Categories
Controversy Ecclesiology New Liberalism Reform

ERLC Trustee Justin Sampler Claims Widespread Abuse Cover-Up is Implausible; Implies Fellow Trustees Are “Lying”

Editor’s Note: Since the documentation is so important to the piece below we are going to include links to referenced content within parenthesis following the relevant items. Please read the piece thoughtfully and click the links to see the supporting information.

Justin Sampler, pastor of First Baptist Church, Inola, Oklahoma and doctoral student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, serves as a trustee for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC is in hot water after bombshell reports from SBC-related news outlets like the Capstone Report (https://capstonereport.com/2021/09/27/whistleblower-russell-moore-exploited-abuse-allegations-to-harm-political-foes/37102/) and the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector (https://baptistandreflector.org/erlc-leaders-accused-of-blatant-deception/) highlighted a letter from an ERLC whistleblower.

That letter, written by ERLC trustee and lawyer, Jonathan Whitehead, provides evidence that the board officers of the ERLC covered up information pertaining to an investigation of the SBC Executive Committee. (https://baptistandreflector.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/210917-JRW-Letter-to-TF-and-SBC-EC-3.pdf)

In response to these well-reasoned revelations, ERLC trustee Sampler makes the shocking suggestion that widespread cover-up is implausible. (https://twitter.com/justinsampler/status/1445879493084598273)

Wait. What?

If cover-up is implausible, (https://twitter.com/justinsampler/status/1445862562113916928) then why are former ERLC president Russell D. Moore and the SBC wringing their hands and spending millions to investigate the Executive Committee for alleged cover-up? Moore and his fellow hang-wringers obviously don’t think cover-up is implausible when it comes to the EC.  So shouldn’t Sampler say it’s more likely Moore is lying?

Or, to borrow a term, is it more plausible a double standard is in play with Sampler’s tweets? Or even something more disturbing?

Notice Sampler passively-aggressively claims Whitehead is “unlike” the other ERLC trustees, and implies he’s “lying.” (https://twitter.com/justinsampler/status/1445574748507758595)

Lying about what? Again – because this is crucial to the dispute: lying about what?  Even if Whitehead were mistaken in his inferences, the information is all here to support his claims. Sampler acts like someone credibly accused of abuse cover-up.

Here are the facts:

1. Moore addressed a letter to the Board of Trustees of the ERLC in February of 2020, making accusations against the SBC EC.

https://religionnews.com/2021/06/02/russell-moore-to-erlc-trustees-they-want-me-to-live-in-psychological-terror/

2. Moore addressed another letter to SBC President JD Greear in May of 2021, referencing his earlier letter and specifying it was directed to his “board officers.”

https://baptistblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/06/rdm-final-letter.pdf

Here we come to an unavoidable choice between two alternatives:

Did Sampler receive the letter in February 2020?

If no, then Sampler should not slander other trustees who claim this letter was hidden from them by the board officers. (https://twitter.com/ponddogtoo/status/1445914923872178185)

If so, then Sampler helped hide alleged evidence of abuse cover-up for over a year.

Either way, it now appears the ERLC should be investigated for potential cover-up based on the testimony of its own trustees.

Categories
Confessionalism Scripture

Reflecting on the Baptist Faith and Message, Part 3: The Doctrine of Scripture (con’t)

The first article of the Baptist Faith and Message speaks of the source, nature, authority, and goal of the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
Having addressed the matters of the source and nature of the Bible in the previous installment, I will now turn attention to the confession’s doctrine of Scripture’s authority and goal.
 
The Authority of Scripture: Absolute
Because God is the author of Scripture by means of inspiration, and because God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18; Tit. 1:2), that means the Bible contains only “truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” Scripture is, in other words, inerrant in all that it affirms. We are, therefore, obligated to believe and obey all that it teaches, when we have properly interpreted and applied that teaching.
 
The doctrine of inerrancy has been a flashpoint of controversy among Christians in recent history. Some have claimed that Scripture never claims inerrancy for itself, and that the phenomena of Scripture clearly disprove the concept anyway. For example, if the Bible uses round numbers to relate historical details, has it recorded some data point erroneously? And if so, doesn’t the doctrine of inerrancy seek to impose on the Bible a standard that the Bible itself never claims to meet?
 
