside-talk. Many of the mega-church leaders and inner-circle guys preach for each other regularly, defend one another publicly, speak at all the seminary chapels, serve on the same boards, room their kids together at the same schools, and on and on it goes. If you are critical and you make yourself known publicly, you will be shut out from future impact in the SBC.

Those of you who want to throw the term “coward” around, open your eyes to the reality of what’s happening. Look at what happened to Wade. Read the reports at fbcjaxwatchdog. Look at the facts. This man (whoever he is) was a loyal member of the church for MANY years under Lindsey/ Vines; why would he just “snap” when Dr. Brunson came on board? Could there be some substance to his accusations? You’ll never know because you don’t want to.

If you don’t want to believe what an anonymous author is saying, it wouldn’t matter if there was a name attached to it or not. Even if their identity was known, you still wouldn’t believe it. If there’s truth to what they are saying, then who cares if you know their name or not? Will those being criticized answer the criticisms with substance? I hope Dr. Brunson calls Wade back and clears the air, but I don’t foresee that happening.

It’s easy to sit on the winning side and take pot-shots at the whistle-blowers. It’s easy to call them cowards and discredit their work so readily. It’s much tougher to admit that these MIGHT just be honest Christian people telling the truth. It’s much tougher for many in the SBC today to admit that their heroes might be flawed."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lessons in Dealing with a Disgruntled Member

This post is a personal testimony. It is offered as an illustration on how to deal with a disgruntled member or member(s) of a large church. There are those who say that no church member ought to express opposition to the pastor's decisions. Some say that the pastor is the Lord's anointed, and to question his ministry, or his decision making, or his integrity is simply rebellion against God.

Not so. No pastor is beyond the scope of scrutiny. Further, it is not the questioning of the pastor that is the problem. Rather, it is the response of the pastor to the questions that is often the problem. Many pastors, whether it be for personal insecurity reasons, fear of exposure, or a false understanding of "church unity," will deal harshly with those who question their leadership. This post is offered as an example of how a pastor and church can deal with a disgruntled member in an effective manner.

Secret Meetings and Secret Complaints

There was man at Emmanuel who was not happy with the hiring of a particular staff member. He felt that the staff member displayed personal qualities unbecoming of a pastor (i.e. "impatience," "sarcasm," etc . . .), and the disgruntled member and his wife began to meet with three or four other families to "pray" for this staff member and our church. During the meetings which were held at the home of the dissatisfied member, other issues began to be discussed, issues involving me personally. The leader of the group felt that the hiring of this staff member reflected poorly on my pastoral leadership. Others began to question my salary and ask if the Senior Pastor was making too much money. A couple of the church members had heard that I was a member of the local Country Club and wondered if the church gave me that benefit, etc . . . They decided that they would meet on a regular basis, invite others to join them, and pray for our church.

Eventually someone told me about the meetings. Immediately, there was a mental decision that I had to make. Were these disgruntled members who were questioning my decisions, salary and benefits, and other matters as important to the Lord's kingdom as those church members who express appreciation for my pastoral leadership? I gave an immediate "yes" to that question in my mind.

As a result, I had to ask myself a second question: How can I affirm the people who were secretly meeting and how can I encourage them spiritually, while at the same time not reacting defensively to either their attitude or their questions? The person who had told me about the meetings had been invited himself to attend, and he knew that the group was going to ask others to come and be a part the following Friday. There was obviously an intentional effort to make the dissident group larger. Yet, I had to settle in my mind and heart that my goal could never be to prevent, control or dominate these people in any form or fashion. Jesus came to set people free, and that means disgruntled church members should be free to dissent and disagree with their pastor - and tell others of it! And, I should be free to accept it as from the Lord. It's a little like King David when Shemei was cursing him and Abishai, David's servant said, "Shall I go cut that dead dog's head off?" King David said, "Let him alone. God has bidden him to speak." As pastor, I see every event, even the difficult ones, as God refining my character.

Compassion, not Confrontation

I decided the best way to approach the disgruntled member was to personally contact him and let him know that I knew of the meetings, and that I affirmed all the members' rights to participate. Further, I determined that I would volunteer to meet with them, if they desired, to try to answer all questions they felt important. I also wanted to express my appreciation for their prayers for our church.

And that is what I did. Nobody else was involved. Just me. I expressed to the disgruntled member all of the above and told him I would be more than happy to attend the next meeting and answer any and all questions if he would like, believing that it is always best to communicate directly when there are differences or disagreements.

