I’ve been a regular attender of an SBC church since 9 months before I was born. It’s all I’ve known. I attended a Baptist-affiliated college, then after a brief and blessed stay at a conservative but non-denominational seminary, I graduated from SWBTS. I’m SBC born, SBC bred, and when I die I’ll be SBC dead. In fact, one of the strongest moments of divine call I had in my life was when I sense God’s leading to return to the SBC fold and move from Dallas to Southwestern, to invest my life in the SBC. My dad was lobbying for me to find another place to serve – his frustration with the SBC of the late 70s and early 80s was strong. But God called me to this flawed convention and my life’s work has been within its borders.
But I also realize that God has a lot of other good neighborhoods in his kingdom. I explored E-Free Village once, and the Bible Church Acres had some appeal. Never was tempted by Presbyterian Oaks but I’ve had some good times visiting in the Charismatic Heights area. Even Pentecostal Pines can make for some good times. You don’t have to be Southern Baptist to be a good Christian. You can serve God in other venues, other denominations, other churches. We are not the only community in Christ’s kingdom.
But I think a lot of people forget that. When I say what I am about to say, I can almost anticipate the reactions, as if I am casting people out of the kingdom, questioning the validity of their faith, or suggesting they be excommunicated from the church of Jesus Christ. No. My only point is that there are people who seem a bad fit for the SBC, who reject the way we do things – not so much our fundamental doctrines, but our polity, practices and procedures. (Nicely alliterated, Dave!)
Too few Southern Baptists understand who we are and how we work. People want things from us we cannot give and bring demands to which we cannot accede.
This is one of those posts that has been brewing in my brain for a long time, but a couple of things I’ve read in the last couple of days have moved me to put these thoughts on electronic paper. I hope my intended tone comes through – I’m trying to be direct without being offensive. But I will be dealing with some of the most controversial and difficult episodes in our recent history. As I mentioned, two blogposts I’ve read in the last couple of days have inspired (provoked me?) to put these words on internet-paper.
- One was from an aggressive “traditionalist” – well known for his antipathy toward Calvinists in the SBC. He published a diatribe threatening to withhold funding from the IMB if they hired a president not to his liking.
- The other post was from an ardent, passionate, Calvinist, who is part of a movement seeking to “reform” the SBC – along Calvinist lines, of course. He and his friends are sometimes harsh in their criticisms of the SBC (with some of those criticisms I agree and with some I disagree) and he’d been queried why he remains within the fold instead of heading out to some Reformed Baptist fellowship. He said it is his desire to remain within the SBC and to seek reform until we band together to kick him out.
Here’s the thing. These men are both well within their rights to advocate these positions within the SBC. We are a convention of free churches, and anyone affiliated with the SBC can lodge disagreements, seek reform, levy demands, as they wish. The only limitation is the Lordship of Christ and the teaching of God’s Word. If one man wants to threaten to withhold funds if a Calvinist is given a position, he is within his rights as a Southern Baptist. If another wants to reform the SBC to become more Calvinist, he too is within his rights as a Southern Baptist to pursue that aim.
My quarrel is not with those who articulate and advocate a position, but with those who seem to fundamentally misunderstand what the SBC is all about. We have a system of belief and of practice that we have believed is based on Scripture, though I’m sure tradition invades more than we’d like to admit. Not everyone who is a faithful Christian agrees with our autonomy, free church, baptistic and congregational beliefs. That’s fine. But it’s who we are. If these core beliefs rankle, rile, offend or annoy you, you can still be a faithful, Christ-loving, Word-honoring, Spirit-filled, blood-bought, heaven-bound Christian. Maybe, though, you should consider your involvement in the SBC. I’m not trying to add to the statistical decline of my beloved convention but I think we’d all be happier if those who do not appreciate or accept the basic beliefs and practices of our brand of Baptist life would find a fellowship that reflects their beliefs. At the very least, learn who we are and why we are what we are. If that just isn’t you, God bless you! It doesn’t mean you are a bad person or a bad Christian, but maybe the SBC just isn’t for you.
Please hear me. I’m not trying to tell anyone to leave the SBC. But if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Why force it? Here’s a few thoughts about who we are.