In fact, the doctrine of inerrancy does not claim that Bible is written with maximal precision. Proponents of inerrancy gladly acknowledge it was written, instead, in ordinary human language. For this reason, the doctrine of inerrancy claims that the Bible is inerrant according to the standards of precision to which it seeks to adhere. If a man earned $52,174.23 in net income in the year 2020, and he said to a friend, “I made $50,000 last year,” no one would accuse him of deceit or error; so it is with Scripture. It must be evaluated at the level at which it intends to communicate. Round numbers, figures of speech, omission of incidental details in parallel accounts, etc. do not constitute errors. They are accepted conventions of human communication.
But does the Bible itself claim that it is inerrant, and therefore completely authoritative in all that it affirms? Yes, it does, and in numerous places. But I will simply note two here, both from the words of Jesus. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus says, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law [i.e., the Old Testament Scriptures] until all is accomplished.” The reference to an “iota” and a “dot” represent, respectively, the smallest letter of the alphabet and the smallest part of a letter. Jesus goes to great lengths to speak of the absolute authority of the Bible as the written Word of God. And because it is the written Word of God, he came to fulfill it, not to scrap it and start over with something new (Matt. 5:17). One other reference of Jesus to the Bible is found in John 10:35, where in a passing comment he notes, “and the Scripture cannot be broken.” Here Jesus affirms not only that the Bible has no errors, but that indeed it cannot have errors because of the nature of what it is: the very Word of God. In other words, Jesus affirms not only the fact of inerrancy, but even the stronger claim of biblical infallibility, the claim that the Bible is incapable of error.
 
Because Scripture has no mixture of error, it is completely trustworthy and represents the absolute standard by which all truth is discerned. The Baptist Faith and Message affirms biblical authority very clearly.
 
The Goal of Scripture: Salvation
In addition to noting that Scripture has God for its author and inerrant truth for its matter, the confession affirms that it also has “salvation for its end.” Scripture is divine revelation that is oriented toward one main goal: the salvation of sinners through Jesus Christ. This is why, as the confession affirms, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ.” The Bible is not our Savior. Jesus Christ is. But how can we know Jesus Christ in the absence of his physical presence with us? God has committed the authoritative prophetic and apostolic testimony of the Person and work of Jesus Christ to writing in Scripture, which is now the permanent form of divine revelation that remains with the church until the end of history.
In the early years of the church, the gospel spread by apostolic proclamation. That proclamation took on certain forms that could be passed down orally as tradition. However, the more time elapses between the events of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection and the hearing of that tradition, the more opportunities arise for corruptions of the traditions handed down. If we had no permanent, written account of Jesus here now 2,000 years after his time on earth, we would be dependent on an oral tradition that could have become so corrupted by this point that it could lead us far astray into error. In fact, the Roman Catholic adherence to oral tradition as a stream of divine revelation on par with Scripture demonstrates the level of doctrinal corruption that can accrue over long periods of time without an authoritative canon that stands above tradition to keep it in check. Roman Catholics hold numerous beliefs and practices that are not only non-biblical, but even anti-biblical, as they have allowed tradition to stand alongside Scripture as a source of revelation. As a result, they have a compromised gospel of justification by faith plus works, combined with compromised worship practices that resemble paganism: prayers to Mary and the saints, indulgences, a continuing earthly priesthood, etc.
 
Because God has given us the Bible as the only divine authority on earth, we can trust that its revelation of Christ to us is what will lead us to salvation. Where Scripture is preached, taught, and revered, faith in Christ will be stirred, nurtured, and preserved. Where Scripture is not proclaimed in faithfulness, people will descend into spiritual darkness.
Categories
Controversy Ecclesiology Reform

On Waiving Attorney-Client Privilege

A current hot-button issue among Southern Baptists is the task force created to oversee an independent investigation into the handling of sexual abuse allegations by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. We reached out to a faithful brother who is an attorney to ask about the ramifications of the investigating bodies’ request that the Executive Committee waive attorney-client privilege. Why does attorney-client privilege exist? What does it mean and what does it cover?  How should Christians think about attorney-client privilege? Below is his answer.

What happened at the annual meeting? What did the motion say?

Among the numerous items of business that were considered at the SBC Annual Meeting this past June was a “Motion to Investigate the SBC Executive Committee.” This motion received no small amount of attention at the time, as part of a larger campaign to investigate allegations of sexual abuse. Part of the motion (with emphasis added) is included below:

“We further move that the task force agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.”

Waiver of attorney-client privilege is no small matter, yet that portion of the motion seems to have received relatively little attention.

What is attorney-client privilege? Why is the privilege important?

​​Most readers probably have at least a general idea of what is meant by the attorney-client privilege. Nevertheless, defining the concept a little more concretely will be helpful for the purposes of this article.

One of the oldest concepts in the Anglo-American system of common law, the attorney-client privilege is (as the name implies) a privilege held by legal clients (and exercisable by them) that protects the confidentiality of a client’s communications with the client’s attorney. Writing for the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, Sue Michmerhuizen helpfully explains further:

The attorney-client privilege only protects the essence of the communications actually had by the client and lawyer and only extends to information given for the purpose of obtaining legal representation. The underlying information is not protected if it is available from another source. Therefore, information cannot be placed under an evidentiary “cloak” of protection simply because it has been told to the lawyer.

