Our Baptist forebearers walked a very tricky path when it came to the issue of loyalty.  Emerging from a time when national loyalty meant swearing allegiance to a king who also claimed to be the human head of the church, there were Baptists among those Christians who experienced various forms of execution and persecution for their rather unique position at the time, involving spiritual loyalty to no one but Christ, and yet desiring to remain as patriotic as possible with regard to the civil authority of the king.  I believe this early persecution, and lack of understanding on the part of the civil authority, was an early development leading to Baptists being among the leaders in rediscovering the Biblical concept of a church that is led by Christ through the Holy Spirit, and not controlled by the civil government.

Jesus’ disciples struggled with the idea of how to measure loyalty. 

38“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”  39“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.  Mark 9:38-41 NIV

The disciples had narrowed loyalty down pretty much to their own little group.  Jesus, however, corrects the perception by attaching the sincere invoking of his name to an act of kindness as simple as giving a cup of water.  “Whoever is not against us is for us” is a statement that falls into the category of one of those hard to understand sayings of Jesus.  It sort of cuts through all the requirements and regulations, and gets right down to the heart of the matter. 

In Baptist life today, we define loyalty in completely different terms.  It may be true that “whoever is not against us is for us,” but in most cases, our sense of security will not let us leave it there.  We have our own standards of measure, things we need to see before we will invest or commit ourselves.  Loyalty to Christ isn’t enough, for some people, to extend the hand of Christian fellowship and cooperation. 

In the Southern Baptist Convention, after more than 25 years of conflict, and 17 years of the leadership of the conservative resurgence, other Baptist conservatives are discovering that “loyalty” has been measured by far more than the standard of truth that was given as the main reason for launching the resurgence movement in the first place, which was the affirmation of the inerrancy and infallibility of the scripture.  Individuals like Wade Burleson and Dwight McKissic, who both affirm the inerrancy and infallibility of the scripture, have discovered that there are certain interpretations of the scripture that must also be affirmed before trust is secured and loyalty is determined.  They have discovered, along with a number of other Southern Baptists, that some of the standards by which loyalty is measured are unwritten, but at the same time are invoked by those who have the power to invoke them, in spite of the fact that no confession of faith adopted by Baptists as a standard for cooperation contains a written description of them. 

There are others who have discovered that, in addition to affirming inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, affirming those who led the resurgence is also a requirement for holding a position of service in one of the SBC’s institutions, agencies, or on one of their boards or committees.  Lewis Drummond and Ken Hemphill could probably shed some light on this aspect of Baptist loyalty, among many others who were not prominent or important enough to have their name mentioned.  This aspect of Baptist life has even found its way into the Presidential election campaign, in the form of stubborn reluctance on the part of some resurgence leaders to accept or acknowledge a particular candidate who happens to be an ordained Southern Baptist minister, and certainly more qualified than anyone else in the entire field to represent the interests of the evangelical Christian right.  However, this particular candidate’s lack of participation in the resurgence movement is the cited reason for the fact that certain SBC leaders haven’t come out in support of him. 

“For everyone who is not against us is for us…”

Money has also become a measure of loyalty in Baptist conventions.  The number of messengers a church may send to the BGCT is determined by the size of the check that the church sends, and how much of it goes to missions causes directly administered by the BGCT.  Loyalty is boiled down to a simple formula of numbers, related to inflated membership statistics and money.  Decide not to follow the prescribed giving formula, and you don’t get as many messengers. 

Likewise, on a BGCT job description, one of the requirements listed is that the person who is hired must become a member of a “uniquely aligned” BGCT congregation.  That’s code language, and not exact language, because few BGCT congregations are “unquely” aligned, according to the BGCT’s own definition of affiliation.  The majority of them are also aligned with the SBC, which would mean that their alignmens isn’t “unique.”  A small number are aligned with both the SBC and CBF.  A few are aligned only with CBF, but only a small handful are actually aligned with the BGCT alone.  The code word refers to “the other convention” in Texas, meaning that if you belong to a church that is dually affiliated with the BGCT and the SBTC, you are not eligible to work for the BGCT.  That’s in spite of the rhetoric from those who are saying that support for the BGCT is the only real test of loyalty for a church, and that its other convention affiliations should not matter.  Don’t buy that.  Those other affiliations do indeed matter.  They are tests of loyalty.

