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February 03, 2006



The interesting thing about Southern Baptists is that the denomination has no real power over any of the churches that are allied with it. So, while certain denominational boards may subjugate women, deny missionaries who speak in tongues, and fire professors and pastors, it is not completely accurate to say that we baptists as a denomination would do such things. I happen to understand what Burleson appears to be trying to do. The majority of Baptist I know do not fit in any camp, and certainly don't agree with all the happenings. The wonderful thing is this. If our local churches choose to follow God, as they corporately understand His will, the denomination is powerless to do anything about it. Read my question at cyleclayton.blogs.com and see where I fit into your schema.


Interesting thoughts, Cyle. How many SBC female senior pastors do you know? What about chaplains? There were a few of those until the past two years when the rules changed again. And it is accurate to say that the SBC fires missionaries or pastors who speak in tongues. It's happened in the past and will happen again. And who do you think was firing professors? Do you believe the seminaries have the power to act autonomously? This notion of local church autonomy is lip service. Ask the pastor in a small town in OK I interviewed who has been sent there because he didn't play the game. His story is pretty common, I'm afraid. And let's not forget the many pastors who won't speak out on the record, but many of whom I've interviewed over the years, because they know their "disloyalty" will result in less glamorous assignments, say a small town in OK.


Cyle's comments are interesting. I agree with him that technically Baptist churches are autonomous and cannot be controled by the denomination. However, the denomination is not autonomous from the collective churches. Therefore, if Cyle's statement is true, "The majority of Baptist I know do not fit in any camp, and certainly don't agree with all the happenings" then they are in the position of having the power to change all of these "happenings". SBC messengers have votes and money, the two things that run the convention. What are the chances this silent majority Cyle speaks of will do something about any of what Greg cites in the post? Anyone want to hold their breath? Also, the practice of refusing to seat messengers from churches consistently silences those not willing to walk in lock-step. If there's indeed a majority who "don't agree with all of the happenings" then there is a mechanism for them to show it. Inactivity is complicity.



I'll need someone to explain to me what autonomy means in Baptist circles. One of my wife's clients, an SBC pastor's wife, actually said, "Well, they're autonomous as long as they believe like we do. If they don't believe that way, go to another denomination." Ah...the sweet sound of autonomy. I think Baptists have heard for so long that local churches are autonomous that they've come to believe it, even in the absence of any evidence to substantiate it. Kinda like six-day creation.

Anabaptist Monk

The model for Baptists is a bottom up model. The local church is autonomous. It can choose to relate to a local association of churches (all the churches in say, a county area), do stuff togehter, pool their resources to do things that as individual churches they don't have the resources to do. They also can, if they choose to, relate to a state association in the same way, and then a national association in in the same way. Membership in one of these "associations" is not dependent on the other. You pick and choose which one you want to participate in as the church wishes.

However, If a church takes a stand that is in opposition to what the majority of churches in their local and/or state associaiton would choose it naurally alientates them from those they disagree with. Those curches in those associations can then decide, if they want to, to disassociate themselves from this church for doing something they disagree with. Nothing of real consequence happens except you can't go to the associational gatherings anymore or participate in the joint stuff you use to participate in.

The Baptist church I work for made the decision ten years ago to have women fully in leadership, deacons, ministers, etc. Most Baptist churches in Oklahoma don't do this, and there was an official effort to "disassociate" us from our local association. At the yearly meeting they had a discussion, they took a vote. It did not pass and so we are still a part of the association.

But if we had been disassociated, nobody could have taken our building away. They couldn't fire our minister. Our church could go on doing our own thing. Granted, we couldn't utilize the resources the larger group provides anymore (camps, joint missions efforts, seminary education, etc.), but techincally we are autonomous. The dog (the local church) is supposed to wag the tail (county, state and national conventions).

So, imagine a dog with a tail that is one hundred times the size of the actual dog. Strange looking animal, eh? That is what has happened to the SBC institutionally.



