My Review of the 2012 SBC Annual Meeting in NOLA

Well, the 2012 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention came to an end this evening. I came to New Orleans anxious about the undercurrents plaguing our convention. I’ll leave tomorrow morning encouraged by what I witnessed these last several days. Here’s my brief summary of the highlights with some commentary:

General comments:

  • Brother Wiley Drake has competition in a fellow named Richard Tribble, Jr. of Illinois. That man knows his Robert’s Rules, God bless him.
  • Brian Wright did a fabulous job presiding over the proceedings. And Frank Page is a wonderful man to be our convention’s CEO.

Election of officers:

  • The election of Fred Luter is of historic importance. A denomination that was started, in part, because of a sinful tolerance of slavery has now chosen an African American as its highest leader. My eyes filled with tears when Pastor Luter was elected with cheers and applause. This is the power of redemptive grace. And let everyone — both Southern Baptists and onlookers of our convention business –know that this man was chosen not because of the color of his skin but the content of his character. He is a remarkable Christian leader who stands on the Word of God and loves the Church. I’m proud to have him as our president.
  • Congrats to Nathan Lino of the Houston area, elected as 1st VP.
  • Dave Miller‘s election is great, as well. He is a faithful pastor of a small church in Iowa. He’s going to be a voice of unity. More on this election below.

The “elephant in the room” (Calvinism):

  • I was really worried about the atmosphere going into the convention. The release of the “Traditional Statement” had stirred up a lot of controversy and anxiety. Many wondered if there would be some attempt on the convention floor to use this statement as a tool to limit the participation in the convention of those who could not sign the statement. I was among those with this concern.
  • I could not have been more pleased with what actually happened. No one from any leadership platform — not during the Pastors’ Conference, at any of the auxiliary events or panels, or during the actual business meeting — ever made any such suggestion. In fact, every voice affirmed that both Calvinists and non-Calvinists have a place in the SBC and that we need to move on and focus on our common ground in the gospel and Great Commission. (For example, see here, here, and here.)
  • Resolution 3: “An Affirmation of a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ as a Biblical Expression of Repentance and Faith” was completely unnecessary. And not just unnecessary, but unhelpful. First, Dave Miller (newly elected 2nd VP) expressed my thoughts well when he tweeted, “SBs believe we must call on God in repentance and faith. SBs believe reciting a prayer is NOT enough. We are fighting unnecessarily.” Second, the point of one of the messengers who spoke against the resolution was dead on. Many people have been given false assurance of salvation because of some bad use of the “sinner’s prayer.” I just spoke with one such person last week in my office. She thought she was saved because she “prayed the prayer.” Now, all these years later, she has truly come to saving faith and is angry that she was mislead. (I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I hope to write about it more soon.) Third, the messenger who offered the narrowly defeated amendment striking the words “a sinner’s prayer” from two places was brilliant.
  • This is the big one to me. I’m sure that Eric Hankins is a nice guy. He was the primary author of the “Traditional Statement.” He is also the man who offered the resolution on the sinner’s prayer. In other words, he is the face of the so-called “Traditionalists.” He was also nominated to be the 2nd VP of the convention, a vote he lost by 20%. I’m certain this has nothing to do with him personally and a lot to do with the movement he represents. His defeat as an officer of the convention was a repudiation of the “Traditional Statement.” It has not been embraced by a majority of Southern Baptists, and it’s leader was soundly defeated in an election. The chatter it started will die down over the next several weeks. We get to move on.
  • The bottom line is that we all need to simmer down. Outgoing President Wright, in his convention address, called on Calvinist to show humility and called on so-called “Traditionalist” to stop being judgmental. I am going to do my best, by God’s grace, to be neither prideful or judgmental. If we can all do this, we’ll find that place of balance in which we can lovingly and helpfully sharpen one another in our understanding of the Scriptures while walking arm in arm to fulfill the Great Commission. Which leads me to…

Missions:

  • Missions is still the lifeblood of the Southern Baptist Convention. Every single address and sermon was a call to the task of missions.
  • I’m so pleased that both NAMB and the IMB are pushing more and more responsibility back toward the local churches. For far too long, Southern Baptist churches could simply send in a check for the Cooperative Program and feel they’d done their missions duty. Not true. Church plant churches. Churches send missionaries. Not agencies or denominations. We are blessed to have the Cooperative Program, but it is no substitute for local churches in fulfilling the Great Commission.
  • The IMB continues to be the most incredible, effective international missions agency on the planet. Last year, the nearly 5,000 missionaries around the world reported about 330,000 baptisms and 28,000 new churches. We can poke and prod at those numbers and measures, but regardless, that is wonderful news. I also love, love, love the focus on embracing unengaged, unreached people groups. This strategy will bring about two important shifts: (1) Churches will be hands-on in the evangelizing of lost peoples, and (2) short-term vacation missions trips will be replaced with long-term relationships with lost peoples and missionaries.
  • The convention approved the use of the descriptor “Great Commission Baptists” for those Southern Baptist churches and agencies that would like to use it. This is a great move for churches outside the South. I hope we all live up to the name. It really does better represent what Southern Baptists are supposed to be about.

It’s good to be a Southern Baptist because Southern Baptists remain a gospel-centered, Bible-loving, on-mission family of churches. I pray the Lord continues to work in our denomination for the good of his people and the glory of his name.

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