To my fellow church leaders:
In 1979, my parents were driving to dinner on a two-lane road near Easley, SC. A drunk driver traveling 90 miles mph dropped the right front tire off the road and overcorrected the wheel. He jerked the steering wheel in an effort to realign the truck and struck them head-on in a collision that would result in injuries to all involved. It was a bad day for the Cloer family. Mom and Dad have longed since recovered but the effects of the accident linger.
Overcorrecting causes thousands of accidents a year. A misstep if improperly corrected can result in a bigger problem. We are making some needed course corrections but I fear that our Southern Baptist Convention may be facing some overcorrection problems. We need to approach these matters carefully without creating a trajectory that irreparably damages more than we sought to correct.
I certainly do not mean that we are overcorrecting the eradication of sexual abuse, abusers, and those who allow their evil ways to go unhindered. This is not a misstep that needed correction but gross sin that needed to be dealt with swiftly and openly. God have mercy upon us if we allow this type of abuse to go unexposed and undeterred. I do, however, see it occurring in other ways and places that require some course correction.
I have watched what I believe to be an overcorrection for 20 years concerning Reformed theology or Calvinism. The openness of God movement had some effect on this overreaction. Few if any Southern Baptist embraced this movement. The openness movement professed a small view of God as though He was still developing and learning. While on the staff at Mid-America Seminary in the 1990s, I began to hear that those who believed in any view other than the five points of Calvin likewise had a small view of God. God’s foreknowledge could no longer be a viable foundation for election and predestination. A hardening of the discourse occurred around that time. Sides had to be chosen. Distance grew in our convention. Previous generations did not seem to have the same amount of divide. What changed? It began as a well-meaning over correction and reaction to the openness movement.
I have watched the misuse of invitations in my ministry but I fear that we have overcorrected to the neglect of invitations. I have sat through hundreds of invitations from strong evangelists and counseled with many coming to settle their conversion. Some of these saints were troubled and confused by a strong appeal of the gospel coupled with a stern warning of the dangers of neglecting the soul. I have witnessed an overcorrection in the last 10 years to eliminate invitations and avoid pressing an appeal to come to Christ. I have also seen it with children. Staff, pastors, and some counselors are so concerned that they may unduly influence a child to accept Christ that there is a neglect of needed urgency for a child to come to Jesus now. We can correct the misuse without overcorrecting. I was converted at age 8. Children can be saved and need to be saved. We have overcorrected the use of the invitation.
I could write a book on the evil darkness of legalism. Do not get me started! Legalism focuses on the outside of a person instead of on their heart. It elevates rules and minimizes relationship with the Lord. Legalism begets a shame culture that externally focuses on status, standing, and behavior to the detriment of the motivations of the heart. The focus becomes ministry and not intimacy. My generation has faced it and many have sought to correct it. I fear that many have overcorrected to the far side of liberty into licentiousness. Some churches fail to expect holy living from the people. Immorality is plaguing us from the county seat church to the highest offices in our convention. Alcohol use has become accepted and normalized in many leadership communities. Pastors contort to keep from offending anyone because the hearers are living a sinful lifestyle. Immorality and loose living remains seldom questioned. We have overcorrected to normalize and minimize lawless living in an effort to avoid legalism.
I believe that politics, the process of making public policy, makes a difference in a nation. I love America and all those who are in our country. I believe that those who rule over us should do it in righteousness. The laws passed in the nation matter to God. I constructed this from the Bible and from a generation who came before me who fought tyranny and the brutal communist regimes. I also think that our convention needs some correction in what is an obsession with public policy, the Republican party, and civil government. It has come to define the convention and many churches in too many ways. However, beware of an overcorrection taking place. National concern and collective identity is not against God but rather an aspect of the Christian faith. We are a part of different collectives whom God addresses in Scripture: namely our family, our church, our city, our nation, and humankind. We are to view civil authorities as ministers of God and be grateful for the disposition of their duties. It is honorable to serve in government. We should honor the king and powerfully call the state to grant every soul liberty and religious freedom. We can live above the partisan bickering and dishonorable discourse in the political world and we must. Vilifying the elected will soon lead to the same approach to all public servants including law enforcement and military. We can correct without overcorrecting.
For too long, leadership corruption disguised itself and existed under a canopy of respectful protection in an effort to not raise a hand against God’s anointed. I have seen the destructive power of such corruption in my own church. The truth needs to be known and light needs to shine on the darkness. Websites, twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Baptist media outlets, and national media offers satisfaction of the appetite of those in our convention wanting to know the latest whistle that has been blown. We have, however, overcorrected in our discourse. Now, we slander, judge, and adopt a mob mentality at the microphone of social media. The things being said about brothers and sisters in these mediums are often out of bounds. We are to relate to one another in a personal manner. James would thunder to our generation: “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.” We have a solemn responsibility from God to hold each other accountable and to do it in a redemptive manner. We have overcorrected and run off the other side of the road.
Let’s get it right! My prayer is that all of us will make the needed corrections in our ministries and across our convention without making an overcorrection.