Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Call for Clarification on Bob Gray

Missionary to Germany, Mark Bachman, called me today to offer some clarification regarding the missionary status of Dr. Bob Gray. Mark was concerned over one aspect of the comments regarding the Bob Gray incident. He wants people to understand that Bob Gray was not sent to Germany by Tom Messer or Trinity Baptist Church.


Apparently Dr Gray served as a post war correspondant in Germany during the War Trials. He and his wife visited Germany every year since then. Their vacation was an annual missions trip to Germany. As early as the mid 1980's Dr Gray had made it known that his desire was to leave the pastorate and go to Germany as a missionary. According to Mark, several other pastors encouraged Dr Gray to stay in Jacksonville. Mark and his wife arrived in Germany in 1989 and were told then that Bob Gray would be coming to serve with them. He finally arrived in 1992.


Mark did not simply defend Dr Gray. In fact he made the comment that perhaps this was an exit strategy in the back of Bob Gray's mind for some time. He (Bachman) wanted to make it clear that this was not a Tom Messer plan to get Gray out of the country. Dr Gray had made numerous trips and visits to Germany over a 50 year time period. None of us know if all or part or any of these allegations are true but we all agree they must be taken seriously and prayerfully for are those involved. We continue to pray for Dr and Mrs Gray as well as their family, Tom Messer and the families of Trinity Baptist Church, and the families of the alleged victims as well as all the law enforcement officials and attorneys involved.


I appreciate Brother Bachman calling to offer some clarification. Again, this is not second hand information or hear say. This comes directly from a man who worked along side Dr Gray in Germany. Mark told me he read my article here and was not concerned with the content of my writing but rather he was concerned with some of the response comments made by others implying that Trinity & Messer hatched this plot at the last minute in '92 to get rid of Gray. Going to Germany was completely Dr Gray's idea. What all the reasons were behind his decision is known only in Gray's heart and God's mind.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Play Ball or .... Fundamental Politics


I pastor just 20 minutes from the quaint little town of classic Americana known as Cooperstown, New York which is the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It's a small town in every sense of the word. Sitting on the banks of Otsego Lake, rows of storefront baseball memorabilia shops line Main Street and the side streets. Doubleday Field, home of the annual Hall of Fame game, is across the street from the firehouse. My two sons and I like to go to Cooperstown for a boys day out.


Once a year I take my family to see God's favorite baseball team... the New York Mets. Driving to see the Mets from my house is about three hours but once you cross the Tri-Borough bridge from the Bronx into Queens and you pass LaQuardia International Airport on the Grand Central Parkway, the sight of the "other" holy land is just on the horizon... Shea Stadium. Inside the first smell to greet you are the Nathan's hot dogs sizzling on the grills. Now, my story is about Cooperstown, but I needed to set the stage.


Hot Dogs go with baseball like Babe Ruth, home runs, and yelling at the umpire. Cooperstown as a municipality is run by the "hysterical" society. Residents are strictly regulated on the up keep of their homes to maintain that vintage turn of the 20th century look and feel. McDonald's, fastfood, and chain motels are located 8 miles out of town. In the village you can stay at a bed & breakfast or a mom & pop motel or one of the grand old hotels that will cost you a week's salary to stand in the lobby. You can shop until drop and find anything and everything related to baseball for trading cards to actual MLB uniforms. You can eat at a sidewalk cafe' or sit down and dine on seafood BUT you can't buy a hot dog in Cooperstown. Why? Good question...


Recently, I made my 9,000th visit to the home of all things baseball with Jon Jenkins, pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Gaylord, Michigan. After a non hot dog lunch of over priced for the tourists hoagies, we walked to the Hall of Fame. Greeting you as you enter are two life size statues. One is the Babe and the other is Ted Williams. Both are carved from a single log. They are so life like you think they can talk. After paying our admission fee we headed to the Grandstand Theatre for a multi-media baseball presentation. From there it was on to the exhibits.


As we walked through the complete evolution of baseball from the late 1800's bar clubs to the sleak, well financed game of today we had a conversation about the change of baseball and how the independent fundamental Baptist movement is that same place.


