About 47 years ago my dad was likely invited to join a gracious family for Thanksgiving Dinner when he attended William Carey in Hattiesburg. This year God brought a Miami boy to NOBTS. His name is Nick and its a great privilege to have him in our home today. Things have changed a bit in 47 years. Nick is a rapper from Miami who passionately posits justice but most importantly the Gospel through his favorite medium. Nick is very much the face of the future of evangelical ministry in our country (comfortable in the city, Latino, enjoying life, willing to work hard, and loving Jesus) and we are thankful that he has decided to be a part of the NOBTS family. No one could have imagined what bounty God would bring to a young man willing to follow God’s Call to “Go West Young Man” 47 years ago: Three Woodward boys and their families teaching and ministering in 2014 is a window into this bounty. And who knows what God might do through this young man in our home today in future years: let’s pray to that end.
The position of soul competency is arguably the most important Baptist distinctive among a range of core beliefs that Southern Baptists hold in common with the evangelical community. E. Y. Mullins defined soul competency as follows: “The sufficient statement of the historical significance of the Baptist is this: The competency of the soul in religion. Of this means a competency under God, not a competency in the sense of human self-efficiency.” Of particular interest to students of worship are the implications of soul competency to the church as a worshiping community. Some have argued for example that the notion of soul competency was inherent in the impassioned appeal by American Founders, particularly Baptists, in their call for religious freedom in the First Amendment. One could argue that soul competency is the high mark of viable answers to the question of religious freedom among all religious responses to the political state from the Reformation to the Enlightenment to the present.
The pieces included in tonight’s concert represent best practices at critical junctures of ever-expanding freedoms in worship practice, beginning with the Protestant Reformation. For example, the Tallis settings are a fascinating offering in the midst of a quickly emerging Reformed English Church. The title might suggest something akin to Burgeois’ Psalter, associated with Calvin’s leadership, yet these Psalm settings are distinctly English. And one could argue more incarnate in their practical appeal to English 17th century senses. Bach’s Cantatas are fully matured worship settings that have moved well beyond the emergence of the German chorale as a response to the reign of Latin texts in Western worship. It would be hard to argue that any Protestant composer exceeded Bach in the combination of rich theology and high art. Brahms takes up the Bach mantle in the Romantic period pressing the utter limits of harmonic text painting as an extension of Bach’s melodic text painting. In the case of Bach and Brahms, the religious art is timeless and noteworthy among all Protestant works of art conceived up to that point and thereafter. Ironically, this golden age of Lutheran Christian art was increasingly moving toward rationalism, which tends to place the congregation in the role of a “public” that is addressed through moralistic teaching. Although hymn singing was still prominent during Bach’s era, the increasing importance of high art through the cantata perhaps lent itself toward reflection and increasingly less passionate participation. Certainly, by the time of Brahm’s sacred choral settings in Vienna, late 19th century, “traditional ritual and music” was “often more a habit than a conviction,” no matter how exquisite his motets.
But if one were to look across the Atlantic at about the same time Brahms was writing some of the greatest art music known to man, a little blind lady was busy composing some of the greatest hymn texts ever to be embraced by the Evangelical church. Our Methodist friends are quite glad, I’m sure, that we could do no better than to celebrate the hymn texts of Fanny Crosby as a high mark of Evangelical, Revivalist writing. Although Fanny was not an expositor of the theological concept of soul competency, her emergence and accomplishment is an ideal example of the impact of the concept of soul competency in the evangelical church, particularly in America. As much as liberal theologians seek to find a voice for women from the humanities to the sciences, one need look no further than Evangelicals in America for a people who first championed a woman’s soul competency before God as a proclaimer of truth. While Southern Baptists in particular are sometimes criticized for their position on women in a lead pastoral role, they have quietly provided a framework for generations of female proclaimers of the Word through song.
Similarly, the African-American spiritual and later the Black Gospel genre became pictures of soul freedom. And again, Baptists play a critical role in the 21st century with African-American pastors who call their communities to account for their souls before God and by extension call their communities to break from the enslavement of a system of poverty of the soul, mind, and body. Thus, our concert will end with a tribute to Moses Hogan.
 E.Y. Mullins, The Axioms of Religion, ed. C. Douglas Weaver (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, rev. ed. 2010), 64.
 Hans-Christoph Schmidt-Lauber, “The Lutheran Tradition in the German Lands,” in The Oxford History of Christian Worship, ed. Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 408.
 Conrad L. Donakowski, “The Age of Revolutions,” in The Oxford History of Christian Worship, ed. Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 383.
