Month: June 2014

Scattershooting from the SBC in Baltimore

A few snippets from the first day of the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore: 

—Ronnie Floyd won the SBC presidency in a three-man race, but narrowly avoided a second ballot, gaining 51.6 percent of messenger votes over second-place Dennis Manpoong Kim (40.7 percent), a Maryland pastor, and Kentucky pastor Jared Moore (5.91 percent).

Floyd told media he would work toward three things among Southern Baptists: “Explicit agreement” on common beliefs and mission, “visible unity” and “extraordinary prayer.” 

He also promised to include ample time at next year’s meeting in Columbus, Ohio for such extraordinary prayer, echoing his Pastors’ Conference sermon from Sunday night during which he drew from Moses’ Mount Sinai meetings with God as an example of leading people in God’s power and glory.

—The Baptist21 meeting, now a staple at the convention, is one of the biggest draws for pastors, especially, but not limited to, younger pastors. Younger is a relative term here. I’ve seen many a 50-something sitting there, next to a young seminarian, with a Jason’s Deli sandwich and a dill pickle spear listening with curiosity to some of the usual suspects. Good stuff, and a bag full of free books to boot.

—Speaking of usual suspects … I have benefited from many of the speakers on the lineup for the Pastors’ Conference, B21 and other such events. But it seems the mistakes of the past are repeated in every generation. That is, it’s too easy to go straight to your reliable “go-to” guys as speakers and platform guests almost yearly. There are more than a few articulate and careful preachers-thinkers-leaders in our seminaries and even, thank God, in local churches. Let’s work harder at branching out just a bit. It’s possible to keep the standards high and find articulate, careful, deliberate folks who have something edifying and wise to say.

—So that said … SEBTS President Danny Akin perhaps had the best advice doled out at Baptist21: If you are complaining about the Southern Baptist Convention but aren’t willing to be involved in making the changes necessary to improve it, “Then shut up! You have forfeited your right” to throw stones at the SBC. Wish Dr. Akin could be a bit more fiery and forthright. It’s just not his nature.











Pastors in trouble reminded to find the right kind of counsel in crunch time

The fact alone that a pastor is in trouble tells us nothing about his guilt, for there are many kinds of trouble—some good, some bad. As an accreditation conference speaker once told us, there is a crisis in college and university leadership since boards are trying to hire presidents who are in no trouble when they should be looking for leaders “in the right kind of trouble.” The same goes for the church.

I’ve been in both kinds of trouble. When I was a pastor in Arkansas, I had people leave the church over my tougher (and I think more biblical) stand on divorce and remarriage. And an organist blew up a business meeting (when I was out of town) in part over my request that we sing “I’ll Fly Away.” When all was said and done, we had a bit of a “backdoor revival” and some subsequent growth.

As for the wrong kind of trouble, I got chapped and chewed some people out at Midwestern Seminary (including a trustee) and got sacked as president. (That’s the short version.) I should have been cooler, more prayed-up for the encounters.

I’ve seen both sorts of trouble in others’ ministry as well. I remember a rich man who took groundless offense at a young pastor and had the sound system he’d donated removed from the auditorium, wiring and all. But I can also think of well-grounded upset at pastors who thought they were being persecuted when they were really just lazy, nepotistic, petulant, imperious, conniving or hobby-horsing.

So what’s a minister to do if things come crashing down on him? First, I’m as leery as the next guy with therapeutic psychobabble, some of it coming from Christian counselors. By contrast, I enjoyed reading Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel” in my seminary days. I can tell you that there are any number of Christians, including ministers and laymen, who are incompetent to counsel, but this doesn’t stop them.

When I was amid the divorce-and-remarriage kerfuffle, I believe I got some unhelpful advice from the Gothardites on the one hand and some “lighten up” people on the other. (Stott and MacArthur, through books and sermons, were better fits, to my mind.) In another, less stressful context, when I was offered a PR job at the SBC Executive Committee, a prominent denominational worker cautioned me that it would be a bad career move, and that I would be in a better position to advance if I stayed where I was (as a state convention executive director). Creepy.

