God saves a wide variety of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. He then places in us his Holy Spirit to guide us in the process of becoming like Christ and preparing us for eternal glory. One day, all who have truly repented of their sins and trusted Jesus as Savior and Lord will be completely like Jesus.
In the meantime, we are different. We start at different places and grow at different paces. We are headed toward the amazing eternal unity of the saints. In the meantime, we disagree. We disagree about the so-called “doctrines of grace.” Some of us like big churches, some don’t. Some prefer culturally cool worship styles and some like the button-down days gone by. While we are moving toward Christ Christians will always diverge, disagree, and divide into our denominational camps.
I am a Southern Baptist and I’ve been one since about nine months before I was born. I have no desire to be anything but a Southern Baptist, but I believe my denomination is in trouble. Some have argued that these fault lines have always been there and always will. William Thornton published a humorous and poignant article this morning about the SBC in 2064 that seemed to suggest that the SBC would not seen the kind of splintering I forsee.
I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I have trouble seeing the current fracturing as anything but a portent of future troubles. I believe, as I suggested yesterday, that the SBC is like a giant oak tree that has begun to splinter. We have a lot of divisions that can weaken us to the point that we will come crashing down into a million (well, perhaps a dozen) pieces.
But I do believe that there are things that we can do as a convention to forestall the splintering. We can put a splint around the splintering oak and the healing process can begin. We cannot continue to do what we have been doing get where we need to go. Some things have got to change. Our leaders need to change what they are doing. Of course, since the SBC is not a hierarchical denomination, there are things that the churches need to do – perhaps these are the ones that matter the most. But there are also some changes that big-mouth bloggers like us can do that will make a difference.
I make no claim to this being an exhaustive list. Frankly, I hope that some in the comment stream will add to the discussion and come up with suggestions I didn’t think of (if they are particularly brilliant, I will probably claim to have thought of it, but forgotten to include it here!).
But here are my suggestions for putting a splint on a splintered denomination.
1) We need to demonstrate humility
Arrogance and self-centeredness is the root of sin – instead of obeying God we wander our own paths and live for our own glory instead of his. That is a constant struggle even for those who have been redeemed – even for such honorable holy men (and women) as we are!
More specifically (and seriously), it is incumbent on each of us to realize that people can disagree with me and still love Jesus. Certainly, there are some fundamental doctrines on which we should stand without compromise. But most of the things that we argue about here are not quite so cut and dried.
I blog to try to convince people of the truths of which I have become convinced and to influence the denomination in the direction I think it should go. At the “Band of Bloggers” meeting in Chicago recently, one of the speakers mentioned the inherent arrogance of blogging – the idea that I have something to say that people need to hear.
But each of us who comes to this blog or others does so because we believe that we have convictions, passions and ideas that others need to hear. That is fine. But we also must come with the humility that understands that someone can still love Jesus and disagree with me.
I don’t have all the answers and neither do you. We can learn from each other. Ultimately, I think the root of the SBC problem is arrogance – the demand that everyone should be like me, believe like me, prefer what I prefer and serve the way that I serve.
Perhaps the key verse that we need to remember is “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up.”
2) We need to understand and apply doctrinal triage
1 Corinthians 15:3 describes the facts of the gospel as “of first importance.” That implies a ranking in doctrine. Paul, in Romans 14 and 15, and in 1 Corinthians 8-10 makes it clear that there are areas of personal conscience and preference in which Christians do not have to disagree. When someone monkeyed around with the gospel, Paul got pretty harsh. But on issues of food and drink, observance of the Sabbath and eating meat sacrificed to idols, Paul said that each of us should walk in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and not judge one another. Paul recognized that all issues and all doctrines are not created equal.
The reason that Calvinism is such a big issue is the perception (true or not) that the Calvinists want every church in the SBC to be Calvinist and view those with non-Calvinist theology as defective, even (in some cases) gospel-denying. Some anti-Calvinists act as if they will not be content until every evangelism-hating Calvinist is driven from the convention. If we realize that both Calvinists and non-Calvinists believe the
My church doesn’t have to be like your church. We can have contemporary worship while you sing hymns. We do not have to force everyone to conform to our way. Why can’t we just follow our own convictions on the issues I’ve defined and let other churches do the same? I’m not talking about compromising fundamental doctrine or even Baptist distinctives. But one of the root causes of our disunity is the insistence of some that every church has to be like theirs.
In a series of posts here I have identified four levels of doctrine. In Dr. Mohler’s triage system, there are three. I have defined “Brick Wall” doctrine – truths around which we must build a wall of separation and declare those who disagree to be outside the faith. Other doctrines only require a friendly “Picket Fence”. For us, this would be “Baptist doctrine” – those truths which define us and separate from us from other church groups. There is other doctrine I call “Dinner Table” truth. We sit around the table and discuss it, but we do not separate over it at all. The best example off this would be eschatology. The fourth level of doctrine is “Personal Space” truth, which I mentioned above – the meat sacrificed to idols issues. We should neither condemn nor disdain others for disagreements on these lifestyle choices.
Some have rejected doctrinal triage as if it relegates certain doctrines to unimportance. It does not. Doctrinal triage defines our response to doctrinal disagreements. On some issues we refuse fellowship to those who disagree. On others, we agree to disagree. On still others we follow our conscience and give others the right to do the same thing.
