Saturday, June 16, 2018

Southern Baptist Convention '18

I enjoyed my time at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Dallas. It was my first time getting to attend the annual meeting, although I have attended several of our state conventions here in South Carolina. I was there both as a student at Southwestern, and as a messenger from Putman. 
            On Sunday afternoon we got to  attend the Text-Driven Preaching Micro Conference led by Dr. David Allen. There was a panel of pastors and professors that make up the SWBTS School of Preaching, including Mac Brunson and Kyle Walker. Dr. Allen asked them questions and took questions from the audience. Sunday night began the Pastors' Conference where we heard sermons from Juan Sanchez, James Merritt, and Tony Evans.             
            On Monday we were privileged to attend the closed-door questions and answers time with the members of the Executive Committee, which was very educational. Throughout the day I attended the other nine sessions of the Pastors' Conference, listening to Bryan Carter, Cameron Triggs, Jack Graham, Ray Pritchard, Frank Pomeroy, Robert Smith, Daven Watkins, Charlie Dates, and J.D. Greear. 
            On Tuesday morning I got to observe open motions from the floor. That time slot can provide fireworks for the next day and a half, and it is the place where both problems and progress are born. As much as it can be a nerve-wracking time, it is necessary and a foundational element of the SBC. With millions of Baptists and thousands of messengers, it is incredible to think that any person can grab a microphone and speak, especially considering that the president has no indication as to what is about to be said. 
            Motions should be submitted in writing prior to the convention, but sometimes issues come up after that deadline has passed. Two such issues occurred this year: the removal of Dr. Patterson and the late addition of Vice President Pence to the schedule. Several motions were made from the floor in light of these events. One motion was made that the SBC adopt a policy that says no person running for public office shall speak at future conventions; this motion included a concession that the local mayor or person of equivalent office can deliver a welcome as Governor Abbott did this year. Another motion was made that called for the immediate removal of each of the members of SWBTS’ board of trustees’ executive committee; a less severe motion was also made that would officially review the actions taken that precipitated the removal of Dr. Patterson. Each of these motions received a second and was moved on to the next phase.
            The motion involving politicians speaking to the convention will appear on the ballot in 2019, while the motions surrounding the SWBTS boards were set for debate and vote on Wednesday. After the debate was over the messengers overwhelming voted to keep the board of trustees, a decision I was glad to see. The other significant debate occurred Tuesday morning when we were voting on the next budget. A motion was made to amend the proposed budget in the book of reports to defund the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which again I was glad to see overwhelmingly voted down. It was an honor to be able to raise my ballot in defense of these issues. While I may have personally found these motions to be misguided, it is the ability of any messenger to have equal say that makes the convention so strong. In the '90s a teenage girl once made a motion that led to adding events for teenagers during the convention, and this year a nine year old boy made a motion to add a new day to the special events calendar (Children’s Ministry Sunday), so it is true that every person has a voice.
            One part of the business I was looking forward to was the seminary presidents’ reports. I had been looking forward to it just as a Southwestern student, getting to hear a live report from my president, but the shakeup obviously added a new element to it. I have the utmost respect for Dr. Bingham, and I knew all eyes would be on him. As I knew he would do, he masterfully addressed the elephant in the room without throwing anyone under the bus. He was tactful and graceful. I think he may have filibustered for a few minutes knowing that he was going to be barraged with questions, and when they came he handled them very well. I also applaud the other five presidents for answering tough questions well and standing with Dr. Bingham; this could have been a time for competition among the schools, but it looked like teammates pulling together.
            While each of the reports was interesting, I think the most exciting was the International Mission Board report given by David Platt. After giving examples of how many things were heading in the right direction, he said, “In other words, the IMB is open for business.” That line drew applause because the IMB was in trouble just a few short years ago. Platt has done a great job, so I will be sorry to see him go; I did not know until he mentioned it his report that he is leaving to return to the pastorate, so I will be praying that a successor is found soon. The WMU, like Platt, shared stories that gave me goose bumps. It was exciting to hear about great things God is doing through Southern Baptists around the world.
            We also had to elect officers for 2019, as Steve Gaines concluded his second term this year. The Convention President for the annual meeting in Birmingham will be J.D. Greear, with First Vice President A.B. Vines and Second Vice President Felix Cabrera joining him. Stephen Rummage was elected to deliver the convention sermon, with Josh Smith on standby as the alternate. We also learned that 9,583 people served as messengers this year.
            While I am personally a big fan of Vice President Pence, and was opposed to the efforts to stop him from coming, I do have to say I was disappointed with his remarks. Much of what he said was appropriate for the occasion—speaking up for the unborn and moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and defending religious liberty, for example. But much of what he said was touting the Trump agenda on matters unrelated to the SBC and our core convictions. I feel that our convention was used as a campaign rally for Trump/Pence 2020, and I can certainly see why some would want to end speeches by elected officials. I am a Republican, but if Jimmy Carter, a Democrat Southern Baptist, wanted to speak, it would be an honor to see him, but I think that respect for the office is an endangered species. It seems these days people only respect leaders of their own party and vilify all others. I don’t think we will be having politicians come back any time soon.  
            Alicia attended a pastors' wives session led by Beth Moore, and together we attended the Southwestern Alumni Luncheon on Wednesday (neither of us is alumni, but I will be in December and that was a requirement for one of my classes). 
            We were challenged by the report from the North American Mission Board. While there is reason to celebrate the number of reported baptisms, the reality of declining membership exposes a problem. The challenge put before us was to refocus on discipleship, not just evangelism, and the 80by20 Challenge will hopefully help with that. NAMB’s research showed that only 45% of professing believers read their Bible at least once a week; the goal is to get that number to 80% by 2020. Dr. Gaines had a good line that I would like to include here. There was a lot of focus on the negative, like the NAMB report and the issues regarding the seminaries, but Gaines reminded us “There’s a lot more good going on in the SBC than there is bad.” It is good to keep that in mind.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Life Begins at Conception Act

