Posted in theology

Is it time to leave the Southern Baptist Convention? And, what’s a secondary issue?

By Elizabeth Prata

Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Does the bell toll for thee, SBC?

Introduction & Disclaimer

I am not a fan of the SBC. I’ve been member of churches who were part of the Convention. I’ve watched the denomination for some time now. I don’t like the direction they are going and I haven’t for a while. But I haven’t said much about it because ultimately it’s 1) for my pastors or elders to decide, and 2) it doesn’t affect me much in spiritual life, my ministry, or my daily routine.

This will be my only blog on the SBC Annual Meeting.

Bureaucratic Facts

A governing board is necessary but the inevitable trajectory of any governmental agency, secular or ecclesiastical, is almost always toward bloat. With bloat comes anything from mismanagement to outright corruption. With bloat comes power and people anxious to maintain their power. With bloat comes greed and people intent on maintaining their level of living and desire for more-more-more. It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom. (Matthew 19:23). He said that for a reason. Barnes’ Notes explains:

He has much to struggle with, and it will require the greatest of human efforts to break away from his temptations and idols and to secure his salvation. 

It is good to possess wealth if wealth does not possess you. We cannot follow the King and live for worldly wealth. We cannot serve God and money. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary

The temptations that come with power, money, and fame do cause stumbling blocks to those either wishing to enter the kingdom or those already in it. Bloated Bureaucracies are never great for the common man. Even if the people at the helm are not personally greedy for money, they must keep funding their ever-expanding empire in order to sustain it. The SBC is no exception.

This week Todd Friel of Wretched Radio said, “The role of women is the one we should be tracking, because it’s the role of women that always leads to the demise of a formerly Orthodox denomination.” ~Todd Friel, Wretched Radio

The Bible on Woman’s Submission and Why People Hate It

We know from the time of the Garden that Eve went outside her husband’s authority and leading, and sinned. Adam passively allowed it. The pair were punished by God. One of the punishments was that this pushmi-pullyu back and forth between husband and wife, man and woman, would continue until the curse was reversed after all things are come to fruition. And so it has been.

Women have ever since tried to make inroads, while men passively stood around and accepted it. (The Sarah-Hagar-Abraham-Ishmael issue comes to mind, perfect example of woman asserting despite God’s promise, and the man passively going along. He didn’t do much to quell the resulting fallout of bitter in-fighting between Sarah and Hagar later, either. Genesis 16:2, 6).

At the convention this week, there was a push for a conservative slate of officers from President of the Convention (Tom Ascol) to president of the SBC Pastor’s Conference (Voddie Baucham), to Recording Secretary (Javier Chavez). All lost.

Friel notes in his video (below) that a year ago Mike Stone, a conservative Southern Baptist, ran against Ed Litton, a moderate. The vote 52% to 48% was a veritable dead heat. This year, the conservative was Tom Ascol. Bart Barber was the moderate. Bart Barbour won 60.87% to Tom Ascol 38.88%. “Whoa. That is a sea shift! That is a big change in the makeup of the SBC based on the vote,” said Friel.

When Silence is Not Golden

The Convention’s liberal deviation from its own Faith & Message and from standard orthodoxy is seen in many avenues of the numerous arms of the ever growing bureaucracy. But the most evident is seen in its public embracing of female pastors. Exhibit A: For many years, at least since 1985 or so, Beth Moore preached at the pulpit on Sunday nights in her SBC church. Her pastor, Joe Bisagno of First Baptist Church of Houston, gave her permission to do so because he assured a tremulous Moore that he has the authority. Bisagno was called “a great pioneer in empowering women in ministry“. Moore said, “I’ve been told so many times that ‘Beth, there is no way you would have had that kind of favor from any other church that size in this nation, like you’ve had from John Bisagno.”

Did 1st Baptist Houston disagree with the SBC’s stance on women preaching? No, they affirmed it- with lip service. From their website: “Houston’s First Baptist Church’s beliefs are the same as those contained in the Baptist Faith and Message, the confession of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).”

OK so what ARE the beliefs of the SBC?

The Baptist Faith and Message holds that only scripturally qualified men are qualified to hold office of pastor, which by the way, includes preaching. It’s acknowledged in that statement that even some men are not qualified to preach. And certainly not women.

Yet Sunday night after Sunday night, for years, a woman stood at the pulpit and preached in a SBC church. Not a public peep was heard about disfellowshipping on the basis of both scriptural violation and its own denomination’s creedal stance. I thought it was interesting that Moore said she would not have received that kind of ‘favor’ from any other church of that size. Apparently size matters to the SBC, because when Rick Warren who happens to be pastor of one of THE largest churches in the SBC ordained three women as staff pastors last year, not a peep again. And not a peep when Jen Wilkin of Matt Chandler’s SBC mega-church preached and also taught pastors, and so on and so on.

