This article is actually a response to a letter written by Dr. Thomas Kelly, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, that was published last week in The Courier, the state Baptist newspaper. I have sent a copy of it to Dr. Kelly, and spoke with him on the phone. He was extremely warm and gracious in response to my article, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to speak with him directly. I have also sent a copy to the Courier. I was kindly asked to post it in the comments section of the original article. I have also sent a copy to Pastor Noble and his staff. I was on “Christian Worldview Today” with Dr. Tony Beam this morning discussing it, so I thought I’d post my article here, in its entirety, for anyone who is interested.
I have read the recent statement from our current SCBC president, Dr. Thomas Kelly, and I wish to address several statements he made in regards to calling all Southern Baptist pastors in the state to action. As I am one, I feel obligated to reply.
I wish to make very clear that I am not an apologist for Perry Noble and NewSpring Church. I do not necessarily agree with everything that Pastor Noble has said or done in and from the platform. Our church is also approximately 1 mile from a proposed NewSpring site, which has the potential to impact our area—and our church—in a significant way. I do not know him personally, nor have I ever met or spoken with him. I say all of this because my issue in writing this is not what Pastor Noble has said or done, but how Southern Baptists—particularly Southern Baptist leadership—has responded.
By now everyone with any interest in the matter knows about Pastor Noble’s error in regards to the broad strokes of the misapplication of Hebrew regarding the Ten Commandments in his recent sermon. They should also be aware of the fact that he has since publicly acknowledged said error, as well as for his own frustrated outburst on social media. In this apology, he clearly said that his statement was not correct and that he “should have put way more time into doing research before making that statement.” I am sure that all of us have stepped in the pulpit and preached something that we later realize required more in-depth study to better understand so that we might more accurately teach the people under our care. Pastor Noble has stated very clearly that he holds a very high view of Scripture, but it also seems that from time to time his eagerness to communicate the Good News of what Christ offers to all people—forgiveness through His substitutionary death—overcomes his knowledge. In over twenty years as a senior pastor, I have certainly been guilty of this as well, and I believe most honest pastors would say the same. I am in no way condoning this, but the fact of the matter is that the man has publicly acknowledged his mistake, asked for forgiveness, and committed to working hard to avoid such mistakes in the future.
The question must then be asked: what else would we have him do? Dr. Kelly asked in his column that all Southern Baptists “publicly state and remove ourselves from these positions and problematic statements and call for NewSpring to correct these positions if it chooses to say that it affiliates with South Carolina Baptist churches.” It certainly seems that was covered in Pastor Noble’s public apology. What else must be done?
According to Dr. Kelly, all SCBC pastors should avoid “coarse, profane language [on the platform] as well as choosing music that is sacred in content.” Anyone could see the clear value and biblical basis for avoiding coarse language during a hermeneutical discourse, but there seems to be something else that is at work as well in the comment regarding music. In other words, only songs that are explicitly directed to or about God should ever be played in church. On the surface, I certainly agree with the intent here. The only songs people should be using for worship should be directed at a Holy God that has provided redemption for those who will receive His Son.
Can music not serve an illustrative purpose as well, however? Virtually all preachers use stories to illustrate a point of teaching; can songs not be used for the same effect? I believe that a song can register more powerfully to illustrate a point than any quaint story or pitiful, stale joke that causes everyone to roll their eyes at and promptly forget.
Dr. Kelly’s statement that “most ministers live an isolated existence regardless of church size or location” and should therefore “find and actively engage in accountability groups to hold them to a higher standard morally, ethically, and biblically” is absolutely correct. It should be noted that in order to have accountability it must be confidently known that those involved have a true love for and commitment to the success of the others involved. In the nearly 12 since years since I returned to the Upstate of South Carolina, I have consistently heard Pastor Noble’s “brothers” in the ministry excoriate him and NewSpring for one thing after another. Is it truly surprising if Pastor Noble doesn’t have volumes of trust in a group of people that has certainly shown little love, mercy, or kindness towards him? This is not a man who has denied the Trinity, or suggested that the apostle Paul should be rebuked for his stand against sin in his writings. Pastor Noble has certainly raised some eyebrows over the years, but the fact is that he preaches Christ as the Son of God, crucified for the sins of the world, and that all who call upon the Lord will be saved. Hundreds upon hundreds of people have made professions of faith in Christ as a result of his ministry. Some are quick to point out, “Well, I’m certain not all of those people are really saved,” or “How many of those baptisms are repeat baptisms?” The same statements could be levelled against any large church or even Dr. Billy Graham’s many crusades. It is safe to say that not everyone who walks an aisle or is baptized is truly saved, but is that the fault of the preacher or ministry? To suggest otherwise would demand that salvation is supplied by the minister, and that is certainly biblical heresy.
On Dr. Kelly’s third point, that all SCBC pastors renew “themselves to more sound exegetical study and expository preaching and teaching of God’s word,” I could not agree more. The first task of the pastor for his people is to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). In the midst of this great and worthy cause, however, we should not forget Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 18:21-35 that we are to forgive our brothers “seventy times seven” as He clearly states the danger inherent in a lack of forgiveness. Each one of us would like to be forgiven when we fail and then turn from it. What a novel idea if we showed the same kindness to others. Jesus also said that the unconditional love His followers have for one another would demonstrate to the world those that are His (John 13:35). To do otherwise is certainly to fail in the exegesis of Jesus’ own words.
When we are incapable of showing any more love, mercy and forgiveness than this towards our own people—our own pastors—then we should not be surprised that the world finds us increasingly irrelevant. Jesus did not call us to be such, but that as we are going about our everyday lives we should be making disciples (Matt. 28:19). A staggering lack of love, mercy and forgiveness on the part of pastors is blowing up the very bridges into our communities that we should be seeking to build.
As a pastor, I believe it behooves all Christians to show the kind of mercy we believe Christ has shown us. Should we refute false teaching? Absolutely, and when that person apologizes and promises to change, we accept it. Seventy times seven. To do less is unworthy of our cause and our Christ.