Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt said in a recent interview that “the church is king.”
“If the church is king,” he said, “anyone else that speaks to us is a prince speaking to the king.” Hunt was making a point regarding the relationship between SBC congregations and the denominational structure in continuing his promotion of the Great Commission Resurgence.
Hunt was obviously seeking to clarify what he perceives to be an issue related to accountability, but it’s curious that the convention president would use a non-biblical analogy for the church in order to make his point.
The apostle Paul compared the church to a body. While all parts are necessary, even the most seemingly insignificant, the parts are necessarily directed by the head. He concluded that Christ is the head of the church. While the mantle of authority does, indeed, rest appropriately on confident shoulders, the mantle is of little value minus the crown on the head of the sovereign. In yet another analogy, Paul wrote that the church is a bride, and that Christ himself is the bridegroom. No doubt the bride receives honor, yet that honor is bound up in her relationship to the groom.
Hunt appears concerned about convention structures that he hopes can become more effective as a result of the Great Commission Resurgence. He hopes the convention will serve the churches, not vice versa. Very few, if any, of us would for a minute disagree with Hunt’s desire. The denomination should, indeed, serve the churches.
Yet vigilance is required to safeguard the relationship between the biblically defined church and any organization whose existence lacks specific biblical warrant. Denominational entities exist to support the church. The church can stand under the Lordship of Christ without a denomination. A denomination, on the other hand, is at a loss to justify its existence apart from the churches it supports.
Christ, not the church, should be king in Baptist life. So referring to the church as king, even to make a point about the church-denomination relationship, aggravates the problem rather than mitigates it. Using a descriptor for the church that is reserved for the church’s Supreme Ruler does not serve the church well.
The church’s honor is that we are called to be the hands, feet, eyes, mouth and legs of Christ in serving the Father’s kingdom and his gospel. The church does not have a mind of its own; the church is to be Christ-minded. The body is then blessed again as the beloved of the bridegroom—the bride who is preparing herself for the coming moment of consummation and the wedding feast of the Lamb.
In conversations such as these, it should be enough for people of faith to rely on biblical imagery for the church, and it should certainly be more than enough to properly acknowledge the church’s Sovereign. The church belongs to Christ; it is not ours to use as we see fit. Leaders and the organizations they represent should be faithful and trustworthy in responding properly to biblically accurate truth about Christ and his church.
The church is called to serve, not to be served. If one purpose of the Great Commission Resurgence is clarity about the denominational structures in SBC life, it seems to me that any discussion about the nature of the denominational structure that does not begin with a biblically precise view of the church is bound to lead to more, not less, misunderstanding.
Rob Hewell is an associate professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.