Monday, May 7, 2007

The Southern Baptist Convention in Trouble?

The Southern Baptist Convention in Trouble?
Kevin Shrum

Is the Southern Baptist Convention in trouble? While mission giving has increased in the past several years, overall membership has only slightly increased failing to keep pace with national population increases. Baptisms are not what they should be and statistics show that nearly 70% of SBC churches have plateaued or are in decline. Add to this a newly emerging segment of SBC voices, i.e. McKissic and Burleson, who are much more worried about personal liberty and private prayer languages and it makes for a rudderless ship with a lack of focus on evangelism, missions and dynamic Christian living.

The SBC remains a viable mechanism for accomplishing kingdom goals. With its two – unparalleled in church history – mission-sending agencies and ingenious mechanism of denominational support known as the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists could be positioned to initiate a new wave of missions and evangelism. There are a few things that Southern Baptists can do to re-focus this convention ship.

First, we must stay true to a core of orthodox convictions and avoid peripheral issues such as speaking in tongues as a measure of spiritual maturity and alcohol as ‘the’ sign of Christian liberty. The Baptist Faith and Message is a worthy stab at this core. But let me further reducer that core to a ‘core within a core’ – the worship and glory of the triune nature of a sovereign, holy and loving God; the supremacy and authority of the Bible for the faith and practice of the church; the deity and exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only redeemer; the sinful nature of man; the gospel of Jesus Christ encapsulated in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection; and, the mission mandate of the church to infiltrate the world in living and preaching the gospel to all the nations. There are many other ‘doctrines’ worthy of consideration, but I would suggest that these are the ‘bread and butter’ issues of the church.

Second, we must believe that every man is dead in his sins and bound for a Christ-less eternity and we must believe that ‘we’ are commanded to preach the gospel so that God might save these dead sinners. In other words, we must be convinced that sin is ‘real,’ the consequences of sin are dire and that unless we preach the gospel sinners will not be saved. It is not a job that can be left to another; it is every Christian’s job to share the gospel.

Third, we must understand that America, while still largely friendly to religious belief, is fast-becoming not only post-Christian (after the golden era of the 50’s to present), but anti-Christian. Such an understanding is ‘good!’ Christianity does well when it is pressed, pressured and persecuted; Christianity wanes when it is comfortable and convenient. If every believer developed a ‘foreign mission attitude’ or a ‘behind enemy lines’ attitude holiness would increase, along with baptisms and church attendance. I would not suggest that we pray for persecution; but I would suggest that we need not be afraid of persecution that comes as a result of authentic Christian living. We seemed to be so worried about not offending unbelievers that we fail to see that nothing can take the offensive edge off the gospel itself. You and I don’t need to be offensive – we are to be loving, winsome and gracious. Yet, even gracious living does not lessen the utterly offensive nature of a gospel that not only declares God’s love in Christ, but that tells the sinner he is a damned and without remedy for his condition apart from Christ.

Finally, we must be brutally honest with ourselves by recognizing that we have become spiritually fat, intellectually dense, evangelistically indifferent, personally and corporately unholy and culturally captive. In addition, while we are as doctrinaire as ever, we have become practical atheists, making us no different in how we live than how pagans live.

We must come alive by God’s Spirit. We must not only say we believe Scripture, but we must seek holiness guided by Scripture. Maybe then Southern Baptists will re-focus their efforts in preaching the gospel, penetrating culture as salt and light and separating ourselves as true believers in an unbelieving world.

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