The Blog world tends to be transitory. This week I posted an article by Mike Bergman about baptism, and it got a few comments. Four years ago, baptism was one of the hottest topics in the blogosphere and an article like that might have blown up. Moderate alcohol consumption, tithing and other topics have had heir moment in the sun. Of course, Calvinism has remained front and center throughout all of this.
I have tended to be reactive, writing on whatever seemed to be the hot topic at the moment. But I have come to a series of convictions that I want to keep in front of our readers, whether they are hot or not.
- 1) The SBC, which I care about, is in deep trouble because of our tendency to splinter into camps and our inability to engage one another in a way that is productive and encouraging. The problem is attitudes more than it is doctrine.
- 2) Our discussions have created a false impression, which needs to be corrected. We share more in common theologically than we have in distinction.
- 3) In a healthy Christian environment, theological discussion is a good thing. Right now, we do not have a healthy environment. Our discussions too often turn into divisions. There is nothing wrong with doctrinal discussion, but the way we have done it – with charges and counter-charges, we have done more damage than good.
- 4) The situation in the SBC may not be dire, but it is not rosy. We need to unite around the things that matter and let our differences go back into perspective.
Here is my ultimate (and pointed, confrontational and accusatory) point.
The debate, in many of the issues that have arisen, has been dominated by the extremes – the passionate Calvinist and the equally passionate anti-Calvinist. I think there is a broad middle that has convictions on these issues but is no longer interested in fighting about it. There are those in this soteriological struggle who would rather fight to the death (of the SBC) than partner together with the other side. Those of us in the broad middle, Calvinists and traditionalists alike, need to rebuke the extremes and forge a new majority of Baptists who hold unswervingly to the truth of the Bible and its core doctrines, but desire to partner as Southern Baptists for Kingdom work.
So, I intend to use what little voice I have here to promote a “New Baptist Majority.” I have written about this previously, but I wish to define it a little better in this post.
This New Baptist Majority would be founded on four principles, that we would affirm and keep in the forefront in our discussions.
1) We are United in Christ
We have unity in Christ and it is important to maintain that unity. Ephesians 4:3 says we must be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Note that it does not say that we need to create, produce or build unity. We are to maintain it.
Alan Cross posted an article today that crystallized this for me. It was entitled (in part), “The SBC is already unified.” When I saw the title, I thought he might actually have lost his mind. But he explained that we are already united with Christ in the heavenly realm and that unity remains even if we fail, sometimes, to realize it here on earth.
We are one in Christ, baptized by one Spirit into one body and given one Spirit to drink. There is one Lord, one faith and one baptism; one God and Father of us all.
The New Baptist Majority recognizes and prizes the unity we have in Christ.
2) We are united around the Great Commission
Those who are united in Christ are also united in mission. We recognize that when we are fighting each other, we are not fighting against the principalities and powers, the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Before the One who bought us with his blood left this earth, he gave us orders – to make disciples of all nations. That is the church’s duty, to glorify God by making Christ known in this world.
There is a place for theological discussion that sharpens our understanding of the God we serve. There is a place for methodological and strategic discussion to be more effective and efficient in the mission. But we must be willing to unite around the mission we have been given and make disciples in the nations. We must make reaching the nations and evangelizing America a higher priority than winning the Calvinism wars or any of the other internecine battles that have marked us in recent years.
The New Baptist Majority is committed to the Great Commission.
3) We are united by the Baptist Faith and Message.
The SBC was embroiled in a lengthy battle to settle the theological destiny of our convention. We decided to be an inerrantist, conservative denomination. We have a doctrinal confession that states the core of our common belief, the Baptist Faith and Message. It is not an exhaustive doctrinal statement, but a summary of that doctrine which unites us. Even the authors of the confession reminded us that it was not a perfect statement, but an attempt to codify Baptist theological positions.
Within the context of the BF&M there are many theological camps. That is fine, as long as each of us also affirms the Baptist Faith and Message. Calvinists and non-Calvinists (soteriological traditionalists?) are equally Southern Baptist, if they affirm the BF&M. Cultural progressives are just as Southern Baptist as the traditional churches I grew up in (and the one I pastor) if they affirm the BF&M.
If we are going to make this convention work, we must refuse any attempt to elevate one group as more authentically Baptist than any other. We must not try to restrict fellowship or service in our convention on the basis of any standard beyond the Baptist Faith and Message.
Of course, two of our seminaries have antebellum “Abstracts of Principle” that were part of their charter. Yes, it is perhaps unfair that two of our seminaries have doctrinal statements that supersede the BF&M. I would point out several things.
- These were adopted long before the Baptist Faith and Message was even conceived.
- These Abstracts were part of the chartering of the seminaries and cannot be easily abrogated.
- The Abstracts, while much more specific (and certainly more Calvinist) than the BF&M, are not in violation of the BF&M.
Simply put, the Abstracts are not going any where. They are grandfathered into our denominational debate. That inequity may always exist. But that doesn’t change the fact that the basis of our unity as a convention needs to be the BF&M. In practical reality, New Orleans Seminary is the spearhead of the “soteriological traditionalist” document and is not a place sympathetic to Calvinism. The same, to some degree, could be said of Southwestern.
I think that is great. I love the fact that we have seminaries that lean to the Calvinist side and others that lean the other direction. But Southern and New Orleans are equally Southern Baptist.
The New Baptist Majority is committed to the BF&M as our doctrinal standard.
4) We are united by Cooperative Missions.
The heart and soul of the SBC is that we can be more effective in a world missions program cooperatively than we can be individually. It is obvious to me that many of our churches have forgotten that and have chosen the individual route. We need to show them the genius and the value of the Cooperative Program.
We need to make sure our International Mission Board and our North American Mission Board are effective in their work. People give when they believe that something is worthwhile and has eternal value. I already believe that our International Mission work is the best in the world. There are issues at the North American Mission Board, but hopefully they will get that figured out and it will be a mission agency we can point to a a place of unparalleled effectiveness.
And then, we need to give.
Each of us needs to commit ourselves to generous, joyful giving. Churches need to look at investing less in themselves and more in the worldwide mission of God. And the SBC needs to make sure that every dollar it receives is invested effectively in Kingdom work.
The most disturbing trend in the SBC is the decreasing commitment to missions through the Cooperative Program. Part of that may be driven by all the conflict and splintering, which creates a sense of futility. Why bother to give to that bunch, right? But as we create a New Baptist Majority that walks in unity and committed to eternally significant and unified work, maybe some of those attitudes will change.
Utopian? Perhaps. Let’s try it and find out!
The New Baptist Majority is committed to cooperative missions.
So, there are four pillars upon which this New Baptist Majority would be founded.
- Unity in Christ – won at the Cross and produced by the Holy Spirit.
- Unity in Mission – recognizing that the Great Commission is more important than our internecine battles.
- Unity in Theology – we unite around the BF&M, while recognizing those with different theological perspectives as equally authentic Baptists, as long as they are within the BF&M parameters.
- Unity through Cooperative giving – we realize we can do more together than separately.
I would make the following observations here.
1) I do not intend to ask anyone to sign anything. This is not about some kind of formal, political movement or an attempt to gain official adherents. It is a recognition of truth.
2) This is not meant in opposition to the Traditionalist statement that has created such a furor in recent days. In fact, I believe that signatories of that document could also affirm the New Baptist Majority. I will admit that the furor that has been raised by that document has helped to set my thinking. But this is not meant as a rebuke of or in opposition to that document.
3) This is really about personal commitment and spiritual perspective. It’s not about restructuring or reorganizing or political involvement, but it is about the heart.
So, there it is. What do you think?