December 11, 2017

The Promise and Perils of Speaking Up

David Shumate

Our family recently visited the Titan Missile Museum south of Tucson, Arizona. The museum was inside a decommissioned nuclear missile silo that was part of America’s strategic defense system during the Cold War. There, underground, behind blast doors designed to withstand a nuclear attack, we saw the control room where Air Force crews performed one and only one mission: being in constant readiness for the arrival of an order to launch their missile with its ten-megaton thermonuclear warhead. By the grace of God that order never came. One of the things that impressed me was the elaborate precautions taken to make sure that an order to launch was authentic and that it was not misunderstood. The control room contained a safe with a launch codebook. The safe could be opened only by two officers with different keys. If the crew received an order to launch, the order had to be accompanied by a code, which must be verified with the codebook and keyed into the launch computer. Then two officers would have simultaneously turn keys in separate parts of the control apparatus in order for the missile to be launched.

This extreme care to verify communications is more than understandable given the immense consequences. Although getting our communication right as Christians may not seem to us to be nearly as weighty, we must remember that what we say does have eternal consequences. As Solomon puts it, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). In fact Paul contrasts mere physical weapons with those that are “mighty through God,” that demolish man’s natural reasoning and that bring every thought in submission to Christ (2 Cor. 10:3–5). These weapons consist largely in words, words directed toward God in prayer and words directed to others in evangelism and instruction. The very nature of salvation through faith teaches us that communication is of the utmost eternal importance, as the Lord Jesus said: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:37).

Great Responsibilities

One of the greatest responsibilities of every believer and every ministry is the responsibility to communicate the truth and to expose error. However, there are difficulties that come with this responsibility. One of these is deciding what to speak about. Jude said that he wished to write of the common salvation but found it necessary to exhort the believers to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3). Paul tells Titus that an overseer must be able to shut the mouths of the gainsayers (Titus 1: 9) but that Titus should avoid foolish controversies that are useless (Titus 3:9). In the age of the Internet, the range of possible issues and personalities that can influence the life of a church or of a believer has greatly multiplied. A pastor often finds himself “playing from behind,” trying to respond to subtle ideas and winsome messengers after they have already gained the sympathy of some within the congregation. On the other hand, a constant focus on controversies can leave a leader open to the charge of being an “issues preacher” and failing to feed his sheep.

A second difficulty in speaking the truth is communicating to your target audience while understanding the implications to a potentially much wider audience. In one sense all good preaching is to the choir; not that you should preach only what people want to hear, but that the truth needs to be communicated with due regard for the context in which it is delivered. Anyone who has spoken to a group of married couples knows the delicacy required to teach the responsibilities of husbands without simultaneously engendering an attitude of false entitlement on the part of wives, and vice versa. The problem of context has greatly multiplied in recent years with the ease with which information spreads. Today messages can be streamed live and posted to the Internet, and viewer reactions can be tweeted out in real time. A single statement ripped from the context of a sermon may go viral and cause great harm and confusion, and frank remarks in a private discussion may be made public with damaging consequences.

Context and Tone

Context also greatly affects a third problem in communicating the truth—the problem of tone. Paul commends different approaches to different kinds of people in 1 Thessalonians 5:14: “Warn them that are unruly, comfort [or encourage] the feebleminded [timid], support the weak.” Shouting an order, perfectly appropriate in battle, is almost always too harsh when dealing with a church member about a spiritual problem. What may sound bold and forthright to some may come across as strident or arrogant to others. On the other hand, excessive tact can end up obscuring the truth and damaging the hearers. One of the greatest challenges in speaking is striking the appropriate tone, in making sure that not only the intent of the communication in the mind of the speaker is correct but that the impact of the communication in the mind of the hearers is correct. As one pastor put it, “You cannot mean what you say until you learn how to say what you mean.”

Because of these and other concerns we believe it is vital to clarify how FBFI speaks. First, it is important to understand that FBFI is not a denomination or convention of churches but a voluntary fellowship of believers who adhere to its statement of faith and support its mission. In line with its Baptist understanding of church polity, FBFI exercises no control over local congregations. FBFI is a fellowship of Fundamental Baptist believers. As Fundamentalists we seek to promote and practice adherence to all clear teachings of Scripture and obedience to all clear commands of Scripture. As Baptists we believe in the Baptist distinctives. And as a fellowship we seek to provide mutual encouragement and edification. The FBFI mission statement reads,

FBFI’s mission is to provide a rallying point for Fundamental Baptists seeking personal revival and the opportunity to work with committed Bible-believers in glorifying God through the uncompromising fulfillment of the Great Commission.

One would expect there to be a broad consensus among the members as to many beliefs and practices. On the other hand, it should come as no surprise that in many areas of theological nuance and practical application there would be different opinions. These realities place a dual obligation on the leadership of FBFI: to speak for FBFI on issues about which there is a general consensus and to promote edifying discussion on issues about which we may disagree. In order to accomplish these two goals and to minimize the confusion that may result from trying to do both at once, the Board is clarifying the way that it communicates.

