Monday, January 15

Are we planting Baptist churches?

On Saturday, I was invited to a meeting with the director of the Ecuador Baptist Convention's Evangelism-Missions Department. Several Ecuadorian national missionaries were also present, along with a couple of other Baptist missionaries from the USA.

In the discussion about relating and working together it was suggested that the house churches that we are planting should have a strong Baptist identity. What is wrong, they asked, in these house churches putting a sign out front saying "Baptist church"? Are they ashamed of being Baptist?

I tried explaining that all of these house churches were autonomous bodies of believers. They are free to do as they wish under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, but that I didn't feel it was my place as a missionary to tell them to put out a sign proclaiming that here is where a church meets. Are we a Baptist church because we have a sign out front saying so, or are we Baptist due to practice and belief? Would you want a sign out on the front of your house saying something to the effect that your home is a Baptist church? The home itself is not the church, it is those who gather there that are the church.

It was implied that the churches we are planting are not Baptist churches because they are not supporting Baptist missions causes. It was ironic to hear this come from the mouth of those who had just declared they no longer gave to Baptist mission causes themselves and had no intention of doing so until certain accounting matters were cleared up in the convention. Sitting right next to them was one of three Ecuadorian Baptist International missionaries who has faithfully received a promised $85/month from the Guayaquil house churches. In two years we have never failed to send in our promised pledge. Ironically, the convention has yet to send a single dime in support of their international missionaries serving overseas. Yet somehow our house churches are not Baptist because we don't give to Baptist missions causes?!?!

What was really happening yesterday is that people are upset that we are not longer planting traditional Baptist church buildings, with traditional Baptist programs, along with providing a pastor who is a Baptist seminary graduate, duly ordained by a local Baptist church. House churches follow their own formats of interactive meetings, are highly focused on every believer being a minister of the Gospel, less formal leadership, believe in "being the church" rather than "going to church." So therefore the conclusion is we are not planting Baptist churches.

All this got me thinking about what is it that makes a church Baptist vs. one that is clearly NOT Baptist?

It is very interesting to me that "being Baptist" (at least here in Ecuador) means following the traditions, practices, and models passed down over the years. It is clearly ingrained that a Baptist church must go through several stages--preaching point, mission, constituted church--until they have:

--a building (without a building how can you have a church?)
--a pastor (not officially recognized until ordained)
--a certain number of baptized believers
--recognized/authorized church program(s)
--formal church services (cultos)

What goes against the grain is that our house churches skip all the above steps and go from new believers to NT churches in a very short time. We focus not on these extra-biblical requirements, but simply on what Jesus said to do: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Those disciples are gathered into natural meeting places in their communities (usually homes) and ARE church from the get-go. They do not have to jump through a series of man-made hoops to achieve official church recognition. Once you have baptized believers who are being discipled into obeying Christ, who are meeting regularly and are committed to one another and Jesus as Head, you ARE CHURCH. Since all our teaching is Baptist, I have no problem in believing that these newly planted churches are Baptist or at the very least "baptistic."

What was encouraging about Saturday's meeting is that we are at least discussing these issues. After several years, this is the first time we have formally met with convention leadership to actually talk about these things. I am encouraged. It is only through dialogue that we can overcome our differences with one another and learn that we are all in this together to strive to see the Great Commission come about in our life time.

Are we commanded to plant traditional Baptist churches, or are we commanded to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord? I would be interested in any feedback anybody might like to share.

11 comments:

Alan Knox said...

"And upon this rock, Guy will build my church..." Well, even though it rhymes with the original, it doesn't have quite the same impact. As you've said (though maybe not in these exact words), perhaps we should trust God to build his church as we make disciples?

-Alan

Strider said...

Guy, good post but I don't know who will respond or how. You know we are attempting to do what you are doing so well. We have had the exact same conversation with the old local baptist church here. Control is the issue as Alan, I think, was hinting at above. Too many just don't believe that unless they are themselves are in control then all will work out- because He is in fact the Head of the Church.
So, be patient and endure. With obedience comes fruit and by their fruit they will be known to be 'true' Churches. This will inspire many and enrage many others. Such is the Kingdom's impact on a lost and weary world.

Lew A said...

Guy,

I think a lot of the issue is the fact that people will have to admit that the buildings, 'ordained' and seminary graduated pastor, programs are extra-biblical. Try as they might, they simply cannot ignore it when we as Christians stop "going to church" and start "being the church" (as you put it). Especially when they see us "being the church" and it being successful. What does that say about all their buildings, programs, ordination ceremonies, etc.?

Anyways, this was a great post. Stay strong.

