“Oh, you’re Baptist? You guys are probably too conservative for me. I’m more liberal.” These were the words of a woman I spoke with during Emmaus’s canvas day. The brief conversation was not confrontational by any means, it was quite sweet. She meant no disrespect, she simply had some assumptions about what Baptists believe. It was a gospel-filled conversation where I told her about our church, what we believe, and how we would love to see her again. Her house was the first that I went to, and it was a great way to start the day of canvasing!
But that conversation sparked a conversation in my mind about the nature of being Baptist. I grew up Baptist – it is really all I have ever known. But that woman I spoke with could not have had a more different story. I have attended Baptist churches my whole life. After graduating from a secular university for my undergrad, I even attended a Baptist seminary!
Since Emmaus Church is a Baptist church, I would like to provide a little clarity on what Baptists believe. There are many reasons why Emmaus has chosen to associate with our particular convention, and I would like to highlight three of them:
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a network of autonomous, cooperating churches that exists to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of Baptist Christians, for the propagation of the Gospel.
The SBC might be the largest protestant convention in America, but it is still often misunderstood or caricatured. The SBC is not a denomination, it is a convention. Contrary to what a quick Wikipedia search will tell you, “the SBC cannot and does not unite local congregations into a single ‘church’ or denominational body.” Churches, like Emmaus, voluntarily associate with the SBC. Here are three reasons why we associate with the SBC.
When I say that ‘theology’ is a reason why Emmaus is an SBC church, I am not vaguely referencing Emmaus’s entire body of doctrinal belief. Rather I am referring to a few theological concepts that Emmaus holds to that are specifically Baptist. Allow me to share 3 examples of this:
First, Scripture. It would be inappropriate to begin a discussion on the theology of the SBC and not start with Scripture. Southern Baptists are a people that have a high view of Scripture and seek to understand their Bibles. There has historically been an overwhelming sense in which Baptists cling to Scripture over tradition. While that might sound counter to any present notion you might have of Baptists in general, by and large it is true. Southern Baptists are a Bible people.
The Bible is God’s holy, undefiled, perfect word to us. It is our authority and guide. Scripture tells us how and when to act. It is a two-edged sword that pierces to the heart of men. Scripture is the unbreakable breath of God in human language. A key theological tenant held by Southern Baptists is called inerrancy. We believe that the Bible is inerrant. This means that the Bible, in its authorial language and wording, is perfectly error free.
Second, Baptism. An aspect of Scripture that is prominent and discussed often in Southern Baptist circles is Baptism. Southern Baptists are a baptizing people. Because we have such a high view of God and his literal Word to us, we believe that God has given his people instruction on how they are to be obedient to him, and baptism is one-way that we demonstrate our obedience.
Baptism is the complete immersion of a professing follower of Christ in water. It is done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This act represents our death to sin in Christ, and announces our newness of life in Christ. Baptism is a strictly Christian endeavor. Those who have not professed faith in Christ are not to be baptized or counted as members of the church, God’s community, or Christianity more broadly.
Third, Church Government. Emmaus holds to a form of church government that is similar to many SBC churches. Southern Baptists are a voting people. Our elders have winsomely referred to our ecclesiology as Elder-Ruled Congregationalism. Meaning, our elders have the authority to make all decisions for the church where the church has not been given explicit authority. Our elders seek our members approval on new members, new elders, church discipline, and doctrinal changes. We believe this model most appropriately demonstrates a biblical ecclesiology, it gives the elders their rule that we see in the Pastoral Epistles, and it gives the church the rule to discipline that we see in the Gospel of Matthew.
SBC churches like Emmaus are autonomous, in that they are not necessarily dependent on any other church or power, that is, besides the Lord. This allows for churches to partner together. For example, Emmaus has received aid from multiple churches across the country and even the SBC. We have multiple partner churches. One of the beauties of the SBC is how well SBC churches cooperate. The SBC breeds a culture of cooperation that is genuinely infectious. As Pastor Josh has written, “we are part of the SBC because we greatly value cooperation in the advancement of the gospel and no one collectively cooperates through giving for the training, sending, and supporting of pastors and missionaries like the SBC.”
The SBC has a massive fund that most associated churches contribute to called the Cooperative Program (CP). It is a program that helps fund the out-workings of the convention. From disaster relief and missions to theological training and church planting, the CP helps fund many SBC initiatives in a mighty way.
This program helps fund the International Mission Board, and the North America Mission Board; two SBC entities dedicated to planting churches and spreading the Gospel in America and around the world. The CP also helps the six SBC seminaries keep their doors open, so that they can continue to train men and women to advance the gospel. It gives aid to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC so that cultural engagement can go forth. On and on I could go.
Through the CP and the overall generosity of Southern Baptists, churches are able to partner together to see the good news of Christ spread around the world. Though each church is autonomous, and no two SBC churches perfectly agree on everything – we agree on the gospel. So, we cooperate to see God glorified and the lost saved.
Southern Baptists are a people who constantly check themselves against Scripture. Starting in the ‘80’s, the SBC saw a resurgence of conservative theology that moved away from the moderate theology that had overtaken the convention. The resurgence succeeded by planting its feet on God’s Word. The theology of the conservative resurgence has much to do with Emmaus’s theology today. After all, we hold many Baptist Beliefs, including the SBC’s faith document, the Baptist Faith and Message. We have much to thank our conservative predecessors for. The SBC’s recent resurgence points to the dedication of the SBC to sound doctrine, and shows how bright the future for the SBC really is.
This renewal of conservative theology is not the only bright spot in the future ahead of the SBC. As seen in recent history, Southern Baptists are a people who are constantly reforming themselves, and conforming their lives to Scripture. Southern Baptists are striving for unity. This vigor for God’s word has ignited much passion for pursuing another type of resurgence, racial reconciliation.
Over the past two SBC members meetings, the SBC has passed amendments condemning white supremacy and the Confederate flag. Neither of these moves will end racism. But decrying racist groups and symbols is a start toward loving our neighbor well. One undeniable SBC trait is the visible heart to try and reconcile its present existence from its bloody, racist past. Voices like Fred Luter, Russell Moore, and Dwight McKissic are helping to see the SBC further conform to the reconciling decree of Scripture.
As the conservative resurgence leads us to the current movement towards racial reconciliation in the SBC, it is our privilege as a church to associate with the SBC. No denomination, or in our case, convention, is perfect – the slavery fueled past of the SBC is a testament to this. But by God’s grace we move forward, and we will continue to strive and advocate for reconciliation within the SBC. The future of the SBC is bright, and as the years pass, the convention will become more diverse.
Emmaus is an SBC church not because of tradition, but rather conviction. James Sullivan wrote that “[Southern Baptists] point to a perfect Christ, have complete faith in the inerrant revelation of God through the Bible, and seek to exalt Him everywhere to the best of their ability.” As a Southern Baptist church, we cling to our Bibles knowing that Christ will instruct us in all things, including baptism, governance, cooperation, and reconciliation.
I wrote this post to give a few examples as to why Emmaus finds home in the SBC. Hopefully you have caught a glimpse of the joy we take in being Southern Baptist.
Colton Strother is an MDiv graduate from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Currently he lives in Kansas City where he serves as a pastoral resident at Emmaus Church.