Last night I heard the most remarkable story about how our theological bigotries (yes, I will call it that) put up stumbling blocks to the Gospel.
A friend of mine and I are in the beginning stages of Appalachian Deaf outreach with the hope of eventually having a church plant. We have our planter but he is one of those “hates denominations” types. We were swapping horror stories so he could see it’s no different for anyone else, we just have better experiences and hope for the convention.
My friend told us about his experience with their local association. Their association is very much anti-Calvinistic, to the point where if they even think they’ve smelled a tiny whiff of Calvinism, you and your church are heretics damned to the deepest level of hell. The irony here is the only church that was willing to host their church was, wait for it, a Reformed Baptist Church that is ARBCA-only affiliated.
So they have grown to where they were ready to get their own building. They went to the association for support, and in the course of discussion the DOM asked about the RB church, thinking this was a RB church plant.
Friend: “No, I’m a Southern Baptist, our church is an SBC church, we support our state convention and Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf, etc. We take advantage of any Baptist resources we can, and we don’t care if they’re Calvinist or not.”
DOM: “You know, I don’t think we can work together, we are too far apart theologically.”
Friend: “I’ll sign the BFM today if that’s what you’re worried about. I don’t care what your soteriology is. 99% of Deaf people don’t know Jesus, 750 Deaf per day die and go to hell. I don’t have time to argue about soteriology when Deaf people are going to hell.”
DOM: “I’m sorry, we can’t partner with you.”
Friend: “Look, you believe the order of salvation, right? And you believe it looks like this, right? (Quickly outlines ordo salutis, DOM nods) Well, I believe the same as you except for one thing I define a bit differently. That’s it. Are you really going to sit here and argue with me about this when I’ve been telling you Deaf people are going to hell and you can help us reach them?”
DOM: *gets up, gathers papers, leaves the meeting without a word*
Long story short, through the provision of God they were able to secure their own building, paid for and much of the renovation and construction donated. This is in an area where the Deaf community is very hostile to the gospel, drugs and crime high, and they are reaching previously unreached people. Their church is, in Deaf ministry terms, a mega church. (Any Deaf church with more than 15-25 members is large. 30-50 is huge. More than this is mega. They’ve got at least 100.) The association still wants nothing to do with them, despite their obvious successes and cooperation with other Southern Baptist organizations, including their state convention.
Of the group of Deaf pastors who heard this story, not a single jaw did not hit the floor after we were told this. We could not fathom that this man would walk out of an opportunity to reach the largest unreached people group in the world in his own backyard. To this group of Deaf pastors, this was just one more example of the hearing establishment finding a reason to tell the Deaf we our way was not good enough. But to me, who has kept up with what is going on in our convention, it was a heartbreaking reminder that our theology sometimes blinds us to our cooperative mission.
As Southern Baptists, we have far more in common than we have in difference. We as a convention hold to the Baptist Faith & Message in common doctrine, the Great Commission in common mission, and for these two things should easily be able to cooperate together to impact lostness. That some of us are so willing to cut BF&M-affirming Southern Baptists out of our cooperative resources over what — for us as Southern Baptists — ought to be secondary or tertiary issues, is an indictment of theological bigotry. To deny our common doctrine and mission is to deny the calling and work of our brothers who think differently from us, to remove opportunities for lost people to receive the Gospel, and to remove ourselves from the work of the Great Commission.
I have said often face to face and on social media that if you are a Southern Baptist, and you desire and want to plan for, provision for, and send workers for Deaf work in America and abroad, I want to partner with you. I want your name, your church, and your contact info. I want to help you train a new generation of Deaf pastors and missionaries and get them in the field to make a dent in that 99% lostness.
Whether you are a Calvinist or non-Calvinist is not even on my radar. Whether you a Southern Baptist who believes that Jesus saves sinners and your heart is broken to see the Deaf go to hell is what I care about most.
Brothers, don’t allow your stance for or against a doctrinal perspective to remove you from the work of the Gospel. Stand together with your brothers to impact lostness. Remember what Jesus said: “Don’t cause one of these little ones to stumble. It is better to have a millstone around your neck and be drowned in the sea than that.”
Stephen Newell is Pastor of Overmountain Deaf Church in Virginia.