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Category: Southern Baptist Convention (page 1 of 2)

Founders.org and Their Upcoming Film

For the world outside of the Southern Baptist Convention, and for much of the Southern Baptist Convention outside the world of Twitter, what happened yesterday remains unknown. But for some of us who love Jesus and labor for him through the means of the SBC, yesterday was a troubling day, indeed.

Founders.org describes their ministry as “committed to encouraging the recovery of the gospel and the biblical reformation of local churches.” They adhere to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and the famous “Abstract of Principles” of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Their work is communicated through a quarterly journal titled “The Founders Journal,” blog articles on their website, national conferences, and a weekly podcast featuring Tom Ascol who serves as president and executive director of the ministry.

Founders.org has become increasingly concerned and increasingly vocal about what they perceive to be a deep-rooted, dangerous issue impacting the contemporary evangelical church. Worse yet, they purport that this issue is being affirmed and communicated by key SBC leaders and entities who are advancing a theologically liberal agenda.

The issue of concern springs from the concept known as social justice and, according to Founders.org, the insidious ideologies that inevitably accompany its pursuit. These ideologies include Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and views of women and sexuality that are reminiscent of the theological liberalism from which the SBC was delivered through the conservative resurgence over twenty-five years ago.

That brings us to what happened on July 23. Founders.org released a trailer for their upcoming “cinedoc” called “By What Standard?” The trailer is accompanied by a menacing background sound track and includes edited snippets of key SBC leaders, primarily from the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting, discussing issues related to the aforementioned ideologies. The full film releases later this year, and from what we can discern from the trailer, it will be an assault on certain entities and individuals over their propagation of various social justice views.

The trailer elicited a firestorm on Twitter. Many of the SBC leaders who were featured in the film, such as Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman, and Adam Greenway, released clarifying statements. These statements were in agreement on two primary things: 1) They were interviewed on topics such as biblical authority or complementarianism, but did not know the documentary would be using their material for a polemic piece against other SBC leaders or entities. 2) The leaders were outspoken on their concern and “alarm” at the way SBC leaders were represented by the trailer.

One especially egregious moment from the trailer has a voice speaking of “principalities and powers” who “exert pressure on us” during which a blurred but recognizable video image of Rachael Denhollander, who is a strong advocate and abuse survivor, was visible. The response on Twitter was so strong that the trailer was later edited to remove the blurred image of Rachael.

What should we think of this upcoming documentary and and the tension within the SBC over these issues? Here are a few things I am processing:

First, like Founders.org, I also affirm the 1689 London Baptist Confession and the Abstract of Principles. I am in agreement with most of the doctrinal positions held by the Founders.org leadership team. Furthermore, I have been helped and appreciate much of the work provided by Founders.org.

Second, I believe differing and challenging voices are important. Denominational unity is a reality not because we always agree, but because we remain allied for the Great Commission and essentials of our faith as demonstrated in the BFM2000. In fact, the checks and balances that come through charitable disagreement work toward ensuring our unification, not our division.

But the key word here is charitable. Disagreements with fellow brothers and sisters will only be winsome if they follow the glorious standard of our incarnate Christ who was full of grace and truth. Tom Ascol is theologically sharp and denominationally devoted. His voice can and should be one which causes us to rethink our positions – not necessarily change them, but rethink them. Unfortunately, Tom’s concerns in this case are masked by the contemptuous manner in which Founders.org is expressing them. The propagandized nature of the video trailer, the explicit linking of a sister-in-Christ with the forces of evil, and the accusatory tone against individuals and entities do not meet the winsome standard of grace and truth. These actions do not turn people toward Tom’s position. They drive them away.

Third, there are principles in the trailer I certainly agree with. Most conservative evangelicals will affirm how theological liberalism arrives through incremental movements. Coupled with that principle, there have been tweets and statements made by some SBC leaders this past year that left me a bit uneasy. Some of these statements left me wondering what they were trying to say and others voiced opinions I just do not agree with. Nevertheless, I have seen nothing that breaks the confession of the BFM2000 and, as mentioned above, these leaders are helping me think more clearly about my own positions. Thus, I agree with the principle addressed in the Founders.org trailer, but I do not agree with this particular application. I am thankful for the ministry and leadership of Beth Moore, Russell Moore, Danny Akin, Rachael Denhollander, and many others. I do not always agree with them, and there may be times when a voice like Tom Ascol needs to push back to help us all reconsider. But not like this.

