Archives For Southern Baptists

Our differences are theological and generational—and growing.

Wittenberg Doors

Nailing his 95 theses to it on October 31, 1517, disgruntled monk Martin Luther made the church door at Wittenberg a famous 16th-century landmark, and a modern-day tourist attraction.

Five hundred years after Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation with his publicly posted list of grievances against Catholic church leaders and practices, to say the movement made a lasting impact on Christians of all stripes is a gross understatement.

Southern Baptists have certainly been shaped by the doctrines of the Reformation, but the question of just how Reformed we are has created a growing divide in the denomination. As Christians worldwide celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, Southern Baptists continue to wrestle with how deeply we will be people of the Reformation in the next hundred years or two.

In his 2017 book on the Reformation, Alec Ryrie wrote that “like all great revolutions, it had created a new world.” And, like all revolutions, the Reformation has come with its own set of growing pains. Over 500 years, believers and non-believers have struggled with the tenets of the Reformers, leading to the formation of many Christian denominations, and differing strains even within those groups.

Baptists have roots in the Reformation, but often hold with varying degrees of conviction to the five points of doctrine most closely associated with Reformed theology, or Calvinism.

In the past decade, the debate over theology in the Southern Baptist Convention has found a new home: Blogs have given voice to proponents of Calvinism, and also to those who consider their soteriological views to be more traditionally Southern Baptist. The two streams hold separate meetings and conferences, but also gather annually at the Southern Baptist Convention, and have pledged to focus on the primary issues of evangelism and the Great Commission, rather than letting secondary issues divide them.

But exactly what that looks like is unclear, as is how the theological debate in the Convention will ultimately affect Southern Baptist churches. With baptisms trending downward, the questions of why and how and when we do evangelism, and what we say when we do it, have never felt more important.

As Alabama pastor Eric Hankins told the Illinois Baptist, “The controversy (over Reformed theology in the SBC) isn’t driven by pragmatic issues of working together. It’s driven by the growing realization that the two soteriological systems are incompatible.

“Should I want to share the gospel [along] with someone who thinks I have a deficient view of the nature of conversion? We’re going to have to articulate very specifically why we want to continue to work together when we believe very different things, or one side is going to have to make some adjustments in its doctrine.”

Judging from the proliferation of passionate theological arguments shared over the past decade, that’s unlikely.

Diagnosing the divides
“I am not a Calvinist,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines wrote in an e-mail exchange earlier this year. Yet Gaines, pastor of a Tennessee megachurch, leads a denomination that most admit is increasingly Calvinistic in its leadership, if not in its pews.

“Without question, Calvinism is increasing in the SBC. How will that affect the SBC in the years to come? I don’t know,” Gaines said in the e-mail interview with Kyle Gulledge, editor of the blog SBC Today.

“I am not a Calvinist. I believe God loves everybody the same, Jesus died for everybody the same, and that anyone can be saved….If someone hears the gospel and is not saved, it is because they chose to reject Christ, not because God chose not elect them to salvation,” Gaines said.

“Many Calvinists would have a problem with what I just said. Yet, I am convinced that what I just said represents the prevailing theological beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptist laypeople.”

Gaines’ words are echoed in the principles that bond Connect316, a group of Southern Baptist pastors and leaders who organized in 2013 around what they called a “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding of salvation theology. At the recent Connect316 meeting in Phoenix, Hankins pointed to the influence of Calvinism in the SBC over the past 25 years, noting, “It’s clear that traditionalists, even though we are the theological majority in the SBC, are the minority in terms of leadership and influence in the convention.”

Much of that influence emanates from SBC seminaries, including arguably the most influential Southern Baptist Calvinist, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Many credit him with facilitating the rise of Calvinism in the denomination. And two of his former staff at Southern are now leading SBC seminaries as well, Danny Akin, president of Southeastern, and Midwestern President Jason Allen.

Together, three of the six SBC seminaries have schooled a generation of pastors in the Reformed perspective. The question is whether any of the remaining three will shift their theological slant when new leadership takes office.

In 2006, Mohler sat down with another seminary president to publicly discuss the growing theological divide in the SBC. Paige Patterson, 74, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a non-Calvinist, was Mohler’s foil in two standing-room only sessions during the Pastors’ Conference in Greensboro,

Baptist Press’ reporting on the conversation between Mohler and Patterson emphasizes both men’s congeniality toward one another, despite their clear theological differences. “This is a conversation among close friends,” Mohler said. Each warned those who would agree with them against vilifying the other side.

“I would caution my non-Calvinist brethren against the conclusion that the doctrine of Calvin automatically means that a person will not and cannot be evangelistic,” Patterson said. “…One of the commands that the Lord gives is to take the gospel to the ends of earth. No Calvinist worthy of his stripe would thereby disobey a command of God.”

