All of the “experts” tell us that we are now in a “post-denominational” age, a time when people don’t locate their identities in their relationships with any group outside their local church. While I would be the last to quibble as to the lack of strong connections between congregations and their denominational partners, I still contend that for most Baptists it means something when the body with whom they identify or through whom they channel substantial missions dollars does something that merits the notice of the secular media, especially when the denomination’s actions reflects unkindly on them and their local church.
Of course, one of the consequences of “post-denominationalism” is that the secular media’s spotlight tends to get directed at our more unflattering side than our good one, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we too often give them plenty of ammunition to do so. Exhibits A and B are the Illumination Project commissioned by CBF and the Paige Patterson scandal in the SBC. As to the first exhibit, in full disclosure, I appointed the IP committee and served with them in developing their report. The fact that the report received significant criticism from Baptists on both the far left and the far right gives me some peace that our group actually landed in a good place. My basic contention has always been that in a “post-denominational” age this matter we were tasked with addressing is best determined by local congregations, not a denominational partner. As to the second exhibit, I have had no role to play in that squabble, which has received notice in such outlets as the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, though I would be quick to say that in my previous SBC life, I spoke openly about where such chauvinistic and narrow interpretations of Bible texts would eventually land the denomination. But I never liked people who say, “I told you so,” so I’ll say no more on that topic.
Interestingly, however, next week, June 11-15, both Baptists bodies will be meeting the same week in the same city, not more than a mile from one another. I’ll be there in Dallas for the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where I’ll be rotating off my responsibilities of the CBF Governing Board and “sailing into the CBF sunset” as I like to say. The privilege of governance will now be someone else’s glad pleasure. But I probably will mosey on over to the Civic Center at some point in the week, where the SBC will be meeting. While not a messenger (a duly-constituted representative from a cooperating SBC church), our congregation still gives a substantial sum to SBC causes, and while I’m there, I might as well check out the action on the other side of the fence.
You, of course, don’t have to go to Dallas to do so. You can stay right here at home and follow all the action in your favorite news source, be it the Post or the Times or the Journal, all of which I’m sure will be at the SBC. Or you can follow the action on the web, where there will be live streaming of both meetings at www.sbc.net and www.cbf.info. Or you can read reports in Baptist Press or Baptist News Global (www.bpnews.net or www.baptistnews.com).
I’d encourage you to do so for a couple of reasons. One, we Baptists have brought this “post-denominational” season upon ourselves by our lack of interest in what most Baptists always assumed was a “preacher fight,” which has no bearing on local churches…until they find themselves in need of a preacher. Trust me when I say that it then matters a lot because of how churches most always tend to take on the personalities (and theologies) of their preachers.
But an even more important reason for lay people to be interested in these proceedings is because of how Baptist polity has always elevated the role of the laity and the authority of the local church. The church doesn’t serve the denomination; the denomination serves the church, and enables it to fulfill its Great Commission mandate. Both the SBC and CBF have been at their best when they have remembered this signal Baptist distinctive.
You don’t normally hear me say much about these matters because there is far more significant conversations we need to have at MBBC in order better “to love God and live with grace and generosity.” But this next week’s most unusual and rare convergence of denominational gatherings is like stars crossing paths with one another in the night sky. Join me in praying that this next week there be no collision of the bodies that results in any black holes, but that instead both groups put their best faces forward so that the cause of Christ might not suffer shame.
“O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame” (Jeremiah 17:13a).