But who is the enemy, if loyalty is the objective?  Other groups of Baptists who may do things a little differently?  Christians who are part of churches that bear other names besides the ones we are familiar with?  Churches that have determined, under the sovereign leadership of the Holy Spirit, a formula for giving their missions money that is different than what the convention leadership would prefer?

Shouldn’t Christ be the object of our loyalty?  And if that’s the case, then shouldn’t the standard we use to measure loyalty, as it applies to “choosing leadership”, be related to loyalty to Christ?  In the grand scheme of things, what does it matter that someone has “paid their dues” or is a “veteran” of some battle that we think is important, but which has been fought completely within our own organization, and not against any spiritual enemy of consequence? 

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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. JMatthews says:

    I’ve never understood the ins and outs of being “in or out” in Baptist organizations. I came into a Baptist church from another denomination while I was a college sophomore, and remained a member of the same church through the remainder of college, through three years of graduate school at a university that was actually just blocks away from the college I attended, and since then, for a decade. The church is not far from the SBC headquarters, or the publishing house, and also has a lot of members who work for the state convention. I could not figure out why, after years of membership, financial support and service, including volunteering to handle the legal services of the church on a pro-bono basis, I was never asked to teach a class or hold membership on a committee. When I found out, about two years ago, that it was because I had come from a church of another denomination, and didn’t have any connection to the “in crowd” in the church, I felt as if I had wasted ten years of my life.

    When we left two years ago to become part of a new church plant, as one of the “point people” in starting the new church, I spent about six months dealing with the convention bureaucracy related to receiving funding. I expected to find people who knew what they were doing. What I found were people who didn’t return calls, who couldn’t really help, and who couldn’t seem to get everything straight related to what we needed to get straight to get funding, confusing rules and guidelines that no one seemed to be able to explain, and just general incompetence. That’s been my only contact with Baptist bureaucrats, but hearing and reading things here, it certainly explains a lot. We decided, by the way, not to accept any outside help, and raised our own support for the new church plant. It was simpler, and in spite of not really knowing what we were doing, God did, and brought us a pastor who did know.

  2. Sam says:

    Two thoughts:

    Are you really ready for the messiness and chaos of following the ‘Christ alone’ model. I think I’m ready to give it a go, but it seems to involve letting go of a lot of theological bugaboos.

    Aren’t some of these scenarios you list more a matter of determining trustworthiness rather than loyalty? I suspect you’ve witnessed examples of enthusiastic but inexperienced folks given responsibility and either can’t get the job done or turn out to be flakes. There’s a reason most churches don’t make 20-somethings deacons. It’s not so much a matter of ‘dues being paid’ as it is determining if they can be trusted with the responsibility.

  3. Lee says:

    Well, let me illustrate with a personal example. I am a 1989 graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That was one year before the conservative resurgence in the SBC suceeded in gaining the majority of the trustees on the board. Southwestern was THE seminary in the Southwest and Texas, and had a reputation for solid, conservative, evangelical scholarship.

    Today, on a list of candidates for a staff position in a “moderate” Texas Baptist congregation that supports both the SBC and CBF, in spite of the fact that I have a ministry record that, at the very least indicates I know what I am doing, and have enjoyed a measure of success in both the church and the school setting, I would have a difficult time even being considered. The fingers would slide down to that “SWBTS 1989” degree, and automatic assumptions would be made. In a church with that perspective, in spite of the fact that I would probably be a good fit, I wouldn’t even get a chance to appear on my own, not without dropping the name of an influential insider who would be able to address a search committee on my behalf. Serving as a volunteer in a ministry operated by the North American Mission Board would be the other shoe to drop. Truett Seminary is the name that rings bells for that kind of church these days. That’s not a matter of trust, or of ability to do the job, that’s loyalty. It’s an “us” versus “them” mentality. It exists on both sides.

