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1.an association of Southern Baptists
Southern Baptist Convention (n.)
|Southern Baptist Convention|
|Reaching the world for Christ.|
|Geographical areas||United States|
|Origin||May 8–12, 1845
|Separated from||Triennial Convention|
|Separations||American Baptist Association,
Alliance of Baptists,
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,
Church on the Rock- International
|Statistics for 2005|
|Part of a series on the|
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a United States-based Christian denomination. It is the world's largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, with over 16 million members as of 2010. It is also the second largest Christian body in the United States, after the Catholic Church.
The word Southern in Southern Baptist Convention stems from its having been founded and rooted in the Southern United States. The SBC became a separate denomination in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, following a regional split with northern Baptists over the issues of slavery. After the American Civil War, another split occurred: most black Baptists in the South separated from white churches and set up their own congregations.
Since the 1940s, the SBC has moved away from some of its regional identification. While still heavily concentrated in the US South, the SBC has member churches across the United States and 41 affiliated state conventions. Southern Baptists emphasize the significance of the individual conversion experience, affirmed by a total immersion in water for a believer's baptism, and rejection of infant baptism. SBC churches are evangelical in doctrine and practice. Specific beliefs based on biblical interpretation can vary somewhat due to the congregational governance system that gives autonomy to individual local Baptist churches.
Most early Baptists in the British colonies came from England in the 17th century, when the established Church of England persecuted them for their dissenting religious views. The oldest Baptist church in the South, First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, was organized in 1682 under the leadership of Rev. William Screven. A Baptist church was formed in Virginia in 1715 through the preaching of Robert Norden and another in North Carolina in 1727 through the ministry of Paul Palmer. They operated independently of the state-established Anglican churches at a time when non-Anglicans were prohibited from holding political office. By 1740, there were about eight Baptist churches in the colonies of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, with an estimated 300–400 members.
Isaac (1974) analyzes the rise of the Baptist Church in Virginia, with emphasis on evangelicalism and social life. There was a sharp division between the austerity of the plain-living Baptists and the opulence of the Anglican planters, who controlled local and colonial government. Baptist church discipline was misinterpreted by the gentry for political radicalism, but it served to ameliorate disorder. The Baptists intensely monitored each others' moral conduct, watching especially for sexual transgressions, cursing, and excessive drinking; they expelled members who would not reform.
The struggle for religious toleration erupted and was played out during the American Revolution, as the Baptists worked to disestablish the Anglican church. Beeman (1978) explores the conflict in one Virginia locality, showing that as population became more dense, the county court and the Anglican Church were able to increase their authority. The Baptists protested vigorously; the resulting social disorder resulted chiefly from the ruling gentry's disregard of public need. The vitality of the religious opposition made the conflict between 'evangelical' and 'gentry' styles a bitter one. Kroll-Smith (1984) suggests the strength of the evangelical movement's organization determined its ability to mobilize power outside the conventional authority structure.
In Virginia and most southern colonies before the Revolution, the Church of England was the state-established church and was supported by general taxes, as it was in Britain. It opposed the rapid spread of Baptists in the South. Particularly in Virginia, many Baptist preachers were prosecuted for "disturbing the peace" by preaching without licenses from the Anglican Church. Both Patrick Henry and the young attorney James Madison defended Baptist preachers prior to the American Revolution in cases considered significant to the history of religious freedom. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, enacted in 1786 by the Virginia General Assembly. Madison later took his own ideas and the ideas encompassed in this document regarding religious freedom to the Constitutional Convention where he ensured they were incorporated into the national constitution.
New members, both black and white, were converted chiefly by Baptist preachers who traveled throughout the South during the 18th and 19th centuries, in the eras of the First Great Awakening and Second Great Awakening. The early Baptist missionaries promoted equality of men and argued for manumission of slaves and abolition of the institution of slavery. Baptists welcomed African Americans, slave and free, to more active roles than did other denominations, allowing them as preachers and equal members in some congregations. As a result, black congregations and churches were founded in South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia before the American Revolution. Some managed to keep their independence even after whites tried to exercise more authority after the Nat Turner Rebellion of the early 19th century.
