A somewhat new conference occurs in Gilbert, Arizona later this month. I asked two of the organizers to share their thoughts on what the conference is all about.
What would you say to help folks understand the uniqueness of this conference?
Joel: I’m not sure that this conference is that unique. Just like the first time we met a few years ago, this is just a group of friends that are wanting to get together to think through some issues connected with the biblical concept of koinonia. Really, I have a primary goal and a secondary goal with our time together. The primary goal is focused on our own congregation here at SVBC. I’m wanting to bring in men from other ministries to talk about the issues related to “church to church” koinonia. These leaders that are speaking are leading ministries that are already on our “sister church list” as a congregation.
One of the things I’m concerned about is that we at SVBC do not become an island unto ourselves. Clearly the NT teaches that congregations are to have relationships with other congregations. But what are those relationships built on? In the past we’ve often said, “It is based on a shared movement.” That answer is increasingly deficient for a variety of reasons. I believe the answer must be we have co-ministry with those that we share koinonia with.
A secondary purpose for the meeting is to be able to have some shared-thinking on a variety of issues that stem from this discussion about “koinonia.” Our group often enjoys fellowship at Shepherd’s Conference, and so we thought it would be easy to meet here in Phoenix before we carpool over to Southern California.
Mike: I like the way that Joel put that statement: that relationship built on “shared movement” is increasingly deficient. A movement is frequently amorphous, Fundamentalism especially so. It was formed based on common objectives, but is now built more on a common heritage than a common philosophy or theology. But look at Ephesians 4:3-6. There is no movement there as the basis of unity and fellowship.
Most offensively to some, a movement frequently becomes political. Battles are fought over the good or future of the movement or components of it, and people equate the success of Christianity with the success of the movement. But all of this is outside a biblical paradigm.
So recovering authentic koinonia is vital. We need to build our fellowship around a biblical set of concepts. That’s what this conference is about.
What can you tell us about the timing? What led you toward a conference of this type now in 2010 as opposed to years ago?
Joel: Well, we met a few years ago prior to a Shepherd’s Conference at Lighthouse Bible in Simi Valley. Roger Willis, the pastor at Lighthouse is a dear friend and one of the “older guys” in our “band of brothers.” There is a back story to this. A few years previous to that, five of us had met at Lansdale, PA—Jason Janz, Bob Bixby, Thomas Pryde, Greg Linscott and myself. It was a thrilling time for us because finally we were able to be together, face to face. For more than a year this group had started to interact with each other on SI, Neo-Fundamentalist and a few other blogs about a variety of issues. Many of us were shocked to find that there were other leaders who actually believed like we did and were willing to say so publicly in this new forum called the “blog.”
Almost immediately guys started phoning each other and a ground-swell of interest began to pick up about a number of issues. Those were exciting days.
Some of us had heard about each other but had never really had a “face-to-face” relationship. By the time we had reached the third year, the group of four had grown to a group of at least 15 different guys that had become part of our unofficial network of “good friends.” Most of us—almost all of us—had grown up within Fundamentalism, and so “others” started calling this “young Fundamentalism.” Now, for the record, I’m not sure that any of us would have picked that name, but at first it seemed to apply, so most of us just went with it.
Back to the question of timing. We actually had thought about doing a conference just prior to T4G in 2010 but the parts to the puzzle didn’t fall in place. The parts to Standpoint did fall into place.
Mike: The timing revolving around Shepherd’s Conference is more a matter of convenience since we all happen to attend that conference. None of us has the money to jet around the country without consolidating our trips. When we met in Simi Valley a few years ago, there were, I think, five speakers and about thirty in attendance for what Tom Pryde and Joel titled “A Fundamentalism Worth Continuing.” The major theme was that greater humility was needed to re-center the movement.
When we concluded that meeting, we all agreed we needed another. The timing of this one has more to do with the fact that all of us are very busy, and this is about as fast as we could pull another one together.
I noticed you chose koinonia as the theme of this conference. Tell us a bit about your thinking on that.
Joel: Why koinonia? A good question. As I said earlier I think five years ago as the group of us began to develop this friendship there was an explosion of interest on the issue of Fundamentalism, young Fundamentalism and its interaction with what I’ve called Type C Fundamentalism (speaking of militant conservative evangelicals like MacArthur and Dever). We were getting attention because for the first time in recent memory a group of leaders were proposing that we would stay within the relationships of Fundamentalism while at the same time reach out to some conservative evangelicals. In the past decades that just wasn’t done openly. And when it was done it was led by those that were associated with an interest towards “The Moral Majority.”
