This article was published on May 21, 2021 in the weekly newsletter for Harrisburg Baptist Church
Every year the Southern Baptist Convention meets in June for a few days to celebrate what God is doing and make decisions that further our cooperation to reach the nations with the Gospel. This year the meeting is June 15-16, 2021, in Nashville, TN. An exciting missions conference called the “Send Conference” precedes the convention on June 13-14, 2021. The annual meeting is one of the most encouraging and exciting weeks of the year for many Southern Baptists. It is a week where all of our seminaries and mission organizations report on the ways God is working. There are multiple worship and preaching times that keep Jesus at the center of what is happening in the meetings. There are business sessions for the election of national officers and committees that help steer the cooperative mission efforts of our 40,000+ churches.
One of the things that happens each year is the election of a President of the Convention. The convention president oversees the annual meeting, serves on various boards, nominates for other positions, and is a part of the Executive Committee that helps make big decisions in between the yearly meetings. I bring all of this up because I want to make two major points about the Southern Baptist Convention:
1. Along with its officers, boards, and committees, the Southern Baptist Convention has absolutely no authority over Harrisburg Baptist Church or any other church.
One of the primary beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention is that each congregation is under the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ, and it functions as an autonomous local church. Jesus rules the church by His Word and through the affirmation of the members of the gathered church in members (business) meetings. As Southern Baptists, we believe that God leads the church through the pastors and serves the church through deacons. Every member is vital in the church’s life, and every member has a God-given responsibility and role to play in the church.
This means that Harrisburg Baptist Church is responsible to the Lord and is not under the direction of the SBC. There are many denominations where the denomination leaders make decisions that the local churches have to follow. The Southern Baptist Convention is not structured that way, but it might confuse you about the relationship between our church and the denomination because many other denominations are.
The relationship between Harrisburg and other Southern Baptist churches is solely for the cooperation of accomplishing the Great Commission. Historically we have believed that combining our resources is one of the best ways to send missionaries, train pastors, and provide solid discipleship resources for the church. But, in recent years, I have noticed a trend among some in the denomination that is concerning to me. I have seen a desire to use the denomination to influence the local churches and operate more as a top-down denomination than as a cooperation of churches striving to reach the nations with the Gospel. This trend is most noticeable in how some candidates are campaigning in the months leading up to the convention. (I’ll share a little more about the presidential race in the second point.)
The Southern Baptist Convention was not designed to be a denomination that tells the local churches what to think, how to act, or what the priorities are. The Southern Baptist Convention was intended to be a group of churches that affirm a shared set of beliefs and cooperate for the Kingdom’s sake and the glory of God. I think by now, you know that I believe strongly in the authority of Scripture and the purity of the Gospel. I also want you to know as your pastor that, as a true Baptist, I believe just as strongly in the local church’s autonomy.
I believe God in His Word when He says in Hebrews 13:17 (CSB) that the pastors of the church are called to “keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” God has not called denominational leaders or even other pastors to be accountable for the spiritual condition of Harrisburg Baptist Church. As such, I believe that everything happening inside our congregation is more important than what happens in the SBC. The Southern Baptist Convention is important, but it is secondary to what God is doing in our faith family here in Tupelo, MS.
Using the denomination to influence the local church has resulted in presidential elections each year that serve as a platform for division rather than an opportunity for unity and the Kingdom. Four men are being nominated this year, and I want to make my second major point:
2. All of the men being nominated to serve as President are godly men dedicated to the authority of Scripture and who live exemplary Christian lives. In addition, each one of them affirms the Baptist Fatih and Message, which is our church’s statement of faith.
The four candidates being nominated for President of the Southern Baptist Convention are:
Randy is the Executive Director/Treasurer of the Northwest Baptist Convention. The Northwest Baptist Convention is what the Mississippi Baptist Convention is for Oregon, Washington, and Northern Idaho. Because of the smaller number of churches, they are grouped by territory rather than by state. Randy is a member of a church plant and exemplifies a love for making disciples and reaching the lost.
Pastor Ed has been the pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, AL, since 1994. Ed is known for having a heart for discipleship and evangelism and a sincere commitment to the Great Commission.
Pastor Mike is the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, GA, since 1996. Mike has served as the President of the SBC Executive Committee, and he has an excellent reputation for loving the Word and encouraging evangelism.
R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Dr. Mohler is the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Convention in Louisville, KY. He is widely known for his commitment to the Bible and his willingness to stand against liberal and progressive theology. Because of his dedication to the Gospel, he was one of the Baptist Faith and Message revision authors in 2000.
Remember that regardless of what you hear people say about these guys during an election campaign, each of these men loves the Lord, the local church, and the denomination. I want to encourage you to join me in praying for each of these men. Pray that whoever is elected will be used to help us cooperate and further the Kingdom of Christ through missions rather than divide over issues and agendas.
I am looking forward to worshipping with you this Sunday in our traditional service at 8:30am or our contemporary service at 11:00am.
By His Grace,