Amidst a looming crossroads for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination facing a feminist takeover, the Southern Baptist Convention’s President Bart Barber announced the formation of the Cooperation Group, a committee of 20 members, ostensibly tasked with evaluating and potentially redefining the SBC’s standards of cooperation. The group, chaired by Jared Wellman, includes various leaders such as Victor Chayasirisobhon, Jerome Coleman, and Tara Dew, alongside three representatives from South Carolina: Travis Kerns, Tony Wolfe, and Nathan Finn.
However, this move has stirred skepticism among observers who question the underlying motivations and the potential implications of the group’s actions. Even the formation of the so-called Cooperation Group in and of itself represents an attempt to subtly shift the SBC’s doctrinal stance under the guise of addressing “unprecedented” issues, such as the controversy surrounding churches that appoint women to pastoral roles—a matter that has already caused significant division within the SBC.
The skepticism is further fueled by the group’s broad mandate to examine the “fundamental processes” of cooperation without a clear directive to uphold the SBC’s historical doctrinal positions. The lack of specifically worded guidance in the denomination’s by-laws on the role of women in the pastorate has raised concerns about the potential for doctrinal dilution and a departure from traditional Baptist principles and has many calling for an amendment, known as the Mike Law Amendment, to codify the prohibition of female pastors in member churches.
Yet, it appears the left-leaning Cooperation Group will likely have other recommendations—ones that will take the denomination in a more liberal direction. Heath Lambert, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL, has voiced strong reservations about the direction and decisions of the Cooperation Group within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Lambert’s chief concern lies in the potential reshaping of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM), which he views as a move away from the foundational doctrinal standards of the SBC.
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“Southern Baptists need to be clear,” Lambert wrote in an article on his church’s website, “that the people calling for new standards of cooperation within the BFM are asking us to draft an entirely new confessional document containing less conviction than we currently possess.”
Lambert discusses two possible paths the Cooperation Group might recommend: maintaining the current confessional standard, which he says has served the SBC effectively for decades, or proposing a modified version of the BFM that would establish a tiered system of belief, potentially diluting the strength and clarity of the convention’s doctrinal stance. He expresses worry that this latter approach could lead to the creation of a new confessional document with less doctrinal conviction than the current BFM, fundamentally altering the fabric of the SBC.
The pastor stresses the significance of adhering to strong doctrinal standards, especially during times of conflict and uncertainty. He argues that reducing doctrinal clarity would lead to division and weaken the SBC’s theological foundation, echoing Jesus’ teaching that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Lambert fears that adopting a lesser standard could not only divide the convention but also lead to a significant loss of churches, financial support, and impact on missionary work and seminaries.
In a call to action, Lambert urges the SBC to hold fast to the convictions that have historically upheld the denomination’s faithfulness and theological integrity. He sees the path to maintaining these convictions as the only viable way forward, ensuring the SBC’s continued strength and unity.