The familiar "ding" from my BlackBerry alerted me that I had received a message or an email. I picked up the device to check it out and found the five word text message from a pastor friend in another state. "Have you signed yet, Brother?"
Signed what? I really had no doubt about to what my colleague was referring.
Recently there has been a firestorm in the Southern Baptist blogosphere regarding a new document that has surfaced. The title of the article is,"A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation". An introduction to the document was published on May 30th on the SBC Today website. The introduction is written by Dr. Eric Hankins, a Mississippi pastor who will be nominated for the position of Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention when it meets in New Orleans later this month.
If you haven't read the document, you may see it in its entirety by clicking here. http://sbctoday.com/2012/05/30/an-introduction-to-%e2%80%9ca-statement-of-the-traditional-southern-baptist-understanding-of-god%e2%80%99s-plan-of-salvation%e2%80%9d/
Hankins writes that the document was "Compiled by a number of pastors, professors, and leaders in response to the growing debate over Calvinism in Southern Baptist life, it begins with a rationale for such a statement at this time, followed by ten articles of affirmation and denial. The goal was to create a statement that would accurately reflect the beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptists, who are not Calvinists. "
As of this writing, the document has been endorsed and signed by a number of Southern Baptists, including several former Convention Presidents, as well as a couple of SBC Seminary Presidents and some of their faculty members, several State Convention officers, and some pastors, evangelists, and laypersons from around the country. It appears to be a reaction to and a growing fear of the increasing number of adherents of Reformed Theology in SBC life. The "Calvinist/Non Calvinist" debate has been growing for several years now, and appears to be coming to a head, even though these differences have coexisted in SBC life since its inception.
Having won the "Battle for the Bible" during the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC, it appears that we can now no longer stand the prosperity. Now, with all of us standing firmly on the inerrancy of the Scriptures we are now de-volving into arguments about interpretation differences, while denominational leaders seek to gin up a "Great Commission Resurgence". That type of resurgence can't be planned and programmed, it can only come from God. However, does anyone believe that such a resurgence is likely to come from God while we are fighting among ourselves?
One prominent pastor has commented that "we are headed for a Civil War" in the SBC. All that is holding it back is waiting to see who fires the first shot on Fort Sumpter". I fear that this this document may be that first shot.
We all believe that Salvation comes by Grace through Faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8,9). We all believe that our marching orders are found in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8. Yet how will we accomplish the mission with an "us against them" mentality inside the ranks of the Army of God? That mentality exists, and can be found everywhere from the Calvinist/Non Calvinist debate at the SBC level, all the way down to the State Conventions and local associations where distrust, arguments over methodology, and partisanship have deeply divided the brethren.
I have many friends on both sides of the Calvinism/Non Calvinism issue. Men whom I love and respect. Men who have various gifts and diverse platforms in ministry. We have such potential, with the power of the Holy Spirit, to change the world! Yet it seems as though there is a growing trend in our ranks to sign this statement, or sign that statement - drawing lines in the sand and daring our co-laborers to cross them.
Our Seminaries are the academic venues where these ideas can be studied, discussed, and debated. Each one of us must come to our own conclusions regarding these differing viewpoints, but we must not continue demonizing one side or denigrating the intelligence of the other. As a Convention, we have a statement of faith that has been hammered out, revised, and updated since 1925. "The Baptist Faith and Message" contains the Convention's messenger approved articles of faith that unite us as Southern Baptists. That should be sufficient to say who we are, what we believe, and upon what our beliefs are based. I fear that these other statements that are coming out on both sides of the Calvinist issue only serve to further divide us and hamper the effectiveness of our efforts to complete the mission our Lord has given us.
Perhaps our Dr. Frank Page, President of the SBC Executive Committee, may appoint some type of "peace committee" when we meet in New Orleans to try to hammer out some type of peaceful co-existance. But certainly we need to pray for God to intervene and bring unity to the work - before it's too late.
As for this pastor - I'm finished with signing statements. I'll affirm the Word of God, and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and that's it. That's my opinion, and that's where I'll stand - "For What It's Worth"