I was recently asked by a fellow Southern Baptist pastor why I no longer write posts about the Southern Baptist Convention. He said that he missed my observations and wished I would begin again writing about the SBC. This pastor's email was the most recent of similar requests. Contrary to the suggestions of these well-meaning individuals, I intend to continue writing posts that have nothing to do with the SBC, but the following will give insight into the reasons behind my decision.
I can remember my father, a Southern Baptist preacher himself (but definitely not the preacher pictured here), often saying from the pulpit (I paraphrase)-- "I am a Christian who happens to be a Southern Baptist. If and when the Southern Baptist Convention ever moves toward a belief system, an attitude, or a mission that is contrary to that held by Christ, then I will cease being a Southern Baptist. But I cannot, I will not, ever cease following Christ."
This simple conviction was seared into my consciousness even as a youth, and the three Southern Baptist churches that I have had the pleasure of serving these past twenty-five years have heard me say something similar on several occasions.
I found myself in 2008, at times, questioning whether or not the Christ I follow is actually represented by the Convention with which we choose to affiliate. I recently spoke with J.C. Watts, former United States Congressman from Oklahoma and a life-long Southern Baptist, about our mutual affiliation and affection for the SBC. He said that politics in Washington D.C. is rough and tumble, but he has never seen anything as vicious as Southern Baptist politics. Though I have no experience with D.C. politics, I can echo similar sentiments regarding the SBC and the utter lack of civility among some.
Sadly, the simplicity of life in Christ and our mutual acceptance of the gospel of God's grace seem to have been superceded by the desire of some in the SBC to demand conformity on all things non-essential to the Christian faith. The polarization resulting from recent attempts to disqualify and disassociate from Southern Baptists who don't see eye to eye on eschatology, ecclesiology, spiritual gifts, soteriological minutiae, etc... causes me to wonder if our Southern Baptist belief system is beginning the slow descent into a closer resemblance to the pecular religious church dogmas of Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other cults that major on all things religious and minor on Jesus Christ and His work for sinners than to the New Testament. When we care more that people who affiliate with us look like us, talk like us, think like us, act like us, believe like us, etc..., then we've taken our focus off Christ and put it on our man-made system of religious performance. I do not wish to look like a Southern Baptist. I wish every Southern Baptist would mirror Christ in life and attitude.
I love the people I pastor in Enid. I love the people of Christ in my community, regardless of their denominational affiliation. I love the freedom and grace we enjoy as a church that is on mission for Christ. I love the Christ who has redeemed us. I love being a Christian. I, at times, wonder if my identity as a Southern Baptist is coming into conflict with my identity in Christ. That, in essence, is why I no longer write about the politics in the SBC. I wish to be known by others, foremost, as a follower of Christ. The culture of the SBC sometimes becomes an obstacle to this desire.
In His Grace,