Diversity in the SBC: Finding Common Ground

by Matt Svoboda on October 13, 2008 · 4 comments

In my last post I talked about how we ought to celebrate the diversity within the SBC when it comes to philosophy of ministry.  In this second post I am going to talk about the theological diversity of the SBC.

Again, we must approach this with great humility.  There is always going to be theological differences and we will kill our churches if we proceed in arrogance.  No one wants to hear angry, mean spirited men argue about theology.  People do want to hear humble, grace fulfilled discussion about the truths of Scripture.

We, as Southern Baptists, disagree on more theology than any other convention.  We disagree on almost every topic you can think of; pneumatology, ecclesiology, soteriology,  eschatology, and almost every other -ology.  Fifty percent of SBC pastors believe that their is such a thing as a ‘private prayer language.’  We have SBC churches that believe in Baptism of the Holy Spirit, cessationism, continuationism, and every other doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and we aren’t close to being in uniformity on our Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

We are diverse in our Doctrine of Salvation.  There is a never ending battle between those who believe in free will and those who believe in predestination.  The topics of election, depravity, atonement, and eternal security is a never ending battle ground.

Thankfully, there are great truths that bring us together!  We are Baptist for a reason!  We, as a convention, agree very much so on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, Trinity, Justification by Faith, and many more great truths.  We all must remember to look to our authoritative, infallible, inerrant, and fully inspired Bible in order to sort out these great truths.

Since there are truths that have brought us together; what should we do about the doctrines where there is diversity?  Dr. R. Albert Mohler has created a great system.  He has created a ‘three tier system’ that prioritizes different doctrines.  First tier issues are doctrines that make us Christians; Deity of Christ, Trinity, Resurrection of Jesus, Justification by faith, etc.  Second tier issues that dictate where we worship/who we worship with; Baptism, Lord’s Supper, etc..  Third tier issues are issues we can disagree with each other and still worship in the same church; Calvinism, Eschatology, etc.

I am not sure that Dr. Mohler and I would agree on every topic, whether it should be in the First, Second, or Third tier.  It is a discipline that all believers should partake in!  If a believer puts Eschatology in the third tier then they should be able to disagree with their pastor and other church members.  They also should not spend majority of their time discussing and debating a third tier issue.

Pastors, lay people, churches and denominations would benefit greatly if they would prioritize certain doctrines.  How?  By looking at Scripture and seeing what Scripture emphasizes!

Once we prioritize certain doctrines we should not divide over the less crucial ones.  As a denomination, we cannot survive if we divide over every possible doctrine.  Believers should not be getting upset to see statistics that their is some sort of a ‘Calvinistic Resurgence’ in the SBC.  We should be getting upset if there is a theological liberal resurgence!  A resurgence that disregards Scripture.  We must hold strong to truths that are crucial to the faith and allow their to be diversity on truths that aren’t as crucial and clear.

In humility, let us fight for the faith and the doctrines that make up our great faith!  Let us also allow for theological diversity so that we might better fulfill our Great Commission.  We could not do what we do in missions if we did not allow some diversity.

Remember, we will all be corrected when we get to heaven.

I want to make a final point.  I do agree with the the IMB’s latest policies regarding Baptism, Complentarianism, and Tongues. Uniting with theological autonomous churches in doing missions and supporting/sending missionaries are not one in the same.  We are a confessional people and we must hold our missionaries to confessional standards.  We MUST allow for theological diversity in our churches.  We also MUST have some set standards to hold our missionaries to.  I do not at all think this contradicts.

At the end of each post on SBC Voices, we suggest related posts from other Southern Baptist websites and blogs. These will often include contrary points of view and should not be understood as endorsements.

What Other SBC Voices Are Saying

1 Tony Kummer October 14, 2008 at 8:48 pm

@ Matt: Thanks for writing this follow up post. Don’t be discouraged for the lack of comments – I take that as a sign that you’ve handled all sides of the question fairly.

Here’s a question for you. What doctrines do you think are the most disputed in the SBC right now that we should relegate to the 3rd tier?

2 Matt Svoboda October 15, 2008 at 9:43 pm

1) The issue of tongues. I agree with the SBC’s position on tongues, but I think the controversy has gone too long. Those who disagree ought to move on or leave and those who are for it need to stop ‘proving their rightness’ and move on.
2) Calvinism. I don’t understand why people get so worked up when they here Calvinism is growing in the SBC. It is a third tier issue that ought to be non-divisive. If an Arminian and a Calvinist can’t sit in a pew together than the Calvinist doesn’t understand Calvinism and the Arminian doesn’t understand Arminianism. Both of them promote unity, just in different ways. If you really hold to your theology, then hold to it in the midst of opposing views.
3) Theology of seeker sensitive churches- I do not agree with most of the theology that goes into their philosophy of ministry. But it is another third tier issue.
4) Hair-splitting gospel arguments. I have heard endless arguments of ‘implications of the gospel.’ We spend way too much time debating and splitting hairs over small details of different implications of the gospel than we spend time proclaiming the central message of the gospel. Some churches focus on different implications of the gospel than others. One might be more ‘relational’ and another one might be more ‘social.’ Neither of these are wrong, there needs to be balance, but the disputing to try to prioritize implications of the gospel is ridiculous! One implication is not more serious than another. Some implications just better fit the personality of some churches than others! But there does need to be an effort for balance.

I would say those are the four biggest ones.

Matt Svobodas last blog post..College Football Rankings… And what they should be!

3 Tony Kummer October 20, 2008 at 8:25 am

@Matt Svoboda: Thanks – I’m working up a list for a poll at some point here on the site

4 Dr. James Willingham March 23, 2009 at 12:28 am

Dear Matt: The problem with every one’s view including yours and Dr. Mohler’s and Dr. Patterson’s and mine is that we all have some things right and some things wrong. For example, when I graduated with my D.Min, the fellow in front of me was a missionary who prayed in a private prayer language. I rather suspect that I know where this thing comes from, but it is a grief to know that one cannot discuss such issues without some one getting hurt. It is like the issue of liberalism where everyone has identified liberalism with the battle with the Moderates. The truth is liberalism began in the Sovereign Grace period in Baptist History, that is, in the 16001 & 1700s. True liberalism is not a case of unbelief; it is a confidence in orthodoxy that is willing to allow for differences due to the view that truth will win the day, if given its freedom. Confidence in God and His word was the source of liberty of conscience as we know it. And the checks and balances of our federal government grew out of Soveeign Grace or Calvinism (as long as you leave out the state church idea). Interestingly enough a strong conspiracy developed to force Calvinism out of the public venue (see Dr. Carroll Quigley’s work, Tragedy and Hope (NY: Macmillan, 1965) were the theology of the great conspiracy is set forth, advocated and promoted. (Does the word pluralism ring a bell? Or so-called modernism?). I think it is about p.1239 (?). Mr. Quigley’s other work, The Anglo American Establishment provides further information on the conspiracy. So we have had other parties messing in American theology to muddy the waters. Some of our views were prepared for us some centuries ago. You have to research out side the box. But I must cease as it is late.

Dr. James Willinghams last blog post..The Climax of the Reformation

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