A momentous Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), next week (June 15-16), will be gathered in Nashville, TN in its official status as a convention of cooperating but autonomous churches to conduct the official business of the denomination. It looks like the sides are drawn and the issues are clear but now for the showdown.
“In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.”
J. Gresham Machen, Christianity And Liberalism
While the Baptist reputation for loving a fight as much as a Sunday afternoon casserole potluck might be anecdotal, the fact is that this year’s convention is certain to be momentous if based only on the abundance of social media posturing over any and all of the argument-worthy matters being bandied about by SBC’ers themselves. A recent Baptist Press article affirms as much, stating, “Twenty years from now, historians are going to call the upcoming annual meeting a defining moment for the Southern Baptist Convention.”
What may take the historians a couple of decades to appraise will, however, likely not take faithful saints nearly as much time to assess. And, most assuredly, it will take the Lord exactly no time to weigh. Faithful saints and even the not-so-faithful ones – some 16,000 messengers are registered for this brewing Baptist brou-ha-ha – seem to be facing the convention with clenched jaw stances on every topic that seems likely to be broached.
By way of caveat, let me pause for a moment of personal disclosure. I am not a Southern Baptist. I’m more of what you’d call, by the pure grace of the Lord, an escapee from the SBC. My exodus was less motivated by the many questionable doctrinal, ecumenical, and pragmatic goings-on at the SBC proper than it was by the egregious lack of biblical preaching in the pulpit and the often biblically-contrary teaching tolerated (if not endorsed) in the local SBC churches with which I am familiar.
Which leads me to an important second caveat. Let me state as firmly as digital ink permits that I thank God for the many sound pastors and faithful churches that populate the SBC. And they do populate it. There are many. I know many of them around the country. I’m blessed to correspond with many of their pastors and laymen. And, if you’re like me and not in the SBC, you likely know many of them too. For these brethren, I pray.
For quite some time now, however, the faithful voices of those sound pastors and churches have been silenced as to their influence in the larger convention, while at the same time being fleeced – both doctrinally and financially – by the superstructure of the SBC proper. Consider the apostolic tocsin regarding false teachers, “by their smooth talk and flattering speech, [they] deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Rom. 16:18, NASB).
Given that the pure number of messengers to this convention has nearly doubled the number at the convention only two years ago, it may just be that those arriving at this year’s convention are not “unsuspecting.” Hopefully the “smooth talk and flattering speech” so long a staple of the entrenched movers and shakers in the SBC will be recognized for the noxious motives from which that speech is vocally frothed. Let us pray for just such discerning messenger minds at this meeting.
Because the SBC or, perhaps more appropriately, the vestigial reputation of the historic SBC (think: “People Of The Book”) represents the largest theologically conservative Protestant denomination in America, their footsteps do not tread lightly among broader evangelicalism. With over 47,000 cooperating churches representing, on the church rolls at least, some 14 million members (although, according to the official 2021 SBC Book Of Reports, less than 4.5 million actually show up for weekly worship), the activity of the SBC attracts attention, garners influence, and, to some degree or another, produces an impact on the witness of faithful Christians of all stripes within our culture.
“If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen, nothing else matters.” Jaroslav Pelikan
Have you ever, for example, witnessed to some stranger who turns out to be a Christian too, and of the SBC flavor? Ask them, I suggest, to share the gospel with you. In such encounters of my own, I’ve heard everything from “I invited Jesus into my heart” to “God loves me.” The former answer isn’t even biblical and the latter, while certainly biblical, is not the gospel. The SBC, whose recent pew-motivating evangelistic moniker has been the “Gospel Above All,” thus has a decided impact and, in my own providential assessments, it’s been a decidedly horrible impact. To paraphrase Pelikan, if you get the gospel right, nothing else matters; if you get the gospel wrong, nothing else matters. Again, let us pray that my encounters are the exception and not the rule. But it makes me wonder.
So when the SBC faces what appears to be a contentious – and yes, some have uttered the word “split” – meeting in Nashville this week, faithful believers, whether SBC or not, ought to take notice. Having had to skip meeting during the “pandemic” year of 2020, this year’s gathering comes tethered to innumerable carry-over matters from past years and some entirely new ones. How the SBC deals with these matters does matter. The ecclesiastical emanations will be fodder not only for denominational bloggers and religious news media, but for national media as well. (A search this morning yielded, for example, nearly 3,000 hits for the search phrase “Southern Baptist Convention” on the New York Times website.)
