Mailbag, Southern Baptist/SBC

The Mailbag: When is it time to leave the SBC?

In the past, I’ve received some responses/comments on this issue from Christians who seem very angry that anybody is still in the SBC. While I share your righteous anger at the sin being committed in the SBC (and at those committing it), please don’t let your anger spill over onto your brothers and sisters who are still attempting to navigate this situation in a godly way in the context of their own families and local churches. Extend grace and patience and trust God to work in their hearts His way and in His timing.

At what point does one leave the SBC? I know there are other doctrinally sound churches where one could worship. When would “guilt by association” turn into a stumbling block for others?

How will you be handling the possible debacle with the SBC? We are so torn about this situation. Any advice or words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

These are just a couple of the “Should I stay or should I go?” questions and comments I’ve received about the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention.

There’s no denying there are, and have been for decades, serious problems in the SBC, mainly at the national leadership level. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, over the past several weeks, you’ve been reading about those problems, both old and new.

How do you know when it’s time to stand and fight to correct the problems, and when it’s time to declare it a total loss and walk away? How long until staying in the trenches, pleading with the SBC to repent becomes, functionally, being unequally yoked with unbelievers, when it becomes apparent they have no intention of repenting and we refuse to break fellowship with them? Indeed, how can we know when or whether it’s time to leave any church or denomination with such seemingly insurmountable biblical problems?

I don’t know.

But I can tell you there’s Biblical support for both staying (for now) and leaving. As Ecclesiastes might say, “A time to contend for the faith, and a time to shake the dust off your feet and leave.”

In the Old Testament, we see God bearing with Pharaoh’s stiff-necked rebellion through ten plagues. We see Him patiently calling Israel out of idolatry for hundreds of years.

But He did destroy Pharaoh and his army at the end of those ten plagues. And He did eventually send Israel into exile when the time for His forbearance came to an end.

But we also see Jesus leaving the ninety-nine and pursuing the one sheep that went astray. We see the father of the prodigal watching and waiting for his son’s return.

Jesus brought that sheep back. And the prodigal did return in repentance.

God knew whether and when they would all come back, and how long to persist with each. How can we?

The only way to know is to ask Him. This is something every individual Southern Baptist, every Southern Baptist family, and every Southern Baptist church needs to be praying about, asking God for wisdom to know what to do and when the time is right.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

James 1:5

And the answer is probably going to look different between different churches, different members of the same church, even different members of the same family.

And that’s OK. Already, some godly churches, families, and individuals have cut ties with the SBC. And that doesn’t mean they didn’t have enough faith or enough patience. Some godly churches, families, and individuals have determined to stick it out until things turn around or until the bitter end, whatever form that may take. And that doesn’t mean they’re compromising or naive.

God works in different ways in different hearts and circumstances because He created us as unique people and placed us in varying situations. He does that for His glory and our good. It’s a testament to how big and capable He is and His special care for each of us as His “one of a kind” child.

But, in addition to the privilege of prayer and God’s promise of wisdom, there’s another blessing God has given us in this situation – the blessing of authority and structure.

God has given us a hierarchy of authority in the church and the home that, when followed, pools the wisdom He has imparted to individuals and prevents any one person from bearing the responsibility for making this decision alone.

As an individual, you pray and search the Scriptures earnestly about this issue. If you’re married and your husband is a Believer, the two of you bring your individual convictions to the table, and pray and study on it, and, hopefully, come to a consensus on it (and, if not, you’ll need to submit to your husband’s position), together.

Next, married or not, you, or you and your family will need to find out where your church leadership is on all of this, if you don’t already know. If your pastor and elders haven’t already come together and talked to the church body about staying in or getting out, and why, you’ll need to set up an appointment with whichever one of them is appropriate and ask about their thoughts and position. If the issue of leaving or staying isn’t even on their radar yet, it would be an appropriate time for you and your husband to share your concerns and ask when they might address this issue.

My encouragement to you would be that if you are in a doctrinally sound Southern Baptist church, with trustworthy pastors and elders who are trying to do the right thing, biblically, give strong, prayerful consideration to following their leadership on this issue, even if you don’t see exactly eye to eye with their position.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Hebrews 13:17

Pray fervently for your pastor and elders about this. Pray for your husband as he seeks to lead your family in a godly direction. If you’re married, submit to your husband’s decision about whether and when to leave. If you’re single, if at all possible, submit to your pastor’s and elders’ decisions about staying or leaving.

There’s not a “one size fits all” solution to this issue. You, as an individual have to seek the Lord and obey Him in your unique situation.

May our gracious Lord give all of us wisdom and humility, and carry us through this difficult time.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

3 thoughts on “The Mailbag: When is it time to leave the SBC?”

  1. Pharoah is not a valid argument for staying. Israel was in slavery, bondage, forced to stay in Egypt, and could not freely leave. The Egyptians weren’t saying they were worshipers of Yahweh either. Not remotely comparable. As Machen said, when Granny is sick you stay by her side, but when Granny has died, you leave. The SBC was invaded by liberals years ago and has only grown worse. Most of these churches have never practiced church discipline themselves let alone discipline pastors out of pulpits and presidents out of seminaries and colleges. There are no grounds for staying in a voluntary fellowship of people, giving money to those people, who consistently show themselves as a whole to be undermining the word of God and teaching their congregations to do likewise.

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    1. Hi Susan- I think you might be misunderstanding something. My point in mentioning Pharaoh and the plagues has nothing to do with Israel. The point is that God didn’t annihilate Pharaoh immediately, as he so richly deserved, or even after one or two plagues, but forbore with Pharaoh through the time it took to visit all ten plagues upon him. My point is that there are godly people still in the SBC who are willing to stay in there and fight the good fight through “all ten plagues,” whereas others, like you and I, would “annihilate the SBC immediately” or only stick with the SBC for “one or two plagues”.

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  2. I’m saddened by what’s happened at the SBC. It seems two acceptable candidates have split the vote, allowing the progressives to take over. Perhaps we need to reevaluate the strategy that led up to this. It is not unlike the GOP primaries in 2016, when an excess of acceptable candidates split the vote and allowed another poor outcome to take place.

    I think the conservative wing of the SBC, of which I am a part, needs to examine whether it isn’t better to unite behind those we agree with on major points and debate the rest internally, rather than dividing our votes and paving the way for the worst outcomes possible.

    I only hope there is a “next time” and that we aren’t already going over the falls.

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