A First-Hand Report on the Southern Baptist Convention 2021

by Cliff McManis

In this article I want to give a summary report after attending the annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Nashville a few weeks ago. I was there along with Justin Craft (one of our pastoral assistants) on behalf of our church. This was my first convention and Justin’s second. It was educational and eye-opening. We gathered with 15,720 others in one huge room for two full eight-hour days of business meetings. The crowd was warm and enthusiastic. An irenic spirit typified the mood. All practical business was first bathed in participatory, corporate prayer. There were times of corporate worship through song and biblical exposition. All debate that happened was carried out in a deferential, harmonious, orderly, efficient and godly manner. The inspiration, authority, inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture was proclaimed and affirmed time and time again by all the various speakers. The gospel of Christ and the Lordship of Christ were central to everything. After two full days, Justin and I walked away from the convention very encouraged. Biblical priorities were upheld, affirmed and defended from beginning to end. 

The biggest take-away for me was being reminded once again that you cannot believe the fake news you read in the news headlines, blogs, podcasts, etc., whether they are secular or “Christian.” For the past two years all I have been told—and most of what I was reading in the “news” outlets—was that the Southern Baptist Convention was imploding beyond recovery as a result of rejecting the sole authority of Scripture. Well, that definitely was not even close to the truth. Even the week of the convention that misleading (or misinformed) spin was still present. Even while the convention was underway, ill-informed news outlets were propagating disinformation.

As an example, on day two of the convention, the day after the vote for the new SBC President, The New York Times published an article with a headline that read, “Southern Baptist Vote Signals Further Fractures in American Evangelicalism.” The clear implication was that the Presidential election the day prior exacerbated a “huge” rift among Southern Baptist leadership and churches. That was not the case. There were four candidates for President: Al Mohler, Pastor Mike Stone, Pastor Ed Litton, and Randy Adams. Al Mohler, the “hard right-wing conservative,” publicly, from the stage, congratulated Pastor Ed Litton on his victory in the Presidential election the day before, and assured Pastor Litton that he would fully support his leadership as the new SBC President. The same day, Ed Litton publicly and passionately commended Al Mohler for his thirty-plus years of faithful and courageous leadership in all his capacities of Southern Baptist service. Both commendations were sincere and spontaneous and serve as true barometers of the “mood” among Southern Baptists.

In addition to The New York Times, another major news outlet that misrepresents what actually went down at the Convention is The Federalist article of June 18, 2021, which said the results of the Presidential vote show “how divided the convention is” over major issues on the agenda the week of the convention. Again, that simply is not the case. At best, that assessment is an exaggeration, and even misleading. Another major headline on the first day of the Convention suggested major polarization among the Southern Baptists and the picture representing the article had Mike Pence standing behind a pulpit, clearly trying to portray the idea that the SBC was irreparably ripped down the middle over hot-potato political issues, with “liberals” and “moderates” on one side versus “hard-right” conservatives like Pence and Trump on the other. Newsflash! Mike Pence was not at the Convention. Nor were such political matters a topic of concern or interest. This is fake news at its predictably quintessential worst. When Justin and I saw that headline with the picture of Pence, after we just sat through eight hours of the Convention discussion and voting on day one, we just laughed and chalked it off to Satan trying his best to stir up division through propaganda and lies.   

What is the SBC?
The SBC is short for the “Southern Baptist Convention” which is an affiliation or partnership of about 48,000 local churches worldwide with about fourteen million members. People routinely call it a “denomination,” but it is very different from typical denominations like the Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Nazarene, Methodist, or Episcopalian denominations. Those denominations are hierarchical and autocratic in leadership structure whereas Southern Baptist churches are independent and believe in local church autonomy. In hierarchical denominations the local church does not choose their own elders or pastors—someone “from on high” and at a distance chooses them for you. In Baptist churches, the local saints along with local leadership identify their own leaders. The Apostles appointed a plurality of elders in each local church so they could shepherd and manage their own local churches (Acts 14:21-23). Then those leaders were expected to train up their own local leadership in the future (2 Tim 2:2) since the Apostles would not be around forever. The leaders in the Corinthian church had no power over the leaders in the Philippian church and vice versa. All local churches were subject to the apostles and special revelation. So it is today. All local churches are subject to the special revelation in Scripture, the Bible, which is “the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The Bible is the sole authority in our church and in every church. Or as The Baptist Faith and Message says, “Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ.”

