Monday, June 10, 2013

Seven Bad Reasons to Leave the IFB World for the SBC, and One Good Reason

As another Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting is about to begin, and you're about to read news stories about our democratic process and our crazy uncles who relish it, I thought I might share a few thoughts that reverberate in my mind from time to time. I'm a Southern Baptist pastor who spent the first 33 years of my life in independent Baptist/Bible fundamental churches. The last five of that were in an SBC seminary. Had God moved differently a few years ago or at some point in the future, I'd very happily pastor in an "independent" context again. In fact, one of the harder things I ever had to do was encourage the chairman of a pulpit committee not to bring my name up because I believed he'd harm his own credibility if he did so.

All that to say, I have some appreciation for both worlds and some sense of their respective strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. As I hear of more and more in the generations younger than mine leaving IFB circles for the SBC, I wanted to reflect on some good and bad reasons to do so.

1: Better theology
Don't na├»vely fall for the "grass is always greener" lie. Depending on how where you draw the lines of "independent Baptist fundamentalism," the theological diversity in the SBC at least as broad as it is in the SBC world—everything from Ed Young, Jr. to Scott Aniol, and that's just the beginning. IFBs tend to be much more compartmentalized in their relationships, so the streams of relationships in that world are usually more homogeneous. You just think the SBC is better because the people you've heard of are more sound than lots of the influential IFBs you heard preach in chapel.

2: Influence
If you're a faithful, articulate young pastor, you're actually much more likely to find a position of influence in the IFB network. For one thing, it's a smaller pond. There might even be a smaller percentage of young pastors in, say, the FBFI, than at an SBC annual meeting. And every year we decry how old we are! By the way, is it really influence you want, in the sense of "making a difference for the sake of the name of Jesus"? Or is it personal prominence? Because that's just carnal.

3: Better preaching
Again, you're just judging by what you've heard. Average SBC preachers sound a lot like average IFB preachers. I suspect that more SBC preachers get the necessity of Christ-centered preaching (because the Bible is Christ-centered), while many IFBs are suspicious if not hostile to the notion, possibly because they see it as a threat to their Dispensationalism. The SBC's Christ-centered preaching is generally a good thing, of course, but you'll also find some who do it badly. Whether that's worse than not doing it at all, well, that's a different conversation.

4: Missions funding
I think it's a bit disingenuous to convert to the SBC world just so you can qualify for IMB funding that'll help you avoid three years of deputation. If you've really investigated the system and you think it's a good idea and you'll happily contribute to it even if the IMB turns you down for funding, maybe that's a different story. (I also think the SBC is headed for a massive financial restructuring not too far out in the future. Whether that restructuring actually becomes a full-blown crisis remains to be seen.)

5: Healthier churches
Again, I think there are plenty of unhealthy churches in both camps. Go pastor one, whatever camp it's in, and help it rediscover the full message and implications of the gospel.

6: Less politics
Different politics, maybe, but not less. Both circles leverage fear of man. Maybe IFBs use it more to disincentivize undesirable decisions (i.e. crossing lines on separation), while SBCs use it to incentivize desirable behavior (i.e. sending more money). I've seen friends steamrolled and wounded in both groups.

7: Relationships
I think the landscape in the IFB world is changing enough that you can cultivate local relationships with sound SBC pastors and churches (not to mention other sorts of churches), perhaps even constructive partnerships. As long as you don't get out too far ahead of your own church and you're mortifying your fear of man, you probably won't pay the price of ostracism like you might've ten years ago.

One Good Reason
Having said all that, here's one good reason you might consider cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention: You want to partner with other believers who share gospel essentials and Baptist distinctives as much as you possibly can, for the sake of the spread of the gospel to all the nations. When all the underbrush is cleared away, I suspect this might be where IFBs and SBCs fundamentally differ. Among IFBs, you're viewed with suspicion (unless you possess the right pedigree) until you prove that you share the same theology and affiliations. In the SBC, if you're happy to cooperate by sharing financial and human resources that will be employed within the doctrinal parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, SBCs will assume you're a gospel partner until you prove otherwise.

Just in case those sentences are a bit confusing, what I mean is that IFBs will scrutinize your personal beliefs and associations. SBCs will scrutinize your willingness to cooperate in gospel work that is rooted in a set of doctrinal affirmations. Most SBCs will want that work to say more than that those affirmations in one way or another, but will insist on them as a minimum. You actually don't have to affirm the BF&M2000 to be Southern Baptist, but you need to know how your money is going to be used when you start writing checks.

If that sort of partnership that sounds attractive to you, and you can hold your nose on some less foundational issues while you work for reform in whatever way you can, then maybe . . . maybe . . . you should consider friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention.


Marcia Wilwerding said...

I am curious where the IFB stands on those who hold to what are referred to as the "doctrines of grace" or Calvinism, whether it be 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, or 5-point belief. From experience, we have found that most IFB pastors will ostracize you for even mentioning the word Calvinist while the SBC provides a much more lenient association with those who differ on these doctrines. To the best of my knowledge, I believe Al Mohler is Calvinist as was Spurgeon and others in Baptist history. But, no one wants to talk about that.

