Something of a dustup occurred in the SBC Blogosphere recently when Norm Miller, the Director of Communication and Marketing at Truett-McConnell College (SBC) in Georgia and editor/moderator/contributor for the Traditionalist SBCToday.com group blog commented in a post about the ideal SBC president and who it should NOT be. Miller referred to the Lifeway study called The Gospel Project and its inclusion of writers from Christian backgrounds beyond the SBC. Apparently, Miller thinks it a negative thing to bring in other perspectives to SBC Bible Study material and he blames Ed Stetzer, General Editor of The Gospel Project (www.gospelproject.com) and head of Lifeway Research for this egregious error:
“To allow those outside of our denomination and who hold doctrinal positions diametrically opposed to our doctrinal positions to then comment to us about theology and doctrine through a teaching curriculum is not a matter that should require me to use scripture to refute as we are aware of our doctrinal differences with Anglicans, Methodists and Presbys. To wit: works salvation, falling from grace, and baptizing babies, respectively. I should not have to offer biblical evidences to the contrary of those positions which I believe are not biblical, nor are they Baptist. I therefore see inviting such people to speak to the SBC in a teaching curriculum, e.g., smacks of ecumenicism at least, and allowing wolves in the sheeps’ pen at worst.This is not the sort of behavior that pleases me in a Southern Baptist leader (Stetzer). Such behavior is not Southern Baptist statesmanship; it is treason. I would seek no such traits in an SBC presidential candidate. — Norm”
According to Miller it is ecumenicism, faithless shepherding, and treason to add in voices from the broader Christian traditions to Southern Baptist literature. Never mind that nothing that is written in The Gospel Project undermines or contradicts any Baptist doctrine. It is just the fact that Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians are quoted in the literature only in places where they are inagreement with our teaching, that is so offensive and traitorous. I would understand the concern if the teachings listed above that we DO NOT agree with were being advocated in TGP, but Miller is saying that because someone from another denomination is in error in one place that they then have nothing to offer us and to act as they do is an an act of denominational treason – even where we think they are correct and speaking Biblically. This is dangerous and unsustainable. With that metric as a guide, Southern Baptists should then reject every statement made by any Baptist leader who also was in favor of racial segregation pre-1970 (even the teachings that we agree with – even the leader himself) because we have now rejected that teaching as gross theological error. We tend to be more charitable toward our own errors, however.
Ed Stetzer wrote a response yesterday where he compared The Gospel Project’suse of other voices with Dr. Paige Patterson’s quoting Christians from other traditions in his recently completed commentary on Revelation. Stetzer asks if Patterson, a Traditionalist hero, is a traitor for doing so? The obvious answer would be “no.” So, what is the difference? I guess that people you agree with can engage in actions that you might find offensive in those with whom you do not agree.
But, this all begs a larger question: Who are the real traitors to the body of Christ? Is it people like Ed Stetzer who meet with and work with and bring in voices from the larger body of Christ on the areas of our common agreement? Or, is it people who seek to isolate themselves from the larger church in one narrowing move after another? I would prefer leaving the treason/traitor talk aside as I think that the whole concept is ludicrous, but if it is going to be used, perhaps we can find apply its use in other directions as well?
When we continuously isolate ourselves along ever narrowing parameters, we are not protecting doctrine – we are actually doing damage to other aspects of the doctrine that we should be preserving. John 17 records Jesus’ prayer to the Father that we be one just as he and the Father are one. Romans 12:5,10 says that we belong to one another and are to be devoted to one another in brotherly love. We know that if we are truly children of God through faith in Christ that we will spend eternity together. Now, I am all for denominational distinctives and I am not advocating some kind of “let’s all just get along” theology. On the contrary. I think that vigorous debate and disagreement can be a good thing as it sharpens us and teaches us how to love one another even when we don’t agree. We can be unified in Christ and still disagree on things. But, what about where we DO agree? When an Anglican says something that I can affirm as true, isn’t that something that we should highlight and celebrate? Aren’t those points of agreement between brothers who differ in some areas the very things that we should be excited about in relation to the witness of the church and Christian unity? Now, our unity is in Christ, not our agreement on every possible doctrinal issue. But, isn’t highlighting what we do agree on a good thing? Why would we want to disparage it?
