Here’s more on the current trends and debates in the SBC in advance of this week’s annual meeting.
Perhaps this is a generationally driven debate. Younger generations (I still wistfully place myself on the senior end of this group) are questioning the viability, reasonability, and rationale of being a part of a denomination that appears more and more irrelevant to the daily life of the local church. I don’t think what I have said is an overstatement. You need only listen to this generation speak of their experiences with denominational life. Other groups are rising up who are more streamlined and focused on what matters biblically and how they can assist churches to accomplish it. The Great Commission Resurgence group is rightly focusing on the downward trend of the next generation’s involvement and commitment to an old and waning way of cooperation among churches.
Personally, I believe there are good reasons to remain committed to the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe our cooperative way of funding missions allows us to do much more than we could any other way. Yet, herein lies some of the problem. Doing more tends to bring about more bureaucracy that lessons more action. I think we need to define “missions” biblically and root it fundamentally in the local churches. Yet, if focused and streamlined, I believe our missions agencies could be increasingly on mission and less self-focused and self-promotional. If local churches were headquarters for the mission organization and seen, not merely as a pool from which to draw people and money for their own program, but rather seen as the center for missions, many of us would feel them more worthwhile. Yep, I realize how naive and simplistic my statements are. Change is/would be very complicated – precisely because the bureaucracy is so large. At this point, I think it is still worth our involvement to assisting these missionary agencies to become focused on the task of which they can best assist the churches.
I believe our seminaries play a vital role in the education of the next generation of leaders and are worthy of our cooperative efforts. Even here, with all of the good we have seen in our educational institutions, we continue to see an institutional mindset that can be problematic. With the rise of a more conservative theology in our seminary faculty, we must also see a greater connection to the local church’s primacy. When the institutions, regardless of their theological beginnings or stated convictions, see themselves as fundamentally primary in the education of future pastors, rather than fundamentally as assistant, we will find them spending much of their administrative time and efforts figuring out how to be self-perpetuating and less on how they can strengthen the true headquarters: the local church. Yet, the SBC does indeed have a way for us to be involved and our great theological institutions are still worth preserving, thus our participation is vital.
I believe supporting our efforts in disaster relief are worthwhile. Southern Baptists are often some of the best organized, funded and helpful when national crises come. Well after the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, CA, I pastored a church that was devastated from it, yet did not lose its facilities due to the cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists who came to their aid. The same could be said for so many churches across the deep South, affected by Hurricane Katrina.
These are some of fundamental reasons why I think the SBC is still a worthwhile effort. I have been on the pendulum swing both directions regarding my own involvement in the Convention. While there is much I am eager to join with other Christians from other demoninational, non-denominational, or un-denominational convictions, I still long to have a strong cooperation among churches who have similar convictions on the basics of theology and polity. I am Baptist by conviction and I want to cooperate with other convctionally Baptist churches.
Those proposing The Great Commission Resurgence are trying to answer a number of the fundamental reasons why our denomination is shrinking and becoming less and less relevant to local church involvement. Other voices seems to be arguing for a preservation of what is historic and fundamental in being a Baptist. It is a worthwhile discussion.
I have signed The Great Commission Resurgence document. I have no real caveats about what is contained in the document. After hearing Dr. Akin’s message, and reading the document, I do wonder how some of the signatories signed it in good conscience. This brings up a few concerns in my mind over the GCR. One of my concerns is how the document will be used. I don’t know the answer to this question. While I appreciate what the Conservative Resurgence accomplished, and was a messenger at a number of crucial annual meetings during the resurgence, I often found (and find) myself cringing at the political maneuvering, personality positioning, power-hungry players, and un-Christ-like attitudes and behaviors that went on – and that within the Conservative side of the aisle. I understand that what I saw was not nearly as detailed or extreme as what others have seen, but it was enough to make me seriously consider leaving Southern Baptist life (until I saw much of the same on the non-denominational side of church life). I also realize that not everyone in the positions of Conservative power displayed such character. I would be deeply saddened if we begin to see the same approach through the use of the GCR document and from its chief proponents. At this point I have no reason to believe such exists, but then again, I’m shielded from much of it being in Southern California, where such issues are really on the back-burner of church life.
Another of my concerns is how the document’s statements are applied. If Dr. Akin’s message reflects the content and core of where we are headed, I find myself very much aligned with very much of what he said. And I cannot imagine how some of the most influential Southern Baptist signatories could be affiliated with the document. I do wonder how the issue of contexualization will be applied, especially through our denominational entities, if the GCR movement takes root and begins to be practically applied. I have a number of theological problems with how contextualization is currently being applied in a number of our denominational quarters. It is simply a concern.
Because I am very much on the outside of denominational decision-making, (I’m just an average pastor who isn’t privy to the power-discussions that go on in denominational leadership) I cannot yet bring much to the table to answer some of my concerns. It may be somewhat like my involvement in the first resurgence – you know what must happen to preserve the denomination and its value and you merely squint, hold your nose, and raise your ballot. I pray for better. I will attend with open eyes and ears and do the best I can participate.