Recognizing the Moment: The Identity of Our Southern Baptist Convention

Again, we have seen some rather “explosive” discussions on social media pertaining to the most recent Paige Patterson controversy. And while I have no intention of jumping into the deep waters of the matter, I do believe it’s appropriate to say that any form of abusive action is wrong and forbidden by Scripture.

And not to push the argument of abuse to the side as if it is less important, but this is simply another layer added onto the pile of tension in the SBC. The little battles we have, time and time again, will eventually come to a climax, and if we desire to gain any standing in the world, we must understand what we are battling for.

I truly believe our Southern Baptist Convention is coming to an excruciating and defining moment in Dallas, TX on June 12th. I have been reading enough articles and Twitter posts to know that the gathering in Dallas will not be without it’s fair share of “fireworks.” In many ways, little seismic shifts throughout the last decade have led to this moment, and let’s be clear: In our Southern Baptist Convention, this is a moment.

Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, wrote an article Monday stating, “In the aftermath of the Conservative Resurgence, the SBC made a mistake. We spent more time taking victory laps than really leading. We let our history become mythology. We turned men into heroes, and then we turned our heroes into gods.”

The Conservative Resurgence was a major undertaking in our denomination, and we may never see another event like it – a mass-scale turn towards biblical truth – in our lifetime. So many people gave much of their lives for this cause, and we are all indebted to their faithfulness. However, because the times continually change around us, we cannot stand still and simply bask in our victories. We must consistently move forward as a denomination for the sake of the gospel in this world.

Also, just as 1979 was a moment for Southern Baptists in the Conservative Resurgence, we are facing a similar moment today. And this moment is a little different, but not so different at all. The moment we face today is not the ultimate fight for biblical inerrancy or the Gospel. The moment we face today is not a fight in the face of liberalism. No, our moment is different. And praise God, because of the work done in the CR, our Southern Baptist entities are all solid, and they all have biblically sound, solid leadership.

So, what is this crucial moment we are facing in the SBC?

Ultimately, I believe we are now coming into a new era – an era where SBC churches are focusing more on the supremacy of Christ, the power of the Gospel, unwavering obedience to the Word of God, and the vital role of the local church in the life of the believer. Also, we are coming into a time that truly recognizes the power and authority of the local church – authority given by Christ Himself. Much of our focus now is due to the resurgence in Baptist ecclesiology.

Now, it would be wrong to say that the SBC has never recognized these key elements of the Christian life, but in the eyes of many, somewhere along the line the Southern Baptist Convention became institutionalized in such a way that was less than biblical – in a way that, at least, appeared to be more like a hierarchy rather than a volunteer cooperation of like-minded local churches.

In short, instead of having a denomination existing to serve its churches, the churches existed by serving the denomination. However, because of the renewed interest in Baptist ecclesiology, many pastors now decry the unbiblical mantras of tradition and the seemingly immovable boulders of the status quo. Churches are moving in the direction of the Bible.

Pastors must follow Christ – adhering to biblical evidence rather than simple loyalty to a denomination, and there is no doubt that this “new era” tension is felt in our local churches, our local associations, our state conventions, and the SBC at large.

Understand: we are entering a moment that is bringing forth change, and change is hard… even if the change is right.

Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson felt similar tension in the late 60’s – when they realized the institutions of the SBC were leaning more in the direction of liberalism. In a miraculous fashion, these giants pressed against the status quo, and were used by God to lead the Convention back onto the evangelical and conservative path. Needless to say, many aspects of the SBC had to be changed. Many arguments had to be voiced and many voices had to attend the meetings. By doing this, our Southern Baptist Convention gradually turned a corner – step-by-step – and the common messengers of the SBC understood their ownership of this great institution. In turn, the SBC gained an identity as “evangelical” and “an inerrantist denomination.”

We are entering a similar moment once more. The SBC, not comprised of simply entity heads and trustees, is made up of thousands of churches to work for the spread of the Gospel. The Southern Baptist Convention, as an institution, only exists because the churches continue to cooperate together for the sake of missions. Without the churches, the SBC doesn’t exist, and we are seeing a resurgence of pastors and churches who better understand their role in this cooperation.

No longer do pastors want to say and hear, “That’s the Southern Baptist Way.” The pastors of the last decade view the SBC in a different light than that of their forefathers. The pastors today want to be known as Christian, first and foremost. They want to be known for the Gospel, first and foremost. They desire to walk more like Christ, first and foremost. To the pastors of this new era, the Southern Baptist Convention is not their identity – it is simply a cooperative network.

None of this is to say that the pastors of today are not thankful for the Southern Baptist Convention, for we have much to be thankful for, but the label of “Southern Baptist” doesn’t carry the same weight as it once did. There was an era when the title of “SBC” was an identifier and an important badge to wear, but today…to be Southern Baptist isn’t enough. We must be followers of Christ as it is defined in Scripture.

This, I believe, is the moment we have ultimately come to. And wonderfully, many young, well-taught pastors from our six faithfully orthodox SBC seminaries are not simply walking away from the rigidly, institutional Convention, but they are flooding into the denomination with open-minds and conviction and zeal. Instead of throwing away the movements of the past, these men are raising their ballots to make a change.

And most importantly, these faithful young pastors are ready to carry the torch of the Southern Baptist Convention for the next few decades. Why? Well, we’ve had good teachers such as Patterson and Pressler, who taught us to stand up for what we believe in.

The one thing I do know, historically speaking, is that when Southern Baptists stand on their convictions, they rarely back down. Let’s just make sure our convictions match well with Christ’s.

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