This week the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board wrestled with a very complex difficult issue facing distinctly Baptist schools across the land. Houston Baptist University approached the board with a request to all the school to select “non-Baptist” trustees to serve on its board. Under their proposal the school would be granted the freedom to elect “non-Baptist” trustees which would comprise up to one-fourth of their board.
Chairman of the Board Ed Seay, pastor of First Baptist Church Magnolia, stated that the change was needed so a number of Christian leaders from the Houston area could be added to the board. He noted that HBU stands as the only evangelical university in the great city of Houston, and that the evangelical community wanted to rally to the support of the university under the vision and leadership of Dr. Robert Sloan.
This change as you might imagine created quite a stir for the Baptist leaders entrusted with the care of our Baptist institutions and convention. There was much talk of the slippery slope that led many religious universities of note to abandon their Christian roots and to become secular universities of higher learning. Any one close to this issue knows all too well the story of Ivy League schools that were established to train the clergy that today are far from their conservative Christian roots.
As was reported in the Baptist Standard, I spoke in favor of the change, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share my perspective on the matter. First, I was moved by the passion and desire of Dr. Seay and Dr. Sloan. I know these two men to be leaders of the highest Christian character and men who deeply hold to our Baptist values. If they believe this is a necessary change in their context I am prone to trust them. Our colleges and universities are in a life and death struggle in these days of social and economic change, so we need to listen closely to our trusted leaders. I believe the man on the front lines knows much better the actions needed for success than those who sit back in the safety of the command tent.
Secondly, I believe the evangelical community is in search of leadership and direction. Baptists for too many years have work in isolation from the greater Kingdom of God. We were big and strong and could do what we wanted, how we wanted to do it, and when we wanted to do it. Instead of collaborating with the greater Body of Christ, we created a Baptist clique of sorts, and tried to protect ourselves from the influence of others. However, today the next wave of young Baptist leaders often consider themselves more Christian than Baptist and they speak of the Kingdom more than the BGCT or SBC. In this fluid environment, I believe as Baptists we need to begin to network and work closer with the Body of Christ around us. If we tighten the circle out of fear of slipping, we may be safe for the moment, but not secure for the future. We need more trusting relationship rather than more list of rules to sign.
I believe the early example of Judge Ken Starr at Baylor should serve as an inspiration to us. Judge Starr was not a Baptist when he came to us, but I believe he has demonstrated that he was a “Baptist” at heart. You see being “Baptist” has more to do with a vibrance of faith and commitment to the Word of God than it has to do with church membership.
I believe as Baptist we need to do be able to clearly define what it means to be “Baptist” and look for evangelical leaders who hold these values and principles along with us. You see the world has changed. There are many among the evangelical community that we resonate with as Texas Baptists. Dr. Bill Pinson speaks of the Baptist recipe as follows:
The Baptist recipe includes several key beliefs or doctrines:
–the Lordship of Jesus Christ
–the Bible as the sole written authority for faith and practice
–salvation from sin and eternal death to forgiveness and eternal life only by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior who is the grace gift of God
–the priesthood of each believer and of all believers in Christ
–baptism and the Lord’s Supper as wonderfully symbolic but not essential for salvation
–church membership composed only of persons who have been born again
–religious freedom and its corollary, the separation of church and state
Built upon the foundation of these beliefs are certain practices or polities that are part of the Baptist recipe:
–congregational church governance under the Lordship of Christ
–the autonomy of churches
–voluntary cooperation for various causes
I believe there are many brothers and sisters in Christ who worship in evangelical churches that hold these very same values. I also believe there are many within our own Baptist community that could not even articulate nor do they hold these values. Just being a member of a Baptist church does not make you a Baptist.
The slippery slope demands that we do our homework. The slippery slope demands that we select trustees that we can trust. Men and women who demonstrate the Christian character and convictions that will keep our schools tied to the Cross.
Leadership in the new world will demand bold moves. It will demand new networks. It will demand a “Kingdom-consciousness” among our leaders.
Only time will tell if HBU has taken its first step down the slippery slope, but I pray it will be the first step toward greater influence within the evangelical community and the world.