Friday, November 09, 2007

Loving the System

Individual trustees must refrain from public criticism of Board approved actions . . . trustees are to speak in positive and supportive terms as they interpret and report on actions by the Board, regardless of whether they personally support the action.
While this might look like it came straight from the National People's Congress in China or some other Communist organization, it ironically came straight from the top of one of the most well-funded and influential Christian missions councils in the world.

While I don't have the time, willpower or desire to give a full account of these events, the Pasty Quail, an Athens-based blog, recently cited the censuring of a Southern Baptist crusader who, however gracefully and tactfully, violated the above guidelines in blog posts that "reflected poorly" on his fellow trustees.

Wade Burleson, a pastor in Oklahoma who himself is a member of the Board of Trustees of the International Mission Board, has become known throughout Southern Baptist circles for his "Robinhood" style of blogging: With delicate words, he takes esoteric knowledge from the rich, the Board of Trustees, and he passes it on to the poor, the common Southern Baptist who attends church every Sunday but knows nothing of the highly bureaucratic entity that oversees his denomination's overseas ministry.

Basically, the story goes that Mr. Burleson was censured at a recent convention for failing to retract comments that he made on his blog. Instead of focusing on positives--like the fact that the IMB budgeted $305 million this year to reach the lost abroad--issues surrounding Mr. Burleson were put on display at the convention. What's more, the censure (which I'm pretty sure is like a rhetorical slap on the wrist) was done in private, behind closed doors, after Mr. Burleson was under the impression that an agreement had been reached.

You can read the full story (at least Mr. Burleson's side) on his blog if you want, but it will suffice to say that this type of mess is what keeps the Church from reaching its full potential as an institution, and it brings up the question: Why has the church become so institutionalized? For me, someone who grew up giving to Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, the Christmas and Easter missions campaigns of the Southern Baptist Convention such news is particularly disheartening. And the worst part about it is the negative press coverage it brings. While Jesus said that we'll be known for our love, it seems that Christians in America attract attention for too many other reasons.

Just as a bad tree bears bad fruit, sinful people, though washed in the blood, can never make a perfect institution. Though I'm sure many are motivated by their desire to see God's renown increase in this world, it seems that form has replaced substance and reverence for certain rules or traditions has supplanted the desire for relevance in a changing and lost world.

The key to keep from going insane as a Christian in this context, as a Baptist pastor once told me, is to recognize the flaws in the system without becoming blind to its potential. We must identify those who believe in the system and are working to please God in it. Concentrate our energies there, and we can see spiritual returns on our investments.

I still have many friends who are serving as missionaries in the System. Like Americans who are patriotic despite their distrust of the government, these warriors continue to fight for the cause of Christ though their leadership betrays them with petty and sometimes unbiblical regulations. Let's pray that the SBC, despite its flaws, can be used miraculously for the glory of God. When bickering ceases and the trumpet sounds, he'll be the one issuing the censures.


gina said...

Here's my question, Trevor:
Why do you have to love the System to maintain your sanity? Why not scratch the System and try something else? i don't know how serious i am here, but...
Why exhaust our resources in an attempt to maintain what might be a sinking ship?

Trevor Williams said...

For one, by saying we should scratch the system, we're being way too proud, acting like we know the way forward better than those who have been trudging on it for a long time.

Secondly, if a ship is sinking with people on it--good, useful and loving people doing all they can to be used of God--the question is why WOULDN'T we exhaust our resources to make sure either they get out or the ship gets to shore?

There are good missionaries doing amazing work through the SBC. I've seen it firsthand, and I know that for all its pontification at the top of the hierarchy, the missionaries for the most part are interested in one thing at all costs: winning the lost. And a $300 million ship has a lot of treasure that can go toward doing just that.

I said that you have to love the system to maintain your sanity because the system is not going anywhere. A call for disbanding it is met on deaf ears, so we'll do better to try to reform it than to abolish it altogether. Some might say that America should disband the two-party system or cut longstanding programs like social security, but we all know that these things are so ingrained in our society that no one would dare challenge (with any kind of seriousness) their existence. But you do hear voices for reform within the system.

There might come a time for a 95 theses moment, and that's where I think Burleson is doing a great job. But for now, we should strategically focus on those within the system that are as dissatisfied with it as they are dedicated to it. Only those people will care enough to push for change, which ultimately will glorify God.

Andy said...

This post was actually incredibly relevant to my life. So thanks.

Hope you're doing well, man! Give me a call next time you're in Atlanta.