Why Stay in the SBC?

“Why should we stay in the SBC?” I’ve had that question put to me from pastors, elders, deacons, and whole congregations over the last 30 years. The questioners are always serious about the gospel and biblical church order and most of them would describe themselves as reformed or “reformedish.” The questions increase on the heels of some unfortunate, public pronouncement by a respected Southern Baptist pastor or denominational servant.

  • “There is not a nickel’s worth of difference between liberalism, five-point Calvinism and dead orthodoxy.”
  • “Calvinism is worse than Islam.”
  • “Calvinism makes automotons of people.”
  • “[Calvinism] is a dagger to the heart of evangelism.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. A Southern Baptist Calvinist could get the impression that he is not welcomed in the SBC and, as another prominent SBC leader suggested, should consider looking for a home in a Presbyterian denomination.

So why should a church stay Southern Baptist in the face of such opposition and criticism from other Southern Baptists? I always preface my response with a reminder that this is a question that every individual or church must decide under God. I would never encourage anyone to violate his or her conscience. My arguments for staying SBC should be taken in that spirit. I have rich fellowship with and deep respect for many faithful Christians who are not and could not become Southern Baptist. With that caveat, here are 5 reasons that reformed and other serious-minded Southern Baptists should stay in the SBC.

First, the SBC is healthier today than at any point in the last 70 years and the trajectory we are on is encouraging. After pragmatism gained ascendency within the convention in the mid-twentieth century it did not take long for neo-orthodoxy and even liberalism to infiltrate some of our institutions and churches. The spread of these dangerous views is what ultimately gave rise to the conservative resurgence within the SBC in order to resist this downgrade. Today, though we may have our disagreements about important matters, at least we can be sure that all of our agencies and institutions are being led by those who unashamedly affirm the full authority of Scripture and want to see the Word of God honored and obeyed in every aspect of Christian discipleship.

If you were to compare the theological commitments of the current Presidents of our 6 seminaries and leaders of all of our agencies (such as the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board) to the people in those positions 38 years ago you would have to acknowledge that we have seen a serious upgrade in our denominational health over that time. Take a snap shot of the SBC today and we can find many blemishes and discouragements captured in that picture. But put that frame into a documentary film of the last 38 years and you will find many reasons to praise God for His renewing grace among us and great encouragement to pray for even more of His grace to be manifested in SBC churches in the future.

A second reason for staying SBC is because of our doctrinal and spiritual heritage. Although the founders of the SBC were far from perfect, they shared theological commitments that served the early decades convention well. In addition, those doctrinal commitments have also been sign posts for more recent generations of Southern Baptists, showing them that embracing the doctrines of grace is nothing less than returning to their theological roots. All 293 delegates who assembled in Augusta, Georgia in 1845 to form the SBC, came from churches or associations that held to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith or Charleston Confession of Faith (which is almost verbatim the London Baptist Confession of 1689). There was a clear, theological consensus among Southern Baptists at the inception of the convention. Those who share that consensus today should consider that they are standing where the very founders of the convention stood and pause before walking away from it.

A third reason to stay is the polity that governs Southern Baptist churches. We believe in the autonomy of the local church. As a result we do not get our marching orders from any central headquarters. Every Southern Baptist church is independent and affiliates voluntarily with Southern Baptist associations and conventions of churches. At the national level (the SBC proper) that association is based on being in “friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work” (Article III of the SBC Constitution). A church gives up none of its autonomy and responsibility before God by being in the SBC.

A fourth reason is that there are great opportunities and needs within the SBC. Cooperation with other churches in gospel efforts is something that Baptist churches in general and Southern Baptist churches especially should value. Through the International Mission Board (IMB), for example, a local SBC church has the opportunity to partner with gospel workers around the world. Such a church can utilize the IMB to send their own members to work with unreached people groups in even the hardest of places. They can also access church planting helps through the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and formal theological education through an SBC seminary.

The SBC is comprised of churches and it needs as many healthy churches as possible within its ranks. If your church has been blessed of God to develop some healthy understandings and practices from His Word, then it would be poor stewardship not to share those blessings with other congregations. As a pastor I have benefitted greatly from fellowship with other pastors and churches who have rightly understood and successfully implemented various biblical principles and practices. Though the SBC is not the only way such fellowship and encouragement can be encouraged it is a way that should not be thoughtlessly dismissed.

A fifth reason grows out of the third and fourth. I state it like this: There is not one thing that I could do tomorrow that I cannot do today if I were to pull out of the SBC tonight. That is true both of me personally and of the church that I serve. No new fields of opportunity would be open up nor would any new activities suddenly become legitimate tomorrow that today are not open or are illegitimate if I were to pull out tonight.

On the other hand, there are many things that I can do today that I could not do tomorrow if I were to pull out tonight. For example, I could not go down to the associational meetings and add my two cents; I could not introduce resolutions for consideration at the state and national convention meetings; I could not directly cooperate in some of the most exciting and needed mission work taking place today; I could not participate in the incredible disaster relief training and ministry that NAMB does so well.

I am grateful for all that the Lord is doing in and through the SBC. As I suggested at the outset, a church need not be Southern Baptist to serve the Lord faithfully and well. However, as a pastor of a church that is in the SBC, I believe that we can do the same within our voluntary association with other Southern Baptist churches.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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