The Phantoms and the Facts

May 30, 2011

By Tim Rogers, Pastor, Ebeneezer Baptist Church, Indian Trail, NC

In a recent “SBC Discussion” article for Baptist Press Trevin Wax discussed how Southern Baptists were needed by evangelicals in order to overcome splintering within the evangelical community.  I have many concerns about this approach, but the main concern is a denominational employee suggesting Southern Baptists move into areas many are not willing to go. Lest we forget, Wax is employed with Lifeway, which is an entity charged with producing educational material.

In Wax’s article, Being Southern Baptist among & for Evangelicals, he relied on some phantoms as he presented his facts.  It is the phantoms and facts that I want to address in an effort to offer an objective critique of the article.

PHANTOMS

1. “Many Southern Baptists looked outside the SBC for energy and support in the “battle for the Bible

While I would agree with respect to “energy,” I would argue that “support” is his phantom.  Certainly there were evangelical scholars, such as the ones Wax named, that were very articulate in debating inerrancy, and many of these were in print at the time.  However, the support for this battle did not come from outside of the SBC; it came from within. Grass roots Southern Baptist pastors and laymen were the catalysts. Men like Bob Tenery, who was willing to jeopardize his own ministry and who invested his own money to begin the SBC Advocate, gave the underlying support needed. The SBC Advocate was a periodical that informed pastors and laymen about the issues. Pastors of churches large and small realized if they did not make a move, it was just a matter of time before we were going to have neo-orthodoxy filtering from pulpits to the people in the pew. In some cases, such was already happening. This “support” came from many pastors whose churches could not afford to send them to conventions, yet they came on their own nickel and voted.

This “support” from outside the convention simply cannot be documented. What evangelical invested his/her own funds to see the Southern Baptist Convention turn around? Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell did feature some of the SBC conservative leaders in a program. The biggest endorsement for the conservatives came from Billy Graham. However, Billy Graham retained his church membership at FBC Dallas, which would make him a Southern Baptist not an evangelical outside the SBC orbit. It also might be pointed out that outside support for the Moderates came from people who are today considered by many as evangelicals, such as Bill Moyers.

2. “Good number of institutions and churches that have historically flown under the ‘evangelical’ banner.”

Wax’s phantom here is one that I just do not understand.  His argument about these “evangelical” institutions and churches about to be taken out of evangelicalism simply does not resonate. The fault lines in the evangelical world are there because evangelicalism is so loosely defined. There is no clear confession that evangelical institutions and churches affirm. Thus, to say they “fly under the evangelical banner” really is not completely accurate. One will find that a church’s theological position usually is that of the pastor, except for the SBC. That is the reason we have a clearly defined confession of faith.

3. “Coalitions have formed. . . . This is the time for Southern Baptist leaders to extend the hand of fellowship to like-minded evangelicals, to strengthen the growing number of coalitions.”

Once again we have a phantom floating in the statement. What coalitions have been formed?  Are we talking about Together for the Gospel or Acts 29? If so, these organizations have no formal connection with the SBC. In addition, why should our Southern Baptist leaders extend a hand of fellowship to strengthen a coalition that clearly does not affirm a confession of faith? To form coalitions and then attempt to make ourselves a part of this coalition is, well, proselytizing, which Southern Baptists do not want to do.

4. “There are some who feel that the purity of Southern Baptist identity will be polluted if we join coalitions or encourage other networks.”

Who are these “some?” This is another phantom that is bantered about seemingly in order to put down anyone who disagrees. One thing is certain: It is not about keeping the purity of a Southern Baptist identity as much as it is about remaining scripturally vigilant.  Many evangelical churches do not promote baptism by immersion. Am I concerned that forming coalitions with other evangelical networks will weaken our Southern Baptist identity? Not on your life. Am I concerned that forming coalitions with other evangelical networks will open the door for SBC churches to disavow believer’s baptism by immersion as the only valid scriptural baptism?  Bingo!!!

5. “Others point to a number of traditional Southern Baptist markers of loyalty: giving to the Cooperative Program, style of preaching, church practices, revival services, involvement at the association and state levels, etc.”

We see yet another phantom. First, we need to tease out the “etc.” What are these other “etc.” markers?  Second, it appears that Wax has now offended Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE). COSBE is the one calling on churches in the SBC to use evangelists and to promote revival services. Third, most, if not all, of our seminary presidents might be offended since they are among those calling for expositional preaching as being the preaching style we should be doing (assuming by “style” this is what Wax has in mind).  Dr. Brad Whitt has called attention to church practices concerning church government.  However, he has done this with his basis being that of the BF&M. Thus, he is not hinging his argument on a “traditional Southern Baptist marker of loyalty” but on our own Southern Baptist confessional statement—something Wax affirms and says is needed. Wax also presents a phantom within a phantom. While he makes it appear the things mentioned are merely personal preferences that old traditionalists want to see, it is his list he terms as Southern Baptist markers.