But I’ve also gotten some great advice. When I was taking my hits in the final days at Midwestern, a faculty member told me, “They can’t kill you if you’re dead,” meaning that dying to self was the best spiritual tack. And on the brink of my firing, a former SBC president told me the story of a bird who’d flown into a badminton game, where he was mistaken for the shuttlecock. Sometime later, another bird asked how he was doing: “Well, I don’t fly so high as I used to, but when I get off the ground at all, it’s ever so sweet.” Amen.

One trustee “gave” me the wonderful Psalm 37. And somehow, I came upon Thomas Sibbes’ “A Bruised Reed,” which I read with purifying anguish. But in it all, I suffered my share of “Job’s friends,” who suggested that all “defensiveness” was of the devil, as if there were no distinction between that and defending something valuable against unfairness. (Speaking of “Job’s friends,” I’m reminded of the zealous layman who attributed the hepatitis A I got on an Amazon-region mission trip to the little Umbanda charm I brought back for a sermon illustration, and not to my willingness to witness in a place where the food wasn’t clean.)

I should mention that before and throughout the “end game” at Midwestern, I was in an accountability group to which I’d been invited early in my tenure. We met for breakfast every few weeks and worked down through a 10-question card, including “Have you let anyone rob you of your joy?” “Have you been above reproach in all your finances?” and, the last one, “Have you lied to us about anything today?” (I figured that you lied on one of the earlier questions, you could lie on this one; but no matter.)

These were real friends and encouragers, leaders with whom I could commiserate over the wear and tear of service. When I was gone, they pitched in to help me financially and later were involved in funding an oil painting of me at the school. But I can’t say we got very deep with each other. We weren’t into “take no prisoners” conversations; our exchanges were more on the order of “I feel your pain” and “You might try this.” As things came crashing down, one or more of them insisted that I get a lawyer, but I didn’t do that, and I’m glad.

Recognizing that advice can be good or bad and that you can deserve what you’re suffering or not, let me offer some simple counsel for your consideration, things to file away should a crunch come.

  1. Forget career. It’s not a biblical concern, except in the sense that you should do what you’re supposed to do each day, and let the chips fall where they may.
  2. Read the Psalms.
  3. Get up every day, wash your face, and do what lies before you, no matter how humble. Maybe you need to write overdue thank you notes; read a long neglected book; learn Latin; wash the car.
  4. Humble yourself to do whatever it takes to provide for your family, whether it’s substitute “teaching” a group of thuggish students in an urban school or signing on as a greeter at a big box retailer.
  5. Throw yourself into whatever ministry God gives you, from Sunday School teaching to witnessing through ESL.
  6. Don’t waste your time or spirit hating on those who did you in. I’m so grateful that the quote that came out of my mouth when a reporter from the Kansas City Star stopped me in the parking lot just moments after the firing was something like, “God’s good. I’ll be cheering for the seminary from the sidelines.” (And, being good and powerful, the Lord was just the one to sort things out.)

And to those who would offer solace or help, let me encourage you to not say, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” I know you mean it, and you would follow through, but it puts the recipient in a bad spot. Already down, he’s now cast in the role of supplicant, in fear of overreaching or imposing. Instead, offer something concrete—“Come stay at our place”; “Here’s a check”; “I’m sending your name to this church.”

Yes, there’s room for a bit of “Dutch Uncle” advice. As it says in Proverbs 27, “the wounds of a friend are faithful,” and sometimes it takes a little wounding. But woe to you if you rub salt in the lacerations of a wounded warrior.

It’s said that if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. (Think of Rehoboam’s boyhood friends, the knuckleheads we meet in 1 Kings 12.) But there are variations on this theme, e.g., If you’re a band-aid, everything looks like a wound; a pencil … paper; a match … kindling; a needle … thread. The trick is to find the right counselor(s); you don’t need to apply a needle to kindling or a band-aid to paper. Hence, the need for the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), the Paraclete/Counselor/Comforter (John 14:26), and “a multitude of counselors” (Proverbs 15:22) as they are available providentially. Wisdom can be hard to come by, but as Solomon discovered in 2 Chronicles 1, God loves it when we ask for it.

—Mark T. Coppenger is professor of apologetics, director of the Nashville campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southern’s vice president for extension education.

