Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Big-Tent Baptists: 5 Steps Forward for the SBC

Last week's annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Nashville, Tennessee, what some people call “the world’s largest business meeting,” is now one for the books. With the largest gathering of messengers in 25 years, the meeting drew an abundance of attention from within and without the SBC.

As a lifelong Southern Baptist, when I think of the SBC, I think of it somewhat as the nation of Israel, united in greater purpose yet divided into twelve tribes. Each one enjoyed a distinct heritage, strengths, and specific futures promised by the Lord. Yet they were all linked by broad truths, like the Torah and Shema. When necessary, they joined forces to accomplish purposes too big for an individual tribe. As long as they stayed true to the Law of Moses and the vision to love the Lord Jehovah with all of their mind, strength, and soul, they found individual fulfillment in existing as the tribe of Benjamin, Judah, Levi, etc.

In the New Testament, Paul used a human body to illustrate Christ’s church. We have many parts, and they do not all serve the same function. As we develop and use our spiritual gifts, though varied, God’s grace will be displayed – the “multifaceted grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10 NASB). As long as they stay connected to the body and the head, remembering their place in the larger purpose of the unit, their differences actually reflect the awesome power of their Creator.

I told our congregation last Wednesday night, “When you get 100 Christians together who love the Lord and believe the Bible, you are going to have varying opinions about how to get stuff done. Imagine how many more ideas you will have when 16,000 Baptists come together for a business meeting!”

As with any large gathering, various subgroups who see some things differently desire to influence the SBC in their own ways. Moving forward, I believe Southern Baptists will be wise to remember five things.

1. Baptists need to agree on the essentials of the BFM 2000.

The last 25 years included theological erosion in most American mainline denominations. Baptist conservatives saw the need several decades ago to secure our own denomination to avoid a similar disintegration.

Our denominational confession of faith is called The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. The committee who reviewed this confession in 1999-2000, reported the following:

“Baptists are a people of deep beliefs and cherished doctrines. Throughout our history we have been a confessional people, adopting statements of faith as a witness to our beliefs and a pledge of our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture.

Our confessions of faith are rooted in historical precedent, as the church in every age has been called upon to define and defend its beliefs. It is the purpose of this statement of faith and message to set forth certain teachings which we believe. ”

Every trustee serving our SBC national institutions, state conventions, and teaching at our colleges and seminaries must agree with this confessional statement. I was a messenger to the 2000 Atlanta meeting when we adopted the revised statement of faith.

In a day abounding in false teaching and error, the BFM 2000 keeps us from the slippery slope of “progressive Christianity” and ties us to historical, theological orthodoxy.

See my article, Theological Liberalism in the SBC?


2. Baptists need to agree to disagree over other matters of practice, polity, and politics that stretch beyond the BFM.

At times we each would like everyone to agree with our particular views on – well, on everything.

The narrower one's focus, the more you start banning people who don't agree with you. Here’s one example.  Billy Graham announced he would hold a crusade in Greenville, South Carolina, home of Bob Jones University, at the new Textile Hall.  In response, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., ordered the students to not attend the meeting.  He wrote The Position of Bob Jones University in Regard to the Proposed Billy Graham Crusade in Greenville, A Chapel Talk by Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., on February 8, 1965. ” 

It proclaimed, “The Bible commands that false teachers and men who deny the fundamentals of the faith should be accursed; that is, they shall be criticized and condemned. Billy approves them, Billy condones them, Billy recommends them… I think that Dr. Graham is doing more harm in the cause of Jesus Christ than any living man; that he is leading foolish and untaught Christians, simple people that do not know the Word of God, into disobedience to the Word of God.”  

That’s called majoring on minors and missing the point.

And where does that end? What if they hold a different view of eschatology? Soteriology? Pneumatology? How complementarianism is to be applied in a multitude of situations? The age of the earth? Convictions on alcohol, education of children, or birth control? Whether or not I believe God speaks through the Holy Spirit today? Whether or not you voted  – or did not vote – for Donald Trump? Before long, I can back myself in a corner where my distinct filter becomes the only theological camp with which I identify.

I see Baptists today taking aim at other Baptists who still believe in basic orthodoxy but come to different conclusions and practices about secondary matters. Social media creats "experts" behind every laptop or smart phone. A caustic, critical spirit has taken over our culture and keeps influencing the way believers relate to one another.