When Wax presents the phantom of Cooperative Program giving, he seems to forget our SBC documents and state convention documents clearly define a cooperating Southern Baptist congregation. Giving to the Cooperative Program is part of what makes a church a Southern Baptist church, both in regard to state conventions and the SBC. If a church were to give money only to the IMB they may be considered a Southern Baptist church but not be considered a cooperating Southern Baptist.  They would be considered a church that gives to the IMB.  The Southern Baptist Convention does not recognize a church as an SBC church unless they receive at least $250 from them.  According to the Southern Baptist Convention Constitution an SBC church is one that “Is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. And, (2) Has been a bona fide contributor to the Convention’s work during the fiscal year preceding.” (Bold emphasis mine) Thus, one can say until the cows come home they are a cooperating Southern Baptist church, but until funds are sent in through the Cooperative Program; a church is not a cooperating Southern Baptist congregation.

6. “Conservative evangelicals need strength and support in their efforts to reclaim the center of evangelical identity.”

This final phantom seems to indicate that Wax is more concerned with reclaiming the center of “evangelical identity” than he is Southern Baptist identity.  It is not about an “evangelical identity”; it is about adhering to the inerrancy of the Word of God.  Remember, as go Southern Baptists, so go evangelicals. A case can be made that the reason evangelicals need to reclaim their center is due to Southern Baptists losing theirs. I believe the reason Southern Baptists might be losing their own center is this strange courtship she appears to be entering into with splintering evangelicalism. However, Southern Baptists have remained strong historically by refusing to compromise their doctrines. Why would we now want to water down our doctrines to make them acceptable to others who have lost or are losing their evangelical identity?

FACTS

1. “As the tidal wave looms over the horizon, the Baptist Faith and Message is a bulwark of confessional, biblical identity that unites Southern Baptists.”

Wax is correct with this assessment. The BF&M is a “bulwark of confessional, biblical identity.” We affirm this and we look forward to accepting churches and people that can also affirm this confession. In SBC life, however, it appears that some may want to treat the BF&M as a buffet line at Golden Corral. They seem to pick and choose the parts they agree with and pay much less attention to the parts which don’t fit their theology. If the BF&M is a bulwark, it protects in all areas it covers. One cannot choose to have it as a doctrinal protector in the area of “The Scriptures” but refuse its protection by adding caveats in the area of “The Church.”

2. What is the center of Southern Baptist identity?

This is, for me, the heart of the issue. Referencing oneself as a Southern Baptist is not about wearing a suit and tie, or about the style of music one has in worship services. The center of Southern Baptist identity is found in the written word of God as articulated in the Baptist Faith and Message. Wax is absolutely correct in this approach. But, he has so many phantoms floating around this statement it makes one weary in trying to express concerns.

CONCLUSION

Where does this leave us? While, as a member of a local Southern Baptist church, Wax is free to express his understanding of the denomination/convention working with outside groups; yet as a paid denominational employee, he should tread very carefully when it comes to suggesting that Southern Baptists work with outside groups.

In Wax’s concluding comments he presents two more phantoms. First, no one that I have known has cast aspersions on any church that is willing to partner with evangelicals outside of the Southern Baptist Convention. Second, as Southern Baptists, no one I know is against “other evangelicals.” But, neither should we be willing to lock arms with the CBF in order to plant churches. One may say that Wax never presented the CBF in his article. Correct. However, Wax clearly pointed out that Brian McLaren was considered an evangelical. Thus, Wax’s last phantom is the one of choosing which evangelicals are worthy of our fellowship and which ones are not.

If evangelicals, who believe like Southern Baptists, can affirm the Baptist Faith & Message without caveats, and desire to give to Southern Baptist causes, want to be part of the Southern Baptist Convention, I say; “LET’S LOCK ARM-IN-ARM AND MOVE FORWARD!!” However, if evangelicals desire to come into the Southern Baptist Convention and, as an example, begin telling us public invitations are not scriptural, or infant baptism is something we should accept, or even setting dress codes for the annual SBC meeting, I say; “LET’S LOCK HORNS BECAUSE I WILL NOT BE MOVED!!”