The important points to highlight here are: (1) communications, not information, are what the privilege protects and (2) not all communications with an attorney are protected. Hopefully the readers’ eyes haven’t begun to glaze over at what looks like legal minutiae, but at least a basic understanding of the contours of the privilege is important if one is going to assess what the messengers actually did when the motion was approved in June.

Photo credit: https://www.feldesmantucker.com/u-s-supreme-court-tackle-implied-certification-theory-false-claims-act-liability/

One might reasonably ask, “Who cares? Why should communications between an attorney and his clients be kept confidential?” The United States Supreme Court has succinctly explained the importance of the privilege:

Its purpose is to encourage full and frank communication between attorneys and their clients and thereby promote broader public interests in the observance of law and administration of justice. The privilege recognizes that sound legal advice or advocacy serves public ends and that such advice or advocacy depends upon the lawyer’s being fully informed by the client.

Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 390 (1981).

Thus, although it may not seem so at first, the goal of the privilege is to promote justice, not stifle it. The very purpose of seeking advice from an attorney is so that the client can be reliably informed about how to conform his actions to the law. If clients are afraid that their communications with their attorneys may be used against them, they will be deterred from seeking out that advice and will be left to do their best to discern for themselves what the law requires.

What is the relationship between the EC and the rest of the SBC?

Another issue that is important to flesh out before thinking about the implications of the motion is the relationship between the Executive Committee (“EC”) and the rest of the Southern Baptist Convention. In one sense, the Southern Baptist Convention writ large exists only once per year when the messengers assemble for the annual meeting. In between those meetings, however, the EC acts as “the fiduciary, the fiscal, and the executive entity of the Convention in all its affairs not specifically committed to some other board or entity.” Among other duties, the EC is “specifically authorized, instructed, and commissioned to . . . act for the Convention ad interim in all matters not otherwise provided for.”

In other words, the EC takes actions on behalf of the messengers (and by extension the churches they represent), but it is not a separate entity unto itself with any inherent authority. As some have pointed out, the polity of the SBC leaves little room (perhaps none at all) for the EC to decline to follow direction given by the assembled messengers. The EC has only a delegated authority, but because that delegation covers “all matters not otherwise provided for” the scope is potentially quite broad.

What are the unanswered questions arising from the motion to waive privilege?

With that background in view, hopefully Southern Baptists will begin to ask some questions about the motion. 

Photo Credit: Julie Roys
https://julieroys.com/hannah-kate-williams-sues-sbc-alleged-sex-abuse/

For instance, it’s not entirely clear what the motion is asking for. Was the intent that the EC waive privilege for the EC itself? Some of the more recent discussion (online and elsewhere) seems to assume that was the intent, but that does not line up with the wording of the motion which refers to “staff and members waiving attorney client privilege.”

Yet, that only leads to another question: can the EC waive privilege on behalf of its members or its staff? It is well-established that the privilege is held and can only be waived by the client. But who is the client in this scenario? Is it the EC itself or the staff and members? Can the messengers of the SBC require individuals to waive their own attorney client privilege? If the motion requires that the EC waive privilege for its staff and members, have the messengers asked the EC to do some action that the EC has no legal authority to do?

It’s not so much that these questions don’t have answers, but they are certainly answers that would be unknown to the vast majority of the messengers who were at the meeting, few of whom were attorneys with more than superficial knowledge in this area of the law.

Additional questions about what the motion intends remain unanswered. What is the scope of this waiver? It certainly reads as if it is meant to be a blanket waiver, but is anything so broad really necessary or was this meant to be more limited in scope?

Alongside the “what” the messengers might well want to ask the “why.” Given just how important the attorney-client privilege is, why is anyone being asked to surrender that legal protection at the outset, before anyone has even had the chance to assert the privilege? Why was the motion stated in terms of a blanket waiver rather than one more limited in its reach? Why ask that privilege be waived in the first place, knowing that the prevailing legal advice would be not to do so?

All of those questions are important and ought to have been answered in Nashville. Even if the presiding officer’s asking the messengers whether there was discussion was more than a mere formality, the kind of deliberation necessary to answer these questions never would be possible from the floor of the meeting. Ample time seems to have been allotted for that portion of the meeting, but no meaningful discussion actually occurred.

Photo Credit: https://religionnews.com/2021/06/07/after-leaked-letters-southern-baptist-pastors-demand-inquiry-into-handling-of-sex-abuse-cases/

It’s clear, however, that SBC leadership was prepared to deal with motions that had legal implications. An attorney was called to the stage to render an opinion about the ability of the messengers to rescind a resolution passed by the previous annual meeting, but no one thought it would be a good idea to have an attorney speak to the ability of the messengers to instruct the EC to waive the attorney-client privilege of its individual staff and members? One struggles to find a satisfying explanation for that disparity.