1) The Southern Baptist Convention consists of free, self-governing churches (and conventions) without a denominational hierarchy.
Why didn’t Frank Page step in and do something about the mess at Louisiana College a couple of years ago? C’mon, Frank. Descend from your ivory tower and take charge! Right? WRONG! Had Frank Page interfered at LC, he would have been violating Baptist polity and overstepping the boundaries of his authority. The Louisiana Convention is an autonomous entity that governs itself through whatever process it has determined. It is NOT under the authority of Frank Page or the EC. Had Frank Page flown into Louisiana and tried to start setting things right, he would have been acting outside the boundaries of his authority. The same would be true if he tried to interfere in anything that might be happening in colleges in other unnamed Southern states.
The SBC cannot come into my church and tell me what to preach or how to act. It can vote (in business session) to refuse to seat messengers from my church and can perhaps declare us not to be in friendly cooperation. Acts 29 recently kicked Mark Driscoll and his church out of their fellowship. They can do that. But that is not Baptist polity. We do not function like hierarchical or authoritarian denominations or networks.
If you want the SBC to swoop in and set things right in this situation or that situation, one of two things is true. Either you don’t understand Baptist polity or you perhaps ought not to be a Southern Baptist. That’s just not who we are. It’s not just cowardice, it’s conviction. If you do not ascribe to the free church concept, to local church and entity autonomy, God bless you. Many denominations don’t. But we do. It’s who we are.
2) Southern Baptists partner on the big picture while disagreeing on MANY other things.
We are meant to be a big tent of believers, but not one of unlimited size! We have some fixed walls on the sides of our tent and are not willing to expand beyond certain points. But inside the tent there is a lot of room for a lot of people with a lot of different beliefs on a lot of different things.
The Baptist Faith and Message spells out Southern Baptists’ common core of belief, forged through the years, our way of interpreting the Bible and seeing the world. But it is not exhaustive. The BFM tells us that Jesus is coming again, but takes no position among the options. From partial preterism to dispensational fundamentalism; all of these beliefs are acceptable within the basics of our statement. As I understand it, the soteriological sections of the BFM were written specifically so that Calvinists and non-Calvinists could each see their own views in it. That is true on so many things. We spell out certain beliefs – this is who we are. But within those core beliefs we leave room for a wide range of views.
We agree that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, that God is the sovereign who exists in Trinity, that Jesus is the God-man who died a substitutionary death to redeem us from our sins, that the Spirit indwells believers, that there is no hope of salvation outside of Christ, and that Jesus is coming again. We also believe in immersion of believers, in baptism and the Lord’s supper as the ordinances, in congregational government, local church autonomy, soul competency, and other Baptist distinctives. In recent years, we’ve nailed down positions on several family and gender issues.
But for a denomination as big as ours, our doctrinal statement is pretty general. Fundamental Christian doctrine. Basic Baptist beliefs. Biblically-defined family standards. Within the walls of this large tent, there’s room for the rowdy near-Charismatic types and stodgy liturgy-lovers, for Calvinists and non-Calvinists, for hipsters and white-shirt-and-tie guys, for cessationists and continuationists, for (yes, I said it) Republicans and Democrats (and even some Libertarians – as long as they stay in a corner and don’t bother folks!).
Here’s the thing: if you are going to be Southern Baptist, you have to learn to play nice with others, even those with whom you disagree. I absolutely cannot understand how anyone can read a Bible and become an amillennialist. But my missions money helps to support people who are professors, church-planters and missionaries who hold that viewpoint I reject. That’s life in the SBC. You cooperate with Baptist believers from a wide range of backgrounds, beliefs and convictions.
If you are Southern Baptist, you are willing to unite in our big, but limited, tent with people who have different views than you do on important issues. If you are unwilling to partner except with those who share your views exactly, that is your right, but maybe the SBC isn’t for you.
3) Specifically, the SBC has ALWAYS had Calvinists and Non-Calvinists.
