The SBC and the crisis of identity
Arkansas Baptist News
Interesting conversations abound when a bunch of Baptist communicators get together.
Recently, when members of the Baptist Communicators Association (BCA) gathered for their annual workshop in Florida, it was easy for me to spot the chiseled veterans from the relative newbies serving from the various state conventions, agencies and Baptist newspapers that were represented.
It was easy because the number of “veterans” attending is a small group that dwindles with each passing year.
I joined what later became the BCA in 1990, a year after arriving as a young buck ready to change the world at the Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission located in Memphis, Tenn.
Today, there are only a handful left who have been members since before 1990. Many have retired or “been retired” from distinguished ministries at the International Mission Board (IMB), North American Mission Board (NAMB), state conventions and other entities.
While it’s good to see the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) attempt to respond to changing times with initiatives such as the Covenant for a New Century adopted in 1995, there is no question the SBC as a whole has suffered extensive “brain drain” over the past 30 some odd years.
The Covenant for a New Century, as you will recall, eliminated several agencies of the SBC and reassigned many ministries to other agencies.
Five agencies – the Stewardship Commission, the Education Commission, the Southern Baptist Foundation, the Southern Baptist Commission on the American Baptist Seminary and the Historical Commission – were completely dissolved with some of their ministries assigned to existing SBC agencies.
The Radio and Television Commission, Brotherhood Commission, and the Home Mission Board were merged into NAMB, a new agency, with their ministries reshaped into “a coordinated and unified approach to evangelizing North America.”
The effects of these changes in the SBC continue to this day.
Just last year, for example, thousands of missionaries – along with veteran stateside communicators – left the field for early retirement from IMB. In 2010, the same thing happened at NAMB.
During the same period of time, practically every entity – with the exception of most of our seminaries – have changed their names. (Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary recently changed its name to Gateway Seminary).
As communicators shared in Florida during a breakout session at the BCA annual meeting, discussion turned to a loss of identity in the denomination.
However, in spite of the many changes Southern Baptists have experienced since founding their denomination in Augusta, Ga., in 1845, many distinctives remain, which I believe will continue to aggressively seek to further the gospel for generations to come.
While this space does not allow an exhaustive list, here are just a few of the denomination’s distinctives to illustrate my point.
– believe there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ;
– are people of the Bible, which reveals the gospel message of redemption through Jesus Christ;
– are evangelical and
– are cooperative and adaptive;
– are independent, and
– are advocates and guardians of religious liberty.
Though Southern Baptists may have made changes that altered their identity over the years, they are still a people well-equipped to deliver the gospel message to a world so desperately in need of a Savior.
Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News.