Southern Baptist/SBC

Change in the SBC? Field Notes from the Grassroots

The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is coming up in a few weeks.

As a lifelong Southern Baptist, I have thoughts. Feelings, even.

For the past several years – some might even say it started as soon as the Conservative Resurgence was over – the SBC has been on a slow but steady downward and unbiblical trajectory. False teachers line the (virtual) shelves of LifeWay Retail and headline LifeWay-sponsored conferences. False doctrine like extra-biblical revelation and Critical Race Theory are championed. Women have been preaching to men at conferences and para-church events for decades, and now women preaching the Sunday morning sermon in SBC churches is increasing in frequency and acceptance. NAMB was recently taken to task for sponsoring church plants with female pastors. Yoking with heretical, New Apostolic Reformation organizations – for example, when sitting SBC President Ronnie Floyd was a featured speaker at IHOP’s 2015 conference or when LifeWay’s Sunday School curriculum recommends music by Jesus Culture – a clear violation of Scripture, is defended.

And so much more.

It’s a real mess, folks. And to many average Southern Baptists like me, with no power, no position, it’s a mess that feels insurmountable. Beyond discouraging. Hopeless. Not worth the effort of trying to save.

Why? Because nobody in power cares what doctrinally sound, Joe and Jane Churchmember think. In fact, Joe and Jane often feel like we are seen by some in SBC leadership as ignorant, backwoods annoyances to the ruling class. The huddled unwashed masses stupidly crying, “Biblical reform!” as the multi-seminary-degreed elites condescendingly pat us on the heads and send us back to our pews assuring us they know what’s best.

I watched it happen in 2012 when I attended the annual meeting. A messenger went to the microphone after then president/CEO Thom Rainer’s report on LifeWay and began to express concern about the false teachers LifeWay carries. Dr. Rainer’s answer? “Trust the trustees.” The trustees, of course, being the ones who approved those authors for sale by LifeWay in the first place.

There are several brave and hardy Joes and Janes out there who still have fight left in them. Who believe the SBC is worth saving. Who believe it can be turned around if there’s a groundswell of involvement from the grassroots.

God bless them.

I mean that with all my heart. God bless them – mightily. I admire and heartily support them, and I urge you to support them too. I hope, against all hope, that they are right.

But I think there may be a bit of a disconnect in understanding where the “It’s time to chuck the whole thing” side of the aisle is coming from. So I just wanted to take a few moments to air that out – at least from my perspective.

“Show Up”

“Change is made by those who show up.” I’ve heard it multiple times from several different voices in the “grassroots for change” movement urging Joe and Jane to be present at the annual meeting each year. And, in theory, I completely agree. If you can show up, you should.

But in practice, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Yes, if you’ve got plenty of money, your time is your own, and your health and life circumstances permit you to travel to wherever the convention is being held every year, it’s pretty easy to show up.

It’s also easy to forget that not every Southern Baptist is so blessed. In fact, I would take a wild guess that probably 85% or more of Southern Baptist church members and a significant number of SBC pastors are not that comfortably fixed.

We don’t have hundreds or thousands of extra dollars in our family budgets every year to fly or drive what’s often thousands of miles across the country to the meeting site and pay hundreds more for a hotel, meals, and other expenses once we get there. That’s not the type of expense a lot of families can sacrifice for, save up, or scrape together just because we’re being urged to “show up” – the money simply isn’t there.

We have jobs that prevent us from taking time off for the convention. Many of those jobs don’t offer paid vacation time. If we don’t work, we don’t get paid. In some jobs, if you don’t show up whenever you’re needed, you get fired. Even for those fortunate enough to get paid vacation time, that time is limited and may need to be spent on something else – a family wedding, caring for a sick loved one, painting the house.

Some who can afford to make the trip and have the time to do so are limited by other life circumstances such as their health, local responsibilities, and family obligations.

It’s even difficult for many SBC pastors to attend the convention. Are we forgetting that the majority of our churches are small and many of our pastors are bi-vocational? “According to the 2014 Annual Church Profile (ACP) report, 90% of the churches reporting average fewer than 272 in their worship service, and 75% average fewer than 131.”1 Think about how much it would cost to fly your pastor to Nashville, feed him, rent him a car, and put him up in a downtown hotel for several days. How many of our churches that run 20 or 30 or 40 in Sunday worship can afford that? Some of them can’t even afford to pay their pastors a salary.

