Every organization has them. Those unwritten rules that everybody seems to know. That newcomers learn through whispered admonitions or perhaps by inadvertently breaking them. The Southern Baptist Convention – and probably a lot of other denominations and parachurch ministries – has them too, and one that more and more people are learning about has, tongue in cheek, been dubbed “The 11th Commandment”:
Thou shalt not publicly criticize
other Southern Baptist leaders.
It seems to apply mostly to the upper echelons of SBC leadership: entity heads, celebrity pastors and authors, seminary leaders, the SBC president, the head of LifeWay. Basically anybody with power, position, or name recognition.
And we’re not talking about slandering or lying about someone. Naturally, that would be sinful and worthy of reproof. We’re talking about anything negative or critical even if it’s biblically correct and necessary.
I don’t know anyone personally¹ who has told me he’s/she’s been in this situation, but I’ve heard several stories from reliable sources over the past few years of pastors, people who work for LifeWay, SBC seminary employees, etc., who would like to speak publicly, biblically, and truthfully about sinful situations or unbiblical decisions in the SBC, but are reluctant to do so for fear of losing their jobs or positions. (On a smaller scale, I have heard from plenty of women who have been spiritually abused and bullied into silence, or out of their own churches, by church leadership for daring to speak out against LifeWay-endorsed false teachers.)
Think about that for a minute. This is a purportedly Bible-believing Christian organization in which doctrinally sound Christians are afraid to publicly stand for biblical truth for fear of retaliation from other Christians. Hush up. Cover up. Don’t shine the light of Scripture into the dark corners of the SBC.
This is an organization which, not so many years ago, battled to preserve the concepts of the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible. A Bible which says:
Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is
good and right and true)
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. Ephesians 5:8b-9,11
If we truly believe these words are breathed out by God (inspiration), completely trustworthy (infallible), and without error (inerrant), how can there be a culture of back room intimidation in the SBC?
Why isn’t the Scripture we say we believe being obeyed?
Sin. People are sinning and it’s negatively impacting fellow Believers. Just like when I sin it negatively impacts fellow Believers. Just like when you sin it negatively impacts fellow Believers.
Anyone¹ who is helping to create a culture of intimidation against fellow Believers for speaking out in accordance with Scripture is in sin and needs to repent and be forgiven by the grace and mercy of Christ.
But, often, when we’re sinned against, even by brothers and sisters in Christ, the person sinning against us doesn’t repent right away (or sometimes, ever). She continues in her sin against us. Although we might be able to talk to the person and encourage her with Scripture to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, we can’t change her heart. Only the Holy Spirit can convict someone of sin and give her the gift of repentance.
So, as leaders continue to attempt to enforce the “11th Commandment,” the only remaining decision to be made by those feeling pressured into silence is, “How do I respond to this? Do I speak out and risk my job, my reputation, my church, and a peaceful life for my family, or do I remain silent?”. I would encourage these folks to prayerfully consider the following biblical principles about this issue.
As Ecclesiastes tells us,
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
Don’t just let your default response be to keep your head down and your mouth shut regardless of the issue that comes your way. There are times when it is biblically valid to remain silent, but there are also times when we are required by Scripture to speak up, regardless of the personal cost. You must ask God for wisdom to discern how to respond biblically to each situation, and then you must act accordingly, trusting God with the outcome.
Know the Issues
You’ve got to know your Bible and know where Scripture lands on various issues. That goes hand in hand with making a wise decision about whether to speak out or remain silent. Using wine versus grape juice for the Lord’s Supper isn’t a make or break New Testament issue for the church, so you probably won’t want to risk your job over something at that level of adiaphora, but false teachers who are wreaking spiritual havoc on your denomination and the church when you have the power and the platform to biblically denounce it? Speaking out on that issue is all over the Old and New Testament, and you’ll want to be sure you follow Scripture appropriately in your particular situation.
