A man walks up to a bank teller and asks, “Can you give me change for this one hundred dollar bill?” The teller says, “Sure. What denomination?” And the man replies, “Baptist—Southern Baptist if you’ve got it.”
No, there is not really such a thing as Southern Baptist money—except for the fact that there is. Southern Baptist money is the money given by Southern Baptists to promote Southern Baptist causes and build up the Kingdom of God in and through the ministry channels of the Southern Baptist Convention.
And herein lies a major problem. The walls clearly delineating our religious denomination from that of others are rapidly deteriorating. In fact, some Southern Baptists even celebrate this deterioration as a kind of ecumenical victory. “Let us tear down the walls that divide us from other Christians,” they say. “It is not about Southern Baptists. It is about the Kingdom of God.”
To which I must reply with a hearty, “Yes…but!”
Yes, I’m all about the Kingdom. But why in the world would I ever set the Kingdom, on the one hand, over against the Southern Baptist Convention, on the other, as if these were two competing concepts rather than concentric circles, with our denomination happily existing within the larger boundary of the Kingdom of God? It is precisely as I grow and give and serve and witness through the ministries and channels of Southern Baptist life that I build up the Kingdom.
To be a Kingdom Christian, I do not have to go outside Southern Baptist life with my money, my time or my partnerships, for Southern Baptists are indeed a subset of the Kingdom of God. Of course, we are certainly not the totality of the Kingdom. Methodists, Presbyterians and others are part of the Kingdom of God as well—which we gladly celebrate, even though (for obvious reasons) we do not partner with them on matters of publishing, church planting or ministry training. It is neither necessary nor helpful nor wise for us to commingle with outsiders either our religious or our financial denominations—our methods or our money.
Commingling Baptist Methods
- Some Southern Baptist churches today practice a form of polity distinctly apart from any form of congregationalism. They commingle an episcopal form of decision making in which a hierarchical leadership structure exists outside the local church. Such is the case, for example, at Fellowship Church in Irving, Texas, where outside leaders who are not members of the church make decisions about matters such as setting the pastor’s salary.
- Some Southern Baptist churches today have dropped immersion baptism as a requirement for church membership. While still baptizing converts by immersion themselves, they are willing to admit by statement new members whose believer’s baptism in another denomination was by affusion or aspersion. One example would be The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
- Some Southern Baptist churches today refuse to file their annual ministry report, fail to give any significant amount through our Cooperative Program, and essentially hide from the watching world any possible clue that they are even a Southern Baptist church at all. Examples are sadly too numerous to cite.
The price we pay in flirting with the methods used by other denominations is greater than most Southern Baptists realize. Like the insecure middle schooler with an identity crisis, we are so busy trying to be everybody else that we have forgotten the value of simply being ourselves.
Commingling Baptist Money
- Some Southern Baptist churches today are donating their Baptist money in building up churches that not only identify themselves as Southern Baptists, but also identify themselves as part of another group. One example might be Acts 29. Because of the joint affiliation with this non-Southern Baptist network, financial resources are commingled in such a manner that they could not be easily separated should the merger ever split. In other words, if ten years down the road a church decides, “You know what, we don’t want to have anything to do with Southern Baptists anymore—instead, we just want to be a non-denominational church that affiliates with the Acts 29 church planting network,” then there is no recourse for the sponsoring Baptist church, association or mission board. Not only have they *lost* the church in Southern Baptist life, but they have actually *subsidized* the church’s participation in the Acts 29 Network—a network doctrinally discriminating against Southern Baptist church planters whose theology, like my own, fits within the parameters of the BFM but not within the parameters of the Acts 29 Network’s more rigid doctrinal stance.
- Some Southern Baptist churches today are donating their Baptist money to the promotion of non-Southern Baptist youth conference ministries. One example might be the registration dues at a Southern Baptist Fuge in California. Numerous reports indicate that several camps were not led by Southern Baptists at all. One conference featured a camp pastor affiliated with American Baptists who attended an Evangelical Free Church, and a musician and band affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Our Southern Baptist money is being used to provide honoraria and salaries for non-Southern Baptist preachers and conference leaders. Are we making the assumption that non-Southern Baptist youth speakers and musicians do a better job of reaching our youth?
- Some Southern Baptist churches today are donating their Baptist money in support of non-Southern Baptist inspired forms of cultural engagement and policy promotion. When Russell Moore took over the ERLC, his first personnel move was to announce the hiring of five people in a single day. On the day of their hiring, three of the five were not even Southern Baptists. Presumably, they have rectified this situation and are presently Southern Baptists, but I have not followed up on the matter by researching their current denominational affiliation. It is possible that one or more are still not Southern Baptists.
Frankly, it pains me to think that Southern Baptists today feel the need to commingle Baptist money by partnering with (a) a non-Southern Baptist church planting organization, (b) a non-Southern Baptist Fuge speaker and musician team, and (c) a non-Southern Baptist slate of new employees at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Although it is not clearly marked, and contains no likeness of W.B. Johnson or Lottie Moon, there is certainly such a thing as Baptist money. In similar fashion, there are Baptist methods as well. As we play fast and loose with these boundaries, justifying them by means of a misguided ecumenism, we not only cross important boundaries, but we obliterate them—in the process destroying the very Southern Baptist distinctives that have served us well in the past, and will continue to serve us well in the future, provided that our deposits and withdrawals are made at an institution whose vault is sufficiently secure.