Just what are some of these matters? Well, in no particular order, and with minimal comment, here are a few of the more notable ones.
The Sexual Abuse Scandal
The SBC is still reeling, reacting, and reconnoitering to the sorrowful sexual abuse scandal that was first brought to light in a series of 2019 articles by the Houston Chronicle. The Convention seemed to respond quickly initially, and the denomination’s Ethics And Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) was prompt to produce the Caring Well Conference speaking to the issue. While there is no quick-fix for a scandal of this magnitude, many messengers are likely to cultivate necessary convention conversation to hopefully propel the denomination to a righteous, deliberate, and maintained course in the matter. According to the 2021 Book of Reports, a total of two churches had been disfellowshipped on the basis of sexual abuse, one for employing a pastor guilty of two professed counts of statutory rape, and one for employing as pastor a registered sex offender. Only two other churches were noted as being disfellowshipped (for a total of four) for their affirmation of homosexuality. The LGBTQ issue which is at the forefront in some segments of mainstream liberal Christianity may also be a relevant topic for this Convention.
Joan The Baptist: Women Preachers
The matter of dealing with the corrupting influence of feminism is also likely to find attention this year. For a denomination that has historically repudiated the notion of women in the pulpit, and rightly so in accordance with the clear apostolic teaching of Scripture, some of the “People Of The Book” have found the “Book” to be unstylishly archaic on the topic of women in the pulpit. The weeks-ago announcement of the ordination of three women by the SBC powerhouse megachurch, Saddleback Church, pastored by the outgoing Rick Warren, will not go without convention attention. Neither will it be an argument from silence should scores of SBC funded church plants with female pastors be pointed at as real-time exhibits of denominational biblical infidelity.
The Russell Moore Letter “Leaks”
Either directly or indirectly, the Convention will likely find cause to deal with the intra-denominational intrigue fomented by the chronologically strategic and intentionally leaked bombshell letters from Russell Moore, former President of the ERLC and now also a former SBC’er himself. Made public in the last couple of weeks in advance of the Convention, Moore’s missives are sure to produce reverberations likely louder in the meeting hall than the amped up “worship” music can match nor which rented ambience fog machines, should they be used, can possibly obscure.
Moore’s memos reveal not only the depth to which the SBC has itself been deceived by him (an Albert Mohler protege, btw, as are many of the well-heeled and well-entrenched in the SBC proper), but also his accusations of coverup regarding such issues as the sexual abuse scandal, itself entwined with the #SBCMeToo abuses of patriarchy, and the current cultural sin du jour, white supremacist racism. Evidently chagrined at the SBC Executive Committee’s task force investigation into his agency (funded in excess of $3 million per annum), not only do Moore’s letters seek to broadly indict SBC leadership as complicit in a number of its scandals but, upon discerning review, indicts himself as well. Moore admits knowing first-hand such scandalous atrocities as coverups and collegial sin, the individuals who perpetrated and perpetuated them, and yet this President of an “Ethics” agency failed to act. “So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it,” James 4:17 tells us, “to him it is sin.”
“Apostates go away from the truth; they don’t necessarily go away from the church.”
A brief “methinks” segway: As the SBC is well known for the employment and passage of formal resolutions, often amounting to little more than denominational virtue-signaling, one simply has to hope that some faithful and discerning messenger will introduce a resolution thanking God for the departure of Russell Moore from their midst. While he’s at it, he could, by addendum, also solicit denominational thanks for the other voluntarily departed Moore, unrelated to Russell; that being Beth Moore who split with the SBC earlier in 2021. For the alert SBC’er, less of these Moores is definitely more. The Lord should be thus thanked.
SBC Missions Money Matters
For a denomination that has long emphasized “nickels and noses,” it seems likely that accusations of either suspected outright financial corruption or egregious malfeasance of stewardship will find convention floor time. The sizzle of the flames of what may be corruption or misconduct can be found in, for example, allegedly paying full-time pastors a rather generous monthly stipend ($2000) to obey Scripture (particularly 1 Thes. 5:11) by sending notes of encouragement to NAMB (North American Mission Board) church planters on the field. Corollary to this is the reported action of NAMB to persuade a sitting church pastor to abandon his flock, enter the workforce, and become a NAMB bi-vocational pastor by starting a new church, which would, of course, be subsidized by NAMB.