One also struggles to discern more than the most superficial of justifications for the waiver part of the motion. It seems to boil down to the naked assertion that “the commissioned third-party” said the EC has to waive in order to have a thorough investigation. Even that claim, however, seems to have been subjected to very little scrutiny. One is forced to speculate, but the rejoinder may well be related to recent actions by the Attorney General of Michigan who cancelled one investigation and refused to begin another unless the institutions under investigation would give up attorney client privilege. Regardless of the merits of such a demand by the Attorney General of Michigan, no one seems prepared to attempt to justify such a demand in the case of the SBC. 

Across the country, countless investigations of even the most heinous criminal wrongdoing proceed every day without law enforcement officers or prosecutors demanding that individuals waive the privilege. That is because, as noted above, investigating the facts of a situation does not require stripping confidentiality from the communications between clients and lawyers.

A common bromide in discussions of privilege (as well as discussion of the right against self-incrimination) is “If you’ve done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to hide.” Without meaning to be uncharitable, such statements are as ignorant as they are harmful. The privilege was not established and maintained over the past centuries as a convenient means to cover up wrongdoing but, as explained above, to encourage individuals to consult legal professionals so that they can know what is the right thing to do.

In fact, given the way that abuse has been defined of late, asking the staff and members of the EC to give up legal rights out of a claimed spiritual obligation is itself a form of abuse. Unquestioning proponents of a blanket waiver of privilege would do well to consider whether they, in fact, are the ones engaged in wrongdoing (even if only because they are uninformed).

Finally, the tactic of insisting that individuals or organizations under investigation waive attorney-privilege is a practice of prosecutors that has come under significant scrutiny as its use has increased since the late 1990s. David M. Brodsky, Steven K. Hazen, R. William Ide, and Mark O. Kasanin, commenting on proposed changes to the Federal Rules of Evidence, brought into sharp relief the problematic aspects of this “you must waive privilege for us to do our investigation” approach:

Under current governmental policies, companies do not realistically have the option to preserve the confidentiality upon which an effective attorney-client relationship is so heavily dependent and otherwise protected by the privilege and doctrine, or they run the considerable risk of being deemed “uncooperative” by the government authority— a characterization that can be a virtual corporate death sentence or, at least, extraordinarily financially punitive. Putting it another way, if the government decides a company is not being cooperative, in essence the government can act as a prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.

Although their comments were written in the context of government investigations, the danger to the SBC is the same. The messengers may well have put “the commissioned third-party” in the position to “act as a prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.”

Photo Credit: https://ph.news.yahoo.com/southern-baptist-president-calls-action-sexual-abuse-035855894.html

If the staff and members of the EC (whether in keeping with SBC polity or otherwise) do not waive privilege, will they be criticized for being “uncooperative”? If that is not what the authors of the motion intended, is it at least something that they considered? Again, these questions are ones that could have been answered months ago. They should have been answered months ago. That they were not answered in June puts the EC in a dilemma that seems, at this point, impossible for them to resolve without doing significant damage to the SBC. That’s a particular shame because the dilemma that has been set up for the EC is one that need not be faced in order to have an investigation.

Joseph Knowles is an attorney who lives and works in Virginia.
He also co-hosts the Church History Matters Podcast.

Categories
Controversy Methodology

Adam Greenway: “Anonymous Social Media Accounts” Sound Off on Litton

During Ed Litton’s appearance at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Chapel he sat down for a conversation with Seminary President Adam Greenway.

In one segment of the conversation President Greenway references his own announcement of Litton’s appearance and makes reference to “anonymous social media accounts” posting “snark” in reply.  You can see the clip in this tweet from Tom Buck, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Lindale, TX:

What makes Greenway’s comment truly inexplicable is his assertion that it is particularly anonymous accounts that offered snarky replies to the announcement. “Particularly” implies a pronounced role – pronounced, specifically, in contrast to non-anonymous accounts.

Since his tweeted announcement is still up we can check the replies and see who it was offering criticism of the Litton chapel invitation.

Some quick screengrabs from Twitter’s unsorted (i.e. not logged in) view:

In reality it appears real-name accounts outpace anonymous accounts replying by an 8-to-1 factor or better. Of course, the term snark is not defined here but it seems reasonable to conclude it is a synonym for criticism of the decision to bring Litton in. As a result, placing particular emphasis on the anonymous accounts seems both strange and inaccurate.

Again, what is going on in that chapel conversation?

Categories
Confessionalism History SBC Author Scripture

Reflecting on the Baptist Faith and Message, Part 2: The Doctrine of Scripture

The first article of The Baptist Faith and Message, the doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, addresses the doctrine of Scripture and reads as follows:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Herein is contained a robust confession of the source, nature, authority, and goal of holy Scripture. In this installment we will ponder the source and nature of the Bible, leaving the authority and goal of it for the next reflection.

