My Thoughts on a Crucial Moment for Southern Baptists

I am really a nobody, at least when it comes to speaking toward big issues and the denomination we are supporting. We planted Genesis 11 years ago, and are a small to medium sized church by some standards. God has been good to us, and from our launch we have been a Cooperative Program supporting church. But my story goes way back before planting. I was in a Southern Baptist Sunday School class before I was born, the son of a Baptist deacon and choir-singing mother. I spent all of my child and teen years in Maplewood Baptist Church in St. Louis, where I trusted Christ and was baptized at age seven, and called to the ministry during my college years. I also remember attending RA’s (A Southern Baptist mission education program that was much like the Boy Scouts, but with lots of stories about SBC missionaries) from 1st grade through high school. I am a graduate from a college affiliated at the time with the Missouri Baptist Convention and have both my M-Div and D-Min from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. And I attended Midwestern during the massive shift from moderate-liberal leadership to conservative, Bible-believing evangelical professors. We went from spending most of our class questioning the authority of Scripture to a passionate study of the Word of God as the changeover of leaders happened over a summer. I have been in ministry with Cooperative Program supporting churches for close to 30 years, serving on staff at three different churches before planting Genesis.

There have been times where I questioned what it meant to be Southern Baptist and considered walking away. As I started my college years I was frustrated at some of my experience in the church of my youth and the mindset of this and other churches around, as there was what I sensed as a refusal to interact with those outside of the faith in our culture. It just seemed to me that churches that I knew spent more time building structures and systems designed to keep people in the church happy and those who were lost, messy, and culturally different out of our churches than we spent seeking ways to reach them for Christ. I didn’t want to be a part of churches that were more concerned with keeping the “saved” happy than seeking to honestly engage the broken in the world. As someone who was very comfortable with the concept of inerrancy, I was very frustrated with the early days of my seminary experience. I have also over the years been saddened multiple times as I understood and sought to interact with my denominations failures when it comes to issues of race and justice. Over the years I also struggled with the way many in my denomination interacted with the mission of God and our part in that. I believed we needed a resurgence of Biblical mission just as we had one in Biblical authority. In our church planting journey I ran into a number of issues and obstacles that led me to question our participation in Southern Baptist Life. We were sent out by Ballwin Baptist Church, and at the time we were planting our pastor was the President of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Yet, in our plant we were met with all kinds of opposition. We wanted to plant in Eureka for the purpose of reaching the unchurched people in this town, and chose to look intentionally different in our practice than other churches who were here. As I tried to form relationships, the pastor of the SBC church in our town at that time openly opposed our being here, and actually said some things directly to me that were hurtful. Others told me that we were not Southern Baptist because we didn’t have a Sunday School or an organ, and that we would really be a church when we had our own building and a deacon board. To make matters worse, my own state convention ceased our funding because we were part of the Acts 29 Network, a decision that was so divisive. It was a denominational employee who first told me about that network and brotherhood, and now the denomination was taking an action that not only made the journey more difficult for our people, but literally put my livelihood and ability to provide for my family in jeopardy. Nobody ever had a conversation with me about this, they just voted and chose to pull mission funds they had promised without any thought of the impact it might have. If you are reading this far you must be wondering by now why I am telling you all this. And the answer is this, I have had so many junctures in my life and ministry where I actually desired to walk away from the Southern Baptist Convention. There have been lots (I mean a whole lot) of leaders who I deeply disagreed with values, ministry philosophy, political ideals, justice issues, and lots more. It actually would have made life so much easier to wipe my hands of the mess when we were defunded by the MBC (and by extention at that time the North American Mission Board) and become non-denominational. But one issue kept me here, at this table, the Cooperative Program. I learned in RA’s about the concept, that each church freely pools their funds together for the task of the Great Commission. I heard stories of Baptist missionaries who did not have to raise their funds, but were sent with the blessing of our denomination to live their lives in tough places. I have had friends who felt the call to spend their lives in those very tough places in third world, unreached, and poverty stricken nations, but they didn’t have to wonder if their family would have the funds to do their ministry and take care of their kids. Yes, there are issues with the way the CP works, but in the end the partnership of Southern Baptists giving together has resulted in more missionaries being sent and more impact than any other missionary force. Furthermore, we have the strongest seminaries who are turning out a fabulous younger generation of leaders who will lead us through some difficult years here in our own country and who will be the ones to take the Gospel to unreached and unengaged peoples around the world. And I have seen personally the beauty of the Send North America emphasis, having served on the Send St. Louis team and am excited about the momentum toward planting churches in our urban core cities, and especially among African-Americans and other ethnic people in these cities. We are in what can be a great day for this denomination. Or maybe not.

