“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.