There was conflict in the early church. Jewish believers wanted Gentile believers to keep the Jewish law. Gentiles wanted Jews to avoid purchasing meat in the marketplace which had been offered to idols. In their minds this meat was closely associated with the pagan lifestyle from which they had been delivered. James made an intriguing pronouncement. While not giving the Jews everything they wanted, he said that the Gentiles should abide by certain “necessary things.” (Acts 15:28, 29) One of them was a clear moral issue (fornication). Others were matters of judgment and testimony (abstaining from blood or meat offered to idols).
I. An Examination of the Problem
A. There are some people, who are by nature, innovators. They are always looking for a better way to get the job done, a more efficient method of disseminating the truth, a vehicle by which they can get the Gospel to more individuals. Dr. Jack Hyles was an innovator. He was largely responsible for the implementation of the bus ministry in many of our churches. He had a huge influence in encouraging us to engage in personal soulwinning. He used promotions in a way that had not previously been used. (Dr. Hyles gave free cruises as Sunday School prizes back in the ‘60’s!) Today’s innovators love to use technology. They are trying to figure out how to use the Internet to get out the Gospel, how to use social media to disseminate truth, and how to use up-to-date graphics to communicate with this generation.
B. There are some people, who are by nature, seers. They see dangers that are still some distance down the road and caution us about the negative effects they will have on us. Bob Jones Jr. “blew the whistle” on Jack Van Impe before anyone else recognized a problem. In the last issue of his magazine, Faith for the Family, he said of Dr. John MacArthur’s views on the blood of Christ, “MacArthur’s position is heresy.” Seers worry about where particular trends will lead. They peer off into the distance, see “evil, and hide” themselves. They encourage us to be similarly cautious. (There are, of course, some seers who see danger where none exists.)
Both innovators and seers are certainly necessary.
My purpose in writing this is to be a peacemaker. My message to the seers is not every innovation is bad. Not everything new is New Evangelical, not everything unusual is unbiblical. My message to the innovators is not all cautions are crazy, and not all warners are wackos.
II. The Examples
There are divisions among good men about the use of . . .
A. Technology. Some see a screen as a powerful tool to impact people with the truth. They like the fact that the congregation is looking up at a screen when singing rather than down into a hymnbook. They like using maps, pictures, quotations, and graphics to make the points of their sermon clear and to drive them home to the audience. I’ve always found it intriguing that some believe that a screen is a perfectly appropriate place to show pictures of the mission field but not to display the words of a hymn.
Others worry that a dependence on technology may make us less dependent on the Holy Spirit. They fear that using an IPad which contains the Bible will not be as powerful as holding up a Book which is entirely the Word of God (except for the concordance, maps and notes ☺). Some use email, text messages, Twitter, Facebook and other social media extensively to reach people with truth. Others fear that this could lead to a departure from door-to-door, person-to-person soulwinning.
B. Style. There are those who are bothered by loud preaching. They will refer to those who are fiery in their style as “screaming Mimi’s.” They believe such an approach turns off this generation. On the other hand, there are those who believe that if a person doesn’t scream, they cannot be Spirit-filled. (The Scripture does tell us to “cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet . . .” – Isaiah 58:1) It also tells us that the Apostle Paul “reasoned” with people out of the Scripture and “persuaded” them. (Acts 17:2-4)
C. Terminology. This may be the area in which people are the most sensitive. A man is criticized because his auditorium is called a Worship Center or his lobby is a narthex. We have an auditorium and a lobby. But I must confess that the word worship is in the Bible, whereas the words, auditorium, lobby and narthex are not. One man passes out “visitor cards” on Sunday. Another distributes “guest cards” and yet another asks those who do not regularly attend to fill out a “connection card.” None of these terms have any foundation in Scripture.
Many years ago, a large Baptist church in Minnesota paid a marketing group $50,000 to conduct a study to determine how they could reach more people. The conclusion: instead of calling themselves Grace Baptist Church, they should simply call themselves Grace Church. I’m glad I never spent $50,000 of the Lord’s money for bad advice; advice my conscience and convictions would never allow me to follow. There are words we use (and I use them) to describe our positions. Words like “fundamental” and “independent.” Others use words like “orthodox” and “autonomous.”
None of these are Bible terms.