 Woodward originally presented Elijah Rock with the Pascagoula High School Choir in New Orleans in 1999 at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. Moses Hogan, who died in 2007, graciously agreed to work with the Pascagoula High School group.
In the South there are certain rituals we participate in almost without thinking: weddings, funerals, and Friday night football to name a few. Because of these beautiful and strong traditions one can expect a certain response as a son of the South at the passing of a loved one. Our family (the Woodward family–I am speaking here as a son of Dr. Charles Alan Woodward) was reminded in a profound way this past weekend that some rituals, or at least on some occasions, our rituals can move beyond tradition to the incarnational reality of the church being the hands and feet of Jesus. When Dad transitioned to eternal glory last week there was no question in our mind that we would celebrate his life at the church where the majority of his ministry occurred: FBC Ellisville. As we pulled up to the church Friday night for the visitation, we were ushered into a fellowship area where dear friends had prepared food for us and greeted us with great concern. Then for over three hours person after person expressed concern for mom, the three boys, and the grandchildren, with particular concern our having lost dad at a relatively young age by today’s standards (66). Then we were taken to a friend of the family and member of the church’s home, where more food and care awaited us. On Saturday morning we could barely get out of the vehicle when loving folks came to embrace particularly mom as we moved toward the sanctuary. I am purposefully only mentioning two names to give honor to the sacredness of service others provided. The gracious pastor, Dr. Brashier, gladly opened the church to us during this difficult time, and Bro. Robert Fennell, a mentor to all three Woodward boys and long-time friend of the family, carefully provided every need for the worship celebration. After the graveside service, we were invited back to the church to the comfort of food and fellowship. I watched other ladies of the church, again long-time friends of our family work tirelessly to serve our family.
One of my favorite comments that was made regarding Dad’s legacy, which came particularly from guys my age, was that Dad as pastor at First Ellisville, helped bring us to together as a community built on something beyond ourselves. Truly, the church is a picture of this reality. My friends were right in saying we needed this as preteens and throughout our developmental years. But now I am learning through experience that we need it just as much as big boys as we face tragedies. Please don’t misunderstand my meaning here: Theologically, the church is a concept that was birthed in the heart and mind of God that expands the seminal institution of family, namely the family of Israel, to all who have sincerely accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It is the institution uniquely designed by God to care for our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. (Don’t read too much into physical although historically the church has rightly led the way in this category pretty much since the Resurrection.)
I offer this theological definition to say we can understand the concept of the church and even experience it over a lifetime and yet be blown away during the care of the beautiful bride of Christ during our darkest hours. And as the conceptual idea of church becomes incarnational reality may we recognize the beauty of the church and give God the glory. May we say to ourselves and our family members as instruments in this body: It Matters. Our role in the church matters. From the ladies who help change diapers, to the 5th grade Sunday School teacher (Mr. Copeland in my case), to the consistent servants who make sure the baptismal details are in order, to the servant-teams that provides meals at funerals, to the evangelism teams that go out in various ways, to the choir members, to the ushers, to sound tech guys, and deacon’s wives . . . it all matters.
And as perfect as the handling of our delicate situation was carried out by the fine folks at First Baptist Ellisville, I am starting to figure something out as old friends from Highland Baptist Church in Metairie, and new friends at First Baptist New Orleans and Crosspoint (brother’s Jon’s church), and friends from past churches like First Baptist Helen and First Baptist Havana, and the wonderful folks at First Baptist Brandon (brother Charlie and mom’s current home church), and pastors/staff from a myriad of churches express concern in person and through social media–I am starting to figure out that this church thing is not unique to one place or time or culture. When we do church the way Christ intended for it to be done, according to the NT, the church truly becomes the greatest caring institution in the history of the world, and much more than that as the Lord uses His church to fit us for heaven.
It is exactly the church that causes me to know that my mother will eventually settle into a healthy rhythm and routine on the outskirts of Brandon MS. There will be the precious folks from her Sunday school class, checking in on her and precious ladies from her church who have walked the same path who come along beside her. No doubt this is part of what Paul yearned for when he said again and again in his letters that he wanted us to attain full maturity and knowledge in Christ. The knowledge does relate to theology but it is also a working knowledge of how the church family is to love each other. So the next time you are tempted to say to yourself, does this small thing I am doing in my local church really matter? Rest assured based on the principles of His Word and the time-tested realities of the hands and feet of Jesus that it matters. It really, really matters.
Thank you so much First Baptist Ellisville, thank you First Baptist Brandon, thank you First Baptist New Orleans, thank you Crosspoint Church in Gulfport and thank you to the many others who have connected to Dad and mom or their boys along the way for your tremendous love expressed in word and deed.