The thing that became apparent to me about three years ago was that while this group could easily identify what they had in common “against” or “apart” from the main movements, it was not clear what they had in common with each other. So now a few years later, most of us have come to a position that while we are grateful for movements, movements don’t aid in the practical, day-to-day dynamics of co-ministry. “Koinonia relationships” do aid in co-ministry. The NT idea behind the term koinonia speaks of real partnerships. When ministries relate to each other only based on a movement, I’m not sure that’s real koinonia. The thing that has been apparent to me as I’ve heard from scores of leaders over the last several years is that too many ministries and leaders feel “stuck” in a movement without relationships. I think we’re saying, why would you do that? Why would you stay in a group of ministries when your heart is not there, and you’re not benefiting from one another?
The Standpoint website identified disappointed or disaffected Fundamentalists as a group of special interest for the conference. What can you tell us about this group as you understand it, and how to you hope the conference will do for them?
Joel: If they come to our group and are disgruntled about Fundamentalism or any other movement, hopefully they’ll leave realizing they need to get over that! You shouldn’t have been placing all of your bananas in that basket to begin with! By the way, it’s very unfair to place any movement on a pedestal. If church history has taught us anything it has demonstrated that almost always, good movements that place themselves on the pedestal eventually end up looking like Humpty Dumpty! Also, usually when guys are hurt by associations, fellowships or such, they have been placing too much faith and too much zeal on men and not enough on the preeminence of Christ and His bride.
After I wrote “Three Lines in the Sand” I had several men who were in their 60’s and 70’s who were still internally bleeding from the “Minnesota-Fundamentalist-Turf-Wars” back in the 60’s and 70’s. How sad! 40 plus years later, and you’re still hurting and the main characters are with the Lord? What in the world? I’m sorry for the pain but really, who cares if a group of leaders hurt you. Keep your eye on Christ and the only ball-game that matters. The focus in ministry is the body of Christ. If a former association was painful, the best medicine in the world is to experience real koinonia! Also realize this: for large numbers of leaders within evangelicalism and large numbers of leaders within Fundamentalism, they are experiencing koinonia within their movement. So when you’re healthy, you can rejoice that they rejoice. Perhaps “such-and-such movement” doesn’t work for you. Fine! That doesn’t mean it can’t or doesn’t work for someone else and that Christ is not being glorified.
Mike: There’s that word again, Aaron—“disaffected.” I think each of us has been, at various times, disappointed, disillusioned, or disaffected with Fundamentalism as a movement.
The word “disaffected” has serious spiritual implications. I hope we all passed beyond that years ago. As for “disappointed,” who hasn’t been disappointed with the performance of someone or some group in the movement? And “disillusioned”? Disillusioned is a good thing. Who wants to live in an illusion?
And I think that’s what we’re trying to say. Leave the “disaffected” behind. Don’t be bitter. Stop being surprised when you’re “disappointed” by men. No Fundamentalist leader has nail-prints in his hands—nor does any evangelical leader. Why should we be surprised by disappointment? We need to stop letting these things drive us, and begin to build our fellowship and unity around biblical constructs, truly supporting those who support all that Christ represents, and conversely, truly leaving aside those who do not support all that Christ represents.
But there’s a hidden trap in that. If we start judging one another based on whether we are 100% in line with Christ, who can stand? Koinonia, properly understood, also includes encouragement and “provoking one another to love and good works.”
So for the disappointed and disillusioned, we have this to offer. We will look at the issues that concern us biblically, not in terms of “movement-think”. We will not circle the wagons to defend a movement, since the movement has no biblical standing other than how it relates to submission to Christ.
But we caution those who are disappointed to avoid bitterness. The danger there is that you just become a parody of that which disappointed you. “I will angrily denounce Fundamentalism for being so quick to angrily denounce others” doesn’t really ring true.
Do you see the conference as any kind of harbinger of things to come? Is it the beginning of a new breed of Fundamentalism?
Joel: A new breed of Fundamentalism? I’m not sure. Most of us have a hard enough time just leading our own ministries. I can’t imagine we have the skills to lead a new movement or even sub-movement. I know I don’t. In my mind, if this is anything, it is a return of the spirit of the first generation of Fundamentalism that believed you could have koinonia with leaders and ministries that were contending for the faith on the inside of a group, with leaders who were totally independent. I think this is just a group of friends who are willing to have others join us.
Mike: I think the conference is more likely reflective of change rather than something bringing change. The new reality for Fundamentalism is that with the advent of communication venues like SharperIron, nobody gets to be an unquestioned leader merely because they pastor a hub church or are president of a hub college in the movement. Anybody with a well-reasoned Scriptural point will be heard. And then, naturally, the participants in these conversations want to meet face-to-face. That’s what we’re doing.
The Standpoint website gave a fair amount of attention to the weaknesses and failures of Fundamentalism. What do you hope the conference (and anything that might be connected to it) can do to avoid repeating those failures in different form or replacing them with different failures that aren’t much better?
