Mailbag, Southern Baptist/SBC

The Mailbag: How could anyone stay in the SBC now?

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. Angry/accusatory comments will not be published.

“How could any doctrinally sound Christian possibly stay in the Southern Baptist Convention after all of this?”

“I’ve been watching what’s going on in the SBC. I know all SBC churches are autonomous, but, after what I’ve seen, I’m now suspicious of the doctrine of any church that decides to stay in the SBC. As a doctrinally sound Christian, I’ll never set foot in another SBC church.”

“If you don’t like what’s going on in the SBC, why don’t you just leave? If you stay in, you have no right to complain!”

This is just a representative sampling of the scores of comments and questions I’ve received and seen over the past couple of months regarding Christians remaining in Southern Baptist churches, and Southern Baptist churches remaining in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Here’s a blow by blow (see “Additional Resources” section) of the specifics of the 2022 annual meeting of the SBC which took place last month in Anaheim. After reading about it, maybe you’ll be scratching your head and asking some of these same questions.

I’m kinda scratching my own head about how to answer, because, to be perfectly transparent, I have some of these same questions.

I’ve been Southern Baptist since the day I was born. It’s not like I just jumped on this turnip truck last week. I’ve been watching the downward spiral of the SBC for years, and it’s only picking up speed.

I’m neither a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I can tell you this (maybe from years of experience studying the culture of false teachers, false doctrine, and apostate churches) – without God directly intervening in a miraculous way, the SBC is not coming back from this. We are not going to turn anything around at next year’s Convention in New Orleans. The biblical side of the aisle will continue to lose and the unbiblical side of the aisle will continue to win. The worldly powers that be in the SBC are going to keep pursuing this course of downgrade until it hits rock bottom. I see unconditional acceptance of female “pastors” happening in the next 5-8 years. Acceptance of homosexuality will be next.

The SBC is *not* coming back from this. We are not going to turn anything around at next year’s Convention in New Orleans.

I hope I’m wrong. No one will rejoice more loudly than I if I’m wrong. But I don’t think it’s going to shake out that way.

So, if it were as easy as pushing a button or snapping my fingers, I, as an individual, would have been out of the SBC about 5+ years ago.

But it’s not that simple, so maybe I’d better explain.

The first thing that’s imperative to understanding why your doctrinally sound friend might be staying in the SBC is our doctrine of the autonomy of the local church. The SBC isn’t technically a denomination, like Presbyterians or Lutherans. We do not have a hierarchy that rules over every church or organization under its purview. The SBC is a voluntary cooperative of individual, autonomous churches.

When we first got started back in 1845, the main idea was for all these little tiny, far flung rural churches to band together to pool their resources to send out and support missionaries, because they couldn’t afford to do so individually. And that’s still one of our main purposes today. But we didn’t set up a governing hierarchy. Each church governed itself as it saw fit according to Scripture and congregational conscience. The leadership structure we now have in place is basically for the purpose of administrating the business (properties, entities, money, etc.) of the Convention as directed by the churches. We are a “bottom up,” not “top down,” organization. The president of the SBC isn’t the “Baptist Pope”. The Executive Committee isn’t an ecclesiastical court. The annual meeting isn’t some sort of SBC legislature handing down edicts that every Southern Baptist church and individual is required to obey. In theory, every SBC church could disagree with and operate in opposition to virtually everyone and everything at the national, state, and local level of the SBC, and still be a member in good standing of all three. Local churches govern themselves.

Next, you need to understand that most Southern Baptists aren’t Southern Baptists because they woke up one morning, did a comparative analysis of the doctrines of all denominations, liked SBC doctrine the best, and, thus, went in search of an SBC church to join. Usually, it’s a) someone was born and raised Southern Baptist and she agrees with SBC doctrine and theology, so she hasn’t been compelled to (or can’t) find a better denomination and leave the SBC, or, b) someone who, for whatever reason, is looking for a new church, and the most doctrinally sound church she can find in her area is a Southern Baptist church (which is not uncommon). For many of us, it’s a combination of both.

In other words, Southern Baptist individuals aren’t Southern Baptist because they set out to join a denomination. They’re Southern Baptist because they joined a local church. And because that local church is a member of the SBC, that individual is now Southern Baptist, too, whether she wants to be or not.

So when you ask a Southern Baptist individual, “If you don’t like the SBC, why don’t you just leave it?” it’s not like asking her to cancel her Netflix subscription and opt for Hulu instead. You’re not asking her to write a letter of resignation to some impersonal national organization and stop paying her membership dues. You’re asking her to leave her local church. A church which may have been her spiritual family for decades. A church which might be perfectly doctrinally sound. In her area, it might be the most doctrinally sound church available, and you’re asking her to leave it to go to a less doctrinally sound church, just to cut ties with the SBC.

When you ask a Southern Baptist individual, “If you don’t like the SBC, why don’t you just leave it?” it’s not like asking her to cancel her Netflix subscription and opt for Hulu instead. You’re asking her to leave her *local church*.

