Will the BGCT and SBTC ever join forces and work together again in cooperative ministry focused on helping churches advance the kingdom?  Will the moderate/conservative rift in the SBC ever disappear, and bring churches back together in missions and ministry cooperation?

Yes, it will happen.  Perhaps not until the resurrection, but on that day, Baptists will be joined by Christians of all other denominations and non-denominations, the labels and brand names will become meaningless, the theological arguments and disagreements will be put in their proper perspective and seen for their worthlessness and senselessness, and Christians will find themselves in the same place and of the same accord. 

Perhaps there may be a little humor on that day.  Picture this.  The angels escorting Paige Patterson and Daniel Vestal deliberately cross paths, and as they do, they use eternal rope to bind their hands together, so that they must make their resurrection journey hand in hand.  Paul Pressler and Cecil Sherman are whisked to a point where they, too, are joined at the hand.  Richard Land and Robert Parham also bump into each other and are tied with the eternal cord.  As they reach the heavenly portal where their denominational identity melts away, and they become part of the greater Christian community, they are welcomed into their new home by Adrian Rogers and Ken Chafin, standing together, Rogers on the left, Chafin on the right.  Before too long, we see David Currie, tied to Jim Richards with the same heavenly rope, both wearing cowboy hats and boots.  Yeah, so I could have some more fun with this, but you get the picture.

To be sure, there are those on both sides who aren’t too sure some of those people are all headed in the same direction.  Personal judgements aside, the fact of the matter is that we claim the eternity that believing in Christ offers, and we are heading in the same direction.  So why is reconciliation impossible? 

There are those in Baptist life who pick and choose through the Biblical text in order to cite it as authority for their presuppositions, and ignore the parts that do not fit the lifestyle and belief system they have already chosen for themselves.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that only applies to moderates who “don’t believe the Bible.”  We’re all pretty good at doing that.  Thank God for grace, huh?  But when it comes right down to it, how many Baptists are there who do not accept the authority and sufficiency of the scriptures?  I think not many.  Fundamentalists and conservatives have co-opted the use of the term “inerrancy,” and have added some supplemental doctrines to the meaning of that term, but ultimately, regardless of which human words you use to describe it, the bulk of Baptists believe the Bible to be divinely inspired truth, without any mixture of error.  Our confessions of faith, going back to the 1920’s, all capture those convictions.  Ironically, the fundamentalists who co-opted the term “inerrant” chose not to include it in the 2000 BFM, the confession over which they had control.  They chose instead to use their moment in the sun to codify a clause against women serving as pastors. 

Ultimately, the battles Baptists have fought over the past thirty years, and to be completely frank, that we have more or less always been fighting, involve egos, control, turf protecting and personal interests.  Remove the controversial personalities, place the focus back on building Christ’s Kingdom until he comes again, and I’d be willing to bet that the bulk of Baptists who find themselves in the middle, between the extremes, will play and work well together.  Some of the original leaders of the conservative resurgence were genuinely concerned with theological drift to the left, and wanted to keep the SBC centered and rooted in the scripture.  It was those who saw this effort as an opportunity to advance their own cause and build their own kingdom by putting themselves in a position to name and claim the prominent denominational job they wanted that brought out the iron fists and turned away from any kind of meaningful dialogue about cooperation. 

There are those who say that the structures and organizations that have been created in the aftermath of controversy make reconciliation impossible, and that “accepting things as they are” is the only solution.  The sides are too far apart, and the creation of new structures and organizations has pretty much solidified the position of the opposite sides, particularly in the sharp divide between the BGCT and the SBTC.  I’ve always been taught that the scripture we claim for our authority tells us that divisions and quarrels among the brethren are not of God, and that with God, nothing is impossible.  So if there is not reconciliation among Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ, what exactly is that telling us?

I thought you’d be thinking that.

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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.

10 responses

  1. Forgiveness is always in order. But is reconciliation always necessary and is reconciliation always healthy for the parties involved?

