There is a lot of talk in SBC life about the challenges we are facing as a convention that some think are threatening to divide us. The supposed issues are things like a division between “true baptists” and those who wish to become more Presbyterian, traditional churches versus contemporary churches, which networks we can partner with, and of course the “biggie” Calvinists versus non-Calvinists. There are some who think Calvinism threatens to destroy our Southern Baptist “Zion.”
I think these issues are merely symptoms of a much larger issue. The most fundamental issue that any church or convention is faced with is, “What will our theological identity/foundation be?” Theology is always the root issue. What we believe determines what we practice. Our theology will determine how and with whom we cooperate in mission.
This is true at a church level. Even as a local congregation you face identity issues that first determine who you are and then how you practice. Such as:
- Will we baptize babies or believers?
- Will we speak in tongues or not?
- Who will we ordain as pastors?
Every church has to answer questions like these, and many more. The answers to these theological questions determine your identity, and then your mission and practice.
This is also true at the convention level when multiple churches cooperate together for mission. We must find our identity in a theology. We have to determine with whom we will cooperate and with whom we will not. That’s the big issue in the SBC.
This came to the forefront at a recent meeting of the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association in the state of Kentucky. At this meeting, the Association denied membership to Pleasant Valley Community Church (PVCC Owensboro) because the church’s belief statement was “too Calvinistic.”
The association’s credentials committee recommendation said, “Our concern in the initial stages of our investigation revolved around the fact that Pleasant Valley Community Church’s confessional statement is one that (is) Calvinistic in nature. It affirms the doctrine of election and grace…While we know the doctrine is not heresy, we do recognize that it is vastly different than the majority of churches within the DMBA.”
The SBC has a doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (BFM 2000), which we have agreed will define with whom we can and cannot cooperate as a convention. PVCC (which also happens to cooperate with the Acts29 network) affirms the BFM 2000, and yet they are still denied membership in this local association. This raises a host of questions:
- Why is it that some associations (and state conventions) will readily partner with churches of a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) persuasion, but so quickly pull back from partnering with churches that are “Calvinistic?”
- Is the BFM 2000 enough for cooperation or not?
- If it is not enough, then what will be the basis for exclusion or inclusion? If there is no theological center, where will exclusion end?
- What standards external to and unstated in the BFM2000 will continue to be used as tests for cooperation?
This is merely one anecdote that is symptomatic of a larger issue that continually seems to present itself at the national, state, and association levels. The main question remains, “How big is the SBC?” What unites us? What is our identity? Is there room for those who differ on points of soteriology? Is there room in our convention for the likes of both Spurgeon and Moody? Is there room for both Dr. Patterson and Dr. Mohler? Our prayer is that we will be united around the BFM 2000 that our convention has agreed adequately describes our theological convictions and is enough to bind us together for cooperation. Our prayer is that we will be united by the gospel for the sake of the lost in our nation and in all nations.
There is much more that we agree on than we disagree on. Let’s focus on that and rejoice together as we march to the nations!
Some closing questions/observations:
- Should all local associations that cooperate with the SBC accept the BFM 2000 as their doctrinal statement? (the DMBA does not subscribe to the BFM 2000, but to the 1963 version)
- Words like “grace” and “election” are biblical terms and must be believed. We may interpret them differently, but they must be dealt with using sound biblical interpretation.
- It has been lamented that many of the young in the SBC have disengaged from the convention, so it is refreshing to see a church like PVCC with young pastors try to be a part of the SBC process. If we do want younger ministers and churches engaging, then will refusing to cooperate with those young guys who do affirm the BFM 2000 help us in that endeavor?
- There are many trends in the SBC to be thankful for, and we believe there is much in the future to be excited about, so we hope that more will be willing to cooperate in the convention and not pull back.
The root issue to all our concerns is NOT theological. The real root issure to all we are facing is relational. By this I mean our relationship with God.
I know that you will probably consider me a “fruitloop” or something but I believe the Scriptures will bear out my assersion. Jesus came into this world and spent much of His time challenging the fallacies of a religious system that thought the root of everything was theological. He came to introduce a radical new (yet not new) concept of a Father one could know and have a relationship with.
