Monday, October 27, 2014

(in?)Frequently Asked Questions About the SBC (part 2)

Here's the second installment in a short series, for consideration in light of Northland's imminent adoption into the SBC. Read part 1 here.

Is the SBC a denomination?

Depends what you mean by denomination. I remember a couple SBC leaders argue that the SBC isn’t a denomination, only to refer—one of them within a couple paragraphs—to “our denomination.”

Is it a denomination in the sense that there’s an authoritative hierarchy or an organic linkage among the churches? (Think Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians.) Not in the slightest. In the sense that all SBC churches would identify as Baptists? Well yes, but that’s hardly what most people mean.

When people who understand the SBC call it a denomination, I suspect that they mean that there’s a strong, structured partnership among SBC churches that fosters a cohesive identity. And that's largely true.

Are SBC churches autonomous?

Yes. Yes. YES. I’m always puzzled when independent Baptists claim that SBC churches aren’t autonomous? Can anybody really explain this to me? Do independent Baptists think that denominational officials exercise improper influence over pastors and churches? Is that really different from what IFB college presidents and evangelists have done, or what IFB churches have relinquished to them?

SBC churches own their property, choose their leaders, and exercise full control over every dime of their money. If they want to leave the SBC, they’re entirely free to do so. There would be a pitchfork rebellion among Southern Baptist churches if they thought for a moment that some suit in Nashville was robbing them of their autonomy. Think I'm kidding?

By the way, some of you may have heard stories of churches getting sued for leaving the Convention back in its less conservative days, and perhaps even losing its property. For a few years I was a member of an independent Baptist church that existed because it had tried to leave the Convention, got sued (by the minority of the original church that wanted to stay), and ultimately lost its property. But the ultimate issue in that situation was that the church disregarded its own governing documents in the process of leaving. That was the source of the legal battle, not a lack of autonomy.

What do SBC churches have to believe? What can get you kicked out?

The SBC has what’s more or less a confession of faith—the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, a strengthened revision of earlier versions. But SBC churches don’t have to adopt or affirm it. Rather, the BF&M defines the parameters of the cooperative ventures of the convention.

Here’s what the SBC constitution says about membership in the Convention: An SBC church is one that is:
“In friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”
In other words, there is some possibility that the Convention may refuse to seat messengers (similar to delegates) from a church at the annual meeting for matters other than affirming homosexual behavior. On several occasions the Convention has refused to seat messengers or withdrawn fellowship from churches for that reason—most recently last month—but I’m not aware of similar action for other reasons. State conventions have refused to seat messengers for a broader range of reasons.

Up next:

  • What does it mean to be an SBC church?
  • How does the Convention work, and what’s up with the state conventions?

4 comments:

Jim Peet said...

Helpful article (along with the first one). Thanks

d4v34x said...

Do independent Baptists think that denominational officials exercise improper influence over pastors and churches? Is that really different from what IFB college presidents and evangelists have done, or what IFB churches have relinquished to them?

This.

Ron Bean said...

I appreciated these articles. This past week I went back to visit "The Village" (that's what we call the hyper-fundamental ministry of which we were a part for many years.) I shared news of the conservative resurgence in the SBC with one of the elders and he was literally open-mouthed. It was the first he'd heard about it.

Ben said...

Way to go heralding the news, Ivy Walker.