Baptist Identification and Article IX

As many BtT readers know, no section of the GCR Declaration has caused more angst than Article IX: A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure. While Morris Chapman has recently come out against the current movement because of Article IX (though one could argue he voted for it before he voted against it) and other SBC leaders have signed the Declaration with caveats (not necessarily related to Article IX), by far the most vocal critics of the GCR document have been “high-ranking” employees of state conventions. While a handful of state convention leaders have signed on, a number of state convention executive directors have complained about the movement in Baptist Press, email circulars, and Baptist state paper articles and interviews. I’ve also talked to a number of state convention employees, in several different states, who either (1) strongly agree with their leadership and oppose the GCR or (2) support the GCR but are unwilling to do so publicly because they do not wish to openly disagree with their bosses.

While any observer of Baptist life knows there is a bit of tension between some of the state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention (for a variety of reasons), you may be interested to know that this is nothing new. Ever since Southern Baptists adopted the Cooperative Program and then tasked the state conventions with determining the amount of CP funds they pass on to the SBC, there have been discussions–sometimes heated–about percentages, priorities, and programs. Note the following quote from the mid-2oth century:

[O]ther Baptist bodies in Southern Baptist life have been jousting with the agencies of the Convention during the entire existence of the general body. State conventions, for example, have been very active in asserting their prerogatives in relation to the larger body. It is certainly true that the state bodies are no less centralized than the Southern Baptist Convention. In many respects they have seized the initiative in outlining the program to be carried on. The division of Cooperative Program funds rests also upon their initiative. These state bodies have a geographical and traditional proximinity to the people, and although Baptist principles clearly assert that all bodies, whether association, state, or southwide, stand at an equal distance from the local congregations, there continues to exist a basic state loyalty that stamps that body as a primary area for cooperation. This, of course, is no new problem.

Robert A. Baker, “Reflections on the Southern Baptist Convention,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 6, no. 2 (April 1964): 21.

Some things never change. Putting aside my obvious sympathies for the GCR for a moment, I want to make an observation as a historian and a somewhat informed observer of current SBC life: one’s personal understanding of “Baptist identification” (not to be confused here with “Baptist identity”, which is related more to beliefs) could significantly influence how one thinks about the GCR.

I have argued in the past that there are several different “layers” of Baptist polity and different Baptists identify with different layers. Some of us are merely “First Baptist” Baptists–our only connection with any element of Baptist life is our local church membership. This is likely where the overwhelming majority of our churches’ (active) members are. This is the way things ought to be because the local church is the only layer of our polity ordained by our Lord and essential to the Christian life. This is most assuredly enough. But many folks also identify with any number of other layers as well.

Some of us are both “First Baptist” Baptists and “Local Association” Baptists. In addition to our connection with our local church, we are at least somewhat involved with the work of our local association through annual meetings or (more likely) outreach events, mercy ministries, or camps. I would argue that from the 18th century until the mid-20th century most Baptists who cared about any layer of polity besides their local churches cared about their associations. It’s only as the associations have become simply the “bottom rung” of the denomination–a result of programs such as the $75 Million Campaign, the CP, and A Million More in ’54–that many associations have lost some of this loyalty. (In some places associations never lost this.)

Some of us are also “State Convention” Baptists because we attend annual meetings or (more likely) send our kids to state colleges, attend Sunday School and/or evangelism training, participate in disaster relief, or live in Baptist retirement homes (to name a few examples). As Robert Baker noted in the aforementioned article, there is also a long tradition of Baptists identifying more with their state conventions than the SBC proper. Part of this is because the state convention is “closer” that the SBC (at least for most folks). Keep in mind also that our oldest state conventions are also found in states that were part of the old Confederacy and have historically instilled a sense of state loyalty among their respective citizenries. Many folks in this category consider themselves to be North Carolina Baptists, which by virtue of the CP also makes them Southern Baptists.

Finally, some of us are also “Southern Baptist” Baptists because we attend the annual meetings or (more likely) appreciate the boards and seminaries of the SBC. Many Baptists in this category are members of churches that get fired-up about our mission boards and/or have pastors and other staff who regularly brag on their seminary of choice. Many folks in this category consider themselves to be Southern Baptists who happen to live in North Carolina, which in most cases also makes them North Carolina Baptists via geography.

