Thursday, September 10, 2009

Conservatism, Legalism and Those Dreaded Liberals...

Does anyone else get tired of the all the name calling? I find it funny and tragic that in the world of religious politics one has to "prove" his conservative credentials in order to be taken seriously. In the Southern Baptist Convention one must sign the "Baptist Faith & Message" in order to serve as a professor or missionary. Now, the SBC has every right to make sure that their representatives aren't teaching heresy. But come on. Baptists have historically prided themselves on being a "non-creedal" group. And yet, here they are, forcing people to bow at the Baptist altar. It isn't enough that people pledge their lives to spread the word of God to unreached people groups halfway across the world, leaving friends and family behind. No. They also have to sign a document created by men. I know some Baptist "elites" who refer more to the Baptist Faith and Message than they do scripture. I know more Baptists who think it is more important to give money to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering than it is to witness to lost friends and neighbors. When things like this happens, something is wrong.

Jesus told us, the church, to be salt and light in the world. We have a mandate from our King to make disciples who follow HIM, not a denomination. Yet, our seminary's and churches are often more concerned with turning out good Baptists than they are committed Christians. They claim their Christianity is expressed in their conservative principles, and yet their conservatism have turned into Pharaseeism. That's right.

In the late 70's and early 80's there was a "conservative resurgence" that happened in the SBC. It started out as a worthy cause and movement that sought to restore Biblical principles and practices to a denomination that was losing its bearing. Now, 30 years later, that same movement is destroying the convention because people do not know when to quit. Now, people must prove they are conservative. When this happens, legalism becomes the order of the day. We will provide a set of rules (Baptist Faith and Message) and you must adhere strictly to these rules and if you disagree at any point, we will call you a LIBERAL. In Jesus' day, those rules were called the "tradition of the elders." And guess what? Jesus broke them. He despised them and he led others to break them. The Pharisees hated him. The people loved him. God the Father, approved of Him.

You see, what I believe is happening today is akin to Jesus' day. God is starting to move in many churches in America today, but it doesn't look like the same stale, dead, lifeless, boring, pew warming, plastic relationship of the past 40 years. People are tired of legalism. People are tired of rules that make no sense, don't bring them any closer to God, and lead people to compare righteousness as though it is something any of us posses. God is moving and the results are real. People are connecting with God and with people, but they are shedding the legalism and the establishment is not happy with it.

Instead of celebrating that God is opening hearts and leading people to himself, they are actually fighting it. They are angry that pastors aren't wearing suits every week. They are angry that we aren't treating the hymn book as a sacred object. They are angry that the church is talking about issues like sex. They are angry that young pastors would rather spend their energy planting new churches than fighting the legalists in dying churches. They are angry that young adults would rather meet in small groups than in Sunday School. They are angry that allegiances are to the Bible to Christ himself and not to denominations. They are angry that we are not playing by their rules anymore.

It seems that the traditional crowd always has a problem with new movements of God because they never quite take us back to the old days. In the 1970's, again, there was a great movement of God. It was the called the "Jesus Movement." Thousands of hippies came to know Christ and they were indeed transformed. They were rejected by the establishment because they didn't cut their hair, smash their guitars, or put on a suit. So, instead of being an influx of new life into the Baptist church, they were rejected and went elsewhere to serve Jesus.

Here is a question I would pose to our friends that are trapped in tradition. If your traditionalism was successful and people were converted and all was right in the world, then where is the fruit today? Why are Baptist churches reporting fewer and fewer baptisms every year? Why, if your traditions were so good, are most "traditional" churches today dying? Why didn't you pass on the legacy of faith? The truth is that man's traditions never accomplish what we think they do.

So, what is the point of this rant? Lets stop for a moment and see if maybe it is time for a serious overhaul. I find it ironic that there is currently a document circulating through the SBC that is calling for a "Great Commission Resurgence." Many are happily signing it not realizing that it means they agree that the SBC failed to fulfill the great commission for at least a generation. I find it sad that there are still people fighting the battles of the late 1970's, not realizing that the world has changed. The culture has changed. If we continue to wonder where the good ole days went, maybe we should stop and ask if they were ever really that good to begin with? If it failed to produce and reproduce disciples of Jesus Christ, then it failed in its mission. Maybe it is time to get back to SCRIPTURE ALONE, FAITH ALONE, AND GRACE ALONE.

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