The disgruntled church member was a little taken aback. Later he told me that he was most surprised at my affirmation that he and the group had every right to meet. He also was taken aback at my expressions of love for him, especially knowing that I knew he was attempting to lead a growing group of dissidents to question my leadership. He would later tell me that this knowledge did not diminish the love and grace I displayed for him personally, and that this was what most impressed him.

Transparency, not Terseness

During our conversation I sought to answer any and all questions he had. We talked about the hiring of the staff member and I explained the process under which he was hired and assured him that any concerns he might have about a pastor at Emmanuel not relating with church members in a gracious manner was an important concern. I shared with him how that particular issue had already been addressed with the staff member in question and how it would continue to be addressed if needed. We then discussed my salary. Our church places all salaries into one lump sum when the budget is presented, and Emmanuel's Finance Committee had made this a practice long before I came as pastor. My preference would be that all salaries be broken out individually within the annual budget, but I have been overruled by the Finance Committee members. However, it is church policy, and a wise one at that, that ANY member who desires to know the salaries of staff members, including the pastor, only has to ask. He demurred and said he really didn't wish to know, but I told him my salary and benefits anyway, believing it was an important question for him to have answered and he was just too embarrassed to ask me.

Then we talked about my membership at the Country Club. I told him that the church does pay the $300 monthly dues, but I pay all my expenses, including meals and guest fees. I also explained that I knew in Enid that some might view my membership at the Country Club as exclusive, but we had a very particular reason for the membership - the people there need Christ as much as the poor. I related how I had been able to build multiple relationships through meeting peole at Oakwood Country Club, and had been asked by many non-churched Enidites to perform funerals for family members, had been able to lead several to faith in Christ, and through my contacts, many Christian family members had become members of Emmanuel. I also told him I loved the golf course (a Perry Maxwell course, no less!).

He laughed a little with me and we discussed a few more issues, and I spent about an hour talking with him about any and all his concerns. I ended the conversation in this manner:

"I may have not been able to answer your questions completely, and even if I have, you still may not agree with my decision making. Please know that your disagreement with the pastor of Emmanuel is not only all right, it is healthy. The main thing you should know is that you have every right to question me, and even if you think I make too much money, shouldn't be a member of the Country Club, or shouldn't have led the Personnel Committee to hire a particular staff member, our disagreement will never be, in any form or fashion, an impediment to me loving you and being a pastor to you. Feel free to relay what we have discussed to those you are meeting with, and know that you have my complete support in continuing to meet. You can invite anyone and everyone you desire to join you, and if you have more questions, I will be happy to come meet with you. If, after evaluation, you feel you can't worship with us because of a disagreement, please know that you have our blessing and full support to join another sister church and we will recommend you with Christian love and grace. Bottom line, I'm never above questioning, nor are you are ever beyond my desire to see our mutual walk with Christ strengthened."

The man teared up a bit. Thanked me for visiting with him, and we parted.

When Leadership Cares About People

Two weeks later, in church, he stopped me. He thanked me for taking the time to contact him, expressing his sorrow he had not contacted me before he had talked with others. He thanked me for answering his questions and addressing his concerns and said that after listening to me preach for 15 years he should have known that I would have responded with grace and transparency to any questions he had. He then expressed his love for me and mentioned how much he respected me. He said the group was no longer meeting, and all of them voiced at their last meeting that they wanted their families to be a part of a church where leaders affirmed them, even when they disagreed.

To this day, this man and the three or four families that met with him those few times remain faithful members of Emmanuel.


I have called Dr. Mac Brunson at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville. I left my cell phone number with his personal secretary. I have also called Rev. Blount and left messages for he and A.C. Soud, Chairman of the Trustees of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville. My intention is to ask these men a few questions and offer my encouragement to them as a brother in Christ and fellow Southern Baptist pastor. None of them has called me back, but if and when one does, I will treat him in the same manner I did my own church member. Many conjecture that my calls will not be returned. Others wonder why in the world I would make events at FBC Jacksonville my business. I do for one reason only. I made a promise three years ago that should I ever hear of a Southern Baptist experiencing some kind of spiritual or emotional abuse by a denominational or church leaders, I would not be silent and I would do what could be done to help the one being abused who was without "power."

