Why are we here today?

From page 158 of Judge Paul Pressler's book, A Hill on which to Die.

“The liberals had said that after the conservatives finished with those who held different views of the nature of the Bible, they would begin attacking the charismatics (neo-Pentecostals). They also alleged conservatives would later attack various other groups until they ‘purify’ every aspect of convention life.

“They said conservatives wanted to make everybody think just as they do. Such a charge is ludicrous, but it did worry some people such as my friend Wally Henley [pastor of Encourager Church in Houston and former president of the Alabama Baptist Convention], who had charismatic leanings.

“I assured him the issue was not the charismatic movement. Although I am not a charismatic, I have referred people with charismatic convictions to his church, which leans charismatic.

“I assured him that Paige, our friends, and I would not turn on charismatics after the battle over biblical authority was won. He trusted us, and he and others have now seen that this issue will not be a test of fellowship.

“Charismatic worship and understanding of spiritual gifts is an interpretation of Scripture that was not our concern. Our concern was the nature of Scripture… All we wanted was for people to base what they believe on an intelligent study of what the Bible says.”

It seems to me that Pastor Henley was a bit prophetic. In light of Judge Pressler's words, and in light of the recent attempts of some to exclude from service those who are inappropriately baptized or who practice a prayer life that is simply a bit more intimate than they are comfortable with, maybe it's time to revisit Dr. Morris Chapman's words from his 2004 address to the SBC in Indianapolis. It might do us some good. The following excerpts from his sermon were taken from a Baptist Press article.

"I pledged to Southern Baptists that I would 'enlarge the tent, lengthen the cords and strengthen the stakes,' those same words our Lord stated in Isaiah 54:2.

"My promise was to all Southern Baptists who believe in the absolute authority of God's Word."

Chapman offered that there are those who reject biblical fidelity and exclude themselves from that pledge. But, he shared his concern that he and subsequent presidents have not "executed to the fullest extent" the opportunity to be more inclusive. He also cautioned that in rejecting the liberalism that once threatened the convention, Southern Baptists must be on guard as well to avoid the equally wrong practices of political exclusion.

"We must never cease to be vigilant against heresy," Chapman said in his address, The Fundamentals of Cooperating Conservatives. "However, crusades cannot last forever. Again and again we have debated vigorously that the conservative resurgence was theological, not political; that our objective was doctrinal purity, not political control."

Chapman said if this is true, then the stated goals of the conservative resurgence have been achieved, and it's time for Southern Baptists to show they not only believe the Bible, but also are compelled to live by it.

"If our struggle for the authority of God's Word does not lead us to a spirit of humility and holiness, we're already going in the wrong direction, destined to lose our way in the wilderness."

Expressing a concern that Southern Baptists, having affirmed their faith in the Bible, "will develop a censorious, exclusivistic, intolerant spirit," Chapman warned there is a real threat that the convention might "end up on the road of separatism," a direction equally as disabling as liberalism.

This road of separatism is "an ecclesiastical methodology that devalues cooperation in favor of hyper-independence," Chapman stated. "We can be both conservative and cooperative; it is our distinctive heritage. It is the genius of our success; it is our spiritual destiny.

"Cooperating conservatives believe our convention is at its best only when rank-and-file Southern Baptists are pulling together and on the move," Chapman said, adding that the convention needs to enlist "every possible person who loves our Lord Jesus Christ and believes He died for the church to hear and heed the call of God to go to the ends of the earth, empowered by His Holy Spirit."

Chapman declared it is time for the SBC to return to a sense of normalcy in operation, allowing anyone with a "devotion to the Lord, His church and our convention" to serve Southern Baptists. Chapman acknowledged trustees should be inerrantists, but he emphasized they also should "have a heart for lost souls and be affiliated with churches that evangelize at home and support missions around the globe," including consistent contributions to the Cooperative Program.

"But most importantly, our trustees should be people who have a close daily walk with our Lord Jesus Christ," Chapman said. "This convention deserves to be led by trustees who listen to God's Spirit on the way to making decisions, not trustees who are susceptible to political agendas. Politics for the sake of control by a few is not how our forefathers envisioned the operations of our Convention.

"But I must warn you," Chapman continued, "... politics do not die easily ... because the death of politics in a spiritual environment only comes after we die to self."

He also stressed that those who value sound doctrine also should practice what they preach.

"For cooperating conservatives, believing must be accompanied by ethical living; orthodoxy, right doctrine, must lead to orthopraxy, right practice."

Chapman noted the irony in the lives of Jewish leaders in Jesus' time -- they were staunch defenders of supernaturalism, the miracles, angels, the resurrection of the dead, all the right beliefs; yet out of touch with the Kingdom of God.

"The Pharisees had the right doctrines but the wrong measures, the wrong motives and the wrong means," he observed. "They measured their righteousness by their rule-keeping and their affiliations ... They congratulated themselves and despised everyone else. They intimidated all who dared to oppose them, threatening them with a first-century form of ex-communication.

"But in the end, they missed God ... and all who followed them missed God.

"They had the vocabulary of the people of God, but they did not have the character of the people of God."

Chapman emphasized that it's a biblical lesson Southern Baptists should heed: right doctrine does not equate to righteous living; they're not one and the same, and believing they are opens the door to a dogmatism that stifles and demoralizes other Christians.

"It is the sin of Pharisaism when good people, whose theology and ministry are above reproach, are slandered, discredited, or ostracized simply because they refuse to blindly follow particular political posturing.

"Innuendos, unfounded rumors, sly winks and nods are as deadly as an assassin's bullet and usually as ungodly."