So the other day Pastor Dave here at SBCVoices emails me a username and password, and welcomes me as a Contributor to the site. I am, of course, honored and find it a great privilege. Yet there is something of an enigma to it all, like being given an honorary degree at a university I barely know.
As I’ve mentioned before in comments on this site, I have only been a Southern Baptist for about four years. To put this in SBC terms, I can count on one hand the number of Annie Armstrong offerings I’ve given to…and still have a finger left over. Yet here I am, an SBC “Voice”. It is ironic, but it is also a beautiful problem to have, and here’s why: For three of the last four years I was a member of a Southern Baptist church. For about the last year though, I have truly called myself a Southern Baptist. There’s a big difference between the two.
Only in the last year have I come to realize that Southern Baptists as a group have a rich and godly heritage. They can trace their lineage back to godly Baptists like Charles Spurgeon, Spencer Cone (hero of the War of 1812, Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, and later pastor of First Baptist Church in New York City), missionary to the American Indians Isaac McCoy (a contemporary and lifelong friend of Cone’s), John Bunyan and so many more. And then there are the godly women (any faithful pastor’s wife, for starters). SBC history includes thousands of tremendous, strong, prayerful Baptist women just like Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon.
The Southern Baptist Convention today is certainly not without its faults; it has always had them. An organization gathered around local autonomy is a paradox, and bound to encounter problems as a result. Think of the organization of the United States, united and yet locally autonomous (viz. States’ rights) and you get the idea. But in both cases the opportunities to thrive are plentiful, if earnestly pursued in the wisdom and blessing of the Lord.
One thing I would like to see the Convention do is educate Southern Baptist members on exactly what I’ve been talking about: the rich history of the denomination we all share. Part of what makes a family a family is the sense of shared legacy they have. We have millions of Southern Baptists who attend local SBC churches without any awareness of the history of the larger organization they are a part of.
Wouldn’t it be exciting if your church celebrated “Southern Baptist History Week”? What if stories of missionaries, preachers, urban missions workers, etc. were shared in the church? We have so many stories of Southern Baptist Christians who lived sold-out lives for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their stories should not be forgotten. They should be celebrated and used to inspire all of us today. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Where have I heard this sort of thing before? Oh, I know:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…”
The truth is, all of us who self-identify with the title of “Southern Baptist” should be honored by our Baptist heritage and privileged to be Southern Baptist voices. Our history should not be an enigma. However, none of this comes without a challenge. With that honorable heritage comes a great responsibility: to leave a legacy also.
What will the generation fifty years say about you and me? Will they be forced to skip over us because we burdened them with heavy costs of repairs and upkeep of the mega-structures we took out mega-mortgages to erect? Will they recall us as the generation who gave up preaching the Gospel and chose instead the false gospel of self-help and life enhancement? Will our organization implode as a result of endless, meaningless pats on the back?
Or will they see us as bringing about a new effort to evangelize North America through a re-energized NAMB? Will our legacy be a revitalized IMB working to bring the Scriptures and the Gospel to the world, even to places where both once flourished? Will our SBC seminaries step-up to select the best applicants who are passionate to preach the Gospel in any pulpit God has for them?
I’m told it was just a couple of decades ago that the Convention nearly lost the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Courageous conservative Southern Baptist pastors labored ceaselessly to fight against what were the prevailing trends of the day, and won. That is the kind of legacy I want to have.
Yes, there is much that remains an enigma to me, but I’m beginning to get it. I’m excited to call myself a Southern Baptist and I’m excited to be a new contributor here at SBC Voices. But more than that, I also know that in actuality every Southern Baptist has a voice. I pray every Southern Baptist voice is a Gospel voice; a voice calling men and women to repentance, faith, baptism by immersion, growth in the Scriptures, and lifelong Gospel service to honor Jesus Christ.