To implement equal protection under the 14th article of amendment to the Constitution for the right to life of each born and preborn human person.
1. Short title
This Act may be cited as the Life Begins at Conception Act.
2. Right to life
To implement equal protection for the right to life of each born and preborn human person, the General Assembly hereby declares that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being. However, nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child.
3. Definitions
For purposes of this Act:
(1) Human person; human being
The terms human person and human being include each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Bar is not the Way to Grow

City Council is in the process of considering a change to the existing ordinance as it relates to the sale of alcohol in non-residential establishments. There has been some healthy debate on this topic, but the more debate I hear, the more I fear that most people do not understand what is really being considered. I also get the impression that even some council members do not understand this proposal.

There are a handful of restaurants in Union that serve alcohol; the law allows that, and no one is considering changing that in any way. To hear people defend this new proposal, though, one would think those of us in opposition are trying to keep restaurants from serving beer. That is not the case. We are not pushing to become a dry city, nor are we trying to get restaurants to stop serving alcohol.

The current law in Union forbids the operating of an establishment for the primary purpose of consuming alcohol; the proposal before Council would change that. If the ordinance is changed it would allow for bars to open within the city; nothing more, and nothing less. That is why I was shocked to hear council members at Tuesday’s meeting, saying that if we change this ordinance then we can get chained restaurants to come here. They already can, and it is mindboggling that Council doesn’t know that. Restaurants operate for the primary purpose of serving food, and by law, can serve alcohol. Bars and taverns operate for the primary purpose of serving alcohol.   

Will this bring revenue? Of course. But at what cost? The state of Minnesota released a fact sheet to see how much revenue was generated from alcohol, and they found that number to be a staggering $296 million annually. But Minnesota had the wisdom to also factor in what they had to pay out as a result of selling alcohol. Here is what it cost them:

After factoring in alcohol related homicide/suicide, falling and other accidents, drowning while under the influence, certain types of cancer, liver disease, other chronic illnesses, vehicular accidents, unintended pregnancies, birth defects, and alcohol dependence programs, Minnesota found out that they paid out $5.06 billion because of alcohol sales. 

In other words, they took an almost $5 billion loss. These numbers are admittedly state wide, not city wide, so the numbers aren’t comparable, but the concept is. Alcohol always costs more than it brings in. Alcohol always costs more than it is worth.

Let’s not forget that South Carolina leads the nation in vehicular deaths on country roads. We also lead the nation in DUIs causing vehicular death and are in the top five of overall DUIs. We have ranked at or near the top for years. Drunk driving and fatal accidents are directly proportional. Please, let’s keep that out of our city.

We rank at the top of the vehicular fatality list while Utah consistently comes in at number 50. When you consider that two-thirds of Utahans are Mormons who drink no alcohol it is easy to see why they don’t have problems with drunk driving. Anyone can see the correlation: drinking and driving leads to innocent people dying.

There are many ways to grow our great city, but a tavern isn’t one of them. Do we really want to bring in an establishment that exists for the primary purpose of alcohol consumption, especially just a couple of hundred yards from our only University, especially in light of our new campus housing?

The most alarming thing I heard during the meeting was when someone actually suggested that maybe some of these vehicular deaths were caused because people have to go to Spartanburg to go to a bar. She said that if these people could go to bars in Union, then they would have fewer miles to drive under the influence of alcohol (which, for the record, is a felony). 

