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.