When the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in the historic city of New Orleans, gavels to a close on Wednesday, June 20, what will be the thing that matters most? We will all have different answers to that question, but how we answer the question will perhaps set the course for the future of the SBC as we know it. For many, the election of Dr. Fred Luter, the first African-American President of the Southern Baptist Convention, will stand out as the thing that matters most. I was proud to stand for Dr. Luter’s election and join the chorus of brothers and sisters throughout our churches who support this historic moment in the life of the SBC. However, as important a milestone as this is, I would not say it is what matters most to me.
Depending on how the name change vote turns out, there will be many on both sides who believe that either keeping the name “Southern” in SBC or adding the descriptor “Great Commission Baptists,” will be the most important thing that happened in New Orleans this year. While I think that this was important, I shared with some on SBC Voices that, regardless of the outcome, it will not change how the church I pastor relates to other churches within the Convention. If a narrow majority adopts this unofficial official name change, my church will still consider ourselves Southern Baptist. It hasn’t seemed to hurt us in the very Catholic, non-Southern state of New Mexico.
Although the great “Calvinists vs. Traditionalists” debate was the talk of several SBC leaders (including Dr. Frank Page and President Bryant Wright), this is ultimately not the most important thing that will come out of New Orleans. Many will try to read the tea leaves of the election for 2nd Vice President, which will pit Dr. Eric Hankins, the chief architect of the Traditionalist Statement, against SBC Voices Editor, Dave Miller, among others. Apart from those who have relationships (personal or online) with either of these two good men, most messengers will not view this election as the most important thing to come out of NOLA 2012.
But, when we talk about Dave Miller, Eric Hankins, and others, we finally get to what I believe matters most about this Convention — personal relationships that have been formed and/or strengthened. For, at the end of the day, it is our relationships with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that will matter most in the days, weeks, and months following the New Orleans’ Pastor’s Conference and Annual Meeting
When the Calvinists and Traditionalists go at it again (and they will), then our personal relationships will help us to interact more charitably and gracefully with those whom we may disagree with on the finer points of theology. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I will be more prone to give the benefit of the doubt and extra grace to those I have a personal relationship with.. It is hard to battle someone with the same ferocity after you have shared a meal or a few beignets with them. You might think twice before you hit the publish button on a post which could mischaracterize the position of a brother when you have heard their heart for the lost.
Over the course of these four days in New Orleans, I will have had the pleasure of meeting and eating with many brothers who I have crossed swords with on the blogs. As a Calvinistic Traditionalist, I will have fellowshipped with brothers on both sides of the aisle. We may still disagree on the finer points of our soteriology, but we all share the same goal — to reach our communities,nation, and world with the life-changing message of the Gospel. As Dr. Luter powerfully ended his sermon on Monday night with these words, “JESUS SAVES” might our relationships with one another help us to remember that we can agree on that truth, no matter what!