This foray into subsidizing Hallmark Card pleasantries will surely cause SBC’ers to question how the NAMB narrative of sorely needed and consistently solicited offerings are being put to work. NAMB’s annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, purportedly targeting North American church planting efforts, had a goal of $70 million in 2021 and has, since its inception generated over $1.1 billion. (One can almost feel a Babylon Bee article in all this. “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome No Threat For Bold, Well-Funded Letter Writing Baptist Pastors”.)
According to one source, NAMB apparently sits on a reserve of cash and assets (read “assets” as numerous private homes, some upwards of $500,000 in value, around the country) approaching a quarter billion dollars (Yeah, a big “B” in that billion”). If indeed stewardship is still a thing in the SBC, rather than merely a pew-quelling cliche, then reviews of NAMB would require far more time than a two-day convention will permit. In the FY 2019-2020 SBC budget, NAMB was, by the way, funded by the SBC’s Cooperative Program in excess of $43 million.
Church Growth Amidst Denominational Decay
While cash in the coffers is ever a feature of typical SBC life, so too is the pragmatic emphasis on counting noses. When it comes to posteriors in the pews, the latest round of voluntary church reporting indicates that the Convention as a whole lost over 435,000 members, a number 50% higher than the previous year. Since 2006, the Convention has lost a staggering two million members. Given this data, there will certainly be church growth chatter at the gathering.
With regards to this topic, NAMB might be pointed to as a bright spot, despite its apparent financial ministerial novelties. In 2020 the mission agency planted 588 new churches while (don’t look over here) the SBC proper hemorrhaged a half million more members. Not to be too simplistic with what doesn’t represent a one-to-one correlation, but for every one church NAMB planted, the Convention lost 740 members. Perhaps, just perhaps, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18) ain’t actually supposed to work this way.
The Word of God Vs. Theory: The SBC & CRT
Though numerous other issues may arise, perhaps none will be potentially so divisive as dealing with the issue of Critical Race Theory/Intersectionality (CRT/I). The now infamous Resolution 9, passed in 2019 by what one hopes was a thoroughly ignorant messenger base, has been a flashpoint of heated controversy since before that gavel pounded that year’s convention to a close. The Resolution itself approves and permits the SBC to officially employ CRT/I as a helpful “analytical tool,” a reality that had already been well underway in the denomination’s seminaries. In a “let’s do it, then talk about” sense, Resolution 9 was a “let’s talk about it” moment after having already “done it.”
(Should you desire to learn more about the patently unbiblical, anti-Christian ideology of CRT/I, there are numerous biblically sound resources available. A few prominent ones will be listed in this article’s footnotes.)
Again, for “People of the Book,” the apostolic words of Peter ought bring some rightful conviction and prompting to repentance: “For His divine power has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). Another apostle, Paul, remarks in a most important way about Scripture: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Cor. 6:14
Because the SBC proper has for so long been explicitly driven by a desire to engage the culture, it has tacitly allowed culture to dictate the basis of its engagement. So, just as within the culture at large where one sees the topic of racism looming large, so too does the SBC seek to fall in line with this popular narrative. Though there are some within the convention threatening departure should the SBC invalidate or resolutely abrogate Resolution 9 by a replacement resolution, there seem to be many within the rank and file ranks who rightly refuse to be woke, but instead have become awakened to the goings-on within the seminaries and agencies they fund. As with the dual departure of the divisive Moores, the departure of those who believe matters of the faith are first driven by melanin should be welcomed, prayed for, and encouraged. “Go out from us, for you aren’t of us” would be a hopeful effect of the impenitent woke within the SBC.
“Now is the time to lead.”
Ronnie Floyd, President & CEO of The Executive Committee of The SBC
Actually Ronnie, no. Now is not the time to lead. Now is the time to repent. Given all the moral failings within the SBC, in light of all the scandals it has produced, what the SBC needs, for the sake of itself, for broader evangelicalism, and for the world at large, is not leadership on the issues. What it needs is leadership in repentance.
