Jeff Iorg Encapsulates the Laodicean SBC

Jesus uses the pen of John in Revelation 3:14-22 to rebuke the lukewarm Laodiceans, who had all the signs of church “success” but, upon spiritual examination, were “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

Similarly, the signs of unwieldy, biblically adrift secularism and pragmatism are all over today’s Southern Baptist Convention for those who have eyes to see. In the aftermath of each year’s annual meeting (this year being no exception), social media erupts with calls to “leave it to the goats,” regroup for next year, or engage in some form of “quiet quitting” where a cooperating church slowly disengages from SBC participation both practically and financially.

Undeniably, business meeting-disengaged churches are the status quo in the SBC, with most churches and members either uninterested or unable to afford to send representatives each year. This status quo invariably benefits SBC entities, the pastor-author-influencer class pew-sitters colloquially refer to as “Big Eva,” “The Platform,” or “The Evangelical Intelligentsia,” and the myriad of ashamed-and-renamed, market-tuned churches currently “doing church” any way they want while maintaining SBC affiliation to placate old tithers and/or building branded parachurch empires to expand their spiritual marketability.

As it is, the SBC’s come-as-you-are volunteerism results in dissonance. On the one hand, Convention entities and leaders must toe the line on general claims of doctrine, morality, and ethics lest they risk the wrath of culturally conservative churches that remain the vast majority. On the other hand, the SBC operates without a real institutional mechanism to address church-level doctrinal and methodological corruption. This becomes noticeably dissonant as leaders say one thing (“We have doctrinal fidelity!”) while doing another (laissez-faire methodology). Of course, the unspeakable motivation that makes this tension tolerable is the SBC’s financial stability and influence (for those not in the know, influence in the SBC is often dubbed “gospel effectiveness”). The dirty little secret of doctrinal/methodological chaos among SBC churches must, therefore, remain buried under a sea of unspoken questions, masked by praise for convention “diversity” and disguised with ever more generalized calls for unity of purpose from those practicing what is now aptly described as “managerial Christianity.”

In any case, the Convention is no more biblically faithful than its cooperating churches, which are no more faithful than their pulpits – pulpits that sadly remain filled with spiritual retailers selling personal religious benefits rather than demanding repentance. These impastors are man-pleasers, busy sermonizing the latest hit movie, dropping eggs out of helicopters, and scheming ever more creative ways to cater the gospel to the impenitent.

Iorg Lets the Slip Show

Fortunately for truth-seeking pew-sitters willing to understand the forces behind all this, recently elected president of the SBC Executive Committee (EC) and former Gateway Seminary president Jeff Iorg exposed perhaps the most fundamental biblical corruption behind the pragmatism that plagues America’s largest Protestant denomination. In an apparent attempt to add a theological veneer to Bruce Frank-style antidoctrinalism, Iorg turned what was supposed to be the first half of the 2024 Annual Meeting’s Executive Committee report into a pharisaical, finger-wagging guilt trip that chastised Southern Baptists for replacing their “eternal mission” with political activism, social justice, Convention reform, and doctrinal conformity – what he categorized as “mission substitutes.”

The Gospel Card™ has long been a staple of Big Eva pragmatists, but witnessing a former SBC seminary and current president of the EC twist scripture to support it made clear just how fundamental the Gospel Card perversion has become in the SBC. This time around, it involved Iorg telling Baptists that “mission discipline” demands we set aside obedient, holy living and instead usurp God’s eternal purpose and mission of saving souls. Without our diligent commitment to the real mission and rejecting non-soul-saving substitutes, Iorg insisted, “the Christian movement would come to an end.”

Iorg excoriated Christians who – under instructions like Colossians 3:23 – dared prioritize godly, obedient participation in civil self-government or Christian ministry. This was despite scriptural mandates for Christian obedience in governance (Rom. 13), justice (Micah 6:8), stewardship of the SBC (Luke 14:28), and doctrinal contention (2 Tim. 2:15) – all of which bear evangelical witness to God’s holiness and worship worthiness.

