By Barry Howard
As much as I was saddened by the Southern Baptist Convention’s continuing efforts to become more “exclusive” and less “inclusive” as they make headlines for disfellowshipping another church, if I perceive their intention correctly, I tend to think their actions did not nearly go far enough.
If the intention of the SBC is to eventually purge the convention (*I conscientiously object to referring to SBC as a denomination, although the SBC began behaving like a denomination rather than a convention somewhere around 1979… but that’s another story for another day) of churches that accept sinners into membership and leadership who practice open sin, their recent decision to disenfranchise a Texas church did not even scratch the surface.
To fulfill this ambitious task of eradicating churches that are inclusive of public sinners will require a few years, but perhaps the SBC should consider breaking ties with a few more churches that unquestionably and regularly include sinners in their membership and on their staff team. During my tenure as a pastor, I have noted numerous churches, and not just the ones I have served, who have included such sinners in active participation. Though the list of actual sins committed by the guilty person is extensive, for illustrative purposes I will name a few, just to establish a framework:
- Consumption of alcoholic beverages.
- Gossip, backbiting, and rumor-mongering.
- Omitting the practice of the Great Commission.
- Failure to tithe.
- Pre-marital and extra-marital relationships.
- Greed, jealousy, envy
- Proselytizing members from other churches
If the SBC will extend their probing into the daily lives of the membership of their autonomous congregations, they will be astonished at how many sins have not yet been extinguished from the lives of so-called Christ followers. And if the SBC will take their actions to the next level, and just disfellowship the churches who have members who regularly commit any of the sins from my “short list,” all of the problems that have plagued the SBC for years will go away, immediately. Gosh! The SBC would finally be thoroughly and completely purged.
Of course the alternative would be to include a variety of autonomous churches whose membership includes diverse kinds of sinners, fully recognizing that the human tendency toward sin is not eradicated at the moment of conversion, and that progressive, at times gradual, transformation of individual lives occurs within local faith communities that are saturated with grace, not at the convention level. Now that alternative could lead to a genuine Great Commission Revolution.
(Barry Howard serves as Senior Minister of the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)