***If you are not a Southern Baptist, you may just want to skip this post. Those of you who are Southern Baptists, I hope you’ll hear my heart.***
During the month of June each year, Southern Baptist messengers gather to conduct the work of the convention. This year the gathering will be in New Orleans. It should be an historic occasion.
Much good awaits this meeting. I would love to be thrilled by these good things and leave it at that. However, a few storms cloud will be hanging over the Superdome. The most ominous cloud is the one that is brewing about what it means to be a good Southern Baptist.
As it turns many of the noise makers think that I am lacking in this category. As Yogi Berra once quipped, It’s deja vu all over again. About 25 years ago, I unwittingly found myself categorized this way. Why? First, let me mention some of the things that excite me about being a Southern Baptist and a few things that cause me some consternation.
1. I love being a part of a world wide missions organization.
Southern Baptists have thousands of missionaries around the world proclaiming Jesus as the only hope. I am able to support these efforts with my prayers and my money.
We also are actively involved in planting new churches in the United States. Again, I can support these efforts to establish gospel communities in our own country.
2. I love that our next president will be Fred Luter.
Luter will become the first African American president of our historic convention. Despite a few cantankerous voices, this is not a token action. Luter has ministered to the people of New Orleans in an exemplary manner. He was there before Hurricane Katrina, and he has continued to care for the people of the city even as they have been dispersed because of the hurricane.
3. I love that we are training hundreds of future pastors, missionaries and scholars in our seminaries.
I am a product of the Southern Baptist educational system. I graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary (MABTS). I also studied at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
4. I don’t like that the head of our ethics entity has self-created an ethical cloud over the entire body.
This issue has been resolved, but the collateral damage still exists. The best way to settle the dust on this one would be for Richard Land to exit from his leadership role.
5. I don’t like the contention that has resulted from a name change proposal…er, I mean a descriptor proposal.
Finally, that which concerns me the most is the call to arms against those of us who hold a Reformed theology. The newly coined Traditional Baptist group just can’t seem to fathom that we love Jesus, the Bible, the church and lost people, too.
As I wrote at the beginning of this article, I’ve been down this road before. In the mid-1980’s, I was a young Southern Baptist preacher. Upon graduating from OBU, I prayed and prayed about where I should attend seminary.
I wound up in Memphis at MABTS. What a privilege it was to study there. Dr. B. Gray Allison had assembled a faculty with a passion for the things that mattered most.
I was young and somewhat naive about the broader Southern Baptist world. I never would have dreamed that with a degree from OBU and several years of pastoral ministry under my belt, that a denominational official would try to influence a church in northeast Arkansas from calling me as their pastor. Why? Because I was attending MABTS.
I learned that those of us studying at this seminary were tainted as not really being Southern Baptists. That church called me anyway. For years I labored to demonstrate my love and support for the convention. Finally, most Southern Baptists came to treat us just like we had attended one of the seminaries they had attended.
It is ironic that many of those who first welcomed us are now the ones who are vilifying those of us who are Calvinists. I see the same tactics being employed. Traditional baptist identity is questioned. Motivations are questioned. Strawmen are built and then destroyed.
Having been nauseated by much of what I have been reading from this crowd, I can’t help but feel for our churches. Please tell me how some pastors are able to rightly divide the word of truth when they can’t fairly represent a position they don’t hold. Calvinists believe this or don’t believe that. Calvinists do this or don’t do that. Blah, blah, blah. What some of these pastors are attacking is not any sort of Calvinism that I hold.
By the way, I was a Calvinist back when these folks pushed for my acceptance into Baptist life. At that time they ignored my Calvinism because I believed what they did about the nature of the Bible. Now that most Baptists hold to that view, a new “devil” has to be identified.
If this indeed becomes the focal point in New Orleans, I will simply continue on in my Southern Baptist church (that happens to be a Reformed Southern Baptist church) pursuing God with those who consider me a brother in the faith.