In Part 1 of the concluding article posted here, I pointed out how we had Strong Theological Speech but Weak Doctrinal Practices. Many of our leaders give excellent theological analysis and press us on thinking about the way our actions reveal our theology. However, when it comes to doctrinal practice our leaders seem to have a discrepancy that veers from their talk. I also expressed a concern that Covenants are Being Treated as Contracts. In other words, we have people signing papers promising to do something they really do not believe in their hearts. I want to conclude today with two more practices that need to change if we are going to see sacrificial giving to the Cooperative Program return. Also, these four practices must cease if we are ever to see the return of some semblance of unity within our ranks.
Directing as Hierarchical Overseer
The Great Commission Resurgence started, not in the heart of the local church, but in the mind of a seminary president. Not only did the seminal beginnings of the GCR take shape in the world of academia but it was the academic erudite mind that promoted and placed it before the convention.
The questions asked by those recruiting for various trustee and committee positions is; ‘does ____________________ believe in the leadership of (you name the entity president) and will he/she support the president’s leadership if chosen?’ I have nominated people for service in state and national leadership. This is the question that was asked of me by the person on the Nominations Committee on both the state and national level.
The trustee system is not a system of rubber stamping anything that comes out of the President’s office. The trustee system is a checks and balance system where the trustees hold in trust the entity for the convention of churches. Our trustees are “our” trustees they are not an extended group of volunteers for the entity. Their fiduciary responsibility is beholding to churches of the convention, not the entity.
It seems that we have moved from the entities being responsible to the people in the pew and a different mindset has evolved. In this evolving mind we have moved from the churches of the SBC directing the entities, through the trustee system, to a type of multiple pastors (entity presidents) directing multiple boards of deacons (Board of Trustees). This evolving mind has now established, without a vote of the convention, the SBC churches as a congregation of people and we have a plurality of elders directing a large congregation. Thus, instead of having churches direct the entity through the trustee system we have cliques fighting for the ear of the pastor (president) responsible for that particular ministry.
Do not get me wrong, this is not all the fault of any one particular person or group. We have learned well over the years that money and numbers talk. Why do you think there is a “Mega-Metro” conference each year? It is a result of learning over the years that if we can dangle $$$’s before the eyes of some entity heads they will respond. As a result we have entity heads violating the business agreement that entities will not directly appeal to churches for funds outside of the Cooperative Program. I submit to you that the demise of the CP is not due to churches lowering their giving. Yes, there has been a drop in giving to the CP. But I submit the drop is a result of entity heads going through the back door expressing perceived needs that cannot be covered in their CP allocations. These needs were presented to Metro-mega church pastors in private dinners at expensive restaurants, probably on the CP’s dime, whose hearts beat for missions and the lost. These mega pastors’ desire for their people to be directly involved through the various mission organization’s ministry where they have their own organizational missionary whom they fund with designated funds to these organizations overwhelmed their desire to cooperate through the CP. These designated funds are not only given through our mission boards but also to our seminaries when pastors see to it that “their preacher-boys” get funds for their seminary education. Therefore, the mega churches respond by lowering their CP and using those freed up funds to supply the financial means for that particular ministry. The justification for this is expressed when one is asked about the percentage of giving for the CP. You will hear statements like, “the CP is not the only giving apparatus that supports Southern Baptist work.” Or, it may be something like; “I believe our churches missions dollars to support Southern Baptist work is better used by giving directly to the entity.” Lest one believe the pastors are the only ones at fault, there is enough blame to go around. The entity heads must take some responsibility here. Call Nashville and ask to see a breakdown of the operating expenses for each entity and how they are funded. It surprised me to find that a majority of our entities CP operational funds amounted to less than 50%. The rest of the funds come from private donations through mainly SBC churches.
As a result we have now, unconsciously, revamped historic Southern Baptist polity from the entities following the direction of the churches to the churches following the directives of the entities.
