Renowned church historian and Southern Baptist Dr. Tom Nettles recently spoke with the Church History Matters podcast about the founding of the SBC’s Domestic Mission Board in 1845 and how that decision reverberated through the Convention.
This is a great reminder of the importance of The Cooperative Program as a mechanism for funding missions and theological education. It also reminds us why a healthy SBC matters.
Yesterday we released an article describing concerns over egalitarianism in NAMB church plants. Since then, the most frequent question we’ve received is whether or not these are current NAMB churches.
Each of these churches was verified on the NAMB church plant database prior to publication. Each church was re-verified today and that is documented below. This website information does reveal the names of the churches. We want to again stress that our intention is to seek clarification from NAMB and all our SBC entities, not to interrogate the practices of any individual church.
This post is being provided so that those interested can see the accuracy and timeliness of our concerns. Our previous article stated that one of the five churches has already left NAMB affiliation. If more of these churches have since left NAMB and the SBC, this does not change the substance of our questions. Indeed, if that is the case it raises questions about our assessment process on such a key doctrinal issue.
While how we got to this point would still be concerning, many Southern Baptists would be relieved to see a statement from NAMB clarifying our current church planting practices in regards to egalitarianism.
We want to hear that NAMB does not plant or partner with churches who violate the BF&M2000 by appointing women to the office of pastor. The office of pastor is not arbitrarily limited only to one position in a local church known as a “senior” or “lead” pastor, and this language is found nowhere in the BF&M2000. We would expect that any SBC entity would be eager to affirm such a statement, and to correct any practices found to be in violation of this.
The recent news about North American Mission Board church plants identifying women in their congregation as pastors may have piqued your interest in what the process is like for those interested in planting.
As you can read, the anonymous author speaks to worries about whether or not to plant with the North American Mission Board because of the current controversy as well as a degree of ambivalence about specifically affirming the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.
As Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin recently articulated, there is no ambiguity in what Southern Baptists confess. Scripture knows of no office of pastor available to women, regardless of what other adjectives and qualifications might be attempted.
Thankfully, Southern Baptists have an excellent mechanism for planting Biblically-faithful Baptist Faith and Message 2000 churches in the North American Mission Board. However, the last two weeks have revealed that the blessings of Southern Baptist churches planting Biblical Baptist Faith and Message 2000 churches through the North American Mission Board is experiencing a disruption that has to be addressed.
January 26th, 2020 brought to light the first sign of the breakdown: A North American Mission Board church plant, 1 Name Church of Planation, FL, was found to be using the title “Pastor” in unbiblical fashion, applying it to a woman within the church.
When this breakdown in healthy practice – most importantly, by breaking with Scripture’s clear teaching but secondarily also by breaking faith with the Southern Baptist donors who sponsored the church in good faith with the North American Mission Board under the assumption that NAMB would plant churches keeping with our confession of faith – came to light 1 Name promptly ended their relationship with the SBC and asked to be left alone.
Ultimately the decision of a local church to cooperate or not with the Southern Baptist Convention is that church’s decision. What remains is for the North American Mission Board to account for (a) how much money they were tasked with stewarding on behalf of Southern Baptists has been sunk into a church that was clearly not of like faith and practice and (b) what safeguards failed to prevent this from happening.
There was an initial indication that Dr. Kevin Ezell, President of the North American Mission Board, was willing to address the seriousness of the problem directly.
What appeared to be an invitation to engage directly with Dr. Ezell via email resulted for those of us who reached out in a form-letter response from someone other than Dr. Ezell that amounted to a shutdown in further communication (the last I personally received directed me back to Dr. Ezell’s tweets, for instance).
Unfortunately, the intervening days have revealed the problem is more pronounced than just one church. In fact, – in the most distressing fashion possible – it is now clear that the situation with 1 Name Church is far from an isolated incident. As Nate Scholman has demonstrated here on CR Voices – and please read the whole thing – there are a disturbing number of churches receiving sponsorship from the NAMB who are in open contradiction to The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, indicating a breakdown in the partnership/stewardship relationship of Southern Baptist donors and the NAMB, doctrinal fidelity to our confessional statement, and faithfulness to Scripture’s clear teaching.
Since the problem is now seen to be worse than indicated on January 26th and the opportunity to engage with Dr. Ezell resulted in no additional way forward to address these breakdowns in Southern Baptist cooperative ministry it is now time to call on the trustees of the North American Mission Board to fulfill their responsibilities to Southern Baptists. The trustees of Southern Baptist entities work on behalf of Southern Baptists (rather than on behalf of the entities themselves) to supervise the work of these entities in such a way that the entities fulfill the mandate given them by Southern Baptists.
The Executive Committee action comes in response to “ongoing concerns” cited by EC members, state leaders and other Southern Baptists that the ERLC is not adequately fulfilling its Convention-approved ministry assignments.
