Can Fundamental Baptists Find Greater Unity?

9 posts / 0 new
Last post
Aaron Blumer's picture
Offline
Since
Mon, 6/1/09
Posts: 7301

Tags: 

In September, Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN) is hosting an unusual event: a conversation among Baptist leaders with greater unity across splinter groups as a major goal. I asked pastor Greg Linscott, who has led the effort, to tell us more about this conversation.

Q. How did this event come about?

A. A few years ago I began to sense the need for First Baptist of Marshall to become connected with a network more national in scope than our longtime historic affiliation with the Minnesota Baptist Association. Our church has established a ministry with S’gaw Karen refugees from Burma/Myanmar. Because of their missionary connections dating all the way back to Adoniram Judson, the Karen tend to default to the ABC-USA when here in the US. But due to significant differences in doctrine and practice, I did not find that an acceptable option.

As we worked to disciple the believers we had influenced, we wanted to be able to familiarize them with churches whose doctrine would emphasize the authority of Scripture and who would be in general agreement with we teach at First Baptist (including specifics such as a young-earth creationist perspective, cessationist position, and pre-trib dispensationalism) but who also had a large enough network nationally that it would be practical to point Karen believers there as they eventually begin to relocate across the US. The GARBC fit those criteria.

Furthermore, in my limited encounters with Regular Baptists in Minnesota, it had seemed to me that congregations in the MBA and MARBC had much in common with one another—certainly as much as they did with churches in their own associations. The two associations had already been jointly supporting a church planter’s efforts in the Twin Cities metro, and the influence of Central Seminary graduates in both Minnesota associations had further served to draw attention to the commonality the two constituencies had with one another.

As I began the process of preparing our church to formally fellowship with the GARBC and MARBC (while still retaining our affiliation with the MBA), I learned that John Greening, National Representative of the GARBC, was lined up to speak to the MARBC’s 2014 annual meeting. This event was to be held the same week as the MBA’s Men’s Fellowship (an event for which I serve as president), where it had been arranged for Mike Harding, who is prominent in the FBFI, to be our speaker. I was also aware of Kevin Bauder’s work on a history of Baptist Fundamentalism (the recently published One In Hope and Doctrine from RBP). To have two prominent individuals from national Baptist organizations in the same state seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.

I contacted Sam Horn (President of Central Seminary) and Matt Morrell (Pastor at Fourth Baptist) to see if they might be interested in arranging an event featuring these two men alongside Kevin Bauder, addressing the current state of Baptist Fundamentalism and its potential future. From the beginning, they were intrigued and enthusiastic about making something happen. The initial participants quickly agreed to participate. We explored a few possibilities before eventually arriving at the current luncheon format on the Fourth/Central campus. Mike Harding turned out to be unable to attend due to a conflict. Though I was disappointed with Harding’s absence, Dr. Mike Sproul of Tri-City Baptist Church/International Baptist College and Seminary was interested and available, and graciously agreed to participate in the role that had been vacated.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish?

A. I had a conversation with a fellow pastor recently. His church has gone through some significant turmoil and division over the last few months. He lamented the fact that because of some of his own past decisions over the years, he had isolated himself from fellowship with other pastors and churches around him. “No one should have to go through things like this alone,” my friend said, sadly. There is a sense that we need to take that to heart, both locally and on a larger scale. Sorrows shared reduce the weight of the burdens being carried. Celebrating joys and triumphs can encourage and motivate others in their own contexts of ministry. Opportunities can bear more fruit with the enhanced resources of combined efforts.

I think it is fair to say that in the recent past, many parties in these Baptist constituencies have been somewhat distrustful and suspicious of each other. I envision this occasion providing a venue where misunderstandings and misconceptions about one another can be addressed and clarified. Ultimately, the fruits of this conversation may leave us in a position to see if the commonality we share in matters of doctrinal emphasis might prove to be enough of a platform for further collaborative efforts.

