Dear Southern Baptist Sisters and Brothers,
I have had you all on my mind as you are gathering in Nashville for your annual meeting. While I currently serve as a pastor in a non-denominational context, I have roots in the SBC. I was baptized on January 26, 1986 in a Southern Baptist church, where my faith was nurtured.
I learned to follow Jesus in that church.
I learned to revere, study, and digest our holy Scriptures in that church.
I learned the value of community, the centrality of the gospel, and the priesthood of all believers in that church. My Southern Baptist church taught me humility, servanthood, and how to prioritize love for God and love for neighbor.
I deeply appreciate the years I spent as a teenager worshiping in a Baptist church, because that church loved me and helped me discern a call to serve in full-time ministry. I will always treasure those years of Sunday school classes, potlucks, youth events, and even the occasional business meeting. (Ok, so maybe I won’t actually treasure business meetings.) But hopefully you hear my heart in these words: I have nothing but love for you.
I know these are hard times. They are hard for all us who love and serve the church in North America. I know your membership continues to decline and I’m aware of the negative feedback you have received these last 12 to 18 months. Please know you are in my heart and prayers and I want nothing for the best for the SBC. But I do need to communicate some hard things to you.
I do so as your fellow co-laborer in the work of the gospel.
I do so as your brother in Christ and as a pastor who loves the entire body of Christ.
I know you have placed various stakes in the ground over the years regarding points of doctrine and ecclesiology, but I implore you to think prayerfully about your enemies, your true enemies. Be mindful of the enemies that threaten your missional movement, autonomous local churches bound together by a missional call to know Christ and to make him known throughout North America and around the world.
And now here is the hard thing I need to say to you.
Your true enemies are not “wokism,” Arminianism, Pentecostalism, egalitarianism, or transgenderism. To my SBC brothers and sisters: your true enemies are not 'wokism,' Arminianism, Pentecostalism, egalitarianism, or transgenderism. Click To Tweet
“Wokism” isn’t your enemy.
I’m not sure what “wokism” is exactly, but those who advocate for racial justice for our Black and Brown neighbors are not your enemy, even if they have been exposed to critical race theory. It’s not necessary to subscribe to a certain theory in order to know the 400-year history of systemic racism in the United States. We just need to listen to our Black and Brown neighbors tell their stories. We simply need to ask loving questions and let people of color tell those of us who are white what they experienced personally. Working toward racial reconciliation is a gospel issue. In and through his death, Jesus tore down the racial dividing wall “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph 2:15-16).
Arminianism isn’t your enemy.
Those of us who reject the tenets of five-point Calvinism are not your enemies, either. We love the Scriptures just like you. We have devoted ourselves to listening in to the 2,000-year theological conversation within the church, and while we reject certain aspects of Reformed theology, we embrace those of you who do subscribe to Calvinism as sisters and brothers in Christ. We humbly ask that you would do the same for those who do not. Mission has been what has bound Southern Baptists together, and the ongoing fighting between Calvinists and Arminians distracts from the mission of preaching Christ. A thoroughly-Reformed interpretation of the gospel is not the gospel, after all. It’s merely an interpretation. Those of us outside the Reformed camp are still preaching Christ, even if our interpretation doesn’t match yours line for line. And Paul wrote, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil 1:18).
Pentecostalism isn’t your enemy.
People who speak in tongues are not the enemy. I, too, have my critiques of Pentecostal theology and practice. They can at times create an unnecessary divide between Christians who speak in tongues and those who don’t. Nevertheless, those who pray privately using the prayer language of the Spirit as a means to open more fully to God’s presence are not the enemy. While Paul did say he preferred to speak intelligible words in the church, he still also said, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Cor 14:18).
Egalitarianism isn’t your enemy.
I won’t lie. I was saddened by your move to amend The Baptist Faith and Message to state that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” I believe the Scriptures do give room for women called by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve as pastors, but I don’t want to rehash that debate. I will simply point you back to missions. The mission of the church to proclaim Jesus to the nations suffers when women are not allowed in the pulpit and are prohibited from the dignity of the pastoral office. We are in the last days. We have been in the last days for 2,000 years. We are living in the time when God has declared, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…” (Acts 2:17). Remember the ministry and legacy of Lottie Moon. The mission of the church to proclaim Jesus to the nations suffers when women are not allowed in the pulpit and are prohibited from the dignity of the pastoral office. Click To Tweet
Transgenderism isn’t your enemy.
We are 50 years into a cultural, social, and sexual revolution in which the longstanding tradition of the church regarding marriage and sexual ethics has been, and is still being, challenged. I know it can be scary. The sexual ethics of Jesus as taught by the church may be the most difficult part of Christian discipleship. Sexual brokenness and sexual abuse has occurred within our churches. It is time for healing, truth-telling, and justice to roll like a river. I don’t have all the answers, but as a pastor who is attempting to follow Jesus with all my heart, I know there is one thing we must be known for—and that is love. I cannot imagine the turmoil a person must experience when they are wrestling with gender identity. They don’t need our judgment. They need our love. They need to experience the love of Jesus through the wide-open arms of a church that says, “You are welcome here.” Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).
The real enemies we are fighting against are not these -isms, but other kinds of -isms. I know Southern Baptists appreciate a good acronym, so here is one that helps us remember them. Our true enemies are S.I.N., secularism, individualism, and nationalism
These are the root -isms being used by the devil to wage war against the Lamb. We should keep our eyes on these, and more importantly, we need to keep our eyes on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
I still fondly remember singing this song in my Southern Baptist church:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
May the glory of God in the face of Jesus lead you all to the truth. I know you have elected a new president and you have a busy week in Nashville, but as you meet, please know that you are beloved members of God’s family. And as your brother, I want nothing but the best for your movement.
Grace and peace,