Posted On June 14, 2021

Making Baptist Great Again: The Path to a Conservative Resurgence in the SBC

by | Jun 14, 2021 | General, Theology

This blog post is reworked from a sermon preached on June 13, 2021, at Perryville Second Baptist Church. You can listen to that message here

An Exposition

Ephesians 2:19b-20 says, “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” Some have taken exception to what Paul says here because in 1 Cor. 3:10-11 he says, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

So what is the foundation for the church? Is it Christ? Or is the Apostles and Prophets? Well, of course, it is Christ. And Ephesians 2:20 is not taking away from that. But what Paul is showing us is the very testimony of the Apostles and Prophets is Christ. The ministries of the Apostles and Prophets point to Christ. But who are the Apostles and Prophets? There are two primary arguments. The first is that these are two New Testament offices. The office of Apostle and the office of Prophet. I don’t deny that a case can be made for that.

But even if this is what Paul means, then what is the takeaway? The takeaway is that the foundation is still the revelation of God. It is God’s Word that has laid the foundation, if you will, for the church. Sam Storms writes, “The ‘apostles and prophets’ are the foundation of the church in that their inspired and revelatory teaching concerning the person and work of Christ provided the theological bedrock on which all subsequent ministry and spiritual growth occurs.”

Sam Storms takes this former view. I take the other view. I think that Ephesians 2:20 is referring to the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Apostles. John Chrysostom notes, “[Paul] places the Apostles first, though they are in order of time last, doubtless to represent and express this, that both the one and the other are alike a foundation, and that the whole is one building, and that there is one root.”

The Gentiles have as a foundation the testimony of the Old Testament prophets too. Those weren’t just for the Jews for they were pointing to Christ in their messages. And the Apostles are those who wrote the New Testament – Apostles or close associates of the Apostles.

So, put these together, Apostles and Prophets, and we could say the foundation of the household, the foundation of the church, is the Scriptures. And in the words of the BFM 2000, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.”

But regardless of which side one comes down on what Paul means by Apostles and Prophets, I think it is clear that it is the revelation of God that serves as our foundation and this revelation glories in Christ Jesus.

Charles Simeon notes, “the Church is said to be ‘built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets,’ because they with one voice testified of Christ.”

The church is built by and on the Word of God as it is the Word of God that discloses and extols the riches and glories of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Or to look at it another way, the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ Her Lord and this is revealed to us by the inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and all-sufficient Scriptures.

The focus is Christ Jesus Himself. The Word of God testifies to the work of Christ. He is the cornerstone, the central focus, of divine revelation. We are poor miserable sinners unable and unwilling to save ourselves. Christ gave Himself up for us. He kept the covenant of works on our behalf, He was obedient to the Law, He died on the Cross as our substitute, God punishing Jesus instead of us, pouring His wrath upon the Son – And then Jesus was buried and He rose again in victory.

It is the Word of God declaring this glorious message that builds the church.

An Exhortation

Do you remember what Jesus says to the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:2-4? This is some 3 decades after Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Jesus says,

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”

The SBC has done many works known by the Lord that I believe He commends. There has been much good, and many souls won to Christ through the ministry of SBC churches. But on this day, June 14, 2021, on the eve of the 2021 Annual Meeting, I ask us, have we forgotten our first love? Have we moved away from our sure foundation? Our anchor, if you like ship analogies…?

I am afraid that we have. And so what can be done to Make Baptist Great Again? Here are 6 thoughts I have:

Repent in Faith

Jesus called the church at Ephesus to “remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

There will be no revival, no reformation, no resurgence in the SBC apart from repentance. Repentance from what? I’m not talking about repenting again for the SBC’s beginning on slavery. We all repudiate that. I’m talking about real repentance for actual sins we have committed. For letting our church rolls not accurately reflect who we are. For moving away from the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

For allowing godless ideologies to infect us. For letting pragmatism and the culture today dictate how we ought to do church and ministry. This is not a game and God is not playing a game with us. We must repent. And we must repent in faith. What does that mean? Christ is the cornerstone. Our sins have been atoned in Him. Let us not stubbornly persist in our sins but let us repent and run to Christ our King, beseeching His mercy and pardon, knowing He has already secured it.

Rest in Faithfulness

Here, I am not saying that we rest in our faithfulness, but God’s. Ephesians 2:22 says, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

We see all 3 members of the Trinity here – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! And I am calling us to remember that our triune God is faithful to building His church. Don’t rest in creativity or ingenuity. Rest in God’s faithfulness to do His work His way. This means we must be committed to the message and methods of the Apostles and Prophets. Christ is the focal point of the writings of the Apostles and Prophets obviously, but this does not mean that the person and work of Christ is the only thing the Scriptures are pointing to. Rather, by pointing to Christ and His work as the very cornerstone of the church, the Scriptures reveal to us how Jesus Himself desires His local church to function.

