The Southern Baptist Pastor’s Conference and the Annual Meeting will take place next week (June 17-20, 2012). Even though I will not attend this year (moving from Kentucky to Colorado six months ago, and having just returned from Kentucky on Tuesday, I’m hanging up my traveling shoes for a bit), I will be watching it online with great anticipation. Why?
The Election of Fred Luter as SBC President. Russ Moore recently expressed what, to me, will be the biggest headline coming out: Fred Luter will be in all likelihood be voted in as convention president. Given the slaveowning, segregationist background that pervaded Southern Baptists up until this current generation, this election of an African-American president will serve as a turning point. I love being a Southern Baptist, but hated how we started, in 1845 over the ‘rights’ of slaveowners to be missionaries. I love being a Southern Baptist, but hate how many SBC churches in the South would never permit an African-American from not only joining but attending a service. But I love how we are finishing! We are all imagebearers of God, and if we are in Christ, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. That is the most important designation of all.
Voting on the moniker change to Great Commission Baptists. While the Southern Baptist Convention will remain the legal name, our denomination will be known, should the messengers permit, as Great Commission Baptists. This sparked a bit of discussion. Some wonder, “What’s the use of this? It’s just a name!” Others believe that it will be beneficial, given the history (see previous point) that we identify more with our mission that we do with a certain geographic location. I support this because we are worldwide! One pastor in my association noted that trying to plant a Southern Baptist Church in Seattle is the equivalent of planting a Yankee Baptist Church in Atlanta! The history and the geography play a great deal in working to minister to various cultures. Here in Denver, if you mention you are Southern Baptist to those who are not in church world, they believe your goal is to minister to transplanted Southerners.
Theological Conversations. Recently, a letter came out entitled “A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” It is a response to the growing number of evangelistic, Reformed Southern Baptists coming to the fore. As one who identifies with this “growing number,” I was disturbed by the statement as representing my views. The strawman alert (building a false argument about an opponent’s views, then looking to tear down those views which are, as mentioned, false) was buzzing loudly.
But I am grateful that this conversation is taking place, rather than a conversation over the views of the Bible. Albert Mohler puts it well:
First, we should pause to reflect that, thanks to the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, we are not debating the inerrancy of the Bible. That matter is settled among us. We are privileged to be having a debate among those who affirm the total truthfulness and authority of the Bible. Otherwise, we would surely be debating the issues that have consumed the more liberal denominations, such as same-sex marriage, the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the ministry, and feminine God-language.
It is no small matter that Southern Baptists are discussing how best to speak of God’s salvation, even as we are fully engaged in the task of reaching the nations with the Gospel of Christ. I am profoundly thankful that we are not a denomination that is arguing over the Great Commission, embarrassed by missions and evangelism. We can handle this current discussion, and we should actually be grateful for it.
So Southern Baptists are talking with each other (at least most are), not at each other. The devil and critics will be many, but God has some good days ahead.