Fourth, I have written this next sentence so many times in so many contexts. I have applied it to my own life, well, about every day. And that is the inherit danger of becoming the thing we despise the most. Is it possible that in responding so strongly to Founders.org and Tom Ascol that we violate the very principle that caused us to reply in the first place? I have been so impressed with our SBC leadership, such as Albert Mohler, Jonathan Leeman, Danny Akin, and Adam Greenway, who have responded to the trailer in a gracious and winsome way. They distanced themselves from it, asked to be removed from the project, but did not vilify Tom or Founders.org – and these are the people who have the most legitimate reason to be angry! And yet, some are responding to even their gracious rebuke by calling for more vitriol and are suggesting their responses were too gracious. In other words, some want to see the blood of Founders.org on the floor of the Convention meeting hall. Just as the inappropriate trailer will not win us to the Founders position, our unhealthy responses will not win the Founders leadership.

To summarize a very long article – I believe Founders.org and Tom Ascol have an important voice in the SBC and can use that voice for good. But this cinedoc does not appear to be the appropriate vehicle for communicating their concern. If the film follows the model of the trailer, then my small little presence in Graefenburg, KY will stand against it.

May the Lord be gracious to our convention and to our churches.

My Experience at the Southern Baptist Convention 2019

Andi and I drove to Birmingham, AL this past week to attend the two-day Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. We arrived Monday evening, June 10th, in time to be blessed by the conclusion of the Pastor’s Conference and then were present for all four sessions of the meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. I have attempted to provide a brief overview and a few highlights from this year’s meeting.

MONDAY EVENING
We arrived at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex just prior to the last session of the Pastor’s Conference (where various SBC pastors preach sermons on a theme for that year – this year the theme was the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount). First, a quick word about the Birmingham-Jefferson Complex…

The main arena where the General Sessions took place was just that – an arena. I prefer this over a gigantic convention hall room where typically the layout is incredibly wide but not very deep. Every seat in the Birmingham arena provided a nice view of the platform and it hearkened back to Conventions from years ago (unless I’m wrong, next year’s meeting will be back in a convention hall room in Orlando, meaning the room will be extremely wide where you seem so far away from the stage and speaker).

Apart from enjoying the arena itself, the complex was a train wreck. I have never been in a more confusing building where things were disjointed, far apart, and just difficult to find. When Andi and I arrived, we asked a few vendors for directions to the Pastor’s Conference and everyone was stumped. Even the SBC Information Desk balked in trying to provide directions for us! If it were not for floor decals that pointed the way to the sessions, we would still be looking!

The first speaker we heard was Andrew Brunson, who appropriately spoke on “Blessed are those who are persecuted…” Andrew was wonderful to listen to and learn from, and a significant reason why was due to his incredible humility and meekness. Andrew openly admitted and confessed that his confinement and persecution did not elicit in him the kinds of feelings that one might expect. He thought being in prison would make him feel empowered by the Holy Spirit and confident in the Lord and thankful for his persecution and overwhelmed by the feeling of God’s grace. But alas, he felt none of those things. He discussed an “unfelt grace” where he knew the grace of God was with him but was unable to feel it. He admitted to thinking a lot about himself, his own safety and his own release. He even admitted that he thought more about himself than his own church when asked during a panel discussion if he was concerned about his flock while in prison. That is the kind of honesty that makes me listen. If we were in Andrew’s shoes, all of us would be tempted to come out on the other side and act as if we had all the answers about persecution and that we clung to this powerful experience of grace and that our hearts were broken for the people in our church. But no. Andrew was transparent about his struggles and his feelings. It was a powerful picture of real life and real people clinging to the presence of the Lord even when we are unable to feel his presence.

The final preacher to speak at the Pastor’s Conference was Jimmy Scroggins. Pastor Jimmy discussed being “salt and light” and focused on the concept of salt needing to “make contact” in order to be effective. He then went on to describe a host of issues where Southern Baptists must be willing to make contact in a way that is winsome, biblical, and promotes unity among our churches. His repeated phrase for the sermon was, “It may not be your fault, but it’s your responsibility.” Topics he hit head-on were racial reconciliation, complementarianism, women’s leadership in the local church, social justice, and more. It was an effective word to begin the two-day meeting where these issues would be prominent.

After the conference, the ERLC hosted a panel called Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention. Russell Moore, Beth Moore, Susan Codone, Rachael Denhollander, and J.D. Greear spoke at the panel. Susan’s testimony, her first in public, was difficult to hear but an inspiration to see her strength and trust in the Lord. Rachael Denhollander spoke with a kind of surgical use of her words, precise and powerful. The panel received overwhelming support and it seemed to me and Andi that the messengers were ready to do whatever it takes to not only accept responsibility and seek repentance for the abuse crisis but also to take the necessary steps to prevent further cases of abuse in our churches.

Andi and I finished the night by picking up a pizza from a local place called “The New York Pizza.” It was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten.

TUESDAY, JUNE 11
Andi and I arrived at the complex for the morning session and were thrilled to run into our friend and church member Susan Bryant. We enjoyed sitting together for the morning session.

An appropriate if not more subdued recognition of the United States was offered with specific prayer for the many devoted chaplains across our Convention. This was a welcomed contrast to the arrival of Mike Pence at the 2018 Annual Meeting in Dallas, which served as a significant distraction.

