April 2010


The Augusta Vision- “that the world may believe”

John 17:21d

The Southern Baptist Convention is arguably the greatest missionary, evangelistic, church planting, discipleship training and Christian Education enterprise, in the history of Christianity. Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, where I am privileged to serve as pastor, is a product of the missionary zeal and efforts of Southern Baptists, for which I am grateful.

However, in recent years the SBC is experiencing significant and measurable decline. The key questions many Southern Baptists are asking are: Why the decline and what should we do about it? The purpose of this post is to address these valid questions.

Against the backdrop of racism, sexism, and factionalism, the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in Augusta, Georgia in May of 1845. These three “isms” are no longer dominant in SBC life, but neither are they dormant. If Southern Baptists are going to win the world to Christ, we must biblically, honestly and redemptively address our history, image and current reality as it relates to these three issues. We simply cannot expect to have a Great Commission Resurgence that God anoints and blesses, until we first have a Great Repentance Resurgence specifically related to these three “isms”.

Reconciliation, healing, and a coming together in the “unity of the spirit” is vitally important if we are to move forward with the Great Commission Resurgence from our current state of affairs. What is our current state of affairs? Imploding from factionalism, rather than explosion from evangelism.

The greatest threat to the fellowship of the SBC, the funding of the Cooperative Program, and the success of the GCR initiative, is not racism or sexism in the life of our convention. Factionalism is the greatest sin and threat that our convention is currently facing. Baptist factionalism is the reason Cooperative Program giving is declining. Six hundred missionaries were not funded recently and baptismal and Sunday school growth is decreasing. The SBC vital signs are trending and tracking in the wrong direction because of factionalism. Factionalism is not inherently a sin. Pride, a party spirit and the desire for preeminence and power that often accompanies factionalism, is what makes it a sin or weight.

When one stripe of Baptist conservatism attempts to dominate, marginalize, disenfranchise or demonize another stripe of Baptist conservatism, the end result is factionalism. Jesus said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).

The Hebrew writer admonished believers to, “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1b). To the extent that I’ve participated in factions in SBC life, and have contributed to the divide in our convention by actions or attitude beyond God’s perfect will for my life, I openly repent and apologize. We must come together as a convention and rally around one purpose and that is, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:27). The division and factionalism in the SBC must soon cease and be laid aside for the sake of the Great Commission. I want to set an example.

In August of 2006, I preached a sermon at Southwestern Seminary Chapel that Paige Patterson deemed “harmful to the churches.” In the aftermath of Dr. Patterson’s statement I battled with the emotions of disappointment, hurt, anger, surprise and confusion. I’m sure he experienced similar emotions in response to my message. Neither one of us intended to hurt the other. We simply didn’t fully understand each other’s theology on the subject matter that I addressed. Nevertheless, I deeply hurt Dr. Patterson and because that was not my intention, I publicly apologize to him. Not for the content of my message, but for not being more conciliatory toward him and not seeking to understand his position and response. Rather, I chose to publicly argue and defend my position. In the process, I contributed majorly to factionalism in the life of our convention. Again, to the extent that I’ve played a role toward the division and factionalism in our convention, I apologize. There was “collateral damage” to SWBTS and Conerstone that I’m responsible for as a result of my response to Dr. Patterson’s public statement. Our entire convention is suffering because of the factionalism that’s running rampant. It is extremely difficult to maintain unity in the life of our convention in light of our autonomous church structure, and the fact there are a host of issues that the B, F, M does not address.    

The 1845 Augusta SBC could not have envisioned itself, with Fred Luter as President, Dwight McKissic as a member and women having voting privileges as well as serving on entity boards. Additionally, women serving in all levels of ministry within the parameters of the 2000 B, F, and M and the autonomy of the local church would have been far beyond the mental grasp of the 1845 SBC. Korean fellowships, Hispanic fellowships, Founder’s fellowship, Baptists Convictional Association, African American fellowship, B21 fellowship, Nine Marks and a host of others would have been totally unimaginable to the 1845 SBC.  Is the SBC’s success also the cause for her slide? Is SBC evangelism in part responsible for our current factionalism? How does God want us to move forward from here?

