Posted on : Thursday December 3, 2020

We are often asked, “Why should I want to affiliate with the SBC?” While there are countless advantages and disadvantages of affiliating with a denomination, Dr. Kevin Smith provides some of the reasons that he is personally committed to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Transcript

Dr. Smith:
Why am I a Baptist? Interesting question that actually I’ve had the chance to engage for a good part of my life, certainly almost 40 years growing up in Washington DC as a Baptist kid in the midst of a lot of denominations and a lot of other church bodies. And certainly one of my best friends growing up, my best friend, his father was a pastor at a large Pentecostal denomination. And so in formal ways and then informal ways I’ve always considered, why am I a Baptist?

Dr. Smith:
I did my M. Div at a Historic Pentecostal seminary. So studying in the Westly and Holiness Pentecostal tradition, one would often have a time to explain why you’re a Baptist and the particulars of Baptist ecclesiology and the Baptist tradition.

Dr. Smith:
In Baptist life, there’s been a genre of books that have asked questions like why am I Baptist? One of my favorites was edited by two brothers I love and respect, Thomas J. Nettles, Festival Historical Theology at Southern and Russell Moore when he was Dean of the school of theology at Southern. And those works have been helpful.

Dr. Smith:
And I think particularly in my life, as a black man, sometimes when people are asking me, why are you a Baptist, they’re particularly asking, why are you a Southern Baptist? In light of history of Christianity in America, in light of the history of Baptists in America, that question comes up periodically. And certainly, however you describe the climate right now in the United States. And I would say the climate probably for at least the last seven, eight, nine years with people thinking about things like multi-ethnic churches and things like black and white in the body of Christ, despite tensions in our broader culture. Periodically, that question comes up and I’m always happy to answer that question.

Dr. Smith:
I don’t think that question is something that you live with 24 hours a day and seven days out of a week, but it does occasionally come up as people seek to understand the broad 1 Corinthians 12, body of Christ, different administrations, different gifts, different manifestations. And so as a genre of literature, people sometimes have described why they’re Baptists. And in that genre of literature, they’ve often address why they’re Baptists over against other denominations, like I’m Baptist versus Presbyterian, a Baptist verse, this Methodist and the ecclesiological structure in those types of things.

Dr. Smith:
But also it is a particular question for black person and in Southern Baptist life, again in light of the history of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention. And also just how things have fallen out in American history since then. And so when people ask me, I kind of frame my answer around four things, one confessionalism, two missions methodology, three the breadth of our cooperation, and then four relationships brothers and sisters in Christ. First, confessionalism the statement of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention is the Baptist Faith and Message.

Dr. Smith:
The latest edition was revised in the year 2000, the late Adrian Rogers chaired that committee. First Baptist faith and message was written in 1925 and Eli Mullins, who was then the president of the Southern Baptist theological seminary in Louisville and Turkey, he chaired that committee. Coming into the first 86 years of Southern Baptist life. Many associations and local churches would have had confessions that we’d have been familiar with through a Baptist history, whether it would be something from London or Philadelphia or Charleston, or even the New Hampshire confession, which by the way, is the profession that is in the hymn book of the national Baptist convention in new national Baptist hymnal. So confessionalism is very important. Confessionalism is merely a document where a group of Christians express their understanding of essential foundational Christian truths claims from the scripture. And also since it is set in a particular historical setting with a particular people, sometimes they address particular issues that are relevant to the context in which they find themselves.

Dr. Smith:
For example, in 1925, creation would have been an issue in the latest revision and the year 2000, we addressed matters of things like the family and marriage. And so that is the role of a confession. And I think it’s very important in a world where people are sometimes ambiguous or unclear about their beliefs. We throw around words in our culture that sometimes, don’t necessarily have a lot of definitive weight. Sometimes people can say Christian and mean totally different things. And certainly in our culture right now, we have this ambiguous phrase, I’m a person of faith. I don’t know what that means. I mean, the people on Mount Carmel were people, faith. They had faith in baal. I mean, so what? Faith is not the issue. The issue is the object of one’s faith and certainly confessions make it clear that the Lord Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, his redemptive work as the scripture says he is the chief cornerstone of our faith and the building and the family and the household and everything is built off of him.

Dr. Smith:
And so confessionalism is very important. Many denominations have confessions, but for some of them they’re probably merely a historical Relic or even in the common life of the denomination. They’re not a priority. And so for me, confessionalism is very important.

Dr. Smith:
Secondly, missions methodology, the Southern Baptist Convention exists for the purpose of missions on a variety of levels. And that was not even something that Southern Baptist originated in 1845. Really in 1814 when the triannual convention gathered together, which was the Baptist all in America who came together for the purposes of missions to take the gospel to the nations missions has always been the unifying DNA and Southern Baptist life. Almost speak about breadth and there’s many other things that we do, but the founding unifying principle and Baptist denominational life has historically been missions. Certainly that’s the case in the 19th century, whether you talking about white Baptist denominations and the North or the South, where you talking about black Baptist bodies, all throughout the South and everywhere missions, there’s always a common thrust sending the gospel around the world.