Mohler urged Calvinists to remember their first priority. “It is not healthy to have a person who will drive across the state to debate Calvinism but won’t even drive across the street to share the gospel.”

The seminary presidents pointed in 2006 to the key area of impact for today’s theological debate: evangelism.

Multiple views

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines (left) and other SBC leaders addressed several denominational issues, including theological differences, during a panel discussion at June’s annual meeting in Phoenix. With Gaines, panelists are (left to right) Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, ERLC President Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Texas pastor Matt Chandler, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Executive Director Kevin Smith, and moderator Jedediah Coppenger.

Competing views on salvation
The level of debate intensified in the years leading up to 2012. Just before the 2012 SBC annual meeting, a group of Southern Baptists released “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Primarily authored by Hankins, the document lays out “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding on salvation, and calls out some “New Calvinists” for trying to establish their position as “the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.”

In its 10 articles, the statement addresses points of doctrine affirmed by traditionalists, and others they reject. For instance, on the election to salvation, the traditionalist statement says, “We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are his by repentance and faith.

“We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.”

Mohler, responding to the statement, said it was time for the two sides to come together and talk. “May God save us from dividing into tribes, even as we gladly and eagerly talk with one another about the doctrines we cherish, and especially when we discuss the doctrines on which we may disagree.”

The traditionalist statement set the stage for a potentially contentious annual meeting in New Orleans, the very year that the Convention was set to take an historic step.

Trying to find common ground
“Calvin’s been around 500 years, and we have to debate this now?” SBC President Fred Luter winningly joked about the SBC theological debate on a visit to Illinois in 2013, nearly a year after he was elected the denomination’s first African American president. “Why do you guys want to do this on my watch?”

Luter’s good-natured handling of the debate surrounding theology was mostly mirrored at the New Orleans convention, as speakers from the podium urged unity despite differences. Messengers approved a resolution on the “sinner’s prayer,” affirming it as a biblical expression of repentance and faith. And that fall, SBC Executive Committee

President Frank Page appointed a Calvinism study committee to come to a consensus—of sorts—as to how Baptists could work together despite theological differences.

Prior to the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston in 2013, the Calvinism study committee released its report. In it, the group, which included Calvinists and non-Calvinists, wrote about what principles ought to govern theological conversation within the SBC, and detailed specific points of doctrine.

The report also included specific suggestions for Baptists operating within the theological tension, like how candidates for ministry positions (and the search committees interviewing them) ought to be “fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine.”

Mohler and Hankins had a public conversation about their experience on the study committee in the fall of 2013, modeling for seminarians at Mohler’s institution how to have a dialogue about areas of disagreement. When the conversation turned to evangelism, Mohler used the example of John Wesley and George Whitefield—leaders who had different soteriological views, but who shared the gospel the same way, he said.

“I think we can mislead not only others but ourselves in thinking that we have to have an absolutely common unified soteriology in order to tell people about Jesus because, if so, Southern Baptists would have had to stop doing common missions a very long time ago,” Mohler said.

Their conversation also touched on some of the more personal fallouts of the debate, with Hankins confessing that he as a traditionalist had been made to feel like his soteriology was deficient, or that he was dangerous.

Mohler countered that because they disagree, he does indeed find Hankins’ soteriological views deficient (to laughter from the audience), but not deficient enough to disallow missional cooperation.

“I would not want to be in cooperation with someone who’s soteriology I felt was deficient in a way that harmed the gospel and made common evangelism and missions impossible….If I felt that your soteriology was deficient in any way such as that, this isn’t the kind of conversation we’d be having.”

Castle at Wittenberg

Inside the castle at Wittenberg on a Reformation tour (right), Southern Seminary President Al Mohler preaches in the chapel where Luther regularly spoke.

Igniting evangelistic fire in both camps
The 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas could be the next time the theology debate is poised to make an impact on Southern Baptist life. Gaines will complete his second and final one-year term as president, and could nominate North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear for the office. Gaines mentioned that prospect in 2016, after Greear withdrew his candidacy to prevent a second run-off election between the two.

At the 2017 annual meeting in Phoenix, Gaines confirmed the account, but declined to speak further because he and Greear haven’t discussed it since, according to the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.

Prior to the 2016 convention, Gaines and Greear were viewed as representative of different parts of the SBC: Gaines, then 58, is by his own admission “not a Calvinist.” Greear, then 43, represents a generation that has increasingly embraced Reformed theology. Before Gaines’ election in St. Louis, The Christian Post online newspaper said in a headline, “SBC votes today on whether Millennial Reformed theology represents the future.”

