I don’t know of a time when the Southern Baptist Convention has ever been popular among the general public. Sadly, it has also been verbally abused lately by a number of young ministers within it, most of whom are trying to be “relevant” as far as I can tell. As a twenty-something blogger, recent SBC seminary graduate, and SBC church staff member, I fit the demographic of these attackers perfectly. Instead of following in my peers’ footsteps, I would like to explain what I most love about the Southern Baptist Convention. These points are intended to help those who are less informed gain appreciation for the SBC, not to bring anything new to the table for insiders.
1. Its doctrinal integrity and the Baptist Faith and Message
The main reason I choose to identify myself as a Southern Baptist is because of our denomination’s commitment to faithfully follow what God has revealed to us in the Bible. The vast majority of churches in the SBC have always held firmly to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, and by His grace the denomination itself has shifted back to its biblical roots in recent decades. Whereas most large Protestant denominations are taking steps away from biblical truth, the SBC has become an organization that is thoroughly committed to it. The SBC’s statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message, is an excellent summary of this truth. It not only contains biblical descriptions of basic doctrines such as the nature of God and salvation, but it also matches what I believe to be the Bible’s teachings concerning everything from the roles God has given to men and women to the proper mode of baptism. I am well assured that within the SBC I will find faithful, like-minded followers of Christ acting as denominational leaders, missionaries, professors, pastors, and regular folks sitting in the pews.
2. Its commitment to missions and evangelism
Ever since the first meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, missions and evangelism have been top priorities. The Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) was established right away to help Baptist churches spread the gospel abroad, and a domestic missions agency (now called the North American Mission Board) came soon afterward to see souls saved and new churches planted across the United States. If you have attended an annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention recently you know that this trend continues today. We carry out denominational business because it is necessary, but at these meetings it is clear that we are a gospel-minded people who want to see God glorified in real lives being transformed through faith in Christ.
3. Its service to local churches
The Southern Baptist Convention has always existed to serve local churches. Considering the roles of the SBC’s agencies makes this apparent. The mission boards enable churches to pool their resources to send missionaries so that even small churches that could never fund their own missionaries can do their part. The seminaries train pastors for the local churches. LifeWay (a.k.a. the Sunday School Board) provides a huge range of services for local churches, from Bible study materials to youth camps to church architecture. The list goes on and on. The SBC does not exist to promote itself but to support local churches in making disciples of all nations.
4. The autonomy of its local churches
The Southern Baptist Convention’s churches are completely self-governing. This is a foreign concept to some Christians since many denominations have a top-down approach in which denominational leaders issue orders that their churches must follow. In the SBC, each individual church makes its own orders. Even when the SBC makes resolutions and recommendations to churches, the final decision on all church matters falls in the hands of the congregations themselves. The most drastic thing that the SBC can do to a church is to ask it not to associate itself with the denomination any longer. Those of us who have studied church polity know that this kind of structure is called congregational church government and is not limited only to the SBC. However, the SBC is one of very few denominations that is consistent on this point. SBC churches are a part of the denomination because they have chosen to be, not because of any control by a hierarchical structure.
5. Accountability to its local churches
Not only are SBC churches self-governing but they actually govern the denomination itself. The SBC was established with a democratic process built in that makes its agencies and leaders accountable to local churches. Instead of a top-down system, the SBC is controlled from the bottom up. It was this characteristic of the denomination that allowed a drastic change in leadership and doctrinal direction to take place from 1979 to 1993. By that time the seminaries and bureaucrats of the SBC had gone the direction that most denominations do by shifting away from belief in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God—a belief that the SBC had been founded upon 134 years earlier. When the local churches were made aware that the SBC’s leadership did not share their core beliefs, they protested with their votes at the annual meetings. For the first time in history a grassroots movement of faithful church members overruled the bureaucracy and caused a major Christian denomination to undergo a rapid shift back toward biblical truth. I do not know of any other denomination in which this could happen.
6. The Cooperative Program
The Southern Baptist Convention has a system of receiving funds from churches whereby all tithing members of SBC churches can be assured that their money will help to send missionaries and serve a number of other worthy Christian causes. This system is called the Cooperative Program. Rather than each arm of the SBC having to raise all of its own money, the CP allows contributions from churches to be pooled and distributed according to need. This ensures that our foreign and domestic missions efforts remain well-funded, that social justice is upheld in various ways, that our seminaries can keep tuition low, that Christian causes can be fought for in the American legal system, and much more.
7. Its present leadership
Most of the attacks on the Southern Baptist Convention come in the form of insults and accusations against specific denominational leaders. The media love to attack them for their belief in biblical doctrines and paint them as narrow-minded. Some young SBC pastors love to attack them for no apparent reason, which I suppose is based on my generation’s growing disrespect for authority. Personally, I have nothing but respect for these men. I admit that I don’t know most of them personally, but those whom I do know are men of integrity with a dedication to Christ that I rarely encounter. Our denomination’s leaders serve in their roles because of their willingness to take up their cross daily and follow Him, not because they have a desire to climb a ladder. These are men who have healthy private devotional lives, who do personal evangelism regularly, and who lead their families faithfully in the ways of the Lord. Moreover, I have seen in them a willingness to recognize problems in themselves and in the denomination and to make appropriate changes. These men have the kingdom of heaven on their minds and not the things of this world, and I am glad they are there to provide examples to us of what it looks like to live godly in Christ Jesus.