Sunday, April 02, 2006

(continued)

5. I have learned that I need to study more thoroughly the convention’s history. One needs to spend only ten minutes with Ben Cole before they realize they are quite deficient in the topic of Southern Baptist history. It was amazing to meet someone so adept at understanding the workings of the convention, the people of the convention, and the political atmosphere of the convention. This I realized came from his vast understanding of not only where we are, but also where we have been.

It suddenly dawned on me that this is true in any area – to fully understand the present, we must first have a grasp on the past.

And so, I returned to Hazlehurst, dug out the text book from my Southern Baptist History class and began to read (most of it for the first time). Absolutely amazing what I’m uncovering! Dr. Jesse C. Fletcher wrote this book in part to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Convention. It’s stunning to me how pertinent the information remains – in light of all that has been occurring over the past several months.

A brief outline:

Some time, shortly after the colonies began to settle the New World, Baptists began settling their own colonies and formulating their own churches. They were a fairly independent lot – partially due to their skepticism of the state churches they had pulled away from and partly as a result of the persecution these fledgling congregations received at the hands of those same churches. However, “in May of 1814 their missionary conviction led to the formation of a national denominational body which they called the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions.” A lengthy title, yes, but it is interesting that the first national Baptist denomination formed – not as a means of codifying their doctrine, not as a means of affecting the political scene of the relatively new nation, not even as a way to properly train their pastors and missionaries – but rather, the unified body formed for the sole purpose of taking the Gospel to foreign lands.

Interesting. If Baptists are seen here uniting around the need for foreign missionaries. What could possibly cause the divide that would ultimately produce the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention? Yes, it is International Missions again. Let me quote directly from Fletcher – all emphasis mine:

“Organized as abolitionists, people holding these convictions mounted an unrelenting campaign against the South’s “peculiar institution.” After several unsuccessful tries, their leaders in 1845 persuaded the mission boards of the national Baptist body to refuse to appoint a slaveholder as a missionary. This set the stage for the southern churches, defensive and feeling discredited in organizations they had helped create and nurture, to demand their own denominational structure. The Southern Baptist Convention was the result.

Fascinating how familiar this sounds. Despite the fact that we all agree with the evils of slavery and the need for the abolition of the “peculiar institution,” the bottom line remains: at the heart of the formation of our convention was one group refusing to appoint missionaries from another group - a move so offensive, it led our founding fathers to sever ties with the then current mission board and form their own denominational entity.

My fear is that one day we will again read a similar passage in our history books. Do not be confused, the current issues facing our convention are not matters of doctrinal purity, biblical inerrancy, or conservative versus liberal thought patterns. The issues are simply one group of conservatives, narrowing the parameters of cooperation and refusing to work with other conservatives – despite areas of doctrinal agreement and unity – who do not wish to be confined by extra-biblical guidelines, policies and parameters. If we allow this to continue, the convention will once again be fractured – if not fragmented – the Gospel will be hindered, and a small group of church’s led by landmark pastors will be left to shoulder the full weight of the convention. I pray we will see a conclusion to these matters before it comes to this. I believe it is time we all take a step back and revisit the history of our great convention in hopes of finding a perspective that advances the gospel, unifies the brethren, and allows Baptists to dissent without the fear of rejection and retaliation from the controlling majority.
posted by Rick
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