Pastors must pursue conflict resolution and peace-making

LAS VEGAS—A few years ago, I surveyed a group of 25 successful, veteran pastors who were leading a variety of healthy churches. I asked a few simple questions. One of the questions was, “Please list the three things you did not learn in seminary, but wish you had.” I was surprised that there was one response given by all of them: Learning to resolve conflict effectively.

Most pastors leave a church because of unresolved conflict. One seasoned church consultant told me that he discovered that, regardless of the size of the church, once a pastor has seven cases of unresolved conflict, the stress of the pastorate increases to the level that he feels the need to leave.

Biblical pastoral leadership requires getting along with others and helping others get along with each other. Effective pastoral leadership is often about resolving conflict and making peace.

Conflict is inevitable
If two people are around each other very long, conflict will result. We are all different. We have unique personalities, tastes, habits, preferences, experiences, passions, and ways of looking at and navigating life. These distinctions create differences. Beyond that, most of us live at a very fast pace which naturally creates friction. Plus we live in a fallen world and have fallen natures. The world throws us stressful situations and painful circumstances. We are not always at our best all the time. As a result, conflicts arise. Someone feels misunderstood, wronged, denied, or unappreciated.

As relationships start, they are usually built upon three factors. First, there are the things we have in common. Second, there are the things about us that are different, yet complementary. Third, there are the things that are different, but not complementary. The third factor causes friction.

No matter how deeply a man and woman love each other, no matter how long two friends have known each other, no matter how mature two Christians are in spiritual matters, they will eventually have conflict in that third area. It is unrealistic to expect otherwise.

The conflict that devastates
Conflict in and of itself is not a problem. It is neutral—neither bad nor good. The badness or goodness of conflict all depends on how we respond to it. If we fail to make peace effectively, our relationships will suffer.

Unresolved conflict is the ugly white elephant and lethal cancer in too many of our failed relationships. Unhandled conflict will eventually erode the joy, rob the peace, and shred the commitments from our relationships.

An assignment, not an accident
Ken Sande is the founder of Peacemaker Ministries. He joined with a group of pastors, lawyers, and business people who wanted to encourage and assist Christians to respond to conflict biblically. As part of the peacemaker’s pledge, he states that “conflict is an assignment, not an accident.”

Our sovereign God might not necessarily create conflicts, but he often allows them to arise in our relationships for our good and his ultimate glory. Therefore, we need to realize that conflict is always an opportunity.

Conflict can either be very destructive or very beneficial, depending on how it is handled. Every conflict we experience has great potential. When handled well, conflict can make us better people, give us stronger relationships and glorify God.

Jesus applauded peacemakers. In his teachings on true happiness he said that peacemaking is an opportunity for us to discover ourselves and our place in God’s family, experience deeper personal satisfaction, and reflect the image of God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Jesus also prayed for peacemakers. In the agonizing prayer he offered to his Father just hours before dying on the cross, Jesus prayed that his followers would become peacemakers and thereby experience true unity.

“I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their message. May they all be one” (John 17:20–21).

Conflict is a necessary part of close relationships. It is always an opportunity to grow and to glorify God. Learn to view it as an assignment, not an accident.

It doesn’t resolve itself
The path of least resistance is not the solution to relational conflicts. Some, when faced with conflict, try avoiding it entirely. Pretending that conflict does not exist, however, does not solve the situation and will ultimately only make matters worse.

Others acknowledge conflict exists, but refuse to take action. This only accelerates and compounds problems (Genesis 16:1-6; 1 Samuel 2:22-25).

Still others try to escape conflict by ending the relationship, quitting the job, filing for divorce, or changing churches (Genesis 16:6-8). Their world gets smaller and smaller as they bail out of every relationship when it starts getting difficult.

Conflict cannot be ignored
Conflict must be courageously addressed. Jesus made it clear. You cannot have a bad relationship with people and maintain a good relationship with God. Your horizontal, human relationships impact your vertical, spiritual relationship with God. Jesus told his followers that attempts at making peace would need to be taken before they could freely and fully worship God. In fact, he even said that their vertical worship of God was to be immediately halted until attempts were made to resolve a personal conflict with someone else. Only then could they return to worship God.

