Southern Baptists Address Membership Decline, Core Doctrine at Annual Meeting

Southern Baptists reaffirmed several theological commitments at the denomination's annual meeting Tuesday, emphasizing orthodoxy and missions amid declining numbers and following a divisive election year.

(Photo: Adam Covington)SBC President Steve Gaines addresses delegate at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

Gathered in Phoenix, Arizona, this week, a majority of delegates voted to reaffirm the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement which says that in his death Christ took upon Himself divine punishment due sinners "as the burning core of the Gospel message and the only hope of a fallen race," as noted by Baptist Press.

The resolution passed overwhelmingly and was sponsored by two Southern Baptist seminary professors, Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Malcolm Yarnell of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Writing on his Facebook page, Strachan, who co-authored a resolution on university ministry that was also adopted, noted that he was "heartened" and "thankful for the SBC."

Likewise, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the denomination's policy arm, called the resolution on penal subsitutionary atonement "very well worded."

He told reporters in Phoenix that it was appropriate that this convention underscore "that we believe, as the book of Romans teaches, that God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus through the atoning sacrifice of Christ."

(Photo: Matt Miller)Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission addresses reporters in Phoenix at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

Moore, who gave his agency's report to the annual meeting Wednesday night, became the face of a contentious divide within the convention last year due to his outspoken opposition to then presidential candidate Donald Trump. His stance was at odds with some Southern Baptists but popular among many racial minority SBC members.

The SBC is the nation's largest evangelical Protestant group but has lost hundreds of thousands of members in the past few years. Baptism numbers have also fallen, and much debate within the denomination's ranks has been taking place as to why that is.

As a sign of their intent to reverse this decline, Southern Baptists affirmed a resolution Tuesday "to pray for and invest in evangelism and discipleship efforts with college students and strengthen the relationship between parachurch campus ministries and local churches," according to BP.

Southern Baptists have been known historically as one of the most evangelistically minded denominations, uging non-Christians to repent from sin and trust Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.

Sources who identify as "traditional Baptists," tell The Christian Post that they attribute this to Southern Baptists having fewer babies, an increasingly secularized culture, and a lack of Southern Baptist leaders.

During his address to the delegates Tuesday, SBC President Steve Gaines said, "We know that we're down in baptisms again. We understand that. But I rise before you today to remind us that there is hope." The SBC will be lauching a task force to study the decline.

"There's hope for the Southern Baptist Convention," he emphasized. "There's hope for the United States of America, there's hope for our lost world, because there's a bloody cross and there's an empty tomb, and praise God there is an occupied throne."

He added that "every Christian is a minister" calling upon the thousands in attendance to be soul-winners.

Another resolution called for SBC members and other Christians to refuse to take part "in the sin of gambling," urging pastors and convention leaders to preach on the issue and called for governments at every level to stop state-sponsored gambling.

The SBC also voiced its gratitude to God in a resolution for the Protestant Reformers, since this year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, urging recommitment to distinctive Protestant convictions while advocating for religious freedom for all.

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