This is the third in a series of blog posts about the Southern Baptist Convention. The previous posts are:
I've put a lot of work already into a post suggesting a way forward on the Credentials Committee, the office of pastor, the role of The Baptist Faith & Message, and such matters. I thought that was going to be the next post, but to be honest, it's something of a Lernaean Hydra at this point, and I need to work harder at getting it all organized into something readable. If I can avoid it, I don't want to post anything that has more tangles than does Matt Henslee's beard.
The long-and-short of that post is the office of pastor (not just "senior pastor," I think) is limited to qualified men. I think Southern Baptists should stand firm on that position. We can do that in ways that affirm women serving our churches both with words and with equity in pay and taxation—ways that you may not have considered. Also, there's an examination of the unprecedented demands that we are placing on an SBC structure not designed to handle them. Oh, yeah…nearly forgot…there's an attempt to construct a biblical theology of how to handle doctrinal and behavioral disputes among autonomous local churches.
Like I said, there's a lot there, and although I'm confident in the content, I'm dissatisfied with the organization of it all. So, you'll have to wait for that.
Staying Southern Baptist: A Case that Makes Sense for Us
Anyway, as promised, here are some reasons why FBC Farmersville is all-in on being Southern Baptist.
The SBC is far-and-away the most efficient way for FBC Farmersville to plant doctrinally sound churches around the country and around the world. Some of the glass-half-empty folks, and especially the glass-has-a-hole-in-the-bottom folks will suggest that a post like this one comes from some "company man" who is just a member of the booster club—someone who shuts his eyes to flaws or differences in the Southern Baptist Convention. But I have not been silent about what I count as mistakes and failures in the Southern Baptist Convention.
- I was vocally critical of The Camel Method back when it was being used and promoted within the International Mission Board (I wrote A LOT about that, but this article is as good a place as any to see a summation).
- As someone whose ecclesiological dial is set about 2 clicks shy of full-blown Landmarkism, I've walked away from domestic church-planting partnerships that involved churches who were, in my estimation, not sufficiently committed to one or two principles of Baptist ecclesiology that I consider to be important for church health.
- I strongly criticized some ways in the recent past that the SBC has tried to manage the idea of Sole Membership and the attempts by some to avoid waiving attorney-client privilege as requested by the messenger body.
And yet, even for the ways that I have found fault in the past and the ways that I may find fault in the future, I'm still dedicated to the path of cooperation through the Southern Baptist Convention. Here are some reasons why:
FBC Farmersville could not feasibly accomplish outside the SBC what we accomplish inside the SBC. And I'm willing to put that in terms of what we accomplish in the strictest construal of our own beliefs.
Let's assume for a moment that only 10% of IMB missionaries and NAMB church planters have beliefs that line up very closely with those of FBC Farmersville (not Reformed, robustly-congregationalist, convictionally-Baptist-and-proud-of-it, strictly-complementarian, etc.). I think the number is higher than that, but let's go with 10%. That means that FBC Farmersville is supporting more than 350 IMB missionary units who are very closely aligned with our theology.
Yes, there are IMB missionaries who are Reformed, a little more broadly ecumenical, more prone to entrust most governance to "lay-elders," etc. But even they, every one of them, falls within the doctrinal parameters of The Baptist Faith & Message. Why should I focus on the ones with whom I have some disagreements to the absolute exclusion of the dozens of missionaries who closely agree with my church?
If I choose to "take my toys and go home," how long would it take FBC Farmersville to build a network of 350 missionaries around the globe who are serving with beliefs that line up perfectly with those of my church? The answer? Longer than my remaining natural lifetime. For us, the choice to leave the SBC would be the deliberate choice to be less effective in sharing the gospel around the world.
FBC Farmersville benefits from SBC ministries, and it is only right for us to support those ministries. Every member of our ministry staff is a graduate from an SBC seminary. My predecessor was an SBC seminary graduate. His predecessor was an SBC seminary graduate and is presently a professor at an SBC seminary. That pattern continues back well before I was born. I expect that it will continue beyond my tenure here.
This point is not entirely separate from the prior point. SBC seminaries graduate Methodist students, Presbyterian students, Non-Denominational students—I even had an Episcopalian classmate once upon a time. If you pay the tuition you can take the classes. Also, SBC seminaries turn out some Southern Baptist students who would not be a good fit at FBC Farmersville.
Does the fact that our seminaries graduate some students we wouldn't hire count as a good reason to walk away? Why should it!? What's important to us is that the SBC's seminaries consistently graduate multitides of students every year who are exactly what FBC Farmersville wants and needs in terms of pastoral leadership and staff leadership. For that reason, even if we were to leave the Southern Baptist Convention, we would still be using not only seminary education but also a dozen other resources produced by Southern Baptists.
We want to support what we consume. Especially since…
FBC Farmersville gets to govern the ministries that serve us and that we support through the SBC. The SBC process respects not only the autonomy of the local churches but also the authority of the local churches. Jesus founded churches, not conventions. Our church appreciates the opportunity afforded by SBC polity for us to have our say, alongside the voices of the other messengers sent by the churches, in the ways that our money is spent.
Churches are fallible, but I trust this church-centered process to yield the right outcomes over the long haul.
I think the messengers' response to clergy sexual abuse at the 2021 and 2022 Annual Meetings is a good example. Our churches are asserting themselves, saying clearly that they want to honor Christ by preventing clergy sexual abuse. The Spirit of God moves through these messengers, and over time, He refines and reforms us.
But even when they get it wrong…
Error at other churches doesn't, just by virtue of our mutual affiliation in the SBC, compromise my church's integrity. That doesn't mean that there's no good reason to disfellowship wayward or apostate churches. It just means that the reason to do so isn't that I have to fear that my own church's health or orthodoxy is determined by the health and orthodoxy of a congregation across the continent.
My church can fund cooperative missions through the Southern Baptist Convention while retaining our own autonomy. We're not entangled with the other churches in the convention by way of our using the same mission board any more than we are entangled with Mormons by voting predominantly for the same political candidates or are entangled with a drug pusher who may use the same bank that we use.
Again, doctrinal error at any of our SBC entities is worth correcting, and the disfellowshipping of churches who have gone astray is a thing worth doing, but not because our autonomous church is somehow sullied just be our being in the Convention together with one another. No. We correct the course of entities and we disfellowship churches when doing so is needed to protect our cooperative ministries.
This is why the leaders of the Conservantive Resurgence were content to declare "Misison Accomplished" while there were still CBF churches affiliated with the SBC. The boards were populated with biblical inerrantists. Biblical inerrantists filled all of the entity-head slots. CBF churches were entirely unable to shape the ministries of the SBC. The lingering presence of those CBF churches posed no threat to the health and stability of our churches. Certainly they constituted no good reason to part ways with the SBC. That's still true 30 years later.
So, I shouldn't act like my church is somehow corrupted by the mere presence within the SBC of another church whose practice or doctrine I find offensive.
So, for all of these reasons, even when we see something happen in SBC life with which we may disagree, FBC Farmersville doesn't think it's even a close call. We are enthusiastically Southern Baptist. We thank God for our opportunity to participate in this family of churches.