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2020 Theological Symposium FAQ

W. Jackson Watts

As Program Chair for the Commission for Theological Integrity, I get the privilege to oversee the planning and preparation for our annual Theological Symposium. I’ve been so gratified to see interest in this event grow over the last few years, and we’re looking forward to another great one later this fall.

Typically we issue what’s known as a “Call for Papers.” This appears on our website and in print publications such as ONE Magazine. This notice is designed to generate awareness and identify prospective presenters, as well as any who would attend and benefit from this free event. However, as potential presenters begin contemplating ideas for the Symposium, I want to offer this post of Frequently Asked Questions to help people make plans to join us this fall.

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Where and when is the Symposium held?

The campus of Welch College in Gallatin, Tennessee. This year our event is a bit earlier than usual, so take note of this date: October 5-6.

 How are presenters chosen?

We review the papers and proposals that are submitted each year and select those which are well-written and thematically suitable. Sometimes we solicit papers from people if they have recently completed some scholarly work that they are interested in sharing with a broader audience. However, we generally have interested parties contact us. The only other detail approaching a “requirement” is that presenters must be members of a Free Will Baptist church.

 What can I write on?

 Typically we will receive and consider papers on any topic that is broadly theological in nature: biblical studies, systematic theology, philosophy of religion, ecclesiology, etc. This year we have an open program, so any paper on any topic, broadly theological, will be considered. If you’d like more information about what might be perceived as appropriate, just ask!

Must I have an advanced degree to present a paper?

No; While most of our presenters have received graduate theological education, it is by no means a requirement.

Where can I stay?

There are several area hotels which provide a reasonable rate to those in town for Welch-affiliated events. Hotel information will be published later this year.

Why attend in person when live-stream is available?

Two main reasons: First, we don’t guarantee live-streaming every year, and even if we do live-stream, we may or may not post video content on our website after the event is over. We have done this in the past, but it is a year-by-year decision. Second, attending in person allows you the chance to ask questions in person to presenters, hear the discussion and dialogue following each presentation, and connect with other Free Will Baptist pastors, scholars, and laymen. I’ve seen many fruitful relationships form and develop as a result of this event. This is a great chance to network with many of our thought leaders.

If I am interested in presenting, what are the specific requirements and deadlines?

You can email fwbtheology@gmail.com for a fuller list of what we’re looking for in terms of paper content and format. Concerning deadlines, all ideas and inquiries about presenting should be submitted to this email address. Abstracts/proposals should be submitted by July 7. Submissions for review should be submitted by August 7. The final draft should be submitted by September 7.

Thank you for your interest in this event!

The Church and the Coronavirus Challenge

The Commission for Theological Integrity

By now it’s fair to say that not a single church has escaped the impact of concerns over the Coronavirus. Churches have been urged to consider measures to ensure people’s safety, along with schools, businesses, and virtually every other assembled group of people. Governors and public health officials have called for certain forms of activity to be suspended, especially when they involve even as few as 50 people. More recently our President has recommended we avoid groups of 10 or more.

This poses some obvious challenges to churches. The average church size is somewhere around 75 people. And many churches have a significant number of elderly members. While it appears that the virus is less deadly to younger people, they can in fact be carriers who transmit to it other persons. So any recommendations to suspend public gatherings are to be taken seriously, regardless of how we feel about them.

The Gospel Coalition and 9Marks are two parachurch ministries that have provided several helpful articles and suggestions on this topic you can easily find on their websites. But as Free Will Baptists try to think practically as pastors, church leaders, and laymen, we’d like to offer three key principles that ministries should follow during this challenging time. We won’t repeat all the important, standard reminders about washing hands regularly, not shaking hands, and covering our mouths when we cough. Suggestions of this sort have been well publicized by mainstream news organizations. However, we cannot help but view this situation in light of the theological commitments God calls us to.

We don’t experience this pandemic as generic American citizens; we’re disciples of Christ. We care about His church. Therefore, we want to see this situation through a specific theological lens, particularly three key doctrines:

Civil Obedience

Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17, and 1 Timothy 2:1-2 are substantial passages on the relationship between the church and the state. How we as Christians and churches relate to governing authorities is not insignificant. Naturally we don’t always agree with everything our leaders say or do (when have we ever?). Yet it is essential that unless we are asked to disobey Scripture, we should otherwise submit to governing authorities. In our American context this includes local officials, state officials, and federal officials. It’s safe to conclude that the Center for Disease Control, in our system of government, would be included in that. Whenever we hear multiple, rightly authorized institutions giving a mandate, we need to heed it. Whenever they make a suggestion, we need to give it careful consideration.

