Sides

Spring is the season for meetings in Southern Baptist life—OK, let’s face it: EVERY season is a season in which Baptists are happy to convene a meeting, but there are a few periods of the year that are especially intense. For the past few weeks I’ve been encountering a lot of my friends from across the geography and ideology of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In the midst of a cordial conversation with one of them, he replied to something I had said by saying, “That’s nice that you would say that. We’re supposed to be on different sides!” (or something along those lines). It is interesting, this whole matter of sides, and in a moment of conversation a blog post was born.

I’m Not Afraid to Take a Side on an Issue

I confess, one attribute that causes me to have less respect for someone is if I discover that he or she is never capable of taking a side. Truth matters, both ontologically and pragmatically. The world is ill-served by a life lived without conviction. I’m no fence-straddler by my nature, and I have no ambition to become one. If you ever see me turning into one, please warn me.

I Resist Grouping People up into Sides

If you aren’t someone who resists grouping people up into sides, I predict your dramatic and repetitive failure in local church life. Many pastors face the temptation to keep a “Friends List” and an “Enemies List.” These are the two sides. The first list is populated by saints; the second list is populated by the spawn of Satan sent from Hell to ensure, by thwarting my personal plans, that the world slides off into perdition. Every person on the “Friends List” is in peril of being moved to the “Enemies List” simply by opposing (or perhaps even by not supporting vigorously enough) something that I want to do. No person on the “Enemies List” can have the hope of being moved to the “Friends List,” because once an enemy, always an enemy. The pastor who operates this way stays at a church for three years or so until the “Friends List” cupboard is bare, at which time he moves somewhere else and starts over.

This manner of operation is foolish. It fails to recognize that…

  • The purpose of taking sides on issues is to try to persuade people, so I ought to build a winsome path by which people can come over to my side. There’s a big difference between debating with the goal of persuasion and debating with the goal of conquest.
  • There is more than one question in the world, and the person on the other side on Issue A might be my most important ally when Issue B comes along, unless my behavior renders that sort of situation impossible.
  • I like for my lists to have at least three points, since I’m a Southern Baptist preacher, but I can’t think of another one.

As a child I used to play pickup basketball games in my neighborhood (you know, back when it wasn’t considered child abuse to let your children out of your sight for a few hours…back when kids could just play a simple afternoon game of basketball in somebody’s yard without having to incorporate a 501(c)3 and start a bake sale to raise money for jerseys and a web site). We would choose up sides for a game. The choosing up of sides did not alter our relationships. It merely set the shape of a game among friends.

In the same way, just because you and I happen to have discussed some sort of an issue along the way and just because you happened—on that one occasion—to have been in error and on the wrong side, that does not mean that I have categorized you permanently and that I consider you and me to be bound eternally into mortal combat on opposite sides of things. We chose sides on an issue. Don’t presume that I was grouping us up into factions, at least for my part.

I See Different Layers of Sides

Sometimes the sides that emerge endure beyond the context of a single blog post. Also, there are indeed syndromes of thought that will cause certain people to fall on the same side on a lot of different issues just because they share a few foundational beliefs. For example, on any given question of theology the odds are better that Malcolm Yarnell and I will agree than are the odds that Joyce Meyer and I will agree. When we partake of the same underlying syndrome of thought, something emerges between us that feels more like a permanent grouping of people.

And yet, over the course of eight years of blogging, I’ve seen at least some tectonic shifting among basic philosophical groups. For example, although it put me at grave danger to life and limb, I was once, as I saw things at the beginning of my blogging, pretty much on the other side in the SBC from C.B. Scott. It has been a long time since that was the case. C.B. and I actually look at the world from fairly similar perspectives, which keeps me from having to look over my shoulder in dark alleys nearly so much.

When early SBC blogging was focused on IMB policies about charismania, one set of alignments emerged. When that same conversation shifted to women in ministry, at least a partial realignment took place. Conversations about alcohol align people one way; conversations about Calvinism align them another way; conversations about the Camel Method align them yet another. As The Big Question changes on this SBC merry-go-round, the semi-long-term alignments shift.

We are able to experience these kinds of shifts on one level of side-choosing primarily among people with whom we share agreement upon some underlying issue that puts us all on the same side. There is an important sense in which all Christian believers are on the same side. Indeed, more than just being important, this is of paramount importance. Above and beyond that critical level of agreement, for those of us who are Southern Baptist biblical inerrantists, we truly all have a lot in common.

That won’t keep me from disagreeing with you, but it will keep me from anathematizing you.

The Lord’s Side

Of course, servants don’t always get to choose their own sides. Over the course of time, I’ve watched some people fall off of my side to the wrong side. The. Wrong. Side. I’ve seen it happen from other sides, too. I’m thinking about a frequent blog commenter of earlier days who announced the he had become an atheist. I’m thinking about folks who were in these conversations who are now out of church altogether. I don’t want to push anybody in these discussions so hard that they wind up there, out of church and disillusioned.

