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Barber calls Southern Baptists to faith when it counts most

Bart Barber preaches from Hebrews 11 at the SBC EC meeting on Feb. 20 in Nashville. (Baptist Press/Brandon Porter)

NASHVILLE – Faith, according to SBC President Bart Barber, “does not always mean doing the riskiest thing—that’s foolishness, not faith.” But in his address Monday night to members of the SBC Executive Committee, he added “faith does mean doing the right thing, even if it’s risky.”

Pointing to the “Hall of Faith” passage in Hebrews 11, Barber said he is encouraged, even while living “in times that frighten me,” because the men and women listed in the familiar passage were not necessarily the people with the most or most consistent faith. Instead, they were imperfect heroes who had faith when it counted most.

“These are not people with consistently greater faith than you and me,” said Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas. “Like you and me, they’re people that sometimes succeeded in trusting God, and sometimes fell back in fear. But let me tell you what encourages me. It’s a list of people who, regardless of their moments of doubt and failure, when the critical moment came, they were found standing firm in faith.”

Barber did not reference any specific issues or outline any proposals to EC members. But one of several challenges currently facing the SBC had been highlighted a few minutes earlier, when Marshall Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C., and chair of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, provided a report about that group’s work. Barber, who was elected president at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting, was charged with creating the ARITF by messengers in the wake of an explosive report on the SBC Executive Committee’s response to sexual abuse allegations.

Barber noted that at some points, what is listed in Hebrews 11 points to God rather than the men or women listed.

“It tells us here that Moses was born and hidden for three months by his parents because they saw he was a beautiful child,” Barber said. “My parents hid me for the opposite reason when I was born.”

But he noted that while Moses was listed, he “did not demonstrate any great measure of faith” in that instance.

“And there are numerous (other) places in this chapter,” he said, “where it gives us circumstances that do not lift up any hero to us but the Lord, and yet speaks to us of great times of faith.”

Even when the people listed showed faith, Barber said, they were clearly imperfect. Noah, for example, trusted God and built the ark, saving his household from the flood.

“The very next episode after he gets out of the ark, Noah is drunk and naked,” Barber said. “Not a great moment for him.”

Barber added: “Praise God for people who are unexpected heroes, people who have shown cowardice and poor judgment in the past who, when the moment of crisis arrives, and the work of God is afoot at that time, they find their courage and their faith. They stand up in the time of trial, and the Lord leads them forward. Praise God for that.”

The history of the SBC, said Barber, includes many of those types—and Barber, who has a Ph.D. in church history, went through a litany of names and accounts of faith and courage, from pioneering Baptists to the first missionaries to leaders like the late Adrian Rogers, who helped fuel the Conservative Resurgence, and former ERLC President Richard Land, who spearheaded the SBC’s formal apology for its beginnings in supporting slavery.

“None of those people were perfect in their faith or in any other circumstance,” he said, “but at critical moments along the way, they found their faith and they led this body of believers forward.”

Earlier this month, Steven James, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., announced his intent to re-nominate Barber for SBC president at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting, which will be held in June in New Orleans.

While not issuing a specific call to action Monday, Barber acknowledged “challenges that defy not only my understanding, but my courage and my boldness.” But he said Southern Baptists know the solution: relying on God. They’ve seen it, he said, “over and over and over again” in SBC history.

“I’m simply here to say this,” he said. “In frightening times with large questions and difficult problems before you, let us realize together that no matter what your failures have been in the past, and no matter how you have been plagued by doubts before, the history of faith is made by people who know when the critical moment has come, and they are found believing at that time.”

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