I am a Southern Baptist and all of us within the denomination have our own Baptist story. Mine starts on a dead end road at a small, country church with two rows of wooden pews sitting stark against blood red carpet.
Every week, the brick building with white trim was filled with congregants singing from The Baptist Hymnal with help from a piano and organ. That church was just outside the limits of a town with more Southern Baptist churches than stoplights, by a large margin. It could have been Anytown, southern USA.
That road on which my church sat might as well have had two dead ends as far as us knowing about the changes that had been swirling through the convention. We had no idea the Southern Baptist Convention had a “Conservative Resurgence,” because we never knew they left.
Looking back at that pivotal time now, all that happened was the SBC, on a denominational level, returned to reflect theologically much of what the SBC was to me on a local church level.
However, this is not a call for a return to the glory days of years gone by or a championing of small church virtues. Those same elements that allowed my home church and others to resist the nationwide drift toward liberalism, also kept my church insulated from positive cultural movements.
Some of the same men who would cheer for the football team on Friday night would be aghast to see many of those same players come through the doors of our building on Sunday morning because of the color of their skin.
Thankfully, our church and our convention has been able to make needed changes in some areas, while maintaing a consistent, biblical and thoroughly Baptist theology. That balance has been part of our history as a denomination and is consistent with our larger Baptist tradition.
We find our roots in the Protestant and Anabaptist movements, which were dramatic change agents in Church history, while pressing for a return to more biblical faith. Our convention broke from the methodology of the day, societal giving, to propose and utilize the Cooperative Program, pooling the resources of countless smaller churches to more effectively pursue the Great Commission.
One can even examine the Conservative Resurgence as an example of this continual milieu of change within Baptist life.
My Baptist story carried me from that country church to a decade at South Carolina Baptist college North Greenville University, as both a student and an employee. There, I saw great work done by SC Baptist institutions.
During my time there, I served with the SBC’s North American Mission Board as a summer missionary in the upper Midwest where my tiny hometown seemingly had more Southern Baptist churches than entire states.
Now, I find myself at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the epicenter of the convention’s Great Commission Resurgence. This perspective affords me the opportunity and privilege to see much value in arguments made by many great servants of Christ, who differ on the issues surrounding the GCR.
Recognizing the wisdom that exists on both sides, we still must make tough, sometimes controversial, decisions in order to continue the forward movement of our story. While one of the worst mistakes we can make is to change simply for the sake of change, it would be equally disastrous and equally contrary to our heritage to shrink from adjustments that can aid us in advancing the Gospel in our current age without surrendering our theological convictions.
We are all thankful that the early church leaders did not simply stay in Jerusalem, content with “reaching their own,” but rather went out across the known world spreading the Gospel and planting churches. Our state and our region have been blessed with a wealth of people and resources which can be used for the advancement of the Gospel.
The same is not true for other parts of our nation and our world. It will require sacrifices on our part to change this reality. Some question whether we will be willing to make these sacrifices.
Despite the anxiousness of many, I am excited about the future of the SBC. Soon, my Baptist story will take me away from seminary into an area of service for Christ and our convention.
I base my hopefulness in our coming days on the fact that my story is one of millions following a trail blazed by godly Baptist men and women. They made the most of every opportunity by seizing moments of change while remaining steadfast in their theological commitments. This continues today.
Constantly, I hear the stories of young Baptists on the SEBTS campus who are preparing to use new methods to take the Gospel and plant their lives among people who are far from Christ.
The story of our convention has been one of creative faithfulness. I cannot help but be optimistic that my story will be able to join with the stories of others in seeing this continue.
Without realizing it, this post was written as a response to a specific article written and much discussed in SBC circles online. I only knew of an article yet to be published that was claiming young leaders were clamoring for “change for the sake of change.”
That article ended up being from Brad Whitt, a pastor in my home state. He wrote a critique of many of his fellow young Southern Baptists, who he feels are abandoning our shared heritage, both theologically and methodologically.