In addition to obedience, we need to pray for our leaders. God forgive us for where we have spent more time criticizing our elected and appointed officials than we have praying for them! First Peter 2 deals especially with our attitude toward leaders, while 1 Timothy 2 calls us to pray. After all, when officials make wise decisions, it promotes peace, not chaos. We need to model Christ-like speech and Spirit-led prayer to help work toward that outcome.

Embodied Community

This article will be read by people in different states and localities. The recommendations given differ slightly from place to place, though increasingly they have moved toward the complete elimination of all non-essential travel or gatherings. What does this mean for the church, the ecclesia, which itself means “gathering” or “assembly”?

We aren’t the first believers in history who have had to be creative about maintaining an ongoing ministry of worship and witness in the midst of pandemic, plague, or persecution. History is filled with occasions when churches had to determine how to obey their government, while not compromising (in the bad sense of that word) the Christian principle of assembly.

A number of churches have already instituted measures to help them continue to gather, but to do so as safely as possible. Extensive facility sanitation, no hand-shaking or hugging, and other forms of social distancing have been observed. However, church gatherings have also had to get even more creative, especially since typical church gatherings are significantly larger than 10 people. Some churches have also sought to give their members some way to stay connected when they cannot physically gather. This includes livestreaming worship services through an online platform.

We need to be both charitable and wise as we view these practices, evaluate them, and consider how or if we may also implement them. One thing is clear: biblical community and worship is an embodied reality. People often point out that the apostles were absent when they wrote letters to churches. Yet notice how often these apostles emphasize the undesirable limitations of physical absence: “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 Jn. 1:12). This is just one example among many.

The point is this: any measures we take to preserve an ongoing ministry of worship and witness that utilizes smaller group meetings (smaller than the actual congregation), online media, or other hybrid options, should be treated as temporary measures. Through God’s common grace, we have many helpful technological tools to facilitate some degree of ongoing contact and connectedness. They should be spoken of that way, and not seen as a lasting substitute. Some pastors understandably worry about the “new normal” that we may inadvertently be creating by implementing such measures. Yet this is an opportunity for ministers (ironically through digital means), to teach their congregants about the vital need for gathered, embodied community and koinonia, and to foster in them a biblically rooted desire to return to it as soon as possible (Again, it’s impossible for this to be replicated online). In the meantime, acts of service to those ill and/or elderly would be an appropriate expression of biblical community. After all, such persons are much more adversely affected by social distancing than others. Phone calls, text messages, cards, and similar gestures are always appropriate, and now more than ever.

Most people understand that in times of crisis we all make concessions we wouldn’t typically make. Examples include showering every other day in times of water shortage, or keeping unnecessary lights off when power grids are stretched in a region. Similarly, the church is wise to consider how to foster ongoing awareness of each other’s needs, delivering food to those who cannot leave home at all, and in some instances, providing online teaching content to be viewed from home. However, let’s pray to be reminded in this time of absence and distance of how this is not God’s ideal nor design for us. Let’s pray that when we do return to gather normally we’ll do so with deeper appreciation and hunger for our gathered life together.

Neighbor Love

In these polarized times, social trust is a rare commodity. Many polls and surveys show that people do not trust others in their communities as much as they used to. Certainly biased media coverage sometimes fosters distrust. But when we strip away all the political commentary, we have one profound command staring us in the face: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This principle cuts against the grain of our present culture, which is self-focused, self-absorbed, and self-exalting. But this second great commandment of Christ has so much to say to us in this moment.

First, we must take this pandemic seriously. Imagine one possible outcome if we don’t: People may die. Our public officials tell us people will die, and we think they should be taken seriously. But imagine that it simply increases the likelihood that people will die because of the carelessness of citizens. If that’s true, then we aren’t loving our neighbors very well by traveling or gathering unnecessarily, not observing safe, hygienic practices, or reposting or retweeting dubious news about the Coronavirus online. The great thing about neighbor love is that it has a way of stripping away the politics of this situation. It leads us to ask, “What if this is more serious than we think it is? What might be the cost for my neighbor? How might my careless rhetoric reflect on the Gospel, the Church, or the Christ?”

Second, what happens if we take the situation too seriously? In other words, instead of proactively praying and taking precautions, we yield to fear. We rush to the stores and buy far more than we actually need, making groceries less available to our neighbors, who have the same needs as we do. Neighbor love forces us to look at our attitude and actions closely and ask tough questions of our behavior. Do people see faith working through love in what we’re doing and saying? Do we love our neighbor next door enough to give them a call, and make sure they’re okay, too? The appropriate level of concern will help us get to the other side of the pandemic and hopefully have a stronger witness before a lost world.

