Calvinism inside the Baptist community has become a front and center issue among the Southern Baptist Convention. As previously stated many times, I am not in the SBC, nor do I want to be, but very often as the SBC goes, so goes other Baptists.
In recent days the conflict between Calvinism and Non-Calvinism has become intensified due to a document published by Non-Calvinists within the SBC denying Calvinist beliefs about salvation, and asserting non-Calvinist beliefs about salvation. The document has ignited what some are calling “a much needed dialogue” if both sides are every going to work together. The article can be found here at SBCToday. http://sbctoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/A-Statement-of-Traditional-Southern-Baptist-Soteriology-SBC-Today.pdfo
That being said, this (my) article is not so much about Calvinism as it is the “debate” over Calvinism that is brewing beyond the confines of friendly dialogue. The rhetoric is growing, and the intensity has captured the attention of many. Above all the din, however, are those voices that are continually calling for unity, harmony, and a cooperation in carrying out the Great Commission.
Before anyone can rightly call for unity they must understand what the nature of the conflict really is. As I read another article calling for unity, the author, David Shrock, stated “Unity will be achieved when we hold to the truth with conviction, but also when we don’t rub our convictions in the face of others.” In responding to that line of thinking there are some things that need to be said.
First, the fact is that nothing should ever be “rubbed in anyone’s faces.” But beyond that, the statement “hold the truth with conviction . . . but don’t rub it in anyone’s face” is on some level an oxymoron. “Hold the truth with conviction . . . but don’t insist on it?”
Here is where the debate really begins. Using Bro. Shrock’s terms, we have to answer the question, “what is at the core of this conflict?” “Truth” or “Conviction?”
Having read and followed both sides of the arguments, the ideas go something like this:
Non-Calvinists – “We hold the truth, but acknowledge the Calvinist has conviction.”
Calvinists – “We hold the truth, but acknowledge the Non-Calvinist has conviction.”
As I said else where, many on both sides of this issue see this as an issue of “Biblical truth verses Biblical error” and not an issue of “point of view” or “personal perspective.” To add intensity to the struggle, many on both sides believe that “Biblical error” is to be rejected, especially when it comes to soteriology. Furthermore, the struggle is intensified even more because people on both sides are trying to figure out “how to keep my brother” without conceding his “Biblical error”.
The author also said, “it is unhelpful to press Calvinists and Traditionalists towards cooperation while still asserting the very doctrines that divide.” Whether he intended to or not, that is tantamount so saying, “Put down the doctrine, and let’s get together.” No man with conviction for Salvation truth, can honestly put down the doctrine for the sake of unity, because of their loyalty to the truth.
The primary problem that people are having is trying to search for “unity” without “compromise” because both sides believe this is about what is true and what is false when it comes to Salvation truth, and the reality is that they may be on a snipe hunt.
One of the blessings of being in the American Baptist Association is the fact that this is a settled debate. Calvinism is a Biblical error. I know of no one within our group who comes within 3 time zones of Limited Atonement, Irresistable Grace, or Unconditional Election. We hold dear to “natural depravity”, not to be confused with the Calvinist concept “total depravity.” We hold dear to the Security of the Believer.
Some want to place this in the “drawer of disagreements” but it will only stay there so long. Eventually the truth has to be taught as the truth, and not as an “optional school of thought.” The nature of the issue will not lend itself to land on both sides. This is not a dialogue between two opinions; it is a conflict over truth and error; and too many men are afraid to say that because of their love for their brethren. This is the tension in the fabric of fellowship. Good men on both sides have a love for the truth, and for each other.
This I know . . . no man I know that is worth his weight in theological salt, Calvinist, or Non-Calvinist, would sacrifice salvation truth for the sake of unity; which leaves men in a place they do not want to be.
Now that being said, there are all kinds of wrong ideas within a church. Not everyone believes everything they ought to believe, and we still get along. – that’ s why it’s called Sunday SCHOOL. We teach, because people need to be taught. We preach, because people need to learn. Bad theology and wrong ideas permeate the pews. This entire discussion though, is not a conflict among the pews, it is a conflict among the pulpits. This is not a conflict about tolerating each other’s presence, but it is a conflict about tolerating each other’s message. I’ve pastored people that didn’t believe in the Security of the Believer; didn’t believe in the Genesis account of creation, did believe in unknown tongues, and supernatural gifts etc, and we functioned together in harmony and unity; and the primary reason we did is because there was one message.
One message is required in order for there to be unity and harmony. One message from the pulpit, one message through missions, one message through church supported seminaries, one message through all cooperating endeavors is required when it comes to a unified salvation theology. Splitting theological hairs 7 ways is always going to happen among thinking preachers, because they are always searching and dividing and analyzing scripture; never splitting theological hairs is not what I’m talking about. I am talking about the truth of Salvation; it is not many truths, it is one truth, and that truth is the necessary truth for unity. Jesus died for all men. Period. His free offer extends to every person on planet earth. Period. Whosoever will may come. Period. That is one message with many facets, but it is one none-the-less.
I am very thankful that when I meet with the American Baptist Association in Fresno, California week after next, our salvation theology is set, settled, and sure. Our message is the message of the Bible sent all over the world. Our goal is to send it to every soul on every soil, and that message is simple, “Jesus died for you.” Any alteration of that theology is not a change worth making.