In the mid 1990’s, I was privileged to be a member and on staff at Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tennessee. As I filled my role as Assistant to the Military Minister, I sat with military men and women on the first two rows as Dr. Adrian Rogers preached.
I loved this church and its pastor so much that I chose its front lawn to drop on one knee and ask my wife to marry me almost 22 years ago. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for those years!
My love and respect for the late Pastor Rogers was rooted in his love for the Lord, his love for the Word, his exceptional preaching abilities, his passion and leadership competence, and so much more.
But, there was one thing that made this man special to me and untold thousands of other Southern Baptists. He was the death knell to the institutionalized liberalism that had taken over the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
In 1979, Dr. Rogers was elected as that year’s President of the Southern Baptist Convention. The conservative resurgence of our denomination had started. Contemporary Southern Baptists who currently enjoy the biblical, theological environment of the SBC, while many other denominations are steeped in liberalism, have Dr. Rogers to thank.
He has been with his Lord in Heaven for quite some time … but his legacy lives on. And Southern Baptists are the beneficiaries.
What was the liberalism of the 1970’s like?
By far the biggest problem was its low view of Scripture. The Bible was seen to be a book filled with errors that could not be trusted.
But, there was another aspect to the liberalism of those days that is creeping back into current SBC churches. It is the notion that we ought to be busy meeting the physical, tangible needs of our communities without an emphasis upon the Gospel.
Well intentioned SBC churches are buying into this new brand of old liberalism.
- They are digging water wells in 3rd world countries … and not sharing the Gospel.
- They are taking vacation time to spend a week serving in orphanages … without sharing the Gospel.
- They are cleaning up the trash on the side of roadways in their city … without sharing the Gospel.
- They are stuffing backpacks full of necessary items for local, disadvantaged schoolchildren … without sharing the Gospel.
Liberalism seeks to meet tangible needs while overlooking the spiritual needs. It focuses on the temporal without the eternal.
This is a very simplistic, general overview of what liberalism looks like outside the church. But what does it look like inside some of our SBC churches?
Once again, it focuses on the temporal and neglects the eternal. One of the very early signs that waywardness is looming around the corner is that while the Word of God is said to be valued, it isn’t taken seriously. People are disengaged with Bible teaching. The preaching is not said to be the most important aspect of Sunday morning worship (even though the pulpit is the centerpiece of most church auditoriums).
Essentially, churches moving in the direction of liberalism would rather be doing something than growing from their exposure to God’s Word and letting the Gospel impact every area of their life. They want a leader to help them do things, not a preacher to help them grow to become more like Jesus (in reality, we need both). They celebrate what their church is doing rather than how they are growing spiritually with the Bible-centered teaching and preaching taking place at their church.
If churches are to remain faithful to the truth, they must expect (and demand) that God’s Word is valued.
They must expect (and demand) that God’s Word is taught and preached regularly and faithfully.
They must expect (and demand) of themselves that they are regularly making adjustments to conform to what God’s Word says in their beliefs and in their practices.
They must realize that their greatest calling is not to serve others but to love the Lord. Their service to others should flow out of their love for the Lord.
They must expect (and demand) that what they do is not nearly as important as who they are because what they do should flow out of who they are.
Churches must be busy! We have much work to do!
But, what we do is not the most important thing. Our exposure to and conformity to God’s Word and our love for our Lord is the most important thing. What we do flows out of who we are.
This truth could not be more beautifully and powerfully illustrated than in a passage of Scripture that I read this morning. I’ll end this post by letting God’s Word have the final word.
Luke 10:38-42 “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.
And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’
But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.'”