In the end, unity and a cooperative spirit won out. The candidates met, each seeking a way to avoid division, and both volunteered to step aside before Greear ultimately convinced Gaines to accept his concession.

In 2018, should Greear be nominated and elected, he would be the first of his generation of Reformed thinkers to hold the office of SBC president. He also would have the responsibility that all SBC presidents hold to name the Committee on Committees, which names the Committee on Nominations, which nominates trustees for SBC boards. Gaines recently outlined that process, in answer to a question by SBC Today about how everyday Southern Baptists can have a voice in SBC life.

“If ‘the grass-roots, mom-and-pop Southern Baptist members’ want their voice to be heard, they need to elect SBC presidents that will appoint SBC Committee on Committee members who will appoint people who share their convictions,” Gaines said. “They should attend every SBC annual meeting and vote for the SBC president who will best represent their views.”

Gaines has made prayer and evangelism the markers of his presidency. At the June annual meeting in Phoenix, he encouraged all Southern Baptists to focus on evangelism, “regardless of their doctrinal convictions on the matter,” Baptist Press reported.

“Our world is going straight to hell and we need to be one in telling people about Jesus and not letting these secondary things divide us,” Gaines said during a panel discussion hosted by Baptist21, a network of younger Baptist leaders.

He has appointed a soul-winning task force to reverse the trend of declining baptisms and to renew evangelism in the denomination. Greear is part of the team.

“The main thing we can do to go forward is to focus on winning people to Jesus Christ,” Gaines said in Phoenix.

“If you’re a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist, you don’t know who’s lost and who’s saved. I would just say if you’re going to be a Calvinist be a Spurgeon Calvinist, and let’s go out and tell people about Jesus Christ. The bottom line is this: we’re supposed to ask people to repent and believe in the gospel.”

– By Meredith Flynn with reporting by Baptist Press

What Baptists have forgotten (or never knew) about our heritage

Dockery text

The Lord blessed me with the wonderful privilege of growing up in a Christian home—a faithful, Baptist home. Sundays for our family included Sunday school, church services, and afternoon choir practice, as well as Bible Drills, Discipleship Training, and Sunday evening after-church fellowship. It was generally a very busy day. Wednesdays included church suppers, prayer meetings, mission organizations, committee meetings, and another choir practice.

During the week there were opportunities for outreach visitation, WMU, and other activities. Summer calendars were built around Vacation Bible School, church camps, and other church-related events. My family planned weeks and seasons around church activities. Our heroes were Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and Bill Wallace of China. But apart from a world history course as a high school student, I do not recall ever hearing stories about the Reformation, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, or other early 16th-century Protestant leaders in any church-related activity.

My guess is that my experience parallels that of many other readers of the Illinois Baptist. Why then should Baptists pay attention to the many events and programs taking place this year to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, for we are not Lutherans, nor Anglicans, nor Presbyterians. Yet, whether we realize it or not, many of our core convictions as Baptists have been influenced or shaped by those 16th-century thinkers.

What was the Reformation?
The Reformation was a wide-ranging movement of theological and spiritual renewal in 16th-century Europe. Many people across Germany and Switzerland over a period of several decades contributed to this movement, but the most visible event, according to tradition, took place on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther (1483-1546), a monk and university professor, nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

Luther was concerned with papal abuses and the selling of indulgences (essentially a ticket out of purgatory for loved ones) in the Roman Catholic Church, along with what he considered to be faulty understandings of justification by faith, biblical authority, and other important doctrinal matters.

Philip Melancthon, one of Luther’s colleagues who knew him as well as anyone, called Luther “the Elijah of Protestantism” and compared his influence to that of the Apostle Paul in the first century. Martin Luther roused the church from her slumber, reopened the fountain of God’s Holy Word for many people, and was responsible for directing a generation to know Jesus Christ as their Lord.

When one thinks of the Reformation period, one reflects upon the titanic force of Luther, the good sense and preaching ministry of Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) in Zurich, Switzerland, and the biblical exposition and theological articulations of John Calvin (1509-64) in Geneva. Among these three important leaders of the Reformation, there is general agreement that the one with the greatest influence was Martin Luther.

Closing the gap from Luther to Southern Baptists
Many people reading this article have grown up in a home or church with experiences rather similar to those I described earlier. Somehow we had a sense that our parents, grandparents, and pastors had received an understanding of the Christian faith as if it had come directly to them from the 1st-century apostles. We were quite naively unaware of what went on in between then and now. By and large, Baptists do not know very well our heritage, our history, or our theological identity.

The reality is that while we are “a people of the Book,” shaped, formed, and informed by Holy Scripture, we also have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us who stood on the shoulders of others.