The motions presented from the floor this year were fairly innocuous; nothing too extreme or out in left field. Which, in a sense, was disappointing! Perhaps the most important was a motion by Phillip Bethancourt for all SBC entities to provide an update at the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting as to their efforts to address abuse. A couple of motions addressed a desire for the SBC to provide electronic means of nominating and even voting for SBC officers. The former is a possibility. The latter is not.

The morning session wrapped with a powerful word from Convention President J.D. Greear. He called on messengers to put the gospel above all (the theme of the meeting this year) and boldly warned pastors to avoid aligning with a political party from the pulpit so that the “other side” would not be alienated from the mission field. I especially appreciated this aspect of his address and have previously written on the danger of political speech from the pulpit, especially as it applies to the Johnson Amendment.

In the afternoon session, a panel called “Undivided: Your Church and Racial Reconciliation” was provided for the messengers and I was introduced to a sociologist and professor named George Yancey. After the panel, I was able to talk with Professor Yancey and we spoke about the possibility of him speaking at Graefenburg Baptist. His perspective was one of the most helpful and comprehensive I have heard in the realm of race relations. The panel helpfully addressed common retorts from church members when addressing race, such as, “If we talk about race, it will make things worse” and “I don’t see race, I just see humans.”

The IMB report and sending celebration is probably the highlight of the entire convention. The Convention was able to pray over 26 new missionaries who are being sent all over the world, including regions of intense persecution, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every SBC church member should attend a sending celebration at some point in their life. This is the core reason why the SBC exists.

The Tuesday sessions ended with new Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd confidently and movingly letting the Convention know that he was committed to the critical issues facing the churches of the SBC. The EC would be bringing a motion to establish a permanent Credentials Committee that would have the authority to address whether a church was in friendly cooperation with the SBC based on their handling of potential sexual abuse issues or racial issues. The motion would be overwhelmingly affirmed by the messengers. You can read more about the vote here.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12
J.D. Greear was elected to another year of serving as the President of the SBC and the messengers also heard from the 6 seminary presidents, all of whom were passionate about their seminary, their students, and their mission.

The ERLC presented a beautiful report on their work alongside the Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee that was organized last year under J.D. Greear’s leadership. A powerful time of lament, repentance, and worship preceded the report. Churches are being strongly urged to take the Caring Well Challenge and follow through on 8 steps to address the abuse crisis within the Convention. At Graefenburg Baptist, we have been working for months in two key areas related to this topic. First, we developed a strong Security Ministry Team that is working in tandem with our children’s ministry leadership and children’s ministry policies to ensure the safety of our youngest to our oldest. Second, the children’s ministry leadership has worked to review, address, and tighten our policies to make our church an even safer place for the gospel to be taught and modeled.

Having said that, Graefenburg Baptist will be following through with the Caring Well Challenge since the scope of this initiative is more comprehensive than just children. The team will be assembled over the next few weeks and the launch of our Challenge will be August 25, 2019.

Finally, an interesting and powerful range of resolutions was presented by the Committee on Resolutions (chaired by Kentucky Baptist Curtis Woods!). Among these resolutions was one on sexual abuse and, to my surprise, one on critical race theory and intersectionality! You can read a simple synopsis of the individual resolutions here.

The best part of my trip to the Annual Meeting in Birmingham? Being with my beautiful wife, Andi. The time away is an opportunity for us to be renewed and refreshed, and we did just that.

I am proud and thankful to be a Southern Baptist. There is much work to be done. Let’s move forward together.

An Optimistic View of the SBC Numbers

A recent report from Baptist Press detailed the 2018 Annual Church Profile (ACP) for Southern Baptist Churches. The ACP provides annual numbers in a variety of categories and is compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources. Here is what Baptist Press had to say:

Although Southern Baptist congregations reported increased giving, reported membership of those congregations declined by 192,404, down 1.28 percent to 14.8 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined by 0.43 percent to 5.3 million worshipers… Southern Baptist congregations baptized 246,442 people in 2018, a 3.02 percent decline from the 254,122 reported in 2017. 

These numbers are, of course, not what Southern Baptists want to see. A few prominent SBC leaders have offered helpful thoughts on the report, such as this article from Dr. Albert Mohler.

As the pastor of a mid-size church in central KY, I have a slightly different view of the ACP, or perhaps it would be fairer to say that I can think of a few reasons why we might be optimistic when considering a couple of the categories in which there were declining numbers.

The Decline in Reported Membership.
Southern Baptists have long been aware of their persistent membership problem. Most SBC churches have two to three times the number of people on their church membership rolls than people who are faithfully attending. Though there may be several factors contributing to this trend, the SBC has identified the most significant and the most spiritually problematic factor – the reality of an unregenerate church membership. In 2005, Jim Elliff wrote a powerful article called “Southern Baptists, An Unregenerate Denomination” where he lays out the facts of the SBC membership struggles and offers 5 suggestions on the how to reverse the trend (you can read an updated version of the article here).

