As I look through the window of my early morning flight out of New Orleans, I can see the Crescent City slowly pass out of sight. I have to admit it – I love New Orleans. I always have. Some of my fondest memories as a pastor have been times spent with other Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople in this town. My first convention as a pastor was here. The first convention that I was able to bring my wife to was New Orleans. I have made many friends and spent several late nights around tables listening to my “heroes” talk of the early days of the Conservative Resurgence, and what it was like after we won “the Battle for the Bible.”
However, as I leave New Orleans I can’t help but feel a bit conflicted. I have a sense of excitement mixed with what can best be described as a sense of foreboding. There is something in my spirit that tells me that in spite of the election of my friend, Dr. Fred Luter, all is increasingly not well in my beloved convention.
Don’t misunderstand, I am very encouraged by the election of Dr. Luter. I’ve known him since I was a preacher boy and have been blessed by his preaching and committed Christian leadership in the face of tremendous trials. I’ve been challenged by the consistent ministry he has to young men in his church and believe that he will be a strong, stable leader for our denomination.
I’m also encouraged that an overwhelming majority of Southern Baptist messengers approved Dr. Eric Hankin’s resolution encouraging and affirming the biblical use of “the Sinner’s Prayer.” However, I must admit that I never dreamed I would see a day in the Southern Baptist Convention when conference speakers would denigrate the way that the overwhelming majority of us were saved, and have led others to Christ. I never imagined that the time would come when we would have many messengers actually write against, and lift their ballots in opposition to what even the great Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, called “the Sinner’s Prayer.” It never crossed my mind that some of our leaders would be parsing what the word “all” means, or publicly proclaiming that Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t for every little boy or girl. I never considered that there would come a day when an increasing number of Southern Baptist pastors would seem to see salvation as a process instead of a specific event at a definite point in time. I never foresaw a day when the primary influencers of a generation of Southern Baptists would be those who are not Southern Baptists. I never thought that the Southern Baptist Convention would vote (albeit by a very narrow margin) to give an alternate name for affiliated churches to use, thus likely further dividing our already fractured fellowship. I never saw this day coming – but, sadly, that day is here.
As I leave New Orleans I find myself a part of a convention of churches that are increasingly enamored and entranced with the young and “never have’s,” rather than respectful and attentive to the wise counsel and insight from those who courageously led us through the Conservative Resurgence. I see many who are promoting novel ideas in order to sell books and schedule conferences instead of simply sharing the simple Gospel truth that we learned in Children’s Church – “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”
That’s why I am so thankful, and hopeful, for the godly leadership of men like Steve Gaines and Eric Hankins. No doubt they have, and will be, vilified for daring to stand and speak for the Gospel that is actually good news for every person. I’m sure that some will attempt to marginalize them as being outside the mainstream of Southern Baptist beliefs. But, this is one life-long Southern Baptist boy who believes that the millions of members in our pews every Sunday believe the clear, simple gospel truth they boldly proclaim.
In fact, that is my hope for the future of my convention. If the SBC is to exist and expand it will not be through the personalities on the platform, but rather through the pastors and people that fund our many ministries, serve our local communities and share the Gospel of Jesus across the street and around this world. My hope comes from a committed belief that the true strength of the Southern Baptist Convention isn’t found on the stage, but the pew; it doesn’t emanate from our committees, but rather from our churches.
You see, it is our people, those with a powerful love for Jesus and a passionate heart for evangelism that made us the greatest soul-winning, church-planting, mission-sending force in the history of the world. So, even though there are “elephants in the room” to be dealt with, I believe that it will be our people who will be the ones that will continue to reach others for Jesus, committed to sharing the good news that Jesus died for everyone and can change the life of anyone. That is my hope and prayer as I leave the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.