I have a confession to make.
I believe with all my heart that the Bible is inspired, word by word, and that it is truth without any mixture of error. But when I read through the Bible there are portions that I will sometimes skim a little more carelessly than others. The genealogies of 1 Chronicles may not get my word for word attention as Romans 8 does. I don’t give Leviticus’ instructions on infectious skin disease, bodily discharge, and mildew the same rapt attention that I give 2 Corinthians 4 and 5.
And, when my assigned reading has been Lamentations I may have let my eyes glaze a bit and I may not have given it the attention it deserved…until Friday.
Friday, while we were driving from Sioux City to Oklahoma City (where they drive as crazy as Russell Westbrook plays basketball!) I read Lamentations for the devotional site I do for my church’s Bible reading program. I’d printed out the text so I could take notes. I received a new lesson in the biblical admonition that “All Scripture is inspired and useful.” It jumped off the page at me. You can read the devotional there if you wish – I won’t attempt to repeat it here in full.
The post struck me hard about some things going on in my church. We have had a rough year – well, a rough few years. I look at some decisions I made, which I made with the best of intentions (I thought) that haven’t worked out well. But we are still a “good church” and when you are a “good church” which led the state in CP for about 15 years until a mega starting giving a large amount, leads in Lottie Moon and probably in Annie Armstrong as well (I don’t check numbers much) it is easy to let things slide. On the outside things look good but we have some real struggles.
But churches are afraid to admit there are problems. We put on a show of celebration no matter how much lament is justified. Just like Judah, we act like everything is okay right up until the seige is at the gates and the walls are falling in. (No, we aren’t there yet.) But lament is so much a part of Scriptures – both Old Testament and New. Why is it NOT a part of Southern Baptist Churches?
I once uncovered some old newsletters in a previous church where I was an associate pastor. The first three weekly missives from the pastor carried breathless narratives of how heaven came down and glory had filled every soul at church on Sunday. The fourth newsletter was his resignation. This was a difficult church that ran off 6 pastors over 16 years and I knew for a fact that during the three weeks leading up to his resignation that heaven was not coming down and glory was filling few souls. Why would he pretend?
Because we resist lament. We pretend all is well when the world is falling apart around us.
Will we do that this week at the SBC?
No, I am not saying that the SBC is on its last legs or that our destruction is imminent. I don’t believe that. In fact, there are some good things.
- I appreciate President Steve Gaines and his work over the last two years. He has done a good job providing leadership for the convention in difficult days.
- We are still holding the line on doctrinal matters in a world of compromise.
- We still have a wonderful mission force, even though it is much smaller than it used to be.
- Our stats may be dwindling but we are still planting churches and reaching people.
But there is much to lament as well.
- There have been too many stories of sexual immorality in recent days. If someone could tell us that we’ve cleaned house, then we could be comforted but it is more likely that the high-profile resignations of leaders, professors, and others are the tip of iceberg and that sexual sin – from adultery to predation to addiction to pornography – abounds in the SBC far more than we would want to know. This is a cause for lament.
- There has developed a theological arrogance among many in the SBC that attacks those who vary on interpretational points at heretics and dangerous threats to the life and theological soundness of the convention. We can agree to the BF&M but if we do not see things exactly the way they see things we are liberals or SJWs or fundamentalists or hyper-Calvinists or Arminians. This is the enmity, strife, and schismatic nature that Paul described as rooting in flesh, not the love, joy, peace, and patience that comes from the Spirit. Look at the way these roving gangs of theological correctness thugs attack on social media. This is a cause for lament.
- Last year, during the PC, we worked closely with Dr. Mark Tolbert of the Caskey Center. He said something that jarred me quite a bit. There is a good reason why our baptism numbers are down. Every year we hear the excuses. “It is a reporting thing.” “We can only preach the gospel, God has to do the saving.” I love that one – we are doing our job if God would only do his. But what Mark told us is that studies show that Baptists don’t do much evangelism. People don’t share the gospel. If we are not sharing the gospel evangelism stats are likely to drop. If Southern Baptists are not sharing Christ it is a cause for lament.
- The hostility and cruelty that marks our interactions with one another is grievous. Christians ought not to speak to one another the way we speak to one another. Christians ought not to spread falsehood and rumors about one another. 1 Corinthians 13 is part of that sufficient word that we claim to love and it doesn’t say, “As long as they agree with you about everything.” Disagreement, dissent – these are part of Baptist life. It is possible to have friends and colleagues with whom you disagree. But it is not possible to honor God and eviscerate God’s people as so many have done. It is a time for lament.
So what am I suggesting?
I am not suggesting we cry throughout the week or that we disband. We should always praise the faithfulness of God. But I think it is a time to honor God by avoiding talking about how great WE are. There’s so much of that. In a world of dwindling stats, #Metoo scandals, sexual failures, racial inequities, and so many other issues, it might be the best time to show some humility.
Maybe we should learn a verse that has been in our Bibles all along, one that runs counter to the American ethos, to macho culture, and has been largely forgotten in the SBC. It is Proverbs 3:36, quoted in James 4:6.
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
Maybe it is time we put ourselves in a position to receive his grace!