Lord willing, over the next few days I will be blogging through the GCR Declaration in anticipation of next week’s SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. This is the second article in what I hope will be a series. As you read, please remember that while Between the Time is a group blog that includes a number of Southeastern Seminary professors, these articles (and every article I write) represent my own personal opinions. I speak only for myself, so please avoid imputing my views to any of my fellow contributors unless they have publicly spoken/written about these matters and you can cite their agreement. The comments are open, but because of the large volume of blogging I will be engaging in this week you will understand if I choose not to interact with many comments.
Article II: A Commitment to Gospel-Centeredness
First of all, let me say I love the fact that the GCR Declaration takes a moment to offer a simple definition of the gospel rather than simply assuming that everyone knows what it is. This is one reason so many American churches (and not a few SBC churches) are in danger of losing the gospel. It’s not a matter of denial, but rather a matter of assumption. And assumption today leads to unbelief tomorrow.
I also like that the GCR Declaration doesn’t speak of the gospel as if it were just a list of truths that must be affirmed to “get in the family”. Instead, it understands the gospel to be the good news that animates every moment of our existence from new birth to resurrected glory. Southern Baptists need to hear more of this type of preaching and teaching. Until they do, the I-Podders among us will continue to spend five times as much time listening to non-Southern Baptist preachers as they do pastors in their own denomination.
I also like that the document speaks to the possible offense of some of our “styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes”. All of our churches have their own unique problems (even the best of them), and I strongly suspect there are certain “styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes” that characterize Southern Baptists in general. We can and will debate what those are, but this much I know-we better root them out and destroy them when we find them. In our public discourse we are often far more obnoxious than we think we are and too often just self-centered enough to think the problem lies with others.
I also think the GCR Declaration helpfully reminds us that all of our programs need to be closely tied to the gospel. This means more than a simple “plan of salvation” printed in the flyleaf of all our curricula. It means making the precious truths of all that God has accomplished through Christ explicit in everything. How do we read every passage of Scripture in light of the gospel? How do we do youth, children’s, men’s, and women’s ministry in light of the gospel? How do we evangelize in light of the gospel? How do we disciple in light of the gospel? How do we engage culture in light of the gospel? How do we plant churches in light of the gospel? This is the question that we must ask of everything that we do, in our churches and in our wider denominational life.
I am going to say something that some of you will think is too provocative, but it needs to be said. The number one complaint I hear about the SBC is that the Convention doesn’t take the gospel seriously enough. Numero uno. And let me assure you that I am talking about Southern Baptists from a variety of backgrounds and ages and a variety of theological persuasions. They argue that we hear a lot about programs. And we hear about the culture war. And we hear about Baptist distinctives. And we hear about our statistics. But we don’t hear nearly enough about the gospel.
I have a prediction: David Platt is going to rock some peoples’ worlds when he preaches at the Convention. That’s all I’ll say about that right now. Pray for David-he’s not what we’re used to, in a good way.
Article III: A Commitment to the Great Commandments
I will not say much here about the Great Commandment because much of what I could write would overlap with the things I said about the lordship of Christ. So let me just say this: if we love the Lord as we ought, we will love our fellow Christians and unbelievers as we ought.
I want to focus more attention on the Second Greatest Commandment because I think Southern Baptists have a conspicuous problem here, and not just in matters of racism and ethnic diversity (to which the GCR Declaration does a fine job of speaking). I just want to add that the more we love the Lord and faithfully preach and live-out his gospel the more our churches will reflect the ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic diversity of their respective regions. To the degree we focus on ourselves and assume the gospel, most of our churches will continue to look like little colonies of Dixie in an increasingly cosmopolitan culture.
But it’s the part about getting along in our intra-Convention relationships that I want to talk about. The moderates used to say that after the conservatives got rid of all the progressives, we would turn on each other because it is in the nature of fundamentalism to have to have bad guys to fight against. Now I think moderates were (and are) wrong about many things, but they were dead right about this one. And it is to our shame.
It is appalling how badly we treat each other. Some of the nastiest, most petty, most untrustworthy people I know are Southern Baptist ministers and denominational servants. I’m dead serious. Now don’t misunderstand me-most of the folks I know are not like this. But the fact that any are like this is a disgrace to Southern Baptists and a disgrace to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have seen “leaders” speak out of both sides of their mouth without batting an eye. I have seen pastors strut when they are sitting down. I have heard gossip and even vitriol couched in the language of concern and piety. I have seen people lie on weblogs, and then seen others lie when they responded to the first liars. I have heard backhanded compliments and seen daggered smiles. I have seen well-meaning men too chicken to confront other men who were sinning in their actions and speech. And I have seen some who were confronted (some by me) dismiss it with a “well, that’s not what I meant brother”. Indeed.
I already mentioned why most of the folks I talk to complain about the SBC. Now let me tell you what most bothers me about the SBC-the way we treat each other. By God’s grace I have a fantastic job, doing exactly what I want to do for exactly whom I want to be doing it. I work for godly men, and I mean that with utter sincerity. But when I see how some folks in the SBC treat each other, it makes me want to walk away from this whole thing and join another group. And I teach Southern Baptist history and identity for a living.
Friends, we have got to treat each other Christianly and we’ve got to be honest enough to admit that much of the time we don’t. I’m sick and tired of gossip, slander, character assassinations, and dog and pony shows. I want to see more integrity and hear more gospel.
I’m sorry for being so pointed (I’m on the verge of weeping while I write this-I’ve been holding this in for years), but this is a serious problem and everyone reading this article knows it is a serious problem. So what are we going to do about it?