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?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

(in?)Frequently Asked Questions About the SBC

In light of the imminent adoption of Northland into the SBTS family in the SBC tribe, I thought it might be useful to add a bit of my own misinformation to all the rest that's swirling around certain crannies of the internet. Now I should admit, I'm going to over-simplify some of the complexities. So if you'd prefer official, vetted information to some yayhoo (it's a Southern term) blogger, this is your place.

What is the SBC?

The Southern Baptist Convention is a partnership arrangement for roughly 45,000 churches in the United States. Through established agencies, governing documents, and theological parameters, these churches cooperate to spread the gospel, plant churches, and train pastors throughout the United States and to the ends of the earth.

Technically, the Southern Baptist Convention exists for a couple days out of the year to conduct Convention business during the annual meeting. I’m not sure whether it’s still the case, but for a long time the annual meeting was the largest deliberative body in the world. In the interim between annual meetings, the Executive Committee manages operations for the Convention, and various agencies carry out the mission.

What are those agencies?

In addition to the Executive Committee, the International Mission Board (IMB) focuses on international evangelism, church planting, and pastoral training. David Platt was recently elected its president. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) performs similar functions in North America.

Six seminaries train pastors, missionaries and other Christian workers, listed here in order of size: Southern (Mohler, 2,000), Southeastern (Akin, 1,588), Southwestern (Patterson, 1,497), New Orleans (Kelley, 1,335), Midwestern (Allen, 507), and Golden Gate (Iorg, 433). (Incidentally, it might be interesting to compare the size of the smallest SBC seminary with the total full-time equivalent enrollment of IFB seminaries at BJU, PCC, DBTS, CBTS, VBTS, FBTS, BBS, and MBU.) The SBC operates no colleges except those that function under the umbrella of some of these seminaries.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) trains churches to engage with issues related to ethics and policy both internally and in the public square. It also serves as the public voice for the Convention on those same issues. Guidestone Financial Resources manages insurance products and retirement savings. Lifeway Christian Resources publishes curriculum, performs research, and provides training resources. The Woman’s Missionary Union mobilizes churches for missions.

The SBC president (presently Ronnie Floyd) serves no more than two years. This role is largely ceremonial, similar to British royalty, though its appointment powers were pivotal in the Conservative Resurgence and remain crucial to the long-term fidelity of the Convention. The Executive Committee president (Frank Page) exercises administrative oversight of the Convention's year-round operations. In other words, he’s really the most powerful person in the Convention. Russell Moore’s leadership in the ERLC makes him the functional spokesman for the Convention. He’s the guy you’re mostly likely to see speaking on behalf of the Convention in the media.

Just a little prediction I can’t resist. And let me say first that I have zero—repeat, ZERO—inside information. When Ronnie Floyd’s second term as president ends in 2016, watch for Al Mohler to be elected the next president. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Frank Page announces his retirement from the ExComm about the time Mohler’s presidency ends in 2018. Then, well, you can see where I’m going with this.

More info on the SBC agencies here, and again, that stuff is all fact-checked and official.

Lot's more questions to come (though no promises on when), including . . .

  • What does it mean to be an SBC church?
  • Are SBC churches autonomous?
  • Is the SBC a denomination?
  • Should I lead my independent Baptist church to join the SBC?
  • What was the Conservative Resurgence, and why was it necessary? Is the Resurgence over?
  • Are there liberals in the SBC?
  • And much more…

Feel free to suggest questions in the comments.