An MOG Commentary: The Gospel Under Attack...AgainMonday, November 13, 2006
Another blow is delivered to the gospel by a Southern Baptist brother seemingly ignorant of his own Calvinistic heritage. I was alerted by my friend Kurt Smith (pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Adel, GA) to an interview included in the most recent edition of the Georgia Christian Index between Bill Harrell, the SBC Executive Committee Chairman, and Index editor, Gerald Harris.
Bill Harrell is the pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia (near Augusta, GA). As one blogger (Tom Ascol) has already noted, "He is also the new chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. This is Harrell's second tour of duty on the Exec Com, having been one of the first 'movement conservatives' appointed to that powerful body in the early days of the conservative resurgence."
In the interview, Harrell states, "We have two important issues to solve in our Convention." The second issue is Calvinism. Per Harrell, "“Second...we must deal with Calvinism. I have solid Christian friends, some of them pastors who are Calvinists, but I think they are wrong about the tenets of five point Calvinism. In my opinion too much of the New Testament must be ignored or radically interpreted to embrace the five points of Calvinism.”
This issue is close to my heart. I was personally sued by half my congregation in a small town in Georgia two and a half years ago because of this very issue. And at bottom, the issue is not about Calvinism as much as it is about the gospel of Christ. As Spurgeon once stated, "Calvinism is the gospel and nothing else."
This issue is in fact a hotbed of controversy among SBC folks...especially pastors and theologians. In my opinion, there is a split coming in the near future between these two camps: the traditional, Arminian, ignorant-of-their-biblical-theological-tradition pastors and congregations...and the historical, Calvinist, welcoming-of-their-biblical-theological-tradition pastors and congregations. It is broiling now. While the debate between Al Mohler and Paige Patterson earlier this year was amicable, you can bet on the fact that beneath the surface, the modern Baptists are fuming at what they sincerely believe is a threat to God's people.
Consider two important thoughts in light of this article.
FIRST, a biblical gospel beautifies a local church and its pastor. An unbiblical or abiblical gospel distorts and voids a local church and its pastor. The only reason either exists is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ through the message of the gospel. And that gospel is about the unearned, undeserved grace and mercy of God as presented against the backdrop of man's complete sinfulness and utter inability to do anything to please God. Much like the manufacturer's warranty on almost every consumer product when the instructions are not followed completely, if we get any part of that gospel wrong, then I would submit that the church's purpose becomes voided. It exists to glorify Christ through the gospel. If we get the gospel wrong, the glory of God is wronged.
I love my Arminian brothers and sisters, though they get the gospel wrong and do in fact, in my opinion, void the church's purpose. That deplorable theology which has historically been denounced in church councils where it was an issue is still very much at work in local SBC churches today. Do you know what is just as worse? Many of my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters enjoy their religious prestige as members of an SBC church while living ignorantly of their true theological heritage yet strangely and simultaneously rejecting, hating, and even persecuting those who dare to speak of that heritage. Again, how bizarre is that? If I'm a gospel-loving, God-centered, Christ-exalting Calvinist in a Southern Baptist Church which was historically rooted in such a theology, why do I get persecuted for it? It happens every week in SBC churches all across this country.
Therefore, If I may be so bold, I humbly suggest that we reverse Bill Harrell's call back on himself. He stated, "I think the problem of Calvinism in the SBC could be solved if we establish one ground rule. If a man wants to start a Calvinistic church, let him have at it. If a man wants to answer a call to a Calvinistic church he should have the freedom to do that, but that man should not answer a call to a church that is not Calvinistic, neglect to tell them his leanings, and then surreptitiously lead them to become a Calvinistic church. That is not to suggest that all of our Calvinistic friends do that, but when it is done it is divisive and hurtful."
Out of a boldness in the gospel I would suggest that all of our Arminian friends are divisive and hurtful when they refuse to acknowledge and comply with their own SBC theological heritage. To rework Harrell's wording, if a non-Calvinistic SBC church member wants to attend any SBC church, he should expect to hear historical, traditional SBC theology preached and taught in the biblical gospel. Such a person should not attend any SBC church otherwise. In fact, if such a person attends such a church and doesn't hear such a gospel, they should call that historical fact into question and humbly help to change, or leave and find another SBC church that is true to its historical heritage. In reality then, the only surreptitious happenings surrounding this issue in the SBC today is that anti-gospel teachings have surreptitiously led Calvinistic churches to abandon their rich, gospel-saturated heritage. I call humble Calvinists, and humble Calvinists only, who are in the SBC to turn the tables on such bizarre thinking and backwards statements.
This line of thought leads me to my second consideration.
SECOND, the gospel teaches us how to respond to those who persecute us for our theological beliefs...even if that persecution comes from those who say they love us. Some Calvinists seem to resort to retort. They reply in kind with those who persecute them. And in the process, the Doctrines of Grace are not adorned with grace. As with Arminian, SBC church members persecuting Calvinists, how bizarre is that? If I'm a gospel-loving, God-centered, Christ-exlating Calvinist in a Southern Baptist Church which was historically rooted in such a theology, why don't I beautify it by the life I live and the way I respond to those who are acting just like I acted toward God before He saved me?
RESPOND! Don't react to these folks!
Respond with grace. "Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone" (Col. 4:6).
Respond with patience. "Again I say, don't get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil's trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants" (2 Tim. 2:23-26).
Respond with forbearance toward unity. "Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace" (Eph. 4:1-3).
Respond with fervent love. "You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart" (1 Pet. 1:22).
Respond like Jesus. "For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered.He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly" (1 Pet. 2:21-23).