I have a friend who describes the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to newbies as “part revival meeting, part business meeting, and part carnival.” That description is pretty fair. I left this year’s SBC annual meeting more encouraged than at any other, but there are always things that make me cringe. Our convention of churches is an amazingly diverse collection of people who share a similar theological heritage as outlined in The Baptist Faith and Message.
The way we express those convictions and live them out in autonomous local churches is anything but monolithic. Thus, when the messengers of our churches gather for an event as large as the annual meeting, it reminds me of a family reunion: we all love each other, but that does not mean our nutty uncle is not cringe-worthy. As messengers have headed to the microphones during the annual meeting, I have heard them rap (about 5 years ago?), mumble, ramble, eloquently state, and deliver their motions and comments in every accent imaginable, some I could understand and others I could not. For Southeastern sports fans, the SBC annual meeting is kind of like a sanctified version of the Paul Finebaum Radio Show. We have our own versions of Phyllis from Mulga and grow to love the characters who play their parts at every meeting (I see you Wiley Drake).
Our unity is expressed in a comprehensive commitment to the Bible as God’s inerrant Word, a burden to strategically take the gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation, and a commitment to love our neighbor by seeking the good of the city and the nation in the public square. At this year’s annual meeting, the obvious unity between NAMB president Kevin Ezell and new IMB president David Platt was glorious. Could two men have personalities more different than they do? By the way, Platt found out nobody wins a one-line zinger battle against Kevin Ezell. Nobody. Nevertheless, the gospel synergy between the two is obvious and vital as they support local SBC churches that must be faithful gospel witnesses in their neighborhoods and to the ends of the earth.
Our unity is also obvious in our commitment to have a gospel-centered public witness regarding the great issues of our day. Every time I hear Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, rearticulate that public witness on our behalf, I am amazed and thankful that God raised him up for this hour. In him the man and the moment have truly met for the benefit of Southern Baptists, the evangelical world, and the cause of Christ. I am thankful for Moore’s relentless willingness to call us to gospel-centered racial reconciliation and for his commitment to defending religious liberty in our country. In his own words he “wants to keep us out of jail and help us be willing to go to jail.”
We passed a slate of convictional and important resolutions at this year’s annual meeting. I am profoundly thankful for Steve Gaines’ leadership as the chair of the Resolutions Committee. SBC annual meeting resolutions do not direct any entity of the SBC; rather, they constitute a statement reflecting the consensus of the registered messengers at an annual meeting of the SBC. You can read the 2015 resolutions here.
Yes, I cringe at times during every SBC annual meeting, and I must admit I did a couple of times at this one. There are some interesting characters in the SBC and some nutty uncles among us. There are plenty of people with whom I have some significant differences doctrinally and practically. Nevertheless, my moments of cringing provide me with a profound cause for worship. What is the alternative? If I never cringed at the annual meeting of the SBC, it would mean that it is a monolithic gathering of people like me, and that would be a pale and sad reflection of the glory of the gospel among us.
I am thankful for the yearly family reunion we call the annual meeting of the SBC—nutty uncles and all. We love the Christ who first loved us, and we love each other. After all, we are family.