United on a Path Forward (a word about Southern Baptist life)

(This article was previously published here by the Biblical Recorder. For more news and analysis about North Carolina Baptist life and Southern Baptists, visit the brnow.org).

Being a Southern Baptist is who I am. My father pastored Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches. My education came from SBC institutions. Currently, I pastor an SBC church and have the privilege of serving as a professor and board member, respectively, at SBC institutions. I love the Southern Baptist Convention and thank God for what He has accomplished through SBC churches.

Southern Baptists are known for church autonomy and mission cooperation even where theological and methodological differences exist. It’s not surprising that our denomination has differences of opinion, but I believe it is at a watershed moment. 

We are experiencing a crisis of morality. Sexual abuse and misconduct of any nature should never happen in the body of Christ, but it does. If and when immoral conduct is discovered, followers of Jesus are accountable for handling these situations in a manner that is above reproach. 

Abuse victims need care, not cover-up. Messengers at the annual meeting in Nashville overwhelmingly stated that we are willing to face this crisis of morality. 

This almost led to a crisis of polity with the delays of the SBC’s Executive Committee to follow messengers’ expressed wishes. These crises damage the witness of the SBC. 

In The End of Christendom, British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge observed the demise of Christian power structures. Muggeridge’s insights from decades ago overlap with what the SBC faces today: “Christendom is something quite different from Christianity, being the administrative or power structure, based on the Christian religion and constructed by men.” 

Muggeridge noted: Christendom fails. Christianity does not. He reminded readers that Christ founded Christianity, and it will go on. Christians come and go. Denominations and local churches wane. Christ remains.

Our meeting last week in Greensboro included good news. We can be grateful for the positive trajectory for North Carolina Baptists. Yet heaviness lingers about our national denomination and the expected reports in coming months. 

I believe there is a path forward for our denomination. Our path forward through any of the news and division must be guided by humility, repentance, and grace. 

Humility must clothe us on our path. Instead of seeking the applause of our echo chambers, N.C. Baptists should wrap ourselves with humility (1 Peter 5:5) and look first to the interests of each other (Philippians 2:4). 

Repentance must guide our path. Regardless of the final revelations from the Sexual Abuse Task Force and Guidepost investigation into the Executive Committee, we must adopt a posture of repentance. If denominational leaders we appointed mishandled abuse allegations or defamed victims, then we are guilty and must repent (Nehemiah 1:6). 

Grace must light our path. Instead of vitriol and name-calling, we need to share the grace we’ve received. We believe in grace and revel in it. So we must offer grace to one another, especially to the one with whom we disagree (Acts 20:32). 

Here’s my prayer for the recent NC Baptist meeting and for the SBC in general. May our posture be one of prayer. May our hearts be humble. May our eyes be enlightened by the truth. May our wills be willing to confront reality. And may our words be wise in response to what we hear and see.

Photo by Lili Popper on Unsplash

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