Monday, December 05, 2005

Lasering Lemke - Conclusion

I have no reason to doubt Dr. Lemke's deep concern about the future of the SBC and our churches, because I share many of his concerns. Where I differ is with his analysis and observations of the current problems in the SBC and the implied and traditional solutions he offers along with his predictions and warnings.

That Southern Baptists are divided over certain theological issues is no secret. That the majority of Southern Baptist Churches are plateaued is no secret. That baptisms in the SBC have flatlined in the last four decades is a sobering reality. That Cooperative Program giving percentages are in a downward trend is a seldom publicized fact. That we have serious problems in the SBC is obvious to all who are serious students of Southern Baptist life and history.

Here are the Three Major Areas of Concern in the SBC as I see it.

Distrust of Leadership - As long as the same little group of men (SBC megachurch pastors) cycles through the office of President of the SBC with no possible chance of an 'outsider' ever being elected, we have a problem that is insurmountable by mere rhetoric and more pulpit pounding. Wouldn't you love to attend an SBC annual convention not knowing in advance who was going to be elected president? Haven't we reached that stage of resurgency yet? Furthermore, if these men continue to aggressively attack Calvinism within the SBC it will only breed more distrust and further division.

Decline of Doctrine - Doctrine has been minimized in the churches. So much so that many young SBC Pastors think nothing at all of receiving new members from Pentecostal and other non Baptist denominations without any consideration of re-Baptism. The effect is a watering down of our Baptist distinctives to the point where many members of SBC Churches cannot give a theological reason why they are Southern Baptists. And that's just one tip of this multi-tipped theological iceberg. Don't even ask the average SBC Church member whether he or she thinks christians can lose their salvation. "Once Saved, Always Saved," has become at least a question mark in the minds of many Southern Baptists.

Disappearance of Discipline - Statistically speaking, there is almost no church discipline in the SBC. In our rush to baptize we have neglected the accountability of the congregation to the point where only 40% of all our members ever show up on Sunday. There is no accountability and no discipline and little help from our seminaries and denomination on how to recapture this essential Biblical practice. Instead we compound the problem by insisting that four years olds are 'accountable' enough to be baptized.

Two Observations from the frontlines and the trenches of Southern Baptist life.

1. No longer can the leadership and employees of the SBC expect their comments, decrees and opinions to go unchallenged. The people of the convention have the means by which to respond and responding they are. No longer does it take a week for a letter to reach a state paper or a convention office - email is almost like lightning and is having a electrifying effect on some who are used to hiding behind layers of bureaucracy.

And don't forget blogging. Blogging makes a 'journalist' out of every Southern Baptist with a desire to be heard. Now the question remains, will the leadership respond to or react against this insurgency of the "nobodies" within the SBC? Will it be seen as an important revolution or will it be seen as a threat to the status quo?

2. Lemke is right about Calvinism being a divisive issue. But there's not a Calvinist I know in the SBC who is not concerned about correcting the three major areas of concern I have highlighted above. We are not the Big Bad Wolf who is secretly plotting the demise of the SBC. We have no budget. We have no organization. We have no agenda. And "surprise, surprise," we'd love to see Baptisms increase in the SBC.

The elected and hired leaders of the SBC, the president of Lifeway, and the six presidents of our six theological seminaries and all the State Convention Execs hold the key to the future of this debate within Southern Baptist life. They cannot ignore it because it will not go away. They must engage the issue of Calvinism on a "Let's talk" level or this thing will turn into regional "firefights" and occasional "snipings" which will lead to a widespread conflagration making the disagreement over the CBF look like a kindergarten picnic.

Final thought: Dr. Lemke had an opportunity to be like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike and be a 'fixer' rather than an agitator. If he had just left out the part about the "study of the Founder's Churches" we could all have applauded his efforts.

As it is the "Lemke Paper" may someday be forever enshrined in the "War Museum" of the SBC.


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