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Chris

Tim,
I am curious. Do you believe that a church should have to affirm the BF&M 2000 without caveats to be considered a Southern Baptist Church? If so, do you think it is time to change our constitution to reflect that belief. After all, one can be “in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. And, [be] a bona fide contributor to the Convention’s work” without affirming our confession of faith.

Additionally, do you think there should be a litmus test (with regard to support for convention causes through the cooperative program) for those who would serve in leadership positions?

Thanks,
Chris

Tim Rogers

Brother Chris,

Do you believe that a church should have to affirm the BF&M 2000 without caveats to be considered a Southern Baptist Church? If so, do you think it is time to change our constitution to reflect that belief.

Thank you for your questions. Let me begin by saying the confession was something Brother Trevin included in his article. I just agreed with him. However, let’s look at what Brother Trevin said about our BF&M. He said; “the Baptist Faith and Message is a bulwark of confessional, biblical identity that unites Southern Baptists.” A bulwark is something that offers protection. So, how can a confessional offer protection of biblical identity when one can insert caveats? I personally do not think it is in our constitution that one must affirm or adhere to the BF&M, or any portion of it, in order to be a SB. Thus, I do not see any reason to change the constitution.

Additionally, do you think there should be a litmus test (with regard to support for convention causes through the cooperative program) for those who would serve in leadership positions?

Do I think there should be a % litmus test? No, I do not!!. Do I believe the leaders should be supportive of the CP, yes I certainly do. Even when Dr. Rogers called the CP the “sacred cow” he was not putting it down he was merely pointing out that people did not believe the Bible but because they were giving to the CP they were being included. Today we have the opposite. We have evangelicals that will neither embrace the doctrinal positions we as SB hold as truth, nor give through the CP. Back then we had people that called themselves SB but did not believe what SB believed, but gave to the CP in order to be called SB.

Blessings,
Tim

Ben Simpson

Tim,

I’m really surprised that your main concern with Trevin’s article is that he is a denominational employee who is “suggesting Southern Baptists move into areas many are not willing to go.” You write as if employees of denominational entities should not speak out on SBC issues. I find that ironic because this blog regularly uses denominational employees such as Steve Lemke (NOBTS), Malcolm Yarnell (SWBTS), and David Allen (SWBTS). In fact, Lemke wrote a four-part blog recently about the state of the SBC, as you well know, in which he described the state of division in the SBC and then offered two solutions. One solution was to split the convention and then said this, “That is one possible future – not the best future, I believe, but a possible and an acceptable one.” You just had Lemke, an employee of an SBC entity, publicly state that a denominational split would be acceptable to him! That’s outrageous, but I don’t remember reading any concern from you over Lemke’s comments. Nevertheless, if we apply the logic that you employ here with Trevin, then Lemke, Yarnell, and Allen should withhold commentary and suggestions concerning the SBC.

You also imply that if employees of denominational entities do say anything, they should only stand up for what is perceived to be the majoritarian position of the SBC. That’s at least what I took from you saying that he’s “suggesting Southern Baptists move into areas many are not willing to go.” Surely that’s what you mean instead of implying that employees of denominational entities should only say things that everybody in the SBC will agree with. Tim, simply standing up for the majoritarian position is not leadership. I don’t know if Trevin considers himself a leader of some sort in the SBC (he’s certainly putting himself out there to influence others by writing what he wrote), but that’s what leaders do. Even if he isn’t a “leader,” he’s a member of an SBC church and has every right to put forth his point of view. You concede this point later in your article, but even as an employee of a denominational entity, it’s up to those of the SBC to affirm or reject his position. He should not be silent simply because he’s not with your perceived majority.

I for one thought that Trevin’s article honored the SBC for its biblical and doctrinal integrity. He seems to feel that the SBC today is exemplary in evangelicalism and hoped that we would influence greater evangelicalism. I pray that we will. I understand your concern that as we get out there to influence others through partnerships that we’ll be influenced detrimentally ourselves. That’s always a concern, but don’t miss what Trevin said:

“Evangelicalism needs a resurgence of attention on the evangel. Confessional Southern Baptists can and should play a key role in that discussion. Now is not the time to water down our Baptist distinctives, seek unity at the level of ecclesiology, and pretend that all evangelicals are the same. Allies in WWII did not give up their sovereignty or their countries’ distinctive traits. But neither did they treat each other as opponents. They built bridges in order to see freedom advanced beyond their countries’ borders. Likewise, this is the time for Southern Baptists to maintain the bridges, not tear them down. We stand with evangelical allies. We are in a position to do for evangelicals what evangelicals once did for Southern Baptists.”

