Month: July 2014

What if we were gone?

Aquestion was posed to me recently in the context of evaluating our convention’s ministry: “What if SBTC didn’t exist?” It’s thought provoking on several levels and also allows us to analyze trends in the work Southern Baptist churches have in common. And I believe we see enough from where we are to give a reasonable answer.

If we take the question as asking, “What if the SBTC had never formed?” we might speculate that the only Southern Baptist state convention in Texas would be smaller than it was and more liberal than it is. That’s pretty easy to see from the trends of the past 16 years. SBTC has had a preserving influence among Southern Baptists in Texas.

But what if the SBTC and other denominational expressions of Southern Baptists ceased operations? It’s another way of asking what we contribute to the kingdom of God. Denominational bodies can imagine a truly post-denominational age more easily now than most could have 20 years ago. I think the work of our churches would be different in a lot of ways.

First, while many large churches would not particularly miss the training and resourcing denominational bodies provide, they cannot take for granted that their strength and independence is forever. I can name churches in our state that have moved from mega-church status to ministry-threatening decline during the short life of SBTC. These churches need strategic help from the fellowship of sister churches that they could not have imagined in 1998.

Second, places like Laredo and El Paso would have not have had the attention that has benefited those cities in recent years. Maybe a church or two or four would have had the Rio Grande borderlands on their hearts but would those places become the strategic focus of scores of churches utilizing the resources given by thousands of churches? I believe the church planting emphasis, evangelistic focus and leadership training initiatives the SBTC launched in the borderlands is far more extensive than it would have been without a statewide strategy. That is, unless some denomination-like network of churches decided to adopt a statewide strategy of their own—reinventing the state convention wheel, you might say.

Third, the response of likeminded churches in Texas to emergency needs in our state and beyond would be less prepared, less effective and less credible without a statewide strategy. Without planning and coordination beyond the local church we’d always be behind the ball or in the wrong place when something happened. The reason Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is a major player across the world is that state conventions train and prepare and coordinate so that the disaster of the day is addressed while resources are gathered for the needs of next week.

Fourth, small churches and church plants would have a harder lot than they now do. While some of our stronger churches are very generous in helping new churches and struggling churches, that case-by-case assistance is not general. No one has perfectly untangled the revitalization knot, but the need is general—not confined to one community—and again requires a strategy and a strategist concerned with churches no one else would think about. Texas without a state convention would be (nearly) every church for itself. That’s not good news for our smallest, eldest and declining churches. These churches may not be the long term future of our country’s spiritual life; they are its present and they will be significant players in the lives of millions of American Christians for decades to come. 

Fifth, SBTC’s ministry partners would not necessarily go under, but they are strengthened by the support given through SBTC churches. More than they are now, these institutions would be thrown back on the tender mercies of societal missions. Reasonably, we could expect that some would do better than others though not necessarily based on need or worthiness. Their fortunes would depend more on the effectiveness of their fundraisers.

Sixth, I think there would arise a whole gaggle of smaller denominations (whether they call themselves that or not) with very similar intent and doctrine. The aggregate would likely be weaker, less effective and eventually more doctrinally diverse than the current SBC is. Look at the varieties of independent Baptist groups in the U.S. We’d add to those numbers and suffer the same limitations in ministry they experience.

In order to do the things that churches  instinctively desire to beyond their own communities, Southern Baptist churches currently benefit from having a state convention, and a national one. For many churches, the resources of their big sister churches, strategically applied, will help them minister in even their own local contexts. Without apology, I’d say that our current SBTC and SBC fellowships do add something positive and even necessary to the life and work of churches. That’s not saying denominationalism works perfectly or even well at all times, but within the great variety of ministry networks and franchises across the U.S., no one has yet come up with something that works better at addressing a state, national and global Great Commission strategy. In my mind this argues that improving and strengthening our various denominational fellowships is worthwhile. Letting them slip away and then starting from scratch once we realize what we’ve lost would definitely be a huge step backward.

