My denomination is caught in a divisive moment at a critical time.
In recent months scandals and controversies have swirled around certain pastors, presidents, and professors within the Southern Baptist Convention. While some controversies have been front-page catastrophes and others have been suspiciously quiet departures, it appears as if someone is cleaning house. Some claim that institutions are cowering before cultural pressure and others claim this to be a day of divine reckoning.
In addition to the departures of key leadership, we are experiencing rising tides of significant disagreements regarding theological distinctives, political partnerships, and cultural issues.
For many years, the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting was never newsworthy. The extended business meeting was never seen as an intriguing gathering by the culture at large. As the SBC gathers June 12-13, 2018 in Dallas, more eyes are on us than ever before. Is it because of all the good churches are doing that they want to report? Are they so thankful for what our institutions are doing to light up this dark world?
Unfortunately, no. Everyone is interested because of our current controversies.
- Will a former seminary president preach the convention sermon after being fired in recent weeks due to allegations against his actions and integrity?
- Will the proposed resolutions regarding the dignity of women, gun violence, racial unity, immigration, refugees, and more cause our stances to advance the gospel among the world or to continue the division among the SBC?
- Will some Baptist take an open microphone to say something so ridiculous and so unbiblical that it is captured on the frontlines of the media to stereotype us even further?
- Will our leadership and direction be more aligned with the sacred Scriptures or with a political party?
- Will certain Baptists disregard Ken Hemphill as a candidate for Convention President because they have “nothing to learn” from someone older than them even though he was a stalwart for conservative theological education before they were old enough to sing “Jesus Loves Me?”
- Will certain Baptists disregard J.D. Greear as a candidate for Convention President because his theology includes Reformed beliefs and people are fearful of unevangelistic Calvinists ruining the SBC even though his church who “must not focus on outreach” has somehow sent out over 1,000 missionaries, planted over 40 churches in the United States, and planted over 200 churches overseas in 15 years?
- Will power-hungry, politically-charged, divisive Baptists continue to tweet, blog, message, text, and propagate smear campaigns against the “other” Convention candidate like these two men are somehow on a different team?
- Will we approach the vacant leadership positions across the Convention as who is the best candidate for taking the gospel forward or who is in our camp for taking our agenda forward?
- Will the tribes of SBC focus more on their personal squabbles than the gospel mandate?
- Will the people of the Southern Baptist Convention pursue a peace and a holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14)?
We have more opportunity and yet more opposition than ever before.
What will we do with it? How will we respond?
When There’s Sin in the Camp
I can’t help but think of Achan. After seeing God move mightily at Jericho, he disobeyed a commandment. He tried to hide it. “No one will know. It won’t affect anyone. I’m entitled to this perk after that victory.”
But it did others. In fact, until the specific sinner was confronted, the entire gathering was punished (Josh. 7:11). Achan tried to cover it up. He sought to continue on their way. What’s the next battle that God wants us to fight?
Instead of seeking God’s direction, they just assumed He would assist them like last time. They were incorrect. “God’s people” were defeated by an ungodly army and their reputation was tarnished.
All because of one person? That seems harsh! Never believe the lie that your sin doesn’t affect our condition. God equate one man’s sin with “the people of Israel broke faith” (Josh. 7:1).
Would God actually punish God’s people? Would He allow the ruin or our reputation with so much at stake? Look at Achan and the conquering Israelites in a stunning defeat after their greatest victory (Joshua 7:5). Look at Ananias and Sapphira’s death due to the deceitful offering in the rapid growth of the early church (Acts 5:11). Look at our denominations, churches, and ministries. Look at the embarrassment at the hands of our pastors, professors, and presidents.
God will allow a black eye on His people because He won’t accept a black eye on Himself.
His holiness is much more precious than our reputation. In Israel’s great defeat, God revealed that sin was present in the camp and it was time to be exposed. And Achan learned that no matter how hard you try to cover up your sin, God always knows exactly where to dig.
Why is all this happening to the Southern Baptist Convention? Why now? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that He is moving. I pray that this is an awakening. I hope that this is a time of refining.
God will allow the defamation of our reputation to protect the holiness of His name.
If the Southern Baptist Convention is not holy like Jesus is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16), why should we be surprised at such a barrage of bad news? While I don’t have the insider information to know what is factual and what is fake, I do know there is enough smoke around us that a fire must be burning somewhere and it needs to be put out.
For the sake of the Great Commission, are we really surprised that God has the audacity to expose our deep need for the gospel that we so loudly proclaim to others?
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.