As a Great Commission Baptist in 2021 there are countless things to be thankful for. The old hymn encourages us to “count our blessings,” and to “name them one by one.” Certainly that is where we should start and much of the supposed division and ugliness stems from a heart unwilling to say “thank you.”
Before addressing the divisions within our rank, it is imperative we acknowledge that Southern Baptists are united. But if your view of the SBC comes from the news, online, social media, organizations with an ax to grind or documentary’s and blogs to sell, or depressed ministers, then you will think we are on the brink of collapse.
This is unfortunately the way everything functions today. Everyone wants to see war. Everyone wants to see conflict. Everyone wants to watch the drama. Yet having the spirit of divisiveness is ungodly and, I believe, an inaccurate narrative regarding the SBC.
Baptists Agree on the Essentials
I have never spent time around Baptist ministers, churches, or state/national conventions and felt as if my theological convictions were unique or unwelcomed. When it comes to the primary doctrines of the faith, Great Commission Baptists are faithful. We all agree on the gospel, the Bible, the Trinity, the church, and our mission as Christians. These are not negotiables.
This was not always the case. History recalls a time when the SBC was following the direction of theological liberalism. Yet due to the courage of faithful men, the SBC remains the only major denomination to move from conservative to liberal back to conservative. Those same convictions remain. Not a single presidential candidate for the convention or our six seminaries have compromised or redefined these doctrines. To suggest otherwise is inaccurate.
Baptists Agree on Our Identity
We are not merely a convention of Christians, but a convention of confessional Baptists. This means our identity as Baptists is essential to our unity. These are secondary issues theologically but matter to the function and application of our convention.
First, we are in unity regarding the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as well as all the Baptist distinctives articulated there. No one is arguing in favor of infant baptism, denying regenerate church membership, or questioning the priesthood of all believers. Every professor and seminary leadership must affirm the BF&M 2000 as well as other historic confessions (like the Abstract of Principles at SBTS). We are Baptists and this identity remains.
At the same time, more hot button issues are not as divisive as they may seem. All Great Commission Baptists want racial peace and reconciliation. We all want our convention to mirror our cultural racially and ethnically. We all recoil at our history and the birth of our convention. We have publicly repented of and disavowed various resolutions, statements, and beliefs of our racist past.
At the same time, we all recoil at the thought and presence of sexual abuse in our churches. This goes all the way to the top. Shaming victims or covering up clear cases of abuse is not tolerable and we believe that all perpetrators should be held accountable by both God and the law.
We may disagree on how we get there and what that process should look like. Yet it is disingenuous to suggest that one side favors racial hatred or defends abusers. It is equally false to suggest some are liberals who are throwing away the gospel in favor of a worldly mission. In matters of such importance and difficulty, we could do better at listening to each other.
Baptists Agree on Tertiary Issues
In addition to Baptist distinctives and the unique challenges of our time, there remain important theological issues within our convention. In recent years, the question regarding women in ministry has arisen. It is true that several of our churches have deaconesses, even within my own association. I have not taken the time to investigate those instances or listen to their defense. One thing is clear that if our churches had both a plurality of elders and deacons, then bionically there is clear room for deaconesses.
Beyond women deacons, there is questions regarding the role of women in the church and the pulpit. More recently there has been debates over what a sermon is. I do not pretend to have an answer to all of these issues, yet what is clear is the consistent belief regarding women pastors in our convention.
Likewise, the SBC gives an increasing amount of its offering to the Cooperative Program. This is a free choice of each church and each year the numbers continue to be encouraging. We believe in the CP because we believe in the identity and mission of our convention – reach the nations for Christ.
Baptists Agree on our Vision
Finally, Baptists affirm our vision. At #SBC21, a 5 year vision was casts including the following:
- Increase our total number of full-time, fully funded missionaries by a net gain of 500, giving us 4,200 missionaries on the field.
- Add 5,000 new churches giving us more than 50,000 churches
- Increase our total number of workers in the field through a new emphasis on “calling out the called,” and then preparing those who are called by the Lord.
- Turn around our ongoing decline in reaching, baptizing, and disicpling students under 18.
- Increase our annual giving in successive years to reach and surpass $500 million given through the CP.
When presented, the convention did not debate it merits or worthiness, merely wording. We all agree that these things must happen. We must do more. We must see more baptists. We must call out more. We must give more. We must go more. We must see the work of Christ and the Spirit more.
I am encouraged by all of this. I drove to Nashville believing what I had read online and what I found was unity. In a meeting of 20,000 there will always be those crazy uncles, but the above demonstrates a clear unity.
But that doesn’t sell papers.