Let me preface this with the fact that I pray daily for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. We share a common spiritual ancestry and at least by statement, believe the same Bible and hold the same core values. And as I sit here in my “2nd Office”, having prayed about this post for several days, hoping that the LORD would change my mind – I have received confirmation after confirmation that this post is necessary. Yes, the Southern Baptist Convention has done many great things for the Kingdom of God – including planting churches around the world, supporting seminaries that have through the many years, trained many Christians for greater work for the cause of Christ. BUT: things are not all well with this organization.
This week, as the Southern Baptist Convention meets in Anaheim, California for their annual conference, they face a massive problem that goes well beyond the very publicly-aired grievances. On the surface, you don’t have to be an SBC insider to be well aware of the hashtag #changethedirection. The Conservative Baptist Network (CBN), Founders Ministry (led by Tom Ascol), and even G3 Ministries have been among those most vocal in calling for mayor direction shift by the world’s largest Baptist denomination, a cooperative convention with stated goals not unlike those of my own BMAA.
So why #changethedirection?
Some of us are old enough to remember (or have studied) the “liberal drift” of the SBC that came to a head in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. A significant number of cooperative churches had begun to adopt theologically and doctrinally liberal positions that ran contrary to historic Baptist positions (and more importantly, BIBLICAL positions). The fundamental issue was not the “liberal drift”, but the low view of Scripture that was at the core of this shift. A handful of well-known figures (and a myriad of lesser-known men) began in 1979 to fight in earnest for the “soul of the SBC”. Over the course of several years, Dr. Albert Mohler secure election as President of the convention, which opened the door to change in leadership of the various agencies and seminaries, bringing what is now known as “The Conservative Resurgence”. Among the better sources on this subject was penned by Judge Paul Pressler entitled A Hill On Which To Die (A worthwhile read for anyone interested in that tumultuous time in Southern Baptist history). The end result of that “coup” as some called it, was the spin-off (split) of the “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship”, a parallel body of mostly former Southern Baptist congregations that hold a wide, though significantly liberal in doctrine, beliefs including the ordination of women, affirmation of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle, and what most Bible-believers would call a very low view of God and the Bible.
To those of us outside the Convention, we have watched as churches of the convention have continued to spin off into liberalism. Somewhat controversial ministries like Pulpit & Pen/Protestia, Reformation Charlotte, and others have been sounding the alarm for well over a decade. Often maligned and accused of being divisive (despite the Scriptures always labeling those in doctrinal and theological error to be responsible for division), these men and ministries have been battling – many leading their own congregations out of the SBC on the basic principals at hand. Over the last several years, as SBC superstars, often in megachurches, have been ramping up the assault on God’s Word, again bringing the inerrancy, authority, reliability, and sufficiency of Scripture into question. From well-documented redefining of sin to simply “brokenness“, the ramping up of easy-believism and “come as you are, but we don’t expect change”, With so-called pastors refusing to speak of teh very real consequences of sin, in favor of soft tone and coddling sinners – it was only a matter of time before this produced the spiritually weak and immature churches, building what my friend Allen Nelson (@quatronelson) has complained are “unregenerate church members”. Mega churches in the convention are now not only ordaining women to pastoral positions (Saddleback Church/Rick Warren), but proudly boasting of having LGBTQ+ volunteers and staff people (Church on the Glades, Corral Gables, Fl). The SBC’s own ministry, the ERLC (Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), which has expended millions of cooperative giving dollars in promoting mosques, condemning churches that didn’t shut their doors under COVID, and now actively opposing state legislation to stop abortion (unquestionably the greatest injustice in the US for almost 50 years). In fact, the current leadership (following the train wreck that is Dr. Russell Moore, a politically and biblically-liberal man who has left the convention to a far more suitable and liberal group) has announced their “pro-life” conference – where they refuse to even call abortion evil – instead using a slogan of “Make Abortion Unnecessary”. When asked when abortion is “necessary” today, leadership (according to those in Anaheim this week, refused to answer).