I’m really just thinking out loud here, but I am convinced that at least some people react to the GCR the way they do because of the layer(s) of Baptist polity with which they choose to identify. This is obvious with paid employees (like seminary presidents and state executive directors), but I think it is also at least potentially true of “normal” Southern Baptists who are engaged in the life of the wider denomination. Many of the pro-GCR people I meet most definitely think of themselves as Southern Baptists first and state convention or association Baptists second (if at all). Many of the anti-GCR people I meet think of themselves as state convention or association Baptists first and Southern Baptist second (if at all). And most people I meet just consider themselves to be members of their local Baptist church and are blissfully unaware that there is even a debate.

I don’t want to paint too broadly–I know there are plenty of exceptions to what I’ve written. There are plenty of other factors, including loyalty to specific entities, Convention politics, following the opinions of favorite leaders, theological convictions, and vocational self-preservation. But I think Baptist identification influences how at least some Baptists think about the GCR, especially Article IX.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of Louisville. I am thankful that many of our churches are already in the midst of local versions of a Great Commission Resurgence. This is enough because the local churches are the only layer that ultimately matters. But I do hope that God will allow our shared denominational ministries, in every layer of our polity, to be a part of what He is already doing in so many of our churches.

Lord willing, I will see many of you in Louisville.

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  1. Roger Simpson   •  

    Dr. Finn:

    I think here in Oklahoma about 50% of the people in my church are “First [local] Baptists” AND “Oklahoma Baptists” AND “Southern Baptists” all at once.

    We have a number of people from our congregation that we know personally who have been involved working at and/or attending Falls Creek which is the BGCO youth camp (actually there is a Men’s retreat — and other meetings — also at Falls Creek). Also, many of us personally know about the “Singing Churchmen” and other BGCO ministires. The Churchman have had several concerts at out church and we have people in our church who sing with the group.

    Dr. Jordan [BGCO exec] was our interim preacher when we were between pastors a few years ago. Also Dr. Brister [at the time OBU President] was an interim preacher.

    We have a number of people from our church who are on the field with the IMB now that many in the church know them personally.

    However, most people really don’t know or care much about “convention politics” either at the state level or national level or any other level. I’d say out of a congregation of around 800 to 1000 that attends on a typical Sunday, not more than a half dozen people even know about the GCR document.

    I mentioned to several people who are “very close” to SBC life via family members who are SBC pastors and/or IMB missionaries on the field and no one even was aware of the GCR and/or the GCR document until I brought it up to them.

    I don’t have any idea what will happen when the convention votes on the GCR document in Louisville. I think it depends upon the ratio of pastors to “guys in the pew” that attend.

    It is probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that the total number of people in all of the SBC who have even heard of the GCR and/or the GCR document does not exceed 5000 people at the very most.

    I signed the GCR document.

    I think that whatever “action” there is with the GCR document now is happening on a small playing field where all those involved in discussions relative to signing-on could fit in my living room — well maybe my living room with overflow in the dining room. Word on the street is the Dr. Hunt is going to have some sort of “meeting” with state execs on June 8th. I don’t know if this is via a phone-linkup, in person, or what.

    Bottom line, I think this whole GCR debate is lost of 90% of Baptists — even those that are “engaged” with state and/or national SBC life.

    Put it another way, there is “engagement” with the any given level of the SBC chain (local, association, state, convention wide) and then there is ENGAGEMENT. People can actually have close first-hand interface with various levels and still not know/care much about what they call “politics”.

    This is too bad since it leads to what I believe “erosion” of connectionalism (the good kind). One result is the de-emphasis over years and decades on the CP. People can be engaged personally, but not institutionally or financially. [i.e. I’m glad that the IMB is sending missionaries that I know personally from our church but I don’t know much about what our church does in terms of what funds it sends to the CP]

    Put another way, they just think the apparatus of the SBC, such as the IMB, is “out there”. They have no idea how it ticks.

    It took a guy at the Georgia Index to reform the NAMB, it wasn’t a revolt from the pews.

