Some people feel that denominations are constrictive,
and that when you identify with other churches, you suffer compromise.
Southern Baptists are sympathetic to these concerns and so firmly
hold to the principle of church autonomy and self-rule. The Southern
Baptist Convention does not ordain ministers, assign staff to churches,
levy contributions to denominational causes, dictate literature
and calendar, or assign persons to churches according to place of
residence. These are local church matters.
Southern Baptists are wary of interdenominational councils. While
Southern Baptists work with other churches on matters such as
abortion and pornography, read and hear non-Southern Baptists,
and join with other Baptists in the work of the Global Evangelical
Relations, they do not enter into covenants with others who wish
to speak for them.
The Convention is an alliance of churches working in friendly cooperation
under the heading "Southern Baptist." A Southern Baptist
church is about as independent as you can get and still be counted
as part of a denomination.
Why belong to a denomination? Well, denominations give churches
a way to collectively express their convictions and realize their
vision. In such a free land as ours, it is natural that churches
would take the opportunity to identify with like-minded churches.
Denominations allow churches to be a part of a larger enterprise,
pooling their resources to establish and advance Great Commission
work. A denomination can have an impact larger than the sum of the
impacts of the individual churches.
The Bible pictures financial and operational cooperation among
New Testament churches, and virtually all churches cooperate with
other churches in some fashion or other. Southern Baptists have
merely formalized that spiritually-natural phenomenon, and God has
blessed their blend of freedom and cooperation.
Within the Body of Christ, there is a great diversity of gifts,
temperament, taste, and experience. Churches benefit from this range
of qualities within their own fellowship and across the denomination.
Churches learn from and complement each other.
This is not a matter of moral or doctrinal compromise. You cannot
believe and do just anything and remain a part of the Southern Baptist
fellowship. All Baptist bodies have limits. But within those limits,
there is room for significant cooperative diversity.
While there is a place for Biblical separation, a coming apart
for the sake of holiness, separation can go to extremes. No church
is perfect. Each will have sinful and wasteful features. The same
goes for denominations. Just as with churches, denominations must
find their way between putting up with anything and fighting over
everything. There are rocks on both sides and the need for a great
deal of patience as we chart our course between them.