Civility and Calvinism (Part Two)
I have largely ignored writing about political machinations within ecclesiastical affairs, choosing to instead focus largely upon much more important issues such as biblical theology, the Great Commission, and the plight of the persecuted church. That I would dare to touch upon such an issue seems to bother Baptists in Georgia. They approved a resolution whose authors declared that blogs are used by “certain people…for divisive and destructive rhetoric at the expense of peace among the brethren.” The resolution stated that blogging is opposed “when it is used to cause division and disharmony among the members of our Southern Baptist family…. All personal attacks should cease immediately … [we] call upon bloggers to cease the critical second-guessing of these elected leaders; and be it further resolved that all Georgia Baptists respectfully request and expect that individuals who disrupt the fellowship through blogging repent and immediately cease this activity and no longer cause disharmony for the advancement of their own personal opinions and agendas.” Part of the reason for this may be the attitude displayed on some blogs, however, the anti-blogging resolution is part of a much larger issue.
Many within the SBC desire to eradicate any remaining doctrinal diversity and to dissuade all dissent by establishing theological positions that extend beyond the parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message (2000). This is the same pattern followed during the Conservative Resurgence. The 1963 BFM was replaced with the 2000 edition, and if history holds course, the same may be true of the 2000 edition. It seems that some were not bothered by causing “division and disharmony among the members of the Southern Baptist family” or participating in “critical second-guessing of…elected leaders” when those they opposed – the Moderates – were in control, but they themselves will tolerate no opposition.
In 2006, the trustees of the International Mission Board set new guidelines requiring trustees to “refrain from public criticism” of trustee policies and all “board-approved actions,” and “to refrain from speaking in disparaging terms” of either fellow trustees or IMB personnel. The guidelines were put in place after Wade Burleson, a trustee, spoke out against new IMB policies forbidding any individual from serving as a missionary who either admitted to having a “private prayer language” and/or being baptized by an individual deemed “unqualified” by the IMB trustees. The Rev. Dwight McKissic, who admits to having a private prayer language, spoke out against the policy while speaking in a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. McKissic, who was a trustee at SWBTS at the time, was not expelled directly for his comments. Rev. McKissic, however, eventually stepped down from the responsibility because the pressure placed upon him took, in his words, “a tremendous toll on my family and ministry, and my wife believes it has negatively impacted my health.” This “encouraged” resignation came despite the fact that research conducted by the SBC’s own LifeWay found that 50% of SBC pastors believe the Holy Spirit gives some people a special language to pray to God. Those in power positions, who had never questioned the validity of LifeWay’s research at any point before, were unable to swallow the findings. Malcolm Yarnell was appointed to present a White Paper to dispute the results. A plethora of other White Papers, “intended to aid local church leaders by promoting biblical theology and polity” and to address “critical issues facing the churches” by “equipping them to think biblically and theologically,” have been written largely to support this narrowing agenda. Three of the major issues addressed by these papers are: the nature of baptism, speaking in tongues and “Calvinism”.
Morris Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, presented a report at the 2007 annual meeting entitled, “Leading by Example.” During that report he pointed out that the Executive Committee adopted the following statement about the BFM earlier in the year (and which was adopted by messengers at the annual meeting):
“The Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible; nevertheless we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention.”
Chapman noted in a follow-up article written for Baptist Press that three doctrinal issues are being debated greatly by Southern Baptists: Calvinism, private prayer language, and baptism. In relation to any debate over these issues, Chapman declared:
“Our forefathers had the foresight to determine the core beliefs about which they could agree in order that Southern Baptist churches could come together to send missionaries around the world and build seminaries to educate individuals who were to pastor, preach, teach, and minister in our churches. When we insist upon engaging each other in heated debates over doctrinal interpretations beyond the Baptist Faith and Message, our Convention shall sooner, or later divide into even more factions and distract us from fulfilling the Great Commission. Discussing whether the Baptist Faith and Message is a ‘minimal’ statement or an ‘exhaustive’ statement misses its greatest attribute — that attribute is that it is a ‘consensus’ statement that defines Southern Baptist doctrine as believed by the greater whole of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Upon these doctrinal statements, we agree to agree. In doctrinal statements not included in the Baptist Faith and Message, we must learn to agree to disagree and debate the differences as Spirit-filled Christians who love Christ and one another.”
Not all agree with Chapman. Earlier this year, for example, the article, “Redefining the BF&M”, appeared in the “Short Takes” section of the March 5 edition of The Southern Baptist Texan (SBTC) declaring:
“Let’s say it clearly, the Baptist Faith and Message is a minimum standard for our SBC agencies, not the exhaustive description of what they’re allowed to do in the conduct of their ministries. Those who want the agencies restrained from ‘going beyond the BF&M’ show little comprehension (or concern) for the unintended consequences of this proposal. There are various specific policies and interpretations that can reasonably be drawn from our statement of faith. Not all of these will be the consensus of the denomination but all will be approved by the convention-elected trustees of those agencies. So far, that works.”
