With appropriate apologies to non-Southern Baptist readers of this blog, this will be (I promise) the last post for a while dealing with SBC matters. There is a reason, though, why you should know about happenings in San Antonio this past week. More on that in a minute.
My company again provided the video streaming for the Convention, so I was able to closely follow events in San Antonio. There were excellent messages both at the Pastor's Conference and at the Convention from Chuck Colson, James MacDonald, Rob Zinn, Frank Page and others. (CLICK HERE to watch the 2007 convention on demand on 316 Networks.)
The 2007 SBC Annual Meeting was an unusual gathering, even by SBC standards. For one thing, the theme of the event was "Lord, Send Your Holy Spirit," which was more than a little ironic, since we've spent much of the last year squabbling over speaking in tongues, private prayer languages and whether or not believing all of the gifts of the spirit continue to this day disqualifies you from serving in various areas of service in SBC life. Also, a sense of tension has been growing in the SBC for the last 18 months. There have been numerous issues that have ignited discussions but the core of the tension centers around two schools of thought - those who feel the convention's focus should continue to be, as it has since 1979 on the doctrinal purity of the convention and it's agencies and institutions, and those who feel continued narrowing of the SBC's theological parameters harms our witness to our culture and that the convention's focus needs to once again be on missions.
There are many who feel this was inevitable, that at some point the rightward shift of the Conservative Resurgence would lead to a course correction of sorts. Then there are those who are convinced that those who are attempting to bring that course correction about are dangerous liberals who are attempting to undo the Resurgence and return the SBC to the pre-1979 bad old days. The problem with the latter theorem is that those who are advocating the course correction have impeccable conservative credentials and a number of them took an active role in the Resurgence.
What is at stake here is whether or not the world's largest protestant denomination will make a genuine impact on our culture or marginalize itself by becoming more and more fundamental and exclusionary. Some of the voices from the Baptist blogosphere put it this way:
The Southern Baptist Convention, through the trustees of our boards and agencies, is narrowing the parameters of fellowship and cooperation to the point that real, genuine conservatives are being excluded as unfit for service in the SBC. Our convention hated liberalism twenty years ago and we expelled it from our midst, but at this hour we better hate legalism and Fundamentalism as much as we did the former liberalism or we will find ourselves so fractured and fragmented that we no longer have the ability to cooperate about anything, including missions.
Southern Baptists are in real danger of having our theological attention distracted away from the Bridegroom due to an inordinate fascination with the Bride. In this way, we are being led to think that our churches are His Church, and our kingdoms His. This, quite simply, will prove the undoing of our ministry fruitfulness. If we aren’t careful, one day we will wake up to find that our little vine has withered altogether.
The San Antonio messengers passed a resolution affirming the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a "consensus statement" that is a work in progress rather than a divinely inspired creed, which (angry statements by a couple of seminary presidents notwithstanding) was a clear statement by the messengers against further narrowing of the definition of what constitutes a "true" Southern Baptist. (Click here to view the Tuesday evening debate on the BFM2K motion)
I am encouraged by the words of much of the convention leadership during the meeting. SBC President Frank Page in his address to the convention on Tuesday had this to say:
For 30 years we’ve been trying to raise baptism levels among non-revived churches among non-revived people who’ve lost their passion for the lost. But interestingly enough, we’ve become strangely passionate about our own agendas... We've become unfulfilled and bitter in our walk before God; we find faults in everyone else; and we develop a pattern of dishonesty in which we will not deal with what the problem really is. And when we take it to a convention level, are we not all apt to point out the failings of others?
Or this from Executive Committee President Morris Chapman:
For Jesus’ sake, and the sake of His Kingdom on earth, we must not make every doctrinal issue a crusade or a political football. We are wasting time when we are given to harshly debate disputable doctrines that lead to destructive distractions. We have no right to judge others with whom we disagree about secondary and tertiary doctrines. Only God is our Judge. But we do have the right to engage in spirited debate where we differ.
Why should you care about the latest Southern Baptist fuss? Because at it's core, this controversy is identical to the one that plays out again and again in local churches all over the country. Is our focus going to be on reaching others for Christ or on maintaining our traditions? Are we going to be known by what we are for or what we are against? Is it about us or about Him? Are we going to be more like the Pharisees or more like Jesus?
Nothing was concluded or decided in San Antonio, but the results so far are encouraging.