Confessional Consensus, Part 1

I believe it is no longer possible to “guilt” the next generation into the SBC. That worked in past years when the SBC was a tribal culture and there were few legitimate options for partnering, but guilt will not play now. The tribal culture has also dissipated; it is necessary to find another means by which we work together. Previous generations were part of the SBC because that was how they identified themselves–it was an “identity” that was cultural, sociological, and religious. Today, many younger leaders see it as an “affiliation” rather than an “identification.”

The tribal culture of the past was due largely to a methodological consensus. That is, we looked and behaved the same due to the singular way in which we tended to do ministry. As a result, a Southern Baptist church in Alabama functioned almost identically to one in Georgia and a Southern Baptist church in Georgia functioned almost identically to one in Kentucky. Almost anywhere in the country, if you walked through the doors of a Southern Baptist church you would recognize the terminology, the order of service, the songs and, if all the pastors had access to W. A. Criswell’s tapes, the message.

This is how it was phrased in my paper presented to the Baptist Identity II Conference at Union University in October 2009:

Cooperatively fixing this problem will not be easy. We have no historical precedent in denominational life for cooperating with such incredibly diverse expressions of church and ministry. On the contrary, it is telling that the discipleship arm of the Southern Baptist Convention was called the “Baptist Sunday School Board” until just a few years ago. For decades, Baptists had Sunday School (with attendance pins), 9 verse invitation hymns, suits, and King James Bibles and everyone knew what a Southern Baptist looked like. Judson Allen explains it well in the 1958 Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists:

A Southern Baptist tends to remain a Southern Baptist, whether he lives in Virginia, Georgia, California, Ohio, or Montana. He needs not easily adjust to a church fellowship in which methods and practices are different from those to which he has been conditioned. Churches which are methodologically different are automatically suspect.

In our convention, new “churches which are methodologically different are [still] automatically suspect” in many quarters of the convention. Those methodologically different churches know that– and have become less involved with each passing year.

And this was not only the case in Baptist churches. Methodist churches were alike pretty much across the board, as were the Presbyterians and so on.

What we have seen in recent times is the collapse of tribalism formed around methodology, that is, the methodological consensus has ceased to exist. In today’s SBC, we have a denomination where churches look and practice some very different expressions. This is to the great joy of some and the unending consternation of others. Regardless, we must look for something else to be the gravitational pull of our cooperation since methodology no longer has that ability.

I am convinced we need to find a way to cooperate around a common confession and cooperative mission, all the while recognizing that there are new paradigms of ministry.

For example, most Purpose Driven contemporary Baptist churches look more like Purpose Driven contemporary Methodist churches methodologically than they do like traditional Baptist churches. So, the big question is, can we cooperate around our confession and a common mission, or must we all look alike from carpet color to choir robes or function the same from bulletins to the Doxology?

The Baptist Faith and Message is our confessional consensus. Formulated and approved by the convention, it should fix the boundary for churches and entities that call themselves Southern Baptist. Those who would want to impose their own more narrow parameters of cooperation place others in the unenviable position, to use a football metaphor, of having the goalposts moved while the field goal attempt is in flight. If indeed we have a consensus, and we do, let that be the center point of our working together.