September 11, 2001, was one of those days that you never forget. I was waiting for an associational pastors group to arrive at my house and I flipped on the TV just as the second plane hit the second tower. We watched the news for hours and life changed that day. America experienced a brief moment of unity as our president stood on the rubble of the Twin Towers and declared with an unusual eloquence that those who did the despicable deed would hear us as we spoke! Mr. Bush, who left office with popularity ratings lower than the Orioles winning percentage this year, broke records as the most popular president of all time in those heady days.
America was united by a scary, mysterious enemy – radical Islamic terrorism. We laid down partisan bickering for a time and joined hands to fight the fight. It is amazing how motivated we can be when there is an enemy to fight.
Something similar happened in the SBC back in the 70s. The SBC faced an enemy that we knew would destroy us. My college professors, all graduates of Southern and Southeastern, sought to undermine every biblical doctrine we were taught in church. They ridiculed belief in the supernatural, in the inerrancy of Scripture, in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, the existence of a real being known as Satan – you name it, they skewered it. One professor told his class, “Let’s face it, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed – they are all just different flags under which God flys his name.” Our Christian Emphasis Week speaker, a well-known Southern Seminary professor, told us that Jesus did not come to die, but that he got caught up in political and other forces (his own miscalculations included) that led him to the cross. I saw what happened to young men and women who entered my school with a zeal to serve Christ and had that zeal zapped by liberalism. Liberalism was real and it was an enemy.
From 1979 on, conservatives in the SBC united to fight liberalism. I believe there were many mistakes in the conduct of that war – and I said it back then, though I only had a few friends to whom I could bluster at the time! We treated conservatives who did not side with us as liberals. We adopted an “ends justify the means” strategy of war. We sometimes committed atrocities on the field of battle. But liberalism was a real enemy that was a real threat to the future of our convention and we joined to fight it. Calvinists, a much smaller minority then, cheered and supported non-Calvinists such as Adrian Rogers, Bailey Smith, Charles Stanley, because we (I was a card-carrying Calvinist back in those days) knew that the battle for the Bible was bigger than the battles we might have over the interpretation of the Bible.
Then, around 1990, the battle was won and the convention was in the hands of the conservatives. It was not long after that we began to see conservatives begin to fracture. Those differences we didn’t care about when the bigger enemy of liberalism was there to unite us suddenly mattered when the liberals (and moderates and more than a few conservatives who didn’t support our political views) had bled off into other denominations or formed the CBF.
A few years later, along came blogging!
Those IMB policies were a trigger point. I am a fan of the BF&M because it defines who we are as Baptists but it also is intentionally vague in some areas so that we can be non-Calvinist Baptists or Calvinist Baptists, Premill Baptists or (gulp) Amill Baptists, contemporary Baptists or traditional Baptists. We can have great variety and still unite around the Baptist banner. It grieved me that those policies, in my mind, went beyond the BF&M and excluded good Baptists from missions service on unnecessary bases. I have no desire to refight that fight, except to say that we fought pretty hard back in the late 2000s about an issue that we would have never even brought up during the height of the CR. The tie that bound us no longer did.
Christians are meant to be united by the work of Christ but our flesh often finds that fear of an enemy is a better bond. Christian ministries sometimes play on this. I was on the mailing list of a large Christian parachurch ministry back in the 80s and 90s and noted their tendency to trumpet a “threat-of-the-month” in their fundraising newsletter. “This latest congressional action/trend/court decision/movement threatens the church/American way-of-life/all that is good and decent/the family. We are fighting this for you but need your help ($25, $50, $100 or more a month).” Can you remember the last election in which you weren’t told that this was the most important election of our lifetimes and that if we didn’t vote the right way that America as we have known it was over?
We tend to use fear of the enemy as a motivator more than the love of Christ.
We saw this trend in the last SBC presidential election. JD Greear is a solid Southern Baptist, a conservative preacher of God’s Word, a man whose church leads his state in CP giving and leads the nation in placing people in SBC missions through the IMB. His church gives a percentage to CP that is comparable to other megachurches. He made it absolutely clear in sermons and in statements that he believed the gospel call was universal and that everyone could come to Christ. But if you listened to the rhetoric about him in many circles, he was an agent of darkness sent to destroy!
I was in the line registering and heard a man spouting about how we needed to “stop the liberals” who were trying to take over the convention. My wife listened as a messenger from Louisiana mimicked that same message at the next table at the hotel breakfast buffet before I arrived the next morning. Who were the “liberals” we needed to stop? JD Greear! I am guessing Dr. Russell Moore. And I suppose us here at Voices. I did not blame these folks. There was a constant drumbeat of dishonest campaigning done by blogs, by a state newspaper, by some state executives and others, who intimated that JD Greear was a threat to the gospel, to the future of the SBC, and to truth, justice, and the American way. After such a campaign of deceit, it is not strange that some arrived in Dallas deceived.
It was a case study in campaign by crisis, by manipulation of fear. There was little attempt to unite in Christ but to gain support by creation of the fear of an enemy who would destroy us all.
