On the opening day of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, SBC president Bryant Wright addressed the convention, saying if there is one message God wants Southern Baptist individuals, churches and the convention itself to hear, it is that they have left their first love, as Jesus describes in Revelation 2.
Wright addressed on Tuesday five challenges Southern Baptists face on a daily basis that slowly pull believers away from Christ.
The first challenge he spoke about was materialism – which he says is the number one idol in SBC churches, pointing to studies that show evangelical Christians give less than 2.5 percent of their income to the Lord’s work. He said there’s a clear message in that fact.
“What it says to us is, no matter how much our people profess to love Jesus, they really love their money more than Jesus. There is no way, when a person is continually stealing from God that they can claim to have a real love for Jesus Christ. Money, possessions have become a priority.”
He shared a story about the entire offering being stolen from the business office of his church one Sunday afternoon many years ago. People were outraged and it was the talk of the congregation throughout the week.
“I heard the comments all week long,” Wright said. “I just kind of silently smiled and looked forward to preaching the next Sunday on stealing from God from Malachi 3:8-10. I reminded our congregation – I said, ‘Many of you have been outraged that thieves broke into the business office, stole the entire Sunday offering. But the fact is, the overwhelming majority of you that call yourselves Christians rob from God every single Sunday.’”
Wright spoke next about hedonism, pointing first to addictions to pornography within the church.
“There is no way that there can be a spiritual fire in our bones, there’s no way there can be a spiritual vitality in our churches when the very spiritual life of those who claim to be followers of Christ is literally suffocated by this addiction to porn,” Wright said.
He said there is also an incredible lust within the church for the latest technology.
“Some of you are so addicted to your cell phones, you haven’t made it 10 minutes into this message without checking your messages or your tweets or whatever it may be – two or three times,” Wright said. “As if that is more important than hearing from the Word of God.”
He warned those who are addicted to talk radio, blogs and the 24 hour news cycle, saying he is concerned that those things are shaping the worldview of Southern Baptists rather than the Word of God and the person of Jesus Christ.
Vices aren’t the only things Wright addressed as causes for believers leaving their first love.
Even “good things like family, like an honest job or work, or even our ministries” can be stumbling blocks.
“Now listen very carefully ... I really believe that perhaps the major temptation for anyone who serves in full-time Christian ministry is to begin to confuse their ministry with their relationship with Jesus Christ.”
“When that occurs in our life,” Wright added, “we are making a family member, we are making a ministry, we are making our work an idol in our life. No one – not our family, not our ministry, not our work – is to come before our relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country with over 16 million members. Its annual meeting, which opened Tuesday in Phoenix, Ariz., is being held amid declining baptisms, membership and attendance. Membership fell for the fourth straight year last year by 0.15 percent.
Ahead of the meeting, former SBC president Johnny Hunt lamented the shrinking numbers and urged Southern Baptists to come together again.
“Everybody wants to weigh in on what the problem is,” he said as he addressed pastors on Sunday.
To find the problem, Hunt told them to find a mirror. “Too long we have pointed our guns at one another.”
“We’ve got to move from denial to decision,” he said. “We have had a blessed past. But I personally sense that God desires to be with us in a more mighty way if we are to touch this nation. Our future can be bright as the promises of God.”