The Southern Baptist Convention is not in any danger of being hijacked by people who don’t believe in the authority of scripture.  Frankly, with the evidence in hand, I doubt that it ever really was in much danger.  It certainly isn’t now.  Nor is it in danger of being over-run by Calvinists or Charismatics.  I don’t even think it is in danger of being taken over by churches who believe women can be deacons, or even pastors.  It is probably safe from those who like a more presbyterian approach to leadership by having elders governing the church instead of congregational authority.  It is completely safe from those who accept gay and lesbian clergy and leadership. 

It is not safe from everything, however. 

It is not safe from decline.  The total membership figure keeps inching forward, though the actual gains are tiny, only about 2,800 per year in recent years.  But other areas are in decline, including baptisms, which represent our evangelistic efforts, as well as weekly worship attendance and Sunday School enrollment and attendance, which fell by more than 100,000 between 2004 and 2005.  Depending on whose analysis you read, as many as 80% of the churches in the SBC are plateaued or declining.  And while all this is happening, we are debating whether or not a few of our missionaries should be allowed to serve because they have experienced a private, prayer language that they believe is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, and whether those who think this is O.K. should be serving in leadership of the SBC. 

I’m not suggesting that some sort of denomination-wide program, emphasis, or initiative is needed to reverse the decline that is already showing itself in the SBC, and has for quite some time.  I’m not sure that anything like that would be effective in reversing a decline that is coming about as the result of cultural and demographic changes that affect the local churches.  But debating the finer points of doctrine to the point of threatening the exclusion of those who disagree is definitely a waste of time, and won’t help. 

The real danger is not doctrinal impurity, it is cultural irrelevance.  We’ve got the basic doctrine right.  We need to find ways to make it understandable to the people that are around us, and motivate ourselves to care enough to deliver it. 


About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

9 responses

  1. rmclawhorn says:

    I think if we examine the trend of churches throughout the United States we will see a common across all denominations. While I agree with you that Southern Baptist churches are experiencing a disconnect with younger generations.

    Yes, the convention is not in danger of being hijacked by people doubting the authority of scripture, because by and large these people and churches are leaving for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I was a page to the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando when a representative from Texas stood and claimed that the Bible was “just another book.” Shortly after this convention, the Texas Baptist Convention voted to defund the SBC except for the seminaries within Texas. Much of the controversey within the convention flows from the changes the convention made reaffirming the authority of scripture, the dominance of man within a family, and gay marriage. If one accepts the inerrancy of scripture, these issues should not be just considered “cultural,” but rather things Christians either accept or reject based on scripture.

    You claim that it is not in danger of being overrun by Calvinists, yet reality is much different. I graduated from one of the most conservative SBC schools in the country and there was a significant Calvinist presence in the faculty, which translated into a significant Calvinist presence in the student body. However, I honestly could care less whether the Calvinists or Free-Wills take over the Convention, however, to ignore a shift in the Convention would be to ignore reality.

    The Church in America overall is in decline. I think a large part of this is the consistent compromises the Church has made over the years. What makes the Church different than the world? If we believe like they believe on all cultural issues, then how are we in the world but not of it? I agree with you that we need to focus on how to reach a lost world instead of worrying about whether someone believes God speaks to him through a private prayer language.

  2. lees1975 says:

    To correct an error, the BGCT, Baptist General Convention of Texas, has never voted to “defund” the SBC. In fact, the BGCT contributes more money to the SBC’s Cooperative Program than any other state convention. It disburses CP funds at the direction and discretion of its churches. It has actually increased its support for the IMB. It has severely limited its contribution to the executive committee but that was in response to the committee refusing to place any BGCT church members on committees or trustee boards of the SBC. In spite of the fact that the SBC won’t put BGCT members on boards or committees, it still accepts the BGCT’s money. That tells me the SBC doesn’t think Texas Baptists are all that bad.

    There’s a big difference between being culturally relevant in the presentation of the gospel, and compromising with the culture regarding the message of the gospel. I think a lot of Southern Baptists, particularly some of the old-line conservative leaders, have trouble distinguishing between the two. As a result, they are increasingly unable to communicate the gospel in a culturally relevant manner. However, since they hold the power over the denomination’s mission boards and seminaries, they blend methodology and their own cultural traditions with doctrine, resulting in the perception that they are unresponsive, distant and irrelevant. As a result, there is controversy, resulting in the exodus of resources and talent. Thus, you have a denomination in decline.

