Baptist Movement. Reflections on Flexible Distinctions. Part I

Andrew Fuller

Andrew Fuller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the late 1700s in England, Baptist churches were generally “Particular.” “Particular” meant Calvinist… focusing great import on the doctrine of divine sovereignty, and minimizing or even denying human freedom of will. There were “General” (Freewill) Baptists since the beginning of the Baptist Movement in the early 1600s but during the late 1700s they had basically disappeared, only to reappear in the next century.

A man named William Carey, 1761-1834, a simple preacher/pastor in London, became convinced of the need to share the Gospel of Christ with the heathen. Heathen in this case is simply the generic term for non-Christians (neither Christian by faith or Christian by culture). He was influenced by Andrew Fuller who wrote “The Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation in 1781. That pamphlet did not argue against the doctrines of Particular Baptists fundamentally, but rather the implications of those doctrines. That is, if God chooses whom to save from the beginning of time, completely outside of human activity, then mission work is unnecessary… perhaps even an attempt to play God. Carey took on the same argument in his work, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” The term “use Means” in this long title is critical. The term means to utilize human effort to join God in his mission to reach all people with the Gospel of Christ. The argument, again, was not so much to fundamentally attack the actual doctrines of the Particular Baptists, but to challenge the implications. Carey argued that Christ commanded all Christians to share the Gospel and one should not use one’s doctrinal stance to negate such a commandment.

This was a pivotal point in Baptist mission history. Baptists adjusted themselves, altered their stance, while still holding on to certain key distinctions. Two centuries later, with a few bumps in the road in between, Baptists as a group have remained firmly committed to Missions. There have been other changes, of course. One is no longer required to be “Particular” or Calvinist to be a Baptist. I am not a Calvinist. I have friends who tell me that if I truly understood Calvinism I would be one. But their attempts to explain it only confirm to me that it is a good interpretation of filtered Scripture… but not all Scripture. That is not the point. The Baptist movement has distinctives that separate itself from other groups… and yet within those distinctives there has always been a need for flexibility to ensure the ability to adapt to changing situations and locations. Therefore, I would like to look at some of the Baptist distinctives with special emphasis on the issues of flexibility for cultural adaptation in the next two or three posts.

I would again like to add the note that although I am a Baptist, I think of myself as a Christian first, Missionary second, and Baptist third. As Christians, we are part of a family that transcends denominational differences. This “transcending” must be to a unity acknowledged and practiced or it is just theoretical or even non-existent. So my focus on Baptist distinctives is primarily for the reflection of Baptists, although all are welcome to read. It is not intended to seek to pull other Christians into the Baptist fold. I find it offensive when other Christian groups try to lure me to other affiliations and I would not seek to act in a way I find offensive.

Negative and Positive Words in Countercultural Balance

It is common to say that “Love is the most powerful force in the Universe.” It is part of romantic philosophy (if there is such a thing). It is often thought of as Christian. And perhaps it is. God is greater than the Universe. Since God can be characterized by love, then love in some sense can be seen in those lights.

I don’t think I have the expertise to give a definitive answer to the above statement. But I feel pretty confident that the following statement is true:  “Hateful Words are more powerful than Loving Words.”

Westboro Baptist Church at the United Nations ...

Westboro Baptist Church at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, on the day of Pope Benedict’s address to the UN General Assembly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If you are not sure of this… feel free to try this experiment. If you have a loved one (spouse, son, daughter, parent, fiance’, best friend), start tomorrow morning with the statement, “____, I wanted to tell you that I really hate you.” The next day, start the day with “_____, I wanted to tell you that I really love you.” To make it a fair experiment, make sure that your attitude/emotions match the words you give. No irony, no cancellation or explanation of statements later. See the effects of the statements. Effectivity is essentially the power of the statements.

You might feel that this test is rigged since you are already dealing with a loved one. If you want a more reliable test, try the same on two other people, one a person that you hate (or at least strongly dislike) and one for whom you have ambivalence.

Since, you have not done the test yet, I don’t know what results you will get (perhaps you won’t even do the test… and that is okay… maybe for the best). However, in group dynamics it is found that positive supportive words are needed more than negative critical words. A healthy, functioning group should have around 5 times as many positive statements as negative statements. As one approaches 3 to 1 ratio things are becoming risky.  Well before one gets to 1 positive to 1 negative, things start to fall apart. Any group, partnership, or marraige that has equal amount of positive and negative statements is in deep trouble. This suggests two important thoughts.

1.  Negative statements have a stronger effect on a person than do positive statements. This suggests that they should be used more carefully and rarely.

2.  Some negative statements are needed. Negative statements, being more powerful, are a greater impetus for change. Positive statements are more likely to maintain some status quo (but not always, of course).

The church (any church) must provide some negative commentary on the society around it or it has no countercultural power… it provides no visible contrast. A church that gives no negative commentary will be seen as accommodating, and maybe even supporting, cultural problems. Some churches have chosen not to talk about sin or social justice… because it sounds negative. But some negative is needed… can hardly be salt and light in a world without some genuine critique of the world systems. However, the positive statements must greatly outweigh the negative. For the church to be seen as a loving place, it must be demonstrate loving words far more often than negative words. If it fails to do that (consider the example of “Westboro Baptist Church” for a church  that appears to be only hateful because so much of what it talks about is hateful in tone and content) the church provides nothing that decorates the Gospel of Christ (recalling Titus 2:10).

Churches and Missions must balance their role of loving positive statements with loving negative statements. But the balance must be strongly towards the positive because of the power of negative words. With a healthy balance (maybe 5 positive supportive acts or statements for ever 1 negative) the church can be seen as a loving, supportive, Christlike place, while still challenging that which is wrong around them.

 

Philippine Christian Culture and Pacquiao

I must note that I am an outsider. Although I have lived in the Philippines almost 9 years, my wise is Fil-Am, as well as my children, I was born in the US, and am not Filipino by ancestry. Because of this, I am a bit removed from some of the emotional turmoil associated with the success and failures of Manny Pacquiao.

 

It is also true that I am an Evangelical Christian. However, despite the fact that it is my belief, that does not necessarily mean that I share the same attitudes with some other Evangelical Christians here in the Philippines.

 

English: Rep. Manny Pacquiao at a speaking eng...

English: Rep. Manny Pacquiao at a speaking engagement in Silliman University, Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, Philippines. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

For those who don’t know (are there some?), Manny Pacquiao is one of the greatest boxers in recent times. He has been a top-ranked boxer in several weight classes. If you want to know more about his record, Websearch him yourself. He spent most of his career as a Roman Catholic and was known for praying and crossing himself in the ring. Recently, he has changed his affiliation to Evangelical Christianity. His mentors in the faith got him to stop crossing himself (while I don’t cross myself… it is not part of my faith culture… I am not sure why some felt he must stop this practice). He also stopped the use of the rosary.

 

His most recent outings have not been great. His last three bouts have been an unimpressive win, a disputed loss, and a knockout loss. A number of Filipino Catholics have suggested that his loss stems from his change of affiliation (or faith, if you prefer).

 

Nothing surprising there… but I was surprised at how vociferously Evangelical Christians here have argued that his change of belief had nothing to do with his losses. My guess is that because Evangelical Christianity is a minority belief system in the Philippines, it seems important to be defensive in this area. Yet, it might have had an effect. Pacquiao’s increase in religious activity associated with his change of belief, as well as his greater involvement in politics and celebrity activities, probably did have an effect. It is hard to be at the top of your game when there are many distractions. Additionally, if he believes (deep down) that certain practices or talismans will bring him success, he might perform more poorly without them. That is not to say that these have power inherent to themselves, but they may have power due to the belief (conscious or unconscious) of that power. And… let’s face it… how many deeply committed Evangelical Christians do you know who are topnotch boxers anyway? (I am not a huge boxing fan, but I can think of one, and he is retired.)

 

However, because Evangelicalism is marginalized in the Philippines, it appears to be important over here to market the faith bringing success (short-term as well as long-term) to those who convert. Living here in Baguio City, there is no real downside to being an Evangelical Christian. But in some parts of the Philippines, there is clear marginalization. Being defensive about Pacquiao is pretty understandable under these circumstances.

 

What is the correct response for those outside of this clash of religious cultures? Generally, it seems best to leave it alone. I like to attack the misguided presumption that becoming an Evangelical Christian must lead to material blessing and success (one should not abuse and misquote Scripture to try to trick people into converting). But there is still room for thoughtfulness for those who are still trying to come to terms with Manny, Boxing, and Faith.

<And to be fair, I wish Manny Pacquiao all the best. I WAS sad when he lost, and hope his next bout is a win. He seems to honestly be seeking to do good for the Philippines, his faith, and for the world. This is a rare thing in a part of the world where, culturally and historically, power tended to be selfishly used to accumulate more power. Time will tell what God has for Manny, and Manny has for God.>

Belief vs Doubt vs Disbelief V (Welcome 2013!!)

Here is another quote from “In Praise of Doubt” by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld:

“In his classic study When Prophecy Fails (1956), Leon Festinger argued that people who are deeply committed to a belief and its related courses of action won’t lose this belief when events falsify its assertions, as when a prophesied event fails to occur. On the contrary, they will experience a deepened conviction, and start to proselytize in order to receive further confirmation of their belief. The more people embrace their belief, the truer this belief must be– or so their thinking goes. However, Festinger adds, in most cases there comes a moment when the disconfirming evidence has mounted to a degree that obstinate doubt creeps in. That doubt, as it grows, eventually causes the belief to be rejected– unless, that is, the believers succeed in a solid institutionalization, as has been the case with Christianity. The dissolution of apocalyptic movements is more likely when a precise date for the end of the world has been given (and has passed). Sooner or later, after this date has expired without any apocalyptic disaster having occurred, such a movement generally collapses (though one must not overlook the capacity of human beings to deny disconfirming evidence).”

Cover of "When Prophecy Fails: A Social a...

Cover via Amazon

It seems evident that Festinger (I have not read his book) sees primitive Christianity as teaching an immediate form of apocalypticism, but eventually was able to deal with the fact that Christ did not quickly return. As one who holds to Scriptural authority, I don’t see it quite that way. To me, the statements and narratives of the Apostles (Paul, Luke, and John) that questioned a quick return are as authoritative as statements that COULD be interpreted as a quick return of Christ. As such, both must be seen with each other rather than one being a cautious reappraisal and reinterpretation.

However, it did get me thinking.  There has been a lot of noise from the “prophets” and date-setters in the last few years.  Consider the quote above

1.  Harold Camping came up with a date for Christ’s return. He did not come. Camping came up with a second, and then a third. Christ did not come. It would seem pretty reasonable for people to discount Camping the first time. After all, he was using a numerological method for coming up with the date that is more akin to the occult than sound Biblical hermeneutics. Certainly after the first date was proven false, those that grabbed hold of the date should have rejected Camping and his methodology. But many many did not… it wasn’t until after the 2nd failure that people seemed more willing to question Camping. However, I am not convinced that there is a thoughtful consideration of his methods, nor a thoughtful review of what the Bible teaches about date setting. Of course, some groups, like the Jehovah’s Witness religion, has come up with numerous dates, yet has managed to survive and sometimes prosper by redefining their predictions after the fact. The problem we see with these examples is that even when a prophecy is proven false, often the prophet is not rejected… or the underlying assumptions from which the predictions are drawn.

2.  There is a tendency to reverse engineer prophecy and “spiritual battles.” Peter Wagner’s group “New Apostoloic Reformation” has done some curious activities in this area. First coming up with a curious Christianized theological paganism (territorial demons and the stuff you read in Frank Perretti’s fictions), they go to to places “spiritually mapped” as supposed centers of some sort of demon or power or other. Then they pray and pray and pray, built on the assumption that doing such will bring down or weaken the evil power emanating from that location. The general lack of Biblical support for this method of Christian ministry (as well as the underlying theology) is troublesome. One might assume their methods could at least be tested to see if it is effective. The problem is that it is hard to imagine what empirical facts could attack the underlying beliefs of the group. Reading some of their “successes” seems to be little more than grabbing newspapers for the next few months and circling all of the stuff they like and ignoring the stuff they don’t like. Using the circled items as proof of their method is hardly impressive to an outsider of the group (shouldn’t the uncircled items be considered as evidence against their beliefs and methods?). However, to a strong believer, the circled items are proof of their activity, while the non-circled show that they must continue what they are doing but with even more vigor.

3.  Here in the Philippines, national prophecies have been popular. When we arrived in the 2004, people were telling about an American “prophet” who talked about how the Philippines was going to be a great and powerful light of God in the world (wish I could remember the exact quote). It was curious some of the people who were quoting this person, since many of these people would not share much of anything of the theological beliefs of this person. Why believe the prophecy then? Because they wanted it to be true. Cindy Jacobs has made a prophecy for Eddie Villanueva that he will be president of the Philippines. She was clever enough to add a caveat in case it doesn’t come true (his poll results have been absolutely dismal the first two times he ran). A look at that prophecy with commentary is at Tinubos. In this case, the failure of prophecy is covered by the caveat (if he wasn’t elected, it is the hearers fault, not the “prophet”), and if not elected this time… maybe in 6 years, 12 years, … . Looking at a website of a church here in the Philippines, they note lots of prophecies like Prophet Robert Misst who prophesied that the Philippines is destined to be a “Prince Nation to Asia in the millennium.” Dr. Chuck Pierce prophesied that the “Philippines is a dragon slayer of seven headed dragon”.  In these cases the prophecies tickle the ears of the hearer without actually saying anything particularly meaningful.

So we see that in some cases,

  • prophecies that fail may eventually discredit the individual but fail to undermine the underlying belief structure. Or
  • caveats are added to protect the “prophet” while potentially blaming the hearer. Or
  • selective analysis of events can be reverse engineered into fulfillment of vague prophecies. Or
  • prophecies can be so desirable to the hearer that they will be accepted regardless of their veracity.

Why does this matter to me? First, bad theology tends to lead to bad results, so I am not comfortable with methods that are used that come from bad theology, and am even more concerned when the bad results don’t lead to reevaluation of the theology and methods. Second, as Festinger noted above (as quoted by Berger and Zijderveld), eventually a point may be reached where obstinate doubt pops up and adherents toggle from Belief to Disbelief. Third, related to the second point, since often these questionable beliefs are described as being Christian and inseparable from Christianity, toggling from belief to disbelief may not just involve a specific theology or method, but make them doubt the Christian faith as a whole.

I believe we should be better at teaching our confidence in Christ, but with

healthy doubt of his follower

Parable of the USS Truett (and Missionary Member Care)

Strange title. Anyway, and I may have put this story in a blogpost before, many years ago, I was on an inspection team of the USS Truett. The USS Truett was a Knox-class Frigate in the United States Navy. While on board, only for a couple of days, I was talking to a petty officer aboard. He was surprisingly forthright with me.  <I can’t verify the story… but I don’t need to. It’s a story.>

He was talking about an incident that happened the previous December. On Christmas day, everyone on the crew of the Truett was called in from liberty by the captain, to clean the ship. Of course, being in homeport, it would have been expected to have a minimum watchcrew aboard while the rest were on leave or liberty to be with family and friends.

But that was not what bothered this crewmember. What bothered him was that a few days later the captain apologized. Now, you might think that sounds backwards. One might expect the petty officer (and others aboard) to be unhappy about coming in on Christmas day and somewhat comforted by a later apology. But no… and there is a fairly simple reason if you think about it.

In the Navy, it is understood that the ship’s mission takes priority over personal life. One year, I was away from homeport approximately 300 days, and only could go home at night 2/3s of the remaining days. So being asked to work on Christmas was disappointing but part of Navy life. However, when the captain apologized a few days later, the truth was revealed. There was no operational necessity in bringing the crew to work on Christmas day… the captain was just in a bad mood.

Let’s bring this over to missionary member care. The question is often argued about how much a missionary should suffer in the mission field, or how easy it should be for them. Some missionaries are very well cared for while others are dumped in the field in a nearly destitute condition. What level of care should a missionary have?