On behalf of the Woodward family,
During my Dad’s last months on earth and now in his last days and moments, our family has been incredibly encouraged by the songs of the church. In our family’s journey this is no accident or result of little effort. In God’s incredible and beautiful Sovereignty He provided a rich musical environment for my brothers and I. We had remarkably rich musical experiences in a small church in Metairie, LA named Highland Baptist Church, and our journey at FBC Ellisville was simply incredible. It is true that before 12 we were pushed to excellence with challenging handbell music, breathing exercises, and encouragement to embrace proclamation in song at every turn. But as life unfolds I increasingly recognize that the most important thing we learned in a church that expected every boy and man to sing was the comfort the hymns and songs of the faith bring in our darkest hour. I am particularly partial to the hymns of the faith in this regard, and those who know my ministry context know that I embrace relevance in worship ministries, but at our darkest hour it is incredibly important to be able to lock arms across generations and sing the great hymns of the faith. Great is Thy Faithfulness has been particularly comforting for our family. This afternoon as the brothers Wood(ward) rushed to Pearl, MS to be at our mother’s side, It Is Well with My Soul seemed most appropriate. An incredible marvelous thought entered my mind this afternoon as mom and the three brothers were drawing comfort through prayer: How incredible in God’s Sovereignty that He would have placed her sons in a church that taught her sons to sing. Do you see the beauty, the power of this concept? A church that teaches her sons to sing will be comforted by those self-same sons in her darkest hours. Literally as saints pass from this world to our eternal home they will be comforted by the songs of the church sung by her sons. This is a heritage, which I was not only born to continue, but the Lord literally shaped my journey to allow me to see the vital role of the songs of the church. I would always want to be mindful not to raise the importance of a church song beyond which it should be viewed under the supremacy of Christ in all and through all, and no doubt the best song sung is the life lived well for our Lord, as Clement would remind us, but truly no greater instrument hath the Lord given us than that of faith sung by the church’s sons.
Tomorrow is a big day in the Woodward house. My middle son Luke is going to be baptized. He is 12, and his older brother and sister were also baptized at 12 or 13. This is actually not a coincidence. In our home, we of course look for signs of the Spirit working in the lives of our children and try to respond to their questions. All of our kids thus far–and we praise God for this reality–have sought a relationship with Christ at an early age. We assume nothing other than sincerity with an early decision, which has occurred more than once with our six children, but we also assume a time will come later in life when the child who makes an early decision comes to a fuller understanding of that decision or fuller sense of conviction of sin, and in some instances the child believes the later understanding or conviction coincides with the actual moment of salvation. I believe in some instances that the earliest decision is valid but each of us must wrestle with the reality of initial salvation from the Father.
Assuming the child has accepted Christ by 12, which has occurred for each of our oldest three children, we proceed toward baptism at some point between the ages of 12 and 13. However, we have started another tradition to help seal this important moment in the lives of our children. Usually the day before the baptism, we gather with immediate family and sometimes extended family or a family friend, and we question the child regarding basic doctrine. I believe the one who is being baptized needs to be able to talk about the Trinity,doctrine of Christ, doctrine of sin, and doctrine of salvation, even if it is in 12-year-old language. We seek to assure the child that having a right answer does not equal salvation. Rather, salvation occurred at the moment he or she genuinely accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. We will ask again before the family council if the child asked Christ into his or her life at the earlier point–note that at this point if the child has questions we can pray at that very moment to receive Christ.
For those who might still be with me at this point in the article, let’s see if I can stir up all the Baptists in the room. Once the child is baptized, you are not allowed to be baptized again as long as you live in our home. If the child comes to me at 14 and says, I believe I have just now genuinely accepted Christ, I will say, “That’s wonderful; you’re mother and I rejoice with you in this decision.” But the child will not be baptized again. I am amazed at the number of people I encounter in ministry that have been baptized twice, including myself. I don’t think the original “re-baptizers” had what we do in mind when the Baptist denomination begin to emerge a few centuries ago. Sure if a person experiences infant baptism, an additional baptism is needed. But in my view, if the average committed Christian has been baptized more than once under the category of sole-competency, something is wrong with our system. I am sure statistically that at least one of my children will get baptized twice, but it will not be during his or her developmental years.
So some might be wondering why 12, I will answer in extended manner if anyone is interested, but for now, let me simply say that this age was determined through research on developmental understanding. At 12 a child can begin to have profound understanding of symbolism. I didn’t create this reality. This reality unfolds from God’s sovereignty of the developmental process. Notice this is also the threshold of young manhood or womanhood.