Lew

P.S. I may have told you this in the past (perhaps in a previous comment) but my cousin and his family are living in Ecuador right now (Quito). His name is Phillip Calvert - ever had any contact with him? They are SBC Missionaries.

OCHands said...

Guy,
How typical of traditional pastors. It would be great if they could see the beauty of the house church and its potential in the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, the "traditional" church (with history) has become a club, one which has rules, regulations for membership and conduct that far exceeds what the Bible requires.

We are trying to start some small groups here in our US city, but most of our leaders are struggling with the concept. It seems to me that the difficulty is being willing to let go of concepts and methods that are not working well in order to embrace ideas and concepts that while Biblical and theologically sound, simply come across as too far out or downright dangerous.

We pledge our prayers for you and your team. Keep up the good work. Don't be surprised if some of these leaders refuse to accept the validity of these groups in spite of their success. TRADITION DIES HARD.

EL OJO PROTESTANTE said...

Querido Guy
Pienso que las estrategias para sembrar el Evangelio deben ser inteligentes, adecuadas al campo de acción.
Si las Casas-Iglesias, tal como lo hiciera en su tiempo el célebre mártir chino Watchman Nee, resultan en resultados favorables, no veo por que desestimar su implementación. Hacerlo, no significará abandonar las bases doctrinales bautistas.
Admito que podrá dejarse o modificarse las formas o la liturgia, mas la doctrina no debiera cambiar.
Si consideramos "fundamentalista" al concepto que define que toda elucidación sobre doctrina o conducta debe "fundamentarse" en la Biblia, no veo conflicto con la doctrina. A lo sumo se trata de una discusión sobre las formas.

Creo imprescindible no confundir los sanos principios doctrinales fundamentales sostenidos desde la denominación bautista con la forma de los fundamentalistas.

Usted, en su pregunta final, entregó una respuesta irrefutable: "We are commanded to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord".

¡Bendiciones!
Daniel

GuyMuse said...

Alan,

Our understanding of the task is to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach; His is to build his Church. If we do our part, He will do his.

Strider,

I know what you mean about the control issue. We struggle a lot with this here. Paul Burleson's most recent post is on "Authority" and is well worth the trip over to his blog to read. My comment there expresses a lot of my own frustration with this predominating matter affecting the whole Church here in Ecuador.

Lew,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Of course I know Phil Calvert and family! They are fellow missionaries here in Ecuador and doing some great work up in Quito, the capital city. Phil has shared a couple of ideas with me that have been a great help to me personally.
I'll be sure and say "hello" next time I see them.

OCHANDS,

It's like what the Ecuadorian missionary to India said in the same meeting I blog about, "it sounds to me like there are two languages being spoken here today..." She was right on, there are two languages, two stories, two paradigms being communicated. My prayer is that love will unite us into One Body and that somehow we can begin to work together in a more cohesive manner. Thanks so much for your prayers.

Daniel,

Muy interesante la idea que compartas en que la doctrina debería definir si somos Bautistas, y no tanto la practica o forma. Nosotros nos apegamos muy de cerca a la Biblia no solo en doctrina pero tratamos de hacerlo también en práctica como vemos en el NT. Claro siempre habrán cosas que no aplican (como el usar togas y sandallas) pero creo que lo que nos dejaron los apóstoles es vigente para la iglesia de hoy y deberíamos tener mucho cuidado en cambiar formas y estructuras dejadas por los apóstoles de Jesucristo. Bendiciones.

Adam Gonnerman said...

Not being Baptist, I can't speak with any degree of authority on what constitutes a Baptist Church. However, what you are describing with those house churches sounds remarkable.

When I was a missionary in Brazil one of my Brazilian co-workers said to me in frustration, "When will Americans learn that our churches can't be little American embassies?"

GuyMuse said...

Adam,

Welcome to the "M Blog"! Indeed, we are here to plant NT churches first and foremost, not American churches. This is something that a lot of people don't quite understand. There is a difference between churches we find in the NT and those that have evolved over the centuries and are now the norm.

Gordon Cloud said...

It sounds like you are doing what works. I pray that God will continue to bless your work that we may read more testimonies like the one posted above this article.

God bless.

GuyMuse said...

Gordon,

Thanks for the good word, and DO PRAY that there will be many more testimonies like that posted of Jessica above.

Brent Davis said...

Guy,
Matthew 15:6 tells us that the traditions of men nullify the commands of God. And, like what was stated in some of the earlier comments, traditions boil down to who is in control. As long as people are worried about who is in control and who gets the credit, their churches will remain impotent.

Your Brother,
Brent