One of the great joys of my life has been serving as the pastor of three different churches that have been affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. I currently serve the church where my wife and I grew up as children on the west side of Atlanta—Pray’s Mill Baptist Church. Although our church is 180 years old and predates the SBC, our congregation has maintained a longtime affiliation within the SBC. However, in recent days we came to the conclusion that there was no profitable path forward for us within the SBC and we made the decision to officially separate.
Over the last few years, there has been a great deal of transition and change within the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s a nice way of describing the devious deconstruction plan that has been at work for many years behind the scenes. Along the way, we have witnessed scandals, controversies, and division. It is not my desire in this article to add fuel to the fire, however, as a lifelong SBC member and pastor I believe it’s necessary to provide a reason for our church’s decision to officially separate from the SBC effective on January 1st, 2022.
What I will say in this article should not be seen as a denial of the fact that there are many good and gifted professors who are serving in the SBC entities and doing a good job of training men for the pulpit and church planting. When I look back on my time at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I am grateful for many of the professors who invested in me and helped prepare me for the work of gospel ministry.
Alongside professors are many good pastors and local churches who have been healthy and profitable in supporting Christian education and church planting for many years within this network that we know as the SBC. Therefore, we can be thankful for these gifted individuals and churches who have sacrificed much to accomplish much for the glory of God.
But, all is not well within evangelicalism and that also includes the SBC. In recent years, we’ve witnessed quite a transformation take place within the once beloved SBC that has necessitated separation for what I believe is far more than preference matters.
Over the past decade or more, things began to shift with the SBC leadership that moved the once theologically conservative denomination in a leftward direction. The biggest catalyst to this leftward movement undoubtedly was the acceptance of the social justice agenda which has resulted in the greatest downgrade in our modern era of church history. Any denial of this downgrade is simply a refusal to report the facts about where the SBC is today, where the SBC was yesterday, and where the SBC is moving tomorrow.
While this shift did not take place overnight, it began to pick up the pace drastically over the last 4-5 years. Back in 2018, I was part of a group who assembled in Dallas, Texas for a meeting regarding the problems of social justice. As we assembled, I was concerned but hopeful. Little did I know that our meeting and subsequent Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel would not only serve as a means of confirming what was already in motion beneath the radar, but it would expose many people and institutions within the SBC and their involvement in this devious movement.
Sadly, the top tier SBC leaders continue to double down on their positions. They have sought to deflect charges of theological capitulation and rigorously work to protect their positions through cultural virtue signals and theological word salads.
During this downgrade we have witnessed once trusted voices and institutions accept the ideologies of the social justice movement and platform notable voices within their hallways, classrooms, and conference circuits. They came together under the banner of the gospel only to embrace a social justice gospel that resulted in confusion, division, and in some cases—a complete derailing altogether. This must not be overlooked. If left unchecked, the social justice agenda will leave an indelible mark upon preachers who will be sent out into local churches to serve as pastor.
The SBC once fought a war on the inerrancy of Scripture during what has become known as the “Conservative Resurgence.” After claiming a victory over the “Battle for the Bible” the SBC has moved into a new era where this once theologically conservative denomination has adopted the controversial “Resolution 9” at the 2019 SBC in Birmingham. How could the SBC who openly champions inerrancy at the same time adopt a resolution stating that we need to employ Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality (CRT/I) as “analytical tools” for gospel ministry? This was done, in all reality, without much public debate and through sly political schemes.
Moving beyond the 2019 SBC, after a break in 2020 due to COVID-19, the SBC reconvened in Nashville in the summer of 2021 to discuss business and make decisions as a group of churches. During the meeting, there were multiple attempts from the floor to call upon the SBC to openly renounce the teachings of CRT/I. At each juncture, all of these attempts were rejected and generic language was adopted in place of specific language that openly rejected CRT/I.
One must ask the honest question as to why there was such an open refusal from the SBC leaders at this point? In the past, the SBC openly challenged Disney and eventually boycotted Disney in 1997. One must ask why the SBC was willing to boycott the gospel according to Disney but failed to boycott the gospel according to social justice? Why are theologians, pastors, and professors unwilling to reject CRT/I when concerned unconverted soccer moms are flooding school board meetings demanding that their local schools refuse to teach such ideologies to their children? It appears that unconverted soccer moms are more concerned about their local schools than SBC leaders are about local churches.
During this downgrade, we have also witnessed a progressive attack upon the pulpit within the SBC. A movement in recent years has focused on dividing the office and function of the pastor in the life of the local church. As the progressive winds continue to blow through evangelical circles, it seems that in order to continue to maintain the big tent approach to evangelicalism, the SBC must allow for women to preach so long as they are not ordained to the office of elder. We have watched the rise of popular figures like Beth Moore continue to weave this methodology into the fabric of the SBC through the years.
This downgrade has not been a sudden explosion. It’s the result of what might be considered a crock-pot approach to compromise and failure. The SBC celebrated victory on the subject of inerrancy but never entered the battlefield to address the issue of biblical sufficiency. As a result, the slow cook of pragmatism has led the SBC to embrace theological error in order to become culturally relevant which has been quite evident through the virtue signaling of major SBC leaders in the wake of tragedies like George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Pragmatism demands that you do whatever works and provides the best results. Standing for biblical justice as opposed to social justice is the unpopular and narrow road that is not culturally acceptable.