In 1814, Baptists unified nationally under what became known informally as the Triennial Convention (because it met every three years) based in Philadelphia. It allowed them to join their resources to support missions abroad. The Home Mission Society, affiliated with the Triennial Convention, was established in 1832 to support missions in frontier territories of the United States. By the mid-19th century, numerous social, cultural, economic, and political differences existed among business owners of the North, farmers of the West, and planters of the South. The most divisive conflict was primarily over the deep sectional issues of slavery and secondarily over missions.
Slavery in the 19th century became the most critical moral issue dividing Baptists in the United States. Before the Revolution, Baptist and Methodist evangelicals in the South had promoted the view of the common man's equality before God, which embraced African Americans. They challenged the hierarchies of class and race and urged planters to abolish slavery. They welcomed slaves as Baptists and accepted them as preachers.
As Baptists struggled to gain a foothold in the South, the next generation of Baptist preachers accommodated themselves to the society. Rather than challenging the gentry on slavery, they began to interpret the Bible as supporting its practice. In the two decades after the Revolution during the Second Great Awakening, preachers abandoned their pleas that slaves be manumitted. They first attracted common planters and yeomen farmers and later began to attract planters among the elite. Many Baptist preachers argued to preserve the rights of ministers to be slaveholders, a class which included prominent Baptist Southerners and planters. The Triennial Convention and the Home Mission Society adopted a kind of neutrality concerning slavery, neither condoning nor condemning it.
During the "Georgia Test Case" of 1844, the Georgia State Convention proposed the slaveholder, Elder James E. Reeve, be appointed as a missionary. The Foreign Mission Board refused to approve his appointment, recognizing the case as a challenge and not wanting to overturn their policy of neutrality in the slavery issue. They stated that slavery should not be introduced as a factor into deliberations about missionary appointments.
In 1844, Basil Manly, Sr., president of the University of Alabama, prominent preacher and a planter who owned 40 slaves, drafted the "Alabama Resolutions" and presented them to the Triennial Convention. These included the demand that slaveholders be eligible for denominational offices to which the Southern associations contributed financially. These resolutions failed to be adopted. Georgia Baptists then decided to test the claimed neutrality by recommending a slaveholder to the Home Mission Society as a missionary. The Home Mission Society's board refused to appoint him, noting that missionaries were not allowed to take servants with them (so clearly could not take slaves) and that they would not make a decision that appeared to endorse slavery. Southern Baptists considered this an infringement of their rights to determine their own candidates.
A secondary issue that disturbed the Southerners was the perception that the American Baptist Home Mission Society did not appoint a proportionate number of missionaries to the southern region of the U.S. This was likely a result of the Society's not appointing slave owners as missionaries.
Baptists in different regions also preferred different types of denominational organization. Baptists in the North preferred a loosely structured society composed of individuals who paid annual dues, with each society usually focused on a single ministry. Baptists in southern churches preferred a more centralized organization of congregations composed of churches patterned after their associations, with a variety of ministries brought under the direction of one denominational organization.:p.505
The increasing tensions and discontent of Baptists from the South regarding national criticism of slavery and issues over missions led to their withdrawal from the national Baptist organizations. They met at the First Baptist Church of Augusta in May 1845. At this meeting, they formed a new convention, naming it the Southern Baptist Convention. They elected William Bullein Johnson (1782–1862) as the new convention's first president. He had served as president of the Triennial Convention in 1841.
African Americans had gathered in their own churches early on. Some were established after 1800 on the frontier, such as the First African Baptist Church of Lexington, Kentucky, which by 1850 had 1,820 members, the largest of any Baptist church in the state. In 1824, it was accepted by the Elkhorn Association. In 1861 it had 2,223 members.
After the Civil War, blacks wanted to practice their form of American Christianity away from racial discrimination and attempts by whites at control. In the late 1860s, they rapidly set up several separate state Baptist conventions. In 1866, black Baptists of the South and West combined to form the Consolidated American Baptist Convention. In 1895 they merged three national conventions to create the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.. With 8 million members, it is the largest African-American religious organization and is second in size to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Free blacks in the North founded churches independent of white-dominated organizations. In the Reconstruction Era, missionaries both black and white from several northern denominations worked in the South and quickly attracted tens and hundreds of thousands of new members among the millions of freedmen. The African Methodist Episcopal Church attracted the most new members of any denomination. White Southern Baptist churches lost black members to the new denominations, as well as to independent congregations organized by freedmen.
