Awakening to the Possible Implosion of the Southern Baptist Convention

by Dr. James Willingham

We have just had notice of one of our largest reductions in our missionary force in history.  Could it be the harbinger of things to come?  While we are in economic decline, I would call attention that in at least three areas in my state and in two of them in other southern states we have seen the removal of jobs and income of  our members who gave generously.  Since the late eighties, we have had textile and furniture plants moving either South of the border or overseas.  In addition, there is the repudiation of tobacco (probably not a bad idea in itself, due to the threat to health), but a problem for Baptists in two or three states.  Churches in the tobacco areas were consistent givers to the CP and Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings.  With the removal of the textile and furniture jobs, however, we had a real problem as such forms of employment along with others in industry reduced employment in many states. of the SBC.  The effort to get retrained and then to find that the jobs were limited in the fields of new employment (e.g., medicine, technology) has been a real bummer.  Automation, robotics and computerization have likewise removed many jobs from the economy.  Just look at the flying robot arms on an auto assembly line.

Interestingly enough, with the removal of the textile and furniture manufactures in this state (North Carolina) and the creation of new kinds of jobs, the influx of folks from up North or from other parts of the world with better training, etc., has ruined the opportunities for many natives of the area of the South.  And I suspect that it has done the same in other areas.

But we were talking about the possibility of an implosion of the greatest Protestant missionary denomination in history.  All of the above contributes to the possibility, but what follows suggests a lack of thought or a deliberate intention to accomplish the same (I can’t imagine that this one is true unless outsiders have come in for that purpose).  Consider the  fact that we no longer publish our SBC Annuals or our State Annuals. I use to take my SBC Annual and look up a friend who had moved to another state or who lived there permanently and visit with him by phone and perhaps invite him to preach revival for me.  And I had calls along that line from friends.  Now I cannot even begin to locate my friends, not even in North Carolina.  If a person shows up and says he or she is a  Southern Baptist, I can’t very easily find the evidence for that fact.  That church in which the individual claims membership might or might not be Southern Baptist.  I have tried several times to use the locator at the SBC website, and I have never once been able to succeed with it.  Even the state convention does not allow access any more to the ministers list, at least in this state.  Add to that the division among the churches over theology, referring to the Moderate and Conservative, not to mention the Charismatic issue as well as some others, and you have an ideal situation for the snapping of all lines of communication and relationships.

Add also the problem which a DOM in one of the Mission areas related to me about the effort being made by NAMB and the Executive Secretaries they seem to be sending to the mission fields to get rid of the DOMS and the tendency to get rid of the local association (probably the only extra church organization for which a case can be built in the Bible. certainly much stronger than state and national conventions and boards). Along with that put the constant wrangling over the differences among the conservatives, over theology, eschatology, glossolalia, and other practices, and you have the makings of a donnybrook, as the Irish use to say.  I like to argue as much as the next fellow, but I do not believe in impugning the motives of opponent unless they reveal them in no uncertain terms.

There is my little group consisting of me, myself, and I.  Now we get along right well – most of the time.  But as for the other groups that line up the same way, there can be no unity or so it would seem.  Factionalism is likely, when we feel threatened on our own turf.  Personal offenses are very much a part of the picture, too.

More could be said, but let us briefly summarize what is pointing to the possibility of an implosion of our whole denomination and the end to a great mission force as well as means for political agendas, like freedom of religion which is in jeopardy right now.  There is 1) the economic decline of our people. 2)  the lack of means for communication and staying in touch, a very serious problem. 3) the theology differences from the past (Moderates and Conservatives). 4) the organizational changes which tend also to weaken the structures with which we are familiar. 5) wrangling over theological differences between those who won the battle over the Bible, differences involving salvation, history, last things, tongues, and other practices as well.  6) factionalism which will not sustain any cooperative effort, due to judgments of self such as I know better than that fellow (there needs to be a study and a means for getting at the differences whereby we can come to the point of working together while keeping our sense of humor.  A look at John Newton’s remarks on the issue of theological debate would be helpful, along with the way Whitefield and Wesley worked out their differences along with Edwards correction of Whitefield about the latter’s outré remarks about the unconverted ministry along with use of  Johari windows to open doors of theological thinking and friendship.

Last, one that I have not mentioned thus far, namely, the future coming upon us.  If, as there is reason to suspect,  we are going to the stars and have been for more than twenty five years, and if various forces are moving to get and/or keep control of what they have achieved thus far, then it behooves us to act in a manner that is reasonable, careful, involving prudent research in all areas relevant to our concerns, and giving much thought as to how to best prepare ourselves and our people for what might well be coming upon us.  After all, Daniel left no doubt about the struggle between the old image and the stone cut out of the mountain without human hands. The victory goes to the latter as it becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth.  There is likewise the possibility of the Angels gathering the elect from one end of the (starry?) heaven to the other.(Mt.24:31).  Throw in a thousand generations, and it could be possible even as an implosion that would leave us all suffering.

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