How can we achieve unity in SBC life amid so much diversity? Has the SBC grown and gone beyond the point where unity is even desirable or achievable? Has the missionary and evangelistic success of yesteryears been our undoing, because it brought into our ranks many who are culturally, socially, racially and theologically different from the 1845 Augusta, Georgia core group?

Conservatives in the SBC are made up of a coalition of people who are inerrantist, but have great diversity beyond that. The question that the SBC has to answer is, will we affirm our diversity within the parameters of the Baptist, Faith and Message 2000 or will we continue to politically posture for control by one stripe or ilk of conservatives dominating the others? Each faction or “click” fights for controlling interests, or majority status. Those who oppose the group, who seem to be gaining ground or control, are often called dissidents or the disgruntled.

How does the SBC handle dissidents or the so-called disgruntled? Dissidents are either marginalized, disenfranchised or demonized, and this I believe is the primary cause why the SBC is in decline. Asking for increased giving from a shrinking number of local churches affiliated with the SBC will not solve the problem. Reconciling with dissidents and the various factions of the SBC who feel as if they have no voice or seat at the table will resolve the funding problem in the SBC. We must remember that Jesus not only commissioned an outreach ministry, He also commissioned an inreach ministry (Luke 15:4). Perhaps, the SBC also needs to launch A Great Inreach Resurgence. I’m absolutely convinced that if the SBC allows God to heal her “tribalism spirit”– her treasure and funding problems would heal simultaneously. How shall we proceed toward healing the tribalism, division and factionalism in SBC life?

We need to formally acknowledge that there are ideological, theological, and preferential differences among us that are not outside of the scope of the Baptist, Faith and Message 2000. We need to formally declare that our goal is unity in achieving the Great Commission, not uniformity in secondary and preferential matters.

Jesus prayed for unity among His followers, because He recognized that evangelism was hindered where there was a lack of unity (John 17:21). Jesus taught that unity was a prerequisite to world evangelism. The day of Pentecost illustrates this truth (Acts 2:1). If unity was absolutely necessary for the original Great Commission Surge – shall we attempt another without first seeking corporate union with God and unity with each other? If God did not allow the early church to succeed with the Great Commission without unity, why would we think we could succeed without unity? Even the group that met in Georgia in 1845 was unified. Unified around some ungodly social beliefs, and sound doctrine, God honored and blessed their spirit of unity with Great Commission success (Psalms 33:1). Agreement is powerful, even when there are some negative and sinful components included. Back to the question: How shall we heal the divide; factionalism and disunity in the life of the SBC? The vision is simple, scriptural and doable.

 THE AUGUSTA VISION

We need to “lay the axe at the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10). By May 2012, the SBC needs to “go back to her future”, in Augusta, Ga., and “convene a solemn assembly” (Joel 1:14). The vision would be for our convention to come together under God, at the place where God first blessed this convention. We need to corporately repent of our sins, and ask God to restore health, unity and wholeness to our convention.

In Augusta, Ga., we need to fall on our faces before God and repent that our convention was birthed and rooted in racism, sexism and factionalism. We need to ask God to heal the current disunity and factionalism in the SBC. We need to ask God to birth within us a spirit of unity as it was on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1). We need to ask God to pour our His Spirit afresh and anew upon our churches and convention. We need to ask God to allow the wind of His Spirit to blow across our land one more time as He did in the first and second great awakenings.

The party spirit in SBC life must cease (1 Corinthians 3:3-9). The unity and praise spirit in SBC life must begin (Ephesians 4:3). Certain people who are part of the SBC today would not have been welcomed in Augusta in 1845. Thank God, we can come now; red, yellow, black and white, male and female, northerners and southerners, as one body in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Quite frankly, Anglo Southern Baptists need to go to Augusta to make peace with their past as it relates to race, sexism and factionalism. People of color in the SBC need to go to Augusta to experience our SBC history and repent of any racist, sexist and factional attitudes and actions towards others that we’ve been party too. What better place to begin with a fresh start than Augusta, Ga.?