Three years later at the SBC Annual Meeting, Southern Baptists voted in favor of a resolution titled, “On Regenerate Church Membership And Church Member Restoration.” Two sentences are of particular interest:

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge our churches to maintain accurate membership rolls for the purpose of fostering ministry and accountability among all members of the congregation

RESOLVED, That we humbly encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, even if such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches (emphasis mine).

At my church in Graefenburg, KY, we are currently in the middle of a process to address our own membership problem. We are taking the time to work in multiple stages in order to have a membership roll that accurately reflects the covenant faithfulness of our flock. We are primarily engaged in this effort because of our biblical convictions on church membership, but we also find support in the Convention herself, with denominational leaders and messengers encouraging and praying for churches to restore their rolls to a regenerate status.

I say that to say this – in 2020, I have every expectation that the membership numbers we will be reporting in the ACP will be dramatically lower than our 2019 numbers. Although I certainly hope and pray that over the next several years we will see those numbers rise again due to baptisms and new members, I nevertheless see the initial reduction as a sign of health for my church, not a sign of disease. Is it possible that faithful, hard-working pastors and churches are doing the same? Is this at least a partial reason to be optimistic about the reduction of church membership reflected in the ACP? I believe it is.

The Decline in Baptisms
I have previously written on my conviction that churches should baptize children without a prolonged probationary period, a trend that seems to be gaining momentum. Nevertheless, children should only be baptized upon a credible profession of faith. Taking the time and energy to build a relationship with the child, discussing the gospel and the cost of discipleship, and walking with the young boy or girl before moving too quickly toward the baptismal waters are essential pastoral responsibilities.

The first reason for optimism listed above – that churches are working to ensure a regenerate membership – overlaps with this second reason for optimism. More pastors are taking seriously the need for credible confessions of faith before dunking children at a young age. Again, although I am concerned about the concept of extended probationary periods in order to observe fruit in a young person’s life, I eagerly affirm multiple gospel conversations and assurance of both understanding and conviction before adding another baptism to the books. If the ACP baptism numbers reflects, in part, a tendency for pastors to be cautious with baptizing our younger folks, then I am optimistic about that trend.

I’ve never been a big numbers guy although I recognize their place and purpose. We do not want to ignore the annual ACP but neither do we want to fret. God’s faithfulness is unquestionable. And so, let us continue to be faithful to preach the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The Bright Future of the SBC

The 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was not without its share of challenging moments. Motions were made to fully defund an SBC entity, to remove all Executive Committee trustees from one of our seminaries, and to remove Vice President Mike Pence from speaking to the messengers. From one perspective, I suppose a Southern Baptist could walk away from this year’s meeting a bit discouraged and concerned. But I’m encouraged and excited.

Here’s why…

Some SBC voices are expressing concern about a growing number of Southern Baptists who are increasingly vocal and practically engaged in important issues such as racial reconciliation and the treatment of women. There is irony here. Often those who are unconvinced about the wisdom of emphasizing these kinds of issues will express their discontent with phrases such as “cultural Marxism” or “social liberalism.” And yet, from my perspective, those working toward these issues are demonstrating a zealousness for God’s Word that is undiluted with any political or societal influence. On the other hand, the concerned group – those who are lamenting a perceived rise of capitulation to culture – are themselves embracing the marriage of a political mission with the Great Commission. Some of us who love our country and respect our vice president were hanging our heads in disbelief as a stump speech for President Trump was delivered only hours after hearing passionate sermons about the SBC’s mandate to align ourselves only and always with King Jesus.

And yet, I’m optimistic because there was noticeable tension in the room during the Pence speech. There was uneasiness. Although the vice president received standing ovations and many were enthusiastically behind his speech, I sensed the room was awakened to both the danger and the damage of any political presence in a convention hall devoted to the blessed task of making disciples of all nations. This awareness combined with the election of President J.D. Greear ensures that we will not be hearing a stump speech at the 2019 Annual Meeting in Birmingham from any politician or political party. That, I hope, will set a precedent for years to come.

I’m also encouraged by the passionate and unified principles on which the SBC continues to stand. Part of what made the Pence arrival so unfortunate is because it unnecessarily distracted from the overwhelming unity in the SBC on the most essential issues. The authority and inerrancy of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, the necessity of discipleship and evangelism, the work of NAMB and the International Mission Board, a priority of planting churches, and a commitment to the Cooperative Program are all positions that are rock solid and uniformly held by Southern Baptists. That is reason to rejoice.