Francis Wayland, a most significant Baptist leader in the 19th century, wrote these words in “The Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches” (1861): “I do not believe that any denomination of Christians exists, which, for so long a period as Baptists, has maintained so invariably the truth of their early confession…The theological tenets of the Baptists, both in England and America, may be briefly stated as follows: they are emphatically the doctrines of the Reformation, and they have been held with singular unanimity and consistency.”

With Christians through the centuries, Baptists stand with the Reformers in confessing that there is one and only one living and true God, who is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal being, the creator, redeemer, preserver, and ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections.

Furthermore, our confession as Baptists maintains that God is triune and that there are within the godhead three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can say that God is one in his nature and three in his persons.

More specifically, we confess that there is only one God, but in the unity of the godhead, there are three eternal and equal persons, the same in substance, yet distinct in function.

Baptists are “people of the Book.” With Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and other 16th-century Reformers, Baptists believe it is impossible to define or even describe Christian orthodoxy apart from a commitment to a full-orbed doctrine of Scripture. Baptist theology and spirituality rest on Scripture as the central legitimizing source of Christian faith and doctrine, the clearest window through which the face of Christ may be seen.

The Reformers were also in agreement regarding the truthfulness and authority of Scripture, a belief with very real consequences. Such an understanding of Holy Scripture led to a rejection of the medieval belief and practice concerning papal authority and church tradition.

The Reformers recognized that these matters could no longer be acknowledged as an authority equal with Scripture or as a standard independent of the Bible. Martin Luther summarized well these things when he said, “Everyone indeed, knows that at times the Fathers have erred, as men will; therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they give me evidence for their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred.”

Salvation by grace through faith
The Reformers believed that medieval thinkers had led the church astray by teaching that human effort and good works, as well as moral or ritual action, would earn favor in the eyes of God, enabling sinners to achieve salvation. A serious ongoing study of the teachings of the Apostle Paul, however, led Luther to the conviction that sinners are granted forgiveness as well as full and free pardon only through faith in Jesus Christ.

Sinners are justified by grace through faith, not by their own achievements. The Reformers were in full agreement that justification is a forensic declaration of pardon, which Christ has won through his victory over sin, death, the law, and the devil.

Standing on the shoulders of the Reformers, Baptists believe that justification is accomplished at the cross of Christ (Rom. 5:10), guaranteed by his resurrection (Rom. 4:24-25), and applied to believers when we confess our faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1).

Experientially, we still sin, but God views us as totally righteous, clothed in the robes of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 4:1-8). Because of Christ’s sacrifice, God no longer counts our sins against us (2 Cor. 5:19-21). Thus, justification is even more than pardon, as wonderful as that is; it is the granting of positive favor in God’s sight based on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26).

It was John Calvin who emphasized the perseverance of the saints, which Baptists sometimes refer to as the doctrine of eternal security. Our salvation is secured in Christ, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (John 10:28-30; Rom. 8:31-39), yet our response to this truth brings our assurance.

About priests and believers
The Reformers were in full agreement in their affirmations of scriptural authority and the essence of the doctrine of salvation. Likewise, they rejected the superiority of the priesthood, of vocational ministry, stressing instead the priesthood of all believers. Not only did this mean that all believers in Christ had access to God (Heb. 10:19-25), but it underscored the Christian dignity of ordinary human callings, including artists, laborers, homemakers, and plowmen. By implication, this elevated the importance of family life, opening the door for clerical marriage.

The Reformers rejected the mediation of Mary and the intercession of all the saints, insisting that Christ alone was our high priest to bear our sin and sympathize with our weaknesses. They rejected the medieval teaching regarding the seven sacraments, insisting that the New Testament only taught two sacraments or ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Reformers unanimously rejected the sacrificial nature of the Lord’s Supper, refuting the church’s teaching regarding transubstantiation. Baptists have emphasized a view of the Lord’s Supper that reflects much of the perspective of Ulrich Zwingli.

The Reformers also departed from the medieval teaching which affirmed that the church was dependent on communion with the papacy. Instead they insisted that the church was called into being by God’s Spirit and was established on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).

Baptists have shaped their beliefs regarding the triune God, Jesus Christ, Holy Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, the church, the ordinances, Christian service, and the family in recognition of their gratitude for and indebtedness to the courage and conviction of the 16th-century Reformers. Yet, Baptists have chosen not to be content merely with the basic teachings of the Reformers. They have also modified these teachings and moved beyond them in key areas that we often call “Baptist distinctives.”

Baptists shaped their own distinctives
While Baptists are heirs of the 16th-century Reformation (with influence also from the “radical reformers” like Menno Simons, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and Balthasar Hubmaier), they have moved beyond the Reformers in at least five key areas.

