Twenty years ago liberalism in the Southern Baptist Convention experienced her Waterloo in Dallas, Texas, as 45,000 messengers set the course of our beloved SBC for the next two decades. We are all grateful to the leaders of the conservative resurgence including my friend Paul Pressler, current Southwestern Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, and the late Adrian Rogers for their foresight, courage and wisdom in snatching the SBC from the clenched jaws of dead neo-orthodoxy and restoring our seminaries, agencies and institutions to an unapologetic adherance to the inerrancy of God's word, the sufficiency of Christ's work, and the evangelical missionary zeal which has marked the SBC since her formation in 1845.
I have stood side by side with my fellow conservatives and toe to toe with liberals in our convention over the years. When the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship organized in Oklahoma I nailed on the door of their organizational meeting "95 Theses Against the Formation of the CBF," an act which marked me forever as an opponent of the CBF, and resulted in a caricature of me by the unofficial artist of the CBF in Oklahoma.
My forefather, Dr. Rufus Burleson, was President of Baylor University and twice served as President of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in the late 1800's. I myself recently completed a second term as President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. I bleed Southern Baptist blood. I have personal battle scars as a result of the war against liberalism within our convention.
I am glad and I rejoice over the conservative resurgance. I am a conservative. I love my convention.
But sadly, a new war has begun. It is a war initiated by fellow conservatives; conservatives who have forgotten how to put their swords in their respective sheaths. It is a war that technically may not have just begun, but one that simply never ended.
Conservatives who loved the battles of decades past have fallen victim to a crusading mentality of bloodthirst. Since all the liberals are gone, conservative cruasaders are now killing fellow conservatives.
A clear understanding of how this war is proceeding may be seen in the recent actions of the International Mission Board, an agency that I now serve as trustee. New policies were recently approved by the Board of Trustees of the IMB regarding the appointment of missionaries. The new policies forbid the appointment of any missionary who uses a private prayer language or one who has not been baptized by a "qualified administrator" of baptism.
I personally and publicly opposed the proposed new policies of the IMB not because I do not believe we need standards for our missionaries -- we do! I opposed the new policies because we already had excellent policies on the books regarding tongues and biblical baptism. My objections to the new policy on baptism are well documented, so I will not go into them here, but I will use the new policy on "glossolalia" to show how crusading conservatives are killing other conservatives.
The former policy of the IMB regarding tongues stated that if you practiced tongues publicly on the mission field you would be fired. But the new policy narrows the restriction to preclude a private prayer language. Our own Bertha Smith of South Carolina, one of the finest missionaries we have ever had as Southern Baptists, professed to be gifted with a private prayer language. Dr. Jerry Rankin, before being hired to be President of our International Mission Board, made known he had experienced a private prayer language, but agreed contractually to abide by the policy of the IMB as President and to never publicly practice "glossolalia." Some of the greatest men and women of God throughout the centuries have disagreed over the issue of a private prayer language, but have cooperated in the work of spreading the gospel.
Why have some conservative crusaders now insisted on new policies at the IMB regarding tongues? Again, it seems clear to me that some conservative crusaders have yet to learn how to sheath the sword, and rather than cooperate with fellow conservatives in reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, they have gone after the head of Dr. Jerry Rankin. I have been told by an authority in the crusading effort that there are some trustees who will settle for nothing less than Dr. Rankin's "head on a platter."
A conservative killing a fellow conservative. What a shame.
It is not my intention to defend Dr. Rankin. The issue is much larger than one man. This is not about Dr. Rankin, Dr. Draper, Dr. Crews, Dr. Chapman, or anybody else in leadership of the SBC.
The issue is much more. The future of our convention is at stake.
WHEN ARE PEOPLE IN THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION GOING TO STAND UP AND SAY ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?
If we are not careful we are going to lose a younger generation of pastors that are disillusioned with the SBC because all they see is the continuing narrowing of the parameters of fellowship within our convention. These young pastors don't see eye to eye with the conservative crusaders, but they themselves are conservative, seeking to reach their generation with the gospel. Where, they are asking, do we fit within the SBC?