Another encouraging aspect of this year’s meeting was the convention’s brokenness by recent developments in the SBC, especially as it pertains to the treatment of women. We heard and saw genuine repentance, multiple motions, strong seminary reports, and future collaborations to help the SBC make progress in these areas. Alongside this, on difficult motions that were potentially divisive, the messengers voted correctly. For example, the messengers correctly and overwhelmingly voted against a motion to remove all Executive Committee Trustees from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Finally, I left the annual meeting this year excited and thankful to be a Southern Baptist. I left anxious to get back to my church that I love so much and be a better pastor. I left even more convinced of the need to evangelize the lost. I left with a renewed spirit after sitting under the preaching of the word. I left with the hope of the gospel that was once for all delivered to the saints.

So yes, the meeting this year had its challenging moments. But the future is bright for the SBC. I’m excited to see what the Lord will do.

 

My Comments To My Church About The Recent SBC Concerns

As I prepare to leave for Dallas next week to attend an important Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, I want to publically share the comments I recently made to Graefenburg Baptist Church.  This statement was read to our church before Paige Patterson was removed from his privileges at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The pastors of GBC are broken over recent developments in the SBC but trust God to work all things for his glory and the good of the nations. Grace and peace to each of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Over the last couple of weeks, some of you might have read about a controversy that has developed in the Southern Baptist Convention. An SBC leader and President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Dallas, whose name is Paige Patterson, was recorded during a teaching lecture several years ago and in the recording he tells the story of how he advised a lady in an abusive marital relationship to return to her abuser, pray for him, and try to submit in all things. Patterson was also on record saying some inappropriate remarks about a teenage girl.

As your pastor, and in agreement with my colleagues, your pastoral staff, we reject in the strongest terms any notion that an abused spouse is obligated or commanded by Scripture to return to their abuser and thereby place themselves in harm’s way. Abuse in a marriage relationship is an attack against the gospel of Jesus Christ because marriage is the most perfect human expression of the gospel.

Some of you here today and some of you watching online have experienced spousal abuse or are experiencing it. Unfortunately, some of you will experience it. Please hear me clearly – your pastors are here for you. We will listen to you. We will believe you. And we will do anything we can to help you get out of a dangerous situation.

I also want to say a quick word to those of you who might be abusers. Some of you might not know what to do with your anger. Some of you might deeply regret your actions, but you find yourself doing it all over again. I want you to know something too – we won’t abandon you. Jesus hasn’t abandoned you. His gospel of grace is bigger and stronger than your sin. We are here to walk with you as best as we possibly can.

My hope is that the SBC will use this as a growing opportunity instead of a vendetta against a single person. My hope is that God will use this controversy to open our eyes wider to the reality of the shame and embarrassment and fear of so many women who are in abusive relationships and have no idea what to do. My hope is that we as a church, here at Graefenburg, will not waiver for a second in our commitment to marriage and to the gospel, and yet we will fight against injustice and abuse even as we uphold those commitments.

Please pray with me, for our church, for the SBC, and for the church around the world.

 

The Conservative Resurgence and Moral Compromise

Albert Mohler has written a brutally honest article in the wake of Paige Patterson’s dismissal as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It will go down as one of his more important and most powerful statements on the life of Southern Baptists. If you haven’t read it yet, then stop now and take a look.

One of the most fascinating portions of the article for me personally was Mohler’s decision to return to the Conservative Resurgence in which Paige Patterson played an important role. I found his reflections to be honest, helpful, and precise. I am in, I suppose, somewhat of a unique situation in that my theological education and training in pastoral ministry afforded me the opportunity to experience both the moderate viewpoint of things and the more conservative viewpoint. I attended Belmont University from 1994-1998 – before the school split from the Tennessee Baptist Convention – and their approach to religious studies was certainly moderate. During my time there, the President of the University called a faculty meeting to ask the question, “What does it mean to be a Baptist?” It was only a matter of time before the school could no longer hold to the principles of the TBC.

And yet, I have nothing but good memories about Belmont. The school challenged me, took me into areas of study I probably never would have considered otherwise, and most importantly, the professors never dismissed me, even with my more conservative viewpoint. I’m sure that some of my professors and fellow students who attended Belmont might wish that I was not quite so evangelical in my thinking, but we respect one another, even in our different viewpoints, and I think most of us are thankful for the time we spent on that Nashville campus.

I attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 2006-2009 and am currently studying there for my D.Min degree. The program was dramatically different from Belmont and it was overwhelming (and comforting) to be around some of the most well-known and brilliant scholars in the world who actually believed the Bible is without error! My passion for my education, but more importantly, my passion for the Lord skyrocketed.

So, with that background in mind, I was amazed by Albert Mohler’s comments when he said this:

“Has the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention come to this? Is this what thousands of Southern Baptists were hoping for when they worked so hard to see this denomination returned to its theological convictions, its seminaries return to teaching the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, its ministries solidly established on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did we win confessional integrity only to sacrifice our moral integrity?