And so, if you’re on the Lord’s side, you’re on my side, whether I like it or not. Soldiers don’t get to pick their own platoons. Servants don’t get to choose their fellow servants. Thankfully, in general I can say that I actually DO enjoy those with whom I serve the Lord, but that’s only incidental. The Lord has put us on the same side together, and that’s what really matters.

But before we descend into some feel-good slobber-fest, you’re still wrong.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks Bart.

    I learn a lot from you. I especially like the way you have explained these ideas. It is my intent to embrace what you have said. I am ready to build a relationship with anyone who is on “the Lord’s side”. And I am willing to try and build a relationship with anyone who “isn’t”.

    • Tarheel says

      haha…man they just don’t make good cartoons anymore. ;-)

      I like the point made too, well played Mr. Rogers.

  2. Tarheel says

    “I like for my lists to have at least three points, since I’m a Southern Baptist preacher, but I can’t think of another one.”

    Couldn’t you have made them more pithy, alliterated and, most importantly – where’s the poem? ;-)

    Plus, you obviously can’t use five points, especially since you mentioned CB Scott in your article. ;-) (just playin’ CB)

    Your points are as always well made and well taken. Thanks Bart.

  3. says

    Yeah, this is a great post. I just talked to Bart and he is snowed for the next few days. He may not be able to interact much on this post (or one more that may appear).

    But I love this model. We articulate our sides while realizing even the other side (on some issues at least) is still on God’s side.

  4. cb scott says

    “I’m thinking about folks who were in these conversations who are now out of church altogether.”

    Bart,

    My list of those who are “now out of church altogether” who were once in “these conversations” is probably very similar to yours. This is the one list I wish I did not have, for it greatly grieves my soul, especially for two of them. I think of both of them often, one almost daily.

    I assure you I shall not cease to pray regularly for the men on that list. Never shall I do so as long as I draw breath. I ask you and all to pray for them also.

  5. says

    Great post, Bart. And, I agree 100%. One thing that I have always appreciated about you, is that even though we might disagree on things, there is a confidence there that you are a brother and that you see yourself first as a follower of Christ. I was with Dwight McKissic last weekend and we both mentioned our mutual respect for you.

    I actually very much enjoy tangling with you from time to time. There are others that I just pass by, but I know that if I am going to see things on the other side from Bart, that I will be challenged and that I will learn something – and that I won’t get that mad at you.

    CB on the other hand – when he comes at me, I’m just hoping to keep my scalp! :) Just kidding, CB. It’s the Crimson Tide thing that is the real problem, though.

    • Dave Miller says

      I don’t know why you said “just kidding” with CB. I consider him a close friend, but he’s scary, Alan. He’s scary!!

    • Dwight McKissic says

      CB,

      “Roll Tide Anyway.” That was the funniest line that I ever read on a blog. You said that after it was reported a Northern Court, I believe in Wisconsin, had ruled the housing allowance unconstitutional. My response to what appears to be another narrowing of the parameters by the SBC: “Roll Tide Anyway”-:).

  6. says

    Did I just read Bart Barber align C.B. Scott with Joyce Meyer as being on opposite sides of Bart at one time?

    Great word. I am thankful to see you admit you agree with Malcolm Yarnell more so than you do with Joyce Meyer. I guess my only concern would be where you think you and Joyce Meyer would be in agreement. :)

    • says

      “I guess my only concern would be where you think you and Joyce Meyer would be in agreement.”

      I would guess on the “Jesus is Lord” part.

      I understand all of the problems with Joyce Meyer and her theology and I do not want to argue that. But, I was in North India one time and we went to this village. There was a family that had become Christian from watching Joyce Meyer on TV there. They have satellites in the rural villages. They heard her message about Jesus and salvation and they believed and were saved. She does a lot of work there helping feed and clothe and care for people and children and it really does happen. This family had received help too.

      So, after that, I had a bit of a different view and I praised God that a family in a village in North India heard the gospel through her and repented and rejected Hinduism and were saved.

      I know that you were joking and I’m not trying to be so serious, but I just thought of that meeting with that family and I remember that day being thankful that Joyce Meyer proclaimed the gospel – even if I would disagree with other things that she says/believes.

    • says

      I guess my only concern would be where you think you and Joyce Meyer would be in agreement

      Especially since Joyce Meyer is a false teacher who teaches a false gospel.

  7. cb scott says

    Tim Rogers,

    To borrow a quote from Brother Paul;

    “Too much falling from the plane hath made thee mad.”

  8. volfan007 says

    I have disagreed with a few people in the past. ;) I have disagreed with Bart and CB a few times. One time, CB nearly sicced Poncho Villa and his gang on me. But, I will tell you this….I would charge Hell with CB and Bart.

    Of course, we would want Tim Rogers to jump out of a plane…to parachute into Hell. And, we would ask Dave Miller to drive his big car into the Gate of Hell to bash open the doors…..I mean, we know the Devil will not want Dave in his green suit….

    David