The Liberal Unevangelistic SBC

May 01, 2008

There has been a lot of discussion over the last week about the news that the Southern Baptist Convention saw a drop in membership last year. Although numbers had plateaued for years, they have now taken a turn for the worse. Hopefully, the news will be a strong reminder to SBC leaders to be careful about the attacks they make on others. For years, SBC leaders and other conservatives have made the argument that conservative denominations were growing and that liberal ones were shrinking because conservatives believed the Bible. Although that argument may make one feel good in times of growth, it is a dangerous argument to make if a downturn ever occurs. Apparently, the SBC is now liberal and does not believe the Bible! Either that, or they will admit that their logic before was pretty poor. I dealt with this is an Ethics Daily column a couple of years ago. In it I argued:

The real problem with the attack pieces is that an overemphasis on statistics seems to often lead to the false presumption that might makes one right. This argument that more people follow us so we must be correct is a logical fallacy called ad populum ("to the people"). It assumes that a majority of people cannot be wrong, despite the fact that history is littered with such examples: the world is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, slavery is right.

Can doctrine really be established by a majority vote? This numerical size argument has commonly been used in the past to "prove" that mainline churches are wrong because they are declining and that conservative churches are correct because they are growing. David Shiflett makes this argument in his book Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity.

With this poor reasoning, one must accept Mormons as theologically correct, since they are among the fastest-growing religious groups in the U.S. Or one must believe that the breakaway Episcopalians are wrong on the issue of homosexuality because they are so small in comparison to the rest of the denomination. Or one must believe that early Baptists were wrong because they were so small in number.

... Rather than being so focused on quantitative data, perhaps we should care more about the qualitative. I have known churches with 25 people that do more for the Kingdom than churches 10 times as large. Yet, the larger church might point to their numbers as proof that they are more right with God. Thankfully, God is with us when two or three are gathered in His name, not only when we are part of the largest group.
The other irony with the latest SBC numbers is the attack that the SBC's Richard Land made just a few months ago on the Baptist groups involved with the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. He claimed that all of the groups were plateaued or declining because they did not focus on evangelism. As I documented in an article for Ethics Daily, Land was dead wrong as one-third of the groups were growing--and at much higher rates than the SBC--and that the overall number for all of the groups was growing. Using Land's logic, that means that the SBC is in decline because they do not care about evangelism! This is a good reminder not to build our arguments based on faulty logic and self-serving factors because things may change and we could find ourselves on the other side.