Why I am Southern Baptist

As I sit in Asia working with some of our IMB missionaries, I am blessed to see the work we do together. And, honestly, everyone here sees the importance of our denominational cooperation for the purpose of global missions. (You can follow along on our trip here.)

But, right now, things seem to be a bit “in flux” back home. So, perhaps I can add a little encouragement today as I sit with a group of missionaries talking about how to engage this context in evangelism and church planting. Seeing this ministry in action, it seems a good time to share why I am a Southern Baptist and maybe encourage you to be involved in that partnership as well.

In my role, one of the more common questions I am asked is, “Why are you in a denomination?” After all, many of the conferences where I speak are sponsored by non-denominational groups and are attended by non-denominational church leaders. It turns out that I am an anomaly at events like the National Outreach Convention and the Catalyst Conference, at least in terms of the scheduled speakers. Last I checked, I am the only speaker with a denominational business card.

So, they ask me, “Why go denominational?” and, with more volume and incredulity, “Why Southern Baptist?”

Besides the preference for some to remain non-denominational, there are those who believe denominations are passé, that we are moving into a post-denominational era. So, they ask, “Why remain in a denomination at all? Why not be a part of the wave of change?”

These are good questions, so let me answer them here with five reasons why I am Southern Baptist. I will share more of this at the upcoming Union University conference and in a forthcoming article in Christianity Today (on denominationalism in general).

Here are the reasons I am a Southern Baptist. I hope they encourage you to be a part of our family of churches committed to reaching the world through cooperative missions.

1) Theology

I am an inerrantist, complementarian, cooperating Baptist, and fit in my denomination. If I found things in the Bible I could not believe, thought I could throw water on a baby and call it baptism, or preferred total church independence without denominational cooperation, I would be in the wrong spot. I am here by informed choice.

Unlike many in my denomination, I did not grow up “in the system.” I came to Christ in another denomination-one moving from orthodoxy to liberalism. So, I looked around to find who most closely matched my convictions of inerrancy. At the time, the Southern Baptist Convention had undergone a return to biblical inerrancy and sufficiency. It was the people that I felt the greatest affinity with as a group. So I joined up. (Well, I didn’t exactly join up, but I joined a church that was joined up…ah, you know what I mean.)

2) Conservative

No denomination is perfect. But choosing a denomination is the chance to choose your problems as well as your strengths. Coming into the SBC as a young man, I didn’t know everything but I knew enough to know I belonged.

If you read my writings, you know that at heart: I’m just a God-loving, Bible-thumping, Christ’s blood-preaching, Baptist. Sure, I wrap it all in missiological jargon but I’m really just a conservative theologian who loves God, His people, His Word, and the lost of the world. Being a conservative in doctrine and flexible in my method, I find a comfortable home with the SBC.

Now, we are Baptists which means we like to disagree. As the joke goes, we’re tempted to think Matthew 18:20 reads, “where two or more are gathered, there will be three or more opinions.” But I am glad to know that our disagreements are not on the core issues. In the doctrinal issues of the atonement and the Scripture’s authority along with the cultural issues of active missions and the need for justice, we are all on the same team.

3) Cooperation

I do not disparage those who choose to remain independent of a denomination. But, I believe that the old saying is a true saying: “We can do more together than we can do alone.” The theory behind the SBC is that we cooperate on multiple levels. Now, I know we don’t always do a good job but the opportunity comes with multiple levels of influence (local, state, national and international) for those who will embrace it.

As a church planter, I worked alongside local associations, state conventions, our North American Mission Board, and the national convention. It is a family of churches who have a tremendous reach and tremendous resources. Sure every family has a few crazy uncles who eat all the apple pie at family reunions, but all-in-all, we get along pretty well. In fact, we get along very well for a denomination of 50,000 churches and congregations, over 1000 local associations, 42 state conventions, six seminaries, the largest domestic mission agency on our continent (NAMB), the largest Protestant denominational mission agency in history (IMB), and one of the largest Christian publishing houses in the world.

I am proud to stand on a history of cooperating churches that constantly renew their commitment to Christ, the Great Commission, and finding new ways to care for the needy of our world. It is a system where you can find what you need and give as much as you want. Because, the key to cooperation is to both give and take. That is why I mentioned the importance of the Cooperative Program at the Baptist 21 panel. Where I am right now, I see the importance of the CP.

Which leads me to my fourth point.

4) The Cooperative Program

As I travel around the world (as I am right now in Asia), I meet church planters and various missionaries from many denominations. But few outside of the SBC workers are able to stay on the field year-round. They wish they had our Cooperative Program to fund their work rather than spending valuable time raising funds from partners back home.

