People who are paying attention may know that the Southern Baptist Convention is in the process of slowly imploding from within as it struggles to cope with a strong internal conservative movement and an accommodationist leadership towards more liberal theological views. Recently, in response to some at minimum questionable action, non-actions, and comments by theologians, leaders and seminary professors, including JD Grear, current president of the convention, endorsing theistic evolution as a valid option for Christians, a formal conservative opposition group formed. Calling themselves the Conservative Baptist Network of Southern Baptists, these individuals committed themselves to standing for the Southern Baptist statement of faith and opposition to several of the heresies spreading in the SBC. Testament to the concern in the convention, they gained thousands of twitter followers in the four days it has been since their first tweet at the time of this writing. They have been endorsed directly or indirectly, by such popular Evangelical leaders as Todd Starnes, Ken Ham and several others. The only people not endorsing them are the leaders of the SBC, such as Al Mohler who took a very thinly veiled shot at the organization on twitter, and in one of his daily briefings, all without naming them.
A Low-Hanging Strawman
Normally, all of that introduction would not be enough for us to write about it. However, I think it is important to address in this instance, not so much for the drama, but for the Scriptural points that need to be made. The Southern Baptists are having this issue because they never implemented church discipline or separation from the things of this world. When you have a Florida SBC member church having what amounts to a rock concert in place of a church service and their “pastor” is being invited to speak at the SBC’s Pastor’s Conference this year, you have a problem. The church should have been put out of the SBC for its hypersexualized, worldly displays. Instead, it’s pastor gets to tell other pastors how to create more worldliness.
JD Grear perhaps epitomized this failure of the convention in comments recently reported on twitter by Baptist21. “I grew up Independent Baptist, Fundamental, Sword of the Lord. I’ve seen where this kind of uncharitable, narrow, 4-degrees of separation leads, and it’s not where most Southern Baptists want to go.” What Grear is doing is creating a strawman. Independent Baptists are not popular, even among Southern Baptists, so he figures they will be an easy punching bag. The problem is, Grear fundamentally misunderstands what separation is and why it matters.
Let me be perfectly transparent here, something that the leadership of the SBC have not been. I move in IFB circles and consider myself an IFB. However, I will not claim that IFB churches are perfect. They are not. They are populated by fallible, sinful humans and thus will never be perfect. There certainly are IFB churches I have been in which are run poorly and which carry separation to an impossible, inconsistent length. However, the issue here is not that there are problems in some IFB churches and thus dismiss them all. If it were, it would be easy and equally logical to dismiss all SBC churches because of issues in the liberal quadrant of the denomination. Grear is trying to distract from the issues at hand by using a convenient whipping boy.
However, we are not going to give him a pass on the real issue, regardless of his strawman. He, and other SBC leaders need to understand what separation means and what the Bible requires. Obviously, separation is a part of Scripture, but so is Christian liberty. There is a balance between the two.
Separation is clearly taught in Scripture, in both the old and new testaments. ” I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:1-2 tells us. The key phrase for this argument is not being conformed to this world. The word for conformed is the Greek “suschematizo” which means to be made in the fashion of. In other words, we are not to form our life in the fashion of the world. This implies strongly that we are not to do the things the world does. This does not just include sins, or there would be no reason to include this statement. Romans contains other strong denunciations of sins. This verse is in a different context. It is speaking of Christian service to God, which includes, but is not limited to holy living.
The lengthy passage in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 speaking is a favorite separation passage. However, I’m not certain it would be rightly applied in this situation as it speaks of unbelievers, rather than professing fellow believers. However, verse 17 does apply to separation in general. We are told to come out from among the world and be separate from them. In fact, we are told not to touch the “unclean thing”. The Greek word used here is “akathartos” which means things both ceremonially and morally unclean. In other words, things tainted by the world should not be touched.
What then counts as taint? 1 Thessalonians 5:22 tells us to “Abstain from all appearance of evil”. Thus we could say that anything that looks bad should be avoided. However, this is a subjective standard. What looks bad to a cynical personality is different than what looks bad to an optimist. Here is where Christian liberty comes into play. We have liberty in issues that are not prohibited or proscribed against in Scripture. However, this is much less broad than many Christians claim. There is liberty in whether to follow Old Testament dietary laws, for example, as Paul describes in Romans 14. There is not liberty in using entertainment which contains wicked themes, such as pornographic Game of Thrones material, or lascivious music lyrics and styles such as is used in almost all even Christian music. Because of the overt sin in these forms of entertainment, in this case, sexual sin, these do not meet the Philippians 4:8 criterion for what Christians are to think on. Christians should be separate from those things.
Importantly, differing opinions on issues like dietary restrictions should not be something that breaks fellowship. These are non-essential issues. It is not sinful to hold either position on eating pork, for example. However, it is important to separate from false teaching on issues the Scripture addresses. False teachers and handling them is something the New Testament addresses repeatedly. 1 Timothy 6:3-5 says ” If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” Notice that Paul tells Timothy to withdraw from people who are teaching false doctrines. There is no call to embrace them if they claim to be brothers in Christ. In a list of things characterizing the last days, Paul tells Timothy that there will be people who look Godly, but deny God’s power and tells him to turn away from those false brethren. (2 Timothy 3:5) Paul was so sternly against false teachers that he says he did not give space to those preaching false doctrine for even an hour. (Galatians 2:5). 2 Peter warns us of false teachers coming into the church and spreading heresies and warns of their destruction. (2 Peter 2:1) Clearly, false teaching is not to be tolerated and should be separated from.
This brings us back to JD Grear and the Southern Baptist Convention. The Convention has tolerated women pastor speaking in their pulpits with no consequences to the churches involved, something the Bible teaches against (1 Tim 2:9-15). They have permitted the lascivious displays at some of their mega-churches. They have permitted the false doctrines of critical race theory, a dogma that teaches that people in power are racist by definition and need to pander to victims, generally people with more melanin, despite the fact that there is only one race (Acts 17:26), to permeate their convention and seminaries. They have permitted and endorsed theistic evolution in clear violation of Genesis 1, nevermind the damage it does to the redemption narrative. The SBC has not exercised separation from false teaching and is thus becoming consumed by it. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” Galatians 5:9
The SBC has other problems of course, including its refusal to exercise church discipline upon members of its denomination. Matthew 18:15-17 tells us how this ought to be conducted, and Titus 3:10 tells us what should happen if the person being disciplined refuses correction. However, the SBC has not dealt with obvious false teaching in its midst, putting it in this situation. I feel for the Conservative Baptist Network. Their own church is slowly being turned against them by a small but powerful cabal of leftists. However, if they would have stood for a Biblical separation from false teaching on small issues, instead of repeating the fool’s proverb “Thou shalt speak no ill of thy fellow Southern Baptist”, they would not be in the position of potentially having to separate from the convention itself which, in all honesty, probably should have already happened, given the sensual, worldly displays in some of its members and abysmal theology in others. Some churches already have left, and I applaud them for standing for something. If things go poorly at the convention in June and, given the slippery slope always goes left, I suspect they will, the Conservative Baptist Network will have to ask themselves the painful question of whether they are willing to separate from or continue to tolerate wickedness in their denomination. It’s a question we should be asking ourselves as well. When we are challenged, do we separate, or accommodate?
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