“And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind.  Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.  Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized.  Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us. ”  Titus 2:7-8, NLT (emphasis mine)

Sometimes, I do remember the topic of a sermon.  This particular one was preached this morning, so I ought to remember, but our speaker, Dr. Bob Overton, made some excellent points.  He was applying them to the church, though he did mention some of our denominational troubles.  But the same principles do apply to our denominational structures.  Baptists have earned a well-deserved reputation for being disagreeable, not only with Christians of other denominational backgrounds, but with each other.  We continue to insist that we are right, and continue to do things that demonstrate a spirit of disunity without seeming to be aware of the fact that we are setting a bad example in the middle of a lost world by continuously ignoring scripture.

We have learned how to irritate whomever we have declared to be “the other side.”  Terms like “fundamentalist” and “liberal” are used with somewhat of a sneer, to make the point that we do not approve of those we label.  The influence and prestige of positions that our insulated Baptist bubble elevates to prominence and power are used to keep those on “the other side” from gaining any kind of advantage, and sometimes they are used to block certain individuals from being considered by a pulpit committee or from being employed by a Baptist entity.  On the other side of that same coin, those same things are used to make sure that individuals who “support the cause” are rewarded with the sugar plum of a high salaried denominational post for their loyalty, whether they are competent to perform the job required or not.  If we think the “outside world” is not watching this, and taking it into consideration, we are dead wrong. 

As a Texas Baptist, I find myself having to explain why we have two state conventions that apparently cannot cooperate with each other.  There are those that would characterize it as a doctrinal difference.  If that is the case, then try to explain that to someone who isn’t a pastor or church leader who is completely involved in denominational affairs using the 1963 and 2000 editions of the Baptist Faith and Message.  At a conference I attended last year, a Lutheran minister from Wisconsin, who had been serving a church in Texas when the second state convention was formed, was astounded at the fact that the convention actually split over the doctrinal differences expressed by those two statements.  It was hard to explain that, while those are the doctrinal expressions of the two groups, other differences related to denominational politics, such as one person being elected to an office with appointive powers over someone else, were more at fault. 

Baptists seem willing to live with this arrangement.  In Texas, it’s like a battle on a stalled front, with both sides camped out, lobbing shells at the other side every now and then.  As one who reads both the Southern Baptist Texan and the Baptist Standard, I can see the shells flying overhead every now and then in subtle digs in articles and editorials.  There are times when it sounds like we are actually celebrating what we declare to be victorious battles; the movement of churches from one convention to the other, or a statistical achievement that was greater than the other side accomplished.  It is almost as if we are putting our disagreements and squabbles in print, so there is a record that any of our critics can find and follow.

During the recent hurricane, and subsequent aftermath, Baptists from at least 15 different state conventions, including both Texas conventions, came to the Houston-Galveston area with one focus in mind–to help those affected by the disaster recover from it, and to offer a helping hand, the proverbial cup of water, in the name of Jesus.  It was not a time for denominational politics, as hundreds of Southern Baptists helped thousands of Texans cut trees, remove debris, have a hot meal, and even have a place to do their laundry.  Doctrine is important, but when the ministry focus is right, we can very obviously work together, united in the Spirit.

During the fall season, Baptists gather at their state convention meetings.  At the BGCT this November, there are some signs that the ice is thawing just a bit in what has been a cold relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention.  Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is being allowed to exhibit, after a petty, retaliatory action taken by the BGCT.  That’s a small gesture in light of what needs to happen.  Hopefully, it will lead to the reconciliation that needs to take place. 

I’ve been told that reconciliation between the two Texas Baptist state conventions is an impossibility.  I can certainly offer no solution to that kind of a reconciliation.  However, I believe that the scriptures do contain the solution, if they are spiritually discerned and applied.  Think about it.  It is the desire of God’s heart that we be unified in Christ.  We need to give in to his desires by letting go of what we have prioritized as important, and let Him re-arrange our priorities.  Then, and only then, will reconciliation be possible.

 

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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. Jack Matthews says:

    Living in Nashville, every time the Southern Baptist Convention does something controversial, we experience reaction to it. There are several local pastors who are always quick to speak up in opposition to anything the convention does, and the local television affiliates always know where to find them.