It sounds like you're theoretically (and politically at a local level) autonomous so long as you go along, and you would only experience true autonomy when you don't go along and are disassciated. That seems to mean that you're SBC or you're autonomous, but not both at once. How many staff pastors do you have that are female (not including children's ministry) since women are fully part of your leadership now?


The SBC has become an orouboros. A snake that eats its own tail. Symbolizing the SBC's need for power and greed. Like the snake they become hungry for these things and begin to eat itself by accident. They just don't know how to stop or change.

I know of a few churches in Austin that are labeled baptist but they aren't apart of the SBC. The church I am at right now is extremely pro SBC whether they agree or not with the practices because they won't allow females to be anytype of pastor (including the children's department.

Sadly that is why (along with other reasons (like not having a rollercoaster j/k) I am looking for a new job elsewhere.

Anabaptist Monk

Our last minster of education was a woman, fully ordained. Admittedly, our congregation would very unlikely hire a woman as pastor. But there would be people in the church that would love to have a woman as our next pastor (we are searching now) and they are not ostracized within the church for this opinion, just recognized as the minority opinion. Give us a break, we're a 100 year old county seat baptist church in small town OK.

I think our church is part of the small minority of SBC churches who actually exercise our autonomy in a way that somewhat ostracizes us fom "the majority." That's the way baptist polity is supposed to work. We don't awlays like it, but we are trying to follow our understanding of what God wants for our community. And that, in baptist parlance, is called "autonomy of the local church."



My point is that if you took a stand on other issues, say a senior pastor who is a woman, or, I don't know, pick a big SBC issue, you would not be allowed to remain SBC. You would be disfellowshipped. For that reason, it seems the SBC doesn't really have autonomous churches. Sure the congregation can call the pastor or elect their own deacons, but when it comes to a doctrinal issue, the SBC will ultimately prevail or oust you from the denomination. Is that not correct?


This has been interesting to read. The church I am at now is historically a Baptist church, but not SBC. It all seems very complicated, but I will say that I have been surprised with how much I have come to like Baptist polity (in most ways.) We were surprised to find out what our relationship with the regional association was like- it is really a place of resource, and has never shown any signs of trying to impose anything on member churches. In fact, you don't even have to give them money in order to be a member. We are kind of an odd church in the association but they have been nothing but supportive. It seems like, when practiced well, Baptist structure has some very cool things going for it.
The only issue (which is actually a blessing) for me has been what to do with no creeds. Sometimes this is difficult to navigate because there is nothing to check our "orthodoxy" with. (My concern with this is not to line up with someone else or because I am scared of being a "heretic", but it does help to know the ramifications off different teachings, etc.) But really, this makes things more challenging, but more intentional- we are forced to really know our Christian history and define our beliefs (or leave them as undefined as we see fit) as a congregation, with no one else telling us how we have to believe or do things. So I guess as a wannabe-Catholic/Baptist mix, sometimes I rub up against not having any sort of hierarchy, but, other times, it seems very organic and effective.


Your question/point about autonomy is well appreciated. On paper it sounds good. The degree of effective autonomy a SBC church has can be largely dependent on how isolated they are willing to be. Thankfully the whole discussion is more one of history for me rather than current events (I said bye-bye years ago- There's plenty of other Baptist around ones you take off the SBC blinders). It is, however, a denomination that has in its policy statement: "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." The dysfunction is systemic. "Autonomous" churches are complicit as they choose to be affiliated with an organization that would eliminate from equal status over half of their membership and relegate it to a matter of minority or majority opinion like we're discussing whether choruses should be sung vs hymns. It's disappointing to think that discriminatory practices that would not be tolerated anywhere else in their lives are perfectly acceptable in churches that see themselves as the protectors of scripture. The SBC has always existed within a culture of excluding some from equality before God. Where that falls in the "historic Baptist principles" I can't say. While some of these principles have served other Baptists well, to discuss the SBC and historic Baptist principles in the same breath makes me gag a little. What benefits could warrant working in a denomination that is explicitly exclusive based on gender? I'm sure there are plenty who are able to rationalize- who of us isn't capable of rationalization when the pressure is on? No one should be surprised, however, when, as you say, Greg, the chickens come home to roost. Sorry for the rant- Now I can probably save a few bucks and skip this weeks counseling session.:-) Later BB