Yet despite SBC pastors routinely announcing metrics for baptisms, “decisions for Christ,” or “people reached,” scripture neither delegates God’s soul-saving eternal purpose to us nor provides a biblical standard by which Christians know what is enough regarding their personal soul-saving effectiveness. This inconvenient truth did not deter Iorg as he filled his sermon with the unmeasurable, unmeetable demands of eternity. Like the heavy burdens Pharisees placed on weary shoulders, Baptists in the convention hall were shouldered with similarly nebulous legalisms and subjective moral/ethical imperatives for Christian living. And, of course, another pitch for the big tent, repentance-free, “belong before you believe” evangelism that – for the time being – continues to protect the SBC’s official metrics from following its doctrinal decline. Iorg’s wide-gate evangelistic call invited gays, lesbians, adulterers, pedophiles, and Democrats into “our movement,” grouping them with Republican, independent, race, ethnicity, and culture as categories of “lost people Jesus loves,” and whose “conversion” would require us to tolerate the “messiness of Christian diversity.”

Predictably missing from this call was repentance, the essential little detail that would erase Iorg’s first five invitee categories as they became those Paul joyfully described: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Iorg revealed why the SBC remains a stubbornly lukewarm organization that refuses to synchronize its associational standard with its doctrinal statement, instead continuing to say one thing while functionally doing something else. His sermon pitted evangelism against holy, obedient Christian living while stubbornly refusing to define the boundaries of either. This refusal saw Iorg talking out of both sides of his mouth for the duration, describing the “substitute missions” as “well-intentioned,” “marks of discipleship,” “important,” and “needing ‘appropriate’ attention” one moment only to (sometimes in the same breath) disqualify them as “detrimental to our mission,” “the good crowding out the best,” and “failing to fulfill God’s eternal mission.”

Iorg turned his chosen passage (Ephesians 3:8-11) on its head, making God’s eternal purpose and salvific work something we do. In claiming, “God’s mission is eternal. So, therefore, ours must be as well,” Iorg took God’s all-powerful imperative of gathering His church off Christ’s shoulders and placed it squarely on the shoulders of the church itself – where it becomes an immeasurable, impossible, and soul-crushing burden. And as every call for doctrinal fidelity, holy public living, and holding the Southern Baptist Convention accountable is unimportant compared to the eternal, immeasurable, overriding mission of salvation we’ve snatched from God, our only option as good Baptists is to stop all our pesky politicking, doctrinal arguments, and (of course) our attempts at SBC accountability as we “reach people for Jesus” by uncritically welcoming everyone into the “movement” through our wide gate instead of Christ’s narrow one.

Such is the present state of Evangelicalism: Churches welcome unrepentant sinners to partake in the spiritual benefits of the “movement” while squashing the disciplinary responsibilities and inconvenient concerns for holiness among the faithful. As demonstrated by Jeff Iorg, perhaps the most insidious way of doing this is by replacing believers’ God-given duties of Christian obedience with the soul-saving duties of the Lord – duties believers can’t possibly measure or truly fulfill. And for now, it’s working to keep the SBC ship afloat or at least give us more time to rearrange the deck chairs.

The Law Amendment Defeat

The defeat of the Law Amendment via a Hawthorne effect-free anonymous ballot successfully maintained the “hear no orthopraxy, see no orthopraxy” status quo. At the same time, the approval of the 2023 Cooperation Group’s recommendations to the Executive Committee allows SBC leadership to suggest additional wiggle room in the SBC governing documents, quite possibly neutering the Credentials Committee’s Berean role in determining “friendly cooperation” and potentially leaving obedient messengers without the objective doctrinal comparisons needed to disaffiliate disobedient churches in the face of their emotional appeals on the convention floor. 

In his Baptist Press article following the Annual Meeting that was lauded by platform SBCers including James Merritt, Jared Cornutt, and Jonathan Howe, Texas pastor Andrew Hébert said the Law Amendment failure demonstrated that the SBC can have “doctrinal fidelity without methodological conformity.” In other words, the SBC could “walk and chew gum at the same time.” Yet, in the context of allowing churches that employ women in the pastoral office by name or role, this lack of methodological conformity is a direct result of doctrinal infidelity. And it continues to be a spiritual price the SBC is willing to pay.

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