Published March 1, 2007
WASHINGTON (BP) — Russia is the largest country on earth and full of natural resources, but it is dying. Its people cannot surmount the degradation of years of neglect and of rhetoric that promised so much, but delivered so little.
The effect of decades of policies that produced no action eventually brought down the former Soviet Union. Recovery remains hard for Russia as unlearning old ways in a new shot at life is proving difficult. Many Russians now publicly remark that Communism was easier, but not better. Knowing what to do with resources is far more important than merely possessing them.
In like manner, the Southern Baptist Convention possesses at its fingertips resources which cause Christians in other regions of the globe to gasp with astonishment. If, however, those resources are not guided and channeled in ways which give full obedience and passion to the glory of God, the SBC, a denomination of wealth, resources, and people, could quite easily fail.
It is not enough to trot out the usual statements about the importance of inerrancy and expository preaching. The reality remains that the mere mention of these words now too easily evokes expected agreement and adulation (a good hearty “Amen” in Baptistspeak), but little application and practice in pulpits and Sunday School classrooms.
Much of what commonly is called the Southern Baptist Convention may well not survive this century, and much of it may disappear within the lifetime of Southern Baptists living today. There will always be a certain theological/denominational place for the SBC on the map of American evangelicalism, but those three letters could easily become a designation for a plot of religious real estate – once heavily populated, but abandoned for greener pastures.
All denominations are active creatures, but dustups between feuding factions resemble modern political conventions so much that observers rightly dismiss denominations as simply playgrounds for wannabe politicians who eschew the field of politics as “too dirty,” finding denominational life a more suitable theater for their brand of political hardball.
In the book of Acts, God’s sovereign and active power converted thousands through the doctrinal preaching of the Apostle Peter and immediately resulted in the congregational expression of local churches being born to bridge the covenantal gap between ancient Israel and the people of God inaugurated at Pentecost. Early church standards indicated that a Christian actually knew and believed certain theological tenants. Regular attendance was a result of spiritual knowledge combined with a genuine faith and the belief that a church was more than another social network.
A critical need
Today it is hard to see Christ’s glory in churches whose rolls list as “members” chronic no-shows who in reality are in urgent need of saving faith. How has the modern church moved so far from being the church of the book of Acts?
Enticed by the business model of Wall Street and the political organization and action of K Street, churches have weakened themselves with widespread adoption of programs void of strong biblical content.
Oprah’s and Dr. Phil’s thoughts on marriage, parenting, and family are so common in some pulpits that they compete with Jesus’ words on such matters. Even “conservative” churches seem to employ more worldly teachings than biblical counsel.
Administrative committees are often more plentiful than Bible study groups, and the overall tenor of some denominational meetings is a triumphalism centered around programs designed to maximize the resources of the group’s business model – all in the name of Jesus.
So, where does the SBC – a denomination born in crisis and rooted in controversy – go from here? The lesson here: Inerrancy is not enough. Applying and ordering all of life to the teaching and application of an inerrant Bible is the critical need of the hour. As C.S. Lewis said, “I’d sooner live among people who don’t cheat at cards than among people who are earnest about not cheating at cards.”
Douglas Baker is a writer in the Washington, D.C. area.
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