As the cost of gas, milk, eggs, and bread continue to rise, we are reminded, among other things, that elections have consequences. Those who are in office will impact those who voted for him or her, as well as those who did not vote for the officeholder. This is true in nationally, locally, and ecclesially (i.e., with respect to the church).
In Southern Baptist life, presidential elections have been held in earnest every two years for as long as I can remember. That pattern was broken in 2020, when the SBC did not convene, thus granting J. D. Greear a third term. And that pattern is being broken again this year, as Ed Litton has chosen to serve only one term.
Accordingly, the messengers in Anaheim will have the chance to vote for a new president. And like in every other year, the impact of that election will have consequences. But it seems that the consequences of this election may have more impact that in other years. That is why I am flying across the country to be in Anaheim, and why I will be voting for Tom Ascol. What follows is an explanation for that decision and a brief commentary on a few matters related to the SBC.
For those who read this blog and are not in the SBC, you can check back in a week or two. Or, you can listen in and hear a couple thoughts on a convention that has had a massive impact nationally and globally. Indeed, given the size of the SBC, even non-Southern Baptists should take note of what happens in Anaheim, as it will have impact on matters outside of the SBC and will confirm or deny many of the concerns of our day (e.g., sexual abuse, wokeness, doctrinal drift, denominational integrity, etc.)
SBC Elections and Their Effects
For starters, let’s consider how elections have impacted the SBC in recent decades.
When the messengers of the SBC voted for Adrian Rogers in 1979 and proceeded to vote for Bible-believing conservatives for the next twenty years, it had consequences. The conservative presidents made committee choices, who made trustee choices, who made seminary president choices, who in turn made faculty choices, which then impacted tens of thousands of aspiring ministers, missionaries, and pastors—of whom, I am one.
What has been called the Conservative Resurgence occurred because messengers from local SBC churches paid their way to go across the country to vote for a president. And the result, under God, was the recovery of biblical inerrancy for churches, church plants, and international missions.
With thanks to God for that recovery, there has come to light in recent days an equally odious revelation that many of the institutional leaders who engineered the Conservative Resurgence have been less circumspect with reports of sexual abuse. Indeed, the most egregious findings in the Sexual Abuse Task Force are not the 700 names of abusive pastors—so many of whom have been brought to trial, convicted, and imprisoned —but the revelation that multiple times, SBC leaders failed to bring to light allegations of abuse. Out of concern for this abuse of power, the messengers in Nashville called for a Task Force to investigate the matter.
Next week, the messengers will gather again to hear the recommendations (motions) that the task force brings. Additionally, the messengers will vote for a president who will largely lead the denomination in the wake of this report and the recommendations adopted by the convention. Accordingly, it is important for the convention to vote for a president who has a proven track record in calling churches to follow the Word of God and to reject recommendations that follow the ways of the world. Indeed, if the qualifications of the president of the SBC mirror the qualifications of a pastor, then Titus 1:9 applies: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
A Questionable Source of Guidance
Amplifying the importance of this presidential election is the fact that the motions that will be brought by the SATF have been informed by an organization whose commitment to sexual ethics is antagonistic to a biblical worldview.
To give some context, pastor and task force member, Marshall Blalock, recently detailed that when the SATF sought the help of a third-party, a debatable decision from the start, they hired Guidepost Solutions. Guidepost Solutions then did the investigation, wrote the 288-page report, and gave multiple action items for the SATF to implement. Yet, as it has come to light this week, Guideposts Solutions does not share the stated values of the Southern Baptist. Instead, they appear to hold commitments directly contrary to biblical truth.
What do I mean? Let me offer two tweets.
On May 25, Guidepost Solutions retweeted this post from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.
And this week, on June 6, Guidepost Solutions offered this tweet.
Anaheim, we have a problem!
And I daresay, part of that problem stems from the fact that SBC leaders have grown accustomed to encouraging pronoun hospitality and whispering about sexual sin. Elections have consequences. And those past presidents, along with others in the SBC, who have sought to a softer, gentler approach to sexual sin have now enabled a course of action to resolve a real and horrendous problem (i.e., sexual abuse in local churches) by means of seeking the counsel of an agency that holds views on gender, sexuality, marriage, plus, plus, plus that do not match the biblical doctrines and ethics of the SBC.
To put it differently, while not advocating sexual sin itself, there seems to be a comfort level among some SBC leaders with receiving the counsel of those whose views on sexual sin don’t match Scripture. In the case of gender pronoun hospitality, the intent is to make comfortable those who might hear the gospel. In the case of whispering about sexual sin, it is again makes God’s hatred for sin less offensive. And now, in the case of receiving counsel about sexual abuse from a group that celebrates sexual sin, we find carefully crafted defenses. Rather than immediate dismissal of Guidepost Solutions, as some have suggested, those leading the SATF point the finger at those who would question the source. I wonder if Ahaz did the same thing (see 2 Kings 16:10ff)?