In 2007, an anonymous and disgruntled long time member of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida began a blog called FBC Jax Watchdog. This man had several financial questions, voiced many criticisms of pastoral leadership decisions, and made known his deep concerns over sweeping bylaw changes - all of which he documented. I understand that there are always two sides to every story, and perspectives will be different over these issues depending on whom you visit with from FBC. The issue for me, however, is whether or not a Southern Baptist churchman has freedom to raise questions of leaders, or does he fear retribution if he does. Some have repeatedly and quite viciously taken Watchdog to task for his desire to remain anonymous. I've challenged him on this issue as well, and the Watchdog admits that he has made mistakes out of fear for what would be done to him if his identity were known. But the point of this post is neither to question or defend Watchdog's anonymity or his decision to make known to others his criticisms of leadership at FBC. I have no opinion on the merits of the latter. The point of this post is to question those in power - the leadership of FBC Jacksonville - as to why they took the approach they did when they discovered what a disgruntled church member was doing.

In short, the question to leaders at FBC Jacksonville is a simple one: "Why did you take such a hardball approach with Watchdog?"

Make no mistake, the leadership of FBC Jacksonville knows who the Watchdog is. A subpoena was issued to the internet provider that required the revelation of the identify of the owner of the Watchdog blog. Knowing that such a request for a subpoena would have to include allegations of criminal intent, I have asked the question of A.C. Soud, Rev. Blount and Pastor Brunson if whether or not what some deacons at FBC have shared with others is true - that the allegation against Watchdog (before they knew who he was) was that he was stalking Mrs. Brunson and stealing the Brunson's mail. Again, criminal activity must be alleged for a judge to grant a subpoena for an internet provider to identify the owner of a particular blog. You can't just shut down somebody's right to write anonymously on a blog, even if you don't like what they are writing, because such a right is protected by the First Amendment. What's worse, however, would be for someone to artificially create criminal intent in order to get information regarding a protected identity. But instead of assuming accuracy in the deacons' information of what happened, I would like to ask the ones involved in obtaining the subpoena. Ironically, the Chairman of the Trustees at FBC Jacksonville is retired Florida Circuit Judge A.C. Soud. Further, regardless of how leadership at FBC Jacksonville obtained the identity of the Watchdog, the concern of this post is not with the manner in which they obtained it, but rather, what did FBC leadership do once they discovered who Watchdog was?

Did they go and visit with the man and his family? Did they seek to provide some spiritual encouragement to him? Did they choose to try to answer his questions? Did they attempt to affirm him and his family for their years of service at FBC Jacksonville? Did they display Christian love and grace? Did they affirm them as Christian people and members of the church? My understanding is that FBC church leaders did none of the above but in fact, took the following actions:

(1). Leadership issued a court ordered trespass warning, barring the Watchdog and his family from entering the premises of the church.
(2). Leadership led the church to pass a resolution, led by retired judge A.C. Soud, that no church member shall be publicly critical of church leadership, and werer a member to violate that resolution, the member shall be "confronted" with their gross sin and disciplined publicly.
(3). Leadership went behind behind closed doors with the deacons and others and accused the Watchdog of inappropriate behavior (stalking, videotaping, stealing) without ever sitting down with the Watchdog himself to inform him of their allegations.
(4). Leadership also made phone calls to the church where the Watchdog has joined to "warn" the church of this man and his family.
(5). Leadership chose to make the issue Watchdog's "character" rather than answering the Watchdog's "questions."

The really sad thing to me is that the man in question is a long time, faithful member of FBC Jacksonville who has had family in the church for decades. He is highly educated, respected in the community, and has been faithful in service for years. In my opinion, church leaders are abusive when they attempt to shut down disagreement in the manner that seems to have been taken by the leadership of FBC Jacksonville.

Things must change in our Convention, our denominational agencies and our churches. Real leadership serves, not dominates. Real leadership affirms, not denigrates. Real leadership can withstand criticism, because real leadership is confident their actions can withstand scrutiny.

I am hopeful that other Southern Baptist church leaders and pastors can learn from the two different examples of disgruntled church members given above. What the Southern Baptist Convention needs at this hour are leaders who are servants, desiring to help people in their walk with Christ. Too many of us are "professional" ministers who are concerned with our careers and have lost sight of the fact that our careers actually have names. How should leadership deal with disgruntled members?

The answer to that question will go a long way toward making our Convention and our churches what we should be.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson