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What do Matt Chandler, Beth Moore, Fred Luter, David Jeremiah, Rick Warren, Steven Furtick, and Billy Graham, all have in common? They are Southern Baptists.

Several years ago, Joe Carter did a blog series called Know Your Evangelicals, in which he posted profiles some of the most well-known evangelicals of our day. I found the blog series to be helpful, and I’d like to do something similar with the Southern Baptist Convention.

The SBC is a diverse collection of churches with different approaches to ministry who (generally) affirm a common confession of faith and value cooperation for the sending of missionaries. Just like any Convention of churches, we’ve got elements to be proud of and elements to be embarrassed about. Overall though, I am glad to be a young Southern Baptist and continually tell young Baptists that it’s better to be in the SBC than outside.

Before we begin the “Know Your Southern Baptists” series, I thought it would be helpful to take another cue from Joe Carter and provide nine things to know about the SBC:

1. The Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845 and now includes more than 45,000 churches and 16,000,000 members, which makes it the largest Protestant denomination in North America.

2. The “Southern Baptist Convention” is shorthand for all the churches and individuals who identify as Southern Baptist. Technically, however, the Southern Baptist Convention exists for only two days a year, at the annual gathering. The rest of the year, eleven denominational entities carry out the instructions of the messengers to the Convention. Actions by the Convention are nonbinding on local churches because every church is considered autonomous.

3. An individual becomes a Southern Baptist by joining a Southern Baptist church. A church qualifies as Southern Baptist by contributing to the mission causes of the Convention.

4. Theologically, the Convention holds to a consensus statement (Baptist Faith and Message), but this confession of faith is not binding on any church or individual because every Southern Baptist church is autonomous. An individual church may choose to adopt the BF&M or may create their own statement. Faculty at SBC-owned seminaries and missionaries who apply to serve through the various SBC missionary agencies must affirm that their practices, doctrine, and preaching are consistent with the BF&M.

5. The Southern Baptist Convention employs more than 5,000 international missionaries through International Mission Board. These workers are joined by thousands of volunteers to bring the saving message of the Gospel to 1,089 different people groups around the world. Last year, workers with the International Mission Board and their Baptist partners overseas reported 506,019 baptisms and 24,650 new churches worldwide.

6. The Southern Baptist Convention also oversees the work of the North American Mission Board, which exists to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, start New Testament congregations, minister to persons in the name of Christ, and assist churches in the United States and Canada in effectively performing these functions.

7. There are six Southern Baptist seminaries (Southern, Southwestern, Southeastern, New Orleans, Golden Gate, and Midwestern) that currently serve more than 13,000 students by providing theological education.

8. Because every local church is autonomous, ministry philosophy and methodology can differ substantially from church to church. David Dockery has listed seven types of Southern Baptists: fundamentalists, revivalists, traditionalists, orthodox evangelicals, Calvinists, contemporary church practitioners, and culture warriors.

9. Since 1925, Southern Baptist have been partnering together for missions by giving to these causes through the Cooperative Program – a unified giving system that allows churches to pool resources in order to fund mission work and theological education.

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19 thoughts on “9 Things You Should Know About Southern Baptists”

  1. Rick Bennett says:

    This isn’t accurate due to number 4 and number 5. There is not full autonomy. Churches are kicked out of associations and state conventions for not complying with certain parts of the BF&M, including the baptism of unrepentant homosexuals,

    Also, when I went to work with the NAMB, I was asked questions outside the parameters of the BF&M. If I had answered any wrong, I would not have been appointed. These included whether or not I had drank alcohol in the previous year and if I had any connection to the CBF among others.

    It would be good to amend this post to accurately convey who the SBC is.

    1. Steve says:

      Autonomous means that the SBC has no direct power over the governance of a local church. A church can run itself in anyway it sees fit (even in a clearly unbiblical way, though this calls into question the definition of ‘church’), and the SBC cannot stop it. The SBC CAN, if I’m not mistaken, remove a church from participation with the convention, but that is a completely separate issue.

      1. Rick Bennett says:

        If a church is disfellowshipped from associating with the SBC, then the SBC has control over its governance. If a church is no longer associated with the SBC it is no longer an SBC church. In fact, a church could be told to stop calling tip itself SBC if this happens (and it has happened).

  2. Griffin Gulledge says:

    @Rick, I’m pretty sure Trevin didn’t mean this to be a comprehensive list on the intricacies of the Convention.

    Though, Trevin, I did laugh again when I saw the 16,000,000 figure. The FBI couldn’t find half of those. Never would the SBC lose more members than if the churches decided to update membership rolls.

