An ominous spirit has fallen on the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). We have problems that can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug. Gut wrenching honesty is not an optional course to consider. It is the only option.
Pastors, bloggers, lay leaders and entity heads are publicly expressing profound chagrin over our current condition, all the while calling for deeper levels of prayer, fasting and self-examination.
Both secular and Baptist media have used words like “raucous,” “contentious” and “divisive” to describe the coming Dallas convention. Most journalists have extracted those descriptors from the blogs and social media posts of our Baptist family members. Grave concerns for the health of our denomination and the value of our gospel witness have reached levels I’ve not seen since the days of the Conservative Resurgence.
SBC Voices blogger and president of the SBC 2017 Pastors’ Conference, Dave Miller, wrote, “Things are a mess in the SBC right now, aren’t they?”
Calling for genuine revival, Miller lamented the conversations between brothers and sisters in the faith.
“The hostility, the crassness, the profane and degrading things that are being said on Twitter, Facebook and other such outlets are shocking,” he said. “It is as if people have embraced the works of the flesh and rejected the fruit of the Spirit. The political tactics of some have been shocking during this political season. … revival is not a magical solution that absolves us of our responsibilities to do right, to seek God and to walk in His ways.”
SBC President Steve Gaines recently called us to prayer and fasting in preparation for this year’s annual convention. “Pray that during our meetings we will discuss issues in a united, civil, Spirit-filled way,” Gaines urged. “Pray that when we leave Dallas, we will do so with a genuine unity of spirit and purpose – to reach lost people throughout the world with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, outlined the gravity of our convention’s health in a column titled, “The wrath of God poured out.”
“America’s largest evangelical denomination has been in the headlines day after day,” Mohler wrote. “The SBC is in the midst of its own horrifying #MeToo moment.
“Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.”
Revival, judgement – both are partners in the movement we often call “spiritual awakening.”
My editorial published Aug. 30, 2014, carries the title, “Revival is like judgement day.” Those are not my words. They are the words of J. Edwin Orr who was likely the greatest scholar, teacher, student and proponent of spiritual awakening in the past century.
I heard him discuss the subject in his final sermon at Ridgecrest Conference Center in 1987. Orr said when revival comes, conviction exposes everything we have been ashamed to admit. Our pride, greed, lust, fears, motives, secret sin – all that identifies the ‘real me’ stares us in the face as though the dreaded day of judgment has arrived.
The masks are stripped off. The game of religious charades is over. Pretentious habits that I designed to build religious admiration from my peers are gone. Revival is like judgment day because in the experience of real revival, raw honesty wins and sincere confession flows like a mighty river. Truth is victorious.
Isaiah said he experienced revival and judgment in a single moment. In Isaiah 6 the Old Testament prophet said he “saw the Lord sitting on the throne, high and lifted up… .”
He heard seraphim crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”
The experience was so convicting he responded, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts,” (Isaiah 6:3-5, NKJV).
Indeed, judgment day has come to the SBC.
Three entity head positions need to be filled. Two of those vacancies emerged from scenarios we would not have chosen. The presidency of the SBC is up for grabs, having devolved from a priceless moment of unity in June 2016 to an unnecessary state of contention in 2018.
Historically, revival movements like the First Great Awakening, the Welsh Revival and the Fulton Street Revival served to reshape secular culture and politics. Now secular culture and politics seem to be shaping Christian behavior.
Many grieve over the practice of secular political tactics in the SBC election process.
The website SBC Today (not operated by the Southern Baptist Convention) distributed a “voter guide” that was also published as a full-page ad in Louisiana’s Baptist Message.
It represents the worst element of secular politics and an unacceptable tactic in Baptist politics.
Voter guides that many of us distribute during secular elections at least ask candidates for their views and publish the results.
In the case of the Greear/Hemphill voter guide in question, unknown persons selected recent comments from Ken Hemphill and older material from J.D. Greear, using statements that the writer(s) believes represents the best of one candidate and the worst of the other. Some comments reported about Greear are dishonest or taken out of context.
This is not at all representative of the foundational truths conservatives sought to preserve through the Conservative Resurgence. We battled for truth, not for the propagation of deception. This is not the time to intentionally misrepresent a brother in Christ for political gain.
Many have expressed grief on two levels. First, that someone would abuse the truth in this manner, and second, that people in places of leadership have remained in a state of silent endorsement.
An encouraging note surfaced recently after Alabama pastor Rick Patrick posted a sarcastic, unbelievably crude comment on social media, then quickly issued a strong statement of apology. Patrick is one of the prime movers behind the SBC Today website. His sincere humility and grief over his actions took many off guard and elicited sincere statements of forgiveness from opposing voices. He has since resigned from SBC Today.
Patrick is to be commended for his act of repentance. We hope others who have written or spoken evil of their brothers will follow his example.
Let’s pray for revival – not the kind that excites our emotions, but one that breaks our will under the judgment of God.
“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. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).