Apparently it works for some, namely, those in control of the trustee boards and their sympathizers, but not for all, even when the majority of the denomination disagrees with the policies. A motion supporting the Executive Committee’s statement on the BFM was approved by the messengers attending this year’s annual meeting and declared the BFM as a “sufficient” doctrinal guide for agencies and institutions (I wonder how many Georgia Baptists voted in approval?). During debate over the motion prior to its approval, the Rev. Dwight McKissic spoke in favor of the motion, insisting that denominational agencies “should be subordinate to the Southern Baptist Convention.” He illustrated his point by noting that parents set the rules, not the children. McKissic also said he led his church to affiliate with the SBC on the basis of the BFM, but “now decisions are being made that are not consistent with it.” Some SBC leaders vociferously disagreed with the motion immediately after its approval, including Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Seminary, who described the BFM as a “minimalist” statement.
“Charismatics” (for lack of a better term) within the SBC are now excluded from service with both the IMB and NAMB. Will “Calvinists” be excluded from service next, despite the BFM including and affirming the doctrine of election? One also wonders about the relation “Calvinists” will have in the future with fellow Southern Baptists who currently show civility towards them. While Chapman, for example, has called for civility between “Calvinists” and non-Calvinists, last year he maintained that the debate between the two was “fair” in the “halls of academia”, but that Southern Baptists did “not need to bring the debate into our churches at the cost of dividing our congregations.” Many have suggested that “Calvinist” ministers serve only in “Calvinist” churches and not apply for positions in congregations consisting primarily of non-Reformed members. Bill Harrell, pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, GA, and chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, has expressed that the EC has “two important issues to solve in our Convention”:
First, concerning the matter of worship style, we must decide what identifies us as Southern Baptists. This will be difficult, because we are autonomous, but I believe our Convention leaders need to make a more definitive statement about how we identify ourselves in worship and who we are as Southern Baptists. We are never going to be homogeneous, never have been, but there are some lines we should never cross as Southern Baptists. . . . Second, we must deal with Calvinism. I have solid Christian friends, some of them pastors who are Calvinists, but I think they are wrong about the tenets of five point Calvinism. In my opinion too much of the New Testament must be ignored or radically interpreted to embrace the five points of Calvinism. . . . I think the problem of Calvinism in the SBC could be solved if we establish one ground rule. If a man wants to start a Calvinistic church, let him have at it. If a man wants to answer a call to a Calvinistic church he should have the freedom to do that, but that man should not answer a call to a church that is not Calvinistic, neglect to tell them his leanings, and then surreptitiously lead them to become a Calvinistic church. That is not to suggest that all of our Calvinistic friends do that, but when it is done it is divisive and hurtful.
Since, in his opinion, the “New Testament must be ignored or radically interpreted to embrace the five points of Calvinism,” does Harrell believe that ministers and churches who embrace the doctrines of grace are outside of SBC boundaries? If the Executive Committee “must deal with Calvinism,” does this mean that committee members and denominational leaders “need to make a more definitive statement about how we identify ourselves in worship and who we are as Southern Baptists” in relation to the issue? This is certainly implied by Harrell. Bill Curtis, another South Carolina pastor, responded to Harrell and others by declaring:
The Conservative Resurgence mobilized tens of thousands of Southern Baptists to reaffirm our commitment to the inerrancy of scripture and the mandate of the Great Commission. However, it appears that some within our convention cannot be content unless they are waging a theological battle on some front. Make no mistake, we must be on guard against false teachers “who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). Today, one of the most popular targets is evangelistic Calvinism. Despite the fact that the 2000 BF&M accommodates evangelistic Calvinism, there are some who are trying to identify it as heresy. Regardless of these claims, made by Bill Harrell and others, evangelistic Calvinism does not fall into this category. The 2000 BF&M has this to say about sovereign election: “Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.” No matter what people may try to read into this statement, Reformed Theology is not defined as being outside the scope of our Southern Baptist theology. As a result, anyone who rebukes a brother over the degree to which he affirms evangelistic Calvinism is imposing a standard for fellowship not consistent with the 2000 BF&M. While most pastors and theologians have very clear personal positions on this subject, and often enjoy discussing and debating them, we should not cease cooperation because of them. Once again, I would submit that the decision about evangelistic Calvinism is an issue to be decided by the local church. There is room within our Southern Baptist family for those who are in different places along the spectrum of the five points of evangelistic Calvinism.
The questions remain as to whether or not those in positions of power and denominational influence will leave the matter for local churches to settle and whether or not the majority of Southern Baptists are willing to cooperate with the minority “Calvinists” in the days ahead.