During its history, the Southern Baptist Convention has had several periods of major internal controversy.
In the 1850s–1860s, a group of young activists called for a return to certain early practices, or what they called Landmarkism. Other leaders disagreed with their assertions, and the Baptist congregations became split on the issues. Eventually the disagreements led to the formation of Gospel Missions and the American Baptist Association (1924), as well as many unaffiliated independent churches. One historian called the related Graves-Howell controversy (1858–1860) the greatest to affect the denomination before that of the late 20th century involving the "fundamentalist-moderate" break.
In the "Whitsitt controversy" of 1896–1899,:pp.446–458, Dr. William H. Whitsitt, professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggested that, contrary to earlier thought, English Baptists did not begin to baptize by immersion until 1641, when some Anabaptists, as they were then called, began to practice immersion. This overturned the idea of immersion as the practice of the earliest Baptists, as some of the Landmarkists contended.
The Conservative Resurgence of 1979 was a major internal disagreement that captured national attention.:pp.681ff Russell H. Dilday, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1978 to 1994, described the resurgence as having fragmented Southern Baptist fellowship and as being "far more serious than a controversy". Dilday described it as being "a self-destructive, contentious, one-sided feud that at times took on combative characteristics". Since 1979, Southern Baptists had become polarized into two major groups: moderates and conservatives. Reflecting the conservative majority votes of delegates at the 1979 annual meeting of the SBC, the new national organization officers replaced all leaders of Southern Baptist agencies with presumably more conservative people (often dubbed "fundamentalist" by dissenters).
In 1995, the Convention voted to adopt a resolution renouncing its racist roots and apologizing for its past defense of slavery, segregation, and white supremacism. This marked the denomination's first formal acknowledgment that racism had a profound role in its early and modern history. By the early 21st century, there were increasing numbers of ethnically diverse congregations within the convention. In 2008, almost 20 percent were estimated to be majority African American, Asian or Hispanic. The SBC then had an estimated one million African-American members. This has also been encouraged by a series of resolutions recommending the inclusion of more black members and to appoint black leaders. In the 2012 annual meeting, SBC messengers elected its first African-American president, Fred Luter.
The national scope of the Convention inspired some members to suggest a name change. In 2005, proposals were made at the SBC Annual Meeting to change the name from the regional-sounding Southern Baptist Convention to a more national-sounding "North American Baptist Convention" or "Scriptural Baptist Convention" (to retain the SBC initials). These initial proposals were defeated, but the messengers of the 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans voted to adopt the descriptor "Great Commission Baptists." The legal name of the convention remains "Southern Baptist Convention," but churches and convention entities can voluntarily use the descriptor.
The general theological perspective of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention is represented in the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M). The BF&M was first drafted in 1925. It was revised significantly in 1963 and again in 2000, with the latter revision being the subject of much controversy. The BF&M is not considered to be a creed, such as the Nicene Creed. Members are not required to adhere to it. Churches belonging to the SBC are not required to use it as their statement of faith or doctrine, though many do in lieu of creating their own statement. Despite the fact that the BF&M is not a creed, faculty in SBC-owned seminaries and missionaries who apply to serve through the various SBC missionary agencies must affirm that their practices, doctrine, and preaching are consistent with the BF&M.
In addition to the BF&M, the SBC has also issued the following position statements:
Southern Baptists observe two ordinances: the Lord's Supper and Believer's baptism (also known as credo-baptism, from the Latin for "I believe"). Furthermore, they hold the historic Baptist belief that immersion is the only valid mode of baptism.
Beginning in the early 1970s, in response to their perceptions of various “women’s liberation movements”, the Southern Baptist Convention, along with several other historically conservative Baptist groups, began corporately asserting the propriety of what it deemed "traditional gender roles". In 1998, the SBC appended a quasi-male leadership understanding of marriage to the 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message, with an official amendment: Article XVIII, "The Family". In 2000, it revised the document to reflect support for a male-only pastorate. This is a long-standing practice of the great majority of SBC churches, apparently based on the idea that the church and Christ existed simultaneously.