In Augusta, the Southern Baptists of the Charlestonian Tradition, would come together in the unity of the Spirit with the Southern Baptists of the Sandy Creek Tradition. The Baptist Identity Southern Baptists would come together in the unity of the spirit with the Baptist Irenic Southern Baptists. The Calvinist Southern Baptists must come together in the unity of the Spirit with the Non Calvinist Southern Baptists. The cessationist/ anti-tongues Southern Baptists must come together in the unity of the Spirit, with the continualist/ little “c” Southern Baptists charismatics, in the Jerry Rankin tradition. The minority people of color Southern Baptists must come together in the unity of the Spirit, with the majority Caucasian Southern Baptists. The complementarian Southern Baptists must come together in the unity of the Spirit, with the “complegalatarian” Southern Baptists in the Sandy Creek Tradition. The contemporary church practioner Southern Baptists must come together with the cultural warrior Southern Baptists. The Fundamentalists Southern Baptists must come together with the Orthodox Evangelical Southern Baptists including moderates who believe in inerrancy.

We must endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). We must allow for disagreements on nonessential matters and allow dissidents to fully function within the life of our convention within the parameters of the B, F, and M 2000.

This must be done for the sake of the Great Commission. I’m not asking that anyone change their belief system, but rather that we respectfully, lovingly and intentionally join together, in spite of our belief systems, for the Kingdom’s sake.

If God breathed on our solemn assembly, we could depart from Augusta, fired up and ready to go. You ask, ready to go where? Ready to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” We could depart from Augusta as “one body”; empowered by “one Spirit”; with only “one hope”; in the soon coming return of “one Lord”; committed to “one faith”; having all received “one baptism”; worshipping “one God”; serving Him with at least “one” gift He’s given us (Ephesians 4:3-7); and filled with His “one” Spirit (Ephesians 5:18); and ready to minister as one people (1 Peter 2:9-10), so “that the world may believe” in our one God and His son, Jesus Christ.

If all SBC entities policies and personnel reflected the spirit of this vision, the Cooperative Program giving and consequently Great Commission sending, would esponentially increase almost immediately. If we come together in a solemn assembly under this vision, we can do in Augusta this time, what should have been done the first time. And that is, let the world know we are Christians by our love.

Lord, let it come to pass, according to your will for the Kingdom’s sake and the Great Commission, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Southern Baptist Convention needs to call a solemn assembly and repent for passive and intentional acts of racism in SBC life since the ‘95 apology statement.

I coincidently happened to see Frank Page at the Louisville Airport in June ’09 at the close of the Annual SBC meeting. This gave me an opportunity to respectfully point out to him that not one Black person was appointed to the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force at the Louisville Convention. Dr. Page assured me that this was an unintentional oversight by President Johnny Hunt. Frank Page contacted Dr. Hunt and he quickly appointed an African American Pastor from Georgia to the GCRTF.  I applaud Johnny Hunt for immediately rectifying this situation.

Is Johnny Hunt racist? Absolutely not. His unintentional oversight is just symptomatic of the problem. Systemic, institutional and individual racism in SBC life is usually passive, not intentional. Yet, it exists. Therefore, it must be biblically addressed by our leaders if we are serious about the Great Commission. 

Dr. Danny Akin prophetically, positively, and profoundly addressed the race issue in his signature message in chapel at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, concerning the Great Commission Resurgence. Rarely, do we hear of this type of statesmanship and leadership on this issue from anyone in SBC life. Much respect to you, Dr. Akin. I wish the GCR report to the annual meeting in Orlando would include Dr. Akin’s initial remarks on this subject.

For years I’ve asked many of my Black Baptists and evangelical Pastor friends, who would not question one word of the B, F, and M, 2000, why won’t you join the SBC? Their response would be, because it is “southern and racial”. Note: not racist, but “racial”- meaning, the DNA of the SBC is White, and geographically and culturally southern oriented. Therefore, it cannot comfortably or willingly accommodate or assimilate as equals, African American Baptists input, involvement and influence. For years I’ve disagreed with my friends’ analysis. But I’ve since reached the conclusion, they are right.

