Note: Updated at 1:56 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3.
Not seeing an SBC approaching death
Merle Haggard once wrote in a song “I’m 41 years old and I ain’t got no place to go when it’s over.” I’ve always thought those were sad words because, well, who doesn’t want a place to go? After I read Gerald Harris’s article regarding the doom, gloom, and demise of the Southern Baptist Convention, I thought Dr. Harris and the Hag have a lot in common when it comes to feeling like they don’t belong.
I’m 41 years old too, but unlike Dr. Harris, my view of the SBC is much brighter. My lifetime has been spent worshiping and serving with other believers in a Southern Baptist church, the last 16 of those years serving as the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church.
Certainly in those 41 years some things have changed. We may not sing the old favorite hymns quite as often and it’s a sure bet you’ll see more jeans and t-shirts than during the Conservative Resurgence. But in spite of these changes, there are undoubtedly many churches in the SBC full of life, passion, conviction, and emotion.
Unfortunately, Dr. Harris does not appear to share those same feelings about current SBC life as he listed 5 issues that he believes are “subtly infiltrating” the SBC and stirring the aroma of “death unto death”.
Regarding his concerns on social justice, if you are defining social justice as a left-leaning economic doctrine then that is certainly an issue. But I don’t believe that’s what comes to mind for most Southern Baptists, who seem driven by the biblical mandate to care for the poor, the outcast, the orphan, and the sojourner.
Yes, the social gospel is dangerous, and I share his experience that it is far easier to encourage people to do kind things than to actually do the hard work of evangelism. But James 2:15-16 would remind us that “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” Jesus himself fed the hungry so that they could hear him but then reminded his disciples that there is food that spoils and there is food that endures to eternal life. Showing kindness in order to gain an ear is hardly the social gospel.
Regarding the “feminist movement” within the SBC, one article by Dwight McKissic hardly amounts to an uprising, and the only rising tide that appeared this year regarding women was to resolve that they be treated with the dignity and worth due them.
As far as tolerance being an emphasis in the SBC, while I have no doubt that there are too many weak pulpits in our denomination, once again there is little evidence that your average SBC church has grown tolerant to the LQBTQ agenda or any other.
Finally, I was saddened that Dr. Harris used a desire by some to not have Mr. Pence address the convention as an example of intolerance. I was even more saddened that he paints those who supported this desire as unpatriotic. Surely if Dr. Harris had sat down with someone who voted this way he would find that this could not be further from the truth. Rather, there are many who simply realize the danger of giving the watching world a perception that patriotism and nationalism trumps a gospel-centered desire to reach the nations themselves.
I don’t want Dr. Harris to feel marginalized or excluded. The SBC needs Dr. Harris and it needs J.D. Greear and it needs thousands more like them who desire to preach the Word and reach the lost.
While all five of these issues may be reality in some SBC churches for sure, none of them will be what could kill us. We will do that to ourselves through backbiting, infighting, and overly dramatic rhetoric bemoaning our impending death.
Let me encourage every SBC leader, pastor, and church member I know to remember that the church of Jesus Christ wins. Because when I step into my little SBC church on Sunday morning, it’s not death I smell, it’s life and I have great hope that it will be this way for a long time to come.
Mark Harris, pastor
Mount Olive Baptist Church
It’s time to ring the bell
In light of the reports coming out of the recent Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Dallas, I recall what one overly enthusiastic pastor said in 1979 at the SBC in Houston when the election results were announced, “We have turned the ship around!”
In pondering this pastor’s fervent statement, I remembered the private tour which my wife and I took aboard the USS Forrestal when she was docked at Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida. As we boarded, the ship’s bell was rung to welcome us on deck.
However, the primary purpose for ringing a ship’s bell is to indicate the time which regulates the sailors’ duty watches and to alert the crew of hazardous weather conditions. Perhaps it is time for someone to ring the bell of the “USS Southern Baptist.”
It appears we have failed to not only turn the ship around, we have succeeded in grounding her on the very shores from which we were headed. Rather than our convention sailing into our culture, our culture has cruised into our churches and anchored on the front rows. They have unloaded their cargos of secular views which has changed both form and function of worship.
