Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Saturday, February 25, 2006

To Address Some Concerns (Part II)

Returning to my series on why I chose to go the route I did, tonight I hope to explain why I chose to go to a Southern Baptist seminary. (There's a picture of CSBS to the right, from their website)!

As I stated earlier, I've seen Christians go off to Bible college or seminary, and then be taught questionable things. A statement of faith is often not enough to guarantee an orthodox understanding of Christianity. The sight of acquaintances and friends under the instruction of people who, say, believe Christians are entitled to physical health and worldly prosperity, or who exalt emotional experience and spectacular gifts over the study of God's Word, served as a cautionary note to me.

So first and foremost, I wanted to be taught by people who believe strongly in the centrality of Scripture, and particularly in its inerrancy (that the Bible is absolutely true in all it teaches, being inspired and guided by God Himself). I wanted a school that emphasized the Christian duty to evangelize and spread the Gospel. And I wanted assurance that the school had high and recognized standards of education.

My last post of the series explained why I decided to follow the Baptist route. In order to find seminaries, I made a point of learning which group or agency accredits seminaries. Thus, I used the Assocation of Theological Schools' website as a starting point in my research.

After considering and rejecting several schools, I noticed a small Southern Baptist seminary in Cochrane.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)

I had some knowledge of Southern Baptists. Obviously, Billy Graham is a very well-known figure of Southern Baptist background. Though I wouldn't agree with him on various matters (cooperation with churches that deny the Biblical gospel, stress on the human decision instead of the power of God in evangelism, etc.) he certainly is an example of the evangelistic spirit of Southern Baptists.

In researching the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists, I found that they have a very active church planting program (with a very ambitious target of 1000 by 2020). As Canada is increasingly secular, this fills a deep and real need, and again shows their evangelistic emphasis.

In Fredericton, I regularly listened to a radio program called "In Touch," with Charles Stanley. His teaching was edifying and encouraging, not only to me, but to most of my Christian friends (including those who were concerned about my decision!) Well, Dr. Stanley is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. You'll notice on my sidebar that I've linked Albert Mohler's blog. He is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has ably defended and explained the Christian Gospel in the public realm (including on Larry King Live). I've also been greatly encouraged and built up by Founders Ministries, a group of conservative Southern Baptists also linked on my sidebar, and by Dr. James White at Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Reformed Baptist who was raised Southern Baptist and who is still a professor at an SBC seminary. In short, Southern Baptists have contributed greatly to my personal spiritual development through books and websites I've read.

This high standard of Biblical scholarship impressed me, as did the clear emphasis in SBC life on religious education. They run 6 huge seminaries in the United States, and their missionaries run others abroad - including my own in Cochrane. This emphasis was EXTREMELY attractive to me, as I had perceived an anti-intellectual spirit among some of the charismatic believers I knew.

Although I'm personally Calvinist in my theology, most of the SBC is not. However, there is a prominent and active group of like-minded people working in SBC circles (see the Founders above) and the SBC statement of faith is not only compatible with my theology, but in certain places (Article 4 on salvation, for instance) takes an overtly Calvinistic position. In short, I wouldn't be way out of place there. (Also, the more Arminian theology of the majority would serve to sharpen and challenge me while in seminary).

Finally, the SBC has the distinction of being the only large denomination in North America to have addressed and turned back a slide towards theological liberalism. We now see many large Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and even Baptist bodies in the U.S. and Canada waffling on or even accepting such doctrinal evils as homosexual pastors. The SBC was, indeed, heading in this direction in the 1970s as SBC leaders and professors downplayed the accuracy and authority of Scripture. The conservatives actually won the ensuing fight for the denomination and have come out clearly in support of the centrality and authority of Scripture. Perfect they are not - but this was a key factor in my decision. I could be assured of professors and teachers who acknowledged the true place of the Bible.

Other Reasons

Other important factors need to be considered when choosing a school. CSBS has perhaps the lowest tuition rates of any Canadian seminary, due to subsidization by the SBC. Newly married and having just left the Army, financial considerations were important - and are more so now that we are expecting!

