According to Bud Ahlheim of Pulpit & Pen, the very first tasked endeavor of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s expanded “Missionary Statement” is to “assist churches in applying the moral and ethical teachings of the Bible to the Christian life.” This is an important endeavor to be sure. But is the ERLC still assisting churches in this endeavor? Not under the leadership of Russell Moore says Ahlheim. He brings to light what he deems a fundamental problem that is rampant throughout the SBC — conformity to the world. He writes:
American Christians, particularly those who claim to be “Christian” on the basis of a compromised “it’s all about you” Gospel, violate the very thrust of Paul’s command. American Christians are “conformed to this world.” Adopting a stance of niceness and inoffensiveness, the church has, to a great degree, allowed the world to infiltrate its pulpits, pews, and ecclesiastic protocol.
The visible church has become the world. When “worship” services more closely resemble the smoke-hazed environs of a night club rock concert; when the “messages” proclaimed by pastors are more closely based on the teaching of Americanized pop-psychology proclaiming how God wants you to be a winner; when becoming a Christian means membership in a morally-inclined club comprised of doctrine-less “converts” made so by the repetition of a magic prayer; when these conditions, and so many more, are the norm, rather than the exception, in the American “church”, then, yes, as a church, we have become “conformed to the world.”
We hear the talking heads, both in and out of the church, bemoan the cultural condition of post-modernism, and it’s necessary tragic result, political correctness. In the culture of America today, where any grasp of absolute truth is tolerated for the individual, a foundation of absolute truth that defines our society’s ethics is disallowed.
We cannot tell someone their behavior is wrong, that it violates our foundation of ethics because we’ve allowed the erosion of that foundation. We have no ethical foundation from which moral judgments may be made. The desired behavior of a single individual, or a small group of individuals, regardless of how morally aberrant, socially harmful, or evidently selfish those desires may be, cannot be allowed to draw the collective outrage of society. If it’s right for you, who am I, who are we, to say it’s wrong?
It is this “behavior dictates ethics” that conforms the church to the world, coupled with a Christ-denying casual gospel, if and when even that is proclaimed. In the Southern Baptist Convention alone, the results of this conformity are clear. We build, “plant”, more and more churches year after year, and, year after year, we see a continued exodus of members leaving the ranks. In just the last year, we saw the woeful reduction of our global missionary force necessitated by the continual downgrade in our churches.
As though completely blinded to this reality, our leaders yet plead with congregants to pray for a “Great Awakening” in America when what we most desperately need is a reformation within our own ranks. We need a reformation that re-ignites our focus on the centrality of the infallible Word in our faith, in our pulpits, throughout our pews. And that focus must be accompanied by authentic repentance and a zealous commitment to obey that Word.
Instead, those in the church, and those in leadership, pay mere lip service to the authority of Scripture. We know that it is lip service when we see SBC leadership willingly and intentionally align with false teachers, with an apostate Roman Catholic Church, and with morally-inclined elements within society to achieve admittedly noble goals. In so doing, we sacrifice our historic, unique stance on the Gospel, and thereby, reveal the pragmatic position that we don’t really believe in the authority of Scripture.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5
Southern Baptists have an agency, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, that is – this might surprise you – NOT charged to represent the collective voice of our denomination in the political, social, and cultural arena. Based on the seemingly ubiquitous presence of its president, Russell Moore, on major networks, in major news media, and throughout social media, Southern Baptists might presume Moore is doing exactly as he is tasked to do. However, the mission statement of the ERLC says nothing about this aggressive engagement IN THE CULTURE:
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission exists to assist the churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with the churches and other Southern Baptist entities.
Read that mission statement carefully. The primary task of the ERLC is not to engage culture, but to “assist churches.” This assistance is to be based on the fundamental ethic that we, as Bible-believing Christians, avow – the Gospel. The ERLC is to help teach churches “the moral demands of the gospel” and how to apply those Gospel principles as we, collectively, live “in the world, not of it.” Finally, the commission is charged to “promote religious liberty” in cooperation with the Convention’s member churches and other affiliated agencies.
See our White Paper on Roman Catholicism