The Thirty Years’ War over religion devastated much of Europe in the mid 1600’s. By 1648, the war had degenerated into skirmishes and local battles. War had become so entrenched in the national psyche that the fights continued, often without anyone remembering why.
We should not miss the parallels between the the Southern Baptist Convention and the Thirty Years’ War. As we approach the 30th anniversary of the events which set in motion the Conservative Resurgence (a battle for the Bible that the conservatives fought and won), we continue to fight one another, often over non-essential matters that threaten our cooperation.
No one was surprised at the recent news from LifeWay’s research showing the Southern Baptist Convention in decline. In recent years, many have warned about the falling number of baptisms. But now our membership numbers are reflecting the decline (and it’s not because we have reformed in the area of regenerate church membership).
How will we react to the news of our decline? I fear that the already-battling factions of the SBC will now point the finger at one another. The younger generation will blame the older leaders for being stuck in a time warp… the older generation will blame the younger leaders for deserting the Convention and expecting unearned places at the table. Some will point the finger at the Calvinists who are “killing evangelism,” while the Calvinists will blame the non-Calvinists for unfettered revivalism. The traditionalists will speak out against the seeker-friendly churches for watering down the gospel, while the contemporary church leaders will blame the traditionalists for clinging to old methods. Throw in the resentment of small churches toward the mega-church pastors, and we have a veritable stew of angry bitterness that will probably result in even more bickering, back-biting and personal attacks.
But what if our Convention is declining at least partly because of our tendency to point the finger? If it is true that the world will know we are disciples by our love, we should look intently into the mirror and ask ourselves if we truly love one another. Our lack of love at the local level has become fodder for church jokes about the “successful” church-plants that come from our many splits. Magnify the tension in local churches and we find warring factions at the associational level, in our state conventions, and on the national scene.
It almost sounds like a cliché to call one another to love. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. We find it easy to love the people who agree with us, who pat us on the back, and who have caught our vision for the SBC. But do Calvinists and non-Calvinists truly love one another? Old and young truly care for each other’s good? Contemporary advocates and traditionalists truly feel brotherly affection for one another?
What good is it if we only love those who are easy to love? We are called to do more than tolerate each other under the big tent that is the SBC. What about loving our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters with whom we disagree?
Our blame-game must stop if the Southern Baptist Convention is to continue to have a role to play in God’s Kingdom. We must all repent. We have turned against one another. We are warring against each other over non-essentials and are losing our unity in the gospel we are called to proclaim.
What happened to Europe after the Thirty Years’ War? The way was prepared for liberalism and secularism. The populations grew so weary of the religious fighting that many in Europe abandoned religion altogether. I pray that our Southern Baptist battles will not aid the rise of secularism and liberalism.
Let’s end the fighting, reunite around the gospel, love those with whom we disagree, and continue to cooperate. May the world look to the Southern Baptist Convention, be drawn to Christ, and say as the pagans did of the early Christians, Look how they love one another.