“So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Jesus taught us that there comes a point when action must be taken whether we are the offender or the offended. If we are the offender, we are to interrupt our worship in order to go and make things right. In the same way, if we are the offended because someone has significantly hurt us, we are obligated to go to them privately, share with them how they have hurt us, and seek resolution to this conflict.

“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15).

Putting these two passages together, it becomes clear that conflict must not be ignored. Whether we are the offender (Matthew 5:23-34) or the offended (Matthew 18:15), we are to take the initiative to make peace. Ideally, both parties are to meet in the middle as they run to each other to make things right.

Handle it wisely
Conflict is inevitable, so the issue is not if you will have conflicts in your relationships—you will. The issue is how you will handle the conflicts when they arise. People with good relationships handle conflict wisely. People with poor relationships do not. Successful relationships are the result of making peace without leaving scars. Good relationships result from learning to fight fair.

Let’s think in terms of marriages. All couples fight. Good couples fight clean. Bad couples fight dirty. Research indicates that “being in love” is a very poor indicator of marital happiness and success. Far more important to the successful survival of a marriage is how well couples handle disagreements.

—Dave Earley pastors Grace City Church in Las Vegas. This article originally appeared online at and is adapted from Earley’s book, “Pastoral Leadership Is…”

Time away helps pastors gain perspective for ministry

Whether it is a few days in the Hill Country, guidance from an experienced counselor or a small group retreat designed to address the issues a minister faces, a variety of resources are available when pastors battle conflict in the course of ministry.

Creek House Inn, south of Kerrville is a bed and breakfast offered at no cost to pastors, missionaries, Christian workers and their spouses. “We provide an environment of no stress and let the Lord do the healing in the quietness of a non-programmed, non-threatening setting,” explained Dick Sisk, pastor of Tarpley Baptist Church.

“We’ve had guys who were either dealing with a power struggle in the church, disappointment in staff or struggling in their marriage,” he explained. While not designed as “a program to heal pastors,” Sisk said he sometimes draws from his 40 years of experience in ministry to share with his guests. “Mostly, I’m a good listener.”

Many Baptist associations in Texas offer reduced rates for weekend getaways. Selah Ranch and Pine Cove are Christian ministries in East Texas with retreat opportunities.

Various counseling services can be suggested by the Minister/Church Relations Department of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Sonscape Retreats provides weeklong retreats in Colorado and Tennessee where ministers can get away for “rest, renewal and life change.” After pastoring four churches and serving as executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention, Thane Barnes joined Sonscape as vice president of development.

“Pastors are asked to be biblical scholars, dynamic preachers, strong leaders, sensitive counselors, effective administrators, successful fundraisers, available caregivers and much, much more,” Barnes said. Attempts to meet unrealistic expectation leads to stress that often results in conflict in churches, depression and forced termination, he added.

“This retreat gives you a chance to verbalize what you’re going through,” Barnes said, “coming to grips with where you are in your relationship to God, your family and your spouse.” Only four couples attend at a time in order to provide personalized attention, he said. 
“Everything inside of you may say, ‘I don’t need this,’ but it is the kind of tune-up that keeps you in the game,” he insisted. “It gives you time to process and slow down to the point where you have a plan for going forward.”

For more information:

  • Creek House Inn—Contact the Sisks at 830-562-3373 or email
  • Selah Ranch—Call 903-632-2233 or email
  • Pine Cove—Call 877-474-6326 or email
  • Sonscape Retreat—Call 888-766-7227 or email

Case studies yield mediation advice, “multiple possibilities”

“A person who only views conflict in the negative will miss seeing what God can do.” 

JACKSONVILLE—Mike Smith remains firmly convinced of God’s power to turn conflict into blessing. He’s served churches and ministers helping resolve 3,000-plus cases of conflict over 44 years of ministry.

Smith, president of Jacksonville College, has written “Conflict: Causes and Cures” as a collection of case studies that illustrate the principles, problems and prospects of such turmoil. Previously, he led the minister/church relations department of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and directed two Baptist associations in the state.

“Every conflict presents multiple possibilities,” Smith wrote. “My prayer is that every church will have a group of members—whether it is the deacons, church staff or lay persons—who will become equipped with the skills of conflict mediation.” He cited Acts 6 as an indication that the first need of deacons in the early church was to resolve a conflict.

