Saturday, June 17, 2006

Reflections: SBC Meeting, Part One, Tuesday

Let me get these thoughts down before they cool off.

2006 SBC Reflections:

Tuesday (June 13):

Founders Breakfast:

I was up at 4:30 am! We left our hotel in Reidsville, NC (as close as we could get) at 5:45 am to make the Founders Breakfast at 6:30 am. First, I was surprised that the crowd (c. 300) did not seem as large as last year in Nashville when R. C. Sproul spoke and Steve Camp did music.
We got some good gifts here, including Curtis Vaughan’s paperback commentary on Ephesians and Dever’s new Elders booklet. Got to meet Tom Ascol face to face for a brief moment. Dever’s message was on Romans 9-10. He read it all out loud and pounded home the standard Reformed understanding. Mark can deal with long passages like this. I usually prefer a smaller chunk.

SBC Tuesday morning:

Interesting to be in a business meeting with 12,000 people. The "Everyone Can, And I’m It" slogan hung in larger than life letters from the coliseum ceiling. I get the meaning: "Everyone can share the gospel, and it is my responsibility to do so." But the phrase smacks of such a man-centered overtone that it is hard for me to like it. We kept thinking of alternatives like, "Everyone can’t, but God can."

Motions were introduced including those by ubiquitous SBC Falstaff Wiley Drake and the much anticipated motion by Wade Burleson seeking external investigation of the SBC.

This session also had the first of the convention baptisms. These make my Baptist body cringe. A note in the program read: "Because baptism is an ordinance of the church, all baptisms will be conducted with full approval and support of a sponsoring home church, with members each present to witness." But I have enough Landmark in my bones to be deeply bothered by a local church event being held in an SBC meeting. We are not Jehovah’s Witnesses (they too do their "baptisms" in a convention setting)! It also amazes me that conservatives in the leadership were quiet on this, especially those seeking Landmark-style requirements for IMB mission candidates.

We left a little early to walk across the road and have lunch at Stamey’s Barbecue.

SBC Tuesday afternoon.

Highlight was the presidential election. I have already reviewed Frank Page’s book, so I have already gone on record that I am not sympathetic with his anti-Calvinist stance. I had about decided to vote for the newest candidate, Jerry Sutton, having read his book on the SBC reformation a few years back. But a Pastor friend called me last week and swayed me back to Page. Anyway I met that same brother later at the SBC, and found he had since switched to Sutton!

Oh well, Page won. This has been and will be much analyzed. A protest vote against conservative cronyism and nepotism? A moderation of the convention sans moderates? A statement against "neo-Calvinists"?

I was also thinking about the pros and cons of this variety of Baptist democracy. I later heard Al Mohler say that our Baptist democracy was the thing that saved the SBC from liberalism. Unlike Episcopalians, for example, we have no bishops protected from a grass roots uprising. Yes, that’s good. But is the tendency to reject leadership a not so subtle sign of sin? Isn’t our tendency not to want to submit, to be anti-authoritarian, a sign of our sinfulness? Did the actions of this convention play into that?

SBC Tuesday evening.

Brian, Steve, and Geoff left at the break to head home. Steve Hills (Western Branch BC, Suffolk) and I had supper at the concession stand. We sat with a Roman Catholic priest (he stood out wearing the collar at this SBC gathering) named Frank Ruff (sic). We learned that he is an official Roman Catholic observer at this meeting. When I asked him about his observations he noted that he loved Southern Baptists and thought we were all part of one big family. He thought the biggest thing that divided us was ecclesiology and not theology proper. I pursued by asking about our division on authority (Scripture) and then the doctrine of justification by faith. He contended that we believe the same thing. I differed and noted the significance in this regard of the upsurge in Calvinism. Yes, Arminian evangelicalism and its emphasis on synergism in salvation is close to the Catholic view but not the monergistic view of salvation held by the Reformers. No surprise that neither of us budged on this.

Anyhow Steve and I made it late back into the session and missed casting our vote for Mark Dever in the runoff which he lost by c. 70 votes. What message does this send about neo-Calvinism?

The nomination speech for Wiley Drake was an SBC classic. Just goes to prove how important a nomination speech is in meetings like this. Frank Page likely also had an edge by having the best nomination speech in his race.

The multi-candidate elections set the schedule back very late. But Steve and I stayed till the end. My least favorite message of the entire convention was that of James Walker of Biltmore BC in Arden, NC. He told of his church’s inability to get people who had made "decisions" for Christ to come to the church to get baptized, so they came up with the idea of an outdoor baptism to which they invited their "converts." They even served hamburgers and hot dogs to get people out and baptized over 90. The next year they did it again and baptized over 160. Question: If you cannot get your "converts" to come to church to be baptized unless you serve them refreshments, were they ever really converted?

By the end of this session, there were only a few hundred people left in the cavernous coliseum. That was a shame, because Richard Land gave an excellent report on the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It should have been heard by more.

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