Should Southern Baptist churches discourage expressions of patriotism in their corporate worship services on national holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day?According to Professor Carl “Chip” Stam and some younger Southern Baptist pastors represented by Baptist21, the answer is apparently yes. Well, maybe not yes in so many words, but unwise and unhelpful to be sure. While perusing the B21 website to watch an interview with Nathan Akin (which I still have not been able to watch), I happened across a March 31 post that had previously escaped my attention.
The guest post was essentially a copy of a letter written by Professor Stam — Minister of Music and Worship for Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville and also the Director of the Institute for Christian Worship at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — which he sent to “several thousand church musicians.” The version of the letter was said to be “current as of April 5, 2007.” I don’t know whether the letter was originally sent out in 2007 and re-sent this year, but apparently the folks at Baptist21 believe it is relevant for the 2011 “patriotic” season of Memorial Day and Independence Day this summer.
In Part 2 of this post on Friday, I will address Professor Stam’s three main arguments against patriotic worship. However, we must first lay a foundation before proceeding directly to a rebuttal of Professor Stam’s proposal and reasoning.
As part of that foundation, let me first deal with the authority behind the letter. Stam not only signed this letter as a Music Minister of an autonomous Southern Baptist church, but he in fact signed first and foremost in his capacity as the Director of the Institute for Christian Worship at SBTS ( a position he has held since 2000), the SBC’s flagship seminary. According to a page on Southern’s website, the Institute, part of Southern’s School of Church Ministries (which combined the Schools of Church Music and Christian Education):
serves students, faculty, and local churches by providing lectures, workshops, guest speakers, and other materials that focus on the biblical and historical foundations of Christian worship.
All of the aforementioned is conducted “under the direction of Professor Carl Stam.” Therefore, at least three questions come to mind immediately:
- Did Professor Stam write and send this letter in his official seminary capacity? If not, then why did he include his official seminary title prominently in the letter?
- If Professor Stam wrote in his capacity as Director of the Institute, did his letter reflect current seminary thinking or policy (formal or informal) — as instituted by President Mohler and/or the Board of Trustees — regarding so-called “patriotic” worship?
- Is the letter yet another indication of the theological/ecclesiological divide within the greater SBC?
If Dr. Stam wrote this letter solely in his capacity as Minister of Music and Worship at Clifton, then the above questions would be moot. However, the letter itself, posted last week at B21, seems to answer Question #1 quite clearly:
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Minister of Music & Worship
Clifton Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky
I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I were to sign a letter in my official capacity — Senior Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Alamogordo, NM — that should reasonably indicate to the reader that I was speaking and acting on behalf of Bethel. Likewise, one could reasonably conclude that Professor Stam is/was speaking on behalf of Southern Seminary in his official capacity as Director of the Institute for Christian Worship. One could also reasonably conclude that writing in his position as Director would add some authority or gravitas to his letter dealing with patriotic expressions in corporate worship. Lastly, we might conclude that Baptist21 posted this letter, not because of Stam’s position as Music and Worship Pastor at a local Southern Baptist church, but rather because of his position as Director of the INSTITUTE FOR CHRISTIAN WORSHIP at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary!
While many grassroots Southern Baptists (especially pastors and ministers) are aware of the Calvinist leanings at Southern, I would venture to say that many of those same folks — including alumni of SBTS like myself — were unaware of just how strong an influence the new Calvinism has on the SBC’s oldest seminary. (As a convictional cooperating Southern Baptist first and a Spurgeon Calvinist second, I find myself somewhat surprised at the headway that the new Calvinism has made at Southern and within the Convention since I graduated in 1997.)
Foundational Questions #2 & #3 can probably be answered by not just reading the philosophy of Southern’s Institute for Christian Worship, but also the biography of Professor Carl Stam:
He has conducted numerous all-state choirs and festival choruses and has served on the advisory council for Reformed Worship magazine and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. (full biography page here)
I think that it would be safe to conclude that Professor Stam comes from a Reformed/Calvinistic background (not that there’s anything wrong with that). As such, this would surely influence how he teaches and how he leads as the Director of the Institute for Christian Worship. This would also affect how students are being trained in the areas of music/worship ministry. I can’t help but think that the teaching and training that these seminary students are receiving — which will be used in serving primarily Southern Baptist churches — has a decidedly Reformed/Calvinistic bent.
As most established Southern Baptist churches do not subscribe to the new Calvinism on the ascendancy within the SBC, it would be incumbent upon search committees receiving candidates’ resumes when filling vacant
senior pastor positions (strike that, most will be church planters), music/worship, student/youth, and Christian Education positions to know and be keenly aware of the prevailing theology/methodology/ecclesiology that students at Southern are being taught.
I say that, not to cast aspersions on those teaching in the School of Church Ministries — particularly the Institute for Christian Worship — but rather to prevent churches from being blindsided by aggressive, new Calvinistic pastors and ministers who may not be as forthcoming with their theological leanings as one would hope and expect in the interview process. I’m sure that has never happened to any of our Southern Baptist churches in the recent past.
Why is it important to know if pastoral candidates — either Senior Pastor or Music and Worship Pastor — lean in a new Calvinist direction? Because there have been numerous churches that have been ripped apart by aggressive, new Calvinist pastors and ministers. Some (perhaps many) new Calvinists are not content to patiently teach and lead change over a period of years. Many could be described as young, restless, and reformed. For the record, I don’t have a problem with either young or reformed as much as I do the restless and often times reckless way that a reformed theology is arrogantly and ham-handedly forced upon a congregation that is simply not prepared.
This ultimately gets to the heart of Question #3. The divide within SBC life is not primarily about old vs. young, coat/tie vs. jeans/t-shirt, hymns vs. contemporary p & w, pulpits vs. stools or even non-Calvinists vs. Calvinists. Oh, these are all symptoms of a much bigger problem, but raising these issues is simply a way of trying to reframe the debate about what truly divides.
What truly divides us is how we choose to identify and cooperate together. I choose to identify first and foremost as a cooperating Southern Baptist who is proud of my heritage (warts and all) and who enthusiastically partners with others through the Cooperative Program, starting at the local and state levels. I am also a convictional Calvinist in the mode of Charles Spurgeon. However, I am neither mad about my Calvinistic theology nor am I consistent enough in practice to be described as truly Reformed. That’s why I can cooperate with folks within the Convention who are not as Calvinistic as I am, but who nevertheless love cooperating together for missions and ministries.
There are others who are “more independent, less cooperative,” whom I have described as nominal Southern Baptists and who Dr. Steve Lemke of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has more recently described as having a “low to moderate Baptist identity.” When one begins to identify more with Calvin than with Spurgeon, more with non-Southern Baptists as opposed to Southern Baptists, then I believe we will continue to watch as the divide in the SBC continues to grow. Check back on Friday to read my rebuttal to Professor Stam’s argument and rationale discouraging expressions of patriotism in corporate worship.