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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why I Choose to Remain a Southern Baptist

I have heard some of the oddest things while I've been a Southern Baptist. Most of them revolve around little cultural accretions that cling like barnacles to the actual contents of Scripture. More than a few times I've been absolutely gobsmacked by someone's insistence on something that is not merely a non-essential, but is flatly not to be found within the pages of Scripture. When challenged on such things, Southern Baptists (especially preachers) will claim to have found "a principle" in scripture, or they will appeal to "Baptist history," or "the majority of Southern Baptists." It's weird. We sometimes seem to hold one another more accountable for things that are not actually sins than we do for real sins. There are times that looking at how much time we invest in trivialities that are simply unaddressed in Scripture, I have almost felt the desire for heavy persecution to come along, just to help us focus. I have felt not unlike Frodo, when he said in The Lord of the Rings:
I should like to save the Shire, if I could--though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt than an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them.
We have a preferred eschatology (which I lean toward, by the way), the questioning of which often seems to elicit much the same reaction as would questioning the reality of Christ's resurrection.

I have heard people preach--or at least write--on the necessity of wearing a coat and tie to services, on the grounds that you'd dress your best to meet the boss, wouldn't you? Never a scrap of Scriptural support for this idea, mind you, but that doesn't stop people from teaching it.

Another oddball thing I've heard is the stunningly absurd, yet fairly typical, Southern Baptist position that drinking per se--that is, having a drink but not getting drunk--is not a sin, but God forbid anyone should actually have a drink! You can see this attitude displayed in fine form in the comments thread here. The same thing goes for smoking. Oddly, no one in the Southern Baptist Convention talks about gluttony and obesity, though. Or maybe it's not so odd. Too many grossly fat preachers.

One of the most common oddball things you'll hear in the Southern Baptist Convention is that God requires Christians to tithe. I say that it's oddball because you will search the Bible from cover to cover without finding one command for Christians to tithe. Oh, you'll find plenty of commands for them to give generously and joyously, but never a command for any specific amount. This is one of those areas, though, where preachers will tell you they've found an applicable "principle" in Scripture. Not a command, but a principle. Kind of like the way the Supreme Court found a "right to privacy" in the "emanations and penumbras" of the Constitution.

I've heard that no Christian should read the Harry Potter books. I can understand that one, to a degree. I had heard--can't recall where--that those books stimulated an interest in real witchcraft. However, I have the advantage of actually having known witches as personal friends and doing at least a little research into their beliefs (an excellent book on the subject, written from an educated Christian point of view, is Craig S. Hawkins' Witchcraft: Exploring the World of Wicca), and when we started actually looking into the Harry Potter books instead of just taking someone else's word for it, I was quick to see that the "witchcraft" in the Potter books bears no resemblance whatever to the real thing. What's amazing to me is not just that so few others in the Southern Baptist Convention--at least that I know--have done the small amount of personal investigation necessary to find this out, but that so many of them have the audacity to compare reading the things with, say, adultery.

I'm not kidding about that. Someone in our household once actually heard a conversation along these lines:
"How do you know the Potter books are bad, if you've never read one of them?"

"Oh, do I need to experience adultery in order to know it's bad?"
Well, of course you don't, for at least one simple reason: there is actually Biblical instruction on the subject of adultery.

Then there's our oddball insistence on teaching the children's Sunday School lessons to our adults (we just use bigger words). This has been so bad for so long that we now have adults that react to being asked anything but multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions as though they've been whacked with a red-hot poker. We do this on the grounds--as far as I've been told, anyway--that we want to avoid having the classes so "advanced" that a new person would feel uncomfortable in them.

Got news for y'all: We hardly ever have any new people in our classes. That's the least of our problems, okay? And trust me on this, it's not because our Sunday School material is too complex for them, either.

I've noticed that a lot of Southern Baptists don't react so well to being told that, either.

Then there are the oddball things that we do, like maintaining programs and entities long after they have ceased to achieve the things they were intended to achieve or to have any relevance to any situation currently existing.

There are other things, things that are so "hot" that I can't talk about them without possibly getting other people into trouble.

So why, I was asked recently, if I disagree with so many common Southern Baptist positions and programs, do I continue to remain a Southern Baptist? Wouldn't it be more honest to go somewhere else?

My answer is no, and this is why I choose to remain a Southern Baptist:

1) In the main, Southern Baptists continue to get the gospel right. Though I am sure that most Southern Baptists would not know the differences between a five-pointer, a four-pointer, and an Arminian if they collectively bled to death on their church steps, I have ample reason to believe that most Southern Baptists believe that salvation is to be found by faith alone in Christ alone, by grace alone, and they would never dream of thinking that man, in any way, can claim even the teensiest bit of credit for it.

2) Southern Baptists generally maintain a high view of Scripture, generally holding to inerrancy and infallibility.

3) Southern Baptists fund the mightiest missionary force on the globe.

4) Southern Baptists know how, when, and why to baptize.

5) There ain't no cookin' like Southern Baptist cookin'.

6) The oddball positions alluded to above generally have the proverbial snowball's chance of actually making it into the closest thing we have to an official, Convention-wide doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message. Southern Baptists are so independent-minded that the odds of enough of them agreeing on any one point to successfully hold someone accountable for any one of those oddball positions are slim indeed.

7) You will generally find the same sorts of problems in other denominations, so why bother to jump from the frying pan into the fire?

8) Calvinism is on the rise in the Southern Baptist Convention. The Conservative Resurgence has borne unexpected fruit in this regard. As more and more Southern Baptists have gone to seminary and been told to pay attention to Scripture as the authoritative rule for faith and practice, they have not unnaturally concluded that God is sovereign in salvation and that He not only knows the future, He has determined the future. The day may be coming when the Southern Baptist Convention will once again be a solidly Calvinist body.

9) Most Southern Baptists are Red-Staters. Not that they're all Southerners, but they mostly ain't Yankees. I don't really have to explain this one, do I?

10) My Southern Baptist woman!

No, I may read Presbyterians, Lutherans, and even a few Anglicans, but I ain't a-goin' nowhere. The Southern Baptist Convention is stuck with me.

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