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FIRST-PERSON: The premature death of the SBC?

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NASHVILLE (BP) – According to some, especially in the secular media, funeral arrangements are being made for the once lauded Southern Baptist Convention. Mission drift has morphed into personal rancor. Division, distrust and deception seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

But is this true? Is the SBC experiment in missions, ministry and education over after 176 years of fruitful ministry? Is the SBC a cut flower disconnected from its original life source of Jesus Christ and the mission of the church?

Is the SBC dead? NO!

I paraphrase Winston Churchill when he noted that democracy is the worst form of government in the world, of course, except for all other forms of government. Like democracy, the SBC can be messy, misunderstood and misdirected at times, but it is not dead.

I’m a lifelong Southern Baptist. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, educated in SBC schools, have served Southern Baptists through local churches, in state conventions and in some of our national agencies and entities.

I have learned that many have prematurely declared the SBC experiment in cooperative, national and global missions dead, not just once but many times. I have seen leaders come and go, and issues rise and fall, yet the SBC remains.

Bolstered by 47,000-plus churches, with six world-class seminaries with 9,000-plus students, two massive mission sending agencies sending out thousands of missionaries and church planters every year, a major publishing entity in Lifeway, along with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission that speaks to the cultural and moral issues of the day, and with Guidestone Financial Resources to provide insurance and retirement instruments for pastors and other SBC servants, the SBC remains one of the largest, most formidable evangelical instrument in the hands of God on the globe.

And because of the Cooperative Program (adopted in 1925 at the SBC annual meeting in Memphis) the Southern Baptist Convention has a mission-funding process that is the envy of the evangelical, Protestant world. Missionaries and agencies heads can “get at the work” because they do not have to raise monies under the old “society method” due to the generosity of good-hearted Southern Baptist men and women in mostly smaller churches with a vision for world missions.

Are there challenges? YES!

But there have always been challenges. In the early part of the 20th century, it was modernism and mission funding. Those issues were resolved through the reaffirmation of the theological fundamentals and the development of the unified plan of giving called the Cooperative Program.

In the middle to later parts of the 20th century it was theological liberalism and institutional drift. Those problems were solved through the “Conservative Resurgence” and the further clarifying of the SBC’s confessional statement known as the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

The issues today are CRT, identity politics, women in ministry and a whole host of other issues such as decreasing church attendance and a serious decline in baptisms.

These issues are serious, formidable and, if left unaddressed, lethal to the great experiment of SBC cooperative missions and education.

Is there a remedy? YES!

Yes, there is a remedy. It is the same remedy Southern Baptists have turned to in the past and, if we’re smart, we’ll turn to again: Confessionalism, Confession, Commission, and Cooperation.

First, it begins with the fact that Southern Baptists are a confessional people. That is, there are some things that we believe and that we must constantly reaffirm. I would argue that we must intentionally and annually reaffirm our commitment to the BF&M 2000. This is not a redundancy. A constantly shifting lost world needs to hear a constantly clear word from God. Our statement of faith is narrow enough to confirm that there are truths Southern Baptists gladly believe. It is also wide enough that it allows for a variety of applications in the 47,000-plus autonomous Southern Baptist churches.

We must “resolve” every year our commitment to biblical truth through the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. In doing so it can keep us biblically guided and missionally anchored. If we neglect our statement of faith, we neglect a rather effective tool for keeping us on track doctrinally, missionally and cooperatively.

Second, rooted in a strong theological confessionalism, Southern Baptists must be a people who constantly confess our sins, our need for Jesus Christ, our need for the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, our need for personal transformation and institutional renewal and our need to address whatever issues we face from a robust biblical posture with a humility born of being a needy people.

With biblical humility we can address racial reconciliation, protect the abused and fulfill our Great Commission mission to a needy and lost world. And we can do so apart from worldly mechanisms and processes. Humility is not a sign of personal weakness or theological spinelessness. Christian humility is simply transferring the ground of our confidence from self to our great, triune God and His all-sufficient, inerrant, infallible and clear Word.

Third, armed with a clear confessionalism and a humble confession of our constant need for God, Southern Baptists must be reminded of our commission, our great commission – preach a clear Gospel, develop disciples, plant and build churches, educate the called and send missionaries to the ends of the earth. We are not faced with the false choice of choosing doctrine over missions or missions over doctrine.

Without a clear confession of our articles of faith, we may get to the mission field with nothing to say. If we have only a clear confession of faith yet with no mission outlet, then we may never get to the mission field. Instead, Southern Baptists must be robustly and simultaneously biblical and missional. We go on mission because of what we believe, not despite it.

Finally, Southern Baptists must relearn cooperation. To be divided by genuine, doctrinal heresy is understandable, even necessary at times. But, for the most part, that’s not what divides us. What currently divides Southern Baptists is the media mania, twitter trolls, political identities and wrong perceptions of others. We are isolated and insulated from each other. We live in our own silos. It is time we relearned cooperation.

Armed with a robust confessionalism, coupled with a humble confession of our own neediness for God and each other, we can accomplish God’s great and good commission and do so cooperatively, proving that the rumors of the SBC’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

    About the Author

  • Kevin Shrum