The theme for the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention has been announced: unity.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this will upset some, because there are still a few Southern Baptists who think our fighting needs to continue. However, most Southern Baptists have decided they are ready to end the fighting and move forward together on mission. The desire for unity has been evident in the last few annual meetings, so don’t be fooled by a few loud bloggers. We’ve had several opportunities to choose division (real or perceived) in our recent conventions, and we have chosen unity. So the theme of this year’s convention is right and timely.
As such, here are a few thoughts on unity as we look ahead to the SBC annual meeting.
Unity in Our Theological Essentials
Theology matters in the SBC.
This is precisely why we had the conservative resurgence. Historically, Baptists have not only been a missions’ people but also a confessional people. Baptist’s have rightly desired to agree upon doctrinal beliefs and commitments before moving forward on mission together. Now, most Southern Baptists are content with the BFM 2000 as a sufficient doctrinal statement as we seek to be obedient to Jesus call in Matthew 28:18-20.
Nevertheless, there have been some cases where entities have drawn smaller doctrinal circles. I don’t think that’s helpful, but I think that message is being received. So, we move on—together.
We are aiming for unity around our shared central doctrines, not uniformity on non-essential theological issues. Let us prayerfully recognize the potential of division and the place of dialogue and disagreement within the confines of our confession, but prayerfully and eagerly fight to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).
Unity in Our Missional Focus
Hopefully, we can come to terms with the condition we are in. The SBC will always be methodologically diverse. Sadly, ignorant stereotyping and prideful dismissal comes from all angles within the camp. We can either build bridges to the field or build walls around our troops.
Perhaps a brief history lesson is helpful here.
The initial agenda of the SBC was simple: to combine the efforts of autonomous churches for “one sacred effort” – the propagation of the gospel. Baptists have always placed a priority on missions. The original constitution of the SBC clearly reflects this: “It shall be the design of this convention to promote foreign and domestic missions, and other important objects connected with the Redeemer’s Kingdom.”
Let us do whatever it takes to refocus our missional aim for the glory of God.
Unity in Our Representational Body
The SBC is struggling with generational transition and multiethnic representation. First, we have a crisis of younger leaders–still.
Those of us who pointed out (before we were ready to make friends with the demographic facts) were criticized for daring to question the involvement and existence of our younger leaders. But then, people began actually looking around during the convention and saw that it wasn’t “graying” – overwhelmingly, it was gray.
Secondly, we also have a convention that is primarily white in a country that is increasingly more diverse. Simple math shows where we are headed if those two problems are not corrected.
Reality should inspire us to greater diversity. Not everyone is going to go with us on this journey. In fact, we have already preached out many of our visionary, but non-conformist leaders and pastors. With the people who have stayed, we need to step forward as a unified coalition for healthy transition.
The election of Fred Luter, Frank Page’s work with the ethnic advisory council, the platforming of younger SBC leaders last year, and more are good steps. But the change our convention needs must grow out of our local churches.
We need to begin making intentional decisions to train the younger generations and attract/reach and welcome ethnic diversity to our church families.
Finally, we need the leaders from previous generations to share their wisdom and experience with the up-and-coming leaders and for our primarily white churches to reach out to their increasingly diverse communities.
Only then can we build a physically diverse but spiritually unified community that presses forward together for a common mission.
Unity is a good theme for our annual meeting, and an even better vision for our convention as a whole.
It is a vision we can, by the grace of God, achieve if we take a posture of humility and understanding towards one another. Here’s the thing, the Lord of the harvest is, and will be, sending out workers (Matt. 9:38). We are all in unified agreement with God’s Word here. But my fear is that we are spending too much time in the shed arguing about the harvesting process, advocating for our harvesting methods, and fighting over the right tools for the harvest.
Let’s be a convention united around our shared theology, joint mission and coming King to go into the fields together for His glory. My prayer is that unity becomes not just our theme, but our reality.