Saturday, June 3, 2006

What Kind of Housecleaning Does the SBC Need?

As I sat in the assembly at the SBC Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO, I was surprised at how conspicuously some of the platform personalities were wearing on their sleeves their disappointment that the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC had not eventuated a dramatic upsurge in baptisms and a Convention-wide revival. After all, one of the promises offered occasionally during the lengthy and difficult denominational campaign was that commitment to theological orthodoxy would usher in a new spiritual awakening. Of course, Americans expect results to come within no longer than 4 to 6 weeks after the effort begins, so by now we're beside ourselves as we watch our evangelistic effectiveness decline, not increase. What are we to do? Fast-forward to a later encounter, and you'll get my opinion on the matter. Sitting on a panel with Jerry Sutton at the Center for Theological Research, I offered, "Dr. Sutton, I really liked your book, but I think it has a bad title." Sutton's book, The Baptist Reformation, offered an inside history of the Conservative Resurgence. In Sutton's defense, the publisher chose the title. I told him, "Especially in Baptist life, when you've shuffled around the denominational entities, you haven't brought about a reformation. It is only legitimately a reformation, in my opinion, when you've dealt with the local church." Southern Baptist Churches are in desperate need of reform. The nature of the reform we need is ecclesiological. In this age of nondenominationalism, what we really need is to rediscover our Baptistness. I doubt that the early Baptists would consider as many as 10% of Southern Baptist churches to be genuinely Baptist. The central concept of the Baptist movement was the creation of local churches that were, to the best of the church's ability to secure it, comprised only of people who actually claimed and appeared to be Christians. Today we count on half of the membership of a Southern Baptist church to be missing in action. We have abandoned church discipline. We have abandoned the meaning of membership. We have abandoned our Baptistness. So, this is the A#1 reason that I'm opposed to the new dissent in the SBC. It works its way out in two aspects. First, I think that the convention agencies are in good enough shape. They aren't perfect, but neither will they be when Burleson & Co. get finished with them. And we'll have expended more effort and energy trying to fuel round 2 of convention reform. Round 1 was necessary. This round is not. Instead we ought to be moving past the convention level and focusing our attention upon local church reform. Second, the folks behind this round of proposed reform are, as best as I can tell, gung ho for moving further away (if that is at all possible) from our Baptistness and becoming more broadly evangelical. Half are enamored with Presbyterianism. Half are caught up in neo-pentecostalism. Half (I don't have any degrees in mathematics) have merely drunk deeply at the well of doctrine-shunning pragmatism that describes modern evangelicalism. Nobody is more "reformed" than Baptists. The Baptist experiment is the pinnacle of reform. We need more of it. Let the real Baptist Reformation begin!

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