DALLAS, Texas (MBTS) – Engaging the topic of unity within the Southern Baptist Convention, Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen moderated a panel discussion during the fourth annual For the Church Regional Conference held on June 12 at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center.
Over 1,000 attendees filled the room to hear a spirited discussion between J.D. Greear, Mark Dever, Thom Rainer, H.B. Charles, Jr., Noe Garcia, Vance Pitman, and Micah Fries.
Allen queried the panelists on four main points: the general state of the denomination’s unity; can social media be used in a healthy manner in creating unity; the state of unity in the local church; and why should the denomination be hopeful about unity?
Discussing the general state of unity within the SBC, Fries, who serves as pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., noted two trends he finds troubling.
“There has been an emphasis on performance over piety,” he said. “As a result of this, I feel we’ve lost our moral and ethical center to some degree…. What ultimately results is a lack of Christlikeness in our lives, and particularly in the way we engage with one another.”
Fries added that another area of concern is that at the national level, many people engage one another in a way they would never do at the local church level. “We treat each other differently, again, because of a lack of a moral and ethical center that needs to be reclaimed through a commitment to holiness and piety.”
Narrowing the focus from the larger perspective to a more personal perspective is an area Rainer, who is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, felt could get to the root of the issue. Instead of wondering what the denomination or local church might do to address such issues, he noted personal introspection might be the greater need of the day.
“When I begin to ask, ‘God, what would you have me to do?’ about a certain issue, I realize I have so far to go that I don’t have the wherewithal or integrity then to criticize others because I fall so short myself. I wonder what would happen if several million Southern Baptists would simply say, ‘I want to be a gospel-bearer; I want to be a man or woman of integrity; and I’m going to worry about myself first, and then my church.’ As a result, you’ll see the church and denomination become much happier.”
Garcia, who pastors North Phoenix Baptist Church, thinks of Ephesians 4 when the subject of unity arises. Particularly within the passage are the words, “be eager to keep the peace.”
“Unfortunately, we have failed somewhat to do this in the SBC. Here is my fear. It is that the LDS tells a better story than the SBC does,” Garcia said. “We’re doing so much good, but you wouldn’t know it because social media gives ‘feet’ to the bad.
“We’re so concerned about being right on social media that at the same time we disregard the bride of Christ. We have to be more eager to protect the bride of Christ than being right in the SBC.”
Moving to the topic of ways social media affects the unity of the denomination, Allen asked if there is a healthy approach to using this medium to get messages across.
Rainer proposed a three-step process he considers before interacting on social media:
“First, I understand that anything I place on social media becomes permanent; then, I ask how I would want to be treated; and lastly, I ask if what I’m saying is doing something helpful for the body of Christ,” he said.
Allen said he considers “to whom am I speaking” as a governing principle when interacting on social media.
“I try to treat it the way I would speak to someone in my church. I try not to be trill, angry or sarcastic when I type it out. It takes maturity on all of our parts to interact on social media responsibly and to build unity.”
Allen’s third question transitioned to the state of the local church when it comes to unity.
Pitman, who pastors Hope Church in Las Vegas, stated that he feels like there’s a fresh move of God being felt within SBC churches, especially through church planting.
“The young guys I’m around who are planting churches and have a heart for the mission and engaging the city—who see the church as the tool to engage the city and nations for the gospel—are a fresh wind. I’m super encouraged…the number of baptisms through new churches planted in pioneer areas in America, and it is incredible and amazing to see what God is doing through the SBC.”
Also with a positive perspective, Dever, who pastors Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., added that over the 25 years he’s been in the nation’s capital city, the number of evangelical Christians has increased—not just in the SBC but in other denominations as well.
“There are more people in more assemblies where the gospel is preached every Sunday in the D.C. area than there was 25 years ago. There’s really good news out there,” Dever said.
Wrapping up the event, Allen pointed a question to Greear, who pastors The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C., and will serve as the next president of the SBC. Allen asked, “Why are you hopeful for the SBC?”
Greear responded, “We are seeing in multiple ways that God is moving in the SBC, and he is answering some prayers in ways we might not have expected. I see this as an invitation to respond to God.
“There are some 6,400 unreached people groups,” Greear added. “This means the greatest days of God’s movement are in front of us. I really want to be part of that, and I want my kids to be a part of that. I want to see God continue to work through us because the nations are waiting on the gospel.”
The full panel discussion is available to view online at mbts.edu.