denominations part 2: the sbc
5/02/2006 10:36:00 PM
I've taken a few days off from blogging to really focus in on a quality post rather than trying to crank one out that was more babble. I have been following the conversation over church planting networks versus the SBC for a while on a couple of different blogs. It is sometimes hard to get a handle on these kinds of things, especially when you are someone like me, who is pretty new to the blogosphere, the emerging church movement, missional thinking, and all the other stuff that goes along with these things. It has been interesting trying to "catch-up" only to get behind when something else percolate to the top of the pile. I do appreciate the thoughts though that people put into their posts, and the respect that most bloggers/commenters have for one another even if we do disagree.

This post is sort of an extension to my last post in a way, because it does talk about denominational issues, although this post will address the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) specifically. I refer to the SBC as a denomination primarily for reasons of semantics, but to me it is not really a denomination based on the way I define it. I generally think of a denomination as a corporate entity with a top-down approach to church government with multiple layers of leadership and tightly controlled churches, such as the United Method Church, the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, or the Presbyterian Church (USA). These would be denominations in my way of thinking. The SBC is not because the convention (theoretically) has no control over local congregations, nor is there multiple levels of leadership beyond the church leadership. In conversations with SBC officers though, I got hissed at for not calling the SBC a denomination, but a convention. So for reason of conversation, I will call it a denomination. But like I said in my last post, if the SBC can be a denomination, then anything cooperative, formal or informal can be a denomination.

The definition I used as a handle to discern what causes schisms denominations, to recap, was over issues of faith and governance. I want to extend faith to include doctrine, and governance to include practice. There is a lot of overlap between doctrine and practice. It is hard to speak of them without really considering the other, but for simplicity sake, I will speak of them separately.

The traditional conflicts in the SBC have generally all been matters stricly concerning doctrine and not about practice. The publication of the commentary on Genesis that denied the event as be history saying that Abraham didn't actually hear from God and that he was following a cultural norm was challenged because it made the Bible non-literal. The conservative resurgence that caused a systematic take over by conservatives of SBC was to oust those who thought more liberally than the current SBC'ers. All this and more deal with doctrine, not methods. It seems that the contemporary issues concerning church planting deal with practice, which is being questioned.

Joe Thorn rhetorically asks the question, "When would we leave the SBC?" He answers, "When the Convention gets in the way of our work; when the SBC is working against our goals, vision, and theology," He does mention theology, and says that "fundamentalism chokes the missional life out of our work, or even as people who want change distract us from the most critical issues by focusing on political tug of war." He seemingly calls the conservative thinking of the SBC and its entities "fundamentalism." The term is vague at best, because it can incorporate doctrine and practice. For the most part, the SBC would agree with fundamentalist Baptist groups on most points of doctrine. The differnces between Southern Baptists and fundamentalists is that fundamentalists don't just lay out the grounds on which we will cooperate, but they go further by painting other groups as the enemy, and label them "liberals" or something like that. I am not denying that this happen in the SBC, and I would be fool if I did deny it. But I'd say that the majority of the SBC doesn't do this, and in fact wants to cooperate, but a few apples spoil the bunch sometimes if we allow it. This brings me back to the original observation then. It's not a struggle over doctrine, but a struggle of practice, and Joe thus hits the nail on the head with politics.

Steve McCoy builds the case, saying:
"Here's the big problem for me. Gaining influence through being better pastors and missional churches (my hope for us) and wielding political power (votes and forced change) are two ways to bring convention change. I don't question that. What I do question is the kind of change each brings, and the kind we should seek.
Being missional will lead to influence and then we can use that influence to bring internal change (convinced hearts), the political way will only bring superficial change (convinced by force)...If we really are about MISSIONS, then we must be about the big picture and lasting, internal change rather than over-reacting.... I think the reason political power is even on some minds of YL's (Young Leaders) is because we know a lot of rooms will be full of YL's in Greensboro. I think it opportunistic, and it will backfire."
I think Steve thinking is right on concerning the Young Leaders. I have said it myself time and time again that grassroots level movements are the way to go in today's cultural, and grassroots level movements change hearts while political movements force change. I can't think of a better case and point than Rick Warren (gasp) and how he influences the denomination. His peers for wanting to plant a church in Lake Forest, California that was non-conventional and non-traditional scoffed Rick Warren in the early 80's. Now, he and his cohorts are the poster-children in churches across the nation. Churches are buying into their motifs wholesale, even big traditional mega-churches who 20 years ago would have laughed him out of the convention hall. Times are changing though, and the purpose-driven motif is waning. People are beginning to question its authenticity (McNeal and Barna to name a few) and effectiveness. The "missional church" movement is pioneering new ways to reach people with the gospel, and picking up where the purpose driven model leaves off.

