Californication: Anaheim, the SBC, and Spiritual Adultery

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First things First

First, let me say that not everything about the convention was horrible (listen to Tom Ascol and Graham Gunden talk about that here). It’s always a joyful time to fellowship with like-minded brothers and sisters. We got to do this with several folks over meals and ice cream and chatting around the convention center. I can’t name all the great people we met or I would surely forget some. But suffice it to say there are some really great brothers and sisters who remain in the SBC and I am grateful to have met some of them for the first time in Anaheim.

Also, I want to say that I am sincerely grateful that Bart Barber is the best president the Southern Baptist Convention has had since at least 2018. Yes, I firmly believe we could have made a better choice in Tom Ascol. But, my issues with Bart were never about him having a shred of liberalism in his being. I have never stated or insinuated this. We ought to pray for Bart and his role now as the Convention’s president as our own local church did last night. And how we ought to pray for Bart specifically is that his convictions will motivate him to publicly stand, and stand loudly, firmly, and strongly against the encroaching worldliness in the convention.

Well, “encroaching” is too euphemistic. The World is already in the bedrooms of far too many Southern Baptist Churches. Pastors can’t brush their teeth in the morning without the World hanging all over them, staring at them in the mirror, pleading with them never to forget that it is watching. Always. Watching. Hoping to see itself loved, revered, and feared more than Yahweh.

And this is the reason for today’s post. What I saw in Anaheim, overall, was a continued capitulation to the watching world. Before we get into that, let’s turn to God’s Word:

Ephesians 4

In God’s providence, the text before our congregation this coming Lord’s Day is Ephesians 4:20-24. In the previous verses, 4:17-19, Paul had just finished telling the Ephesians Christians to not walk like the Gentiles do. What does the Pagan walk look like?

The Pagan walk is characterized by futile thinking, fruitless living, and fearless devotion. That is, the Pagan mindset is focused on the vanity of this world (v.17). This results in all manner of ungodly living. And all of this is governed by a fearless devotion to self, having “given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (v.19).

But what hath Ephesus to do with Anaheim?

Well, Ephesians 4:20 continued to be impressed upon my mind and heart as I watched the convention in Anaheim unfold – But that is not the way you learned Christ.

Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that the way of Christ is not the way of the Pagan. In fact, it’s quite an unexpected way Paul phrases the issue. The Ephesians hadn’t merely received Christ or invited Christ into their lives, but they had learned Him. This implies the Ephesians had come to an experiential saving knowledge of Christ which also includes proper intellectual knowledge about Christ and adherence to Christ’s standard of how the Ephesians are to live their new lives in Christ. None of these things can be separated. To experience Christ is to know Christ personally and intellectually and is to live by Christ’s standard.

What am I saying here? Southern Baptist Convention, what transpired in Anaheim is not the way you learned Christ. You slipped back into futile thinking. Your fear of man pushed you into saying things you shouldn’t have said and leaving unsaid things that should have been said.

And I have four specific areas to point out.

Pragmatism

One of the lowest moments of the Convention was the nearly 6.5 minutes Rick Warren got to read his “love letter” to the SBC from the floor. 6.5 minutes doesn’t sound like a long time but that’s over twice the amount a typical messenger got to speak for or against something form the floor. Further, Rick Warren was allowed to ramble on about his accomplishments, while Jennifer Buck, a sexual abuse survivor, was cut off due to parliamentary procedure. As another aside, parliamentary procedure and “decorum” was not applied or moderated consistently during the entirety of the convention. This is not to say that parliamentary procedure is wrong, but it is to say that it’s not to be used as a weapon to pulverize Christian brothers and sisters in order to keep them from speaking.

Anyway, back to Rick Warren. Rick’s church, Saddleback, has recently ordained women as pastors, which is a problem we will discuss below. But beyond that Saddleback is the poster church for pragmatism in our convention. I’ll define pragmatism as doing what “works” instead of clear commitment to Christ’s standards as revealed in the 66 Books of the Bible. This is the root issue of why Saddleback is ordaining women as pastors.