Anabaptist Monk

Technically, the SBC is not a denomination. It is exactly what it says it is--it is a convention, so, technically, the SBC only exits during the three days it is in session in June. I know this sounds absurd and the reality is much different, but technically it is true. They don't kick you out of a denomination, they ask you not to fellowship and to stop contributing money to do they things decided to do together during that convention. I'll say more tommorow, but I'm leading a youth retreat now and have to wrap it up.

Anabaptist Monk

I will grant you that the machine that has been created by "the Convention" over a period of time has become large enough that the bottom-up structure works only in theory. They majority can disassociate with you, ignore you, ostracize you. But ultimately, how that is interpreted is up to the local congregation, the group of folks who drive their cars to the church house and are being church together.

Would being disassociated suck? I supose so, especialy if you have been in relationship with this larger body over a period of decades, centuries. You've been to camp with them, supportetd the same missionaries, used the same curriculum. But then you chanaged, they changed and divorce was imminent. And let's not forget that a local church can choose to disassociate themselves from the larger machine as well. You and I both attended a flagship baptist church that chose to do that--FBC OKC cut its ties with the national body because of the nutty doctrinal statements it made on marriage at the 2000 convention. That's right folks, our friend Greg here actually attended, for a time, an historic flagship church of the SBC. (You're outed, dude).

Just because the powerful minority chastizes you for not towing the party line it does not mean that autonomy is any less real. It just means you pay for it. Which has been part of my problem all along with baptists in OK. They are such wimps! Suck it up and stand up to some of this once in a while. Don't let the tail wag the dog! See Baptists in Texas and Virginia for a example of this fierce independence.

Local church atonomy is not a reality for Methodists, Episcopal of Presbyterian polity, and certainly not for our catholic siblings. It may not be easy nor pretty for baptists, but that doesn't make it any less true.



As you well know, by the time I got to FBC OKC they hadn't been an SBC church in years.

So, autonomy also means losing your job? Is that a kind of autonomy you have in mind? Say you're the president of a seminary or a missonary and you get fired for believing the wrong thing. Is that what the SBC means by autonomy: free to find a new job? See all this pretending that there aren't people who run things in the SBC is what bugs me. "We're not a denomination." Technically, maybe not, but in practice (which is what matters), you have a creed, a manual, a standard of behavior, a group that votes on issues common to the whole "convention," etc. Sounds a helluva lot like a denomination to me. Especially when you throw in seminaries and missonaries who are beholden to someone to act right and believe right. Call it what you want, Tim, but you're part of the largest Protestant denomination in the world. I guess by insisting that each church is autonomous, people that go to those churches can pretend they aren't participating in a system that is oppressive, homophobic, misogynistic, and just plain mean at times.


Denomination/convention distinction is noted. For those who reside in OK, is Baptist life in Oklahoma actually driven by a "powerful minority" or are the majority of folks in the pew actually in quiet agreement with the state and national direction?

Anabaptist Monk

Sorry Bootlegger, that was a typo. I meant to say "powerful minority." I do suspect that the majority of folks in the pew have no problem with state and and national direction, a troubling notion.

Let me be clear. I am not a supporter of the Southern Baptist Convention. But I grew up in the American Baptist tradition and think there is much to baptist history and polity that is admirable. You're painting with broad strokes as though every baptist enitity or individual is related to the SBC. That is a common misconception. There a wide variety of baptist, the free church run amok!.

I have not given one penny to the SBC in over 12 years because of the corrupt direction you mention above. This has been possible because the Baptist churches I have attended have subscribed not only to the autonomy of the local church but also to the notion of the priesthood of individual believers and gave individuals choices about where their dollars went (a percentage of one's gifts and special offerings to larger initiatives usually carried out by denominational-like structures). This has only been possible with the age of computers.

