Dr. Tom Nettles was the speaker last week at the 2012 Founders Breakfast (at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the SBC). The title of his message is “The Southern Baptist Convention: Retrospect and Prospect” and I highly recommend it, especially in light of the current discussions about “traditional” theology in the SBC. The first half of Nettles’ provides numerous facts, figures, and direct references to pastors, churches, and institutions who held Reformed doctrine prior to the new traditionalists, while the second half focuses on the chiastic structure of SBC history. It is a fascinating look at the ebb and flow of theological trajectories, and the last nine minutes of the talk gives you Nettles’ direct interaction with the current attempt to marginalize Calvinists in the SBC.
Archive for the ‘SBC’ category
I used to blog about the Southern Baptist Convention quite a bit. In recent years, I have tried to focus on practical issues of church life from a theologically driven focus. Nevertheless, given the significance of this past week, I’d like to jump into the SBC blog world again and attempt to contribute a few reflections and anticipations.
I am very glad that the election of Fred Luter as the first African American President of the SBC was not overshadowed by the theological controversies swirling around on the internet. The moment when we all stood in affirmation and celebration of his election was a powerful moment. I don’t know how anyone could have not been emotional gripped by providence and the present recognition of history being made. As I type this in my NOLA hotel room, my wife and I just returned from a tour of the city. One of the significant and recurring points the guide made was the slave quarters and how they lived in this city. Learning how prominent slavery was in the history of this city (and our country) makes me all the more appreciative of God’s work of repentance in the SBC.
Along with Luter as President, I am very encouraged by the election of Nathan Lino as First VP and Dave Miller as Second VP. Over the past four years, I have been a part of a “young leaders” meeting where, in 2008, I first met Nathan. He is an experienced church planter, whose church just celebrated their 10th anniversary. Nathan has a wonderful, gracious spirit and evangelical commitment to work together with Southern Baptists who may not agree with him on various theological issues but nevertheless are unified in the gospel and the Great Commission. Nathan and I have discussed this week how we can work together to forward a new narrative of healthy, robust discussion as brothers who see differently on various issues but have a transcendent love and determination to not allow the differences keep us from linking arms and hearts for reaching the lost, whether they are across the street or across the world. Hopefully, you will hear more about that in the future.
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.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Nothing too profound here. Just an observation I think bears repeating. The fight over biblical inerrancy was one of the most important evangelical battles in the 20th century, and nowhere was the drama on greater display than in the Southern Baptist Convention. I am indebted to the pastors and leaders who were on the front lines of turning the denomination I grew up in from turning away from a high view of Scripture.
Of the churches that hold to biblical inerrancy (at least in the SBC), I wonder how many are committed to the functional outworking of the inerrancy as it relates to church discipline. The classic text of 2 Tim. 3:16-17 speaks to the purposeful outworking of a high view of Scripture. Those purposes are teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. It is worth noting that 50% of the Scripture’s profitability has to do with corrective discipline. Reproof is correcting wrong beliefs and false doctrine while correction addresses wrong behavior and sinful lifestyle.
Churches who embrace biblical inerrancy certainly want the inerrant word to have 100% profitability for each believer, but for that to take place, correction and reproof ought to be normative and expected in a “Bible-based” church. If not, then we are accepting a standard where only 50% of the Scriptures intended usefulness is evidenced in the life of the church. A church who believes in 100% biblical inerrancy and 50% biblical usefulness is sending mixed signals, and worse, failing to use the prescribed means of seeing God’s people equipped for every good work and mature in Christ.
The grounds for practicing church discipline is both in the nature of Scripture, and man. Scripture is authoritative, prescriptive, redemptive, and corrective. We are sinful, broken, and prideful, such that we can easily be blinded in our beliefs and wandering in our behavior. Churches who practice church discipline humbly confess the need for mutual accountability, submission to Christ and one another, and hold to an uncompromising commitment to do whatever the inerrant Word of God calls them to do.
On a most basic level, there are churches who hold to biblical inerrancy but have more than half of their membership utterly uninvolved in the life of the church even to attend a Sunday morning gathering. Churches are losing the moral authority to speak on issues like the sanctity of marriage when things like homosexual marriage debate surfaces because of unchecked cohabitation and unaddressed infidelity in the ranks. The distinctives of genuine unity of faith and love for the brethren are corroded by the prevalence of gossip, slander, and bitterness, and those distinctives are replaced by superficial standards like being relevant and entertaining. We turn the lights down when Jesus has told us to be the light of the world.
Church discipline is redemptive in more ways than one. It is redemptive to the one whose beliefs or behaviors are held accountable to the authority of God’s Word. It is also redemptive to the integrity of witness in a gospel community who live together in repentance and faith so that the qualitative value of being counter-cultural is profoundly winsome and worthy of intrigue. If we lose care and concern for the ongoing work of the gospel in each others lives, and if the Gentiles blaspheme the name of Jesus because of us, then the fight for biblical inerrancy will be battle with no spoils in the here and now and no soldiers for the battles to come.
Dr. Nathan Finn has recently completed an excellent blog series entitled “The Gospel and Baptist Identity.” I for one am glad to see the two merged together as it is my hope that the identity of Baptists would fundamentally be characterized by the functional centrality of the gospel.
Be sure to check out the blogposts in this series, listed below:
02: What Is the Gospel?
03: Pondering Baptist Identity
04: Four Categories of Baptist Beliefs
05: Covenanted Gospel Membership
06: Confessor Baptism by Immersion
07: Christocentric Congregationalism
08: Cooperative Autonomy
09: Free Churches in a Free State
IX Marks hosted a panel discussion at the 2011 SBC Annual Meeting where Mark Dever sat down with David Platt and Albert Mohler to talk about the state of the SBC, church planting, and the Cooperative Program. Check it.
HT: IX Marks Blog
One year ago . . .