In the early days of the SBC, many of the leaders of our denomination were strong Calvinists. That influence has ebbed and flowed over the life of the denomination, but neither side has ever been absent. In my college and seminary days (ie. the days when Calvinism was a big deal to me) Calvinism was more rare than a pro-life Democrat today. Soon thereafter, the teaching began to make a resurgence within the SBC. Today, the percentage of Calvinist vs. Non-Calvinist is hard to figure, since defining Calvinism is about as hard as determining what the meaning of is is. At this point, I’m not really sure whether I’m a Calvinist or not – depends on how you define it and who makes the judgment.
The SBC tent has always had people from various sides of the soteriology divide under its canopy.
Dr. David Dockery produced an excellent history of Calvinism in the SBC, and showed how the two streams of Calvinism and non-Calvinism have flowed together throughout our history. Here is a link to a BP article that has links to the videos of his teachings. If you’ve not watched these, you should. That’s who we are – a missions organization in which Calvinists and non-Calvinists cooperate to obey the Great Commission together.
If your goal is to impose Calvinism, “Traditionalism”, or some other form of non-Calvinism into the SBC, it is your right. However, it is also evidence that you may not understand the nature and history of the SBC. We’ve always been both and probably always will be. If you will only be satisfied if the SBC (or its leadership) only reflects one soteriological view, maybe the SBC isn’t for you.
4) We are a Great Commission People.
No, this is not an excuse for folks to declaim on the evils of the GCR or the SBC’s nickname. Let’s give that a rest today, okay? But we are a Great Commission people – or at least we are supposed to be. We are determined to make the command of Christ to make disciples in all the world through evangelism and discipleship the center and focus of all we do. We sometimes forget that and get embroiled in distracting and unproductive internecine battles but it is who we are nonetheless.
What that means is that our missions agencies are our primary raison d’etre. It is not an accident that more than half of our national CP dollars go to the IMB. And NAMB gets another quarter of those dollars.
We are not primarily a denominational structure, a hierarchy or an institution. We are a missions organization. The CP is our lifeblood.
The CP is voluntary. You do not have to give. But let’s be honest, if you are only willing to give to that which you govern, if you are unwilling to support ministries that reflect a wide range of views, you are within your rights, but the SBC might not be a good fit for you.
5) “We can do more together than we can do separately” is not just a motto for Southern Baptists.
My church gives in the neighborhood of 50,000 bucks to missions through the CP. We gave a little over 30,000 to Lottie and 5 or 6 grand to Annie this year. Put that all together, that’s around $85,000. With that money, we could probably support two missionary families full-time. We could provide partial support to quite a few. Or, we could be part of a missions strategy and organization that supports around 10,000 people worldwide (NAMB and IMB), not to mention helps fund 6 pretty decent seminaries.
For Southern Hills Baptist, I am fully convinced that we make our best missions investment by partnering through the CP with Southern Baptists around the country. Am I ever frustrated with the IMB? From time to time. Am I ever frustrated with NAMB? I should probably plead the 5th on this, but for Iowa Baptists, NAMB is a generous partner in ministry, but often confusing, even infuriating. Maybe someday I’ll get angry at Frank Page about something. Dr. Mohler and Dr. Patterson have both irritated me a time or two. The seminary closest to me, MBTS, has had a long history of dysfunction, though that seems to be settling down under the capable leadership of its current president, Dr. Allen. My big quarrel with them is that they cannot seem to understand that their acronym should be MWBTS! Whatever. I wish LifeWay did not sell the Shack and their decision, in league with NAMB, to pull World Changers out of the non-Southern states was not one I supported.
I’m often frustrated, even angry with the SBC, its leaders and its entities.
But I still believe that I can do more Great Commission work by investing in a worldwide missions program through the SBC than I can by myself.
If you believe you can do more and better by yourself (as a church) than you can do in cooperation with the SBC, God bless you. Go for it. But maybe the SBC isn’t for you.
There is much more to say on this, but I’m nearing 2700 words and I should probably tie a bow on this and be done with it. Again, I’m not for forcing anyone to leave the SBC except in the most egregious circumstances. But I think we should make it clear who we are with the understanding that there are lots of other ways to be faithful to Christ and his kingdom. If the SBC isn’t your cup of tea, don’t drink it.
I won’t be around much on Friday, so you can talk about what an idiot I am freely and without rebuke, until I get back to it and drop the hammer on any miscreants.