Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I've never seen it actually happen, but I'm thinking we're seeing it happening right now. I think the SBC and its entities are painting themselves into a corner.

I call it the Corner of Irrelevance. I don't know how rational my thinking is, but here's the rationale.

The Arkansas State Convention recently rejected a proposal to remove some old Landmark sections of their constitution; namely provisions calling for closed communion, and rejecting alien immersion. I heard the comment that many churches didn't observe closed communion anyway, nor did they require SBC baptism to become a member of an SBC church. Personally I agree with changing those things but I don't live there, so that's a moot point.

What definitely IS important, though, is that they acknowledge many folks aren't observing those things anyway, so why change them. That hints at irrelevance of the rules, and casts doubt on other, legitimate provisions of the constitution.

Doesn't it? Oh, don't worry about the rules ... nobody pays attention to them anyway.

Now, I don't know about you, but that doesn't seem very smart to me. Intentionally downplaying the importance of part of our structure of rules unintentionally calls ALL of them into question. Doesn't it? Sure seems to me it does.

I wonder if this same thought applies to the SBC. When we returned from last summer's Convention in San Antonio, our pastor updated the congregation on most of the noteworthy events. His comment as respects some of the items with which our church might not have agreed was that none of those things made any difference in FBC Pelham; we're an autonomous body and hence the views of the hierarchy really didn't affect our practices. For instance, we practice open communion, and our acceptance of baptisms from other churches is different from the widely-broadcast edicts of the SBC/IMB. And I don't know of better evidence of the sincerity of that remark by our pastor, than his acceptance of, and explicit love for, this old Charismatic Calvinist.

Even to having no problem with my teaching Sunday School.

In my opinion, FBC Pelham has the correct view of the SBC overall. They are useful, but not historically. There's no future in the past. What they do now, what they say now, the positions they take now, that's all that matters now. In that sense, I'm reminded of the football player who was somewhat of a media darling in college, and got a lot of press attention. He was recruited by a professional team and the coach called on him to do some exercises and run some plays, so he could assess the player's capabilities. The player griped after a few minutes and asked the coach "Haven't you read what all I've accomplished?"

The coach's response: "When some 325# tackle comes down on you like a freight train, scrambling for your life, you gonna show him your press clippings?"

So it is with the SBC, the IMB, SWBTS, SBTS, et al. Every time some inane pronouncement issues forth, and the local church leadership exercises their Southern Baptist prerogative and ignores what they say (can you say tongues, baptism, closed communion, cooperation, closed door meetings, women teaching men, prohibiting dissent, blah blah blah?), then the SBC runs the risk of every decision becoming irrelevant to the local church, in the local church's autonomy.

Even the righteous ones.

One danger I just thought of is this: in any area in which they exclude some group or other, they ought to be viewing it as a one-way street. If local churches decide to begin supporting other mission causes, wholly or partially by-passing the IMB and NAMB, those folks are never coming back. If you alienate a congregation, they're probably gone for good. Lose a raft of missionaries over some silly requirement, and you're not getting them back. And this may be the sort of thing, if it goes too far, that the SBC et al could never overcome after-the-fact.

We may well become the religious equivalent of Norma Desmond, living on the Sunset Boulevard of SBC life, no one wanting to see us any more.

I haven't been an active deacon for a number of years, now. So I'm not up to speed on all the current practices, but I recall our internal agreement to be open about things (except for the obvious) and if we disagreed with something, we'd still support the majority decision. Same way we do with business meeting votes. We weren't stifled from sharing our own views with anyone, but we did that from the standpoint that we might not have agreed with the conclusion, but we would support the body in its decision. Goodness, we'd never initiate division or dissension or strife. There's too much in the Bible about the stupidity of doing that.

Getting our say doesn't mean getting our way. We lived with it. But then, our deacons weren't the FBC news bureau, whereas IMB trustees are supposed to interpret and carry the news of what happens back to their folks.

BIG difference there.

I was raised with the admonition that, regardless of who we voted for (yes I know it's really whom), we'd support our president. That's the American way. Unity in diversity. Our say if not our way. And that fact in no way diminishes the value of having my say. But that's government.

The leadership of the SBC et al doesn't govern us. So while the government can never, in our national context, become irrelevant, the SBC leadership certainly can!

