By Rod D. Martin
For many, the Southern Baptist Convention seems like a lost cause. And that’s understandable: every day we hear of some new compromise, some new chapter in an ongoing downgrade. Who wants to be part of such a thing?
The problem is, we’re all going to be part of it, whether we stay or go. Here’s why, and here’s what we can do.
Southern Baptists make up 11% of America’s churches. But what you probably don’t realize is that the six SBC seminaries educate roughly one-third of America’s seminary students. That’s a lot more than just Southern Baptists.
If those six seminaries go bad, all of evangelical Christendom is infected, almost immediately. And not only them, but the mission fields as well—countless lost souls across the world hearing the name of Jesus for the first time, but instead of His Gospel, a “Woke” false gospel.
Closer to home, odds are, if you’re a pastor, your church will pick one of the men trained by those seminaries to replace you. “Oh no, my church would never do that,” you say. But in the real world, a pulpit committee made up of people who may not even be members of your church today will hire someone you don’t know. And he’ll undo your entire ministry. There are plenty of examples.
This is a problem we can solve, now. The solution will take effort, sacrifice and planning. Solutions to major problems always do.
There are two elements to the solution: how to attack it, but also, how to attack it without compromising your conscience. Let’s talk about both of those, in order.
First, attacking the problem is both very simple and a lot of effort. For some it will mean sacrifice. But it’s doable.
Every year, at an Annual Meeting held the second week of June, Baptists elect a president. The president has very few powers, but he has one power above all: he indirectly appoints every member of every trustee board, the groups which have power to hire and fire the presidents and staff of every SBC entity. Indirectly, the president determines the direction of every institution, from the International Mission Board to Southeastern Seminary.
I say “indirectly” for a reason. The president has sole power to appoint a body called the Committee on Committees. That body appoints a Committee on Nominations. In theory the attendees at the Annual Meeting (called “messengers”) elect the Nominating Committee’s picks, but in reality, they only have a few minutes to debate them, so the vast majority of those picks will sail through unopposed.
Presidents only have a one-year term, and are traditionally (but not necessarily) re-elected once. Most trustees have a four year term. This means that to change out the trustee boards requires several years of effort, turning out enough people to the Annual Meeting to elect more than one president more than one time. Conservatives did exactly that, for 12 straight years from 1979 to 1990, and upended an entrenched leftist establishment. It can be done, because it has been done.
The bad news is, the leftists learned. Over the past four years, they’ve been very deliberate. And they’ve moved the SBC faster than the conservatives did in the eighties. The good news is, they’ve shown that this doesn’t have to take a decade.
The overwhelming majority of Baptists are conservative. They are not Woke. They just don’t go to the Annual Meeting. In an average year, only 7.2% of SBC churches are represented, and you will not be surprised that the largest group of those who attend are denominational employees and those who want to be.
If Baptists want their institutions back, all they have to do is show up.
And they better. The future is in the hands of those who educate the pastors. The present too. And the more conservatives leave the SBC, the more they hand that future, and that present, to their enemies. Your inaction or departure will no more make the SBC seminaries go away than Princeton and Baylor have gone away. All you can do is disenfranchise yourself, or stand and fight.
So here I will stand. I can do no other.
To do so means attending, with as many messengers as your church can send. No church can send more than 12, which means the megachurches are at a great disadvantage: the average SBC church has less than 100 members, and they can all send 12 if they wish. The church is Christ’s, but the SBC is yours, under Christ, if you’ll stand up and act.
But the number of messengers your church can send is based on giving, and that raises issues of conscience. So…
Second, how can you send 12 messengers without violating your conscience?
Historically, the number of messengers your church could send was based on a straight-up calculation: how many percent of your undesignated receipts did you give through the Cooperative Program. This meant it was an all-or-nothing deal: you support everything, or nothing.
Those days are gone. Ironically, it wasn’t to help you: megachurches didn’t want to have to give 10% to get a full slate of messengers, so they changed the rules. But what they meant for evil God meant for good. You have options now. Lots of them.
The rules are in Article 3 of the SBC Constitution. You can read it here. You should. Your church’s situation will differ from others’. It’s not one-size-fits-all.
But here’s how it works:
- You need to be “in friendly cooperation” with the SBC. There are rules on what that means, but if you agree with the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) and show even the slightest desire to be a Southern Baptist, you pretty much are. “Indicia of cooperation” can include things like sending a letter to your state convention, or filing the Annual Church Profile. Also, you’re supposed to give money. There’s no set amount.
By the way, if you’ve ever been in friendly cooperation, you probably still are, at least from the Convention’s point of view. You shouldn’t play with this. You should follow the rules. But you should know this is true. The system is designed to encourage, not discourage, participation.
- If you’re in friendly cooperation, you automatically get two messengers. But you can have up to ten more, with one additional messenger (a) for each percentage point of undesignated receipts given, up to 10%, or (b) for each $6,000 given, up to $60,000. This is counted for the prior fiscal year, which ends on September 30. Plan ahead if you want more than two.
- Given to whom, you might ask? That’s where it gets flexible: it’s not just the Cooperative Program anymore (though it can be, of course, and in a perfect world it ought to be). It can also be (a) “through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes”, and/or (b) “to any Convention entity”, and/or (c) to any combination of these.
This means that if your church feels it cannot in good conscience give to, say, the ERLC, it doesn’t have to. This means that if you literally cannot bring yourself to give to anyone except a single IMB missionary in India, but you give 10% or $60,000 – through the IMB – designated to that missionary, you still get your 10 additional messengers for a total of 12.
By so doing, you have just gained equal voting strength with the largest megachurch.
It costs money to go to the Annual Meeting. It costs time. It’s a sacrifice. And it will take more than one year.
But these institutions matter. And they’re not going away. The only question is who will lead them. And the answer to that question, like all questions, is very simple: the people who will lead them are the people who show up.
I, for one, do not wish to explain at the Judgment why I lost – or even gave – to His enemies that which He, and prior generations, handed faithfully to me.