Reason #1. The Cooperative Program.
When I give my tithe to our local Southern Baptist Church, a percentage of it goes through the State Southern Baptist Convention (SBTC) to the National Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), where it is combined with that of members from over 37,000 other churches in the United States. Through the combination of these funds, in cooperation with other Southern Baptist Churches, I help fund close to 10,000 missionaries world-wide who are daily proclaiming the Word of God and the good news of the Gospel message to billions of people across the globe. Acts 1:8 fleshed out.
Reason #2. Congregational Polity.
Throughout Church history, congregations ruled by a presbyterian form of government or some other form of regional administration have been oppressed… their effectiveness minimized… their focus and vision overshadowed by the needs of bureaucratic authority. Because Southern Baptist churches are ruled autonomously by their own members, each church decides for itself how to best use its funds, resources, and time. They call their own pastors in their own time frame. They program and direct activities and ministries which directly fit the needs of their communities. But most importantly, this is the kind of church polity set forth in the New Testament: Acts 6:1-6, 14:21-28, Titus 1:5-9, Matthew 18:15-20. Every member of a Southern Baptist church has an equal voice in church polity.
Reason #3. Centricity of the Word.
Other Christian denominations hold the Bible up next to church history, leadership, or emotional hype, ascribing equal value to those things and the Scriptures. This is often the cause of great confusion, and always results in depreciation of the authority of God’s Word. Southern Baptists regard as paramount the truth found in the sixty-six books of the Bible – canonized and widely accepted as the supreme authority for the Christian’s life in matters of both faith and practice. Since its inception, the Southern Baptist Convention has suffered innumerable blows because of this strong stand. Even when unpopular, and regardless of the consequences, the Southern Baptist Convention stands on the authority, inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration of the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 is nonnegotiable. It is not difficult to understand. And it does not change with the seasons or the centuries.
In keeping with this high view of scripture, Southern Baptists are not a creedal people. They are a confessional people. Some Christian denominations adopt, memorize, recite, and canonize a creedal statement of belief. This statement becomes central to their faith and practice. While the Southern Baptists adopt a statement of beliefs, it is not canonized, is not recited, and is always up for amendment as Southern Baptist constituents grow in understanding of the Scriptures and as new cultural difficulties present themselves. You may view the most recent version of the Baptist Faith and Message here: http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp. In the Southern Baptist denomination, no man-written document will ever be held to the same standard as scripture. The Bible holds its place as the sole authority for Baptist faith and practice.
Reason #4. Focus on Evangelism AND Discipleship.
Historically, as the Free Church grew it divided into those churches which emphasized either evangelism OR discipleship. Although many Southern Baptists would heartifully claim that our denomination has arisen uniquely from the Sandy Creek (evangelistic) tradition, it is apparent to me – and I believe will also be to all who will non-discriminately seek the truth – that Southern Baptists have historically placed equal emphasis on both evangelism AND discipleship. Without a doubt, waves of Southern Baptist life have arisen which accentuated one or the other more predominantly, but the tides have changed periodically as the pendulum has swung more toward the center, and then the opposite end of the spectrum, and then toward the center again… where I believe it to be at our present day. The Great Commission given to us by our Lord, as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20 among other places in Scripture, places equal emphasis on both evangelism and discipleship. I am honored to be a member of a denomination which, in spite of our many variances regarding techniques and methods, adheres to the instruction of our Lord by both evangelizing the lost and discipling believers.
Reason #5. Not A Competition.
For whatever reason, many believers in Christ find themselves drawn to one particular evangelical congregation moreso than another. Southern Baptists do not consider themselves in competition with other Bible-believing, truth-proclaiming, gospel-preaching fellowships of the Christian faith. Instead, we partner with various other churches, denominations, and groups when our values are not compromised and our integrity is not minimized – working together with anyone and everyone who would heed the call to reach a lost and dying world with the life-changing truth of the gospel. You will not usually find a Southern Baptist congregation whose aim is to steal believers from other churches or to have a bigger building, a greater number of bodies, or a wider selection of ministries than the church down the road. Southern Baptists believe that we can, and should, work together for kingdom purposes. In keeping with the truth of Ephesians 4:1-5, we seek the glory of only One – that whether by our life or death, our construction or decay, our success or our failure… that Christ would be highly honored (cf. Philippians 1:20).
Grace and Peace,