There is a "factionalism" within the Southern Baptist Convention that "deeply disturbs me," said the head of the denomination.
"For 30 years we've been trying to raise baptism levels among non-revived churches among non-revived people who've lost their passion for the lost. But interestingly enough, we've become strangely passionate about our own agendas," said SBC president Frank Page Tuesday morning during the church body's annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.
With baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention down for the second consecutive year, Page is worried not only about the declining number but about the loss of passion for missions among members of the largest Protestant denomination in the nation.
"Where's the joy?" he posed to some 8,000 Baptist "messengers" - representatives from churches around the country. "We need a joy infusion."
"You may say 'Well, I'm doctrinally right.' Well, you sure don't look real happy about it!" added Page as the thousands of Southern Baptists cheered and applauded in agreement.
Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman called for unity earlier that morning as Southern Baptists remained divided over scriptural interpretation and "secondary and tertiary doctrines," as Chapman put it.
Alluding to the Conservative Resurgence that swept the Southern Baptist Convention more than two decades ago, Chapman said that although they have clarified what they think about the authority of God's Word, "we are struggling with the temptation to lay down certain interpretations for defining a 'true' Southern Baptist compared to a 'maverick' Southern Baptist."
"For Jesus' sake, and the sake of His Kingdom on earth, we must not make every doctrinal issue a crusade or a political football," he said to applause. "We are wasting time when we are given to harshly debate disputable doctrines that lead to destructive distractions. We have no right to judge others with whom we disagree about secondary and tertiary doctrines. Only God is our Judge. But we do have the right to engage in spirited debate where we differ."
Southern Baptists, however, do not deal with the root problem, said Page. "[W]e become unfulfilled and bitter in our walk before God; we find faults in everyone else; and we develop a pattern of dishonesty in which we will not deal with what the problem really is," he stated. "And when we take it to a convention level, are we not all apt to point out the failings of others?"
Encouraging Southern Baptists to first look at themselves and confess their own sins before pointing out others' faults, Page acknowledged that "where there is unconfessed sin, there is a breaking in the sweet fellowship."
"And yes, we've experienced that haven't we?"
Page, who pastors First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., was re-elected unopposed Tuesday afternoon as SBC president. Page's election last year was said to have largely been influenced by "reform minded" Southern Baptist bloggers who believe Page would broaden involvement in the SBC.
This year, Southern Baptists again saw Page as "a special man."
"He's got a passion for souls, for the Gospel of Jesus Christ," said Dale Morell, pastor of Maine Street Baptist Church in Brunswick, Maine.
"Although we have serious ... and significant differences, would you take my hand and work with me in the winning of the lost to Jesus and the winning of this world to Christ?" Page told the thousands of Baptist messengers.
"When you thwart the prayer request of Jesus and will not work with your brothers in Christ, then you have ... said to the world 'Jesus is not real.' And I will not be a part of that anymore," he emphatically shouted.
"I will work with you until the cows come home so that we might win this world to Jesus!"