  • Baptists affirm believer’s baptism by immersion, instead of the Reformers’ view of infant baptism.
  • Baptists have contended for a voluntary understanding of the church and congregationalism based on a regenerate church membership, instead of an inherited understanding of church membership connected with infant baptism.
  • Baptists repudiate church-state ties, stressing religious liberty along with the local organization of church life, instead of state control or even denominational control.
  • Baptists believe that the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be practiced as matters of obedience and fellowship, rather than as a means of grace.
  • Baptists, more so than any of the 16th-century Reformers, have consistently stressed the priority of the Great Commission and global missions.

We recognize that Baptists are a people committed to the primacy of Scripture, who are heirs of the best of the Reformation. The gospel-focused, scripturally grounded core to which we all must hold has been greatly influenced, both directly and indirectly, by the teachings of the Reformers. It is important for us during this year of commemorating and celebrating the Reformation to clarify our confessional commitments and reappropriate, retrieve, and reclaim the very best of both the Reformation heritage and our Baptist heritage.

We pray that the reminders to which we have pointed in this brief article will enhance our understanding of the gospel and deepen our commitment to Scripture and to our Baptist confessional heritage, bringing renewal to our churches and our shared service as we seek to pass on this heritage in a faithful manner to the next generation, and as we seek to take the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and needy world.

– David S. Dockery is president of Trinity International University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in metro Chicago. 

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There was one point during the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix when three thoughts of mine collided:

• How can this many people make a well-informed and well-reasoned decision?

• In the social media era, how can we make it possible for even more people to participate on a level that young adults have come to expect?

• And, then, how can we continue this very expensive system of having fewer and fewer people travel halfway or more across the country to attend?

The collision came late on Tuesday, when young messengers were pleading for the crowd in the hall to consider the weight of public opinion (read: Twitter) in their debate over alt-right racism. (“What will the people out there think of us?”) In my head, I could hear old people saying, “Who cares? This is not their decision, it’s ours—Southern Baptists—and in particular the ones who paid to travel to Phoenix to speak up and to vote.” (Maybe it was just me, speaking on behalf of old people.)

But to the young messengers pleading on behalf of the masses, it was important, because they are used to the hearing from the masses on every issue: like, heart, thumbs up, smiley face, colon/capital P tongue-sticking-out. (Yes, my emoticon reference is dated.)

Executive Committee President Frank Page told the messengers, proudly, that the Convention is an anomaly: “This is a deliberative body, the largest openly deliberative body that still exists,” Page said. “But know that the Executive Committee also deliberates carefully at multiple levels dealing with each of the issues before they’re ever presented to you, from small groups to medium-size [groups] to the large plenary sessions. Our Executive Committee members are not rubber-stampers. They ask questions, they deliberate, they discuss and sometimes disagree. So know that we hold your trust carefully and we count it to be precious.”

That’s an uneasy balance for Baptists whose theology makes us accustomed to voting on almost everything—even changing the light bulbs.

The first national Baptist body in the U.S. was the Triennial Convention, founded in Philadelphia in 1814. They met every three years. When Southern Baptists broke off in 1845, they chose to meet every year, and to include as many people as possible by sending messengers rather than electing representatives. (It is a small but important distinction.)

But technology and airline costs are pressing on our expectations: Remembering conventions with 15,000 and more regularly in attendance, we want more participants than the 5,000 who flew to Phoenix. And technology would make that possible. Yet, we do not want our denomination making knee-jerk statements at every cultural twist and turn. Theology doesn’t demand an annual meeting cycle or populist group-think.

I know these impulses seem to be in conflict: more participation, and more-reasoned debate. But watching the clock tick as debate on an unexpected resolution took time from discussion on the decline in baptisms and a renewed call to evangelism, it became clear that a relatively few people in a distant city can make reactionary decisions. Next time, the outcome might not be so positive.

(Editor’s Note: Modest Proposal 1 on merging the mission boards can be read here.)

-Eric Reed

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When the sun goes dark Aug. 21, southern Illinois will be one of the best places to catch the first total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. since 1979. Churches in the region, along with others across the country, are planning to use the event as an opportunity to share the gospel.

Everyone in the contiguous U.S. will be able to see at least a partial eclipse, but the 70-mile-wide “path of totality,” in which a total eclipse will be visible, will pass through 14 states, including Illinois. Makanda, Ill., located just south of Carbondale, has been cited as the “greatest point of duration,” or the place where the eclipse will be visible the longest—2 minutes and 38 seconds, according to a city website devoted to sharing eclipse information.

