Why We Left the Southern Baptist Convention
by Charles Dunn
If ever anyone had compelling reasons to stay in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I did. I was the chairman of deacons, the State Brotherhood Secretary, the teacher of a Sunday school class averaging 150 persons per Sunday, an active lay preacher in dozens of Southern Baptist churches, and a finalist at the age of 35 for the presidency of a leading Southern Baptist university. My wife was saved in a Southern Baptist church, worked diligently as an officer in the Baptist Student Union at Florida State University, and served as a summer missionary with the SBC's Home Mission Board.
For a while we thought that trying to reverse the liberal theological trends within the SBC was biblical and that we could avoid the support of liberalism by designating our tithes and offerings rather than giving generally through the Cooperative Program.
Ultimately, however, we had to make the choice. Would we obey God or men? Since leaving the SBC several years ago, we have enjoyed the blessings of God on us and our four children in ways we could never have imagined. Our decision was not easy, but it was biblical. We have no regrets, only rejoicing.
These are a few of the questions that confronted us when we broke from the SBC.
First, is the president of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention right when he states that the Bible contains the Word of God rather than the Bible is the Word of God? He says: "We believe that the translations of the Bible we have today contain God's holy and inspired message to us" (letter of Grady C. Cothen to Mrs. Glen D. O'Dell dated February 5, 1976).
For years Neo-orthodox theologians have been trying to spread the idea that the Bible only contains the Word of God, thereby leaving man free to question the truthfulness of portions of Scripture. If I can say that a part of the Bible is not the Word of God, then I need not obey that which I do not consider to be God's Word. This would be like handing a person a glass of clear water mixed with dirt and asking him to drink only the clear water. Just as clear water mixed with dirt ceases to be clear water, so truth mixed with error ceases to be truth.
Further, if there is no agreement about which parts of the Bible really are the Word of God, then it becomes difficult to maintain consistency in church doctrines and practices. For example, women deacons are now commonly found in many SBC churches in violation of such Scriptures as I Timothy 2:12; and baptism by immersion, the biblical and historically-accepted Baptistic mode of baptism, is no longer necessary for membership in many SBC churches in violation of such Scriptures as Acts 2:41.
Second, are Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Episcopalians, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists generally agreed on the essentials of the Christian faith? Southern Baptist literature says yes.
No matter what our background or denominational preference, we all believe in one body (the church), one spirit (the Holy Spirit), one hope (the resurrection), one Lord (Jesus Christ), one faith (Christianity), one baptism (public profession), and one God (Yahweh). . . .
Third, should the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board have published a book by a Broadman Press editor who agrees with "the 1970 action of the Methodist Church that favors the availability of abortions" (Green, p. 101) and that "no woman has a moral right to bear more than two children" (Green, p. 100)?
We would argue about our modes of baptism, our church polity, our governmental structure, and so on. But on these seven points, few, if any, would disagree. In fact, they are the basis of world-wide Christianity (The Baptist Courier, April 26, 1979, p. 4).
Fourth, should the SBC Sunday School Board have published a book stating that man is basically good? The following is from a book written by a Southern Baptist Seminary professor:
Man has first been berated as a sinner and then told the good news that he can change. But the order is reversed. He is already good (Temp Sparkman, Being a Disciple, Broadman, 1972, p. 17).
This idea of universal salvation--that no one will be condemned to hell, since everyone is basically good--conflicts with countless passages of Scripture on the sinfulness of man (Psalm 51:5; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23) and the reality of hell (Matthew 25:41; John 3:36; Revelation 20:15, 21:8).
Fifth, was a professor at a Southern Baptist university right when he ridiculed biblical inerrancy? The following is his opinion:
While some persons may continue to hold that the historic Christian belief in Biblical infallibility and inerrancy is the only valid starting point and framework for a theology of revelation, such contentions should be heard with a smile and incorporated in the bylaws of the Flat Earth Society (Robert S. Alley, Revolt Against the Faithful, Doubleday, 1970, p.167).
Another professor of religion at SBC university said this:
If we should ask questions about the authority of the Bible, it is not God's authority that we are questioning. It is the reliableness of the authors who wrote the various books. The letters of Paul to the churches at Corinth carry "as much weight as we are prepared to allow Paul as a religious teacher, but how far God speaks through Paul is another matter." Only in the sense that it is not incompatible with its human imperfections can we appropriately speak about the authority of the Bible. Some of the ethical standards, crude religious ideals, and behavior of the characters portrayed in its pages are strictly out of place in a civilized society. Judged by the teachings of Jesus much of its poetry dishonors the character of God. . . .