The Source of the Bible: Divine Inspiration

The first sentence of this section of the confession affirms that men wrote the books of the Bible, but in doing so they were “divinely inspired.” The doctrine of inspiration states that, by a special and unique influence of the Holy Spirit, the human authors of Scripture wrote in forms that express their own individual personalities, yet nevertheless in such a way that what they wrote as Scripture constitutes the very Word of God to humanity. In other words, they did not put their own autonomous ideas down on paper, but were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they communicated God’s own words (2 Peter 1:19-21). The process of inspiration involves the Holy Spirit’s influence on the biblical authors.

But the product of inspiration is the biblical text itself, which, according to 2 Timothy 3:16, is “breathed out by God.” That phrase expresses the theological truth that Scripture itself is the product of God’s own mouth. The confession, by declaring plainly that Scripture “has God for its author” does not deny the human authorship of Scripture but rather affirms that God, by his work of inspiration in men, produced for humanity a book like no other: a book of which he himself is the author. Scripture is the very Word of God written. The Bible itself testifies to its own origin in this way numerous times, but I will note just one here: the author of Hebrews, quoting from Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:7, introduces this Old Testament quotation with the words “as the Holy Spirit says.” Examples such as this one can be multiplied many times over.

The Nature of the Bible: Revelation

The 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message spoke of Scripture as “the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man.” As a statement of fact, that is a true statement. Scripture does indeed constitute a record of the various revelatory acts of God in the various stages of history, including his revelation to the patriarchs, to the people of Israel, and ultimately to his new covenant people through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. However, the 1963 statement was revised in 2000, not so much because it was wrong, but because it was insufficient. By affirming that the Bible is a record of God’s revelation, the confession left room for some to claim that God’s revelation itself can only be identified with the historical events recorded in Scripture, but not with Scripture itself. On this view, Scripture is a fallible human testimony to God’s revelation, a revelation that occurred in the past and is now inaccessible to us except through merely human accounts of it written in the Bible.

The revision to the statement that occurred in the year 2000 addressed this deficiency by affirming that Scripture “is God’s revelation of Himself to man,” not merely a record of revelation. By identifying Scripture with God’s revelation, the statement does not deny that the historical events, culminating in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, are also God’s revelation. Rather, the statement simply affirms that the acts of God in history by which he has revealed himself have also been recorded and interpreted by his own verbal revelation.

When God reveals himself, he does so by the pattern of word-act-word. First, there is a verbal revelation announcing the revelatory act in advance. Think of all the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, written as scriptural testimonies to Christ before he ever appeared in history. After this announcing Word, God acts in history. Jesus Christ was born during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. He grew up in Nazareth, carried on a three-year public ministry, and then was crucified by Pontius Pilate before rising again and ascending into Heaven. These events, as acts of God, actually occurred in history and were witnessed by many. And then following these events, God inspired men to write about them, not only preserving their memory for future generations, but also interpreting their theological significance with God’s own interpretation of these events. The word of announcement is followed by the act, which is then followed by the word of interpretation. Scripture, as God’s verbal revelation, is an absolutely necessary part of this total revelatory work, and thus may rightly be called God’s revelation of himself to man.

One more reason the confession speaks of Scripture in this way is because, for all people at all times who are not eyewitnesses of God’s revelatory acts in history (the vast majority of humanity), Scripture is the only special revelation of God to which any of us has access. So yes, Jesus Christ, incarnate in the flesh, is indeed the culminating revelation of God. We will worship him forever, not the pages and ink of the Bible. But none of us living today can know Jesus Christ rightly apart from Scripture, the permanent written record and divine interpretation of his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.

The Holy Bible is God’s Word written, the result of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit operating upon its human authors. Consequently, it constitutes the permanent, abiding form of God’s special revelation. Whatever the Bible says, God says.

Categories
Confessionalism Ecclesiology

Reflecting on the Baptist Faith & Message, Part 1: Introduction

At the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in the year 2000, a report from a committee appointed to review and revise the convention’s confessional statement, the Baptist Faith and Message, included these words in the preface to its report:

Baptists are a people of deep beliefs and cherished doctrines. Throughout our history we have been a confessional people, adopting statements of faith as a witness to our beliefs and a pledge of our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture.

Baptists have drawn up confessions of faith for centuries. Early Baptists in England affirmed the First London Confession in 1644, which was followed by the Second London Confession, affirmed in 1677 and published in 1689. As a revision of the famous Westminster Confession of Faith (a Presbyterian confession), the Second London Confession is a detailed, nuanced, and theologically rich statement of historic, Calvinistic Baptist theology.