Promoting Pragmatism over Historic Baptist Convictions
Historic Baptist convictions and traditionalism are not the same. For example there are some, such as myself, that are very uncomfortable preaching in anything less than a suit and tie. That is nothing more than traditionalism and I acknowledge it as what it is. Just because someone wears a suit and tie does not mean he is preaching the word of God. Thus, a church whose pastor does not wear a suit and tie is not negating the preaching of the word of God because he is being pragmatic. However, when South Baptist leadership begin to promote churches that promote the acceptance of any mode of baptism because some visiting the congregation do not want to be baptized by immersion we have moved to accepting pragmatic positions over historic Baptist Convictions.
There has been a move within our convention that supports a theological triage system. This system, while helpful, is not a biblical mandate that one must follow. However, there seem to be some that desire to determine any level of cooperation based only on the first tier of this triage system. Whenever anyone disagrees with cooperating with say Acts 29, one is castigated and reminded of the triage system tiers. Thus, we have people pushing to partner with organizations, to plant churches and do evangelism, whose doctrinal positions are clearly at odds with the BF&M 2000. What do I mean? If one will venture to the Church Assessment Partners just released by Lifeway, one will find a group whose beliefs are documented as follows:
In other words, we believe, because the Bible teaches and requires it, that to receive the baptism with the Holy Ghost, a person must have a clean heart and life as a prerequisite for this great blessing. …We believe the “initial” (or first) evidence of the reception of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance
I am certain I will probably get chastised by well-intentioned Brothers and Sisters. The problem is we have moved to pragmatism and forgone the clear Baptist distinctive concerning “speaking with other tongues.” We have moved from a “private prayer language” to partnering with a denomination on a church planting assessment tool that clearly promotes a doctrine that very few, if any Southern Baptist, believe.
Church planting is another area in which we see pragmatism taking precedence over historic Baptist convictions. Evangelism is no longer at the forefront of our desire as a convention. I remember being challenged at SBC Pastor Conferences to personally share the gospel with the lost. Now, I go to Pastor Conferences and I am challenged to give more money to the poor, help those who are homeless, and plant churches. One of the main differences of those in the Conservative Resurgence was a personal presentation of the Gospel to the lost. Many that were against the Conservative Resurgence saw evangelism as feeding the homeless, helping the poor, and just showing the “love”. Problem is we can and should do these things but going in this direction we are planting churches with lost people. I hear of state after state conventions terminating the position of Evangelism Director.
Concluding Thoughts for Action
Is it Time to throw in the towel and just enjoy a token membership within the SBC? Enjoying such a status would mean redirecting CP percentages to more hands on mission endeavors within the local church. This would mean that Missionaries on the field would begin to lose the financial support they now enjoy. This would mean no promotion of Lottie or Annie. It would mean only enough given to the CP that would maintain the state convention portion of the Annuity that is currently enjoyed. It would mean many ministries within the state convention and the national convention being affected in a negative way. It would also mean another paper from an entity chastising local churches for spending more money on themselves. Thus widening the divide between the churches and entities.
However, it is not time for all of the above mentioned items. It is now high time to call out those that are leading us. They need to be called on the carpet for being members of churches that do not support the CP with an acceptable percentage, that is at the minimum, of the average SBC church. If our leaders are not able to express to the church, that enjoys their membership, the primary needs of the SBC as a whole then they need to find another church. They need to be called out for their leadership of everyone in the SBC not just those under 40 and not just those over 40. They need to be called out for their intimate friendship of mega church pastors at the expense of a relationship with small church pastors.
It is time for pastors to stand and clearly articulate a position that brings us into the future. It is time for pastors to stop re-visioning the Gospel and re-defining Baptist history to fit a personal agenda. It is time for the entities to remember that they do not lead the churches but the churches lead them. It is time for trustees to take their fiduciary responsibility seriously as they hold in trust the entities, not for the entities but, for the people in the pew.