Addressing Membership Decline in the SBC (part 2)

pewsAs I noted in part one of this blog, this article was ready nearly a month ago, closer to the time these articles were released in the Tennessean, but because of the site transition they were postponed. I now offer these thoughts on quotes from the articles in the Tennessean about SBC membership decline, though a bit late.

SBC Should Shed Divisive Practices
By Robert Parham

Below are some quotes from the article:

Reversing the Southern Baptist Convention’s decline and loss of influence will demand new leadership and theological transformation, two very unlikely possibilities in the next decade.

Parham is partially right, but mostly misguided and showing his presuppositions here. There is a need for leadership change in some ways, though it seems that there is change coming and being called for by leaders, especially those calling for a Great Commission Resurgence. Parham’s bitterness and dislike for the Conservative theology of the Conservative Resurgence shows in his call for theological transformation. This must never be the case in Southern Baptist Life if we are to be truly relevant in culture with timeless truth.

After a decade-long internecine war, fundamentalists defeated the feckless moderates and took control in the early 1990s of SBC agencies and seminaries. Their successful campaign was built on…the promise was that the SBC would enter a golden age of growth when Southern Baptists read the Bible literally and had conservative positions on issues like women and abortion.

We may not be in a golden age of growth, but we are most certainly in a golden age of opportunity. As I will mention in the Stetzer section, the massive amounts of students that are hoping to pastor and plant and go to the mission field shows that there are those that are taking the Conservative Resurgence seriously and this is all fueled by the recovery of the bible. These students would not be having the missional conversations they are if it were not for the preservation of the integrity of the bible.

It adopted a faith statement against women working outside the home.

I only comment on this statement because it never happened and reveals a little bit of his bias.

Even if rank-and-file Southern Baptists had the power to hold accountable those who presided over the denominational fall, reversing the situation would require fundamental theological changes. Positive growth requires that an authentic inclusivity must replace a rigid exclusivity for women in leadership. Civil, ecumenical and meaningful interfaith engagement must supplant arrogant theological purity.

To call the SBC away from theological purity is the most asinine of his statements. If we abandon the theological purity of the Conservative Resurgence, then regardless of what the culture says we need to believe in order to be relevant we would be irrelevant. What Parham misses is that the most relevant thing the outside world could hear and NEEDS to hear is that there is one way to heaven through one savior, and the infallible words of Holy Scripture point to Him. Growth that results from compromising our theological integrity and the authority of Scripture will not be “positive growth.” It may produce numbers or it may not (cf. mainline liberal denominations), but it will never be positive growth because lives will not be saved and radically changed by a compromised gospel. This leads finally to his last point, which is partially right.

Finally, reversing the decline would require Southern Baptists to redefine how they determine God’s favor. The current measurement of success is numerical growth, which the SBC does not have, meaning the denomination is out of favor with God, according to the body’s own definition.

We must think through real success. If numerical growth were the lone test of success, then Joel Osteen would be the most successful pastor in the US. Instead, several factors must go into measuring success. The first measure has to be theological accuracy. Some of the decline in the SBC may be attributed to the preaching of the whole counsel of God. If that is the case then the Resurgence is not a failure. Yes, numbers are part of the measurment of success, after all the NT seemed to be concerned with numbers, and the church is a living organism. If it doesn’t grow, then it may be dead. Holding to biblical integrity does not cancel out our responsibility to utilize methods that are biblically acceptable and culturally relevant. But since theological integrity is a major factor, we must not abandon it in the name of a supposed relevancy that might appeal to and draw in large crowd but fail to produce more, vibrant and growing disciples of the Lord Jesus. As has been said, the responsibility of the church is to deliver timeless truth in a timely fashion.

Readers Opinions: What Should Southern Baptists do to Stem a Membership Decline

Here are some excerpts from readers of the Tennessean:

Who will give more money and send out more missionaries than Southern Baptists have all over the world right now?

This statement should help us understand that the situation is not yet as dire as we might think. The people called Southern Baptists are still experiencing successful ministry.

They’ll be radiantly happy in their cloud of righteousness, bellowing hymns and slithering back to the glory days of slavery and the Inquisition. Meanwhile, most of the world will disappear over the horizon into a new era of hope and progress.

A challenge for us will be to show the world that the way they want to go is not as hopeful as the future for the people of God. Even if they hate us for what we say, we must humbly and lovingly show them this is not progress instead it’s a foretaste of hell.

The declining number of supporters in the Southern Baptist Church is congruent with what is happening in other U.S. Protestant churches. Paradoxically, there has been a steady increase in membership in nondenominational and unaffiliated churches. Some experts claim this is due to the hard biblical stand that they have taken opposing homosexuality, premarital sex and abortion. In other words, it is easier for people to belong to less restrictive and more tolerant religions. To reverse this trend, they must redefine their message and change their approach to people.

It makes sense that a call for theological purity might lead to decline, but this must not swerve us in our call. The Lordship of Christ over a life demands radical obedience and sometimes this may cause people to leave, however, this does not make us unsuccessful. Even so, we must seek to reach these people and show them with love that the call to discipleship means taking up our Cross.

We live in a society of “what’s good for me” mentality. This is why many are leaving the Baptist denomination and other churches. For the Christian faith, the Bible is the true written and spoken word of God. But too many people today are buckling under to the worldview in that, if they don’t like what the Bible says, they determine to adopt their own philosophy or other church’s philosophy that will speak more to them.

Baptists are not really so much against people of differing beliefs or lifestyles. To Baptists, the bottom line is, what does the Bible say?

This must continually be our mantra. However, we must continually do this humbly and lovingly, pointing out that God’s Word says this is what is best for them, but in the best of the Baptist tradition if they disagree with us they are completely free to do so. We live in an increasingly anti-authority culture and that is why some will leave with stricter membership calls, but this may not be all bad as we seek to show that this is what the people of God look like. At the same time, we are called to grow and be on mission, so while we must never totally rely on numbers, we must also NOT settle for people failing to come to Christ by simply touting, “We are theologically pure, and they are missing it.” Success must include doctrinal purity and cultural relevance.