The term “Baptist” is.
Our Lord was baptized by John the Baptist. The Lord made a distinction between the old and the new covenants in the person and ministry of John the Baptist (“The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” – Luke 16:16)
The word “church” is a Bible word. Our Lord died for the church (Ephesians 5:25). He established the church (Matthew 16:18). He promised to perpetuate the church (Matthew 16:18).
It is true that some terms we would use to explain ourselves to each other would mean nothing to the people we are trying to reach. I would never knock on a door and say, “Hi, I’m Pastor Ouellette from the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport. We’re an independent, fundamental, separated, Pre-millennial, King James only, Devil-hating, sin-fighting, compromise-avoiding, Pro-Life, Anti-Gay marriage, conservative music, family-oriented, mission-minded, stewardship-emphasizing, soulwinning church.” We are all of those things. But the person I meet at the door, first, needs to know the Gospel (“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” – John 16:12).
One of our daughters is adopted (I always forget which one J). When Krisy and I were preparing for the home study, Dr. Hyles gave us some wise advice. He said if we were asked what kind of church we were affiliated with, we should simply say “Baptist.” If we were pressed as to what kind of Baptist church, we should say “First Baptist Church.” In other words, he told us not to use terminology that those conducting the home study might not understand. Even more importantly, he was advising us not to use terminology that would cause those conducting the home study to misunderstand us.
One of my friends has “Church Growth Conferences.” If you look up the Church Growth movement, you will find that its roots are thoroughly New Evangelical. It was founded by Donald McGavran and based at Fuller Theological Seminary for many years. I do not believe my friend is a New Evangelical, nor do I criticize him for using the words “Church Growth.”
Another friend has added extra “arms” to his publishing ministry. His efforts to get good books in places like Cracker Barrel and Wal-Mart will be enhanced by using a name that would better be understood by the general public. I concur with his action and do not believe he is in any way compromising.
Some years ago, one of my friends was criticized because the word “Baptist” was not in the name of the church he pastored. I explained to his critics that my friend clearly identified his church as being Independent Baptist. In fact, he advertised it under “Independent Baptist churches” in the Yellow Pages. When they persisted in their criticism, I would say, “Where did you go to college?” One would say, “Hyles-Anderson.” Another, “Crown College.” I would reply, “Oh, so you didn’t go to a Baptist college?”
“Well, of course I did,” they would reply. “Well,” I would continue, “The word ‘Baptist’ is not in the name of your college.”
Personally, I would never pastor a church that does not include “Baptist” in its name. Our church is the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport, and the Lord has allowed us to establish the Bridgeport Baptist Academy, the Bridgeport Baptist Institute, and Bridgeport Baptist Childcare. For me, the word Baptist is a Bible word and non-negotiable. The word “church” is likewise a Bible term and non-negotiable. I must be careful, however, not to allow my strong preference for words like “independent” and “fundamental” to make me look down on my brethren who may believe the same thing but wish to explain it in a slightly different way.
D. Association. One of the strongest reactions I note of the innovators to the seers is when the seer cautions us that certain terminology and practice is associated with an unscriptural movement. I fully recognize that this is a difficult area. Any good thing can be associated with a bad thing. The ink with which my Bible was printed may have been produced by a firm whose owner is immoral. The paper may have been made from trees forested from the land of an atheist. Nonetheless, there is a Biblical argument to be made about the matter of association. The entire issue of eating meat was a matter of association. Paul clearly said that the idol was nothing. Waving the meat in front of the idol did nothing to it. And yet, in the minds of young Christians, it was a stumblingblock. He said, “If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth.” (I Corinthians 8:13).
E. Influence. Innovators are always looking for ideas. They are willing to read widely, even from sources with whom they may disagree in order to get new thoughts that will help them to be more effective in ministry. Seers are cautious about reading from those who positions are in some areas, unscriptural, and who might influence them in the wrong direction.
I seldom read anything by a New Evangelical author. I much prefer to read a biography.
But this is not an area over which I would break fellowship. Both Dr. Rice and Dr. Hutson put reviews of books written by non-Fundamental authors in the Sword of the Lord. Some of their dearest friends recommended against reading such books, yet they worked closely with Dr. Rice and Dr. Hutson and loved and respected them.