Dr. Smith:
And so we do that throughout international mission board. We have our North American mission board, which focuses on church planting and missions and there are 32 largest urban areas in the United States and all over North America. We have six of the largest seminaries in the world, and not just six of the largest, also six of the largest cohorts of people, particularly preparing for pastoral ministry and local congregation. So men and women preparing for ministry that flows out of the efforts of those two mission boards is a vital part of how we do what we do. And then obviously the ethics and religious Liberty commission represents us on ethical and religious Liberty issues, and also seeks to provide resources for our more than 45,000 churches. And our executive committee just kind of serves in a stewardship judiciary role to oversee all of that because actually the Southern Baptist convention only meets two days out of the year when we’re all convened together.

Dr. Smith:
And so that missions methodology, it is focus. It is targeted. Now it does have breath, but it is focusing in, is targeted, and I think that’s helpful. Because sometimes people can see the Southern Baptist convention as being like this large body of churches with 45 plus thousand churches, and think that we do everything and we don’t do everything. And sometimes people can want the Southern Baptist convention to lean in or a bear a lot of weight and a certain way to something that’s just not really lined up with the central DNA focus of the Southern Baptist Convention. And so I think it was helpful to clarify that.

Dr. Smith:
Three is the breadth of our cooperation. Because of the cooperative program, we able to do so many things together and do them in ways that just none of us could do by ourselves. No one congregation, no matter the size of it, no one association, no matter the size of it. I mean, if you think of it because of our cooperating together, we are able to put thousands of missionaries on the ground, around the world and individually, we just would not be able to do that. We’re able to plant thousands of churches around North America and individually. We just would not be able to do that. We’re able to educate thousands of seminary students and to do it because of the crop, a program at a cost that is significantly lower than the cost for other Bible-believing seminaries in the US and we just would not be able to do that without cooperating together.

Dr. Smith:
And then as far as mercy and compassion, when Jesus says, love your neighbor, disaster relief and sin relief, and many of the mercy ministries that we’re able to do around the world, like right now, Southern Baptist is doing major things all over the globe in the midst of this global pandemic that we just could not do as individual congregations or individual believers. And so our cooperation gives us a breadth of ministry that I find very encouraging and very motivating, and really thrust me into eager participation in Southern Baptist life.

Dr. Smith:
And the fourth thing, and the most existential individual thing is just relationships. For over three decades, I’ve had just outstanding relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ as we’ve desired the same things regarding the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we desired the same things regarding a Christian witness where people would know we are his disciples by the love that we have for one another, as Jesus says in John 13. I can’t describe my life without some of the friendships and the relationships that I have developed as being a member of this particular denominational family. Now I have friends in the entire body of Christ. I have friends all over the globe, but I thank the Lord for the brothers and sisters and my denominational family and the journey that many of us have had together over the last, nearly three decades for me.

Dr. Smith:
Now, obviously a church with 45,000 plus churches and millions of members. You don’t know everyone, but also with a nomination at large, there are a lot of people that you can develop some significant relationships with. And I thank the Lord for journey. Now, obviously when people ask me about this, sometimes they’re asking, being critical or being suspicious of things within Southern Baptist life. And I’m always trying to just like, Hey, address some of those things. Sometimes will say, well, I hadn’t the Southern Baptist Convention, not yet apprehended and not their problems in Southern Baptist convention. And I always say very easily, yes. And then I’ll tell them, but I have friends in most of the large major denominations within the United States. And I think people in most denominations that have some true investment in that denomination would say, we’ve not yet apprehended.

Dr. Smith:
Matter of fact, sometimes when I’m frustrated with something going on in Southern Baptist life, I’ll have a conversation with one of my friends, who’s in another denomination. I say, man, we doing this, are we doing that. I wish we were more like y’all and such and such. And my friend was saying, Hey, the grass is not always greener on the other side. And so I think anytime you get more than a few believers together, there’s going to be the reality of the levels of spiritual growth and maturity of all those believers together, and that’s going to affect the larger gathering. And when you have a large denomination, it certainly will influence the dynamics.

Dr. Smith:
So are there ways that we still need to be pressing toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus? I would certainly say, yes. But then I would just as confidently say, but that’s the case with all my friends, and all denominations. There are things we need to do deal with, there are things we’re working through. But I feel mighty, comfortable being in a place where we’re not contending and our denomination over whether Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and the life.

