When I was six years old, I was baptized in a cattle tank on a ranch in Southeastern Arizona about two weeks after walking the aisle in a Southern Baptist church that was barely a year old. It was a small congregation that met under a tent for a while, and then in an army barracks that had been moved from nearby Ft. Huachuca because, in the predominantly Mormon farming community where the church was located, a building permit couldn’t be secured. That was in 1963, so I can lay claim to having been involved in Southern Baptist churches for a long time. I had to be baptized again when I was 22, because I really didn’t know what I was doing when I was six, and in spite of a few cultural differences that have come about as a result of living in the West instead of the Deep South, I have a lot of experience being a Christian of the Southern Baptist variety.
I’m not a person of influence, prestige or denominational pedigree. I’m a second-chair staff person in a mid-sized, typical Southern Baptist church in a large city in Texas. From the time I graduated from college in 1979, until just last year, I worked mainly with middle school, high school and college students in discipleship ministry or Christian day school education. I made the transition from local church staff to Christian school faculty to administration and back to local church staff fairly easily, because all of those jobs are quite similar. The only “office” I’ve ever held was secretary of the Southwestern Seminary alumni chapter in Kentucky, and I got that because I was the only person out of the seven that attended that particular meeting that hadn’t held an office in the chapter. There aren’t a lot of Southwestern grads in Kentucky, for obvious reasons.
Theologically, I don’t like labels, and I’m not particularly happy using the term “inerrancy” to describe my belief regarding the Bible, mainly because of the other political baggage that it carries. However, I am a practical inerrantist in that I do believe the scripture is without error, is completely authoritative for the Christian, and that it is a completely sufficient source for everything related to a Christian and his relationship with a Holy God through his Son, Jesus the Christ. I believe in the virgin birth, the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead, his future literal return, in the miracles Jesus and the apostles performed, in the indwelling Holy Spirit and in the assurance I have through faith in Christ of eternity with God in heaven.
I also believe, as a Southern Baptist, in soul freedom which is widely known as priesthood of the believer and includes the ability and obligation of the individual, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, to study and interpret the scripture, and in church freedom, which is the body of Christ functioning independently and autonomously as led by the Lord. As I stated in my previous article, I strongly believe that the denomination is created for the church, and not the church for the denomination.
I don’t believe that Southern Baptists are the only Christians, or the ones who are closest to the teachings of the scripture, or a bit more “correct” than anyone else. Let’s be honest, a lot of what we believe, and a lot of the way we express and apply it, is based on our own history and cultural background, and we are just as prone to error as any other theology of any other denomination. Frankly, I’m a Southern Baptist because that was the only other church in the community where I lived and my parents, who were nominally Christian but not involved in a church, wanted me in a Sunday School group and didn’t want me influenced spiritually by the overwhelmingly Mormon environment in which we lived at the time. They were eventually baptized in that little church themselves because the people cared enough to continue to minister to them over the years that my sister and I attended. My Dad eventually served for 28 years as a deacon. I don’t get shook about secondary doctrinal matters that are based on individual interpretations of the scripture.
The problem in the SBC revolves around personalities and politics, and not theology. Theology is getting a bad rap, and it is being used to justify actions that are, frankly, not justifiable from a Christian perspective. With that being said, let me offer a few suggestions as to what might make things more peaceful in the SBC, and less stressful. It also might help those of us down here in the trenches who suffer the effects of highly publicized power struggles that we are powerless to do anything about.
1. The President of the SBC is elected to serve one, one-year term. Once he has served in that capacity, he may not be eligible for any trustee board or committee seat, or any other SBC office.
2. Trustees and committee members are elected to two terms of service. Once they have served as an SBC agency trustee or board member, they may not serve in another SBC related position.
3. No more than one SBC trustee can be elected from a single church. If a member of a trustee board, or an officer of the convention who is a member of the same church is still serving, no other member of that congregation may be elected to serve until that person’s term is completed.
I think that would be a good way to broaden the tent, and it might be exactly what some people have in mind for doing just that. In a denomination as large as the SBC, there is no excuse for the same people rotating from one trustee board to another, one office to another, nor for a dozen people from one church to hold seats across the spectrum of denominational offices.
What do you think?