His very mission was to reconcile us to God throug His substitutionary, atoning work on the cross. The ministry of reconciliation and relationship comes first.
Then as we come to know God in grace and glory, our theology is shaped. Theology grows out of relationship with Him. I have discovered over the last 39 years of my relationship with Him, no theological system is big enough to cover what I have seen in His presence. Because God is who He is, he cannot be defined, described or digested by the puny thoughts of man…even if his last name is Calvin.
Every system of man falls short of God’s natural and specific revelation of Himself to us through His Word.
Endless wrangling and political posturing will continue until we realize the root issue is our relationship with Him. In His presence is life, revival, and the death of these silly controversies that have consumed our time and attention.
I love you guys and will continue to read in the hope that Jesus becomes out true foundation, our focus and our fellowship….
I’m with Tony Dye on this. We spend a lot of effort on things that we think might or should divide us, and not enough on our relationship with Father. As Jon has preached to us, if we get the first commandment right, all other problems will fall in line, and in fact pale in significance to the overwhelming glory of Jesus Christ.
Must a local church be in a local association to be an SBC church (send messengers, etc)? Or, can a church like PVCC be rejected by their local association and still give to the CP and thus be considered an SBC church?
Tony and Jerry,
The root issue is theology. There is no relationship without theology b/c what God are you in relationship with.
Tony, when you say Jesus introduced a radical new concept of a Father that is theology, introducing a concept about God. The people’s relationship with God was off b/c their theology was off. Theology fuels worship, relationship, mission, etc.
Jerry, the first commandment is theological in nature. If you mean the first of the 10, then having no other gods before Me, necessitates theologically discerning who is the true God and who are the false gods. If we mean what Jesus said, Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, then again that’s theology. Loving God with your mind = theology.
We have to know who God is before we can relate to Him, otherwise we might be relating to a false conception of God (for example Rob Bell’s re-defined conception of HIm, etc.).
Hope that helps,
I completely agree. Tony and Jerry, what our beliefs are about God dictate how we view and serve Him. One of the main reasons we have Pseudo-Christian cults today is because of theology gone astray and it more often than not begins with a misunderstanding of the Trinity or deity of Christ. Theology must lay the foundation upon which all else is built, including relationship. It is the primary building block for our relationship with a holy Creator. No, it isn’t exhaustive nor can we claim all the answers by it, but it clearly defines God’s role and in turn, ours as well.
The answer is no. PVCC is a member of the SBC and the Kentucky Baptist Convention in good standing.
Yes it does all begin with knowing God. Alas, we who know who he is do not always pursue a relationship with him “seek first..”.
And there are those demons- who tremble.
There is and has only been one doctrine from the One True Shepherd. Let our yes be yes, and our no’s be no. Jesus is not a respecter of men, neither should be His children. Jesus told Peter, satan has asked to sift you and the other disciples as wheat, but I have prayed for you. So, the sifting continues. As born into the southern baptist denomination, let us not forget that Jesus crossed America through Azusa Street in 1906 and then again through the Jesus movement “Calvary Chapel” in 1968. This movement was Jesus Himself. The movement hit the east coast by 1971 head-on and most southern baptists couldn’t see or accept the move of Jesus walking straight through the congregations. Therefore, we have what we have. A lot of thorns fighting with Good fruit. As a musician for years and a Jesus freak, may the Good fight continue.
I think that for many of us who are not SBC, there seems to be a submission to the clear doctrines of scripture within many SBC churches within our country; primarly in ordaining women in leadership roles over men (i.e. pastors), musical worship and it’s dominance over preaching, etc. The church is one that is submissive to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and our manual is the scriptures. To have a church that does not desire to “know” the truth of scriptures (theology) and submit to it…well is a rouge church. Calvinism is just a historical explaination of the gospel and it’s fundemental points (which was only developed after Pelagius submitted his heretical doctrine in which he beleived men weren’t born with imputed or original sin; which of course affects all aspects of the gospel message an work of Christ.
