Autonomy and the Ever-Tightening Collar in the SBC

I’ve got three dogs. One with a freakishly small head. When I’m walking her she does just fine until she wants to get away. With just a few wiggles and tugs, she pops her head right out of the leash and takes off. I’ve tried tightening the collar around her neck before, but that just chokes her. So if I tighten the collar she’ll choke, but I can stay in control. If I leave the collar a little loose, I forgo absolute control and risk losing her. [Yes, I could get a shoulder harness to solve all my problems, but that would mess up my illustration.]

In a similar way, some key leaders in the SBC are trying to tighten the collar around the SBC’s neck to maintain control over it, even though it’s choking some of it’s most valuable members. Surprise, surprise, it’s over Calvinism.

The document in question is “a suggested statement of what Southern Baptists believe about the doctrine of salvation.” My understanding of the SBC is that it’s doctrines could be as diverse as any congregation chose so long as it agreed with the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). This goes hand-in-hand with the understanding of congregational autonomy–that each congregation can make their own decisions about secondary and tertiary matters so long as they agree with the BFM. But the signers of this new statement suggest that a “Traditional” Southern Baptist view of salvation is what the BFM article on salvation (IV) was supporting when it was written. But the funny thing is, Calvinist Baptists have no qualms with that statement. As a so-called ‘Five-Point Calvinist’, I have no problem with it either.

From "Baptizing in the Jordan" by Si...

From “Baptizing in the Jordan” by Silas X. Floyd (1869-1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what’s really going on here? Isn’t it obvious? It’s a power-play for the Glory of God. The leash needs to be tightened around Calvinist necks because they feel too much theological resistence. Am I being too harsh? Well, listen carefully to the tone of this statement: “The Southern Baptist majority has fellowshipped happily with its Calvinist brethren while kindly resisting Calvinism itself. And, to their credit, most Southern Baptist Calvinists have not demanded the adoption of their view as the standard. We would be fine if this consensus continued, but some New Calvinists seem to be pushing for a radical alteration of this long- standing arrangement.”I can’t help but feel the condescension here. ‘We’re the majority and have let you play ball with us for a long time. But you Calvinists are not keeping a lid on your doctrine like you’re supposed to.’ It’s true that the fear comes from efforts of some group called the ‘New Calvinists’, but this statement promotes a combative stance against all SBC Calvinists. Furthermore, the claim that there is some Calvinistic push for ‘radical alteration’ is bewildering to many SBC Calvinists.So how do the statement-writers want to fix this problem? They have given the “Traditional” SBC view of salvation–an Arminian addendum to article IV of the BFM. [Please dispense with the useless notion that it isn’t Arminianism. If you call a guy a Calvinist for holding to four points of TULIP, then I think it’s safe to say that this statement is Arminian]

Ultimately, I think this is a move to amend the BFM yet again. Key leaders have signed the document with enthusiasm, including several former SBC presidents. If the rest of the SBC leaders care anything about church autonomy or frankly the unity of the SBC overall, they shouldn’t just disagree with the statement, they should rebuke the composers and signers. Otherwise, the collar will tighten, and I wonder how many people will chose a new collar. I have.

Categories: Calvinism, Practical, SBC, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Autonomy and the Ever-Tightening Collar in the SBC

  1. Jim Aldridge

    Good post. Frankly, I have not problem with the Southern Baptists who aren’t Calvinists. I don’t care what they call themselves as long as they at least try to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in their view of salvation and how that works itself out in their evangelism. What I mean by that is..

    When personal choice in salvation is stressed to the point that the sovereignty of God is disregarded, some pretty major problems occur. First of all, people end up feeling so responsible to convince others to accept Christ that they needlessly develop a sense of guilt when their efforts are unsuccessful. At some point, it is wise and loving to quit pestering a person with the good news (especially when he is becoming visibly agitated by your efforts) and leave them in the hands of God’s grace and sovereignty. Doing so does not amount to personal failure. It is merely trusting God to use the message you presented to accomplish His will in His timing.

    That same inordinate emphasis on personal choice has caused the Southern Baptist Church to put way too much emphasis on numbers and decisions at the cost of discipleship, and it often reduces evangelism to marketing. I recently had a pastor try to encourage me to spend the afternoon putting flyers on cars inviting people to church. That is not evangelism; it is marketing. “If we put out 10 flyer we’ll get one conversion, 20 flyers we’ll get two…” It’s ridiculous. I told him that I would rather spend my afternoon talking to one person who was confused about their beliefs or struggling with doubt than distribute 1000 flyers, and I believe that in God’s economy, it is a wiser use of time. I don’t recall the apostles distributing flyers; I do, however, see them writing lengthy epistles to those who need to grow in their faith. I’m not saying that evangelism is not important. It is EXTREMELY important. It just needs to be done for the right reasons and in the right manner. We should do as the early church and build relationships, invest in others, and meet their needs as a way to demonstrate God’s love and grace. Only then will our sharing of the gospel have any sort of credibility. The marketing approaches to evangelism offer no such personal investment in the life of another person. They often come across as, well, cheesy. Regardless of one’s view of the sovereignty of God in salvation, it would obviously be wise to follow the example set out for us in Scripture.

    On the up side, even the Southern Baptists who want to stress that salvation is all about one’s personal choice will encourage others to pray for the lost. Apparently, it isn’t 100% up to personal choice because they obviously expect God to do something to bring that person to grace. This is a great point around which we can unify if there wasn’t such a messy power struggle going on. If we spent more time celebrating the essentials that we hold in common rather than trying to eviscerate each other over the non-essentials, I think the glory of God would be better served.

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