By Allen Palmeri
JEFFERSON CITY—The attempt to pursue Biblical reconciliation in the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) is tied to an acknowledgment of the seriousness of sin that is prominently mentioned in a 2004 document adopted in July as part of the Peace Committee’s final report.
The resolution “On Holiness and Cultural Forces of Influence” uses the phrase “seriousness of sin” six times. Peace Committee Member Jay Scribner has deliberated its significance and concluded that understanding it requires a keen sense of history.
“The church, for a long time, has neglected some key elements which God has instituted in order for us to have healthy relationships,” said Scribner, who retired as pastor of First Baptist Church, Branson, in 2005 after 28 years of service.
Scribner really does mean a long time. He said Missouri Baptists need to come to grips with how Constantine (274-337), referred to as the first Christian emperor of the Roman world, has influenced the history of the church. Rights, freedoms, and respectabilities granted by the government to those early believers in the fourth century have managed to, over several centuries, divert the church from her intended course, Scribner said.
“The church began to take on the image and the earmarks of the world’s system,” Scribner said. “There are many factors which I could highlight at this point to show the extreme damage that Constantine brought about regarding the institutional church. Let me simply say that for centuries, the church has been in a digressive mode whereby we do not even begin to resemble the Biblical structure of what God has intended for His church.”
The seriousness of all of that sin down through the centuries has taken its toll.
Missouri Baptists, like many groups of American believers, are struggling even as they realize that they must enter into a pattern of activity that is characterized by a healthy relationship with God, Scribner said. The next objective would be to have healthy relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. We strive for this, he said, so that the world will see how much we love God, prompting people to want this type of love relationship.
“Unfortunately, we have neglected these key elements,” said Scribner, who served as president of the MBC in 2000.
By no longer celebrating Biblical feasts, he said, we have missed out on the benefits of meeting with God in a proper spiritual relationship.
“Because we have neglected these feasts and do not have a proper understanding of a Sabbath rest, then life simply goes on at our own schedule, or own pace, and with our own activities,” Scribner said. “Consequently, we neglect the most precious relationship which we have in life – our relationship with God the Father on an ongoing basis.”
Maintaining a proper relationship with our Father will result in personal conviction of sin, personal repentance, holiness, Biblical standards of living, a passion to know God more fully, and a desire to walk obediently in the principles and precepts of His word, Scribner said.
“At the very least, a failure in these areas should not go unattended for more than one week,” he said. “That would mean the next time we meet with Him in our Sabbath rest. Above and beyond that, during each of the specified feast celebrations, God would call our attention to unique aspects of His mercy, grace, power, and provision during these celebrations.”
Scribner, who has observed in recent years the fracturing of various relationships in Missouri Baptist life based on allegiances to certain personalities or perceptions of different events, said a proper relationship with the Father on an ongoing basis would have been the remedy.
“Unfortunately, we have not understood the necessity of these Biblical parameters having to do with our relationship with God the Father,” he said.
The structure that we call church, Scribner said, includes some “gross abominations to God.” Besides no longer celebrating the Biblical feasts, these ongoing barriers to holiness are:
Settling for the observation of pagan celebrations such as Easter and Christmas;
Husbands and fathers no longer assuming appropriate responsibilities for leadership in the home or the church;
Structuring worship services so that the Holy Spirit is often not on the agenda, meaning He cannot take part;
Being so concerned about the style of music that we have no concept of the Biblical motive for music;
Relegating theological intelligence to the senior pastor and taking away any incentive for true Biblical discipleship on a personal level;
Putting the pastor up front and elevating him on a platform while separating the people in the pew just like Constantine told us it should be done; and
Holding God to a timetable in the worship service, thus limiting our excitement and leading to a failure to understand the Biblical mode of celebration as a natural outgrowth of our reverence for God and appreciation for His grace.
Scribner has concluded that we are functioning in the flesh.
“We need to repent of this sin in relationship to God, and in relationship to one another,” he said. “We’re not going to have healthy churches until we deal with the sins in our personal lives, deal with sins corporately within the church—which may require church discipline—and deal with sins between brothers and sisters in Christ.
“We almost never hear the word repentance coming from the pulpits. That is a foreign concept and a forgotten discipline. There is no longer any personal responsibility and accountability in our lives, in our churches, and in our culture.”