I think it is time I start my own group. Several years ago there was an Association of Convictional Baptists. I tried without much luck to start the Association of Corpulent Baptists. A couple of years ago, Les Puryear organized the Majority Initiative, an attempt to promote the role of small churches in our increasingly megachurch dominated convention. But I think we need a new one now, one that addresses the needs of the current convention, one that is in serious danger of fracturing and becoming increasingly irrelevant and ineffective.
I am calling it “BIFF: Baptists in Full Fellowship.”
The voices of division are prominent in our convention right now. Self-appointed Baptist Police are checking IDs without warrants, and telling who is and who is not truly Southern Baptist. If you are not part of my group, those who share my particular view of SBC life, you are not really one of us.
I am under no illusion that BIFF will be taken too seriously – just like most of what I write. But I think the concept behind the acronym is important – thus endeth the joke. Here, now, I get serious and speak with the passion in my heart. It is time for the voices of unity to be heard over the divisive din.
The Future of the SBC
Those of us who share an expansive vision for the future of the SBC must stand up and answer the voices of division and exclusion. If we do not, our beloved denomination just may splinter into several much less effective pieces. We have to say no to those voices that denigrate Southern Baptists for not agreeing on tertiary issues. The exclusionary voices must not be allowed to set either the topics or the tone of debate. We have to make it clear that we want the Southern Baptist Convention to be a healthy, loving and focused fellowship.
In an excellent series of articles at SBC Today entitled “The Shot Heard Round the SBC,” Dr. Steve Lemke of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary defined two possible futures for the SBC. One is the path of division, the splintering of the SBC into factions and eventually different denominations. He called this the “In Adam” option and said that while it was undesirable, it was a possible outcome.
There are a lot of voices in the SBC and especially in blogging that seem to want to take the “In Adam” option by excluding those who hold certain beliefs in soteriology, ecclesiology, or polity from the SBC table.
We must reject the “in Adam” option, my friends. We cannot follow the “if you aren’t like me you aren’t SBC” voices into denominational oblivion. If we splinter, we will not be able to support our missions programs, seminaries or any of the things that have made us who we are.
We need to adopt Dr. Lemke’s “In Christ” option and seek to unite around the things that matter most. We need to be convictional Baptists who also open our arms in fellowship to people with whom we disagree on issues that are not germane to our denominational identity.
Are you BIFF material? I will tell you what I envision. I think there are some other BIFFs out there, people who believe like I do and want the BIFF vision to carry the future for our denomination. Are we a majority? I’d like to think so. I hope so.
But we need to make our voices heard clearly and immediately. If you are a BIFF, I ask you to join me in promoting the concept of “Baptists in Full Fellowship.”
BIFFs are Convictional Baptists
A BIFF believes the Bible – fully, completely and without compromise. We affirm the complete truthfulness and authority of the Bible in all things. He (or she – we need some BIFFettes as well) may or may not have supported the CR and all that was done in it. The CR is not the issue. The issue is the belief that God’s Word is completely free from all errors of any sort.
A BIFF believes in the fundamental doctrines of the faith: The Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Blood Atonement, the Second Coming, etc. No compromise here. Not even a little.
A BIFF is Baptist. We believe that baptism is an important act of obedience that follows faith in Jesus Christ. We believe that those who profess faith in Christ should be baptized by immersion as a testimony of that faith. There are a lot of good people who do not believe in credobaptism. Fine. But they are not Baptists and they are not BIFFs.
A BIFF is in essential doctrinal agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention. Though the BF&M is not a creed, we believe that it is important to hold our employees and leaders doctrinally accountable. We believe that the BF&M should be our arbiter of doctrinal fidelity within the denomination.
We reject the notion that any Southern Baptist has the right to set up doctrinal standards beyond the BF&M and use them as a test of fidelity or denominational identity. We are a fellowship of Calvinists and non-Calvinists, of Dispensationalists and Amillennialists. We believe the Bible but we disagree on a lot of other things and we are fine with that.
We believe that we can fellowship and cooperate with other conservative, Baptistic folks who agree on the basics but disagree on everything else. BIFFs refuse to be divisive or exclusionary because people do not see everything just as we do.
BIFFs are SOUTHERN Baptist
BIFFs believe that the Southern Baptist Convention is worth supporting. We are not the only boat in the water, but this is the boat we are fishing from and we want it to remain seaworthy and sound.
BIFFs see the genius and effectiveness of the Cooperative Program and believe that we can accomplish more for the Kingdom by working together than we can by remaining independent in our missions efforts.
Since Southern Baptists have never set a particular percentage as a test of fellowship, we do not do so. The only official CP standard is the one in our governing documents that governs messengers at the SBC. However, we believe that those who lead us should set an example for the entire convention in giving to missions through the Cooperative Program.
