How the SBC has Changed
by Dr. Rick McClatchy and Dr. Bruce Prescott
In the late 1970s two men, Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler, devised a plan to takeover the Southern Baptist Convention and change its direction. Their strategy inserted an alien winner-take-all system of power politics into the life of our denomination.
Patterson and Pressler studied the SBC’s constitution and bylaws and discovered that the convention was ultimately controlled by the appointment powers of the president. By electing change minded presidents for ten consecutive years and having those presidents appoint only change minded people to serve as trustees, within ten years they could replace the heads of all SBC institutions and agencies with change minded administrators. Beginning in 1979, that is what they did.
After extensive political organizing and busing messengers in to vote for convention presidents, the Pressler-Patterson coalition succeeded in winning elections by an average 55% to 45% ratio. In the late 1980’s some opposition was organized, but it was too little and too late. By the early 1990s most traditional Baptists had dropped out of the SBC. This essentially gave the Patterson-Pressler coalition a free hand to change the SBC.
How has the SBC changed since 1979?
The Patterson-Pressler coalition changed the role of the pastor in Baptist church life.
In traditional Baptist thought all members of the church were seen as equal ministers with different spiritual gifts — a doctrine referred to as the priesthood of believers. The role of the pastor in this context was to preach and teach, to train the congregation for service, to care for the needs of the congregation, and to provide administrative coordination to the work of the church. Pastors were viewed as servants of the church.
The Patterson-Pressler coalition insists that the pastor is the unquestioned ruler of the church. W. A. Criswell said, “Lay leadership of the church is unbiblical when it weakens the pastor’s authority as ruler of the church . . . a laity-led church will be a weak church anywhere on God’s earth. The pastor is ruler of the church.” In 1988 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution affirming that the pastor was the ruler of the church.
This new emphasis on pastoral authority marks a departure from the traditional Baptist teaching on the priesthood of every believer.
The Patterson-Pressler coalition changed the educational process at the seminaries.
Traditionally, Baptists expected seminary professors to expose their students to various theological viewpoints. Baptist teachers were viewed as facilitators who guided students as they studied the scriptures and conscientiously formed their own theological convictions. This approach was in harmony with the traditional Baptist understanding that every believer has the right and responsibility to interpret the scriptures under the direct illumination of the Holy Spirit. It also acknowledged that every believer is accountable directly to God for conscientiously interpreting scripture, forming convictions, and living by them.
The Patterson-Pressler coalition expects seminary professors to indoctrinate their students to a very narrow theological viewpoint. Adrian Rogers (the first SBC president elected by the Patterson– Pressler coalition) said, “If we say pickles have souls, they (seminary professors) better teach that pickles have souls.” Seminary teachers who refused to comply were fired, sought employment elsewhere, or took early retirement. Their replacements are indoctrinators who have usurped the place of the Holy Spirit and now presume to make Southern Baptists accountable for living according to the interpretations and convictions of the Patterson-Pressler coalition.
The Patterson-Pressler coalition changed the use of confessions.
In Baptist thought doctrinal statements or confessions of faith never had authority over the individual conscience or over the local church. Southern Baptists in 1925 and 1963 stated, “Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.” However, in 2000 the Patterson-Pressler coalition stated that confessions are to be used as “instruments of doctrinal accountability.”
To whom are Southern Baptists now accountable for their beliefs? Are lay people accountable to their pastors? Are local churches accountable to their associations? Are associations accountable to their state conventions? Are state conventions accountable to the national convention? This trend toward hierarchy violates the autonomy of local churches and the freedom of all believers to discern and follow God’s will according to the dictates of their own consciences.
The Patterson-Pressler coalition changed the way the Bible is viewed.
In 1963, Southern Baptists held that the scriptures were a record of God’s self-revelation. After revealing his creative purpose and holiness to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, God supremely and personally revealed himself through incarnation in Jesus. God inspired patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and others to record his acts of self-revelation in writing. This written record, the Bible, serves as the Christian’s guide for matters of belief and conduct. Since the supreme revelation of God was in Christ, He is the criterion by which scripture is to be interpreted. The entire Bible must be understood in light of Jesus’ teachings and example.
The Patterson-Pressler coalition refuses to affirm that the Bible is a “record” of God’s revelation. For them, the Bible is God’s supreme revelation of Himself. They contend that nothing can be known of Jesus apart from the Bible. The Bible, therefore, holds a position equal to or greater than Jesus. They also deny that Christ is the criterion for biblical interpretation. For them, the revelation of the Old Testament holds equal authority to the New Testament. Leviticus reveals as much as about God as does Matthew’s gospel. Patterson and Pressler accuse anyone who challenges their view of not believing the Bible.
The Patterson-Pressler coalition changed church/state relations.
Historically, Southern Baptists were strong advocates for church-state separation. We insisted that the state remain neutral on religious issues in order to protect liberty of conscience for religious minorities.
Baptists shaped public morality though the witness of the church rather than the through the power of the state. For more than sixty years, Southern Baptists have advocated this position through the work of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs in Washington D.C.
W.A. Criswell stated that separation of church and state was the figment of some infidel’s imagination.
The Patterson-Pressler coalition favors church-state accomodation. They intend to promote specific religious agendas through public policy and want religious majorities to have greater access to public funds to do so. The Patterson-Pressler coalition has defunded the Baptist Joint Committee and created an Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission to promote their accomodationist agenda in Washington D.C.
The Patterson-Pressler coalition reversed the advances made by women.
In 1845, when the SBC began, the role of women in society, church, and the family was rather restricted. In time, things begin to change. Among advocates for change were noted Baptist missionaries such as Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. WMU was very instrumental in advancing the role of women in church life. By the 1960’s, churches were calling women as committee chairs, deacons and ministers.
The Patterson-Pressler began a reversal of these developments. In 1984 the SBC passed a resolution stating that women were excluded from being deacons or pastors. They ignored examples like Phoebe the deaconess in Romans 16:1 and insisted that women must submit to men because a woman was the first to sin in the garden of Eden. In 1998 Southern Baptist called upon women to “graciously submit” to their husbands, ignoring the fact that Ephesians 5:21 calls for mutual submission in the Christian home. Two years later, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message confession stated that women could not serve as pastors. All who work for the SBC as missionaries or as teachers in the seminaries must now affirm and teach these ideas about women.
Currently, in clear violation of local church autonomy, many associations are censuring or excluding churches that ordain women.
Can you conscientiously support all these changes?
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