When we compromise on Brick Wall doctrines, we sin against the truth. When we divide on tertiary doctrines or issues of personal conscience, we sin against the One Body of Christ. We must do neither!
3) We must speak the truth in love
I get disgusted at the direction of blog discussions at times. The simple truth is that most of us agree about the vast majority of things. But when we disagree, we can get flat nasty.
I feel sad when I see bloggers justify their vitriol because they are standing for truth. People justify their vitriol by referencing Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23. But first of all, I am not Jesus and do not have his perfect insight into the hearts of men. Second, we must remember that Pharisees were not disagreeing brothers but teachers of a false gospel that made people fit for hell not for heaven. People who disagree about Calvinism do not deserve the Pharisee treatment.
We must guard our words and our attitudes in blogging. Yes, I have violated this rule and if you have been blogging long so have you. Bloggers have one thing in common – a fleshly propensity to sinful attitudes, words and actions.
As we speak the truth, we need to constantly guard our words to see that the truth we speak is couched in kind and loving words.
Vitriol is not a fruit of the Spirit.
4) We must to define our core doctrines and practices.
What is a Southern Baptist? The fact is, you do not really know and neither do I. I asked that question in a post a while back and found that none of us really knows how to define our identity. When we have no idea of our identity the natural tendency is for people to try to impose their preferences as requirements.
The IMB BoT stepped into this void and defined baptism in a way that most of us disagree with. Every time the convention has had a chance to vote, it has rejected the more extreme and narrow view of fellowship. Yet, those policies remain in place at the IMB and good Baptist people are excluded from service because some trustees imposed their judgment of what a Baptist on the entire convention.
We need to define what a Baptist is. In my next post on this topic, I am going to attempt to do just that.
5) We must focus on the big picture
Why do we join together as a convention? Because there are things that we can do together that cannot be done as effectively if we work independently.
My church runs around 250 or so on a Sunday Morning, with a budget of around 450,000. We give 12% to Cooperative program causes. That means that we give in the neighborhood of 50,000 dollars a year to missions through the CP. If we operate on our own, we can do a little bit. By pooling our missions offerings with tens of thousands of other churches around the US and Canada, we can participate in an amazing program of worldwide missions.
It may be easier and more exciting to do it ourselves, and those churches that have the wherewithal to do so will always be tempted toward that route. But our program of Cooperative missions is worth supporting.
6) Our leaders must give us a reason to give.
One of the casualties of modern culture is brand loyalty. People are not going to give to the CP just because they like to give to the CP. Our leaders need to give us a reason to give. They must convince us that what I said in point 5 is true.
Frankly, I do not believe that a lot of us believe that. A lot of people think that the IMB, seminaries and especially NAMB are wasting our missions dollars in ineffective missions.
We need effective leaders leading effective ministries. That needs to be more than hype. There are a lot of ways to do ministry. We need to give people a reason to do missions through the Cooperative Program.
7) We need to leave behind our regional and cultural trappings.
We are the “Southern” Baptist Convention. When someone suggests changing that a lot of Southern Baptists get their accents in a twist. Frankly, a lot of people are proud of their Southern culture and Southern ways and don’t want to change that.
If the SBC is going to be more than a regional denomination, we need to take some intentional steps to become a national convention. A name change would be a symbolic start to that, but I am aware that is probably not going to happen. We need more than symbolism.
- We need to embrace racial integration. The SBC was born in racism and has been a haven for racists throughout its life. We need to take definitive steps to include people of color not only in the life of the SBC but the Leadership of the SBC.
- We need to embrace the nation. I think that Ezell’s hiring of regional VPs was a good first step in this. But we need to focus our money and efforts outside of simply the Deep South. Statistics provided by the GCRTF demonstrated that not only are we largely a Southern convention, but that we continue to spend the bulk of our NAMB money in the South.
- We need to embrace change. Some things about the Traditional SBC were good. But a lot of things were more cultural than biblical. The more we hold on to unbiblical or extrabiblical tradition, the more likely we are to remain a reflection of Southern Culture.
8.) We need to focus on Jesus.
Alan Cross mentioned this in the comment stream of yesterday’s post. In what is currently comment 19, he said,
Colossians 1:17 – Christ is before all things and in him all things hold together.
Our common-unity is Christ. If we are not focused on Christ, we will divide. If our focus is the way we do church, how big our church is, money, the Great Commission, the awesome work we do, the Bible, or anything else – we will divide. I see very little of Jesus in the SBC. I see a lot of “stuff.” I see a lot of jockeying for prominence and power and influence so that we can get stuff done. I don’t see much of Jesus. Jesus seems to be a given, but is He really? We argue about everything, but what about Jesus? Can’t we come together in Him? Our focus seems to be ourselves on almost every level.
The real wonder is how we’ve stayed together this long. It is only in Christ that all things hold together. If we are falling apart, it is because we are not in Him the way we need to be.
Amen Alan. Our unity is in Christ. The more we stay in Christ, the more unified we will be. The more we focus on ourselves or our preferences, the more we will splinter. It almost seems like a cliché, but it is not. It is truth!
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, as this attempt to articulate a vision evidences. But the most obvious solution is for us to realize that we can love Jesus, love the Word and still NOT agree on everything. We can walk together even while we disagree on certain issues. If we can accept our differences and come together in unity around the gospel and cooperate to obey the Great Commission, our future can be bright.