    When two people get a divorce, bad words are often exchanged. The couple fights and bickers and one party or both might be verbally abusive to the other. Years after the divorce (hopefully sooner), the couple may choose to forgive one another. But that couple probably would be foolish to tie the knot again.

    And why the focus on reconciling white Southern Baptist conservatives with white former-Southern Baptist moderates? Why not a focus on reuniting Northern Baptists with Baptists in the South? Or why not focusing on uniting Black Baptists with White Baptists?

    Clinton struck this reconciliation theme in his speech at the New Baptist Covenant. I found it odd because so many of us present have completely moved on from the SBC. And it’s safe to say that both moderate organizations and the mammoth SBC are better off doing work for the Kingdom separately.

    Reconciliation between two very different types of Baptists would cause one party or both to do a great deal of compromising our beliefs. I don’t think that’s very spiritually healthy either.

    I do agree with you on this: the bulk of Baptists lie in the middle. Unfortunately, they were turned off long ago by the political nature of the annual meetings and their voice rarely gets heard.

  2. Lee says:

    Actually, I think we need to be talking about Christians reconciling with other Christians. The divided patchwork of denominational families and groups isn’t a Biblical model of how Christ’s church should operate.

    As far as being better off working for the kingdom separately, it depends on your definition of “better off.” CBF, the Alliance, the BGCT and the BGAV, which are the main expressions of “moderate” Baptists, are all struggling financially. CBF is dealing with declining revenue and a shrinking pool of churches supporting it. Membership and participation are plateaued, if not actually in decline, and there have been limits and pull backs in international missions development, theological education, and just about ever other measure of progress. And in reality, only a handful of CBF congregations have taken the step to cut their ties with the SBC, the vast majority of them still support it, in most cases their CBF affiliation is based on the wishes of just a handful of their members. The SBC has experienced the same, a decline in baptisms, a plateau in membership and participation in church life, a budget that isn’t keeping pace with inflation. I don’t see much “Kingdom advance” in division.

    I fully agree that we should be talking about reconciliation between both the “Northern” and “Southern” varieties of Baptists as well as African American and Caucasians. The New Baptist Covenant placed a major emphasis on that, largely because there were four groups meeting in Atlanta prior to the Celebration, and had they not been included and involved, the crowd wouldn’t have been large enough to draw much media attention, but I didn’t hear much talk about bringing the denominational groups together under the same banner. The SBC hasn’t tooted its own horn in this area, but if you’ll do a little research, you’ll find that the long standing relationship between the SBC and the NBC in particular, has resulted in a significant number of African American churches becoming either dually affiliated with the SBC, or joining it outright.

    It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. The power structures that have been created within denominations and various groups make it hard for those who have gripped the steering wheels of control to let go. Worldly power always has that effect.

  3. Ken Coffee says:

    Lee, what a great post. Just before coming over here to read your newest post I popsted on my own blog “What About This Separatist Thing?” Our two pieces are complimentary to one another. I have always been a “glass half full” kind of person, so I choose to believe reconciliation is possible. I believe if people would just get on their knees together they would come to understand we agree on infinitely more than we disagree on. Prayer and praise is a much better reconciler than carping and criticism. Good job.

  4. Lee: I agree with you. I had hope beyond hope that Baptists could reconcile. I just don’t see that happening, at least anytime soon. Christians reconciling with Christians seems more a possibility.

  5. David Lowrie says:

    Lee,

    I like the way you think. It appears to me you’ve been hanging out with Jesus and learning to see the world and relationships through Kingdom eyes.

    I believe what you dream of is possible.

    I suspect the road ahead will surprise some, but not the Lord. I am confident good things are in store because there is too much at stake for God to leave it all in our hands.

