Due to life circumstances, I am not nearly as involved in SBC life as I used to be. I am content, since the SS SBC is being piloted by the capable hands of the good Dr. Bart Barber. Still, recent actions by the EC have stirred up quite a response on social media. The information in Jay Adkin’s “explainer” was tremendously helpful but I thought I’d engage in the conceit of opining on the topic, and related issues. My views have been forged since my first SBC convention meeting, in 1979. Yeah, I’m old.
1. The Convention has changed drastically in the last 50 years. (Duh?)
Back in my day…
Stop cringing, folks. I will not lead you down memory lane, since I do not think the days of my youth were inherently better than today, but they were undeniably different. In the 70s, denominational loyalty and conformity were strong. Churches used BSSB literature, did RAs and GAs (not AWANA), gave 10% or more to missions through the CP, hired pastors from one of our six seminaries, and generally followed the SBC program.
Then came the Conservative Resurgence. As a loyal foot soldier in that conflict, I attended conventions and voted for Adrian, Bailey, Charles, and the rest. I had reservations about some of the tactics used, but I saw the devastation of liberalism firsthand in my college and believed the CR was worth it.
The CR, though, raised to leadership good men who had far less loyalty to the denomination. They were megachurch leaders who were suspicious of or hostile to our entities, gave little (by percentage) to CP causes, and brought in a new era of do-it-yourself missions. It is not an accident that CR leaders brought us “Great Commission Giving” to replace CP giving as the convention standard. I am deeply grateful for them, but they fundamentally changed us. One by-product of the CR (also of cultural and generational trends) is our tendency to discount denominational loyalty and eschew conformity.
2. The SBC is a CONFESSIONAL Convention
We have opposed the idea of being creedal so hard that we often forget that we are a confessional convention. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 defines the parameters of our fellowship in terms of doctrine and practice. It is required that employees believe and act in compliance with the BF&M 2000. Churches are autonomous and are not required to subscribe fully to it, but it remains the basis of our fellowship and when churches vary too far, we hold the right to determine that they are no longer in friendly cooperation with us and to remove those churches from our conventions or associations.
Many churches today remain within the fellowship of the SBC, but find portions of the BF&M aggravating or even repugnant. Most objections have to do with issues related to women in ministry, but there are other disagreements that arise.
If you do not agree with the BF&M, it seems to me you have two options. You can try to change it or you can find another denominational affiliation that fits your beliefs better.
Here’s my simple question.
We have agreed to the BF&M 2000 as our doctrinal and practical standard of fellowship and cooperation. If you do not adhere to that confession, why would you want to remain in the SBC?
It is not my job to kick anyone out of the SBC, but if you object to our standards of fellowship, why not find an affiliation whose standards please you? SBC affiliation is not required to enter heaven or to do God’s work – there are other good denominations. If you no longer wish to require believer’s baptism, or if your views of women in ministry are outside the BF&M, why remain in a convention you find unbiblical? Haven’t you already left us?
When I was a young whippersnapper and the CR was raging, I was exploring other denominations. If the SBC chose the moderate/liberal direction, it would have done so without me. We are not the only ship in the Gospel armada. It’s your choice, but if the parameters the SBC has chosen for its fellowship are offensive to you, there are other options.
3. The BF&M is INTENTIONALLY Vague
The BF&M was intentionally written so that a broad spectrum of Baptists could ascribe to the document. It encodes core Christian truth (inerrancy, Trinitarian theology, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, etc). It also defines basic and historical Baptist distinctives, like believer’s baptism, religious freedom, and certain other issues. We’ve also added a few social, gender, and familial issues to deal with trends in our culture.
For the most part, though, key issues are written with intentional vagueness. A rigid, hardcore, pointy-bearded, 5-point Calvinist can sign the BF&M and so can an equally rigid coat-and-tie anti-Calvinist. this is on purpose. As long as you believe Jesus is coming again, your views on the tribulation don’t matter to the BF&M. This is not because the authors lacked the acumen to be specific. They labored hard to make the document vague on many issues.
There are elements in the SBC today who will not be satisfied until the BF&M is transformed into their personal theological, social, and political statement. They want everyone who does not conform to their precise views to be excluded from SBC fellowship.
