Pretty pretentious (or portentious?) title, huh?
The most important thing happening in SBC current events right now is the Executive Committee's consideration of whether Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth, TX, is or is not in "friendly cooperation" with the Southern Baptist Convention. Why do I believe this to be the most important thing presently ongoing in the SBC?
Do I believe that this case is important because homosexuality is the most important issue presently facing our convention? No. The SBC's answer to the question of homosexuality is, for the moment, clear. We'll see where it stands one generation from now, with researcher after researcher declaring an upcoming generation of "evangelicals" who are "more tolerant on issues such as gay rights and homosexuality" (John Turner, quoted in Christianity Today online article here). But I think we have reason to hope that the Southern Baptist Convention is distinct enough from evangelicalism at large to stick with the Bible while evangelicalism slides off into public relations. Whatever. But my point here simply is that the SBC, before showing Broadway Baptist Church the door, is already sufficiently on-the-record on the question of homosexuality.
Homosexuality is an important issue, but not nearly the most important issue facing us at present. But there are issues involved in this case that are very important for Southern Baptists.
Biblical Church Discipline and Regenerate Church Membership are among them. The very heart of this case is the idea that Broadway Baptist Church is responsible for those whom it admits into membership. Reports indicate that one of the most important questions posed in the last EC meeting simply asked Broadway's representatives something along the lines of, "If you knew for certain that a person seeking membership were an ongoing, active, unrepentant homosexual, would you still receive that person into membership?" It is a good question, and the committee did not receive a good answer, to my knowledge.
Broadway's defense, up to this point, has been that it has never taken any sort of a vote to place the church in favor of homosexuality. Unless it does something like that, Broadway's representatives argue, it has not "act[ed] to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior." (SBC Constitution, Article III). I'm hoping that the Executive Committee is preparing to decide that a church is indeed acting to affirm, approve, or endorse behavior when (a) the church knows full well that its members are engaged in that behavior, and yet (b) no disciplinary action whatsoever is taken by the church with regard to that behavior—no preaching, no formal disciplinary action, not even any passing over such a one for positions of responsibility in the congregation.
I believe that this action, if taken, will be an important milestone in our needed strengthening of biblical ecclesiology within our convention. It will be a clarion call to our churches to remember that membership does matter and that we are indeed responsible for the spiritual health of all of those who are members in our congregation. Particularly this is true for those of us in church leadership "who will give an account" (Hebrews 13:17) for these folks. At least with regard to homosexuality, the message from our convention will be clear: Loving and redemptive discipline toward known practicing homosexuals in the church is the only biblical option for our churches.
That lesson, once learned with regard to homosexuality, needs to be extrapolated to a great many public and grievous sins that muddle our testimony of Christ, weaken our evangelistic effectiveness, and diminish the holiness of the Bride of Christ.
And that brings us to the final reason why this is the most important thing happening right now in the Southern Baptist Convention: Because this question is all about the local church. We've had a Conservative Resurgence among our national institutions. Similar things need to happen in some of our state conventions. Discussions are underway regarding a Great Commission Resurgence to serve as extension and successor to the Conservative Resurgence. These are all good things. But none of them are the thing that we need most.
What we need is a Local Church Reformation, fomented by Personal Revival for some, and Regeneration for others. To the degree that the case of Broadway Baptist Church reminds us about how profound is the need for reformation and revival in our churches, this is a good thing—indeed, it is the most important thing happening right now in the Southern Baptist Convention.
UPDATE: As it so happens, the good folks over at BaptistTheology.org have just posted an article by Dr. Gary Ledbetter entitled "Is There a Church within Your Church?" I just read the article and I see that it addresses some of the same points that I have addressed in this blog post. The major difference is that Gary's article is so much better written.