Most church conflict, according to surveys from Baptist associations, stemmed from issues related to control, Smith observed.

“A pastor in the process of interviewing and accepting a call to a church should identify the power brokers,” he said. Quick to point out that these are often good people, Smith underscored the necessity of a pastor building a relationship with those people.

“Generally, churches will follow a pastor if the pastor has worked and built good relationships,” Smith explained, adding that the smaller the church, the more critical it is to form and maintain those relationships and build trust.

“The power brokers who are antagonists are difficult and can be destructive,” he admitted. “A pastor who neglects and tries to bypass the power brokers will find himself in a difficult ministry.”

Sometimes pastors are called to a church to break the hold these individuals have maintained, he said, and to remind the congregation that the church belongs to God. In the process, a church can be redirected back to its mission and purpose.

Smith has seen pastors fall into a trap of demonizing all who oppose them, failing to follow the biblical guidelines of Matthew 18. Not only should a leader communicate forgiveness, he should also seek forgiveness from those he has offended and extend it to those who have offended him, he wrote.

Power is neutralized as pastors demonstrate servant leadership, Smith added, emphasizing the need to learn to share the ministry with volunteer leaders in the church.

“Focus on what God can do through the church and not on building your own reputation or resume.”

Smith said churches can be equipped to respond to conflict and manage it in a biblical way, starting with a proper attitude. He advised churches to admit conflict exists, believe it can be healthy and involve the fewest possible number of people in making it known.

“Go privately and confront,” taking the initiative and avoiding gossip, he recommended. “The longer you wait, the more time Satan has to cause confusion.”

Conflict is a spiritual battle that must be approached after wisdom-seeking prayer, he said, citing James 1:5. If the conflict cannot be resolved in private, another person should be enlisted. Ultimately, when conflict cannot be resolved, church discipline should begin for the purpose of repentance and restoration, he concluded.

Smith also outlined a process of mediation involving a trusted outsider to keep the process on track. He uses the acronym SOLVE to describe how the mediator conducts the meetings with Scripture and prayer, opening with statements and rules, listening to each side of the story, verifying what has been said and exploring various solutions leading to an agreement.

“The mediator is not a judge but a facilitator of the mediation process,” he wrote. He offered a sample agenda for private meetings of individuals, staff, and the congregation gathered in business sessions.

The final section of the book addresses restoration as a ministry to return people to useful service. “Restoration is needed after a conflict for both the church as a whole and for individuals who have experienced conflict,” Smith wrote. While it is a healthy process, it requires a commitment of time, he added.

“Restoration, by its very nature, cannot be programmatic,” he explained, encouraging personalization through resources that offer support, professional counsel and help for future ministry.

“There are numerous wounded ministers, ministers’ wives, children and church members. Some have made a decision to never attend church again,” he said. “These wounded heroes of the faith need to be restored to active service.”

“Conflict: Causes and Cures” is available from Jacksonville College by calling 903-586-2518. All proceeds benefit the school.

Pastor retires just shy of 90, tells fellow ministers: “Don”t give up.”

At 87½ years old, West Texas pastor Monroe Teeters retired, this year, from the pastorate—a calling he has pursued and a job he has held for more than 70 years. Though GuideStone considers “normal” retirement age for pastors to be about 65, Teeters says his passion for preaching the gospel and his desire to be faithful to the task until the time of the Lord’s choosing kept him from retiring until this spring.

Over and over he describes his life in the pastorate as a “real joy.”

Shortly after accepting Christ at age 14 in Champion, Teeters felt the Lord’s call to the ministry and began serving as a supply preacher. When he turned 17, Teeters enrolled at Howard Payne University to prepare for ministry. Since then, Teeters has pastored 16 churches, seen thousands come to faith in Christ and watched his son and two grandsons accept calls to ministry.

“It’s been a wonderful journey,” said Teeters, who most recently pastored Salem Baptist Church in Coahoma. “I’ve seen a lot of souls saved, and God’s blessed in a wonderful way.”

Teeters, who grew up on a farm in Roscoe, says he’s had a desire to preach his whole life.

“Even as a boy, I preached to the cotton stalks,” Teeters said. “Preaching was so important to me. I’ve never doubted, one moment, God’s call.”

