Colossians 3:12–14 addresses one of the biggest issues in the Southern Baptist Convention today, Texas pastor Matt Carter said to open his message at the SBC Pastors Conference.
And if we don’t get it right, Carter told leaders in Anaheim, we’ll grow further alienated from the world we’re trying to reach with the gospel, from a younger generation of preachers looking for a reason to join the SBC and from the blessing and hand of God.
Fruit of the flesh
The issue is division, Carter said in an impassioned plea to Southern Baptists to be known for love for one another rather than the issues that divide the denomination.
Noting he doesn’t spend much time on Twitter because it does a number on his blood pressure, Carter said what is evident from social media isn’t a SBC ruled by the fruit of the Spirit, but rather by the fruit of the flesh — enmity, strife, anger, rivalries, dissensions and divisions.
Carter’s sermon refrained from referencing specific controversies, but his message addressed the divisive tone that has characterized SBC life amid the challenges of the pandemic and increasing political polarization.
“Make no mistake, there are times when lines need to be drawn in the sand,” said the pastor of Sagemont Church in Houston. “But the Scripture makes itself crystal clear that no matter what we face as a convention, that we are always to engage each other in a Christlike kind of way.
“We’re not doing that, and I’m not sure the Lord is pleased.”
They’ll know us by our love
Each message at the Pastors Conference focused on part of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae. Carter’s passage, just three verses, calls believers in Jesus to be characterized by kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and love. That call came as the Colossians faced the threat of false teaching. They were to pursue doctrinal purity, Carter noted, but not without love.
“The Scripture could not be any clearer that we have to fight for doctrinal fidelity and theological accuracy,” he said. “But Scripture is also clear we’re to do that in Christ-honoring ways that exhibit the fruit of the Spirit,” he continued.
“Does that describe you?” Carter asked his listeners.
When Jesus described the church in John 13:35, He said the way people would know His disciples was by their love for one another, Carter said. Their love would define them as Christ’s. “If that’s true, and it is, then I think Satan must be overjoyed at the state of our convention right now. Because we’re characterized by a lot of things right now, friends, but love for each other is not one of them.”
Elsewhere in Scripture love for each other is evidence of salvation, Carter said. Why is it such an accurate litmus test? Because, he said, it can’t be faked. It’s possible to have good doctrine and not be saved. The same with morality and good works. But loving people who you disagree with or who hate you, Carter said, is too hard to do on your own. “You simply won’t do it unless you have been born again, unless you have been transformed by the love of Almighty God.”
There is a reason the New Testament church turned the world upside down, Carter preached. They didn’t just talk about what Scripture said; they actually lived it out. He warned his listeners that if Southern Baptists don’t change course, we won’t see the kind of transformational growth and power the early church experienced.
Carter called Baptists to be a people known for biblical faithfulness and tenderheartedness, for love of mission and love for one another.
“One thing I ask above all,” he prayed to close his message, “that the name of Jesus Christ would be exalted here and in this convention, and that we might come back to the people You’ve called us to be.”
View photos from the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference here.
For more stories from the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, visit thebaptistpaper.org/sbc2022.