Unity or Trust?
The denomination I am part of is a good denomination. As I have studied the scripture, our doctrine lines up better than any other I have found. But as a denomination, we are in a time of what I would describe as mild crisis. It is not the level of crisis that would lead to our immediate demise, but it is deeply troubling. We are a denomination suffering from a lack of unity.
Throughout our history, we have had our share of struggles; but God has blessed us by protecting us—thus far, at least—from the types of struggles most denominations have experienced. You will not find a Free Will Baptist (FWB) leader questioning the inerrancy or authority of the Bible. Homosexual marriage is, as far as debate is concerned, a non-issue; the same is true for whether or not to ordain into ministry a practicing homosexual. These types of issues are simply not up for debate. We are a conservative lot.
We are also an independent lot. At least we pay lip-service to independence. Of course, in terms of church governance—or ecclesiology—we call this independence autonomy. As Baptists, each church is autonomous. We are not ruled over by any other man-made authority; the churches lead the denomination.
Being so conservative, the things we debate are also conservative things. We tend to argue over styles of music. Is contemporary praise and worship too much like the music of the world? Can you really worship God with songs not printed in our (or the local church’s choice of) hymnal? We argue over Bible translations. Should FWBs only us the King James Version? Are modern translations corrupt? If we agree to the use of other translations, which ones are acceptable? We criticize local FWB churches that choose not to use the denomination’s name on their sign or in common promotions. Shouldn’t people know the kind of church they are a part of? Can’t autonomous local churches decide this for themselves without being ostracized by other FWB churches and associations? We are critical of pastors who choose to dress more casually when they preach in their own local church.
Perhaps the one that bothers me most is the Bible translation issue. Many local associations—and certainly our national association—have a policy that only the King James Version will be used in those meeting for the sake of unity. The problem is that I do not believe this promotes unity. If anything, it promotes uniformity; this is problematic because we are not uniform. The unity argument also presupposes that the vast majority of our individuals still use the King James Version. Personally, I don’t believe this is true. A great many of our pastors still use the King James Version; and many of them believe their churches are still King James Version churches. I think they are mistaken. I don’t have hard numbers, only anecdotal evidence.
Several months ago, I stood as a candidate for pastor at a church. I will not disclose here the church or location. I preached from the version I normally preach from. The search team had prior knowledge I did not preach from the King James Version. Later that week, a deacon (on the search team) called and asked if I would preach from the King James Version if they called me; he said they are a “King James church”. I had to tell him they are not a “King James church”. The Sunday school class my wife and I attended included 12 people other than us. Greater than half of them brought their non-King James Version Bibles to church, including the wife of the teacher (the teacher was also a deacon and the Sunday school superintendent). This church has never had a pastor preach from anything other than the KJV.
This past summer, I attended the convention of our national association. It was truly a great convention. There were five main worship services throughout the convention. All five sermons were preached from the King James Version of the Bible. Four of the five do not normally use/preach from the King James Version. They appear to use a variety of modern translations. I cannot confirm the fifth preacher, as there were no sermons posted on the church website.
Here is my question: If denominational leadership trusts these men enough to invite them to speak God’s word to the national association, why do they not trust them enough to let them use the Bible translation they prefer?
In my opinion, the denomination has tried to achieve unity in regards to the Bible translation issue through enforcement of a King James Version only policy. I think this policy is about to cause much more division than if we just allowed people to use the translation of their choice.
I believe if we try to force unity without offering trust, we get neither. If we offer trust, I believe we will achieve a certain amount of unity. There will be no unity without trust.