He’s not asking the SBC to give up anything to partner with those outside the SBC. We must not compromise on our Baptist distinctives! However, not every doctrine is at play in every situation. Therefore, we can partner with non-SBC folks, coalitions, networks, and denominations for greater Kingdom purposes. In fact, I believe Trevin’s saying that we as the SBC can do greater things for the Kingdom of God by partnering on some levels with those outside our denomination. That’s Kingdom-focused, and that’s a God-honoring, Christ-centered approach.

    Tim Rogers

    Brother Dan,

    You seem to present a Phantom here yourself;

    “You write as if employees of denominational entities should not speak out on SBC issues.”

    No, I have never said that denominational employees should not voice “speak out on SBC issues.” What I did say was that Wax is a denominational employee and as such should not be suggesting we partner with anyone the convention has not approved. AS to denominational employees “speaking out”. No denominational employee should ever blast another entity and speak against her. Something that has been violated during the building of the GCR motion. Now, as to Dr.s Lemke, Yarnell, and Allen please help me understand where they have negatively spoken against any entity or other leaders within the SBC.

    Allies in WWII did not give up their sovereignty or their countries’ distinctive traits.

    Here is where we probably need to call to another Phantom. Have you ever heard of the appeasement policy and countries like France, Greece, and Albania? We should not go to a neutral position and that is what Wax is calling us to. First, he never mentions who these groups are as well as what they believe. Many evangelical groups will affirm only 3 or 4 of the guidelines within the BF&M. However, Wax calls our confession a “bulwark”. We cannot have evangelical groups affirming only 2 or three guidelines.

    We are in a position to do for evangelicals what evangelicals once did for Southern Baptists.”

    As I said in the Op there seems to be a Phantom here. What did the evangelicals do for us? How many of them came into the SBC? What did they place on the line for the SBC to bring about the Conservative Resurgence?

    Therefore, we can partner with non-SBC folks, coalitions, networks, and denominations for greater Kingdom purposes. In fact, I believe Trevin’s saying that we as the SBC can do greater things for the Kingdom of God by partnering on some levels with those outside our denomination.

    Who are these “non-SBC folks, coalitions, networks, and denominations?” That is the Phantom in this statement. No one is saying who these are that are being promoted to be partners. Also, as a autonomous church your church is free to partner with anyone you desire. But, you are not free to insist that my church partners with you in this endeavor. One mor thing. This partnering with others is not to be done in church planting. If we cannot plant SBC churches then pray tell me the reason that we are SBC. Are we SBC because we believe it’s a great collegiality fraternity or are we SBC because we believe the Bible?

    Blessings,
    Tim

Mary

“”Therefore, we can partner with non-SBC folks, coalitions, networks, and denominations for greater Kingdom purposes. In fact, I believe Trevin’s saying that we as the SBC can do greater things for the Kingdom of God by partnering on some levels with those outside our denomination. That’s Kingdom-focused, and that’s a God-honoring, Christ-centered approach.””

Ben Simpson, maybe you could answer a question for me? Is the SBC sitting on a big ol pile of cash that it is unable to spend on spreading the Gospel because there simply are not enough people willing and capable within the SBC to do the work? Are we as a convention short of good causes to support within our own convetion and so we need to seek help outside the convention to get the work done that we in SBC our cooperating together to do? Or is that some in the convention don’t like how other SBCer’s are doing the work and would prefer to partner with outsiders?

SBC churches are already “partnering” with other churches – that’s what the SBC is about so either we’ve collected so much money form SBC churches that we cannot spend it because of a lack of people “resources” or there are just some in the SBC who really don’t want to “partner” with the SBC but would rather the SBC become some sort of nondenominational partnership convention.

Now if it’s true that the SBC just has so much money and not enough people to spend the money in a Christ honoring way then of course we should spend every penny we can with others of like faith and message to help the spread of the Gospel. But if it’s not true and we don’t have unlimited resources of money and there are people within SBC churches willing and capable of using our financial resources to spread the Gospel and the only excuse that some have for not funding within the SBC but using our funds outside the SBC because they think some other network is “better” than those within the SBC – then there is a serious problem.

Ben Simpson

Mary, I’m sorry, but I’m not sure which question you want me to answer. ;o)

As best as I can tell, your question is essentially this: why partner with anybody else outside the SBC when the SBC could just do it ourselves? Is that a clear understanding of what you were asking?

If so, here’s my answer: the SBC is not the Kingdom of God. I love and am committed to the SBC, but it’s only a slice of the Kingdom. We, as a convention, want more than anything to reach this world for Christ, and to do so, I believe we need all of biblical Christianity to do so.

Mary, let me ask you a question: is the Southern Baptist church the only true church? I look forward to your answer.