General Baptists (i.e., those with more Arminian views of salvation) published the Orthodox Creed in 1679. Baptists in America affirmed the Philadelphia Confession, a slightly revised version of the Second London Confession, in 1742. In the following century, a group of Calvinistic Baptists affirmed the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, a fairly brief statement of faith drawn up to define their teachings over against that of Free Will Baptists.

The Southern Baptist Convention formed in 1845 and affirmed its first confessional statement in 1858 known as the Abstract of Principles, a document drawn up as confessional boundaries for the first seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. To this day, every professor appointed to SBTS continues to sign that confessional statement.

By the early 20th century, Southern Baptists were faced with two particular challenges that they addressed at the institutional level in the year 1925. One challenge was that of funding the various agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention. Prior to 1925, Southern Baptist agencies were funded directly by the churches, which resulted in numerous agencies making direct and repeated appeals to churches for funding, a procedure that tends to become exhausting for all involved over time. In order to ensure better efficiency and adequacy of funding for all of its various agencies, Southern Baptists instituted the Cooperative Program, a funding mechanism that remains in place to this day, whereby churches give money to their state conventions that is then shared according to certain formulae with the various agencies of the state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Crawford Toy

The other challenge present in the early 20th century was the influence of Protestant Liberalism in the dominant theological institutions of Europe and America, which had produced a pervasive anti-supernaturalism among many claiming a Christian identity. In response to this challenge, the convention ratified a statement of faith, entitled the Baptist Faith and Message, which was a revision of the 1833 New Hampshire Confession. In their preface statement, the committee that produced the 1925 version of the Baptist Faith and Message made the following claim:

The present occasion for a reaffirmation of Christian fundamentals is the prevalence of naturalism in the modern teaching and preaching of religion. Christianity is supernatural in its origin and history. We repudiate every theory of religion which denies the supernatural elements in our faith.

From its inception in 1925, the Baptist Faith and Message has been a document intended to express orthodox, biblical, and Baptist theology in the face of challenges of the present day. Unlike the historic creeds of the church (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed), and even unlike historic confessions of mainline denominations (e.g., the Formula of Concord, the Westminster Confession, or the Belgic Confession), the Baptist Faith and Message has been subject to periodic revision in light of new cultural challenges. Revision of a statement of faith is not a practice that an ecclesial body would ever want to practice too often, or else the statement would tend to lose its effectiveness as a doctrinal boundary. On the other hand, as cultural challenges to the Christian faith change in every generation, it is a good practice for ecclesial bodies to have some process by which they are able to address contemporary challenges through official teachings. For Southern Baptists, that process is, at the highest level of our denomination, to revise our confessional statement periodically.

The Baptist Faith and Message of 1925 guided our convention until it was revised in 1963. In 1998, the convention adopted an article on the family that was added to the statement, and then in the year 2000 a more extensive revision was approved by the convention. The Baptist Faith and Message as approved in the year 2000 remains to this day the confessional standard of the Southern Baptist Convention. In this series I intend to explore the theology of this statement of faith and its relevance for us today.

Baptists have long been a confessional people. We would do well to look to our confessional statements for guidance in the face of today’s challenges.

Categories
Controversy

If the Pirates Leave, Only the Parrots Remain

You’re tired of pirate analogies? Me too. But the continued drifting of the Southern Baptist Convention since Nashville has only served to, now more than ever, call faithful Christians to stand for integrity and truth.

Recently I’ve seen threads by men like Pastor Jimmy Scroggins that seem to imply that the real problem in the SBC is people bringing up the problems. James Merritt told me “Talk is cheap.” But what I’m trying to communicate in this post is that not talking is quite costly.

An Old Testament Example

The prophet Micah wore no patch on his eye, and yet he still wasn’t all that beloved by his contemporaries. In fact, you might say some would have wished he would have just shut his mouth and not have been so “mean-spirited” in his proclamations. He alludes to such in Micah 2:6 –

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”

The house of Jacob preferred not to be warned of the impending doom. They much preferred the parroting messages of “Peace” (cf. Micah 3:5) instead of facing the reality of their precarious condition and need for repentance.

Calvin notes, “The ungodly think, that if they close the mouths of the prophets, all things would be lawful to them, and that their crimes would be hid, in short, that their vices would not be called to an account; as though their wickedness was not in itself sufficiently reproachful, were God to send no prophets, and no reproof given.”

The children of Jacob thought the problem was the prophets. That if the prophets would just be nicer then unity and prosperity would ensue.

But the problem wasn’t the prophets. It was the house of Jacob’s disobedience. It was their lack of concern for the Word of God. It was their own stubbornness to go their own way instead of trusting the Lord’s way. It was their increasing comfortability with the surrounding world.

But Calvin goes on to give these sobering words: “It is an extreme curse, when God gives us loose reins, and suffers us, with unbridled liberty, to rush as it were headlong into evils, as though he had delivered us unto Satan, to be his slaves.”