“It is possible to talk much of Christ and yet to betray him. The point is not to whom we attribute our guidance. The point is from whom we receive our orders.”
The multitude of problems within the SBC all funnel down to a single verity: doctrine matters. Orthodoxy dictates orthopraxy. What one believes determines how one behaves. And the recent behavior of the SBC at large betrays a sore failure of allegiance to doctrine. When the Convention touts the “Gospel Above All,” but the average pewsitter can’t cogently explain the biblical gospel, it’s a problem of preaching and teaching. It’s a problem of doctrine. After that, it is a problem of obedience.
When a faulty, diminished, unbiblical gospel becomes the tool of membership for SBC churches, that faulty gospel cannot genuinely transform. So there is little wonder that sexual abuse runs rampant. There is little surprise that the sin of racism festers in the hearts of professing but unconverted Baptists. Sinners unredeemed by the transformative gospel are going to do what sinners do. They are going to sin. Both Matthew 18 disciplinary measures, and legal criminal measures, must be employed in such cases. It is a matter of doctrine. It is a matter of obedience.
When a flagship church of the Convention decides, contrary to Scripture, to ordain women into the pastorate, the Convention must not let it slide. When the denominations domestic missions board actively funds churches with women in the pulpit, Scripture has been defied. If the inerrancy and authority of Scripture mean anything any longer to the SBC, it must act decisively, faithfully, and biblically. It is a matter of doctrine. It is a matter of obedience.
When the leadership of a mission board must employ questionable, but pragmatic, financial novelties to produce some evidence of church growth, it’s not a matter of Christ failing to build His church. It’s a failure to faithfully hold to what He has promised and obey what He has commanded. Christ’s promises and Christ’s commands are matters of doctrine. They are matters of obedience.
When the Presidents of SBC seminaries will publicly reject CRT/I (as they did in late 2020) as incompatible with the biblical gospel yet have for years allowed it to be taught within their seminaries, it’s a matter of doctrine. It’s also a matter of obedience as their public statements smack far more of outright and intentional deception of the presumably unaware Baptist pewsitter than the mere prevaricating hypocrisy it necessarily exposes. As one Christian has astutely stated with regards to Southern Seminary’s President, “The old Al Mohler would have fired the new Al Mohler.”
What’s Needed Now
Despite the varied and intricately connected issues facing the Southern Baptist Convention, the faithful Christian, whether SBC or not, has one very important task that must not go undone. We must pray. We must pray for Southern Baptists. We must pray for its leaders. We must pray for its pastors. We must pray for its members. And we must pray for the messengers attending this momentous meeting. As Burk Parsons noted, “We don’t pray because we believe in the power of prayer. We pray because we believe in the power of God.”
Let us pray that the truth of the Lord will prevail at this week’s Convention. Let us pray that the Lord would grant repentance. Let us pray that the “People of the Book” will again become vigorous defenders of the Book by soundly teaching the Book and by faithfully obeying the Book. The problems of the SBC are matters of doctrine and obedience. What this boils down to is nothing less than the sufficiency of God’s Word. If the SBC should relinquish, by continued disregard of doctrine, by continued degradation of the gospel, and by increasing dismissal of the authority and sufficiency of God in and through His Word, the witness of all evangelical Christianity will be tarnished. Let us pray such a thing shall not come to pass.
“There is not one problem that exists in the SBC – collectively or individually – that cannot be solved by godly sorrow that leads to true repentance. We have a Savior and He has given us a Book. May we bow to the former and heed the latter regardless of cost or consequence.”
Tom Ascol, Founders Ministries, Pastor Grace Baptist Church
Resources on SBC issues:
Social Justice Resources:
By What Standard? (Cinedoc) by Founders Ministries: https://founders.org/cinedoc/
By What Standard? God’s World … God’s Rules (Book) by Founders Ministries, Tom Ascol, Edited by Jared Longshore
Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement And Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe by Voddie T. Baucham, Jr.
What Every Christian Needs To Know About Social Justice by Jeffrey D. Johnson
Christianity And Wokeness by Owen Strachan
Social Justice Goes To Church by Jon Harris
The Statement On Social Justice & The Gospel: For The Sake Of Christ And His Church: https://statementonsocialjustice.com