I wonder if that's happening right now. If so, it won't be you and I that did it, nor will it be Wade Burleson or any other person (including bloggers) who's insisting on openness and accountability and a continuation of the Baptist tradition of courteous dissent. If that's what's happening, they'll have painted themselves into that corner.

The Corner of Irrelevance.


At 8:50 AM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Ken Hearn said...

"openness and accountability". Now that's two word you don't see being used much anymore.I think most Christians want to be accountable to themselves and not to others. Why do you think that is?

At 9:17 AM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Fear of being wrong. Knowing something ain't right in their life but not wanting anyone else to know.

At 9:46 AM, November 14, 2007, Anonymous Alan Cross said...

Good thoughts, Bob, especially the ones about forcing churches to ignore inane pronouncements. The more that that happens, the greater chance that the churches will ignore the good ones as well. In other words, a loss of credibility affects you even when you are right. I bet that no one has thought of that.

Are you coming to Montgomery tonight? I look forward to seeing you, if so!

At 9:56 AM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Peg and I are coming down to have an early dinner with John, and then come to Gateway. John said something about "Pastor Alan's class".

I'll be there, crossing my eyes and staring at you.


Oh, thanks for the kind words.

At 10:56 AM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Rob said...


I'll look forward to seeing you tonight. I've been telling John that I've always wanted to meet you.

At 11:04 AM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Me too. Hope you don't change your tune tomorrow.


At 11:21 AM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Bennett Willis said...

Getting back to the post--:)

It is all well and good for our churches (and us as individuals) to simply be puzzled and then ignore "policies" that are imposed on areas of our ministry by the management of those areas. But if you are a prospective missionary, you don't get to do that. If you are a prospective student, you don't get to do that. If you are a prospective employee, you don't get to do that. And on and on.

This is why (at a minimum) the policies must be clear and public. There should be review by and accountability to the convention--as was stated in the Garner motion. For sure no one should ever get ambushed by an unpublished "guideline" which looks and functions just like a policy.

Bennett Willis

At 12:05 PM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Bennett: AND, we can probably figure what'll happen to the numbers of missionaries and students and employees if the churches figure the SBC et all to be irrelevant, and start redirecting funds.

Thanks for the comment.

At 3:45 PM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Bob,

What you wrote was insightful, especially the part about how ignoring some of the rules gradually makes all of the rules suspect.

If you do get to see Alan Cross, give him a hug for me.

Love in Christ,


At 10:55 PM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Hug delivered. Hi from recipient.

And thanks for the kind words.

At 9:59 AM, November 15, 2007, Blogger KellyJean said...

I like the football player analogy.

I don't know who Norma Desmond is ...or Wade Burleson.

Good to see you are the Grammar Gestapo on your own site as well. LOL!

We are not part of SBC but I do loosely take note of where they stand on certain issues.

I love "Corner of Irrelevance." You are a good writer.

At 10:13 AM, November 15, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Hi Kelly,

Thanks so much for stopping in and commenting.

Norma Desmond was the aging and deluded ex-(silent)movie star in "Sunset Strip" who thought everybody still wanted and needed her, when no one actually did. She was played by Gloria Swanson.

Wade Burleson, is a trustee of the SBC's International Mission Board who is being persecuted for insisting on openness, honesty, cooperation, etc, in his duties. It is simply unbelievable what the power structure is doing; his fellow trustees recently censured him.

You can read all about that by clicking on the link on my blog, to his, over on the right side. His last 2 or 3 posts pretty well describe the whole thing.

I don't know what it is that makes me see stuff like misuse of its & it's, imply & infer, who & whom or misspelled words. But I do, and I guess it's some sort of gift, although others would call it something different, at times, I'm sure.

God bless you and thanks for the kind words.

At 1:45 PM, November 15, 2007, Blogger KellyJean said...

Hey Bob,

Hmmm... it is probably that you were properly educated! I am a product of a 70's & 80's public education on the west coast. I learned a lot homeschooling my kids for 9 years but, apparently, still have grammatical lapses.

I'll be sure to check out the controversy at Wade Burleson's site. I did notice the link when I posted earlier but didn't go look.

Have a great day!

At 2:15 PM, November 16, 2007, Anonymous Life On The Planet said...


And I thought we Episcopalians had issues.

At 7:17 PM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Thanks for the best laugh I've had in a couple days!


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