What we see unfolding is a war within the Southern Baptist Convention. A war where the battles and skirmishes are over sin, liberalism, Critical Race Theory (a distinctively Marxist and brazenly racist ideology), Intersectionality, radical feminism, and much more, that at its core – isn’t ABOUT these, which are simply symptoms, but are all rooted in the exact same cancer that divided the denomination 40 plus years ago: The Word of God. IS the Word of God reliable? Is the Word of God inerrant? Is the Bible sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16)? It is on this set of questions that essentially all of the “issues” being battled under the banner of #chagnethedirection rest. Indeed, to fight against the clear teaching of the Word of God is to be “ashamed of the gospel” itself (Romans 1:16). Instead, as churches and now the Convention dive off into the poison pill of pragmatism, seeking to please the world instead of their Creator – it begs the question: Now what? Will the effort to elect a distinctly conservative man to the President of the SBC fix the problem? No. The process to even remotely impact the actual direction of the Convention, made up of some 47,000 local churches, with several seminaries that are rapidly flying off the rails, with those holding to liberal ideologies now in the majority in most committees that have any say, is a decade or more of uninterrupted conservative leadership.
To my third-person perspective, it looks like a lot of folks are holding out hope that a man (Tom Ascol) somehow can be the “messiah” of the Convention. Alas – even if he were to be elected today in Anaheim – it doesn’t solve the problem that nobody seems to want to address: Corporatism and an ecclesiology built to fail.
Ecclesiology is by definition, the “study of the church” and is an area of Christian theology that often gets less attention than is appropriate. Within ecclesiology is the study and application of church structure, governance, and polity. Baptists have historically held to a bottom-up framework that emphasizes the equal vote and value of the individual regenerate church member, in a mostly congregationalist local church polity (with some degree of elder-leadership), autonomy of the local church (the local church is not beholden to any other entity or in subjection to outside denominational authority), with each local voluntarily associating with and even cooperating with other local churches in fulfillment of the Great Commission. This is in stark contrast to the episcopal/hierarchical model – where the local church is subject to a ruling denominational authority (Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and even some Pentecostal denominations. Within the Baptist realm, there are some variations in the view of local church “autonomy” – form the stereotypical “Independent, Fundamentalist Baptist”, to the more organize Baptist denominations. But in all – Baptists proudly (and I believe accurately) hold that “the church” is manifested in this world as the LOCAL church.
The problem with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Polity:
The Southern Baptist Convention has grown into a massive corporation, with hundnreds of millions of dollars given every year jsut to the national denomination (and Billions when totaled with state and local conventions and associations). The Convention has several ministries that function as semi-independent entities (such as the North American Missions Board, the International Missions Board, Lifeway, the ERLC, etc.). These all receive their primary funding via the denominational umbrella. I won’t delve into the details of how the money filters up mostly from state conventions, but suffice it to say that churches have very little say in where the funds they contribute are spent. And therein lies the rub: The size of the Convention becomes the excuse for a lack of transparency and accountability. Over the years, many have come into leadership positions that had no business in even leading a local church, much less a multi-million ministry organization in charge of missionaries and missionary policy.
Some within the more conservative circles of the Convention have been trying for years to even find out the compensation package for certain officers. Likewise is the effort to simply get a detailed accounting of how cooperative funds have been spent. The structure itself makes such information functionally a “protected secret”. Outside of general budgets and offering totals, the average church member of a Convention church has no way of being fully-informed. By the time a problem is obvious, the hole is already dug (or in the current situation – the derailment already well-progressed). Even seminaries are under this (though at least for accreditation purposes – they have to have more transparent financials). But when seminaries have professors (and even presidents) who are teaching or tolerating serious errors, doctrinal contradictions, and even blatant work contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (the official statement of all churches in the Convention) – change is nearly impossible because of so little accountability.
The Convention has become and albatross – one that is easily steered by political correctness, but rudderless in trying to “right the course”. And his all goes back to the title of this post: A Denomination Built To Fail. When we explore the New Testament and the model of the Church(s) – we see independent bodies, connected not by some hierarchal system, but bound by the teachings of the apostles, once handed down (Jude 1:3), revolving around the one gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul was so passionate about (Romans 1:16, Galatians 1:8). Churches were organized then left to further the ministry. Yes, Paul and others checked in and offered suggestions and even commands to those early and immature bodies. But we see that contributions were sent for specific purposes to specific churches in need – not via some denominational organization or authority – but simply out of love and concern for the brethren in need. Indeed – we often see reference made to “churches” within a geographic area who often worked together for ministry. But the local church remained the foundation.
What we have seen historically is that the farther away from the local church structures get – the more susceptible they are to corruption and trouble. The latest scandal in the SBC revolving around sexual abuse and the accompanying cover-ups, which should have been handled at the local church level (because biblically, the “denomination” has no authority over the local church), became a denominational issue – precisely BECAUSE of the SBS’s corporate structure. When Executive Committee members actively helped to cover up abuse reported to them – they opened the entire denomination to not just scrutiny, but to a degree of liability. The proposed “solution”? Even more top-down structure and policies.
