Judge Paul Pressler speaks…

…and it’s a very good message. The following quote is taken from his book, “A Hill on Which to Die.” The specific section is found on pages 296-297.

A Hill on Which to Die

Grave problems still confront Southern Baptists, however. One is the bureaucracy of the convention. I once wondered how local, independent, Bible-believing churches in the first century developed into the Roman Catholic Church. After observing the manner in which the bureaucracy grew in the Southern Baptist Convention in a very short time, I no longer wonder. The main danger of a bureaucracy is that it becomes an end in itself and not a means to effectuate the principles for which it was founded. History shows us that a bureaucracy, whether political, religious, or business, ends up seeking additional perks for itself and additional favors for those in the bureaucracy. It becomes loaded with individuals whose only qualification is that they have been loyal to the system and, therefore, are rewarded by being placed in the bureaucracy when they fail elsewhere.

The “good ol’ boy” system evidently started years ago. Liberals developed under this system, because the liberals were careful not to voice their extreme positions publicly (with a few exceptions) and were careful to pay their dues to the system. Such a system must not be allowed to develop under conservative leadership. We must guard against a reinstallation of a “good ol’ boy” system under which anything could occur as long as it didn’t harm the bureaucracy.

I fear bureaucratic control and domination.

Judge Pressler is absolutely correct. As we prepare for San Antonio there are a plethora of events that will command our attention. Whether it be the issue of Private Prayer languages, the issue(s) with Southwestern Seminary, the IMB policy on baptism, etc. I would encourage you, however, that possibly the greatest problem that we must consider, and quite probably the quickest and most successful method of reform that we can encourage is the abolition of a tight circle of convention power. Our convention has been led by good men for a series of years now, but it’s been good men engaged in a tight circle of leadership. That must go away. Below I’ve dug up some research about the candidates for SBC president and the men who nominated them over the past decade or so. It’s a telling pattern.

Feb. 3, 1998 – James Merritt agrees to nominate Paige Patterson as President of the SBC. Patterson serves two, one year terms.

Feb. 9, 2000 – Jack Graham agrees to nominate James Merritt as President of the SBC. Merritt serves two, one year terms.

Feb. 4, 2002 – Johnny Hunt agrees to nominate Jack Graham as President of the SBC. Graham serves two, one year terms.

Feb. 20, 2004 – Johnny Hunt agrees to nominate Bobby Welch as President of the SBC. Welch serves two, one year terms.

Feb. 7, 2006 – Johnny Hunt is “anointed” as THE conservative candidate for President of the SBC. After much hoopla over his candidacy, he withdraws his name from consideration and Frank Page is elected over two other candidates. Page is up for reelection in San Antonio. [additional link here]

None of these men are bad men, in fact I’m convinced that they’re wonderful men. I also believer, however, that they have been part of an all too tight leadership group [see this article]. Be prepared, while in San Antonio, to continue the pattern begun last summer of requiring the Convention as a whole to reverse this trend.

One further article, that is telling, is this article [click here] that describes the process of nominating Missouri pastor, Gerald Davidson, to the position of 1st Vice President. Notice in particular, Bailey Smith’s choice of words; specifically that he declares that “we have decided” that Davidson will be the next 1st VP of the SBC. That kind of thinking must come to an end for the convention to prosper and flourish.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

14 thoughts on “Judge Paul Pressler speaks…

  1. Micah,

    I asked this elsewhere but to no avail. Why exactly are the leader’s meetings bad, and why is this system of nomination-to-election above bad? Is it that Southern Baptists blindly follow leaders’ nominations and do not think independently? Or is the focus to get non-thinking Southern Baptists to follow someone else’s advice and nominations?

    Help me understand this. I get that it is a throroughly practical and prudential matter instead of a biblical one.