Ten years after the ’95 racial reconciliation and apology statement, there has not been one African American appointed to a position as the Chief Executive Officer of a SBC entity. There are three entity executive positions currently vacant. I pray that a qualified African American will be appointed to one of them.

If you think I’m unnecessarily fixated on race, tell me how you would you feel if you were a part of a convention that claimed to be inclusive of all people groups, yet without exception, all executive level cabinet positions are occupied by males of only one people group? Would you think that’s fair? You watch the full GCR report and none of the four presenters ethnically resemble any of the people groups that the report is challenging us to reach except for Anglo males. Do you agree with that approach?

One of the objections that I’ve often heard from minorities concerning SBC missions efforts is that the approach is paternalistic rather than a partnership approach. Viewing it from the perspective of a minority, that’s how the GCR report came across, paternalistic. Nevertheless, I plan to vote for it because I have huge respect for the GCRTF members that I’m acquainted with.

Is the GCR report racist because none of the presenters are persons of color? No! It does mean that persons of color were once again an oversight, which again is symptomatic of the problem. I trust that when the GCRTF report is made in Orlando, representatives from other ethnic groups will share in the reporting.

In February, I attended the Southern Baptists of Texas Evangelism Conference where the SBC Evangelist Jimmy Davis, preached a message comparing President Obama to the wicked King Manasseh. Davis clearly communicated that President Obama was not a Christian, being fully aware that the President claims to be a Christian. He challenged the conference to pray for the President’s salvation. As Davis sees it, if the President doesn’t repent of certain social policy positions and his spiritual condition, then he encouraged the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention to “pray that God providentially remove President Obama from office”.

On the heels of Davis’ message I called him to make sure I understood his message correctly. Not only did he make it clear that I understood his message correctly, he further added his belief that President Obama is the “most wicked President in the history of the United States”. Evangelist Davis, at the conclusion of his message, asked the audience to join him on his knees and they did. He then prayed for the President’s salvation and that he be “providentially” removed from office if he doesn’t repent.

The picture of hundreds of Anglo Southern Baptists on their knees praying that God “providentially” remove the first African American President of the United States from office is not a pretty picture to African American Southern Baptists or biblio-centric fair minded Americans of any color. It’s a horrible witness to the world and a poor testimony of Southern Baptists. The SBTC officials are very much aware of this message and have remained publicly silent. Does silence equal consent? If Evangelist Davis’ remarks and prayer that God “providentially” remove President Obama is not repudiated by SBC and SBTC officials, Wiley Drake is owed and apology (2010 Empower Evangelism Conference, Southern Baptists of Texas , February 15-17, 2010). I’m publicly asking Dr. Jim Richards and Johnny Hunt to publicly disavow and repudiate the portion of Evangelist Davis’ message that dealt with President Obama.

Read this Baptist Deacon’s comment about President Obama posted on his blog:

“In a year, two at the most, the government will collapse on itself with no outside assistance due to a shortage of taxpayers. When that happens, China will sue for possession to recoup its losses in the World Court and win. Since no one trusts a liar, the Chinese will not permit Barack, the Tragic Negro, or congress to remain in power. Few will be willing to shed their blood to protect and defend Obama’s America”.     [Bill Fortner, Tuesday, March 30, 2010, Picayune Poltroons]

 

This Anglo Baptist deacon has a right to his political opinions. However, to refer to the President of the United States as, “the Tragic Negro”, is clearly racist and beyond the pale. Our convention will never experience genuine racial reconciliation and ethnic church growth as long as Baptists harbor and air views like Evangelist Davis and Deacon Bill Fortner.

A Black Baptist Arkansas Pastor who disassociated himself from the SBC in recent years visited our church this past March. I asked him why he was no longer Southern Baptist. He reported to me that his congregation went on a missions trip to Mexico with an Anglo Southern Baptist congregation. During this trip his people heard one of the Anglo mission team members use racial slurs toward their pastor. When he confronted the Anglo who allegedly made the slurs, he didn’t deny it nor did he apologize. Consequently, he left the convention.

