Can’t We All Just Get Along in the SBC?

Can’t We All Just Get Along in the SBC?

A church not in friendly cooperation with the SBC cannot seat messengers. What must a church do in order to be in “friendly cooperation” and thereby to seat messengers? Among other things, such a church must have “a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith.”

I just read a helpful thread by Bart Barber, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), about cooperation and non-connectionalism in Southern Baptist life. Among other things, he writes:

This local-church non-connectionalism simply says that two churches can do something together without taking on any responsibility before God for the other church…

This idea is woven into Article XIV (“Cooperation”) and Article XV (“The Christian and the Social Order”) of The Baptist Faith & Message. Those articles remind churches that it does not compromise a church’s faith to cooperate with other churches who differ theologically.

Quoting from the Baptist Faith & Message, he elaborates:

“Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people.”

“Cooperation is desirable…when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”

Thus, so long as the ACTIVITIES do not violate conscience, the mere cooperation does not do so.

Let me say, first of all, that I agree with all of this. But as I was reading it, I also thought there might be one false implication worth warning against. This is not an implication that Bart embraces in his thread. It’s just one that some readers might be tempted to draw themselves. Here it is. While it is true that Southern Baptist churches in friendly cooperation may have many theological differences among them, it does not follow that all theological differences are therefore a matter of indifference to our cooperation.

Article 4 of the SBC Constitution has something profound to say about cooperation among our churches. Here it is:

While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention.

There are two parts to this, and both are crucial. Let’s take the second part first. The second part guarantees the autonomy of local churches. The SBC does not have authority over any Baptist church (or any other church for that matter). Those churches really are independent and may run themselves how ever they see fit. Hopefully, they will order their congregations under Christ’s Lordship as revealed in Holy Scripture. But even if they do not, the SBC has no authority over those churches to make them do or believe anything.

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