I don’t know the brother who said it, but I saw a remark the other day from a Presbyterian gentleman who said something to the effect of, “It’s time for all doctrinally sound Southern Baptists to leave the SBC.”
I get that.
When you have an organization as large, open, and widespread as the Southern Baptist Convention, problems – even major ones – are inevitable. At this point, there are many things the SBC is still getting right, biblically speaking…
There are many good and praiseworthy things going on in SBC life. We have hundreds of doctrinally sound pastors faithfully preaching the gospel week in and week out. Discernment and biblical literacy among Southern Baptist church members is slowly but steadily growing. The SBC takes a public, biblical stand on abortion and homosexuality while many other denominations do not. Our organizational structure for funding and sending out missionaries, while sometimes flawed in its execution, is without peer. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the finest relief organizations in the world. And there’s so much more. Find a godly Kingdom effort going on somewhere, and you’ll probably find a Southern Baptist involved in it. By the grace of God, while we’re far from perfect, we’re getting a lot of things right.¹
…But for some individual Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist churches, the biblical error and other problems pervading the SBC have become too much to bear, and they have deemed it time to walk away from what they see as a system damaged beyond repair, seeking refuge in ARBCA, Bible, Independent, or non-denominational churches and networks instead.
Like I said, I get that, and I don’t blame them one little bit. Believe me, I’ve had leaving on my mind more than once. And if the SBC continues its downward spiral, it’s an inevitability for nearly all of us who hold to sound doctrine.
But there are still plenty of us crazy, “glass half full” doctrinally sound optimists out there who, like Luther, don’t want to abandon the SBC to the rubbish heap if it can be avoided, but would rather see it reformed (little “r”), renewed, and restored to the glory of God.
If you’ve ever labored through the entirety of the Old Testament (and if you haven’t, stop denying yourself that blessing, and study it), you know that God exercised patience with Israel through centuries of idolatry, rebellion, and paganism of the vilest sorts, sending them prophet after prophet, warning after warning, discipline after discipline, lovingly calling, urging, and commanding them to repent and be reconciled to Him before finally executing judgment on them.
I’m just not sure we’re quite at the point of exiling the SBC… yet. I think maybe these are the days of Elijah. And Jeremiah. And Isaiah. And even Luther. A time for godly Southern Baptist men and women to stand firmly on the written Word of God and speak prophetically, chapter and verse, into their beloved churches and denomination, “Thus saith the Lord.”
And in that same spirit of the prophets of old, we don’t speak from a position of “I’m right and I’m here to prove it,” or because we’re haters, or because we’re power-hungry. It’s because we’re cut to the heart over the sin and idolatry we see among our brothers and sisters. We’re grieved that those things dishonor our precious Savior and bring His judgment and discipline upon those who participate in and propagate them. We deeply desire that our denomination and our churches experience the joy that comes with being spiritually healthy and biblically submitted to Christ.
So, while there are probably at least ninety-five theses that could be nailed to the doors of the Executive Committee in Nashville, here are three that would be a good start.
The Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture
Nearly forty years ago, Southern Baptist movers and shakers in the conservative resurgence went to war for the inerrancy of Scripture. It was a long, hard battle, but they won. Now it’s time to fight for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the SBC.
The Bible is our authority as Christians, not the ideas, opinions, and traditions of denominational leaders, SBC celebrities, pastors, or any other person. The Bible. If the Bible commands us to do something, we do it. If the Bible commands us not to do something, we don’t do it. We don’t formulate our own programs and methods and try to squish the Bible in to make it fit. We start with the Bible. We stay with the Bible. We end with the Bible.
Because the SBC does not always submit to the authority of the Bible, we have leaders, celebrities, and pastors looking to, and promoting, sources outside the Bible for direction instead of simply trusting and obeying God’s written Word. We have influential “Bible” teachers who stand on stages in front of thousands and dare to proclaim, “God told me…”, functionally denying the sufficiency of Scripture by relying on supposed extra-biblical revelation (and teaching their followers to do the same). We have pastors and denominational leaders who look to polls and surveys to decide how to conduct their worship services or which social issues need to be addressed and how to address them. We have church growth gurus teaching our pastors to adopt all manner of worldliness that “works” to get sinners in the doors of their churches.