So, considering all the Southern Baptists I know and have heard from, and taking all of the above into account, there are three main categories of people who are still in the SBC that I’d like to take a moment to address, and anywhere from three to a scrillion different ways they could biblically deal with being Southern Baptist while seeing all of these godless things taking place on the national SBC stage:

  • You’re a doctrinally sound, discerning Christian in a local SBC church whose pastor and leadership agree with the unbiblical goings on at the national level. You need to get out of that church, probably immediately, and find a doctrinally sound local church to join. You should strongly and prayerfully consider finding a non-SBC, and honestly, probably a non-denominational (because most of the problems in the SBC are happening in all the other denominations, too, or soon will) or independent church. However, if the best church you can find in your area is an SBC church that’s fighting against the sin and evil at the national level, don’t hesitate to join it and join them in the fight.
  • You’re a doctrinally sound, discerning Christian in a doctrinally sound local SBC church whose pastor and leadership are fighting against the unbiblical goings on at the national level. If your position is, “I want our church to leave the SBC immediately,” and your pastor’s / elders’ position is, “We’ve prayed about it and searched the Scriptures about it, and for X, Y, and Z biblical reason, we believe God would have us stay in one more year and fight,” and that’s basically the only disagreement you have with them, that’s not a reason to leave a good, solid church. Submit to your pastors’ leadership, trust them, support them, trust God, hang in there, be patient, and be sanctified by this as you watch and pray.
  • You’re a pastor of a doctrinally sound local SBC church and you’re positionally against and/or actively fighting against the unbiblical goings on at the national (and probably state and local, too) level. How long do you stay in and keep fighting? Obviously, it’s not my place to tell you what to do, but, from the perspective of a church member who’s been carefully keeping apprised of the SBC situation for a lot of years, could I just throw out a few questions you may want to consider between you and the Lord as you pray through the monumental decision of whether to lead your congregation to get out now or to stay in and fight for a while?

    –Have you carefully examined your reasons and motivations for wanting to stay in and fight? Are those reasons and motivations drawn from Scripture? Pragmatism? The flesh? Have you considered these Scriptures with regard to leaving?

    –What is your exit strategy? Will you stay in until you see how next year’s Convention goes? Until the SBC approves of women pastors? Homosexuality? Biblically, do you not have a responsibility as a shepherd and a Christian to draw a “this far and no farther” line in the sand? Where is that line?

    –How much time, energy, and money have you and your church already expended on what will almost certainly be a losing fight? Is it good stewardship of your resources to continue to put them toward this fight? Could they be better spent in another way to get more Kingdom “bang for your buck”?

    –I’ve heard some pastors say, “I want to stay in because of our missionaries.”. The sinful ideologies poisoning the SBC have not and will not leave the IMB untouched (and we know NAMB already requires its church planters to preach a false gospel). If it’s not happening already, your missions money may soon be funding the spread of false doctrine. Can you have that on your conscience? If you’re certain the SBC missionaries your church currently directly supports are doctrinally sound, have you looked into how you could support them from outside the SBC? Can you trust God to provide for them if you’re biblically compelled to lead your church to leave the SBC? What about supporting non-SBC, doctrinally sound missions agencies like TMAI and HeartCry?

    –Carefully consider the second bolded quote at the beginning of this article. Is it possible your church’s good reputation is being tarnished by remaining in the SBC? “The world is watching!” we’ve been hearing for a couple of years now. Maybe it was said with the wrong motives, but it’s true. And the rest of Christendom has been watching too. Will staying in the SBC lead doctrinally sound Christians looking for a good solid church to pass yours over because they think you agree with the SBC’s sinful shenanigans since you haven’t left yet?

    –If you’re going to stay in and fight, may I encourage you to start now? Right now. Today. I love all my brothers and sisters in the “stay in and fight” camp, but the past few years I’ve been extremely frustrated at the general way everything seems to be thrown together in a last minute scramble to rally the troops in the last few months, weeks, and days before the Convention.

    Make plans to attend the New Orleans meeting now, raise funds to send messengers now, nominate godly candidates for SBC offices now, and tour them around to local churches all year long to build momentum. And most importantly, educate your church and your local association’s churches on the issues and the biblical response to those issues, now. Don’t wait until April, May, and June of next year, start now.

    –Watch and listen to this SBC pastor talk about the issues in the SBC that led to his decision to lead his church out of the SBC. A must watch for every pastor and congregation that’s still in the Southern Baptist Convention:

Last year, I wrote When is it time to leave the SBC?. I can’t decide that for your church or mine. I just want to know, what’s one good, compelling, biblical reason to stay? Because I can think of lots of good, compelling, biblical reasons to leave.

I just want to know, what’s one good, compelling, biblical reason to stay in the SBC? Because I can think of lots of good, compelling, biblical reasons to leave.

Additional Resources

Watch the entirety of SBC22 on Baptist Press’ YouTube channel

Thinking Out Loud at A Word Fitly Spoken

Californication: Anaheim, the SBC, and Spiritual Adultery by Allen Nelson

The Liberal Drift of the Southern Baptist Convention (Part 1) (Part 2) by Gabriel Hughes

SBC22 Recap – Encouragements and Disappointments with Tom Ascol and Graham Gunden

Is it time to leave the Southern Baptist Convention? And, what’s a secondary issue? by Elizabeth Prata

Will Egalitarianism Rule the SBC? by Josh Buice

Will Feminists Win the Pulpit? by Virgil Walker


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.