And then there are the Janes and Joes who are able and willing to attend the convention but find themselves members of doctrinally unsound SBC churches that actually agree with CRT or women pastors or any of the other aforementioned issues. Maybe their churches were once sound, but have taken an unbiblical turn. Or maybe God has only recently opened their eyes to sound doctrine and they’re trying to effect change in a stiff-necked church before being forced to abandon ship. How many of those church members are going to get approved as messengers by their churches? Having been in that situation myself, I can answer that question: Zero. That’s how many.

Many of these difficulties also hold true for the state conventions and associational meetings we’re urged to attend, meetings which are often held during work hours in the middle of the week and sometimes hundreds of miles from home.

It’s really easy for some to say, “If you don’t show up and vote, you can’t complain,” but the effect on those who want to show up, but can’t, is discouragement.

Are we effectively – albeit unintentionally – being respecters of persons by only giving a voice to those who can afford to “show up”? Are we not functionally discriminating against and silencing smaller, poorer churches and church members?

Biblical dissent is silenced or ignored.

For those of us who have seen how biblical dissent is handled by many SBC leaders, we have no reason to believe we’ll be listened to or taken seriously even if we do “show up” at associational meetings, state conventions, or the national convention.

I know of plenty of pastors and church members (including me) who have attempted to contact their local associational leaders, their state convention leaders, or leaders at the national level about some of these problematic issues. They’ve been placated. They’ve been ignored. Their emails, letters, and phone calls have gone unanswered. They’ve been dressed down and told they were wrong, or didn’t have enough faith, or were unloving or in sin, or weren’t being Christlike.

Last year we saw the grassroots outcry against David Uth, president of the 2020 SBC pastors conference, for inviting false teachers and a female pastor to headline the event. He still dug his heels in and refused to heed the godly reproof he received.

Current SBC president J.D. Greear makes a public statement about the Bible “whispering about sexual sin,” publicly supports and defends false teachers like Beth Moore, and maintains a friendship with at least one female “pastor” – among many other things – and completely ignores anyone who takes him to task for it.

The unspoken “11th Commandment” threat of retaliation against denominational, LifeWay, and seminary employees who, after exhausting all of the “proper channels” to no avail, speak out against unbiblical actions by their employers, superiors, or other denominational leaders, is an open secret, and no joke to those who have been intimidated, negatively impacted, fired, or forced to resign.

At the 2019 convention, messengers attempted to speak against Resolution 9, and their microphones were turned off. And I already mentioned what happened at the 2012 convention.

I appreciate the faith and optimism of those who think our voices can still be heard, I truly do. And I desperately hope they are right. Nothing would make me happier. But in the current SBC climate of ignoring, silencing, and even threatening biblical dissent and correction, surely they can also understand why many of us would wonder why any doctrinally sound Southern Baptist would ever dream of being listened to and taken seriously.

So….what’s the solution?

Many average church members and pastors who want change have no voice because they can’t afford to show up in person at the convention, and even if they do show up, there’s no reason to believe their voices will be heard, much less heeded. So, what’s the solution?

I can think of two practical remedies that might help a little.

Virtual attendance and distance voting- Every time I’ve suggested this or heard someone else suggest this, it has been immediately shot down – often by those urging involvement from the grassroots – in favor of messengers “showing up” in person, and because “the technological capability for this doesn’t exist.”

I’m sorry, I’m fully aware of how dense I am when it comes to technology, but I look around and see online shopping, PayPal, people filing their taxes and census forms online, online classes and testing, and all kinds of other very official things being done online that involve the transmission of sensitive information that has to be accurate, and I have an extremely difficult time believing that the Southern Baptist Convention can’t find some way in the next few years to make streaming the convention, submitting input and questions online, and voting online a reality. This is the 21st century and we still seem to be operating with a horse and buggy mindset.

Convention “Scholarships”- If you really want people to “show up,” you’re going to have to make it financially possible for those who can’t afford it. Commendably, many individual churches already do this for their own pastors and messengers, paying for their airfare, accommodations, and/or other expenses.

What about grassroots organizations establishing some sort of “scholarship” fund for pastors and potential messengers who would like to attend the convention, but neither they nor their churches can afford to send them? (Here’s a wild idea- why don’t we de-fund the ERLC and use those funds for this kind of thing instead?) What about churches and church members in the city in which the convention is being held opening their doors to pastors and messengers traveling on a shoestring budget and providing them with a place to stay, meals, and transportation around town?


Again, I wholeheartedly support my SBC brothers and sisters who are trying to effect change within the current system and structure. And I encourage all doctrinally sound Southern Baptists who can attend this year’s annual meeting to do so, and to fight hard and vote biblically. My own son and several members of my church are going to be attending, and I’m cheering them on. I’d go myself if I could. I’m hoping and praying for lots of good to be accomplished.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer. I just know that if you do what you’ve always done, chances are, you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten.

