This past year has been rough in the SBC. There has been a lot of ugliness from varying sects within the convention and the collapse of the whole cooperative effort has been looming large in the minds of many. I went to the Baptist Identity Conference to hear from those I respect who remain optimistic about the future of our convention. Some of them spoke from from the stage, and others sat with Steve and I around the convention tables and in local restaurants. I came away from that gathering with some thoughts (few of which originated in my own mind) about staying in the SBC and seeing change. 1. Staying and going. We have to recognize that staying in the SBC is not the only good option. Some people will choose to leave the SBC and work with other groups and that's okay. The SBC is not the only way a church can cooperate with other churches, reach their communities and glorify God. A friend expressed it to me this way: "When someone asks me, 'Why should I stay in the SBC?' I tell them, 'Maybe you shouldn't.'" He does ultimately encourage them to stay connected and involved, but his point is that leaving is an option that a faithful Christian or church can take. This is important because so many place denominational commitment on par with faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
2. Change is in the wind. One of the reasons we can encourage people to stay in the SBC, is because change is coming. Things will come to a head soon and force the issue of needed reformation. Things cannot continue as they are because there are too many younger men coming up in the SBC who completely trust in the Scripture to form their opinions about church, culture and cooperation. They are seeing many of the problems clearly, and even if solutions do not readily abound at this moment, answers are developing. Spend some time with students from our seminaries and colleges and see what I mean. They may not be as "traditional" as their parents, but it is often the case that they are even more radically committed to the principle of sola scriptura than those who have gone before them. When things come to a head some things in the convention may fall apart. When this happens reform will depend on the presence of gospel-centered, scripturally driven churches to support and strengthen what remains. This is a good reason to stay.
3. Evangelical cooperation. Hope for our convention is dependent on dismantling denominational triumphalism. For a long time - from the beginning? - the SBC has behaved as if it is the best work of God in the world and does not need to work with other Christian bodies. Thankfully some in our leadership are now addressing this problem. To be more effective we must not only hold hands with other evangelical networks, we must learn from them.
4. Cooperation, conviction and independence While I believe it is important to cooperate with one another for the cause of Jesus Christ, it is also critical that our individual churches are strong enough to do what they are convinced Scripture calls them to do without fear of what others in the convention may say. We must depend on God and his word enough, while remaining independent of our convention enough to do what God calls us to do with boldness. As I wrote earlier, we must be willing to lose credibility with some in order to be faithful to God and fruitful in our work. The threat of not being a trustee, or holding a position on some committee must not hold more weight than the faithful and radical practice of being the people of God.
5. Voice and risk. If there is a future for our convention I believe it will come as our established leadership speaks out against the divisive and unbiblical rhetoric splashing all over our baptist papers and blogs. "We must choose our battles wisely" has become an excuse in many cases to say nothing when a controversy arises. All too often our brightest thinkers and practitioners are saying little and wind up leaving others standing alone; others who need the support of our leadership. Many pastors and professors are afraid that their credibility, or even their jobs, would be in jeopardy were they to speak out on certain issues. Others say that they represent too many other people, and therefore cannot afford to speak out on an issue that is bigger than their voice. But this is exactly the problem. It is precisely because I represent others at my church that I must speak the truth. It is because one is the president, or dean, or professor of an institution that he must address current issues from a biblical perspective and correct error. It's something called influence and example. We do not have enough men like Tom Ascol and Ed Stetzer, who are willing to speak the truth in love, and stand on the word of God alone while working for the good of our convention. Men like this who are willing to address the current issues in our convention without politicking take a great risk, but are more likely to to bring about change because of it.
I do have hope for the future of the SBC, but only as we see these things lived out in greater measure.