JACKSON, Tenn. – July 21, 2005 – At first glance it might not seem so obvious, but the difference between asserting belief in the Bible and actually believing the Bible is chasm-like. One involves verbal profession. The other demands ongoing practices. One requires the appropriate rhetoric. The other requires faithful obedience. While disagreements will always exist concerning justifiably debatable issues, belief in the Bible is best seen in the way a life is lived, not merely in one’s rhetoric about the Bible.
Just a quarter century ago, Southern Baptists began the courageous process of recommitting themselves to the authoritative, inspired and inerrant nature of God’s recorded revelation — the Bible. If there once was a day when others wondered what Southern Baptists believed, that kind of day no longer exists. Pronouncements and resolutions have been made. When it comes to beliefs about evangelism, missions, education and ministry, the record is clear. We are now positioned strategically and doctrinally to be more effective for the kingdom of God than ever before.
The desire to be faithful and obedient to Holy Scripture drove what is now being called the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention. Some at the time believed otherwise, but it really was about the Bible — not just what was said about the Bible, but what was actually believed about its nature and role. The 1980s and 1990s were decades of rampant rhetoric concerning the nature of the Bible. Words like “infallible” and “inerrant” were tossed back and forth between scholars, preachers and laymen alike. While trying to sort out my own understanding of God’s Word during adolescence, I even heard preachers claim to believe that the table of contents in the front and the maps in the back were just as inspired as the 66 books between them. Such sermonizing creatively communicated the preachers’ point, but as a teenager I wondered if they actually believed what they were saying.
A wonderful opportunity lies before the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Having settled on and clarified our convictions concerning the Word of God, it is now time for us to apply what we have articulated so passionately. To claim to be “People of the Book” without completely submitting ourselves to all that is in the Book seems to disprove what we say about ourselves. Does the Bible have authority over the people known as Southern Baptists, or do Southern Baptists hold sway over the Bible? The answer to this question is best seen not in our confessions, as essential as they are. Rather, the issue of authority is revealed in how we conduct ourselves. The world is not going to read our documents. They are going to watch our lives. Concerning our stated belief in the Bible, the proof is in the pudding — and the pudding consists of our churches.
According to those who now retell the stories, the conservative resurgence was a grassroots movement. Now that the movement has been realized, we should look back to those same grassroots to evaluate its effectiveness, for the health of the Southern Baptist Convention can be seen not in its boards and agencies, but in its thousands of churches. Is a belief in the Bible evident in the people who make up churches of the Southern Baptist Convention?
Local churches who discriminately pick and choose parts of the Bible to preach and practice are communicating a belief in their own particular canon within the biblical canon. When topical sermons carry the day in our pulpits rather than expository sermons, one might question our so-called conservative commitment to the Bible. Such questions only multiply as one often looks long among our churches trying to find public readings of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13) or the practice of church discipline (1 Corinthians 5). Some undoubtedly see a church where deacons function more like store masters than servants and where preachers function more like CEOs than shepherds as an abdication of biblical fidelity (Acts 6:1-7, 1 Timothy 31-13, 1 Peter 5:1-4). A church’s seeming enthrallment with the latest advances in technology rather than the power of the gospel probably causes a watching world to wonder if we are more interested in being like them than we are in being biblical.
While such concerns and others like them should warrant our attention, reasons to be thankful for what God is doing in our churches are many. He is at work. People are being saved, growing in the things of God and being mobilized for ministry throughout the world. However in the middle of all God is doing among us, let us remember that faithfulness to the Word of God is not simply a matter of speaking. Nor is it a matter of hearing. James clearly says it is a matter of doing (James 1:22-25). If the Bible is indeed God’s Word, then we are responsible to preach it — every bit of it. Moreover, and in addition, we are responsible to practice it — every bit of it.
By Todd E. Brady, Minister to the University