    I think it is time to turn to some younger heads and raise up some new leadership, and soon.

  3. lees1975 says:

    By the way, rmclawhorn, thanks for visiting and replying!

  4. rmclawhorn says: That sure looks like defunding to me. Whether or not you can put a spin on it and say they gave individual churches options, the SBC still took a financial hit from it. The SBC needs the BGCT’s money to function, since it makes up something like 17 percent of the annual SBC budget. So to say that by taking money from the BGCT the SBC is somehow endorsing what the BGCT is doing ignores the fact that the SBC needs the BGCT.

    I can hardly blame the SBC for refusing to seat BGCT members on boards when they do not contribute whole heartdly to the SBC. They want to pick and choose what ministries they support then get the same seats of states who support all the SBC’s ministries. While they may give more in total dollars, I’m sure if you look at the percentage given it would be much less compared to other states in the SBC.

    I do agree with the need for an infusion of youthful members onto various boards in the SBC because many of the older generations do not understand today’s youth and technology. What we as a convention do not want is missing a generation of souls because we are committed to singing from the Baptist Hymnal and having our services the same way every week.

  5. lees1975 says:

    They didn’t “defund” the SBC. They redirected $5,3 million to institutions and agencies in Texas. They are autonomous. They can do what they please with their money. As far as their tag line that the money is going to “more liberal” theological schools in Texas, “more liberal” than the six SBC schools can and does still mean “very conservative” against any other objective measurement.

    The BGCT still gives more dollars to the SBC than any other state convention and as far as its “percentage” goes, it is higher than 38 of the 42 state conventions affiliated with the SBC. I don’t hear much whining about the lack of “wholehearted” support from the megachurches pastored by the SBC presidents who have been supported by the Conservative Resurgence. Several of those churches have as many as 10 members on SBC trustee boards, yet they are far less generous than the BGCT with the Cooperative Program, most of them giving below 3% of their undesignated collection. It only became an issue when Ronnie Floyd, whose church gave less than 1%, and at that, he still gained the endorsement of the Conservative Resurgence. If those seven or eight churches upped their CP gifts to the level that most SBC congregations provide, it would more than make up for the $5.3 million the BGCT redirected.

    If you will look at the whole picture, quite a few state conventions have “redirected” funds back into their own entities to cover shortfalls in CP giving. Personally, I’m not in favor of state conventions cutting back on their support of the CP to make up for shortfalls in their own budgets any more than I would favor a local church doing it for the same reason. But when you have highly publicized problems like those at NAMB, and the endorsed presidential candidate coming from a church that is wealthy but stingy, it is hard to talk to budget committees about continuing their support at the same level, especially when they see places where they can easily put the money to good use. Trust me, I’m facing that situation as we speak.

    I do appreciate the comment about younger leadership. I am not sure how many younger people we have who are interested in denominational “stuff.” Lifeway put out some info recently that pointed to the fact that more than half of the pastors in the SBC will reach retirement age within the next decade, and the seminaries aren’t producing nearly enough graduates going into that field to keep up. I’m generally the youngest person in the room at a Baptist conference or meeting, and I turned 49 this week. What does that say?

  6. rmclawhorn says:

    I agree with much of what you said, however I think you’re giving the BGCT a pass. While the argument may or may not be correct that the BGCT “defunded” the convention, they did not vote to shift their money in a financial vacuum. The BGCT has been leaning away from the SBC since before the changes in the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000. Many in the BGCT have been unhappy with the conservative takeover of the convention and have expressed this for many years. I remember talking with some in the SBC leadership who expressed a real concern that the BGCT would vote to pull money before the changes were even made. What begins as a “redirection” of funds could potentially turn into a complete bail out should a decent excuse come available. Take for instance schools that have been recently voted out of the SBC because of their more liberal leanings. What began as a drive to control their trustees eventually turned into the school endorsing doctrines counter to the SBC and even embracing elements of the CBF. These schools were eventually forced out by their state conventions because of their unablity to influence the doctrine of the schools through trustee appointment. The shift in the BGCT should be viewed with caution because of the increasing political tension between the “liberal” leaning BGCT and the SBC.

