Denominational Cooperation: A Hard Look at the Southern Baptist Convention

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Denominational Cooperation A Hard Look at the Southern Baptist Convention

On this episode of the Straight Truth Podcast, Dr. Josh Philpot has some crucial questions for Dr. Richard Caldwell about churches being part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Dr. Philpot mentions that he understands when the SBC first started, it began with a desire, having as its central mission, of pooling money together and sending missionaries out into the world to preach the gospel. The SBC website tells us that it is a collection of like-minded churches working in cooperation with one another to impact the whole world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. It's obvious that it has grown and flourished, and the Lord has blessed it in many ways. But it also seems there has been a lot of trouble in the convention over the years. If denominational churches are going to come together in cooperation like this, are there guidelines that should govern them? Where should those guidelines come from, and how should these groups think through this? Dr. Philpot asks Dr. Caldwell if denomination coops like this are good and helpful or if independent churches should be the norm. Does the New Testament help us with this; does it have anything to tell us about cooperative ministry among churches?

Dr. Caldwell tells us that in the New Testament, we do see churches cooperating together. There are letters circulated among the different churches, offerings that are taken up for suffering churches, prayer that is being asked for, and churches and members being prayed for. We read about all sorts of cooperation that takes place during this time. We want to remember that it’s a unique time, the church is brand new, and the Apostles are still on the scene. Therefore their doctrine is uniform across the board. They did not have the various viewpoints that now distinguish churches and denominations to such degrees. But what’s instructive about it is the idea that churches are working together with other churches so that no one is an island unto themselves. So that’s good instruction for us today about the need for and the benefit of cooperation among churches.

Having said this, Dr. Caldwell states that the conviction of the elders of Founders Baptist Church is that each local church congregation is autonomous; it’s self-governing. They would not be part of a denomination that seeks to dictate governance and policy. But where you have denominations that acknowledge the autonomous nature of church governance, these are really fellowships; they are fellowships of churches. They are like-minded churches that have voluntarily decided to cooperate for some end, which is better served by their coming together. So when we talk about the SBC, it is missions that actually hold the convention together along with its seminaries, which is part of its missions process. Dr. Caldwell says that he believes that there is value to this. But in doing this, there are decisions that have to be made regarding common beliefs, common goals, and even decisions down to the level of the philosophy of ministry. There is much that has to be considered, and every local church has to make these decisions.

In Acts 15, there's something like a denominational meeting or fellowship of believers and leaders who come together to resolve some doctrinal error. Could this be something that churches today should cooperate in doing? Dr. Caldwell believes there's a place for this if your church is part of a denomination or fellowship of churches. Just because each church is self-governing does not rule out the potential of collectively helping each other, even with doctrinal matters. As we look back at church history, there are various councils where this same sort of thing took place over doctrinal issues, where groups met seeking to correct errors, etc. We see some of this happening at the level of the SBC, where there has been disagreement over the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 and then, of course, the qualifications for leaders in 1 Timothy 3. In February this year, some churches were removed from being part of the fellowship because of their stance on these verses. Saddleback, a very prominent church among those being disfellowshipped, came to the recent meeting in June to appeal and contest the removals. This is just one example of things that will come up where churches and their leaders must decide how much they can go on cooperating with these kinds of denominational coops. There will be dividing lines that we can’t cross, things that we can’t accommodate, and things we can’t and won't compromise on. This issue of women pastors is one of those dividing lines for us.

At Founders Baptist, we find a helpful way to think about doctrine in terms of three tiers. Dr. Caldwell walks through these tiers:

1. First Order or Core Doctrines – doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. These get down to the level of what it means to be a Christian. They are fundamental.
2. Second Order or Characteristic Doctrines – These are things we acknowledge that Christians will differ in their understanding/interpretation of and yet still be brothers and sisters in Christ. But we also recognize that disagreement on issues at this level of importance will prevent fellowship within the same congregation or denomination.
3. Third Order Issues or Charitable Doctrine – these are things that are not make-or-break issues for us. We just agree to disagree on them and can still fellowship together at the local church level.

He then explains that these same categories must be considered at a denominational level. We need to ask these questions about each of these tiers of theological understanding. We need to ask ourselves if we can truly walk, minister, and fellowship together in sweet fellowship with each other. There will always be those charitable things where we just agree to disagree. But when it comes to that second-order tier, we are going to have to grapple with those things. And this issue that’s being talked about, women pastors, 1 Timothy 2 is plain, its plain language says, Dr. Caldwell. When we’re at a point where we’re going to deny what Scripture says plainly, that gets to the issue of inerrancy and the authority of the Word of God. That’s a make-or-break issue for Founders Baptist Church.

Dr. Caldwell goes on to share how he recently read where someone explained these 3 tiers of doctrine helpfully. The first-tier category of beliefs was described as the foundation (think of what supports a building, what it's built on). And while that second-tier category isn’t the foundation, when you begin embracing these things, it’s like you’re digging around the foundation in such a way that you’re going to weaken the foundation, possibly eventually leading to the collapse of the foundation. So then, when a denomination is headed in a direction that they’re beginning to embrace things that aren’t foundational, it’s not make or break regarding whether they're Christians or not. However, it is so undermining the foundation that it could lead to the collapse of it in the future. Those are serious issues that every church has to consider.

About The Straight Truth Podcast

The Straight Truth Podcast: Christian Opinions in an Increasingly Secular World. Join Dr. Richard Caldwell, Dr. Josh Philpot, and their guests as they discuss news events, current affairs, and cultural issues from a Biblical point of view. Find the truth at www.straighttruth.net

The Straight Truth Podcast is a weekly opinion show hosted by Dr. Richard Caldwell and Dr. Josh Philpot. Straight Truth is available as an audio podcast on iTunes or as a video podcast through YouTube or Vimeo.  The duration of the podcast is approximately 10 minutes. We release new episodes every Thursday.

The topics discussed in the Straight Truth Podcast are current events, matters that challenge traditional Christian values, and questions submitted by audience members. Dr. Caldwell, Dr. Philpot, and their guests seek to answer these questions with Biblical truths and from a Christian conservative point of view. The Holy Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God; it alone is and will be the basis and authority of
answering any and all questions.

The Straight Truth Podcast is the perfect podcast for those seeking to strengthen their faith, to be informed on how to broach difficult topics with a Christian point of view, to share their faith with unbelieving friends, to challenge the status quo of their own beliefs by viewing them under the lens of the Scriptures, to interpret current news events from a Biblical point of view, and more.

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Season 25 Credits

Produced by
Juan Carlos Claveria

Executive Producers
Joshua Philpot
David Anders

Hosted by
Joshua Philpot

Social Media Descriptions by
Michele Watson

Graphic Design
David Navejas

DP / EDITING / COLOR
JUAN CARLOS CLAVERIA

SPECIAL THANKS TO THE
FOUNDERS BAPTIST CHURCH
MEDIA TEAM VOLUNTEERS

Special Thanks to
El Centro Network

Music by
LynneMusic

Motion Graphics
The Media Stock

Set Decorator
Molly Atchison

Walking In Grace Produces The Straight Truth Podcast - The Best Christian Podcast On The Web

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