I will lay my cards on the table right now about Russell Moore, I do support him. But I also want those reading to know that my agreement on most issues with Dr. Moore is not the purpose of this blog. I am sure some reading this are not aware of the moment, so I would encourage a read of this article so you understand the issue at hand. I believe there is a greater issue here that is massively being ignored, and it is my fear that this moment has the chance to do to Southern Baptists what liberalism could not, and that is that it could absolutely destroy our mission and momentum here and around the globe. I don’t write this because I believe God needs us, He does not. But I do hope that the Southern Baptist Convention will continue to see itself as a missionary people who want to join God in His mission, and realize the Cooperative Program is vitally important for us in this task. And this is why I am writing.

I see all the frustration and outrage directed toward Dr. Moore among some Southern Baptists. But what I don’t see is anger and frustration being discussed about the action of Dr. Jack Graham, Prestonwood Baptist, and the other 100 or so churches who are choosing to escrow money to pressure a change in leadership. I am sorry, but no matter how I frame this, to escrow money is a way of using political power and the size of your church as a way to get your way in a disagreement. If there is another way to see this, I would be more than happy to sit down and have that discussion, but I don’t think this can be seen as anything else. It is a moment where a handful of influential churches and leaders are doing the equivalent of saying, it’s my basketball, if we are going to play it has to be by my rules. Otherwise, I will just keep the ball. And here is the problem, at the very heart, this is not Baptist. I have had to ask myself over the years what it means to be a Southern Baptist. For some, to be SBC meant a style of church, a program structure, and ecclesiological system. But I actually think that at the core, to be Southern Baptist means that we agree on a statement of faith (the Baptist Faith and Message) and we link arms to do mission. We may not agree on issues, stances, direction, but the call of God to be a part of the Great Commission is great and we partner. So we give to the Cooperative Program. To escrow funds is a fundamental action that undermines the core of what holds us together. I do think there are times when a church will look at the theology or direction of their denomination and come to the conclusion that they can no longer participate. At that time they should stop giving and find other partnerships that align with their vision. Or they can choose to engage the discussion and seek to move the denomination in a direction that aligns with their view of things. We as Southern Baptists have a way of doing this, it is at the Annual Convention, and via means of electing officers and the other business there. The Conservative Resurgence and reclamation of inerrancy happened because key SBC leaders chose to engage this fight through the means we had at annual meetings. I am thankful for that moment. That approach is so very much different than what is happening here, though. What we don’t do is warn each other that if it doesn’t go my way I will just take my ball and go home until you change your mind.

