A plea for unity in the Southern Baptist Convention
Thursday, June 7, 2018
2018 marks my “golden anniversary” as a Southern Baptist. Fifty years ago I came to faith in Christ through the witness of a Southern Baptist pastor and was baptized into a Southern Baptist congregation.
In 1978, God used the preaching of Dr. Herschel Hobbs, a former president and statesman of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), to reveal His call upon my life to gospel ministry. During the last 35 years I have served as the senior pastor of three Southern Baptist churches, as a professor and administrator at a Southern Baptist seminary, and as a denominational leader serving on the staff of a state convention affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
So, for four decades I have enjoyed a front row seat to Southern Baptist life, and from where I’m sitting today we have never been more divided.
Yes, I was in Dallas in 1985. One of more than 45,000 messengers attending “The Shootout in Dallas” but the division within the SBC, even in those difficult days, pales in comparison to the divisiveness within our ranks today.
Today, the SBC is divided over soteriological differences, political differences, generational differences, racial differences, differences on social justice issues, differences in worldview and the list goes on.
We have created an “us vs. them” mentality on every issue. We air our differences, for all the world to see, in tweets, blogs, editorials and articles. We’ve taken pages out of secular political playbooks to attack the “opposition,” to promote “our” candidate, to rally “our” people and to do it all in the name of the Lord.
We have weaponized the press, our conferences and our podcasts to promote “our” agendas, to exclude opposing viewpoints, to hammer “our opponents” and we do it all with a sense of self-righteous satisfaction.
For many in the SBC it’s no longer enough to dialogue. No, we must win the debate, and we must defeat the one who dares to debate us.
Southern Baptists, we are a fractured people, and our lack of unity dishonors our Lord! It stands in stark contrast to the Spirit’s admonition through the apostle Paul, “…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Fortunately, for the SBC, Paul instructs each of us how to “preserve the unity of the Spirit.” He writes, “…walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,...” (Ephesians 4:1-2).
In other words, those who are called to follow Christ must follow Him on a daily basis exhibiting essential, defining traits of the Christian life — humility, gentleness, patience and tolerant love.
Notice the lifestyle Paul advocates begins with humility, for without humility there is no gentleness, or patience or tolerant love and to that truth the Southern Baptist Convention is currently “Exhibit A.”
Today, the unchallengeable conviction that “our cause” is just, “our agenda” is worthy and “our position” is correct has robbed Southern Baptists of humility and filled us with hubris. Void of humility we are left unable to be gentle, patient or tolerant in love toward those to whom we disagree. No wonder we are a fractured people.
So, with the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention just a few days away what do we do?
As brothers and sisters, as family, we must take our eyes off of our agendas, our causes, and our crusades, long enough to catch a fresh glimpse of our Heavenly Father. Like Isaiah we must see “…the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted…” (Isaiah 6:1).
Preceding the convention, we must heed SBC President Steve Gaines’ call to fast and pray. During the convention, I join the chorus of voices calling for a solemn assembly.
Southern Baptists, we need to see the Father. More than reports, more than sermons, more than elections, we desperately need to see the Lord seated on His throne. Then, perhaps all Southern Baptists will exclaim with one unified voice, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
And then, maybe then, the Lord will send one of His seraphim to touch our collective lips with a burning coal, and as a convention, as a unified Southern Baptist people, we might hear once again that heavenly voice proclaim, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). May it ever be so!