Why am I a Southern Baptist? When I think of this question, I have many answers that race through my head. I don’t know if I could ever come up with a comprehensive answer, but this post will seek to give a summary.
- I am a Southern Baptist because that’s the tradition that God placed me in. Now I admit, that’s not a lot different that saying I was born one, but I mean a lot more than that.
A. First off, I have a long heritage of Southern Baptists in my family. On my father’s side, his great grandparents by the name of Blaylock were charter members of the Baptist Church in Sorento, Illinois. My Grandpa File was converted at Smith Grove Baptist Church, the same church where my father was, and also myself. On my mother’s side, my great-great-grandfather, Edmond Brown, was a Southern Baptist pastor, not only in the same association that I serve in, but even the same church where I pastor in Woburn, IL. He left a great heritage with several descendants pastoring in SBC life. On that side of my family there was an unbroken line from him down to me of faithful Southern Baptists. So I have a significant family heritage, but it isn’t just that.
B. Second, I grew up attending an SBC church. From before I was born, I attended Smith Grove Baptist Church in Greenville, IL. I crawled around the nursery there, and I learned Bible stories, watched puppet shows, and went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School there. I was saved and baptized there. While in the youth group, I surrendered to preach there. I preached my first sermon at 15 years old, and they ordained me when I was 22 years old.
C. Third, I have an SBC education. Not only did I have the education of Sunday School, VBS, Mission Friends, and RA’s, but when it was time for me to leave for college, I knew I wanted to attend an SBC school. I went to Southwest Baptist University where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Bible. While there I went on two mission trips to India with the school, and I went one summer to serve as a Summer Missionary with the Home Mission Board (It changed it’s name to the North American Mission Board that very summer). I pastored my first church while in college. Dunnegan Baptist Church was a Southern Baptist Church about 30 minutes from the school. I then went off to seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I earned a Master of Divinity in Biblical and Theological Studies. I loved the biblical languages, but just as much, I loved church history–especially Baptist History. Then if that were not enough education, I went and did a Master of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I concentrated in Systematic Theology–specifically ecclesiology. I also wrote a thesis on John Gill, a pastor who was one of the predecessors to Charles Spurgeon. Then, after spending three years doing bi-vocational youth ministry in an SBC church, I decided to pursue a PhD. While I never finished it, I lived for about 2 years on the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and took about half the coursework toward the degree. So, my educational pedigree after high school has been completely within Southern Baptist Schools.
So, the first main reason why I am a Southern Baptist is that it is all I have ever known. Now, that isn’t exactly a very persuasive reason if I’m trying to convince someone else why the Southern Baptist Convention is so good, but I have to be honest. The first reason why I am a Southern Baptist is that I stand in the stream of a tradition that goes much farther back than myself. And, I would argue, it is a good tradition to be a part of.
2. While all these factors of heritage had much to do with shaping my outlook, I cannot stop here. Let me give some theological reasons as well.
A. First, I am a Southern Baptist because of the Conservative Resurgence within our denomination. That is, before I was born, the Southern Baptist Convention was headed in the wrong direction. While the grass roots churches were conservative, the seminaries and other agencies were drifting. I will not labor to tell the whole story here, but in short, in 1979 Southern Baptists began to elect presidents of the convention who pledged to only appoint trustees who held to the inerrancy of Scripture. Over the course of the next decade and a half, there were many battles, but the conservatives recovered the denominational schools. I can’t say what I would be like if this resurgence had not taken place. I believe in Biblical inerrancy. I believe that the Bible is God’s word and that it is authoritative for our faith and practice. If this had not been recovered in our seminaries, maybe I wouldn’t care about these things, so maybe there is some circular logic here. However, I would say that I am happy to be a Southern Baptist today because the Battle for the Bible was won.
B. Second, I believe in Southern Baptist doctrine. In the year 2000, Southern Baptists adopted a revision of the Baptist Faith and Message, our confession of faith. While I’ve heard some men argue that part of what it means to be a Baptist is that you can believe what you want to and we don’t require submission to a creed, I think that is an over simplistic way to view the use of confessions of faith in Baptist life. Many have said, we have no creed but the Bible, but for a denomination who claims to have no creed, we sure have published a lot of them. The London Confession, the Second London Confession, the Philadelphia Confession, the Charleston Confession, the New Hampshire Confession, the Abstract of Principles, the Baptist Faith and Message originally in 1925 and revised in 1963 and in 2000. Now it is true that the denomination cannot force any church or any individual to believe something; however, it is often forgotten that no individual can force a church, association, or denominational body to tolerate their belief if it is outside of confessional standards.
In short, I am a Southern Baptist, theologically, because I do agree with the Baptist Faith and Message in total. I don’t think there is a single article in it that I disagree with. I would happily sign my name on it affirming that I believe every word it contains.
C. Third, I am a Southern Baptist because of the heritage of the convention. Now, there are definitely some dark parts to the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. Particularly, Southern Baptists broke away from Baptists in the North over the issue of slavery. So, the men who founded the Southern Baptist Convention were sinners and they were blind to things that we look at today and are amazed at how they could get things so wrong. However, the founding Southern Baptists were predominantly men who believed in the Doctrines of Grace that were shared by the Particular Baptists of England.
While some deride these doctrines as something un-baptist, they do so either ignorant or hostile to history. While Baptists have had diverse streams with regard to predestination and the foreknowledge of God, it is outright slander to accuse someone of being un-baptist for holding the very doctrines that are contained in the Second London Confession of Faith from 1689–a Baptist Confession.
3. Finally, there are practical reasons why I am a Southern Baptist.
First, is what we call the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program (CP) began in 1925, and it is the main way that Southern Baptist churches cooperate together. It is a unified system of giving. Churches give to the CP to support missionaries both internationally and in North America. They also support theological education through our six Southern Baptist seminaries. Before the CP existed, each agency had to travel from church to church competing to raise funds. Since the CP began, the Southern Baptist Convention has grown to become the largest missionary sending agency in the world. Southern Baptists understand that we can do more together through cooperation than we ever could on our own.
Second, is our basis for cooperation–the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). One of the things that I think makes the BFM so great is that it is both comprehensive enough to have adequate parameters for orthodoxy, while it is also general enough that it allows room for good faith disagreement. The Baptist Faith and Message is not a maximalist document. It does not spell out every fine point of doctrine. It is more of a minimalist document. With regard to issues like the doctrines of grace and end times, it spells out what is essential, while leaving room for intramural debate on the fine particulars. I have heard some complain that the BFM was too weak, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Yes, believers and churches should work out what it is that they believe on the particulars on many issues, but if we required everyone to agree on every minor issue, we would never be able to hold a consensus together for cooperation.
More could be said. I’m sure that there are many reasons that I have left out, but this was never meant to be comprehensive. In short, I am a Southern Baptist because that is the tradition that God planted me in, I have embraced it for myself, and I love being a part of a denominational family where we can cooperate to do great things together.