The picture below shows two views of an early German Baptist church located in St. Louis MO. This is the church I attended with my parents during the 1950s. The original congregation was established in 1849 and this particular building was built in 1889.
I remember there was a brick building to the left that had been used as a parsonage in its early days; during my childhood, it had been turned into an annex for children’s classes. I well remember that old building with its narrow basement passages and high-ceilinged upper level rooms. I also recall standing on the church building’s front steps and peering across the street to admire the beautiful, tree-lined park. It was such a peaceful setting.
Next week, the Southern Baptist Convention will open its 2014 Annual Meeting in Baltimore. Despite the involvement of my forebears in Baptist churches from the time they arrived in St. Louis and my attendance as a youngster, it’s been many years since I attended a Baptist church.
Even though I’m no longer a member in the Baptist denomination, I have many friends who are, and their annual meeting usually holds some interest to me, albeit peripheral. Reading Dr. Albert Mohler‘s post this morning reminded me why the yearly meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) matters to me.
Yes, I know the SBC has recently reported a seven-year decline in its membership numbers. And yes, I know reports reflecting a reduction in baptisms has been cited as an additional indication of a floundering denomination. In some quarters, I acknowledge these declines are viewed positively, signs that traditional religious influence is waning.
Dr. Mohler observes that the upcoming meeting occurs just weeks after a southern California congregation has affirmed same-sex relationships and membership. This affirmation comes as a reaction to their pastor changing his position in February and the pastor’s son conceding he is a homosexual. Because the CA church has membership in the SBC and they are now at odds with the SBC‘s clear statement of faith, a clash seems inevitable, because − as Mohler ably explains − “there is no third way.”
So what? Why should this matter to me? It’s not even my denomination, right?
For centuries, followers of Jesus Christ have declared the Bible to be God’s Holy Word. (You’re welcome to dispute this assertion … but for me, it’s not open to debate.) As God’s Holy Word, the Bible expresses certain absolutes to be Truth, factual and authoritative. One of those facts is as old as Creation: God in his garden created Adam (male) and he created Eve (female), two equal expressions of the Creator’s unique character. (Genesis 1:27: “male and female he created them.“) This was God’s design … as Creator of the World, he decided in the very beginning how it should go.
We don’t have to wade any further into the Good Book to debate God’s original design. It’s right there in the opening chapters of Genesis for anyone willing to read it. You might be inclined to respond with “problem” passages and individual interpretations or nicely-spun arguments. (Maybe it all goes back to what the definition of “is” is?) My response will be the same: go back to chapter 1, verse 27 − God’s original design.
Tear out those pages from the Bible you don’t like or agree with. I’m okay with that. Write a new Bible … the Gospel According to You … if you choose. I’m okay with that. Declare yourself God and proclaim everything in the Bible was a joke, you (the God of 2014) never really meant any of it. I’m okay with that as well.
We can burn your Bible and mine, if you like, but such actions don’t invalidate what is authoritative from scripture. Defying God, attempting to destroy the Bible … neither of these acts removes God from being God! Furthermore, denying his existence doesn’t make him cease to exist. Consider Romans 3:3-4 which states in part: “… unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? … let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.” God remains God despite all efforts over the centuries to replace him with a hand-fashioned golden calf idol or any other less awesome physical expression.
A potential SBC clash matters. If a church that has historically honored God and the Bible … and has stood firmly on the tenets which the Creator and his Word state are true … if members of the SBC decide to “rethink,” “change their minds,” “become more inclusive,” the SBC’s statement of faith becomes worthless. Truth that is subject to change is not truth, it’s opinion. Adopting a new opinion wouldn’t render God any less than God, but it would demonstrate the SBC no longer stands firmly on the Word of God … that the SBC’s core principles are dependent upon the ever-changing whims of fashion and cultural diktat.
I agree with Mohler when he says “There is nothing but heartbreak in this situation.” This is the point where each local church (and the SBC as a denomination) will be required to decide whether it is simply another form of religion (a set of beliefs) or an actual faith (confidence or trust in a person) firmly founded in the person and work of the living God-man, Jesus Christ. I reiterate Mohler‘s concern: there’s no third way.