Ergun Caner made condescending and stereotypical remarks concerning the Black Church in a sermon preached at First Baptist of Jacksonville, FL. Caner’s observation certainly would not be true of the Black church that I pastor and the majority of Black churches that I’m aware of. Yet, his remarks were met with approving laughter. I don’t believe that he would have made those same remarks in a Black church. Caner essentially said Black churches do not put the preacher up to preach until about 1:00 p.m. That’s not true. Black churches, according to Caner, take up “twelve offerings”. That’s untrue. Caner further stated:

“… you go to a Black church gentlemen, you are not going to have on a blue suit, you are going to have blue shoes to match, and your handkerchief is going to match your tie, and your whole outfit is going to match your car. It’s BEAUTIFUL. And ladies: when we talk about black church, we’re talkin’ about hats. And I’m not just talkin’ Easter hats as some of you may wear, I’m talkin’ ’bout satellite dish hats. [laughter]. Big enough to receive a signal, with a curtain rod goin’ down the front that you can just pull the curtain across”.   [Ergun Caner, The Warrior Church, June 14, 2009]

 

By the grace of God, I’ve been privileged to preach over the past thirty six years in twenty seven states, at least seventy five cities, and in over one hundred and eighty pulpits or public venues across the length and breadth of America. The vast majority of those preaching assignments were in Black Baptist pulpits. My point is, Ergun Caner may have had a better opportunity to judge the social mores of the Black church more so than I, but it’s doubtful. I can truly say that what Ergun Caner stated is simply, generally not true. As a matter of fact, I’ve never witnessed what he described. If I stated that White preachers preached in Hawaiian shirts and encouraged married couples in their churches to have sex seven straight days, and wore toupees; that may be true in isolated cases but it would be unfair, inaccurate, and racially stereotypical, without foundation, for to me make such a claim.

This is what Caner has done and he owes FBC Jacksonville an apology. I honestly don’t believe Caner meant any harm. I think that he was simply speaking off the cuff and exaggerated grossly. Most public speakers, including myself, have made similar mistakes. However, his remarks were damaging to the reputation of the Black church in the minds and hearts of his hearers. One would expect better than this from a Seminary President. This caricature must be corrected. Jim Richards, Richard Land, Wade Burleson, Ronnie Floyd, and Tim Rogers have all preached in my pulpit. They know Caner’s description of the Black church is absolutely false. It is certainly not the norm. I know Mac Brunson personally. I have great respect for him. Mac owes it to his people to set the record straight.  

An Anglo SBC church in Louisiana refused to let Anglo missionaries whom had adopted children of color speak in their church because of the color of their children. This church should be investigated and disciplined by the SBC just as the churches that reportedly are affirming and welcoming of homosexuals. Although the SBC claims thousands of African American members, the highest ranking Black at the SBC Executive headquarters is the head custodian. This is certainly reminiscent of the Antebellum South.

All of the above incidents took place since 1995. The SBC needs to hold a Great Repentance Resurgence that precedes a Great Commission Resurgence, so that we can be cleansed of unbiblical and ungodly attitudes toward women and race. Unfortunately, my pastor friends who refuse to join the SBC are right. The SBC is “southern and racial” and this must change if God is to breathe on our Great Commission Resurgence.

I personally like changing the name of the SBC to THE INTERNATIONAL BAPTIST CONVENTION. A new name gives us an opportunity for a new start in a new millennium. It’s an idea we truly ought to consider.

Why do the patriarchs of our convention need to call a solemn assembly and lead us in prayers of repentance? Because the SBC has a history of displaying attitudes and actions toward women that fall short of biblical standards (Acts 2:17-18).

 The SBC was formed in 1845 when women were not allowed to vote in the vast majority of  SBC churches. Consequently, women by and large did not attempt to register as delegates/messengers to the annual SBC meetings. In 1885 women were excluded by the vote of the convention from being seated as delegates. The convention voted to only accept “brethren” as representatives from churches to the annual meetings. Josiah Lawrence made a motion to seat women as “messengers” in 1917 and the vote actually occurred in 1918 with overwhelming approval.