    David Lowrie

  6. Lee,

    Again, you’re floating the tired narrative that the African-American groups just happened to be in Atlanta the weekend of the Celebration. Ever stopped to think that the timing was PLANNED? It was. Some from the historic meeting of the African-American groups stayed for the entire Celebration. Others just stayed one night. Not all could afford (financially and/or in terms of time off from work) to take the entire week off.

    Let’s not pretend that there is a vibrant relationship between the NBC and SBC. Yes, there are quite a few churches that are dually aligned (SBC-NBC). Dwight McKissic’s church is one such example. But show me proof that the SBC-NBC relationship is truly active. A relationship that exists merely on paper does not count. And I do agree that all Baptists have come to this “working with other Baptist groups” dance a little late. But, many Baptists in the South have been active in this regard through work with the Baptist Joint Committee, Baptist World Alliance and Baptist Peace Fellowship for quite some time.

    You are right that most churches that give to the CBF also give to the SBC. However, that fact doesn’t make those churches less CBF or less moderate. Most churches allow their members to choose where their missions money goes. To me the concept of “choice” in missions giving is the best option because it respects each member’s conscience. In years past, my dad helped several “CBF” churches set up such a giving plan. Bottom line is that most older Baptists aren’t going to drop Lottie and Annie even if fundamentalists are running Nashville. My grandma falls in this category. She’s a WMUer with a CBF mentality. She supports the CBF, gives to the CBF, but she’s also going to give to Lottie and Annie as she has for decades. Most churches that give primarily to the CBF respect the older generation and have chosen to give each member a choice. I also like the BGCT’s system in this regard.

    As to the financial situation of moderate institutions and organizations like the CBF, chalk it up to growing pangs. They’re still trying to figure out Who They Are and Where They Are Going…

    But with this question of reconciliation, the age-old question must be asked: what type of unity are you seeking? unity in doctrine? unity in missions? How much theological diversity are you willing to accept? You talk about Christians reconciling with other Christians. Well, what does that mean? What does your vision of reconciliation look like in terms of Baptists and Catholics? We are the two largest Christian groups in America.

    Last summer, I was in a Catholic wedding. During rehearsal, the priest informed the non-Catholic groomsmen that he couldn’t give us the Eucharist during the service. However, we could receive a blessing. The next day, during his homily, he explained to the crowd that non-Catholics couldn’t receive the Eucharist. And then he explained that he believed in our lifetime a reconciliation would occur and WE (non-Catholics) would come back to the Church. I use this example to show that reconciliation looks different to different people. And his version of reconciliation was not respecting of my freedom of conscience and overall would be unacceptable to most Baptists.

  7. Chuck says:

    BDW,

    You reminded me of three more buzzwords I left out in my comment on your thread: Baptist Joint Committee, Baptist World Alliance and Baptist Peace Fellowship. Add to these Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

    The news out of the Baptist Building in Dallas regarding the cutbacks in light of the projected budget shortfall make your question even more timely.

  8. Lee says:

    From a strictly Baptist perspective, which is probably the best place to start, churches are independent and autonomous, so unity in mission and ministry is realistic and achievable. Doctrinal unity would be hard to arrive at if only two churches were involved, though I believe the vast majority of Baptists are a lot closer together in interpreting the foundational doctrines of Christianity than most people think. The strict, literalist interpretations that are cited by some usually come from those who are seeking to hold on to some kind of power or control, and that includes some of the positions moderates have taken simply to distinguish themselves with some kind of identity.

    If you check your Baptist history, you will discover that the relationship between the SBC and NBC goes back to the days of E.Y. Mullins, and the SBC’s establishment of what eventually became the American Baptist College in Nashville, a Bible college and seminary providing training to African American ministers and missionaries. That relationship continued until 1996, when the SBC turned the property and endowment assets over to the board of trustees. Cooperative Program dollars still provide the same level of scholarship assistance to students there as SBC students receive at their six seminaries, and NBC students who attend SBC seminaries do so at the same tuition rate. In addition, through both the national SBC and most state conventions, Southern Baptists cooperate with the NBC in church planting and Christian social ministries. NAMB works with NBC affiliated churches through its World Changers program, something in which I have been personally involved, and there are mission centers in the inner city areas of most big Southern cities in which both SBC and NBC churches are working together. I know that several of the larger African American Baptist congregations here in Houston, all but one of which are dually affiliated SBC-NBC, are heavily involved in NAMB-related missions, including the mission centers and church planting. So the NBC-SBC cooperation is a lot more “vibrant” than you think it is.

