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Barber: Holy Spirit guides churches in difficult decisions

SBC President Bart Barber speaks to the SBC Executive Committee on Feb. 19 in Nashville. Barber gave updates on the work of three committees - the SBC Resolutions Committee, the Cooperation Group and the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force - who will report to messengers at the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Ind.

NASHVILLE (BP) – Jesus has promised His presence, His answer and His concurring action when any valid, New Testament church is deliberating over weighty matters, SBC President Bart Barber reminded Executive Committee trustees Monday night (Feb. 19) in Nashville during his address.

“God is present and active when we face sober and difficult decisions as the Body of Christ,” Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, said after pointing to Matthew 18:18-20.

When Jesus gave the promise that where two or three are gathered He is among them, He gave it in what is known as the church discipline passage, Barber said, meaning He would be there even in the most difficult church business meetings.

“The church discipline passage is a passage that starts in disagreement but proceeds in the hope of eventual agreement,” Barber said. “It’s a passage that starts in unrepentant sin but proceeds in the hope of divine forgiveness and restoration to the Body. It involves at least two fellow members of the Body, but it also involves the Head of the Body.”

Because of that assurance, “believers mired in disagreement who are seeking agreement can know that Christ is their partner in seeking that agreement,” he said. “It is not purely a human enterprise.”

Success in finding agreement in the Body of Christ does not depend on winsomeness, people skills or diplomatic prowess, Barber said, but on a Father who “stands ready to prioritize the answer to prayers of agreement among brothers who have been estranged by a fault.”

When faced with sober and difficult decisions, Barber said he can feel “unworthy to sit in the seat of decision-making at such a moment,” but such uncertainty should not prevent believers from taking the actions “that Jesus has commanded us to take in His church.”

“Jesus has sought, with the promise of heaven’s concurring action, to embolden us to act without our being prideful, to embolden humble people aware of their own sinfulness nonetheless to say, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ and to move forward,” Barber said.

Such a promise of divine authority is never given to pastors, elders and overseers in the New Testament, Barber said. “It is never given to deacons. It is certainly never given to presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention. … It is given to the churches, to the same churches who take action to send messengers to our annual meeting.”

That theological truth drives Barber to do his best to implement the decisions of messengers, he said, before giving an update on the status of some directives.

  • Barber said he will announce this year’s Committee on Resolutions by the end of February, and under a new process requested by the messengers, this year proposed resolutions will be released “well before” the annual meeting in Indianapolis. The extra time for consideration could allow the Holy Spirit to guide messengers to agreement, he said.
  • The Cooperation Group also will publish its report “well in advance” of the annual meeting, Barber said, adding there is broad agreement “among people you would not expect to agree” on that committee.
  • While he would not have taken up the duty of a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force on his own initiative, Barber said it has become “absolutely important” to him now because “the Holy Spirit moved upon the messenger body of the Southern Baptist Convention to say that this was important.”
  • The most difficult of his assigned tasks, Barber said, was appointing the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force as the obstacles have been “many and manifold.” Yet this is the task “for which the messenger body has expressed the greatest zeal.”

So that messengers can deliberate thoughtfully about such significant matters, Barber has worked with the Committee on Order of Business to add a Tuesday night session to the annual meeting.

“The fact of the matter is more people are coming to the annual meeting, more business is being transacted at the annual meeting, more questions are being faced at the annual meeting,” Barber said.

The SBC president only has three jobs, Barber said: to protect the messengers’ rights, to answer their questions and to implement their decisions.

“This commitment in my heart is not grounded merely in governing documents and historical precedents. It is grounded in the pages of Scripture. It is grounded in the theological truths articulated so beautifully in the Baptist Faith and Message, and it’s grounded in the very promise of Jesus at the laying of the church’s foundation,” he said.

“… How good it is to know that we have the promise of Christ to make us smarter than we really are and to lead us to do the right thing. Let us seize upon His promises. Let us be emboldened by them. Let us shake off our worldly fears. Let us hear what the Spirit has said to the churches, and let us act.”

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  • Erin Roach