Thursday, June 14, 2007

SBC-SA Wrap up: the good, the bad, and the confusing

The Southern Baptist Convention has much within it to commend, much to lament and somethings that are just plain confusing. The recent meeting in San Antonio confirmed this assessment in various ways.

The Good
The spirit at the convention was less rancorous than some expected and was helpfully free from much of the bravado that has marked recent years. This is due, in large part, to the spirit exhibited by the President. I was very grateful for that.

Who cannot rejoice at the work of faithful gospel laborers around the world? Those who spoke from the platform as well as those with whom I spoke privately left me very encouraged that many within the family of Southern Baptists are vitally concerned about getting the Gospel to every people group in the world. The International Mission Board has its problems--many of which have been aired openly over the last 18 months--but it is still a tremendously useful agent in helping local churches send missionaries around the world.

Southern Baptists have some of the greatest seminaries in the world within our ranks. When I compare what and how and by whom today's students are being taught in seminaries like Southern and Southeastern I am filled with thanksgiving for the upgrade in theological education that we have witnessed since I attended seminary. Some of the books that I had to read on my own time and to the chagrin of some of my professors are required reading for modern students. In addition, the cost of seminary training in our SBC institutions is amazingly low when compared to other schools. We should rejoice over that.

The Bad
Bureaucracy still rules the day too often and in too many places in SBC life. Timothy George's prophetic warning more than 2 decades ago is being proven before our eyes: "The exchange of one set of bureaucrats for another does not a reformation make." The mentality that we should all just go along in order to get along will not pass muster any longer. Nor will current leaders be effective simply by saying to Southern Baptists, "Trust us. Just trust us." Those interested enough in the SBC to attend the annual meetings do trust the leadership, but they also expect accountability and humility from our leaders. Defensiveness, intimidation, demagoguery, paternalism and condescending attitudes do not play as well today as they did a generation ago (and they didn't play all that well even then).

It is evident both by the schedule and by some of those who spoke from the platform that there really is not a genuine desire for substantive debate and dialogue even on important issues that come before the convention. President Frank Page did a great job moderating the meeting. His spirit was contagiously sweet and more than once he went the extra mile to assure that messengers were treated with respect. But there simply is not enough time allocated for messengers to debate the issues that are brought before the convention. More than once the committee on the order of business recommended that we move the schedule forward because we did not need the full time that had been allotted for certain reports. However, debate was also cut short on more than one occasion when the issues before us warranted more time.

Southern Baptists need the kind of leadership that will take a hard look at what we are doing and how we are doing it, and be willing to make some radical proposals to counteract the bureaucratic mindset that too often sets in when organizations grow large. I know that we experienced some reorganization in 1995 but we are past due for fresh look at our denominational structure, agencies and institutions.

The Confusing
I don't know how to answer those who ask me why the convention passed a resolution on global warming while refusing to consider on on integrity in church membership. Some of the suggestions offered by readers of this blog in a previous post have real merit. But, I do not have a definitive answer. (Tony Kummer has extracted the video recording of the effort to get my resolution to the floor of the convention.)

Here is the way that I see it and how I have tried to explain my perspective on this matter to several people and in a variety of forums. If it is accurate to say that the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists give little or no indication of ever having been born of God's Spirit then we are in real trouble. Serious trouble. Life-threatening trouble. If well over half of those we welcome into our churches through evangelism and other means are unconverted then we are obviously not doing church in accordance with the New Testament. If the majority of our members are unconverted, then there is no other problem that we face that is more important than addressing this situation. There is no other item on our agenda that deserves more attention and concern than this. If we fail to address this, it does not matter what else we may attempt, we are allowing a cancer to grow that will destroy local churches. In fact, it has already done so, and is continuing its deadly rampage as you read this. I regularly talk to pastors and members who bear the brunt of such spiritual devastation. They have watched their churches repeatedly deny Christ in attitude and action all-the-while being regarded as good churches by SBC standards.

I have spoken with more than a few SBC leaders and pastors who have admitted to me privately that my assessment of this situation is accurate. They have agreed that we have no issue larger than this confronting us at this time. Some disagree with my approach to addressing the problem straight on and calling attention to it as I have tried to do by way of introducting a resolution to the convention. I have no problem with that kind of thinking. What does bewilder me, however, is how someone can agree with that assessment and be willing to do nothing or to promote other agendas in ways that suggest that those items are of extreme--even grave--importance.