The Gospel Project only presents doctrine and writings from throughout the larger Christian community that Baptists could agree with and that is consistent with our confession of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp). Really, TGP actually strengthens the Baptist position instead of weakening it. The BFM2000 highlights Baptist distinctives but it also places the SBC in the midst of the larger body of Christ and calls us to work and play well with others who are not of our tribe. For example:
Article VI: The Church – “The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.” So, we recognize that the “church” is more than just the SBC – it is every redeemed believer in Christ everywhere.
Article IX: The Kingdom – “The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King. Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ. Christians ought to pray and to labor that the Kingdom may come and God’s will be done on earth. The full consummation of the Kingdom awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the end of this age.” Here we see an admission that the Kingdom of God is bigger than the SBC. People all over the world are submitting to God and are entering His Kingdom.
Article XIV: Cooperation – “Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.” It seems like The Gospel Project found a way for Christians of different denominations to express truth together in ways that neither violated conscience nor compromised loyalty to Christ.
It seems as though Ed Stetzer and the writers of The Gospel Project, in trying to bring in the best scholarship from other denominations and find common ground with believers from the larger church who make up God’s Kingdom, are actually living out the implications of the BFM2000. Those accusing them of treason are perhaps the ones who are engaging in their own form of treason – against the larger body of Christ (again, the term is unhelpful and I don’t think anyone is actually committing treason – I am simply using the term to prove a point).
We will always have different denominations and churches. We see certain things differently. But, when we stop making an effort to work together and learn from one another along the lines of where we at least DO agree, then we begin to do violence to the common unity that should exist in the larger body of Christ. When we isolate ourselves even from those we agree with, we begin to fall into schism and we ignore the larger spiritual truth that we are all one in Christ. I join with Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:13 in asking, “Is Christ divided?”
When we ignore or disparage those voices from other Christian streams who are saying things that we can agree with just because they are not of our tribe, we damage our witness before the world. Jesus said that the world would know that we are his disciples by how we love one another (John 13:34-35). What do we witness to when we declare it to be denominational treason when we simply quote from other Christians in other denominations? At that point, do we not then commit another form of treason against the larger body of Christ of which we are a part? Is Christ divided?
When we eliminate the insight from brothers and sisters of other streams and cease to interact with them, even on areas of agreement and work with them where we can, do we not weaken ourselves and also weaken them? If the teaching in 1 Corinthians 12-14 is true about how each member of the body needs the other and without us each contributing then the whole body suffers, are we not causing the whole body of Christ to suffer through calling for isolation and attempting to shut off communication and the transmission of thought? Is that not a move against the body of Christ? Could that not be considered a form of treason? Is Christ divided?
There are good reasons that I am a Baptist and that I am not an Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, etc. There are significant areas with which I disagree with those groups and where I affirm Baptist theology and ecclesiology. But, I would actually be denying my own confession of faith if I did not also attempt to work with and learn from other segments of the body of Christ whenever I could – especially in the common areas where we agree. To shut myself off from them and ONLY communicate with and learn from Southern Baptists would be its own form of treason against the larger church and would perhaps label me a traitor – not to the SBC necessarily, but to the body of Christ as a whole, of which the SBC is just a part (again, the treason/traitor talk is silly – I hope the reader can see the point I am trying to make). As Article VI on the Church says, God’s church is made up of the redeemed from all ages and every people group around the world. It is made up of those who God has saved and loved, not only of those that we approve of and want to be in fellowship with, necessarily. We should submit to God’s will and not try and establish our own when it comes to the Bride of Christ.
I have been blogging as an SBC pastor since 2006. In that time period, I have seen the Baptist Identity movement emerge, the Joshua Convergence, the John 3:16ers, and now the Traditionalists. There are a lot of good people in those movements – some that I consider friends. There is much that they promote that we can all benefit from. But, those movements, on their worst days, have also – at times – leaned toward isolationism. Accusing those who want to engage with Christians from other denominations on points of agreement of “treason” is not helpful and could be seen as a form of unnecessary division itself – against the larger body of Christ. My prayer is that that is NOT what is believed among those segments of SBC life, that the criticism of The Gospel Project along these lines will cease, and that we will seek to celebrate the points at which we agree with our brothers and sisters of other denominations while simultaneously holding to our own Biblical convictions as Baptists in humility with charity toward all.
Again I ask, Is Christ divided?