By Sharayah and Scott Colter
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.” 2 Cor. 10:3
While the dawning of a new year brings fresh opportunities and the chance to begin again, some weights refuse to be shaken and tossed aside. For some, that means strained relationships did not mysteriously heal at the stroke of midnight on December 31. For others, difficulties that plagued 2021 remain stubbornly present in the new year.
Most Southern Baptists probably would have preferred if, at the drop of the Waterford Crystal ball in Times Square, 2022 began with no denominational strife, no discernable disagreements, and no public displays of conflict filling timelines and feeds.
And yet, while a new year has arrived, some old battles remain.
Southern Baptists have in 2022 many of the same legitimate struggles in need of solutions that we had in 2021. However, as we begin this new year, we would do well to remember that we live not in a utopia or the promised new heaven and new earth, but in a fallen world with a prowling enemy – and that that enemy is not one another.
According to Scripture, our enemy is the devil, our weapons are not fleshly, and our warfare is not carnal. While we have disagreements and even a persisting “battle for the Bible,” what we cast down are arguments and strongholds, not people.
You see, this is not personal.
As convictional Baptists submitting ourselves under the authority of the inerrant and sufficient scriptures, we are compelled to stand for those things which we profess to believe. At times, this compulsion places us at odds with the opinions of other people—even fellow Southern Baptists. The fleshly way would be to conflate that dissonance with being at odds with individuals themselves—to take up an offense, to engage in ad hominem attacks, to assign motives, to harbor a root of bitterness.
But that is not the biblical way.
Scripture calls us to “contend earnestly for the faith,” (Jude 1:3) to “cast down arguments” that set themselves up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:5), and to “refute those who contradict” sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).
This we must do, and do in love, for both are the Christian duty. Christ, when rebuking the Pharisees, acted not in hate but in love. Despite culture’s misappropriation of tolerance as love, promoting truth is actually loving. Permitting error is not. We must reject the notion that to disagree with a person’s doctrine or theology is to dislike them, or worse yet, to hate them.
By way of example, this past summer, we sat in the Nashville convention center during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention as J.D. Greear adeptly handled the role of the chair and did so in a disarming fashion, even garnering laughs from the 15,000-person crowd. He is a likable man. Our disagreement with preaching that Scripture seems to “whisper about sexual sin,” among other issues, does not equate to disliking him. Remember, this is not personal.
Beth Moore, too, is a likable person. Her witty personality, charismatic speaking skills, and penchant for humor situate her as someone most people would enjoy inviting to dinner. Our disagreement with a shift toward women preaching in the local church is not personal.
Even our current SBC president for whom we did not vote has attributes we can and do appreciate. In fact, we have always remembered how he was first represented to us as a man who put aside his own hurt to care for his church members as they grieved the loss of their pastor’s wife—his wife. Our disagreement with a characterization of Critical Race Theory as a “distraction from real injustice,” is not personal. Our grief over minimizing the sin of plagiarism is likewise not personal.
These experiences are not unique. There are people across the world with whom we can and do disagree on various matters—even passionately so. In the majority of instances, disagreement does not translate to dislike or disrespect, and even the few whom we may not appreciate or respect, these we do not hate but rather love with the love of Christ and include in our prayers. Paul demonstrates that no one is beyond the reach of the love of Christ and the redemptive power of His salvation. Those who oppose us earnestly—threatening us, following us surreptitiously, seeking our physical harm—become the focus of our continual, genuine prayers, and we desire for those individuals a miraculously transformative Damascus Road experience that can render former foes our greatest allies.
As Christians ordering our lives by the Word of God, we endeavor to be both “bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1) and “kind and tenderhearted” (Eph. 4:32). By God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, these need not be mutually exclusive traits.
Many pine for a day when statesmanship returns to the Southern Baptist Convention. Many say they seek revival in our churches and charity in our conversations. We are among those who believe we can demonstrate “how pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133:1), as long as we establish that unity solely upon the inerrant, God-breathed truth of the sufficient Scripture.
Simultaneously, we must consider, “How can two walk together unless they are agreed” (Amos 3:3)? Baptists exist because an intentional decision was made 176 years ago to cooperate with others who shared in common biblical convictions and later codified them in the Baptist Faith and Message. Reducing the standard of cooperation to the lowest common denominator does not make Baptists inherently better, and advocating that we conserve Baptist distinctives does not by default make Baptists unkind. As leaders within the Conservative Baptist Network, we desire to see the Southern Baptist Convention thriving and focused on fulfilling the Great Commission. We are committed to defending the ancient paths described in Scripture (Jer. 6:16) rather than the popular paths presented by current culture. In so doing, we desire to debate ideas and dialogue about issues. Some will persist in taking personal offense where none is intended, but in our eyes, contending for matters of doctrinal orthodoxy is the Christian’s divine assignment.
It simply is not personal.
Scott Colter serves among the leadership of the Conservative Baptist Network and as director of strategic initiatives at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, where he has also been elected to the faculty. Sharayah is a journalist and the founder and principal of Colter & Co. She serves as a founding member of the Conservative Baptist Network Steering Council and founder of The Greatest News evangelism effort. The Colters invest much of their time and effort in defending religious liberty, supporting the pro-life movement, and promoting theological education in the states and abroad.