And yes you are right if guessed that there are historical models for this practice. As I have said elsewhere on this blog, our main guides in leading our family or churches in worship are biblical and theological, but comparing our conclusions against the weight of history is not a bad idea.
I have been complicating pain more than unusual lately, perhaps more than I have ever contemplated this unavoidable aspect of life on planet earth. This is due to watching my father endure terminal cancer. To be fair, I readily admit that my father’s type of cancer, though terminal without divine intervention, is not particularly associated with pain, so I should be clear from the outset in stating that I am using pain in a broad sense (e.g., the pain of being robbed of any sense of independence, the pain of not being able to enjoy retirement, the pain of not being able to do any of those trips you had hoped to do, the pain of realizing you won’t be able to see your grandchildren grow up, the pain of realizing a good portion of your grandchildren won’t know you, the pain of watching your wife serve you with great difficulty though with a consistent positive spirit, the pain of not being able to care for your wife). Although pure physical pain has not been a prominent aspect of dad’s difficult journey, he recently fell face forward, which was I am sure quite painful, though he is not able to remember what happened nor has he communicated a great deal regarding the incident.
Of course some of my contemplations on pain extend to other family members, particularly my mother, and some are selfish. In fact the manner in which the whole journey affects me ranges from frustration to deep emotional pain. This past July 4th weekend, 2014, is more on the frustration side. A bit of context is required to fully communicate these melancholy reflections (keep reading–it gets indescribably more hopeful below). Over 30 years ago my father started a rich tradition that has been repeated each Christmas: the Woodward family shrimp boil, which always includes the Trolios (mom’s sister’s family.) Not knowing how much time we have left with Dad, we decided to do one more boil this past Friday. It was a last minute plan and woodward.nola was zipping up I-55 when we found out that Dad had fallen face first and was not responding verbally. He was rushed to the hospital where we met mom. And yes, it was very difficult to see this precious man with a huge protrusion emanating above his left eye. Mom decided that we should go forward with the shrimp boil while she sat at the hospital for most of the day Friday keeping watch over Dad, but needless to say this was not exactly the celebration we had in mind.
For those who have walked with someone they hold dear through the valley of the shadow of death, you understand there is a certain deep and heavy fog that you learn to breath when in the presence of the dear one who is decaying. To be honest, it feels like a suffocating reality, and I actually get breaks from the reality with two brothers who are faithfully seeking to provide assistance to mom; particularly the youngest but quickly aging Charlie is bearing a good bit of the responsibility of helping mom–Charlie lives just a few miles from Mom and Dad. Mom lives constantly in this reality.
I was beginning to emerge from this latest round of the fog of death this morning as I engaged in corporate worship. Then, at some point after the Supper as my wife Michelle was leading the congregation in “Worthy Is the Lamb” a chin raising idea emerged within my innermost being. Perhaps it had been read earlier in the service but the painfully descriptive phrase referring to the Suffering Servant was prominent in my mind: “He was bruised for our transgressions.” My thoughts were partially turned to Dad–for those who knew him (forgive me for referring to him in past tense as he is now a shell of the man we knew) the process feels so unjust–he was indeed so seemingly innocent. Of course, we know–those who know him best know that he is not actually innocent in a theological sense but he is a model of one who truly pursued holiness and selflessness, which go hand and hand.
I was reminded by the Great Teacher in that moment that my Lord Jesus was bruised and passionately as I would defend my father’s honor, I know that in reality the Messiah was infinitely innocent and was bruised in a magnitude of injustice that is incomprehensible. I am reticent to admit that seeing one who sought so earnestly to look like Jesus endure and endure and endure brings our Lord’s reality to more vivid color. I am reticent to admit this truism because the words should leap off the pages of the Word embraced in their fullness through faith, but perhaps there is a certain comprehending that comes only through living.
I also realized in this same moment the greater reality only Our Lord is capable of bringing to fruition: Only our Lord could rise above the injustice of death for the truly innocent, only our Lord could despise the inevitable decay of flesh, and only our Lord is capable of being Christus Victus, Christ the Victor over death.
There are many many things to live for as we see our father diminish: there is a rich family legacy, which Dad has exponentially increased through my rose colored glasses; there are the lives of these precious grandchildren to celebrate and press to excellence; there is the fruit of changed lives and the fruit of life changers. But what makes all of this possible and what gives these good things an enduring quality or at least the sparkle of the eternal . . . yes, you know the chorus: “He’s the Lily of the Valley, the bright and Morning Start, He’s the fairest of 10000 to my soul.”