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Gone Too Far: The Pervasive Problems within the Southern Baptist Convention

I have been a part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) my entire life.  Much good has come from this relationship; but in the last decade, I have seen an increasingly, troubling degree of compromise and biblical errors that has led me to write this article.  I am writing in part for myself because I want to organize and solidify my own thinking.  I am writing for the local church I have the honor of pastoring, Grace Life Baptist Church of Lebanon, TN, to help our members understand the issues at stake.  And I am writing for other pastors and their congregants in case they are seeking to organize and solidify their own thinking too.  The result is five pervasive problems I see with continued participation in the SBC.

1.  Long-Standing History of Pragmatism and Biblical Errors

Pragmatism in the SBC is not a recent problem but has been going on for decades.  In a nutshell, pragmatism is the “if it works” approach to accomplishing a mission.  The church’s mission is the Great Commission (Matt.28:19), and far too many SBC churches believe this mission is better accomplished by using pragmatic methods.  In part, this pragmatic fever began with the notion of “Children’s Ministry” that eventually spawned “Youth Ministry” that eventually turned the primary method of reaching adults into something more like a children’s or youth ministry approach.  This became the pattern because what you use to draw a crowd is ultimately the enticement required to keep a crowd coming back.

It is no wonder then that many SBC churches have turned the worship of our LORD, God Most High, into a circus of demonic proportions.  Circus shows have literally been performed, secular songs (foul language and all) have been performed, children have been promised candy if they will be baptized, and firetruck baptistries have been built to entice children into the holy ordinance of God (with even sirens and bells as they are immersed).  Pastors and traveling evangelists have cooked the books to inflate their numbers, not to mention the millions of dollars spent on pragmatic events that build up the numbers only to denigrate true godliness.

For all the talk in the SBC of Sola Scriptura, the majority of SBC churches I have encountered rely on man-centered creativity and wisdom in place of the Scriptures.  On the whole, this pragmatism is rooted in the biblical error of decisional-regeneration that has supplanted Holy Spirit-granted regeneration.  This error strips the Church of all authority to hold its members accountable because we are discouraged or even forbidden from ever questioning a person’s profession of faith.

2.  Progression of Feministic and Egalitarian Practices

While there is certainly going to be slightly variant understandings of the overall practical applications of the Bible’s teachings on men’s and women’s roles in the home and Church, none of the varying applications should be allowed to threaten what the Bible clearly states:

1 Timothy 2:11-14—Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve (cf. Gen.1:27; 2:8, 18, 22). 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

1 Corinthians 14:33b-35—As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says

Yet, there is a growing number of feministic adherents striving to supplant God’s Word.  Recently, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, ordained the church’s first woman pastor, arguing she is just a “minister” and not an “elder”.  This is the kind of twisting of Scripture it takes to get around what the Word clearly states.

3.  Adoption of Critical-Race Theory and Intersectionality (CRT)

In 2019, the SBC Resolutions Committee led the SBC to vote for the adoption of CRT as “an analytical tool” for understanding our culture to aid us evangelism and missions.  CRT is a pagan worldview rooted in Marxists philosophical and sociological theories and principles.  Within American applications, it asserts that all white people are either consciously or unconsciously racist against minorities because whites are part of the “ruling class” in the culture.  CRT advocates the “deconstruction” and then “reconstruction” of all societal power structures because the current ones are inherently racist.

There is a plethora of problems with using CRT as an analytical tool because it threatens every major doctrine related to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.  For example, CRT obliterates the doctrines of sin, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption.  It obliterates the doctrine of sin by insinuat-ing, or else concluding, that people within minority groups in a society cannot be guilty of racism by virtue of being within an oppressed minority group.  And it obliterates the doctrines of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption by insisting all people within a majority group are guilty of their ancestors’ sins by virtue of being a part of the “ruling class.”  CRT has no category for any of these gospel truths explicitly because it is another gospel (cf. Gal.1:6-7). This anti-biblical worldview has infiltrated much of the life and teachings within the SBC seminaries.

4.  Softening Language Regarding Homosexuality and Abortion

For example, it has been reported widely that in a sermon J.D. Greear quoted and agreed with Jen Wilkin’s claim that when it comes to sexual sin, the Bible “appears to more whisper” about it when “compared to its shouts about materialism and religious pride.”  This is not a denial of homosexua-lity as a sin, but it is certainly a minimalization of it as a sin.  There are too many theological problems with this hamartiology (“doctrine of sin”) to begin addressing it in this article; but even a glancing view at select Scriptures is sufficient to debunk such misinterpretation and misapplica-tion of God’s Word ( e.g., Acts 15:19-20; Rom.1:24-27; 13:11-14; 1 Cor.5:1-13; 6:9-20; 2 Cor.12:19-21; Gal.5:19-21; Eph.5:1-14; 1 Thess.4:1-8; Heb.12:12-17; Jude5-7; Rev.21:8; 22:14-15).

Additionally, just a few years ago, North Point Community Church, led by Andy Stanley, baptized an openly gay, unrepentant man into their membership.  And most recently (2021), the SBC Resolutions Committee rejected a resolution presented to them regarding the renewed call for SBC churches to stand against the evils of abortion.  The committee rejected the resolution on the grounds that the SBC has already made several such statements over the years (even though the same could be said about resolutions regarding slavery and racism that have been repeatedly and heartily received though we already had many resolutions on the books).

5. Idolization of the Cooperative Program

The main argument many make in their defense of the SBC is its Cooperative Program in which SBC churches big and small invest in international missionaries.  It is one thing to acknowledge the wisdom and benefits of such a program, but it is another to idolize the system to the neglect of biblical faithfulness in other equally vital areas such as biblical, local churches and church leadership.  The Church accomplished missions for many years prior to the Cooperative Program.  Our power and efficiency is not in a program; it is in the gospel itself.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith” (Rom.1:16-17).  Programs are fine, but only so long as they remain faithful to the gospel.

CONCLUSION: Little Hope for Change Equals Unwise Participation

Based on decades of either unwillingness or inability to change on the part of SBC leaders, it is apparent there is little hope for change to come in the near future.  This has been reaffirmed in recent days by the revelation that the SBC’s most recently elected president, Ed Litton, has been called out for plagiarizing sermons from other preachers (and over 140 sermons have been removed from his church’s website, suggesting the problem is worse than when we first heard of it).  Yet, most SBC leaders at the denomina-tional level have remained passive and silent about this serious sin; and many are on record as supporting and defending Litton.

Therefore, I believe continued participation in the SBC is unwise, and our use of time, energy, and resources would be better spent in partnerships with smaller networks of churches and even one-on-one relationships with sister churches.  There is even a place for individual partnerships with churches that remain in the larger SBC affiliation because thankfully a remnant of the faithful still exists.  But on the whole, it seems the SBC as a denomination of affiliated churches has gone beyond the hope of any reasonable reformation.  I would love nothing more than to remain in partnership with the SBC, but it seems to me to be beyond the time to withdraw fellowship until a time that it returns to a more consistent, biblical pattern of faith and practice.

In Christ Alone,
Jeremy Vanatta

SBC issues, wihtdrawing from the SBC