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Is it Time to Ditch the SBC?



"The liberals are taking over!" "The institution is rotten to the core!" "Misogynists continue to oppress women!" "The seminaries have gone woke!"


These are just a few of the allegations I’ve heard leveled at the denomination with which I’ve been affiliated for the last 26 years. There is no question that significant and controversial moves have been made by the denomination in recent years which have invited such diverse and heavily stated critiques.


In fact, there have not merely been critiques, but in recent years, there has been a significant exodus from the Southern Baptist Convention. What is interesting about this exodus is that the reasons given for churches leaving have been as diverse (and even opposite) as one could ever imagine. I’ve known pastors who have removed their churches from the SBC because they claimed it was still the same old racist, sexist organization it’s always been. Others have pulled out because the convention has gone the entirely opposite route, becoming soft (or woke) on gender and race issues.


Most recently, the “Law Amendment” was considered, which would have clarified the position of the convention that no woman should serve in any pastoral position of any kind and that if a church employed such a woman, they would no longer be welcome in the SBC family. This amendment failed. Biblical Christians have good reason to be discouraged by this, but I will argue that it is not the full story. First, though, it seems worthwhile to ask a question:


Why should You Care about the SBC?


You may not be a part of the SBC. Why should you care about what goes on in this messy family of churches? There are four reasons I’d like to propose to explain why all Christians should care about the state of the Southern Baptist Convention, regardless of whether they choose to affiliate with it or not.


1.     Sheer Size


The SBC is the largest denomination in the United States outside of Catholicism (not that I’m asserting anything about the validity of the Catholic church). There are approximately 43,000 churches in the SBC. These include churches that are all over the map in certain senses (Calvinistic, Arminian, Covenantal, Dispensational, etc.). Still, all of these churches affirm the Baptist Faith and Message, which is limited in its scope compared to the 1689 London Baptist Confession or the Westminster Confession but is still a solid summary of primary doctrines (as well as a few secondary ones).


2.     American Pastors


Approximately half of all Evangelical churches in America have a pastor who was educated at one of the six Southern Baptist seminaries! If you attend a Bible Church, a non-denominational church or an Evangelical Free church, the odds are high that your pastor was educated at a Southern Baptist Seminary. This means that what happens within the convention matters to a much wider audience than just the 43,000 churches themselves.


3.     Missions Work


With approximately 5,200 missionaries in the foreign field, the SBC is the largest missions sending agency in the world! This does not mean that I agree with all the policies of the convention nor the theology of the thousands of missionaries when it comes to every secondary or tertiary doctrine. However, it does mean that the good news of Jesus Christ dying for sinners and rising from the grave and the exclusivity of his sacrifice atoning for sins is reaching people who have never seen a church or a Bible.


4.     A Voice in Culture


With such a large denomination, what comes naturally is a bigger voice in American society than any single church could express alone. I’ll be the first to admit that this voice is often used foolishly and, on occasion, even wickedly. Still, the voice matters as we seek to advocate for truth and goodness in a world that so desperately needs a prophetic voice like what we encounter in the Old Testament. With the Bible in hand, we too can utter, “Thus saith the Lord!” But, the ears of our political system usually only listen when that voice comes with mass amounts of votes behind it.


Is the SBC Broken Beyond Repair?


In some senses, all denominations are broken beyond repair. There is not a single one about which I couldn’t come up with complaints. There is not a single one which is not affected individually and institutionally by the presence of sin. This may sound obvious, but I would argue that many are leaving the SBC because they fail to recognize this very fact. Yes, the SBC has many issues, some of which are quite serious. Still, I would argue that most of the issues have been exaggerated by its critics. Unfortunately, time will only allow for the evaluation of the Law Amendment today.


Is the failure of the Law Amendment to pass the final straw? Should faithful, biblical Christians plan their exit from the SBC? I will argue: No.


There is no question that the Law Amendment should have passed. It is very disappointing that it didn’t. The drama that has occurred in recent years related to the issue of female pastors in the SBC has been very unfortunate and the increased clarity and specificity on the issue would have been wonderful. However, the situation is not as dire as many believe. Just after the vote took place, I listened to one of my favorite podcasters rant about how lost the SBC is and how this event demonstrates that the SBC is soft on female pastors and unwilling to take a stand for what the Bible commands.


What this podcaster failed to recognize is that, in the SBC, an amendment such as this needed to be passed by a two-thirds vote, two years in a row at its national convention. The first year, it did indeed pass, and the second year, it received a vote of 61.5%, falling just 5.1% short of the necessary vote. In other words, it VERY nearly passed and it did obtain a majority vote two years in a row. At this same national convention, a church in Virginia was expelled from the convention for having a female pastor serve in an associate role. This came just a year after the convention voted to remove its largest church ever, Saddleback Church, founded by Rick Warren for similar reasons.


These are not the actions of a convention that is going soft on female pastors. If it had not been for the fact that so many messengers (voters) were afraid of the process by which swaths of churches would be booted out of the convention, the Law Amendment would have passed. It is my firm belief that in the coming years one of two things will happen which will serve the same purpose as the Law Amendment. Either a new amendment will be proposed which will address the concerns that caused the last one to fail, or the Baptist Faith and Message will be updated to express the biblical position with even greater clarity than it already possesses.


Is it time to ditch the SBC? I would argue that this is precisely the time to press in and seek to influence the convention in a biblical direction. It is my contention that the Southern Baptist Convention is actually headed in the right direction rather than the wrong one. Influences like Rick Warren and Russel Moore are on their way out while more biblical voices remain, like that of Al Mohler and Tom Ascol.


The convention will never be perfect. But no Christian should be expecting perfection. Two years ago, when I was on the verge of leaving the SBC, I decided that I needed to either leave or push my chips in and seek to maximize my involvement for the sake of the glory of God and for the sake of the holiness of the largest missions sending organization and the institution that is training over half of all Evangelical pastors. Change is slow, but change is also real. God is not done with the SBC.


What Should YOU Do?


1.     Pray for the SBC


Pray for God to purge the SBC of those churches that are not willing to submit to the commands of scripture. Pray that God would work through the missionaries to advance the gospel, especially in unreached places. Pray for the seminaries to faithfully train pastors with the necessary tools and theological understanding to be successful in ministry to the glory of God.


2.     Consider Joining this Imperfect Family


For those who are not a part of the SBC and are unaffiliated with any denomination or convention, consider being a part of the growing voice in the SBC that is advocating for God’s righteous rule. Consider helping guys like myself to advocate for holiness over and above pragmatism.

 

3.     Befriend a Local SBC Pastor


Even as an outsider, a faithful believer can have an influence on the SBC. Consider befriending an SBC pastor and encourage him toward the faithful teaching of God's Word. Plead with him to attend convention meetings and to advocate for biblical decisions in the convention. Perhaps even consider making a small donation toward his travel costs. These expenses are the main reason pastors and parishioners often miss national conventions. They are just too costly and time-consuming to attend.


Summary


Countless denominations have fallen from righteousness and become liberal. Church historians will tell you that these shifts have almost always begun by cracking the door to feminism, specifically by allowing women into pastoral roles. It is imperative that the SBC not join these fallen denominations into sin and irrelevance. Please join me in praying and considering today how God might use you to avoid this fate and instead bring about the greatest days of this convention.



 

Ken Hansen (MDiv, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a pastor at Silver Hills Church in Carson City, NV. He is husband to Angela and father of four.

 

 

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of other contributors on this site.

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