A NOTE from Bill Jones, TBC Communications Editor:
This week, TBC held its first two meetings centered on "Hope for the Future: Supporting the Baptist General Convention of Texas." On Monday night, we met at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas; on Tuesday night, we met at Ash Creek Baptist Church in Azle. Watch next week for a summary of these meetings on our Web site (www.txbc.org).

At Tuesday night's meeting, Wesley Shotwell, pastor of the host church, delivered the following speech, which many who were present considered one of the clearest and most insightful statements they had heard concerning the future of the BGCT.

"The times they are a changin’.” Maybe you recognize those prophetic words from rock legend Bob Dylan. He first sang them years ago in the midst of social upheaval, but they are no less true today than they were back in 1964. The times are indeed a changin’.

Now I don’t like that very much. I like things to be stable and secure; I need something to hold onto that will not shift around with every puff of sociological wind. But, as one anonymous wit has quipped, “Other things may come and go, but change is here to stay.”

Change is especially true in the ecclesiastical world. Every time I turn around, some blogger or church life pundit is reminding me that I can’t do church the way we used to. We can’t sing hymns anymore; we have to sing “praise and worship” songs, which is what I thought we were doing when we used to sing Holy, Holy, Holy and To God Be the Glory, Great Things He Hath Done. We can’t have Sunday School; instead, we have to have “Cell Groups.” I am old enough to remember Training Union, but that went out of style a long time ago.

Baptists in Exile
I remember when I was proud to be a Southern Baptist. Now that was something you could count on! I was a regular at Glorieta and Ridgecrest, and I was absolutely convinced that Bold Mission Thrust would indeed bring in the millennium by sharing the Gospel with every person in every country by the year 2000. As far as I knew, there were no Christians other than Southern Baptists and, if the Kingdom was going to prosper, it was up to us.

But alas, as they always do, things changed. Looking back on it now, I see that perhaps there is a silver lining to all of that change. For many of us, the SBC had become something of an idol. Now that we are in exile, it occurs to me that God may have raised up new Babylonians for the purpose of saving some of us from our idolatry.

What Happened to Denominations?
Things are changing in other communities of faith as well. They say we are now entering into a post-denominational age. It may well be, for all I know. The mainline denominations are losing people faster than they can count, while at the same time pollsters are telling us that people are more spiritual now than ever before. New kinds of Christians are emerging, who have little or no desire to be labeled as a Presbyterian or a Methodist or a Lutheran. They just want to be Christians who meet at the coffee shop or in someone’s home, but they have no interest in participating in a larger body like a denomination.

Denominations have a tendency to stifle individual expression. They are held together by creeds that impose a set of doctrines on members; they are governed by a hierarchy – whether it is a presbytery, a conference, or a synod. For some, decisions that are made by the authorities are perceived as too conservative, as we have seen recently in the Roman Catholic Church, with the uproar about a papal pronouncement concerning birth control and the spread of AIDS. For others, decisions made by ecclesiastical councils are perceived as too liberal; a case in point is the recent split of Episcopalians over the issue of homosexuality.

But such is the nature of denominations. In a denomination, someone has to have authority to tell the laity what to do and how to think. But we don’t live in that kind of world anymore. In a post-modern culture, people will not let a creed or council tell them what it means to be a Christian. So it may well be that we are entering a post-denominational age.

Baptists – Cooperating for the Sake of Missions
Well, that ought to be good news for Baptists! Baptists are not a denomination. We are a movement of believers who are suspicious of ecclesiastical authority and creedal fiat. We were post-moderns before anyone knew what that was! Our leader is Jesus, our creed is the Bible, and our community of faith is the local church.

The rest of the world may not understand our polity, insisting that we are indeed a denomination, but real Baptists know better. Baptists have long been suspicious of denominationalism, even to the extent that early Baptists in America were quite reluctant to even cooperate with one another, fearful of diluting the autonomy of the local church.

But many of us, though by no means all of us, eventually put aside our fears so that we could begin cooperating with one another for the sake of missions. Cooperation was based not on creed or council, but on a burning desire to do more together than we could do separately. We designed networks of local churches who would work together, but we emphatically resisted denominationalism and tenaciously held onto the autonomy of the local church.

It seems to me that the networking model of Baptist cooperation is a model that fits post-modern culture. Though we may mourn the possibility that denominationalism is gasping its last breath, Baptists should be well-positioned for our age. After all, we are not a denomination. We who cooperate with one another are a network.

SBC Fundamentalism – Creeds, Councils, and Conformity
The problem, however, is that many Baptists have either forgotten or abandoned the model of networking and are trying to mold us into a denomination at the exact moment when denominations are waning. This is the practical problem of Southern Baptist Fundamentalism. I refer to Southern Baptist Fundamentalism as distinct from the old Independent Baptist Fundamentalists, because at least the Independent Fundamentalists tenaciously held onto the autonomy of the local church, even to the extent of often resisting the notion of working with one another at all. Southern Baptist Fundamentalists, on the other hand, want churches to cooperate but only under the condition of denominational conformity. The only way they can enforce conformity is through creeds and councils that draw lines to determine who is qualified to be a member of the denomination.

Therefore, Southern Baptists now have a statement of faith that is no longer an unbinding confession but a creed for doctrinal accountability. Scripture is interpreted for the masses by approved leaders, leaving no room for the Spirit to work differently in the lives of individuals. Members of institutional trustee boards act as a college of cardinals, delving into the personal and private prayer lives of missionaries. Declarations have come from the Southern Baptist hierarchy, concerning everything from the role of women to birth control and to how many children ought to fill the proverbial family quiver. Now power is in the hands of a privileged few, with the result that fewer and fewer are able to fit inside the approved Southern Baptist box.

The point is this: Southern Baptist Fundamentalism is insisting that we are a denomination in what appears to be a post-denominational culture.

Texas Baptists Committed – Our Baptist Watchdog
The work of Texas Baptists Committed is to constantly remind Texas Baptists that we are a network of autonomous cooperating churches and not a denomination governed by a powerful few. Texas Baptists Committed helps local churches by providing information and support for Pastor Search Committees who are fearful of being deceived by an authoritarian pastor who would drag their church into Fundamentalist conformity. TBC supports the work of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, because it is through that network that we are able to participate with one another in a variety of ministries without the fear of being under a denominational thumb.

On the other hand, all institutions, including the BGCT, can devolve into a self-preserving bureaucracy that feeds on its constituents and can tend to control rather than serve. Therefore, TBC must be a watchdog, even of the BGCT, to keep us free from denominational control, constantly reminding our institutions of our networking nature as opposed to a denominational structure.

TBC’s Role – Keeping Us Free to Evangelize Effectively
This is not an irrelevant preacher fuss carried on for our political enjoyment. It is a struggle that goes to the heart of how we are going to win our culture to Christ. It is an evangelistic necessity. If we are going to have the ability to speak to a post-denominational world, we must fiercely resist the temptation toward denominationalism. It is not a matter of irrelevant politics. It is a matter of effective evangelism in a changing world. Texas Baptists Committed is needed to continue to remind all Texas Baptists that we are a network of autonomous churches and not a denomination.

The times are indeed a changin’. While in one sense that is disconcerting, in another sense it is very encouraging. Baptists OUGHT to be primed and ready to speak to this changing culture about the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. Well, we will be primed and ready if we can resist the temptation to devolve into a denomination.

Texas Baptists Committed has an evangelistic mission, as it reminds us of who we really are. We are Baptists. Let’s act like it and then change the world.