And I just don’t think the Southern Baptist Convention can survive much more of that.


1So-Called “Smaller” Churches and the Future of the SBC

Sermon on the Mount Bible Study

The Sermon on the Mount ~ Lesson 12

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11,

Matthew 7:15-23

Questions to Consider

1. Briefly review the “middle parts” (ex: merciful, poor in spirit) of the Beatitudes, the “salt and light” passage, and the “heart of the law” passage in Matthew 5:1-12, 13-16, 14-20. Now read 7:15-23 in light of those passages.

2. In the Beatitudes, Jesus lists the traits that define Christian character. In much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount He fleshes out what many of these character traits look like when walked out in “real life”. Which of the traits (the “middle parts” – there could be several) listed in the Beatitudes is Jesus expanding on in today’s passage?

How do false teachers and false converts bland the saltiness of the church? (5:13-16) How do doctrinally sound teachers and genuinely regenerated Believers make the church saltier and brighter? Is it even possible for an individual false teacher or false convert to be true salt and light?

3. Review from our previous lessons (links above) the idea that the Sermon on the Mount is to the New Testament / new covenant what the Ten Commandments were to the Old Testament / old covenant.

Though they are not specifically mentioned in the Ten Commandments (false teachers/prophets are addressed elsewhere in the law), which of the Ten Commandments could be connected to false teachers and false converts?

Despite having dropped the “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” framing of His teaching in chapter 6, how is Jesus still shifting the people’s focus from outward obedience to the letter of the law to zeroing in on the attitude of their hearts and the spirit of the law? How must being a genuinely regenerated Believer and/or being a doctrinally sound teacher be at the heart of our obedience to God’s laws?

4. Think back to Jesus’ emphasis on hypocrisy in 7:1-5, and in the first part of chapter 6 (lesson 9, link above). How is being a false convert or a false teacher the ultimate hypocrisy? How does this demonstrate why hypocrisy is such a big deal to Jesus? Which attributes of God does hypocrisy contrast with?

5. Review 7:1-5, recalling that some people believe this passage to mean no one is to judge anyone, ever. How would you explain 1-5 to someone in light of 15-20, and 15-20 in light of 1-5?

6. Recall that when Scripture was originally written, there were no chapter and verse markings. The whole text was one continuous flow. How does 7:13-14 flow into or introduce 15-23?

7. In 15-20, who or what are represented by the imagery of…

  • sheep
  • wolves
  • fruits
  • grapes
  • thorn bushes
  • figs
  • thistles
  • healthy trees
  • good fruit
  • diseased trees
  • bad fruit
  • fire

Explain the contrast between…

  • sheep and wolves
  • grapes and thorn bushes
  • figs and thistles
  • healthy trees with good fruit and diseased trees with bad fruit

8. Who or what is the fruit of a false teacher’s ministry? (16-20) Many of the Pharisees considered Jesus to be a false prophet. Think about Jesus’ ministry in light of what he is saying in this passage. What has been the fruit of Jesus’ ministry, from the beginning of His earthly ministry until now? What should be the fruit of a doctrinally sound teacher’s ministry?

Notice how Jesus says in 16 and 20 “you will recognize them by their fruits” and how that statement bookends this passage of instruction. Then, as now, teachers use repetition for emphasis- to stress the importance of what are they teaching. Why is it so important to Jesus that we recognize false teachers?

Also notice that he doesn’t say “sometimes you will recognize them,” or “you might be able to recognize them”. He says unequivocally, not once but twice, “you will recognize them”. How is this not only a statement of the clear recognizability of false teachers, but also an implicit command? (i.e. not just “you will be able to recognize them,“ but “you are to proactively look for, mark, and avoid them“.)

9. According to verse 19, what is the eternal destiny of a false teacher who does not repent? What does this tell us about the spiritual condition of unrepentant false teachers – are they saved, or lost?

Many evangelicals are reluctant to say that a false teacher who claims to be a Christian is lost. Explain how 15-20 gives us not only the right, but the responsibility, to treat a false teacher as an unbeliever and why this does not conflict with 7:1-5. Why is it important, for the sake of the false teacher’s own spiritual condition (19, 21-23) to regard him or her as an unbeliever?

10. What is the difference between “saying ‘Lord, Lord‘” and doing God’s will? (21)

How does 21-23 refute the common misconceptions that..

