If The Captain and Tennille were correct, love will keep us together. To employ an even more dated reference, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus said that, and John wrote it down about two thousand years ago.
But do we dare ask, beyond the love that all Christians should have for each other, what cements us together as a denomination? Is love enough? A history of schisms would say it is not. As we watch other denominations come apart at the seams, we should examine what has us stitched together. And if it’s holding.
The United Methodists are consciously uncoupling over the issue of LGBTQ marriage and members. So far about one-third of their churches have left for a new denomination that holds to its historic orthodox positions. A similar unraveling is happening in the Anglican Communion, mostly along geographic lines as conservative bodies in Africa and Asia disassociate from liberal European and Western branches.
Theirs is not our issue. We are largely in agreement on social issues and theology. We will likely come to consensus on the definition of “pastor” and the role of women in church leadership, if not in New Orleans then soon after, so that further disfellowshipping of churches—as the SBC Executive Committee dismissed five churches in February for having women as pastors—will not be necessary. But other disagreements could start popping the stitches.
In a surprising development this spring, an incumbent SBC president is being opposed in his bid for reelection to a second term. In an unprecedented development, SBC EC trustees rejected their search committee’s nominee for EC President and CEO. A national reporter attending the online press conference after that nomination failed asked if the vote was somehow indicative of other political strains in the denomination. A valid question.
When churches in the Charleston and Sandy Creek traditions came together in 1845 to form the Southern Baptist Convention, it wasn’t worship style that brought them together—they disagreed over worship—or their view on immersion or a handful of Baptist distinctives. Although separation from northern Baptists over slavery was the precipitating event, ultimately it was commitment to missions and evangelism that birthed two mission boards at that first meeting in Augusta. Dedication to gospel witness and the salvation of lost people worldwide has held us together for nearly two centuries, even when we disagreed over core theology.
When they meet in New Orleans, messengers may take actions that test the tension between strong leadership from the top and guidance from the grassroots. They will probably seek to balance protection of vulnerable people with protection of historic local church autonomy. But whatever they do, our Convention must affirm again a return to our first love—for the gospel.
That’s the kind of love that will hold us together.