Spirit-empowered personal walk equals transformation

The 2014 Southern Baptist Convention is history. Officers were elected. Motions were made. Resolutions were presented and approved. In the reports there was a glimmer of good news about the Cooperative Program. For two years in a row the percentage giving per church has tracked upward. This is the first time in over a decade. The bad news overshadowed everything else. Baptisms went down and overall membership declined for yet another year. 

Strangely, I see the bad news in another light. It is not the convention that is declining. It is churches that are declining. With our polity there is little the SBC leaders or state conventions can do. Denominational entities have no ability to make churches do anything. We are not a denomination in the truest sense because we don’t own the properties of congregations, nor do we place pastors in a parish. The problem is not with the convention. Someone has said the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The heart of the convention is the churches. Each local church must come to grips with the reality that we have a spiritual problem.

Two things need to happen for the churches of the SBC to experience a turnaround. Individuals need to get clean before God then be involved in intentional evangelism. Churches are comprised of people. It is about the people of God returning to him. Personal holiness has fallen on hard times. Entertainment that includes crude language, nudity and extreme violence has captured the minds of many of God’s people. Apathy toward the lost comes from a lack of belief in the reality of hell or desire for social acceptance by not appearing too “religious.” We don’t have to get far from men of the cloth to see where we need to start. Those of us who are ministers of the gospel must set the standard. John Meador brought that strong word in the SBC convention sermon.

The buzz 10 years ago was church planting. Now the buzz is church revitalization. Until we get to minister-and-member revival, we are not at the root of our difficulty. Bring it on home to me. It’s not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.
Personal holiness has to be a reality. Some who like to flaunt their liberty in Christ say we must relate to the world. It is not legalism to abstain from certain activities. His lordship calls us to purity.

A common exhortation for the last few years has been about relational evangelism. I agree it is good to have a connection with people when you share the gospel. Yet, in almost every case of Jesus talking to a person in need, it was his first encounter with the individual. Paul would go into a city confronting people he had never seen with the gospel. Intentional evangelism is simply an act of obedience.

I have to keep it simple because I’m simple minded. If enough of us will practice a personal walk with God in the power of the Holy Spirit we will see a radical transformation of our churches. If enough of us determine to present the gospel at a designated time and place, we will see a transformation of our communities.

We are facing a spiritual crisis that only God can correct. However, you and I can have personal revitalization. We can do our part in our church, in our community. We don’t have to save the SBC. We do have to be faithful to the Lord Jesus who loved and gave himself for us. The problem of the Southern Baptist Convention will not be easily solved. Who knows? Maybe the SBC will experience revitalization too.

Barry Creamer elected Criswell College president

DALLAS—Barry Creamer, vice president of academic affairs and professor of humanities at Criswell College, was unanimously elected president of the school during a special trustee meeting on Monday (July 7).

Creamer, 51, has served as a Criswell College professor since 2004 and is a leading voice on cultural and theological issues, often addressing them on the radio program “For Christ and Culture,” which he hosts on KCBI-FM in Dallas-Fort Worth. 

Prior to the vote, presidential search committee members lauded Creamer for his grasp of the college’s identity, being described by one committee member as “Criswellian” in his DNA. He earned a master of divinity there in 1994. 

He was also praised for his commitment to the classroom and to mentoring young men to preach the Bible expositionally, and as an “independent thinker” with “fresh ideas,” as a scholar-pastor who has debated the likes of Calvinist Baptist Mark Dever and leading atheist Sam Harris, and as a committed family man as attested to by his wife. 

Jim Richards, search committee chairman, said the committee looked at well over a dozen potential candidates, “many qualified, godly men in the pool,” but were committed to dealing with only one man at a time in the process. 

“No one has a better grasp of Criswell College than Dr. Creamer. He understands the historic connection to its founder, Dr. W.A. Criswell,” Richards said in his opening remarks to the board. 

Additionally, Creamer, in his role, lives with the daily operation of the school, has been deeply loyal to it even when opportunities to go elsewhere have come, and has a vision for the school’s future ministry, understanding the challenges in expanding the curriculum and relocating the campus, Richards said.