Now, even though he’s officially retired from the pastorate, he continues to preach just like he began—as pulpit supply.

“I preached last Sunday and have several places lined up,” Teeters said. “I enjoy that supplying very much. It doesn’t have all the responsibility that you have as a pastor, but it’s still the opportunity to tell the story.”

The story is exactly what kept him going into his late 80s, the preacher said.

“It’s been a great joy to me to just tell people that when the storms of life are raging, that God will stand by you,” Teeters said. “That means so much to people. I want to tell them that God will not forget you. That has kept me going.

“I felt like the day would come when the Lord would say it’s enough, and when that day came, I was ready to retire. I want to preach with all my heart, but there comes a time when you just don’t have the strength to drive hundreds of miles to the hospitals and such. There is just as much a burning to preach in my heart today as there was that day years ago when God first said, ‘I want you to preach my gospel.’”

A ministry legacy
Teeter’s grandson, Caleb Teeters, has served on the Executive Board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention since 2011.

“There’s not a lot of pastors that go as long as he has, and it’s just a testament to his faithfulness to the calling that God gave him on his life.”

As he’s grown older, Caleb says he’s also begun to realize just how widely loved and respected his granddad is.

“Everywhere he’s gone, you can talk to people who have known him and love him,” Caleb said. “It’s rare that you go anywhere within the state that when they find out who I am, they don’t know who my granddad is, and they love him. You can tell the impact he’s had by talking to the people who have known him.”

It really set in for Caleb just how true this was, he said, when he attended the SBTC convention held in Lubbock a few years ago at which his granddad was slated to pray from the platform. He remembered then president Bob Pearle standing at the microphone before the prayer, talking about how much the convention appreciated Teeters and how admirable his longevity in the pulpit was.

“Granddaddy received a standing ovation from everyone, and it kind of dawned on me at that point the legacy that he had and that his impact was far more reaching than I ever realized,” said Caleb.

In all his years of ministry, Teeters says he’s seen the methods change, but never the message.

“People still want to hear the Word of God,” Teeters said. “The old, old story never changes. No matter how many times you tell it, it’s still precious to the people.”

Drawing from his more than seven decades of life and ministry experience, Teeters offered encouragement and advice to both pastors and churches.

Advice to pastors
“Be sure that God has called you, because it’s not easy,” Teeters said. “There’re joys and sorrows, but always keep your eyes on the Lord. Make preaching one of the main things, and God will bless you and lead you. Don’t let anything discourage you or stop you, but keep going ‘till God says it’s enough.”

Teeters said it’s a given that a pastor will face problems. He is, after all, dealing with people, he said.

“There’ll be opposition, and they’ll not understand you sometimes,” Teeters said. “But there’s plenty of them that do. Where you’ve got one problem, you’ve got a hundred that will love you. Keep your eyes on them. The main thing you need to realize is that God won’t forsake you. Don’t give up. Keep going until he tells you it’s time.”

The pastor also shared his recipe for maintaining vitality and vigor in ministry, urging pastors to take care of their health, keep reading God’s Word and have a time every day to talk with the Lord.

“Just keep your eyes on him,” Teeters said. “He will not forsake us. I can tell you now at 87½ years that he’s never been as sweet and as precious and as real to me as he is today, and I’m just looking forward to the time where I’ll see him face to face.”

Advice to churches
Having served as shepherd for nearly 20 different churches, Teeters offered insight for church members into how they can better support their pastors and be helpful, not hurtful, to the ministry going on within their congregation and community.

“God is on our side. He’ll never leave or forsake us,” Teeters said. “But people don’t realize how much their word of encouragement means. If I could talk to church members, I’d say, ‘Take a little time to tell your pastor you love him and that he’s been a blessing in your life. He needs you, and he needs the Lord.’”

Teeters, who was married to his wife Snowie for 53 years before her death from kidney problems, said there is nothing more important to a pastor than his wife. Together, the couple has a son, a daughter, seven grandchildren and nearly 20 great-grandchildren.