If this professor and the many others just like him in SBC colleges, seminaries, and universities believed Psalm 12:6, 19:7, 119:89; Proverbs 30:5, 6; Matthew 5:17, 18, 24:35; John 12:48, 17:17; II Timothy 3:16, 17; and II Peter 1:20, 21, they would know that they are wrong.
I have raised a few questions in this paper and have not come through with the answers. The reason that I have not supplied the answers is plain enough. I just don't have them (T. C. Smith, "The Canon and Authority of the Bible," in Perspectives in Religious Studies, Sprint, 1974, p. 50).
Sixth, was a featured speaker at a SBC pastors' school right when he said, "The Bible is not a divine book. If it were, it would be irrelevant" (Robert Bratcher, as quoted in The Baptist Courier, July 21, 1977, p. 9)?
Seventh, is it right for the Southern Baptist Convention in its annual meetings to endorse and commend the American Bible Society which distributes Good News for Modern Man, a version of the Bible that substitutes the word death for blood in crucial places such as Acts 20:28, Romans 3:25, 5:9, and Colossians 1:20, and minimizes the deity of Christ and the virgin birth by altering such texts as Isaiah 7:14 and Luke 1:27?
If you answered no to these questions and you are a Southern Baptist, then why do you stay in the convention? God says, "Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge" (Proverbs 19:27). Do you believe God when He says, "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" (II John 10, 11)? Are you "Honour(ing) the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase" (Proverbs 3:9) when you give to the Cooperative Program that supports these deviations from the Word of God? Jesus said, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me" (John 14:21).
Southern Baptist, will you go God's way? You need only look to biblical Israel to see what happens to the people who link up with and support apostate teachings. Every time Israel compromised with false gods and pagan religions, she was sooner or later sorely punished. Little wonder this was so, because God says, "I hate every false way" (Psalm 119:104, 128).
Apostasy--falling away from fundamental tenets of the faith--is in the spiritual realm what cancer is in the physical in two important ways:
First, unless cut out or eradicated soon after inception, it will kill the organism. Physicians and surgeons treat cancer just as radically as the Bible treats apostasy. "Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Romans 16:17). Lest you think this Scripture is taken out of context, please consider such Scriptures as II Corinthians 6:14-18, II Thessalonians 3:14, I Timothy 6:3-5, and Titus 3:10.
Second, apostasy, like cancer, creeps up unawares. If every person who ever had cancer knew about it at the moment of its inception, few, if any, would ever have died. Spiritual application of this truth is found in Jude 4 (see also II Timothy 3:1-5; Titus 1:10-11; and II John 7-11) which says, "For there are certain men crept in unawares . . . turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."
Consider the example of Methodism. Not too many decades ago, Methodist churches everywhere generally had Sunday night services, Wednesday night prayer meetings, and revivals, but how many do now? Gradually, almost imperceptibly, Methodism changed. In recent years, Methodist churches have lost over one million members. Today, modern Methodism bears little, if any, resemblance to what the Wesleys, Francis Asbury, Peter Cartwright, and others like them established.
Southern Baptists are simply walking down the same path some years later. Liberal theological infiltration is not of recent origin, but rather began several decades ago, making the recent election of conservatives as presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention a smoke screen to hide liberal theological teaching that has infected and dominated almost every Southern Baptist school where future SBC pastors and leaders are being indoctrinated.
Why have conservative pastors like W. A. Criswell and Adrian Rogers started their own Bible institutes and seminaries while still supporting SBC seminaries through the Cooperative Program? What fellowship hath light with darkness (II Corinthians 6:14)? A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). In defense of the Cooperative Program, people often say that it does so much good. But I challenge them to find just one verse of Scripture that says false doctrines and practices should be supported along with the true and the correct.
Southern Baptists, God asks for our obedience, not for continuation of our sentimental and sympathetic attachments to the past. Therefore, in obedience and loyalty to our Lord and the Scriptures, we must "come out from among them, and be separate" from the SBC.
Reprinted from FAITH for the Family (1981).
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