Dr. Smith:
We’re not contending about the true or the authority or the infallibility of the sufficiency of scripture. We’re not contending about Genesis 1:27, whether or not God made man and woman in his image and his likeness and whether male and female are divine, ordained things of God or just some social constructs. We’re not contending about those types of things. And so I’m very thankful for the things that we stand upon based upon our commitment to biblical truth. And I’m very realistic about the things that we still need to press forward. And as regards Christian Love and our unity as brothers and sisters Christ. Sometimes people say, well, is the great commandment, not as prominent in our thinking and rhetoric as the great commission. And I’ll say, yeah. Probably I would say that was true. If anyone described Southern Baptist, they would say y’all seek to be great commission people.

Dr. Smith:
A matter of fact, we have a nickname or do a business only his name that people use the great commission Baptist. I mean, so yeah, great commission is certainly in the DNA of the Southern Baptist convention in some scenarios and in some pockets, I’m sure there are examples where people have been focused on the great commission and not as given must focus to the great commandment. Jesus said the greatest commandment in the law and the summarization of the law and the prophets that you said, love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And the second is like, it love your neighbor as yourself on these two, one plus one equals two. On these two commandments, hang all the law and the prophets. So can someone say, I think you all have in product HARs, ethics in loving your neighbor and all those kinds of things.

Dr. Smith:
I don’t push back against that. I say, again, we’re pressing toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, and let’s move forward in some of those things. One brother noted and I thought he noted in a very effective way. If we don’t give appropriate priority to the great commandment of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, then some of the ethical obligations of Christian love and Christian commitment can be processed by believers. And in our case, particularly by Southern Baptist as optional opportunities, rather than Christian ethical obligations.

Dr. Smith:
So I never pushed back against that. I said, yeah, I pray that more brothers and sisters would give appropriate value to Jesus. And so when he say, what is the greatest commandment in the law? I pray that we would value the great commandment more and more and more. And another criticism I get sometimes people say, have we been perceived to be too closely aligned to one of the major political parties in the US and I’d say, yeah. I think no one looking from the outside would say, yeah. I think over the last generation or whatever, the Southern Baptist convention has been politically vague.

Dr. Smith:
I don’t think anyone would say that, but I would say we know when people ask me, I say, yeah, I think that’s a reality, but also think that it is fleshing itself out in different ways over the last generation. I think whatever has been the Southern Baptist affiliation with new S political parties in the past. I don’t think that it will necessarily be that same way going forward. Messengers are people who represent the different churches that are annual meetings. And within the last few years that our annual meetings, messages have expressed more and more desire to not be aligned and overly affiliated with any particular political party within the United States. Is that unanimous? No. But last time we spoke, we had an action where messengers could speak about these things. It was like 55 to 45 or 60, 40 with Southern Baptist, not all agreeing about how we should engage political parties and political candidates or political officeholders.

Dr. Smith:
And so, yeah, whatever’s been perceived in the past. I don’t deny any of that, but also deny that that thing is something that is in motion. And we’ll see what goes forward in the future. I certainly understand if someone chooses to not be in my denominational family, I regularly had the opportunity to talk to pastors, congregational leaders, black or white or Asian Hispanic who are considering coming into Southern Baptist life. And for many of them, because of their desire for a certain missions methodology and a certain type of confessionalism, it’s a good fit. But occasionally I’ll talk to someone and it’s not a good fit. One thing these questions allow you to do is allows you to say who you are and how things are and say it in a plain way. So then other people can make decisions about how they position themselves.

Dr. Smith:
I never believed that the Southern Baptist Convention is the only denomination. I’m a 1 Corinthian 12 guy. Many bodies, many administrations, many gifts, but I do think it is a tremendously effective way to go about the mission of the gospel in the days in which we live. And the methodology has proven itself over time. Also, I occasionally get to talk to someone black, white, or whoever who’s leaving, or they’re considering leaving the Southern Baptist convention. And sometimes we talk through some things and they get a better understanding of who we are and how we do things. And then sometimes they decide that this is not the body for them. And I just think that’s the reality of Christians doing ministry in a world where we’ve not yet apprehended and people will make choices and people will make decisions. I think it is important for us to understand that people can position themselves.

Dr. Smith:
However, they choose to position themselves. And many times when I answer the question, why I’m a Baptist, particularly why I’m a Southern Baptist, I’m just explaining some position. So I have no complaint about someone standing on the outside, looking at the Southern Baptist convention and saying they have not yet apprehended. And I don’t even know if they care about it. That’s free. When in the United States, there’s freedom of speech. They can say that they can feel that way. However, my family and I, we have chosen to stand inside the Southern Baptist convention and say, we have not yet apprehended.

Dr. Smith:
However, I know many people who care about that and are desiring to press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus as a denominational family. So I am a Baptist, particularly a Southern Baptist for four reasons that are listed above. Confessionalism, missions methodology, our cooperation and its breadth, and also just the relationships of brothers and sisters that I love. May God use us for his glory in the exaltation of his son, Jesus the Christ and the preaching of that gospel. And if we desire that may we be submissive to the Lordship of Christ into the convicting sanctifying, repentance, invoking work of the Holy spirit. God bless you.

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