BIFFs, as Southern Baptists, believe in and support the concept of local church autonomy. Each church has the right to decide what percentage it gives or if it wishes to support missions through other channels, within or outside the SBC.
BIFFs believe, as Baptists, in the right of dissent. We are not hierarchical in our structure, so our leaders do not hold authority over us or our churches. We assert the right of Baptists to disagree with their leaders and to voice that disagreement. We believe that this should be done with grace and kindness – always with an eye toward building up.
BIFFs are not threatened by those who organize or administer their churches differently than we do. We follow our beliefs about polity and allow other autonomous churches to do the same. We don’t mind discussing why we do things the way we do them, but we do not wish to force those who do things differently out of the denomination.
BIFFs are people of conviction, but understand that the Bible leaves some issues to the conscience of the believer under the Lordship of Christ (1 Corinthians 8-10, Romans 14-15) and we are content to fellowship with people whose consciences and ours differ on certain issues.
BIFFs believe that disagreement and the diversity of voices is a good thing. However, we are committed to redemptive discussion. We reject those voices that denigrate those who disagree or engage in personal attacks. Since “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” we will try to do the same in our relationships with one another.
BIFFs desire to leave behind the “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions and envy” that is identified by Paul as the evident works of the flesh and have been so prevalent in blogging and among bloggers. We wish to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in our conversation, even when we disagree.
BIFFS Believe in Full Fellowship among Southern Baptists
BIFFS believe that Southern Baptists are Calvinists and non-Calvinists. We know that this debate has gone on since the days of our founders and will likely continue until Jesus returns. We believe this is a debate between Baptists, not between Baptists and Presbyterian wannabees. We accept one another in Christ while we continue to hammer out this issue.
BIFFs believe that both traditionalists and contemporarians have a lot to offer the SBC. We all appreciate the traditions of the SBC that have helped to make us what we are today. We will disagree on whether some of these traditions should be carried forward into the future, and we will discuss that. But we reject that notion that only traditionalists are true Southern Baptists and we will fight any attempt by any group to exclude or marginalize those in another group from full participation in SBC life.
BIFFs can be traditionalists, but only the kind of traditionalists who affirm and accept contemporarians as vital and valid participants in SBC life. BIFFs can be trendy and contemporary, but will refuse to denigrate or exclude traditionalists. We believe that suits and blue jeans can coexist in the modern SBC.
BIFFs understand that big churches have a lot to offer the SBC. We also appreciate the faithfulness and ministry of smaller churches. We call on all of our churches, big and small, to work together, to strive to be more biblical and to seek better ways to reach our world.
BIFFs are Great Commission Christians.
Whether you loved the GCR or not, BIFFs realize that we are not here to fight one another but to wage war against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We received our marching orders from Christ and we need to be about Great Commission work.
BIFFs seek a “Covenant of Blessing”
Southern Baptist never have been monolithic – we have always been a diverse people. But BIFFs believe that we can bless one another with our words and actions even when we disagree with one another’s positions on issues.
When I pastored in Cedar Rapids, the ministers of the city had an unofficial covenant of blessing with one another. It did not prevent us from disagreeing, but it did limit that disagreement to issues. We blessed each other by our words. When I spoke of other churches, I affirmed them and their pastors.
We need such a covenant within the SBC. I disagree with much of the vision that Brad Whitt has articulated for the SBC, but I do not think of him as the enemy. He has always stated his views forcefully and with integrity. Just because he has an opinion that differs from mine does not make him evil or an opponent of righteousness. We can continue to have our discussions and the side that produces the majority at the Annual Meeting will carry the day.
But even while we have this discussion, we can accept and affirm one another. Brad Whitt is one of the best and brightest of our young SBC pastors. Thank God for him. He is not my enemy. Not even a little bit.
Can we not simply agree to affirm one another both as brethren and as fellow-fisherman from the SBC boat, even if some of us fish the old way and some are using new techniques? Can we not rejoice in the work done by those who disagree?
This is not syrupy sentimentalism, folks. This is the heart of Christ. To do otherwise is to violate God’s Word. The night before he faced the Cross the Savior poured out his heart to the Father.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
It is Jesus’ desire that true followers of Christ be ONE in him, and it is our unity that opens the doors of evangelism. How can we ask God to use us in ministry if we continue to divide into cliques and splinter more and more?
Will you be a BIFF? Will you join me in rejecting division, derogation, and disunity among Southern Baptists? No one is being asked to compromise their convictions. What I desire is for us to debate our convictions within a framework of blessing, unity and acceptance instead of division and diminution.
So, are you a BIFF? I want to be. I hope a few more of you out there might want to join.
I wish I’d thought of this in time to print t-shirts for the convention.