Silence is costly.

The Need for Prophetic Boldness

The Southern Baptist Convention finds itself in a tumultuous storm. As the ship takes on more and more water, you have some men willing to point out the holes. And you have others that seem to be less concerned about the ship’s breaches, and more about the fact that people would be so bold as to point out the obvious!

Beloved, what I am saying is we need courageous pirates. I admit it’s not the best of analogies, but here we are. We need men willing to take the ship with truth in love – to restore unequivocal surrender to her true captain, Christ.

This was never about just a last stand at Nashville. This was about continuing to be a prophetic witness to our beloved convention, preaching the truth in love, pleading with our brothers and sisters not to go the way of the world, not to abandon the sufficiency of Scripture, and not to reject the Lord’s kindness.

I am convinced that if the pirates leave, all that will remain are the parrots. Those who repeat the same poor theology. Those who proclaim to one another the peace, safety, and greatness of the Southern Baptist Convention without dealing with the cancer of pragmatism that has all but fully enveloped so many of our churches and entities.

I am not endorsing everyone who says anything negative about the S.B.C. But I am saying there are some godly voices out there like Tom Ascol, Tom Buck, Jared Longshore, and Gabe Hughes (so many more names I could mention) who love the convention so much, and those within the convention so much, that they are willing to boldly point out our errors so that we might seek the Lord’s mercy instead of arrogantly presuming upon His grace. Oh that we would fear the Lord and repent rather than being upset about tone!

I know so many get frustrated by this boldness, but do you not see how much worse it would be for the S.B.C if the Lord simply removed those voices from our midst? Can you imagine pragmatism, partialism, plagiarism, and women preaching going unchecked?

Please note that all of this isn’t about “winning” or “being proven right.” This is about the glory of our King. This is about standing for truth and calling our brothers and sisters to repentance and resting again in the gospel we proclaim. This is about standing strong in our Baptist identity. This is about being more concerned with the fact that God is watching us than we are that the world is watching us.

Let us then make it our aim to please Him.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10)

Thus, let us say, in the words of the small-town prophet, Micah:

“But as for me, I will look to Yahweh; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7)

Christ is King.

Categories
Controversy

Do you Desire Repentance or Revenge?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:14-21).

“Love is Patient and Kind” (1 Cor. 13:4).

In the book of Jonah, we learn of Jonah the prophet who fled from God’s command to preach to Nineveh, Israel’s arch-enemy at the time. God told Jonah to preach of His coming wrath towards Nineveh. But Jonah ran away to Tashish instead. He was later swallowed by a great fish sent by God, vomited up on the shore, and then he went to Nineveh in obedience to God. He preached, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4)! Nineveh responded by repenting and calling out for God’s mercy (Jonah 3:6-10). Therefore, God showed them mercy and spared them. Jonah was furious. He argued, “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah fled to Tarshish because he did not want Nineveh to repent and receive God’s mercy. He wanted God to wipe them out. He desired revenge, not repentance (Jonah 3:1-4:11). God is God. He can show wrath to whom wrath and mercy to whom mercy, due to His holy and loving character. His ways are always just.

Have you ever been unjustly wronged? Has someone taken advantage of you financially? Has someone abused his or her authority over you? Have you ever been abused emotionally, physically, or mentally? Or, maybe you know someone who has been unjustly wronged?

If so, what is the correct Christian response to being wronged?

This issue is a difficult one. If we have been wronged or know others who have been made victims, the temptation is to desire evil things to happen to the guilty. Just look at the various “discernment” blogs across the blogosphere. Many prove their lack of discernment in blogdom. They want blood now, and they’re willing to sin (slander, speculate, believe accusations without evidence, etc.) to get it, all in the name of “desiring repentance,” “protecting the innocent,” or “protecting the truth.” Yet, how can one “protect victims” by creating more through slander and unfounded accusations? How can one truly “desire repentance” while seeking to destroy the reputations of others over sins that haven’t been proven? And how can one “protect the truth” by sinning?

If we’re to be like Christ, we should desire the repentance of those who have wronged us and wronged others, since their sin is ultimately against God. We should not desire to take vengeance into our own hands. A desire for revenge is sin. “Returning evil for evil is sin” (Rom. 12:17; 1 Peter 3:9). We must be like Christ who said about those crucifying Him, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Of course, it’s not wrong to desire the sword of justice to be wielded by the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7). That’s why God ordained governments. Furthermore, it’s not wrong to desire God’s justice (Isaiah 66:22-24; Rev. 6:9-11) or Christ’s justice displayed in the local church through biblical discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). What is wrong is to desire our own sinful justice as if we are gods, as if people ultimately sin against us and not ultimately against their Creator. Jonah should have rejoiced over Nineveh’s repentance instead of calling God’s mercy unjust. Who is Jonah to question God? The goal of life is God’s glory, and if He is glorified through showing grace or wrath, we must rejoice in Him. He is always just.