Is it true that the SBC is abandoning basic biblical doctrines?
No, not even close. That came out loud and clear at the Convention this week. Every person that spoke reaffirmed the full inspiration and authority of Scripture and a commitment to The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) of 2000 which is the Southern Baptist statement of faith that affirms the central tenets of Christianity in detail. The SBC sponsors six seminaries. All six seminary presidents gave five-minute reports at the convention regarding the status of the schools. Southern Seminary President, Al Mohler, made it clear that the six seminaries are committed to sola Scriptura and The Baptist Faith and Message. The six Presidents wrote a joint statement in November affirming the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the Lordship of Christ and the exclusivity of the gospel while at the same time condemned “Critical Race Theory” (CRT), “Intersectionality” and all other unbiblical ideologies. This declaration was echoed and reaffirmed at the Convention this week from the platform.

Is it true that the SBC was caving on Complementarianism (biblical roles of men and women)?
No. The Baptist Faith and Message clearly defines the biblical roles for men and women. It also states that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” Male leadership in the home and church was strongly reaffirmed at the Convention this week. All four Presidential candidates are complementarians, in keeping with Scripture and the BFM. The notion that Beth Moore was a potential candidate for SBC President—floated by the fake news headlines earlier this year—was never mentioned because it was never even a possibility. Someone pulled this idea out of thin air to create drama, confusion, and division. Whoever did that was successful, for the scuttlebutt over this issue created plenty of drama, confusion, and division. It was publicly noted at the Convention that any SBC church that ordains women to be pastors, which violates Scripture and the BFM, is subject to being removed from the SBC after proper inquiry is followed. Rick Warren’s church in southern California is on notice for recently violating this basic biblical teaching.  

Is the SBC endorsing Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality?
No. As noted above the six seminary Presidents condemned these Marxists ideologies out of hand. A new resolution was proposed and passed to counteract any pro-CRT sympathies. The new resolution affirmed that racism is a sin and like all sins is rooted in the fall of man and the only solution to the problem is through the redeeming work of Christ.

Is the SBC leaning left or going liberal?
No, not even close. The liberal wing of the SBC was rooted out in the 70’s and early 80’s, back in the day when there was a faction of liberal Southern Baptists, the likes of Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton, all who were at one time “Southern Baptists.” That faction doesn’t exist anymore because those people created their own new denomination in keeping with their liberal ideology.

Does the Southern Baptist Convention have authority over Local Churches?
No. God and His Word have sole authority over our church. Also, delegated and limited authority has been entrusted to our elders and saints at local churches. The Southern Baptist Convention is more of a “partnership” than a traditional “denomination.” A church’s affiliation with the SBC is voluntary and the SBC has no authority or jurisdiction over any of those local churches. As a “convention” of churches, local congregations simply partner together around common theology and ministry goals to leverage our resources to advance the gospel of Christ together. Partnering with like-minded churches should be a priority of every healthy local church, so partnering with other like-minded Southern Baptists is a natural outgrowth of a desire for like-minded fellowship.

Where does the SBC stand on other social issues?
This week the Convention discussed and affirmed a biblical view of sexuality and gender and condemned all compromises of it as sinful and unacceptable, including the sins of homosexuality and transgenderism. It was also highlighted that Christ offers forgiveness to all such sinners (1 Cor 6; 2 Cor 5:17). Southern Baptists also strongly condemned abortion this week, reaffirming the Bible’s clear position on the sanctity of life, acknowledging the life in the womb is a sacred person made in God’s image and to end that life is the sin of murder.

What were the priorities of the SBC at the convention?
Clearly, the leadership and those at the Convention were committed to the priorities of the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture, the glory of God, the centrality of Christ, the proclamation of the gospel to sinners, and the strengthening of the local churches. That was the clear theme I walked away with. It was a blessed week.                                              

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