I fear that if we do not win the battle for our churches becoming healthy then every gain we experienced in the battle for the Bible will be lost in a generation. What kind of churches spawned and allowed liberalism to take root in our agencies and institutions? Poorly ordered ones whose memberships were largely (by all indications) unconverted. What kind of churches predominate the landscape of the SBC today? Poorly ordered ones whose memberships remain largely unconverted.

The great 19th century Southern Baptist Theologian, John Dagg, made this observation in his Manual of Church Order: when disciplines leaves a church, Christ goes with it. If that is true, what does it say about the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptist Churches? Even many so-called "flagship churches?"

While we have much for which to be thankful in the corner of Zion known as the SBC, we have much to lament and fear. And we have many reasons to feel desperate--desperate for reformation and revival. May our Lord be pleased to grant it to us.

32 comments:

David B. Hewitt said...

Dr. Tom:
Recently I have been given some insight into this matter to some extent I think. Part of the reason for people not wanting to enact the discipline needed in our churches by holding so-called members accountable is largely political. I know you knew that already (and I suspected it as well) but what I *didn't* know is other ramifications of such a thing.
For example, not only does the number of member a church has affect how many messengers go to the SBC annual meeting, it affects the number of members to the state meetings as well. This is no surprise, and those two things alone (giving a church a larger voice) are a deterrent for some not to trim back their rolls.
However, there is a deeper matter that is related to what I have just mentioned. In order for a state to have a say in the population of a governing board for an SBC institution (such as say, Southern Seminary with regard to Indiana Baptists) then that state needs to have a certain number of messengers at its state convention.
When THAT is taken into account, the problem becomes more insidious. Right now, Indiana for example again, does not have any representation on the board of Southern even though we are so close to it -- a large reason being because our numbers are too small. I'm fairly confident that this is also not a problem limited to Indiana.
So, it is much more than just a problem of sin and negligence relating to this local church or that. It is a problem of people, churches, even state conventions wanting more political clout in order to achieve a say in what many see as the larger SBC scene.
I'm not sure how much of this, if any of it, is planned out to be the case. That is, I suspect that most of what I've said has happened without planning -- we are where we are because we ended up there. However, that doesn't excuse us from thinking through these issues and repenting of the sin that has (un)intentionally come along with it.

SDG,
dbh

irreverend fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
justin said...

Does anyone know why the video from Tuesday evening is not archived but all the others sessions are?
I'll check back here, but please e-mail me if you know how to watch the Tuesday evening program.

irreverend fox said...

Brother Tom...

When was the last time the sbc passed a resolution addressing and rebuking a current, pervasive, convention wide, sin?

We are great at condemning alcohol use, homosexuality and abortion…sins that we are not struggling with…when we do that it makes us feel very righteous and very good about ourselves.

joethorn.net said...

Tom, I was optimistic about your resolution being passed this year. I guess I am a fool. Your attitude and perspective on the whole thing is encouraging though.

Oh, did irreverend fox just say, "alcohol use, homosexuality and abortion... sins..." Alcohol use = sin? But yeah, our convention needs a time of deep, corporate confession and repentance, ala the Scottish Presbyterian pastors in the 19th century (read in Words to Winners of Souls). I include myself in this group who need to come together to repent. If it comes, it will only happen by God's sovereign grace.

Tom said...

David:

Interesting information about the state coventions. Local churches would not be as affected, I think, due to allowable messengers also being tied to amount of money given as well as total membership. But I can see why state convention leadership would not be excited about getting honest with our numbers, if their influence in the SBC would be diminished.

Irreverend fox:

Good points, though I take Joe's exception to heart. :-)

Joe:

It would be incredibly instructional to compare the Scottish Presbyterians' humble, specific statement of confession and repentance to the vague, generic, meaningless resolution on corporate repentance the SBC just passed.

The Lord is still sovereign, good and wise. Therefore, we still have reason to be encouraged.

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

The PCA this week decided to call the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision, for all intents and purposes, heresy (it isn't the finding but the process and demeanor that is troubling). The SBC decided, essentially, to do nothing at all. I'm not sure which is worse.

One thing seems clear: both denominations, which are equipped for and capable of doing great things, are in deep kimchee.