  2. Colin-

    I think you ask a good question. I won’t avoid it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I don’t have a problem with meetings, per se. In fact, I’ve been involved with them before. What bothers me, however, is a closed circle of leadership. Regardless of who is in positions of authority, whether they are conservative or liberal, if there is a closed system of leadership there is a tendency for the opinions of that closed group to begin to dominate denominational thought. In a convention as large and as diverse as the SBC we will never be singularly aligned, theologically, and for our leadership to remain representative of our denomination there has to be involvement from all regions of the SBC. The point that Wade, and myself, is trying to make is that as a general rule we are all biblical conservatives in the SBC today. We are not in danger, as of today, of liberals “taking over.” We are in danger, however, of voices that are conservative theologically, but who are different in terms of methodology, not having a chance to be heard.

    Colin, outside of the south, the SBC is generally not very traditional and is becoming much more diverse ethnically. If you look at our denominational leadership you would never know it. Our leadership doesn’t represent denominational diversity very well.

    Beyond that, as Pressler points out in the quote above, when you have a closed circle of leadership you begin to propagate those who feel beholden to certain people and who feel compelled to behave in a certain manner in order to satisfy those in leadership, rather than God, in order to move into the tight circle. As I said, I don’t view the men who have been the tight circle as bad men, rather I think they’re great men who have done much for our convention. However, they do not represent well our convention. Particularly when you realize that the significant majority of our leadership come from mega-churches and the significant majority of our SBC pastors are from smaller, if not bi-vocational churches, but that’s just one example.

    I think a tight circle of leadership promotes stale thinking, and promotes the onset of apathy in regards to those outside the circle. Power, when help tightly, almost always corrupts – even the best of individuals. For the sake of our convention’s help I am convinced not that we need to get rid of those in leadership, but rather that we need to develop more leaders, new leaders, who have fresh ideas and represent more completely the diversity in the SBC. I am really convinced that it will be hard for us to be healthy until then.

    As you said in your quote, I don’t really view this as a biblical issue quite as much as it is a pragmatic issue, at least on the surface. It can develop into a biblical issue if a tight circle of leadership leads to misuse of power (which, incidentally I think has happened to some degree). However, for the purposes of our conversation I would agree that this is a pragmatic argument. That doesn’t, however, negate its accuracy.

    I know that’s a long answer, but hopefully you understand my position a bit better.

  3. Micah,

    Your ideology is sound- I agree with it completely. How does it play out, though, is really what I am asking.

    It is a “closed” circle of leadership why? Because those in power nominated others in their group to succeed in power. How? By putting a case before the people to vote.

    The people could have voted otherwise. Therefore, it is not a closed circle.

    The people didn’t vote otherwise, so now there is an effort in place to show the people why they were wrong in not voting otherwise. Various tactics are being used to convince them- fear of fundamentalism, charges of impropriety, charges of scandal, defamation of character, etc.

    So here is where we differ. I am not willing to let anyone have a pass on attacking fellow Southern Baptists based on the “overall plan” or greater good. Others are. I am also not seeing how it is a power structure to be overthrown rather than simply elevating a candidate suitable for the job and promoting him positivelty instead of promoting others negatively. The SBC is a lot of things, good and bad. We need change, for sure, given the amount of unconverted among our ranks. However, why is a campaign needed castigating present and past leadership and casting them in a negative light? Given James 4:11, what reason would we have for taking such an approach unless they were false teachers or false prophets?

  4. There is a certain amount of apointments that weild power. Within the conventions themselves there is a higher and fireing that is partial to those who play by the rules. Another thought I have is who votes. Collin says ‘The people could have voted otherwise.’ Those who are voting are the wealthier larger church pastors that can afford to take a few days off and fly to convention and vote. When you start seeing how many of those who attend the convention have been appointed to positions by men that are now being voted on then you see real quickly that it is not so much a non-biased vote. Also those who are just going to the convention to vote and have no real ties to anyone – how do they know about the nominees? How do they know who they are voting on? State papers and convention publications that are over seen and approved by the conventions themselves? If it werent for outside sources this last convention vote would have gone differently.
    I know this wall all just kind of thrown together and not very organized but the truth is that there is a power structure that apoints who it wants to and in return gets good publicity, a blind eye and a rubber stamp. Many people refuse to see it is there until you see it first hand or watch someone get eaten by that beast. I for one am not willing to jump over board of the USS SBC, but I am not going to stand back and watch silently as ‘the plan’ over runs the mission.

