REFLECTIONS AND RUMINATIONS ON THE SBC AND HER FUTURE
BY WM. DWIGHT MCKISSIC, SR.
PART II (PART I)
WHAT THE SBC IS DOING RIGHT AND HER SINGLE GREATEST NEED?
Nathan Finn referred to the vital statistics health decline of the SBC as a “Free-fall.” Because Dr. Finn is not just a casual observer, but a critical thinker, historian, and seminary professor regarding SBC life and history—I found his description, “Free-fall,” fascinating. When I prodded him to give an analysis and antidote of the “free-fall,” he gently pushed back and said that the critique and construct relative to the free-fall from him would come at a later time.
I have been a casual observer of SBC life, and a participant—at varying levels of intensity and engagement—for at least forty years. By the grace of God, I successfully planted a SBC church, thirty years ago that I am privileged to currently serve as Pastor. The SBC has invested a lot in my ministry; and until recent years, our church invested a lot in the SBC. While anxiously awaiting the scholarly and critical analysis and antidotes of the free-fall that Dr. Finn will eventually give, in the interim, I feel burdened to share reviews and remedies for the free-fall from my neck of the woods.
It has been reported that Ed Stetzer will also address the SBC statistical concerns in the not-to-distant future. The Stetzer analysis needs to be read widely and carefully and taken very seriously. I’m convinced that he has his hand on the pulse beat of American Evangelicalism. Our convention would be wise to pay careful attention to what Finn and Stetzer will have to say on this subject.
In the name of full disclosure, much of what I say here was inspired by a message that was recently preached by a guest preacher at our church, Dr. Julius Malone of Milwaukee, WI. He is an independent evangelical. He was not addressing the SBC and her issues in the slightest way. He was teaching an adult VBS class when he gave these remarks. But certainly they were applicable to our church and to the SBC.
The truth of the matter is that the SBC is in decline because many, if not most, of our churches are in decline. The church that I pastor is no exception to this decline. Pastor Malone’s message was very encouraging to our church; and I trust that what the Lord has laid on my heart here will be encouraging to the SBC.
I. WHAT THE SBC IS DOING RIGHT
I give God praise that there are still thousands of souls being won to Christ through SBC churches, even if we aren’t reaching as many as we once did. SBC churches minister the word of salvation to God’s people faithfully and consistently, year after year (I Cor. 1:2; 6:9-11). KFC often advertise, “We do chicken right.” The SBC could as easily say, “We do salvation right.” There will be multiple thousands of saints from throughout the world in heaven—some already there—because the SBC has ministered the gospel of salvation all over the globe.
- I give God praise for the multiple thousands of souls that have been water baptized through the ministries of SBC churches (1 Cor. 1:13-16). The Great Commission specifies that those who receive the gospel ought to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Multiple thousands are still being baptized in SBC churches, although we are not baptizing nearly as many as we once did. But praise God for those who were won to Christ and baptized just this past year. Cornerstone has baptized about 2500 souls in our thirty-year history. But until 30 souls (primarily children and a few adults) recently came for salvation and baptism at our VBS, it was appearing to become the lowest baptismal year in the history of our church.
- The SBC does Spirit Baptism well (I Cor. 12:13). One of the reasons that the Lord continue to bless the SBC and her churches is because we make it clear that “by one Spirit, have we all been baptized into one body.” We believe that there is, “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism” (Ephesians 4:6). And we believe that “one baptism” occurs simultaneously with salvation. The SBC believes that there is one baptism in the Holy Spirit—again, that occurs at salvation—but many fillings. Multiple thousands have been baptized by one Spirit into the Body of Christ, and have united with SBC churches. For that, we give God praise.
- Multiple thousands in SBC churches have discovered at least one gift given to them by the Holy Spirit. It can be said of the SBC as Paul said of the church at Corinth, “…you come short in no gift” (1 Cor. 1:7; 12-14). The SBC is second to none when it comes to gifted persons in our congregations. I believe that the apostolic gift is a missionary gift (Eph. 4:12). I believe that our Disaster Relief Program is an example of the “helps” gift on display (Mt. 5:16). Every spiritual gift that’s listed in Scripture, we find in large measure in SBC churches. Even to the dismay of some, most SBC churches have members and some leaders who regularly pray, praise and give thanks in their private devotions in tongues (I Cor. 14). The IMB was led by a person who openly acknowledged his practice and belief regarding tongues. Current and past IMB missionaries regularly exercise the gift of tongues in their private devotions. There is not one gift listed that we don’t have represented in most SBC churches. For that, I give God praise.
- The indwelling of the Holy Spirit means when I have Christ, I have all of Him. The filling of the Holy Spirit means that, he has all of me. The SBC is comprised of multiple thousands who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, some are even filled with the Holy Spirit (II Tim. 1:16, Rom. 8:9).