Jim Peet said...

Ditto what Marcia W said. IFB is largely hostile to doctrines of grace. That alone would (for me) look outside the IFB box. (Thankfully my own church is not!).

Ben said...

Marcia and Jim,

There can be no question that there is strong hostility to Calvinism among both the SBC and IFB. I witnessed the former twice today, quite clearly. In one circumstance it was overwhelmed by a stronger impulse for partnership. The hostility might seem more prevalent in the IFB camp because the impulse to cooperation in mission isn't as strong. And takes us back to my final poing.

Ben said...


Scott Aniol said...

I have actually experienced more hostility toward Calvinism in the SBC than IFB, but that's just another example of how it depends on individual situations.

Ben said...

Given your respective contexts, that's exactly what I'd expect.

Chuck said...

Being Baptist is certainly not incompatible with being Calvinist. All the same, some of the things that are central to being a Baptist -- perhaps most notably, autonomy of the local church -- would perhaps resonate with those less enamored with the doctrines of grace. Perhaps we could say that both in Baptist life and in non-Calvinistic soteriology, "the choice is mine!"

BE said...

Appreciate the post. As mostly an outsider to the SBC who has been trying to find out more of how it works, I feel like the difference you've noted is a key one. However, I think I'd probably look at it from the other angle. I'd say the reason people should still strongly consider being independent is this: You want to make sure, as much as you possibly can, that those with whom you partner for the sake of the spread of the gospel to all the nations are really believers who share gospel essentials and Baptist distinctives.

In other words, I find it disingenuous to say "We will gladly welcome your money to accomplish what we want without concerning ourselves with what you believe. But if you then decide you want to partner with us by starting a church or going as a missionary, we may not allow that partnership." Seems a little too pragmatic--we'll take your money, even if we don't think you are fit to serve.

Granted, it's better to vet those who will be church planters/missionaries/teachers, etc. than to just allow anyone to fill those roles, but it seems better still to do some vetting on all those partnering in the work. Thus, why not require all participating bodies to affirm the BFM 2000?


Marcia Wilwerding said...

Money and authority do seem to be the motivating factors in most decisions relating to with whom a church associates.

Smaller works may be tempted to associate with the SBC in order to get funding or for possible pastoral candidates. But, as we saw in my mother's SBC-affiliated church, they may send candidates who differ greatly on what the local church body believes on core doctrines. Also, it seems as though the smaller the church, the more likely they will offer someone no one else wants.

As far as local authority goes, the autonomy of IFB churches is a sham. There is a control of what individual churches and their pastors do/believe based on what those in their immediate fellowship do/believe. The threat of being ostracized by ones peers can have a powerful authority over a church and its leadership.

Ben said...


Of course, those who find it disingenuous are under no obligation to send a dime or participate in any other way.

Have you considered how similar the structure really is to how IFBs do missions (aside from the deputation issue, of course)?

Jim Peet said...

An elderly couple I know, serve in S.E. Asia under IMB. This is a very fine couple and they have an effective ministry.

From what I know of them and their personalities, they would have never been able to do the deputation thing of the IFB.

You could add that to a reason to be in a SBC.

Jim Peet said...

Here's another reason. My own take is that the SBC seminary in Louisville is perhaps one of the finest in the country.

If you are a member of a SBC, your tuition is subsidized.

Ben said...


You remind me of something I've heard said by an overseas missions leader who's highly experienced in some of the most difficult parts of the world—a man I respect as much as any I've ever met:

"The skill set required to be an effective fundraiser is different from the skill set required to be an effective cross-cultural church planter, and they're seldom found in the same person."

Ben Howard said...


Great post! I pretty much quit trying to convince family and friends in the IFB world why I believe that God led me into ministry in a Southern Baptist context, but you have definitely given me something to point people to for the positive and negative sides of SBC vs. IFB life. I really do believe at the end of the day that it honors God and is more Biblical to seek unity with fellow believers within a basic theological framework, such as the SBC. A great example of this is the recent document from the Calvinism study committee. While some posters at Sharperiron have criticized it as another example of why it is better to be independent, in my mind it demonstrates Christlikeness even in the face of strong disagreement!

Paul said...

Thanks for this helpful post!

Your experience in both IFB and SBC worlds is rather unique and I appreciate that. But I appreciate even more your mature, balanced and insightful perspective of the strengths and weaknesses.

Irv said...

[Ben, need your opinion of this - found it on the net.]

Just wondering if Dr. Patterson and other dispy SBC leaders have ever Googled "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty," "Pretrib Rapture Pride," and "Pretrib Rapture Stealth." The last item has enough passages from Acts etc. to blow the pretrib rapture all the way back to 1830 and to the doorstep in Scotland of Margaret Macdonald!