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The State of Our State Conventions
by Tom Goodman
November 20, 2014

Tis the season for . . . state convention meetings.  Last week I attended the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and this week I attended the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  Our church is affiliated with both organizations.

A few thoughts on the state of our state conventions.

The days of acrimony are largely gone.  In the 80s and 90s, Baptists in Texas battled for the direction of the national convention (SBC) and the state convention (BGCT).  At the national level, when theologically conservative Baptists ended up setting the direction of the SBC, theologically moderate Baptists reacted by forming the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  At the state level, when moderates redefined what counted as Cooperative Program giving and set up alternatives to SBC resources in Sunday School literature, theological education, and missions, conservatives reacted by forming the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.  Some will say that the conflict in these two decades was over control, but it was really over direction, so I believe it was necessary.  But it was also painful.  That's why I was surprised to hear myself use the word "enjoyable" the first time some asked me how my convention visits were this month.  It's good to have the Baptist tribe in that season for now.

The executive directors of both conventions are top-shelf.  I believe the health of our two state conventions is largely the result of the men leading them.  I've known SBTC executive director, Dr. Jim Richards, for 30 years, and I count him a friend of mine.  And Dr. David Hardage is the most promising, refreshing leader the BGCT has had since I began serving Texas churches in 1979.  Read them or listen to them and you'll easily catch the clarity and passion of their vision, their love for Texas churches, and their love for Jesus.

The ethnic diversity of both conventions hints at a bright future.  I was thrilled to see strong representation of African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics in attendance and in leadership.  Anyone who thinks evangelicals in general and Baptists in specific are uniformly white seniors with southern drawls hasn't been paying attention.

It's time we sent our gifts to the national SBC through the SBTC.  Historically, Hillcrest has sent our SBC giving through the BGCT office.  (If you're wondering, these days that amounts to about $44,000 a year.)  I suggest we start sending that through the SBTC office.  This change won't make any difference in what we give the BGCT or the SBTC.  It's just a bookkeeping move.  But here's why I think it makes sense:  The SBTC identifies itself as a convention of Southern Baptists serving in Texas, while the BGCT identifies itself as a convention of Texas Baptists who may or may not have anything to do with the SBC.  I think the state convention that highlights our national SBC identity should have records of how we support the national SBC.  And, at present, they have no record of this.  This is a discussion for the Missions Committee and the deacons to have sometime in 2015.

It's time we moved toward equal support of the two state conventions.  When we joined the SBTC a few years ago, we decided to stick our toe in the water with a small sum of $100 a month.  This is in sharp contrast to the approximately $2,250 per month we send to the BGCT.  A few years ago, this was entirely understandable given our church's historic ties to the BGCT.  But now that we're more and more deeply connected to both conventions, I think we need reflect that with greater parity in our giving.  I also think our annual Fall state convention offering should be divided between the two conventions.  This is a matter to discuss with our Missions Committee and our deacons sometime in 2015, and then our church can vote on the matter.

Continued affiliation with any group bears monitoring.  As Baptists, we believe that Christ is building churches, not conventions.  Conventions and fellowships and mission boards are simply ways that churches affiliate together for greater effectiveness.  Therefore, individual congregations have the responsibility to monitor the groups with which they associate their church's witness.  Are these groups fiscally responsible?  Are these groups pro-life?  What do these groups think about gender and sexual identity?  What is their view of the Bible?  Do they believe that people are saved by the substitutionary work of Jesus and that people are lost without responding to this message?  Forever?  When these groups write Bible study literature or send out missionaries or equip pastors, will the message that we want shared be shared?  It's important that we keep asking these questions of the groups we affiliate with.  It's important that we hold them accountable for good answers to these questions.  And it's important that we withdraw from groups whose answers are not satisfactory.  Don't read between the lines:  I'm not hinting there's a problem with either state convention.  I'm insisting that we never forget our duty:  Our first priority is to be a church that communicates a biblically faithful witness of what it takes to be saved and to grow in greater obedience to Christ.  We'll partner with anyone who can make us more effective in that work.  And, no matter how historic our ties, we'll end our partnership with anyone who muddies the message we're trying to share with the world.  It's our church, not our conventions, that we're ultimately responsible for.

It's been a good two weeks of state convention meetings.  And I look forward to our continued partnership with Baptists in both state conventions.


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