    There was a time that I desperately tried to go through that door, and was turned aside. It mattered to me then, and I was devastated. But I’ve been able to shed some “theological bugaboos” (I like that term, and plan to borrow it for future use) along with some misconceptions and misplaced priorities, and hopefully, I am becoming my own person shaped by God, rather than by identifying with some stereotypical Baptist image. I’ve also learned that the vast majority of my colleagues and fellow Baptists out there are not anything like the stereotypes that we associate with the labels that are used to categorize them. Convention politics are all about loyalty. The local church being the body of Christ, that’s a different story.

  4. Dylan says:

    Sam, what kind of “messyness” and “chaos” are you referring to?

  5. Sam says:

    Considering the soap opera that has been Baptist life since it’s inception, one could almost take that question as being rhetorical, but I’ll try to give an answer anyway. And I want apologize ahead of time if I’ve missed Lee’s point entirely.

    I think if we were really as brave as we think we are, we would embrace the five ‘solas’ and the Priesthood of the Believer and be about the business Christ set before us. That means sharing pews with and working along side other Christians that hold very divergent beliefs in matters of scripture. Because one of the hard truths of faith is we can end up in different places theologically when we open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The scriptures are not cut and dry in all areas and that drives us nuts.

    It gets messy because we have to figure out how creationists and Christian evolutionists (or pick your issue) can coexist without trying to silence or marginalize the other. This applies to any hot button or divisive issue we use to set ourselves apart. And if you’re thinking ‘yes, except for ____, because that’s too important’, then you’ve already compromised and it breaks down.

    Considering human nature I’m not sure it’s possible. Even the earliest Christians wanted to vet who could convert – Greeks or just Jews – circumcision or not? But I think it’s a worthy goal and one we should set our eyes on. I suspect we would be amazed what God could do through us if we quit wasting energy squabbling over the color of the drapes and instead threw the doors open.

  6. Dylan says:

    I tend to think that when we allow the Holy Spirit to be the leader, and to lead us spiritually in our interpretation and application of the scripture, we become more unified rather than more divergent. It’s when we “lean on our own understanding,” and allow our biases, whether they be from our upbringing, our background, our academic influences or anywhere else, to be our primary sense of direction that we arrive at divergent theologies and divide ourselves up into brand-name identities with sets of defined beliefs and rules of behavior for belonging to the group. Pride and insecurity combine to give us the attitude that we have it settled, and that our view is superior to that of others. I’ve been in groups and seen things happen to people as a result of a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit that cannot be explained any other way. I’ve had some of those encounters myself, and came away changed.

    I look at how Christianity is expressed today, how it is divided, and how sharp and severe those divisions are, and that is what I call “messiness.” In the places and groups where there have been spiritual encounters, those messes seem to have been somewhat cleaned up.

    Being “Baptist” has a dozen definitions, and there’s disagreement at the very beginning of the discussion about whether we are the descendents of the Anabaptists, the English Separatists, the heirs of a trail of blood going back to Christ, and we don’t realize that the only thing we have in common collectively with everyone else who wears the same name is the name. I don’t believe that was God’s intention for the church.

  7. wpburleson says:

    Lee,

    You like someone’s use of the term “theoloical bugaboos” [so do I] and plan to use it someday yourself.

    I like your “Measuring loyalty and Pointing it in the Right Direction” and plan to link to it someday as a great word on a subject I’m preparing to write a post on in the next month or so. This is really good stuff. Thanks.

    Paul B.

  8. Ted says:

    I wondered how loyalty was measured. I knew it wasn’t hard work and sacrifice. Thanks for the insight.

  9. Lee says:

    Ted,
    Ah, if it only were so.