The motion specifically noted that concerns “have been expressed both publicly and privately to various members of the Executive Committee and other Southern Baptists regarding how the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s actions in relation to its ministry statements are affecting the Convention and its relationships with local churches, local associations, and state conventions.”
“We are looking for the facts,” said Executive Committee chairman Mike Stone, who will chair the task force. “We are hearing from state leadership and other pastors across the country. We are making a statement about effectiveness.”
This action creates “a formal process by which we can receive information and determine the level that this issue is affecting the Cooperative Program,” said Stone. “I’m fully aware that we may find, as we did in 2017, that what we are hearing is not as significant in fact as it is in perception. What we want to find is where the facts lead us.”
The Task Force made its findings available yesterday and the report is an important read for all Southern Baptists, regardless of their opinion on the activity of the ERLC. Click here to read the Task Force’s report (PDF reader required).
Of particular interest are the following sections of the report:
Section V: The Long-Term Decline of the Cooperative Program [Excerpt]
In recent years, the allocation forwarded by the states to the national convention has increased
from an average of 37% (2009) to 42% (2018-2019). But total dollars received by our
state/regional convention partners has been in steady decline as noted in Appendix 4.
Percentage giving by churches has fallen by more than half over the last three decades. This is
despite the fact that total giving to SBC churches has grown from around $4 billion to around
$12 billion in this same time frame.
Sections X & XI: Conclusions & Recommendations
(1) That there seems to be confusion among Southern Baptists regarding increases and
decreases in national Cooperative Program giving.
(2) That while much of the work of the ERLC is praised and appreciated by Southern Baptists,
the ERLC is also a source of significant distraction from the Great Commission work of Southern
Baptists. The leader of a large state convention stated, “one of the major points of erosion of Cooperative Program support has been the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.” The task force finds merit in this statement.
(3) That the unacceptable handling of the amicus brief matter discussed in #9 above [in the report] is an
example of a concern raised by many SBC leaders that the ERLC is not as responsive as it ought
to be in correcting problems and controversies it creates. In this context, one state executive
responded about the ERLC that “National SBC controversy impacts CP giving through the state convention.”
(4) That the current perception of the leadership and direction of the ERLC by many Southern
Baptists is a substantial impediment to the growth of the Cooperative Program. Without quick
and significant changes in that perception, the findings suggest the potential for a measurable
decline in the near future and beyond. The executive director of one of our largest-contributing state conventions told the task force, “one of the major points of erosion of Cooperative Program support has been the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.”
(5) That there is considerable conversation across the Convention as to whether the ERLC is the
most effective and efficient structure and means for addressing the public policy concerns of
the Southern Baptist Convention.
(1) That the Executive Committee seek to provide even greater clarity about Convention-wide
giving trends as it reports giving to the national Convention budget.
(2) That the Executive Committee request that the ERLC Board of Trustees, in an effort to foster
greater unity among our churches, encourage ERLC staff to focus, where possible, on speaking
where the Southern Baptist Convention has already spoken through resolutions and The Baptist
Faith and Message.
(3) That the Executive Committee request that the ERLC Board of Trustees encourage the
president and staff of the ERLC to refrain from opposing specific candidates for public office.
(4) That the Executive Committee request that the ERLC Board of Trustees encourage the ERLC
staff to be more responsive to requests from Southern Baptists to address/acknowledge certain
news items as a means of better serving the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.
(5) That the Executive Committee request that the ERLC Board of Trustees work with the ERLC
staff to develop an intentional plan to demonstrate a greater appreciation for how its positions,
including social media usage, affect the spirit of cooperation among Southern Baptists.
(6) That the Executive Committee request that the boards of trustees of each of the entities of
the Convention adopt and implement a policy of submitting legal briefs, where those briefs
address the nature and work of Southern Baptists, to Convention attorneys, prior to their being
filed, for the purpose of receiving input regarding the effect of those briefs on the ministries of
the Southern Baptist Convention.
Aaron Ren has released an episode of his podcast, The Masculinist, with critical insights for those interested in learning lessons for today from church history. The focus of the episode is the battle for conservative theology within the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
The quote in the title of this post can be found around the 12:41 mark in the episode. You can listen to it on your podcast app or stream it here.
In this article from Ronnie Floyd’s Advancing the Vision series, Floyd writes, “The future is not in having cultural conversations apart from the Bible. This will always lead to division. Southern Baptist pastors, leaders, and churches need to be having biblical conversations about cultural matters.”
In this post, Tom Ascol writes, “To put it bluntly, the Southern Baptist Convention needs to be led by pastors. Granted, there are some pastors who are eager to be enablers of or fellow travelers with wayward bureaucrats. I am not talking about those guys.”