By Collin M. Hain and Jessica Pigg
June 1, 2022
CAPE CORAL Fla.–With conservative Southern Baptists’ desire to “change the direction” becoming a social media hashtag, the question of “what is the right direction?” has arisen as well. A significant chasm exists between those who believe the Convention has not drifted and therefore needs no new direction and those who report that they do indeed detect drift and therefore desire a change of direction. Pastor Tom Ascol has publicly positioned himself in the latter category. For several years, he has been chronicling the drift in articles, sermons, podcasts, documentaries, and SBC Annual Meeting floor discussions.
Among the examples of drift Ascol has noted have been issues within Southern Baptist seminaries, entities, and local churches, including the acceptance of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality as “useful analytical tools.”
“We now have mothers and housewives who are storming the gates of local school boards saying that this kind of nonsense must not be taught in our public school system,” Ascol said in reference to CRT. “And if by common grace everyday people can see how deadly these ideologies are and some of our pastors and denominational leaders are mute on it or speak in mumble tones about it without just blatantly repudiating these godless ideologies, that is unhealthy.”
Not only does Ascol see leftward drift among Southern Baptist seminaries and entities, but he also sees a drift among local churches within the Convention. In May 2021, Saddleback Church in California departed from long-standing Baptist ecclesiology when it ordained three women as pastors in what the church characterized as a “historic night.”
“We have churches that are loudly and blatantly celebrating the ordination of women as pastors, while our Baptist Faith and Message 2000 Article 6 states that ‘while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,’” Ascol said. “Are we content with this?”
Ascol says Southern Baptists have a good number of concerns to address if the SBC is going to withstand and maintain a gospel focus.
“We need to have honest conversations and determine what kind of people we will be,” he said. “Who are we going to be before God? Are we going to fear God, take Him at His Word regardless of cost or consequence, or are we going to try to pander to this world and hope that the world will think we’re nice so that maybe we’ll get a chance to share the gospel with them? I think full-heartedly, that’s not the way of Christ. I hope it won’t be the way of Southern Baptists.”
The SBC, Ascol said, desperately needs a renewed fear of God, humility and brokenness, and regenerate church membership that leads to re-engaged and revitalized local churches, a return to evangelistic fervor, and a willingness for the Convention to get smaller.
“We need to return to a fear of God,” he said. “I genuinely believe, by and large, there is no fear of God in our ranks.
“The marks of a changing direction or a more healthy Convention would be humility, brokenness, coming to terms that we have wondered off the pathway…A return to the fear of the Lord and true prayer, true determination to honor Him, willingness to become a smaller convention if by doing so we become a more faithful convention of churches, to make hard choices, to tell the truth, to become transparent, to see greater responsiveness from our institutions and agencies to the churches that own them — all of these things would be really heathy signs.”
When Ascol was asked what he would say to those who disagree with his soteriological views, Ascol responded graciously with an invitation to coffee and to stand firm against the onslaught of pragmatism.
“We agree on so much more than what we disagree on, and what we agree on is under threat,” Ascol said. “What we agree on needs to be fortified and defended. And so, let’s link arms and stand against the encroachment of secularism, paganism, and godless ideologies into our ranks. And if by God’s grace he enables us to stand and to see a return to healthier denominational days, then I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and we can start debating Calvinism again, as brothers.”