This is exactly what those who opposed the Conservative Resurgence warned would happen. They claimed that the effort to recover the denomination theologically was just a disguised move to capture the denomination for a new set of power-hungry leaders. I know that was not true. I must insist that this was not true. But, it sure looks like their prophecies had some merit after all. As I recently said with lament to a long-time leader among the more liberal faction that left the Southern Baptist Convention, each side has become the fulfillment of what the other side warned. The liberals who left have kept marching to the Left, in theology and moral teaching. The SBC, solidly conservative theologically, has been revealed to be morally compromised.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Most (not all!) of my fellow students at Belmont continued to progress to the left in their theological liberalism, and I could never in good conscience recommend the school for religious studies today. But it appears their concerns about SBC power and corruption are truths we are forced to deal with now, like it or not.

As for me, I like it. And here’s why. The Southern Baptist Convention does not have the power to dilute, distort, or alter the glorious goodness and holiness of God. But God certainly has the power to do whatever he wants with the Southern Baptist Convention. Although I do not rejoice when our denomination suffers brokenness, I trust the sovereignty of God to bring us to repentance where necessary and to turn our hearts back to him and his commission.

I have faith in the SBC not because of the SBC. I have faith in the SBC because I have faith in God. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

 

What You Need To Know About Russell Moore, the SBC, and the ERLC

Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This entity of the SBC is one of the most important ministries supported by the Convention due to the increasing threats to religious liberty in the United States. The ERLC “is dedicated to engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaking to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing.” The second part of that purpose statement, “speaking to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing,” is where we currently find some tension within the Convention.

I am an unapologetic Russell Moore supporter. He was Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during my studies there for the Master of Divinity degree. Dr. Moore has had a tremendous impact on the way I think about theology, church life, and even pop culture. Although thoroughly evangelical and conservative in his faith and politics, Dr. Moore is not shortsighted when it comes to how the faith of Southern Baptists, and more importantly the news of the gospel, can flourish in a world hostile to religious liberty. Thus, Dr. Moore has been consistently outspoken for the liberty of all people of all faiths in order for the power of the gospel to be freely spoken and transformative to all who will hear and believe.

Russell Moore came under fire from some SBC leadership during the recent 2016 Presidential campaign, being accused of speaking and writing in a condescending tone toward Southern Baptists who were voting for Trump. He wrote a clarifying article on his personal website, apologizing to those who interpreted his remarks as a rebuke or ridicule. The fact is, many SBC leaders were outspoken in their concerns for a Trump presidency, but Dr. Moore received most of the media attention due to this role in the more political branch of the SBC.

But that is not the end of the story. Another lingering issue has only served to increase concerns toward Moore’s leadership.

In May of last year, the ERLC and the IMB (International Mission Board) signed an amicus brief along with several other religious groups arguing that contradictory standards cannot be applied to Muslims, or any faith-based group, who wish to construct a place of worship. Specifically, the brief was signed in support of the construction of a New Jersey mosque. The brief had an impact. A federal judge ruled in the mosque’s favor on December 31, 2016.

David Platt, president of the IMB, has since apologized for the distraction associated with the brief. But some push-back has already happened. Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church in Morristown, TN and a trustee of the IMB, resigned his IMB position due to the signing of the amicus brief. He said, “When I look at our IMB mission and purpose statements, I cannot see how this action meshes with them.”

As difficult as Haun’s resignation is to hear, the worst possible scenario is just now starting to play out – some churches are escrowing their Cooperative Program funds until a better understanding of the Convention’s leadership is reached, including a Dallas megachurch who sends upwards of $1 million annually to the CP.

Now, if you are not a Southern Baptist, it might be difficult to appreciate how brutal this is. The Cooperative Program is the means through which the SBC funds its agencies and its mission. Every Southern Baptist Church designates a percentage of their budget to the Cooperative Program. That amount is sent to the state convention that keeps a portion and the rest is sent to the SBC.  North American Mission Board missionaries, IMB missionaries, church plants, state missions, the SBC seminaries, and a host of other entities are dependent on the CP for their existence.

Here are a few points of my personal commentary:

David Platt and the IMB
I believe Platt was right to apologize. Although the IMB, NAMB, and any other SBC entity might feel a certain way about an issue taking place in our country, it is not for every entity to take action on those issues. Staying focused on the mission at hand is essential, and the ability for a group of Muslims to build a mosque in New Jersey is probably not what the IMB is called to support. However, the same cannot be said for the ERLC. These are precisely the kinds of issues the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is funded to engage. Remember their statement of purpose? That they exist for the “protection of religious liberty and human flourishing.” So, I affirm Platt’s apology but equally affirm Moore’s action on behalf of the mosque’s construction.

