Over the last 25 years we have had a renewal in our doctrine of revelation and Scripture. This is foundational to vital Christianity because the authority for our faith and life must be clear in order for us to discern truth from error and right from wrong.
But if this first stage of renewal is not followed by a further renewal of our doctrine of salvation (what is a Christian?) and our doctrine of the church (what is one and how is it to be ordered?) then we will have regained our balance only to stumble again in a different direction.
How did neo-orthodox and liberal teachings creep into SBC life? Most people answer that question by pointing toward the seminaries and colleges where students are influenced before taking places of responsibilities in local churches. Those professors who surreptitiously advocated higher critical ideologies sowed seeds of spritual confusion and destruction that sprouted up in various places across the denomination.
But from where did those teachers come? By and large, from the churches of the SBC. Anemic church life spawned spiritually and theologically anemic leaders and teachers who in turn infected those under their influence. Now, I realize that this is a severe generalization and I duly stipulate that there were many–or at least some–godly, devout teachers and denominational leaders in the middle to latter part of the twentieth century. But most of these grew up in churches that were not confessional and where discipline had long stopped being practiced. So, aided along by the ideal of academic freedom, a cultural of easy-going tolerance permeated many of our academies. Error was allowed to spring up and even thrive at times.
Can you think of a situation in twentieth century SBC life where a church exercised corrective discipline over a college or seminary professor who fell into heresy or serious doctrinal error? I can’t. But is that not the church’s responsibility? Granted, the administration and board of trustees have a responsibility as well. But doesn’t the church bear that stewardship before the Lord first and foremost?
If churches abdicate their responsibilities to teach clearly the way of salvation and to maintain proper oversight over their members then they will once again become hotbeds for the very kinds of teachers and leaders who were at the heart of the problem in the 1970s. Without ongoing doctrinal and ecclesiological renewal the gains made in the conservative resurgence will not be conserved.