Why I’ve Left the Convention
“Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.” – Apostle Paul, Acts 23:6
I was raised in a Southern Baptist home. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist deacon and my father a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher. I was baptized in a Southern Baptist Church (although not regenerate, had said the Sinner’s Prayer) and later born again at a Southern Baptist Church camp where I felt the Holy Spirit call me into ministry. I was licensed to preach in a Southern Baptist church while earning a ministry degree at a Southern Baptist College, shortly before taking part in my first Southern Baptist church plant. As a pastor, I brought my first non-Southern Baptist church into the Southern Baptist Convention at 21 years old. I knew who Lottie Moon was before I knew who Santa Claus was. Southern Baptist missions have taken me to America’s inner cities, Mexico, South America, and war-torn Iraq. Southern Baptist training taught me to plant churches. I can to this day quote the Royal Ambassador pledge, but rarely without a tear in my eye. I am a born and raised, dyed in the wool, Southern Baptist.
“ If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” – Apostle Paul, Philippians 3:4-6
If anyone else thinks he has reason to believe himself a better Southern Baptist, I have more: Baptized long before I was saved, having said the prayer in a Southern Baptist church and walking a Southern Baptist aisle, a Baptist of Baptists; as to VBS’, faultless; as to Sunday School quarterlies, well read; as to the Broadman Hymnal, memorized; as to worship style, traditional; as to politics, conservative; as to Scripture, an inerrantist; as to the Cooperative Program, sacrificial; as to the Convention, reverent; as to the denomination, loyal.
I was taught to do right by the people who’ve done right by me. The Southern Baptist Convention has done right by me. Certainly, far more people have had to suffice with far less in terms of spiritual leadership. My Sunday School teachers taught me the best they could, and they taught me some good stuff. Reiterated again and again was the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. I rarely if ever heard of its sufficiency, however. A child of the 80s and then 90s, I was discipled in the era during and then immediately following the Conservative Resurgence. The Bible – I was told – was true. I believed it. I still do.
I’ve seen the controversies of our Convention. Who could not? I see the inner wars and still don’t fully understand them all. Why is Jerry Vines – a stalwart leader of the Conservative Resurgence – now hosting conferences to attack and malign the most conservative contingent of our Convention? When I discovered the Doctrines of Grace tucked away within the pages of the Holy Text, I called a few former pastors and asked them why they didn’t teach them to me. Their answer was “it’s just too controversial.” I was genuinely confused. I’ve see fearless attacks against matters as small as gambling or drinking a glass of wine at dinner. Where did the courage suddenly go when it comes to the Word of God? And even with a doctrinal change that puts me in the camp of Monergism like the Southern Baptist founders before me, I’ve never once questioned whether or not I could fully subscribe to the Baptist Faith and Message. But recently I’ve seen attempts by Dr. Adam Harwood at Emir Caner’s Truett-McConnell suggest that I could not affirm the document. I’ve seen Harwood be promoted by Jerry Vines and others, as though there seems to be a consensus forming on that subject. I’ve seen the fallacious Statement on the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation be promoted by state convention personnel, who apparently misunderstand the word “traditional” and willingly ostracize a sizable percentage of Cooperative Program-supporting Southern Baptists in their state with an almost total disregard for the division they’re causing. And now, I’ve seen a college president in Louisiana fire without absolutely no cause, some good professors, suggesting that they don’t adhere to the Faith and Message because they are (supposedly) Calvinists. I’ve seen campaigns launched against an incoming seminary president because he has associated with notable Calvinists in the past and it’s been suggested that he is a Calvinist. I’ve seen campaigns launched against a Gospel-centered Sunday School curriculum written by some of the most brilliant Christian minds in modernity because some of them are Calvinists, while many of the books peddled by Lifeway are written by those on the far outskirts of Biblical orthodoxy – without so much as a whimper from critics. I’ve seen the purposeful maligning and marginalizing of pastors in my own Montana convention merely because they are Calvinists – regardless of whether or not they are church planting, Cooperative Program supporting, Bible-believing inerrantists.