  3. dwainlove says:

    I am a disciple/follower of Jesus Christ that the Lord has placed in a Baptist Church that is part of the SBC. Not every person can be lumped into a certain group. The SBC does do a lot of good things that I support.I am sure the SBC has made some mistakes also. In reference to some of Stephens comments I do get excited about doing mission work all over the world! But the Lord has placed me in the community I live in and I love serving my community and am very excited to see what the Lord is doing around me. You can mention predestination, foreknowledge or any of these things around me and I would probably agree with you on a lot of it. I am not writing this to argue, I just don’t think stereotyping everyone who is a part of the SBC is fair. I rarely think of our local church being a member because I am striving to live out Christ where the Lord has placed me every day. God is not in a box. As followers of Christ we are to live abiding in His will. I believe He is working His will in a lot of places and in a lot of ways we never see. I believe He can and does work through the SBC also. I am not proud to be in a church that is part of the SBC necessarily. I am just overjoyed and overwhelmed the Lord has saved and is using a wretch like me.

  4. TC says:

    If every local church is autonomous and may adopt its own confession, why then is a local church kicked out of the SBC for calling a female pastor?

    1. As someone already noted, autonomy does not mean a church can do anything they please while remaining in association with the SBC; autonomy does mean the SBC cannot tell the church what to do. The church can choose a woman pastor and the SBC cannot stop them, but that does not mean they can remain in the SBC in defiance of well-established doctrinal parameters.

      Contrast this with denominations such as Methodists, Episcopalians, etc, where bishops are able to control the day-to-day operation of the local church, including the calling of ministerial staff. As we have seen in the news a number of times the last few years, if a local Episcopal church, for example, does not like the direction of their denomination, all they can do is leave and start a new church. They cannot choose how they will operate; they cannot keep their property; etc. In the SBC you are free to do as you please, so long as you understand that you might not long remain part of the SBC.

      1. TC says:

        Chris, then Trevin Wax post needs some clarification. For example, you maybe autonomous but within the parameters of the SBC.

      2. Rick Bennett says:

        If a church is disfellowshipped from associating with the SBC, then the SBC has control over its governance. If a church is no longer associated with the SBC it is no longer an SBC church. This could be semantics. What the SBC doesn’t have that the other denominations do have is a reserve clause.

        If an SBC church is disfellowshipped, it can continue in its building and worship freely as a member of another group. In other denominations, the church can be forced to move to another building because the denomination holds the deed, etc.

        Autonomy is a historic baptist principle, but today’s SBC does not allow autonomy in the same manner as historic Baptists including the American Baptist Association.

        I am not making a judgment call and believe the SBC should act in whatever manner it sees fit, but this makes number 4 and 5 inaccurate representations in the article above.,

        1. TC says:

          Rick, yes, some of that historic baptist autonomy has gone – exactly my point.

        2. Rick,

          That really is a matter of semantics. Pretty much all the SBC can do to remove a church from the SBC is to refuse to receive its money and deny that church voting rights at associational/denominational business meetings. The SBC cannot control how a local body does church.

          On the other hand, it is a very good thing to have some measure of control over which churches are part of a denomination which engages in cooperative work. My church gives money to the cooperative program. I would not want that money to support a church which calls a woman pastor, defends homosexuality, denies the trinity, affirms all religions as valid, etc, etc. The SBC cannot tell another church what to do, but it can tell another church whether or not it will be included in the cooperative work of the denomination – including receiving support from the denomination.

        3. Steve says:

          Under this definition of autonomy, autonomy does not exist. It is impossible to be a legitimate organization without having some standards. Anyone operating outside of those standards may be removed from the organization, but if that removal does not affect the way that the removed party operates, then that party has autonomy. Autonomy does not mean getting take any title and claim that it applies to you irrespective of what that title actually means.

  5. Esther says:

    Steven Furtick is Southern Baptist? Well, knock me over with a feather!

  6. Samuel Bierig says:

    I am not sure that Steven Furtick is a SBC guy. He went to Southern Sem., but I don’t believe that Vertical is an SBC Church (or at least he doesn’t talk as though he is still connected to the SBC). And I believe that David Jeremiah is the pastor of an independent Bible CHurch in California, not a Southern Baptist Church. I could definitely be wrong, but I don’t think so.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Furtick affirmed his SBC identity at Elephant Room last year. Jeremiah is Sbc too. I checked first.

  7. Rick,

    The SBC does not control a church’s governance as it cannot tell a church how it should operate, who to call as pastor or what what are to be the qualifications of a pastor, now to spend its money, control its property, to name a few; but each association does have a say in who is affiliated or not. It is not a matter of semantics. Save the axe-grinding for the proper venue.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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