Baseball has changed since its birth. The gloves are better as is all of the equipment used to play the game from catchers gear to the lighter uniforms. Nike, Converse, and Addias have turned old stiff leather cleats into fast, flexible, and comfortable athletic shoes. Games are played at night and the technology of television takes these games around the world. Despite these changes, the basic concept of baseball is still the same. Each team fields 9 players. The batter attempts to hit the ball safely and round the three bases and reach home without being tagged out to score a run. The defense try to catch the ball in the air or tag the runner out to stop him from scoring. The pitcher fires at the batter and the umpire makes both teams mad.


Now, there are some die hards like my father who argue, "East coast teams should not have to travel to the West coast and play night games there. 7Pm is 10PM at home and who wants to play at 10PM?" Others argue that the DH for the American league is not real baseball and still more say that "Wild Card" teams in the playoffs damage the sport's integrity. Me, I hate inter-league play. Nothing worse then eccumenical baseball.



Again, with all the changes the game itself is still basically the same. Today, many in fundamentalism are opposed to change ... ANY change. Now, I agree that our doctrine does not and should not change. But when we start arguing that churches which use movie screens to project the words to their songs instead of using hymnals is somehow the first step to apostasy, we need to take a time out. Okay, so charismatics used them first. So what? Movie screens and power point are not doctrinal issues. Hymnals are not sacred, divinely inspired books. It's funny but Amazing Grace can be projected onto a screen just like a new chorus.


These men who argue, "We're on the old path! We ain't changing nothing!" Oh, really??? So are they now Amish? Do they reject cars, cell phones, computers, and ESPN? No, they only object to something they consider NON Baptist like movie screens or keyboards instead of organs or choruses instead of hymns because Pentecostals came up with that stuff. Did you know that the first church service to use PA equipment was an eccumenical gathering on Armistice Day on November, 1921. Gathered to protest war and pray for peace, Lutherans along with Anglicans and other protestants used a PA system designed by AT&T with microphones, amps, and speakers made by Bell labs.



Hey Baptist Preacher Brethren... next time you stand in your pulpit and yell into your PA while making a tape of your preaching remember that the Presbies, Lutherans, and "liberals" used it FIRST!



Just like no ball player today would want to wear a 100% wool uniform on a humid July afternoon or take a buggy ride to the ball park or stand in the batter's box without a helmet... we need a reality check within fundamentalism. So when Dennis Corle or Keith Gomez write articles in their papers about how they won't change and movie screens are wrong then I must ask... are they now scribes? I mean, do they hand copy every issue of their papers or do they write them out on a computer and then have them mass produced on a webset printer? Why, Gomez is more liberal than Corle because Keith's paper is full color while Corle's is Baptist black and white.


Now, let me say that I know both of these men. I believe them to be sincere men who love the Lord and don't want to leaven in the loaf. I agree. But let's keep out the leaven of heresy. Whether they write their articles on a lap top or a Royal typewriter... we all use some form of technology. Let's keep the fundamentals of our faith, the fundamental focus. Some of the equipment may have changed and some of the rules (preferenced standards) may have been adjusted but the core beliefs are the same.


It was fun to look back at the old uniforms with the thick gloves that couldn't close but it's not practical for today. Yes, it's fun, as fundamentalists, to think of ourselves as old fashioned and unchanging but as we sit in our air conditioned auditoriums or listen to our own messages on CD the truth is we have changed. Change is part of life ... it's part of growing. Me, I hope I am changing. I hope I have changed to be more like Christ today then yesterday. If we never change then we'd all still be infants sitting in a play pen wearing diapers and sucking our thumbs.



Come to think of it now... just kidding. Just like historians have taught us and places like the Hall of Fame preserve for us, let's respect the past but also embrace the future. Are we going to like all the changes? No. I still hate interleague play, but I love to watch baseball on TV. Do I like all the changes in our churches? No. I personally don't like youth pastors who look like MTV video hosts, so I won't have that change in the church that I pastor. We moved our Sunday School and Bus Ministry from Sunday morning to Wednesday night. For us, it works. If you don't like that kind of change then don't do it. Bottom line... we're still anchored on the fundamentals of the faith, we have a healthy respect for our heritage and heroes, but we balance the changes of the future with the Word and how God directs us an individual ministry.


