There are some things that are worth division. When the SBC took a stand for Biblical inerrancy, that was something worth taking a stand for and one of the reasons I choose to be Southern Baptist. When the SBC took a stand against racial or ethnic discrimination (and even publicly apologized for its past view on the issue), it was something that was worth the opposition. Recently (within the past year) Russel Moore, who leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee (ERLC- an entity of the SBC), stood in defense of a Muslim group that wanted to build a mosque in a township that would not allow it. Moore signed a document with some other religious liberty entities who are not affiliated with the SBC. It is important to note that Moore did not defend the viewpoint of the Muslim, nor did the ERLC donate funds to the building of the Mosque. What was done seems to have been done in the interest of religious liberty for everyone, not specifically in the interest of the muslim.
The reason I find this important to address is because I am just now seeing friends wrapped up in a debate concerning Moore’s actions and the response of many Southern Baptists. It is important for us to respond not in defense of a denomination or in defense of someone that we have made an idol in that denomination. From the start, we should realize that the SBC is still the largest protestant denomination in the United States. Where there are so many people, there will always be disagreements and conflicts. This is not because God is not with us and it is not because the SBC has somehow opposed God. It is simply because people live in a fallen condition and sometimes lose sight of Christ in their defense of what they think is good or right.1 Our priority should be to respond in light of the relationship Christ has with us and in light of Scripture and nothing else.
Over the last couple days I have read on both sides of the argument and I see two very distinct views. The thing is, most people on both sides of the current debate (and its mot much of a debate) would agree with the priority that I listed above, that we are to respond in light of the relationship Christ has with us and in light of Scripture. Yet, there is disagreement and both parties seem to believe that they are absolutely correct in light of Christ and in light of His Word. If we examine the SBC, here is what I notice: Moore has not been asked to leave and neither has he left of his own volition.
Moore still belongs to the SBC and the SBC still has him whether or not there are investigations into his actions. In fact, the SBC still supports Moore. The SBC holds investigations into its employees all of the time. This is an indication to me that perhaps people have made an issue out of something that may or may not be as big of a deal as we might think.
On Moore’s side of the argument, we see a stance in favor of the religious liberty of all people. Yes, that even means building a bridge to Muslims so that the Gospel can be shared with them. Is this a Biblical stance to take?
Moore answered the question received from the SBC in two ways, first in defense of the SBC:
“And brothers and sisters, when you have a government that says we can decide whether or not a house of worship can be constructed upon the theological beliefs of that house of worship, then there are going to be Southern Baptist churches in San Francisco and in New York and throughout the country who are not going to be able to build.”
Then also in defense of soul liberty and the very work of Christ:
“And the bigger issue, though, is not one of self-interest. The bigger issue is that we have been called to the gospel of Jesus Christ. A government that has the power to outlaw people from assembling together and saying what they believe – that does not turn people into Christians, that turns people into pretend Christians and it sends them straight to hell. The answer to Islam is not government power. The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the new birth that comes from that.”2
Moore’s statements are in line with the Baptist Faith and Message, which states:
“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.”3
I do not point these things out to state my agreement with Moore or to defend his actions or statements. My purpose, here is to provide a basic picture of Moore’s stance.
As already stated, the SBC has not asked Moore to leave or to step down. In fact, the investigation of the SBC into Moore is not even based specifically on Moore’s actions and comments. These investigations are not even primarily about Moore’s stance on religious liberty. There was a moment in which Moore gave a candid evaluation of our new president, Donald Trump. He gave this evaluation in light of Scripture and in light of the Baptist Faith and Message. Because of the comments Moore made (essentially discouraging president worship and not endorsing Trump), a few churches stopped giving into the cooperative program. The SBC then opened an investigation to determine why few churches had stopped giving and the reason was that they did not like comments that Moore was making.4
This led to some who haven’t paid attention to the details either standing with the SBC or standing with Moore. Moore and the SBC are on the same side, else the SBC would terminate Moore’s employment. There is now some false news about the biggest controversy in Southern Baptist history, when, in fact, it is only a few churches that are choosing to die on a hill of trivial issues. It seems to me that these churches are probably those dogmatic churches that have a “my way or the highway” mentality and have worshipped tradition, personal philosophy, and politics in Christ’s place (but that is just me). The reason this becomes such a challenge for the SBC, is that at least one of these churches was a big money giver (donating $1 million/year to the Cooperative Program). While the SBC has to maintain funding for all of its missionaries, it also has to stand for what is correct from a Biblical standpoint. This is why investigations are opened: so that the convention can strive to operate in a way that is beyond reproach. Since I do not know all of the details of the investigations, I cannot determine, here, whether or not they are being conducted in a biblical manner. Neither can I determine the outcome.
What I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt is that there are some churches who are part of the SBC who have not thought about honoring Christ. These local churches may have the reputation of being alive, but are, in actuality, dead and unregenerate. While it is difficult for us to determine who is unregenerate and who is not (this is not our place but God’s), when a local church clearly denies Christ, we ought to honor Christ no matter what it costs us financially. For, we are here to please Christ, not people.
The challenge for other local churches, and for Southern Baptists who care, is to not get so caught up in controversies created by sinful people who live in a fallen condition. We must keep our eyes on Christ. It is so easy for controversy to distract us from the work that Christ has for us and to distract us from our worship and obedience to Christ. We stand for religious liberty for the sake of Christ’s name. We stand against leader-worship for the sake of Christ’s name. We strive toward Christ. Then, when there is actually something worth fighting about, we are more prepared in wisdom and in thoughtfulness. To the unregenerate local churches who like to cause controversy that distracts from our accomplishing the work of Christ: My prayer is that we all pursue Christ and make that our focus, rather than pointless bickering. We do not worship Moore. We do not worship Trump. We do not worship our denomination. We do not worship our own pride. We become less, so that we do not, in some manner, block the view of Christ.
To our African American brothers and sisters in the faith (who will be most impacted): I apologize for the dogmatism and blatant disregard for Christ in some of the plausibly unregenerate local churches who donate to the SBC. Their voice is full of pride. The voice of the few does not represent the opinion of the whole, the instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ, or the outline of the Southern Baptist Faith.
1Gaining Works Losing Christ (http://eastside-baptist-church4.twenty28cms.co/sermons/mediaposts/gaining-works-losing-christ)
3Baptist Faith and Message. Article XVII. 2000.