Today, we so often passionately embrace the form of worship without encountering the Father of worship. The words, “Revival” and “Spiritual Awakening” are now considered archaic words which belong to an era characterized by conservative passionate preaching, sincere salvation, devoted discipleship, and genuine church growth.
We have thrown overboard proven and effective programs in favor of new ones in order to “connect” with the current generation. It appears however, from consistent annual reports, that our connections are not leading to conversions. We are witnessing the embracing of often superficial worship, to the exclusion of worship which produces a profound awareness of the presence of God. We are witnessing the equating of theatrical productions with theological correctness. We are witnessing the preaching of messages which leave the people feeling approved, affirmed, and applauded, rather than convicted, confessed, and cleansed. We are witnessing the raising of hands without the bowing of hearts.
Eight years ago Southern Baptist voted to endorse the recommendations of what was called the Southern Baptist Convention’s Great Commission Task Force. It became known as the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). The GCR supporters spoke as if this would be the spark of revival and renewal throughout the SBC. Truth be told, we have experienced neither.
Our annual statistics speak for themselves. Instead of flying the colors of Conservatism above our decks perhaps it is time we nail our colors to the mast and say without apology in the words of Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”
There was a time in the SBC when the fiery winds of Pentecost blew with such power that the pure, uncomplicated word of God brought not only individuals, but entire cities to their knees in repentance. There was a time when Christ was enough. Then in a subtle way our convictions were replaced with our beliefs. And our beliefs turned into our opinions. And our opinions became resolutions to be read and debated at our annual gathering.
The authoritative word of our Lord and the apostles has been nuanced to meet the changing times. As a result, with an ever-increasing emphasis on the social gospel, political correctness, and tolerance we now have a ship where captains come and go and no one is ringing the bell.
When we become tolerant of the sins of the world we lose our message. When pastors deliver talks without theology and sermons without substance we lose the authority of Christ. When we become tolerant of sin we become so connected to the world we forget what it means to be separated to God. When we dumb down our approach to worship, we downgrade our concept of a high and holy God. It gives the crowds what they want, but not what they need.
When we become crowd pleasers we end up preaching: action without accountability; blessings without brokenness; convenience without commitment; diversity without discipleship; entertainment without enlightenment; fantasy without faith; heaven without hell; prosperity without pain; riches without righteousness; wealth without work; and sin is how you define it. This type of preaching invites you to come as you are and leave as you were. It is time for someone to ring the bell.
Jerry Drace, pastor
Friendship Baptist Church
‘Forever grateful’ Southern Baptists support the Bible
As I read Gerald Harris’s recent article on July 30, I found myself saddened by the pain my friend and former pastor is experiencing. Like him I am concerned about those in the SBC who are toying with so-called social justice, the social gospel which changes no one, a feminist movement that against all reason seeks to equate men and women rather than recognizing their complementariness, and those who are tolerant of sin. And yet I am optimistic about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.
That optimism rests on the sovereignty of God and His Word. Psalm 115:3 assures us that “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” And I am forever grateful for Southern Baptists and their commitment to be people of the Book. As John McArthur once said, “Without the Scriptures, Jesus becomes a wax nose to be fashioned any way people see fit.” I quite literally thank God for the Bible and the preeminent place it holds in the life of the SBC. Such preeminence should be cause for optimism.
And I am thankful for the new leadership within the SBC. There is no doubt that the older leadership in the SBC were men of conviction and passion who loved the Scriptures. But they, like all men, had feet of clay. On more than one occasion, rather than hearts of humility and empathy, I observed hubris and disdain.
Though they no doubt have their faults, I am optimistic that men such as J.D. Greear, David Platt, Matt Chandler, and Jack Hester can lead Southern Baptists pastors and lay people to not only know what they believe in their hearts, but to be able to defend it in their heads. No doubt there will be missteps, but such men are committed to preaching and living the Word of God. That is cause for optimism.
