My wife and I returned last week from the national meeting of the American Baptist Association in St. Louis, MO. While our national association of churches is not as large as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist Bible Fellowship International, the General Association of Regular Baptists, or some of the others; I can say with all certainty that I’d much rather have our problems, than those I hear of in some of the other Baptist works.
While our meeting did not draw the attention of national media, or secular news outlets, the few thousand that did meet, handled our necessary business, with a “fairly sweet” spirit, and very little complication.
Our work is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but after having somewhat of an acquaintance with issues that other Baptist groups are facing, I am extremely thankful that most of our difficulties are inhouse, and rarely doctrinal in nature.
Within our churches, and our publishing house, there are settled issues that we do not have. The Bible is the Word of God, infallible, inerrant, and an industrial strength dose of inspired by God Himself. Calvinism is not an option; It is not discussed or debated, it is an outright error that needs to be corrected in anyone who smells like they’re wearing it. Women are not ordained as pastors, or even considered. Homosexuality is as much a sin as blasphemy, cussing, killing, kissing someone that’s not your’s to kiss, or spitting in your neighbor’s eye. We are very loving; but we are not tolerant.
The mission work of getting the gospel into the ears of every man, woman, boy and girl, on planet earth is preeminent among our people. So much so, that how to do that, who to fund, and how much to spend on them, often serve as the primary problems, debates, and discussions, that we deal with among ourselves. Of course we have tensions between personalities when these debates arise; but I would much rather argue about a man who has been paid too much, for too long, in one place, with no results, and no reason why, than listen to people misuse the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer to excuse their false interpretations of the scriptures.
While some groups are divided along the lines of “fundamental or liberal;” “Calvinistic, or non-Calvinistic” most of the divisions in our group are between, those who “applaud” and those who “amen.”
We do have some divisions over KJV “onlyism”; eschatology – pretrib, wrong trib, or even wronger trib; minor methodologies; tithing; and inhouse policies and procedures from time to time.
That being said, we’ve never had to deal with Acts 29; Emerging, Emergent, Seeker-Sensitive, Beer-Drinking, pulpit cussing, movements that venture us into the over controversial, and the Madison avenue mindset. That does not mean that we do not have aggressiveness in our evangelism. Biblical evangelism is the driving force, and soulful dedication of our work.
The sad fact is that we do have our share of card-carrying pious windbags, money grubbers, and charletons. Wherever the work of the Lord is going on those will be present. Like a hair in a biscuit or a tic at a picnic where there is light there will be bugs. I will readily admit that there is an element among our people who are not training witnesses for the Lord, but are training lawyers for the landmarkers.
All of that being the case, I would much rather have our problems than those in the other groups. Dealing with personalities, procedures, preferences, and pitiful reasonings, is a much better conflict to deal with among brethren than doctrinal divisions. Ethnic diversity is welcome. Diversity of fundamental doctrines is foreign to the New Testament churches, and therefore has no place among the modern assemblies.
Our group may be small by comparison to others. We may have some of the most stubborn people known to man. Without doubt though, we also have some of the best Bible expositors and preachers this planet has ever known. While the larger Baptist world may look at men like Adrian Rogers; W.A. Criswell; Jerry Vines; Charles Stanley; and others; we have men that can stand on the same stage, elbow to elbow, equal in every way, as to exposition, oratory, and flat out anointed Bible preaching, and teaching.
While I am often very critical of the things that go on in our work, (and I think justified); I must admit that when I look around, I would take our problems any day of the week over those of wider circles. All things considered, it is a joy to be associated with the American Baptist Association. The fellowship is generally sweet, the doctrine is settled, the purpose is plain, the work is focused, and having it any other way would not be a change worth making.