I am not a conspiracy theorist. Don’t talk to me about JFK, the Illuminati or Area 51. However, mindful of the fact that the Pharisees conspired with Judas to give up Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, we must admit in all fairness that sometimes there is indeed a conspiracy, even in religious matters. Just as businesses and politicians must deal with secret agendas, religious organizations are not immune from silent takeovers simply because our purposes are spiritual rather than financial or civic.
As I write this, I am completely sober and of sound mind. I slept well last night, have risen early and am on my second cup of coffee. But I am wondering this morning: “Is the Southern Baptist Convention quietly being reformed without the clear knowledge and awareness of the majority of our members who contribute vast resources for the spread of the gospel?” The most honest answer I can give is this: “I truly don’t know.” I have no idea, but what bothers me most is the very fact that I do not have access to the information that might help establish facts providing an answer.
Secret Documents and Unconventional Committees
Perhaps some of the answers might be found in the box containing the proceedings of the Great Commission Task Force, a box under lock and key, hidden in the Southern Baptist Archives at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, concealed from the eyes of common Southern Baptists until 2025, even though the committee was formed by Southern Baptists and should have been completely accountable to Southern Baptists. Think for a moment about the tactics of those who would establish and consolidate their power. If you are powerful enough to keep secrets from the organization that created you, essentially to control the media and their coverage of your activities, then you have just dealt a serious blow to freedom of the press. If Obama formed a committee with taxpayer money and then refused to allow its proceedings to be made available to the press, there would be a public outcry. But within the Southern Baptist Convention, there has been just such a power play, and everyone has moved on as if this were absolutely normal.
The next step in asserting your authority and continuing your reform might be to take a bold action without the consent of the governed, as did our SBC President when forming the unauthorized name change committee. Call it executive initiative or whatever you like, but set up your own formal committee accountable only to you. There is extraordinary power inherent in the ability to create leadership structures. That is why most of our churches have an awkwardly named “Committee on Committees.” But if you simply form a group on your own authority, calling a press conference to establish their legitimacy, you strike one more blow against the congregational polity that has ruled both our churches and our convention. Since the convention refused to form a renaming committee a few years ago, just form one on your own anyway and then tell them you did it. Announce the changes you’d like to implement. Make these changes appear inevitable. Since messengers were not empowered to block the committee’s formation in the first place, maybe they will not feel empowered to block its recommendations either.
A Rapidly Changing Convention
Whether we are being taken over by an organized, reformed theological movement is very difficult to prove, but no one can deny the rapid pace of change we find both in our churches and in our denomination:
a. Our Polity
We see a consolidation of power among a few key leaders, almost resembling an elder-rule model rather than a congregational one. In the convention, we see officers and entity heads lead us with very little formal accountability, as their boards have been packed with those who support their reform agenda. Those who object to matters from the lowly convention floor are either dismissed or tolerated in a condescending fashion by those on the platform.
b. Our Ecclesiology
We see more churches practicing a reformed ecclesiology with its strong emphasis upon strict church discipline, along with rumors of alcohol use in the Lord’s Supper and the possible acceptance of membership transfers by those whose experience was merely infant baptism rather than believer’s baptism.
c. Our Soteriology
We see 10% of our churches and 35% of our seminary graduates embracing five point Calvinism. Because this creates tensions when new Calvinist pastors seek to change existing non-Calvinist churches, the emphasis turns to church planting, but does this really solve the problem? Do our non-Calvinist Southern Baptist Churches desire to reproduce other non-Calvinist churches or to financially support the creation of hundreds or even thousands of new Calvinist churches, thus populating the very faction that may indeed be reforming or taking over the convention?
d. Our Missiology
Many among the young, restless and reformed set are less than thrilled with the Cooperative Program and much more enamored with the Acts 29 Network. Will we continue to embrace the cooperative missions support method or will the societal method emerge as the targeted method of choice among new church plants?
e. Our Civic Engagement
Just five or ten years ago, did Southern Baptists not speak to our culture and society with greater clarity and force concerning those areas in which our world has turned away from biblical convictions? We seem far less equipped to sound the trumpet and call our nation to repentance and freedom and the truth of God’s Word. Our current concern with cultural accommodation may indeed be rooted in the good intention to build bridges to the lost and introduce them to Jesus, but we all know where that road with good intentions often leads. As a ministry strategy, this accommodation tactic has produced less than stellar results and is often difficult to distinguish from plain, old-fashioned cultural liberalism and worldliness. In the process we are losing something of our bold stand for truth and righteousness. If the Southern Baptist Convention does not cry out against the evils of our society, who will?
f. Our Cultural Identity
Yes, Southern Baptists are synonymous with pro-life, pro-family, pro-religious liberty, conservative family values, with missions and with biblical inerrancy. But we are also synonymous with fried chicken dinners, wearing bathrobes in the annual musical drama, promoting Annie and Lottie, offering condolences with a casserole and solving most of our problems in committee meetings with a lot of prayer and strong coffee. It would be an understatement to say that this cultural identity is under attack. It does not bother me that a growing number of our churches do not resemble that description. It bothers me when they belittle it, considering their church culture superior.
g. Our Name
The authority to name someone or something should not be minimized. It is indeed enormous. Adam was privileged to give names to the animals, thus demonstrating his dominion over them. Parents name their children. To name something is to exercise authority over it. If you can rename an organization that is 167 years old, then you have firmly established your power over that organization. It is not a stretch to call this the quintessential reforming act. It may not change everything else, but it does show that if you have the power to do this, then you have the power to do anything and everything else.
It Really Is A Question
Let me conclude with a mild disclaimer many of you will ignore. Please note that my headline includes a question mark rather than an exclamation point. Although I have used many words to describe the case for a possible reforming agenda, I do not necessarily conclude from those arguments that there is definitely an organized takeover at work in our denomination seeking to change our name, our culture, our theology, our mission strategy, and our leadership style. But when I consider the evidence of so much change over such a short period of time, it is hard for me to conclude that this is all happening by accident.
What if the Conservative Resurgence was simply Act One in the much longer drama we may one day refer to as the Calvinist Revolution?
Think about it. If you really wanted to reform the convention, would you announce to everyone that you were doing it or would you just start working quietly behind the scenes until somebody noticed and told you to stop? If we are indeed being secretly reformed, might we not realize it until it is too late?
Now would be a good time for SBC leaders to demonstrate full disclosure and total transparency. This is not a time for secret boxes and unauthorized committees. Something in Southern Baptist life today just doesn’t feel right. No, it’s not a grassy knoll in Dallas, Texas, but I can’t escape the nagging suspicion that we might find the answer hiding in plain sight somewhere in Louisville, Kentucky.