Jerry Rankin, former President of the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) recently wrote about the perceived unity in the SBC. I think he expresses a legitimate concern for those of us wanting to genuinely cooperate together despite doctrinal differences. Rankin wrote:
The updated Baptist Faith and Message 2000 would supposedly be the definitive statement of faith around which all Southern Baptists could unite. But apparently that is not sufficient. It is not enough to subscribe to the BF&M; if you do not interpret soteriology as I do your doctrine is not only suspect, it is dangerous to the SBC. There have been motions at recent conventions implying calvinists need to be ostracized from the convention.
There is little to commend unity among cookie-cutter conformists. Unity is significant only in the context of diversity. We are a diverse denomination ethnically, generationally, and in church size and forms. And, yes, there are variations in how Baptists understand and interpret matters of faith while holding to the same common foundational doctrines.
Why is unity an illusion? Because there are those who don’t really want unity; they want conformity to their way of thinking. We have an unfortunate record of alienating those who don’t agree with us, no matter how trivial the differences in our viewpoints. Some will remember as the conservative resurgence gained traction a number of moderate leaders drafted proposals for reconciliation for working together. Sadly, they did not realize no one was interested in conciliatory outcomes. The movement gained control by marginalizing and pushing out the moderates. Some would insist the same strategy is needed to produce the pretense of unity around an even narrower perspective of doctrine and ecclesiology today. (emphasis mine)
As for the former head of the largest missions sending agency in the world, Rankin knows the potential impact such narrowing conformity might bring on a Great Commission Resurgence. Indeed, he could speak firsthand of the number of missionaries who are confessionally Reformed and serving among the least reached and hardest places of the world. Nearly ever missionary I know serving with the IMB would be marginalized in the SBC if some, demanding conformity to their narrowing of parameters (or beyond the BF&M), would win the day in the SBC.
Fortunately, I believe there’s a new majority forming in the SBC intolerant of the attempts of a few (mostly online efforts) to, as Rankin puts it, ostracize Calvinists from meaningful cooperation around the Great Commission and confessional consensus (BF&M). He is right to assert that unity is significant in the context of diversity, and within the BF&M, there is allowed for a various theological convictions while at the same time acknowledging there is much upon which we can agree and work together. Here’s to hoping for significant unity through a shared commitment to stand on the inerrant Word, preach the unadulterated gospel, and love the lost for the sake of Christ and His glory.