Policy Statements and Position Statements

In the past FBFI issued resolutions (sometimes called “standing resolutions”). Most of these dealt with issues, but a few set policies that govern the operation of FBFI. Beginning in June 2013 FBFI will replace resolutions with policy statements and position statements. Both types are recommended to the Board by the Policies and Positions Committee. No statement represents the position of FBFI unless and until it is passed by the Board.

Policy statements define how FBFI as an organization carries on its work. The president of FBFI is accountable to the Board for adherence to these policies, and everyone working for him as employees or volunteers is subject to these policies. By definition, policies do not govern individuals or groups unless they are working under the aegis of FBFI.

Policies are particularly important when it comes to the chaplains endorsed by FBFI. Military chaplains must have a chaplain endorser—a religious organization that represents churches and that defines the parameters of doctrine and practice within which a chaplain functions. Endorsers are responsible for qualifying chaplains, providing them with training, and exercising spiritual oversight over them. FBFI is a recognized Fundamental Baptist endorsing agency for chaplaincy.[1] Within FBFI a chaplaincy commission oversees the chaplaincy-endorsing ministry under the aegis of the FBFI president. As with other ministries of FBFI, the Chaplaincy Commission works under the authority of policies set forth by the Board.

In order to protect the freedom of religion, the military follows the concept of a dual role for chaplains. As an officer, a chaplain is accountable to his commander; as a minister, he is accountable to his endorser. The government may not require a chaplain to promote any religious belief or engage any religious practice that contradicts the beliefs and policies of his endorser. Policy statements, therefore, are a very important protection for the religious liberty of FBFI-endorsed chaplains.

In addition to policy statements the Board will issue position statements. These express FBFI’s view of issues it deems important to the Fellowship and to the cause of Christ in general, and to which the Board believes this is an appropriate time to speak. Whether or not to say something about an issue at a given time is a judgment call, and not everyone will agree. However, the intention is to produce statements that command a consensus of the Board and that will be in harmony with the general sentiments of the membership. Of course, no position statement should be contrary to the Scriptures or to the doctrinal statement of FBFI. It should not be automatically assumed that individual members of FBFI or of the Board will personally agree with any particular position statement. However, as with any organization, one would normally expect that continued participation reflects a general agreement with the overall direction and a willingness to cooperate in achieving the ministry objectives. Position statements that should be binding on those working under the authority of FBFI, including chaplains endorsed by FBFI, will be incorporated into policy statements.

As a result of this clarification we hope that it will easier for people to know where FBFI stands on issues. The position of FBFI is expressed in its Constitution and in the position and policy statements of the Board. The only people who have the authority to speak authoritatively for FBFI are the Board acting collectively and the president (and anyone specifically delegated by the Board or the president). The statements of individual members of the Fellowship or of the Board represent their own personal views and not necessarily those of FBFI.

Opportunities for Discussion

In order to fulfill its mission, FBFI must not only speak collectively but also promote opportunities for discussion. We need the encouragement and challenge of one another’s ideas. Although there should be broad agreement within FBFI as to basic beliefs and practices (such as the Biblical requirement for ecclesiastical and personal separation), there are differences of opinion about practical applications in particular cases. Moreover, on various issues, members of FBFI have different views. On these issues FBFI as a body does not “take sides” and seeks to allow for spirited, albeit charitable, discussion. If we are to benefit from one another’s insights, there needs to be the opportunity to hear different points of view. The three principle venues that help promote productive interaction are FrontLine magazine, the Proclaim and Defend blog, and the various fellowship meetings. The first two are edited by FBFI members serving under the direction of the president. The fellowship meetings are hosted by local churches and other Christian institutions for the encouragement and edification of FBFI members and other attendees.

In these three venues, the points of view expressed are those of the writers and presenters and not necessarily of that of FBFI. Of course, the editors and fellowship hosts believe that these contributors are worth hearing. While this judgment may not be exercised in a way that is either unscriptural or against the official positions and policies of FBFI, neither should it be construed as an official endorsement by FBFI of everything written or said. Similarly, exhibitors and other resources made available at FBFI meetings are thought to be of general usefulness or interest to those attending, but they do not by that fact obtain the “official endorsement” of FBFI.[2] Requiring the imprimatur of the FBFI president or Board for every idea and resource presented at the national, regional, and local fellowship meetings would be impractical and would defeat the purpose of creating a forum for productive interaction.

We greatly desire the prayers of friends of FBFI and of God’s people in general as we seek to fulfill the responsibility laid upon us to communicate the right message at the right time and in the right way. We pray the same for all believers and churches who love the Lord and seek to represent Him truthfully.

Dr. David Shumate has served as an associate pastor and has taught in Bible college and seminary. He is currently the director of MGM International, a Hispanic mission agency located in Phoenix Arizona. He serves as FBFI secretary and as chairman of the Policies and Positions Committee.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2013. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. In addition to the military chaplaincy, FBFI promotes the chaplaincy in law enforcement, public safety, and hospital settings. []
  2. While the members and leaders of FBFI greatly appreciate many different faithful ministries engaged in the work of the Lord, FBFI does not have a list of “approved” schools or ministries. Any position that FBFI takes with regard to a particular ministry will be reflected in a position statement of the Board. []

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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