Distinguishing between fellowship & leadership

My paternal grandparents and my dad were Southern Baptists. My mother was saved at a Southern Baptist church when she was nine years old. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. My name was on the church roll about 10 years before I truly accepted Christ. I went to a Baptist college, a Baptist seminary, pastored Southern Baptists, served as a director of missions for an association and now I am employed by a denominational entity. This sort of sounds like Paul when he said he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. These experiences do not necessarily qualify me to speak about Baptist life, but I wanted you to know where I am coming from.

When I was a child and youth in the 1950s and ’60s, Southern Baptists were monolithic. Although the two strains of Charleston and Sandy Creek were evident in my upbringing, I received basic Baptist doctrine in Sunday School and Training Union. Literature virtually codified doctrinal positions and even interpretations for millions of Southern Baptists. We knew what we believed and there was little deviation.

Mom and Pop Baptist were shocked when they found out there were leaders in SBC life who did not believe the Bible to be totally true and trustworthy. Especially that some leaders did not believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve, a literal flood, a parting of the Red Sea and other biblical accounts in both the Old and New Testaments. Since Mom and Pop Baptist had a strong belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, it became necessary to make a course correction. Today, all SBC ministries hold to a high view of Scripture.

In the later part of the 20th century, Southern Baptists began to get out a little more. Spreading across America and around the world, new ideas broke through the parochialism and provincialism of Southern Baptist culture. With many positive developments came some negative ones. We are struggling with some interpretations and practices that were not even discussed a generation ago.

Alcohol as a beverage and private prayer languages are two hot buttons. Other controversies are waiting in the wings. Southern Baptists have always been a diverse people. The Baptist Faith and Message is broad enough to include all of the above and more as practices of local church members. Churches may hold widely differing views and remain in fellowship with the broader Body of Baptists.

There is a difference between fellowship and leadership, however. While churches and individuals may hold to tongue speaking or the acceptance of beverage alcohol, the broader Body of Baptists expects their institutions, agencies and ministries to reflect the traditional position of Southern Baptists. It is traditional in the sense of biblical interpretation and practice for over 160 years. Have Southern Baptists been wrong on generally accepted interpretations? Yes, particularly on social issues. However, until the preponderance of the broader Body of Baptists change their views the ministries of Southern Baptists should reflect the historically accepted version. Within the BF&M everyone is welcome on the Old Gospel Train but everyone cannot drive. That’s the difference between fellowship and leadership.

The SBTC staff will treat each church with respect, as a partner in the work of Acts 1:8. Your staff reflects the generally accepted interpretations and practices of our Baptist heritage.

Pray for a great annual meeting in Austin. Pray that our attention will be on celebrating the commonality and accepting the challenge of carrying out Acts 1:8 together.

Executive Director Emeritus
Jim Richards
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
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