Russell Moore, Jack Graham, Prestonwood and the ERLC

March 23, 2017

I was present at the SBC annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1987 when one of the hot topics was the defunding of the Christian Life Commission.  The director of the CLC was Foy Valentine.  He was a liberal’s liberal.  He was succeeded in that position by one of his own kind, Emmett Dunn.  The CLC was pro-choice on the issue of abortion and if it were still in existence, it would have been very much in favor of the Supreme Court Decision on Gay marriage.  Those were different days.  I will never forget the sound of the booming, baritone voice of the leader of the Conservative Resurgence, Adrian Rogers, saying about the vote on the CLC, “we have marched around this mountain for too long, it is time to vote and bring this mountain down.”  I honestly do not know if we voted that day or, if we did; what the outcome was.  What I do know is that the SBC that I love is at least in our time in a different day.
Jack Graham and others who have joined him along with the Prestonwood Church have qualms with Russell Moore and the ERLC (Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission).  But those qualms are not about the inerrancy, infallibility, or sufficiency of Scripture.  Both men are firmly faithful inerrantists.    The what I pray will be a brief rainstorm is not over differing views of marriage or whether or not the pro-life position on abortion is the only viable, biblical option.  The dust up to change the image from water to wilderness seems to be over first the ERLC entering its name on an amicus brief supporting the construction of a mosque and finally over Moore’s very public stance primarily through social media of his not supporting Donald Trump in the presidential election.  Graham and members of the Prestonwood church along with others have heard and seen this stance as an affront to so many conservative evangelicals including many Southern Baptists who supported Trump.  
I must admit that from where I sit particularly given our most recent and long term history as Southern Baptists that I am confused by both the conversation and for sure the conflict.  In terms of our most recent history, we ought to thank God that we as Southern Baptists have a voice in Washington that does not quibble over the critical issues that we face in our culture.  Russell Moore is leading the way with his team to stand firmly upon the inerrant Word of God and with great skill speak the Truth of God among a cultural elite that no longer values any truth at all as absolute.  As far as our long term history, we as Baptists have valued and treasured religious liberty for all.  George Truett in 1922 would stand on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. and declare that the gift of Baptists to the United States was the gift of religious liberty.  What is it?  It is the right for which many of our forebears gave their lives:  the right to be free to express ourselves religiously without any pressure from a dominant religion whether endorsed by the state or not.  It meant for Baptists that we would support the right of a group with whom we had radical disagreements to organize in our communities and to build their buildings while all along the way giving them graciously and lovingly the truth of the Gospel.  This has been a bedrock foundation from our very beginning.  
Baptists have also built all that we are on the autonomy of the local church as well as the autonomy of all of our entities.  I love the Georgia Baptist Convention and our local Association.  But neither can dictate to our church who we are to be or what are to do.  It can be a a messy relationship unless all of our entities are so grounded upon the absolute authority of Scripture that we in all that we do are seeking to obey the Word of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit honor and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ.  We will disagree at times.  Churches will get upset at times over some of the positions taken by our agency heads and they will get upset with us.  But we should only talk defunding and disengagement from offices when we have departed from what the Bible teaches.  And in this case it is that we are to bear with one another; we are to endure with one another.  We are to love one another as we seek to walk together in the agreement not about politics or the president but about the power of the living God through His holy Word and the gift of His Son to save sinners and to build His church.
I would hate even to think that this whole little squabble is about who the president is, or even about who supported him and who didn’t.  We have issues before us of far more important and eternal significance.  No president will save this country or us; we love our country and we pray for our president and his cabinet.  But until we leave here by death or He comes to rule and reign, we have a simple assignment as the church:  praise Him in worship, preach the Word in power, pursue the lost with passion, and proclaim the truth of the Gospel until He comes when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Now this is worth fighting for.  Little else should so occupy our time and energy that keeps us from being faithful n the fight that is worth living for and dying for.  
Note:  this blog was written but obviously not published before the good news of 3/20/17 of at least a start in reconciliation between the offended parties in this situation.  My own take on the reconciliation is cautious joy.  It seems to be though an admitted caricature that many among the older generation of Southern Baptists have a longing to see a return to the denomination that they knew in the 1950’s and early 1960’s while many in the younger generation of Southern Baptists see the nostalgia in such desires and are longing for a brand new day in every way possible.  The meeting place for the two groups is not in the middle but in the Word of God and its authority that drives us all to the Lordship of Jesus as cross-bearers and Gospel witnesses.