There has been a segment of the Reformed community that has used this tactic for years. I am not Charismatic and have strong disagreements with the theology and many of the practices of the movement. But I’ve also had enough involvement with charismatic friends to know that the “Charismatic Chaos” approach by John MacArthur and his disciples is horribly unfair and dishonest. They take the worst excesses of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements and treat them as if they are the norm. What if we used that tactic with other groups?
- I have known Calvinists who were arrogant, combative, and who thought evangelism was silly because “God will save people without our help.” Do you want all the Reformed movement to be judged on the basis of someone like that?
- For that matter, does the Reformed world want to be judged by the deportment of Pulpit and Pen?
- Do dispensationalists want their movement defined by date-setting, conspiracy theorist, blood-moon gazing oddballs?
No movement should be judged by its abusive extremes. There are theological issues in the charismatic movement, but most are Jesus-loving, Bible-reading, God-worshiping people who are not the wackos presented in “Charismatic Chaos.” We can honor them as brothers and sisters in Christ even as we challenge their theology.
Recently, that same group has been whipping up fervor and fear over the idea that the movement among evangelicals for social justice is a threat to the gospel. They are taking a page from the Charismatic Chaos playbook as they launch attacks against those who seek to apply the gospel to social issues. But this time the approach is even less honest, but there is essentially no one within evangelical and Baptist circles who is saying many of the things that they are accusing just about everyone of saying. They have created a fictitious extreme and used it to define the evangelical norm, defining godly men and women as threats to the gospel. The introduction to their Statement lays down heavy fire.
In view of questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories presently permeating our culture and making inroads into Christ’s church, we wish to clarify certain key Christian doctrines and ethical principles prescribed in God’s Word. Clarity on these issues will fortify believers and churches to withstand an onslaught of dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel, misrepresent Scripture, and lead people away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Some are making “inroads onto Christ’s church,” with an “onslaught of dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel, misrepresent scripture, and lead people away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ.” If this were true, it would be serious indeed. It is a wholly false accusation. But they are serious about it.
The rapidity with which these deadly ideas have spread from the culture at large into churches and Christian organizations—including some that are evangelical and Reformed—necessitates the issuing of this statement now.
Note that these are “deadly ideas” which have come into evangelical and Reformed churches and necessitate a response now. There’s this big threat that will destroy us all if they don’t (heroically) step in and fight the fight.
The sad truth is that the people they speak against could affirm what they affirm and deny most of what they deny. They are making enemies of friends within the church of Jesus Christ and that is not only unnecessary but it is ungodly. We must contend against those who are enemies of the faith, but those who are decrying racism and calling for justice within the evangelical community are not liberals seeking salvation by social reformation. They are Bible-believing, gospel-preaching people who read Ephesians 2 and are convicted that we’ve let race build a wall when Jesus died to “make the two one and remove the dividing wall of separation.” Yes, that wall was between Jew and Greek but it was a racial wall and it is reasonable to believe that the gospel that required the wall between Jews and Greeks to come down would require the wall between Black and White to come down. They are Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching, complementarians who believe that the authority God has given men in the home and at church should never be used as an excuse to demean or abuse women and that such abuse is a blight on the name of Christ. They believe that showing women full respect as image-bearers honors Christ and helps to advance the gospel. These are people attempting to apply the inerrant word, not subvert it.
There are those who preach a social gospel, but they are not inside the SBC as has been so often accused. There is no movement among SBC leadership to undo the CR or to install liberalism. These are simply false accusations. They are lies no matter how often they have been told. We are trying to apply scripture, not some nonsense about intersectionality – and no matter how often those falsehoods are repeated they remain false.
Please hear me, I am not saying that John MacArthur and his circle of friends deny the gospel. They do not. I am making a very specific accusation. I am accusing the MacArthur-influenced segment of Southern Baptists and other Reformed people, as well as many in the more extreme areas of the Traditionalist movement of this action:
They falsely and/or dishonestly label brothers and sisters of Christ as threats to the gospel.
We have perhaps all been guilty of not listening well, of casting one another in the darkest possible light, and of making enemies of friends. That is the work of the flesh. but the groups that are joining together to oppose biblical justice ministry have gone a step further, calling those who do not agree with them enemies of the gospel, a threat to the church. Look at the quotes above. They are slow to listen and quick to condemn. They have become divisive, biting and devouring brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather than seek to understand what is being said by others, they pick out terms and phrases and paint them in the worst possible light.
The echo-chambers of self-congratulatory agreement have to be torn down. We cannot retreat into small groups in which everyone agrees with everyone else and applauds the most ridiculous assertions. At its core, the Social Justice statement is a ridiculous assertion – not because what it says is wrong but because it says it to the wrong people. If it was directed against such things as the Union Seminary Twitter statement that revealed real liberalism. Christians should be uniting to stand against that. But the guns should not be aimed at fellow believers, as they have been here.
If the MacArthur group thinks the approach being taken on racial reconciliation is wrong, fine. Demonstrate a better way to reconcile races and build the church. But don’t paint everyone who disagrees with you as an enemy of Christ. That is arrogant. Godly people can disagree with John MacArthur and still be faithful to Christ! This tendency to go nuclear on anyone who doesn’t toe the party line must stop, whatever the party line is. We must stop accusing godly people of being enemies of the cross and of Christ.
It must stop.