The Scriptures are not only a starting point for us to think about how to structure the local church. They are the beginning, middle, and end of how Jesus would have us “do” church. In fact, we see this very thing in the first local church as the members were devoted to the Apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42).

So, how we rest in God’s faithfulness is by committing ourselves to trust and obey His Word and let Him work as He will as we seek to do His bidding.

Resist Faulty Foundations

In Genesis 3, Satan tricked Eve into moving away from the sureness of God’s Word and to replace it with her own authority. We have been tempted to build upon faulty foundations ever since.

Tom Ascol writes, “In both [the] Old and New Testaments, the Lord has seen fit to issue repeated warnings to His people to be on their guard against…the deceitfulness of our own hearts, the strategies of the devil, and the enticements of the world.” He goes on to say, “In the name of racial reconciliation, honoring women and showing love and respect for the sexually confused, evangelicals have welcomed in ways of thinking that undermine the very teachings of God’s Word that actually do promote true love and true justice through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

What is Dr. Ascol saying? He’s saying in the name of good things, honoring women, racial reconciliation, genuine concern for sinners, too many have – intentionally or not – moved away from the foundation of Ephesians 2:20.

If we hope to see a conservative resurgence in the SBC we must resist faulty foundations. We must reject Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. We must reject feminism. We must reject Revoice and the LGBTQ influence that would have us redefine God’s standards of human sexuality.

All of these foundations are faulty. Pragmatism. Cultural compromise. Egalitarianism. All sinking sand. The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.

How do we make Baptist great again? Repent in Faith, rest in Faithfulness, resist faulty foundations – 4thly:

Remember our Focus

The SBC is made up of 40 something thousand local churches. And Who is the cornerstone of the Church? It is Christ. Our focus is the glory of God and the gospel of Christ. It is our great endeavor as Southern Baptists not to fight one another but to get the gospel to the nations.

And it is true, we aren’t going to agree on everything and that’s ok. We have set aside some of our differences to come together and take the gospel to the nations that the Lamb who was slain may see the full reward of His suffering. But, if you like pirate analogies, picture a nautical telescope. And you are looking through that telescope at an island. That island is your focus. We can call it Treasure Island if you want. And Christ is the Treasure.

You can see the island without the scope, but the scope helps you see it all the more clearly. The scope is the Baptist Faith and Mesage 2000, if you will. The BFM 2000 is our parameters for gospel partnership. Yes, Christ is our focus and you can see Christ without the BFM 2000 of course. But the BFM 2000 is what Southern Baptists have agreed upon as the way we see Christ and His ministry and His mission.

We are working together looking through this scope to see our great focus, Jesus Christ. Those who do not want to have a like faith and practice to the BFM ought to sail another ship. Southern Baptists have proclaimed that our partnership around the gospel and the parameters set by the BFM 2000 is the way that we bring God the most glory and humanity the most good as we take the message of the Cross across the globe.

What we need right now as Southern Baptists is an upward focus. That is, we ought to unify around love – love for our triune God. Love for His truth. Love for His glory. Love for His gospel.

And we must remember that we have agreed that our focus on His glory and His gospel is articulated by our statement of faith. This leads us to our next point: How do we make Baptist great again? Repent in Faith, rest in Faithfulness, resist faulty foundations, remember our focus, and 5thly:

Recover the Fundamentals

Calvin says of Ephesians 2:20: “Foundation in this passage unquestionably means doctrine.” He goes on to say, “What opinion must we form of those who rest entirely on the contrivances of men, and yet accuse us of revolt, because we embrace the pure doctrine of God?” We will not see a conservative resurgence in our day without recovering the fundamentals. Let us embrace the pure doctrine of God.

We have forgotten the theological foundations of our beginning. That the SBC was never about “mission” separate from deep theological roots. If we partner for the sake of missions apart from doctrinal integrity, eventually we will have very different understandings of what our mission ought to be. Some say if we are too rigid about this we will shrink the tent. And I say, that’s good. The tent is too big. The SBC ought to shrink. For example, right now in the SBC we have churches ordaining women pastors. We have churches allowing women to preach or pastors preaching with their wives. Churches who have different understandings of the roles of leadership in the church simply cannot partner together to plant churches. Who gets to decide what is the standard of leadership?

Am I saying that if we disagree about women pastors that you aren’t a Christian? No. I am not saying that. But I am saying you are not a Southern Baptist. There has never been a Baptist confession written before the 20th century that affirmed women in ministry. Biblical complementarianism is fundamental to what it means to be Baptist.

In the past couple of years, I’ve seen all sorts of Baptist distinctives questioned by Southern Baptists either explicitly in writing or practically in action. Everything is up for grabs it seems: Believer’s Baptism, soul competency, complementarianism, religious liberty, regenerate church membership, and then of course the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Even the gospel has come under attack. One prominent Southern Baptist said, “At its core, the gospel that you and I preach is about God’s commitment to protect the vulnerable.” Wrong. At its core, the gospel that we preach is about God’s commitment to His own glory by rescuing undeserving sinners through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of His Son.