When Christians move into their “theological tribes” or “camps,” how easy it becomes to narrow our vision of Christian theology. Suddenly our tribe (whether that is Reformed or non-Reformed;  God speaks today, God doesn’t speak today; women can teach men in Sunday School or lead music, women can’t do that in my church; pre-mill, post-mill; and dozens of other categories) becomes the one that is “right.” Our tribe is the one correctly dividing the word of truth.

My wife serves as the Minister of Music at a Southern Baptist church. She does so with my full blessing – and under the leadership of her senior pastor and leadership council – all male. My mother taught men in Sunday School and discipleship training classes for decades. I realize that for some in the SBC, they would never allow those practices in their churches. However, I believe the Southern Baptist tent is plenty large enough for all of us.

I appreciate what our new President Ed Litton, recently said: "We are a complementarian convention. I am complementarian. And yet there’s a broadness in our BFM 2000: We believe that a pastor should be a qualified and called-out male. That’s in line with Scripture. But women play a critical function in our churches, and some feel like they are being told what they can’t do instead of what women are called to do."

While it is good and necessary to come to our theological convictions and conclusions over secondary matters, it is always wise and good to give grace to others in the Body who affirm basic orthodoxy but disagree with me and my tribe over non-essentials.

In our zeal, sometimes we shoot the wrong people. It’s kind of like going to a big family reunion and shooting your third cousins.

When we can agree on the BFM, we must not make secondary matters a litmus test for whether or not someone else is truly orthodox.


3. Baptists can find agreement and momentum in smaller networks around non-BFM 2000-specific matters.

I am a bivocational pastor, and due to my full-time job was unable to attend this year’s convention. However, my wife and daughter attended. Had I voted, I would have cast my lot for Mike Stone or Albert Mohler. However, neither of “my guys” won!

I’ve appreciated Mohler’s stand on orthodoxy, his love for the SBC, and his steady statesmanship for many years.

Recently, I’ve come to appreciate the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN), which Stone represents. Many of the passions of that “tribe” represent “my kind of Baptist.”

For example, I wholeheartedly agree with their following statement: The Network affirms religious liberty and encourages Christian individuals and churches to influence the culture by engaging in the public policy process and demonstrating their patriotism. 

I believe America is historically a covenantal nation – not just like ancient Israel – but covenantal nonetheless. Documents reveal our forefathers saw this country as an experiment with the God of the Bible. I believe we should encourage patriotism, we should have great big God and Country celebrations in our churches, and we should salute the American flag and teach our churches about America’s godly heritage. It grieves me to hear people in the SBC who equate those things with idolatry.

I am saddened and troubled over the lack of SBC pastors and entities speaking out into the modern culture. I see a hesitancy to rock the cultural narrative on many social issues. I thoroughly agreed with Dennis Prager, a Jew, who wrote an article last year called “America’s Jews and Christians Are Failing the Test of their Lives.”

America is being taken over by violent mobs; a vast amount of destruction and stealing has taken place (with little police intervention and the apathy of our political leaders). Why aren’t all clergy delivering thundering sermons about the Seventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”? Does it now come with an asterisk?

A central part of a major American city has been seized and occupied by people who hate America and its values, including its Judeo-Christian values. Heard any clergy (aside from some evangelical Christians) speaking out against it?

The freest, least racist, most opportunity-providing country in history — “the last best hope of earth,” in Abraham Lincoln’s words — is smeared as “systemically racist”; all white people are declared “racist”; and the statues of the greatest Americans, including George Washington and even Abraham Lincoln, are toppled and/or defaced. And all we get from most American religious leaders is either agreement or silence.

So, why the silence? Why aren’t all rabbis, priests and pastors telling their congregations and telling America — in tweets, on Facebook, in letters to the editor, on television and radio, in opinion pieces — that there is one race, the human race, and that the only antidote to racism is to deny that race determines our worth, not to affirm its significance?

It grieved me for years to read Russel Moore’s never-Trump rhetoric. And it pleased me when Albert Mohler wrote in 2020 that he changed his mind from not voting for him in 2016 to supporting him in 2020, seeing the bigger picture and what was - and is -  at stake.

I believe our culture hangs by a thread. The church faces monumental threats coming from the Left, which embraces Marxism and Communism, both of which are enemies of religion.  Many Baptists are afraid to speak up and speak out because they don’t want to rock the boat – or they fear it may hurt our evangelism.

