The problem in the SBC is not primarily theological. I believe our theological issues and discussions mask a deeper spiritual problem, a heart problem that is demonstrated in abundance as we speak to one another.
We all say we can live together and walk in unity, united around the BF&M, our sound and simple doctrinal statement to which all involved in this debate subscribe. Dr. Mohler, in his recent response to the traditionalist document, pointed out that we should be glad we are discussing something like the theology of salvation. We are not arguing over whether the Bible is true or whether active homosexuals should be ordained to the ministry, as are many denominations that have abandoned inerrancy. We are debating Calvinism and opposing soteriological systems. Reading both Dr. Vines’ and Dr. Mohler’s comments on this kerfuffle, we see a recognition from men on both sides that this is family debate.
But we are not treating this like a family debate. This is a new Hatfield-McCoy feud in which a lot of innocent people are getting shot in the crossfire. I think the greatest threat to the SBC is not Calvinism, and it is not the traditionalist statement. It is Baptists behaving like bullies and babies. We are trying to push one another around and we are as quick to get our feelings hurt over the statements of others as toddlers on the playground.
In the words of the great Bob Newhart, STOP IT! We can treat each other better than we have to this point. We can honor one another as brothers and debate with both zeal and love. But if the SBC is going to grow and prosper, we have to STOP IT! We have to lay aside the fleshly weapons of warfare and we have to walk in love, seeking unity.
1) We have a BLAME problem
Each side wants to show that the other side is really at fault. Calvinists play the victim over statements like the Hankins document and non-Calvinists play the victim over charges of semi-Pelagian theology. Read through the thousands of comments that have been left on this blog during the Calvinism debate. How many of them reference the perceived injustice of the other side? We are more about assigning blame than seeking solutions, I fear.
I have observed this phenomenon in marriage counseling often. A couple are having problems and they come in and both declare their desire to work things out. But in reality, their chief concern is to prove that the other is more at fault in their problems! There is little I can do in counseling if the couple is more concerned about winning the blame game than dealing with the heart issues that are causing the problems.
I think many in the SBC are like this. And frankly, I think of lot of bloggers and commenters here are like that. We all say we want to solve this, but I do not see evidence of that in many of our regulars – on both sides. I see Calvinists who seem a lot more interested in demonstrating the unfairness of the accusations leveled against them than in working toward unity. And I see non-Calvinists, “traditionalists,” who seem more interested in painting Calvinists as “angry and aggressive” or in recounting their perceived injuries than in finding a way to work together.
I warn you that I’m about to offend a lot of people here. But honestly, folks, as I watch this conversation, I see immaturity in conversation; blame, rancor and every work of the flesh that Paul warned against in Galatians 5:19-21.
Now the works of the flesh are evident…enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…
I see two things:
- Paul calls these attitudes and actions works of the flesh which are not appropriate for Christians.
- These attitudes and actions are abundantly in evidence on BOTH SIDES in this Calvinist/Traditionalist debate.
Am I wrong?
So, to those who are engaging in the Blame Game…STOP IT!
2) We have a SCHISM Problem
I just finished a lengthy series of messages from 1 Corinthians. Much of that book is written to combat the Corinthians’ schismatic tendencies.
What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Corinthians 1:12–13
If Paul wrote to modern Southern Baptists, he might say
What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Mohler,” or “I follow Patterson,” or “I follow Blackaby (just threw this in, since I’m a huge Blackaby fan),” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Mohler crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Patterson?
Later on, in chapter 3, Paul gets to the root of the problem.
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 1 Corinthians 3:1–4
What was the issue? Maturity. Those who participate in and revel in schism, who follow human heroes into division are not spiritual, but are walking as people of the flesh. They are babes in Christ who are still on the bottle instead of growing up and eating spiritual meat and potatoes. Instead of walking in the power of the Spirit they are “behaving only in a human way.” That’s the SBC in a nutshell!
Note here that Paul did not blame himself or Apollos or Peter (and certainly not Christ). But he blamed the natural human inclination toward schism and division.
And to those who are indulging their fleshly schismatic tendency to divide up into camps and scorn those of other camps, I say with, I believe, biblical authority… STOP IT!
