Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Now What?

By now most of you know that Wade Burleson has resigned as a trustee of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Missions Board. For a little over two years, Wade has tenaciously stood---alone more often than not---in opposition to efforts by the IMB board of trustees to narrow the doctrinal boundaries for missionary service beyond the SBC's official doctrinal statement and to suppress the right of trustees to express disagreement with any action taken by the board. Through all of the controversies surrounding himself and the board of trustees, Wade has been driven by an unwavering belief that the board should be accountable to the convention and by an even stronger conviction that cooperation to fulfill the Great Commission is more important than agreement on every particular point of doctrine. With Wade's resignation, it appears that there is no one left on the board who is willing to stand up for these two beliefs.

In the short run, Wade's resignation will have one positive effect. Trustees will no longer have to devote significant portions of their board meetings to the latest controversy involving Wade Burleson. This should allow them to devote more time and energy to the work of the IMB. Of course, given the adoption of the policies/guidelines on baptism and private prayer language that started all this mess, it may not be a good thing that the board will have more time to focus on the work of the IMB.

What Wade's resignation means for the future of the SBC is unclear. It is likely that those who seek to narrow the parameters of cooperation, stifle dissent, and resist the idea that SBC entities should be accountable to the convention will be emboldened by Wade's resignation. They may perceive that as long as they stand unified against reform minded leaders that they can simply outlast any reform movement. And they may be right. My observation is that most reform minded Southern Baptists are not going to devote years to changing the SBC via the political process. While they have a great deal of respect for the SBC and its work, they have an even greater commitment to the Kingdom of God. If these reformers reach the point where they see continued involvement with the SBC as interfering with their work for the Kingdom, they will withdraw from active participation in SBC matters and may even leave the convention completely. This may make life easier for supporters of the status quo in the SBC, but the long term effects on the convention could be serious.

While Wade's resignation may be seen by some as a setback for the reform movement in the SBC, in some ways it could help advance the cause of reform. Now that he is free from the restrictions and guidelines incumbent upon a trustee, Wade can speak to the issues facing the convention more freely. Wade is also now free---if he chooses---to reveal to the SBC some of what he has heard and seen within the corridors of power. It seems certain that a revelation of these things would convince many Southern Baptists that reform is sorely needed.

Whether or not reform comes to the SBC, one thing is certain. God is sovereign, and His Kingdom will go on no matter what. It is my personal hope and desire that the SBC will continue to be one of the tools used by God in the building of His Kingdom, but if some things do not change then I believe that God will turn to others who are more committed to His Kingdom than to their own kingdoms.


Penny Martin said...

Great blog. Very interesting. Thanks!

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Jeff said...

just my opinion, but from what I understand the SBC has been intolerate of views not reflected in the latest Baptist Faith and Message creed for a long time now.