By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
I recently performed the wedding ceremony of a granddaughter, who is also a marathoner. Both bride and groom had just completed serious courses on what Christian marriage means. In their ceremony of covenant marriage, here’s what I said: “Marriage is a marathon — not a half-marathon or a trial run in an ‘iffy’ thing called “a relationship.” Then the couple made their own vows to affirm the kind of life and death covenant commitment Paul described in Ephesians for church and marriage.
So what does it mean to be a Southern Baptist? Ask that same question to any one of almost 16 million Southern Baptists today, and you likely won’t get a specific, clear, accurate New Testament answer. As the name “Southern Baptist” has eroded in my lifetime, so has the general understanding of what it means to be a Southern Baptist. I know what it means to be a Southern Baptist historically and in covenant relationship with a local church. I was born into a Southern Baptist home 78 years ago, was saved at age 7, surrendered to preach at age 15, was licensed to preach at 16 and was ordained to the ministry at age 21. Since then I’ve gotten three degrees from Baptist schools. I served as pastor of Southern Baptist churches for 11 years and did many interim pastorates. I worked for an SBC agency for 22 years. I’ve taught the “Baptist Faith and Message” many times. I’ve written what it means to be a Southern Baptist. Now, like Paul, I’m not bragging; rather, I’m challenging all who wear the name Southern Baptist to know what it means both in belief and behavior.
A word about creeds, confessions, and covenants. In a nutshell, creeds literally spell out what you have to believe and do, or get kicked out — excommunicated. Confessions of faith generally are some group’s writing out of their understanding of theological beliefs, which get voted on by a larger group. Covenants of faith state the behavior side of what we promise in marriage, local churches, and other committed groups. Thinking about the Southern Baptist denomination, answer these questions: What is your creed? What is your confession of faith? What is your covenant? Most Southern Baptists can’t answer these questions.
A word about education. When the apostle Paul was in Athens and looked around, he saw idols for every imaginable god — except for one unique God. Let me paraphrase Acts 17:22-23: “I perceive that you are devoutly religious and worship every god under the sun except One that you worship in ignorance. In your own words, you have titled Him the Unknown God. That’s the One I want to tell you about and educate you about.”
It’s both essential and great to be a Christian first and foremost of all! But it’s also great to be a Southern Baptist. And it’s even greater when you know what you are as a Southern Baptist. I daresay — as a guess — that a plurality of those who wear the name Southern Baptist today don’t know their history. They don’t know their roots, their journey through the last several hundred years to the present, or what their denomination’s Confession of Faith (1925/1963/2000) says and means. “Covenant” is a foreign word to those who join most Southern Baptist churches today.
While I gladly proclaim I’m a Southern Baptist, I also challenge all Southern Baptists to know what it means to be one. How did we get our name? How do we organize and function? Or how does the church organize itself and operate? Who governs? Is it true that the SBC exists only for the two or three days it meets? Yes. Then what is this thing called the Executive Committee? What are agencies of the SBC? How did women get involved in this thing called Woman’s Missionary Union? Why is it an auxiliary to the SBC instead of an agency? Is each SBC church autonomous (self-governing), or does it answer to an association, a state convention, or the SBC?
Since all SBC agency personnel have to affirm the 2000 “Baptist Faith & Message,” is that our creed or our “confession of faith?” Do we have a church covenant? Many people who belong to SBC churches don’t know the answers to these questions. Nutshell: Knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, becoming scripturally immersed, belonging in covenant to a local church, discipleship, and obedience to God are more important than anything else.
But what does it mean to be a Southern Baptist? If you find out, you’ll know what we believe and behave as the New Testament says.
Regarding “Lottie Moon” — the sacred cow. A businessman raised in another denomination became a Southern Baptist. He was put on the budget planning committee. When it came time to deal with line items, he called attention to one designated “Lottie Moon.” Naively, he challenged the amount designated. Then he got decimated. He had just been ignorant. But his reply was good: “I didn’t mean to kill the sacred cow; I just wanted to massage it.” The Great Commission includes a lot about Lottie Moon and the Cooperative Program. I challenge you to be able to answer accurately what it means to be a Southern Baptist.
— Copyright 2015 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write the author:email@example.com.