HOBBS, N.M. (BP) — A moment of tremendous humility that led to great unity occurred at the Southern Baptist Convention when J.D. Greear withdrew his name from the SBC presidential race and asked messengers to elect Steve Gaines.
J.D. showed Southern Baptists the path forward: putting aside differences and exercising humility toward one another for the purpose of our unity and cooperation. Steve had been praying overnight about doing the same.
Southern Baptist unity is unique. We consist of many theological persuasions, differing on such issues as Calvinism, the end times and, in some instances, charismatic gifts and the use of alcohol. Between the opposite poles is a vast array of moderated positions. Many Southern Baptists find themselves caught in the middle without a “dog in the fight.”
We also have old and young in our midst. We have suits and skinny jeans. We have different styles of worship. We are red and yellow, black and white, all precious in His sight.
In his book “A Hill on Which to Die,” Judge Paul Pressler notes that “the presence of such persuasions as Calvinist and charismatic in the conservative ranks merely shows that conservatives never sought to have all Southern Baptists think exactly alike. All we wanted was for people to base what they believe on an intelligent study of what the Bible says.”
In a meeting a couple of years ago, I heard Jimmy Draper warn a group of pastors that if we preserve doctrinal integrity but fail to maintain unity, we will give away the Southern Baptist ship. In the words of Joel Gregory’s 1988 convention sermon, we will lose the castle while we build the wall.
Ronnie Floyd has urged our convention for two years to lock arms in agreement, unity and prayer for the sake of the Great Commission. It is possible Southern Baptists could see a Third Great Awakening in our lifetimes if we catch on to that vision.
This sparks my yearning for Southern Baptists to embrace “‘big tent’ conservative cooperation.”
Certainly the Southern Baptist Convention is conservative. The “battle for the Bible” has been won. Our seminaries and other entities are led by men and women committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. Our missionaries affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, an explicitly conservative statement of faith that serves as a measure of doctrinal accountability for our cooperation together. Our common belief that Scripture is “truth without any mixture of error” ensures that while we are a big tent convention, we are a big tent committed to conservative theology.
And the Southern Baptist Convention is cooperative. We cooperate together because of our common doctrinal and missional commitments. That which unites us is greater than that which divides us.
In my view, there are five major commitments around which we are united:
1. Christ. Above all else, our convention exists to glorify Christ and make Him known to the ends of the earth. We are a “Jesus people.” Our common love for Christ allows us to relate charitably with one another despite our differences. We can unite around our commitment to Christ.
2. The church. The Southern Baptist Convention is the greatest engine for accomplishing the Great Commission because it is a convention of local churches. Our seminaries, mission boards and other entities exist to serve local churches and help them accomplish their God-given mission. We can unite around our commitment to the church.
3. The Great Commission. The Great Commission Task Force reminded us in 2010 that “as a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.” Southern Baptists of every stripe come together for the sake of accomplishing the Great Commission. This is our God-given directive. We can unite around our commitment to the Great Commission.
4. Cooperation. What makes us unique as Southern Baptists is our ability, in working to accomplish the Great Commission, to cooperate. I came into SBC life after spending a few of my teenage years in the independent Baptist movement, so cooperation is precious to me. The Cooperative Program is the envy of evangelical denominations around the world. We can unite around our commitment to cooperation.
5. Our Confession. We are a confessional people. Though no confessional statement is infallible or inerrant, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is a statement of our common beliefs that provides appropriate doctrinal boundaries within which we can cooperate. These doctrinal parameters are appropriate both in their specificity and their generality. The BF&M 2000 is specific on which it must be specific, such as the nature of Scripture, the person and work of Christ, and the exclusivity of the Gospel. It simultaneously deals generally with what must be dealt with generally, such as the timing of Christ’s return. The BF&M 2000 is a statement of faith for which we can be thankful. We can unite around our commitment to our common theological confession.
May the unity we saw displayed from J.D. Greear and Steve Gaines extend to the way we cooperate together for the Great Commission in future days. May we remember Augustine’s dictum, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”