Monday, February 04, 2008

Mark Dever on the Role of the SBC

Many claim that a consistent biblical practice of Christian unity precludes participation in groups like the Southern Baptist Convention. I, however, do not think that such is necessarily the case.

The following quotes, taken from Mark Dever, in a recent interview with Timmy Brister, as transcribed on the Strange BaptistFire blog, are very much in line with my own views on church unity and the role of denominations. I also think it aligns quite well with what John Woodhouse says on the same topics in the articles I posted here a couple of weeks ago.

Just remember, the SBC’s not a church. I mean, [saying, ‘Leaving the SBC’ is] like saying, ‘Leaving Wycliffe Bible Translators.’ Y’know, it’s like, I’m a pastor, and we have $4000 a year that goes to support this person who works with Wycliffe, and if I stop sending that $4000, then I’m ‘leaving Wycliffe Bible Translators.’ So, it’s not a church issue for us in that way. The Southern Baptist Convention is one means by which- certainly our congregation of Christians at Capitol Hill Baptist Church- we cooperate with other Christians through the Southern Baptist Convention and are delighted to do it. But we feel no obligation to do that; we cooperate through other groups too. We give money to the Conservative Baptists, we’ve given money to groups even associated with other non-baptistic denominations, just to encourage them in gospel work, and we certainly have given to multi or interdenominational groups- like InterVarsity or Campus Crusade- that do work. So we identify ourselves as Christians, and we certainly believe in believers’ baptism, but we would not say that our fundamental identity is Southern Baptist. We’re Christians, and we think the Bible teaches believers’ baptism and we the Southern Baptist Convention is a really good way to cooperate for international missions and can be pretty helpful in the education of ministers…

I don’t think we have the freedom under God to organize our churches in such a way that we begin to think of ourselves as one visible church. So that, let’s say we have a case of church discipline here [at Capitol Hill Baptist Church] and our congregation deals with it, and then some pastor sitting some place- y’know- in Richmond can actually say, ‘No, I reverse it, you’ve gotta put Tom back in the membership of the church. I mean, even if we obey that- let’s say we’re an Episcopalian church, which would obey that- I think we’re in sin for obeying; we’re not following what Jesus said in
Matthew 18. We’re taking an unbiblical structure (because a bishop claims some authority) and we are acknowledging it. Well, I think the Lord will still hold us accountable for what we in our congregation do in obeying the words of Christ…

There may be some other church out there that calls itself Southern Baptist that’s preaching wacko stuff; well, that’s not at all in the same sense [as in my local congregation] my responsibility. Now, you can lay out a specific situation with another congregation- we may have more or less responsibility for it, and even with the non-church entities- the parachurch entities, like the Southern Baptist Convention, which is- y’know- it’s like a Christian publishing company, a Christian network of colleges or something- it’s not the same thing as a Christian church. So, let’s say I go to the SBC and somebody has a resolution saying, ‘Hey, we should have only regenerate members in our churches!’ or that’s what we should strive for, well, I go, ‘Of course, that’s what it means to be a Baptist.’ And let’s say the thing gets voted down. That doesn’t cause me to despair. I mean, I understand pastors aren’t all confused. I don’t think the SBC as a Convention has any kind of authority- it doesn’t pretend to. I think all that says is, ‘Yeah, we gotta go back to the books, and we gotta keep talking to pastors, and we gotta do a better job raising up this next generation of pastors’…

If you get your real jollies from what’s going on in the denominational press and the Convention and not what’s happening- y’know- in Mrs. Jones’ life in your congregation or Bob coming to Christ or that Sunday school class you’re teaching or that sermon from last Sunday, then you’ve just got a spiritual problem…

(HT: Tony Kummer)

4 comments:

clumsy ox said...

Interesting final note: that the real action is in the congregation and the lives of individuals, not in the convention.

So the next question is, what does the word "Baptist" in "Capitol Hill Baptist Church" ultimately mean? Does it identify a denomination? or does it identify doctrines and practices of that particular church?

This article's given me a lot to mull over.

David Rogers said...

Clumsy Ox,

I can't speak for Dr. Dever, and Capitol Hill Baptist Church, but, as I understand it, it is more to identify doctrines and practices. It does help, I suppose, when someone from the outside finds him/herself in need of searching for a new congregation, to be able to know, up front, something of the particular doctrinal convictions upheld in that congregation.

On the other hand, I can see definite advantages for not using traditional denominational labels to identify a local congregation. The label itself tends to solidify the idea in the minds of a lot of people that their "fundamental identity" is that of a particular denomination, rather than the Body of Christ at large.

clumsy ox said...

Sure, I wasn't trying to pick nits or level criticisms. I'm just working through a lot of these issues myself right now.

Personally, I avoid churches with neutral names like the plague: more often than not they're big on hype, thin on doctrine, and more than willing to get at my wallet.

Alan Cross said...

Absolutely right, David. Dever really nailed it. This is why it is difficult for me to just blindly go along with whatever the trustee boards of denominational entities decide if I don't believe it to be biblical. We are ultimately responsible to the Word of God. It's also why I think the Baptist Identity crowd has it all wrong. It is far more important to identify yourself as a follower of Jesus than it is to focus on being a Baptist. In many cases, those two things are synonymous, which is why I'm a Baptist. But, if we are not careful, we will elevate our Baptist Identity to the same level as our identity in Christ. The latter is a spiritual reality and the former is a human construction, open to fallibility, no matter how you describe it.

We should just be a little more humble about such things, in my opinion.