The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention (Pt. 8)

#8) Southern Baptist have a hopeful future if we can devote ourselves to a cooperation that is gospel centered and built around a biblical and theological core and not methodological consensus or agreement. (Phil 2:1-5; 4:2-9)

When I delivered the axioms message at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in the Spring this axiom, for some reason, caused hesitation and concern for some. Therefore, let me take another run at it.

There are essential and non-negotiable components of biblical worship and work. The Word proclaimed, the ordinances administered, singing, praying and mutual service are necessary components of authentic church life. However, and we must be clear on this: there is no one specific biblical style or method ordained by our God. Within biblically defined parameters there is room for variety and difference. Is this not self-evident?

What will unite Southern Baptist in the future will not be style, methodology and liturgy. Any past hegemony of methods and programs is gone, and it is not coming back. How we do things will be expansive and diverse and that is ok. The key, and please hear this, will be that what we do is filtered through the purifying waters of Scripture so that we honor Jesus and glorify the Father in all that we do. Nothing should distract or detract from the gospel of a crucified and risen Savior. Nothing!

Different contexts will demand different strategies and methods. Cultivating the mind of a missionary we will ask, “What is the best way to reach with the gospel the people I live amongst?” Waycross, Georgia will look different than Las Vegas, Nevada. Montgomery, Alabama will look different than Portland, Oregon. Boston will be different than Dallas. Memphis will have a different strategy than Miami. Reaching Liberty, Missouri is not the same as reaching Seattle, Washington.

Various ethnic believers and social/cultural tribes will worship the same God, adore the same Jesus, believe the same Bible, preach the same gospel, and seek to glorify the one true and living God. However, they may meet in different kinds of structure, wear different kinds of clothes, sing different kinds of songs, and engage in different kinds of gospel-centered ministries. The point I want to make is this: we must treat the United States missiologically and do so with the same seriousness that our international missionaries treat their people groups missiologically. As long as it is done for the glory of God, has biblical warrant, and theological integrity, I say, Praise the Lord! It is foolish to grip about organs, choirs and choir robes, guitars, drums, coats and ties. It is also a waste of time. It is time to move on with the real issue of the Great Commission!

If we seek to build a consensus around style or methods we will continue to balkanize, fracture and lose important ground, to use David Dockery’s term and insight. If we will build a consensus around Jesus and the gospel, we can, we will, cooperate for the advancement of God’s Kingdom and He will bless us.

Theology should drive our cooperation not tradition. The message of the gospel will unite us not methods!

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  1. volfan007   •  

    I agree with you, if all we’re talking about is organs, choirs and choir robes, guitars, drums, coats and ties. It’s all the other things that concern me and many others.


  2. Louis   •  


    But you would be surprised how many people are constantly lobbying to ignore theological differences for the sake of the Gospel.

    I don’t always disagree with that sentiment. But, for religious denominations to be effective, in my opinion, the members need to confirm what is important, not only for orthodox Christianity, but what is central to the theological beliefs of the group that will be planting churches and sending missionaries together.

    It never ceases to amaze me how some people will campaign and campaign to remove some issue from the table – one that the group has already determined to be central in the accomplishment of its mission, all in the name of increased effectiveness through being open.

    I agree with openness. I agree we can fixate on minor issues. But for us to be effective working TOGETHER, then it does not make for togetherness and good relationships to be telling people that a theological principle they have stated as important (as in the BFM) is not really that important.

    This absurdity reaches its zenith in the argument that the SBC should be made up people of several opinions concerning the nature and inspiration of the Scripture. One group believing it is inerrant. Another believing it is “infallible” but meaning something less than infallible, i.e., fallibe on certain points, and others (who are usually allowed to teach in SBC schools) believing something less than the “infallible – meant fallible” position (but no one can describe what that is).

    To people who believe such things, so long as the SBC is big, and has programs with big names, and a common culture – uniform Sunday School programs, summer camps, colleges, music etc., then the SBC is a “Great Denomination.”

    Unity of vision only comes about by unity of purpose. And one cannot have unity of purpose, if different people believe different things on issues that the group has decided are important.

    Why is this so hard?

  3. Dave   •  


    Whether you call the Scriptures fallible or infallible is irrelevant if you do not understand what the scriptures mean. An incorrect interpretation of an infallible document is still incorrect. The point is to understand the message of the scripture and seek to further improve this understanding. We cannot continue to confuse scriptural infallibility with our inability to understand the message.
    We need to learn from history, specifically the history that was taught by our Lord and Christ. He made it very clear that those who codify a law and seek a non-living word and “unity of vision” versus a living word in our world are not up to the standard.
    Jesus set the example of debating the meaning of the scriptures and interpreting them for those in the temple. We need to be doing the same thing for people in our age. If we limit the new interpretation to how people dress and what kind of music they listen to then we are shallow.
    It is a common mistake for immature leaders to tend to pick people like themselves to follow in their footsteps. Immature leaders use someone who will affirm their views and not challenge their views. This leads to stagnation and lack of progress. Jesus taught against this type of thinking. We are to continue to try to look at his word in new ways in the new communities and try to learn from everyone. We need to approach the kingdom of God as a child would with wonder, and questions and a sense of discovery.

    God Bless.


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