Lakeland Baptist Church in Carbondale hosted an area-wide prayer and worship rally Aug. 14 to spiritually prepare for the influx of people. And Nine Mile Baptist Association, through a partnership with IBSA, plans to distribute 50,000 gospel tracts during the weekend prior to the eclipse. Additionally, people will be stationed at each of Carbondale’s four entry points to pray over every car that enters the city. “We want to cover our city in prayer,” said Lakeland Pastor Phil Nelson.

Elsewhere in the eclipse’s path, churches are utilizing the unique ministry opportunity to meet spiritual needs in their community—whether it’s inviting eclipse viewers to use their parking lots, or using the event to launch future ministries.

In Casper, Wyo., Mountain View Baptist Church and College Heights Baptist Church have partnered with Child Evangelism Fellowship of Central Wyoming to purchase copies of a DVD titled “God of Wonders,” which explains how creation reveals God and how salvation is available through Jesus Christ. Church members will distribute the DVDs during the eclipse along with 3,000 evangelistic bookmarks.

“Additionally,” Mountain View pastor Buddy Hanson said, “if our parking lot is utilized for eclipse watchers, we will take that opportunity to try and share the gospel.”
In Lincoln, Neb., the launch of Hope City, a North American Mission Board church plant, is set to correspond with the eclipse. The congregation’s first service is slated for Aug. 20. That day and during the eclipse, the church will distribute 2,000 “college survival kits” at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., will host a gospel concert on Sunday, Aug. 20, and is inviting people to watch the eclipse from their parking lots the next day. “We have already handed out over 4,000 eclipse viewing glasses and have several hundred more for those needing them,” said Executive Pastor Bruce Raley.

Beginning just after 10 a.m. local time in Lincoln Beach, Ore., the total eclipse will take approximately an hour and a half to pass over Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Viewers are strongly encouraged to wear eclipse glasses or other protective eyewear.

– From Baptist Press, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

SBC 17

Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying “alt-right white supremacy” were among highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix.

In addition, messengers honored 15-term registration secretary Jim Wells with a resolution of appreciation after hearing a report he is in the advanced stages of cancer. Attendees of the SBC Pastors’ Conference preceding the annual meeting elected Florida pastor H.B. Charles as the conference’s first black president.

The unofficial total of 5,018 registered messengers, down from 7,321 last year, expanded representation on the Executive Committee to include four states or defined territories which had not previously qualified for representation under Bylaw 30. Southern Baptists also gave the EC authority to sell the SBC Building in Nashville and received a multimillion-dollar gift through the Cooperative Program from the Florida Baptist Convention stemming from the sale of its building in Jacksonville.

When registered guests, exhibitors and others were included, the count of those at the annual meeting was tallied, as of June 15, at 9,318.

Alt-right resolution

A resolution on “the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy” decried “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and pledged to pray “both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived.”

A vote to approve the resolution June 14 was followed by a standing ovation from messengers.

In its initial report, the Resolutions Committee declined to recommend convention action on a resolution submitted by Texas pastor Dwight McKissic condemning the white supremacist movements sometimes known as “white nationalism” or the “alt-right.” Two June 13 motions to consider the resolution on the convention floor each failed to achieve the requisite two-thirds majority. Amid ongoing discussion, however, the Resolutions Committee requested and was granted by the convention an opportunity to reverse its decision and present a resolution on alt-right racist ideology.

Resolutions Committee chairman Barrett Duke, in presenting the resolution, told messengers, “We regret and apologize for the pain and the confusion that we created for you and a watching world when we decided not to report out a resolution on alt-right racism.” The committee abhors racism, Duke said, adding the initial decision not to recommend a resolution condemning alt-right racist ideology did not reflect sympathy with that ideology.

Evangelism task force

SBC President Steve Gaines, who was reelected to a second term, recommended creation of the evangelism task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in personal soul winning and evangelistic preaching. North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell made a motion, later approved by messengers, that the convention authorize Gaines to appoint the group.

In the annual meeting’s final session, Gaines announced the members of the 19-person task force, including chairman Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The group will report to the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Creation of the task force was in keeping with an evangelism emphasis in Gaines’ presidential address. “I want to encourage you to be a soul winner,” said Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.

A Tuesday-evening message by California pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie urged preachers to extend public invitations for people to follow Christ whenever they proclaim the Gospel. In his message, Laurie announced that Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., where he is pastor, has begun cooperating with the SBC.

Wells honored

The resolution of appreciation for Wells, recommended by the Executive Committee, expressed “deepest and most sincere gratitude to God” that Wells “has fulfilled the role as an officer of the Convention with godliness, integrity, kindness, and thoroughness, assuring that each duly elected messenger from churches that cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention was properly certified and that each messenger’s ballot was accurately counted and reported in every balloted vote.”

