Although debate certainly is ongoing in Southern Baptist circles about the content of biblical ecclesiology (what does the Bible say about the nature of the church?), the debate also extends to the importance of biblical ecclesiology (whatever the Bible says, is ecclesiology really important enough to "divide us" or "distract us from the gospel"?). I think that the Bible does teach some things about ecclesiology (some things that we might dare to call Baptist ecclesiology although few Baptist churches actually practice such ecclesiology), and furthermore I believe that those teachings are ultimately vital to the health of the church.
I offer this as a case study.
Katherine Jefferts-Schori has denied not only the exclusivity but also the deity of Jesus Christ (see here). She's about to be confirmed as the presiding bishop of all American Episcopalians (although some Episcopalians are trying to get assigned to another bishop). Here's the highlight reel:
"If we insist that we know the one way to God, we've put God in a very small box." and "[regarding Jesus Jefferts-Schori doesn't believe that] one person can have the fullness of truth in him or herself...." because ".... Truth is, like God, more than any one person can encompass."Poor Episcopalians. But that's their problem, not ours...right?
Next question: Why? Why is it their problem and not ours? Somebody will say, "Becuase of the Conservative Resurgence!" (in fact, I think someone already did say something much like that, although you'll have to scroll down through the article to find the "were it not for the Conservative Resurgence" quote).
But this answer only begs the question. It is a circular argument:
Why are we more conservative than the rest? Because we got more conservative in our resurgence, by golly!Let me ask it this way. Why don't the Episcopalians just hold their own Conservative Resurgence? And the answer is that they can't have a Conservative Resurgence and remain Episcopalian. And the reason for that is ecclesiology. To lead an armed revolt and throw out the heretical scoundrels at the top is a very congregational thing to do. Congregationalism matters.
Look, friends: There are Southern Baptist versions of Katherine Jefferts-Schori walking around. Don't believe me? Read this. The difference between the Episcopalians and the SBC is not that they have folks like Jefferts-Schori while we don't; the difference is that a person like Jefferts-Schori can wind up in charge of the Episcopalians but would have no chance of being elected to anything at next year's SBC Annual Meeting. The women mentioned in the article I hyperlinked at the beginning of this paragraph were doctoral graduates of one of our premier educational institutions—they were impressive to professors and denominational leaders. In the Episcopal world, that is enough to propel you to the top. In Southern Baptist life, it is not enough.
Ultimately, everything in Southern Baptist life has to pass muster with the common layperson in the pews of our churches. Impress all the professors and literati that you wish, but if you can't pass muster with the people in Southern Baptist life, then you wind up unemployed. Craziness and heresy such as that which is taking over the Episcopalian church cannot be jammed down the throats of Southern Baptists. Not so long as we cling to congregationalism and local-church autonomy.
Some of the more naïve ideas afloat in Southern Baptist life (IMHO) fail to acknowledge the terrible sin and corruption that has infested the church. The problems of the Reformation did not go away in the Reformation. The Reformation did not solve problems; it merely distanced some portions of Christianity from some of the problems. Furthermore, different thinkers in the Reformation saw different solutions to the problems addressed by the Reformation. To the question "How do you fix the church?" some answered "Fix its theology." Others answered "Fix its leadership." Baptists answered "Fix its membership." I think that is the right answer (Baptist sectarian that I am).
And I am convinced that, given a regenerate congregation with the authority to defend themselves from ecclesiastical autocrats, a heretic like Katherine Jefferts-Schori could never inflict her own lostness (yes, I'm saying she is not a Christian) upon a church practicing true Baptist ecclesiology.