It may just be a matter of perspective, or of the fact that prior to graduating from college in 1979, I wasn’t all that interested in things that were happening in the Southern Baptist Convention, but it seems that we have entered a period of time in which there is almost constant controversy.  The Pressler-Patterson “Conservative Resurgence vs. Moderate” controversy that dominated the convention for two decades has seemingly turned into several small, smoldering controversies as a move toward a particular group’s agenda and perspective of “doctrinal purity” has clashed with the views of others, not over Biblical authority, but over a whole variety of issues from conflicts over practices of the “emergent” church community, to differences of opinion over interpreting scripture related to the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues, to Calvinism, to arguments over secular politics. 

It has been difficult, at least for me, to sort through all of this, and keep up with it.  When I graduated from college in 1979, prepared at that point to answer a call to vocational ministry of some sort, I was aware of what was happening, but I thought it was just one of those things that would eventually work itself out.  Frankly, I didn’t see that the differences between the groups would become so deep, and the feelings become so badly hurt that any kind of reconciliation would appear to be impossible.  I don’t believe the sides were all that far apart, but in the fight over control of the convention’s offices and the trustee boards was so bitter that individuals were pushed out on limbs where they might not ever have gone. 

There are a lot of people who feel caught in the middle, and I’ll put myself in that category.  On the one hand, I believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, and that its narratives are both historically accurate and spiritually authoritative.  In short, I believe the words of scripture are both inspired by, and illuminated by, the Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, I must ask the question as to whether a politically planned and conducted campaign that manipulated a system based on trust to aquire the power to implement an agenda that, in hindsight, exaggerated the threat of “liberal” influence in the SBC was necessary.  There are many events in the history of the conservative resurgence that look machiavellian, and which have given the denomination a black eye.  And now, it seems we are sinking even deeper into controversy over new issues that bring more division. 

The fact that this is happening within the ranks of our own denomination is the enemy’s work.  What else could it be?  The opportunity to reach the world with the gospel message, with available technology, has never been greater.  Yet we are divided and arguing over things that are insignificant.  We are, in fact, looking a lot like the churches that John wrote to in the early part of the book of Revelation.  Those whose spiritual security lies in doctrinal purity are putting their trust in the academic and language skills of scripture analysis, hoping they will be able to get inside the mind of the writer, and hold to a doctrinal position that somehow pleases God.  But like the Ephesian Christians, they have lost their first love, at a high cost, and they still have no guarantee that the exacting, detailed, doctrinal conclusion they have arrived at is anything more than their own interpretation of it.   The other side of that is to incur the wrath of God with a form of religious practice that isn’t pleasing to him because it is indeed in error, such as that practiced by the Gnostics and the Nicolaitans, who led the church astray for their own selfish purposes.  Somewhere in all of the confusion, there is a place where we can please God, find redemption and advance the kingdom. 

“Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free.  But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”  I Corinthians 12:13

The Bible holds the key to spiritual unity in Christ.  If we believe what it says is truth, then we are well past the time for practicing it in our own house.

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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.

5 responses

  1. I bet you were wishing you could put April Fool at the end of your post, but unfortunately you are right on the button. I agree with you, as usual.

  2. David Rogers says:

    Lee,

    I can understand and sympathize with those who, out of a love for God, and a desire to not compromise in their faithfulness and obedience to him, seek to maintain a strict adherence to their understanding of what Scripture teaches. This, in and of itself, is admirable, and something we all should emulate.

    Where I think we have perhaps gone wrong, however, which you correctly allude to here, is in over-emphasizing certain aspects of Scriptural teaching to the detriment of others. Among the writings of the early church fathers, there is a very evident emphasis on the unity of the Body of Christ that is largely absent, or at least minimized, in many denominational contexts of today. And, as I read it, this emphasis on unity includes the New Testament church, and the writings of the apostles as well. At times, it can be tricky to wrestle with the implications of balancing obedience and faithfulness on secondary and tertiary issues with obedience and faithfulness in the practice of unity. Because of this, many follow the path of least resistance, conveniently neglecting the thorny issues of working together with those who don’t see eye to eye with us. In the short run, the “returns” from this approach even seem to confirm its validity. However, in the long run, I’m afraid, we may be “selling the company store.”

    Bottom line: consistent faithfulness and obedience to the teaching of Scripture means taking seriously what it has to say about unity within the entire Body of Christ as well.

  3. Ken Coffee says:

    I loved David’s comment to your excellent post. I happen to be one of those who believes that God is more concerned with the quality of our relationships than he is our doctrine. Every book Paul wrote speaks to that.

  4. Ellis Orozco says:

    Lee:

    Excellent, heartfelt post.

    Jesus said, “This is the way they (the world) will know that you belong to me … the way you love each other.”

    blessings,
    ellis

  5. Steve Austin says:

    The ironic heartbreak resulting from all these worldly shenanigans is the realization of what could have been done through all the seminarians and missionaries who were deemed disposable by the Patterson-Pressley partisans, even while they pressed forward certain men you wouldn’t let on your farm if you’d known about it.