The SBC annual meeting is rapidly approaching and, as it does, the back and forth across the Internet seems to have accelerated pace. Pastors and denominational leaders have rushed to publish their views, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently, but publish they have. If the secular press decides to take a gander at blogs, news sites and Twitter feeds, they will likely have no shortage of evidence to substantiate their long held belief that Southern Baptists not only cannot get along with the rest of society, we cannot even get along with ourselves.
But in truth, a full-blown fracture is improbable and unwanted. More likely, we will leave Orlando the same way we arrived: one convention comprised of many, many parts.
Since the beginning of the Great Commission Resurgence conversation last year, there have been several things that have happened that I consider good and profitable across the SBC. First, people are engaged in a productive debate over ideas. By and large, and with some well-known exceptions, we are not debating personalities, but issues. This is good and healthy, as it has been throughout church history. We will never have a hope of a unified SBC unless we retain the ability to present ideas, mull them over, shoot at them, rework them and ultimately accept or reject them.
Many denominational leaders have stepped into the conversation publishing strongly held opinions on differing sides. This can be a good thing. No movement of God was ever birthed through the power of indifferent compliance. In fact, the early church grew through two major problems that required meetings of the minds: the formations of the office of deacon and acceptance of the Gentiles as full believers. Let’s not forget the face-to-face confrontation between Peter and Paul, the latter of whom seemed pretty comfortable throwing the word “hypocrite” around! There is nothing wrong with passion, as long as personalities take second place to purpose.
Second, people are talking about and working toward fulfilling the Great Commission. This would be a bad thing how, exactly? Right-it is not a bad thing.
Our current discussion has brought to the forefront a sometimes neglected topic-how to get the gospel to those who need it in all parts of the world. We can be assured: churches + discussions about the Great Commission = greater gospel impact. Over and over, from every corner and from those who ultimately disagree about the means, the ends are being kept in the forefront. Perhaps like no point in recent convention history, the conversation has revolved around the reason the convention actually exists: to do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Another good thing that has happened is that people are praying more. I dare not suggest that people were not praying prior to the introduction of the GCR discussion, but it is obvious that many people are praying with a new or renewed focus. Surely we can at least hope that God, as He has promised over and over in His word, will respond to the cries of His people.
When we walk in the Spirit, two needed mindsets are humility –that my way may not be the best way–and prayer–that God’s will be done and that I will recognize it when it is. The SBC has no present or future hope for being unified if we neglect these two things. If we attempt to move forward with the brash arrogance that we are somehow indispensable to the purposes of God, we run the risk of finding out first-hand just how many other tools God has in His toolbox and, with our vantage point from the shelf, will have a very nice, albeit unwanted, view.
The Southern Baptist Convention, despite uncertainty within and without, still has great things in its favor. We do theology well, we do missions well, and we have learned to cooperate on a very large scale. We are imperfect in each of these, yes, but we have made a lot of progress in recent decades and have the ability to make considerably more progress. Unless we believe the best course of action is to outright jettison all God has done through us, then we must admit that we need to focus on unity in the midst of our Great Commission discussions and decisions.
As I have said before, I’m not impressed by denominations, including my own. I am impressed by the church. The denomination is a tool; not the goal. The church is the instrument of God’s agenda (Ephesians 3:10). The church should impress us and the denomination should assist us in doing the mission of the church. Never should the two be reversed.
Now is the time for Southern Baptists to pull together. As we think about how we can do things better, we need to be sure that we do them together-through partnership, through the Cooperative Program, through better relationships, but most importantly, through deeper love for God and each other.
To borrow from Malcolm Gladwell, we are at a tipping point.
If we can effectively unify during the next few years we may be able to obtain the best allocation for where our finances go. We will be more focused on global missions, while church planting in the United States will become more efficient and effective. Yes, it is true that each of these decisions is monumental on its own and implementing them may bring difficult challenges, but the alternative–doing nothing–will eventually bring decisions that neither we, nor our descendants, want to make.
Yes, we do need change, but I have great hope in our convention. Now is not the time for pastors, churches, and denominational leaders to get upset and to pull their resources out of the SBC system; now is the time for us to engage that system so its weak hands may be strengthened and its feeble needs made steady, and the glory of God may cover the earth as the water covers the seas.