Dr. Rick Patrick, Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL
Executive Director, Connect 316
From 1987 to 1996, television commercials for the American Express Card concluded with the tagline Membership has its privileges. Every organization’s leader hopes this adage is true, for if conditions are better on the outside than they are on the inside, there is no incentive for anyone to join. If one can simply remain a partner and receive all the same benefits of a member with few, if any, of the responsibilities, then membership is bound to experience a cycle of decline. Such a group’s unofficial slogan is Partnership has its privileges.
Within many layers of Southern Baptist life today, we have created just such a dire situation. A variety of partners currently enjoy all the same benefits of being Southern Baptist without ever truly embracing our denomination, rolling up their sleeves or opening their pocketbooks. These organizations include (a) other denominations, (b) parachurch organizations, (c) unconventional associations, and (d) multi-site church networks.
The aim of this essay is not only to expose such arrangements, which may have gone unnoticed by the typical Southern Baptist layperson, but also to question whether the numerical growth these partnerships allow us to claim is actually in the best interests of Southern Baptists, especially if the groups we are adding do not really claim any meaningful identity with us, and fail to contribute to the SBC a significant measure of their time, talents and treasure. To be blunt, the concern is that with each additional partner we gain, we have another group taking more than they are giving—a situation unsustainable in the long term.
Defining Our Terms—Benefits, Partners and Members
Before exploring the nature of these uneven partnerships, let us define a few terms.
Certain member benefits are currently being extended today to organizations that are honestly only our partners. These member benefits include (a) access to our sizable church plant funding resources through NAMB, (b) free ministry support and consultation from denominational entities, (c) voting privileges at our SBC Annual Meetings, and (d) seminary student discounts of 50% off tuition.
Frankly, such member benefits are provided courtesy of the Cooperative Program, a missions mutual fund paid for primarily by the proven members of loyal Southern Baptist churches whose contributions are now being expended upon the unproven partners of various ministries that until recently would be considered outside the Southern Baptist Convention. Historically, these benefits were reserved for people, churches and organizations who identified with the SBC theologically, culturally and financially. They were clearly Southern Baptist Churches. Today, some churches may be wearing the boots and the hat, but deep down, if they were completely honest, they would have to admit they are not really cowboys at all.
These partners may share very little with us in the way of history, doctrine, culture, or shared values. They may not really know us very well. They may not support the SBC very much financially. In fact, we may have little more in common with them than we do with any of the other 250,000 Non-Southern Baptist Churches in America. Sometimes, they don’t even consider themselves to be Southern Baptists. They don’t really identify with the SBC in any meaningful way. The SBC is not mentioned on their church sign or their website. To put it simply, we are taking the resources of proven SBC churches who are very loyal to our brand and spending them upon unproven SBC churches who are not very loyal to our brand. What happens when all the loyal churches run out of money to squander upon all the disloyal churches? Doesn’t it make more sense for loyalty to invest in loyalty?
As mentioned earlier, these partners might be (a) other denominations, (b) parachurch organizations, (c) unconventional associations, or (d) multi-site church networks. In Part Two, we will look at specific case studies in which these partnering churches have structured themselves in a very diverse manner—with strong loyalties to outside partners and supporters. Such groups are generally outside of the authority of the SBC. They have their own rules, complete autonomy, unique confessions and leadership unaccountable to Southern Baptists.
Please note that I sometimes use this term partner to refer to individual churches that may technically fit within the official definition of a Southern Baptist Church, even though they do not take our name, identify with us publicly, contribute more than a pittance financially, participate in any of our ministries or meetings, or have their names on any kind of publicly available registry identifying them as Southern Baptists. At the risk of being overly blunt, there may be some churches out there with members who are not really Southern Baptists in their heart of hearts, and they know they are not really Southern Baptists, but they are willing to pretend they are Southern Baptists in order to get what we give to our own. They are not in it to give. They are in it to take. We have done a good job of incentivizing churches to become technically Southern Baptist without ever really asking them to fall in love with Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Church Potlucks, Brotherhood Breakfasts, Fifth Quarters, VBS, Christmas Cantatas or the Bereavement Casserole Brigade. Frankly, they’re not very Southern Baptist, and they don’t really want to be. But for a little church planting money and a few seminary discounts, they can at least bring themselves to call us one of their “partners.”