I am extremely optimistic about God's purposes in the world. I am deeply pessimistic about the SBC and the PCA figuring prominantly in said purposes.

I'm still Southern Baptist, but increasingly I'm wondering why.

David B. Hewitt said...

Rob:
I suspect you're not the only one wondering why. For me, thanks to ministries like the Founders, I have been able to discover our theological roots, and am hopeful that we can largely return to them.

That being said, I am not sure where I'll be should it turn out in all-out rebellion against such theological roots. My plan at the moment is to be Southern Baptist as long as Founders is. Should they ever throw in the towel, I'll fall in with them.

SDG,
dbh

Sojourner said...

Brother Tom,

It was great meeting with you this week, and the Founder's Breakfast was a great encouragement. Thanks for getting that together for us.

I want to say that the SBC is upside down. The SBC as a whole was meant to expand and help the ministry of the local church. Now, it is the "convention" we take so pride in and the value of the local church is neglected. It should be obvious that the covention is the servant and the local church the master, but this is simply not the case.

This is evident in our idea of how to plant churches and what to do with our existing ones, and most glaringly, in our inability to discipline ourselves for the sake of convention numbers.

It is my prayer that God restore to our convention a love and affection for the Bride of Christ, the local church. If that truly happens, I believe that we will see progress in mission and in cooperation.

J.D. Rector said...

Tom: I did not get to make the convention this year because of health concerns. I was hoping to attend to vote on your resolution. I am deeply sorry that the Resolutions Committee chose to deny, although I am grateful they allowed you to present it from the floor. However, I am not surprised. The bottom line in my assessment is pride. We are a very prideful denomination. The reason we are a prideful denomination is because we are made up of prideful churches, led by prideful pastors who lead a congregation of prideful sinners.

God's Word is very specific about pride. Therefore, I tremble at the thought of what is going to happen to us.

Pride keeps us from admitting that we indeed have a problem within our denomination... unregenerate church memberships.

Press on brother! You and your congregation is an encouraging, humble, example for all of us within the SBC.

Sincerely,
J.D. Rector

Bill Formella said...

It's interesting that the issue of whether or not to stay in the SBC is coming up so often. Personally, I would prefer to see reformed churches stay within the SBC as I believe we are having an impact. However, the issue of actually funding all SBC missionaries is an entirely different matter. Our corporate church stomach would turn if we were actually supplying funds to missionaries who are using the Koran (The Camel) to introduce Muslims to Christ. But this will then limit our ability to bring messengers to the convention, so what do you do?

It's also interesting that the same Gerald Harris who announced that Tom's resolution had been rejected, also wrote an article in the June 7th issue of the Christian Index that was very favorable of using the Camel method (I've grown to hate the very word method). Read it here:
http://www.christianindex.org/3313.article.

I was totally unconvinced.

Someone suggested in another post that maybe it's time for reformed SBC churches to form an association for cooperation in missionary endeavors. I think this would be a wonderful thing and also an opportunity to show others that our churches are very mission minded, we just don't use circuses, rock concerts and pop idol speakers as a substitution for true outreach.

irreverend fox said...

Tom...lol...I do as well...next time I'm in Cape Coral I'll take you out for a beer...

fowlerm said...

Tom,
I want to thank you for your humble attitude regarding the SBC convention and your leadership with regards to pointing out the good, when it would be so easy to rail against the bad and the ugly.
It breaks my heart as a student preparing for ministry that so many ride the horse of church autonomy and fall off the horse of what is good, noble, and trustworthy. It is my prayer that as we continue to ponder the thought of how to regain a holistic approach within ministry, in all areas of personal life, church life and convention life, to give the glory, honor, and praise to whom it is due, Jesus. Let us work within the convention that God has placed us in, until He calls us out of it. Working as servants of the Gospel, teaching others what it truly means to immitate Christ, in a time and place where culture demands that we pick out the good "spiritualistic experiences" and leave the bad soul sanctifying,discipline of being a follower of Christ.
Micah

Tom said...

irreverend fox:

Make mine a diet Dr. Pepper and you're on!

irreverend fox said...

lol...oh yeah...I recieve NAMB funding so I can't either...I forgot!

Jared Moore said...

Tom,
If it's a good o' boy mentality... how do we get into these positions to where we can change the mentality? How do we get into these leadership positions and instead of saying, "Trust us"; we say, "Hold us accountable"?