Much has been made about the economic impact of this pandemic. Christians need to be reminded that this has not only been disruptive to their regular work life, but also to churches and Christian institutions of many kinds. These kinds of organizations take a significant hit financially during crises like these, and without people continuing to be generous they sometimes never rebound. While the government is preparing some financial responses, few if any of these monies will in any way make it into the coffers of churches or religious organizations. As Christians, let’s remember these important institutions in our life and the need to uphold them in prayer and financial support during this time.

A final caution is also appropriate as we consider the full range of implications of loving our neighbors. Christians, churches, and religious organizations will choose to take different measures to safeguard themselves and others during this time. Provided direct government mandates are followed, there is a range of specific decisions that can be made by people of good faith. In other words, not everyone who takes different steps is being unfaithful or unloving. We need to exercise generous patience toward one another. We need to abstain from using social media to shame other churches for “selling out” and closing their doors (or for keeping their doors open when ours has closed theirs). These discussions should be had privately as we mutually discern best practices in keeping with public health recommendations, and at the same time appropriate for our unique organizations. Blasting our brethren (or neighbors in general) for their choices is unwise and unloving.

Conclusion

The Lord will have the final word on how we choose to respond to the information we’ve been provided. Let’s respect civil authority, work diligently to cherish embodied community, and practice neighbor love. Our commitment to these biblical principles is central to our ability to navigate this turbulent situation. And together let’s pray that the fallenness of this world will continue to awaken us to the hope of the Gospel, for the end of earthly corruptions, the “freedom of the glory of the children of God,” and the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:18-30). May our temporal concerns press us to hope more fully in God’s eternal promises.

Biblical Theology and Vision: Do We Need Mission Statements?

W. Jackson Watts

I was recently having a conversation with a friend who is also a pastor. He shared with me that he and his church leaders were going through an extensive evaluation of their entire ministry, especially as it relates to their church’s health and potential changes that may be needed. He raised this question: “What is the difference between a church’s mission statement and its vision?” One of his lay leaders had asked about this. There was some confusion as to which was which in their ministry.

My short answer is more or less what I believe most people would say: Mission is what you do, and vision is where you’re trying to go. To thicken this a bit, your vision is where you are hoping to go, or what you want to become as an organization. Your mission would be the thing you need to do faithfully to get there.

In the course of our conversation I was reminded of some important caveats, clarifications, and challenges that all of us church leaders need to understand and communicate about mission statements. In this article I want to explain some of the background that needs to be made more explicit in this discussion. Then, I’ll offer five theses regarding mission statements in our churches.

Learning from Others

Most of the lingo of mission and vision actually arises from outside ecclesiology and biblical studies. It arises from the vast body of leadership literature that has emerged over the last couple of generations. Those writing on organizational leadership have long discussed the relevance of having a motto, slogan, mission, and/or vision as part of founding, developing, and growing companies or businesses. I’m not sure when, but at some point this literature began to influence and shape the evangelical church world.

Let me hasten to say that I don’t view this influence as entirely negative. In fact, I’m deeply appreciative for those gifted leaders who have called attention to the need to give those in Christian organizations, including churches, clarity about what they ought to be doing to help their ministries be fruitful. In God’s common grace, He sheds abroad the knowledge of how groups of people work in coordinated cooperation toward important goals. What could be more important than for Christians to work together to fulfill Christ’s mission for us?

Of course, the first obstacle that emerges is when we listen more to corporate leadership gurus than Christ and the apostles. If Coach K has more sway over how we seek to lead and make men than Jesus, we’ve got a problem (and I like Coach K!).

As with anything that can resource our ministry, we have to filter it through the grid of Scripture. The New Testament must have more purchase over our thinking about growth, leadership, and structure than Warren Buffett, John Kotter, or even believers like Thom Rainer. I have benefited from people like these, but sometimes you get the impression that having a short, memorable mission statement is next-to-godliness.

The Center of the Bible: The Debate Continues

The question of balance and emphasis naturally leads us into what Scripture may contribute to our thinking about mission and vision (however you choose to define those). Biblical theologians are scholars who seek to trace out patterns and themes in Scripture as they unfold. Unlike systematic theologians, biblical theologians tend to place more emphasis on identifying specific themes or teachings across Scripture (or genres of Scripture) as they unfold organically. Think Graeme Goldsworthy or G.K. Beale (biblical theology) versus Wayne Grudem or Kevin Vanhoozer (systematic theology) for modern exemplars of these two approaches. We have seen some efforts to bridge biblical and systematic theology, but generally theologians tend to occupy one lane more than the other. Some will dispute this characterization, but I think it’s fair.