Try it... it works.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Calling All Pastors


The recent comments here and on the Fighting Fundamentalist Forums with regard to my letter to Dr Shelton Smith of the Sword of the Lord have sparked an overwhelming acceptance for the idea of accountability.



The events surrounding Bob Gray, former pastor of the Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, is seemingly the last straw. When a trusted leader and ambassador of the Gospel forces himself sexually upon innocent children there needs to be more then private gossip and public silence. There needs to be Biblical justice.



Another pastor suggested I write a follow up leader to Dr Smith along the lines of the original. This time it would include the names of other pastors (and their churches) that want to see publications like the Sword of the Lord speak out on this. What do you think?


I will send another copy of the original letter along with a letter stating the following pastors and churches urge you (Dr Smith) to take a lead on this. If you agree, submit your name and church name, town, and state on the comments section of this blog. If you have a direct comment you would like to make to Dr Smith you may leave that as well. I will wait to see the response and then notify you when the new letter with the names will be sent. Let's act now! Fundamentalism has been silent long enough.

Accountability


The first time I heard him was a teenager at the Perth Bible Church in Amsterdam, New York. His name was Dr. Bob Gray and he was the pastor of the Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. At the time I was junior in high school and serving a suspension from school. I wasn't allowed to attend the day chapels, but I did come to the evening services. The first night he spoke on "God Still Uses People Who Make Mistakes." Now for a kid who had just gotten into trouble and was being told by certain people that I would never be of any use to the Lord, that message impacted my life like few sermons ever had. That night God melted my cold heart.


Our church many of the well known fundamentalist preachers of the era stand in the pulpit but Bob Gray was different. He was down to earth and real. I liked his preaching style. I liked him. I considered going to his college, Trinity Baptist College, but eventually went to Hyles / Anderson College.


I had a few of his preaching tapes. One of those tapes I treasure to this day entitled "Highways, Hedges, and Buses" which always seems to renew my commitment to the Bus Ministry.


The Fundamental Movement, which I am a member of, has had long heritage of standing for positions which are seemingly to others unpopular or unimportant. Many within "my" camp can preach long and loud about the sins of other camps and chastise other men by name for doing "wicked" things like replacing the church organ with a keyboard or not following a particular standard in the same manner in which they practice it. Yet, there seems to be a silence to name men within our movement who sin. I don't mean make a mistake. I mean sin. Grossly sin in moral disobedience.


On Friday, May 18, 2006 at the age of 80, Dr Bob Gray was arrested on charges of sexual battery against minor age children during the lates 60's through the mid 80's. I couldn't believe it. As I researched the articles on line and watched news footage it was clear that not only are there multiple accusers but apparently in 1992 the leadership within Trinity Baptist Church asked Dr Gray to step down. Things have been kept pretty silent but now the whole world is watching.


I believe in local church autonomy. If a pastor sins or mishandles himself then I believe it's between him, God, and his congregation. When a pastor crosses a line into a moral failure that also violates the law then it is no longer a simple matter of church discipline. Dr. Gray has been charged with molesting girls between the ages of 6 and 9 years old over two decades.


As Fundamentalists we like to claim autonomy on these issues. "Let Trinity handle it. It's a local church matter," is the usual montra. Really? Then why do we chide Pensacola Christian College for their lavish campus or Jerry Falwell for becoming a southern Baptist or churches who incorporate a "praise & worship" style of music into their local churches? Aren't they autonomous, too?


Recently, I wrote a letter to Dr. Shelton Smith of the Sword of the Lord with regard to this....

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dear Brother Smith,

I am writing to share with you a concern that weighs heavily on my heart. I have been sickened over the past forty eight hours as I have read newspaper accounts and watched TV coverage of the events surrounding the arrest of Dr. Bob Gray of Jacksonville, Florida.

