This is the first part of a concluding article for a four part series. The series I presented laments the differences seen in the Southern Baptist Convention since 1990. In Part 1 I expressed my dismay in the responses I received concerning the alcohol motion I presented at the NC Baptist State Convention. Part 2 reviews my theological journey and how that shaped my convictions throughout my pastoral ministry. In Part 3 I spoke of the leaders I saw taking stands and the way those stands strengthened the convictions that were shaping within my theological system. In this concluding post I lament three activities that has become standard practices of our leaders that must cease. Do not misunderstand, our leaders certainly hold solid biblical standards in their personal private lives. These standards must become more than just words spoken publicly to rally the troops. Our leaders must insist on those following them to hold these same standards as convictions for them to be convictions lived out in all areas of Southern Baptist entities. If entities do not begin returning to these standards as convictions and not some covenant signed like a contract there will be a continual decline in giving and participation by those sacrificially supporting the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). What is seen within SBC entity leadership that causes these standards to become mere guidelines and will cause those who are sacrificially giving cease their sacrificial gifts?
In this two-part conclusion I want to describe four areas that need our attention as Southern Baptist. In the first concluding article I will examine the strong theological speech coming from many within our leadership but the less than stellar doctrinal practice. I will also point out how covenants are being treated as contracts and how that is causing a disconnect within the practices we as Southern Baptist have come to expect.
Strong Theological Speech But Weak Doctrinal Practice
The ones in leadership are saying the right things but do not hold to the same doctrinal practices of others around them. While some of these key leaders are not using the old “double-speak” that was honed to perfection by the moderates at SBTS, it certainly is a kissing cousin of it. For example, Dr. Al Mohler stated for the world to hear in a 2006 chapel discussion with Dr. Russel Moore; “if you are associated with the use of beverage alcohol, I think I dare exaggerate not to say that 99% of all doors of ministry in the Southern Baptist Convention will be closed to you.” Dr. Moore goes on to say that if a student in the institution were to be caught imbibing in the social use of alcohol, he or she would be disciplined by the removal from the seminary. Dr. Moore’s statement certainly expresses a strong position due to the covenant that students sign upon acceptance into SBTS. (More on the covenant later) Dr. Mohler then tells of a time when he met with a group of evangelical friends for a luncheon and a couple of the theologians ordered a beer with their meal. Dr. Mohler expresses how he asked the two theologians to abstain, not because he had a personal conviction concerning the consumption of beverage alcohol, but because he was in Louisville, Kentucky and was concerned someone may see him that knew him, and the two theologians abstained. I encourage you to listen to the entire presentation.
SBTS certainly has a strong stand against beverage alcohol, so let’s see their doctrinal practice. In the fall semester of 2010 a SBTS promoted a chapel speaker that is known for his promotion of the social use of beverage alcohol. In the upcoming Spring 2011 chapel series SBTS has scheduled another speaker, who in a recent blog stated ‘if an unbeliever were to be offended by his not partaking in the social use of beverage alcohol, then he would imbibe.’ SBTS has the same covenant that SEBTS has concerning alcohol and its social use by students and employees. When questioned concerning the invitations of some speakers SB’s were told that a seminary and a church were two different types of organizations. Of course no one has ever questioned the difference but that seems to be the rational for inviting people the presidents would never have in their pulpits. Now, the question begs to be answered; “isn’t there a level of confusion when one has a policy at an entity that is total abstinence and then place before the entity one that promotes the social use of beverage alcohol?” What if the president invited someone who denied scripture to be a key note speaker and used the same argument? That is the exact argument used by the presidents of our academic entities in the pre-Conservative Resurgence to extend invitations to those that taught neo-orthodoxy. It also is the same argument used by the administration of SEBTS in the pre-Conservative Resurgence for purchasing and retaining a copy of the video “The Last Temptation of Christ” in the library.
Covenants treated as Contracts
This is, I believe, the main reason that we have to continually deal with various standards that would surprise some of our leaders that have gone before us. I am not sure if all of our seminaries have their students and employees sign a covenant. However, I do know that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) along with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) have students and employees sign an abstinence covenant. A covenant is different than a contract. A contract is a “legally binding agreement involving two or more people or businesses (called parties) that sets forth what the parties will or will not do. A contract is formed when competent parties — usually adults of sound mind or business entities — mutually agree to provide each other some benefit (called consideration), such as a promise to pay money in exchange for a promise to deliver specified goods or services or the actual delivery of those goods and services.
A covenant, at least in a biblical and religious sense that should apply to Christians (especially at our seminaries), has similarities to a contract, but it has (or at least should have) far greater significance. A covenant is something one enters based on personal conviction of fulfilling the promises made. When I received Jesus as my personal Lord, I entered into a covenant relationship with Him. Jesus saved me based on his work he did on the cross. I surrendered to Jesus in a covenant that I would follow him regardless of where He led me.
When students or professors become parties to a covenant, there is not only one other party to the covenant (i.e., the seminary), but there is a third party. Much like the covenant of marriage (Christians would not use the language “contract of marriage”), God is the third party in this covenantal relationship.
As a student or professor signs a covenant at one of our seminaries, they make certain promises. These promises are made not only to the seminary, but in a real sense, they are made to God as well. This covenantal relationship should not be entered into lightly. It should not be abrogated lightly either. If a student or professor cannot enter into these covenants in good faith – with the intention of honoring that covenant – then perhaps they should not affirm that which they may not really, in their heart of hearts, believe in the first place. Again, what Christian pastor would perform a wedding ceremony if they knew or had reason to know that either the bride or the groom would not take the covenant of marriage seriously in the first place? Also, for a student or professor to have a sense between semesters they are no longer under a covenant one signed reveals a contractual obligatory understanding. A covenant, whether in marriage or at one of our seminaries, should be seen as much more valuable than an ordinary contract.
In Part 2 I will examine how our leaders appear to be directing as hierarchical overseers and also the pragmatism that is being promoted over historic Southern Baptist convictions.