It seems that a pattern for Southern Baptist Convention churches is the transparent pursuit of relevance. “Hey, notice us! Hey, we’re not weird, come to our churches!”
You see this in congregations changing their name from Main Street Baptist Church to Grace Community Fellowship Safe Space. Susan Montoya wrote on this in 1999 for the AP:
“The Rev. Roddy Clyde discovered that he could add hundreds of parishioners to his church simply by subtracting the word “Baptist” from its name.
“I’m not ashamed to be a Baptist, but a brand name can be a hindrance,” Clyde said Monday. “Some people mistakenly associate the Baptist name with an angry, judgmental kind of fundamentalism.”
Clyde’s Trinity Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas, became the Fellowship of Forest Creek in 1992. Around the country, many other churches are dropping “Baptist” from their names.
The North Point Community Church outside Columbia, S.C., dropped Southern Baptist from its name, and John Sharp, its 26-year-old pastor, prefers not to use the title of Reverend.”
Pastor Irrelevant has an ingenious idea: “People aren’t digging us—let’s come up with a cool brand!”
Southern Baptists continued this pursuit of relevance in the eyes of the world at their annual meeting, which was in St. Louis this year.
In their evident enlightened righteousness, SBC messengers passed a resolution calling for the cessation of the display of the Confederate Battle Flag by SBC church members.
On the resolution, Russell Moore writes on his blog, ”
It’s not often that I find myself wiping away tears in a denominational meeting, but I just did. The Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly to repudiate the display of the Confederate Battle Flag. This conservative evangelical denomination gathered together just miles from Ferguson, Missouri, to stand together against one lingering divisive symbol.”
In the same article, Moore writes, “Does this change the game as it applies to the crushing issues of racial injustice around us? Of course it does not [it is not my intention in this article to spend time explaining why it is so silly for Moore to speak of “crushing issues of racial injustice around us”]…We decided that we are defined not by a Lost Cause but by amazing grace.”
Oh, how lovely! SBC churches are about grace, not bigoted hatred! As Reverend Clyde said, it’s far too easy to confuse Baptists with being bigoted, judgemental, fundamentalists, right?
In my estimation, and take it for what it is, this seems to be an SBC act of virtue signaling. By signaling, I mean the use of certain words or taking certain actions to signal to Progressive America that “we are not racist. We are intelligent, informed, welcoming, tolerant folks. Please, please, please, please don’t think we’re bigots!”
There is a lot of cultural capital readily available these days for bashing the Confederacy and pretending that Ferguson was an example of institutional racism and police brutality. This should be no surprise to the Christian. Knowledge begins with God. Presently, the most influential people in American society are those who reject God. They have thus severed that which holds them to sanity, and have thus floated into insanity, concerned with transforming America based on their feelings and devoid of scary facts. Instead of pressing against this widespread silliness, it looks like the SBC tried to cash in on the opportunity.
When Christians and churches pursue relevance and respectability in the eyes of the world, the outcomes range from pathetic to perverse. While history attests to this, the allure of respectability and relevance is strong in the West. C.S. Lewis captures this well in The Screwtape Letters, in which he writes,
“Dear Wormwood,You won’t need outright persecution with the Western church. Simply threaten them with cultural irrelevance.Screwtape”
Christian churches are to know that our relevance is not something we need to pursue, for it is firmly established in Scripture. King Jesus, he who has all authority in heaven and on earth, has charged local churches with the immense task of representing the kingdom of heaven on this earth, by preserving and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Herein is the relevant foundation of any local church, Southern Baptist or not.
Yes, your congregation can be more relevant. But that relevance is directly connected to the purity and clarity of truth in the local church. So instead of working to be seen well by outsiders in a society more and more disdainful for Biblical Christianity, should not the SBC be working to address glaring doctrinal lacking?
While SBC messengers waste their time debating the Confederate Battle Flag because it feels good, they cannot agree on how a sinner is saved!