This is certainly what I am praying for, and I encourage others to do the same. Our churches already often support many of the same missionaries, send students to many of the same educational institutions, draw on each other for publication and curriculum resources, and so on. Closer working relationships would do nothing but enhance the gospel proclamation and disciple-making efforts of all our churches—not to mention giving a louder collective voice to those championing some doctrinal positions that seem sometimes to be lost in the larger conversation.

Of course, we may also discover that enough differences remain to justify the status quo. The potential benefits that could result from the time taken to have this conversation, however, deserve at least such an effort as this event is striving to provide.

Q. What’s planned, in general?

A. I anticipate two panel sessions beginning with some prepared questions, prefaced by a brief historical overview by Bauder, and concluding with analysis and to some degree, possible vision casting for the future coming from Chris Anderson, Matt Morrell, and myself. Lunch will be provided, and a freewill offering will be received to help with expenses.

Q. What do you think has prevented conversations of this sort in the past and how is the situation today different?

A. It is a historical fact that there were differences in influential personalities that became significant factors in the formation of these separate Baptist identities and organizations. Further complicating this historically, there were competing strategies in relation to the Northern Baptist Convention early on. Time moves on, and the issues and personalities of the earliest days are no longer directly relevant to the circumstances of today—but residual tension lingers. Some remember later concerns that developed that were legitimate at the time, but fail to acknowledge how those legitimate concerns were eventually addressed. Some focus on the contrasts the “other side” has in methods and practices they tolerate—while failing to acknowledge similar ranges that exist in their own sphere of influence.

I do not mean to say that differences do not exist. At the same time, I think it fair to say that the range of differences can be as easily observed from one individual congregation to another, regardless of organizational affiliation. When it comes to unifying matters at an organizational level, the principles themselves are remarkably similar.

One thing that has helped pave the way for something like this conversation is what I like to call “cross-pollination.” Here in Minnesota, as I have already mentioned, we have Central Seminary graduates serving in MBA and MARBC congregations. Similar observations could be made here for graduates of Faith, Maranatha, BJU, and Northland. Educational institutions have provided a venue for developing familiarity in working relationships. The Internet has helped, as over the last decade, people have been able to access content and interact with individuals whose ideas they can affirm, but whose connections might not always be the familiar ones. There has been some intentional bridge building on national conference platforms, too.

Q. The answer to this one probably depends somewhat on the outcome of this event, but can you tell us more about what you’d like to see happen in the future?

A. As you say, I think that much remains to be seen, and will be influenced by the preceding panel sessions. I wouldn’t want to presume to speak for any of the others. At the same time, as Bauder has observed, “unity is a function of what unites.” It is my prayer that whatever else might happen, those who come would leave encouraged, being more aware of the degree of unity they share with these like-minded brothers.

If you want anything more specific than that, you’ll have to come and join the conversation!

Aaron Blumer's picture
Offline
Since
Mon, 6/1/09
Posts: 7301
Range of differences

"the range of differences can be as easily observed from one individual congregation to another, regardless of organizational affiliation."

Certainly fits what I've observed. I've often been in a church and wondered "why are they in Fellowship A rather B?" and vice versa.

Keith Robertsson's picture
Offline
Since
Wed, 10/14/09
Posts: 15
I am reminded

some friction is only eliminated with some funerals.  Now, that a generation or two has passed, maybe now the GARBC and the FBFI can finally speak to each other.  I don't see an organizational merger.  But It would be nice if men could as they move about the country be able to move from one org to another depending which has a presence in the locale.

Aaron Blumer's picture
Offline
Since
Mon, 6/1/09
Posts: 7301
Organizational mergers

In my very limited experience (in corporate environment) there's often far less gain than expected when organizations merge. It seems to usually be better to coordinate mutual efforts. Partner. Sometimes, though, after a period of partnership, the organiztions involved develop a level of familiarity and comfort where they start to say things like "You know, we could both do X cheaper and more effectively if we shared resources" or some trading of "business units"

But it all really starts with realizing we're not truly competitors

Rob Fall's picture
Offline
Since
Tue, 6/2/09
Posts: 858
If nothing else,

churches in either organization feeling free to support missionaries serving with mission boards traditionally identified with the other org.

