Last month, I moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to begin a new season of ministry as professor of preaching and rhetoric at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This move is not just a change of ministry or a change of city; it is a change in my church affiliation.
My wife, Pat, and I have been received as members of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, and I will be teaching in a seminary that is supported by and in covenant with the Southern Baptist Convention. Pat and I both grew up in the Christian Church, and I have spent forty years serving as a pastor and educator in that fellowship.
We haven’t left the Christian Church because we are mad at anyone or dissatisfied with them. Rather, I am moving to a ministry uniquely fitted to my particular gifts and calling in a context that I believe is the greatest opportunity to make my greatest contribution to extending the Kingdom of God in the time I have left on earth.
Though this move is a change of my church affiliation (I am now a member of a Southern Baptist church and I am teaching in an SBC seminary), it is not a change in my allegiance to Christ, my biblical convictions, or my desire to see that every church in the twenty-first century pursue the apostolic model of the New Testament church of the first century.
I have become part of the voice of Southern Baptists to our generation because:
1. Southern Baptists speak with a clear, strong voice on the great doctrines of the Christian faith.
Fifteen years ago, in my role as the chief parliamentarian for the Southern Baptist Convention, I worked with SBC President Paige Patterson (who is now president of Southwestern Seminary), and other leaders in the revision of The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. In the course of helping the SBC through the process of revising their confession of faith, I had the occasion to carefully study and engage their leaders in deep conversations about what Southern Baptists believe.
Like the Stone-Campbell tradition in which I grew up, Baptists are not a creedal people (they don’t have a creed that they insist you believe in order to be saved), but they are a confessional people. They have a clear, carefully thought out, and agreed upon statement of what they believe the Bible teaches about the major doctrines that define the Christian faith. Over the years, I have developed a growing appreciation for The Baptist Faith and Message as a faithful summary and confession of what the Bible teaches.
All the great biblical doctrines are there, beginning with a clear, strong statement of the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture, including the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Southern Baptists affirm that the Bible is God’s Word and is, therefore, “truth without mixture of error.” Every Bible-believing Christian in every church today owes a great debt to Southern Baptists because they led the battle for the Bible at the end of the twentieth century.
My first association with Southern Baptists was during the Conservative Resurgence when Charles Stanley called on me to advise and assist him during the SBC’s 1986 annual meeting as faithful Baptists fought for the integrity of God’s Word. I stand with them today because they stand on God’s inerrant, infallible Word.
The Baptist Faith and Message is a clear, strong voice for the essential doctrines for which the ancient church contended at Nicaea and Chalcedon and that have defined Christian orthodoxy for two millennia. The Trinity. The Incarnation and the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. His atoning death on the cross for the sins of the world. His literal, bodily, supernatural resurrection from the dead. His ascension into heaven. His personal, visible second coming at the end of the age.
The faith of Southern Baptists is also the faith of the Protestant Reformers who declared on the authority of the Bible alone (Sola Scriptura) that salvation comes by grace alone (Sola Gratia) through faith alone (Sola Fide) in Christ alone (Solus Christus) to the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria). Southern Baptists are also the heirs of the Anabaptists who contended for the restoration of believer’s baptism by immersion. They are clear about Jesus’s call to every person who comes to a saving faith—to all who would follow Him as His disciple and be part of his church—to obey the Lord’s command to be immersed in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They practice the pattern of the New Testament church in baptizing every believer and only believers.
There is more to The Baptist Faith and Message, which I invite you to read for yourself. I have become part of the Southern Baptist voice to this generation because they are contending for the biblical faith once for all delivered to the saints with faithfulness and clarity.
2. Southern Baptists speak with a clear, strong voice to the moral anarchy and madness of our culture.
Southern Baptists are speaking clearly and courageously for the biblical vision of marriage as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman for a lifetime. They are a strong Christian voice opposing racism, greed, vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. They are also engaged in effective ministries to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. And they are speaking up on behalf of the unborn and contending for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.
Persecuted themselves at various times throughout their history, Baptists are, at this moment, the most effective voice advocating religious liberty and freedom of conscience for everyone. Their pursuit of the ideal of a free church in a free state blesses every member of every church as well as every citizen, no matter what he or she believes.
3. Southern Baptists speak with a clear, strong voice for revival and spiritual awakening.
Though we are moving to Fort Worth, Pat and I made Sherwood Baptist Church our first Southern Baptist home church because of a long and close relationship with the church and with their pastor, Michael Catt. Most people know the church from its unique ministry of making movies (“Courageous,” “Fireproof,” “Facing the Giants”). But Sherwood is also one of the leading churches crying out for revival and spiritual awakening. Their ReFresh Conferences each fall have been a great blessing to me and thousands of others.
And it isn’t just Sherwood. Southern Baptists are taking a lead in the movement to see God rend the heavens and come down in a third Great Awakening in our generation. In the past several years, I have worked with many Baptist leaders in OneCry: A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening (onecry.com).
The current SBC president, Ronnie Floyd, made Great Awakening the theme of the 2015 SBC annual meeting. When Southern Baptists gathered in Columbus, Ohio, in June, whole sessions that are customarily used for conducting Convention business were given over to praying for revival. Especially in this regard, my becoming part of the Southern Baptist voice to our generation is an expansion of my work with them in what we all hope will be the great revival of the twenty-first century.
4. Southern Baptists speak with a clear, strong voice on penetrating world lostness.
Growing out of their strong conviction that people are lost and that there is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, Southern Baptists have put in the field the greatest Christian missionary force in modern times. Their North American Mission Board has 5,600 workers engaged in evangelism and church planting across the US and Canada. Last year alone they planted close to one thousand churches. Their Send North America strategy has targeted thirty-two cities for intensive church planting, aiming to plant fifteen thousand new churches in North America every ten years. Add to that effort the work of 3,600 NAMB-endorsed Southern Baptist chaplains.
The SBC International Mission Board has almost 4,800 international missionaries in the field, many of them in places so dangerous they can’t publicly say exactly where they are working. Last year, IMB missionaries reported 190,000 baptisms overseas. And they are far from satisfied with that. The foremost concern I hear from people all across the Southern Baptist Convention is this: what can we do to finish the task of reaching the unreached peoples of the world? And they won’t stop until they have penetrated every jungle, every desert, and every war zone around the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.
My wife, Pat, has worked for NAMB the past several years. The first week in August, she and I were in Nashville for the 2015 Send Conference, which focused on Southern Baptist missions efforts both here and abroad. It was one of the most electrifying things I’ve ever witnessed. 13,600 people—most of them young adults—gathered in Bridgestone Arena for two days to answer this question: where can I go and what can I do to be on mission for God? Missions is the heartbeat of Southern Baptists. It’s why their Convention and their Cooperative Program exists.
For me, given my unique thirty-year relationship as a friend of Southern Baptists and my background both in seminary education and pastoral ministry, the answer to that question has come in the form of accepting a call to teach the next generation of pastors and missionaries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
I go to that task deeply grateful for the Christian Church that brought me to Christ as a child, educated me for ministry, and gave me a place to serve Him for almost forty years. I go to my new assignment with Southern Baptists hoping that all Bible-believing evangelical Christians of every fellowship will do all they can with God’s gifts and call to them to see that the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world in our generation.