Defining the “New Baptist Majority”

by Dave Miller on June 14, 2012 · 28 comments

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?

 

 

1 Doug Hibbard June 14, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Do you want the cynical answer or the positive one?

I strive to see the SBC this way. It’s the way I was raised Southern Baptist. It’s the way I try to be a pastor in Southern Baptist life.

And if that means funding both a TULIP patch here and a Rhododendron patch there (seriously, we need a flower for the Traditionalists, or a tree. Maybe Magnolias?) so that we can train people to hold to the Bible as the Word of God, Jesus as the only Savior, and mankind spreading the Gospel as necessary and then turn those loose into pulpits and mission fields, then let’s do it.

Doctrine matters, but there is a reason that in the 500 years that there have been open theological debates, the exact nature of how regeneration, faith, salvation all work together between a Sovereign God and a responsible humanity has found different answers based in the same Scriptures. We ought to find a way to go forward and maybe preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and let the rest settle out.

2 Jeff Musgrave June 14, 2012 at 9:49 pm

I will just say AMEN to Doug’s comment rather than try and generate a lengthy one of my own. Although if I come up with any good flower suggestions for the traditionalists, I will add it in later.

3 Ben Coleman June 14, 2012 at 11:28 pm

I think the ‘traditional’ suggestion of the Daisy for Arminians is right out.

4 Doug Hibbard June 14, 2012 at 9:40 pm

And good words regarding the Abstract at Southern. People want to flay Mohler for holding to it, but how would we feel if he discarded it and started hiring real live Presbyterians? Or Catholics?

We’d have a fit that he was not regarding the Constitution/By-law mandated documents for his stewardship of the school and demand the trustees sack him. If we want the Abstract gone from Southern, then that has to work through the trustee process, which comes back to this: the messengers have to question the Nominating Committee’s choices and get trustees elected that will do it.

5 Dave Miller June 14, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Yeah, I think we need to keep discussing these issues, but the idea that we are going to solve them borders on the absurd.

I agree with your points, Doug.

6 Bob Hadley June 14, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Dave,

Shoot me an email. I would like to get together in New Orleans.

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7 Bruce H. June 14, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Dave,

Point 3 has created an interest. The BF&M is a basic outline of what we believe. Is there a book or commentary published that details each point? I know we have a bible that was published called HCSB Study Bible. Which way does it lean? It seems to me that we would have a more detailed approach with a commentary to explain more deeply the BF&M.

Great post.

8 Jeff Musgrave June 14, 2012 at 10:25 pm

You mean something like this?

9 Bruce H. June 14, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Thanks, Jeff. That is what I am looking for.

10 Chris Roberts June 14, 2012 at 10:38 pm

There’s also the classic from Herschel Hobbs, though it’s based on the 1963 BF&M.

11 Trey Medley June 15, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Love the Herschel Hobbs one. I’ve got a well worn copy in my library at home. But, as you say, it’s for the ’63 not the 2000.

12 Joshua June 14, 2012 at 10:40 pm
13 Bruce H. June 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Thanks, Joshua. Looks like I will be reading for a while. Great recommendation.

14 Joshua June 14, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Always glad to help!

15 Jerry Corbaley June 15, 2012 at 10:38 am

Bruce,

Yes, there are many opinions available regarding the interpretation of the Baptist Faith and Message. They are worth your effort to explore them. But none of them are any more ‘binding’ or ‘official’ than any other person’s opinion.

The BF&M was adopted by vote of the convention. No other book or commentary has been adopted in that way.

16 Dave Miller June 15, 2012 at 11:04 am

Yep.

17 Bill June 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Thank you… I feel much the same way, especially with point three. This member of the majority “middle that has convictions on these issues but is no longer interested in fighting about it” is just weary.

It is such a heart issue. I wonder (fearfully-hoping I’m wrong) if many of those who are calling for conversation are not conversing they are campaigning. Many appear to simply be talking past one another. And I am just tired. If we REALLY want to get past this and focus on working together it seems that we could have done it by now.

We truly have more in common that we have in distinction. I praise God for those who have strong convictions on these things who are simply laboring for the gospel instead of politicking for influence. I pray many embrace your call to the “New Baptist Majority.”

18 Jack Maddox June 14, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Sign me up Dave – this is exactly where I am many that I know are at! May we unite and not divide and may both ‘extremes’ be simply that.

19 John K June 15, 2012 at 12:08 am

Sounds a little 4 point Calvinistic to me. 4 points of Unity, kind of sounds biblical.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26
12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

4 points of Unity might work, but that would mean we would have to put Christ first.

20 Dave Miller June 15, 2012 at 12:15 am

There is a reason that is the first point.

21 Andrew Lindsey June 15, 2012 at 7:28 am

Thank you for your work on this. IF there is to be ongoing unity within the SBC (and I pray that there is) it must be centered on the 4 points you have outlined.

22 Rob Freshour June 15, 2012 at 10:31 am

If indeed there is such a “broad middle” in SBC life today – other than the waistlines of far too many SBC pastors – that’s where I live. Excellent post, per usual, Dave. Thank you!

23 Dave Miller June 15, 2012 at 11:05 am

Maybe my “broad middle” is part of the reason that I am so passionate about the broad middle.

24 Clark Dunlap June 15, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I like it! The Broad Middlers! Not to be confused with Bette. I do think there is room for this but now, Dr Adam Harwoods gracious reply to my latest blog notwithstanding, I’m gonna be afraid that at any moment someone with a Paige Patterson Haircut is going to jump out from around a corner, point at me and scream, “New Calvinist! New Calvinist!”

25 Trey Medley June 15, 2012 at 6:03 pm

I’d love to see this become a huge thing. We need to hold to the authority of Scripture now and come together to do what it says.

26 Zack Zbinden June 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Sign me up to be a member of the New Southern Baptist Majority Broad Middle Bridge Building Unifiers. I think our Heavenly Father will be pleased when his children set aside their pride and choose to love one another. I know I am happiest when my kids get along!

27 Dave Miller June 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm

NSBMBMBBU?

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