With the launch of the Resolution on Regenerate Church Membership came also the launch of a new website entitled Association of Convictional Baptists. Some speculation has ensued regarding who this group might be, what might be the significance of the name, and what is the nature of the group's beliefs. Consider this post the answer to those questions, and perhaps to some others as well.
Who Is the Association of Convictional Baptists? At the moment, Bart Barber. That's right—I reserved the domain name, built the site, and threw open its doors solely as an individual project. I hope that it will grow beyond this weak and meager beginning, but at the moment the membership list is pretty small.
What is the raison d'être for the Association of Convictional Baptists? The front page of the site currently contains (my apologies if you come to this post in the future and find other content there) the text of the Fifth-Century Initiative, a document that I wrote last year. Many other people have looked at that document and have generally affirmed its tenets. I believe that the principles articulated there represent a needed and important course of renewal for Southern Baptists.
I gave thought (and even performed some initial work) toward the possibility of developing and hosting a conference built around the Fifth-Century Initiative, but after lengthy and agonizing soul-searching, I decided not to do so. The idea sounded great at first, but the more I pondered it, the further away from it I journeyed. What did I mean to accomplish with the conference? I could never get away from that question. Too many times, I think that conferences become something akin to youth camp for adults—a time of isolated euphoric concentration upon important things. Youth camp is important (God called me to preach at one), but what makes youth camp important is the daily grind of ministry to youth as an influence to help the lessons learned at youth camp to take root when transplanted from the greenhouse into the common soil of everyday life.
Apply that thought analogically to the Fifth-Century Initiative. My passion is for providing day-to-day help for Southern Baptist churches to seek renewal. The best format for such help, I have come to believe, lies in a community rather than a conference. So that's what I hope to build. Someday, perhaps, we will have a conference, if it seems to fulfill some genuine need. But for now, what I hope to do is to make of the site a resource center and community gathering place for people orienteering this elusive pathway toward rediscovering who Christ has called us to be.
Where'd the Name Come From? Well, it's a three-word title. I'll take them in reverse order just to make things more difficult for you!
Baptist: This is an unashamedly Baptist site, not out of pridefulness but out of a sincere belief that the renewal that we need lies within the historic tenets of Baptist belief. The historic tenets I have in mind you'll find articulated in the Fifth-Century Initiative document.
Convictional: The ACB seeks to return us all to a convictional understanding of what it means to be a Baptist.
It is a movement pitted against the concept of congenital Baptists. Parentage does not a true Baptist make. There is no such thing as a blue-blooded Baptist. The only blood that matters was shed on Calvary. The congenital Baptist theory is responsible for at least two ills at lethal work among us. First, it has filled our churches with people who attend and worship where they do solely because of generational inertia. It is possible to be dead-set determined to be a member of a Baptist church, simply because of lineage, without even knowing the theological principles that undergird that august name. Second, and related to the first, it has led to the false notion that the "heirs" of Baptist theology can define it to mean anything (or nothing) at all and that the name must follow them wherever they would wander theologically, since it has been passed down to them as a birthright.
It is a movement pitted against the concept of coincidental Baptists. This movement is not for those who attend the Baptist church in town simply because it has the largest ad in the newspaper or the coolest praise band or the most active youth program. This movement is not for those who are staying with the SBC because they're going whichever way the Annuity Board goes. This movement is not for those whose Baptist beliefs arise out of a paycheck. Those who join a Baptist church merely to see a reduction in seminary tuition costs need not apply (not that there's an application).
Rather, this site is dedicated to the concept of convictional Baptists—a people who share the sincere, educated, and heartfelt conviction that the major distinctives of Baptist belief are found in the New Testament. For me, it is not about the beliefs of my parents, about the wording on a sign in front of our worship auditorium, or the place I just happen to be at this point in my life. I believe that I must be Baptist or be disobedient to Christ. It is a matter of conviction for me.
In saying so, I know that there are a great many in the world who believe (wrongly) that they must be non-Baptist (or at least a whole lot less Baptist than I am) or be disobedient to Christ. Such folk should be thankful that I am a Baptist, for as such I am firmly committed to their freedom to pursue their own convictions. But I am also committed to my freedom to pursue Baptist convictions, including the freedom of Baptists to associate voluntarily with one another around Baptist principles for mutual encouragement and edification. I do not violate the rights of non-Baptists in my desire for the freedom of Baptist institutions to be unashamedly Baptist.
Association: As I said above, the purpose of this site is to provide resources and community for Convictional Baptists laboring within the context of local churches to heed the instruction of Christ in the ministries that He has assigned to us. A history guy like me cannot conceive of any entity existing for the strengthening and fellowship of churches without gravitating to the word Association. The historic function of Baptist Associations has been precisely to provide resources and community encouragement to strengthen churches in their convictions and ministries.
The danger of employing this word, of course, is the fact that some will conjecture that I am attempting to supplant the geographic associations that have played and do play such an important role in Southern Baptist life. Not at all. As we all ought to know, Baptist Associations should be entirely autonomous creatures. They serve as a handmaiden to the churches, not as a spouse. The relationship between church and association is not a monogamous one, for local churches affiliated with local associations are also affiliated with state conventions and the SBC.
I do think that the work that I hope ACB to be doing in the future is work that local associations ought to be doing but sometimes (too often?) are not—the work of churches strengthening one another and giving one another healthy feedback with regard to our theology. But local associations are doing things that I don't think ACB will ever do. They are planting churches, they are helping local Baptist churches to find a common voice within a certain patch of geography. They are hosting training and other conferences at a frequency that no online site could ever accomplish. They are facilitating a level of fellowship among churches that mere electrons can never replicate. It is my prayer (and indeed, one of the planks of the Fifth-Century Initiative) that local associations are here to stay and will only grow stronger in their ministries. May the day come when every local association in the SBC has embraced these biblical keys to renewal. They will be far more effective than this little website will ever be, and on that day the ACB will promptly and gladly lock the doors forever due to lack of interest.
Besides, we all know that one preacher with a computer doth not an Association make. This part of the name is proleptic.
So perhaps any mystery vanishes with this post. Some of my readers will not agree with my goals—already have disagreed with some of them in other contexts. I love you in the Lord; I just don't happen to be building this site with you specifically in mind. But to those of you who feel the tug of the Holy Spirit toward things like Regenerate Church Membership and the other principles articulated in the Fifth-Century Initiative, I pray that together we can see the Head of the Church work great things in our congregations in the coming years.