Some random thoughts on current issues
January 24, 2006
SPRINGFIELD – Some random thoughts as another January rapidly becomes February:
When I interviewed Gov. Matt Blunt immediately following his address to the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) annual meeting in October, I pointed out that Missouri churches were not represented on his specially appointed committee tasked with studying the state’s eminent domain laws.
MBC Lobbyist Kerry Messer was nearby listening and later noted to me the governor’s positive reaction to my suggestion that he keep Missouri’s houses of worship in mind as he worked with lawmakers to craft new eminent domain legislation. Just a few days before the governor was to give his State of the State Address, Messer had the opportunity to remind the governor and some staffers working on his speech about the governor’s interest in what I suggested. Because of Messer’s influence, the governor included a sentence in his address noting the stake churches have in the eminent domain issue. As the governor exited the State Capitol that night, Messer’s son, Abram, an up-and-coming lobbyist himself, bumped into the governor, who recognized the younger Messer and asked him if he noticed that “his dad’s sentence” made it into the State of the State Address. With a grin, Abram said he replied in the affirmative.
Two of the most important developments produced by the conservative resurgence in the MBC have been the rapidly increasing influence that Messer and the MBC’s Christian Life Commission (CLC), under the leadership of Chairman Rodney Albert, pastor, Hallsville Baptist Church, have provided. They have become respected and influential voices for Missouri Southern Baptists at the State Capitol and will be key leaders as we battle in 2006, in my opinion, the greatest evil to face the people of Missouri since abortion on demand: cloning.
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Two years ago at the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting in Indianapolis, a shift occurred that I’m not sure too many leaders in the convention caught. The Indianapolis convention was the most contentious in recent years. This was significant because all of the spirited debates were among conservatives – a healthy thing.
I point to three incidents at that convention that demonstrate what I mean and what they might mean for the future. The first was in the spirited debate over a resolution calling for Southern Baptist parents to consider pulling their children out of public schools. As I listened to the lively discussion between messengers, it was clear that the majority of Southern Baptists still overwhelmingly support public schools. But the fact that the debate took place and important issues were raised is worth noting. It set the stage for more substantive discussion in coming years about an issue that is not going to go away.
The second was when then SBC President Jack Graham, the outstanding pastor of the magnificent Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, stood before messengers to defend his recommendation that a committee be formed to study a possible name change for the SBC. During the debate, a diminutive grandmother went to a microphone on the convention floor and asked Graham if he could tell her how much such a study would cost. When he could not, he was scolded by the stern granny. MBC gadfly Roger Moran and I were standing at the back of the convention hall. We both burst into laughter and predicted that granny had just put the “kibosh” on the president’s recommendation. Sure enough, a few minutes later it went down in flames by an overwhelming vote by messengers. Only in the SBC can a grandmother – who understands the need for accountability – have more influence than the president of our convention.
The third came during the press conference following the presidential election. Winner and friend, Bobby Welch, pastor, First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., took three steps into the room and immediately shouted, “I got the message Southern Baptists! I hear you loud and clear!” We all knew to what he was referring: Someone had nominated a virtual unknown opponent for Welch and that opponent garnered more than 1,000 votes. It was clearly a shot from those who feel that only a handful of people are involved in the presidential nomination process. Many conservatives think it is time to turn the process back to the old days where no one knew who was running until they were nominated from the convention floor. It was yet another sign of some conservatives becoming increasingly cynical – and vocal – about convention business. Look for this trend to continue.
In fact, I mention these incidents at the Indianapolis convention because I think they are related – in spirit – to the brewing controversy involving the International Mission Board (IMB) and IMB trustee Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor and two-time president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. If you are not familiar with this issue, then you should read the stories about it on pages 16 and 17.
I predict in coming months we are going to see similar situations arise as accountability and what it means to be a trustee or board member gets a fresh examination. This year’s SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., could be a doozy.
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The latest figures from the SBC show that Missouri has the third largest number of churches registered (242) as Act 1:8 Challenge churches in the SBC (see story on page 1). This speaks volumes about our state’s commitment to missions. Right now Missouri Baptists are preparing to send teams to Colorado, Louisiana, the Bahamas, Mexico, and Romania. But even as those preparations are finalized, let us not forget our local communities. MBC Acts 1:8 Challenge “Czar” David Tolliver is ready to assist if your church is not meeting the Acts 1:8 Challenge. I encourage you to prayerfully consider getting involved today.
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The MBC State Evangelism Conference was another splendid success Jan. 23-24 at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Springfield. There was tremendous preaching, singing and fellowship (you can read all about it in the next issue of The Pathway). I am more convinced than ever that the MBC has the finest state evangelism director that any state convention could ever be blessed to have. I know of no one who has a greater heart for lost people than Bob Caldwell. If Bob is preaching near you, go hear him.
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One of the most frequently asked questions posed to me is this: “How many churches will leave the MBC following the passage of single alignment?” My answer has been consistent: I do not know. My guess is not many and those who will leave probably are not contributing much to the MBC or the Cooperative Program anyway.
However, this much I do know: the conservative resurgence in Missouri was not about money. It was about the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture and whether we would accept the rank liberalism that is destroying Mainline Protestantism.
While single alignment may cost the MBC a few churches, in the long run I believe it could strengthen the MBC. Why? I think there are many reasons, but one that I find intriguing is the message it sends to what some are calling the “Emerging Church Movement.” These are churches, some of them fast-growing, which are characteristic of the post-modern age we now find ourselves. While their approach to ministry may not always be traditional, there is a significant number that embrace orthodoxy and feature as strong expository preaching straight from Scripture as you will ever find.
I think there exists a real opportunity for the MBC and these emerging churches to engage in some substantive doctrinal discussions that could lead to a thriving partnership that will enrich everyone concerned and bring honor and glory to God.