Again, I think if people are not careful they will see arguments against the new IMB policies on tongues and baptism and believe the problem is simply a theological one. If that's the case, the real issue at hand, the issue that is so disturbing to many of us, will never be grasped by SBC laypeople at large. The Southern Baptist Convention, through trustees of boards and agencies, is narrowing the parameters of fellowship and cooperation to the point that real, genuine conservatives are being excluded as unfit for service in the SBC.
Our convention hated liberalism twenty years ago and we expelled it from our midst, but at this hour we better hate legalism and Fundamentalism as much as we did the former liberalism or we will find ourselves so fractured and fragmented that we no longer have the ability to cooperate about anything, including missions. We all agree on the inerrancy of Scripture and the nature and work of Jesus Christ our Lord, but we must not be Fundamentalists when it comes to our convention. Fundamentalism with a capital F is known for her independence, separation, schism-making, and her "I'll do it my way without your help because you don't qualify to work with me" attitude.
I believe if God does not intervene in the Southern Baptist Convention by raising up men and women in the SBC who are more concerned about conservative cooperation than we are conservative conformity, we are headed down this road of religious Fundamentalism.
In closing, allow me to explain what is happening in our convention in crystal clear terms.
The war that is now taking place with crusading conservatives attacking cooperating conservatives is following the same battle plan conservatives used to defeat liberalism.
Trustees of agencies are being "vetted" or cleared by men and women who are of the opinion that no conservative is worthy of leadership that does not toe the party line. That line is no longer the nature of Christ and Scripture, but has moved rapidly toward a specific interpretation of Scripture related to eschatology, ecclesiology, soteriology, missiology, etc . . .
Crusading conservatives are using private meetings at trustee meetings, an unethical violation of all agencies' guidelines, to cram their agendas through. Crusading conservatives are influencing nominating committee members of various states to place on the different boards and agencies of the SBC those who are in lock step with crusader goals. Agency heads who are not the appointed leaders of crusaders, i.e. elected by the crusaders themselves, are being forced to resign or simply removed.
Crusaders gather to elect chairmen of the boards and appoint committee chairmen. Crusaders have an agenda and if anyone steps in their way they become vicious. Ask someone who has dared to speak out against a crusader.
Conservatives throughout the centuries have had differing interpretations regarding what Scripture teaches, but have been, and are today, united regarding the nature of Scripture. Our cooperation historically has been built upon our belief in the inerrant word of God and the person and work of Jesus Christ, and we have joined hands in cooperation to advance the kingdom. But sadly, the Southern Baptist Convention is now moving toward a time when everyone must look the same, talk the same, act the same, believe the same on the non-essentials of the faith, or else you will be removed as "not one of us."
I am a Southern Baptist. I will be a Southern Baptist until the day I die.
I am a conservative. I will cooperate with other conservative evangelicals until the day I die.
I fought one war to rid our convention of liberalism. I sm prepared to fight another war to rid our convention of legalism.
I, and others, are now being attacked by conservative crusaders who want to rid our convention of fellow conservatives who don't interpret Scripture like they do. These crusaders refuse cooperation in favor of conformity, and I really think it is because they have forgotten how to minister in the power of the Spirit through prayer, humility and cooperation.
If the crusaders sheath their sword, I promise, I will sheath mine. I do not want to fight my fellow conservatives. I want to cooperate with every conservative to win the world to Christ.
However, the stakes of this war are too great to roll over without a fight. This war is about the future of our convention.
I promise you I will ask the Lord for grace and mercy for us all. But I cannot stand by and watch our convention die. Today it is "glossalia" vs. cessationists and the "proper administrator" of baptism vs. biblical baptism. Tomorrow it might be Calvinism vs Arminianism or Dispensationalism vs. Preterism. Where will it end?
Why can't it end NOW. We need cooperating Baptists instead of crusading Baptists.
I believe, as did Spurgeon, there is a time to take draw a line in the sand for the cause of Christ.
That time has come for the Southern Baptist Convention.
My line has been drawn. How about yours?
Dr. Morris Chapman's convention message at the 2004 Indianapolis Convention should be read by every Southern Baptist who is concerned about the future of cooperating conservatives reaching our world for Christ. He is far more eloquent than I, and his words spoke deeply to my own heart. The message may be found in audio and print form at The Fundamentals of Cooperating Conservatives.