July 26, 2021
Letter to the Editor
Gregg Garrett, a senior columnist for Baptist News Global, wrote recently about the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville. A few quotations from his essay are forthcoming.
- “While Litton (new president of SBC) wants to be a bridge-builder, large numbers of people in the SBC see the dwindling denomination as having drifted too far to the left and they intend to take steps to help it dwindle even more.”
- “When the church makes its top priority seeking political power, it’s never politics that changes. It’s the church.”
- “All these political and cultural litmus tests for Southern Baptists are meant to build barriers, to contract the tent, when the gospel message is to engage the whole world.”
- “What the world needs now is a thriving denomination willing to testify to the life-changing grace of God. … Bigger, not smaller. More faithful, not more pure.”
On the last quote these thoughts: Much religion spends much of its time and energy deciding who will sit at the table. May we recall that these sat at Jesus’ last supper? Peter, the denier; Thomas, the doubter; Judas, the betrayer. His closest three disciples slept while he prayed in Gethsemane, yet he left with them following him. Of course, Jesus cares about purity; but he cares more about faith, loyalty and discipleship.
“It is that loving Jesus who teaches us about setting aside our old ways of thinking and believing, of expanding the circle of grace instead of suffocating within it as it tightens like a noose” (more Garrett).
What’s the old saying? “My brother drew a circle that left me out. God and I drew a circle that took him in.” We cannot all (or any) be perfectly pure, but we can all have faith, stand up and still walk behind Jesus.
Jesus’ ministry is filled with examples of people who had or sought faith, who reached for the hem of his garments, who climbed trees to see Jesus, and who sought his help whether it was a dead brother or child, a crippled man, a deaf or blind man. And he always responded with love without giving them a purity test. Maybe that’s what he meant when he said, “I have come to save sinners.”
Of course, we cannot have axe-wielding drunks at the Lord’s table, but questions of moral purity, reckless behavior, lapses of theological knowledge, differences in experience or opinion — these are to be dealt with by grace, not by our personal judgment values.
How saddened I am to recall those who said to me, “I am not worthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper” (because I have sinned or failed in this way or that). These were real people, with real lives — trying to follow Jesus and instead meeting church leaders who read more Leviticus and Revelation than John and Peter.
“Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
So come to church tired, be denied the meal meant to give you strength and leave more weary than when you got there! How tragic that so many for so long have borne the burden of Phariseeism, legalism and judgmentalism when all along they were engulfed in the living grace of God in Jesus Christ.
All manner of denominations are suffering serious decline.
Perhaps because the young Baptist minister stood by his Communion table holding a pirate-motif flag that said, “We’re taking the ship back!”
He could have held a banner of the cross inscribed with these words:
“Christ for the world — for everyone!” That’s how far we’ve drifted and why white evangelicalism is dying. The world will not mourn its passing.
Paul Magee, Dallas