In 2002, the SBTC met in Houston for its fifth annual meeting. During Jim Richards’ executive director’s report, the ministry staff of the convention signed a brief affirmation of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
The BF&M had become the convention’s statement of faith shortly after it was adopted by SBC messengers in 2000 and the staff indicated their commitment to conduct their ministries within the parameters of the confession. We did not sign the document itself; many of us would have more specific interpretations of the atonement or eschatology or church polity, for example. But we each considered the BF&M sufficient to describe our understanding of biblical doctrine and Baptist distinctives.
One observer, the editor of another state paper, sneered in print that the SBTC had “pledged allegiance” to the Southern Baptist Convention. It wasn’t a fair representation of what we’d done—it wasn’t intended to be—and it expressed a common misconception of that day regarding cooperation.
A little context
Two brief matters of context for that moment: First, since 2000, SBTC churches have affirmed their own broad agreement with the confession when they affiliate with the convention. Convention ministry staff already knew that the BF&M was the outline that defined our ministries. More particular interpretations were certainly our right, so long as they were not mistaken for an official SBTC addition to our standards for affiliation. We were affirming doctrinal agreement with our churches.
The second matter of context to that moment in 2002 was that my colleague’s state convention had, two years earlier, initiated a significant break with the SBC over the Conservative Resurgence and its values expressed in the Baptist Faith & Message. His convention had defunded most SBC entities in favor of its own seminaries, a publishing house, an ethics agency and a mission-sending venture. Hundreds of churches left that state convention for the SBTC as result of this defunding of the SBC. Without fanfare, the defunding was rescinded a few years later, by the way. My editor colleague arrived at our convention already certain who was a bad guy in this disagreement.
From its beginning four years prior at the inaugural SBTC annual meeting, also in Houston, the new fellowship of churches judged the Southern Baptist Convention a strong and reliable ministry partner. In his 1998 sermon to that first meeting that elected him executive director, Jim Richards lined out core values that included the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program as the method that fueled our work to reach Texas and to impact the world beyond Texas. This latter priority was a point of contention between the new convention in Texas and the old one. The new convention, the SBTC, began in 1998 apportioning 50 percent of Cooperative Program receipts for SBC missions beyond Texas. With the adoption of the 2002 budget, messengers raised that percentage to 52 percent. The convention that most of our churches had left behind was sending about 29 percent beyond Texas in 2002.
Why the difference?
From 1995, the completion of the Conservative Resurgence goal of electing inerrantist presidents at all SBC entities, Southern Baptists in Texas had a high degree of trust in our national SBC partners. This was not and is not lockstep, but it was like-mindedness on the essentials or denominational goals. We agreed that abortion was the taking of a human life, that Jesus was the only way to heaven, and that the Bible is the inspired Word of God—without error in anything on any subject that it asserts.
There were advantages to our young fellowship of churches. We could call on resources already available to SBC churches that owned the institutions that provided them. The SBTC, an autonomous fellowship of churches, could also multiply its effectiveness in national and international outreach by working with tens of thousands of SBC churches beyond our borders. We didn’t have to reinvent the denominational wheel or do everything with our own hands because we could trust resources already in place.
There were also advantages to the SBC. Texas Southern Baptist churches are among the strongest in the world. Some of our churches innovate ministries that bless thousands of sister churches. Cooperation and partnership with the SBC mean that we give according to how we’ve been blessed so that sister churches will flourish, and the lost will hear the gospel. This desire for cooperation was a significant reason for the SBTC’s formation.
That November afternoon in 2002 was a recognition that we agreed on essential doctrines with Southern Baptists around the world. It was the same commitment our churches had already expressed. Today, I say with gratitude that the accord with our partners at every denominational level in the SBC is at least as strong as it was in 2002.
—This is the second of four 2021 editorials describing “denominational virtues” of the SBTC.