Within the Southern Baptist Convention, some have implied that the current focus on addressing abuse in our churches and entities is a distraction from our mission, which has historically been assumed to be evangelism and missions. However, to view efforts to deal with the sin of abuse in SBC churches and entities as a distraction from their mission is to misunderstand the relationship between mission and corporate holiness. Dealing with abuse in our churches and entities is more than just biblically warranted, it is divinely commanded and crucial for the fulfillment of our mission, which includes caring for “the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, the sick, and the unborn” alongside of evangelism and missions. Addressing abuse in the SBC is not a distraction from our mission, it is a crucial aspect of our mission.
To illustrate the relationship between corporate holiness and mission, I would begin by directing our attention to Joshua 7-8. In this infamous passage, Achan’s sin during the conquest brought God’s wrath on the people of God. Joshua 7:1-9 deals with the revelation of sin among the Israelites. In Joshua 7:10-24, God commands the people to remove the sin from the camp. According to 7:11, the entire nation of Israel is responsible for addressing the sin in their midst. After the sin of Achan is swiftly dealt with by the nation of Israel, the favor of God is restored to the people, as reflected in Joshua 8. As a simple principle, Joshua 7-8 teaches us that corporate holiness matters to God.
To be sure, Southern Baptist churches and our entities are not under the Old Covenant. We should not deal with sin in the same manner that it was dealt with in Joshua 7-8. However, we are still commanded by God under the New Covenant to pursue and preserve corporate holiness in the church of Jesus Christ. Failure to deal with sin in our congregations and convention will forfeit God’s blessing and derail aspects of our mission like evangelism and missions. We see this in several places in the New Testament. First, we see the need to address sin in the church in Matthew 18:15-20, where Jesus is recorded as saying,
If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.
In 1 Corinthians 5, we see Jesus’ instruction applied to a specific example in the church in Corinth. Paul writes to deal with sexual immorality, stating,
It is widely reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and the kind of sexual immorality that is not even tolerated among the Gentiles—a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are inflated with pride, instead of filled with grief so that he who has committed this act might be removed from your congregation. For though I am absent in body but present in spirit, I have already decided about the one who has done this thing as though I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord.
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast or with the yeast of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise, you would have to leave the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves.
Clearly, from Jesus and Paul’s words, Christians, out of love for God’s glory and the salvation of others, are expected to hold each other accountable in the context of the church. When churches and their cooperative efforts in conventions like the SBC are loveless, John warns that Christ will remove his favor (Revelation 2:1-5).
I cannot help but wonder how many professing churches have been effectively “unchurched” by Christ for their refusal to love each other enough to confront sin and hold one another accountable. In the end, when we refuse to hold others accountable in the church or our convention, we demonstrate that we do not truly love them or the church for which Christ died.
If God is going to use the SBC and its churches, then the sin in the camp must be dealt with by all of us. It won’t be easy. It won’t be comfortable. But it is absolutely necessary. We cannot tolerate evil in the name of protecting a brand or convention of churches. If we won’t address the sin in our midst, then it would be better for our convention to not exist. We must go humbly to God, ask for wisdom, courage, and strength to do what must be done, no matter what it costs us, because the mission of the church (Eph 3:10-21) is more important than many of us realize at this moment.
Casey Hough is the pastor of Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas. Heand his wife, Hannah have three sons and two daughters. Casey is passionate about writing and teaching and currently serves as a Religious Liberty Channel Editor for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. You can read more of Casey’s articles at www.CaseyHough.com. You can find the orgional post of this artlce HERE.