Wells, who was first elected registration secretary in 2002, was not present at the annual meeting. The EC appointed his chief assistant Don Currence, minister of administration and children’s pastor of First Baptist Church in Ozark, Mo., as acting registration secretary. Messengers elected Currence as 2018 registration secretary on the second ballot from a field of five nominees.

Executive Committee report

Among 11 Executive Committee recommendations approved by messengers was one authorizing the EC “to continue studying the advisability of a sale of the SBC Building, and to sell the property upon such terms and conditions, and at such a time, if any, as the Executive Committee may hereafter approve.”

Another recommendation approved by messengers granted EC representation to four regions even though they have too few church members to apply for EC representation under the provisions of SBC Bylaw 30. The recommendation amended Bylaw 18 to list the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Montana as each being entitled to a single EC representative.

During the EC’s report, Florida Baptist Convention executive director Tommy Green presented a check for $3,156,500 to help fund SBC Cooperative Program ministries. The gift represented 51 percent of proceeds from the sale of the Florida convention’s building. EC President Frank S. Page said the gift brought 2016-17 CP Allocation Budget overage above last year’s surplus total.

Page’s report to the SBC included the launch of a convention-wide stewardship emphasis featuring a partnership with Ramsey Solutions, the organization led by radio host Dave Ramsey. The stewardship emphasis continued June 14 with a president’s panel discussion on stewardship moderated by Gaines.

Officers

In addition to Gaines and Currence, newly elected SBC officers included first vice president Walter Strickland, a leader of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Kingdom Diversity Initiative, and Jose Abella, pastor of Providence Road Church, a bilingual congregation in Miami. Recording secretary John Yeats was reelected to a 21st term.

Patterson was elected as the 2018 convention preacher.

Motions

Messengers made 11 motions. The only one to receive approval at the annual meeting was the proposal to create an evangelism task force. Two motions were ruled out of order, and eight were referred to SBC entities or committees.

Among motions to be referred were a proposal to study merging NAMB and the International Mission Board and a request that NAMB, the IMB and LifeWay Christian Resources consider expanding their trustee boards to grant broader representation.

A motion to let messengers consider defunding the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission was ruled out of order because it was made after the convention approved the 2017-18 CP Allocation Budget, which establishes the percentage of CP receipts distributed to each CP-funded entity.

In other news:

— IMB President David Platt said the board’s finances are on “stable ground” and urged messengers to focus on the “present work we are doing” rather than “past financial struggles.” The IMB presentation included a commissioning service at which messengers gathered around newly appointed missionaries to pray.

— In the NAMB report, Ezell said 732 new churches were planted by Southern Baptists in 2016 and 232 existing churches began cooperating with the SBC.

— The annual Crossover evangelism emphasis and the tandem Harvest America crusade yielded 3,549 professions of faith.

— A group of about 50 protesters gathered outside the Phoenix Convention Center June 13, asking the SBC to remove homosexuality and transgenderism from its “sin list.” The group distributed flyers that included the 2017 SBC logo and theme.

— Messengers approved changing the IMB’s fiscal year to Oct. 1-Sept. 30.

— The Global Hunger Relief Run June 14 allowed messengers and other annual meeting attendees to participate in either a 5K run or one-mile family-oriented fun run to raise money for hunger relief projects in North America and internationally.

— A full 80 percent of members elected to the 2017-18 Committee on Nominations have never served on an SBC board or committee, said Randy Davis, chairman of the Committee on Committees, the body which nominates the Committee on Nominations.

— All speakers at the June 11-12 SBC Pastors’ Conference were pastors of churches with approximately 500 or fewer in average attendance.

— All annual meeting attendees are asked to fill out a survey available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/sbcam17.

–Baptist Press

Welcome to our mission field

Elizabeth Young

Elizabeth Young

For the third time in 14 years, Arizona Southern Baptists will welcome the larger Southern Baptist family to Phoenix in June.

When Phoenix was chosen to host the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting the first time in 2003, we were more than a little surprised, given our reputation for high summertime temperatures. But with Baptists’ repeated visits, we figured the word must have gotten out that, given our low humidity, our average 102-106 degree June temperature isn’t as bad as “back home” for a lot of folks.

We’re delighted when the family comes to town. We hope, for many, it’s a reminder that Southern Baptist work does exist outside of the Deep South and west of the Continental Divide. Illinois Baptists may feel the same way about recognition of Southern Baptists north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

While we want to offer a warm welcome to the family, we sincerely pray that our guests will remember they are on a mission field. We pray for a quiet, peaceful annual meeting so that we don’t have to explain to our lost neighbors why feuding Baptists, or Baptists engaged in culture wars, made the local news. When you’re up to your eyeballs in lost people, it puts a different perspective on priorities of concern.

Illinois Baptists probably understand this, too. Although we have some differences, we seem to have a lot in common.

