Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wade Burleson on the "embarrassing" SBC evangelism service

For angst-ridden Anglicans perpetually befuddled by the increasingly belligerent actions of a petulant cross-dressing high priestess, there is perhaps no better form of therapy than a friendly reminder that there are other branches of the church which are also having to deal with the excesses of flawed theology. Southern Baptist pastor Wade Burleson has, for several years, ruffled the feathers of the higher-ups by exposing the hypocrisy and ignorance which have been allowed to flourish in the supposedly conservative and evangelical denomination. At the closing "evangelism service" of the SBC's annual gathering last night, things got downright embarrassing.
Wednesday night one of my favorite singing groups performed at the Southern Baptist Convention, Casting Crowns, and the worship was fantastic. I wish I could say as much for the preaching. The evangelist, whom I choose not to name, preached what he called a "salvation" message and offered an "invitation."

The only problem was the evangelist's message contained as much gospel as there is caffeine in water. In other words, there was no good news proclaimed of what Christ has done for sinners, but there was an insistence that the sinner must follow a methodological religious ritual to save himself. This ritual consisted of praying a rote prayer by repeating the words of the evangelist, then holding up a hand to "confess" because you only "meant it if you mention it," and finally the plea for all who meant it to move to the front of the auditorium to "publicly declare your private prayer." The entire twenty minutes of manipulating a listener to follow the God disihonoring ritual was preceeded by the mantra "if there's never been change, then something's strange." The notion that people who struggle with sin in their lives are somehow cured by following this peculiar ritual presented at the Southern Baptist Convention Wednesday night is more Roman Catholic than Roman Catholic mass.

I was embarrassed. Massive damage is done to the substance of evangelical Christianity when adults and mostly children are somehow led to believe salvation is tied up in their ritualistic walk down an aisle than it is in the performance of Jesus Christ at Calvary. More dishonor is given to the name of Christ when an evanangelist short cuts the work of the Holy Spirit in conviction, illumination and conversion. Leading someone through a religious ritual, then convincing them that the ritual magically conveys salvation, instead of patiently explaining the message of good news in Jesus Christ and urging the hearer to simply believe on Christ, is turning the gospel of Christ's kingdom into a carnival sideshow.

If this is what the Southern Baptist Convention has turned into, then it does not represent our history as conservative, evangelical apologists. It may represent the the Fundamentalist, Arminian, legalist brand of evangelicalism, but it doesn't represent what we have historically believed biblical Christianity is all about. Could someone have actually been "saved" at that "evangelism service?" Sure. God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, He can speak through our perverted religious rituals. But He moves in spite of our errors, not because of them. Someone who was actually at the service and not simply watching it like I was, tweeted two messages:

@sbcmessenger: Oh, goodness sakes! If you didn't see it, Bobby Welch came forward at the invitation. #SBC2010

@sbcmessenger: 200+ SBC evangelists meet. 132 of them respond 2 the invitation. 129 decisions for Christ, 3 baptisms. #SBC2010

At least the comic relief softened the pain.