When the current controversy erupted over Calvinism in the SBC erupted a couple weeks ago, I debated whether or not to enter the fray. Things have changed quite considerably since the hay day of 2005-2008 when Calvinism seemed to be the death-defying whipping boy of folks with more fight in their hands than love in their hearts. But alas, perhaps the change was merely an intermission thanks largely in part to the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) which, for a time, seemed to unite Southern Baptists on the front lines of the Great Commission.
But the SBC, since the affirmation of the GCR, have gone back to the barricks and once again are turning against one another as if the willingness to fight is a temptation of which one too many are unwilling to walk away. Needless to say, I have my thoughts on the “traditionalist” March to New Orleans, and undoubtedly sparks are going to fly about Calvinism and whether or not the Baptist Faith and Message is a sufficient confessional guide to afford meaningful and substantive cooperation for Southern Baptists. Several of my friends have taken up this discussion on the Internet, including Tom Ascol (whose series I high recommend) and Nathan Finn (whose aspirations I wholeheartedly embrace). I don’t think I have much to contribute other than what they (and others) have been able to say in ways far more reasonable and eloquent.
BUT, if I have one contribution to make to the discussion leading up to next week’s Annual Meeting of the SBC in New Orleans, it would not be critiquing a very poorly written traditionalist document, nor would it be explaining the postmodern power play of subject-defining labels like “New Calvinism” and “traditionalist”, nor would it be showing how the “majoritarian” party has failed to influence the direction of the SBC since 2006 (2006-07 Joshua Convergence; 2008-09 Baptist Identity Movement; 2010-2011 Anti-GCR Movement; 2012 Traditionalist Movement). Rather, I’d like to issue a statement to my fellow Reformed brothers in the SBC. With all that is going on next week, there’s some fundamental things that I’m preaching to myself and think it helpful to share with my Reformed brethren. To put some order to my thoughts, here are five “Do’s” and “Don’ts” as it related to next week’s Annual Meeting.
1. Do Remember the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus for Unity Among His Followers (John 17)
Truth is important, but so is unity. And we should be unified around truth. But when there are real, substantive differences between brothers, let us not use that as an opportunity to drive a wedge between us but rather drive us to prayer, humility, and listening better. Should we fail to have a common understanding, let us not fail to have a common desire to honor Christ’s heart for unity among His people
2. Do Model Graciousness with Those Who Disagree With Us
The goal of our involvement with believers is always edification, not winning an argument or a debate. One of the most helpful things for me to remember is that in any given group of people, the greatest sinner in the room is me. I know my own heart, and how needy I am of the grace of God. Those who forget mercy will show no mercy. Those who go to the throne of grace and are not far from the foot of the cross will be careful to remember their word and behavior have been blood-bought through the sacrifice of God’s Son, who, on the cross, displayed grace upon grace to such needy sinners like us.
3. Do Promote Great Commission Cooperation
What we believe is incredibly important. What we do with what we believe is equally, if not more, important. This coming week, let us focus on what we are for (Great Commission), not what we are against (opposing views of salvation). Support the work of our missionaries, both domestic and foreign. Visit their booths and prayer for those leading them. Express your support both in word and deed. Lead your church to adopt an unreached people group. Seek to cooperate with other churches who are content to live within the confessional parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message (though you may believe more). Historical Calvinism reveals that its leaders are pioneers in missions and church planting. Let that be our testimony in this generation and for many more to come.
4. Do Emphasize What Is Most Significant
This next week will be historic for a number of reasons,not the least of which will be the opportunity to elect the first African American President of the SBC. Don’t let the debates, motions, and resolutions eclipse the significance of this event. And be there to participate in the business meetings when the votes come. Furthermore, some of the other most significant things might not happen on a stage or with a mic in hand. It might be a five minute conversation and prayer with a discouraged pastor. It might be an evangelistic conversation with an employee at the hotel. It might be serving the needs of the poor and offering them hope in Jesus’ name. In the scales of eternity, let us center ourselves on what is most important, not necessarily what is perceived or promoted as significant.
5. Do Appreciate and Honor the Elderly Churchmen Before Us
Most of us are young. I’m 33. There will be pastors, perhaps many of them, who have pastored their churches longer than you or I have been alive. I don’t have to agree with everything they believe to be humbled by that commitment to the church and honor them for their devotion to Christ and His church. We have a lot to learn, both in theory/theology and in practice. With a shared commitment to be churchmen and faithful ministers of the gospel, a posture of humility and appreciation will not only bless others but serve your soul as well.
1. Don’t Play into the Caricatures
Non-Calvinists are playing the card everyday that we are “militant, agressive, angry, and combative.” Anyone who embraces the doctrines of God and does not dispense grace to others is doing it wrong. Big time. Don’t put fleshly examples to straw men or credibility to their caricatures. Don’t give ammunition to anti-Calvinists through unchecked sarcasm or sophomoric behavior.
2. Don’t Give Into Doomsday Thinking and Cynicism
Let’s face it. There are people who don’t like the fact that we are committed Baptists and committed Calvinists. They think the two do not coexist (though our history argues otherwise). The temptation is to think they speak for the “majority” of Southern Baptist when in fact they don’t. Don’t let cynicism and pessimism drive your perspective of the SBC. Love hopes all things, and being filled with the Spirit constitutes a predisposition of joy, peace, and patience, not clamoring, bitterness, or frustration. Don’t be sour in sarcasm but sweet in sincerity.
3. Don’t Believe All the Rhetoric and Hyperbole
Following up on #2, you can anticipate a lot of rhetoric and hyperbole stated regarding what we believe and how we supposedly operate in the SBC. The temptation is to believe a false narrative and eventually fall into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t buy into it. Listen to the leaders and statesmen of the SBC and stay the course. What God has providentially worked in our generation cannot be thwarted by naysayers and those who shout the loudest. Don’t define the state of the SBC and your involvement in it by such men, lest they control your behavior by pushing your buttons.
4. Don’t Apologize or Hide What You Believe
There will be those who tell you that the only acceptable Calvinist is one who is embarrassed by what they believe to the point they fear speaking about it publicly. It is said that Calvinists must “stay put” and keep some “long standing agreement” among Baptists. Don’t be embarrassed to stand by what you believe. There’s no need to apologize. Speak your convictions with courage, clarity, and composure should you have the opportunity. It is true that the playing field is not level, but that does not mean your back is against the wall. In humility, with the Word of God as your source, share what you believe from Scripture (not Calvin, Luther, etc.).
5. Don’t Forget the Gospel
Paul told Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ”. Paul constantly reminded the churches (and their leaders) of the gospel and its supreme importance. Don’t forget that the most important subject matter to take place all week is the beauty, supremacy, and glory of Jesus Christ. Make much of Jesus. Adorn the gospel with your behavior. Make Jesus preeminent in your conversations with believers and unbelievers. Don’t let it be said that we remembered Calvin but forgot Jesus. Make Him your focus, and His kingdom your agenda.
I hope these thoughts are encouraging to my Reformed brothers as we go to New Orleans next week. I rejoice with you that God is sovereign over all things, including our salvation. Let us remember also that God is sovereign over all that will take place next week as well. May we not act or speak otherwise.
Grace and peace.
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