If the best argument we can make is that it is better for citizens of Union to drive drunk for shorter distances than driving drunk from Spartanburg, then we really haven't come up with a good reason to pass this ordinance.

A tavern on Main Street will not be a bright spot for our city. It will be a blight on our city. I applaud Tommy Anthony (District 1) and Ricky Todd Harris (District 4) for their opposition, and I respectfully ask the other members to join them and block this measure.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Theological Divergence on the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: Luther Versus Zwingli

The Protestant Reformation was a time of religious awakening around the world, giving rise to new denominations, new Bible translations, and new heroes to admire. It was an era characterized by a new boldness to attack the papacy, exposing powerful men for their corruption, and castigating the entire church, calling into question anything and everything that originated from the Vatican.
Amid all the clamoring to present new interpretations to timeless Scripture were men with larger-than-life personalities who were often quick to vilify anyone with whom they disagreed. Many of these emerging scholars agreed with each other on the major tenets of the Reformation, but they would quibble over the minutia, evening questioning the salvation of their near-likeminded opponent. Two of these reformers who found themselves at odds with each other were Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli.
Their main area of disagreement: the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Both men agreed that the mass needed improvement; for Zwingli, the Lord’s Supper should not be observed daily or weekly, for this had potential to “suffer loss of effectiveness by too frequent occurrence[1].” Luther took the position that the sacraments in and of themselves were insufficient to save, a position that put him at odds with the church.
Where Luther and Zwingli sparred was on the question of presence—did the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus once they were administered? For Luther the answer was an emphatic yes; for Zwingli, it was just as emphatic in the negative. This may not seem like an important debate, but readers in the 21st Century need to keep this in context; as Ryrie noted, “It is worth pausing on this issue, because, abstract as it may appear, it was fundamental to early Protestants’ religious experience.[2]” Believers observed the Eucharist so frequently that this issue could not be ignored.
Martin Luther
Luther was a gifted theologian whose mastery of the Greek language allowed him to correct translation errors in the Latin Vulgate. In his translating Luther “was able to perceive a certain arbitrariness in allegory. He thought of it as opposed to the literal sense of Scripture, which he wanted to explore through attention to grammar and the original texts.[3]” His dispute with Zwingli, however, was not over a translation error, but in a question of to what extent the Lord’s plain words should be taken. His take on the presence of Christ in the sacraments is most easily seen at the colloquy at Marburg, a famed discourse between opposing parties that failed to reach an agreement.  
At Marburg Luther had written down the simple phrase “This is my body” in chalk on the table where the men would later sit. During the debate he whisked away the velvet tablecloth that concealed his mantra, saying, “Here is our text. You haven’t yet managed to wring it from us, as you said you would.” He later added, “Jesus Christ clearly states: ‘Hoc est corpus meum,’ truly I cannot get around it, but clearly must confess and believe that the body of Christ is present therein[4].”
Beyond the words of Luther are his actions. If the bread and wine are actually the body and blood of the Savior, the Savior whom Luther dearly loved, then the elements themselves must be holy and cannot be mishandled. So in 1543 when some Communion wine was accidentally spilled on a woman, Luther went so far as to lick the wine from her coat, and “cut out the bits of the jacket they had been unable to clean, plane away the sections of her pew where the wine had splashed, and burn the lot.[5]” This may seem like strange behavior, but it is fully consistent with Luther’s theology, and is the logical response to dealing with something as holy as the actual blood of Jesus.
Luther knew that his critics said Jesus could not be the bread and wine because He is at the right hand of the Father, in accordance with Acts 2:32-33. This objection didn’t phase the Reformer, who taught that the doctrine of omnipresence applied just as much to Communion as it did to anything else.  
Luther rejected transubstantiation as it was presented by the Catholic Church, but his position may be thought of as transubstantiation lite. Whereas the Catholics taught the bread and wine are fully morphed into Christ’s body and blood and provide instant grace for salvation, Luther maintained that Christ was present in the bread and wine (and most importantly, that the meal was not propitiatory). Luther held that Jesus was “physically present in the sacramental bread, just as the Son of God was wholly present in the man Jesus, and just as the Word of God was wholly present in Scripture.[6]

