The audio from the sermon is now online.
Thank you for fighting and winning the war on inerrancy, but quit fighting over secondary issues to the gospel. Affection for Jesus Christ wanes where the gospel stops being primary and secondary doctrines rise up to take its place.
This was the message delivered by Matt Chandler of The Village Church (Dallas, TX) to the crowd of pastors and SBC lay leaders gathered on Tuesday at the 23rd Annual FBC Jax Pastors’ Conference.
Personally, I was surprised to see his name on the list for this year’s conference, but was happy that an exciting young pastor who I had been following on podcast would be coming near to my home where I could watch him preach. Little did I expect him to make the trip into what is at best nervous company and point the two-edged sword of the gospel right to the throat of the sacred cows of many SBC ministries.
Here’s what went down. Tuesday morning, Matt Chandler gave a session at FBC Jax which was structured to be a lesson/Q&A about how to reach the younger generation. During this time he went through his personal history and his experiences in being called to, straightening out, and growing his church, The Village in Dallas, TX. This turned out to be a nice testimony interspersed with comments about how The Village became what it is today, a rapidly growing congregation of 6000 people spread over 9 services and 2 locations.
There were a couple of interesting points in this period. First, Chandler wasted no time getting the fact that he is a Calvinist out on the table. It wasn’t in an “I’m a Calvinist and so is God” pseudo-instructing manner, but simply came out as a depiction of his theological convictions as a pastor. Also, there were a number of instances when he made comments that, though not directed at FBC Jax, could be taken as against them if someone wanted to pick a fight (and as Baptists, I think we’re always up for that). For example, Chandler said that his heart was to not spend $40 million building a new facility for his church; this being something that FBC Jax has shown tremendous ease in doing.
The last interesting remark to come out of the morning session with Matt Chandler was when he said that he is thankful to the older generation of Southern Baptists for fighting the war for inerrancy and winning, but that now they need to learn to stop fighting for secondary issues over and above simply focusing on the primary concern of the gospel. When he said this I was amazed. I have expressed similar worries in my conversations and writings, and so to hear Chandler voice them at this conference, if at nothing more than a minor session among the early-rising preachers on Tuesday, was an incredibly powerful moment to me.
However, as it turned out, that powerful moment that I felt when Chandler said this during the AM session grew into an incredible hour later on, as an elaborated version of this message was the topic for sermon that afternoon. Using the example of the church at Ephesus to illustrate (Acts 18-19, Revelation 2), Chandler talked about what happens when a formerly vibrant community of God remains biblically faithful and yet “abandon[s] the love [they] had at first” (Revelation 2.4). This, he claims, is what has happened in the SBC as church leaders have promoted secondary issues, specifically extra-biblical morality, into the primary focus of the church, to the exclusion of emphasizing the gospel’s unique power in salvation.
After using various examples and situations to hammer on this for a while, sometimes to much applause, occasionally to a reserved acknowledgment of the veracity of his statements, Chandler moved to close with the story of the Prodigal Son. He briefly overviewed the familiar parable and then focused on the last scene, with the good son standing in defiance against the celebration of the Prodigal’s return. This son stands firm against the father’s plea to come and celebrate, and in his selfishness complains that, “You never gave me a young goat!” (Luke 15.29). This, Chandler claims, is what the SBC is doing. They are crying, “We want our goat!” and then turning various moral stances and practical convictions into a goat of favor which they can use against the world saying, “Look what we’ve got. Look at how we live. Do x-y-z to be holy like us.”
It is this inversion of priorities that Chandler says is causing us to lose the younger generation from the ranks of the SBC.
When he finished with his message, my heart was racing. Seeing the way in which Chandler took a hard message from Scripture, together with his own personal experience, and drove it home, all from the stage at a flagship of SBC tradition, was an unbelievable experience. My hope is that this was a message taken to heart by the pastors and SBC leaders in attendance, and that that old familiar enemy of pride doesn’t just cause them to bull up and deflect the charges to those around them while avoiding any serious self-reflection here. Matt Chandler really went out on a limb with his message at the FBC Jax Pastors’ Conference, but he said something that needed to be put out there. I pray God can now use that to ignite change for the better within the realm of the larger SBC communion.