And then I see the inner struggles in the SBC. I see a denomination deteriorating from the inside out. In my location, the world is coming to me and my area. When someone comes to join my church from a Bible-belt Southern Baptist Church I have to assume they are not saved and counsel them as I would a person from any other denomination. Long ago are the days that I let someone join my church by letter from another Southern Baptist Church. Far more times than not, the life-long Southern Baptist is unable to articulate the Gospel. When asked how they know they are saved, their answer is rarely that their hope is in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and His righteousness. More times than not, they speak of walking an aisle or saying a prayer and having rededicated their life over and again and usually a baptism or two (or more). Rarely can they explain what Jesus has done for them on the cross and why. For this reason, when someone leaves my church I don’t tell them any longer to find a Southern Baptist Church (unless I research it first) – I’m not convinced the odds are that the Gospel is preached there.
I see Southern Baptist churches around me engage in building programs and prayer walking retreats and relationship evangelism, but refuse to do personal evangelism because “it no longer works.” I see nearby Southern Baptist churches place ads in the secular newspapers to warn people away from my “hyper-Calvinism.” I see my own Montana Convention plant aspiring mega churches who give candy-giveaways and an Executive Director who derides expository preaching because “it no longer works.” I see them plant cowboy churches and biker churches and outdoorsman churches and race car enthusiast churches. When asked about the wisdom of the affinity based church model, we get no response except that we probably don’t want the lost saved very badly. And trying to find a Southern Baptist church that actually does Biblical church discipline is getting tougher every day.
I see a denomination that is supposed to value local church autonomy utilize the North American Mission Board to run rough-shod over the local church. NAMB has become a raging monster of financial waste, dedicated primarily to the principle of job security, a Lone Ranger in church planting with little regard for the churches who are already toiling away in those mission fields. The North American Mission Board uses Cooperative Program funds taken from local churches to dispense back to local churches (after covering sizable administrative overhead) to buy a sense of gratitude. In frontier states like my own, NAMB carries the moniker of “partner” but in reality will progress and move forward with any project that will satisfy their own internal quotas with little to no regard for the local church.
Finally, I see that the system is irrevocably broken and unable to fix itself. When addressing the pretty clear lies and deceit of the Montana Southern Baptist leadership, the Executive Board proved itself unwilling to do anything except make peace – and at the expense of truth. One surrogate of the Executive Director – upon hearing my concerns – called to say I was unfit to be a pastor because I was “overweight.” This is the type of judicious and careful oversight we can expect from those running our Convention. The whistle-blowers, like what has recently happened at Louisiana College, have been thrown under the bus. Our denomination has grown soft, unwilling to fight any battle unless it’s against criticism of its leadership. Concerning the atrocity at Louisiana College and the clear persecution of good brethren as a diversion for the poor mismanagement of the institution, I see few Southern Baptist leaders in that state or outside that are willing the lend their voice in moral support of the men mistreated. I should expect nothing more – whether in Montana, Louisiana, or beyond – by a Convention that recently rewarded a NAMB president t who had fleeced the Convention hundreds of thousands of dollars and mismanaged millions of dollars with a five-hundred-thousand dollar severance package and a contract with a public relations firm to rebuild his reputation while they swept the incident under the rug and have yet to apologize for it. We have become a denomination completely unwilling to hold our leadership accountable.
The fact is, supporting the North American Mission Board is a poor stewardship of God’s money. The Cooperative Program is no longer a safe place to entrust the church’s resources. Their statistics are falsified, stretched, and contorted in an attempt to desperately depict a denomination that is not in decline. Any defense regarding the aforementioned comment will come from those protecting their careers or the friends of those protecting their careers, arguing from a heart of emotionalism. With recent restructuring, we are rearranging the chairs on the Titanic – unwilling or unable to address the real issues breaking down this once-great cooperative effort of churches.
My church, our church plants and those we will plant in the future will not be a part of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention or another frontier state convention that is funded primarily by wasted Cooperative Program dollars and sunk into affinity-based church planting and rogue NAMB employees disregarding the local church. Our membership in the SBC will remain because our doctrine is in alignment with that of our founders, although our giving will circumvent the Cooperative Program and will be given directly to the International Mission Board through both monthly giving and through the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. We will replace the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering – as we have already done for several years – with an offering for another, more responsible mission society.
This is no easy decision. And yet, each church is autonomous and directly responsible to Jesus Christ for both their affiliation and the use of His resources. In good conscience, we can no longer support a Convention that has become what it has become, a lukewarm shadow of its former self, operating under a practical denial of the sufficiency of Scripture.
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God Bless, Cody Libolt