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Baptist Polity: As I See It [Paperback]

By James L. Sullivan (Author) & James L. Sullivan (Preface by)
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Item description for Baptist Polity: As I See It by James L. Sullivan...

The definitive guide to practices of today's Southern Baptists, written by James Sullivan, former president of the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: B&H Books
Pages   182
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.04" Width: 6.14" Height: 0.49"
Weight:   0.6 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jul 1, 1998
Publisher   B&H Publishing Group
Edition  Revised  
ISBN  0805401717  
ISBN13  9780805401714  
UPC  634337010991  

Availability  4 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 22, 2016 05:05.
Usually ships within one to two business days from La Vergne, TN.
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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Clergy > Church Institutions & Organizations
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Protestantism > Baptist
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Ecclesiology

Christian Product Categories
Books > Church & Ministry > Church Life > Protestant Denominations

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Reviews - What do customers think about Baptist Polity: As I See It?

I Wish.....  Mar 30, 2007
I wish I would have read this book in Seminary. This books answered allot of questions I had about Baptist Polity. It brought insight and understanding to why we as Baptist function the way we do and the spiritual significance to decision making and denominational structure. Another great book is "more than just a name, preserving our Baptist identity" by Stanton Norman. A must read!
IM HAPPY  Jan 9, 2007
The definitive textbook on Southern Baptist polity  Jun 14, 2005

James Sullivan has written the definitive textbook on Southern Baptist polity. By calling upon his fifty years of Southern Baptist Convention service, Sullivan formed a comprehensive survey of how and why Baptists do the things that they do. He began by surveying the forces that forged the mettle of Southern Baptist life, faith, and practice in the years before and after the convention's formation in 1845. He examined the foundational element of Baptist life--the local church--especially as it relates to the lordship of Jesus Christ and the priesthood of the believer. He affirmed that the local church is the center of Baptist life for individual members and is the nexus for all other denominational activities. This fierce independence drew deep roots in the early years of the development of Baptists as a denomination. However, the autonomy of the local church allows room for cooperative effort between churches as they seek to do together what they could not effectively do individually. Thus, Baptist churches cooperate through local associations, as well as state and national conventions, to accomplish the work of missions and evangelism.

Sullivan artfully reviewed several myths regarding Baptist polity. He detailed the four building blocks of Baptist polity: tradition, law, sound organizational principles, and theology. He compared and contrasted the Baptist denominational structure vis-à-vis other typical kinds of denominational structures. He concluded, of course, that the Southern Baptist organizational structure is preferred because it is more scriptural and maintains as sacrosanct the autonomy of the local church as it relates to every aspect of denominational life and practice. While Baptist draw their polity and structure from the New Testament church, the system by which Baptists have conducted their business as seen some refinement over they years.

In the last half of the book, Sullivan reviewed the inner workings of the Southern Baptist Convention, its agencies, boards, committees, trustee system, and financing. The reader is given a rare glimpse into the skeleton that supports the body of the Southern Baptist denomination. Sullivan demystified the process for conducting convention business. In doing so, he assured his readers that checks and balances are in place to prevent the convention from usurping local autonomy or moving away from the fundamentals of Baptist beliefs.


A few issues are worthy of comment. First, Sullivan served for twenty-two years as the president of the Baptist Sunday School Board. His bias for that agency is clear, especially with regard to the supposed inequities arising from the structure of the Interagency Council. He alleged that these inequities "created an environment which made the present agonies of the Southern Baptist controversy psychologically possible..." (84). However, he does not clarify or warrant his assertion. He seemed to be concerned that the Sunday School Department was not adequately represented with respect to the level of its influence on Southern Baptist life. Such inequity, he charged, created "all kinds of problems from which some of the ministries are still suffering today" (86) But, again, he did not say what problems. He called for balanced representation, but did not define what that balance should look like.

Second, Sullivan noted that several pre-Convention meetings (such as the Pastor's Conference) have arisen over the years. He cautioned that such meetings should not seek to influence the Convention's actions in a negative way (91). While this appears sound on its face, "negative way" is very subjective. One must remember that these pre-Convention meetings are independent, autonomous, and democratic bodies representing a constituency of the Southern Baptist Convention membership. While these special interest groups only relate to the Convention peripherally, the group members will do Convention business directly. Sullivan's angst regarding these meetings most likely stems from their use as a platform from which conservative presidents were groomed for election. Additionally, these conferences highlighted issues of concern for Southern Baptist. Early on during the conservative resurgence, these pre-Convention meetings were used to introduced problems and potential solutions ignored by the Baptist Press and a recalcitrant liberal-moderate bureaucracy. Sullivan had been a part of that bureaucracy for many years.

Sullivan clarified that all denominational entities (associations, state conventions, and the national convention) are organizationally equidistant from the local churches. Additionally, no other denominational entity can influence the work of another. Thus, associations do not select members of state executive boards and state conventions do not select members for national boards and committees. Each selects its own committee members, boards, and trustees. However, Sullivan does not explain how the appointment process happens at the national level. One is left with the impression that selection for service in the national convention is a matter of who one knows, not what one knows. Sullivan lamented that few laypersons serve in high profile national offices, yet the design of the system is such that those in the system select their successors who will in turn perpetuate the system. More transparency is required of the process.

Regarding the theological positioning of Southern Baptists, Sullivan asserted that Baptists are solidly middle conservative with only about ten percent leaning liberal or ultraconservative. His discussion raises several questions he does not answer. One, what is the basis of his 10-80-10 assessment; or is it simply a generalized application of the Pareto Principle? Two, what are Sullivan's definitions of liberal, conservative, and ultraconservative? Third, would other denominations (or other Southern Baptists) agree on that definition? Four, with regard to the theological spectrum (134), is there room for a position that would be neither liberal nor conservative? In other words, why are there only three nomenclatures? Five, is there a matrix of beliefs that can help identify a liberal from a conservative from an ultraconservative? What is the template from which he is working? This reader could not tell. Six, Sullivan stated that "the Convention itself is fairly well locked into a solid position..."(135), but one wonders whether Baptists of the past could discern a theological shift.

Sullivan took subtle jabs at the conservative resurgence. He persisted in asserting that the church was the foundational element of Southern Baptist life--marked by an adherence to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the priesthood of all believers. Those two important doctrines reflected some of the dominant elements of the liberal-moderate position at the height of the conservative resurgence. When conservatives charged that Southern Baptist professors taught from a neo-orthodox view of the Scriptures, the liberal-moderates stood behind their mantra of soul competency and individual priesthood. What they failed to realize is that Baptist polity could never trump Baptist theology.

Read Sullivan in order to understand why the Southern Baptist Convention, agencies, and churches do what they do the way they do it.

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