Russia is the largest country on Earth and full of natural resources, but it is dying. Its people cannot surmount the degradation of years of neglect and of rhetoric that promised so much, but delivered so little. The effect of decades of policies that were nothing more than words on paper and produced no action eventually brought down the former Soviet Union.
Recovery remains hard for Russia as unlearning old ways in a new shot at life —even with vast resources at their disposal —is proving difficult. Many Russians now publicly remark that Communism was easier, but not better. Knowing what to do with resources is far more important than merely possessing them.
In like manner, the Southern Baptist Convention possesses at its fingertips resources which cause Christians in other regions of the globe to gasp with astonishment. If, however, those resources are not guided and channeled in ways which give full obedience and passion to the glory of God, the SBC, a denomination of wealth, resources and people, could quite easily fail, all the while basking in the bounty of its possessions.
It is not enough to trot out the usual statements about the importance of inerrancy and expository preaching. While these are laudable expressions of orthodoxy and practice, the reality remains that the mere mention of these words now too easily evokes expected agreement and adulation (a good hearty “Amen” in Baptistspeak), but little application and practice in pulpits and Sunday School classrooms.
Much of what commonly is called the Southern Baptist Convention may well not survive this century, and much of it may disappear within the lifetime of Southern Baptists living today. There will always be a certain theological/denominational place for the SBC on the map of American evangelicalism, but those three letters could easily become a designation for a plot of religious real estate—once heavily populated, but abandoned for greener pastures.
All denominations are active creatures, but dustups between feuding factions resemble modern political conventions so much that observers rightly dismiss denominations as simply playgrounds for wannabe politicians who eschew the field of politics as “too dirty,” finding denominational life a more suitable theater for their brand of political hardball.
In the book of Acts, God’s sovereign and active power converted thousands through the doctrinal preaching of the Apostle Peter, and immediately resulted in the congregational expression of local churches being born to bridge the covenantal gap between ancient Israel and the people of God inaugurated at Pentecost. Early church standards indicated an understanding that an individual who professed to be a Christian actually knew and believed certain theological tenants—so much so that the person actually showed up for meetings of the church. Regular attendance was a result of spiritual knowledge combined with a genuine faith and the belief that a church was more than another social network.
The church of Jesus Christ was established to be a theater for God’s glory. Today, however, it is hard to see His glory in churches whose rolls list as “members” chronic no-shows who in reality are unregenerate pagans in urgent need of saving faith. How has the modern church moved so far from being the church of the book of Acts?
Enticed by the business model of Wall Street and the political organization and action of K Street, churches have weakened themselves with widespread adoption of programs void of strong biblical content. Oprah’s and Dr. Phil’s thoughts on marriage, parenting and family are so common in some pulpits that they compete with Jesus’ words on such matters, edging out what Christ has to say about solving a marital crisis or combating an addiction.
Even “conservative” churches seem to employ more worldly teachings than biblical counsel. Administrative committees are often more plentiful than Bible study groups, and the overall tenor of some denominational meetings is a triumphalism centered around programs designed to maximize the resources of the group’s business model—all in the name of Jesus.
So, where does the SBC—a denomination born in crisis and rooted in controversy—go from here? The lesson here: inerrancy is not enough. Applying and ordering all of life to the teaching and application of an inerrant Bible is the critical need of the hour. As C.S. Lewis said, “I’d sooner live among people who don’t cheat at cards than among people who are earnest about not cheating at cards.”
Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on Baptist Press, Feb. 7, 2007.