In a recent Associated Press article entitled "Baptists Battling Over Beliefs," journalist Richard Ostling posed the question, "Is America's largest Protestant denomination unraveling?" Though it's not in good taste to respond to a rhetorical question, the answer is not what some might expect.
After Ostling predictably exposed the slimy underbelly of denominational politics, those looking from the outside-in might think that conservative
Southern Baptists are those for whom the bell tolls. After all, with the premature eulogy given by theological moderates on the other side of the controversy, it would appear that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was survived by the Almighty Dollar of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). Not so. Conservatives have another, more wealthy, Next of Kin.
While it is true that Texas Baptists will decide this week whether or not to sucker-punch the revered 75-year old Cooperative Program and to funnel millions of dollars of state convention revenues to causes sympathetic to moderate positions, faithful Baptists won't flinch. That's because theological conservatives in the SBC know that one cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:34).
That is not to say that the financial gifts of faithful Texas Baptists will not be missed. The fact is that moderates controlling the political process in the BGCT control a significant percentage of the denomination's operating budget (13%). The loss of millions of dollars in revenue will certainly be a challenge to replace, particularly among the six Baptist seminaries.
In all candor, conservatives lament over the fact that moderate Texas Baptists are holding the education of some 13,500 future ministers at ransom in order to send a message to those theological institutions. The message is that moderates will not tolerate seminary students being taught from an inerrant Bible, which is what conservatives hold. In his article, the AP's Ostling took the moderates' bait, saying that they "do not believe in imposed creeds." Ironically, that is not the issue. Conservatives' desire is not to foist adherence of a restrictive "creed" on moderates or to violate "the autonomy of local congregations." It is a simple challenge to Baptists everywhere (including those who teach our seminarians) to submit to the authority of God's Word.
As the debate comes to a head this week in Corpus Christi, more moderate red herrings related to the abused doctrines of the priesthood of all believers and the autonomy of the local church could lead to confusion about the central issue in the discussion. Thinking people should not be led astray. The controversy in the nation's largest 'Protestant' denomination is neither about political prowess or money, it's about what moderate Southern Baptists really believe about the Holy Bible. Regardless of the outcome there will be no death knell, for the Southern Baptist Convention is alive... and well.