  • if someone says she’s a Christian, and even outwardly acts like a Christian, she is a Christian?
  • being a “good person” will get you to heaven?

What does Jesus call these people at the end of verse 23? Compare the phrase “workers of lawlessness” with the “many mighty works” in verse 22 and the Scriptures linked above (in the first sentence of question 10). Explore the concept of a slave of the devil working for her master, versus a slave of Christ working for her Master.

Reflect on the word “many” in verse 22 along with your previous thoughts about false teachers and false converts. Had you previously thought false teachers and false converts were rare?

What does it mean for Christ to “know” us? (23)


Homework

  • Are you hesitant to think of a false teacher as unsaved when she claims to be a Christian? Do we have to know whether or not a certain teacher is definitely a Christian before we can deal with her biblically (such as warning others against her)? Examine what the Scriptures say in my article Can a False Teacher Be a Christian?
  • A false convert is someone who either a) (rarely) knows she’s not saved but is trying to fool others, or b) (much more commonly) thinks she’s saved, but – you can tell by her “bad fruit” and/or the things she says she believes – isn’t. These people are just as lost as any other lost person. How do you witness to someone who thinks she’s already saved?
    • Be in constant prayer for her.
    • Make sure she has heard a clear presentation of the biblical gospel.
    • Discuss the biblical gospel with her if, and whenever, she’s willing.
    • If she isn’t willing, and she continues to bear bad fruit while claiming to be saved, continue to pray for her, and set a godly example.

Often, doing these things leaves us feeling like we’re not doing enough. We so desperately want that person to be saved that it can be tempting to try to nag or argue her into “making a decision” for Christ. That’s not how evangelism and salvation work. Our job is to pray, present the gospel, and trust God with the results. God’s job is to use that gospel we’ve presented in His timing and for His purposes.

Do you know someone who’s a false convert? Apply the above to that person (especially praying for her) this week.


Suggested Memory Verse

Church, Southern Baptist/SBC

“Wayback Wednesday” ~ It’s Time for a Reformation in the SBC – 3 Issues We Need to Set Right

I had to do a little flip-flopping of the blog schedule this week. Today is “Throwback Thursday”. Tomorrow will be the next lesson in our Sermon on the Mount Bible study.


Originally published May 25, 2018

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

…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.

1.
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.

Basic Training: The Bible Is Our Authority

Basic Training: The Bible Is Sufficient

2.
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.

A Naked Emperor in the Southern Baptist Convention

10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists

The Peterson Predicament and LifeWay’s Peculiar Policies

3.
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
³This verbiage has been removed from the FAQ section of the SBC website. The current wording of this information can be found here in Article III.

Guest Posts

Guest Post: The Importance of Knowing the Rules

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in my “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail, and let’s chat about it.

The Importance of Knowing the Rules
by Robin Self

Most people who read my blogs probably know me best as being “the preacher’s wife”. But what they may not know is that for a lot of years I was another kind of wife.

I was an official’s wife.

Not “official” as in an important “government official” who rides in limousines and has “people”. But the kind who spends hundreds of hours a year in a minivan, eating gas station food, traveling to various sports complexes and gymnasiums, for very little money, in order to be yelled and cursed at by outraged fans.

Yes, for over 2 decades, my husband Jeff was a high school and college basketball official and umpire. I don’t have many photos to share from back in those days, since that was an era when you actually had to have film in a camera. But I have a few digital ones from his last seasons of umpiring, after his knees no longer allowed him to run on the hardwood for 3 hours a night. (Did I mention I LOVE a man in uniform??)

I gleaned a LOT throughout those memorable years. I can say without boasting, that I probably knew the rules better than anyone in the stands, and probably most coaches. It was I who would drill Jeff for hours so that he could pass the yearly 100 question official’s exams. I knew the intricacies of basketball. I understood that the INTENT of the rule was what mattered when making a call. Looking back, I can see that those years as the official’s wife taught me a few things that are relatable now to my life as the preacher’s wife.

Knowing the Rules Helps You Make the Correct Call


I see this all too often today in Christianity. People within the church will be confused about something that is said or taught because they don’t know “the rules”. Similar to how a basketball rules manual is the final authority in a basketball game, the Scriptures are our “rule book”. They are the ultimate and final authority over everything in our lives.

I can’t tell you how many times my husband had to bring out the rule book to show an irate coach where he was misunderstanding a call that was made. He could turn right to the page where that particular rule applied. How? Because he KNEW the book by heart.

