Before anyone asks, I live where “Mind your grammar” means “Obey the Ma of your Pa” so leave me alone on the “ain’t.” 🙂
Back in 2009, I heard of a nifty little effort to get Southern Baptists from across the board to digitally sign on to a call for us to re-examine our denominational structures in an effort to stop the embarrassing problem of more missionaries than we have money. I read through the statements given, took them at face value, and then gladly attached my name to the call for a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. The following summer, I even voted that we form a task force to examine the questions raised by the authors of that document.
Three years down the road, I regret attaching my name to the effort. While some of it may have brought good within the SBC, there are other aspects and reverberations from the GCR effort and the committee that put it together that I, unfortunately, go down in history as a supporter of.
Now we have another document circulating the internet, calling for digital signers, and an unspecified action related to it pending for this year’s SBC. Even if the originators of the Hankins document are not planning some form of motion/resolution related to it, there have been other mentions about addressing this very divide at the SBC this year.
I will personally not be signing on to this document, nor would I sign on to one written in conference by Tom Ascol, Al Mohler, and The Shinar Squirrel. I am personally done signing documents as a participant in Southern Baptist life as a pastor of a local church. If the deacons of First Baptist Almyra handed me even the BFM2K next weekend and told me to sign it or resign, I would give them these same reasons:
#1: No statement written by another adequately expresses the fullness of what I believe. I agree with the BFM and actually love it for the mild ambiguities regarding how salvation works. Why? Because 3 years ago I would have told you I was a solid Calvinist who thought Spurgeon occasionally went too far into decisionism. Today, I’m not so sure. So, why would I sign something and then turn around and find myself held to it? What if my understanding is growing? Because 6 years ago, I would have told you that all Calvinism was bad.
I will hold myself only to this statement: every word of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is what God intended it to be. As I learn what the Bible means, I know better what I believe and strive to discard those beliefs that I have held before that are not compatible.
#2: No statement written by another stands well without explanation. Much of our current hullabaloo is because a sentence or two of the Traditionalist statement could possibly be taken as Semi-Pelagian. Now, you have to take those sentences without context of who wrote them or who has signed them, as none of the men I know that have signed it are heretics. Neither is their intention heresy or its support. Yet that turn, while it might be hard to make, is still possible from a few of those sentences.
Years from now, a signature attached to any document will not connect the signer to their intention when signing. It will connect the signer with the words on the page as the reader understands them. Notice how easily people take the inspired text of Scripture and misuse it, attributing what they say to God? How much more likely are people going to take an uninspired text, with the possibility of error, and goof it up? I might agree with what I think you mean in your statement, but that is different.
#3: No statement signing replaces having a real, live relationship with a fellow believer to understand what they believe. Moreover, no signed statement overrides the actions of a person. I could sign a statement that say I believe in guitar music in church, but the lack of a guitar in the church I pastor would cause you to doubt my commitment to that statement. Likewise, if I swore up and down that I believe the Gospel is important but you listened to a month of my sermons and could not find a mention of needing to surrender to Christ, would you believe I spoke honestly?
The issue using signed statements brings in is this: rather than learning to communicate our beliefs or listening to one another, we start using who signed what as our grid. I’ll have coffee with those who signed the Abilene Manifesto, but will not have on staff a signer of the Orlando Agreement. Yet this is not the faith of believers living in community and communication with each other.
This is something we must be cautious of: the only complete Baptist statement of faith is the Word of God. Anything else is based on our understanding, but is ultimately a fallible document. So while writing and publishing might help us discuss and debate, whatever happens, can we strive to no longer have the opinions of man as the litmus test of our fellowship and cooperation?
That is why I ain’t signing anything anymore. Anyone want to sign onto that with me? (And yes, that is meant to be a funny tag, not a hypocritical statement. Move on.)