Count the Cost
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-33
Have you counted the cost of being Jesus’ disciple? It’s high. Jesus says you “cannot be My disciple” if you aren’t willing to sacrifice relationships with your closest loved ones in favor of Christ and His Word. If you aren’t willing to sacrifice your physical life. If you aren’t willing to bear your own cross and follow after Him. If you don’t renounce all that you have. That includes your job, your reputation, comfort, ease, and security for your family, your church, your friends, book deals, speaking engagements, and sitting at the cool kids’ lunch table with evangelical celebrities. Jesus was despised and rejected by men. Are you, His servant, greater than your Master?
Don’t Miss Your Calling
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:13-14
Go back and read the entire book of Esther. One of the main ideas of this little book is this:
Any position, power or platform you have is given to you by God,
and you are not merely to preserve and protect it, but to steward it for His purposes.
Just like God didn’t make Esther queen as an end in itself, God didn’t give you that job at LifeWay or that position at a seminary for you to protect it at any cost. He gave it to you as a means to an end – His glory, and the furthering of His Kingdom. Esther was willing to risk death, divorce, even banishment to speak up because she realized God had put her in the position of queen as a means of bringing about His purpose of delivering God’s people. Is it possible that’s why God put you in the position you’re in – to give you the voice and platform to speak out so others could be informed and inspired to stand up for biblical truth? Don’t let fear of the consequences rob you of the joy and honor of being used by God to bring about His purposes.
In His Steps
Jesus. John the Baptist. Peter. Paul. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Samuel. Gideon. The Minor Prophets. All of these men (and more) spoke out against ungodliness among the people of God, and all of them paid dearly for it. Maybe some of them were afraid. Maybe some of them were concerned about their families and livelihoods. But all of them put God’s Kingdom and His people ahead of personal concerns and trusted that if they did what was right in God’s eyes, He would take care of them. And the same God who never failed them will never fail you.
Let the boldness and bravery of these men inspire you to be unwaveringly courageous. Let their unflagging resolve inspire you to forge ahead with no turning back. Let the depth of their faith inspire you to take God at His Word and believe Him for everything. We still need heroes of the faith today. Be the next one by following in the footsteps of the heroes of Scripture.
Share in Suffering
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:3
Suffering for the name of Christ and the truth of His Word is such a major theme of the New Testament I couldn’t begin to list all the passages that address it. When you’re a servant of Christ, suffering the same reproach He suffered from the same kind of people for the same reasons isn’t an option. It goes with the territory.
Second Timothy 3:12-13 says:
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
And not only is suffering the reproaches of Christ guaranteed, we need to grasp the fact that this kind of suffering is an honor for the Believer.
And when they had brought [Peter and the apostles], they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. Acts 5:27-29, 40-41
Read the whole account in Acts 5:17-42. Men of God were threatened, imprisoned, and subsequently beaten, by their “denominational leadership” for boldly proclaiming the Word of God to the people of God in the house of God. And those men of God got back up, dusted themselves off, and rejoiced because God Himself had seen fit to bless them with this honor.
We’ve got to radically transform our perspective on suffering for the name and Word of Christ:
- We need to internalize and embrace the prospect of suffering rather than fearfully kicking against it and avoiding it.
- We’ve got to fully wrap our minds around the fact that we won’t just suffer at the hands of unbelievers outside the church, we’ll also be persecuted by unbelievers (and sometimes even Believers) inside the church.
- And finally, we not only desperately need to see suffering the reproaches of Christ as an honor rather than an embarrassment, we need to support, encourage, and stand with fellow Believers who are being persecuted rather than being ashamed to be counted with them.
When you face an “11th Commandment” issue there are some hard questions you need to ask yourself: Am I embracing the prospect of suffering for Christ, or avoiding it? Am I grasping the fact that the attempt by other Christians to silence me on a biblical issue is persecution? Am I ashamed of God’s Word and ashamed of being counted with those who are standing for it? Am I choosing to stay silent because that is the biblically wise decision regarding an inconsequential matter or am I just being a coward? Am I fearing God or fearing earthly consequences? Those are questions only you can answer through prayer and by rightly dividing and applying God’s Word.
Sometimes it is biblically wise to remain silent, but in the times when Scripture requires us to boldly take a stand for Christ and for His Word, we dare not seek to avoid suffering by caving in to the pressure of the 11th Commandment.
But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand. Ezekiel 33:6