Lifeway Research is reporting that 52% of Southern Baptist churches no longer really consider obedience to Christ's command to be baptized to be that big of a deal.
That's the true, central meaning of this report. Although the subject of the report is ostensibly the Lord's Supper, the shift in Southern Baptist practice actually reveals movement in Southern Baptist thinking about the OTHER ordinance. It would be different, I suppose, if 52% of SBC pastors had responded that the Lord's Supper should be provided to whomever wishes to participate, but that's not how the survey came back. SBC churches are willing to dictate who should and who shouldn't partake; they just don't think that baptism is all that important—not significant enough to enter into such deliberations.
This is hard evidence of the movement away from being Baptist that is sweeping through SBC churches. What factors have brought us to this point? Here are my thoughts.
Cowardice. Going open-communion is easy. On the other hand, anyone who leads a church to make refusal to be baptized a bar to open communion is going to have to be prepared to endure enormous pressure for doing so.
Evangelicalism. It is the nature of market-driven evangelicalism to de-emphasize ecclesiology in general and the ordinances in particular. These things are but impediments to the growth of one's market.
Liberalism. The flight of paedo-baptists from liberal denominations into SBC churches has filled our churches with people who do not share our core convictions.
Pragmatism. Atheological pragmatism—the worship of method and numerical success—bothers not at all with whether Christ has really commanded that we baptize and be baptized or whether ongoing rebellion against Christ's command is reason for one not to partake of the supper. Rather, it simply asks what will be the cost of closed communion in attendance and dollars.
Permissivism. The loss of church discipline is an important factor in this downgrade. Really, without church discipline, our Baptist understanding of baptism and the Lord's Supper doesn't make any sense.