The new Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 is a stronger declaration which is closer to Calvinism and refreshing.
In my comment above I meant to say that there seems to be a “lack” of submission to the clear doctrines of scripture within many SBC churches within our country…” that does not mean to say that there isn’t any SBC churches that I have found that are right on. There is! But seems to be the minority.
Calvin’s writings were much more than “just historical explanation of the gospel”. They were theological in nature, and presumptive in many places. I attend a Baptist church, and it is becoming apparent that the pastor has been absorbing John Piper. I’m not a Calvinist, and don’t know where Piper stands on the continuum (4-point, 5-point, hyper, etc), but what I do know is that the sermons are becoming somewhat odd. For example, since we must avoid “works”, the pastor has said that reading your Bible “when you don’t feel like it” is a “work”. Therefore, it should not be done. If you don’t “feel” like reading your Bible, you sholdn’t do it. Only if you feel like doing it, should you do it. What nonsense! If I operated like that, my church attendance would drop off, my prayer time would suffer, and my Bible reading would also suffer. The truth is that no one can “desire” God 24/7. Sometimes we do things because we know they’re right, even if we don’t feel like doing them. This is common sense really, and isn’t unique to Christianity by any means. it’s really just part of growing up. To me, John Piper and his hedonism, desire, and all the rest are somewhat adolescent .
Parting shot: just because a lof of these Calvinists are young does not mean they are somehow more valued. James is pretty clear on the point – don’t respect people based on wealth, social standing, etc. I would include age in there, too. Being young does not somehow give a person credibility – I would say it’s the exact opposite. Wisdom does not come with age automatically, but it certainly is found in more mature people.
You should read Piper’s book When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. It is a good book and deals with some of the issues you spoke of. Also, I would encourage you to speak with your pastor about the issues you have with his advice and or his preaching; perhaps he is not explaining himself correctly or maybe you are misunderstanding him. Calvinist or not, everyone inside the SBC should affirm salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. For the Christian reading your Bible should be a sanctification issue, not a salvation issue.
I fear far too many young Calvinistic preachers are misunderstood. Most of us are just trying to be faithful to our convictions from Scripture; I pray that every pastor, Calvinist or not will do the same. This is one reason I am proud to be a Southern Baptist. As one of my heroes, Danny Akin once said, inside the SBC “Inerrancy is not up for debate. The deity of Jesus and His sinless life are not up for debate. The triune nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not up for debate. The perfect atoning work of Christ as a penal substitute for sinners is not up for debate. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is not up for debate. A regenerate church is not up for debate. Believers‟ baptism by immersion is not up for debate. The glorious historical and personal return of Jesus Christ is not up for debate. The reality of an eternal heaven and an eternal hell is not up for debate.” If we can stand firm here and unite around the Gospel, I don’t see a pastor’s or church’s soteriology being an issue; that’s the wonderful thing about the BFM 2000.
I am so grateful for the guys at Baptist 21 who are trying to unite us around the BFM 2000. As a young Baptist preacher who affirms all five points of Calvinism it is my hope and prayer that all of us inside the SBC would be Baptist above all else. May we put our differences aside and unite for the glory of Christ among all nations.
SMuschany,I would say that the example I gave is a pterty rare one, as most places in the country are simply much larger than that and I think not tapped out. I just had to give that example since it was the argument that keeps getting brought up.But, it also sounds like you are more in love with church business than reaching lost people. We’re all called to the same thing, reaching as many people as possible with the Gospel. If a calling conflicts with that it’s not from God. That means we need to make the hard choices, and YES, often move from smaller areas to larger mission fields. YES YES YES. We’ve got to move beyond all the small minded thinking I see hear. I think my generation gets that, and thank goodness I think the leadership is starting to also. We have to be willing to take the Gospel seriously to make these hard choices.Of course we can’t abandon people, but it all goes back to how this whole thread started. Our focus, our leadership should be towards the large populations and I contend thus larger churches, and NOT the majority initiative. I guess I’m done now, good day everyone.