I believe in the local church and most of all, in the Sovereignty of our Lord; however, what is our responsibility conerning the integrity of the SBC; and how do we change it to glorify God?

How do we get the word out? I realize these things are being taught in the seminaries; however, our convention still echoes "If it's getting people in the doors, then do it".

How do we change the convention?

I'm a young man... 26... and am currently pastoring Union Fork Baptist Church in Soddy Daisy, TN. I've been serving here for 7 months now, and I realize it's going to take time to see change take place.

I'm in the S.B.C. for the long haul; however, I want to see the wheels of change turning.

In My generation, will we see the Southern Baptist Convention truly trust in the sufficiency of God's Word?

The wheels of change:
1. The seminaries teaching the sufficiency of God's Word.

2. The TBC - at our last meeting we finally voted to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000; before, we had just voted to "acknowledge" the B & F 2000. We were surprised at the overall approval of the messengers. (Though this isn't a statement concerning the entire SBC; it is very encouraging for Tennessee Baptists)

3. The election of Thom Rainer as Lifeway president. I believe this will gradually prove to be a clear step in the right direction.

Tom,
I'm curious as to where you draw the line. At what point will you leave the S.B.C.?

Pastor Bob Farmer said...

Dear Tom,

I have to confess I was so depressed that you motion failed I could hardly sit through Bush's comments. However, when Rob Zinn spoke my spirits were lifted. I wish his message was heard before the vote. This was my first Southern Baptist Convention, and the Founder's breakfast was one of the highlights. Thank you for your ministry and keep up the good work. I have committed to clean up my church's reporting with or without the SBC's blessing and I challenge others to do the same.

Bob

G. Alford said...

Tom,

Is the Convention System Outdated?

Grace to all,

Bret Capranica said...

Tom, I thank God for you and the resolution you brought. I had with me two men from our church attending their first SBC. The defeat of this resolution and the passing of some others was quite discouraging. Thank you for bringing it up each year. You've given me a good reason to come each year.

Tom, in your post you said,"It is evident both by the schedule and by some of those who spoke from the platform that there really is not a genuine desire for substantive debate and dialogue even on important issues that come before the convention."

I see how the schedule was problematic and was a frustration to me also. What do you mean, specifically, about "some of those who spoke from the platform." Just curious.

Tom Bryant said...

Tom,
Like others have said, I was optimistic that at least the resolution would have a fair hearing rather than trying to get 2/3 of the messengers.

I know we have spoken about the state convention, but I was wondering if this has been passed at associational level and working from the grass roots up?

David Wilson said...

It's hard for me to see the good that happened in SA this year. My fear is that we are in for one rough ride in the next year as the texas contingent and in-laws work on even more control of trustee boards.

The writer who said the convention model has been turned upside down is on track IMO.

Russ Reaves said...

Tom,

I spoke to you briefly when we were trying to bring the resolution to the floor to tell you that I was in line to speak in favor before the time expired.

I was going to raise the same point you did in this post -- Why is it that year after year, we are willing to adopt resolutions which "urge action to be taken by our churches" dealing with unbiblical and nontheological matters, while avoiding this matter which is both biblical and theological.

Your resolution does not violate local church autonomy any more than the Dredd Scott resolution does, for it calls on churches to emulate the efforts of churches reaching out to all people.

Last year, I was befuddled at the explanation given by the committee (inactive members=evangelistic prospects). This year, once again I was perplexed that local church autonomy can trump clear bible teaching (I thought that is what the conservative resurgence was all about anyway). What will they come up with next year?

Tom said...

Thanks for all of the good thoughts and encouraging words in this thread. I am supposed to be on a few days' vacation and so I am not able to keep up much or enter into the conversation as I would otherwise like.

I, also, am concerned over the growing numbers of people and churches--good, faithful people and churches--that are considering leaving the SBC. My concern is not that they would entertain such an idea, but that so many are feeling pushed to that consideration by denominational shenanigans that detract from the Gospel. Certainly there are times and reasons for churches to leave denominations. If any denomination begins to inhibit on a church's ability to fulfill its mission under Jesus Christ, then the church should be willing to jettison the denomination, if necessary.

Tom:

I think it would be good to encourage every local association and state convention to adopt this resolution or one like it during the next year. I tried to submit it in the Florida convention, but a technical glitch prohibited it.

