Why I Am a Southern Baptist

Why I Am a Southern Baptist

Why I Am a Southern Baptist

Hessmer Baptist Church is a Southern Baptist Church, which means that we are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with over 15 million members. Each week, over 5 million people participate in church services at Southern Baptist churches. In 2016, Southern Baptists baptized over 280,000 new Jesus followers.[1]

However, Southern Baptists are far from perfect. For one, our history is deeply flawed. Our denomination was founded in 1845 as the tensions leading up to the Civil War escalated and the southern states sought to protect the sinful practice of chattel slavery—positions which the modern SBC has repeatedly repudiated.[2] We are also notorious about church splits. I personally know of a place where there are 4 southern Baptist churches within a few miles of each other due to church splits. We ought to be ashamed for the times that we major on the minor and sever relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Southern Baptists also have a tendency to merge America and the cross too often. We often forget that our ultimate allegiance is not to Washington D.C., but to Christ.

Problems with the SBC aside, there are a few really good reasons to be a Southern Baptist:

1. The Cooperative Program To be a Southern Baptist means to share two things with other Southern Baptists: certain key doctrinal positions and the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is the way that Southern Baptists share money to do ministry that one church could never do on its own. Anytime you give money to a Southern Baptist church, a percentage of it—10% at Hessmer Baptist—goes straight to the Cooperative Program. That means that we don’t keep it; instead, we put it into a large fund with money from all the other Southern Baptist churches. Then, the convention spends it on things that few churches could afford on their own. The Cooperative Program shows that, differences aside, we are committed to working together to accomplish big things for Jesus.

2. Missions 73% of the Cooperative Program money goes to missions. The International Missions Board, which, you guessed it, does missions around the world, gets 50% of the money to share Jesus all around the world. Few churches could afford to support a full time missionary in the Congo; however, together, Southern Baptists do it every year. The North American Mission Board, which does missions within North America, gets nearly 23% of the money to do missions at home. If you’ve ever been the victim of a disaster, such as a flood or a hurricane, you may have seen people in bright yellow shirts handing out food, operating shower trailers, or even rebuilding houses; those people are Southern Baptists who have volunteered to help those in need. The equipment they’re operating, such as kitchen trailers, are some of the things that the North American Mission Board purchases with their portion of the Cooperative Program money. In 2016, Southern Baptists volunteered a total of 109,743 days.[3] That means that approximately 300 Southern Baptists volunteered every single day to help strangers. You can tell by how we spend our money that mission work is at the heart of what we do and who we are.

3. Diversity The SBC’s current doctrinal statement is the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. If you read it, you’ll notice that it’s pretty broad on most things. Instead of saying that you must believe x, y, and z before you can join the club, Southern Baptists have chosen to focus on the main things instead of the small things. If you agree with certain key doctrines—such as, for example, the divinity and resurrection of Christ and the necessity of believer’s baptism—then you can be a Southern Baptist. It’s really that simple; there’s no test to pass, and we don’t ask you to agree to a long list of things. Outside of those key doctrines, which any local pastor would discuss with you, Baptist churches can have large differences in belief. Within my own church, for example, there are different beliefs on eschatology. Other denominations don’t allow for this diversity. For example, if you’re Presbyterian, you have to believe that God predestines who goes to heaven; however, if you’re Methodist, you cannot believe that God predestines who goes to heaven. If, however, you’re Southern Baptist, you can believe either one. The SBC is at its strongest when we remember to focus on the things that bind us together instead of what separates us; for the former is often more important than the latter.

4. Education Though one church could not afford to provide first-class, affordable training to thousands of pastors, a group the size of the SBC could. Southern Baptists have six large seminaries that train over 21,000 ministers per year to be more effective at their jobs.[4] At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where I am a student, they’ve held my hand as I painstakingly memorized the rules of Greek grammar, they’ve led me through the deep, complex waters of systematic theology, and they’ve given me pointers on what to say when a family in my congregation loses a child; furthermore, they do all of this at a price that keeps pastors from having to take out student loans. I am thankful that the SBC has a forward-looking vision and invests in tomorrow’s leaders.

The SBC has lots of problems, but any man-made institution, no matter how sophisticated, rich, or well-organized, will—just look at D.C.! One of the best things about Southern Baptists is how we agree to set the small things aside in order to focus on the big things. May we never forget the wisdom in this crucial element of our praxis.

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Notes and Sources

[1] “Fast Facts About the SBC,” The Southern Baptist Convention, accessed August 1, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/BecomingSouthernBaptist/FastFacts.asp.

[2] See, for example, “Resolution 7: On Sensitivity and Unity Regarding the Confederate Battle Flag,” The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, accessed August 1, 2017, http://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/resolution-7-on-sensitivity-and-unity-regarding-the-confederate-battle-flag, and “On Racial Reconciliation,” The Southern Baptist Convention, accessed August 1, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/2254/on-racial-reconciliation.

[3] “Fast Facts About the SBC.”

[4] Ibid.