And this brings me back to the question of the upcoming election.
Vote For the Candidate Who Will Best Respond to the Guidepost Solutions Report
Next week, the SBC will make decisions about what motions to receive and what motions to reject. And prayerfully, messengers will discern the difference between public virtual signaling and genuine calls for biblical action and repentance. Moreover, we should pray that the messengers affirm the wisdom of God by handling sin, even sexual sin and abuse, in ways that Scripture assigns.
Too many problems have occurred with sexual abuse, because churches and pastors have been insufficiently biblical. Instead of following God’s instructions about the state, its sword, and what to do with criminal allegations (i.e., turn them into the police), too many pastors have attempted to resolve problems in house, forgetting that crimes are handled by the state (Romans 13), not the church. At the same time, as the report shows, many churches have reported sexual abuse, as evidenced by hundreds of arrests and imprisonments. And at this juncture, we need to affirm the problem of sexual abuse in our midst and we need to double-down on how Scripture guides us.
That being the case, the willingness of SBC leaders to hide information, as the report shows, indicates the need for change. But I fear many in the SBC, at the behest of Guidepost Solutions, are now looking to create something in the convention that is part church, part state—a (legal?) entity funded by the SBC that will monitor, investigate, and discipline churches who fail to comply. This is certainly one of the recommendations from Guidepost, and, as far the world goes, this might be the best it can do. But does it match the wisdom of God’s Word and the roles given by God for the church to disciple the nations and the state to punish the guilty?
Surely, the hashtag activism of the last decade has created a heightened sense of justice, but we need to distinguish romantic ideas of justice from biblical justice. Clearly, action is called for, but what is that action? If the problems rest in the abuse of power in the SBC, does the formation of a new power structure really solve that problem? The Roman Catholic Church has a large power structure that could oversee its priests, but it too has failed. Likewise, if church leaders have failed to bring sexual abuse to proper authorities, i.e., the police, how would the creation a new SBC entity help us?
These are the questions that the convention must grapple with next week. And it is what the president of the SBC will have to address everyday for the next year, or two. And for that reason, messengers should vote for motions that stand on biblical principles of justice. And messengers should look for a president who has a track record of doing hard things based on biblical convictions and not on worldly wisdom. And for this reason, I will be voting for Tom Ascol.
Why I Am Voting for Tom Ascol
I could list multiple, personal reasons for my support of Tom Ascol. He is unswervingly biblical, he is bold in proclamation of that truth, and he is willing to say and do the hard things that many other leaders are not. But for now, I leave you with this parting thought. Tom was calling for church revitalization long before that term became popular. (If you look at the copyright page to Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, you will find Founders Ministry as the first publisher of Mark Dever’s earlier work on church health). More recently, in 2008, he rebuked the convention as he brought forth a resolution for local churches to take seriously the Baptist doctrine of regenerate church membership, and for the last few years, he has been speaking biblical truth out loud and in public.
To many, Tom’s voice has come across as shrill, but that is largely due to the fact, that so many others have been whispering about sexual sin and taking counsel from advocacy groups who do not submit to God, God’s Word, or God’s views on sex and sexual immorality. By contrast, Tom has addressed the issue of sexual abuse. And if you are wondering what he will say about it or do about it, you can listen to this or this. He has also championed biblical truth over against the godless ideologies swirling around the SBC. And he has for decades seriously labored to see biblical theology, Baptist ecclesiology, and word-centered ministry be at the heart of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Indeed, because the allegations about sexual abuse are so serious, we need a serious, biblical response. With the multitude of voices that are willing to blend biblical truths with worldly wisdom, we have a need for a leader who is willing to say “We have a book,” and we need to conduct ourselves according to that Book.
Sadly, building the altars of false gods in the temple of the true god has too often been presented as a way of reform. But such reform never works. And today, grafting the counsels of the world onto the Southern Baptist Convention will look like justice, but in so doing, it will deny the power of God revealed in Scripture.
Again, because we have book that weighs out truth and justice, church and state, sin and salvation, we can only pray that God might give us an SBC president who is willing to stand on that book and against all the other vain ideas that have an appearance of wisdom, but end up denying God’s Word. Some of these ideas may be recommended next week. Some may come later. But in both cases, this is why we need a president who is unashamed of the gospel and has a track record of standing against error.
With respect to biblical fidelity and personal integrity, Tom is exemplary. And if the Lord would have it, he would be an SBC president whose impact would change the direction of the SBC from the ungodly pragmatism that has hidden so much abuse and to godly principles found in and founded on God’s Word. As Tom has said, he has not been looking to be SBC president, but I believe he is the best man for the job. And I will gladly cast my ballot for him in Anaheim.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
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