    Josh King

  5. Colin-

    I appreciate your irenic spirit and your enthusiasm. In many ways I agree with you. This is a matter of voting,. or the lack thereof. A significant portion of our problem is two-fold. First is a lack of involvement by Southern Baptists. When the convention was mired in controversy there were as many as 50,000 in attendance at conventions. Last summer I don’t believe we reached 18,000 in attendance. Compared to our 40+ thousand SBC churches, we aren’t well represented. Secondly, however, is the refusal of too many to invest time in the process of SBC involvement. They are simply satisfied to trust the men who have taken it upon themselves to “run” the convention. It is those two behaviors that I have become opposed to.

    Having said that, as I said before, power corrupts. In almost every situation, power corrupts. Unfortunately in this situation our convention has been led by capable men who, many of them anyway, I believe have experienced power for too long. Some of the things that I have either seen first hand with some of these men as well as some of the problems that I have seen actual documentation about cause me to shudder. There is little doubt in my mind that there has been some misuse of power that, I believe, comes from the absolute grip that a select few have had on the life of the convention. I’m not accusing everyone of something that I’m not subject too myself. I’ll be the first to admit that if you consistently tell me that I’m the best, after a short while I’ll probably begin to believe you. Regrettably, it appears to me that this attitude of preeminence and entitlement at the very least appears to be strong in some in SBC leadership.

    Additionally, don’t be too naive Colin, this grip on the power seats of the convention did not occur simply because other baptist’s chose not to engage the process (although that certainly helped it along) as Pressler points out in his book, the process of obtaining and controlling SBC leadership was well thought out, well planned, and well executed. There is no doubt that it was intended by those who are in power.

    Beyond that, take a look – a close look – at those currently in leadership position. No less than half of those in charge of our 12 SBC seminaries and institutions were hired by or worked directly for one individual. In a denomination of over 16 million people, that is a dangerous trend – no matter how godly that one individual is.

  6. I think that there are definately problems with the current system. I myself hate the fact that a pastor of a small church will most likly never be elected presedent. But I also worry about a new group coming to power. I don’t know of a good solution.

    A couple of years ago, I was taking a two week class preparing to graduate from NOBTS. The classes were on church planting and revitalization. On one particular day a discussion broke out as to why so many young pastors were not being involved in the convention. Many of the young pastors and students said that they had no representation in the convention. They said they had little use for or benefit from the SBC. It was pointed out that they were gaining an education because of the Cooperative Program. All that being said, I got the strong impression that they hated the current good old boys club, but wanted to promote their own good old boys club. They all had leaders that they looked to and they all ran in the same circles. They went to the same conferences and read the same book.

    I think what we have is a human problem. I think we all like people like ourselves. We all think that our ways are right. We have deeply held convictions that we believe that God has led us to. It only makes sense that we would promote people that we know, like, and trust. These people will almost inevitably be like us.

    How do we avoid this? As often as I have thought about this, I have not found a good answer.

    My next question is, and I ask this of myself, do we really want to change the convention because of concern for the convention or because we want our way more represented? If it is the second, aren’t we really simply wanting our way in the same way that those in control want their way?

  7. Micah-

    I truly appreciate the dialog. I have not received a more cogent and straightforward engagement into these issues thus far.

    Micah, I want you to know what follows is not directed at you, but the general atmosphere generated by the blogs and current movement. I am not accusing you of anything, but rather have the utmost respect for you and your openness.

    You said, They are simply satisfied to trust the men who have taken it upon themselves to โ€œrunโ€ the convention.

