One year ago, in February of 2005, I was told something that greatly troubled me as a Southern Baptist. Over the next several months I received written material that was clear evidence a problem existed within our convention. I have chosen not to make the written information public, but I have recently shared it with people who are in a position to do something about my concerns, and they have agreed to help work toward a solution.
However, without going into details, and without naming individuals, I chose to write a post last December 10 entitled Crusading Conservatives vs. Cooperating Conservatives: The War for the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In hindsight, I regret some of the word choices in that post. I stand by everything I said, and will never apologize for saying it, but I just wish I would have said it softer. The secular media and others pick out what they want, and rarely pay attention to the context of the words they choose to use. Anyone who has read all my other posts knows I have a love for all my Southern Baptist friends, even those with whom I disagree.
I am writing a new post to replace the old one, using words that aren't quite as militant. It says the same thing as the previous post, just a little softer. Again, I regret my choice of words, but I do not apologize for making public my concerns. I believe self-criticism is healthy.
"Political Conservatives vs. Cooperating Conservatives: The Struggle for the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention"
Twenty years ago marked a turning point within the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, Texas, as 45,000 messengers set the course of our beloved SBC for the next millenium. 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 charting our course as a convention for the decades to come. The Southern Baptist Convention and her agencies now have an unapologetic adherance to the inerrancy of God's word, a firm belief in the sufficiency of Christ's work, and an evangelical missionary zeal which reaches every continent of the world.
I have stood side by side with my fellow conservatives 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. I consider everyone involved in the CBF a brother or sister in Christ, but I nailed the thesis on the door because I believed if someone is truly an evangelical conservative, then he or she should cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention and not separate. Otherwise, separation from the SBC because of a denial of the inerrancy of God's word is both appropriate and needed.
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 am a Southern Baptist to the core.
I am glad and I rejoice over the conservative resurgance because of the needed doctrinal course correction. Some might consider me naive regarding the tactics used in the resurgence, and that may be, but I can honestly say I rejoice that our convention is considered conservative (Bible believing) and evangelical. I love the Southern Baptist Convention.
But sadly, a new struggle is occuring within the SBC. It is a struggle initiated by some of my fellow conservatives; conservatives who somehow have forgotten that a strong belief in the Word of God should unite us in cooperation for the purpose of missions and evangelism. This struggle technically may not have just begun, but it simply may be the residue of the conservative resurgence. Some conservatives may not know when to stop being a "doctrinal watchdog."
A few conservatives who sought to remove the denominational political powers of the past, have now themselves become the polical powers, and have fallen victim to the belief that nothing can happen within the convention unless they give their approval. This control and political posturing is the antithesis of ministering and working in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
A clear understanding of how this struggle 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 some policital conservatives are damaging fellow evangelical 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 now insisted on new policies at the IMB regarding tongues? Again, it seems clear to me that some of the trustees, not by any means all, have used the new policies as a "shield" to protect the SBC from doctrinal heresy. Some of these trustees seem to have placed an emphasis "doctrinal purity" rather than expanding our efforts to take the gospel of Christ to a world in need of a Savior. Instead they have focused on rooting out "charasmatic heresy."
I have been told by an authority in this political effort to cleanse our convention of doctrinal impurity that there are some trustees who will settle for nothing less than Dr. Rankin's "head on a platter." Allow me to be clear; many trustees who voted for the new policies did not even consider how it looks for the President of the IMB to now be disqualified from "representing the Southern Baptist Convention" as a missionary on the field, as the new policy states, but a few clearly understood that the new policy places our President in a very awkward position.
Some conservatives seem intent on pointing out the doctrinal heresy of fellow conservatives. What a shame. These "heresies" have are in reality just different interpretations of minor doctrines, and Southern Baptists have cooperated with each other for the past 161 years even though there has been a wide range of interpretations of non-essential doctrines. We are united on the essentials, but Southern Baptists must be carefully of making judgments that other conservative Southern Baptists are now "disqualifed" to represent the Southern Baptist Convention because they don't conform to a specific doctrinal interpretation of the designated "doctrinal watchdogs."
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. 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 politics of our convention, 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 stemmed the tide of liberalism twenty years ago, but at this hour we better guard against creeping 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 struggle that is now taking place with among fellow conservatives is following the same 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 . . .
Political conservatives are using private meetings at trustee meetings, an unethical violation of all agencies' guidelines, to strategise their agendas through the Boards on which they serve, even if it violates the vision and direction of the President of the agency. Political 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 their goals. Agency heads who are not the appointed leaders of the doctrinal watchdogs of the convention are being forced to resign or simply removed.
Politcal conservatives gather to elect chairmen of the boards and appoint committee chairmen. They have an agenda and if anyone steps in their way they can become very difficult. Ask someone who has spoken out against power politics within the convention.
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 the Lord calls me home.
As concerned I was twenty years ago about liberalism within our convention, I am possibly even more concerned today with what seems to be the spreading legalism without the Southern Baptist Convention.
I, and others like me, are now being isolated by political conservatives who want to rid our convention of fellow conservatives who don't interpret Scripture like they do, or express dissent with the power politics of the SBC. These political conservatives 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.
I do not want to fight with my fellow conservatives. I want to cooperate with every conservative to win the world to Christ. I don't want to even argue, I just want all of us who call ourselves Southern Baptists to realize our convention is big enough for different interpretations of the non-essential doctrines of Scripture. Let's accept the Baptist Faith and Message, but let's not demand conformity on doctrines that are not even addressed in our 2000 confession of faith before agree to cooperate with each other.
I promise you I will ask the Lord for grace and mercy for us all. But I cannot stand by and watch our convention continue to decline. 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. Amillenialism. Where will it end?
Why can't it end NOW. We need cooperating Baptists instead of political Baptists.
I believe, as did Spurgeon, there is a time to 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.