    We experience this in church as well. My wife and I left the church that we attended together in college, and in which we were married 15 years ago, to help plant a new congregation. The new church is made up of people who are younger than we are, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s. This sounds great, except that many of them do not have a concept of Christian self-sacrifice, or the idea that the “mature” Christians in the church are directed to consider the needs of others. The idea that they are putting money in the offering plate makes them think they are entitled to some kind of “return” for it, and if things don’t go their way they will abandon their commitment, and stop coming, and we’ll find out a month later that they’ve gone to one of the megachurches, or another one of the “trendy” congregations in town. You may have read of the troubles here at the Two Rivers Baptist Church. We are not too far from there, and we have had about 60 of their members join our congregation. We do not offer the smorgasbord of activity and service that a congregation that size can offer, and we are now having difficulty with an overcrowded nursery and preschool area that is undersupervised because most of our new families are not used to having to volunteer to work in there once in a while. Also, when you grow because members are coming from other churches, it actually hinders your ability to grow through evangelism. It is amazing how that has happened.

    The state convention is a whole different set of problems.

  2. Given that Baptists aren’t the only type of Christians, how do you propose that we find “unity in Christ” with other non-Baptist groups? If “unity in Christ” is truly important, we should think ecumenically outside of the Baptist box.

    But inside Baptist life, shouldn’t we also focus on racial reconciliation with Hispanic Baptists and Black Baptists – many of which have no affiliation with either the BGCT or SBTC?

    It seems that if greater “unity in Christ” is ever to be achieved, we’re going to have to think outside of Texas, outside of the two fighting state convention box. In our postmodern context, I really don’t think “unity” is going to come through the old failed bureaucratic state convention system of the past and present.

  3. Lee says:

    I would tend to agree with you. I think God is grieved by the disunity that exists as a result of our having divided into denominations. Look at the history of the Reformation. Wars were fought between countries that lined up behind religious groups.

    Gaining unity in the larger Christian family would be difficult, considering the habits that have developed. Being “ecumenical” is not necessarily the answer, since many denominations have codified doctrines and practices that are not supported by Biblical teaching, but by their own tradition, and Baptists of all kinds have done that as well. Still, it is clear from the New Testament that the church was not intended to be divided.

    Baptists can, at the very least, tend to their own house.

    I’m not sure the model that currently exists, with Hispanic and Black Baptists generally having separate congregations and separate fellowships within the convention structure, is a good one. I serve a church where minority groups make up half of the active membership, mainly Hispanics, African Americans and Asians who do not meet separately but are part of the congregation and included in leadership. The only Hispanics who meet separately are the non-English speakers who have Bible study and worship in Spanish.

    No one has really made a move toward some kind of Baptist unity. Oh, I know, there was the New Baptist Covenant, but so far, that’s just been “dialogue.” The historically Black groups do not appear to be ready to join in with their caucasian brethren. And yet, while the SBC is often criticized for not joining in, among Baptist groups in America it probably has more predominantly black congregations among its affiliated churches than any other Baptist denomination in the country except the historically black groups.

    Our convention structures are hindrances to unity. They must change.

  4. Todd Pylant says:

    Of course, bringing unity between the two state conventions assumes that there is a great outcry to keep “conventions” at all. We support both conventions, but not with a great deal of excitement. While it might have seemed natural to have a national, state, and local level of bureaucracy, it now seems redundant and wasteful. Perhaps the battle is not just stalled. Perhaps the soldiers have left the front lines out of disinterest. After all, there are greater battles to fight at home.

  5. Lee says:

    It could very well be that unity among Texas Baptists would look much different than simply bringing two conventions back together. I would agree that conventions, in their current form, are becoming increasingly irrelevant, and inefficient uses of resources. Affinity groups with common interests, networks of churches matching needs with resources, such as the Willow Creek Association, for example, give an idea of what the future looks like. And in those kinds of organizations, doctrinal conformity gives way to agreement on the essentials. Relationships are build on common ministry and missions interests, not dictated by bureaucrats. I think we will get to that point, though the conventions may have to be forced to deal with it when the money drops off and the supporting membership, mostly individuals past 60, is no longer able to attend convention gatherings.