Connecting the Dots in an Unconnected World

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Can life in the Florida Baptist Convention be diverse?

I was asked this most interesting question last week by a young pastor. He was observing the challenges created by the blogosphere and the doctrinal divergences by those who clamor for theological diversity.

Florida Baptists are already one of the most diverse groups in the history of Christianity. In polity, our churches range from those "committee run churches" that conduct a business meeting each month and have to have committee approval to purchase toilet tissue to "pastor-led" churches that simply adopt a budget annually and allow their professional staff to oversee the work of the church.

In ethnicity, our Florida Baptist churches reach out to 20 different language groups in 802 congregations. God has brought the world to Florida and Florida Baptists are responding to the challenge.

The worship style of Florida Baptists range from the very traditional congregation that sings the "Doxology" to the church that has adopted a very contemporary style of music. Some of our churches are alarmed if someone says "amen" while others are marked by a very verbal and participative style of worship with hands raised in celebration.

However, the theology of Baptists is now and always has been narrow. It is as narrow as the teaching of the Word of God. While we are not a creedal people, we are a confessional people. Our theology is defined by the Baptist Faith and Message. I fear our diverse polity and practice lends itself to an ecumenical theology that ignores the great truths of the faith for the sake of diversity. While this does not have to happen, the "proof is in the pudding."

Allow me a few random thoughts concerning our diversity:

  • It seems that those who cry out the loudest for diversity are simply attempting to make others conform to their preferences.
  • Among the people called Baptist diversity does not need to be programmed, our historic belief in the "Priesthood of the Believer" and the "Autonomy of the Local Church" guarantee our diversity.
  • As relates to our church polity and practice there is no "one size fits all." Baptist churches develop personalities just as people. No single church can or will reach all of the lost people in any given community. A community like Sarasota, where I live, needs diversity in its Baptist churches to reach the diversity of our community. There are people that the church I pastor can and will reach that no other Baptist church in Sarasota will reach. The converse is also true; there are people that other Baptist churches in Sarasota will reach that we will not reach.
  • Diversity is not and should not be our goal. Pleasing God and reaching a lost world should be our goal. Diverse is not better it is simply different.
  • The cooperative ministry of Florida Baptists is built upon diversity. From Pensacola to Jacksonville to Key West diverse congregations of every size, style, and cultural expression join together to do what not one of them could do alone, that is, reach the world with the gospel.

Attempting to connect the dots…

Romans 1:16

"Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without."

- William Sloane Coffin, Jr.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear brother,

What I fear happening in Florida and across the SBC is a narrowing of what it means to be a Baptist by excluding those who may lean more towards God's sovereignty in salvation, and in so doing excluding the theology of many of our SBC founders and other Baptists like Spurgeon, Carey and Bunyon. I think this would be a tragedy.

Bill Pfister

March 3, 2009 at 9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, curious as to what this comment means. I thought we all believed in God's sovereignty. Mr Pfister or Dr. Briant, can one of you explain this in a little better detail?

March 3, 2009 at 5:19 PM  
Blogger Tom Bryant said...

I'm neither Mr. Pfister or Dr. Briant (I spell my name correctly :-) ) Both of these men are more than able to speak for themselves.

I think what Mr. Pfister is talking about is the issue of Calvinism. He must believe that Calvinists are being pushed out of the SBC and/or the FBC.

March 4, 2009 at 11:10 AM  

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