“The politics are over,” my confronter announced. “Isn’t it time for us to come together in unity for the sake of the gospel?” This is not the first time I’ve fielded the question. When the Battle for the Bible was declared a victory through the tireless efforts of foot soldiers in the SBC Conservative Resurgence, the unity of the movement resulted in the splintering of the convention. The mainstream began to flow together, rightward again, while several groups chose to either remain in their peripheral moderate retention ponds or to mark off new leftward bifurcations. Formal division along theological lines became an unfortunate byproduct when conservative doctrinal essentials were solidified.
Division in Christ’s kingdom is always a tragedy. Truly, unity and reconciliation are the heartbeat of all who love God and walk in the Spirit. But at what price do we purchase them? What should we lose from the core of our faith that we might all come together in the middle? What is the bottom line of our cooperative engagement that the gospel of Jesus Christ be effectively propagated among the nations?
The biblical writer Jude faced the same dilemma in his day. His eagerness to write about the joy of shared salvation was interrupted as the Holy Spirit stirred him to, instead, “contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once and for all,” (Jude 3). The reason? Some bearing the name of Christ had weaseled their way into the Christian fellowship, evidencing a moderated ungodliness by excusing sensuality in the name of grace. Ultimately, Jude emphasized, in so doing they were denying the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Jude 4).
“The politics may be over,” I replied, “but the reasons behind them are still very much in front of us.” By “politics,” he was referring to the activities that brought about the Conservative Resurgence of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. I was born in 1982. I was still in diapers when the SBC’s cooperative budget was set over $100 million for the first time in its history. My tongue could not yet produce a single intelligible sound while Southern Baptist stalwarts argued publicly whether the Bible “has truth” or “is truth.”
Jude’s letter is a warning for Bible believers in every generation. Salvation through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone is the message we are eager to share. This message is our capstone. It is the driving force behind all of our cooperative effort. But in every generation, as was true in Jude’s, those who walk in the Spirit will find it necessary to not only herald the pure, unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ but to also “contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.”
It is foolish, and altogether self-destructive, that we might proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ while simultaneously undermining the biblical record from which we have come to know it. As is evidenced throughout history, the further we walk away from the Bible, the further we walk away from the Jesus of the Bible."As is evidenced throughout history, the further we walk away from the Bible, the further we walk away from the Jesus of the Bible." Click To Tweet
The Battle for the Bible in recent Southern Baptist history proved some very important things. It proved that the messengers of the convention really are the decision-makers. A grass-roots movement of church members, lay leaders, and small church pastors righted a leftward ship in only a few decades. The Southern Baptist mechanism is owned and governed by the Southern Baptist Churches. Whenever it may seem otherwise, we can reflect on the Conservative Resurgence to see that local churches really do hold the authority in the SBC.
It proved that there are conservative leaders who are willing to take a stand for the Bible in a Western cultural climate that is venomous toward biblical truth. The particular flavors of cultural rebellion against God may vacillate through the decades, but it is always true that institutions of man do not naturally drift toward God—always away from him. Every generation of Christians will believe, evangelize, and mobilize inside a cultural climate that is instinctively hostile to the message of the Bible. The Battle for the Bible is not a victory from our past; it is a war Christians must keep fighting and keep winning in every generation. The Conservative Resurgence proved that there are men and women of God, sometimes in the main stream and sometimes on the fringes, who will rise to this occasion given the opportunity."The Battle for the Bible is not a victory from our past; it is a war Christians must keep fighting and keep winning in every generation." Click To Tweet
Perhaps most importantly, the Conservative Resurgence proved that most Southern Baptists actually believe in biblical inerrancy, and in the authenticity and inspiration of the biblical text (not just the biblical message). I find this to be true even today in my home state. Believers in Southern Baptist pews across the Lone Star State believe in a 66-book canon that has been divinely inspired by God, and is indeed “truth without mixture of error.” Young pastors, old pastors, and mid-age pastors preach, teach, and contend weekly that the Bible does not simply contain God’s revelation but is, itself, revelation of God to man, “delivered to the saints once and for all.” Ask Southern Baptists in Texas and you will find that we believe the Bible and we believe in the Bible.
Like Jude, my deepest longings are to speak with fellow believers simply about the power of the gospel message, and to propagate this message lavishly among the 19 million lost souls in my home state and the billions more across the globe. But as I walk in the Spirit, my soul is often stirred to instead, “contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” The propagation of this message divorced from the inerrancy of the medium through which it was delivered to us will undoubtedly result in its adulteration and ultimate dissolution.
The gospel matters above all. That means the medium through which we have come to know it matters as well. Young pastors and church leaders, let us look backward on the Conservative Resurgence with gratefulness. But let us also stay alert on the watching wall. In every generation the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of God’s Word—the faith once and for all delivered to the saints—is a spiritual treasure for which we must be willing to contend."In every generation the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of God's Word is a spiritual treasure for which we must be willing to contend." Click To Tweet
Grace and Peace,