A friend of mine, well versed in SBC church history, says he cannot recall any formal apology that was ever made to the women of the SBC for denying them a vote. I am calling for the SBC to formally apologize to women and  go before God and ask His forgiveness for devaluing and dishonoring women of the SBC.  The SBC in 1995 voted to repent and apologize to African Americans for harboring similar attitudes and actions toward them. Wouldn’t it also be biblical and right to formally repent and apologize to the women of the SBC for denying them voting privileges and consequently the opportunity to serve on entity boards for a period of time?

 Sheri Klouda, Karen Bullock, and Wendy Norvelle are poster personalities for how many females have been unfairly treated in SBC life, only because they are women. After having been appointed, Wendy Norvelle was not allowed to serve as Vice President of the IMB simply because she’s a woman. Ken Hemphill’s forced resignation at Southwestern Seminary was largely in response to him allowing Dr. Karen Bullock to be a chapel speaker and recommending her for tenure. The late Dr. Raymond Spencer, a Black Professor of Preaching at Southwestern during Hemphill’s reign, boldly stated in a preaching class, where I was a student, that he affirmed women preachers, but not female senior pastors. He then introduced a lady to preach to our class and she did an excellent job. Dr. Spencer went home to be with Jesus before Dr. Patterson became President. What’s most unfortunate is that Dr. Spencer would not have been allowed to affirm women preachers under Patterson, nor would he have been allowed to present a woman to preach in a preaching class.

According to my wife, who was a student at Southwestern while both men were President, the way the subject of women in ministry was addressed or not addressed, noticeably changed from the Hemphill era to the Patterson era. The Hemphill philosophy of women in ministry was preferred by most Anglo and African American women I’ve dialogued with. If you were a woman who studied at Southwestern under Hemphill and Patterson, you were sent mixed and confusing signals about the role of women in ministry. From what women have shared with me, they were affirmed by the Hemphill philosophy of women in ministry, while the Patterson philosophy of women in ministry made many of them feel alienated. All of these Baptist women affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, and have no desire to be Senior Pastors, nor feel called to be a Senior Pastor. Our SBC entities and many churches are restricting women beyond what the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 allows and addresses. Either the conservative inerrantist trustees who hired Dr. Klouda or the conservative inerrantist leadership at Southwestern that fired her, owe her an apology. One of them was clearly wrong. Dallas Theological Seminary champions the doctrine of inerrancy of Scripture and allows a woman to teach Hebrew. The Patterson era at Southwestern does not. To the extent that women and men are sent confusing and mixed signals regarding women in ministry in SBC life, we need to repent, clarify, or apologize.

The opposition to Troy Gramlin as President of the SBC Pastor’s Conference is largely due to him embracing female preachers/speakers. Beth Moore has been labeled as one of the most dangerous persons in the SBC in some circles of Baptist life. She was labeled this way simply because she is a woman who exercises proclamation gifts.

SBC personalities sat in a business meeting at Concord Baptist Church in Dallas, TX by invitation of the late Dr. E.K. Bailey, Senior Pastor at that time, and listened to twenty-five African American Baptist Women say that they were violated by Daryl Gilyard. Yet, the SBC officials walked away disbelieving and disregarding the testimonies of those ladies and continued to embrace and support Daryl Gilyard. They assisted him in securing two other full time ministry posts in predominately Anglo or mixed congregations. It was not until three White ladies made similar allegations that SBC officials and leaders withdrew public, moral, monetary support, and preaching invitations. I sat in shock and disbelief as he related this story to me over lunch one day. Dr. Bailey died with excruciating emotional pain in his heart over how Southern Baptists discounted and disregarded the testimonies of twenty-five ladies from his church and only took action when three White ladies testified to their counselors. What would have happened if the SBC officials who heard the testimonies of the twenty-five ladies, joined Dr. Bailey in repudiating and denouncing Daryl Gilyard in the late eighties? Perhaps teenage girls and adult ladies who were victims of Gilyard in the nineties and the new millennium, might have been spared.

Surely, repentance is in order to all women whom have been sexually exploited by certain Baptist preachers. To whatever extent leaders have enabled preachers to exploit those women, the SBC needs to call a solemn assembly and repent to God and ask His mercy and forgiveness.

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