Speaking for the SBC
One consistent complaint I have heard concerning Dr. Moore’s leadership is how he does not speak for Southern Baptists. But what does that even mean? Should Dr. Moore simply do and say whatever the churches tell him to do and say? Or is there room here for us to be challenged and led by our SBC leadership to think critically about difficult issues? And on top of that, save for the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the means to a relationship with the Father, I know of no other single clarifying issue in the history of Baptists than the issue of religious liberty.

The Gospel
Rejoicing in the inability of a religious group to build a place of worship does not win hearts for the gospel. To be clear, I do not want mosques being constructed for the purpose of teaching and spreading a false gospel in our communities. But do we believe in the greater and truer and better power of the gospel? The way we win people to the Lord is not by eliminating every other religion and place of worship, but by believing that the true gospel is bigger than any other religion or place of worship.

Common Sense
If they will prevent a group of Muslims from building a mosque, how long until they prevent a group of Christians from building a church? That, of course, would not stop the church from flourishing (Matthew 16:18), but we do not want to be active participants in the oppression of Christianity in America! And to deny the religious liberty of all faiths is to do precisely that.

Dr. Russell Moore
What is going to happen? Disagreements among trustees and leadership and church members are one thing. Holding back Cooperative Program dollars is quite another. There is an inevitable point where, no matter how supportive a large number of SBC members and leaders are of Dr. Moore, the losing of enough CP dollars will leave the Convention with little choice. But my biggest fear is that Russell Moore, being the kind of person I think he is, would probably preempt something ugly by gently stepping away. Which would be devastating. Absolutely devastating. Pray with me that it doesn’t come to that. That SBC churches will remain committed to the Cooperative Program even when they are in disagreement with a certain leader or action. That Dr. Moore will be comforted by Christ during this incredibly challenging time for him and his family. That we may all as a Convention continue to do the work of making disciples without distraction or division.

 

My Convention Experience in Columbus and My Wife’s Upcoming Motions

Andi and I recently returned from the 2015 SBC Annual Meeting in Columbus, OH and we couldn’t be more thankful. Here are a few highlights from our convention experience this year, followed by two important motions my blessed wife will be making at next year’s convention in St. Louis.

1. The preaching. Standing in the pulpit of Graefenburg Baptist Church every Sunday is probably my greatest passion, but it is important and necessary for me to be under anointed preaching. Andi and I were blessed by several sermons, but we were especially moved by James McDonald’s sermon on humility. I have a copy if you want to hear it. Powerful.

2. The family. It doesn’t take long at a convention meeting to truly feel like you are sitting in the middle of 5,000 family members. That is special.

3. The unity. This particular meeting was marked by remarkable unity in essential areas of faith. I almost had the feeling that we were taking the first steps into letting go of tertiary issues because of the cultural reality in which we live today. We are going to need one another, and this was beautifully on display through a 3 minute standing ovation for Barronelle Stutzman, recognizing her boldness and courage in her convictions.

4. The prayer. President Ronnie Floyd has spent a year building us up for a meeting of prayer for awakening and revival. He delivered on that promise.

5. The leadership. It is simply encouraging and motivating to be around such Godly, capable, powerful leaders. It reminds me of the blessing of leading my flock and the importance of leading well.

6. The motions. Yep, motions from the floor remain my favorite part of the Annual Meeting and this year delivered some pretty darn good ones, including a motion for Ronnie Floyd to run for president and a motion to boycott Zondervan. Motions to boycott are a Southern Baptist tradition, but thankfully after the Disney boycott mess, we are a bit more weary of the whole idea. Not surprisingly, that motion was ruled out of order.

7. The sleep. What can I say? I was able to sleep in a king size motel room with my wife without children waking us up. That is pretty massively awesome.

8. The exhibits. They are just fun.

9. The schedule. The convention does a great job of staying on time, but like anything else, sometimes people have a tendency to run over. During the Oscars, if a winner takes too long with their acceptance speech, the orchestra just starts pumping out the music. At the SBC meeting, you will either get Ronnie Floyd slowly walking on stage in a stalking manner, or a piano will begin to lightly play a beautiful, but “wrap it up, man” gospel song. Both were fun to watch.

10. The company. I was with my wife. Enough said.

Speaking of Andi, during our time in Columbus she discovered two areas of SBC life that must be addressed, and her intention is to bring two motions to the floor at the 2016 annual meeting. Those are:

1. For a new SBC logo to be designed and adopted immediately. Below is the current logo. Yes, it is time for a change. Southern_Baptist_Convention_logo1

2. At the convention you can purchase compact disks or DVD’s of the sermons. The name of this service? SBC Tapes. Yes, SBC Tapes. Most of the  millennials at the meeting don’t know what a tape is. SBCtapes.com is going strong, but shouldn’t we change the name to sbcmedia or something  like that? I mean…tapes?

(By the way, I’m kidding. She isn’t really going to make those motions. Or is she?)