The location of the seminary was extremely attractive. Alberta has the lowest taxes in Canada and is the nation's hottest economy. Erin would easily be able to find emplyment as a nurse in the Calgary area, have the highest salary in Canada, and be taxed the least for it. Finding a part-time or summer job for myself would not be difficult. A native Calgarian, I knew the area very well and my family was nearby. The army was offering me an all-expenses-paid move back to my place of enrolment. Cochrane is a beautiful town with a breathtaking view of the Rocky Mountains - having been born in those mountains, I have a strong emotional connection to the area. And closeness to a major city would provide limitless ministry opportunities, as well as access to a major airport (I was tired of doubling my airfare for the privilege of flying out of the tiny Fredericton airport).

Finally, the seminary itself has a very experienced and well-qualified faculty. It is a very small school, providing a close-knit family atmosphere. I can already attest to the support they can give - the people there have been very good to both of us, supporting us earnestly in prayer and helping us fit into the Cochrane community. And the small class sizes allow for a very dynamic learning environment.

Those are the reasons I chose CSBS.

Specific Concerns By Others - Upcoming Posts

There were three major concerns raised by others when I told them about this seminary:

1. First, the lack of a charismatic emphasis (the implication from one individual concerned was that Baptists would brainwash me). I've already touched on my view on this in my previous post, but I'll develop this concern in more detail in my next post. There is a personal element in how this concern was expressed that concerned me greatly - the individual didn't take it to me directly, actually - and I want to address this.

2. Another good friend of mine alerted me to a new Southern Baptist policy regarding foreign missionaries and the use of tongues. This is a related but separate issue, and since this concern was conveyed to me in a God-honoring manner (as opposed to the one above), I wish to deal with this specific concern separately.

3. Finally, the SBC does not ordain women as pastors. I'll explain my view on this issue in the last post of the series.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cancer As A Gift From God: John Piper's Testimony

If I had to name one book that had effected an utter change in my life, other than the Bible, it would be John Piper's Desiring God. (That book is available online at this link). This book defined, for me, a life lived to the glory of God. Piper is a pastor with a passion to glorify God, and his writings have been a great encouragement to me.

Recently, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. On the eve of an operation, he wrote an incredible meditation on God's will in his cancer. I'm happy to say that Pastor Piper's surgery went well, but my main point in this post is to point out his incredible, God-honouring attitude as he faced what might be a terrifying time for anyone.

I STRONGLY urge you to read his article here.

(H/T Centuri0n.)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

To Address Some Concerns (Part I)

Why a Baptist Seminary?

More than a year and a half ago, I first broached the idea of my possibly attending seminary to a group of trusted Christian men. These friends were cautiously positive about the idea, and promised to support me in prayer. As that hard-to-define sense of call began to firm over the next few months, I actively began investigating seminaries. Eventually, I settled on Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary.

Having committed to a course of action, a seminary, and thus the theological outlook of that particular denomination that runs the seminary, I nevertheless began to face some concerns held by other friends of mine. I do thank God for this, as it demonstrated their Christian concerns for my spiritual well-being. It is a good thing to be sharpened by others, and we are all called to exercise Christian discernment, even on behalf of others. Nevertheless, I feel I owe these people an explanation.

This series of posts has several aims, then, but one of them is NOT to complain that others disagree with me or to belittle their Christian responsibility to speak their convictions. Rather, I hope to accomplish several things:

1. First, explain why I chose a Baptist seminary...

2. ...and a Southern Baptist one at that.

3. I will (graciously and lovingly, I hope) address one particular approach or manner, in which some concerns were expressed, that I considered very inappropriate.

4. I'll talk about a particular concern raised with me about Southern Baptists and tongues.

5. Finally, I'll address another particular concern about the SBC view of women in ministry, and how this impacted my decision.

Why a Baptist Seminary?

I have seen people pick a Bible college or seminary rather carelessly, seemingly on the assumption that if the place has a seemingly Christian statement of faith, it's safe to attend. I believe that the choice of seminary or Bible college, for one who has the call of God on their life, requires prayer, discernment, and careful investigation. Furthermore, it requires knowing one's own spiritual walk. It requires a knowledge of one's own theological views. And finally, the school should be one that has high standards of education, and be recognized in the Christian community as such.

And so I began, even before I became aware of a call to ministry, to figure out who I was as a Christian.

So why a Baptist seminary? After all, this came as a surprise both to my own circle of friends (mostly charismatic / Pentecostal) and to my family (mostly infant-baptist Reformed). Thus, my answer has to address two issues: baptism, and why I didn't choose a charismatic school.