3) We have a COMMUNICATION problem
Yes, we are lousy at discussing this topic, in general. Any post here on Calvinism tends to descend into mudslinging within about 50-75 comments. It seems that we cannot even talk about the issue without resorting to pettiness and silliness. And, of course, we all want to believe that “they” started it and that whatever we said was justified in response to “their” evil.
But I think it goes beyond that. Simply, people who care deeply about whether or not regeneration precedes repentance seem to feel free to ignore the biblical commands about how we are to communicate with one another.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Eph 4:29
Every word I speak is to build up the body, not tear it down. That does not mean we cannot discuss and debate theology. A good and godly theological discussion builds up the body. But it does mean that we have to honor one another with our words.
The passage continues.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Eph 4:31–32
We are to put away wrath and anger, along with all malice. And instead, we are to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving to each other.
It is amazing to me and saddening as well, how many people view obedience to these words as some sort of compromise. I have been accused of lacking conviction and backbone because I have advocated these words. Why, in the SBC, is it considered a lack of conviction to care more deeply about unity in the Body of Christ than about a particular theological system. If you pinned me down and made me confess, I’d call myself a Calvinist. But I care far more about the Great Commission and about the unity of the Body than I do about that theological system. It bothers me that some (again, on both sides) seem to care more about winning theological debate than winning unity among brothers!
Let me state my view as clearly as I can. We do not have a theological problem in the SBC. We have an obedience problem. We argue, bite and devour each other over theological topics, but in reality our mouths (or keyboards) are speaking out of the abundance of our hearts the anger, malice, pride and sin that dwells inside Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike. It doesn’t much matter which side prevails in this debate unless we learn to talk like grownups, like mature Christians to one another. As long as we continue to demonstrate arrogance and malice in our conversations, God isn’t going to bless any of us and we will continue in our efforts to win control of the SBC to contribute to its ultimate demise.
What was Jesus most concerned with when he prayed to the Father the night before he died? Did he express concern that his disciples would maintain proper and correct theology? I think that matters to the Savior. Faulty theology leads to faulty methodology and an ineffective church. But that is not the issue that seemed to be most on the Savior’s heart that night.
And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. John 17:11
Jesus prayed that the unity of believers would reflect the unity of the Father and Son. Folks, that ain’t happening in the SBC today. But I still believe it is the heart of God. Look what Jesus says later in the same prayer.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:20–23
Read that again, my friends, and maybe we will see why we are becoming less effective in evangelism. It isn’t the easy-believism of the non-Calvinists with their altar calls, my Calvinist friends. And it isn’t the so-called “Doctrines of Grace” my “traditionalist” friends.
We are NOT glorifying God by the unity of the Body of Christ that was won for us by the Blood of Jesus at the Cross! It is when those who believe become one in Christ that the Father is glorified and the world will believe. When you read John 17, then observe the SBC and our interactions with each other, is it any wonder our evangelistic efforts are becoming less effective?
Yes, fine-tuning our theology can aid in the process of unity. But much of what we are seeing in the Baptist world today is not noble, it is not godly – it destroys unity, it does not build it up. We cannot glorify God while disdaining our blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ.
So, to those who are talking trash in the Body of Christ, I say, “STOP IT!”
It is more important that we build bridges than that we continue to build our walls. If a doctrine is a fundamental truth, then, by all means, let us stand uncompromisingly. And Calvinists, stand by your beliefs and advocate them. Non-Calvinists, traditionalists, Arminians and anyone else, stand by your beliefs and advocate them. Refine them biblically and argue them passionately.
But we must demonstrate a passion for the unity of the body of Christ that is as great or even greater than our passion for our doctrinal systems. We need to eschew the kind of knowledge that puffs up and live in love with one another.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul deals with division in several ways. In chapter 12, he confronts the doctrinal division over the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, especially tongues. Imagine that – fighting over how the Holy Spirit works. That would seem silly if we were not so passionately fighting over how to glorify God and evangelize souls – something we all believe in.
Then, in 1 Corinthians 12:31, he reminds the Corinthians that there is a better way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Co 13:1–8
If we all love the Lord and the Word he gave, if we are all committed to the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, if we all are committed to walking in obedience to everything Christ said, then perhaps we should listen to what Paul said.
The greatest of these is love!