I must admit that my optimism is fueled also by a personal anecdote. I recently had a conversation with my youngest son who begins seminary this fall at Southern and serves on the staff of a growing SBC church where he has the opportunity to preach once a month or so. I asked him how he fashioned his messages. He said, “I try to follow Charles Spurgeon’s advice, ‘I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross.’” With such preaching I believe God is well pleased and it causes me to be optimistic about the things to come in the life of the SBC.
Are Baptists truly ‘People of the Book’?
I am writing in response to the article by Brother Bobby Braswell in the latest edition of The Index. To be clear, I make no claims to possess the talent or the educational credentials of either Brother Braswell or Dr. Gerald Harris, the subject of Brother Braswell’s article of response. Ironically, I have had a recent e-mail exchange with Dr. Harris regarding a concern that I had with another recent article that he wrote. During that exchange, Dr. Harris kindly addressed and cleared up my concerns. I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting or conversing with Brother Braswell, though I would like to. Based on their writings, I am very impressed with the intelligence, thoughtfulness, and the sincerity of both these gentlemen.
Brother Braswell’s opening statement included; “I hesitate to speak up because I know that he is held in high regard by so many“. I would say to Brother Braswell that you are correct, Dr. Harris is held in high regard by many, including me. But I would also urge Brother Braswell, if he hasn’t yet done so, to address his concerns directly to Dr. Harris. I think he might be surprised at how accessible, honest, and respectful this fine man is. He does not cow-tow or obfuscate regarding his positions, but he listens and respects the opinions of others.
In my very simple mind, which always seeks to find the lowest common denominator, the basic issue was simple. Are Baptists truly “People of the Book” or not? Do we believe what the Bible claims for itself, that in its original autographs, it is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, that its Words were breathed onto its pages by Almighty God Himself through its authors, and that it is our final authority (1 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 12-13, 2 Peter 1: 20-21, etc.)? So, yes, I am one of those who heeds the warnings to be aware of both false prophets and slippery slopes.
While I do believe that one who “gives a cup of water” to one less fortunate, it is the same as giving that water to Christ, I also believe that “if a man won’t work, he doesn’t eat” and if “you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” Does that make me “not compassionate”? So, when many of us hear or see the term “social justice,” red flags go up for us as yet another term that has been co-opted by secular liberals and made the centerpiece of their secular “replacement religion”.
Does this mean we care not for the oppressed? God forbid, no! It simply means we are wary of the potential “false gospels” or creeping deceptions of today’s world.
While today’s #MeToo movement undoubtedly has roots in terrible sexual harassment and abuse, many of us have major concerns that it seeks to tear down the most crucial tenant of the greatest system of justice ever instituted by human government. That is, of course, the bedrock principle of innocent until proven guilty. In this movement, the accused becomes immediately guilty until proven innocent. The burden of proof has now shifted to the accused, rather than on the accuser.
Have we learned nothing from our forefathers? This is dangerous for a free society! In the case of Dr. Patterson, I read the post-session emails of his Wake Forest accuser from 25 years in the past, which refuted her own claims. I have also read her “explanations,” which I found to be not credible. Yet only when the liberal-revered Washington Post grabbed the story, Dr. Patterson was automatically guilty and doomed. So, it appears to many of us that our leaders are now guided by the morality of the American press and the winds of political correctness.
In closing, I vividly remember those days in the 80s and the sickening feeling I got every time I opened this very newspaper and saw that our own Georgia Baptist newspaper was being guided by a left-wing radical editor. The point was well-made in the response that baptisms plateaued in 1950 and have declined in the last ten years. But I think there is an abundance of evidence which shows us Baby Boomers became drunk with self-sufficiency from the victories of the Greatest Generation, leading to a lessening dependence on God.
So yes, Brother Braswell, please respectfully count me in as one of those many who hold my brother Dr. Gerald Harris in high esteem for his uncompromising stand for God’s Word and for the compassion he has for the lost and the downtrodden of this world. I do not believe those two things are mutually exclusive.
Tony D. Mimbs, pastor
Ridgeland Heights Baptist Church