Thursday, October 19, 2006

What Makes the SBC Great

I have always attended only Southern Baptist Churches. All my life I’ve been taught that the SBC is great and that Southern Baptist is the way to be. As a child and a youth I never questioned why I was a Baptist, but once I began my college and seminary education I did question. As I have learned about our Baptist Heritage, our Baptist Polity, and Baptist theology I am still as convinced as ever that I am Southern Baptist, now by conviction not simply by upbringing.

Although I confess I do not know everything there is to know about the SBC or its politics, I recognize that our convention at a crossroads. There are voices and personalities vying for change in the convention. Some cry out for widening the SBC “tent,” others for narrowing it. I personally tend to like this old tent the way it is.

While this squabble goes on and tensions build, I seek to humbly remind those who will listen of the simple beauty of the denomination to which we belong.

The SBC is great for a number of reasons. Foremost of these reasons is a single overarching principle—unity amidst diversity. Although we come from different places, backgrounds, and sometimes speak different languages; although we may govern our churches differently, or have different priorities in ministry; although our churches may be big, HUGE, small, or tiny; despite all our differences we come together under one banner and one simple belief system that uniquely defines us all as “Baptist.”

Our unity makes us great: Although the SBC claims over 16 million people in over 40,000 congregations, all Southern Baptists are united by a single faith. We affirm Jesus Christ to be the true and only way of Salvation. We honor and study the same holy book – the Bible. Southern Baptist churches are guided by two documents—the Bible and the Baptist Faith and Message.

Our mission makes us great: Southern Baptists recognize that Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and proclaim the Good News. To this end, Baptists send hundreds of missionaries, raise millions of dollars, and have formed benchmark organizations such as the NAMB and IMB.

Our structure makes us great: The SBC is not one big church; it is thousands of individual churches, with their own unique values and goals that have come together to support a greater mission or cause—namely the advancement of the Gospel. Our cooperative program funds the six major SBC seminaries (one of which I attend), as well as our missions organizations, and a number of other endeavors. Our size is a strength because it allows us to mobilize resources on a scale that none of us could achieve individually.

Our heritage makes us great: While there have been blots on our past, such as slavery and segregation, the SBC also carries a rich tradition of faithfulness to the word of God. In the past century and a half the SBC has raised up numerous men and women of God, many who have gone on to achieve great recognition and prominence, and more still who will be richly rewarded in heaven if not on earth.

Finally, the SBC is great because of our future potential. As a seminary student I see that there is the potential for a bright future in ministry, not only for me but also for the many other seminarians and young ministers who serve Christ within our denomination. There is also a potential for strife and dissention in our near future. We must choose today what we consider important, as our actions now will determine our future. Will we seek to conform the SBC to our personalities or will we leave room for disagreement? We must hold the line and maintain the integrity of orthodox and Baptist theology while at the same time allowing the diversity that makes us great.

Here’s the bottom line: If we narrow the tent too far, it will fall down upon us; widen it too broadly and it will come apart at the seams. We must determine where to put the stakes into the ground and leave them there. The BFM 2000 is still a good tent, in it there’s some clarity but we must maintain room for diversity.


Bowden McElroy said...

If the "tent" is the BF&M, then I don't want to see it widened; I think few do.

Many, however, use the phrase to indicate service on the various SBC boards: who is providing leadership to the convention's entities. The perception is that process has been tightly controlled in the past ensuring that only "our kind of people" become trustees. I really don't see how widening the tent in this sense (including conservative inerrantists who affirm the BF&M but may not have the proper pedigree)could cause harm to the SBC.

I see the crossroads as less a theological issue and more a question of do we want our leadership to reflect the same diversity as our churches.

Matt Knight said...


I agree with you about the leadership of the SBC. I also agree with you said before about allowing the seminaries some freedom to set their own policies ("staying true to the BF&M").
However, I recognize that some do seem to want the BF&M changed to fit what they perceive as the "right way." I think we are in agreement that it does not need changing.
Trustee appointments are most often political, but this is nothing new nor is it unexpected. I trust them, and from what I know of this week's SWBTS meeting, I am proud of some of the decisions they made. I think even the presence of some such as Dwight McKissic can be a positive thing--he speaks for a viewpoint within the convention, but I also agree with the decision that was made.

As long as our leaders can unequivocally sign the BF&M, I concur that a type of "Free Market" system will take place. I came to SWBTS for such a reason--I liked the products they had produced (solid pastors and men of God).

Thanks for your insights.

Mark Spence said...

You sound like Tony the Tiger,


Matt Knight said...


I hope you know that that's not exactly the way I mean it. I'm trying not to be a koolaid drinker here. What I mean is that we've got a good thing. It isn't perfect, but we ought to recognize that the SBC is good and that we ought not toss that away. My main point is this: when we work together with other believers despite some differences, we can do great things. We ought not sacrifice those things for the sake of uniformity.

dan caskie said...

Matt... Share the vision brother, share the vision......

Mark Spence said...

"I personally tend to like this old tent the way it is."


"We ought not sacrifice those things for the sake of uniformity."


These points are inconsistent.


Matt Knight said...

Mark, it depends on definition of "tent" I suppose.
The "tent" I spoke of is the structure of the convention and BF&M, which allows churches who agree in "essentials" to work together. This is what we ought not sacrifice. I do not believe I've ever said that we should not be able to disagree. If I've conveyed as much, let me repudiate that now. What makes the SBC great is the principle of unity amidst diversity. So the "old tent" of the cooperation between Baptist churches and agreement to one set of beliefs (namely, but not exclusively the BF&M) despite possible disagreements on other issues (i.e., issues not addressed in the BF&M) is what I like.
The intent of my original post was to say that we must not seek to widen this tent to include others who will not agree to the same core beliefs, nor should we narrow it so that we only include those who believe exactly as we do (uniformity).

So you see from my perspective there is no inconsistency in these two statements. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to more clearly articulate my view. I hope I've successfully done so.

Mark Spence said...


I think it depends upon what your definition of "is" is.