I’m a Southern Baptist. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church. I was saved in a Southern Baptist church. I went to a Southern Baptist college and attended two Southern Baptist seminaries. I’ve lived long enough to see the conservative resurgence in the SBC
When I was in school, the influence of liberalism was evident. I had professors who denied the first twelve chapters of Genesis. Some questioned the miracles. As E. V. Hill used to say, “They aren’t liberal, they’re lost.” You can’t deny the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” and be a believer.
I served on a major board that had to deal with liberal theology. I saw liberals begging us to be “open-minded” and “tolerant” so we could “reach people.” Some even whined because we wouldn’t let them drink wine so they could “relate” to the culture. As one of my friends says, “I got saved out of alcohol and drugs, why would I want to go back?” At times it seemed we would go the way of many mainline denominations. Ours is one of the few denominations to reverse course once it has headed down the path of liberalism.
We won the war, but I fear fighting within our borders. We’re drawing lines and building fences when we should be expanding our borders and the kingdom. Some are going the way of 60s liberalism—watering down the meaning of church, lowering the standards and thinking we can reach the world by being like the world. Others are following the path of the spiritually elite who have some “truth” everyone else needs to adopt. They know enough to be dangerous to themselves and others. It’s like déjà vu all over again.
Have we so quickly forgotten what God blesses? Forgetting means we are destined to repeat our mistakes. There’s a new debate brewing, not about inerrancy but interpretation. Interpretation and good hermeneutics are essential to good theology. When I listen to some people it sounds like they think hermeneutics and Herman Munster were first cousins.
We aren’t content with saying the Bible is inerrant or that the “Baptist Faith and Message” is our statement of faith. Some want to go beyond or further tighten the definitions. Some want us to vote and decide fellowship over individual verses in the Bible.
At this year’s convention there was a vote on the “Baptist Faith and Message.” Even though it has itself been refined and clarified, the BFM has been a consensus statement for our churches. We are not a creedal people. Our churches are autonomous. From my perspective, our goal as conservative evangelicals is to be true to Scripture.
Some say what holds us together is the Cooperative Program. I believe it’s our common belief in basic truths. The bloggers and others are stirring the debate pot on what I feel are secondary issues. At this year’s convention a motion was passed that stated, “’The Baptist Faith and Message’ is neither a creed nor a complete statement of our faith nor final and infallible. Nevertheless we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the convention.”
Rather than looking at the bigger picture and the larger canvas of Biblical truth, some want to get off in a corner and paint by numbers. Some can’t imagine anyone not believing in their system or interpretation. Where Scripture allows for differences of opinion, they draw swords. Good and godly people disagree on some doctrinal issues. I respect differences of opinion. I don’t respect agendas that are, in fact, undercurrents to our unity.
I see too much arrogance where the Bible calls for humility. If we aren’t careful, we’ll have seminaries and colleges of Paul, Cephas and Apollos, and even the Jesus Seminary where they really teach the Bible. It was carnal in Corinth; it’s carnal now. Rather than joining hands we arm wrestle over non-essentials.
We already see independent churches with street signs designed to make them sound more committed to Christ than the church down the street. You’ve seen the signs that say things like, “Fundamental,” “Bible-Believing,” “Pre-millennial,” “King James Only” and a ton of other terms that the lost world (and most believers) couldn’t explain and don’t care about. For the love of God, let’s show folks the love of God.
I’ve never been one for labels. Don’t try to box me in. Labels are for boxes and packages. I’m committed to the Son, not a system. God wrote a story, not a systematic theology. I’m not smart enough to understand all that stuff. I just know I’ve got Jesus and He’s got me. I know what “lost” means and I know what “saved” means. I’ve been branded by Christ. I am called to live a crucified life. That’s enough to keep me busy.
Vance Havner wrote a book called Jesus Only. It’s a good title. It’s good theology. I’m for Jesus. I’m for the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. I’m for genuine repentance and revival. I don’t know what that will look like when it happens, but I’m for it. I’m for worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth. I’m not sure any of our styles matter to God. I’m for the Second Coming, and I don’t have a clue when it’s going to happen, but I’m ready. If we can’t agree on things like that, we ought to close down the shop. The greater danger is this: God may shut us down if our agenda doesn’t match His.
I’m for what Jude said. “I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” I am to contend, not be contentious. We’ve got enough problems with the world, the flesh and the devil without adding anything else of our own creation. Any thought or teaching that doesn’t take people to the foot of the cross in brokenness and humility is not worth keeping around. God doesn’t need us; we desperately need Him.
I’m willing to allow some wiggle room where good and godly people disagree. But please remember that it’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. We must all go to the cross and die to ourselves. Only then can Christ live through us to the glory of God.
© Michael Catt, 2007
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.