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ministry, Theology

Civility and Calvinism, Part 2: Redefining Doctrinal Parameters

Redefining Doctrinal Parameters
In 2007, Southern Baptists in Georgia approved a resolution declaring that blogs are used by “certain people…for divisive and destructive rhetoric at the expense of peace among the brethren.” The resolution stated that blogging should be opposed “when it is used to cause division and disharmony among the members of our Southern Baptist family.” Georgia Baptists called upon bloggers “to cease the critical second-guessing of [denominational] elected leaders,” and to “repent and immediately cease this activity and no longer cause disharmony for the advancement of their own personal opinions and agendas.” While an antagonistic attitude is no doubt displayed on some blogs, the anti-blogging resolution is part of a much larger issue.

Many within the SBC desire to eradicate any remaining doctrinal diversity and to dissuade all dissent by establishing official theological positions extending beyond the parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message (2000). This is the same pattern followed largely during the Conservative Resurgence, which witnessed the replacement of the 1963 BFM with the 2000 edition. If history holds course, the same may be true of the 2000 edition. Many were not bothered by causing “division and disharmony among the members of the Southern Baptist family” or participating in “critical second-guessing of…elected leaders” when those they opposed – the Moderates – were in control, but they themselves will tolerate no opposition.

In 2006, the trustees of the International Mission Board set new guidelines requiring trustees to “refrain from public criticism” of trustee policies and “board-approved actions,” and “to refrain from speaking in disparaging terms” of either fellow trustees or IMB personnel. The guidelines were put in place after Wade Burleson, a trustee, spoke out against new IMB policies forbidding any individual from serving as a missionary who either admitted to having a “private prayer language” and/or being baptized by an individual deemed “unqualified” by the IMB trustees.

During that period, Dwight McKissic, spoke out against the policy while speaking in a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. McKissic, who was a trustee at SWBTS at the time, stepped down shortly afterwards because the denominational pressure placed upon him impacted his family, ministry, and health in a negative manner. This “encouraged” resignation came despite the fact that research conducted by one of the denomination’s own agencies, LifeWay, found that 50% of SBC pastors believe the Holy Spirit gives some people a special language to pray to God. Those in power positions, who had never questioned the validity of LifeWay’s research at any point before in its entire history, were unable to swallow the non-traditional findings. Malcolm Yarnell was appointed to present a White Paper disputing the results. A plethora of other White Papers flowed from Paige Patterson’s school with the stated intention of providing “aid” to local church leaders by “promoting biblical theology and polity,” and addressing “critical issues facing the churches.” One might guess the critical issues facing congregations in modern American society are pluralism, antinomianism, and the advance of Islam, yet the three major issues addressed by the papers were “in-house” matters: the nature of baptism, speaking in tongues, and Calvinism.

The SBC Executive Committee issued a statement in 2007 regarding the Baptist Faith & Message, declaring that the document is “not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith,” yet acknowledged that it is “the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention.” Messengers at the annual meeting approved the statement. During debate over the motion prior to its approval, McKissic spoke in favor of the motion, insisting that denominational agencies “should be subordinate to the Southern Baptist Convention.” He illustrated his point by noting that parents set the rules, not the children. McKissic also said he led his church to affiliate with the SBC on the basis of the BFM, but “now decisions are being made that are not consistent with it.” Some SBC leaders vociferously disagreed with the motion immediately after its approval, including Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Seminary, who described the BFM as a “minimalist” statement. Earlier in the year an article in The Southern Baptist Texan declared: “Those who want the agencies restrained from ‘going beyond the BF&M’ show little comprehension (or concern) for the unintended consequences of this proposal. There are various specific policies and interpretations that can reasonably be drawn from our statement of faith. Not all of these will be the consensus of the denomination but all will be approved by the convention-elected trustees of those agencies. So far, that works.”

In other words, policies related to doctrine extending beyond the denomination’s own confession may be enforced by the trustees even if the majority of Southern Baptists disagree with the policies. This viewpoint has excluded “Charismatics” within the SBC (those, like McKissic, who believe in a “private prayer language”) from service with both the IMB and NAMB. Will “Calvinists” be excluded from service next, despite the BFM including and affirming the doctrine of election? Bill Harrell, pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, GA, was serving as the chairman of the SBC Executive Committee five years ago when he expressed that the EC had “two important issues to solve in our Convention”: worship style and Calvinism. Harrell’s charges were met by South Carolina pastor Bill Harrell, who responded directly to Harrell with a conversation and an open letter.

Curtis charged that some Southern Baptists are discontent “unless they are waging a theological battle on some front.” While acknowledging the necessity of guarding against false teachers (2 Peter 2:21), he bemoaned the fact that Calvinism has become “one of the most popular targets” for such malcontents “despite the fact that the 2000 BF&M accommodates evangelistic Calvinism.” Curtis added: “Anyone who rebukes a brother over the degree to which he affirms evangelistic Calvinism is imposing a standard for fellowship not consistent with the 2000 BF&M. While most pastors and theologians have very clear personal positions on this subject, and often enjoy discussing and debating them, we should not cease cooperation because of them. Once again, I would submit that the decision about evangelistic Calvinism is an issue to be decided by the local church. There is room within our Southern Baptist family for those who are in different places along the spectrum of the five points of evangelistic Calvinism.”

Rather than being content with the parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message and continuing on in civil cooperation with fellow Southern Baptists, Harrell (who is still a member of the EC) led his congregation to revise his congregation’s budget and prevent any of their Cooperative Program funds from being received by either Southern or Southeastern seminaries. Calvinism was cited as the major reason for the defunding.

To be continued.

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About Dr. James Galyon

A Follower of Jesus Christ, the husband of one, father of three, chaplain of many.

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