At the beginning of our convention, the editor of another Baptist newspaper said the formation of a new convention in Texas was “a waste of time, money, and effort,” and closed his comments by indicating Satan’s likely pleasure in SBTC’s inaugural meeting. After seven years, 300 new churches, and increase to more than 1,700 affiliated churches, I’d have to say time has proved him wrong.
It’s hard to blame him for doubting the success of the new enterprise, though. The odds were against the new convention for several reasons. Protest groups have a hard time gaining critical mass for doing something positive. The attitude required to advocate a minority viewpoint in a large organization is often too aggressive to draw less confrontational pastors. Also, it is challenging to transition from dissent to status quo. Those marginalized in their former convention now were leading a new one of their own. Often the pressure leads to new fractures and still more groups. Brother Editor also predicted further divisions, by the way. There are additionally public relations challenges, financial challenges and relational challenges that follow the birth of a new convention in a rancorous environment. And yet, here we are.
SBTC’s continued existence must be either because of God’s blessing or because of his promise to work even bad things for good, according to his purpose. I think it is the former, but then again I would.
There have been too many opportunities for God to merely withhold his hand and cause the new convention to wither. There have also been many (who also think God is on “their side”) who worked pretty hard to snuff us out. Random chance, impetuousness, and deferred judgment just can’t explain the growth, ministry, and effectiveness that have come to characterize the work our churches have jointly done in Texas.
I think we’re free to celebrate a little, then. God has given us several gifts through which he has enabled and prospered this work.
First, I’d have to say our leadership has been the greatest gift. Jim Richards has the vision and the leadership gifts to bring a small, struggling, and fractious protest group into a position to do credible ministry among Texas churches and to lead the Southern Baptist Convention in CP support from a state convention. Dr. Richards’ vision allows us to give a percentage to ministry beyond Texas that other state conventions could not touch without starting over.
Related to this is our confessional nature. SBTC is rare if not unique among Southern Baptist denominational bodies in this regard. We have clearly defined ourselves and given churches a distinct choice as they decide how they will participate in cooperative ministries in Texas. This clarity has drawn even churches that formerly looked askance at Southern Baptists in general. Doctrinally and practically, we are a known quantity on essential and timely issues.
Yet our confession is not so tightly drawn as to divide fellowship over clearly debatable issues. In fact, a couple of churches have withdrawn because we are not more specific on matters such as eschatology or the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. Confessionalism is also a point where our convention is showing the rest of our denomination the way. Eventually, what we formerly knew as healthy diversity in the SBC will become a threatening pluralism that paralyzes the mission we share as Southern Baptists.
The essentially conservative instincts of Southern Baptists in Texas have also been crucial to the maturing of our convention in such a short period. Most of these Texans are inerrantists. They believe the plain meaning of the Bible to be the truth in no vague or nuanced sense. They believe God to be all knowing and all powerful. Baptists in Texas believe marriage should be between one man and one woman, and that this is worth standing for. We also believe that the “mental health of the mother” is an idea too prone to misuse as a rationalization for abortion. The plain spoken values of SBTC resonate with the biblical beliefs of most Texas Southern Baptists.