Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Denomination Formerly Known as the Southern Baptists

Some thoughts on the decisions coming out of the annual SBC meeting in New Orleans...

There's a new name written down in Georgia, and it's mine, oh yes it's mine!
**With apologies to whoever wrote, "There's a New Name Written Down in Glory"

The messengers voted to change the name of the SBC to the GCBC (Great Commission Baptist Convention).  This is a great name change since the SBC is no longer strictly "southern".  As a church planter in New York State I am glad for the change.  It may be hard for some of the brethren south of the Mason-Dixon line to accept, but the word "south" has as much appeal to northerners as the word "yankee" has to southerners.  All of the same kinds of images and baggage that comes with "yankee" comes with "Southern" in northern ears.  And frankly, many northern evangelical churches actually remember the fights of the 70's and 80's within the SBC regarding little things like the inspiration of the Scriptures and they remember that the SBC became compromised since they even had to have the discussion and controversy when they stood for the truth.  Some distance from that heritage is a good thing.  I will barely mention the fact that the SBC was started as a reaction to an issue we'd all like to forget: slavery.  The south's support of that institution has not been forgotten.  

However, I can't help but think that we have painted ourselves in a corner a bit with our choice of a new name.  To have the brazenness to say that we are "Great Commission Baptist Churches" requires some sort of proof.  It's sort of like calling yourself a "Holiness" church.  Someone who reads that church sign has to think, "Well, let's see how holy you all really are!" If they set the bar that high it's not long before outsiders take notice about what that church really does.  When this happens, an impartial observer often finds that the name is overstatement.

Reporting high numbers of conversions through sinner's prayers and dubious if not unbiblical evangelistic methods does not a "Great Commission Baptist" make.  I am happy to be called a Great Commission Baptist because evangelism is a huge part of our church's work.  We strive to do it Biblically and we do a lot of it.  If a name change actually changes churches, then I'll expect to see a lot of Great Commission Baptists out in our area actually doing evangelism, but if the last year or so is any indicator, I shouldn't hold my breath.  When revival hits the GCBC then there will be a change in more than the name.  In the meantime, I hope the name change is not just overstatement, posturing or chest thumping. 

I see that hand!

Speaking of flawed methodologies, the messengers of the various GCBC churches voted to uphold a statement on the sinner's prayer that is patently ridiculous.  In the document, the author ignores the issue of regeneration and takes a number of Scriptures out of context in order to uphold a tradition that is unbiblical.  The question is, "Why?"  Anyone with a Sunday School education could debunk the document but few took the time to do so.

Here are the reasons: 1) if you say that praying a sinner's prayer is wrong then you are saying that all of those who did and are now nowhere to be found might not actually be saved.  And in a denomination that depends heavily on over-reported numbers for PR, it's simply not good PR to admit this fact.  2) In the churches, pastors would have to explain to over-protective parents that their apostate sons and daughters are actually apostate and not "backslidden" and that they should be treated as the unbelievers they are and not as being "in rebellion" or any number of euphemisms we have dreamed up for apostates.  3) Thousands of pastors in the GCBC and outside of it would have to admit they (and those who taught them) were wrong.  So don't hold your breath on any document coming from any denomination at any time in any universe or alternate dimension repealing the sinner's prayer.

After all, how could missionaries make any money if they can't report results?  Call this reason number four. 
When someone can show me in the Scriptures just one example of Jesus and the apostles (or anyone else for that matter) leading someone in a "repeat after me" sinner's prayer, I'll start using it. 

The First Real African American President

 The GCBC voted in our first African American president (and I'll leave you to your own imaginations about what I mean by "real").  I am glad for this in a denomination that started over the issue of slavery.  I am even more excited by the fact that Luter started out as a street preacher before he was a pastor.  The bio sketch on his church's website reports, "With no church to preach in, Luter set up shop every Saturday at noon on the corner of Galvez and Caffin Avenue where he would preach to anyone who would listen."  Amen!  He's a radical!  Once a month his church engages in several hours of street evangelism in addition to many other evangelistic ministries.  

This is an appropriate leader for a denomination that takes the name "Great Commission Baptist" on themselves.  I hope that many pastors and aspiring pastors will take it upon themselves to follow his example in great commission work and take the work of preaching to a street corner and not just the pulpit.  

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