Each year, Southern Baptists gather before the annual meeting for the SBC Pastor’s Conference. During this time, Baptists are treated to some of the best preaching the convention (and often, the larger evangelical world) has to offer. This week, Baptist Press released the speaker list for the 2020 SBC Pastor’s Conference scheduled in Orlando.
But before considering the list of names published in Baptist Press, I think it’s worth considering that which is most-needed by the convention family during this time.
Our Southern Baptist family is not well.
We are wounded.
For some, the reports published in the Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram re-opened old wounds. For others, it served to cast light on some shadows that had been long-forgotten or had been willingly relegated to the past. Frankly, we’re still struggling to find our feet in light of the #metoo and #churchtoo movements—how do we demonstrate genuine loving concern to those raising allegations of abuse while also protecting pastors from false allegations?
No one is suggesting that we do nothing.
But there are no simple solutions here.
Simple solutions misfire. And sadly, we’ve seen some of that too.
And as the result, many Southern Baptists are struggling to discern the way forward. Many (from all sides) feel unheard. My social media feeds are chock full of voices from every corner of Southern Baptist life all feeling ill-treated, ignored, and marginalized.
So, what is it that our convention family needs most during this time?
Unity. We need someone to take the needed and pastoral step to draw us back to unity.
And this year’s pastor’s conference was a wonderful opportunity to draw Southern Baptists back together by pointing them to that which they have in common—to point them back to the centrality of Christ and his mission.
To put our eyes back on Jesus.
And yet, the speaker list for the pastor’s conference has managed to do the exact opposite. Our divide, our fracture, our broken fellowship is only exacerbated.
Many of the names offered by pastor’s conference president David Uth are familiar to Southern Baptists: David Platt and Vance Pittman and David Hughes, Joby Martin and Jimmy Scroggins. Others may be less familiar, but still recognizable: Emerson Eggerichs and Erik Cummins Sr.
Certainly, worship leader Phil Wickham’s name (if not his songlist) is not unfamiliar to those who listen to contemporary worship music.
But the big names that stand out are both foreign and familiar. Wayne Cordeiro pastors a International Church of the Foursquare Gospel congregation in Honolulu, and Jim Cymbala pastors The Brooklyn Tabernacle. Finally, the spoken-word artist, Hosanna Wong, is listed as a teaching pastor at Eastlake Church in Chula Vista, CA.
Now, it is one thing to invite non-SBC speakers to the SBC Pastor’s Conference. This practice is common and not surprising in the least. But it is quite another to invite those who hold significant theological differences with those affirmed in our common confession.
Wayne Cordeiro pastors a Foursquare church whose doctrine denies eternal security, believes physical healing to be purchased at the atonement, and holds to the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second blessing. Moreover, his church employee a female in the role of Equipping Pastor.
What does this mean? It means he holds significant theological differences with our common confession of faith that would preclude him from our fellowship of churches. Yet David Uth says, “I feel like they [referring to the speakers as a composite] have a message for us. I feel like God wants to speak to us through them. So my goal and my hope was that we could hear their message, we could learn from them, and we could embrace it.”
Jim Cymbala’s name is familiar to a number of Southern Baptists, likely due to his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. In it, he shares stories of what Christ has done in The Brooklyn Tabernacle, and calls his readers to engage in serious devotion in prayer. That which is more concerning is the manner in which he pits prayer in opposition to preaching: “Does the Bible ever say anywhere from Genesis to Revelation, ‘My house shall be called a house of preaching?’. . . Of course not. . . . ” and “We in America have made the sermon the centerpiece of the church, something God never intended” (71, 84). While his emphasis on prayer should be commended, his determination to set it in opposition to the proclamation of the Word, rather than in conjunction with it, is troubling to say the least. Could he be said to be in harmony with the Baptist Faith and Message? His remarks diminishing the role of preaching are a cause for concern, in my view. But his church’s view concerning a second blessing of the Holy Spirit would lend the discerning reader to conclude that, No. He could not be considered in agreement to the Baptist Faith and Message.
Hosanna Wong is listed as a teaching pastor at her church. The very fact that she holds the office of “pastor” in her church puts her at odds with Southern Baptists’ common confession of faith, which states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” (article VI. The Church). She clearly cannot be said to be in harmony with the Baptist Faith and Message.
Why does this matter?
Friends, if we are unwilling to draw a theological line at the boundary of our common confession, who is given the authority to determine which differences are important and which are arbitrary? For Pastor Uth, his selections imply that he is willing to overlook theological differences over eternal security, the nature of the atonement, charismatic gifts (and correspondingly, the sufficiency of Scripture), and the pastoral office. But, these are not minor differences.
Maybe the argument could be made that Southern Baptists would do well to hear from those with differences on these matters if we were not already embroiled in these very controversies internally!!
But we are. Perhaps not concerning eternal security or the nature of the atonement—although the pentecostal teaching of healing seems to be growing in popularity in broader circles. But the 2019 Resolution 9 has brought discussions concerning biblical sufficiency to the fore and while we confess to be a complementation denomination, we’re still wrestling over what that looks like in practice.
Now is not the time to push boundaries.
Now is the time to circle the wagons.
Now is the time to direct every Southern Baptists’ gaze to the cross of Christ and his mission—to call us to devote ourselves wholly and entirely to see that the Gospel is proclaimed to the very ends of the earth.
Now is the time to spread the superglue over the fractured pieces of our denominational family and piece us together again.
As yesterday’s announcement made evident (and all-the-more-so by David Uth’s response to the feedback), David Uth had an opportunity to do this very thing at the pastor’s conference this year.
Instead, I fear that several of his choices will only prove to fracture and divide us further.
Pastor at University Baptist Church, San Antonio.
Professor. PhD in Theology.
Runner. Cyclist. 2nd Dan.
Roast Master at caffeinatedtheology.com.