If I’ve learned nothing else from thirteen years of ministry, this one thing I have learned: spiritual warfare is very real and very dangerous. The Apostle Paul wasn’t kidding when he wrote, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph.6:12). While this spiritual reality is not surprising, I can’t help but be disturbed by the combative mood of some within our Southern Baptist Convention of late. Yet, I’m praying this combativeness will not win the day because God has called us to one gospel that unites us as brothers in Christ against a common spiritual enemy.
I wish that I could say that this combative trend is the abnorm rather than the norm, but I can’t. It seems that the SBC has had a long history of fighting. Now don’t get me wrong, there are many fights worth fighting, and the SBC has fought some battles that were of biblical necessity, the foremost in our minds being the Conservative Resurgence that stretched from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. That lengthy and needful battle was primarily about the authority of the Bible, and we praise God that He upheld His Word and glorified Himself by protecting the SBC from diabolical liberalism.
In some sense, however, it seems that the fight over the authority of Scripture has progressed to its next logical step. Now that we’ve all agreed that the Bible is completely reliable and authoritative, frayed factions have redrawn the battle lines. The lines no longer encircle the text of Scripture only but now the theology derived from it as well. If the drawing of theological lines were not difficult enough, we also have mud flying over various missional methodologies, including divergence regarding the general direction of the SBC in the task of world missions.
Here’s the question that I’m seeking to answer. How different can our doctrine and practice be and we still be united under the banner of the SBC? While that may seem like a daunting question, I believe there is both a conservatively theological and practical answer. For me, the answer rests squarely on the Baptist Faith & Message and our willingness to cooperate within its parameters as a unifying document.
It is my conviction that if Southern Baptists would be genuinely unified under the BF & M, then most of the doctrinal arguments and many of the methodological arguments would be sufficiently resolved. Now don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not saying that it will all be “pie in the sky.” But I do believe that unity around our statement of belief is sufficient to debunk much of the vitriolic speech occurring between fellow Christians in the SBC. The fact is, we agree upon far more than we disagree, both in our theologies and methodologies. The purpose of the BF & M is to unite like-minded, but not identically-minded, Baptists in the cause of the Great Commission of going to the nations, making disciples, and teaching them to observe our Lord’s commandments.
In light of the aforementioned issues, I plan to write an eighteen part blog series, one for every article of belief in the BF & M, 2000 that I hope to publish over the course of the next four weeks. The title, The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity, comes from Paul’s call for unity to the Ephesian believers, as found in Ephesians 4:1-8 particularly and 4:9-16 by extension. Verse 3, perhaps, should serve as our theme:
Ephesians 4:3—“[Be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The purpose of this series is to seek unity among Southern Baptists around the fact that our doctrine is mostly uniform, though our practice may be less so. It seeks to highlight the unifying principles of the BF & M, while allowing for diversity among Southern Baptists. It also seeks the fulfillment of John 13:33-34 in the SBC. Talk about your Great Commission Resurgence! If we would come closer to fulfilling our Lord’s command to love one another, our GCR would be overwhelmingly successful as the Spirit of God would stir the hearts of unbelievers all around us. And until we have obeyed the second great command of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we cannot say that we are obeying the first great command.
It is my prayer that The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity will contribute to the unity of Southern Baptists under the core articles of our faith while urging us to an “agree-to-disagree” status on matters of lesser importance.
For His Glory,