Joshua Crutchfield, search committee member and two-time Criswell graduate, told the board one of his fondest memories of studying under Creamer was gathering with a group of students at Creamer’s house, “young men he was mentoring to preach and teach, working through Acts, working through a book of the prophets, hearing how they are developing sermon outlines, investing in these students. Incredible.”

The admiration of fellow faculty and the growth of the school “is a large testimony to the kind of man Barry Creamer is,” Crutchfield added.

Having served with him in the college’s executive cabinet after earning two Criswell degrees, Andrew Hebert, another search committee member, said he had seen Creamer “lead courageously” and that he would be ready from day one for the job.

“Dr. Creamer understands the challenges that lie before us” and can articulate the past and the future as a “genuine pastor-scholar.”

Having served the college faithfully and been the pastor of Woodland West Baptist Church in Arlington from 1987-2004, “I think Dr. Creamer has staying power, which is something we need,” Hebert said.

Another search committee member and Criswell graduate, David Galvan, said it was telling for him to hear the heart of Creamer’s wife Joan, who told the committee, Galvan said, that “she thought [leading Criswell College] was something God was preparing her husband for” through their years of ministry.

Jack Pogue, longtime Criswell trustee, agreed with one assessment of Creamer as sharing the DNA of school founder W.A. Criswell, who espoused a vigorous pre-millennial eschatology, biblical inerrancy, and the idea “that Jesus Christ died for everybody.”

Addressing the board just prior to his election, Creamer said his primary interest in serving the college in any position, but especially as president, stems from his conversion and the power of the gospel.

“My life really was changed when I met Jesus,” Creamer said. “I want the gospel to go out. I want people to be changed. I want them to hear about Christ. At the end of the day we have to put out students who are sharing the gospel, who know what it means to witness to people, and who get the meaning of that, which is somebody’s life was messed up, they meet Jesus, and then their life is transformed. That’s just missing from a lot of things right now.”

Also, Creamer said his commitment to the college dovetails with his commitment to the local church and that while the college seeks to expand its academic offerings, preachers “are still going to be the core of what we produce.”

“While we’re developing these other programs and beginning to produce the kinds of people who can run a corporation or build a business,” the school must also equip them to “handle the Word of God with real confidence, to grasp what it actually means and to be able to teach that to their neighbor, to their Sunday School class, or sit down with their pastor and help him return from the brink, from heresy or error, which happens all the time.”

“I think Criswell College can do that better than any other school, anywhere,” Creamer said.

Additionally, Creamer said he is “very committed to the academy,” noting the school’s wide influence, especially in the Southern Baptist Convention in the last 40 years.

“That kind of influence has to come somewhere for the culture at large, and it’s not happening yet,” Creamer said, describing his vision for turning out culture-changers able to influence the world in the same way the school influenced the SBC during the Conservative Resurgence.

‘That’s what we are trying to get at. That’s what we’re trying to build,” Creamer said.

Creamer earned a Ph.D. in humanities with a philosophy and history emphasis from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). He graduated summa cum laude with a master of divinity degree from Criswell in 1994 and a bachelor of arts in English from Baylor University in 1985.

He has served churches in a variety of roles, from pastor to minister of evangelism, since 1982. While teaching adjunctively at Texas Woman’s University in Denton and at UTA, Creamer was pastor of Woodland West Baptist Church for 17 years.

He is a member of Lake Highlands Baptist Church in Dallas and has been married to Joan for 31 years. The couple has four adult children.

The members of the Criswell search committee were: Jim Richards, chairman, Joshua Crutchfield, Andrew Hebert, David Galvan, Keet Lewis, Jack Pogue, trustee chairman John Mann, and committee alternate Paul Pressler.

Creamer’s presidency begins officially on Aug. 1.

He succeeds Jerry Johnson, who left to become president of the National Religious Broadcasters. LifeWay president emeritus Jimmy Draper, a longtime Texas pastor, has served as the school’s interim president.



Supreme Court finds in favor of Hobby Lobby; Baptists rejoice

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court on Monday (June 30) struck down a key mandate of the Affordable Care Act, ruling for the first time “closely held” companies may exercise their religious opinions and conscientiously object to providing abortion-inducing contraceptives to employees through their health insurance plans. 