Recently, we have had some intensive conversations about its inner workings. Is it at times inefficient? Yes. But a compelling and historically validated argument can be made that it would be less efficient if we did not have the CP and every church did its own individual strategy without cooperating with other churches. More than just the mere pooling of cash, the Cooperative Program allows for a further reach than all of our churches could hope to do one at a time.

By being in the SBC, I can give away resources to people whom I will never meet to reach places I will never go and give the Gospel to the lost who are beyond my reach. The Cooperative Program is a genius invention.

5) Fellowship

Did I mention the crazy uncle at your family reunion? Sometimes he’s the one that shows up and sometimes he is… you. But whoever is the difficult one in the room or the life of the party, our denomination finds a way to pursue God’s mission and pursue it together.

I tell a lot of self-deprecating humor on the part of our denomination. I think we need to laugh at ourselves at times. Things are not perfect, but we can grow through them and figure them out as a family.

And, I am not here because I need to be. I am here because I believe in what we can be.

Yes, meetings can be a challenge and organizations can get sidetracked. When we get together, it makes for classic “iron sharpening iron” moments. But when we go out together, I don’t believe any force can stop us.

The fellowship achieved through our denomination provides for both encouragement and accountability. When churches are hurting, fellow churches can come alongside of them. And when churches fall astray, we can call on them in love to return to faithful relationship with Christ. Our fellowship can be abused but more often than not, our pastors and leaders find ways to enjoy one another’s company as they minister to one another.

Being a part of our denomination-or any denomination-has its challenges. Operating a large organization for spiritual purposes is complicated. And, I know our denomination pretty well and have compared it with many others. At the end of the day, we may need to fix and re-prioritize some things, but the SBC is a tool that God is using in powerful ways in the states and around the world. And, that is part of why I believe God has called me to be a part of our SBC family of churches.

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  26Comments

  1. Jonathan   •  

    good post. Thanks for the perspective.

  2. billy v   •  

    Great stuff, Ed. Very encouraging to this denominational worker.

  3. Leo Endel   •  

    Thanks Ed! You have said it well. To quote a friend who wrote me yesterday: “I hope we appreciate the fragile treasure that we hold.”

  4. Dr. Terry W. Dorsett   •  

    Ed,
    This is one of the best posts you have done. Like you, I grew up in a different religious system that tended to be a bit “anti-denominational” but as a young man discovered the SBC and knew I was home. My reasons for being in the SBC are similar to your own. Now I serve as the Director of Missions for SBC work in Vermont. In addition to working with the SBC churches in VT, I also work with many non-denominational churches that are close to collapse and I wonder why they struggle so much. They could join our group and though it would not make all their problems go away, it would give them access to resources that could ligthen their load. But too often they are misinformed about what the SBC is and so they stay on the outside. I do what I can to help them, but such help is so limited. Maybe some of them will read your post and re-think their position. Thanks for sharing.

    Terry Dorsett

  5. jason c dukes   •  

    Hey Ed. Hope the trip goes really, really well. By that I mean is fruitful for you all and those there. I appreciate what you’ve written here. I, too, continue to sense God leading me to do life with my “southern baptist” friends and to associate closely as we serve and love together. Thanks for your example in this.

    I do not believe in denominationalism. I do believe in the Southern Baptist Convention, though, which if we are purists about it is not a denomination. It is an association of autonomous church families who follow Jesus alone, hold fast to the Scriptures, desire to cooperate effectively (although not always efficiently), and serve like no other missions group on earth. I am thankful to be Southern Baptist in that sense – that I associate with a group of churches who do not exist in hierarchical denominationalism but rather in Kingdom cooperation.

    While it is not perfect, it is the desire and the pure spirit of the group. My family and I have been so blessed by Southern Baptists, and we commit to continue to be involved as Southern Baptists continue to try to join in on the movement Jesus started so many years ago.

    Love you man. Hope to see you soon.
    -jason

  6. doug munton   •  

    This articulates well many of the reasons why I am part of the SBC. Blessings, Doug Munton

  7. Leo So   •  

    Thanks Ed, the name (Southern) “Baptist” is not a liability, it is an *asset*. This is what I have been telling my church. No offense to the SBC churches dropping the word Baptist from their names, just my feeling.

    Leo So (from Valley Chinese Baptist Church, Mesa, AZ)

  8. Andrew   •  

    As a paedobaptist, your phrase “throw water on a baby and call it baptism” seems a bit disingenuous. Surely you know that us Presbyterians take infant baptism a bit more seriously than how you characterize. It’s a strawman and you’re better than that.

  9. Bob Lowman   •  

    Ed: Thank you for clearly stating what many of us feel down deep – our connectedness through the SBC family is part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17, that we, His followers, would be one, united for His sake. You say it better than I, so thanks for helping me communicate my heart to my neighbors, Baptist and otherwise.