As Christians, we must be able to do the same with Scripture. We need to know the Scriptures so well that when we hear teaching that is in error we recognize it, or so that when someone is wrongly arguing a biblical point, we can show them, in love, where they are misunderstanding or misusing it. When someone invariably tells us “not to judge” sinful behavior, we need to know the INTENT of the Scripture so that a solitary phrase being quoted out of context can’t be used against us.

Are we studying the Scriptures so diligently that they are imprinted on our hearts? Just reading the Bible every so often and knowing a few verses isn’t enough. We must study it in context, so we have the actual truth and INTENT in our hearts. Not just a bunch of verses we can pull out at random so we can argue our narrative.

One example that comes to mind is when those in the social justice movement use Revelation 7:9 to tell churches that their congregations need to be more ethnically diverse, because that’s what heaven is going to look like. This is a clear manipulation of the text used to try to convince believers that their churches are guilty of racism if multiple skin tones aren’t represented. And sadly, masses of people in the church are falling for this nonsense hook, line, and sinker!

We MUST be able to recognize a lie like this when it is presented to us. Deception has a way of coming across as convincing to those who haven’t put in the time to recognize it. But anyone who consistently studies and puts the truth of the Word in their heart won’t fall for this mumbo jumbo. Knowing the rules is imperative!

Knowing the Rules Helps You Be Objective


I can’t count the times I would be sitting in the stands watching Jeff referee a game, blissfully anonymous to those around me, listening to fans yell about a “bad call” that had been absolutely correctly made. It always amused me that two teams’ fans would see the same incident two completely different ways. One side would see an offensive charge, while the other side would see a defensive foul. They couldn’t both be right. But the reason the same situation was seen two different ways was because neither side was seeing what happened objectively.

If there is anything I remember distinctly when attending those many ball games, it’s that, because I knew the rules, I could see clearly if Jeff had made a call correctly, or if he had blown it. (Of course that was an extremely rare occurrence!) I could be objective about what happened on the court because I had no skin in the game. The outcome didn’t matter to me. My judgement wasn’t clouded because of my bias.

In the same way, we can’t allow our biases to cloud our judgment when we need to be corrected, or when our favorite Bible teacher is being pointed out as teaching error. As difficult as it may be for us, we should welcome loving biblical correction when we are acting or believing wrongly. Our end goal should be to walk in truth. If we are doing things right, we are in a continual learning process throughout our Christian lives. We will never know it all, and when we come to the knowledge that something we’ve always believed isn’t correct, we should be willing to give up that belief or tradition in favor of what is biblically sound. Sometimes it isn’t easy to say, “I was wrong”. But it’s necessary for growth.

We also can’t be so enamored with our favorite Bible teachers or conference speakers that we are unwilling to listen to any criticism of them. I used to be the biggest Beth Moore fan ever. At one time I wouldn’t listen to any criticism of her because I didn’t WANT to hear it. At that time my love for Beth was more important to me than hearing the truth.

But then I began to look at the issue OBJECTIVELY. I decided to, with an open mind, research and study the information that was out there and let the chips fall where they may. If the things that were being said were true I didn’t want to keep foolishly defending her. I am thankful that God opened my eyes to be able to see the gross error of what she was teaching. He allowed me to see how my bias had overshadowed the truth. I also discovered how important it is to make sure I know what the Bible actually says rather than just trusting what I believe to a “Bible teacher” who has a convincing way with words.

As a preacher’s wife, I even do this when my husband is preaching. If I have a question about something he says, I go search it out myself and we will talk about it. While I believe he is faithful to the text, it doesn’t mean that he can’t get something wrong. What’s wonderful is, he WANTS me point it out if I have questions. He has also been able to clarify things for me that I had wrong. Once pride is out of the way, and we become objective learners, we will want the truth no matter what.

When we have the “skin in the game” of loving and supporting certain Bible teachers, especially publicly, we can be blinded to what may be right in front of us: the fact that they may be teaching falsely. It can become more important to us to preserve the idol we’ve created than to care about the truth. But when we are willing to be objective and are passionate about our “rule book” we can’t help but want others to be just as passionate. And knowing our Maker’s book can affect someone’s eternal outcome of either accepting a false gospel or believing the only true saving gospel of Christ. And that’s a game outcome we care about!


Robin is an SBC pastor’s wife who enjoys doing ministry life alongside her husband Jeff. They have served in churches from urban Long Island, New York, to the woods of Southeast Georgia. They are now back home in their native Oklahoma where they have been for the past 13 years. They are new empty-nesters, with 3 grown children, Jordan, Jarrett, and Jonah. Follow Robin’s blog, A Worthy Walk, and connect with her on Twitter.