Is not this worth spending as much time as necessary to hash out? Are sinners depraved in all their faculties and incapable of responding to God rightly, having been born in Adam with his guilt and his corruption? Has God before all time chosen a people to set his saving love upon, electing them apart from any condition in them, but solely according to his free will; or did he look down the corridor of time and elect those who would choose him? Did Christ die as the penal substitutionary atoning sacrifice for the elect, purchasing their salvation on Calvary; or did he simply make salvation possible? Does the Spirit of God sovereignly blow wherever he wills, causing dead-in-Adam sinners to be born again, giving them life and granting them repentance and faith in Jesus Christ; or does he simply create a neutral space for someone to consider the gospel call in the power of human free will? Does God preserve every last one of those whom he has unconditionally elected, for whom Christ has died as a substitute, who the Spirit has irresistibly called to faith in Christ?
While the SBC is busy signaling Progressive America that it is “with it”, they tolerate prosperity gospel pastors in their ranks!
The Babylon Bee, a new Christian satire site, captured the stupidity of this quite well.
“The SBC disavowed me [the Confederate Battle Flag]. We all knew it was coming…I’m honestly just surprised that they didn’t distance themselves from this cartoonish, prosperity-gospel spewing, multimillion-dollar home owning, private-jet flying, heresy-enabling, sexperiment-having, Bible belt aristocrat first. I just figured, between the two of us, he would be the first to go.”
Well, kicking churches out of your association hurts the pocket book and doesn’t do jack squat toward winning friends in the secular culture. Headlines would probably read, “Prudish Baptists Judge On—And They’re Racists”.
While SBC messengers congratulate themselves on how compassionate and not-racist they are, their agreed upon Statement of Faith, the Baptist Faith and Message, continues to fail to deny justification by works. Bravo!
The BFM reads: “Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of his righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer into a relationship of peace and favor with God.”
The BFM was better in 1925, reading, “Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of his righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. This blessing is bestowed, not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but through the redemption that is in and through Jesus Christ. It brings us into a state of most blessed peace and favor with God, and secures every other needed blessing.”
I guess in the 60s the SBC wanted to make room for some Catholics, ECT style? Is the SBC really incapable of being clearer on the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls than The Gospel Coalition?
TGC, an interdenominational group, affirms this:
“The Justification of Sinners We believe that Christ, by his obedience and death, fully discharged the debt of all those who are justified. By his sacrifice, he bore in our stead the punishment due us for our sins, making a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice on our behalf. By his perfect obedience he satisfied the just demands of God on our behalf, since by faith alone that perfect obedience is credited to all who trust in Christ alone for their acceptance with God. Inasmuch as Christ was given by the Father for us, and his obedience and punishment were accepted in place of our own, freely and not for anything in us, this justification is solely of free grace, in order that both the exact justice and the rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners. We believe that a zeal for personal and public obedience flows from this free justification.”
That’s good. This article by Douglas Shivers takes time to particularly consider this problem.
What is the connection of these doctrinal issues and the SBC16 resolution on the Confederate Battle Flag?
Their presence in the midst of the messengers’ self-congratulations brings about a smelly odor, an odor that smells of forgetfulness, a forgetfulness in the established-by-Christ relevance of the church, and of desperation, desperation to not be divisive over something as ugly as true doctrine, but to be welcomed to the prom by the pagan populace.
So, Russell Moore and other SBC messengers, once you’ve had time to wipe away the tears of joy from your eyes, having taken such a great leap for “racial reconciliation” and made clear to America that y’all are quite a loving clan, can you officially answer the following questions: How is a sinner saved? Will we tolerate the prosperity gospel in our ranks? Is justification by faith alone?
Doing so won’t do anything to win a respected hearing from American culture. But it is necessary to your continued relevance, for these are questions central to the exaltation of Christ, the existence of his church, and the salvation of those Americans you seem so desperate to please.
Appreciate it. #Relevant.