I had to step away from writing this for several ministry duties and opportunities – but now that I’m back at the keyboard, I do it with an even heavier heart – for literally everything that has been considered “worst case” has come to pass. Just what I’ve seen reported is too much to post here on this already long entry – but here are some of the more alarming and in many cases, Scripturally contradictory actions:
- Tom Ascol soundly defeated in a runoff between himself and Bart Barber. Bart has tried to play “moderate”, while defending Dr. Moore and the ERLC when they chose to attack churches for keeping their doors open, while also defending mosques. And lest we forget, we now have absolutely proof that Dr. Moore was an active participant in covering up sexual abuse in the convention – holding information as a secret weapon instead of helping to deal with it. Alas – Barber chose politics over biblically-correct and moral action.
- The Pastor’s Conference elected the truly #woke candidate, Daniel Dickard, as President of the conference, over Voddie Baucham (one of the most gifted and biblically-sound preachers in all of the Southern Baptist Convention – who also happens to be a Black man and anti-woke). This was a pretty significant preview of what was to come with the Ascol/Barber vote.
- When Tom Buck’s wife Jennifer had the opportunity to speak – she was disgracefully shut down (despite speaking from a victim’s perspective), yet Rick Warrant (Saddleback Church) was given free reign to defend ordaining women into pastoral office (in direct contradiction to Convention rules and more importantly, against God’s Word. (This in response to a call for Saddleback to be removed from fellowship for that very offense).
- As a result of the above, and a ruling by the Credentials Committee on the issue – the Southern Baptist Convention now endorses and approves of women being ordained to offices biblically restricted to men (including pastoral ministry). This under the decision stating they recognize that some churches practice ordination based upon the person’s “gifting”. (I’m still trying to figure out how you deal with “husband of one wife” – aka a “one woman man”).
- A resolution submitted to recognize and proclaim the sacredness of the pulpit – and thus the need to protect it in the local church was rejected by the resolutions committee with no hope of it being voted to the floor by the full body.
- Passively endorsed blatant plagiarism from the pulpit (in part by rejecting the above resolution), but also by platforming some of the worst and most brazen practitioners of plagiarism.
- The ERLC announced their theme for the next “Stand For Life” – functionally asserting that abortion is currently a “necessity”… (see above).
- The body voted to remove full acceptance of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as a necessity to become a cooperating church (in other words – a church can reject even key components as long as they acknowledge most of it and still be “Southern Baptist”).
- Voted to implement Recommendation Two which establishes a “Ministry Check” database, publicly accessible, to functionally “register” pastors and leaders in Southern Baptist Churches at churches where there is ANY sort of abuse allegations (they did use the phrase “preponderance of evidence”, but didn’t define that), even if the pastor or other leaders were unaware of abuse – and were not part of the allegations. A functional blacklist or “sex offender registry” that doesn’t even require a conviction (or even actual legal charges) to find your name on it. We have already seen men’s names drug through the mud who were not involved in abuse (Mike Stone being one). This doubles-down and will undoubtably be used as another political weapon.
- Faithful and honest people have been verbally assaulted and falsely accused of “stuffing the ballot box”.
The long-and-short of the matter: those who began sounding the alarm more than a decade ago were labeled as dividers, hateful, spiteful, and MUCH worse. Yet again, the Scriptures clearly and consistently equates those who try to inject error, heresies, and wickedness as the “ones who bring division. As the Southern Baptist Convention consummates their marriage to the accursed false gospels and doctrines of “wokness”, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and inevitably incorporating full acceptance of the LGBTQ+ movement (as already openly and proudly practiced at the aforementioned Church on the Glades). But lest we forget – the unaccountable and utterly lacking in transparency missions sending entities of the SBC have been pushing women in leadership roles (including functional pastorship) for a while now.
And sadly, we have a biblical precedent for what we are seeing (as well an historic and recent example): When God’s timing came to bring dramatic judgment to His own people, and after dramatic and warnings by many men of God, Israel was utterly crushed and carried away. Prophets continued to warn Judah to repent and return to God and HIS Word, rejecting their idols – but they refused to heed the Word of the LORD and suffered even more horrific judgment by Babylon. Similarly, the United Methodists went through a nearly-identical (though somewhat more protracted) drift over what is essentially the same issue (God’s Word and it’s reliability, inerrancy, and sufficiency – aka “Hath God really said?”. They too had opportunities to #changethedirection, they too labeled the Conservatives among them as divisive and evil. They too progressively shut down Conservative voices. And now, the UMC is in the process of a dramatic division. I see no path forward for a united Southern Baptist Convention. And sadly, like the UMC, it is the more Bible-aligned “Conservatives” who are getting run out.
