The Independent Baptist’s largest annual convention has been taking place this week in Brisbane.

I’m really glad to see that it’s being live streamed. I almost went this year but my budget and schedule conspired to strangle the life out of that idea.

But I wanted to share a few thoughts:

First, some would view me as an antagonist toward this convention and the IBs in general. While I do have some significant concerns, and haven’t been shy about sharing them, I am an Independent Baptist and count many within the NBF orb dear friends.

Second, I think that part of the reason that the Independent Baptist movement in Australia has become what it is (I refer specifically to those concerns I mentioned), is a lack of public, open discussion where ideas can be critiqued and thinking can be challenged and sharpened.

So in that spirit, I’d like to comment on a few themes that have cropped up in the few sessions I’ve been able to watch.

Passion

I’ll start with a couple of positive comments and then move on to a few concerns.

I rarely mix with other IBs but that I am challenged by the passion with which they tend to pursue the things of God. Love ’em or hate ’em, the Independent Baptists believe what they preach and they preach what they believe.

Independent Baptists generally aren’t happy to sit on the sideline watching television. They tend to roll up their sleeves and get to work… even if it is just for the Sunday afternoon potluck dinner!

Being around that challenges me and stirs me to fervency of spirit.

Baptist history

Recent years have shown an increased interest in Australian Baptist history. Last night’s Australian Baptist history presentation was a moving illustration of how we Independent Baptists are beginning to see ourselves as part of a Baptist tradition here in Australia that precedes the Fundamentalist Independent Baptists by a hundred odd years.

While those who have a stronger claim to this heritage might object to this trend, I think it’s important that we are beginning to see ourselves as more of an indigenous movement. I’m also encouraged to consider how this growing interest in pre-IBF Baptists could broaden our perspective a little.

For instance, last night’s presentation heavily focused on the influence of Charles Spurgeon on Australian Baptist history. I would think that this kind of rooting can only be a good thing for the growth and maturation of the Independent Baptist movement in Australia.

Enculturation

Now to some less positive comments.

I noted that there was a strong trend in the few sessions/portions of sessions that I saw toward enculturation. In other words, the Scriptural truths which were being presented were pre-applied to a particular cultural mindset so that the end result was to communicate, not merely Scriptural truth, but an entire culture which includes both Scriptural truth and human culture.

For instance, instead of talking about how we preach on modesty, we would talk about preaching on dress standards.

Or instead of talking about testifying about the grace of God in our lives, we would talk about soul-winning (i.e. door-knocking).

My concern is that these types of pre-applied messages tend to render the actual Scriptural truth indiscernible from the cultural application. In other words, I suspect many will leave the meetings feeling that Scripture teaches that we should set dress standards and that Scripture teaches that we should use the door-knocking methodology. But it doesn’t.

What are your thoughts?

 

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About Jason Harris

Jason is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. He is currently working on his PhD from James Cook University as well as serving as pastor at CrossPoint Church. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.

12 Comments

  1. PJ 30 September, 2010 at 8:04 am - Reply

    I’m not sure the ‘enculturation’ you talk about is all that surprising when the three featured speakers all came from the United States and a particular stream of IB churches. But I wonder whether it matters all that much anyway?

    If people are happy to listen and apply Biblical teaching that might be framed in particular cultural context who cares? They’re not being taught to commit sin, in fact they’ll probably end up honouring the Lord and achieving more for Him than most Christians will!

    While I personally don’t support the concept of “soul-winning” and would prefer to talk about “modesty” rather than dress standards, if leaders in IB churches want to preach on “dress standards” and “soul-winning” who are we to tell them otherwise? Believers are free to worship and serve in these “enculturated” environments or not to.

    Liberty cuts both ways and and so I don’t think we ought to judge those pastors/leaders who want to teach on the issues you raised in the way they do.

  2. Alen Basic 30 September, 2010 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    I’ve heard it said that the gospel is first preached, then assumed and then lastly, forgotten. So, when I see people preaching “dress standards” instead of modesty and “soul winning” instead of testifying about God’s grace I am somewhat concerned that they are down a slippery trail.

    The people going there are going to listen to what they want to hear, they aren’t hearing anything new. Besides that, they are happy listening to what they are listening to and would see any opposing viewpoint negatively.

    I cannot begin to fathom what efforts would be required to change this and the path of the movement as a whole. Which is why when left with the two options of either trying to intervene, or watch Rome burn down; I pick the latter.