Aaron Blumer wrote:

In my very limited experience (in corporate environment) there's often far less gain than expected when organizations merge. It seems to usually be better to coordinate mutual efforts. Partner. Sometimes, though, after a period of partnership, the organiztions involved develop a level of familiarity and comfort where they start to say things like "You know, we could both do X cheaper and more effectively if we shared resources" or some trading of "business units"

But it all really starts with realizing we're not truly competitors

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Joel Tetreau's picture
Offline
Since
Wed, 5/6/09
Posts: 658
There should be a good relationship with the FBF and GARBC

So I don't think I would be militant enough to be a good fit in the FBFI. That's not a shot at the FBFI, it just is. My position would fit in with many in the GARBC. However, there seems to be little difference at all between a majority of the FBFI guys and the conservative half of the GARBC. You men in the FBFI and the conservatives in the GARBC should continue to build your relationships. I don't think a formal merger would work because the GARBC constituency probably is still too broad for many in the FBFI. With both worlds shrinking it makes sense that you would do that. Frankly I was encouraged to see the FBFI annual meeting meeting at Faith Baptist College and Seminary.  

A benevolent thought from an IFCA guy......who appreciates you men in the FBFI and the GARBC.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Baptist Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Offline
Since
Tue, 6/2/09
Posts: 811
I Remember!

I've been a member of both the GARBC and the FBFI. I recall the struggles within the GARBC in the 80's and I'm thankful for what they've become. Frankly, I can't see the FBFI ever entering into any meaningful relationship with the GARBC as a whole or any other fundamental group with the possible exception of the ACCC. There may be some limited cordial association between some members of the FBFI and the more conservative members of the GARBC but I think that kind of association might be not be appreciated by the more militant segment of the FBFI. In other words, I would be very surprised if an FBFI member who spoke at a GARBC meeting would be invited to speak at any future FBFI meeting. I'd like to hear what Don Johnson thinks of this.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Greg Linscott's picture
Offline
Since
Fri, 5/22/09
Posts: 2282
What criteria?

There may be some limited cordial association between some members of the FBFI and the more conservative members of the GARBC but I think that kind of association might be not be appreciated by the more militant segment of the FBFI.

I understand why you're saying this, Ron, but why do you think that is? What would that lack of appreciation be based on? 

Conversely, would you expect any hesitancy from people in the GARBC looking in the other direction? If so, what would be some of those concerns?

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Offline
Since
Tue, 6/2/09
Posts: 811
Response to Greg

Greg Linscott wrote:

There may be some limited cordial association between some members of the FBFI and the more conservative members of the GARBC but I think that kind of association might be not be appreciated by the more militant segment of the FBFI.

I understand why you're saying this, Ron, but why do you think that is? What would that lack of appreciation be based on? 

Conversely, would you expect any hesitancy from people in the GARBC looking in the other direction? If so, what would be some of those concerns?

I suspect that the GARBC understands the principle that its possible to have fellowship and even a working relationship with Christians who may not be exactly like you. My personal experience with the FBFI was that that the more militant members tolerated their less militant brethren but kept their distance.

In the 80's I was in both the GARBC and the FBF. I spoke at regional meetings for both groups. (I also preached at both Faith Free Presbyterian and Mount Calvary in Greenville---but I digress.) At the time we were involved in the battle in the GARBC to get it back to its roots--a battle that seems to have been won. I recall FBF leaders making disparaging remarks over the efforts and telling me that I wasn't a real fundamentalist because I hadn't separated from the GARBC. I think that that kind of separation from brethren is still an identifier for some in the FBFI.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.