Thanks again for the helpful thoughts. Let's keep pressing on for the cause of Christ and His Gospel.

GeneMBridges said...

I have posted on local church autonomy and this resolution at Trialblogue:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2007/06/
force-of-resolution.html

In the coming days I'll be posting some suggestions on how to get this resolution to pass and get the word out about this issue in general. That said, let us remember that the goal is not to get the SBC to pass a resolution; the goal is to get the churches to wake up to this issue, regardless of whether or not the resolution is passed. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the resolution did not pass next year because the churches start taking these issues seriously anyway and do what the resolutions calls for them to do anyway?!

Bob Cleveland said...

Tom:

I met a couple .. pastor and wife .. who mentioned the debate on your motion. I said "Let me tell you a joke".

"A church had such an infestation of rare squirrels that they could not hold services. Catching and releasing did not work so they went to the local SBC church. They'd had the same problem, years before and had solved it quickly. They asked the pastor how they solved it.

He said "Simple ... we voted all the squirrels in as members and now we never see them, except Easter and Christmas"". They both laughed.

I said "And we LAUGH about that."

I also pointed out we all know what "ministerially speaking" really means.

We're not trying to protect this thing. We're trying to save it.

DoGLover said...

Gene said, "Let us remember that the goal is not to get the SBC to pass a resolution; the goal is to get the churches to wake up to this issue, regardless of whether or not the resolution is passed."

Well said. Many churches have purpose statements, vision statements, mission statements, & statements of faith. What we really need is a purpose, a vision, a mission, & faith.

Anya said...

"... refusing to consider on on integrity in church membership."

Why not start with a motion on the discipline and integrity of pastors? Of agency heads at the SBC? Of trustees that look the other way?

With a denomination that is so diverse it encompasses seeker sensitive to calvinistic this is going to be hard.

Yes, it is political. Ministry is fast becoming the road to wealth in many circles. Quite frankly, I would not trust that many Baptist ministers are capable of 'loving' discipline. I am afraid they would use it to build coalitions.

David Krueger said...

Tom,
In spite of the Resolution Committee refusing to bring you resolution out of committee, I was encouraged by the stong vote of the messengers to over-rule the chair and bring the resolution to the floor. From my vantage point it looked like a strong majority voted to do so. Who knows -- maybe next year it'll get the two-thirds vote it needs!

Benjie said...

Tom,
Having been out of the loop for so long, I was surprised how much had changed and how much had stayed the same at the annual meeting since last I was able to attend (Atlanta, 1997?).

Intending to give a report to my church of what went on, I don't know where to start or sometimes even how to interpret some of what I witnessed.

Thanks for a concise report--I've caught 2 or 3 on-line--that will help in my effort to keep my church members informed.

Bob: Isn't it interesting that we will laugh at that which we are ashamed to be guilty of--but won't do anything about.

Vicki said...

Tom,
Thank you for your faithful service to the Lord Jesus Christ and his bride, and for your gracious leadership. I was a young student in the days of the "SBC Controversy" and was appalled at the sinful, prideful attitudes and speech of the conservatives who often fought for the Bible, while lacking the humility of the Christ of the Bible. Pride is the plague of our lives, our churches, our seminaries, and our denominational structures. Unfortunately, as the leaders of the "Battle for the Bible" saw the solution as wresting power from the liberals in a top-down model, both older and younger reformers of today often follow the same model.
As the local church repents and walks in integrity and humility before the Lord, remembering that he does not need the SBC to carry out his sovereign plan, as we focus on the pride and fear and selfishness that hinder us from sharing the gospel, and as people see repenting, humble, missional, grace-filled churches planting repenting, humble, missional, grace-filled churches, only then in a bottom-up model, will we experience the reformation we desire, or change the present denominational paradigm. And then only by the power of the Holy Spirit.I do not deny the need for interaction and debate,or the need for strong male leadership, just that the most important leadership is still in the local churches.I do not say we should not engage in the battle, just that we must recognize the most important battle -- for the souls of men, which is waged on our knees, more than online. May God bring it to pass. Vicki

Alan Cross said...

Tom,

I was left standing at a mic to suport your resolution. I was very frustrated as well.

Have you thought of turning it into a motion? It seems that it might get a better hearing. Just a thought.