Writing for the majority in Burwell (Sebelius) v. Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito claimed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provides individually or family-owned businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, with protections against government mandates that violate religious conscience.

“Our responsibility is to enforce the RFRA as written, and under the standard the RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful,” Alito wrote. In finding in favor of Hobby Lobby, the Court affirmed the ruling of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and reversed the verdict of the Third Circuit. 

Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, shared his thoughts on the ruling. “We are indeed thankful for the recent ruling from the Supreme Court,” he said. “It is an absolute victory for the proponents of religious liberty. I am thankful that both common sense and conscience have seen a victory in a day where such victories are rare. For those who are strongly pro-life, I think this is a great day!”

Ronnie Floyd, newly elected president of the SBC, added, “I am thrilled at the ruling because it affirms that religious liberty is a core value of our great nation. The American people won a great victory today against governmental overreach. It serves as a strong reminder to each of us, that the First Amendment extends to individuals and business owners, not just to churches and other houses of worship.”

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said the ruling was an “exhilarating victory for religious freedom,” due in large part to the fact Hobby Lobby owners David and Barbara Green, along with their children, had “refused to render to Caesar that which did not belong to him.”

“As a Baptist, I am encouraged that our ancestors’ struggle for the First Amendment has been vindicated. This is as close as a Southern Baptist gets to dancing in the streets with joy,” Moore said.

Hobby Lobby filed suit in federal court after the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. Under the law, the company was required to provide insurance coverage for nearly 20 forms of contraception, including four that resulted in abortions. One of those was the “morning after pill,” which causes the spontaneous abortion of an implanted, fertilized egg. Since the company’s owners believe life begins at conception, they objected on religious grounds and were threatened with massive fines for non-compliance with the ACA.

Mardel Christian Bookstores, founded by Mart Green, joined the case with Hobby Lobby, and in a separate case, Norman and Sam Hahn, owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, also challenged the ACA’s contraceptive mandate in court. 

Both Conestoga and Hobby Lobby lost their pleas for injunction in district court, and the Third Circuit upheld the denial of the injunctions. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed the decision, setting the cases on a path to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The government maintained throughout the proceedings at the Supreme Court that the federal government had a “compelling interest” in mandating the coverage of contraceptives. The Court, however, decided in a 5-4 decision there was no such interest when measured against the provisions of the RFRA. 

“Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA’s definition of ‘persons.’ But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another,” Alito wrote. 

“When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations’ financial well-being. And protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.”

Alito also wrote that Hobby Lobby’s Christian character was an inseparable part of the fabric of the company. The company’s purpose statement commits its leaders to honoring the Lord and operating by a set of biblical principles, such as remaining closed on Sundays, refusing to facilitate or promote the use of alcohol, contributing to Christian ministries and missions and running newspaper advertisements with an evangelistic purpose.

Alito claimed the Greens — and their companies Hobby Lobby and Mardel — conduct business in this manner knowing “they will lose millions in sales annually by doing so.”

Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, issued a statement following the Supreme Court’s decision. She said the family was pleased with the decision. 

“Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles,” Green said in her statement. “The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”¨

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored the dissenting opinion on the Court. She claimed that, by the ruling of the majority, the Court had “ventured into a minefield” of questions about judging the merits of religious opinions. She also wrote she would have confined “religious exemptions under that Act to organizations formed ‘for a religious purpose,’ ‘engage[d] primarily in carrying out that religious purpose,’ and not ‘engaged … substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.'”¨

Hobby Lobby was founded in 1970 in the Green family garage after the family borrowed $600 to manufacture miniature picture frames. Today, the company employs more than 13,000 in 572 stores across the nation. Mardel Christian Bookstores, founded in 1981, now has 35 locations in seven states. The company gives 10 percent of its corporate profits toward Bible translation.¨

The Greens have repeatedly attributed the success of their companies to the infusion of Christian principles in their business model.¨

Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( and in your email (