Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Is the Southern Baptist Convention Disintegrating?

I’m sure if I were a better student of history, I’d have a better grasp on whether my denomination is really living in troubled times. History has a way of giving comfort by showing we’ve been down this road before…and survived. Conversely, history can be a clarion alarm by documenting certain variables from which there is no recovery. I remember reading about the missions controversies of the early to mid 1800s. And I helped fight the inerrancy controversy in the 1980s. It seems there’s always been a schism around and I know we can face certain threats. But there are several factors that cause me alarm.

The present IMB trustee controversy.

Most of you are already aware of the details. From my perspective, this controversy could really be cataclysmic. My thoughts are that this all boils down to power. A trustee went outside normal and traditional channels and publicized a) what the trustees of an institution had done, and b) his concerns against it. If Burleson survives the ouster recommendation, there will be growing momentum to share power (information) with grassroots Southern Baptists. This could lead to the disenfranchisement of older, established Southern Baptists who feel they have little to contribute to a changing way of doing business or that ‘their’ denomination is changing or being re-shaped without their input. If Burleson does not survive, there will be growing detachment and disillusionment among many, especially that younger generation of Southern Baptists. The convention already recognizes a problem here. Many younger leaders already have little or no connection to the annual meeting. I remember Jimmy Draper’s concern and his attempts to address this issue. The convention may alienate those younger leaders who are connected to the convention’s annual meeting.

The continued renewal of Calvinism.

I guess the way I phrased this one shows my bias. ‘Renewal’ is a nice word compared to what some say about Calvinism. I’ve become convinced that the 5 points have Biblical merit and that the Southern Baptist founding was by Calvinistic theologians. There is a growing rub here. I was recently in a meeting with several other Southern Baptist leaders because of a shared purpose, when an agency head addressed the issue of Calvinism (with some degree of disparagement). This wasn’t even on our agenda or a part of our purpose. Yet this agency leader obviously thought the issue so important that it was worth addressing. This leader had some strong beliefs one way and I had some strong beliefs another way. The subject was becoming divisive to our unity on another issue. Calvinism is an issue becoming a divisive point. From my perspective it is from critics of the system, many of whom demonstrate no real grasp of the tenants. We aren’t discussing Calvinism, we are arguing it, and losing civility and unity in the process. Perhaps the Mohler-Patterson breakout session at the annual meeting will help move the issue back into the realm of civil discussion and foster mutual respect.

The church growth movement.

I’m lumping a lot of things into this one area. Churches driven by pragmatism, “worship wars” that have never really been settled, and the newest kid on the block…the revival of the social gospel. For instance, several key Southern Baptists signed a document about global warming, while the traditional agency heads did not. I’m not sure of a clearer example of schism than that.

The common denominator in all of these issues is the lack of communication. Our denomination is doing nothing to bridge the gaps of these rifts. Ignoring them will only add to further the divide. Unless leaders of all sides begin civil and honest dialogue on these issues of disagreement, we will see a weakening of our denomination at least, or perhaps witness its collapse.

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