What does this have to do with mission statements? It’s a question of emphasis and focus. For example, there has been a long-standing debate in biblical theology about what theme stands at the center of Scripture. In recent years we have seen several significant book-length treatments on this issue, such as God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, Kingdom through Covenant, and more recently, God’s Relational Presence. And it’s not just writing theologians who are in on this project. Retired pastor John Piper’s emphasis on Christ’s supremacy in all things and enjoying God forever permeates all of his writings. These themes are compelling because they seem to fit with what a plain reading of Scripture reveals: it’s all about God!

So when we’re trying to develop short, memorable statements that describe where a congregation needs to go, or how they intend to get there, it’s crucial that those statements are grounded in Scripture. Generic and unclear statements like “our mission is to have an impact,” or “our vision is to be excited about Jesus,” while well-intentioned, probably fail to reflect a clear New Testament message.

Where Shall We Go?

With that being said, let me suggest five theses about the use of mission statements in our churches. I think the same would apply to vision statements, but I’ll focus on the former since they tend to receive the most emphasis.

1-Mission Statements are only as good as your ministry alignment. Not unlike James’ words about being a hearer and a doer (Jas. 1:22-24), we may be able to develop a mission statement that is pleasing to the ear and thoroughly biblical. However, if we don’t persevere in the intentional, long-term work of developing all areas of ministry to work toward the fulfillment of that mission, then the statement is useless. Having a mission statement might be necessary, but it’s insufficientfor getting everyone moving in the same direction. People may know it, but if they aren’t shown how to take practical steps toward it (including specific changes), then the mission will remain just a statement on a wall. As an aside, I use the word “persevere” above intentionally. If you’re not planning (or willing) to stay in your current ministry for another ten years, don’t spend the next year trying to launch a new mission statement. It’ll take much more time than that to make real progress toward it.

2-Mission statements can benefit all church members, but they’re essential for the leaders. Leaders have to first buy in to the stated mission of the church. They make most of the decisions for the church day to day, from the development and implementation of policies, the care of members, the teaching of classes, and most importantly, modeling what it means to be a faithful member.If they don’t believe in the mission, or are constantly at odds with other leaders about the specific strategies that will fulfil the mission, this will have a cascading effect on the rest of the congregation.But if the leaders are committed to and excited about the mission, this can be contagious, in the very best sense of the word.

3-Mission Statements don’t create health; they can create clarity. Sometimes when churches have been around for several decades they’ve had time to see many ministries started. Often these ministry areas lose focus, compete for resources, and/or lack the volunteers they need to be truly effective. Underneath all of this is the question, “Do these ministries actually work toward a clear goal that is not at odds with other ministries?” A mission statement can bring clarity to an organization or church where there is a sense that everyone is going in different directions. It’s not even that everyone is doing badthings. Rather, they’re just not examining those directions in light of the larger direction that God intends for his church. Clarity, then, is vital. It won’timmediately bring health. But they can be partof a path toward greater health.

4-Mission Statements are no substitute for the problem of ignoring Scripture. In some ways thesis four is an extension of thesis three. If a church intends to become healthy and stay healthy, it’s not enough to add a mission statement or tweak an existing one. Even once a church anchors its mission statement in Scripture, it has to be committed to a full range of biblical principles and practices. Side step any fundamental command for the church, and you’ll have an unhealthy church with a great mission statement. To illustrate, if sin isn’t addressed, it will spread. If discipleship is a buzzword and not a regular behavior, the church will flounder. So if your mission statement is something like, “Our mission is to glorify God by living the Gospel,” and there is no actual recourse if members don’tlive the Gospel, or they get no help in living the Gospel, then you have mission failure.Don’t expect the church to be fruitful if you’re not being faithful to Scripture.

5-However you define mission or vision, be clear and consistent. Ultimately I don’t think that the precise definition a church uses for these statements will determine success. I will say that whenwe present and adopt statements as churches, we need to clearly explain their meaning, how they relate to each other, and what functional authority they will have over how decisions are made. If we do this, I think it will help the entire congregation have the right expectations.  

Augustine, Arminius, and R.C. Sproul on Christian Perfection

Matthew Pinson

Sometimes Arminius has been (inaccurately) interpreted as laying the groundwork for a doctrine of Christian perfection. With regard to perfectionism, Arminius said in his Declaration of Sentiments that he “never actually stated that a believer could perfectly keep the precepts of Christ in this life.” Nor did he deny it. He left it as an open question, contenting himself with the sentiments of Augustine. In short, citing Augustine, Arminius believed that, through grace, perfection was a logical possibility but that an individual who had attained it had never yet been found! [1].

