By Joe LaGuardia. This article originally ran in the Rockdale Citizen (June 2, 2011).
It has been a week since the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship met in its annual General Assembly in Tampa, Florida. The Fellowship, which is made up mostly of moderate Baptists representing nearly 1800 churches and hundreds of organizations, met two weeks after the Southern Baptist Convention had its own annual convention in Phoenix.
Although the two Baptist entities seem to be worlds apart, they have something in common: Both institutions are threatened with waning numbers and financial shortfalls; both face an uncertain future that calls into question their respective identities and missions.
If an objective reader were to go to the blog website of one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most popular and verbose leaders, Al Mohler, one would guess that the SBC blames this threat on cultural shifts ranging from the rise of secularism to the growing tolerance of homosexuality.
On the other hand, if one visited the CBF Assembly and heard one of the sermons at an evening worship service, one would’ve likely heard the difficult questions of a diverse people familiar with entering uncertain sacred spaces.
For instance, Rob Nash, the CBF coordinator for global missions, spoke at the CBF Thursday night service and asked what God was up to in our world. He admitted that “no one knows” what missions and ministry will look like as this century continues to unfold.
In short, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention seem to blame society for the organization’s shortfall while the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship finds itself searching for the presence of Christ among local conglomerates.
The fact remains that all of us, whether we are Baptist or otherwise, see things going awry: trends in economics, politics, community, and theology are constantly shifting. We try to name the problem by looking out into the world. We look for things to blame. We circle our wagons. We seek (or blindly accept) absolute answers for complex issues. We wage culture wars.
But we rarely, if ever, ask whether God is behind it all in the first place. God is a God of transformation and reversal. God refuses to be domesticated. God is always doing something new. God calls people into ministry whom we least expect. God goes places where we fear to tread. God makes sacred the very things that we come to despise. God undoes our human-inspired theologies. God breaks molds and creates ex nihilo (out of nothing) because His way is always better than our own.
More importantly, God does not follow us as if we lead the way. Nor does God require our help because, usually, when we finally understand what God is up to, God has moved on to the next mission field. That’s why Christianity rises and falls on faith: Things hoped for; things unseen.
When God breaks new ground, God only asks that we be courageous and faithful in obeying His leadership.
If we consider the fact that God might be behind our shortfalls (because we have come to rely upon our systems of doing church more than we’d like to admit), then this just might be our road-to-Damascus moment.
And if we keep looking around us and looking for someone or something to blame, we just might miss the guiding light that shines right before our eyes. We miss the light, we miss the very heart of God who goes forth whether we follow or not. We do indeed become blind.
Yet, we needn’t look outward; we only need to look into our own hearts. Perhaps only then will those Damascus scales fall from our eyes and allow us to see God all the more clearly.
2 thoughts on “Southern Baptist Convention, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship facing shortfalls, asking questions about God’s future.”
So, are you saying that a Southern Baptist just blames others while the good baptists over at CBF are the only ones looking for God in all of this?? Sorta seems like you’re placing blame on Southern Baptists yourself… or at least that’s the perspective
Not quite, although it sounds that way doesn’t it?
The SBC wages culture wars on those areas of society that it sees as threatening to the Christian establishment. At least some of the leaders in the SBC do.
The CBF is not so innocent either; but it is in a place of uncertainty. Unlike the SBC, the CBF is still charting a path for an identity that will sustain the Fellowship in the future. Does not mean they are better than the SBC; they are in two different “life-stages” organizationally, as it were.
At least that’s my hunch.