Joel: I think the hope was to reveal the failure of placing confidence in movements (not Fundamentalism per se) when there is not the baseline commitment to koinonia. I don’t think most of us are saying let’s replace Fundamentalism or evangelicalism with “this.” Most of us are saying “We’ll trust the Lord to do what He wants to do with movements. In the mean time let’s be good stewards of ‘inter-leader’ and ‘inter-ministry’ relationships.” I have no doubt we will fail from time to time. Hopefully we will be open to each other’s challenges when we do fail.
Mike: A movement has a very short shelf-life in terms of history. After a while, the circumstances under which it arose change, and it becomes irrelevant, and then finally tries to grapple for longer life by becoming increasingly belligerent. Or, it changes to carry its core ideas to a new generation and address the concerns of a new era. Fundamentalism may be doing that. Time will tell.
Movements are at best a work of God, and at least a label applied by historians. So I wouldn’t invest one iota of effort in keeping a movement alive. But building authentic biblical fellowship and unity—koinonia—is worth the effort.
Addressing the failures of Fundamentalism was a focus, because we very much want people to know that they are not alone out there. There are brothers in Christ who share their concerns. It is not a matter of choosing between being a Fundamentalist or sliding down an inevitable slippery slope into liberalism. All over America are men who pastor churches that just do what the Bible says, and their association with the name “Fundamentalist” is only incidental if it exists at all. And that’s OK. So why not have koinonia with them?
Is the conference mainly aimed at pastors, “laymen,” or both?
Joel: This is aimed at both leaders and non-leaders within the body of Christ.
What would you say to someone who is teetering on the edge of attending to help them make up their mind to be there?
Joel: Well, for the average pastor who doesn’t have a lot of extra money in his budget this year, doesn’t have layers and layers of secretarial help and doesn’t have teams of associates which allow him to spend 10 hours a week playing golf—man, we are in your world! The leaders who will be speaking at Standpoint are just average guys. We struggle just like you do. A hope for this conference is that we will really reach out to pastors of smaller churches. Every one of us in the past (or the present) have pastored small—and I mean really small—works. All of us have walked through the valley of deep hurt, serious depression and have experienced the Lord’s help in that. All of us have failed in ministry and know what it’s like to feel as if the Lord made a mistake when he picked “me” for His service. All of us have been encouraged and lifted up by the koinonia that we will be talking about.
Let me brag about the guys we have coming to this. OK, the first two guys are the two Puritans in my life—Bob Bixby is the reincarnation of Jonathan Edwards. Bob Snyder is the reincarnation of John Owen. Bixby brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our time together. Bob also brings much to the topic of Missions (Global Grace Missions is out of Morning Star Baptist Church).
Dr. Bob Snyder (who has attended DBTS, is a graduate of Central Seminary and holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from Southern Seminary) is godly, humble and pretty much the smartest “historical-theologian-pastor-leader-thinker-writer” on the planet (in my opinion). His historical presentation on koinonia as it has been seen since the reformation will be worth the trip alone.
Mike Durning, pastor of Mt. Pleasant Bible Church in Goodells, MI will speak to the issue of how leaders from a “Calvinist bent” can have meaningful relationships with those who don’t. Mike, a graduate of Bob Jones University, has a sharp mind and has been blessed of the Lord in ministering in the context of theological diversity.
Thomas Pryde who has pastored for many years and now serves in an itinerate ministry called Sermons in Song as well as teaching at the Veritas School of Theology will speak to the issue of “Does Form Matter?”
Tony Bartolucci is the senior pastor of Clarkson Community Church in NY. He is working on his Ph.D. in historical theology as well. Tony is writing a book in response to Dr. Beckwith’s departure from the presidency of ETS back into the church of Rome. Tony is an expert in NT Greek and preaches out of his Greek NT. He is a member of FIRE (Fellowship of Reformed evangelicals).
Roger Willis pastors Lighthouse Bible Church in Simi Valley. Roger is a godly and wise leader. He is our Moses! Being the elder statesmen of the group, Roger will challenge us on the inherent dangers of worldliness in the context of ministry in a postmodern context.
Last there’s me. While I’ve studied in a variety of schools, I simply don’t have what these guys have by way of brilliance. The thing I bring to the table is a love for leadership and love of leaders. I’ve had the thrill of serving as a pastor in three ministries. I presently serve on the leadership team of Institute of biblical Leadership (IBL) headquartered in Lake Lure, NC. My prayer is that this kind of a conference can serve as a real tool of encouragement for our own congregation here at SVBC as well as leaders.
Mike: Why come? You could stay home and listen to the MP3’s as we post them. But coming and being part of the discussion will benefit not only you, but us. The conference is built with significant times for discussion and fellowship among participants.
The conversation itself is important. We have no idea if there is something historically significant being formed here, but if there is, we need to hear more voices about what shape it should take. Either way, the conversation will be about things that are of biblical significance. We are not going to spend time deriding the Fundamentalism movement and declaring some new movement. We are going to spend time discussing important biblical concepts. In a way, we are going to self-define by declaring what we believe, and then let the Lord work.