Confessionalism and the SBC

I am surprised at the lack of discussion regarding a significant change being proposed to the Southern Baptist Convention’s constitution. Convention messengers in Baltimore this month will be asked to consider amending Article III to say that churches will not be considered “in friendly cooperation” with the SBC if they have “intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith.” A similar purpose is accomplished in our own SBTC constitution in Article IV, Section 2, paragraph A which requires an affiliated church to affirm “the doctrinal position of the SBTC.” Presently, that doctrinal expression is most thoroughly articulated in the Baptist Faith & Message. For the Southern Baptist Convention to become an overtly confessional fellowship is a big deal, and a positive move.

Whether you trace the beginning of denominationalism—churches cooperating together—to Acts 11 or some later point, doctrinal accountability was always a significant reason for the cooperation and not merely a foundational assumption. When Baptists in New England began to send church planters south or when East Coast Baptists sent missionaries to Texas, they were sending those workers into places that already had churches of some sort. The shortage was in “Baptist” churches. That could only have mattered for doctrinal reasons. Otherwise, Catholic or Congregational churches would have sufficed.

In our day, most expressions of Baptist denominational fellowship tend to take doctrinal agreement for granted to their detriment. Our associations and state conventions find themselves scrambling when an unavoidable theological matter arises. The SBC found itself in that situation in 1992 when a couple of our churches decided to license or “marry” homosexual members. We had to amend our constitution to affirm a biblical morality that was already part of the Baptist DNA. It was messy and would not have been necessary if we already had a statement of faith. As it is now, our institutions have a statement of faith but the SBC itself, the fellowship of churches, really doesn’t. It’s time to reclaim the doctrinal basis for our fellowship. Doctrine may not be the reason for our cooperation but it must surely be its foundation.

I helped plant a church once that was located in an a-theological association. When the time came for us to apply for membership we were held off for over a year because the leadership feared we might upset the fellowship with our conservatism. There was no doctrinal agreement within the fellowship but there was an unyielding value placed on being tolerant. The prime directive was to protect harmony with the liberal CBF churches in the area. We were eventually accepted and caused no disruption but by that time we’d come to understand that “fellowship” in that context was a pretty cheap concept. And it is a concept with little value in any organization that defines itself by feelings rather than beliefs or even conduct. Ironically, such organizations can find themselves in more frequent squabbles because they live within such a vague and arbitrary description of themselves.

Perhaps our own state convention can be a positive role model here. We basically don’t fight over theology because we begin by agreeing on what’s important. Sure we talk about eschatology, worship style, soteriology and a variety of knotty matters, but we do so as those who agree that the Bible is true and the Jesus revealed therein is Lord of all truth. It’s a wonderfully clear place to be and a great boon to actual fellowship.

If the SBC approves this constitutional change there will be more work for the convention’s Credentials Committee and perhaps even the Executive Committee. I believe that work will be simpler since we will have defined the issues. Previously unsuccessful challenges to churches could now find standing under this amendment. I think the rubber will hit the road most quickly on the matter of lady pastors. There are a handful of churches still affiliated with the SBC who have female pastors and these will come under scrutiny. Even a clear-cut disagreement as this would be is still regrettable but that shouldn’t make us timid. Let’s be honest: when was the last time you disagreed with someone over only one foundational matter? Find me that inerrantist, pro-life, traditional marriage-supporting, evangelistic lady pastor in a Southern Baptist church. I’d still believe she was not called of God to pastor but I’d sure love to hear her talk about theology and hermeneutics. My point is that she’s most rare and so is a Southern Baptist church only offended by the Baptist Faith & Message on one major point. If you disagree with us on Article I (Scripture), that disagreement will rear its head at least by the time we’re talking about the doctrine of salvation or the family. If we don’t agree on Article I we just don’t agree on what “Baptist” means. Neither do we have any common basis upon which to cooperate for the sake of worldwide missions.

Our churches will still completely retain their autonomy if this amendment passes. No one is forcing a creed or confession on your church or mine. In fact, we’ve discovered that the churches within the SBTC fellowship have a lot of convictions beyond what’s spelled out in the Baptist Faith & Message. Within those bounds we disagree on a variety of doctrines and practices. Affirming the confession is not the same as adopting it as a complete expression of your own doctrine. It is instead a basic, minimal foundation for our relationships and common work. I think it will work in the life of the SBC, and the 2,485 churches of the SBTC have provided a laboratory to show the rest the convention the benefits of confessional fellowship.