Friday, June 15, 2007

The SBC's Disregard for the Local Church

I have come away from my first trip to the Southern Baptist Convention with mixed feelings. On the positive side, it was a wonderful time of fellowship with friends. I saw brothers and sisters that I have not seen in years, and it was a joy to be able to spend some time with them. Some of them even chastised me for not posting here more. What an encouragement!

The thing that saddened me about the convention was our inability to pass the resolution offered by Tom Ascol. You can find the content of that resolution here. And if you have not done so already, I highly recommend you head over to Pastor Tom's blog and read his reactions to the annual convention as well. Bro. Ascol's Calvinism is no secret, but even if you are opposed to the Doctrines of Grace, perhaps especially if you are, I urge you to go and read there. What you will find is a brother discussing issues that should cut across the theological divide, and he does it with grace and class at that.

It is not my agenda to be an axe-grinding blogger. My goal is to be encouraging and informative. And so I hope that my critique of the church-planting mentality that prevails in the SBC will be understood positively, for I believe that our Kevorkian Method of church planting is simply another symptom of our utter failure to grasp what a local church is supposed to be about.

Here are some things to consider:

We continually boast that we have 16 million members in the SBC. Then in the same breath, we joke that the FBI cannot find half of them. We should stop laughing at that joke, as Voddie Baucham made clear at the Founder's breakfast. My thought is that if they can not be found by the FBI, then they will not be found in the Lamb's Book of Life. If that's funny to us, then God help us. How is this little joke harmful?

1. 8 million people are living under the damning illusion that they are okay with Jesus because they once joined a church. The fact is that abandoning the fellowship of the local church is one of the first signs of being anti-christ (1 John 2:19).

2. It ruins the reputation of the Church to have half the membership out of fellowship and thereby living in sin.

3. It demonstrates the unwillingness of Southern Baptists to practice Biblical Christianity. Matthew 18 is not a suggestion, but it a necessary aspect of gospel proclamation. There is a reason that church discipline comes right after the parable of the lost sheep.

4. One wonders what the undershepherd will say before the Master on the Great Day when he must give an account for those under his responsibility (Heb. 13:17). This is not just a pastoral responsiblity, but the buck definitely stops there.

If these things are true, then it should be no surprise at our willingness to simply kill or let a local church die. After all, we have already given up on 8 million people who we covenanted with to keep watch over their souls. What's 35 more huddled in confusion in some rural place that nobody cares about anyway?

The more I study the Bible, the more I believe in the local church. I do not believe that it is God's design to win the world to Jesus Christ through evangelists disconnected from the local church, and it is silly to believe that "camp meetings" are a substitute for a healthy church body with regard to evangelism. God's "plan" for spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth is to do it through local churches. I wonder if the SBC, the IMB, and NAMB have come to the place where they have gotten so "endowed" that they have forgotten that. I wonder what would happen if we began to lavish affection on the local body as if it were the Bride of Christ? I think maybe we may see the long hoped for rise in baptisms.

The SBC began as a fellowship of local churches who wished to pool their resources to extend their ability to minister to the world. The annual meeting was meant to encourage that endeavor, and it was run by representatives from those churches. Now, I believe that the tail is wagging the dog, and bureacracy is so entrenched in the machine of the SBC that it will take extreme grace to pry it loose. I believe that the recovery of a love for the local church is just the crowbar for the job. We'll see.


Wana be said...

I do not understand the fear many showed about the resolution impeding on the autonomy of the local church. It did not seem that the resolution could force a church to do anything. Although I did read a comment stating: “the powers that be understand that a resolution is almost like a papal bull” (lordodamanor). Could you explain this? I am having trouble finding arguments against the resolution that do not seem weak. “Autonomy,” are we not a convention of like minded believers. I hope my youth did not show too much in this post.

Sojourner said...

Wana Be,

I am sorry to say that this excuse of the resolution infringing on local church autonomy was the reason the Chairman of the Resolutions Committee used to keep the resolution from being considered. It is an obvious example of stonewalling. He, of all people, should know that no resolution is ever binding on any local church. That is understood. As Tom Ascol said, it is an improvement over last year's excuse, but it is still lame and irrelevant.

I don't think anyone understands a resolution as "almost a papal bull." Just look at the raging success of the SBC boycott of Disney. And this year, we passed a resolution on Global Warming. I'll bet Southern Baptists are all lining up at the recycle bin now and switching to alternative fuels, right? Better yet, how many folks can name one of the eight resolutions that passed? Not many. So don't worry yourself over this local autonomy red herring. It was just a lame excuse to kill a resolution that frightens numbers crunchers.