I have the joy and privilege of pastoring a Southern Baptist Convention church. Though I did not grow in in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have come to love Southern Baptist because they are people who stand on the Word of God. Which is why my heart breaks at what I am watching within our Convention. The good news is the outcome is avoidable, but it will take all Southern Baptists, and not just some or only those in key leadership positions to avoid the waterfall that is coming. What I am talking about is the debate concerning method of salvation (soteriology) of Calvinism versus Traditionalism. For the sake of this post, I am not going to dive into the beliefs of either. I have watch from afar over the last several years the now former President of the SBC, Dr. Fred Luter, and even the current President, Dr. Ronnie Floyd speak of the declining numbers within the Southern Baptist Convention. Over the past several years the SBC has been at historic lows in salvation decisions, baptisms, and the number of churches that are either plateaued or declining is rising. One argument for this is that it is a sign of the times. The apostle Paul told us in 2 Timothy that this was going to happen. I understand that argument and certainly can see it playing a role in it. But I want to call all of us as Southern Baptist to ask ourselves a question. Could part of our decline be because we are inwardly focusing on this argument of Calvinism versus Traditionalism, instead of focusing on taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth? This debate that has raged for several years is not the only reason for the decline, and I want to note that, but I believe to dismiss it altogether as a contributing factor would not be in our best interest as a Convention. I am reminded of what Jesus said when the people of His day were accusing Him of being empowered by satan in Matthew 12. Matthew 12:25 says, “And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Division brings downfall! I have read blog after blog of Southern Baptist on both sides of the debate. Men that I really admire the work God is doing through them. And I will admit, maybe I don’t have the theological acumen to understand why this debate must rage on, but I do know this. The Bible says that God hates those who cause division (Prov. 6), and that God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). Therefore, the logical conclusion (at least in my opinion for what it is worth) is this, if it is causing confusion or division, then it is not from God and we need to cease and desist at once, for our own good, but more importantly for the eternal good of those who are still without Jesus. After all it was the newly elected President of the International Mission Board, Dr. David Platt, who recently asked the question, “when it is going to be completely intolerable to us as Christians that there are 2 billion people (2,000,000,000) who have not heard the Gospel? So that this post is not just one lamenting a problem without proposing solutions, let’s look at how we can correct this.
First, we need to realize that we have more in common than we have that we disagree on. For instance, I have not met a Southern Baptist yet that does not believe that all people are sinners (Rom. 3:23). I also have not met a Southern Baptist that does not believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven (John 3:3, 16, 14:6; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8-9). Finally, I do not know a Southern Baptist who is not aware that God has given us a call to “Go” (Mt. 28; Mk 16; Lk 24; Jn 20; Acts 1). These are our core convictions when it comes to salvation, and we all, Calvinist and Traditionalist, believe them to be true as revealed by the inerrant, infallible Word of God. Secondly, while we fight against one another, there is a world that is lost, dying, and going to hell and I cannot believe for a second that God is pleased with us on this. The apostle Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 10, “. . .whatsoever we do, do all to the glory of God.” Let me ask us all,myself included, how is our fighting while people are going to hell bringing glory to God? Even if one side of this debate wins, we both lose. Because we will have allowed so many people to die without hearing the Gospel, and we will have succeeded in splitting what has been the largest and most powerful Convention within America. I have heard state and national leaders say, “we accomplish more together than we ever could separately” and they are exactly right. Because of the Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist churches have six of the best theological training seminaries in the world, there are approximately 5,000 missionaries around the world, there are new church plants going up all over North America, when disasters strike, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers are there to help physically as well as spiritually, and so many other things. Are we willing to watch this fall by the wayside just to win an argument? In the words of the apostle Paul, God forbid! Finally, we must realize that there is room for both sides of this argument at the table, because our mission is the same. Both Calvinist and Traditionalist believe we don’t know who God will save, but that we are called to preach the Word every where we go. Therefore, why don’t we get back to focusing on that. Let us lay down our arguments, pick up the banner of Christ, and spend the rest of our lives proclaiming Jesus saves! I have heard one side of the argument say, “well they are attacking us and they have all the key seats in SBC leadership.” Maybe that has happened and maybe it hasn’t, I’m not in a position to say. But I am in a position as a fellow Southern Baptist to remind us all that we are to have the mind of Christ in us. One of the aspects of the mind of Christ is putting others ahead of ourselves. I preach fairly often here at Westlake that you cannot control what others do, but you are solely responsible for what you do. It is not just our Convention that is at stake, it is the eternity of untold billions of people that are at stake.
My prayer is that this post will not come across as mean spirited or hateful, but as it is intended, from a broken-hearted Southern Baptist who wants to see the SBC lead the way in reaching the lost with the love, grace, and mercy that God has shown us. I also pray that this will be a warning to all churches and organizations, religious and secular. You must have one common goal that you strive for. If you have any more than one goal, you will pull apart and your downfall will be certain. The three keys are simple: Have a common goal, know your core values, and work together.
By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him.