If it is the only true church, then we should partner with only Southern Baptist churches. If there are other true churches other than Baptist ones, then we should seek to partner with them for the sake of the gospel, while not giving up our Baptist distinctives or our denomination. As Trevin pointed to in his article, because of the our current fidelity to the Scripture and passion for the lost in the SBC, we are poised to effect greater Evangelicalism for the good of the Kingdom. Yes, we could try to just do it ourselves, but what if we could pull others along with us and make a bigger impact? That would be much better.

Mary

No Ben Simpson the SBC is not the only true church. God has, does, and will work through many Christians of many stripes and colors. I gladly and proudly affirm anyone who preaches Christ and Him crucified as my brother or sister. You’re absolutely right the SBC is not the entire Kingdom of God, but it is the slice we’ve been given stewardship over. I love children, but I can’t provide for more than the three I’ve been given by God. And I think you’re missing the point I was making which is we can’t support all the work we as SBCers would like to support within our own convention so how does it make sense to say we’re supposed to go outside the family and let our own children go “hungry.”

The SBC’s purpose is to cooperate with other churches to advance our slice of the Kindgom of God. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that. God doesn’t expect us to do more than He’s given us to do. Why would anyone want to exclude people within the SBC by withholding money from them, so that we can give money to those outside the SBC? I understand that it sounds all sweet and pretty to say let’s join hands with others outside our denomination but the slice of the Kingdom we’ve been givin stewardship over is the SBC. The whole purpose of the SBC is to cooperate with churches in the SBC – not the whole wider Christian community. Now everyone swears they want to affirm Baptist Identity all the while taking away the very core of the identity of churches cooperating for the cause of the Kingdom. If churches on an individual basis choose to support local or even nonlocal efforts outsdie the SBC that’s their perogative and choice as autonomous churches. But we are already a group of cooperating churches partnering together to advance the Kingdom and we can’t take care of all the work we’d like to do as a convention. But because some “factions” have decided that some groups outside the SBC are advancing the Kingdom in a way they’d prefer we’re being bombarded with this idea that 44,000+ churches cooperating together for our slice of the Kingdom is sooooo exclusive. The people wanting to exlude are the ones advocating taking money away from the SBC to advance not just the Kingdom, but a slice of the Kingdom that they would prefer to advance that’s not part of the SBC.

The SBC needs to take care of the SBC, then if it’s so healthy and growing that we have boatloads of money and not enough workers for the harvest, then let’s find some worthy partners outside the SBC to spread the wealth around. But the veiled insults with the “we’re not the only part of the Kingdom of God” need to stop. Yes we all know that. We need to deal with the slice God has given us. But in the end the only thing I see happening is certain factions who want to exclude certain types of churches within the SBC all the while taking their money to give to those outside the SBC who would not welcome the majority of the SBC as members of their churches. Not only do they want the money but they will hurl the veiled insults that not cooperating outside the SBC is somehow morally wrong which I think would actually imply having any distinctive identity as morally wrong.

To reach the world for Christ we don’t need any other person or organization. We need GOD period end of story. God has, does, and will work through the SBC. There is nothing wrong with deciding to draw paramaters and bounderies of where we think God wants us to work. When we’ve pushed up to those lines and He wants us to do more with others that’s fine. But when we cannot do all the work within the family? No, sorry, I’m not going to let my children starve so I can build up someone elses house. Doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than them or that I have all the answers – just that God has given me a place to work and I’ll trust Him to help them with their house just as He guides me in my work.

    Mark

    Mary, you mentioned money six times in your last comment. Is it really about the money?

    Even our own confession encourages working with Christians outside the SBC. It states that, “Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations.”

Mary

Mark, cooperation is great. Let\’s do all that we can. Absolutely. Missouri Baptist are cooperating at this moment with disaster relief efforts in Joplin. This is right and good. As long as we’re not defunding any SBC work at the expense of cooperation. But Mark seriously you just threw out one of those veiled insults accusing me of only caring about money when I have made if very plain I don’t wish those outside the SBC ill will. Kinda those phantoms Tim spoke of in the OP. Where has anyone said we should not cooperate where we can? SBC churches give money for SBC causes. They have a right to expect that their money is going to the SBC not some other church groups who would deem them not worthy of membership in their churches.

Ben Simpson

Speaking of phantoms, there’s been lot’s of talk about the “new NAMB” and affiliation with Acts 29. President Ezell does a great job in his latest Baptist Press article ghostbusting. It’s a must read and is very exciting to me. Of course, the new strategy is not how it’s been done, which stirs lots of folks up, but that’s okay.

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