The Traditional Southern Baptist

Last week, a document was released that generated so much traffic websites crashed. I disagree with many points in the document and I have seen some very well crafted responses to the errors and misrepresentations contained in the document. Eric Hankins’ document does not get to the heart of what it means to be a “traditional” Southern Baptist. The theological position in the document is nothing new so there was little concern on my part with positions brought forward, but I am concerned with the divisive nature of the document.  Here is why I disagree with the use of the term “traditional” to define the position of Hankins and the rest of the signers of the document: A traditional Southern Baptist is one who has a passion for world missions, is a member of a Southern Baptist Church, faithfully gives to the Cooperative Program, and affirms the Baptist Faith and Message. I, along with many others, last week found myself outside the realm of “Traditional Southern Baptists” and thrust into a category of “non-traditional.”

For a while now there have been murmurs amongst the bloggers and commentators for the removal of the term “non Calvinist.” It appears the term “traditional” was elected as the solution.  This hardly solves the problem, for now the Calvinists find themselves as “non-traditional.” There may be some who disagree, but if a “traditional” Southern Baptist adheres to the document published last week then the logical conclusion is that the “New Calvinists” are “non-traditional.”

There are a few things that stand out as being “Traditional Southern Baptist,” and limiting the term “traditional” to the soteriological position presented last week simply fall short. Ever since the formation of the Convention in 1845, missions have been on the front burner of Southern Baptists hearts and minds. Article II of the original Constitution, which varies only slightly from what is found in today’s Constitution reads:

It shall be the design of this Convention to promote Foreign and Domestic Missions, and other important objects connected with the Redeemers Kingdom…

A desire to advance the Gospel in China, Africa, and around the world is what brought us together and it is this same passion which has acted as the glue that held us for so long.

Membership in an SBC church, participation in the Cooperative Program, and affirmation of the Baptist Faith and Message are all part and parcel of being actively involved in a local SBC church. The Cooperative Program is the one thing that sets the Southern Baptists apart from all other groups.

The Cooperative Program is the engine that drives our missions, and it is the primary vehicle for reaching the world with the saving power of the Gospel. It is this program combined with the traditional understanding of Southern Baptists that we are called to be Great Commission Baptists which fueled the rapid growth of the SBC and allowed us to claim the title of world’s largest protestant denomination.

What makes the SBC great is the diversity in our churches. Some churches are more pragmatic while others are heavily doctrinal and it is the Baptist Faith and Message which is the main player in this phenomenon. It is written in such a way that all traditional Southern Baptists can affirm it regardless of which side of the soteriological fence a person finds himself. When lines are drawn which supersede the BF&M there is a risk in rocking the boat and upsetting the very thing that has played such an integral part in pushing the Convention forward. A Traditional Southern Baptist loves the Gospel, loves missions, and affirms the Baptist Faith and Message.

  • John McCormick

    ‘A Traditional Southern Baptist loves the Gospel, loves missions, and affirms the Baptist Faith and Message. ‘  I see nothing wrong with that definition.  ‘Traditional’ is not an ugly or divisive word.  To me it means sort of ‘old fashioned,’ not in a hurry to accept the latest doctrine, headdress or musical instrument.  Thoughtful people, wanting to be in accord with God and the church. 

    • Drew

      Hi John:

      Thank you for reading.  I am glad that you agree with my definition of a traditional Southern Baptist.  The issue at hand however, is that some are attempting to narrow the definition of traditional Southern Baptitst beyond my definition that you quoted above. 

  • Johneasterlyjr

    The “comeback” might be Historical Southern Baptist.  Yeah…if someone asks me, that’s what I’m saying.  “I’m a Historical Southern Baptist.”

  • Mark Thomas Waggoner

    As a (Southern) Baptist layman, I welcome our new identity: Great Commission Baptists. This action will go a long way to educate the uninformed who we are and where we are-all over North America and the world.

    Southern Baptists have not been confined to the eleven states of the old Confederacy since World War II. Also, in addition to our public apologies for our racist past, our new name sheds our historical identity.

    It is altogether fitting that this major action take place at a historic period in our history-an African-American being named President of Great Commission (Southern)  Baptists.

    While not one to deny who we are now, the term “Baptist” has negative connotations, notwithstanding our new and descriptive name. Perhaps in the next generation, “Baptist” will be a memory.