There is a fog of divisiveness settling across the Southern Baptist Convention and it is spreading like a poisonous gas, and we must address it rather than allow it to linger and destroy our Great Commission calling.
There is a litany of issues causing the increasing tension that seemingly permeates every conversation taking place across our denomination and we no longer have the luxury of pretending there isn’t a problem. There is tension between national entities and state conventions, between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, between entity leaders and Southern Baptists, and the list goes on. It seems there is division almost anywhere two or more are gathered with differing opinions. If you doubt the veracity of my comments, check the news. Southern Baptists are making more headlines these days for our in fighting than for being known as a people of grace and peace sharing the gospel with a dying world.
The division has to stop – now. This is my plea for unity and cooperation.
I believe pride and a lack of humility are fueling the division and we’ll never get to unity and cooperation if we don’t address them. These are obviously sins against which all Christians must wage war, but leaders must take the point. As Bob Sorrell, former associate pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church, says, “Every thing rises on good leadership and falls on poor leadership.” I’d go further: Effective Great Commission work rises on Spirit-filled leadership and falls apart at the place of arrogance. Southern Baptists will go to battle for Scriptural truth and winning the world to Christ, but they walk away from the condescending attitudes of their leaders. It is happening. They have no stomach for denominational politics. Why? Because this division keeps us from our first objective of seeing spiritually lost people come to Christ, baptized and set on the road to discipleship.
Pastors, directors of missions, state convention and national entity leaders must set the tone if we are to expect people in the pews to follow us to the “uttermost” for the cause of Christ and the sake of the gospel.
Unfortunately there appears to be a shortage of leaders with a “foot washing” mentality, and too many more interested in building their own kingdoms in God’s name. But what if we leaders truly took up the basin to serve others – and each other – through our respective areas of responsibility? For example, I was greatly encouraged when David Platt demonstrated genuine humility over a recent controversy involving the International Mission Board, which he leads. It was a real step toward unity and if we had more of this, I believe there would be a great outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit across our denomination and throughout our churches. I believe the world would notice the transformation among Southern Baptists, and that we mean business when it comes to preaching the Good News while serving others.
Here’s how I believe we can find our way to unity and cooperation, and kill the lingering divisiveness.
Confess, repent, and commit. Each leader must first deal with the person in the mirror. Just own the pride and lack of humility. Confess it, turn from it and commit moving forward to “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10). I believe if we commit to giving preference to each other while making sure “our love [is] without hypocrisy,” we’d move way down the road toward unity.
Reconcile. This one is pretty easy to preach but seems much more difficult to do, but leaders are called to do the hard stuff. What if leaders across our denomination sought forgiveness from one another? One thing is certain; seeking reconciliation will fuel humility.
Pray. And what if we leaders stopped subtly (and not so subtly) undermining one another and invested that energy to pray for one another by name? What if on the few occasions when we’re together throughout the year we prayed with one another? I will be forever grateful to Ronnie Floyd for leading us in prayer meetings during the two years he was president of the SBC. We need a lot more corporate prayer.
Cooperate. The reason I truly believe in the Cooperative Program is because of what has been accomplished during its 92-year history. Southern Baptists built hospitals that served people’s physical needs. We made theological education affordable so we could equip generation after generation of pastors and ministers. We significantly funded state, national and international mission boards so that we could systematically reach every layer of the Great Commission. The only problem with the Cooperative Program is people’s lack of commitment to it. But cooperation goes beyond the Cooperative Program. It means leaders at all levels actively seeking how we can work together for the sake of the gospel and the mobilization of every person in our churches.
Notice that nothing listed in this roadmap toward unity and cooperation has anything to do with the strategic, but instead deals with the spiritual. I believe that’s how we overcome disunity; however, it seems most appropriate to allow the Apostle Paul to offer a final guiding word toward unity and cooperation.
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.