Therefore, in light of these negative examples, how do we define and recognize a desire for revenge in our hearts? Jonathan Edwards, America’s greatest theologian, is helpful here. Concerning the difference between desiring someone’s repentance and desiring revenge, he wrote,

To be satisfied for their repenting, when they repent from a sense of their error, is right. But a satisfaction in their repentance, because of the evil that is brought upon them, is revenge (Jonathan Edwards, “Diary,” in Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16), 779).

In other words, a loving heart says, “How dare they sin against God! Do they not know who He is!?” and thus, rejoices when they do repent and are reconciled to Him; while a vengeful heart says, “How dare they sin against me! Do they not know who I am!?” and thus, rejoices only when bad things happen to the guilty or when they meet some other arbitrary list of demands that go beyond reconciliation with God. Moreover, once someone repents toward God, those who desire repentance will be satisfied. They’ll rejoice in the repentance of those who have sinned against God. But those who desire revenge will rejoice over the evil that occurs to those who have wronged them or if no evil occurs to them, they’ll feel like justice hasn’t taken place, even though through the cross God is just and the justifier of those who repent (Rom. 3:23-26)! Justice has been served for the guilty who are repentant and are now in Christ! Oh, the wondrous cross!

Once again, it is not sinful to desire God’s justice or the justice of the governing authorities that wield God’s sword (Rom. 13:1-7) or Christ’s justice through biblical discipline in the local church (Matt. 18:15-20). But, when justice is not rendered, we must trust that vengeance is God’s, He will repay, says the Lord (Rom. 12:9). In other words, the sins of others in refusing to carry out God’s demands for justice does not justify our own sinful attempts to take justice into our own hands through slander, speculation, assuming the worst, etc. A lack of Christian love is never justified (1 Cor. 13:1-8). If we have not love for the guilty, we are nothing! If we’re willing to sin to get “justice,” it’s not justice we seek; it’s revenge.

With these realities in mind, do you desire the repentance of those who have wronged you or others, or do you desire revenge? Does vengeance belong to you or to God? If those who have wronged you repented before God and showed fruit of this repentance, would you rejoice or would you be like Jonah? Would you not be satisfied unless evil happened to them? Would you call God’s mercy unjust?

Categories
SBC Author

A Helpful Analysis of the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting by Dr. David Schrock

David Schrock, SBC pastor and professor, over at Via Emmaus offers a helpful analysis of the SBC 2021 annual meeting. He offers 3 reasons for conventional concern:

  1. First, the unwillingness to clarify the language of Resolution 1 evidences an aversion to the task of doing theology.  
  2. Second, the unwillingness to name Critical Race Theory highlights a commitment to superficial unity over biblical truth.
  3. Third, the unwillingness to engage matters theologically reveals an ongoing malady in the health of the convention.

Schrock expounds upon each point here. His full analysis is worthy of your time.

Categories
Controversy Critical Theory Ecclesiology Methodology Missions Reform Social Justice

Kyle Whitt Goes on the Record with Significant & Specific Concerns about NAMB

Kyle Whitt has released a video with several specific and distressing claims about the doctrinal fidelity and inner workings of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board discovered during his two years working to plant a church in Washington state.

From Whitt’s Reddit post:

For the past two years I’ve been working with NAMB to plant a church in Washington state. After hours of research and conversations, I came to the conclusion that NAMB’s church planting arm, the Send Network, is pushing us to teach a false gospel. There are many other serious issues at Send and NAMB, but this video only covers the biggest and most important. I get that this is a big accusation, and believe me this is not something done lightly or without a lot of prayer. I ask that you watch the whole thing, look into what I’ve pointed out, and use this as a starting point to answer this question. I’m extremely nervous right now, as I have no idea what posting this video will result in for me, so it might take me a little bit to reply to comments. I plan on doing some follow up to help answer questions/clarify things (livestream? AMA?), but for right now I’m taking this one step at a time.

More:

Some [at NAMB] are adding specific works as a “key component of the gospel.” I assumed they were wording it poorly, talking about obedience to Christ, and the good works we do as a result of the gospel transforming us. After lots of research, and conversations (including with Dhati Lewis, head of NAMB’s church planting arm, the Send Network) it was clear that no, they’re attaching these things directly as a part of the gospel.

Watch the video here:

For the sake of our cooperative missions endeavor here is to hoping NAMB will answer Whitt’s claims as forthrightly as he has made them; more this kind of direct speech is desperately needed in this era of Southern Baptist history.

Edit

Whitt’s claims seem to echo Dhati Lewis’ controversial statements in this video: