SCBC vs. NewSpring Is No Reason to Cheer

Last month, South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) President Tommy Kelly decided to offer his opinion on recent happenings at NewSpring Church (http://baptistcourier.com/2015/01/kellystatementnewspring/). Rev. Kelly took issue with a number of things regarding the church and Pastor Perry Noble, and all but stated that the state convention was breaking ties with NewSpring.

As it turns out, this is probably going to take very little shine out of the NewSpring star, as the church has limited connections at best to the SCBC. In terms of their relationship, the denomination and the church are acquaintances. That status may change following Kelly’s fairly direct (and perhaps unprecedented?) reprimand, which bordered on opening the door and telling Noble and NewSpring not to let it hit them on the way out.

Some are cheering Kelly’s action as a commitment to sound Biblical and theological principles. But SCBC churches need to be careful how loud they cheer. In fact, they might do better to lower their heads a little about all of this while asking a simple question:  What if Dr. Kelly had done this to your church or your pastor?

Will your congregation be the subject of a letter or statement, because of some belief, position or action that you/your pastor has taken?

In case readers may have missed this from previous posts, I am no apologist for NewSpring. I have serious issues with Perry Noble and the approach of the church on many issues that I will not discuss here. If anyone would like to discuss it, I will be more than happy to talk, message or email with you about it.

Dr. Kelly’s statements and opinions are not the problem, but his approach in offering them is. Unless there is much to this story that is not readily available, Dr. Kelly may be setting a dangerous precedent. At best, it is un-Baptist, and at worst, it is less than Christ-like.

Dr. Marcus Buckley has on his blog shared similar concerns, and expressed that he directly contacted Dr. Kelly on the matter. Let me confess–perhaps in error–that I have had no direct contact with Dr. Kelly, as Marcus Buckley has. I am neither a pastor nor a messenger in the SCBC, although my membership resides at a cooperating church. This is offered as a matter of observation from a distance, with no “inside” knowledge. Please take that grain of salt with this piece.

Baptists are people who claim that Holy Scripture is their only authority for faith and practice. We have always disagreed–usually loudly, often angrily, and occasionally with dangerous volatility. We certainly do not mince words when calling out those with whom we disagree. Until the last 30 years or so, we managed to do that without figuratively cutting one another’s throats or denying churches the freedom to follow a different interpretation or path.

What business is it of the South Carolina Baptist Convention or Dr. Kelly to encourage churches to break fellowship from NewSpring because of their Biblical interpretation? In addition, is this a course of action that will become common practice for other churches with different interpretations?

Baptists practice action by community, which means study and recommendations and votes on issues, particularly one as grave as calling for the dis-fellowship of a church from other Baptists.

While all that talking and shouting and voting has its own pitfalls, it is who we are; and I believe it is who we need to be. We are not a church of decrees, but a church seeking input in the prayerful hope of common ground. We do not always find it, but we should seek it.

Furthermore, such an approach has to allow for the fact that we (I) might be wrong. As strongly as I disagree with the church growth movement and mega-church mentality, I am in no position to declare it ultimately heretical or worthy of being shunned. While they may not grant me a seat at their table, what makes us worthy of denying them a seat at ours?

The perception is that Dr. Kelly’s statements represent an official position of South Carolina Baptists. I have several questions regarding that:

1. What body within the South Carolina Baptist Convention authorized this statement from Dr. Kelly?

2. Did the members and messengers of the Convention authorize this in any way?

-Would not a statement that appears and is being received as official require action      by authorized messengers?

3. In recent years, local associations have denied churches fellowship for many things, including the ordination of women as deacons or to the ministry. Is the SCBC now stepping into the role of making these decisions about which churches are worthy of fellowship?

-It is also important to note that local Baptist associations vote on such issues.

4. Was NewSpring or Perry Noble offered a chance to respond to the critique in any kind of open forum, committee, or Convention gathering? (Perhaps they were–if so, it would help for Dr. Kelly to share that).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly:

5. Did the leaders of the convention follow the Biblical standard of Matthew 18? Again, if they did, it would be valuable to know that.

When confronted with what we believe to be un-Biblical actions, it is critical that Christians elaborate with an uber-Biblical response. If Perry Noble and NewSpring are out of line, then church/convention leaders should approach them. If they are rebuffed, approach again, with witnesses. If there is no resolution, then take the matter before the entire body–in this case, the messengers of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

Some might argue that Noble and the church are notorious for ignoring criticism and such an approach would do no good. Perhaps this is true. But my concern is not what NewSpring does. It is that I/we, as Baptists and Christians, do what God commands of us, in all humility, before distancing ourselves from brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to make every effort at peace, until all possibilities for reconciliation are exhausted. When that has happened, then we discuss what that means for our fellowship.

As Baptists, this means action of the entire Body of Christ, not just a few or even one. No matter our feelings on Perry Noble or NewSpring, we need a stronger, more prayerful effort to coexist even through disagreements, with greater charity towards freedom in Christ and greater unity in the areas where we can agree. And above all, we should act out our efforts with love.

Do we want to be judged, as Baptists and Christians, for treating others in the same way that we feel they have treated us? Perhaps the more Biblical approach is to treat them in the same way that we want to be treated, no matter how strongly we disagree.

And it is our calling to do so, no matter how we feel about the actions of the other towards us.

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Is Our Faith Defined by Our Hate?

Few people will believe this, but I went to the grocery store in the middle of the Super Bowl.

By the way, if you’re looking for crowd-free shopping, the Super Bowl is a perfect time for it. And with DVR these days, nothing really stands in your way here.

Part of my reason for going was that I, like some other people, just did not care who won. I do not like anything about the Seattle Seahawks and their “12th Man” handkerchiefs (which is yet another rip-off of the only original and true fan towel). 12 is exactly the number of fans Seattle had until two years ago.

The New England Patriots? Please. I just hope they confiscated their video cameras as they came into the stadium and replaced them with air pumps. Who really needs to hear more about how Tom Brady is actually the Pope in disguise AND the “Greatest Quarterback Ever?” (Okay, the quarterback part happens to be true…but that does not mean I have to like it).

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Full-sized footballs and limited video cameras were used for all six of these Super Bowl victories.

Then it occurred to me why I had zero interest in watching this game, save for a very exciting last 5 minutes. I despise both of the teams playing almost as much as I like my own team. Yes, I want the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the Super Bowl every year, but I want just as much for certain other teams to not win. So many times, I catch myself saying, “Well, if Pittsburgh doesn’t win it, then I hope _________ doesn’t.”

(As if you could not guess, Baltimore is at the very top of the fill-in-the-blank list).

I began to think about this attitude, this spite for other teams that nearly exceeds my fan-dom for “my” team. Funny how we use that term “my” in reference to sports teams, even if we never attended the college, lived in the city, or actually put on a uniform.

It then occurred to me that my attitude towards the NFL may be far too reflective of the Christian life. This is not some deep theology blog, but rather a simple observation of how sports can imitate life, even in the religious realm.

We often allow ourselves to be defined more by what we hate than by how we love, by our spite rather than our compassion. It is always easier to rally people to be against something than it is to persuade them to be for something. Believers–and sometimes their preachers–lean towards this tendency at an alarming rate.

Christianity is devolving towards defining itself by what it hates more than by what it lifts up. We cannot disagree without being profoundly disagreeable. We choose our sides and go to war, well beyond any of the typical labels of liberal vs. conservative. It is the progressives vs. fundamentalists, traditional vs. contemporary, Calvinist vs. Arminian, complementarian vs. egalitarian.

And round and round we go…and this is just the short list. Is it possible that we want others to be wrong just as much–or more–than we want to be right in Jesus Christ?

Think about some of the things that we read and write and say among believers. We refuse to simply argue our point of view. Instead, we think in terms of systematically destroying any opposing point of view. We want all to know Jesus Christ and His sacrificial love, so long as they view him and that love through our particular theological prism.

These disputes are not reserved to debates between Ken Ham and Bill Nye. The blogs and Twitter wars and sickening comment sections filter down to the grassroots level of the church. We battle for our way and our point of view to win out, and we are willing to cut into our brothers and sisters in the pew in order to keep things going our way.

Disagreements, debates, and even arguments over positions and approaches to Christian faith are inevitable. And we sometimes need to open a critical eye to analyze the impact of certain actions and situation. If our analysis and critical thought turn to a desire to defeat others rather than exemplify Christ, we put ourselves into an extremely unhealthy place.

I cannot enjoy certain football games because of my spite for the teams involved, and that is a problem. If we are so spiteful towards one another that we have to separate into our own little theological clubs and fraternities and sororities–where everyone must agree–then we have a much more serious issue than football on our hands. Because we are spiritually sick.

If our desire to be right is so powerful that we cut off members of the Body of Christ, then we as believers need to consider:  Are we for Christ, or are we against others? Do we truly desire to elaborate the love of Jesus, or do we just want to be right? God is not to be used as our personal gatekeeper to decide who is in and out of the club.

Let us not be foolish enough to think that we can simply all just get along. But let us also not be foolish enough to see that our differences can cut us off, from one another and from Christ.

It is not about being right, but about God being right. We practice this by recognizing that we are not God, no matter how right we think we are. We practice this by following the words of Paul: Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Not one word is included about winners, losers, or hating those that disagree with us. It is bad enough to hate a football team. When we begin hate other Christians because they disagree with us, we have to ask ourselves if we want to be right more than we want to follow Jesus.

And perhaps we should ask if we really know Him at all.