Like my fellow Southern Baptist pastors, I received a message, via email, on Tuesday, from the new President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bryant Wright. Because of ministry priorities, including Vacation Bible School this week, I only skimmed Dr. Wright’s message yesterday. However, I have had time to read and digest the contents of his email and want to share my take on the letter.
Addressed simply, “Dear Friends,” I understand Dr. Wright’s desire to personalize his message to the literally tens of thousands of SBC pastors currently serving churches within our convention. However, I do not consider myself to be Dr. Wright’s friend. I have never met him nor talked with him. He does not know me from Adam. I am a fellow Southern Baptist pastor and brother-in-Christ in this great convention, but we are not friends in any meaningful sense of the word. I am not offended by Dr. Wright calling me “friend,” but I do question when anyone whom I do not know, especially in a position of power, tries to presume a relationship that simply does not exist.
I fully believe in God’s total sovereignty in the affairs of this world. God is in control. And yes, Dr. Wright is President of this convention because of God’s sovereignty, but to declare that it is
only by the Sovereignty of God that Southern Baptists have chosen me to serve Him as President of the Southern Baptist Convention
leaves the impression that God, totally on His own without any assistance from anyone else, placed Dr. Wright in the position of SBC President. I highly doubt that he believes in determinism and pre-ordination to that degree. And I don’t believe that Wright’s sovereignty language was some sign of a giant Calvinist pep rally, as at least one Oklahoma pastor fears. However, people should be careful when using “sovereignty of God” language when describing elections, especially their own. Why? Because if you truly believe that God sovereignly ordained you to be President of the SBC or pastor of a church, then anyone who might question your judgment or actions would automatically be on the wrong side, not just of the issues, but on the wrong side of God. And nobody wants to be there. Makes asking hard and inconvenient questions of our leaders difficult at best.
That there will be “great transitions ahead” for every aspect of Southern Baptist life is an understatement. The Orlando Convention and the passage of the GCR Task Force Report was but the start of what many believe will be exciting, and perhaps, tumultuous times within our convention. Dr. Frank Page, newly elected President of the Executive Committee, will soon be joined by new presidents for both the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board. Who will assume leadership of these two giant agencies within the convention? Will one or both of the vacancies be filled by members of the GCRTF? I will not be surprised if and when that happens. Did the Task Force discuss possible replacements coming from within their committee? Oh, wait. We won’t know that until another fifteen years because ALL the records of the committee’s work on behalf of the churches of the SBC have been sealed.
Not only are “great transitions ahead,” but radical ones. In point two of his message, Dr. Wright states:
A radical change in priorities in order to fulfill the Great Commission. (underlined in the original) This begins with each individual believer seeking to fulfill our role through the local church and continues with pastors and churches recognizing the immense need of getting more and more Cooperative Program dollars to the unreached people groups of the world and into the under-reached areas of North America.
Dr. Wright, in his most recent message, does not define “radical.” However, in interviews given to various media outlets, both before and after the Orlando Convention, (here, here, and here) one can clearly understand what Wright means by “radical change.” If implemented, Wright’s vision of “a radical change in priorities” — which also is the vision of many fellow megachurch pastors — will not only effect changes in leadership and strategy throughout the SBC, but will radically redefine what it means to be a “Cooperating” Southern Baptist church. Instead of the bottom-up, grass-roots convention that we have been, we will become (if we’re not already there) a top-down, corporate denomination that tells suggests how autonomous state conventions and local churches should act. That’s not the kind of hope and change that this Southern Baptist pastor wants to embrace!
In the coming week, I will be writing a three-part series of posts on the radical redefinition of the Southern Baptist Convention. The first post, to be published Friday morning, will start at the end of the GCRTF process — the sealing of the committee’s records for fifteen years. For, when you begin to critique and analyze the reasoning and arguments made by the committee to not only unilaterally seal ALL the records of their proceedings, but to vigorously oppose the release of ANY records, you will begin to comprehend the first step in the planned radical re-prioritizing and radical re-defining of the Southern Baptist Convention.