The SBC contains no mechanism to trigger the automatic expulsion of congregations that adopt practices or theology contrary to the BF&M. As individual churches affiliated with the SBC are autonomous, local congregations cannot be compelled to adopt a male-only pastorate. However, some SBC churches that have installed women as their pastors have been excluded from membership in their local associations of Baptist churches; a smaller number have been expelled from their state conventions.
This movement towards an increasingly official ban on women in the pastorate is one of the issues that contributed to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's (CBF) decision to break from the SBC in 1991.
Most Southern Baptists observe a low church form of worship, which is less formal and uses no stated liturgy. Worship services usually include: hymns, prayer, choral music by a choir, soloist, or both, the reading of Scripture, the collection of offerings, a sermon, and an invitation to respond to the sermon. Recently, many churches have incorporated various instruments and styles of music into their worship services (see contemporary worship). People may respond during the "invitation" by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and beginning Christian discipleship, entering into vocational ministry, joining the church, or making some other publicly stated decision.
The SBC claims to have more than 16.6 million members in 44,000 churches throughout the US. One internal study by the SBC shows that on average 38 percent of the membership (6,138,776 members, guests and non-member children) attend their churches' primary worship services. Southern Baptists do not track church attendance by numbers in the primary worship service; they track attendance through participation in Sunday School, which 4,154,270 Convention members (less than 26 percent of SBC total membership) attend. Sunday School enrollment in the United States decreased by 123,817 members between 2007 and 2008.
The SBC has 1,200 local associations and 41 state conventions and fellowships covering all 50 states and territories of the United States. The five states with the highest rates of membership in the SBC are Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee. Texas has the largest number of members, with an estimated 3.5 million. Through their Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists support thousands of missionaries in the United States and worldwide. Although the SBC fielded over 10,000 missionaries in 2005, budget constraints are expected to reduce the number of missionaries by at least 600 in 2010.
Data from church sources and independent surveys indicate that since 1990 membership of SBC churches has declined as a proportion of the American population. Historically, the Convention grew throughout its history until 2007 when membership decreased by a net figure of nearly 40,000 members. Total membership of about 16.2 million was flat over the same period, falling by 38,482, or 0.2 percent. An important indicator for the health of the denomination is new baptisms which have decreased every year for seven of the last eight years, and as of 2008 have reached their lowest levels since 1987.
This decline in membership and baptisms has prompted some SBC researchers to describe the Convention as a "denomination in decline". Former SBC president Frank Page declared that if current conditions continue half of all SBC churches will close their doors permanently by the year 2030. This assessment is supported by a recent survey of SBC churches which indicated that 70 percent of all SBC churches are declining or are plateaued with regards to their membership. The decline of the SBC became an issue leading up to the June 2008 Annual Convention. Former SBC researcher, Curt Watke noted four reasons for the decline of the Southern Baptist Convention based on his research: increase in immigration, decline in growth among predominantly Anglo (white) churches, the aging of the current membership, and a decrease in the percentage of younger generations participating in church life. A failure to aggressively attract minorities also has been seen as a factor hurting Southern Baptist recruitment numbers. However in some state conventions in Mississippi and Texas report a large portion of growing minority SBC members.
In 1990 5% of SBC congregations were non-white. However, this figure has now grown to 20%.
The actual decline in SBC membership may be more pronounced than these statistics indicate because Baptist churches, unlike United Methodist, Presbyterian and Evangelical Lutheran congregations, are not required to remove inactive members from their rolls. In addition, hundreds of large moderate congregations have shifted their primary allegiance to other Baptist groups such as the American Baptist Churches USA or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship but have continued to remain nominally on the books of the Convention—and their members are thus counted in the SBC's totals—although these churches no longer participate in the annual SBC meeting or make more than the minimum financial contributions.
Southern Baptists' typical form of government is congregationalist: each local church is autonomous without formal lines of responsibility to organizational levels of higher authority.
