Let me tell you my story: My family attended a Southern Baptist church for about a year, moved towns, and after a few years away from being in church we attended an independent Baptist fellowship. I don’t remember the first church all that well since I was only 7 but I do remember the independent church. It was there at age 12 when I first heard the gospel. We left the independent church and once again attend a Southern Baptist church but only for a short period until my dad was called to preach and subsequently planted a church. However, this church was not a Baptist church – it was non-denominational. I attended this non-denominational church where I was converted at 17. God used this church to shape and disciple me. I must confess though during this time I became “disillusioned” with denominations. Honestly it was for no other reason except that denominations in my mind were evil and caused unnecessary division among believers. As a result I couldn’t stand “established” churches; particularly Southern Baptist churches. I argued that the SBC churches were corrupt and compromised the gospel. The irony was I never fully understood what a Southern Baptist church was or why they existed. I just saw anything that was not “my church” as the enemy. Anything that was tied to a denomination had to be an instrument of division.
Fast forward from my immaturity: I am pastoring an established traditional Southern Baptist church in East Texas. I received my education from Criswell College where I also worked for several years (Criswell is historically a center for Southern Baptist activity). I am also an avid supporter of my State and the National Convention. You may be convinced at this point that I’m theologically bi-polar. That might have something to do with it, however, I’m convinced it is more about maturity than anything. After studying Scripture, exploring church history, and actually becoming involved with Southern Baptists I have no reservations in saying that I am a Southern Baptist. For me, I am a Southern Baptist primarily because of conviction. Second, I am a Southern Baptist for practical reasons. Lastly, I am a Southern Baptist for a very simple reason: I want to be.
Working my way through an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies I was exposed to unbelievable amounts of material – original languages, church history, systematic theology, etc. One class that all undergrads must take at Criswell is Baptist History and Distinctives. It was early in my undergrad and needless to say I didn’t want to take the class, especially at 7:30am with Dr. James Bryant (who was the resource of everything Southern Baptist. It was this man ironically who would preach my ordination). However, it was in that class that I realized I was convictionally a Southern Baptist. I came to believe in the distinctives: biblical inerrancy, regenerate church membership, priesthood of all believers, believer’s baptism, and the list could go on. Yet the one distinctive I pushed back against was congregational polity. I argued for a version of elder ruled polity where the congregation had no say. But as I studied the New Testament I was shown over again where the congregation had a voice in matters of church discipline, theological issues, and practical matters. My conviction regarding congregationalism was solidified during a church conflict where unbiblical polity was one of issues.
I am a Southern Baptist because I believe the Baptist expression of Christianity best reflects the data found in the New Testament regarding the nature of the church and how the church ought to govern itself. In no way does this mean that my Presbyterian or Methodist friends aren’t followers of Jesus. It does mean that I believe their system of governance diverts from the New Testament teaching. As a Southern Baptist I fully affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. It is tight enough to preserve historic Baptist distinctives but broad enough where individuals can respectfully disagree on nuanced theological points such as eschatological issues, extent of the atonement, and worship styles. As a result biblically and theologically I align myself with Southern Baptists.
The second reason I am a Southern Baptist is grounded in the fact that the Convention began because there was a need for cooperation; primarily cooperation in missions and theological education. Southern Baptists are Great Commission people. Southern Baptists are also a theological people. At the heart of this is a commitment to cooperation. While each church is autonomous the Convention is simply a network of churches who voluntarily partner together for gospel advancement. This is reflected with six SBC seminaries, two mission boards, ERLC, and other entities supported by the Convention.
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states under Cooperation: Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s
Cooperation takes place as local churches give through the Cooperative Program. As local churches reach their community through its respective ministries, SBC churches can also participate locally through associations. SBC churches can join in gospel advancement through state conventions. In my case we affiliate with the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention. Yet the part that encourages me most is that local churches can partner to reach the nations at the national level. With two mission boards – IMB and NAMB – gospel advancement is taking place all around the world. I must say it is a work of God that individual local autonomous churches can voluntarily partner together to reach the nations for Christ. Practically speaking we are stronger together. For this reason I am a Southern Baptist.
You may have heard the saying, “Baptist born, Baptist bred, and when I die I’ll be Baptist dead!” Jerry Vines once said, “Well, that’s kind of my story.” Well, that isn’t my story. I fought against being labeled a Baptist. I was dead-set against it. My reasoning was, “I’m a Christian, I don’t need to be called a Baptist.” I was encouraged by many not to “align myself” or be “placed in that camp.” But at the end of the day every Christian will align themselves with a certain set of theological beliefs. But beyond conviction I am a Southern Baptist by choice. I have chosen to align myself with this denomination. I was not manipulated or coerced. I didn’t do it to get a job. I simply made the choice to be part of something bigger than myself. I have chosen to be in the heritage of Broadus, Boyce, Mullins, and Carroll. I am grateful for Criswell, Patterson, Rogers, and Pressler. I am continually influenced by Mohler, Moore, Platt, and Allen. Yet looking past those names I am a Baptist by choice because of the members of Grace Community Church. There is a constant source of encouragement from these members – many of whom have been Southern Baptists longer than I’ve been alive. If I were not a Baptist I would not have the privilege of serving these wonderful people. I am a Southern Baptist by choice.
A Converted Southern Baptist
I am a follower of King Jesus and I align myself with Southern Baptist convictions. I am not ashamed to say that. I am thankful for the work of the Southern Baptist Convention and what God has done through Southern Baptist’s throughout the years. That being said, the SBC is not perfect – far from it. I’m not blowing the SBC trumpet without acknowledging the issues. I can see the blemishes not having grown up within the denomination. The fact of the matter is there are theological and methodological issues within SBC churches that make me cringe. Within any denomination there will be political games played. You’ll also have those on the fringes throwing grenades calling for “reformation” or those who cry “let’s return back to the ol’ days!” To this I say I’m not even sure what the “good ol’ day” are. Watching the grenades tossed is a bit assuming. Politics is at the heart of anything and people will disagree with theology. Yet within the messiness of SBC life we still have one main objective – advancing the gospel to the ends of the earth. This is the objective I’m committed to. As a Christian I am encouraged to be part of something bigger than myself. As a Christian I personally have not arrived into full conformity into Christ. As a Christian, who is a Southern Baptist, I am eager to see the Southern Baptist Convention grow into Christ and continue to reach the nations for His glory.