At their annual meeting, held October 17-18, the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association in Kentucky voted 104-9 to withhold fellowship from Pleasant Valley Community Church in Owensboro. The Western Recorder has reported the action and given the primary reason for the action as the fact that the church was “too Calvinistic.” Associated Baptist Press also covered the story, mostly based on the story from the Western Recorder. Sadly, Baptist Press has not covered the story.
The facts do not seem to be in dispute. The association brought no charges of heresy against Pleasant Valley. They did not question whether the church was truly Baptist. They simply did not like that it was a Calvinist church, and expressed further doubts on whether the church would fellowship well with the rest of the association, seemingly based on the perceived effects of the church’s Calvinistic stance.
Tommy Webb, pastor of Buck Creek Baptist Church, moderator of the association and chair of the credentials committee was convinced that the action was “right in line” with the thinking of the association. As an autonomous Baptist entity, they certainly have the right to associate with whom they wish to associate. But I found this statement by the credentials committee chilling.
“While we know the doctrine is not heresy, we do recognize that it is vastly different than the majority of churches within the DMBA…”
In Baptist life, the majority rules. But is it the duty of the majority to eliminate the minority? Are we now saying that Southern Baptists who subscribe to the BF&M 2000, but diverge on other doctrinal issues, who do not fall in lock step with the majority are not going to be welcomed in associations? I hope that is not the case, but evidence would lead us to believe that among some are seeking to divide and destroy on the issue of Calvinism.
Back on May 9, SBC Today published an angry article from Dr. Jerry Nash, DOM of the ironically-named Harmony Baptist Association, which basically told anyone who wished to see the SBC change (with hints that his ire was directed at Calvinists) to leave the SBC. See it my way or leave. The action of this association seems to be cut from the same cloth. If you don’t see things the way we see things, you are not welcome in our group. We have, perhaps, wrongly defined unity as conformity.
Fortunately, I think most in the SBC are working to demonstrate that Calvinists and non-Calvinists can walk together in peace and work side-by-side in the SBC missions process. But we have a decision to make. Are we going to take the “us against them” tack which this association has obviously taken, or will we seek the “BIFF” approach (Baptists in Full Fellowship) I have advocated (similar to Dr. Lemke’s “in Christ” approach) which calls us to work together in fellowship in spite of our disagreements on issues like this.
It is clear that the association acted out of a desire to defend themselves against the threat they perceived Calvinism to be. But I don’t think the chief issue here is Calvinism. It is conformity. Do we all have to be alike to be Baptist? Can a Calvinist church fellowship in a largely non-Calvinist association? Can non-Calvinists endure the presence of Calvinists, even passionate ones? Can traditionalists and cultural relevants walk together in unity? By enforcing a conformity on this issue, I think the association made an unfortunate decision.
All too often, those who seek to defend their institution from change actually serve to destroy the institution they seek to defend. I believe that right now, the quickest way to destroy the SBC and its affiliated entities is for either side in the Calvinist debate to seek to eliminate the other. Dr. Page has rightly identified the Calvinist/non-Calvinist divide as the key issue in SBC life. Again, though, the issue is not so much Calvinism as whether we will enforce conformity on the issue. Can we work together with those who are on the othr side of the fence on this issue, or will we let the issue become a point of division?
If we want our denomination to go forward, we need to be building bridges between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, looking for ways of cooperating and not ways to divide into enclaves.
I am afraid that this is what Daviess-McLean has done in this case. Again, it is their right to choose their own affiliations, and if they choose to be anti-Calvinist and isolationist, that is also their right. But it does not build the kind of understanding and unity we need to build the SBC going forward.
I hope that the spirit of unity wins out over the spirit of division, for the sake of the SBC and our wonderful world missions program.