But there is an alternative. There is biblical grounds for churches to associate together and to cooperate for the Great Commission Work. But along with that association is a need for both accountability (to the LOCAL CHURCHES) and in that – transparency. The BMA of America is such an association. No “Executive Committee” driving a massive corporate structure (thus no ruling elites entangling the entire denomination in sexual cover-ups and other legal wrangling that consume offerings from churches intended for the support of missionaries and church planting). The BMAA operates with a dramatic and intentional bottom-up structure, where the LOCAL CHURCH is the driving force, the fundamental platform, with the associated (aka – cooperative” work being subject to and in support of the local church’s work in spreading the gospel and planting churches). Churches give directly to each and every ministry, which themselves exist as autonomous entities that don’t even inter-mingle funds. Because of this structure, transparency and accountability are paramount. Every associated church gets reports that include itemized giving and audited expenses, and something as simple as every director’s compensation is clearly listed (and approved) every year! The same-said directors are also re-elected by the body every year – thus they are directly accountable to the churches of the BMA (and the same structure is used at the state level as well). Every church decides which ministries they give to (not some body that makes the decision for you). Missionaries are directly supported.
And the only thing possibly more important the above – is that to be welcomed in to fellowship with the BMA simply requires that you petition in, and completely affirm our statement of faith (and the larger comprehensive confession – the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, which use to be the confession of the SBC as well). We believe in protecting the pulpit, we believe in the inerrancy, reliability, and sufficiency of the Bible. And of interest to some: Messengers to our association meetings is a set number (3) per church, regardless of how inflated your church membership roll is! Every church has an equal voice.
Is the BMA “perfect” – absolutely not any more than the local church (or individual believers). But we believe we have a much more biblical grasp of ecclesiology. We take autonomy of the local church very seriously, only eclipsed by our passion for the Word of God.
Oh – and our seminary (Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary, Jacksonville, TX) – happens to be one of the most cost-effective, fully-accredited, and biblically-conservative seminaries in the country, proudly teaching expository preaching and a very high view of God’s Word.
We have a small, but extra-ordinarily biblically-sound publishing house (Baptist Publishing House) producing unabashedly “Baptist” literature, with the primary literature being titled Baptist Expositor, a curriculum for Sunday school or small group study.
Our broadcast and media ministry is called Lifeword, which produces gospel broadcasts in a massive list of languages, podcasts and ministry videos, as well as conferences, retreats, and events to bolster faith and to help equip believers.
The BMA has other ministries under the umbrella – yet every one is autonomous and independently funded by the churches and individuals of the BMA.
This post was not intended as a sales pitch (though I’m sure the last chunk sure seems like it!), but simply to address some of the symptoms that are sooner than later bringing spiritual death to the Southern Baptist Convention, while presenting an alternative for those churches who can no longer bear to associate (or even to be unequally yoked) with the works of darkness that have become the norm of the Convention (Ephesians 5:11). Please know that my prayers are with our brethren in the SBC. Whether or not you take a look at the BMA, I do pray that you come out of what has become a type of Babylon!
2 thoughts on “A Denomination Built to Fail: The SBC”
Dear Brother, Your comments concerning the Southern Baptist Convention and Churches is right on target. I believe the downward fall of Southern Baptist Churches really began in 1960 when in their annual meeting they changed their declaration of faith on the church to say the church is not only local in nature but also invisible universal. Also accepting being the largest protestant group. I have been a pastor in the American Baptist Association for over fifty years. One thing I have believed and preached. You must understand that salvation is in Jesus Christ alone and you must understand what a New Testament church is in doctrine and practice
To be honest, I had never explored that evolution in their formal definition of “church”. And yes – that is a problem. While I would agree that there is a “sense” of single “church” – the current definition of a “universal church” is way too broad as used today by most. The New Testament has two uses of the term – the vast majority are in reference to a local body of believers, then to “churches” – aka the multiple local bodies in a geographic area. Jesus used the singular “I will build My church…” – and Paul, in illustrating how a husband should love his wife – “as Christ loved the church and gave His life for her…”. But the only logical way to understand “the church” is what is manifested in the local assembly/body. Yes, there is a single “bride of Christ” – but again – is that all believers from all time, or is that all truly born-again believers (or the elect, as some might use the term) who are in convenental relationship with the local body of Christ? (indeed – I find it difficult to see a biblical case for a truly born-again believer NOT being a part of a local New Testament church).
Thanks again for your comment!