    The tragedy is that really there are very few people with their hands on the tiller when it comes to the “management” of any level of the SBC. This whole thing is screaming for more to be aware of the financial implications of what is or is not going on. I don’t think the CP is going to keep running on autopilot for ever. I don’t know what the reason is exactly but there is a disconnect for “support” of SBC causes at the state and national level and ‘financial support’. People think by default, “I support it, you pay for it”

    I think about the only way that the SBC is going to be relevant over time is if pastors impress on their people that there is really “value added” by not only being “involved” with the SBC but also SUPPORTING it financially. Absent turning up the heat on CP giving debating GCR, article IX, or whatever is largely an academic exercise.

    Roger K. Simpson
    Oklahoma City OK

  2. Bob Cleveland   •  

    There’s a big difference if you view the GCRD as good points to be affirmed, vs viewing it as something for the institutional SBC to actually DO. I view it as the former.

    If the ideas set forth are good, the various entities involved, from the churches to the EC, would do well to consider them in their regular operations, as an expression of concepts that a goodly number of SBC’ers have endorsed.

    If the SBC, meeting together, votes on it and appoints a committee to study it, and make it the focal point of some sought-for action, that’s quite another thing. THAT, I’m not for.

    I fully endorse the Bible, too, but that doesn’t mean I’m in favor of pressing flowers in it, swatting flies with it, or using it for kindling in your fireplace.

  3. Roger Simpson   •  

    Dr. Finn:

    I looked over my previous rant and I noticed that it has two problems. (1) It is twice as long as is needed to make my point is, and (2) It only tangentially makes my point.

    Let me try this again:

    This is a comparison of the OLD SBC vs. the NEW SBC as viewed by a person that has been attending a “typical” SBC church regularly for the last 3 to 5 years but who doesn’t know anything else about the SBC from prior experience.

    OLD SBC — circa 1960

    1. Person knows that church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention
    2. Graded SS classes where Bible is taught — using SBC literature
    3. Bible centered evangelistic preaching with invitation after every service
    4. Various youth programs such as GAs, RAs, Sunbeams
    5. Awareness of missions and the Foriegn Mission Board
    6. May or may not be aware of Home Mission Board

    NEW SBC — circa 2009

    1. Person knows that chruch is part of the Southern Baptist Convention — however the name the sign out in front may not say “member of SBC”
    2. Graded “connection group” classes where Bible is taught — not necesarily using Lifeway literature
    3. Bible centered evangelistic preaching with invitation after every service
    4. Various youth programs such as Awana
    5. Awareness of missions and the International Mission Board
    6. Never heard of the term North American Mission Board

    —-
    Other than “distinctly Southern” culture such as GA’s dressing up like queens, etc. these two lists are the same, right?

    The difference is that the stuff in the first list, while looking the “same” as the second list, was all part of an SBC branded program. With that old SBC program anyone who was even half paying attention would have had to have been aware of Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and the CP. Kids learned about these people in GA, Sunbeams, RAs, etc.

    My main argument is that in addition to the poor economy the reason that CP giving is down and support for IMB and other agencies is taking a hit is due to a long term secular trend that is kicking in slowly over time. That trend is that “the average guy in the pew who has only been there for less than a decade” has no clue regarding how all the stuff that the agencies do are paid for. The church doesn’t have any vehicle where Lottie and Annie are being discussed any more. Our kids programs don’t mention them. Our SS literature doesn’t even make tangential references to these offerings any more. About the only mention of Lottie each year is the one 30 second clip [produced by the IMB] on the big screen on the first Sunday in December each year.

    Any mention of the CP is going to result in blank stares. If you haven’t been hanging around SBC life for a decade or more you would have never heard of it.

    We tossed out Southern cultural baggage which is OK. The trouble is we also tossed out 80% of the awareness of our funding model at the same time and didn’t replace it with anything else.

    Now a vignette from my own life. I was a member of an SBC church in California as a kid. I was there from the age of 17 up age 21. Then my wife, family and I moved to Northern California and we were members of a CBA chruch for 35 years. Now that we are in Oklahoma we have come “back home to the SBC”. We have been at an SBC church here in Oklahoma for about 5 years. I know more about the SBC funding apparatus from the stuff I learned 40 years ago than whatever I found out in Church here in Oklahoma in the last five years. Whatever method the SBC uses to pay for all this stuff is essentially a military secret.