Feminism has poisoned evangelicalism for decades now and the SBC has shown little to no resistance to the encroaching takeover. But this is all part of the deeper problem of worldliness. We are so enamored with the approval of the World that we are willing to conform our ways to its standards even if it means trampling over our marriage vows to Christ. Since the World wants to see women superior to men, the SBC jumps at the opportunity to woo the World’s affection by placing women in roles God has not called them to.

But let me remind you here again that women pastors are just a fruit and we will discuss that more in a minute. There are other fruits as well. But the fact that Rick Warren was so warmly embraced by our convention instead of lovingly rebuked, shows our adoration for pragmatism. I agree with Jared Wilson’s tweet, “Pragmatism brags on ‘results.’ Gospel-centrality brags on Jesus.” For over 6 minutes Rick Warren bragged on Rick Warren and not King Jesus. And many on the floor clapped for him.

Pragmatism happens in churches nearly every Lord’s Day whether it’s Storm Troopers thrusting their hips on stage (yes, really happened) or idolizing politics, or turning preaching into a performance, or turning sermon time into movie time, or the list could go on and on.

But another example of pragmatism from the meeting in Anaheim is the way the convention handled the Sex Abuse Task Force (SATF) recommendations. From the Platform, SATF leader, Bruce Frank, made messengers feel as though we were responsible for the terrible sins that have happened at the hands of members of our convention. I thought Dr. Mark Coppenger did a great job from the floor pushing back on the SATF report, articulating that that those of us who are not in full agreement with the recommendations are not pro abuse! He also stated that local churches cannot be held responsible for others’ sins. Bruce Frank used the bully pulpit to his advantage, dismissing these concerns to the applause of many.

What I want our readers to know is that those of us uncomfortable with he SATF recommendations are uncomfortable with them because we are opposed to sexual abuse and covering up sin and therefore want to be sure all of this is addressed in the most biblical way. We cannot take a sin problem and answer it well with “what works”. Otherwise, we will end up hiring an LGBTQIA+ affirming corporation to do our sex-abuse report, which is exactly what we did by hiring GuidePost Solutions even though several of us in 2021 suggested using pastors from SBC churches to start this process, something we felt was in line with 1 Corinthians 6:1-5. Which, now that I think about it, this might take the prize for the low point of the convention, the floor applauding GuidePost despite their celebration of what God hates.

The World thinks it is so wise when it comes to these matters. even though it rebels against God’s designs for human sexuality. Because Southern Baptists do not want to look like we do not care about sexual abuse before this watching World we have have been seduced by the siren call of neglecting God’s Word. We have bought the lie that returning to biblical ecclesiology has nothing to do with rightly handling sexual abuse. We have been duped and this is not the way we learned Christ! Biblical justice is not punishing one group for another’s sins. Nor is it biblically prudent to sit under the instruction of those who pridefully endorse immorality, especially when what they are instructing you on is the very type of thing they are endorsing: sexual sin!

Now on to another example:

Pulpits

I submitted a resolution this year entitled, On the Sacredness of the Southern Baptist Pulpit. It made me feel a little less crazy when I listened to Todd Friel walk through some of it on this WretchedRadio segment (start at 44:55).

The Resolutions Committee rejected the resolution stating,

“While the Committee affirms the thesis that preaching is a sacred trust from God for which preachers are accountable to Him, we do not believe the Convention has yet reached any informed consensus on the many specific burdens placed upon pastors within the text of this proposed resolution.”

What were these “burdens”? Not allowing women to preach. Not plagiarizing sermons. Not dismissing prayer or embracing laziness in sermon prep. Not using godless or worldly ideologies to interpret Scripture. A Southern Baptist Convention that calls these things “burdens” is an SBC courting the World.

Of course, plagiarism was mentioned several times in Anaheim from the floor and every time Ed Litton shut down any further discussion. So, the SBC refused to deal with a serial plagiarist, and then we let that man moderate our 2022 meeting, and no one really fought to address his sin in any meaningful way at the Convention.

