A 1991 split in America’s largest Protestant denomination is heading to a final, ugly June confrontation in Texas that will show the bitter fruit of abandoning the Bible as the inerrant word of God, the nation’s oldest Southern Baptist seminary leader said Monday.
“The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) assembly in Dallas this coming June will be an historic meeting, one way or the other. For Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians, the ‘Illumination Project’ should serve as yet another reminder of what becomes inevitable once the full authority and truthfulness of the Bible are abandoned. There is nothing to celebrate here … only sadness,” Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. (shown in the above image) said on his website.
Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky; it was founded in 1859.
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The CBF was formed in 1991 in a liberal breakaway from the conservative evangelical majority of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The immediate issue at the time was whether or not the Bible is the unchanging guide to Christian faith and practice.
“The Bible,” CBF leaders said in a statement then, “neither claims or reveals inerrancy as a Christian teaching.” Most Southern Baptists, however, believe the Bible is inerrant and unchangeable, though it must also be understood on literal and analogical levels, depending on the passage in question.
The Illumination Project to which Mohler referred is an effort by the fellowship’s leaders to come to grips with the status of gay and transgender persons in CBF congregations and programs. The project report recommended allowing CBF churches to hire gay and transgender people in support roles, but not in leadership roles or in the mission field overseas. Previously, CBF policy precluded hiring openly gay or transgender individuals in any positions.
The recommendations were immediately and roundly rejected by gay and transgender advocates, including one on CBF’s governing board, who said, “I just felt like there was language in the report that felt discriminatory. I thought if we had spent a little more time we could have written it in such a way that it would have gained wider acceptance.”
An unnamed gay pastor of a CBF church said the recommendations create “a tiered caste system where the opinions and lives of wealthy straight people are worth more than anyone else,” according to Mohler.
Neither the intensity nor the immediacy of the reaction was coincidental, according to Mohler, because there is a direct line running from the 1991 CBF decision to view biblical teachings as subjective guidelines rather than constant and unchanging truths.
“Once the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Bible are abandoned, theological revisionism is inevitable. The CBF report does not even attempt the exegesis of Scripture,” Mohler said. Once factors other than biblical truth shape church policy, it is shaped by whoever has the most power within the denominational structure.
“We have seen this same pattern throughout mainline liberal Protestantism. The moral revolutionaries push and push until the denominational middle gives way or dies out. This drama is playing out a bit later on the stage of the CBF, but its end is clear enough,” Mohler said.
“We have seen this same pattern throughout mainline liberal Protestantism … “
That pattern was clearly illustrated in a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life. It found that for every one new member of a liberal mainline Protestant denomination, 1.7 members abandoned it. By contrast, for every one lost member in conservative evangelical and fundamentalist denominations, 1.2 joined.
Mohler expects CBF’s June meeting in Dallas to include a showdown. In that showdown, he expects that proponents of the Illumination report’s recommendations will be defeated by gay and transgender advocates and supporters who will settle for nothing less than no prohibitions of any kind, regardless of biblical teachings on the qualifications of pastors, elders, evangelists and teachers in the church.