If the Southern Baptist Convention is to survive as an entity of biblical Christianity, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is the number one issue that must be dealt with. If this issue is properly addressed and corrected, it will alleviate or minimize nearly all other problems facing the SBC. We must submit to God’s written Word and give Scripture its proper place – first place – in our denomination, our individual churches, and our personal lives.
False Doctrine and False Teachers
If the SBC truly regarded the Bible as authoritative and sufficient, the cancer of false doctrine and false teachers that is slowly killing us would be cured or in remission. Indeed, the aforementioned false teaching of extra-biblical (God told me, showed me in a dream, spoke to me, etc.) revelation is probably the most pervasive false doctrine accepted among Southern Baptists.
When Hilkiah found the Book of the Law in the temple (Imagine a house of God in such a shambles of idolatry that people had to dig and search for the actual Scriptures. Selah.), and Shaphan read it to Josiah, Josiah tore his clothes in grief and began to set God’s house and God’s people in order. After covenanting together with the people to obey God’s Word, the very first thing Josiah did was to have the altars and vessels of false gods carried out of God’s house and destroyed. If the SBC would follow in Josiah’s footsteps we would see things like:
LifeWay would immediately remove and destroy any and all materials by Beth Moore, Andy Stanley, Priscilla Shirer, TD Jakes, Lysa TerKeurst, Sarah Young, Christine Caine, Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, Hillsong, and all other false teachers and promulgators of false doctrine.
There would be no more conferences, simulcasts, or leadership training seminars featuring false teachers, and false teachers would certainly not be invited to speak in any capacity at the annual Southern Baptist Convention.
Pastors, authors, and speakers who attempted to build a career inside the SBC by teaching false doctrine would be subject to church discipline for their sin, not turned into celebrities or appointed or elected to denominational leadership positions.
Messenger voting privileges at the Convention would be revoked for churches which habitually and unrepentantly welcome false teachers.
If the Bible were to become our sufficient authority for both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, our eyes would quickly be opened to the enormity of the hold false doctrine has on our denomination, churches, and individuals, and we would act accordingly and biblically.
Disfellowshipping Errant Churches
Earlier this week, the Southern Baptist Convention severed ties with the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC- an association of Southern Baptist churches in the Washington, D.C. area) for refusing to disfellowship one of its member churches, Calvary Baptist, which had called a legally “married” lesbian couple to serve as its co-“pastors” over a year ago.
It was absolutely the right thing to do (the SBC has disfellowshipped several churches that embrace homosexuality), and I’m glad that this standard remains in tact, but…lesbian co-pastors…? That’s how bad it has to get before the SBC can, or will, act to remove a church? What about churches that are embracing sins other than homosexuality?
There are plenty of apostate Southern Baptist churches, and we have no mechanism in place for kicking them out of the SBC.
This is a verbatim quote from the FAQ section (5th question from the top) of the SBC’s web site:
“According to our constitution, if a church no longer makes a bona fide contribution to the Convention’s work, or if it acts to ‘affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior,’ it no longer complies with the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention and is not permitted to send messengers to the annual meeting. These, however, are the only explicitly stated instances in which the SBC has the prerogative to take action.”
What does that mean? As long as your church doesn’t affirm homosexuality and gives to the Cooperative Program, you’re in. Never mind if your pastor twists God’s word until it’s unrecognizable. Or lets women and false teachers get behind the pulpit like Steven Furtick does. Or plays AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday and says he probably wouldn’t have strippers on stage like Perry Noble does. Or any of the other ridiculous and blasphemous shenanigans so many of the seeker sensitive types in our denomination pull. Nope, as long as you give your money and stand on the right side of homosexuality, you’re good to go.² ³
I’ll be the first to admit, it would be a difficult standard to set and implement, but look at the standards the New Testament required of churches. We’ve got to set the bar higher than a homosexuality litmus test and an offering for a church to be in good standing with the SBC. Doctrine and practices simply have to be a factor.
Can there be another conservative resurgence that brings reform to the SBC? I believe there can.
The Bible says “nothing will be impossible with God.” I believe that. I believe that the God who spoke the universe into existence from nothing, who opened sealed tombs and barren wombs, who parted seas and walked on water and turned water into wine can change the hearts of Southern Baptists and the trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention.
By His grace. For His glory. For our good.
¹A Naked Emperor in the Southern Baptist Convention
²10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists
³As of 2019, this verbiage has been removed from the FAQ section of the SBC website. Conceptually similar language can be found here (see Article III: Composition).