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Declaration issued by 31 Baptists from diverse backgrounds

Posted at 2 p.m. CDT Wednesday May 3.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–Expressing displeasure over what they call a “narrowing of cooperation through exclusionary theological and political agendas” in the Southern Baptist Convention, a group of Southern Baptist conservatives issued a document May 3 calling on the convention to repent of such behavior.

Called the “Memphis Declaration,” the 990-word document is the culmination of two days of discussions involving about 31 Southern Baptists from a variety of perspectives. Much of the concern expressed by participants was motivated by recent developments at the SBC’s International Mission Board and with other SBC entities and leaders.

“We gathered together in Memphis to share our concerns and articulate our hopes and dreams for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Benjamin Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and facilitator of the meeting. “Quite frankly, the era of Southern Baptist isolationism is over, and our dialogue helped to begin the process of repentance and reformation in the SBC.”

The document, signed by attendees, contains a preamble stating that the group is united in confessing “Jesus Christ as the one Lord to whom we must reckon an account for our words and motivations in this gathering. We further acknowledge that the Word of God is the sole basis of our confession and cooperation, and we are confident that God has sufficiently revealed in it all that is needed to direct Southern Baptists in fruitful cooperation toward Kingdom ends that bring glory to Jesus Christ.”

Also contained in the declaration are specific points dealing with a variety of issues ranging from repentance of triumphalism about SBC causes to an inattentiveness to convention governance:

The eight points:

“1. We publicly repent of triumphalism about Southern Baptist causes and narcissism about Southern Baptist ministries which have corrupted our integrity in assessing our denomination bureaucracy, our churches, and our personal witness in light of the sobering exhortations of Scripture.

“Therefore, we commit ourselves to a renewed pledge to integrity demonstrated by accountability in our denomination, both before God and each other, lest in preaching the meekness of our Lord to others we ourselves will be found guilty of wicked, sinful pride.

“2. We publicly repent of an arrogant spirit that has infected our partnership with fellow Christians in the advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, without the hearing of which men are incapable of conversion.

“Therefore, we commit ourselves to a renewed pledge to partner with Great Commission Christians for the glory of Jesus Christ, who is proclaimed with power when his disciples are at peace with one another.

“3. We publicly repent of having condemned those without Christ before we have loved them, and that we have acted as judge of those for whom Christ died by failing to live with a redemptive spirit toward them.

“Therefore, we commit ourselves to engage culture actively at every level by living redemptively as the Body of Christ in the world.

“4. We publicly repent of having forsaken opportunities to reason together with those who share our commitment to gospel proclamation yet differ with us on articles of the faith that are not essential to Christian orthodoxy.

“Therefore, we commit ourselves to building bridges where there have been none, in listening more and talking less, and in extending the hand of fellowship to all who share our confession of Christ and our commitment to extend His Kingdom.

“5. We publicly repent of having turned a blind eye to wickedness in our convention, especially when that evil has taken the form of slanderous, unsubstantiated accusations and malicious character assassination against our Christian brothers.

“Therefore, we commit ourselves to confront lovingly any person in our denomination, regardless of the office or title that person holds, who disparages the name of our Lord by appropriating venomous epithets against our brothers and sisters in Christ, and thus divides our fellowship by careless and unchaste speech.

“6. We publicly repent of having misplaced our priorities on the building and sustaining of institutions of secondary and far inferior importance than the local church.

“Therefore, we renew our pledge to the local church as the primary focus of our ministry and service to advance the Kingdom of God and bring glory to his Son.

“7. We publicly repent of having disrespected the sovereign grace of our Lord Jesus Christ by falsely presuming that our strength as a people of God is found in uniformity rather than unity within the parameters of Scriptural authority.

“Therefore, we commit ourselves to honor our identity as people of one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, whose affirmation of biblical authority does not necessitate absolute uniformity on all matters of doctrine or practice.

“8. We publicly repent of our inattentiveness to convention governance by not seeking to hold trustees accountable to the body which elects them to preserve our sacred trust and direct our entities with the guidance, counsel, and correction necessary to maintain the integrity of those entities.

“Therefore, we covenant with one another to assist in the preservation of our convention’s sacred trust and fulfill our biblical responsibility to hold those trustees elected to serve our entities accountable, and to pray for them as they seek to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities.”

The declaration concludes:

“Finally, we believe the conversations that have begun in these days express our desire to preserve the Southern Baptist Convention should God, in his providence, so choose to sustain our witness and strengthen our commitment to these ends. We pledge, therefore, to one another that we will continue this dialogue by inviting others in our respective spheres of influence to participate with us by seeking to renew our commitment to denominational accountability, institutional openness, moral and ethical integrity, and properly prioritized Kingdom efforts.”

Among those in attendance was Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor, IMB trustee and two-time president of the General Convention of Oklahoma Baptists. Burleson criticized IMB policy decisions on his webblog, or blog, prompting the board to recommend his dismissal in January. That action, however, was rescinded in April. Among the other attendees were Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., and executive director of The Founders’ Conference, a Southern Baptist organization that advocates reformed theology; Wiley Drake, pastor of First Baptist Chruch in Buena Park, Calif., and Marty Duren, pastor of New Bethany Baptist Church, Buford, Ga., and editor of an Internet blog; and Steve Hardy, missions pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., editor of The Conservative Record, a North Carolina Southern Baptist publication; and former IMB trustee Pam Blume, a member of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, N.C.

There had been rumors that the group might nominate a candidate for president of the SBC and that motions or resolutions might be forthcoming. No such actions took place, though some attendees have submitted resolutions for consideration by the SBC Resolutions Committee.

“We coalesced around no candidate and we drafted no resolution and crafted no motion,” Cole said.

Plans call for the group to meet again during the SBC’s June 13-14 annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C.

    About the Author

  • Don Hinkle