Given how many times I’ve heard Calvinists say this about Arminius, I found it interesting when my friend Chris Truett, in a sermon on why God calls us to rely on Christ’s work and the gospel, not on our own standards of perfection, quoted staunch Calvinist R. C. Sproul as saying what Augustine and Arminius said. I went and looked up where Sproul said this, and here’s the quotation:

“Can a person be perfect? Theoretically, the answer to that is yes. The New Testament tells us that with every temptation we meet, God gives us a way to escape that temptation. He always gives us enough grace to overcome sin. So sin in the Christian life, I would say, is inevitable because of our weakness and because of the multitude of opportunities we have to sin. But on a given occasion, it is never, ever necessary. So in that sense, we could theoretically be perfect, though none of us is. [2]

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[1] Gunter, Declaration of Sentiments, Kindle locations 3313-3314; cf. Arminius, Works, 1:677-78. Keith Stanglin, in his book Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation appears to agree with this interpretation of Arminius on perfection (Leiden: Brill, 2007, p. 140).

[2] R. C. Sproul, “Be Ye Perfect,” Ligonier.org, July 28, 2010; https://www.ligonier.org/blog/be-ye-perfect/

 

Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

Matthew Pinson

Lately I’ve been hearing from a lot of Millennial-generation ministers in the Free Will Baptist Church who are getting burnt out on the market-driven model of church still being celebrated in certain segments of evangelicalism. These are younger ministers who, as recent surveys have shown, prefer the organic over the organizational, depth over shallowness, doctrine over pop psychology and self-help, substance over style, and shepherd over CEO.

As I mentioned in a recent blog, they’re a part of a generation, two-thirds of whom prefer traditional over modern church architecture and prefer the adjective “classic” to “trendy” to describe their approach to church. This is backed up by recent studies by Barna, LifeWay, and Gallup. (I cite this not because I think there’s one “sanctified” church architecture, but because it shows that studies of Millennials explode the myth some in my generation still seem to believe—that all younger people like their church experience to be like their coffee shop experience: “hip and trendy.”)

Frankly, if it weren’t for all the studies, I’d be surprised by how many of these young ministers complain about the Gen-Xers in my generation who don’t get them, who prefer CEO’s over shepherds as the model for modern ministry. The last several conversations I’ve had like this have led me to mention a book I’ve been reading by Harold Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. The book’s publisher, Lexham, has also published a practical ministry strategy manual by Senkbeil in its Lexham Ministry Guides series entitled Church Leadership and Strategy: For the Care of Souls.

The sorts of things this 70-year-old pastor says about ancient, organic ways of shepherding God’s flock offer a more sustainable model than the CEO approach to church leadership that seems to be failing so many pastors who’ve tried it. These sorts of things resonate with these young people who desire to invest themselves in more organic, sustainable ways of life rather than the throwaway disposability of contemporary secular culture.

I still haven’t finished the book; I’ll let you know what I think of it when I do. I wondered what it would be like to read this conservative Lutheran pastor (with whom I have obvious ecclesiological differences). But his aim is to write in such a way that conservative Christians across denominational lines can benefit from it, and it has endorsements from well-known Baptists and people from a host of other denominational backgrounds. The thing that stands out the most about it is that much of it reminds me of the biblical wisdom I’ve heard from treasured personal mentors of mine in ministry—people like L. V. Pinson (my grandfather), Leroy Forlines, Melvin Worthington, and Lewis Williams (my pastoral predecessor in Colquitt, Georgia).

So I was surprised when this book I’d been reading was receiving so much positive press at the very same time when so many people in my own generation in certain quadrants of the church are still rehearsing the corporate and market-oriented models of pastoring. The Gospel Coalition has lauded this book as one of the best books on pastoring in a long time. It won the “Best Ministry Book of 2019” award from Christianity Today magazine. A number of well-known Christian leaders have promoted the book. There’s all this praise for a book that is simply discussing the time-honored, classic pastoral tradition that was handed down to me by the ministry mentors who shaped me.

I was listening to an interview with Senkbeil by Dan Darling last week, on his ERLC podcast “The Way Home.” I thought the readers of this blog, including many young pastors who are trying to find their way toward a biblical, authentic, sustainable ministry in a world of gimmicks and “get-big-quick” schemes, would find it intriguing. Here it is.

Editor Addendum: Senkbeil’s book is currently for sale at a discounted price at Westminster Seminary’s online bookstore.