Sunday, April 27, 2008

Let the Local (SBC) Church Decide

I am happy to be a Southern Baptist because I believe SBC doctrine is biblical. I am pleased that this is worked out in effective international missions.

I am not pleased that Southern Baptists, at least at the denominational level, always seem to be fighting or arguing about something. Quite honestly, all the bickering just gets tiring after a while. Current acrimony exists over alien immersion (not baptism of Martians, but baptism in churches of non-Baptist denominations), speaking in tongues, women's role in ministry, Calvinism, Baptist identity, support of the Cooperative Program, and inflated church membership numbers. Even the latest Lifeway report showing a decreased number of baptisms has led to arguments. I'm sure there are other issues people are fighting about that I haven't even mentioned here.

We must get past all of this in-fighting. First, it does not please God. Jesus made it abundantly clear that He wants His church to be united (see John 17). Second, it gives a black eye to the church when we fight. The world just looks and laughs. Third, it keeps us from focusing on the purpose of the convention: missions.

Let me be clear: the purpose of the church is to glorify God. One way this happens is through missions. However, the sole purpose of the SBC, as far as I can tell, is to glorify God by helping local churches in missions work. If not for missions, we might as well do away with the SBC as a whole.

I propose a simple solution for all this SBC in-fighting. First, let's agree on core doctrinal issues such as are stated in the Nicene Creed. Let's agree on the truth of scripture. Let's agree on the importance of believer's baptism. Let's agree on the sanctity of both marriage and human life. Let's agree on the autonomy of the local church.

Second, let's let the local church decide what it wants to believe about other issues. The local church, after studying scripture, should decide what it wants to do about issues that we are currently fighting over in the SBC. With about 45,000 churches, we are far too large of a convention to agree on everything. Let's leave it to local bodies to decide, for example, what they should believe about speaking in tongues, Calvinism, and inflated membership numbers.

We must remember that the SBC is not a denomination like many others. We purposefully have no structure above the local church that can tell it what to do. It will decrease arguing at the denominational level if we will simply leave some of these secondary issues to the local church.

Understanding, then, that there will be differences in some beliefs between SBC churches, could we not still work together to take the gospel to the ends of the earth? Do we all have to believe exactly the same thing in order to share the gospel with people who have never heard?

As a convention, we must stop fighting. It is an insult to God. We must strive to work together for the spread of the gospel. Leave the secondary issues to the local church. We must trust the local church to seek God's will through the scriptures, and then make the right decisions.

10 comments:

Rhea said...

I loved this post.

For all Christians, the importance should be on having unity on essentials, and then liberty with non-essentials. Within specific denominations, I think that it's fine to take it one step further, and perhaps have unity within issues that are not essentials, but considered uber-important/fundamental (w/o being essential) to those in the denomination. For Southern Baptists, that could be something like believer's baptism (as opposed to padeobaptism).

I think that humility is a key issue here: if someone thinks that they have everything all figured out on an issue, they're more likely to fight to have their viewpoint be the "correct" or at least dominant viewpoint within their group. I think that if we were all a little more humble and admitted that on many issues, we don't have it figured out 100%, then we'd be less likely to fight with others who have slightly differing views than us.

Bethany W. said...

How does a person know if they are being quarrelsome, or just opinionated? I categorize myself as someone who has strong opinions and a strong will, but I never want to be contentious!

In our society it is frowned upon to even hold a strong opinion (unless you feel strongly that other people should be open-minded).

My heart is this... I say what I think about issues to cause other people to think about why they believe one way or another. I like to challenge people to examine themselves.

Would you, Eric, say that makes me one of the type you say is "giving a balck eye" to our convention?

Eric said...

Rhea,

I agree that humility is extremely important when discussing possibly divisive issues. When we don't display humility, then others probably won't listen to us no matter what we say.

My primary focus in this post was that the churches within the SBC don't need to agree on everything in order to work together. The SBC needs to leave the secondary issues to specific local bodies. Those bodies, then, ought to figure out what they believe about the issues.

On a national scale, we need to stop bickering and start working together.

Eric said...

Bethany,

You ask some good questions here, and I'll admit that I'm no expert. However, I'll give you my two cents.

First, holding strong opinions about what we believe is fine. If we have searched the scriptures and come to certain conclusions, then that is great. I know I have some pretty strong opinions that many people don't like (for example, I hold a Supralapsarian position).

Second, we need to be humble and wise about how we express these opinions. If we come across as arrogant, others will not listen to us. If we display humility, we may gain an audience for a conversation. Sometimes there is a very fine line between the two.

In this post, I am in no way suggesting that all truth is relative. What I am saying is that our convention is far too big to agree on everything. In light of that, we ought to agree on the essentials at a national level, and then the local churches decide what they want to do on a local level.

Here is an example: some SBC churches only use the KJV. Others do not. This does not seem like something worth fighting over at a national level. Let's just let the local churches decide. Despite our differences, let's also work together to spread the gospel overseas. Minor differences ought not to get in the way of missions.

As far as the black eye statement goes, I wrote, "it gives a black eye to the church when we fight." It is clear that God wants His church to be united. The only place we are told scripturally to divide is over the issue of the gospel (Gal. 1:8-9). In light of this, God cannot be pleased when we, as a convention, are always arguing about something. Frankly, I think the SBC already has a black eye in many circles.

At the local church level, I think we should discuss important, if secondary issues. However, the way we do it is the key. We can use the same words, but communicate two very different messages, depending on our attitude. We should use scripture to show others why we believe as we do. However, if they disagree with us on an issue like Calvinism, we ought to graciously accept this.

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

I'm still catching up on my blog reading, so I've just come around to this post. As you might guess, I completely agree with you! And, I think you reply to Bethany (Hi, Behtany!) is excellent! Yes, we have our convictions - everyone does. The question is how we express those convictions. As you said, if we separate over convictions that are not the gospel, then we are being divisive - which Scripture calls heresy.

-Alan

Brian Fulthorp said...

I agree there needs to be more efforts toward unity in the larger body of Christ and less division (cf 1 Cor 1.10).

any headway into a pastorate?

Eric said...

Alan,

I'm glad you all had a good vacation. I'm sure it was great to be able to spend a lot of time together as a family.

Thanks for your kind words about this post. I'm very burdened right now about the state of division within our convention. The SBC as a whole could be doing so much more good for the gospel if we would just stop bickering so much.

You make a strong statement when you write, "If we separate over convictions that are not the gospel, then we are being divisive - which Scripture calls heresy." I agree with you, but I bet we are in the minority.

Eric said...

Brian,

It is refreshing when Christians from different denominations are willing to set aside their differences and focus on what they have in common - faith in Christ. We definitely need to be united as the body of Christ.

As for pastoring, I have been talking with one church for a while. We are waiting to see what God does with that. Thanks for asking.

Aussie John said...

Eric,

Dave Black has just posted a good article called "Dissent".

Great answer to the ladies.

It is my experience that those who most loudly beat their chests about their side of a debate being right, are most often the least secure in what they believe, both in the subject they debate AND in their faith. They try to intimidate the other by making loud noises.

Eric said...

John,

Thanks for telling me about Dave Black's article. I'll soon be checking it out.

I wonder why so many people try to intimidate others with loud talk and posturing. I'm saddened by so much of the behavior in my own convention. It will have to change one person at a time. I hope I can be one of those.