Did SBC Action Go Far Enough?

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.
  • Divorce
  • Omitting the practice of the Great Commission.
  • Failure to tithe.
  • Usury
  • Pre-marital and extra-marital relationships.
  • Greed, jealousy, envy
  • Gluttony
  • 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.)

The Parable of the Lost Checkbook

At some point last week, I lost my checkbook…literally…and the whole saga has become a real life parable. I’m not exactly sure when I lost it. I only know for sure the moment when I became aware that it was lost.

If you are like me, you may not write as many checks as you did a few years ago. I opened my first checking account when I was in junior high school. Immediately following graduation from high school, I moved into a garage apartment and began writing checks for rent, utilities, car payments, groceries, and tuition.

During the past few years, however, check writing has slowed down. At our house we use “the plastic card” for monthly bills and routine purchases, and we pay the balance monthly so as not to accrue interest. Therefore, we write very few checks. The majority of our checks are written to “the plastic card” company and to First Baptist Church.

Although we could make our church contribution online or in the form of an automatic electronic draft, I still enjoy writing a check for our tithes and offerings, stuffing it in the little pink envelope, and placing it in the offering plate on Sunday morning as an act of worship. I could write a monthly check but I choose to write a tithe check each week because giving is a vital part of my commitment to God. Once a month, I write a check in addition to my tithe that goes toward paying off the ROC (the Paul Royal Recreation and Outreach Center).

Because Sunday is such an important day for me, my Saturday evening ritual is pretty rigid. I usually eat an early dinner, review the sermon for the umpteenth time, get my clothes ready, write my tithe check, read a chapter or two in a novel, and then go to bed early. However, last Saturday evening, I reached for my checkbook, which is usually on my nightstand or in my nightstand drawer, and it was nowhere to be found. The missing checkbook seemed to throw my life off balance. I went to bed without writing my check or knowing the whereabouts of my checkbook. I knew that I was in for a rather restless night.

On Sunday morning, I cleaned off the desk in my study, which was no small task, thinking the lost treasure might be underneath a book or periodical or funeral outline. Still, no checkbook. I went home on Sunday afternoon and searched through drawers, between cushions, and underneath the bed with no success.

Early Monday morning, still compulsively anxious over the missing checkbook, I searched every square inch of my car…under the seats, in the glove compartment, in the trunk, inside the console, and in the door pockets. I found two dirty quarters, an ink pen, an expired discount coupon for an oil change, and four shades of moldy M&M’s (on the passenger side, of course), but no checkbook.

I gave up the search temporarily and arrived at my study on Monday at my usual time. Before beginning my preparation for next Sunday, I gave thanks for the great day we had Sunday with six baptisms, four new members, and a dozen or so visitors. Then I received the stewardship report from Sunday’s offering and suddenly came face to face with a harsh reality: “I must not be the only one who lost my checkbook.”

If your checkbook is also missing, my inclination is to offer to help you find it and to ask you to help me look for mine, but I realize that checkbooks are extremely personal items…sort of like diaries of our life priorities…so it might be better if we each look for our own.

At our house, our checkbook is an important tool for making purchases, plotting investments, and keeping records. Revelation 20:12 indicates that in the final judgment “the books will be opened.” One book opened on Judgment Day will be the Book of Life, a volume perhaps listing the names of all of God’s children. But when I stand in the final judgment I have a notion that one of the other books that will be opened is my checkbook, and that I will be asked to demonstrate how I lived out my faith through financial management.

When I can’t find my checkbook, and can’t write my check to the church, my anxiety increases tremendously. I worry that a missionary might go underfunded, that a student might miss camp, that there may not be enough supplies for Vacation Bible School, that the air conditioning might be cut off in the middle of summer, that Samaritan’s Hands might turn away someone who desperately needs help, that we might lose a valued staff member, that some important ministry project might have to shut down, or that we inexcusably miss an opportunity for ministry that we would have seized had I found my checkbook a little sooner.

I am determined to find my checkbook this week…before Sunday. I want my life…and yours… to be back in balance again. Search diligently…and let’s make it a good summer!