I would love to see the SBC on a national level strategize how to get Southern Baptist pastors elected in every state and every county. I think that should be one of the vision statements Ronnie Floyd shared in his Vision 2025 presentation. I agree with the late Chuck Colson, also a Southern Baptist, who said when he heard churches talk about the five purposes of the church (worship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and missions), he wanted to say, “And a sixth! The redemption of culture.” I am afraid Southern Baptists have historically ignored The Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1-2, and today we pay the price for the neglect.

The necessity to take seriously the call to build, influence, and redeem culture is rooted in the glory and image of God.

Navigating these issues, I have found like-mindedness among networks such as The American Renewal Project, headed by David Lane, the Family Research Council, led by Tony Perkins, and the Conservative Baptist Network, with men like Mike Stone and Tom Phillips, and Mike Huckabee on the Steering Council.

I know enough about evangelicals and Southern Baptists to know not everyone in the SBC is going to agree with “my tribe” over everything. That’s ok. I’m a big boy. I know that the SBC can agree on the BFM 2000 – and agree to disagree over secondary matters, which are many.

I’m not going to insist that we take all of my secondary issues and write them into the BFM, and I’m not going to pull out of the SBC just because every tribe doesn’t think just like mine.

See my article, Seven Lies Americans are Believing.


4. Baptists need to embrace a big-tent mentality when it comes to the convention.

The SBC is a very big tabernacle, with tent pegs cemented into orthodoxy.

I’ve enjoyed many smaller tents in my Christian and Baptist pilgrimage:

·      Attending numerous Johnny Hunt Men’s Conferences and visiting First Baptist Woodstock, Georgia, for training events.

·      Working for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

·      Participating in some of David Lane’s American Renewal Project meetings, where he tries to influence pastors to engage in the public square.

·      Using numerous resources from the Family Research Council to influence others in social matters.

·      Finding tremendous help through the years through the teaching ministries of Charles Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Tony Evans, Henry Blackaby, Kay Arthur, Anne Graham Lotz, and Jim Cymbala.

I know every Southern Baptist will not go to these same smaller tents. Some will link arms with the Founders Ministry, others flock to conferences at John MacArthur’s church, and others follow the 9 Marks ministry.

But when we come together on the national level, we need to leave our smaller tents and enjoy the fellowship, purpose, and power of the big one, without expecting every smaller tent to look like ours.


5. Baptists need to love each other.

Even with those with whom we disagree over secondary matters.

And loving each other includes talking to each other. Albert Mohler, who I believe may go down as the greatest Baptist statesman of this generation, recently wrote,

For some reason, it seems that Southern Baptists have developed an allergy to talking to each other, openly and honestly, about difficult issues. How would that work for your family or your church? The times in which we live make certain that difficult issues will arise. I intend to put Southern Baptists in rooms with each other, talking to each other. I mean putting people who may disagree on some issues talking about how to move forward. This process will not be easy, but we are much better when we are working together in a room than when we are shouting at each other from afar. . . .

I will do my best to convince Southern Baptists to talk to each other rather than to tweet at each other. Social media have their place, but media platforms invite a snarky and angry discourse that poisons our ability to work together. Let's not communicate on Twitter any differently than we would communicate face-to-face. And, where possible, let's communicate with each other before we communicate at each other.”

And the CBN recently put the following on their facebook page:

“Where there are unresolved matters, the healthy way forward lies in God-honoring, Bible-mandated, Holy-Spirit guided, Christ-emulating discussion with brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are here for that, and we are excited about the ways that unity around doctrinal soundness can make Southern Baptists a more effective witness to the world than perhaps ever before.”

I remember a magnet my mother had on our refrigerator when I was a teenager. It said, “Where there is love, there is understanding.”

Nancy Pearcy aptly shares in her book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity, “We may preach a God of love, but if nonbelievers do not observe visible love within those ministries or churches and Christian organizations, then we undermine the credibility of our message.

A prayer time at the 2021 annual meeting
of the SBC

‘The medium is the message,’ to use Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase. And for Christians, the medium is the way we treat one another. . . .

In every age, the most persuasive evidence for the gospel is not words or arguments but a living demonstration of God’s character through Christians’ love for one another, expressed in both their words and their actions.” ()

When a Baptist brother or sister affirms the BFM 2000, we already have A WHOLE LOT MORE in common with each other than not. Let’s act that way and love each other.

See Dr. Albert Mohler's Common Conviction, Cooperative Commitment, and Common Sense — The Southern Baptist Convention and the Future


- Pictures used from Pixabay and the Southern Baptist Convention / Baptist Press.

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