This is especially true in the issue of complementarianism and issues related to women in ministry. The BF&M is clear that men should be (senior) pastors and should be leaders in their homes, but it allows for the wide divergence of interpretation within those boundaries. There are many who are insisting that THEIR interpretation of complementarianism is the ONLY acceptable one and their views of women serving in churches are the ONLY possible interpretation of the BF&M. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them is an egalitarian and outside the boundaries of the BF&M.
They will divide and destroy the SBC if they are allowed to force their narrow views on all of the SBC. Many of us are committed complementarians and do not believe in women in ministry, but differ from their rigid, narrow interpretations on certain issues, or do not believe those interpretations should be mandated in the entire SBC. If they are able to convince the SBC to encode their narrow ideas through the BF&M, many good, godly, conservative churches will be forced to leave us.
We cannot continue to call conservative, complementarian churches and pastors egalitarians, liberals, and other false things and expect to be blessed by God.
4. The BF&M only intended to speak about SENIOR Pastors
Many who were part of the BF&M 2000 committee have testified that the clear intent of that group was to limit the role of SENIOR PASTORS to men. They did not intend to speak about anything other than THE pastor or the SENIOR pastor of a church. Even some who are now leading the charge on this issue previously spoke to the fact that the BF&M was ONLY about senior pastors.
- If you believe that the senior pastor of a church should be a man, you are in compliance with the BF&M.
- The BF&M makes it clear that the preaching pastor of a church should be a man.
- It does NOT speak to whether a church that has a woman speak periodically is outside the boundaries of the BF&M.
- It does NOT speak to women serving a church in youth ministries, music ministries, children’s ministries, etc, as long as they are not the primary, preaching pastor of the church.
Whatever happened to autonomy? My church can do one thing, and yours can do another. We can each follow our biblically formed conscience even if we do not agree, as long as we do not violate the BF&M.
It is more of a violation of the BF&M for churches to seek to control other churches than to have small variances on these issues, as long as we have men as our primary preaching pastors.
5. Our passion against Women in Ministry is odd considering how we defend abusers and those with questionable views on race.
Does anyone else find it odd that many people will come to the defense of anyone who is accused of abuse, telling us to go slow, to be careful, not to ruin good men, etc, but will bring out the pitchforks and fiery torches when someone allows a woman to share a word in the pulpit? Is it not odd that in the SBC, racism is denied or defended, but we train all our guns on a church that has a woman as a youth pastor? Are our values a little skewed?
Which sin is worse?
- Abusing a woman or a child.
- A woman proclaiming God’s word from the pulpit.
I support the BF&M and its prohibition on women as senior pastors. I would not attend a church that had a woman as preaching pastor. However, I do not understand how some of you will go to the mat defending a former SBC president who is credibly accused but will then gather kindling to burn a man like Rick Warren at the stake. Is not sexual abuse a much more heinous sin than a woman preaching?
When we published stories about a church that refused to allow a mixed-race couple to be married in its church, or about a good pastor fired for inviting Black children to VBS, the backlash here was dramatic. Southern Baptists attacked in full force. The SBC establishment ostracized people for even reporting racism publicly or for making known clear cases of abuse. It took decades for us to deal with these things.
It took us no time to put churches out of our fellowship for having women in ministry. Why are we so passionate about women in ministry but so unwilling to help abused women?
6. We need to decide who we are, so people can decide if they want to be part of us.
There are groups out there who want to mold the SBC in their image – their narrow, specific image. They want to force us all to believe what they believe or to be forced out of the SBC. Every year, they seek to pass resolutions to force the SBC into their lane on various social, political, and theological views. They threaten to leave if the SBC doesn’t join encode and enforce their views. They call anyone who doesn’t agree liberal, or woke.
A much larger group will likely be forced out of the SBC if they succeed. If only those who agree with the theological power groups are seen as in compliance, many of us will have no choice but to go elsewhere. Many are already considering leaving because of the tactics, the false accusations, the name-calling of these groups.
There is a place in the SBC for all of these groups, as long as they adhere to the BF&M, but we must reject those who seek to bully us into encoding their narrow views. We must hold strong on the big truths – inerrancy, Baptist doctrine, even complementarianism – but we must not let bullies force us to make their views the only views.
The annual meeting in New Orleans will be another important one. I have not heard an announcement from Bart, but hopefully he will stand for another term and we will not have a pressure-packed presidential race. There will be motions and resolutions, and many of them will be designed to narrow our fellowship beyond what the BF&M intended.
We should reject those.