Ulrich Zwingli
While Martin Luther garners much of the attention and praise from the Reformation, his opponent in this debate was no slouch. In addition to being highly educated himself, Zwingli was a reformed humanist who had a deep understanding of Scripture. It has been recounted that Zwingli, “overcome by the epistles of Peter…copied them by hand and committed them to memory[7].” He comes to this divergence with Luther able to hold his own.
Zwingli rejected any form of transubstantiation. Yes, the actual words of Jesus are clear: “This is my body…this is my blood.” But are they to be interpreted in the most literal sense? Zwingli would say they are not. As proof he pointed to other “I am” statements from the Messiah, such as, “I am the door,” and “I am the vine (John 10:7, 15:5).” By Luther’s logic, one must also conclude that Jesus were an actual door and an actual vine, while simultaneously being the actual bread, all while being seated at the right hand of the Father. This was too much for Zwingli to take.
 Because of this position, Zwingli translated I Corinthians 11:24 to have Jesus say, “This signifies my body,” an interpretation he said came to him in a dream. Far from the stance of the Lutheran camp, the Zwinglians adopted the phrase, “spiritual eating” to refer to the sacraments (Luther countered this notion with physical eating). As a proof text Zwingli put forth John 6:63, which says, “It is the Spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life.” From this verse “flesh availeth nothing” became a battle cry for Zwingli and his followers.  
If Luther were correct then each time believers sat down at the table, Christ would be sacrificed anew. This would be clearly refuted by Hebrews 10. That is another reason why Zwingli emphasized the bread as signifying Christ, not being or becoming Christ. For Zwingli the observance of the Lord’s Supper is spiritual, and as Dr. Yarnell points out, “nobody could accuse Zwingli of retaining the sacrifice of the mass, though Zwingli could accuse Luther of such[8].” For Zwingli there was a new sacrifice at each eating of the bread, but it was the sacrifice of the communicant, who was proclaiming “the Lord’s death until He comes (I Corinthians 11:26).”
While the Eucharist was commonly thought of as a grace that brought salvation, Zwingli’s take has been summarized thusly: the bread and wine were reminders of a grace already received rather than vehicles of a present sacramental grace. [9] Zwingli believed the ordinance served as an agent that should cause the believer to contemplate the crucifixion of Christ.
Theological Critique
Despite being only seven weeks apart in age, these men were worlds apart on this critical issue. Luther and Zwingli found themselves in an irreconcilable position, and because of their disagreement, neither man was fond of the other. On his Zurich foe, Luther wrote in Confessions Concerning Christ’s Supper, “I regard Zwingli as un-Christian, with all his teaching, for he holds and teaches no part of the Christian faith rightly. He is seven times worse than when he was a papist.[10]” On his Wittenberg counterpart, Zwingli refused any association, wishing to be called Paulinian instead of Lutheran. After all, he quipped, he had been preaching Christ’s gospel “before any man in our region had so much as heard the name of Luther.[11]” After their colloquy at Marburg, Zwingli attempted a brotherly embrace of Luther, but the latter coldly refused the gesture.
Since these men and their followers failed to come to a compromise, it is left to subsequent theologians to continue the colloquy in their absence. Despite efforts by John Calvin and others throughout the years to reconcile the two sides, there has never been a consensus. While Luther was correct in his assertion that Scripture should be interpreted literally first, he failed to allow for the other types of literature in Scripture (such as the metaphor). There are several problems with this purely literal approach. Millard Erickson has written about the problem of this theological divergence: “To believe that Jesus was in two places at once [in bodily form and on the plate] is something of a denial of the incarnation, which limited his physical nature to one location.[12]
Erickson went on to conclude, “We should think of the sacrament not so much in terms of Christ’s presence as in terms of his promise and the potential for a closer relationship with him[13].” That big picture approach may be the best way to balance the positions of Luther and Zwingli.
It is this author’s opinion that Zwingli was closer to the truth, seeing the meal as similar to baptism, not something that is salvific, but a public testimony of a previous action. As in all things, balance is key. Luther championed the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but some have swung too far, resulting in a “Real Absence” in their efforts to not be Lutheran. The communicant must see Christ in the bread and wine, but in a symbolic sense; otherwise, there is no point in taking Communion. Christ is there, because Christ is in the believer, and because the elements of the meal point back to Christ in a beautiful symbol of His horrific death.

[1] Gerrish, B.A., Reformers in Profile, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1967 p.129
[2] Ryrie, Alec, Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World, Penguin Random House, 2017, p.63
[3] Allen, Paul L., Theological Method, A Guide for the Perplexed, T&T Clark International, 2012, p.125
[4] Roper, Lyndal, Martin Luther, Renegade and Prophet, Random House 2016 p.310
[5] Ibid p.345
[6] Ryrie, p.64
[7] Bingham, Dr. D. Jeffrey, Pocket History of the Church, Intervarsity Press, 2002, p.108
[8] Yarnell III, Dr. Malcolm B., Royal Priesthood in the English Reformation, Oxford University Press, 2013 p.241
[9] Gerrish, p.128
[10] Atherstone, Andrew, Reformation, A World in Turmoil, Lion Books, 2001, p.81
[11] Gerrish, p.6
[12] Erickson, Millard J., Christian Theology Third Edition, Baker Publishing Group, 1983 p.1046
[13] Ibid p.1047