A basic Baptist principle is the autonomy of the local church. The Convention is therefore conceived as a cooperative association by which churches can pool resources rather than as a body with any administrative or ecclesiastical control over local churches. It maintains a central administrative organization in Nashville, Tennessee. The SBC's Executive Committee exercises authority and control over seminaries and other institutions owned by the Southern Baptist Convention. However, the Executive Committee has no authority over affiliated state conventions, local associations, individual churches or members.
Commitment to the autonomy of local congregations was the primary force behind the Executive Committee's rejection of a proposal to create a convention-wide database of SBC clergy accused of sexual crimes against congregants or other minors in order to stop the "recurring tide" of clergy sexual abuse within SBC congregations. A 2009 study by Lifeway Christian Resources, the Convention's research and publishing arm, revealed that one in eight background checks for potential volunteers or workers in SBC churches revealed a history of crime that could have prevented them from working.
The Convention's confession of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message, technically is not binding on churches or members due to the autonomy of the local church. Politically and culturally, Southern Baptists tend to be conservative. Most oppose the use of alcohol as a beverage, homosexual activity and abortion with few exceptions.
There are four levels of SBC organization: the local congregation, the local association, the state convention, and the national convention.
Generally, Baptists recognize only two scriptural offices: pastor-teacher and deacon. According to the Baptist Faith and Message, the office of pastor is limited to men based on certain New Testament scriptures. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in the early 1980s recognizing that offices requiring ordination (pastor and deacon) are restricted to men.
Individual congregations and associations may choose to affiliate with state conventions or fellowships which in turn can affiliate with the SBC. There are 41 affiliated state conventions or fellowships.
The Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting consists of messengers from cooperating churches. In the month of June, they gather to confer and determine the programs, policies, and budget of the SBC. Each church may be represented by up to 10 messengers, the exact number being determined by the church's number of members and contributions to the national SBC organization.
The following quotation from the SBC Constitution explains the membership and description of messengers to each annual meeting:
Article III. Membership: The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of missionary Baptist churches cooperating with the Convention as follows:
Article IV. Authority: While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention.
- One messenger from each church which (1) Is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior; and (2) Has been a bona fide contributor to the Convention's work during the fiscal year preceding.
- One additional messenger from each such church for every two hundred and fifty members; or for each $250.00 paid to the work of the Convention during the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting.
- The messengers shall be appointed and certified by the churches to the Convention, but no church may appoint more than ten.
- Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he is appointed.
— SBC Constitution
The Cooperative Program (CP) is the SBC's unified funds collection and distribution program for the support of regional, national and international ministries. The CP is funded by contributions from SBC congregations.
In the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, the local congregations of the SBC reported gift receipts of $11.1 billion. From this they sent $548 million, approximately 5 per cent, to their state Baptist conventions through the CP. Of this amount, the state Baptist conventions retained $344 million for their work. $204 million was sent on to the national CP budget for the support of denomination-wide ministries.
The Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845 primarily for the purpose of creating a mission board to support the sending of Baptist missionaries. The North American Mission Board, or NAMB, (founded as the Domestic Mission Board, and later the Home Mission Board) in Alpharetta, Georgia serves missionaries involved in evangelism and church planting in the U.S. and Canada, while the International Mission Board, or IMB, (originally the Foreign Mission Board) in Richmond, Virginia sponsors missionaries to the rest of the world.
Among the more visible organizations within the North American Mission Board is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. In 1967, a small group of Texas Southern Baptist volunteers helped victims of Hurricane Beulah by serving hot food cooked on small "buddy burners." In 2005, volunteers responded to 166 named disasters, prepared 17,124,738 meals, repaired 7,246 homes, and removed debris from 13,986 yards. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief provides many different types: food, water, child care, communication, showers, laundry, repairs, rebuilding, or other essential tangible items that contribute to the resumption of life following the crisis – and the message of the Gospel. All assistance is provided to individuals and communities free of charge. SBC DR volunteer kitchens prepare much of the food distributed by the Red Cross in major disasters.
There are six SBC theological seminaries devoted to religious instruction and ministry preparation.
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