    As I learned in preaching class, so what? This is the system. Not only that, it is completely fair. The are exercising their representation by not showing up. If you are arguing for change, I would be careful. It must be a good change for good reason. The current system has served the SBC well, and without it, the CR would not have happened. But remember they worked within the system. If you want to set up a system of absentee messenger voting, I think people will listen. That, I think, is the closest you will get to satisfying your

    No less than half of those in charge of our 12 SBC seminaries and institutions were hired by or worked directly for one individual. In a denomination of over 16 million people, that is a dangerous trend – no matter how godly that one individual is.

    Again, so what? It makes sense to appoint who you know and who you trust. The entire history of Israel can be drawn in analogy to this method of leadership, whether it be close advisors, military leaders, or disciples. God raised this man up to do what he did, and unless you are prepared to demonstrate that each of the 12 leaders are somehow unGodly or unfit for the job, I would seriously think about how you would make one of their wives or children feel by writing that. How would your wife react to someone suggesting you were only in the pastorate because of who you knew?

    Look, I am not naive to what goes on. Like the power brokers before the CR, there always exists purposeful, strategic planning. It exists now even among those wanting a change in leadership. It is unavoidable, and more importantly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it biblically, ethically, or morally. Power corrupts, certainly. Nettles drove this point home in Ready for Reformation warning leaders to beware of the power that comes with the position. We are not immune. However, when you allude to things that make you shudder, what you should do is take those things to the convention in order to call attention to the problems, and seek for change. Take them to the convention, not to the public- and especially not to forums that incite division and gossip, no matter how much good can come from it. I think biblically we are restrained from much of the normal political posturing and activities seen in secular culture precisely because we bear the name of Jes!
    us Christ. Keeping men accountable is good and right, BUT at least apply the same standard to all, and WE ALL KNOW that is not happening.

    Being open about specific acts of indiscretion is good. But casting the entire lot of leaders as “lap dogs” or “yes men” or “good ole boys” is slanderous and unbecoming of who we are in Christ. These trustees, many fellow pastors, are being called these things. Their congregations hear these things. It is utterly abhorrent. I will maintain once again that we preach the sovereignty of God in our pulpits, yet deny it in our words and arguments.

    I think Richard is exactly correct- there will only be a new set of leaders, with new proclivities, and a new direction. That does not mean it will necessarily be better. I bet the circles he is talking about with whom the students associate include the likes of Dever, Mohler, Piper, etc. But even the bloggers reject these guys.

  8. Colin-

    Well said. ๐Ÿ™‚

    You ask, “So what?” in reference to a couple of my points and I would respond by referring back to Judge Pressler (who, along with Patterson may be more responsible than anyone for the CR) when he said, “I fear bureaucratic control and domination.”

    Regardless of intent or godliness, a closed circle of leadership almost always leads to just that, “bureaucratic control and domination.” Just so, if the leadership of our convention’s entities continue to only come from one source, as I’ve mentioned.

    The answer, I believe, is to diversify leadership. Now I may be the naive one, and I may be the one hoping for an unreachable utopia, but I believe the answer to Richard’s queries comes in leadership gaining control that is committed to diversifying leadership. If there is constantly new leadership being used (and with 16 million Southern Baptist’s there is, no doubt, a large amount of imminently qualified persons who will never be used) than, I believe, we will stay away from one specific “division” of our denomination retaining power.

    A natural by-product of the closed circle of leadership, as well, is one thing that I have yet to mention but one that Richard brought up and that is the fact that a closed circle of leadership does not encourage new participation in our denomination’s life but rather discourages it (if it encourages anything it is apathy) and as such leads (I believe) to the eventual demise of the denomination. The constant furor being heard from the blogs to the halls of LifeWay (prompting the “Younger Leaders Summit) is only going to increase in clamor if there is not some handing off of leadership to more and more people (and not necessarily “younger” people, either).

    It’s certainly quite true of any organization that if a group/segment feels as if they are not involved, are not represented and have no voice, they will remove themselves from that group.

