That word “only” can sometimes get us into trouble. We all have a tendency to view our own thoughts as the only reasonable way to think about difficult subjects. How could anyone see it differently? That’s impossible! Especially for a true Christian! And thus, insults are hurled, people are offended, relationships are fractured, and our unity in Christ suffers.
I’ll spare you the examples of positions that are viewed as the only possible Christian position. You won’t have to think about it too long to come up with a lengthy list of contrasting positions where both sides cannot understand how someone could possibly hold the opposite position. But even when we cannot understand the opposing position, the reality that there are good people on opposite sides of a host of issues should give us pause.
1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as “The Love Chapter.” You can find the words of this chapter printed on various trinkets lining the shelves of your local Christian bookstore. Perhaps you’ve heard these words recited at a wedding. There’s no doubt that this chapter is one of most well-known and beloved chapters in the Bible.
The Apostle Paul is dealing with an issue related to spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church. Some of the Corinthians thought they were better than their brothers and sisters in Christ because of the gifts that they had. Others despaired of their position because they had not been given these more spectacular spiritual gifts. As a result, the Corinthian church was a house divided.
And what did Paul see as the cure to their division? Love. They were to love one another. It didn’t matter if they spoke in tongues if they didn’t have love. It didn’t matter what spiritual gifts they exercised, if it wasn’t done in love, it was all a big waste of time.
The Southern Baptist Convention is divided. I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist. I believe in our cooperative work. I believe that our best days could yet be ahead of us. But we need a way forward.
So what is the way forward? I don’t have many answers when it comes to the particulars. I’m not laying out an innovative plan for uniting our convention. But I do think Paul’s words to the church at Corinth provide us some guidance as we think about our relationship to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
1. We must stand for truth.
Paul does not back down in 1 Corinthians 12-14. He lays it all out there. He clearly distinguishes right from wrong, and rebukes the Corinthians for their misuse of spiritual gifts. Paul’s call to love and unity in 1 Corinthians 13 is not a call to abandon truth. It is a call to love one another while standing for truth.
Southern Baptists are a people of the Book. We believe the Bible. We love the Bible. We preach the Bible. And we obey the Bible. My generation of Southern Baptists owes a great deal of gratitude to the men and women who stood firm on the authority of the Bible during the Conservative Resurgence. This is not a call to weaken our theology to a point that allows us all to agree on every point of doctrine and sing kumbaya together. This is a call to stand for the truth in love.
Southern Baptists should be able to discuss difficult theological and ethical issues without resorting to name calling. We should be able to listen to one another. Sometimes we may have our minds changed. Sometimes me may walk away still in disagreement, but respecting one another, and understanding a little bit more about how the other person came to their position.
The good news is that we have a commonly agreed upon statement of faith that should guide us as we stand for truth. Let’s stand unwaveringly on the Baptist Faith & Message. Let’s strongly defend our positions that may extend beyond the Baptist Faith & Message, but let’s not make those positions the test of orthodoxy or faithfulness within the Southern Baptist Convention.
2. We must be willing to be offended.
There have been times when I’ve been offended. I imagine you’ve been offended before as well. My initial reaction is always to either defend myself or attack the person who offended me. Neither of those approaches works very well. In fact, both can cause a tremendous amount of trouble down the road.
The reality is that people in leadership are going to offend us from time to time. Our brothers and sisters in our churches are going to offend us every once in a while. But sometimes we have to be willing to take it on the chin and move on. Jesus said, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
It’s no secret that some people were offended by comments made by Paige Patterson after a recent chapel sermon at Southwestern. Dr. Patterson has since been clear that he did not mean to suggest that Calvinists should leave the SBC for another denomination. It’s also no secret that some people were offended by comments made by Russell Moore during the presidential campaign. Dr. Moore recently wrote an excellent article making clear that he did not intend to offend those who voted for Trump as the only means of keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House.
So what are we to do with the original statements and the clarifications that have since been offered? There really are only two options. We can continue to be offended, or we can accept the clarifications and apologies that have been offered and move on. We can continue to fight, and call for the heads of those leaders with whom we disagree, or we can view our Great Commission work as too important to allow petty squabbles to derail our mission.
What would love have us do? Paul says that “love bears all things.” If one of our entity heads does something that is egregiously immoral and disqualifying from the position they hold, I will be the first one to call for their firing. Southern Baptists have given the leaders of our entities a great trust. When they act in a way that is contrary to Scripture, they should be held accountable for that. But when they merely say or do something we disagree with or something that offends us, then the best thing to do is bear all things and move on. This is especially true when apologies are offered, as is the case with both Dr. Patterson and Dr. Moore.
3. We must seek not to offend unnecessarily.
This is an important one. Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. You get the picture. We must be careful with our rhetoric. Often we are very quick to speak forcefully on issues about which we feel strongly. This can lead to us saying things that are hurtful or offensive to other people. We may not have intended to offend, but because we were not more measured with our speech, people were hurt.
We have to be willing to go above and beyond to make sure that our intentions are understood. This may feel like it weakens the point we are trying to make, but if it prevents us from unnecessarily offending a brother or sister in Christ, it’s probably worth it. We should also be quick to apologize when we realize we have offended a brother or sister in Christ. We may not apologize for our position, but it could be necessary for us to apologize for the way we articulated our position.
4. We must keep The Great Commission at the forefront of our work together.
We had a missionary visit our church in Drakes Branch around the time of the Lottie Moon Christmas offering one year. He gave me some very sound counsel that has stuck with me. He said, “Keep the Great Commission as your focus, and your church will find unity in your common mission.” I believe he was right. He didn’t mean that we ignore our differences, but that our common mission together is more important than our differences. Of course we’re talking about differences that are well within the bounds of The Baptist Faith & Message.
This is true in the local church, and I believe it is true in our convention as well. We do not have to agree all the time, but we can decide that our common mission is more important than our disagreements. We can argue for our own positions. We can seek to influence the convention in the direction we think it should go. But we must always keep our common mission at the forefront of our minds as we work together for the sake of the gospel.
Some Thoughts About SBC Voices
Some of the recent events within our convention have made some of us wish that there was a place where our differences can be discussed in a respectful way that challenges all of us to think about the issues that face us in ways that perhaps we haven’t before. We believe that SBC Voices can be such a place. We are still working on the particulars, but we’d like to put together a series of posts that would present different views on various topics. We could discuss things like the extent of the atonement, the benefits/dangers of the sinner’s prayer, missions strategy, and so on.
Each view would be presented in its own post by someone who holds that view. Comments would be closed on the first three posts to prevent us from talking past one another before all the views are published. Then the three authors would publish one post together in which they respond to the views of the other two authors. This final post would allow for comments.
It’s important that we be able to discuss our differences. It’s also important that we listen to one another, and speak in ways that are respectful of our brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree. Perhaps God would use this forum as a means of beginning to heal our divide, not by producing uniformity among us, but by helping us to understand and truly love one another despite our disagreement.
What do you think? Are we totally off base here? What issues would you like to see addressed here in this way?