    CBF claims 1,900 contributing churches, with an annual budget of somewhere in the neighborhood of $16 million. Perhaps it is just anectodal, but of the CBF churches I am aware of here in Houston, only a few would fit the description of a CBF church as you put it. Of the 11 in this association that I am aware of, only one is uniquely aligned with CBF, and only one other one actually gives a 50-50 split between CBF and the SBC. The rest simply allow a few moderate members to contribute through the budget to CBF, but the churches don’t have a moderate or CBF “identity” to speak of. According to the CBF website, a church is considered to be a “contributing church” if it gives any money at all to CBF through its budget in the course of a year, and through that contribution is allowed to participate in the General Assembly. Considering that CBF claims 1,900 contributing churches and they give to a budget of about $16 million a year, and knowing what many of the hundred or so “uniquely affiliated” churches give, it is pretty obvious that most of those 1,900 churches are much more committed to the SBC, and it’s not just the “old people” who want to give to Lottie and Annie. When 1,800 of the 1,900 churches in your organization still support the SBC at a greater financial level than they do CBF, I don’t even think you can say that the two groups are separated enough to require a reconciliation. The major issue that CBF has more or less claimed for their identity is an openess toward women in ministry, particularly in the pastorate, but that has simply not developed. I see very little difference, in theology or practice, between the large center of the SBC, and CBF. Remove the personalities and the two groups are easily brought together.

  9. We don’t need to get into a church-counting debate. We all know the SBC doesn’t really have 16 million members and their church counting procedure is not exactly accurate.

    As to the 50-50 split thing, I know nothing about Texas CBF. However, I can tell you this – in many state conventions on the East Coast (such as Georgia), there is a rule that certain employees such as BSU directors can not belong to a Baptist church that has a line item in their budget for the CBF. They get around this rule by going the “Choice” route that I described earlier. Thus, you’ll find alot of CBF churches on the East Coast (where CBF is clearly much stronger) that use a giving method similar to what I described in my previous post. Like I said, my dad has assisted three churches that have gone this route. None were in Texas.

    CBF is indeed open to women in the ministry. The seminaries have done a great job of training women to serve all types of ministerial roles. Actually, you wouldn’t believe the number of CBF affiliated women that are now in Ph.D. programs – more women than men that’s for sure. Job placement for women pastors has been tough. Some progress is being made. But, honestly it’s just a matter of time. Old-timers are generally not going to actively seek out a female pastor even if they support the idea of a woman behind the pulpit. However, compare that to the SBC. How many women are actually teaching men in the seminaries these days? If the SBC ever changes course on this issue, you’ll be forced to hire outsiders to teach your Southern Baptist seminarians since the SBC will not have trained any women theologians or women historians. That’s sad.

    I do agree with you that there ain’t much difference between moderate Southern Baptists and moderate-conservative CBFers. Even the astute SEBTS historian Nathan Finn has acknowledged that there are quite a few true conservatives in CBF ranks.

    And your last line is probably true but will never happen.

    You can’t remove the personalities. Moderates didn’t want to leave the SBC in the first place. Most were run out. And those who run the show in Nashville and in the seminaries have a firm grip on the Convention. It won’t change because it can’t really change without a generation or two of folks dying out.

  10. kfgray says:

    Mentioning reconciliation now goes against the tide in church, of all places. It may be preached from the pulpit sometimes but the tide in church prefers to “move on.” Which is utterly depressing.