As the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) navigates choppy waters, a recent report by LifeWay Research indicates a troubling decrease in membership and congregations despite an uptick in baptisms, giving, and attendance. However, what many attribute to the normal ebb and flow of religious adherence may, in fact, be symptomatic of a deeper malaise – a creeping departure from traditional theological principles, trading the gospel for social justice.
It should be noted that the reported uptick in baptisms isn’t due to an uptick in actual conversions to Christianity or lost people truly coming to know Christ and to trust in Him. Rather it is due to the top-down promotional efforts to coerce people into baptisms with gimmicks, contests, and prizes. The very notion of a “Baptism Sunday” in the denomination is nothing more than an effort to increase membership in the pews which in turn increases a church’s income—which subsequently increases the denomination’s cooperative program funds.
According to the LifeWay report, in 2022, the SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, witnessed a significant drop in membership, with a decrease of 457,371 members. This marks the largest single-year numerical drop in over a century, revealing a worrying trend of an annual 3% decline over the past three years.
On the surface, this exodus might be explained by a simple falling-off of inactive members, as suggested by Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. However, this dismissive explanation may mask a more profound issue – the SBC’s inexorable lurch towards left-wing politics and the consequent erosion of its doctrinal orthodoxy.
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In recent years, the SBC has swerved from more conservative theological boundaries and has increasingly embraced progressive stances on issues such as female pastoral leadership, homosexuality, and abortion. This detour from biblical orthodoxy could be leaving its core constituents feeling alienated and marginalized, contributing to the downward spiral in membership.
The SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the body, intended to address moral and public policy issues, is being led by people who are more than willing to compromise on critical biblical issues such as abortion for the sake of appeasing the culture, striking a discordant note with much of the SBC’s traditionally conservative base and driving a wedge between the organization and its rank and file membership.