Public Repentance is Embarrassing. Let’s Not Do It

And that is a shame, because the world’s largest Protestant denomination should be guarding the faith and clear about its lines of doctrinal demarcation. But they are not clear. In fact, when the notion was raised that Warren’s church should be disfellowshipped for violating both scripture and the BF&M in ordaining women pastors, there was an agonizingly long and embarrassing public discussion at the convention floor on ‘what is a pastor’. A committee was proposed to study it. (See what I mean about bloat?)

A denomination with a 177 year history that still can’t define what a pastor is has got issues.

(Like, declining to condemn plagiarism in their own denomination, but condemning the Russian war in Ukraine? Condemning sin in others far off is always easier isn’t it?)

But anyone with scripture for brains knew why Warren was given a mic, time, and a platform to speak for so long. His “surprise visit” (maybe not a surprise to some?) shifted the discussion from female ordination in his church, in an unsurprising move, to himself. He relegated female ordination to a “secondary issue”.

What is a Secondary Issue?

Now, the term “secondary issue” makes it sound unimportant. But is it? Here is Chris Hohnholz with an excellent essay discussing that very thing.

What is a secondary issue? It is a poorly phrased term (I’ll say why shortly) for those doctrinal issues that do not fall within the area of what can exclude someone from the faith by its denial. … “Secondary” doctrines are important matters of faith where it is possible to be wrong or in error and yet still be saved. 

Here is the thing though, does a doctrine being a “secondary” issue relegate it to the realm of being unimportant? Should Christians simply disregard their differences on these matters for the sake of unity? Or are these doctrines still important enough that churches are called not only to determine what is right but actually apply and live by those doctrines? Of course, the correct answer is the last one. 

Read the whole essay, it’s good.

Is All Lost?

So where does that leave us? Todd Friel published a response video this week asking Is it time to leave the Southern Baptist Convention? That’s for individual churches to decide, Friel said, and cautioned against making charges against churches that stay or charges against churches that go. “Let us have peace among those brethren, let us not snipe at one another if we make a different decision on this.”

But Friel also said,

What do you do right now? Pastor, parishioner, change your focus. Stop studying the SBC. Please don’t spend your time and energy wondering what they’re up to. As a local church, especially you dear pastor, your responsibility is for your people, not to a convention. And while I recognize it is tempting to sniff around in the politics of the SBC, it is not the local church or the local pastor in a local church, to fix the SBC. That’s not your call. Your call is to your people. Instead of asking what’s the what’s the status of the SBC ask yourself the question what is best for my local body? What is best for my people? How can I best tend the sheep? What will be the best decision for them? If it means you leave the SBC then that could be your your conclusion.

Back To Me Now

As for my daily spiritual life, what the SBC does or doesn’t do doesn’t affect me much. Sure, I get angry when I see smears and rumors and bad acts. I hope it’s a righteous anger. I get dismayed when I see blatant sin overlooked, (plagiarism) or even applauded (female ordination).

But then I turn away from what upsets me to tend my own tiny sphere; my life, work, and church, and I see much good. I hear tales of homosexuals who initially rejected the Gospel, only later succumbed to the grace of God, repented, and come to a serious, profound faith and is now vocal AGAINST homosexuality! I see laborers in my church driving into the 106 degree heat to grab the catering for our dinner tonight, cheerfully. I see elders and teachers messaging one another with doctrinal points to discuss and hash out before conferring it on us students in the pews. I see discipling, joy, kingdom work.

Churches rise, churches fall. Denominations rise, denominations fall. Of the 7 churches written to in Revelation, 5 were charged with serious sins. Smyrna and Philadelphia were not rebuked, only encouraged and praised. These two churches apparently have continued to this day in unbroken succession. If that’s true, the churches that had their candlestick removed was 71%, meaning that there was only a 28% success rate. Given the percentages from the rest of the Bible, (only 8 humans saved in the world on the ark…many called, few are chosen, only 1 out of 4 soils were productive… only 3 righteous saved from Sodom) then the percentage seems to be consistent.

Therefore do not be surprised because sin overtakes an organization. If not firmly rebutted to the least iota, it will grow like a poison weed. And that’s when Jesus moves His hand in heaven to take care of the problem.

The best thing to do is keep doing what the Lord calls us to do. For some, it’s to fight against a denomination’s decline. For most others, it’s to persevere in the tiny sphere in which He has placed us. And that is something with which to be content. Most of are called to “small” work, the mustard seed is in His hand, and He grows it. Or not…

Further Reading

Rick Warren, Women Pastors, and Secondary Issues, by Chris Hohnholz

Cast your burden on the Lord by Jennifer Buck

Saddleback Female Pastors Debate Raises Bigger Questions for the SBC by Kate Shellnutt

Author:

Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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