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?