Absorbing all that is happening in Southern Baptist life right now can be a bit overwhelming.
It requires a great deal of attention and critical thinking to truly assess all the ramifications of what is being proposed, discussed and decided.
I’ve been encouraged to see Southern Baptists willing to have tough conversations and challenge each other to think carefully at each step — and increasingly doing it with grace.
The past two years in SBC life have no doubt been difficult on many levels, but in all reality, doesn’t Baptist history showcase a continuous push-pull culture?
Local church autonomy
Our hearts yearn for unity and peace, calmness and clarity, and to always agree, but our structure allows for uniqueness within the essentials of the faith — what we call local church autonomy.
Allowing for flexibility within the nonnegotiables of the faith and Baptist theology can cause confusion and frustration.
Still, the preamble of the latest version of the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), signed by Adrian Rogers and the committee that worked on that version, states:
“That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”
“Confessions are … guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience,” the preamble continues.
“That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.
“Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.”
While not used as a creed, the Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963, 2000 and any future revised versions) is accepted as Southern Baptists’ “adopted statement of faith” and used as a sort of plumb line to measure churches’ ability to be in “friendly cooperation with the convention.”
For instance, the constitution of the SBC states in Article III that a church deemed in friendly cooperation is “sympathetic with its purposes and work.”
A church deemed in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention is “sympathetic with its purposes and work.” —SBC constitution
Article III also states cooperating churches should “formally approve [their] intention to cooperate” such as by filing the annual statistical report and making contributions “through the Cooperative Program (or to an entity) during the fiscal year preceding.”
At least one of the churches recently deemed as “unfriendly” and thus being recommended for removal from the fellowship never saw itself as Southern Baptist, according to current church leadership.
A church leader may have contributed to an SBC-related cause and/or expressed intent to cooperate at some point in the past, causing the church to be assigned a church ID number and be listed in the overall count of Southern Baptist churches.
It makes sense how a church can end up on the list, but it is confusing how it remains in the system with infrequent giving and no participation on any level.
The SBC Credentials Committee is tasked with evaluating concerns of “unfriendly cooperation” by congregations tied to the convention. Could a more accurate system of routine checks and balances prevent unnecessary research and vetting by the Credentials Committee?
Still, the SBC constitution lists only three reasons for disqualification of a cooperating church. Those reasons are: affirming “homosexual behavior,” acting in a manner inconsistent with the convention’s “beliefs regarding sexual abuse” and endorsing “discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”
As the conversations continue and debates play out on social media, in our churches and on the floor of the SBC Annual Meeting in June, Alabama Baptists are among those already modeling a gracious, respectful and calm spirit amid the discussions. Thank you for caring for and staying connected to each other.
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