    I’m sure if I sat down and examined what the BGCT endorsed, I’d agree with 95% of it, but it seems to me that once the more liberal elements of the convention see that they are losing out, instead of trying to work within the system for a positive change, they are leaving completely. Much like the Confederate states tried to leave to protect their idealology, churches leaving the SBC should see themselves as not stregnthening the body of Christ, but merely creating greater discord.

    While you argue that there is not much whining about megachurches lack of support of the Cooperative Program, I think you are missing the point. Most assuredly there is whining about megachurches pumping more money into their latest building project than missions, I know this because my father is the president of a SCBC supported ministry.

    The difference in a few mega churches not fully supporting the SBC financially and the BGCT is the scale of the problem. In Texas the problem is not a few megachurches, as many of the largest churches joined the newly formed Texas Baptist Convention. The problem in Texas is that 75% of the delegates to the convention voted to do what we complain a few megachurches are doing. This indicates a larger problem in the BGCT.

    As I argued earlier that those liberal groups leaving the SBC for the CBF are weakening the body of Christ, I believe that the conservative formation of a conservative convention in Texas only serves to create greater strife. Instead of being able to work within the system, increasingly groups are taking the easy way out and forming their own conventions that agree with their idealologies. Much like gerrymandering districts, the creation of seperate conventions only serves to further weaken the SBC.

    I believe that there are many younger people interested in serving in the SBC. Mainly because I am one. I’d love to find a way to get involved in the SBC, but as you said, most of these positions are taken up by older gentlemen. I realize that I am probably too young to get involved, but I see a strong group of people wanting to get involved in my generation. I went to North Greenville University and while I was there I saw a great desire by many to get involved in some form or another in the SBC or in the ministry. While I think the school often uses Jesus to accomplish what it wants, I think the student body there is representative of a generation ready to serve if given a chance.

  7. As one outside the SBC “loop”, I think the SBC is in danger of worshipping the Baptist Faith and Message document…or the “inerrancy of Scripture” more than the GOD of the Scriptures.

    Enough of the legalisms, please. Maybe the SBCers who are so concerned with the “doctrinal purity” should be equally concerned with winning the lost, discipling converts, and creating community in their local churches.

    After all JESUS said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples…”

    And He didn’t conclude that statement with the “BF&M document the SBC has endorsed.”

    Now did he?

  8. lees1975 says:

    Winning the lost. Discipling converts. Creating community in the local church. Sounds like what my job description tells me I’m supposed to motivate and encourage my church to do.

    I don’t think there is a denominational initiative or program to make that happen.

  9. rmclawhorn says:

    At the risk of sounding sarcastic: I believe there is a denominational initiative to win the lost….the North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board as well as the countless state and local programs designed to minister and witness to the lost, disciple converts and create community in the local church.

    I must agree with Phil-Hoover in regards to people valuing the Baptist Faith and Message more than they should. The BF&M is merely a man-made document which affirms the collective values of the SBC. Accepting or rejecting it does not make one a Christian and I hope those trying to force the current document on everyone realizes that. Too many people are caught up in whether or not people ascribe to the 2000 or 1963 versions, when in reality, the BF&M has no real power over SBC member churches. The SBC has a unique structure where there is no heirarchy forcing churches to ascribe to the BF&M. Each church is technically autonominous and able to make its own bylaws which may vary from the BF&M, a unique feature for a denomination apparently devoted to “doctrinal purity.”

    However, I believe there can be no doubt about the inerrancy of scripture or our basic beliefs in Christianity amount to nothing. The only truth we know absolutley is what is written in the Bible. Without the Bible we would not even know the GOD of the Bible. God has revealed his truth to man through the Bible. If we remove this truth through compromising about its inerrancy, the church and Christian has nothing to stand on for truth except how they feel about God.

    Those attacking the inerrancy of the Bible are attacking the foundation of all Christianity. Why should we save the lost or build the community of the church or suffer for His name when the foundation of our beliefs is merely another book, political philosophy, or religion? If we ignore the debate about the inerrancy of the Bible we ignore it to our own peril.