    Roger Simpson
    Oklahoma City OK

  4. Alvin Reid   •  

    Nathan:
    I may be the only (or about the only) person on staff at SEBTS who also has served on staff at a state convention. By the way, I took a pay cut when I left the state convention to teach at a university, then another to move from a university to a seminary, but I am not bitter :-). Seriously, I have seen the good, bad, and ugly of state convention life. I also have the great joy each year of speaking at state convention sponsored events in many, many states, and have a great friendship with so many who serve the Lord well in such places of ministry.

    State conventions and their staff can have a very valuable ministry. Not long ago I met a pastor who was a struggling young planter 19 years ago when I served in Indiana. He recently thanked me for taking time to encourage him (not ironically, part of the encouragement was taking him to a conference at FBC Woodstock). The training, the vision casting, and other assistance can be valuable, and can justify the convention car, the travel budget (I have never seen anything like that since!), etc.

    That is the good. But it is in my opinion easier in a state convention than any other place in the SBC to become complacent, to enjoy the perks and lose sight of the ministry. Most do not, but some certainly do. I have been to so many meetings at posh hotels with lots of perks, and the temptation to think I earned all that is real. And sometimes over time without careful evaluation we see the development of the habit of people justifying their position more than serving the convention. We in ministry, whether in the local church or in some denominational role, should never assume our position is one we are entitled to hold, and that is a hard pull to resist when we are blessed as the SBC has been. I remember a CEO in the book Good to Great stating that every day he tried to demonstrate he would be hired that day as he was the first day. I try to live that way, though I am not always successful.

    It may take the current economic crisis to make us do what the gospel focus we claim to have should do–make tough decision as to how we prioritize how we allocate resources. I hope we are more like a focused family making decisions from shared core values than the federal government with almost no accountability and so many special interests as we move forward. But move forward we will.

    I hope we can do it together.

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  6. Spencer   •  

    The GCR raises a difficult question at a very critical time. Article IX wouldn’t be quite as touchy if economic pressures were not putting a pinch on giving and organizations were not making decisions about whether to grow, eliminate programs and positions, etc. However, it is a conversation that needs to be had.A focus on efficiency was one of the worst things to come into the local church from the Industrialization and subsequent Urbanization of the U.S. in the 19th century. Efficiency should never be the driving force behind local church ministry (and yet it often is). On the other hand, efficiency should be a driving force for convention structures who claim to be modeled after corporations.Corporations have been forced to restructure as a previous post has pointed out. Why, then, should we not use this economic mood to find ways to economize and become efficient? The reason that we do not is because 1) tradition says that we have a four tiered convention approach, 2)no one wants to be the guy to tell someone that their work really isn’t that critical to the Great Commission. Article IX is a great opportunity and face the fact that we need to at least evaluate the structure and determine where economic efficiencies can be gained.Consider the fact that by limiting missionary appointments to 300 this year (down nearly 800 from last year) the IMB has raised interesting questions about their viability. Notice that no mention was made of eliminating or reducing home office positions. We will have 800 less missionaries to support, but the same staff to support them. What are they doing with their extra time? These are the questions that we need to ask.
    I have ideas as to what a streamlined convention would look like. However, what matters is not my opinion or my best reasoning, but what is most effective for proclaiming the Gospel in this world. Let’s at least begin a broad and transparent evaluation so that the SBC can be viable for another 160 years.

  7. Roger Simpson   •  

    Spencer et. al:

    Within the last 48 hours I became aware that the IMB issued its press release covering the recent BoT meeting in Denver. There was a BP release a week or so ago regarding “cutting back” on missionary appointments, but it was a superficial story about the BoT meeting — not an item-by-item account of what actions the BoT took.