I contribute my money to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (a moderate mainline-type break-off of the SBC) to support their missions efforts and theologcal education. In fact, in my current church there are seven different giving options, some go to the SBC, some to more liberal groups, some to neither. Our church made this decision because of a fierce belief in the individual's right to follow their own conscience before God. It is a diverse group of people atempting to live together in some form of unity. Are you saying because I go to church with folks who give their money differently than I do that I am participating in a corrupt system? That, Greg, is a huge leap, and one that condemns just about everybody on some level.

I never said the pursuit of local church autonomy was simple or easy. In fact, it may be harder to pull off than a top-down structure. Especially in light of the direction the national leadership of SBC of the last 20 years has been taken.

Anabaptist Monk

I did it again!!!! Powerful majority. I meant to say "majority!" Yeesh!



I've specifically mentioned the SBC every time. I have no quibble with American Baptists or CBF'ers. I love the Baptist history, primarily because it is Anabaptist.


I, likewise, was referring to the SBC (I think I specified that each time- if not, my mistake) as the original post referred pretty specifically to them. I agree that there are plenty of better ways to express "historic Baptist principles" than the SBC Party. No disagreements there. I have to chuckle a little, AM, at the 7 different giving options. Hats off to your counting committee. Later-BB


I'm not sure I really have anything new or useful to add to this discussion, but I feel like posting.

I have attended a nondenominational church my entire life. As such, I know nothing about how denominations work in theory and in practice other than what I learned from 8 years of education in Baptist institutions.

That said, the notion of a body with no Biblical precedent that can and does "fire" or "reassign" or even ostracize people is incredibly troubling to me. The fact that the SBC is so mired in politics is both telling and unsurprising. Power is both an addiction and a corruption, and political power in the current U.S. climate is the ultimate illustration of this.

If the term Christian is supposed to mean one who emulates a leader who advocated and demonstrated selflessness in every aspect of his life, then I do not believe there is any room for such behavior. So I recommend that we stop referring to the SBC and similar organizations as "Christian" for as long as they continue to hide their lust for power under the veil of morality. After all, didn't Jesus routinely condemn groups that did something quite similar?

Anabaptist Monk

Greg. You write:

"So, autonomy also means losing your job? Is that a kind of autonomy you have in mind? Say you're the president of a seminary or a missonary and you get fired for believing the wrong thing. Is that what the SBC means by autonomy: free to find a new job?"

Here's where the churches are, indeed, somewhat powerless. The seminaries are "Convention" agencies. I put that in quotes because I mean it literally, "convention," as in the three to four days that Baptists meet in June every year. When baptists gather at the convention they make decisions about creating some things jointly, mainly missions sending organizations and seminaries. In that sense, the convention (and again, I mean this literally) creates and operates those entities. Thus Wade Burleson was hired at the convention to help administrate the missions sending agency and can only be fired from that job at the actual convention.

"Convention" entities are techincially independent of local autonomous churches. Those churches have a say in what happens, but only if they...wait for it...attend the actual convention. So if the board of one of the seminaries decides to fires someone because they are too liberal, then they can do that. Individuals and churches can and have objected to these kinds of actions (Wade Burelson is an example) but it is a democratically funtioning meeting and the majority wins.

So, yes, the "Convention" can fire someone in an entity created by the "Convention." But what they cannot do is fire a pastor of a local congregation because that decision was made by an autonomous baptist church that may or may not decide to attend the "convention" and partipate or not in the creation and administration of entities there.

Baptists are autonomous. It doesn't mean they are exempt from the pressure of a greater ethos, but they are autonomous. That may change for Southern Baptists in the next few decades, but it would be a divergence from their 300 or so year history. That's all I'm saying.



After reading "But what they cannot do is fire a pastor of a local congregation because that decision was made by an autonomous baptist church that may or may not decide to attend the "convention" and partipate or not in the creation and administration of entities there." I suddenly got that Oliver Stone conspricy theory crap in my head.