And I get it. Decorum may dictate that Anaheim was not the time or place to deal with Ed’s plagiarism. But consider what it says about what Southern Baptists really think about the Pulpit, the sacred desk, the central part of our Lord’s Day worship services, the place where men stand and say, “Thus sayeth the Lord!”. What does it say about what a convention of churches really thinks about the pulpit when they play along with the Emperor’s New Clothes and refuse to say anything, not a single word, publicly about what we expect from those who enter the pulpit to preach the Word of the Living God?

In many churches in our convention our pulpits are getting smaller and our sermons are getting shorter. We don’t want the World to think we are lame or out of touch with society by sticking to this Ancient Book. This is not the way we learned Christ, brothers and sisters.

Pastors

Admittedly, this was the most surprising thing that happened for me at the convention. Anaheim made it abundantly clear we don’t know what a pastor is. The background here is that the Credentials committee had to deal with a motion from last year concerning disfellowshipping Saddleback Church due to their ordaining women pastors.

This committee came to Anaheim telling the convention that we needed to further study what we mean by “pastor” in the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). The chairwoman of the committee said that some churches see “pastor” as a gift for many persons. As you can imagine, this caused many from the floor to say “Noooo!” After all, it is our secondary issues that actually define us as Southern Baptists.

Thankfully, Al Mohler spoke against this recommendation and said that we all know what the word Pastor means in the BFM 2000. But I was surprised and saddened to see Dr. Adam Greenway come to the microphone to push back on Mohler and say that we are not strict confessionalists. His point in coming forward was to leave a door open for partnering with churches who have women pastors on staff.

Things got worse when just a few moments later the Resolutions Committee rejected an amendment to their Resolution on Rural Churches that included, “RESOLVED, That we encourage rural churches to keep the preaching of God’s Word as sacred and primary by only allowing qualified men to preach…” (emphasis mine).

Now, we had just finished arguing about what a pastor is, and Ed Litton and the Resolutions Committee did not feel this was germane to the resolution that sought to encourage rural churches. By the way, I am grateful for this resolution as a rural church pastor. But we could have made it better and given the confusion from the floor on what a pastor is, we could have made a decisive statement about only qualified men preaching. Alas, we chose winsomeness.

All of that is in the background of the context of Rick Warren. Because it was after all of this had transpired that Rick Warren was allowed to speak to the convention. He ended his speech by saying that we needed to quit squabbling over secondary issues (like women pastors) and keep the main thing the main thing – to which many on the floor applauded. Some stood and applauded. (Again, secondary issues are what make us Southern Baptists)

I understand that we were in California and that the numbers were skewed a bit. Still, I did not realize that we had such an issue with understanding what a pastor is. On the next day, I asked Dr. Danny Akin from the floor if SEBTS giving out Pastoral Ministry degrees to women could have any effect on how our convention is confused on this matter. Instead of answering the question, he told all the women in the room how he wanted them to come to SEBTS.

This is not the way we learned Christ. When we bowed the knee to King Jesus in repentance and faith we committed to trusting Him in all things, including His wisdom in ordering local churches. Some want to say it’s a complicated issue because of how we structure staff and such in churches. But it’s not complicated. The only complication has come from churches not trusting the Book enough to order their staff by the two offices the Book gives us: Elders and Deacons. This is an abandonment of our first love and seeking other lovers who we find more attractive, wiser, and more profitable than our King. We must repent.

Pro-Life

The final example I will use from Anaheim for the SBC’s spiritual adultery is the Pro(ish) Life statements we made (and the ones we refused to make).

For example, when the 6 SBC seminary presidents were asked if they supported equal protection for the lives of the unborn, only one spoke unambiguously and unequivocally for equal protection, Al Mohler of SBTS. The rest simply said they were “Pro-Life from the womb to the tomb.”