Now, I realize this is in the early stages of the investigation and the media seems to have a flair for sensationalism which isn’t always anchored in unbiased truth but it does not change the fact that these are serious allegations. There was apparently an issue or issues which led the leadership at Trinity Baptist Church to “discipline” Dr Gray and seek his resignation in 1992.

I am not writing to you as an attack on Bob Gray or Tom Messer or Trinity Baptist Church. Again, these are still just allegations but the list of victims seems to be growing and one must assume that where there’s smoke there is at least a small fire.

Just a week ago I was sitting in a restaurant with a well known preacher within our camp. We were discussing the known scandals within our camp that get whispered about quietly at tables in preachers’ fellowships but never shouted from the pulpit. I told that pastor that I was sick and tired of attending conferences where many in our camp ride their high moral horses about peripheral issues and point their guns while thundering the sins of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and pedophile priests while remaining deafening silent on sins which “lieth at the door” within our own camp. Now, we have a mess in Jacksonville. Yes, I said “we” because this affects us all.

The typical independent, fundamental Baptist approach to a scandal like this is first to deny it. I understand that. I truly do. None of us wishes to believe that people we loved and admired and followed could be capable of such sinful acts, especially against children. Then when it is realized there may be merit and teeth to the charges we ignore it. I mean we’ll remove Bob Gray’s picture from our websites, remove his name from our missionary lists, reprint conference flyers that once featured his name as a guest speaker, and gather up all of his preaching tapes. Neither his name nor anything about him will ever be mentioned from the pulpit in any conference where he once spoke. It will almost be as if he never existed.

Dr. Smith, there is a better way… a more biblical way. Let’s face it. I mean let’s address it. At one time Dr Rice used to print the names of southern Baptist officers who owned properties which they rented out to the owners of liquor stores, movie houses, and taverns. How much more accountable should we hold those who claim to be called by God to an office that features a list of character and moral requirements that includes mandates like “blameless” and above reproach?

I know, we’re independent and one of the Baptist distinctives is autonomy. But Bob Gray was not simply a local pastor. He held a national platform. One of the providers of that platform was the Sword of the Lord.

His actions reflect on not only all independent Baptist churches but the Body of Christ as a whole. If can we write about Jerry Falwell changing his standards at Liberty or Dave Bouler changing the music and special speakers at Southwide then certainly someone who has broken God’s moral law and violated the innocence of children should also have his name mentioned.

There can be no lasting repentance or revival until there is accountability.

The Sword of the Lord, which at one time held the ear of the vast majority of fundamentalists in America, needs to take the lead on this issue. At the very least there needs to be an article informing people of the charges. You can encourage your readers to pray for all of those involved from Dr Gray to Trinity Baptist to the alleged victims. You can also encourage them to pray that the truth, whichever side it may fall on, be revealed and justice served. If he is found guilty and the allegations are in true, then Dr Gray needs to be publicly rebuked and not only by Trinity but also within the pages of the Sword.

“Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” I Timothy 5:19-20

Yes, I love Bob Gray. He was truly one of my heroes of the faith. He had a great influence on my life when I was teenager. His sinful actions do not make the truths he preached any less true but it certainly does bring reproach to the cause of Christ.

In the past there have been men who got away with adultery and worse. I realize that ultimately they will face God but in the meantime innocent people have been hurt and lives have been shattered and destroyed. I am for the local church. I am for local church governing itself. But the local church cannot properly govern if it does not know what it is never told.

Dr. Smith, there is nothing which can be done about the sins of the past. However, there is something that can be done about this sin. We have no right to wave our Bibles or call ourselves the hope of America if we ignore this or simply talk about it quietly in private while pounding the pulpit in public over which preachers are now using movie screens and power point in their services. Funny how the autonomy argument becomes moot when preaching against local churches deciding what kind of music they prefer for their services or which standards they choose to have or not have. Purity is more than a haircut or a dress length. It’s a matter of the heart before God.

If we truly want to see revival then we need more than just preaching that shears the sheep. We need an accounting of the shepherds.

By His Grace,

Marty Braemer

Senior Pastor

follow the story in the news...

http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/local/news-article.aspx?storyid=58052