Monday, August 11, 2008

BTOS Syndrome: A Raging Baptist Disease

I have been a Southern Baptist all my life, a graduate of a Baptist college and of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. My dad is a Southern Baptist pastor and missionary. My grandpa was a Southern Baptist pastor, seminary professor and denominational servant. I have been on staff at 4 Baptist churches – one in Florida, one in Virginia and two in Iowa in a 26 year ministry. I have served as the president of my state convention, as associational moderator, and in many other denominational positions. I say all this to make one point – I have some level of expertise on the ways of Southern Baptists.

I think many Southern Baptists are infected with BTOS Syndrome. BTOS: Baptist Tradition over Scripture Syndrome. Some have a tendency to let ourselves be guided more by Baptist tradition than by the clear teaching of scripture.

Exhibit A: I can confess publicly to several sins and keep my job as a pastor. I can admit to lust, greed or pride, I can gossip or slander (where would the blogs be without this?) and violate many other scriptures without issues of job security. But if I have a glass of wine, or play a hand of money poker, smoke a cigar, or go out dancing with my wife, I could be working my resume. You have a hard time finding scriptures that call any of those a sin. (For the record, I don’t drink, smoke cuss or chew. I play a little poker, but only for fun. And the only time I have danced is at my son’s wedding – that’s a coordination issue, not a moral one.)

Baptists sometimes put a higher emphasis on traditional sins than on biblical sins.

Exhibit B: Blogs have buzzed in the last couple of years over the baptism policies of the IMB. There is little scriptural support for “BI” (near-landmark) baptismal policies, but nonetheless, they have been advocated on the basis of denominational history and policy. Advocates promote this view without support from the Bible, but that does not stop them.

Some Baptists even put a higher emphasis on tradition in the study of baptism than on what the Bible says.

Exhibit C: It was recent discussion of the divorce issue in my own church that started me thinking about the BTOS Syndrome. A man (good friend-great guy) said with absolute dogmatism and certainty “the Bible says divorced men cannot be deacons.” Where? What verse is that? “A deacon must be the husband of one wife,” right? But that verse does not say anything about divorce. It is an interpretation and application of the verse. It is one possible interpretation, but there are several other valid interpretations. There is no verse that says, “divorced men cannot be deacons.” But yet we state that as if it is established biblical fact.

I have an invitation every Sunday morning. Why? In Acts 2, Peter “exhorted the people with many words to save themselves.” He didn’t sing “Just As I Am” or have people come forward, but he invited them to respond. But there are people in my church who feel like a church isn’t a church unless it gives an invitation. Even though the church existed for 1800 years without invitations, now, they are seen as biblical imperatives. There is no verse commanding invitations. I do it, but it is not a biblical command.

Try suggesting that your church do away with Sunday School. Again, Sunday School has only been around a couple hundred years. But now, we would question the salvation of someone who suggested doing away with it. I am not advocating that. My point is that we tend to put things like Sunday School on the level of a biblical mandate.

These are just examples. It is my observation that we tend to be led by “the way we’ve always done it” or “the Baptist Way” as much as what the sacred text says. Baptists have called ourselves “People of the Book.” We have said we have “no creed but Christ.” Yet, on so many issues, we rely more on majority opinion and denominational tradition than on what the Bible teaches.

Why did we fight the “Battle for the Bible” if we are going to let ourselves be infected by BTOS and let denominational tradition guide us instead of scripture? Why not just let the Bible guide us? We need to fight BTOS with all our hearts!


David Rogers said...


Anonymous said...

Dave: I so enjoy reading these Bible studies. I echo David Rogers in saying Amen. I glean a lot from what you write. Thank you.

JLTA Mom said...

I actually live in another state and found your blog with a search on the internet. I attend in a pretty large SB church in my town. I started smoking when I was in my teens, both parents smoked. I have quit and tried to quit quite a few times. I don't smoke in front of anyone that I go to church fact there is but a few(1-2)that even know that I smoke. And even those I don't smoke in front of. But it drives me crazy because I know many if not most people in my church would look down on me if they knew that I smoked. I have searched and searched for the scripture over the years that NO SMOKING. I know all the health issues but how is that any different than someone who is overweight and still over eats. I appreciate your column and just wish people could love me the way I know Christ loves...just as I am!!!
I have served in church for many years with children's ministry and just dread the day that one of my friends from church come upon me smoking and then something gets ugly. Thanks for the venue to talk about this.

Dave Miller said...

As a very obese man (in line with many in the SBC) I have a hard time looking down my nose at someone who smokes (as long as you don't blow the smoke in my face).

Yes, smoking is one of those issues in which our traditions are more important than the Bible.

Anonymous said...

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