But the current Pro-Life movement is fighting for the legality of mothers to kill their children. That is, women who help murder their children are not to be thought of as guilty of any crimes. Brent Leatherwood of the ERLC said as much when he said that women should not be in jail for abortion. What the ERLC wants is to make abortion unnecessary instead of illegal.

I understand they may not agree with me putting it that way, but this is exactly what they are saying when they refuse to give unborn children the same rights as persons that those of us who are born possess. And remember, these rights do not come from the constitution. They come from God. What many of us in the SBC want to see is not our seminary presidents or the ERLC grant rights to unborn children. We want to see them recognize the rights that all persons possess from God – a right not to be murdered and to have protection under the law from murderers and to see those who murder them brought to proper justice.

Our departure here from the Bible could not have been made any clearer than when Wes Brown, a pastor from Arkansas, asked the ERLC if the women who have willful abortions are committing a sin against God, and if so, which law of God are they breaking. Brent Leatherwood passed the question to Kevin Smith who looked incredulously at Pastor Brown and said “The 10 Commandments, Thou shall not kill.” In other words, out of one side of its mouth, the ERLC is saying that women are not guilty of any crimes when they have an abortion. But out of the other side of their mouth, they are saying women are guilty of breaking the 6th commandment when they have an abortion. This is doublespeak and hypocrisy.

And these statements along with the “make abortion unnecessary” mantra are examples of the Convention lusting after the World’s approval.

Imagine, for example, that the ERLC said it did not want Child Pornography users to be punished for using Child Pornography, instead saying they were just “victims.” And instead of wanting to punish users of Child Porn they put out a big campaign saying they just wanted to help create a world were Child Pornography was “unnecessary.” We would rightly reject such absurdity and wickedness, but this is exactly the argument the ERLC is making with abortion.

But friends. This is not the way we learned Christ. This is futile thinking. We absolutely want to do everything we can to protect and help women who have been forced into abortions. At the same time, we want to fear God above all else and proclaim to our magistrates as well as every member of our nation that Christ is King and that we are ultimately accountable to His standards as revealed in His Book. And that those who kill or have someone else kill their unborn children are guilty of murder before God and ought to be guilty of murder before the eyes of the law of the land.

Conclusion

This has been a long article. But there were even more moments from Anaheim that could have been included. I haven’t made an argument here for leaving or staying in the convention but let me say this: If you are staying in the SBC you have to fight. You have to push back against the onslaught of worldliness that is consuming our convention.

The main point of this post, though, has been twofold: One, to expose our Conventions’ continued love affair with the watching world. Secondly, to cause us to be ashamed of our spiritual adultery before God. To be ashamed of our nakedness and lusting after the World’s enticements. We must see ourselves as God sees us. We must hear what Christ said to the Ephesians in Revelation 2:5, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first…” Repent. Return to the Word. Fear God. Preach God’s Law and His Gospel. Carry the message of Christ to the Nations calling them out of the clutches of the World and into the arms of Jesus.

If we do not get out of this mindset of being enamored with what the World thinks about our convention, we will only continue the drift we are in until it is one day in full-blown apostasy. If we truly want to avoid Ichabod, we must fear God above all else. We must fear God above the World, above any entity head or elected leader, above any church or group of churches, above all else. We must fear God, trust His Book, and do what it says, no matter the cost.

Yeah, the World is watching. Let us be resolved to let it see the glory of God by walking in the fear of Him. And if that shrinks the SBC, so be it.

In fact, I assure you it will shrink the SBC. Let God’s gracious pruning begin. Better that our convention finds itself small in number and clothed by God in the robes of His Son, than great in number and undressed in the World’s bed.

 

1 thought on “Californication: Anaheim, the SBC, and Spiritual Adultery

  1. Good article. It bears remembering who chaired the resolutions committee as we consider the trajectory of the presidency for the coming year. We need to be alert and aware. Hopefully my apprehension is unfounded but this year’s resolutions don’t make me optimistic about Barber’s leadership.

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