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IMB Policies, Baptism, David Platt, and Wade Burleson

On October 30, 2014, I published an article on PhilipMeade.com expressing my frustration for a young lady at Graefenburg Baptist Church who felt a call to international missions but was ineligible for service through the International Mission Board (IMB) because she was baptized in a Church of God. The policies for the IMB only allowed missionaries to be appointed who had been baptized in a Southern Baptist Church. I was hopeful that newly elected president David Platt might bring some clarity to a regrettable policy for the world’s most effective sending agency.

Fast forward to the week of May 10, 2015. I had the joy of attending an IMB missionary appointment service in Louisville, KY and experienced a tremendous night of worship as we listened to the tear-inducing testimonies of new IMB missionaries. Coinciding with this service was the announcement that the Trustees of the IMB had rolled out a new set of policies to coincide with Platt’s “Pathways” strategy for sending a wider range of people and talents overseas to share the gospel with unreached people. To my astonishment, these new policies struck down the infamous baptism requirements, as well as the private prayer language restrictions. Instead, the new policy is incredibly simple and streamlined. It’s requirements for baptism reads, “Currently a baptized member of a Southern Baptist church.” What is so amazing about this development for me is the manner in which it was announced – just a simple, quiet notice on the IMB website that things have changed.

I couldn’t read about the new changes without thinking of Wade Burleson. Wade is pastor for Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, OK and was a Trustee for the IMB in 2005. Wade strongly opposed the new policies, wrote dissenting opinions on his blog, and eventually resigned from the IMB in 2008. I was curious to get his thoughts on the development of things over the last couple of years and especially this past week. So, I will be posting an interview with Wade Burleson here on PhilipMeade.com in the next couple of days. I think you will find it to be interesting.

I’m thankful for David Platt and his leadership in the IMB, but also for the many other gifted leaders who are helping him along. These are exciting days for cooperative missionary efforts among Southern Baptists and I’m excited for the future.

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A Fascinating Comment That Went Widely Unnoticed

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been coming under some interesting criticism lately. I suppose there exists a general feeling from the population at large towards conservative Southern Baptists of a depressingly predictable point of view when it comes to matters of faith and politics. These general feelings are typically expressed with such sentiments as, “Southern Baptists think God is a Republican” and so on. In some ways we have brought this on ourselves, as we do have a tendency to contradict our own biblical convictions in order to keep in line with popular political convictions.

That is why some folks are having a difficult time figuring out Russell Moore. He is a conservative evangelical Southern Baptist scholar who excelled at his position of Dean of School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before being elected as president of the ERLC. From a secular point of view, surely this is just another thoughtless conservative who will dish out the same, tired talking points that characterize evangelicals as a whole.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a fascinating comment was made by Dr. Moore that, I believe, aptly summarizes his profound and much needed impact both on the ERLC and Southern Baptist life. Here’s what happened:

The state of Alabama had asked the high court for a stay to delay enforcement of a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the state’s ban of same-sex marriage until the Supreme Court rules on the issue, a case they will be hearing this spring. Seven justices agreed to deny the stay. In other words, the state wanted to keep their law banning same-sex marriage until after SCOTUS officially ruled nationwide on the issue. They were denied the delay.

Cue what the general population would consider predictable talking points from a conservative evangelical leader – something along the lines of the demise of our country, the fiendish liberal agenda to eradicate conservative Christians, and the possibility of Obama being the anti-Christ. Instead, Russell Moore said this:

“In a Christian ethic, there is a time for civil disobedience in cases of unjust laws. That’s why, for instance, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. went to jail. In the case of judges and state Supreme Court justices, though, civil disobedience, even when necessary, cannot happen in their roles as agents of the state. Religious freedom and conscience objections must be balanced with a state’s obligation to discharge the law. We shouldn’t have officials breaking the law, but civil servants don’t surrender their conscience simply by serving in government. While these details are being worked out, in the absence of any conscience protections, a government employee faced with a decision of violating his conscience or upholding the law, would need to resign and protest against it as a citizen if he could not discharge the duties of his office required by law in good conscience.” (emphasis mine)

That is a remarkable paragraph. Moore does not acquiesce to the issue at hand. Earlier, he states that, “The citizens of Alabama are rightly concerned about the non-action–action by the United States Supreme Court in refusing to stay same-sex marriages in the state until the Court hands down its decision this June on the matter. The same Court that ruled in 2013 that marriage should be a state, not a federal matter, is now imposing a federal definition of marriage on a state.” And yet, in spite of what he and most Southern Baptists would see as an unfortunate decision, Moore calls upon the state judges to perform their roles in keeping with the law, and if they are unable to do so because of conscience, then resign.

Moore finds himself in a position of disappointing the more conservative branch of the SBC while still being viewed as a fundamentalist thug from the more progressive left. It seems to me that he is exactly where he needs to be and I believe he is a friendly voice for religious liberty to every American. I’m proud he is one of ours.

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