I actually believe we are in a moment that has the opportunity to sever the SBC, destroy the Cooperative Program, and represent the end of our cooperation as we know it right now. This could be a moment that is looked back on in twenty or fifty years as the time where the SBC was fragmented into multiple factions. And if we get to that day, it will not be Dr. Moore who caused the fragmentation, but the approach taken by Jack Graham and other like him. Because if this is not addressed by the majority of churches and leaders in our denomination, there is no way it can be stopped. Because once the use of political power and funds is used as a power play to deal with something a person or group does not like in our denomination, there is no way to keep it from repeating itself over and over again. Today it is about Dr. Moore’s words about Donald Trump and some stances toward some who aligned with him (and oh, by the way, there is no way it ends here, Dr. Albert Mohler will be next because he said virtually the same things). But tomorrow churches will escrow funds because they don’t like this leader who is a Calvinist or not a Calvinist. These churches will escrow funds because they don’t like a stance on immigration by another leader. Another group of churches will escrow funds to stand against other Baptists on church style, or the use of Elders. The point is, if the pressure to remove Dr. Moore is successful, and there is not a universal response toward churches who have escrowed funds, the result is there is no way to stop the use of political and economic power to force our denomination to play ball. The end of this will be the absolute fragmentation of Southern Baptists. There is not a single Baptist leader who does not have people who disagree with their vision, approach, and values. If this effort is successful we will be telling Baptists that the way to get things done and get rid of people with whom you disagree is to escrow your funds and make a stink. Leaders like David Platt, Kevin Ezell, Thom Rainer, and Presidents of all of our Seminaries could be the next round of people to be pressured by use of these means. We cannot tolerate this approach, and it needs to stop.

This is why I am asking for Southern Baptists to think through these things very carefully but respond with a form of censure and even unseating the messengers of any church choosing to escrow funds. This is an attack on the heart of the very thing that unites us, the faithful giving for the cause of the Great Commission. No matter what you think about the policy statements of the ERLC or the stances of Dr. Moore, what is happening there is nowhere near as dangerous to us as a denomination as the decision to escrow CP funds. Political and social views have a way of ebb and flow, but this is an attack at the very heart of our mission. It is time for all of us in the SBC to speak with a clear, and unified voice. We cannot allow the use of economic and political power to be what drives us. The moment is crucial. There has already been much written about the possible fallout if the use of this power results in the termination or some kind of agreed forced resignation of Dr. Moore.

As I said, I am pretty much a nobody in this argument. If we pulled our funding from the SBC, not many would notice. But I know that there have been a number of times where I was frustrated with leadership, disagreed with sense of mission, struggled with the definition of what it meant to be Southern Baptist. But I also knew that at the heart, my participation in this denomination was about the task of the Great Commission, and we continued to give. Even when we as a church were defunded, we continued to give to the Cooperative Program. The funds given to the CP were never to be used as a political pawn for an agenda, it was the extension of our mission to reach the world. To use it for anything else was, well, the point where I actually would cease to be Southern Baptist. This is what I was taught in RA’s & Pioneers, at my baptist college, Midwestern Seminary, and in the packet of every Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong Offering emphasis for 30 years. But somehow the former President of the Southern Baptist Convention forgot this, and so did his church, Prestonwood and the other 100 or so churches threatening to escrow funds. Listen, if the change in SBC means they can’t cooperate, then they should leave and find different avenues. But they should not be allowed to use their funds to throw their weight around. And the only way we keep this moment from absolutely destroying the SBC for the long haul is if the other 45,900 churches in the SBC speak in unity to the 100 or so trying to throw their weight around and say that this is not the way. If they are not going to give with no strings attached to the Mission of God through the SBC, then they should not have a seat at the Table at the Annual Convention this year, and they should not be allowed to have their leaders speak at SBC Seminaries and events.

It is time for clarity in this moment. The big issue here is not Donald Trump or Russell Moore. There is a much more significant issue at the heart of this discussion, because what is being attacked is the very core of what it means to be Southern Baptist, and it is this. That we may disagree on a lot, but we can still link arms and do mission together. So we give to the CP for the advance of the Gospel. Once this understanding of Cooperation is gone, the result will be way more than 100 churches escrowing funds. It will actually be a myriad of churches coming to the understanding that they can no longer participate and will find networks, denominations, and church planting organizations that will better fit the desire to partner in the big mission and the advance of the Great Commission. My hope is that the SBC will continue to lead the way in this, but God does not need us. I strongly believe that this moment will define that for us. This moment may do to us what liberalism could not, splinter the SBC into fragments so that the CP will never recover.

One Response to “My Thoughts on a Crucial Moment for Southern Baptists”

  1. TheRevJZ says:

    Thank you for this brother. We’ll said! I pray many will read it and heed your wisdom…