[This is the seventh article interacting with a series by Les Puryear — www.lesliepuryear.blogspot.com — regarding whether Southern Baptists can be Reformed]
Many in the SBC view unqualified support of the Cooperative Program — typically meaning that each church give “10% of undesignated gifts” to it — as a litmus test for discerning true (SBC) believers. Because the perception is that those who hold a Reformed Baptist perspective reject such support, the conclusion is that it is impossible for one to be both Reformed and Southern Baptist.
Critics complain that Reformed Baptists aren’t exclusive to Cooperative Program giving: that they also support non-SBC entities and agencies, most notably the Acts 29 network, which ‘plants reformed churches.’
But the idea that Southern Baptists must only support official SBC agencies and entities means much more than support for the Cooperative Program. The SBC maintains a publishing arm, LifeWay, which prints a plethora of literature and runs retail outlets to sell it. If the criticism is to be consistent, then Southern Baptists should not purchase non-LifeWay literature or books from a non-SBC press. I remember one local education minister who tried to force all teachers to use only literature from the then “Sunday School Board” — it was, in fact, as absurd as it sounds.
And what about non-SBC charity? Samaritan’s Purse is not an SBC organization, but plenty of SBC congregations fall over themselves to participate in Operation Christmas Child. (I’m not criticizing the enthusiasm; I like OCC…I’m just sayin’) To be consistent, pastors who hold to the same SBC-only mentality would have to tell their congregants not to give money or time or service to anyone but the local SBC church, local SBC association, state SBC agency, or the SBC itself. How likely is that?
Shibboleths are useful to detect outsiders. But even SBC shibboleths are due to be abandoned — that is, the sacred cows tipped and processed for boots and burgers — when they either don’t reflect the essence of the group or actually serve to keep outsiders out.
In the case of the Reformed vs Southern Baptist debate, shibboleths used to characterize Reformed Baptists as outsiders fail on both counts.