In June, I had the privilege of attending the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro. With the exception of the one session of the previous year’s Pastor’s Conference in Nashville in which my father preached for the last time before a "convention" audience, it had been about 19 years since I had last attended the SBC annual meeting.
As I have already alluded on this blog in an earlier post, there were many things about this year’s convention that caused me to be "proud" and thankful. One thing, however, that impacted me, after 16 years of living in Spain, was the rather unique cultural perspective represented by the SBC as a whole. My point at this juncture is not to criticize that cultural perspective so much as to recognize it for what it is: one particular cultural perspective among many, not only in the world as a whole, but also in the evangelical Christian world.
At the same time, we as Southern Baptists give a very high priority, and rightly so, to making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ among all the peoples of the world, representing a vast array of cultural perspectives. The problem, in my opinion, comes when we limit ourselves as Southern Baptists to our particular cultural perspective in our efforts to contribute towards the task of the worldwide church down through the ages in discipling the nations.
Notice I did not say "the task God has given to us as Southern Baptists to disciple the nations." Because I firmly believe that task has not been commended to us alone, in isolation from other parts of the Body. That is why I am grateful current IMB administration has, for the most part, moved us in a direction to be more sensitive to this reality.
I am concerned, however, about a general drift, on the part of some within the SBC to move us to not only a narrow view of the authority of Scripture (something I think is good and necessary) but also, at the same time, a narrowing of our cultural parameters, both within the SBC, as well as in our cooperative relationships with other parts of the Body of Christ around the world.
At times, I believe, we get confused between what is essential doctrine, and what are culturally-based biases, in the way we go about our missionary ministry. One example that comes to mind is the infrastructure of Baptist Unions around the world built on the model of the Southern Baptist Convention, complete with their own Sunday School Board, WMU, etc. A large part of the literature used and promoted in not only Baptist, but Evangelical churches in general, has been translated from English. Perhaps this is a "necessary evil." Perhaps, if we were to take away the contribution made to the work by "imported" infrastructures, models and literature, the work would be in much worse shape than it is. In any case, what’s been done has been done.
What I would suggest, though, is that, in the future, we seek for more and better ways to creatively work in cooperation with other parts of the Body of Christ that offer a different cultural perspective than our own. Not compromise on essential doctrine. But be very careful to separate correctly between what is essential doctrine, and what is cultural preference.
As Southern Baptists, we have a lot to offer towards the task of fulfilling the Great Commission. We represent a vast supply of financial, human, creative and spiritual resources. However, it is going to take a lot more than the "cooperative" efforts of Southern Baptists by themselves to win a lost world for Christ and effectively make disciples from out of all the people groups and cultures of the world.