One day, I was walking through the woods near a ravine, and I heard someone calling for help. I went over to the ravine, and saw that the rope bridge had fallen in, and that one rope was all that was holding the remains from plummeting into the river. I saw a man desperately clinging to the remains of the bridge, screaming for help.
I also noticed that he was wearing a shirt that said “Lottie Moon is my hero!”, so I called out to him “Do you need help? It looks difficult, but I could never let a Baptist brother fall into the ravine!”
He responded “Certainly! And yes, I am a Southern Baptist!”
So I asked him, “Southern Baptist? Conservative Resurgence or CBF-sympathizer?”
He responded that he had slept in the van to be there to vote for Adrian Rogers!
Then I called out, “BFM2K or ’63?”
“Pro-GCR or Anti-GCR?”
“SBC, CR, BFM2K and GCR, but Traditionalist or Calvinist?”
So I cut the rope “Die, Heretic!”
Now, a few observations.
#1. Obviously, I made this story up. I live on the flatlands of east Arkansas. There’s no ravines deep enough to drop anyone into.
#2. I also do not think that anyone in this, no matter how heated they have gotten, would actually drop their opponent into a river to drown.
Here, however is the real point:
Southern Baptists have long held to various positions regarding the manner in which God works in salvation. That is one of the oddities of our heritage. While we have come to realize that founding a denomination to send slave owners as missionaries was detestable, and we should have founded a denomination to eliminate slavery, our heritage is not theologically grounded as much as it was practically grounded.
This differentiates us from the historic divisions of General or Particular Baptists or many of the other divisions that exist among Baptist groups around the world. First and foremost, the Southern Baptist Convention was born out of a desire to send missionaries to spread the Gospel.
That means that our history, founders, and traditions are diverse in viewpoint. There are clearly Calvinist theologians in our history (regarding grace in salvation, not agreeing with Calvin on issues like paedobaptism or executing heretics). There are clearly not-Calvinists in our history, or those who would fit with the current Traditionalist statement. And one thing that an honest look at our history will find is this: pastors and professors have long cared more about this than the people that fill our churches and fund our missions work do.
The original unity of the Southern Baptist Convention, the heritage and tradition from those founders, was primarily a functional unity. It was based in sound theology and doctrine: I do not think you will find any 1845 Southern Baptists who denied the Bible as the Word of God, the Trinity, and the Exclusivity of Christ. They all also appear to have agreed on the need for missions and evangelism.
Apparently, though, some went out and thought that through their witness, the Elect, known and chosen before eternity, particularly redeemed by Christ, would be drawn to faith and obedience. Others, though, went out and thought that through their witness, the elect, known before eternity and enabled by grace or the remains of the image of God, would hear the Gospel and respond with faith and obedience.
Either way, they went. They witnessed and preached, they taught and practiced, and a little group of nearly redneck theologians survived being based in the only part of the country that was destroyed by the Civil War to become the largest functional body of Baptist believers in the world today.
I do not think they did so by cannibalizing each other. Or by dropping in the river the ones that went to Southern instead of Southwestern or preferred tulips to roses.
From an application perspective, where do we go from here?
Unless someone attempts to force that the new Traditionalist statement becomes a mandatory confession/creed in the SBC, should we say that we should get back to work trying to make disciples, helping those disciples to organize into churches, and living in obedience to Jesus and His Word?
If it comes to the point of making a document, signed by a few hundred so far, the requirement for Southern Baptist ministry, then we’ve crossed a line of a different sort anyway, haven’t we? I have reservations and disagreements with aspects of the Traditionalist statement. I have good friends in ministry who like it and agree with it.
Guess what we are all working on together? Spreading the Gospel, that unless you all repent and trust in Jesus, recognizing that only His Blood can cleanse you from your sins, believing that God has raised Him from the dead, and knowing that He will return to judge the living and the dead, this is our goal.
Because we are all in agreement on this, are we not? That those who do not confess Christ in this life face the eternal judgment of the wrath of God in a place we typically call hell, right?
What binds us together ought to be the fundamental desire to see that message shared clearly throughout the world. I have yet to see a Southern Baptist Calvinist say we should not preach the Gospel; I have yet to see a Southern Baptist Traditionalist say it does not take the Grace of God to be saved.
That is the practical reality of life in the Southern Baptist Convention. We have never all fully agreed on some theological issues that other groups require unity on. We instead are unified around this: we are here to make sure that the world hears.
So, argue the points back and forth and let your iron sharpen the iron of others. But the sword you’re sharpening? Remember what it is actually for. It’s not to cut the rope and drop your brother in the ravine.