It is no secret that American cultural is increasingly becoming more postmodern. Postmodern thinkers don't generally like huge corporations or bureaucratic entities, both of which the SBC and its entities are. Postmodern thinkers generally like to be hands on, and participate in the work that they are endorsing. This flies in the face of things like the Cooperative Program which people give to and never really see anything other than maybe an occasional missions brochure. They never actually see the workers they are supporting. Postmodern thinkers generally like to avoid conflict because of pluralism and relativism. There are no absolutes, so nobody gets in fights. Struggling over faith and doctrine seem pointless then. Who cares of you are liberal or conservative? To postmodernists, this gets in the way of progress. All this brings me full circle back to politics, and will address church planting networks.

Steve McCoy calls this new era "post-denominational." Increasingly, churches are beginning to look elsewhere other than the SBC as a way to fulfill it's missional calling. The question that Joe Thorn started with this stems from this thinking when the perception is that the SBC no longer aligns with the vision, theology, etc. of a church. Going back to what Joe Thorn said, the SBC sometimes gets bogged down in a political tug-of-war, which is where the frustrations can arise. Steve McCoy also offers the following:
Imagine this. What if some of us were to start and/or join stronger, local, post-denominationally minded networks that envisioned a whole new future for the SBC as it relates to evangelicalism. If many of us worked in this direction we just may have the footing in 10 years to shed old systems for better ones, and it may happen much more naturally than if we tried to use votes and power to change things. It certainly would be healthier.
My initial response to this thinking was, no, it won't work, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it will. I think there is genius in Steve's thinking, especially concerning structures and systems in change. One thing I certainly believe in, and I am affirming is smaller, grassroots type work, and if these networks are the solution to the problem, then I am all for them. But I do have some reservation.

My first reservation is that church planting (strictly speaking) is not all there is to reaching people with the gospel. One church that comes to mind that reaches people with the gospel in a method that is not church planting is First Baptist Church of Leesburg, Florida. These guys have their "ministry village" which is a complex that offers a host of social ministries that are not connected to church planting. These ministries (or missions if you prefer) reach out to people in need, and the church should always be at the forefront of meeting needs. After Katrina hit, I was amazed how the grassroots aid, as chaotic and disorganized as it was, effectively ministered to those in need. It shocked the heck out me when a independent fundamental Baptist church teamed up with a charismatic church to set up a evacuee camp in Louisiana. I was there working with the camp on my own fruition as a Southern Baptist along side charismatics and fundamentalist. It was the church, not the government, who responded effectively to the call, and God has equipped is to do this, and we cannot deny this end of our mission. God has called us to do this and do the church planting as well in order to spread the gospel.

My second reservation is that the networks should not replace the SBC, and honestly I think they should support the SBC. Wade Burleson who has been at the forefront of criticism from various people at the IMB, says,
The SBC already has a mechanism in place for reaching a world in need of a Savior --- the International Mission Board --- and it would take at least a century for another evangelical missions sending organization to duplicate what the SBC is already doing. There are some who seem to be saying, "If I don't like what the SBC is doing, I'll just leave." I would propose that the SBC is in need of people who will tough out the bad times, be faithful in the rough times, and in general, give their finest efforts to better the SBC.
I couldn't agree more with Wade's remarks concerning the SBC. He is speaking in reference to the International Mission Board, but I think it could be extended to the North American Mission Board as well. NAMB has hit a few snags recently, and maybe has had a rough decade, but just because it has not be performing at top notch doesn't mean it should be abandoned and left for dead. Marty Duren, editor of the "SBC Outpost" blog recently posted a question about what would some people do if they were to be elected as president of NAMB. A number of people posted different suggestions, a common thread through them all was that people would make name more focused on planting quality churches in strategic areas, working much like church planting networks do. I would add to that they continue the social ministries they do such as shelters, port ministries, construction ministries, and others. It could be that NAMB facilitate these networks, rather than being a network itself or something along those lines.

Ir is a crucial time for the SBC: do we continue to do things the way they have always been done, do we abandon the SBC for smaller, more localized ministry, or do we somehow revamp the SBC to allow churches to continue to cooperate in spite of the politics. I think the latter is the way to go. As I said in my last post on denominations, politics is the cost of cooperation. Wherever people are, politics are going to happen. It is unavoidable. Change, however can occur if people are willing to work with the SBC and stay true to the course.

Comments: 1
Blogger David Rogers said at 5/03/2006 11:13 AM...
Hello, "fundamentalist",

I just sort of stumbled upon your blog. Thanks for your thoughts! Looks like we share a lot of the same ideas. I look forward to reading more.

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