At various times, when they are not busy pushing one side of a political agenda or another, one of our local TV stations will feature a segment on the news about “Does It Work?” They’ll pick an item that is currently popular (read that as “Being featured in infomercials on the competing network”) or being talked about on social media and buy one. Then they’ll try it out, on camera, and tell you if it works or not. This is not quite the same as the “Will it Blend?” guy, though he’s more fun.
For us as Southern Baptists, we are going through a portion of our “Does it work?” cycle. Most local Baptist associations have had their annual meetings, and we are headed into state convention annual meetings. Our idea in all of these meetings is that we will gather and together strive to discern God’s will for each of these independent groups of Baptist works.
The theory, which I know most of you are aware of, is this: local churches elect, appoint, or allow individuals to attend these meetings on behalf of the church. These people are vested with authority to vote and are called “messengers” from the churches. In principle, a messenger is entrusted with voting how they feel led by the Spirit and guided by the Word of God at the meeting rather than being told how to vote by their local church. In practice, that is usually the case, unless you’re a staff minister and the pastor wants you to vote his way on everything. Then, you have to use your pregnant wife as an excuse to be late so you can sit on the other side of the convention center…that’s another story for another day.
Which brings us back to this question about our method: Does it work?
Although the real question is this one: Do we think that it works?
It is fascinating to see how quickly we will take up the critiques of what another group has voted, without dissension, to do. Especially when none of the issues are plainly Biblical but are instead about the application of Biblical principle: Scripture does not exalt ministry to widows over ministry to orphans, nor do we see a clear mandate that requires the CP method over individual support of missionaries. We make those choices based on our understanding of wisdom and Scripture.
If we truly believe that the manner in which we do business works, then we have to accept that even if the business conducted is not to our liking. Otherwise, it is just lip-service. If you think the North Carolina Baptists can make a good decision but do not think Oklahoma Baptists can, then your actions show you think the process is faulty. After all, if all those Baptists in one place cannot make a God-honoring decision, then they should not be together, should they?
Which leaves us with a dilemma: if we do not think our process works, what do we do about it? If you think that it’s being subverted, what are you going to do with that?
Perhaps, though, we should reconsider our view of each other and our view of how this works. Keep in mind that we organized our process based on our principles. Those principles were these:
1. The priesthood of the believer. We seem to misplace this one, but one hallmark of Baptist belief is that we believe every believer in Christ has the Holy Spirit, should have and know the Word, and is therefore capable of knowing God’s will regarding a decision. That is why we have business meetings, have annual meetings, and so forth: someone may be more studied about an issue, but no one is more “anointed” than another on it.
2. The sinful nature of every human. We need to remember this one: any person, at any time, may be acting selfishly based on their sinful nature rather than being guided by the Word and led by the Spirit. As such, we do not let one person get into and keep control. We cannot guarantee that important decisions made in isolation will not slide the wrong way, even with godly leadership. So, we insulate the process by requiring agreement of a multitude on critical issues. (Note: critical. Honestly, if your maintenance people cannot choose the best bid within the budget without a floor vote, you’ve got issues. But the budget? That needs the floor vote.)
3. The autonomous responsibility of Christian groups. Arkansas Baptists will answer to the Lord God for what they do. Since we will answer for those decisions and Florida Baptists will not, then Arkansas Baptists need to make those decisions. That includes allowing each group the freedom to do dumb things–which is more common than it used to be. At least according to blogs, that is.
The end-result of these principles?
The process above was the best solution we have come to as Baptists.
Does it work? Honestly, not always–crowds can be swung to make strange decisions. We mixed a really good associational decision with a questionable amendment this year. Now we have to live with it and then re-address the issue next year. Other decisions raise questions and criticism, and rightfully so–but then there are ways to address that criticism and to try and fix the issue. Ultimately, you have to decide if you’re going to live with it or move on, though. I didn’t care for the GCR decision, for example, but I am still a Southern Baptist. I’ll live with it–voice my frustration and move on.
This is the system we have. If there is a better one, please suggest it and see if we can move to one that is infallible. Yet I wonder if some of our decline as a whole is this: many of us do not really think it works anymore. We go through the motions but our actions show something very clearly: those of us involved in it think it doesn’t work. And people see that. People in our churches, people looking at our churches. They see the hypocrisy, that we say one thing but really believe another.
We do far more damage to ourselves than any culture-shifts or paradigm movements or time changes ever have. It is time we find a way to have this conversation and answer: Does it work?
If it does, then let us get back to work and quit running down each other.
And if it does not work, then we need to find something that does instead of holding on out of habit.