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The Southern Baptist Convention

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Date July 15, 2000

For part of Monday, I missed two of the sessions of the SBC pastors’ conference, attending instead one sponsored by the Center for Church Reform, a ministry developed by Mark Dever’s church in Washington, DC. Dr. Roger Nicole was the main speaker, dealing with the extent of the atonement. There were also two Q&A sessions as well as two other interviews conducted by Dr. Dever. I told Mark later that despite the fact that thousands of pastors attended the various other conferences scheduled from Sunday night through Monday night, I believe more lives and churches were lastingly changed at the conference he led for 130 men for six hours.

Tuesday and Wednesday were occupied with the SBC, although I spent most of my time working in our seminary booth. The best part of the convention was the passage of the changes to the Baptist Faith and Message, our denominational doctrinal statement. Most noteworthy was the affirmation that only men are to be pastors. If one were to get all his info about the convention from the news media, you’d think we debated the matter for two solid days. In fact, not one word of debate was uttered about that point.
There were also statements opposing homosexuality as well as a few other significant changes.
The most dramatic point came in the discussion about the changes recommended to the section on the doctrine of Scripture. Several moderates made this their main point of attack, and indeed more time was spent on this than any other during the hour-long discussion. One moderate contended that while the Bible is an inspired book, “It’s just a book.” Gasps went up across the crowd of more than 10,000. Al Mohler was asked to respond and began with, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is what it’s all about.” Many later regarded the discussion and the approval of the new language as both a microcosm and climax of the struggle that’s occurred within the convention since 1979.

My only disappointment came with the change made on the doctrine of the Lord’s Day. Every Calvinist I spoke to was unhappy with it. And while two of our Founders men arrived early at the convention center in order to get a place at the microphones and so make a motion to retain the original wording, it was not to be. Moderates there to debate other issues were already in place to control the microphones. Debate was cut off after an hour (which was nearly double the time originally allotted for it) and there was never a discussion on the matter. So now instead of a statement that includes something like “abstaining from worldly amusements and secular employments, works of necessity and mercy excepted,” we have something like “we will follow our Christian conscience under the Lordship of Christ.”

The convention always presents the best and worst of SBC life. Some of the things that occur are courageous and heroic; others strike me as prideful and fleshly. Seeing people I dearly love but get to see only at the convention is always the highlight. I suppose much the same could be said of the annual gathering of all denominations and Christian groups.

Beginning the very next day after the convention and in the very same building was R.C. Sproul’s annual conference. There were 4500 there to hear Sproul, Mohler, Doug Wilson, Sinclair Ferguson, Joni Earackson Tada, John Piper, and Al Martin. Piper was greatly used, and Joni’s testimony made us all feel like spiritual pygmies. Mohler was also powerful. The first Q&A time (with Sproul, Piper, Mohler, Wilson) was enlightening.

The news on Friday that James Boice had passed into Heaven at exactly the moment the conference started the night before was a sobering moment. So was R.C.’s touching referral in the closing message about how much he loved Jim and how he wept as he wrote his farewell letter to him. Three speakers scheduled for the conference were unable to attend for health reasons: Boice, John MacArthur, and James Kennedy.


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