Allow me to be crystal clear at this point. This is not merely a personal conviction or preference matter. The present downgrade that has encompassed the SBC is one of both methodological and theological error. When the SBC is willing to cancel Walt Disney but unwilling to cancel Derrick Bell or Kimberlé Crenshaw, we have serious problems. To be clear, the social justice movement is not purely Marxist, but it has roots in a postmodern attempt at deconstruction, and such a dialectic will be catastrophic if not corrected. J. Gresham Machen described this theological compromise as “the modern hostility to doctrine.” 1J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923), 18. For expanded analysis see MacArthur & Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 130-31.
This downgrade involves compromise on theological levels such as complementarianism (roles of men and women in the church), ecclesiology (the office and function of elder), and most important of all is the gospel (the social justice movement has replaced theology with victimology—resulting in the rise of a new religion).
For that reason, our church which is 180 years old and predates the SBC by three years, has determined by a 100% congregational vote led by the elders who voted in a 100% eldership vote to lead the church away from the SBC due to such compromise. The SBC has failed. The leaders have compromised. The SBC must know that local churches do not need the SBC, but the SBC does need local churches—both large and small.
We as elders determined that it would be a violation of our conscience and a misuse of money to invest in a system that has clearly rejected all forms of correction in private and public settings. Therefore, we are no longer an SBC church, but we are Baptist and will continue to cooperate with other likeminded churches and pastors for the work of missions and theological education for the glory of God.
The Final Straw
As I attended what would be my final SBC in Nashville in 2021, the final straw was apparent through the election of Ed Litton as the president of the SBC. To watch leaders of SBC seminaries like Danny Akin take to Twitter to encourage the messengers of the SBC churches to vote for Ed Litton in the runoff was quite revealing. Danny Akin is entrusted with millions of SBC dollars to train pastors for the pulpit and he sent the signal that Ed Litton is a proper example for SBC pastors and future pastors to follow.
Following the SBC annual meeting in June of 2021, the plagiarism scandal (which is being referenced as “Sermon Gate”) surfaced which further exposed the failures of Ed Litton’s pulpit practices. Rather than calling for his resignation, the 11th Commandment of the SBC appears to be in full force as the SBC elites not only enable his capitulation, but they celebrate him as a faithful leader. This was put on vivid display as Adam Greenway, who serves as the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, extended an invitation to Ed Litton to address the student body. Rather than preaching, they held a Q&A session where Greenway asked Litton to respond to allegations of plagiarism and then accepted his answer and applauded him.
As the pulpit goes, so goes the church. This was the final straw for me and for our local church. We refuse to be associated with a group of churches that elect and support leaders who will not be held accountable for sin.
As the final word on the matter, it is not my desire to cast stones at a sinking ship. I find no pleasure in separating from the SBC. In logical terms, when we reached the conclusion that we can no longer support the educational entities or the church planting agencies of the SBC (the very reason the SBC exists), it only made sense that we should invest our time and energy elsewhere.
A couple of years ago as we gathered together with our local church for a meeting to discuss the problems within the SBC after the adoption of Resolution 9, one wise elderly woman in our church stood and made a simple, yet profound statement. She said, “Pastor Josh, if it is true and we must eventually leave the SBC, it will not be that we left the SBC but that the SBC left us.” That accurately describes the current scenario that many SBC churches are experiencing.
As we came to a close in our congregational members’ meeting where we voted on December 26th to separate from the SBC, we closed by praying for the SBC churches and leaders. It would be our earnest desire to see the SBC repent and change direction, but since there is no evidence of such a change of direction from the leaders within the SBC, we must exit this aging battleship and move onward in this fight of the faith.
As a local church pastor and president of G3 Ministries, I find myself very committed to a high view of the local church. While this decision has been a longtime in the making, I have had to come to the place where I see my commitment to the local church as far superior to any organizational or denominational relationship. At whatever point the network or denomination fails to hold to biblical positions, we must make the hard decision to separate. In so doing, I walk away from the SBC without shame. I involved myself in the SBC, attended the meetings, and sought to do my little part in the work of the SBC causes. Now as I walk away, I do so without regret knowing that this decision was not merely a reactionary decision made in haste. The decision was made for the glory of God and the health of our local church for which I do not apologize.
When Charles Spurgeon was addressing the compromise among Baptists in England, he penned “The Downgrade in the Churches” where he wrote the following:
A chasm is opening between the men who believe their Bibles and those who are prepared for an advance upon the Scripture. . .The house is being robbed, its very walls are being digged down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth. . .to go downstairs to meet the burglars.
It appears that Spurgeon’s words could be applied to the present downgrade within the SBC. We must remember the words of Paul as he penned a letter to the church in the city of Colossae. He wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). When you’ve done all within your power to stand—sometimes the only option that remains is to separate.
Information Regarding Ed Litton Plagiarism
|1||J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923), 18. For expanded analysis see MacArthur & Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 130-31.|