I am a little late to the conversation, but only have a couple things to add. I grew up in a SBC church and still attend a church associated with the SBC, although I personally do not support the SBC. I have to agree with Cyle that most who are members of the SBC do not walk lock-step with their policies and that if they cared or knew about the many issues within the convention they would have the power to change things, but the problem I have seen is rampid apathy. Most of your average SBC church members have no idea what is going on at the convention level, nor do they really care as long as everything is hunky-dory in their local body. The only one who has kept up with convention policy changes or who is being hired or fired at seminaries are the pastors, who may choose to tell their congregation about such happenings or, if they agree whatever is going on, may keep silent about the issue. My parents still attend the same SBC church that they grew up in and until I asked them what they thought aobut it, neither of them had ever heard of Wade Burleson nor had they heard anything about the policy changes. In all the years I went there with them (with a rotation of about 4 head pastors) I never once heard a real SBC issue discussed or acted on.

On a different note, Greg, I found your description of the current SBC leadership as hit-men to paint a pretty accurate picture. I guess I had always thought of them as carnivores, but hit-men may be more accurate.


growing up in a neo-conservative/baptist church, and finally leaving in my early twenties...i find this to be very thought provoking still. this all reminds of anytime Paul talks about those christians going around teaching the necessity of circumcision. he makes the point that it's the heart that counts and everything is worthless. this is an issue that plagues many more than just the Baptists, if they would just look inside...maybe they'd have the freedom to do something other than kill people.


So I'm WAY late to the conversation, but I know you (Greg) will look at this even if nobody else does. I think W.Burleson's allusion to Landmarkism was not so much about "those Baptists who sought a purified church and purified clergy by asserting certain litmus tests were a necessity for qualification" as it was about the Landmarkist position on Baptists as THE Church per se. To explain, a significant part of the appeal of Landmarkism was its bogus rendering of a successionist history. Often dubbed the JJJ view (for Jesus, John the Baptist, Jordan River), it made the Baptist church out to be the only true church and attempted to validate that historically by pointing to a lineage of these 'true' churches from that JJJ event. A popular example is J.M. Carroll's "The Trail of Blood". So what if someone had been baptized scripturally according to Baptist doctrine? Most Baptist churches (including the vast majority that I'm aware of in the SBC) would accept that. The Landmarkist position would be that baptism is scriptural only in the Baptist Church (which is understood as the Church). There are no other groups worthy of the status of being called churches; they are only 'religious societies'. I think that's Burleson's point - the IMB would be making a move in the direction of Landmarkism, a (mis)understading that exclusively equates the institutional SBC and its affiliated churches with the Church of God. So what if your baptism squares with Scripture? Too bad. You'd need to be re-baptized in our denomination because your baptism didn't come out of OUR Church, the ONLY Church, GOD'S Church. Burleson is saying, in effect, that such an idea is not represented in Scripture or in the Baptist Faith and Message. It takes us back to a very distorted view of our denomination. So Landmarkist tendencies are less toward purification and litmus testing (i.e. viewing ourselves in need of reform) as they are the triumphant view that we Baptists are God's only true children and that our church is His only true church (i.e. an arrogant view of ourselves). The implications are actually worse than you suggest in your post. I thought you'd probably love that.

You also state later: "I love the Baptist history, primarily because it is Anabaptist." I'd grant that there was a relationship of influence there (e.g. with John Smyth among General Baptists and Richard Blunt among Particular Baptists) and I'd also grant that historians like McBeth and those in his camp probably overstate their case for English Separatism (foaming on Reformation ideals) almost entirely accounting for Baptist origins. But lineage, or a strong, direct link to Anabaptists? Doubtful. For example, I think early English Baptists' notions of religious liberty were forged out much more completely by responding to their own victimization than they were with the influence of Anabaptist doctrine/philosophy. I think the same could be said of the role of the civil magistrate or the doctrine of man. Certainly, among Particular Baptists (the more influential) Calvin's doctrine was much more prevalent than Anabaptist doctrine in their thinking.