The answer on baptism is quite simple. First, I was baptized as an adult at 23, after coming to the conclusion that believer's baptism is the Biblical model. Why? Many reasons:

First, no example or command to baptize infants is given in the New Testament.

Second, baptism does not save or regenerate a person. Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone. Thus, I don't agree with those who think that infants are somehow made more likely to be saved by baptism.

Third, when Christ gave the Great Commission, He commanded us to make disciples and baptize them. The fact that Christ mentioned discipleship first is significant. An infant simply cannot be a disciple, for discipleship implies awareness and understanding of faith. Infants have neither until they grow up.

Fourth, when the apostles baptized, a clear connection between baptism and repentance (and other evidence of salvation) can be seen (Acts 2:28, 8:36-38 [even without the disputed verse 37], 9:17-18, 10:47-48). In many cases, baptism is explicitly administered as a clear response to the work of the Spirit in a person's life.

Fifth, those who argue that baptism has replaced circumcision as a seal of the covenant forget that the New Covenant involves circumcision of the heart, and that those so circumcised are the true Israel. Or, put another way, while the Abrahamic Covenant was with a man and his physical descendants, the New Covenant is with his spiritual descendants. Circumcision was therefore tied to ethnicity, while baptism is tied to faith. Jesus and Paul spent much of their time disabusing Jews of their notion that ethnic membership in the covenant guaranteed them God's favour - why should members of the church then adopt the same idea regarding their own physical descendants? To me, it defeats the point.

A more detailed defence of believers' baptism can be found elsewhere easily. Suffice to say, I'm with the Baptists on this one.

So why a specifically Baptist seminary, instead of one that more resembled my Fredericton church in its beliefs (specifically about the charismata?)

Well, first, I'd make a pretty bad Pentecostal. See, I've never spoken in tongues. I've never been tempted to. I am convinced that tongues are utterly unnecessary for salvation (remember, by grace through faith!) and that there is no Biblical reason to expect that every believer, or indeed even most believers, should speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30). Paul commands us to seek the higher gifts - and if you read his letters, he compares tongues with prophecy, preferring the latter. In short, tongues is not high on my priority list, and to those who measure spiritual maturity by tongues-speaking, read Paul again.

Furthermore, a keystone of Pentecostal theology is the idea of a second and subsequent "fillings" of the Holy Spirit. I believe every true believer is filled with the Holy Spirit at conversion (indeed, before conversion, for without the Spirit no one can even believe in Christ at all - 1 Corinthians 2:14). Once the Spirit is there, He's there to stay. But Pentecostals generally believe salvation is a state that can be lost. I disagree.

See, salvation is the Lord's work. No one can be saved at all unless the Father draws him to Christ (John 6:44). All those so given to Christ will come to Him (John 6:37) and those who come to Him will never be cast out (John 6:38-39) - for this would violate the Father's will and make Christ a failure. And all of these who come to Christ WILL be raised to eternal life on the last day (John 6:44).

In short, it's God who saves. Since a person's decision is not the decisive factor (though it is a step in the process) then salvation is by God's grace alone. And if grace makes one "saved," then grace will keep one "saved." Or in other words, if one's sin wasn't an obstacle to salvation at time of conversion, why would it reverse it later?

I'm not saying that a Christian can sin with impunity. On the contrary, persistent sin is evidence that one is not saved at all! (1 John 1:6, 2:4-6, 3:6). But there's my point - behaviour is evidence only. It is not a contributor to salvation. Again, this is because salvation is a work of God, not man.

By now, discerning readers can guess I'm a Calvinist. That's not a popular position in Pentecostal circles.

I did briefly consider a Christian Missionary Alliance seminary. However, I could not have signed their confession of faith (unlike my present seminary). They believe physical healing is a provision of the atonement, which I disagree with (God's concerned with sin, and a quick look at the Bible shows that many Godly people never had healing) and they make premillennialism a requirement of fellowship. Not only am I not a premillenial, but I think that making ANY end-times scheme a test of fellowship is wrong.

Eventually, I settled on Baptists for the following reasons:

1. The theological position I resemble most closely is that of Reformed Baptists.

2. Baptists believe in the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture (that is, that the Bible is true in all it teaches, and that it is all a Christian needs to be fully equipped for ministry.) I find many mainline churches don't believe the first part; I fear many charismatic and evangelical churches downplay the second.

3. Baptists are warmly evangelical and committed to sharing the Gospel.

So why Southern Baptists? That's the next post.