III. The Encouragement
I would offer a few thoughts to my friends who are innovators and my friends who are seers.
A. We should always just assume the best of our brethren. (“. . . charity thinketh no evil;” – I Corinthians 13:5). A critical spirit which is rapid to condemn is not Biblical.
B. We should reach out to those about whom we are concerned. Too often, we push them away when we see some tendency that may trouble us. How much better it would be if we drop an encouraging note, make a positive phone call, and take some time to understand their heart. Years ago, the liberal writer, Michael Kinsley, was quoted in the Weekly Standard. He said the difference between Liberals and Conservatives is that Conservatives were looking for converts while Liberals were looking for heretics. In other words, Conservatives were trying to convince people of their position while Liberals were more interested in “enforcing discipline” on those who did not “toe the party line.” I want to be looking for ways to draw people toward truth, not excuses to push them away.
C. If we feel the need to publicly oppose one of our independent Baptist brethren, we should talk to them first. Several years ago, I read a lecture that had been delivered to a group of my pastor friends. The lecture was anti-King James, anti-soulwinning, pro-Calvinist, and took a position on the blood of Christ similar to that of Dr. John MacArthur. Though it was unusual for me, I felt led to write a response in order to help young preachers who might be confused by this address. I called the brother, told him what I was contemplating, and made sure I understood his position. (A couple of my friends had said, “He didn’t mean that,” and urged me not to respond. The speaker assured me he had meant what he wrote and read to the pastors.) After I wrote my response, I asked several wise and Godly men to read and comment on it. Next, I faxed a copy of my response to the brother with whom I had disagreed. Only after these steps did I mail out my response.
My good friend Dr. Paul Chappell wrote a wonderful book entitled The Road Ahead. In the book, he acknowledged that there had been some faulty leadership in our independent, fundamental Baptist movement. It was an effort on his part to be honest, to be transparent, and to separate his own position from the unscriptural positions of some others. Some of my good friends felt that he was maligning the entire movement. Since I read the book three times before its publication and was privileged to have several conversations with Dr. Chappell about it in advance, I can assure them that they are mistaken. Bro. Chappell’s entire purpose was to draw young men to the truth, to keep them from leaving an independent, fundamental Baptist position. The point he was making was that he and many others of us always opposed error, whether it was in our crowd or another; that even though a small percentage of our leaders had behaved inappropriately, the position we held was still Biblically correct.
What is interesting to me is that in almost every case, the very few who took the time to speak with Dr. Chappell about their concerns found they had far less disagreement than they had first thought.
D. We must be careful not to be more troubled by the quirks of the right crowd than by the compromise of the wrong crowd. All of us have preferences. Some of us may let our preferences become hang-ups. I have known of preachers who criticized four-color tracts, railed against the use of screens, opposed flared trousers and wire-rimmed glasses, and required that any speaker in their pulpit wear a white shirt. I know preachers who strongly oppose facial hair on men. I know of at least one pastor who believes that men must allow their facial hair to grow. Some may respectfully disagree with such attitudes, while others may make good-natured jokes about them. But there are those who find it necessary to vehemently disagree.
But, are these “quirks” really worse than changing Bibles? Do they reach the level of approving of alcohol, using racy language in the pulpit, mocking any standard of separation or operating a youth program which is modeled after American Idol? How often do the young men troubled by the (sometimes legitimate) faults of Fundamentalism express equal outrage against those who are guilty of “turning the grace of God into lasciviousness”?
E. We should allow people time to come to the right conclusion without assuming they are compromisers. Dr. Wayne VanGelderen Sr. told me of a conversation he had with Dr. John Rice in the late ‘50’s. Dr. VanGelderen had led his church in Miami to withdraw from the Southern Baptist Convention. This was a courageous and a correct decision. It was also costly. Bro. VanGelderen was disturbed at others who were staying in the convention. He expressed his concern to Dr. Rice. Now, it is important to remember that Dr. Rice took an extremely strong stand against the Southern Baptist Convention. However, Dr. Rice said to Bro. VanGelderen, “Are they wicked, son?” Bro. VanGelderen thought for a moment and said, “Yes, they’re wicked.”
“Are they all wicked?”
“Yes. They’re all wicked.”
“How long have you been out, son?”
“Were you wicked six months ago?”