I'd concur with just about everything Tim said about the autonomy of the local church among S.Baptists. I'd only add that most S. Baptists recognize some tension between autonomy and affiliation/cooperation. The right to agree and disagree as we see fit and the commitment to cooperate where we do agree do not always neatly overlap. Tim made the case very well as to how autonomy has been preserved. The association, state convention, and national convention have no say in our church particulars - consequences though there may be. Ordering and undue influence are two different things. The greatest mutation has been in the Convention boards, where a few represent Southern Baptists as a monolithic group (which is hardly the case) and where the local church in reality has very little power (if any) to address any of its concerns.

Here's the rub. Call out the SBC if you choose. As an SBCer myself, I find I do it. It's often deserved. But don't kid yourself. Militant liberals are no different. Just flip the issues. Would you hire Al Mohler? Would you fire him if he were already in your employ? Of course that might be different because you'd be right...right? Yep. That's the rub. I have difficulty seeing any principled distinction.

When all things are said and done, you may be right. The chickens may have come home to roost. Political power play in fever, once supposedly rooted in critical ideals, now just becomes apparent simply for what it is.


I was at SWBTS when Dilday was released. What a day. No, there was no love of Christ being shown on that day from the trustees. That is what hurt the most.

Steve W

Interesting discussion. The SBC certainly has its problems. But which church/denomination/church network doesn't? Most non-denominational churches affiliate with other churches, and function as a denomination in some ways...or at least they appear to. What does it say about a church that can't affiliate with any other church? If a church does affiliate with other churches, on what basis does it do so? Our church is SBC. No one outside our church tells us what to believe, or how to operate/function. The SBC circle of fellowship might be broader than you realize (how do you know you might not like one of the 43,000 SBC churches?). I think what Burleson is saying is that there are some people within the SBC that are trying to take the SBC away from its historically Baptist roots of local church autonomy, the priesthood of the believer, and association of churches on the basis of doctrinal essentials and missional cooperation, i.e. trying to narrow the circle of fellowship beyond historical precedent. He's found a pretty large (and growing daily) group of non-apathetic cheerleaders. Maybe we'll be hearing about the million person march on Greensboro at the annual SBC meeting this summer -- no, I know we won't. But what if a much larger than normal crowd of interested and engaged SBCers showed up and stood up to those acting as the denominational equivalent of flesh eating bacteria? The bylaws really do authorize a bottom up model of decision making, and some SBCers are trying to right the ship before it capsizes. There are plenty of people within the SBC that are just as sick of the out of control "power brokers" as you are, and intend to do something about it. (Sorry my comment is so long. But this is a good discussion, as are similar discussions on numerous blogs.)



Thanks for the history. Excellent points. I will take issue with one thing though. The last bit. No, I wouldn't hire Mohler, but do you really think he'd want a job at any church where I'd hang out? And if he were already part of the organization, I wouldn't fire him, although I might attempt to mitigate his influence. I guess I'm naive enough to belive that it's possible for truth to occasionally win the day. I will agree that "liberals" can be as relentlessly power hungry as conservatives. As our friend Tim says, "It sucks to be a moderate."

And as for autonomy, we're all going to have to agree to disagree.

Steve, the moderates were saying that the SBC was attempting to move away from historic Baptist principles too, and you see what it got them.

Steve W

I guess if they (whoever it is that is moving away from historic Baptist principles) keep antagonizing and alienating people, there won't be anybody left. That was my reference to *the denominational equivalent of flesh eating bacteria.*



Autonomy: Agreeable to disagreeing.

I have to admit the thought of it made me laugh out loud. I had this image in my mind of you interviewing A.Mohler. "Dr. Mohler, it's nice to finally meet you. I've heard so much about you." Oh boy.

If you're right, if the irony is so delicious...that would make a fine dessert.

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