You have more people—almost 13 million to our 6.9 million—but we have more land—nearly 114,000 square miles to your almost 58,000. You have more churches—nearly 1,000 to our about 450—but we have similar church-to-population ratios—one church for every 13,000 people in Illinois and one for every 15,000 in Arizona.

Both of our states have one large metropolitan area that encompasses two-thirds or more of the state’s population. And whether it’s Chicagoland or greater Phoenix, also known as the Valley of the Sun, the city is a massive sea of people who don’t know Jesus as savior.

Whether on not you make the trek to the Grand Canyon State this summer, our message to you is the same. We’re drawing from Paul’s Macedonian Call in Acts 16:9 and inviting you to “Come over…and help us.”

Consider what God is calling you to do:
• Pray for God’s work in our vast state.
• Partner with an Arizona church.
• Plant a church in Arizona.

May God give all of us a “Macedonian” vision for Arizona—and beyond!

Elizabeth Young is director of communications for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention and the editor of Portraits magazine.

Phoenix rising

When Baptists gather in Phoenix next month, they’ll address the challenges of taking the gospel to a world that seems less inclined to hear the message, and doing so with fewer resources to get the job done.

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention June 13-14 will also meet against a very different political backdrop than a year ago, and could contend with the fallout of recent debate fueled by a raucous and divisive U.S. presidential election.

Or not.

Recent calls for Convention-wide unity—and similar statements by SBC leaders—could rule the day in Phoenix, where Baptists will focus on prayer, evangelism, and financial stewardship, said SBC President Steve Gaines.

“I believe Southern Baptists can be used of God to spark a mighty movement of prayer, evangelism, and discipleship across our nation and around the world,” said Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in metro Memphis, Tenn., in announcing the meeting’s theme. “Pray! For such a time as this” is based on Luke 18:1 and Esther 4:14.

“If we will pray and abandon ourselves to the Lord, he will use us exponentially to take the gospel to people,” Gaines said.

SBC personalities

Similar to the previous few annual meetings, Gaines said the 2017 gathering will include seasons of prayer, as well as a personal evangelism emphasis on Tuesday evening led by Greg Laurie.

The California evangelist also will lead a Harvest Crusade Sunday, June 11, as part of the annual Crossover evangelistic effort that precedes the Southern Baptist Convention (see Nate Adams’s column on page 2 for more information). Organizers say the event at University of Phoenix Stadium, which holds 65,000 people, promises to be the largest single gospel presentation in Arizona history.

Focus on stewardship
Following the example of previous annual meetings, the gathering in Phoenix will include a panel discussion with SBC leaders. This year’s topic: financial stewardship.

Gaines told Baptist Press Southern Baptist churches cannot give more to SBC missions and ministries than church members give through their local congregations.

“The solution for increased funding for world missions begins in the heart of every individual believer in Christ,” he said. “Southern Baptists need to get our financial houses in order.

The Cooperative Program—Southern Baptists’ unified giving channel for supporting missions and ministry around the world—is likely to be a topic of conversation in Phoenix as well. In February, Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, pastored by former SBC President Jack Graham, announced they would temporarily escrow their CP giving because of positions taken by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

ERLC President Russell Moore, a vocal critic of now-President Donald Trump during the campaign, has apologized for comments that seemed directed at all evangelicals who supported Trump, and the ERLC’s executive board released a statement in April pledging their support for Moore. The statement also called for unity in the SBC despite differences, a sentiment echoed by Gaines.

“I believe all of us who are recipients of grace and forgiveness should grant him the same forgiveness that we desire from the Lord,” Gaines said after Moore and the ERLC executive board released the statement. “It is high time that we put all of this behind us….It is time to move ahead and work together to double our efforts to take the gospel to our nation and the nations.”

If the recent controversy surrounding the ERLC does make an appearance at the SBC, it could be in the form of a motion from the floor, or during the Q&A time following Moore’s report, which is the final item on the meeting schedule. International Mission Board President David Platt could also face questions about the IMB’s support of a Muslim group’s fight to build a mosque in New Jersey. (Like the ERLC, the IMB also signed on to a friend of the court brief in support of the group.)

In February, Platt apologized for how “distracting and divisive” the brief was, and pledged that in the future, the IMB “will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission.” Still, the mosque debate could spark a religious liberty conversation in Phoenix, as could President Trump’s controversial travel ban for people from some majority Muslim countries into the U.S.

Online pre-registration for the Phoenix meeting is now open at sbcannualmeeting/sbc17. Messengers and guests are required to be registered and properly badged in order to enter the general sessions June 13-14.

For more information about the Southern Baptist Convention’s June meeting in Phoenix, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.

– With info from Baptist Press