  3. Jason Harris 30 September, 2010 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    @PJ, Yeah, my big concern is that “these types of pre-applied messages tend to render the actual Scriptural truth indiscernible from the cultural application.”

    In other words, what God says and what Dr. So&So says are seen at the same level. God say “Do not murder.” God says “Go door-knocking regularly.”

    The danger, and I would argue that it is a matter of life and death, is that God is always right and obedience to him is empowered by his Spirit. But what Dr. So&So says is not always right and is not empowered by God’s spirit. It’s the “yoke” Paul referred to vs. the yoke Jesus referred to. The one that is easy.

  4. PJ 30 September, 2010 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    I take your point Jason and I really can’t speak from experience having only a very limited exposure to the kind of teaching you’re referring to.

    I agree that applying Biblical principles in a particular way ought not to be given the same weight as the principles themselves. I’d be interested to discover whether those that push “door-knocking” or “dress standards” see these as Biblical imperatives or particular ways in which those imperatives are applied.

    The point I would make however, is that the exhortation “to go door-knocking regularly” is not wrong, nor is it necessarily harmful – it is a practical way to fulfil the Great Commission that probably works quite well in a particular cultural context. If church leaders want to exhort Christians to do that here in Australia that’s fine by me and if Christians want to attend churches or conventions where that’s the message then that’s fine by me as well – why should I try and tell them they’re misguided? Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”

    I think its a pretty serious business to suggest that Dr. So&So is not saying the right thing and is not empowered by God’s Spirit. Unless there is clear doctrinal error (and there well may be I don’t know), it’s best to live and let live.

    I think people have to come their own conclusions about what exactly taking that “easy yoke” involves.

  5. Jason Harris 30 September, 2010 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    @PJ, Yeah, I think you’re right that it all hangs on whether these applications are viewed as biblical imperatives or not.

    The fact that door-knocking and standards are not necessarily bad things only serves to make the danger more insidious if the applications are indeed viewed as biblical imperatives.

  6. Steve 30 September, 2010 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    Without having heard those sermons referred to, I can relate to those concerns about pre-applied messages and mistaking cultural practices for Scriptural principles.

    Perhaps it is an indictment on the audience’s spiritual maturity (or lack thereof), that is, they need to be spoon fed pre-applied messages because they are unable to make the applications themselves.
    Or maybe it is the preaching style that is at fault in IB circles.

    Jason, can you offer any solutions to the problems seen at the conference?

  7. Jason Harris 2 October, 2010 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    @Steve, Yeah, there are probably many factors that led to this situation.

    As far as solutions, I think there are many solutions that need to be implemented as well… for instance, we need more rigorous and credible education, we need a return to primarily expository preaching, we need a profound respect for the Word of God and a profound scepticism for the words of men, we need congregations of discerners, we need courageous men who will not tolerate abuse of the pulpit, we need to elevate the pulpit back to its rightful place… the place for the proclamation of God’s Word, we need more humility, etc.

    Of course that’s a tall order. And a work in progress.

  8. Clint 16 October, 2010 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    I beleive the meetings had a lot of practical ideas that we could take home and use, you have to remember that not all people are pastors,expository preaching is good however for some of us, we need preaching we can use in our every day lives.

  9. Jason Harris 16 October, 2010 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the comment Clint.

    The implication of your comment seems to be that expository preaching is not practical and that practical preaching is not expository.

    Is that what you’re intending to say?

  10. Clint 16 October, 2010 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    You can exspose a verse and spend a whole sermon talking about it, which is a good thing, I am not suggesting that you not preach this way, there are some practical aspects to it,but mostly it can be just facts.
    The sermons I heard at the meetings give me something to think about, such as the culture we are living in and the practical ways we can reach the youth today.

  11. Jason Harris 17 October, 2010 at 12:38 am - Reply

    @Clint,

    Expository preaching is merely taking a passage of God’s Word and explaining it. Since God’s Word is not “just facts,” it seems to me that such preaching–done properly–would not be “just facts” either. God’s Word is living and powerful and it is the basis for our Christian faith. It is inherently practical because it is the opinion of God.

    Of course I’m not suggesting that all preaching needs to be expository per se. Rather, all preaching must be approached expositorily, even if it is topical or textual. If it is not rooted directly in the Word of Christ, how can we say it is Christian preaching?

  12. Clint 18 October, 2010 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    I agree with your comment, what I am saying is that a message that tells a person what he should be doing in his/her life goes a long way to bringing them in fellowship with God, The messages I heard at the meetings were more practicle that espository.

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