As this year’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) approaches, providentially my family will not attend due to the birth of our fourth child. While we met this realization with some sadness, after reading the recent release of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” I find myself reacting with a sense of deep concern over what may take place. It seems that this year’s Convention, slated to elect the first African American President of the SBC, as well as to add the helpful descriptor “Great Commission Baptists” may not live up to any of those high aspirations.
Of course, my reading of the events in the past few years of SBC life color my viewpoint. As an enthusiastic supporter of the GCR (Great Commission Resurgence) in Orlando as well as a joyful messenger to the unifying convention in Phoenix great hope for the future of the Convention swelled in me. The issues faced at the moment are serious, but to use a medical analogy as ones that may require some kind of non-invasive treatment like a salve or medication.
Others in the Convention, particularly those identifying themselves as “traditionalists” do not view the current events in the Convention as encouraging. In the same type of medical analogy “traditionalists” might describe the Convention’s problems as needing a scalpel in order to excise the cancerous growth. Before some jump to say that sounds unfair, look through the document asking “who or what do these “traditionalists” identify as the unwanted growth?” The Preamble to the Statement identifies the New Calvinism movement as the unacceptable growth in the Convention.
While voices like Tom Ascol, and Jon Akin have responded well to theological aberrations in this Statement, may I address the careless fashion in which the framers of this Statement have treated fellow brothers in Christ but more importantly the commands of Scripture when it comes to erring brothers?
Let me state at the onset that nothing like the SBC existed in Scripture. Principles that we find in God’s Word appeal to the believer or to the local church. Even so, in broad strokes such principles can be applied to the interpersonal dealings between Christian brothers in an organization like the SBC.
Thus let us begin by understanding that all interpersonal dealings between believers should be characterized by love. Jesus states in John 13:35 that our love for one another proclaims to the world to whom we belong. This does not preclude lovingly speaking the truth into the life of another believer in order to help them grow in Christ which is the tone in Ephesians 4:15. Can one who reads this Statement from the “traditionalist” hear a loving truth applied like a salve for the benefit of a brother or does one hear the cold slice of the scalpel removing that which is unwanted from Christ’s body?
Second, conflict between believers should follow the process Jesus outlines in Matthew 18:15- 20. This process progressively moves from private confrontation to public exclusion. While the sin of one brother against another brother precipitates the first private confrontation in this process, doctrinal error most certainly should count as a fault against a brother. In other words the treatment of sin issues begins with a private salve and not the public scalpel. While I cannot know if the signatories of this Statement have followed the first step, as a younger Southern Baptist who has Calvinistic leanings, I have not been so confronted. Perhaps these men do not see this passage as applying directly in the SBC context. If that be the case, then certainly the wisdom of moving slowly and carefully to confront erring brothers should seize the day. This caution would seem to demand a loving debate to be settled as our polity affords by a floor vote; in other words how the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 came to be. Do the “traditionalists” call now for a debate and revision of the BF&M 2000 to be applied like a salve to those areas of particular disagreement identified within the current document such as the topic of regeneration? To the contrary, do they simply mean to silence dissenting voices in order to maintain their preferred theology? As a paradigm for such broad based confrontation, perhaps they should consult the work of Martin Luther. He posted his ninety-five theses FOR BIBLICAL DEBATE, not for affirmation or denial. I distinctly remember my Church History professor laboring to display the lengthy amount of time and literary effort the fiery Dr. Luther expended before he famously excised the cancerous church from the body of Christ. Against their refusal to present biblical evidence he finally stated “Here I stand, I can do not other. God help me.” Can the “traditionalists” say that these new Calvinists display a disregard similar to the Roman Church with regard to biblical reasoning?
Thirdly, if it is true that the New Calvinists actively seek to divide and not merely debate the issues, then it would seem that Titus 3:10-11 would apply. Here the divisive brother in the congregation is warned twice and then effectively put out of fellowship since he is warped and sinful. The whole of the church discipline process may not be applied, however a private salve of confrontation still comes first, then the scalpel of exclusion. In the SBC context, what resolutions have been offered as a salve to address the divisiveness of the New Calvinists? What public debates have occurred to directly address with hopes of healing divisive viewpoints? While articles like Brad Whitt‘s in the Baptist Courier may attempt such confrontation, to my knowledge no such official statements have been made on the SBC Convention floor apart from an institutional question to Dr. Mohler of Southern Seminary. Are these brothers actually calling for the divisive members to be cut off by exclusion before the balm of loving confrontation has been applied?
Finally, if a “traditionalist” must offer denials of Calvinistic viewpoints rather than debating their merits, then biblically according to 2 John 10-11 Calvinists fall under the category of heretics and false teachers. At the very least the hand of fellowship should be denied to all such people. No fellowship, not even the confused one described in the second, third, and fourth paragraph of the Preamble to this Statement should extend from a “traditionalist” if he understands Calvinism this way. Further, refrain from calling for refusal of fellowship such as in paragraph four of the preamble which states, “we are not insisting that every Southern Baptist affirm the soteriological statement below in order to have a place in the Southern Baptist family,” is tantamount to committing “the wickedness” of the Calvinists. Do the signers of this Statement really refuse to obey the Bible and call for every SBC entity and church to cut fellowship from Calvinists or have they preempted the biblically appropriate means for healing an interior the church family debate?
Hopefully with these observations and careful examination of the document messengers to the 2012 SBC Convention will seek to utilize its release as an opportunity to debate and reaffirm the broad theological framework of soteriology in the BF&M 2000. This is the consensus that the framers state they want in paragraph two of the preamble, but argue against by further defining it throughout the affirmations and denials. Further, if elements of the New Calvinism seek to divide, then perhaps Southern Baptists will again take up the call to carefully but quickly confront them as privately as possible according to Scripture. Overall, this Statement should be ruled out of order since it seeks to confront with a scalpel of exclusion that which the Scriptures state should first be addressed with a salve of confrontation.