    I’ve been wondering myself what the BoT might do to “cut back”. Now that we have the IMB press release, it has come to light:
    (1) That at least one BoT meeting has been canceled. Since the BoT consists of more than 80+ people who are flown in from all over the USA and put up in a hotel for a couple of days this is not a trivial saving; [I’ve known this for several weeks – in advance of the IMB press release]
    (2) That they have cut back on 11 regional leaders.
    This is an exact quote from the IMB news release,
    “Trustees recognized 11 regional leaders who have guided the work of the organization across the globe in recent years. Most will move into new roles under a reorganization taking effect in July . . . . ”
    I think these “regional leaders” are some type of “middle management” that they are cutting out — just like is happening in businesses all over the USA.
    —-
    I wish the IMB would be more transparent about what they are doing. Instead of saying “a reorganization taking effect in July … ” they should tell us what this re-org is. After all we are paying the bill.
    The thing that bugs me about the BoT of the IMB is that even though their meetings are public, and even though they do issue minutes of their meetings, and even though they issue news releases as to what happened; there is still a wide gulf between what they say and transparency that we should expect and demand given that we are footing the bill for all of this.

    That is why I am going to the plenary session (i.e. public session) of the next BoT meeting, in Jacksonville in September, on my own dime, and report on what is going on.

    As far as I know, the only news that comes out of the BoT meetings is the official press release from the IMB management. I don’t know of any BoT member or member of IMB management engaging the issues via any podcast, blog, interview or any other means of communication.

    I’ve scoured the IMB website to no avail. Hopefully, I’ve just missed something.

    For the sake of the CP and the continued viability of the convention, the IMB must be running on all cylinders when it comes to being proactive in reaching out to its funding source in terms of its management practices.

    If we don’t have a robust IMB/NAMB and/or CP then why do we even need the SBC? Looking at the landscape across the SBC — especially with younger pastors — I don’t think I’m the only guy asking these questions.

    Roger K. Simpson – Oklahoma City OK

  8. Spencer   •  

    Robert,

    Thanks for the update and the research. Of course, my point was never to say “down with the IMB” or anything of the sort. Coming from an independent background, I see many of the positives of the IMB. These are just the sort of questions that the leadership of all SBC organizations (and all churches) ought to be prepared to answer, and ought to be proactive in answering.

    Every organization from the local church to the national conventions should continually be evaluating their impact for the GC and whether their current structure both embodies the Gospel and maximizes their resources to the glory of God. Efficiency is secondary, but important: e.g. it may be important to have an extra person in a training role whose efforts are not vital, but who is gaining knowledge some future responsibility. We just need to find the way to be most effective with the resources we’ve got.

  9. David Beckner   •  

    Could the issue be that the focus is so much on a “Southern Baptist identity” which impacts decision making that we have forgotten that “Southern Baptist” is not our identity. Our identity is that we are children of the living God, our heavenly Father, the creator and sustainer of the universe. We are Southern Baptist by association. The distinction between these two should not be taken lightly. And if these are held in the appropriate tension, the struggle over Article IX (which I support along with the complete document)becomes an issue of whether we are being faithful Biblical stewards for the sake of the Gospel or are we committed to our systems and programs and sustaining the status quo.

  10. kamatu   •  

    Brother Nathan, I have a few issues that cause me not to become a signatory of the GCR, even though I agree with the principles and am more than willing to assist my pastor with it. Some of it relates back to BF&M2000 which has some language that bothers me, past actions by the SBC and current “official” positions by the NAMB.

    While I concur that simply following some of the earlier articles in the GCR would solve this issue, my reading today on issues relating to Article IX make the point that this probably will be a sticking point. It all depends on _how_ any reforms are carried out.

    As it stands right now, there are several SBC programs that I cannot participate in (neither could either the SBC pastor who baptized me, the SBC pastor who married my wife and I, or the SBC pastor who encouraged me in my studies and work if they were starting out again). I’m currently doing other things that I can, because in my prayers I’m finding peace in patience, but what this lack is doing is pushing me further and further away from anything SBC sanctioned.

    So I find the story here somewhat troubling because it has a section about “NAMB grabs momentum”, which I don’t find reassuring at all.

    Looking for the silver lining, I do find it somewhat amusing that I’m dealing with distant ignorant/incompetent over-officious jerks making policy without contact with the truth (even after it is rubbed in their faces) in a few other areas of my life.

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