These are not negotiable truths. Some of these things I’ve mentioned are non-negotiable truths for Christians in general and then of course all of them are non-negotiable for what it means to be Baptist.

Baptists love potlucks. But, beloved, these truths are not like sister Ethel’s casserole where some will put it on their plate and others won’t. We don’t get to pick and choose like a buffet line and come up with our own idea of what it means to be Southern Baptist.

The SBC is a biblically conservative convention. We ought not to be ashamed of this. We ought not to whisper that we are Baptists. It’s okay to boldly proclaim where we stand. Yes, it is unpopular. But duplicity, hypocrisy, and cowardice are far worse.

Let us stand unashamedly on our distinctives. Let us be resolved to recover the fundamentals. Let us make Baptist great again.

And this leads to our final point. What is the path to a conservative resurgence in the SBC? We must: Repent in Faith, rest in Faithfulness, resist faulty foundations, remember our focus, recover the fundamentals, and finally:

Resolve to Fight

There are some truths worth giving our lives for and Ephesians 2:20 is one. If we do not adhere to the teaching of the Apostles and Prophets, we are finished. If we shift our focus from Christ as the cornerstone, building all upon His finished work, submitting ourselves to His headship and ultimate authority over the Church – we are done.

Southern Baptists are arguing a name change right now. Some say southern is offensive and want to rename us the Great Commission Baptists. But I can tell you this: If we move away from the truths of Scripture we have seen and discussed in this post, I can tell you what our name will be:

The Ichabod Baptist Convention – The glory has departed.

And so, brothers and sisters, let us be resolved to fight. We do not fight as the world does. We do not fight with the instruments of warfare the world employs. Rather we fight with truth. We fight with prayer. We fight with conviction. We sing the Baptist anthem – I shall not be, I shall not be moved. We anchor our hope in Christ and we do all for the glory of our King in love for Him and for one another. So, what does this look like practically? Well in part, it looks like what nearly 20,000 of us are doing this week – going to Nashville and making sure our voices are heard as we consider the way forward for the SBC.

But it’s more than just that. You can and must pray. I hope you’ll pray for us, for the meeting in Nashville, for true Baptist unity, for an unusual move of God over us, for revival, for a resurgence.

And in our day to day lives we must contend for the faith. We must live what we believe. What I’m saying is may we live our lives as though Christ is the cornerstone. As though the local church really matters. As though the Scriptures are precious. As though Jesus is our chief treasure. That all else pales in the light of His glory and grace. We can’t just be upset when others are moving away from these truths if we ourselves are not committed to living them.

So, brothers and sisters, let us be resolved to fight. Let us fight sin in our own lives. Let us contend for the truth in our local churches. And let us stand upon this firm foundation within the context of our beloved Southern Baptist Convention. I don’t know what will happen in the coming months or years in the SBC. But I wonder if God has not raised us up for such a time as this whereby for the glory of His name, we can make Baptist great again.

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3 Comments

  1. Crystal A Giffin

    Well, here it is, June 16, 2021, and a moderate, Ed Litton won the votes. Not a conservative but a moderate. I was not surprised. Disappointed…yes…but not surprised. We can pray that this “moderate” is not another wolf in sheep’s clothing. Regardless of what this very large organization decides, it is not the holy grail of belief in this country. Many Baptist churches are making the decision to pull away from this organization and preaching grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Glory of God alone, and Scripture alone. May God bless them and guide them.

    • Michael Coughlin

      Hey Crystal, very good points! God will sovereignly oversee the advancement of HIS churches!

  2. Bill

    “For letting pragmatism and the culture today dictate how we ought to do church and ministry. This is not a game and God is not playing a game with us.”

    I’ll never, ever understand members of the conservative baptist network/Tom Ascol wing of the SBC who un-ironically denounce pragmatism.

    The evangelical movement is in thrall to pragmatism, and the CBN extremely so. Christian Nationalism is not “conservative theology”. Political idolatry is not “conservative theology”. Throwing away a lifetime of principle and adopting an ends-justify-the-means strategy by embracing Donald Trump as their champion is not conservative theology. Trusting in horses, chariots, Egypt and Assyria instead of the LORD is not conservative theology.

    Theology has to work itself out in Christ-likeness. In neighbor-love. In love for the widows, orphans, the immigrant. But it seems this has been jettisoned by a movement that thinks it will win back the culture through raw, political power (an unbiblical idea if I’ve ever heard one). The lost, the liberals, those on the “other side” are not our enemies. They are our mission field.

    And we’re not Americans. We’re citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s a higher calling than grousing about CRT (side note: get 100 baptists in a room and maybe 2 could even define CRT).

    I’m happy with the election of Ed Litton. His theology is more Biblical than the CBN in both his beliefs and (what must always go along with it) practice.