We may have seen the melting of the tip of an iceberg earlier this week. The results of elections, motions and resolutions made at this year’s BGCT meeting may not be conclusive, but I left Ft. Worth with a more positive feeling about the convention’s direction than I have in any recent year that I can remember. There are some signs that the wind of a new spirit may be blowing through the BGCT. Then again, it may just be that some of the walls that were blocking the spirit of Baptist cooperation may be coming down just enough to let a breeze get through.
The election of David Lowrie to the BGCT presidency is a milestone. He is the first non-aligned, non-endorsed candidate to win this office in years, and both the vote total he received last year, and his election this year, is a signal that denominational politics may be lessening in their influence on the convention’s agenda, and that evangelism, missions and church growth may be working their way back into the spotlight. David is a solid theological conservative who has a depth of understanding of the potential of Baptist organizations like the BGCT. His election indicates, at least from my perspective, a desire on the part of many of our churches to place more emphasis on the positive, spiritual work of the convention, and drop the divisiveness of denominational politics. Some moderate Baptists are sounding alarm bells, and warning that choosing someone who has a desire to work equally with all constituencies in the convention is only an open door to an eventual “fundamentalist” takeover of the BGCT and that in the process, moderate Baptists and their entities will get “kicked to the curb.” I just don’t see that happening on David’s watch, nor do I see a scenario in which his leadership, and his desire to open the boards and committees to a much broader and balanced constituency of Texas Baptists, would lead to any such action. David will be every BGCT Baptist’s president, and his leadership will call our attention to priorities other than political agendas. Things like evangelism and missions, and the spirit of Baptist cooperation are going to come to the forefront.
There were some other bright spots. Randel Everett seems committed to he every BGCT Baptist’s executive director. His grasp of the situation in the BGCT, and the desires of its churches, is quite impressive considering the short amount of time he has been at his current job. It appears that he has set aside whatever denominational political baggage he may have been carrying prior to his arrival in Texas and he has prioritized Texas Hope 2010, an impressive challenge that has what I consider to be tremendous potential benefit for BGCT congregations which commit to participate in it. I don’t know how much he had to do with the decision to allow Southwestern to have a booth at the convention (one which seemed to receive a lot of verbal affirmation from hundreds of visitors) but his decision to accept the invitation to address the chapel at SWBTS in October, and the sermon he preached, are clear indications that the BGCT is affirming its relationship with the SBC, something that many Texas Baptists told the search committee that hired him that they wanted to see.
Likewise, the presentation of the Future Focus Committee was also a bright spot. Through Andy Pittman’s words, this group demonstrated a realistic grasp of the problems that the BGCT is facing. That was somewhat of a surprise, since the reports on their work prior to the convention left the impression that they only thing they had done was come up with an idea to change the convention’s name. Clearly, in the three meetings they’ve had, much more than that has been accomplished. I am looking forward to their final report next year. Focusing on the future has been neglected in efforts to preserve the past. It is good to see that attitude is changing.
There are some discouraging signs as well. Messenger registration at a convention in a Metroplex city in an area thick with BGCT churches came in under 2,000. Cooperative Program receipts are still coming in lower than the previous year, a pattern that has been repeated for several years in a row now. We’ve lost a lot of churches that will not likely return. What started out as an organized effort to prevent a takeover by a narrow, exclusive group has itself become narrow and exclusive. Most of the names of the TBC board of directors, members and advisory board listed in their newsletter can also be found on the committees and boards listed in the books of reports going back several years. The idea that some individuals have publicly expressed, that they do not see how anyone can support both the BGCT and the SBC is discouraging to the estimated 4,000 to 4,500 churches in the BGCT that do just that.
So, do the events of this past week indicate a new spirit in the BGCT, or is this just the desire for the return of the old spirit of Baptist cooperation to make a comeback? I hope that it’s a little bit of both.
The spirit we really need is the Holy Spirit. It is tempting to try to lean on our own understanding, and use our own education and experience to solve the problems of our denominational structures. Yet the end result has been nothing but infighting, bickering, exclusion, selfish ambition, and Christian brothers and sisters considering each other as enemies rather than as family. The kind of division that we have experienced in the Baptist family is not something that is produced in believers when the Spirit of God is in control and we are submitted to him. The Bible speaks of a literal “shaking” of the physical space on occasions when the Holy Spirit is poured out. It is time that our convention experienced such a shaking, to the point where our minds are transformed, and we no longer think in worldly terms.