  10. edstetzer   •     Author

    Andrew,

    All in good fun, my friend.

    Although I am unpersuaded by the paedobaptist view, I have read on it extensively and know that good scholars can disagree. You have just come to some different conclusions than I have in my understanding of scripture.

    Now, that being said, your people used to do really bad things to my people, so don’t be too offended– we got over that. ;-)

    God bless,

    Ed

  11. Andrew   •  

    Ed, thank you for your graciousness.

    I would offer to buy you a beer, but I know how “your people” feel about that issue.

    Welp, more for me I suppose!

    Cheers,

    Andrew

  12. Michael Duduit   •  

    Thanks for an excellent expression of the value of working together as Southern Baptists.

    Unlike you, I grew up in “the system” — at least since 3rd grade, when we left our midwestern independent Baptist church and moved to central Florida, where it was SBC or heathen! :-) But over the years, I’ve worked with enough churches of varying franchises to realize that the Cooperative Program is, indeed, a gift of God.

    A good friend of mine once led the mission agency of a sister Baptist body. He expressed at length his wish that his group had a CP, so that he and his missionaries didn’t have to so much of their time going church by church, hat in hand, raising money to keep folks on the mission field. (For those getting ready to raise an objection about being out of touch — SBC missionaries do visit the churches when they are on furlough, but they visit to inform and motivate, not to raise dollars for their own support.)

    Great to see you in Nashville last week. So glad to hear reports of your Taiwan trip — praying for safe travel and a productive time there.

    Michael

  13. Jason Pettus   •  

    Amen! Ditto here. Hope you are experiencing God in fresh ways overseas.

  14. Fermin Whittaker   •  

    Ed,
    There are many great reports of God working in chs which outshine the critical spirit of our family members. In every group there is room for improvement. I pray for our leaders daily. Conversations are good, but a visit to a Home/foreign missions field will show the power of what we can accomplish together.

  15. alvin reid   •  

    Well said, friend. Those of us who call for change do so because we LOVE the SBC, and we see what we could be were the great commission more of our focus. Excited about the future!

  16. Louis   •  

    Great post! Amen. I became a Christian in high school and started attending a local SBC church primarily because of the solid preaching by the pastor.

    I was in the independent world for a few years, but saw the flaws in that and came to appreciate the organizational structure of the SBC. With the CR having corrected the theological slide, I can’t think of any place I would rather be. I do fellowship with Christians from other churches and am familiar with other types of funding mechanisms. But the network and funding in the SBC is the best. I can’t tell you how many nondenom types come around from time to time trying to find out how to go to seminary cheaper or how to go to the mission field without having to raise support all the time.

    We need to stop fixating on talking about decline and the weird things that happen in SBC life, and spend our time talking about the good stuff. A positive vision for ministry is what gets people excited and motivated.

    Take care.

    Louis

  17. Les Puryear   •  

    Wow! An entire post on being a Southern Baptist and the word “ecclesiology” is not mentioned. This may befuddle some folks who place ecclesiology above evangelism.

  18. edstetzer   •     Author

    Les,

    I will have to write that one next. ;-)

    Fermin,

    Great to see a state exec. come by and comment on a blog. You were the first on Twitter as well! Must be the Silicon Valley influence in California.

    Andrew,

    Appreciate you.

    Thanks,

    Ed

  19. Bart Barber   •  

    Les,

    When did ecclesiology and evangelism go into competition against one another? Who’s second on the fight card? Worship vs. Holiness? Soteriology vs. Tithing?

  20. Les Puryear   •  

    You asked, “When did ecclesiology and evangelism go into competition against one another?”.

    Foundationally and practically, the SBC has always been focused on propagating the gospel. Evangelism/missions has always been the basis of the cooperation of our churches. However, it seems that ecclesiology has recently become a focal point of being a “true” baptist. Some who have a high view of ecclesiology seem to have raised ecclesiology to the point that right ecclesiology is a point of cooperation within the convention.

    My point is that, while ecclesiology is important, it is not as important as evangelism and thus, we need to spend more time on that which matters most.

    It seems to me that more blog posts are written on issues of ecclesiology than on evangelism. If we’re going to have a Great Commission Resurgence, perhaps our focus should be adjusted to sharing our faith with the lost.

    Les

  21. Bob White   •  

    Ed,
    You hit the ball out of the park! I appreciate your insightful
    and positive comments about the SBC and the Cooperative Program.
    Thank you for sharing your heart in this way. It will have an
    edifying influence.

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  23. edstetzer   •     Author

    Bob,

    Thanks… and appreciate you. Praying for you and the GCR task force. Thanks for your service there and at the GBC.

    Ed

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