Officially, according to the SBC Constitution, a church is Southern Baptist if it meets three conditions. First, it has a faith and practice closely identifying with our statement of faith, which is The Baptist Faith and Message. Notice it is not necessary to adopt the statement, which is frankly quite broadly written to begin with, but only to “closely identify” with it. This condition is useful whenever a church endorses homosexual behavior, for example, since such a position is clearly not “closely identifying” with our statement of faith. Second, it has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the SBC. This could be done by completing the Annual Church Profile. It could be satisfied by Church Business Meeting minutes affirming their intention to cooperate. Third, it makes undesignated contributions through the Cooperative Program or directly through the Executive Committee or toward any convention entity in the prior year. No dollar amount is specified. Thus, to be a Southern Baptist Church, officially, all you really have to do is (a) basically believe like we do, (b) state somewhere that you will cooperate with the SBC, and (c) give at least something to any Southern Baptist entity. It is easier to become a Southern Baptist Church than it is to join a wholesale food club, rent a locker at an amusement park, or order a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
The definition above is the official one—the one I consider to be far too lenient to sufficiently guard the long-term interests of the SBC. However, as I am using the term “member” in this series, I am talking about the truly faithful, loyal, long-standing, traditional Southern Baptist Church. Perhaps this church has been around for 50 or 100 years or more. They might give 10% through the Cooperative Program and 3% to their local Baptist Association. They have a VBS every summer. They invite evangelists to speak at Revivals at least once a year. They are active in their State Convention. They know about Hershel Hobbs Commentaries. They know about the envelope offering system. They know we don’t claim to have assigned seating in church—but you better not sit in anyone’s seat just the same. This is the church that is culturally Southern Baptist, convictionally Southern Baptist, and unashamedly Southern Baptist. These are the churches primarily paying the bills in our denomination. They are loyal Southern Baptist Churches filled with godly, faithful, humble souls. They are giving much more than they take. And they pretty much assume that the people and churches and groups with which we partner are similarly proud to be generous and committed Southern Baptists whose absolute and undivided denominational loyalties match their own.
In Part Two, we will explore some of these partners and their divided loyalties.
Editor’s Note: This was the keynote address at the annual Connect 316 Banquet held June 13, 2017, in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting. It was a tremendous address, gladly and enthusiastically received by those of us in attendance.
This is the full, unedited version of Dr. Hankins’ address in it’s entirety. We are taking a pause from our usual standard of articles ranging between 1,000-1,500 words, as I feel this address needs to be read in it’s completeness to allow you, the reader, to get the full force and context.
Let me begin this evening by offering a word of thanks to those of you who have given your support to the Traditional Statement, by signing it, by speaking up for it, or both. As I found out within the first few minutes after we made the TS public, affirming these beliefs vis-à-vis Calvinism sets one up for surprising levels of criticism and ill-treatment. By affirming the statement, you were, among other things, sticking your neck out for me. A special thanks to Rick Patrick and the leaders of Connect 316 for their encouragement over the years and for keeping the torch burning for Traditional soteriology. Continue reading
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at Soteriology 101 and is used by permission.
After years of discussing this topic with many Calvinistic brothers I have come to this firm conviction…
This is not meant to suggest that we shouldn’t at least try to rightly represent those with whom we disagree. We should never intentionally misrepresent (or “strawman“) the views of our brethren. This is why I almost always play a clip of a notable Calvinist or read a direct quote when bringing a critique against the claims of Calvinists. In fact, I have begun all my teaching sessions on this subject by telling my students that it is only fair to learn Calvinism from a Calvinist. Continue reading