- Good preaching, sound doctrine, and exposition of Scripture are what SBC preachers are known for (I Cor. 1:11-12; 3:21-22). The decline in the SBC is not because of a lack of good, solid, scriptural preaching.
The church at Corinth had every characteristic that I’ve mentioned thus far. Like the SBC, they were saved, baptized in water, Spirit baptized, spiritually gifted, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and they had good preachers—Paul, Peter and Apollos (I Cor. 1:11-12).
So what was missing from the church at Corinth? The answer to that question may identify the problem and the solution that our convention and many of our churches are missing.
II. THE REASON(S) AND REMEDY FOR OUR DECLINE
The main missing element from the church at Corinth is addressed in that great love Chapter, I Corinthians 13. The reason love (agape) was missing from the church at Corinth is because the filing of the Spirit was missing. We know that the filling was missing because the fruit was missing. The filling of the Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit; and the first fruit is love—agape (Gal. 5:2). The fruit of the Spirit was missing from the church at Corinth because the filling was missing. The key to everything is the Spirit-filled life; and the key to the Spirit-filled life is obedience.
Although there are many biblical, positive, spiritual and wonderful things going on in the SBC, what is missing across the length and breadth of our convention—and I certainly include myself and congregation in this—is the filling of the Holy Spirit. That’s it. We can dissect, dialogue, or deploy a research team to determine our malady. We can organize, administrate, mobilize and pontificate until the cows come home. But, until we become desperate for God and seek a moment by moment, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, filling of the Holy Spirit—and then start over every new year—walking in the Spirit and walking in obedience, we will not be filled; and we will continue the decline.
When the filling is missing, we become known for something else other than for our love for Christ and His Kingdom. Jesus said, by your fruit you shall know them. Jesus said, by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, by your love.
The SBC is not known by her fruit or her love. She is known for many things that has caused her branding to need a rebranding—a Kingdom branding.
The SBC is known for battling over the Bible. As important as this battle was and is, it is not the battle that the Lord told us to be known for. We are to be known for our fruit and the filling of the Holy Spirit. The SBC is known for neither.
We are known to have been formed for the propagation of the gospel and slavery. The SBC still has not overcome this branding. Until at least one African American, Asian, and Hispanic occupy entity head positions in SBC life—as exemplified in Acts 13:1-2—then we will not be known by outsiders for what the church at Antioch was known for: “Christians,“ Christ-like behavior consistently. We are known for our racial animus. Significant progress has been made. Ken Weathersby and the EC, Gary Frost at the NAMB, and Dr. Fred Luter, our illustrious President—represent quantum steps in the right direction. But we still fall short of the Kingdom inclusion at all levels—particularly at the entity head level.
We are known for hyper-complementarianism. We should be known for holy complementarianism. We are known for telling women what they can’t do. When will we be known for telling women what they can do? God promised to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:17). God promised to equip and empower sons and daughters. When will the SBC equip and empower a Lydia to play a key role in church planting. Lydia was the first person to plant a church on European soil. When will we empower a Phoebe to serve in a highly visible capacity under the leadership and authority of God’s Word and God’s male servant (Roman 16:2)? When will we empower a woman to prophesy with her head covered as Paul did in I Corinthians 11? When will the SBC become known for releasing women, not restricting women?
We are known for “spiritual gift(s) profiling”—singling out certain gifts of the Spirit to enact an emotional prejudice against. This defies all logic, rationality and the plain simple reading and understanding of Scripture. When will we appreciate and affirm all the gifts of the Spirit?
The SBC brand is suffering greatly from many years of battling over these issues. We are bruised and battle-scarred. We abandoned the bold mission thrust for the inerrancy battle. Now that this battle is over, can we return to the bold mission thrust and become known for what Jesus said we would do when we are filled: “Be witnesses” (Acts 1:8)? We are still fighting battles and causing our brand to be tarnished. We need to focus on spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The key to the renewal of the SBC is one thing and one thing only: And that is, the filling of the Holy Spirit. Every pulpit, every choir member, every Sunday School teacher, every state member, every deacon, every elder, every usher, committee member—we all need to understand the Spirit-filled life and daily seek and surrender to His filling. And that my friend is the reason(s) and the remedy for the SBC decline.
A moment by moment filling of the Holy Spirit is the key to spiritual victory in the believers’ life, congregational life and the SBC. That, my friend, is the only hope for our declining churches and convention. If the SBC can answer the question, “How to be filled and keep on being filled?” our setback was only a set-up for a great spiritual comeback—that will take us to heights that we’ve not known before. May it come to pass, Lord, according to your will, way and your Word! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!