    Colin and Richard, I am the biggest believer in the Cooperative Program that I know. My “dog” in this “fight” is the preservation and growth of that philosophy because I believe it is the best method available to us to enlarge the Kingdom. When we disable and discourage a significant segment of our pastors/churches we face the very real prospect of cutting off our lifeblood, the CP. Partnership for the pursuit of the gospel drives me and I fear the destruction of that partnership in our midst.

    I hope you hear my heart. I am not trying to be derogatory or demeaning to any of our leadership, per se. I am, however, trying to plead with our convention, and in particular our leadership, to see the oncoming train that has the potential to destroy our great partnership.

  9. Micah,

    I agree with what you said. And I do hear your heart, loud and clear. Your heart for the matter is why I greatly respect your ideas and insight.

    I agree with your ideology. I want that diversity and that youthful vigor in the SBC leadership. I want visionaries and those sold out for God’s glory and the sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture. My arguments, however, are consistently dealing with methodology rather than ideology. This is the impetus for the “so whats?”- the application to your ideology, if you will. So we have a situation that is not exactly against biblical principles, not unethical, not immoral, but is a different vision for the future of the SBC. Therefore, we have a purely political struggle- a power struggle between the labelled “have-nots” and “has-beens.” (But I am convinced that the third group sitting silently right now will rule the day.)

    What I see being said is that people are not happy. My generation is bailing out, the SBC will die if certain people are removed– its doom and gloom and pessimism at its best. Fine. But what is not being asked is, “What is the proper way to institute change in the SBC?” What I see is a continual barrage of negative attacks on personalities disguised as attacks on issues. I am against this. AND, I will be against anyone who employs these tactics, and will be vocal in opposition against them no matter how good their ideas are for the SBC. We do not need leaders who ignore God for God’s glory and the survival of the SBC.

    I would submit blogs could be used in a God-glorifying way for change; but blogs are now known across the SBC as gossip and sources of division. This avenue has been closed for construction.

    But to the point, the question must be asked. What is proper for a Christ-owned individual who wants to effect change in the SBC?

    I think you will find many who are in opposition to this movement are so because of methodology. I have found that to be the case.

    The leaders that effect this change, however, will be visionaries who carry the day with their ideas and Godly character, not their inside information and mission to right perceived wrongs.

  10. I think you will find many who are in opposition to this movement are so because of methodology. I have found that to be the case.

    I think you are right about this, and this is one of the struggles I too have had. I have had to, on occasion, contact someone and personally ask them to reconsider their words and I’ve had to reconsider mine on more than one occasion. he spontaneity of blogs lends itself to that, no doubt.

    I hope, however, that there can be some redeeming qualities found on blogs – starting with mine. I think many guys like yourself, and me, are much closer in thought and methodology than we are apart. It would be a shame if blogging didn’t unite us!

  11. You’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of the lack of involvement of Southern Baptists, even in the simple aspect of sending messengers to the convention, creating an atmosphere that allows a small group to dominate the proceedings. For over a decade, now, the messenger total has hovered around 10,000, sometimes even dropped below that, and rarely includes messengers from more than 5% of the churches. There are fewer names to draw on for leadership. A good look at the demographics of the people who attend the convention would tell us that few people under the age of 55 are interested in denominational business.

    I’m not really a big advocate for these “meetings” of leaders that take place to, frankly, peddle influence. I don’t think that’s a good way to operate a Christian denomination and I think it may also be one of the reasons behind the drop-off in convention attendance and participation of the under-55 crowd. They don’t have the time or the interest in how it is done.

    The Pressler quote is interesting, especially in light of the number of these “meetings” that he’s attended, and the length of time he has served on various trustee boards in the SBC. Judge Pressler was right to fear bureaucratic control and domination. The irony is the large part he has played in bringing it about.

  12. Micah-

    You are right, blogs can unite. Among the bloggers, we know their dangers, but also their benefits. I was speaking more to the populace of Southern Baptists.

    I do think we have much more in common than we are apart, and that should give us reason to rejoice and move forward trying to solve the problems left to us. Have a blessed Resurrection Day!


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