New battle lines are being drawn in the Southern Baptist Convention, this time between younger conservatives who agree on both biblical inerrancy and need for the “conservative resurgence” against perceived liberalism in the 1980s and 1990s and support the older generation of SBC fundamentalists who carried out the takeover.
At its inaugural meeting Sept. 25-26 in Florida, a group called the “Joshua Convergence” put forth seven “Principles of Affirmation” in support of inerrancy, the conservative resurgence and “biblical standards of separation and morality.”
It’s an apparent response to a statement in May commonly known as the “Memphis Declaration,” which repented of “triumphalism” and “narcissism” in the SBC, while warning that continued narrowing of doctrinal parameters threatens the denomination’s future and hinders many Bible-believing Southern Baptists from service.
Influence of the Memphis statement, magnified through dissemination via Internet blogs, is widely credited with the June election of Frank Page as SBC president. A political outsider and relatively unknown pastor, Page defeated two candidates clearly identified with the “conservative resurgence” in a surprising first-ballot vote, running on a campaign of inclusiveness and a strong giving record to the Cooperative Program.
Joshua Convergence speakers this week at Aloma Baptist Church in Winter Park, Fla., fired back with subtle jabs at the other group’s penchant for cultural accommodation through “emergent” and “seeker-friendly” church-growth models, and for an awkward debate at this year’s SBC annual meeting over whether the Bible teaches total abstinence from alcohol.
They also strongly defended the current aging generation of SBC leaders, sometimes portrayed in blogs with feet of clay, whom both sides one day would like to succeed.
“There comes a time when as a man of God and as a people of God, God’s people need to take a stand and say this is what we believe, this is who we are, this is where we are and this is where we want to go,” Stephen Rummage, preaching pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., said in a theme interpretation viewed by EthicsDaily.com on a Webcast.
Rummage said the “battle for the Bible” is not over, and it would be a mistake to consider it an “old-man’s” fight long ago settled between conservatives and moderates.
“If we make the mistake of saying the battle for scriptural truth is an old man’s battle in the Southern Baptist Convention, one day it will be a young man’s battle,” he said. “It won’t be us young men, because we won’t be young. It will be our sons. It will be others who follow who ask this question, ‘Why did you fight this battle and allow others and watch others fight this battle, and then act as though it was all over and you didn’t need to care?'”
Jeff Crook, pastor of Blackshear Place Baptist Church, in Atlanta, spoke to an affirmation of “gratitude” for the conservative resurgence.
“We are beneficiaries of seminaries and institutions that champion the word of God and are committed to the Great Commission,” Crook said. “We are deeply disheartened and disappointed by anyone who would malign the motives of these godly men.”
“Those who throw spears at our heroes are not just displaying their arrogance, but also their ignorance,” he said.
“They didn’t win the victory by blogging, nor were they armchair quarterbacks,” Crook said of the previous generation of conservatives. “They were in the game and on the field…. They had the spirit of David to take on the giant of liberalism in the name of the Lord of Hosts.”
Jim Shaddix, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, had this to say about Baptist bloggers: “As I have periodically perused, and I have not done it much, the seemingly unceasing flow of rhetoric on the blogs of some who are claiming to lead us into a new era, certain questions have assaulted my mind. When do these guys pastor their churches?”
Brad Reynolds, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina and pastor of Gravel Hill Baptist Church in Clarksville, Va., commented on an affirmation of “holiness,” which singles out “the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.”
“I’m concerned about drinking,” Reynolds said. “I sat appalled at the Southern Baptist Convention this summer as I listened to preachers: I felt like they were lecturing me, about my ‘extra-biblical’ stance of abstinence; that they teach their church the ‘biblical’ stance of moderation.”
“Not long after the convention one of them went on to say that he went to share Jesus with someone, had a meal with her and asked her for wine at the meal,” Reynolds said. “She was so moved that a Baptist preacher would ask her for wine that her heart just opened up to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ, and she got saved.”
“The very idea that the Holy Spirit of God is moved by the use of alcohol is contrary to God’s Word and sacrilegious,” Reynolds declared.
Burleson has been at the center of much of the debate since going public in a blog over his disagreement with IMB policies last year tightening baptism requirements and banning “private prayer language” for new missionaries.
Emir Caner, a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, alluded to the controversy. One undercurrent is over Southern Baptist missionaries working with other groups to plant churches that are “baptistic” in practice but not explicitly Baptist in name.
“A Baptist church from its inception, whether planted here or around the world, deserves to be defined explicitly and not to be depicted ambiguously,” Caner said.
Caner also jumped on Burleson’s statement that he doesn’t agree with every jot and tittle of the Baptist Faith & Message (though Burleson’s criticism of the new IMB policies is they go beyond parameters of the BF&M).
“We have already resolved these issues, and anyone who does not hold fast to that confession without any exception should have the absolute integrity to step down from the place of authority that Southern Baptists have granted him,” Caner said.
Caner ridiculed discussions of “missional” and “emergent” church with quips about being “up Willow Creek without a paddle” and surmising an Anabaptist reformer today might title a book “The Persecution-Driven Church.”
“It is not our call to be a 21st century church,” Caner said. “It is our call to be a first century church in a 21st century world.”
Following “a much-needed ecclesiastical purge spanning more than a quarter century,” host pastor Anthony George told the audience, Southern Baptists today stand “at a crucial juncture in our denomination’s life.”
“There is an element at work whose actions and aspersions indicate a preference more a program and destruction more than for kingdom advancement and for preservation of theological precision,” George said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.