One of the reasons I am doing this series of posts on â€œThe Baptist Wayâ€ is to face what is going on in Baptist life today: Weâ€™re losing our soul and our identity. Weâ€™re becoming the very definition of generic evangelicalism. We need to face whatâ€™s happening to us and we need to stop it.
Many of our churches are going to vanish in 20+ years, and they wonâ€™t be replaced. As much as we are stressing new churches we are not going to stop the collapse of thousands of our own churches that contained two or three generations of people that defined Southern Baptist life for 50+ years. The megachurches are there, but we canâ€™t be a denomination of mega-churches and do what we do. That’s a pipe dream that’s killing us.
The desperate cry of some leaders for more baptisms is looking completely past the problems of this convention. Our problem isn’t primarily evangelism, but the health of our churches, the state of our leadership and our strange attempts at confessional integrity. (I would call the SBC leadership’s use of the BFM a kind of psuedo-confessionalism. Useful for political purposes and generally ignored otherwise.)
Many of our younger leaders and creative contributors are going out the door. Many who arenâ€™t going out the door are going to ignore their denomination at every opportunity and network with someone like the Founders or Rich Warren. When your young pastors are already tired of what youâ€™re doing to them, something is very wrong.
Thousands and thousands of our people are going to vanish into generic evangelical churches and thousands and thousands of our churches are going to become generic evangelical churches. Among those who remain in our churches, the level of specifically Baptist doctrinal knowledge and practice is minute and decreasing by the day. Anyone with a distinctive point of view, be they Calvinist or evangelical Catholic, can have a field day among Southern Baptists.
Our pastors are overwhelming becoming practitioners of an atheological, pragmatic, entrepreneurial model of ministry thatâ€™s entirely about church growth and church imitation, which in generic evangelicalism is primarily about fluff, fizz and putting on a good show. Preaching, once the showcase of the SBCâ€™s commitment to its distinctives, now wallows in the quicksand of generic moralism, imitative devotional pabulum and stale fundamentalist carping.
Worship leadership has suffered twenty years of worship wars, and left every church looking for a twenty-five year old CCM artist-in-training willing to sing choruses and put together a band. Music schools in our seminaries have become dinosaurs and traditional worship is increasingly the domain of left-of-center SBC churches.
Our denominational leadership speaks of revival endlessly, yet the direction of our churches has never been less spiritual, more pragmatic, more imitative of secular marketing methods or less God-centered. Any denominational meeting is an adventure into the dreaded unknown. Will the fundamentalists denounce the Calvinists or the emerging? Will we hear about the culture war or Rick Warren? Will we fight over where someone was baptized or if they ever spoke in tongues? What new slogan will we be required to be enthusiastic about this year? Will we endorse GOP candidates openly or just have them speak to us via television?
It is safe to say that at no time in Southern Baptist history has there been less confidence in leadership, and the infighting among leadership shows no sign of abatement. In the era following the so-called conservative resurgence, conservatives are now sub-dividing over theology, style, labels, speaking in tongues, discount landmarkism and, of course, Calvinism.
Almost every Calvinist pastor I know is under attack in his association or convention for no reason other than a despising of our own heritage and the rejection of real diversity. Every one of these men has a fine church. Most of them have growing churches. All preach the Gospel and want to be SBC. This isnâ€™t right, and weâ€™re going to rue the day we started persecuting Charles Spurgeon and James P. Boyce out of the denomination.
As thousands of SBC churches remove Baptist from their names, drop the offerings and programs, drop out of most local and state denominational activities, network with Warren/Hybels/Acts 29/etc, put the Cooperative program to bed and embrace generic evangelicalism or angry fundamentalism, Americaâ€™s largest protestant denomination becomes less and less relevant. With our seminaries full and our missionary force strong, we still have a future, but tectonic plates are shifting, and we have yet to see where they will settle.
One of the things about being SBC is that you can always find room for hope. A lot of good is happening, but and some of it is happening in places that can make a difference. I pray those good things grow and are blessed. I intend to be part of the solution, and not the problem. The Baptist church that I belong to and the Baptist ministry where I serve give me many opportunities to be part of Godâ€™s mission and Godâ€™s blessing of his people. Both also give me the opportunity to pray and work for rescue from what is happening among Southern Baptists today.
If the SBC wants no future as a cooperative denomination, uniquely Baptist, rooted in Baptist theology and practice, promoting a missional faith through a missional church in post-modern times, then just keep going the direction weâ€™re going. Despise our polity. Waste money. Redefine cooperation into tyranny. Ignore our confessional heritage. Destroy our diversity. Fight with our brothers. Add more meaningless bureaucracy. Major on minors. Reject servant leadership. Dance to the generic evangelical tune and become assimilated into the rest of this embarrassing mess called American evangelicalism.
Or go back, go forward guided by principle, go deep into integrity, go into the scriptures, go to God and go to one another in servant-love shaped humility and fix this thing while we can.
And we can.
Can I get an Amen?