I look at the USS Truett story and it helps me gain perspective. Missionaries are constrained by operational/ministerial requirements that will commonly bring some level of suffering or deprivation. It is part of the job, and just like the crewmembers on the Truett, it should be understood that some sacrifices are normal to do the job right.

On the other hand, however, sacrifices and suffering should not be dumped unnecessarily on missionaries any more than on Navy sailors. Suffering may be necessarily in the ministry but should not be artificially created by those whose job is to lead and care for missionaries.

Let’s take another example from the Navy. While I was in the Navy, I kept hearing from commanding officers “Safety First” or “Safety is our First Priority.” What nonsense! If that was true we would never go out to sea and never sail into harm’s way. However, my last CO said things better. He said something to the effect that “Our Priority is to Carry Out our Mission Safely.” I could understand that. We have to do what we have to do… we just need to find out how to do it safely.

Carrying that over to member care, instead of finding duality between mission and care, we bring them together. Mission Agencies need to find ways to care for missionaries so that they are empowered to do their mission.  Good member care helps missionaries be more effective in carrying out their mission. Lack of good member care tends to make a missionary less effective. Too much member care (care that blocks the negative challenges of normal ministry) is likely to make the missionary less effective as well. We don’t need recurrence of stories of “compound missionaries” living in great comfort disconnected from the mission field just outside of the compound walls.

The balance will always be a challenge, but for me the healthy balance is glimpsed at least in these two stories from my military past.

On the Other Side of the World

My great aunt Allene was a missionary nurse for a few years. By the time I knew her very well, her memory had begun to be a bit shaky, and she died more than 10 years before I even thought seriously about going into missions. If I had known where she had served as a mission nurse, I had forgotten. Now, I would be extremely curious about a friend or relative who served in the mission field. Back then, I guess my interest was less, or my knowledge of parts of the world were more limited. More recently I was curious and I tried to see if I could websearch an answer, but to no avail. Allene’s generation is long gone, and she had no children, so I was not sure who I could ask.Allene Tura Hospital

However, I was looking at some old slides I have (looking into ways to digitize them). I realized that I had a few slides from Allene and of them, there were four from her time in the mission field.

I was surprised to find that she served at Tura Missions Hospital (or now Tura Christian Hospital) in the West Garo Hills of Northeast India. I have many friends from Northeast India, including people from the same state as the hospital, and some even from the regional tribe.

So what? I don’t know. It made me think. Allene came from a little tiny rural church in the Great Lakes region of the United States (I was raised in the same little church). Then God called her, and she responded by going to one of the most remote areas of India. The difficulty of getting there would have been enormous and the culture shock must have been huge. That place would have seemed so strange and distant. Yet now things have changed. Grandchildren or perhaps great grandchildren of people that Allene cared for are now serving God throughout the world… some of whom are friends and colleagues.

I know in Evangelical circles it is often in vogue to disrespect social ministry (a foolish and ignorant controversy). Others may still respect social ministry, but consider missions hospitals to be without benefit in today’s world.  That may or may not be. But my great aunt did good as God gave her skills and passion to do and serve, and she did it faithfully.

Evangelicals also like to say that “God has no grandchildren” (meaning that conversion is an individual thing). But God has used the previous generations as an example and as faithful servants, allowing Him to use their grandchildren and great grandchildren to change the world. It feels good to know that one of my relatives was a part of that.

Manigong Bagong Pasko. A Thought for 2013

Quote from St. Columba (521AD – 597AD). Founder of a monastery in Iona that he turned into a Celtic Christian missions training school (these trainees became known as the peregrini). I believe this is a good wish for you and me (and all of us in 2013)

St Columba landing in Iona

St Columba landing in Iona (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

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“O Lord, grant us that love which can never die, which will enkindle our lamps but not extinguish them, so that they may shine in us and bring light to others. Most dear Savior, enkindle our lamps that they may shine forever in your temple. May we receive unquenchable light from you so that our darkness will be illuminated and the darkness of the world will be made less. Amen.”

 

To all, “Manigong Bagong Taon” (“Prosperous New Year” in Tagalog)